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The Listener

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Elena stopped for a moment to rest, allowing the crisp air of the Hinterlands to fill her lungs, holding it before exhaling slowly. She'd been tracking her targets for days, every single one of them blissfully unaware that not only were they being followed, but that she wasn't the only person trailing after them. Between killing the scouts of the other groups that were stalking the party, and remaining undetected herself, exhaustion was beginning to creep in. She'd have to make a move soon, or all would be lost and her efforts would be for nothing.

She waited until they'd pitched their tents before slowly creeping forward until she was in hearing range. Elena couldn't suppress the urge to roll her eyes; the world around them was falling to pieces and yet here they were arguing about who was going to hunt, and what they were having for dinner. Did they want to make a stew and serve it as an all in one meal, or did they want to keep the ingredients separately and serve in on a plate instead? It was ridiculous, so instead of listening to their asinine conversation, she took the time to study the group in front of her in more detail.

Her attention went first to the small Dalish, her origins apparent by June's dark brown vallaslin that curled its way across her tanned skin- her devotion to crafts made clear. It was an odd choice for a rogue, as most of them tended to choose Andruil's vallaslin as it declared their role as hunter to other Dalish. There was no magic emanating from her, save from that which came from her hand, which in itself was a curiosity.

Her honey blonde hair, vastly different to Elena's own wine coloured waves, was tied up in a messy bun at the back of her head, the stress of the day evident by the stray curls that had come loose. Out of all the four gathered, she looked most out of place; it was widely knows that the Dalish preferred their own company to that of other races or people, choosing instead to hide away and live in isolated groups in the forests. Despite being away from the comforts and familiarity of her clan, she appeared to be in good health. Elena was pleased to see the young elf protected and at ease with other shemlen.

A movement from one of the tent's entrances drew Elena's gaze to the lumbering human next. Not only was this person singlehanded responsible for the lack of trouble Elena had following the group, but her heavy footedness had also meant that the bandits hadn't had any issues either. Everywhere she went she left flattened plants, broken twigs, and if that weren't enough, her heavy armour meant only the severely deaf would have trouble tracing her by sound alone. Elena disliked heavy armour, finding it cumbersome, but she couldn't help but notice how comfortable the woman seemed in it- it was as if it were a second skin to her. Elena would have to be careful around her, especially if the emblem she wore was accurate; the Seekers of Truth were not known for their love of mages, especially apostates. Looking over the warrior woman once more, she noticed that even after a long day of walking and helping everyone they came across, she showed only slight indicators of fatigue. That told Elena all she really needed to know; this woman was a through and through warrior in mind, body, and spirit- only a seasoned combatant would be so comfortable spending hours in such heavy plate.

She cast her eyes over the dwarf next. Despite his stature, the durgen'len was surprisingly soft footed. He wasn't as silent as an elf, no other races were, but he made a lot less noise than she'd come to expect from his kind, his movements showed a subtlety that also spoke of the battles he must have fought before, and the experiences he must hold. He had, for some strange reason, decided to expose his chest to the world, and Elena couldn't help but notice that the hair there was only slightly darker than the sandy blond colour that was on his head. Was it some kind of statement? Was it intended to be a distraction? If for the latter reason, it was working. She'd never seem such a hairy person before. Elena tore her eyes away from the overly hirsute man, and cast them over the last member of the group.

He was utterly underwhelming at first glance. His clothes were practical at best, showing patches that spoke of late night repairs by a dim light. Most other people would have just purchased a different outfit. His bare face marked him as a city dweller, however the presence of his staff contradicted that, and he didn't wear the clothing one would associate with a Circle. Having watched the band for a while, she'd come to see the skill the older elf had with magic. The way he cast spells, moving seamlessly from one element to the other (though he definitely favoured ice, she noticed) spoke of years of practice; there was none of the clumsiness one would expect from an inexperienced spell caster. It made Elena suspicious. Of all the Circle mages she'd come across, none had the same self awareness and confidence this strange elf showed. He had the appearance of a nomad, but the bearing of a king. Perhaps they had similar backgrounds, she mused.

Watching him cast spells was like watching a river flow- fluid, natural, peaceful, calming, and beautiful. Even the calmest rivers had limit though, and Elena found herself wondering what he'd look like when the dam burst and the torrent of his magic rushed forth. Would it flow through the world, wave after destructive wave sweeping away everything in its path, or was it more likely to come from the heavens and strike unpredictably, eradicating those he deemed unnecessary, leaving only a few survivors to tell tales of his might to any who might listen.

Forcing her mind away from the mysterious elf and back to her current task, she took another deep breath and prepared to strike; she heard a twig snap in the distance and knew she'd run out of time. Willing her magic into her muscles, she shot over to the group faster than any of them could track, appearing behind its youngest member before wrapping one hand around her mouth, the other wrapping around her midsection to keep her from struggling. The Dalish gasped and went utterly still.

"Noisy friends you've made da'lan; they've made you very easy to hunt."

The younger elf let out a tiny squeak at the same time the rest of her group readied their weapons. The curious elf had pulled his staff out and was tweaking the veil around her, the dwarf had moved (surprisingly quickly) to the opposite side, weapon primed, and the clompy human had drawn her sword and was starting to pace straight towards Elena, but stopped and snarled when the smaller elf in her arms shook her head.

Elena turned her gaze to the aforementioned human, cataloguing the subtle shift in her muscles; the warrior was ready to charge straight at her when and if she saw an opening. The other two companions had taken the opportunity to edge further into her blind spot. Elena wasn't in the best position and it was getting worse each moment; she was exposed, and vulnerable to attack. She needed to move quickly if she were to avoid confrontation.

"Where are your weapons, Thalia?" she whispered in her captive's ear.

Unable to do much more, the rogue jerked her head in the direction of her tent, causing Elena to bite back a groan as she saw her bow and quiver lying there. She'd have to have words with the young elf as soon as the ambush was over. Resisting the urge to sigh deeply, Elena spoke in the same low tone as before.

"When I let you go, collect your weapon and fire directly into those trees in front of you. Understand?"

The elf nodded once more, and Elena responded with a similar motion of her own. She paused for a moment more, listening intently, needing to ensure that the timing was just right. A low growl reached her ears and she threw the elf forward towards her tent as she spun around and drew her weapons. Both the dwarf and the bald elf took the opportunity to fire a projectile each at her, but she'd already blurred away by that point and was sinking her blade into the neck of the dog that had leapt up at her. Elena was used to battle, such that she no longer paid any attention to the feeling of the warm blood that coated her arms as the last of the hound's life left it.

Thankfully, the others had correctly identified the newcomers as the bigger threats, so for the moment Elena was free to dart about the battlefield, stabbing, slicing, and breaking as she went. Elena learnt that fighting was another art form, a dance with different steps, as it were. She had realised long ago that death didn't have to be ugly, and that if she had to kill people, she would do it as quickly and as painlessly as possible. That way, she reasoned, her victims would not suffer at the end. Death was a dance she knew all too well; as long as the music kept playing, she would keep swirling and swaying to its tune until the day she was free of it all.

At last, the battle was over. Bodies lay strewn around the camp where they'd fallen. Elena quickly started taking note of those left alive when she was hauled up against someone in a similar hold to the one she'd put the Dalish in, this one certainly more lethal than the one she'd used; she had a knife pressing into her throat and an ice shard doing the same to her abdomen. She could try to escape, but she'd only manage to slit her own throat or impale herself in the process, a fact that became painfully clear as she felt a trail of blood making its way down her neck.

Despite the situation she found herself in, she couldn't help but admire the subtle strength in her captor's muscles. There wasn't an ounce of fat on him that she could feel; he was lean and toned, with a physique one could only acquire though years of dedicated training and experience. His hands were steady; this was a man who'd killed before, and wouldn't hesitate to do it again.

"Solas, stop!"

The tension in the area increased rapidly, as everyone turned to the speaker to see an unexpected sight. A fierce Dalish hunter stood in front of them, stance firm, with an arrow notched and pointed directly at the newcomer, or more specifically, at the man holding her. The dwarf stood off to one side, crossbow primed and ready to fire, the human was glaring again and had been approaching Elena with a furious expression, only stopping to stare incredulously at the one who'd spoken.

"Herald, this woman appeared out of nowhere and held you captive. We cannot-"

The human had, Elena thought distractedly, quite a lovely accent; it was the kind of voice that would breathe life into even the dullest poem were she to read it aloud.

"My sister," Thalia spat out, her voice somehow managing to contain equal parts desperation and venom, "is not the only person here who has held me captive. Unlike you, however, she wouldn't have harmed me. Now please, Solas, let her go."

Elena raised an eyebrow, realising that Thalia was more stressed than any of the others had realised. Her sister was as blithe and sarcastic as they came, but rarely raised her voice, and it was unheard of for her to draw her weapon unless in self-defence. The warrior's eyebrows shot into her hairline as a surprised 'sister?' was uttered, and her face switched between anger and confusion repeatedly, as the dwarf looked between the two women before relaxing and chuckling to himself, a noise that seemed highly inappropriate in the situation.

The man at Elena's back had initially stiffened when her relation to the small Dalish woman was revealed. He paused for a moment longer, allowing Elena to feel his hot breath on the size of her neck before her finally let her go, and stepped to one side.

Silence reigned supreme as everyone left alive in the clearing waited for someone to break the muteness, before the younger woman launched herself forwards, directly towards the newcomer.

Chapter Text

The next thing Elena knew, Thalia had wrapped her arms around her and was clinging tightly to her back, her face hidden in Elena's shoulder. Elena sighed quietly and hugged her sister back, feeling her entire body shaking with pent up emotion.

"I thought you were dead. Everyone else at the Conclave died."

Thalia's quiet words were barely heard over the rustling of her companions, each one trying to make themselves look busy to hide the fact they were eavesdropping.

"I know. I never made it to the Conclave."

Thalia pulled away from her and stared at her, brow furrowed in confusion.

"What do you mean? You should have been there days before I was."

"You weren't meant to be there at all."

Elena dropped her arms and stepped back slightly from her sister, giving herself just enough room so she could reach up and wipe away the tears that had fallen. With a tired sigh, she allowed Thalia to see the exhaustion in her eyes.

"I'll tell you, but first, perhaps we could rest?"

Thalia agreed, and the dwarf disappeared, crossbow in hand. Thalia led her older sister to the tent she'd been using and helped Elena lay out her sleeping roll inside. It was cramped, but nothing two who had lived with the Dalish weren't used to. The task was completed far too soon for Elena's liking; she'd have preferred to have been the person to do the hunting, as she wasn't particularly in the mood to deal with the remaining two companions' sideways glances, or Thalia's fussing. Elena wasn't chatty at the best of times, but when she was tired she tended to be irritable as well; the slightest thing would annoy her. It was plain to see that that the human was somewhat bitter over how they'd met, if the glares she kept throwing Elena's way were any indication, and that the elf was highly suspicious of her presence. No, Elena definitely wasn't in the best mood to deal with these people.

It was quite some time before the Child of the Stone came back into camp, returning with a decent sized ram slung over his shoulders. Elena had managed to avoid any unwanted conversation with the others by busying herself by seeing to the group's mounts; Thalia, aware of Elena's taciturn nature, had spent the time fielding questions for her. She brushed the horses until their coats were gleaming and their bodies relaxed, reluctantly stopping only when Thalia called her over to eat.

She walked over to the fire and sat down on a log. Now that she was relaxing after days of action and suspense, Elena could feel the effects; she wanted nothing more than to curl up and sleep, but knew Thalia wouldn't let her rest until she'd offered her an explanation, despite how prickly she knew Elena was.

Her sister came and sat next to her, sprinkling something in a bowl of stew before passing it over to Elena. Thalia was close enough to her that she could reach out and touch Elena, but wasn't close enough it to be constant. Elena dropped her gaze to her bowl and sniffed it while her sister gave her an assessing look over.

"You look awful."

There was a question there, hidden under the guise of a statement. Elena said nothing, instead taking a bite of her meal; it was surprisingly tasty. Somehow, the durgen'len had managed to find potatoes, leeks, and garlic, and some other mystery item. Elena took another bite and tried to figure out the name of the familiar flavour.

"Varric's cooking is the tits, innit? The elfroot was my idea. I thought it might make you feel better. Not that you look like you're ill exactly... but... When was the last time you slept?"

Elena paused as she counted back, the process taking far longer than it should have. Lethargy had settled over her body and she was aware of how it was pulling at her mind.

"Three days. Ir abelas da'nehn, I do not wish to be impolite, but perhaps you could ask your questions?"

Elena smiled softly to herself as the younger Dalish muttered something that sounded suspiciously like 'foolish and stubborn hahrens who refused to take care of themselves' before she addressed the rest of the group.

"Everyone, I would like to introduce you all to my sister. Everyone, this is Elena, Elena, this is everyone."

Elena laughed quietly; her sister had always been somewhat blunt, even from an early age, and stubborn to boot. She used to beg Elena to each her the skills needed to wield a bow properly, training for hours upon hours, refusing to give up. The number of times that child had over done it and injured herself was phenomenal.

"No da'len, you must feel the bow, allow yourself to become one with your weapon. You tell the arrow of its path, it does not tell you. Try again."

A small face looked up at her, frustration written all over her face, nose scrunched up, and brows drawn low. An arm pulled the string back, shaking with the effort, the bow grasped tightly in a pudgy fist.

"Relax, take a deep breath, and release."

The youngster did as she was asked, her actions exaggerated in such a way only a child could achieve. Her sea green eyes opened slowly as she radiated calmness and confidence. The woman watched and waited as the girl tracked her prey as it moved around them, her arrow releasing with barely any noise at all.

The child waited for a moment, listening, before lowering her arm and striding nervously over in the direction she'd shot, finding that her aim had been true- the results of her effort lying dead in front of her. She immediately dropped the bow and jumped around where she was, giggling and clapping her hands in theatrical glee.

"I did it! I did it!"

The woman smiled down at the child and laid a gentle hand on her head.

"You did; very well done."

"Ma serannas, asa'malin!"

Spurred on by her recent success, she turned and picked up the bow from the ground and trotted off deeper into the forest. The woman smiled and shook her head as she gathered the kill and followed the youngster.

Elena blinked as she refocused, noticing that all eyes were suddenly on her. Apparently, someone had asked her a question, and she'd been too lost in memories to notice it.

"I- forgive me, it has been a long couple of days. Could you please repeat yourself?"

The sandy haired dwarf chuckled before he answered, not looking offended at her lack of attention in the slightest. For that, Elena was grateful.

"Don't worry about it, kid, we were just wondering how a Dalish managed to find herself alone out in the wilderness."

Elena heard the subtle question in the statement, possibly a hint of an accusation too. She took a moment to look over the dwarf. He wore nothing but kindness and a gentle curiosity on his face; perhaps Elena's overworked mind was reading too much into the question, though she very much doubted it.

"I was on my way to the Conclave when I happened upon a few men about to kill a group of frightened people. I killed the former and led the latter back to where they were staying."

"A fascinating tale; it does not, however, explain your presence here in this clearing tonight."

The smooth voice from her left made her eyes snap over to the owner. The bald man was starting at her with thinly veiled suspicion in his pale eyes, the same eyes that were raking into her, cataloguing her every movement.

"Word reached my ears of a group of people moving around the area, tidying up the place as they went, all led by a bow wielding Dalish. I couldn't help but be curious. Eventually I managed to catch wind of a trail, but unfortunately so had a few other groups. Slowly I set about distracting or eliminating them, but clearly some got away. I realised the survivors from each group had banded together and were planning an attack so I came to warn you."

"Then why not simply tell us that in the first place? Why instead did you rush in?"

The enquiry had this time come from the tanned human with the lovely accent; her daydreaming meant that she still hadn't managed to catch any names. Before she could answer however, Thalia spoke up and did it for her.

"There wouldn't have been time for it before the attack started. She saved our lives."

Elena leaned back once more and stopped listening as the group started bickering. She was so tired. Is this what travelling with strangers was like? Constant arguments about trivial things that didn't matter? She felt her eyes closing once more as she hovered between worlds. Each time the pull of the fade grew too strong, she would shake herself awake; she was outside and surrounded by strangers, she couldn't afford to be so careless as to fall asleep here.

Clearing her throat slightly, she looked directly at Thalia as she spoke.

"You haven't yet explained your presence in the area, or the reason for this unlikely bunch of people to have banded together."

Thalia mumbled a bit before she answered, clearly not wanting to go over the details of the last couple of weeks.

"Short story is that the Conclave blew up, Cassandra wants me to fix the hole in the sky, Solas knows about the hole, and Varric stayed to help."

Elena looked at her younger sister and raised an eyebrow. Her explanation didn't actually explain much at all, so she watched, and she waited.

"I agreed to stay and help them fix the hole by joining their 'Inquisition', and now we're gathering supporters and agents to help with that. First leg of the journey was this place, as there was a Chantry mother who wanted to speak to us, but when we got here we discovered it was a bit of a mess so decided to stay and help."

Elena considered Thalia's words for a moment before she replied.

"Yet you remain despite the fact this area has not been so peaceful in years, or so I've been told."

Nobody failed to notice the implied question that was there, not even Thalia who scrunched up her nose in thought before she answered, but not before letting out yet another heavy sigh.

"I was hoping I'd ask the mages to come back to Haven with us."

That statement caused a few reactions at the same time. Cassandra barked out a 'what' whilst looking somewhat irritated, Solas raised an eyebrow and looked at the youngest elf with curiosity written on his features, Varric was scribbling in a notebook he'd produced seemingly from thin air, and Elena just watched the others and waited for the commotion to die down.

It seemed to be a good idea from Elena's point of view. Mages were powerful foes, adept at not only causing pain, but curing it too. In addition, they could help defend this 'Haven' using wards and the like. Elena quickly remembered that they were dealing with the Chantry though, an institution that treated mages appallingly, and elves even worse. They were, in Elena's opinion, a bunch of superstitious frightened idiots who, instead of seeking to understand magic, preferred to lock it and those who could use it away. Out of sight, out of mind. Elena wasn't surprised the mages had rebelled; she was more surprised it had taken them so long.

Elena's thoughts naturally then led onto the templar order. If she'd had the energy, she'd have sneered. Templars were nothing more than a group of thugs and bullies, glorified wardens who ruled over their charges using fear and threats. Over the years, she'd lost count of the number of mage hunters that had come looking for the clan. Even amongst the Dalish, Clan Lavellan was quite unusual. It had more mages than the other clans did; they kept as many new mages as they could when they came into their powers. As a result, many of their members used magic, which unfortunately made it easier for templars to find their clan. They just had to follow the pull of magic, as it were.

Clan Lavellan's keeper, Deshanna, had always tried to take a diplomatic approach first whenever the Chantry Thugs came; Elena always thought it was a waste of time, and was able to count on one hand the number of times Deshanna had been successful. Zero. Templars often thought they had some god given right to hunt down mages and imprison them, and the Seekers? They were worse. The Seekers were just super templars with fewer rules. Elena had seethed with rage when she'd learnt of what happened to the Circle in Dairsmuid; everyone slaughtered because they dared to live their lives like normal people and connect to their local culture. The whole system was corrupted, disgusting, and not worth saving in her opinion.

"Perhaps it would be best to postpone this conversation?"

A lyrical voice cut through her musings and drew her attention back to the present. Elena raised her head as they spoke and looked bleary eyed at the speaker; the other elf was looking straight at her, his face unreadable. Had they asked her another question that she'd missed? Elena mentally shrugged; she honestly couldn't find the energy to care.

Evidently, the others agreed as they packed away their things and made to go into their tent. Thalia helped haul Elena to her feet as they trudged into their shelter, the former offering Solas (who had agreed to take first watch) a good night first. Elena wasted no time before crawling into her bedroll and giving into her exhaustion.

Chapter Text

The instant Elena fell into the fade she felt her mind yanked sharply towards another's. They weren't gentle, and it felt like someone had reached into her head, wrapped their hands around her brain, and were dragging it in one specific direction. She resisted at first, not quite willing to meet with them just yet, but after several minutes, she gave in and allowed her conscious to be tugged far across the fade, the presence not letting up even once. She knew she was bound to have a headache when she woke up; there was no need to make it worse, so she simply allowed her mind to relax.

She reached her destination, and looked around, finding it empty. A large round wooden table sat proudly in the centre, surrounded by nine chairs. Eight of the seats each bore one of the various emblems of the main powers in Thedas; the remaining chair was covered in animal carvings, empty as always, nobody having sat in it since the Listener had disappeared from the world.

Not wanting to waste what could be her only opportunity to admire the throne up close, Elena walked slowly over to the chair and leant in to examine the carvings. It was beautiful, an absolute masterpiece. Even here, in the fade, the memory of the magic it once held made it hum and pulse.

Its seat and back were lined in a plush, quilted burgundy silk, and she couldn't help but notice just how comfortable it looked. Its front legs were statuettes of two bears, each stood up, and posed as if they were carrying the weight of it on their shoulders. At the back, carved from the same dark wood as the rest of the chair, two large ravens held the weight of the seat, wings stretched to their fullest capacity and managing to look menacing yet relaxed at the same time.

Elena had just moved closer to examine the detail that ran up the sides of the chair back when she suddenly found herself breathless as the air was forced out of her lungs when she was slammed painfully against a wall. Fingers encased in a clawed gauntlet squeezed her neck in warning.

"It does not do to covet what is not yours, what will never be yours, shemlen."

She tried to gasp, but the force around her only tightened, not allowing any air into her lungs. Elena tried to force the panic that was bubbling up inside her back down, trying simultaneously to resist lashing out against her attacker. Not only would she not win (the man who had her by the throat was clearly bigger and stronger than she was), but she'd only make it worse for herself the next time they met.

"You're late."

The hand that was at her throat disappeared and she fell to the floor, greedily taking in as much air as she could. The man who'd been holding her said nothing as she tried to pull herself to her feet with as much grace as she could muster as she stared steadily into where she imagined his eyes would have been. Ever since the day they'd met, he'd always dress in the same clothes. A thick, woollen cloak covered him from shoulder to floor, and he wore not only a hood, but also a mask that went up his neck, over his chin, and ended just below his eyes. It was like staring into the unending darkness, and it was certainly uncomfortable to do for too long.

"Ir abelas, hahren, I have done as you asked."

Elena spoke softly and calmly, not wanting to enrage the man any more than she already had. He was... prone to outbursts of violence when the anger took over. When they first became acquainted, he'd only introduced himself as Andurfelen, literally meaning "the Anderfels". They'd struck a bargain and ever since then Elena had found herself following his orders, no matter how difficult they were to carry out.

"Well?" he barked out.

"I have nothing to report yet. The Inquisition is in its infancy. I have made contact with the one they call The Herald of Andraste. She travels in mixed company; I have yet to learn anything about them."

Andurfelen made a humming noise as he considered her words.

"Yes, I have heard of this 'Herald of Andraste'. Tell me, child, how came she by the position when I specifically asked you to attend this Conclave?"

"I was on my way, but ran into people who needed help."

The excuse sounded flimsy, even to her ears. He stepped closer to her then, and she fought every instinct that told her to step back. He might have got the drop on her earlier, but she wouldn't show him more of her fear.

"I find it strange, how of all the people in the world, of all the people who attended the gathering, it is your sister who ended up with the mark on her hand."

Elena said nothing, to do so could have only incriminated herself in his eyes or made him angry. She could afford to do neither at this point; her position was tenuous, her loyalty, questionable. One wrong move and her life would be forfeit.

Seeing that Elena had nothing more to add to the discussion, Andurfelen snorted and walked away from her.

"I have other more important matters to attend to. Enjoy the rest of your night, and shemlen," he stopped and turned to look at her over his shoulder, "you would do well to remember that those who fail are easily replaced."

The moment he left, Elena sank down into one of the chairs and sighed, rubbing her temple. Andurfelen, or whatever he wanted to call himself, was an arsehole. Many years ago, she'd stumbled across an ancient crypt, hidden deep in the forest, far away from the beaten path and prying eyes. Curiosity had driven her to explore it, but in doing so, tripped some wards, awakening the slumbering man within.

He'd immediately attacked her, and Elena had managed to hold him off just long enough to propose a bargain before he beheaded her. He knew nothing of this world, she'd explained, and therefore needed help getting by. After a multitude of insults from the man, who introduced himself as Andurfelen, he proposed the following- Elena would go out into the world, collecting information, knowledge, and contacts on his behalf, and in return, he'd allow her to live. Not wanting to die, and certainly not wanting to kill an ancient, she'd agreed.

"You play a dangerous game. You hold many pieces, but not all. You already know what is most likely to happen. Why do you deceive?"

Elena opened her eyes slowly and looked at her oldest friend. They met when she was a child, although at the time, Knowledge had been Curiosity. Elena was constantly roaming the fade in a never-ending quest for books, determined to know everything about everything. It was Elena's constant questioning that attracted the spirit to her in the first place, and as she found the answers to her questions, so did Curiosity. Together they grew; Elena became a woman, and Curiosity became Knowledge.

"Why do you ask questions to which you already know the answer?"

Knowledge sighed in the unique way that spirits could, a habit Elena thought they might have picked up from her. Their golden form constantly shifted and changed, more solid in some places, less in others. Sometimes they were as large as hart, others they were small, and quiet, like a mouse.

"I do, but it may change in time. Knowledge does not come to those who do not seek it. You should confront him directly."

Elena groaned then. She'd had this conversation with Knowledge countless times, and it always ended the same way.

"It isn't time, my friend, you know that."

"So you keep saying, but I hardly see what waiting will achieve. Confront him directly; take what you need. I will help you."

After all this time, Knowledge still didn't understand the finer point of subtlety. If they wanted to know something, they found someone who had the information, and traded for it- a direct approach. As such, they didn't understand the point of sneaking around to gather knowledge.

"Patience, my old friend, is a virtue."

Knowledge scoffed, their form twisting.

"Patience is a spirit; I am no such flimsy sentiment. I am Knowledge, and I am knowledgeable. Time is the river on which all things flow, even one such as you cannot change that. I worry that you'll get swept away and have only your perceived duty to cling on to."

Elena chuckled as she looked over her friend. They often chose to appear in the shape of her mother, something she'd found disturbing and disconcerting at first but now she found she didn't mind so much. It reminded her of what she fought for, and what would happen if she failed. There were also few things more effective than a lecture from her mother, that woman had known exactly how to get her point across and influence people.

"Watch out, ma falon, you're starting to sound wise in your old age."

Elena actually laughed as Knowledge's form darkened and puffed up as they took offence at her comment. Knowledge had said many times that they had no desire to become Wisdom, as they often found such spirits to be 'preachy, and boring'. There were occasions, they were few and far between, where Elena felt that she might have been a bad influence on her friend, or perhaps they'd always been so blunt. It was something to ask at a later date, but for now, Elena stood and stretched out her muscles, an action that had no real effect in the fade but she did it anyway, and prepared to leave.

"Where are you going?"

"To plan; there are some mages who need convincing not to attack when Thalia approaches them tomorrow."

Knowledge hummed in response.

"There are no winners in this game you're playing. Be careful, my old friend."

Elena looked over her shoulder, but Knowledge had already gone. Her friend was right, this wasn't a tale where the hero would get a happy ending, she'd read enough books to realise a tragedy in the making. The best thing she could do was to keep her head down and try to remain undetected; worse fates than death await rebels and traitors.

Chapter Text

"Ashelena, it's time to wake. Come on sleepyhead, we've got lots to do today."

Ashelena grumbled before wrapping herself more firmly in the covers and rolling over so she was further away from the noise.

"Up we get, da'nehn; time waits for no man." The same voice as before spoke again, her lyrical voice giving the words a magical quality to them; Ashelena could feel them pulling her further from sleep.

"But mamae", she replied, her muffled voice coming from deep within the mound of blankets. "I am a girl, so surely time would wait for me?"

Her mother laughed then, it was Ashelena's favourite noise in the world. It was light, bright, uplifting, and full of joy; she knew she would give the world to ensure her mother's happiness.

"Oh da'vhenan, I can't wait to see what you become."

She started laughing again, and Ashelena lay there, allowing the comforting noise to wrap around her, until mirth turned to sobbing. Ashelena's heart froze; she tried to fight her way out of the blankets but they grew tighter with each movement she made. She couldn't see, she couldn't breathe, she couldn't move; all she could do was listen to the sounds of her mother's anguish, and hear how it worsened with every passing moment. Each time she tried to get free she found her movements restricted further until all she could do was lie there, bound and helpless, as she listened to her mother weep and beg her daughter to run and hide as the sound of maniacal laughter came from everywhere and nowhere simultaneously.

All at once, her mother stopped screaming and the blankets loosened their grip. Ashelena fought her way free, triumphant; the nightmare was finally over! She worked her head free and took a deep breath before she kicked and wormed her way out from her soft prison. As soon as she'd escaped, she spun around to find her mother smiling softly at her. They were safe now; the danger was over, so why was her mother looking at her like that?

"Why did this happen, Ashelena?"

As she spoke, trails of blood started making their way down her face from her forehead, from her eyes, ears, nose, and mouth.

"I died because of you, Ashelena. I died for you."

Her mother reached out to her, but as she did, the skin started pealing and rotting, falling off her body in clumps that hit the ground with a sickening splat. Ashelena pulled herself as far as she could against the wall, tucking her head against her chest as she pulled her limbs against herself. It didn't seem to matter how far away she was, she couldn't escape from the grotesque image of her mother, couldn't get the stench of putrid flesh from her nose.

"Why won't you look at me, Elena? It's your fault I'm dead."

Elena clamped her hands over her ears to try to block out the chorus of questions that fired at her from every angle. Eventually they all morphed into one synchronic voice that hissed chillingly. It screamed her name over and over again, louder and louder, closer and closer each time.

"Elena, Elena, Elena, ElenaElena, ElenaElenaElena, ElenaElenaElenaElena!"

"Elena!"

With a gasp she awoke, magic flowing instantly into her hands as her heart beat frantically. The warm, welcoming halls of the mountains switched to the khaki green shade of a tent's interior. The refreshing, gentle breeze that had been lapping against her skin became instead humid and sticky air; the smells of the trees that blew in from the forest around her were replaced with the lingering scent of stale sweat. The decaying remains of her mother disappeared, replaced with the mischievous grin of a Dalish hunter.

Elena sighed to herself as her mind caught up to the present, remembering who she was, where she was, and what she was doing. Sitting upright in her bedroll, she undid her hair and stretched her back as she yawned.

"There you are, sleepy head, I thought I was going to have to get Solas to turn the bedroll into ice. Trust me; it's very effective at waking you up..."

As Thalia rambled on chirpily to herself, Elena collected herself, trying to brush away the memory of the nightmare. Evidently, Andurfelen had forced his way though her mental protections last night in his heavy-handed attempt to meet with her, and Elena hadn't remembered to reset them.

Part of her felt as if she should be used to the horrors that spirits could conjure up by now, but each time they created something new, something twisted and hideous and unique. Each time they picked a good memory and warped it into something vile and repugnant. Soon she'd have no pure memories left of her childhood, no face of her mother that was untainted by the death that now defined her.

Elena allowed herself to drown in sorrow and remorse for a moment before she pushed it from her and locked it in a mental box. There was no time for regrets, for she walked the Vir Lanaste. Should Elena succeed, she would be rewarded with the redemption and revenge she so desperately sought. Should she instead fail, she would either be killed, or live, the punishment meaning she wallowed in her shame until the day her soul fractured. Whatever outcome, her journey would be over, and she would be free from it all.

"... so anyway, that's the plan, wash, breakfast, mages, and then Haven. I assume you'll be joining us. You are staying, aren't you?"

Elena turned and looked at Thalia. For all her faults, Thalia was, once you'd won her over, incredibly loyal. In truth, you couldn't wish for a better ally. Thalia was the kind of person who'd follow you to the ends of the earth and back if you asked her to, especially if you were embarking on a ridiculous and dangerous quest.

"If the others have no objections."

Thalia made a 'pfft' noise and flapped her hand, as if wafting the words away.

"Solas will dislike you on the sole basis that you're Dalish, Cassandra will be sulking because you got the drop on us, but Varric, Varric will be cool with it. Varric is awesome. I'm sure I explain to them that if you go, I go, they'll soon come around."

Thalia gathered her bathing supplies and the pair left the tent. Varric was the only person up so far, having taken the last watch, and just waved them off when they said they were going to the stream. Elena had days of muck to get rid of, the thought of which made her skin crawl- she loathed uncleanliness in herself and others. Half an hour later though she was clean once more, and the cool refreshing water of the lake they'd found had been enough to distract her from her nightmare and settle her mind.

The pair returned to camp just in time to hear the end of an argument between the warrior and the dwarf, the former furiously stirring a mysterious lumpy and beige liquid in a large pot. Elena declined the offer of a serving, and instead spent the time braiding her hair into its usual style. Four thin, tight plaits ran along the side of her head, two at each side, ensuring that the hair was pulled back from her ears to her temple, whilst one thicker, looser braid gathered the hair from her forehead and crown. She left the rest free, combing it wither her fingers idly, and watched as Thalia produced a bowl from who knows where and helped herself to double portions of the slop.

"So, Arrow, what's the plan for today? One more last hurrah before we return to home sweet home?"

Elena gave the dwarf an assessing look. It would seem the durgen'len was more astute than he let on. Thalia glanced at her sister before swallowing and turning back to the speaker.

"Well, Varric, I'm glad you asked. First, we're going to find the mages, hopefully have a little chat with them, ask them to help, then we'll head back to Haven. Plan? Plan."

Mumbled agreement came from everyone before Cassandra got out a map of the area and started discussing where to start looking for the rebels. As Elena once again busied herself by seeing to the mounts, she watched them for a bit, observing how they all interacted with each other. They were still in the early stages of their partnership, as made obvious by their overly polite arguing about their plans and differences of opinions; they had yet to choose a leader (although it seemed obvious to Elena who would end up taking the mantle), were still figuring each other out, and discovering how to work properly as a team. This, Elena thought to herself, was the group meant to save the world? She wasn't confident.

Thalia rocked back on her heels and ran her fingers through her hair absentmindedly before her gaze wandered over to her sister. An expression of thoughtful contemplation fell over her features as she stroked her chin.

"So sissy" Thalia began. "You've been wandering around the Hinterlands for a while now..."

Three heads popped up when Thalia started talking, and flicked over to see if Elena responded, which she did by way of a raised eyebrow.

"Don't suppose you've happened upon a group of mages have you? Quite a large group... say... main group of the outcast rebels size?"

A flicker of approval flitted over Elena's features before it disappeared and her face fell back into same controlled expression she always wore.

"I may have seen something similar."

"May have..." Thalia said slowly, and with suspicion.

"It would depend on who exactly sought such a place."

Thalia made a noise of consideration as she looked to her companions, ignoring a certain member's grumbling. Cassandra, Elena thought, would probably insist on coming with Thalia; a warrior would certainly be useful if everything went wrong. Cassandra's Seeker status however posed a problem. Realistically, the presence of a super Templar in a stronghold full of scared mages was asking for trouble. Solas and Varric would be much better choices, in Elena's opinion.

Thalia was still stroking her imaginary beard when she turned back to her sister to ask her next question.

"How welcoming would you say they'll be to outsiders?"

Elena thought for a moment, mulling over the different reactions she could imagine the rebels having to the Inquisition approaching their headquarters.

"If you were to approach them as part of a small group, no more than three, myself included, then I believe they may grant you an audience."

"Aah." Replied Thalia, having realised that the group Elena mentioned assisting last night must have been from the same group she was currently seeking.

"Well that makes things easier." Thalia smiled as she spoke, and clapped her hands together. "What an excellent opportunity this is for some private sister-sister bonding time!"

Predictably it was the Seeker who took the most issue with Thalia's idea.

"Absolutely not. Herald this may be a trap; we have no idea how many may have turned to blood magic in their desperation."

Elena fought the urge to roll her eyes at the prejudiced and intolerant human; this kind of attitude was exactly why she disliked most templars, and therefore by extension, Seekers. Elena had to bite back a laugh as she watched Thalia make a show of rolling her eyes and sighing deeply.

"Okay, wow, sensing a few lingering issues here. Firstly, I appreciate how protective you are, at least of the mark, but I am a grown woman capable of taking care of myself. Secondly, you all need to stop treating mages like they aren't people, and thirdly, worst trap ever. It'll be fine. I'll go with Elena, they'll see her coming, welcome her with open arms, I'll say my piece, they'll accept, and then we'll all hug out any lingering tension. Ooh, we might even get lunch."

Everyone except Elena looked at Thalia with varying levels of incredulity; the optimism they'd come to expect from their Herald was limitless, bordering foolish. Elena on the other hand, knew this already, and recognised that once Thalia had made up her mind about something, it was absolutely impossible to change it. It was easier, and quicker, to just go along with it, and pick up the pieces after if necessary. Thalia turned back to Elena with a grin on her face and gave her a double thumbs up.

"Plan agreed to, let's be off."

The group mounted (Elena insisted on walking instead of doubling up with someone, despite their protests) and journeyed in silence, down through the valley, across the stream, and up through the hills. It was surprisingly peaceful; not one person, animal, or rift bothered them and it proved to be a marvellous change of pace to what Elena had come to expect from the area.

They'd been walking for about two hours before Elena stopped Thalia. Both she and Solas had been pointing out and either disarming or avoiding the various magical traps and alarms that had been laid by the rebel mages, and the closer they got to their destination, the more they could feel the magical energies in the air, the more traps they'd found.

"We're almost there."

Thalia turned to the group and looked at each of them in turn, silently deliberating her team. Solas looked passive, Varric untroubled, and Cassandra concerned.

"Righty gang, I'll be off then. If you hear someone screaming like a maniac, it'll be me, please feel free to come charging to the rescue. Otherwise, I'll meet you back here when it's over."

She threaded her arm through Elena's before leading the pair away from Cassandra and the rest of the group and towards the mages. It wasn't long before they came across the entrance to a cave, the opening blocked by an enormous barrier that pulsed in various shades of purple. Elena stopped and examined the construction, seeing which runes had been used and how they'd been linked together.

Elena was aware of Thalia watching as she did so, and remembered the time she'd asked Elena to describe what such magic looked like. Barriers, she had explained, both were and were not formed by casting a certain spell. A mage cast a barrier by creating a protective rune, and shaping it around a person or object. The more runes a mage knew, the stronger the barrier, the more protection it offered. It was, Elena had pointed out, one of the reasons barrier spells were both hideously complicated and extremely easy to cast. A mage that cast a barrier for flame protection would be protected, to some extent, against fire damage. They would however be weak to ice, for example, unless they interwove the different protective glyphs and cast their barrier to protect them from ice and flame, and so it went on. Barriers also relied on the strength of the one casting them. The more mana a mage had to dedicate to it, the longer the barrier would last, the more damage it would take before expiring.

In battle, mage opponents could read the runes, therefore discovering in what area the person they were attacking was weakest. By casting a barrier with multiple runes woven into each other, not only was the mage making themselves impervious to attacks, but they were also buying themselves some time, as their opponent would have to concentrate more to work out how to dispel it, or spend time and energy flinging different types of magic at it at random. That in turn made the attacker easier to defeat, as they'd have to concentrate more on reading the barrier, and less on casting or sustaining their own.

As fascinating as Thalia had found the theory, she'd declared that was glad she wasn't a mage. Using a bow was much easier; it was just a case of point, shoot, and repeat. She could do point and shoot, in fact, she knew she was really rather good at it, she'd insisted.

Moments later, Elena's hand lit up as she fired a bolt of magic into the barrier and it immediately crumbled; shards of purple magic fell towards the ground gently, like leaves falling from trees in the autumn. It wasn't long before four or five mages stood there, staffs ready as magic swirled up and down their length. The pair stood there, Elena looking as composed as always, and Thalia doing her best to replicate her sister's cool facade with almost minimal twitching.

"I bring my sister, an agent of The Inquisition; she has a proposal for you. May we come in?"

Elena watched out of the corner of her eye as Thalia stiffened when several sets of eyes raked over her, some openly, some from the shadows. Knowing her as well as she did, she could tell that Thalia was barely resisting the urge to fidget or crack a joke, so instead she offered a cheery 'hello' and a wave. A voice floated out from further in the cave and the mages blocking their entrance relaxed and stepped to one side, allowing both women to pass. Elena led Thalia into the hideout proper, and with a flick of her wrist, resealed the access to their base behind them.

Chapter Text

Elena looked back towards Thalia, as if sensing her discomfort, before giving a small, yet reassuring smile, and turning away. As far as hideout go, Elena wasn't impressed, but as far as caves go, it was certainly very impressive. Several smaller caverns led off from the main area and further into the land, and Elena noticed Thalia examining them too, trying to work out if they were natural and had formed over time, or if the mages had carved them out using magic.

The elder Lavellan led them both through the cave with practiced ease, several inhabitants smiling or waving at her as she passed. In practically no time at all they had reached another group of people, this time consisting of an older man, portly and bearded, who was surrounded by attentive children. Elena, already knowing what she'd interrupted, silently sat down at the edge of the group and listened. Thalia, not wanting to stand out too much, hurried to do the same, and mentally added it to the list of things she intended to ask Elena about later.

The pair listened as the man told an epic tale of dragons and giants, creating images of light from his magic and weaving it through the air. Eventually the tale was over, and he shooed off all the children to get some lunch. He spotted the pair of elves who'd been listening in and beckoned them over.

"Aah Elena my child, welcome back. I grew concerned when you didn't return."

Elena wore a faint smile as she nodded her head in greeting before gesturing to her sister, who stood slightly behind her.

"Tobey, it's good to see you well. May I introduce my sister, Thalia Lavellan, clan hunter and agent of the Inquisition."

Elena reached out to help the man to his feet. Once there, he turned immediately to Thalia and held out his hand.

"Tobey Cross, how do you do, my dear?"

Elena watched with amusement as Thalia looked at the man, to his outstretched palm, back to his face, and finally to Elena, before she reached out with her own hand and left it there in the air, just as he'd done. Tobey reached forward, grasped her hand firmly, and shook it, before he let go and nodded.

Thalia stood there, dumbfounded, and uttered a quiet 'hullo' that caused Elena to smile openly this time as Tobey threw his head back and laughed a full-belied guffaw that had him clutching his middle.

"I take it that was your first handshake, young one. You should have seen when I tried to do it to your sister; she thought I was attacking her and nearly chopped my arm off."

Thalia looked to Elena, who just nodded, looking completely unrepentant.

"Um, yes, I'm Thalia, with The Inquisition, apparently the one they call the Herald of Andraste, and I'd like to discuss a deal with you, if that's okay?"

Tobey tilted his head to one side and looked at her, one hand supporting his elbow as the other stroked his chin.

"Hmm. An interesting idea, one I'd love to discuss. Very bad form to negotiate on an empty stomach however, why don't you invite your friends in and we'll have a chat over some food. We don't have much I'm afraid, but I'd be honoured if you could join us, Miss Thalia."

He didn't really give them much of a choice as he walked off then, presumably towards the food. Elena and Thalia waited for a moment before following. They followed Tobey to a large room off the main area, one with several tables set up, with seats surrounding them. At the top of the room stood a long table, covered in food, bowls, and cutlery. Tobey sat down, gesturing for Thalia and Elena to do the same. Elena pulled her sister to one side, informing her that she intended to fetch the others, before melting away into the crowds around them and disappearing.

**********

Elena reached out with her magic, spreading her aura further and further from her body before she recognised that of Solas's. She latched onto it, and made her way towards the rest of Thalia's group, reaching the clearing in little time. She came to a stop and only narrowly avoided a bolt through her head, courtesy of Varric.

"Holy shit, Speedy, don't do that to me. You almost stopped my heart."

She raised an eyebrow and stared down at the dwarf, who was indeed clutching his chest.

"Speedy?" she replied in the blandest tone she could muster.

"Yeah I know, not the best, I'm working on a new one."

She didn't get a chance to reply to the dwarf, as the clompy human stomped her way towards Elena with a scowl on her face.

"Where is The Herald?"

"Thalia has been invited for lunch, as have the rest of you."

"You just left her there? In a mage stronghold? What if they attack her?"

"They aren't going to harm her, Seeker."

"You don't know that; you shouldn't have left her there! It was irresponsible."

Elena had had enough at this point. She may seem calmer than Thalia, and appear to be harder to annoy, but that wasn't true at all; her temper ran deeper, lasted longer, and was triggered easier. She fixed the Seeker with a glare of her own as she spoke in a deceptively cool tone.

"Do not presume to tell me what I do and do not know. She is safer in there with them than she is out here with you. I am, and always will be, more concerned about her wellbeing than any of you could ever hope to be."

Elena stepped back from the group and started walking away from them, her jaw clenched, muscles tensed. She stopped just within hearing, and turned to look at them over her shoulder.

"It would be rude not to accept their invitation; I suggest you follow the markers."

With that, she was gone. She wove a trail through the trees, leaving a mark of magic as she went that she knew Solas would have no difficulty detecting and following.

When Elena entered the mages' cave again, she'd calmed herself down considerably, and sat down after helping herself to a portion of their broth- it was surprisingly tasty. Large chunks of vegetables floated in a well-seasoned soup, it was warming, homely, and healing all at once.

It wasn't long before the others joined them. Solas entered first, then Varric, and finally Cassandra, who looked decidedly uncomfortable. Thalia, who was on her second bowl, waved them over.

"Hi guys, glad you could make it. You have to try this food, it's amazing. It reminds me of my clan's cooking, but better."

Varric, being the least socially awkward of the group, was the first to walk up to the table and pour himself a serving. Taking the hint, Solas and Cassandra joined him, before finding their places at the table. Despite the fact quite a few people were staring at them, Elena found herself surprisingly at ease in the cave.

"This is quite a spread, thanks for the invite."

Tobey chuckled, as he was wont to do, and thanked Varric for his kind words.

"Think nothing of it, dear boy; I should be thanking you for joining us. We don't have much here, but please don't hesitate to make yourself comfortable. The least we can do for the woman who helped saved our lives is making her companions feel welcome."

They ate in silence for a few minutes. Elena could tell that Thalia was desperate to ask something, she was fidgeting and her eyes kept flicking between Tobey and Elena. Eventually, the younger elf could bear it no more. She had, to be fair to her, acted with a surprising amount of restraint.

"I gotta know- how did you know there were others with us?"

"Well it's simple little hunter, the rumours mentioned a group of people travelling along with The Herald. Since you are the Herald, and two people don't make a group, I simply assumed you'd asked the others to stay a distance away."

"Huh." Thalia thought for a second before replying. "You're pretty smart."

Instead of taking offense, as he'd be entitled to after hearing Thalia's words, he just smiled at the young elf.

"Thank you child, but I no more intelligent than the next man, I simply try to learn from my experiences. Those who ignore the past are doomed to repeat it, after all."

"I have noticed that you seem remarkably calm considering current events."

Elena nearly groaned. Between Thalia's bluntness, and Cassandra's not so subtle prodding, they were going to insult the man, the same man The Herald wanted to persuade to work for the Inquisition. They were going to offend the man, upset the mages, and find themselves at the mercy of a large group of angry people with a point to prove. Cassandra and Thalia were proving to be a potent combination.

"Well that's easy; I have no idea what's going on any more."

His comment was met with silence. Solas, Elena, and Varric looked at him curiously, whilst Cassandra and Thalia looked puzzled.

"Hold up, you're calm because the world is in the shitter?"

"In a manner of speaking, yes. The world is in chaos, the institutions that have existed for hundreds of years are all but extinct, the sky has split open and demons are pouring from it, the templars have gone rogue and are killing everything in sight, the mages are finally free but don't know how to live. Is this the Maker's plan? I don't know. Are the gods of the elves shaping the world? I don't know that either." Tobey only stopped long enough to take a deep breath. Apparently he'd been holding onto this speech for quite some time.

"Perhaps there are no gods and there is no plan. The point is, we just don't know. Now I can either curl up in a corner and lament about how good it used to be, how this new world is terrible, and I could plot and plan how to go about reinstating things back to how they were, or, I can embrace the life I still live. I have my health, I have my friends, I have shelter, and I have the young ones. Instead of beating my fists against the winds of change, I choose to float along on the breeze, waiting to see where it will take me next."

Again, his words were met with silence, but this time it was of a different kind as each person contemplated what he'd said. It was, for a former Circle mage, a surprisingly progressive attitude to take, Elena thought. One that was certain to have got him lynched before. Elena wanted few things in life. She wanted to live in peace, her family (certain members of it; she rest she was indifferent to or despised), and balance back in the world. This veil was an unnatural creation, one that shouldn't have existed, but according to research, one that was necessary. What Elena wanted was for the world to live again, to be able to grow, and repair itself; for magic to float through the air as naturally as the breeze Tobey spoke of.
What she didn't want however, was more chaos. She didn't want the world to burn around her, she didn't want the spirits to continue being corrupted, she didn't want the world to fear magic and lock away the users, and she didn't want a world where she was seen as a servant, simply due to her ears. What she wanted most of all however, was redemption for a series of past misdeeds. Elena wasn't going to beat her hands on the winds of time, but she wasn't going to float away either; her duty anchored her.

If not for Tobey's next words, they all would have been content to sit in silence and ponder his words some more.

"Now that we're fed and watered, what did you want to talk about?"

Thalia blinked for a few seconds before she remembered.

"Oh! Yes! I wanted to know if you wanted to come to Haven and help the Inquisition."

Tobey hummed as once again he studied her.

"What would be the terms of such an arrangement?"

"Well, speaking honestly, we need healers, but I'm aware that not all mages are skilled in that area. I was thinking that perhaps they could be trained up to fight or defend. Go out in the field, scout if they want to, fight with the troops if they preferred. Alternatively, they could stay and work on growing plants and herbs, that's important too."

Quite a few people were openly staring now, not just at Thalia, but also at Cassandra, specifically at the emblem on her armour.

"What of the templars, dear girl, is The Inquisition just another excuse to throw chains around our necks and drag us back under their control?"

"No! Gods, no, absolutely not. I'm lucky enough to know that the things magic can achieve are incredible, if you're given a chance."

"What guarantee can you give that the others will honour your words? You are but one woman, a formidable one, yes, but ultimately, just one woman. One elf, just a Dalish girl thrust into a position of power."

The cavern went quiet and Elena knew that Thalia's next words would either make or break this partnership; however it wasn't her, but Cassandra who replied.

"I understand your hesitation, but The Herald has proven herself repeatedly. There is not one person she has come across that she hasn't helped. So far she has implemented many changes to the way the Inquisition is run. If she thinks that a partnership with your people in beneficial, then we will support her."

If Elena had been the expressive kind, her mouth would have opened in shock and her chin would be resting on the floor. It would seem that some of the lessons on diplomacy their dear Seeker had received as a child had stuck with her. Elena found herself pleasantly surprised; perhaps the warrior was not so stubborn or closed-minded after all.

Despite the fact that Cassandra was glaring at the man, an expression Elena was beginning to think was her default, Tobey smiled at her, seemingly pleased by her words.

"Please forgive my rudeness; we had to hear it out loud."

Tobey's smile faded slightly as he let out a sigh.

"You offer us the chance to be treated like normal people; you offer us the opportunities that would be afforded us if we were not mages. You offer us freedom. What, specifically, do you ask of us in return?"

"I guess all I'm asking is that if you do stay, you do your jobs to the best of your abilities. I'm giving you all a chance, a chance to prove to the Chantry, to the world, to the mages, to the templars that you aren't all demon possessed maniacs, drunk on power. I would ask that you keep that in mind."

Elena was incredibly impressed. Underneath Thalia's sarcastic exterior was a strong soul and a brave heart- one that would fight for what she believed in. She was, more than any other time in her life, immensely proud of Thalia right now.

"I must discuss this with the others, would you be so kind as to remain here while I do so? I promise we will be as quick as we can."

Tobey, yet again, didn't wait for an answer. He stood from the table and strode from the room, a few of the adults followed him- the ones he would discuss their alliance with, Elena presumed.

That left the others to sit there and talk about what Thalia had just done, or more correctly, it left Cassandra to poke holes in Thalia's proposal.

"Herald, I meant what I said. If you truly think this is the best option, I will support you. I do not agree with it, but these are strange times we live in. Have you considered what might happen if someone should become possessed, what then? The strength of an abomination is far greater than that of an average mage. We need the templars watching over them to keep everyone else safe, to keep them safe; the Order has kept people protected for hundreds of years."

Elena looked to Solas on a hunch, seeing the thinly veiled contempt before it disappeared once more underneath his stoic mask of indifference. It was little surprise to her that a fellow apostate would share similar opinions to her when it came to the subject of mages and templars.

"I hear you Cassandra, I do, but here's the thing. I grew up surrounded by mages. This is a legit clan secret, so keep it between us, but my clan didn't hold to the three mages maximum rule. Do you want to hear how many became possessed or tried to burn the forest down just because? I'm telling you anyway. None. Not one. Not ever."

Thalia took a deep breath before continuing. She was on a roll and wouldn't be stopped now. She didn't do impassioned speeches very often, but when she did, she committed to them.

"Okay, I get it. I know compared to one of  Josephine's speeches this must sound like a series of different pitched mouth farts, and I know I'm just another knife ear who has lived her life in the woods, but in my time with the Inquisition, I've learnt one thing: ignorance breeds fear, fear breeds hate. I may be just a savage to you all, but to me, you are all ignorant. There's the potential for there to be so much beauty in the world, so much potential, but you won't see it."

Elena reached under the table and squeezed Thalia's hand. Despite the calm and collected facade she was projecting, Elena could feel her sister's hands were shaking. She squeezed again, drawing her attention to her as she turned Thalia's face gently using her other hand, as she quietly, yet firmly spoke words low enough so that only another elf would be able to hear. It wasn't complete privacy, but it was the next best thing.

"Asa'malin... you are perfect."

Thalia shuffled around in her seat, and Elena knew she was simultaneously fighting the urge to cry and make a joke all at once. Elena wasn't known for making great public-display-of-emotion thing, so for her to do what she did, it proved to Thalia how moved she was by her words.

In the end, after the urge to run away and hide was abating, she just mumbled that it was 'the right thing to do'. Elena smiled at her sister, and lowered her hand from her cheek, but kept the one under the table clasped around Thalia. Nobody had anything to say, not even Cassandra. Instead, the rest of them made themselves useful by gathering up the used dishes and cutlery and placing them all in a pile on the table. It wasn't much, but it helped.

Tobey re-entered the food hall, and everyone took that as the cue to return to their seats; it was time to hear the verdict.

Chapter Text

"Miss Lavellan", Tobey began, "firstly, we would like to extend our most sincere gratitude towards you, not only for the offer, but for being willing to talk with us without fear or prejudice. Even since before the rebellion, such thoughtfulness was hard to come by."

He waited for a moment before continuing. Thalia was clearly uncomfortable receiving such attention and praise directly, but to her credit, she managed to keep her shuffling down to a minimum.

"In light of such generosity, we would like to accept your offer; we would be foolish not to. We swear to you, Thalia Lavellan, that we will do our utmost not to bring shame to your name, we will do the tasks you assign us to the best of our abilities, and for as long as you need us, we will be there for you."

With a firm handshake, the deal became official. Thalia asked for a small handful of their healers to accompany her group to the nearest camp, where they met a couple of scouts who agreed to escort them to the crossroads so that they might help heal all those who had been wounded in the cross fire before they all headed back to Haven.

Extremely conscious of the fact that it was almost approaching early evening by now, Thalia had led the group off in search of the Templars. By the time they reached their camp, the sun had just started its descent, and Elena could see that Thalia had started fidgeting and second-guessing herself.

The group stood out of sight of the main camp as Thalia started into nothing, trying to come up with a suitable plan. The way Elena saw it they had limited options: One, they could try and sneak back to their nearest camp, but that would mean going through a smaller group of Templars that were perfectly positioned between their position and destination. Two, they could retreat and come back another day. It was extremely unlikely that if they took that option that there group would actually return however. Three, they could march straight into their camp and hope the templars weren't in an attack-first-and-ask-questions-later mood- Cassandra's presence would probably help with that. Lastly there was option four. This idea involved waiting until nightfall and then stealthily moving to take them all out. Elves had superior senses to humans and dwarves, including how they could see in the dark, so it wouldn't be impossible for the three elves to use this to their advantage and stage an ambush.

Elena heard Thalia sigh as she played with the loose bits of golden blonde hair that had escaped from her bun before she snapped back into action. With her mind made up, Thalia turned to the others and discussed their plan. Cassandra and Thalia would lead the way and attempt to make contact first. Varric would bring up the rear and Solas and Elena would be in the middle, so that the two mages didn't draw too much attention (and were protected should the templars decide to attack).

The group set off and carefully made their way over a half-destroyed bridge that crossed a shallow stream. As planned, Cassandra and Thalia went first, heads held high, weapons sheathed. If either Solas or Elena were nervous with the idea of approaching the group, they hid it well. The party walked halfway up the grassy hill towards where the main group of Templars were camped and stopped as two men stepped forwards. Their shields were as tall as the men who bore them, and were placed defensively in front of them, making it impossible to truly distinguish one from the other.

For one tense moment, neither group spoke as they watched each other, waiting to see who would make the first move. Cassandra stepped forward to begin the talks.

"My name is Cassandra Pentaghast, of the Seekers of Truth. The Herald of Andraste" she motioned to Thalia, who stepped forward and offered a small bow "would like to extend to you an invitation to join us in Haven."

"Do you seek to insult us?" Boomed out from behind the shield to the left. "We know how you fraternise with mages, how you allow them free reign over your headquarters. The Divine's corpse is barely cold yet you are so quick to make a mockery of what she stood for. It is an outrage!"

"We'd rather not make enemies out of you." Thalia cried out as Cassandra stiffened next to her. "Our only goal is to seal The Breach, end the madness, go home, and have a beer."

Whilst the others felt aghast or were sidetracked by Thalia's words, Elena used their distraction to subtlety survey their surroundings. She could hear a smaller group of Templars moving into position behind them, blocking their escape route. She could hear as they quietly unsheathed their swords and strung their arrows. This wasn't going to end well.

"The mages caused The Breach in the first place. They should be purged, and the world made safe once more. We have kept the world protected from mages for years beyond counting now."

Just as Cassandra started to speak again, the voice called out to the rest of his peers.

"Templars, show the heretics the error of their ways!"

An arrow immediately came out of nowhere towards Thalia. Elena shot forward, pushing her sister out of the way as it flew close enough to her to nick the side of her neck. In that same instant, another found its way towards her from behind that went straight through Elena's shoulder, causing her to hiss out in pain.

As the first arrow had appeared, Solas had surrounded Thalia with a barrier. By the time a third was making its way towards them he'd managed to cast one over the rest of the group. Varric and Solas fired bolts of magic and steel towards the templars who were approaching from behind, desperate not to let them get within smiting range of their mages. Meanwhile, Cassandra charged forward towards the men hidden behind their shields, leaving Thalia to take position.

Elena, feeling her left arm was going to be useless until she healed it, swore to herself and palmed a double dagger in her right hand, before stealthy following the Seeker. She could feel the blood thundering through everyone's veins, almost taunting her, beckoning her to pull it from them. The world slowed down and as she flit around the battlefield, everything began to beat with one heartbeat; her, Thalia, Cassandra, Varric, Solas, the Templars, they all shared one pulse, one heart, one life. Elena revelled in the sensations pulsing through her- never feeling more alive than she did in the heat of battle.

As subtly as she could, she began to tweak at the Templar's bodies. Their muscles became fatigued, their reactions slower, their breathing harder. It was all she could do without being detected, and if anyone did suspect foul play, well... they'd be dead soon anyway.

The sound of metal clashing with metal rang out in the valley. Elena slipped towards a Templar just in time to slit his throat, luring another closer to her, who Cassandra wasted no time in killing. Thalia was nowhere to be seen, but judging by the accuracy of the arrows that were rapidly firing from every direction, Elena knew she was close.

Thalia was a brilliant shot, even better than Elena who'd trained her. Her skill was well known throughout the clans, and as a result, Thalia's value to the Dalish had increased steadily over the years, as did any Dalish who had 'the blessings of the gods'. The thought made Elena's lip curl up in disgust and disapproval; the number of proposals she'd intercepted and destroyed was... staggering. It was a small mercy Thalia hadn't been a mage or they'd have tried to trade her off to be a magic baby making broodmare before now as they'd tried to do to Elena.

Elena mentally swore as she dodged a blade that had been coming towards her stomach. She'd been distracted in the middle of a battle- it was most unlike her. She parried the strikes that were coming towards her before she saw her opportunity, and took it, putting magic into her arm as she shoved her attacker into the path of an incoming arrow.

She was really rather tired now. Seeing that the others were taking care of the last two templars, she stood off to one side and took stock of her injuries. Looking down she noticed that she was covered in blood from quite a few sources; her only injuries were the arrow that had been shot through her shoulder and the one that had nicked her neck. Luckily, it had gone straight through to the other side, and judging by the fact she wasn't frothy mouthed and twitching on the floor it hadn't been poisoned. Unluckily, it was there in the first place.

It wasn't until the adrenalin died off and she calmed down that she realised just how much blood she'd actually lost. As she'd noticed before, her left arm was covered in it, but what she hadn't realised is how much of it had actually come from her. Elena watched with grim amusement as more trickled out each time her heart beat again; it was almost hypnotising until the pain began to register. It came in waves, a dull throbbing at first that quickly became more intense until it felt as if the wound was on fire, and her shoulder was being punched repeatedly. She swore she could feel the exact path the arrow had taken through her body now, could feel it inside her. Her thoughts began to slow somewhat as she began to feel sick and lethargic.

It had been quite some time since she'd been injured like this, and if she were the guessing type, she'd wager the arrow had nicked a major blood channel; she'd forgotten what it was like to suffer such an injury. With a quiet groan, she slid to her knees. Looking down at the arrow again, Elena decided that it was a good thing it had gone straight through. While it wasn't ideal to be shot in the first place, at least this way she could pull it through and heal it, she didn't have to attempt to force it through to the other side. She turned her neck slowly to look at the fletching, deeply unhappy to discover it was covered in small spiked barbs. Elena was incredibly lucky that it hadn't continued on its journey through her body, as it would have caused even more damage than it already had, and there was no guarantee it wouldn't have torn her shoulder up even worse, shredding what remained of the damaged artery. She would have bled out during the fight if it had.

A pale hand came down on her shoulder, causing Elena to jump and bite back a scream as the arrow was jostled. Her eyes tracked the hand, up its wrist, and continued until she found herself staring into the eyes of her fellow apostate. His eyes were lovely, she thought. A blue so pale they were almost grey in this light. Her gaze left his eyes, which were pointedly not looking at her face, and continued roaming. They wandered up his brow and caught the scar that sat just above his bridge. How did he get it, she wondered; perhaps she might ask him, perhaps he might answer.

Her journey continued down his nose now, proud and strong as it was, and down across his cheeks. For the first time she noticed his freckles, extremely faint, like hers. She'd always been quite fond of the marks, her father's face had been covered in them and she used to love trying to make patterns out of the shapes when she was younger. Before her mother died. Before her world was shattered. Before everything had changed.

 Elena sighed; the throbbing or her wound mercifully dragged her back to the present. She'd take the physical pain of being injured over the heartbreak of losing her parents any day. She frowned down at the source of pain.

"Da'len?"

Elena fixed him with a stern glare; she hated being referred to as a child, but chose not to comment at that moment. She needed his assistance, loathed as she was to admit it.

"Would you please cut the arrow so I can pull it through."

"You would be better served leaving it in. It will stem the flow of blood until I can regain some mana to heal you."

Elena was now trying to resist the urge to roll her eyes. Did he honestly think he was the only healer around, or even that he was the best one available? Despite her best efforts though, she did find herself feeling a twinge of pity for the man; being stripped of all his magic couldn't have been pleasant. One of her contacts had once been drained by a templar, he'd said it felt like someone was filling vein in your body with fire, leaving only agony and misery in its wake.

Solas' polite cough pulled her mind from her musings and she replied with the most patient voice she could manage, considering the situation.

"Normally I'd agree, but I am a fairly competent healer in my own right."

He fixed her with look that screamed 'you are a fool' before replying in the driest voice he could muster.

"Healing, as you should be aware, requires a great deal of concentration. It would not be unusual after an injury such as yours if you found attention drifting to other matters."

Elena in return offered him her own glower, this one saying 'I know what I'm doing' or perhaps even 'I'm not going to change my mind'. It seemed to work, as Solas sighed before taking a knife from his belt and beginning to saw into at the wooden shaft. Several times Elena had to stop herself from crying out, every time he moved, no matter how slight it was, bumped the arrow, making the pain flare up once more. Eventually though, it was over, and he dropped the piece he'd trimmed off to the ground.

Sadly though, before Elena could even breathe a sigh of relief, yet alone move, he reached towards the arrow and tore it straight from her body, causing her to hiss out a curse through clenched teeth.

"Fenedhis lasa!"

As if the pain wasn't bad enough, he then had the nerve to smirk at her, challenging him eyes that said 'oh, was that not what you meant to happen?' A thousand retorts sat on her tongue. She wasn't going to give him the satisfaction. Yet, but she would remember. Elena always remembered.

Still glaring at him, she pulled slightly on her connection to Knowledge, allowing its strength to enhance hers as she held her right hand over her left shoulder, willing the magic to knit it back together.

Sighing in relief, Elena dropped her head back and just sat there for a moment, just letting the tension bleed out of her. At the thought of blood, her head snapped up again and she looked around. Since she'd found out that blood could be used to track someone when she was younger, she'd made a point of destroying any she might leave behind anywhere. It might make her look paranoid, but it made sure nobody could trace her whereabouts. Judging from the state of her armour, there was a lot of it around here to get rid of.

She rose to her feet, only swaying once, before casting a modification to an old spell her father had taught her. Originally, it had been created to destroy any natural waste that a child might produce, but Elena had altered it slightly so any natural matter from the caster burnt away into nothing. It didn't burn anything else, making it safe to use on people, but it did give them quite a shock if they weren't expecting it. Elena cast her spell, causing Solas to swear as his hands suddenly lit up as they were bathed in freezing cold purple flames that lasted only a few moments before simmering down into nothingness.

"Ma serannas, mor'shan'len."

Elena knew it was foolish to risk alienating him (in theory they could have much in common; in theory he was an ally), but she did it anyway; it was her revenge for him calling her a child. She hated being called 'da'len' with a fiery passion. If she at her age was a child, that surely made him a decrepit old man who'd be better off sipping tea by the fire with a blanket over his legs than parading about the Hinterlands. Resisting the urge to cackle at his affronted expression, she went to go find the rest of their party and compose herself once more, aware of the fact that the blood loss was making her behave ridiculously.

Thalia, seeing how exhausted the group now was, decided to delay their departure from the Hinterlands until the next day. They all voted to stay in an official Inquisition camp, as there would be no need for them to take shifts on watch. Cassandra and Varric retired first, too tired to eat, as Elena and Thalia washed in the nearly stream before they too opted for sleep. After the pair had dried off, Elena followed Thalia into the tent, seemingly unaware of the curious looks a certain apostate had been throwing her since the fight; looks a certain other rogue had caught.

Chapter Text

The journey back to Haven took seven days, and horse master Dennet had been kind enough to lend the party another mount despite the lack of a formal alliance. The first day she noticed Solas and Thalia absorbed in a quiet, private conversation for most of the morning, and ever since then the pair had been acting strangely towards her. Firstly, she'd become aware of an unfamiliar presence trying to draw her into the fade proper, often unsuccessfully. Secondly, Solas had begun to ask more and more pointed questions, and thirdly, Thalia kept looking at her with a wide grin on her face. Since then Elena had been on high alert. There were only two circumstances in which Thalia smiled at someone like that, she'd either just interfered and done something she was pleased about (that the other person probably wouldn't appreciate), or she was about to.

By the time the party reached Haven, Elena was still waiting for Thalia to reveal what she'd been planning, and both she and Cassandra had come to a somewhat cordial working relationship. Whilst the Seeker wasn't too comfortable with the way Elena used magic freely, or the fact she was unwilling to share information about herself, she was willing to accept that it was in her nature- having been brought up around people that were the same. Elena was making a conscious effort not to judge every templar they came across as a mage murdering psychopath with no impulse control, or dismiss every shemlen as pious and irritating (not that she'd shared the second part with the Seeker). The pair had had many conversations about the fear of magic, admitted that there were idiots on both sides, and had agreed to disagree about the benefits of circles and magical education in general.

Although Elena was quite enjoying travelling with a new group of people, she found herself missing the comfort of solitude to the point that she almost galloped ahead of the party as soon as Haven came into view, desperate to find the nearest bath and soak the last few weeks away. Having been somewhat of an outsider in the clan, a role she had embraced and taken steps to cultivate, she found being part of a group to be somewhat of an adjustment. A group that in her opinion, didn't seem to know how to work together properly or play to their individual strengths. To her great surprise, Elena found herself missing the efficiency of the Dalish. Everyone in a clan had a role to play to ensure their ongoing survival, and with the exception of the Keeper, everyone was treated equally. No matter the circumstance, the nomads always had a system in place, a contingency plan, and they made sure their people were trained enough to see success should it ever see the light of day.

Elena was brought out of her musings when the racket from the village became too hard to ignore. The clanging of metal against metal and the whoosh of the bellows came from her right, accompanied by the yelling of a tall, bearded man. The breeze that blew over the mountains was strong enough to ensure that the stench of horse waste blew directly into the group's faces. Undeterred by the smell, Thalia led the group over to the source of the aroma.

After handing their mounts over to the stable hands, the group went their separate ways. Thalia decided to treat Elena to the "grand and most wonderful and informative guided tour". At least she'd planned to. As soon as they entered the main gates into Haven, it was plain to see (and hear) two large mobs descending on the Chantry, angry shouts and raised tensions from either side.

"Oh for the love of strong cheese!" Thalia cried. "What on earth could they be arguing about this time?"

She darted off to see what the ruckus was about, yelling to Elena to 'stay put' as she'd be 'back soon'. Which left Elena with two choices; it was either wander round Haven until she found a familiar face, or wait on the docks she'd seen until Thalia had finished with the task.

Preferring the second option, Elena slowly made her way over to sit by the large frozen lake. She didn't have many possessions. In fact all she'd brought with her when she'd left the clan had been the armour she wore, her weapons, and a small sketchpad and pencils she'd 'acquired' some time ago. She relaxed, and allowed her hand to move where it needed to go in order to record the image of the frozen waterfall in front of her.

"Oi, you!"

Elena paused for a second, before turning back to her drawings. She only knew four people in Haven after all, and none of them sounded like that. It was a shame she didn't have any colours with her so that she might fully capture the scene in all its icy beauty...

"Are you deaf, girl?"

This time the voice came from very close by. Elena closed her book and laid it on the ground as she stood and spun so that she was now facing who'd spoken. In front of her stood three men, each of them sneering, each of them leering. It was clear who the leader of their little group was, as he stood slightly ahead of the group, flanked by his companions. His dark, greasy hair was scraped back away from his face, showing what could have been attractive features if it weren't for the layers of dirt and unwelcoming expression that hid them.

"Well? What d'ya think you're playin' at?"

Elena was quite sure she didn't know what the Greasy Leader was talking about, so said nothing, causing Sidekick One to snort and step closer.

"He means, knife ear, that there's work that ain't gettin' done whilst you're sat on your bony arse doin' nothin'."

Instantly her blood boiled as she fought clenching her fingers into fists. So this was the Inquisition, she thought, an organisation so young, yet already marred by the prejudice of its members. Elena silently fumed and could see Solas quickly approaching them. If she was going to have to defend herself, she'd rather there was a witness present who would mention the men's deplorable behaviour; at least then she could claim self defence.

"I can assure you" Elena began, sounding as calm as always, only the fury in her eyes indicating her true feelings on the issue. "That you have made an error."

"Cheeky fuckin' wench." He hissed as he stepped towards her, drawing his arm back and clenching his fist.

It was decision time for Solas. Her magic coiled tight like a spring, ready to lash out at any given moment. Elena watched intently as the scenarios played out in her mind. One- Solas would ensure he reached his destination and stop them from acting foolishly, or two- he wouldn't, and Elena would remove the hand that tried to beat her.

Time seemed to slow down around them as Elena waited to see what would happen. While she didn't want a shemlen to touch her, she couldn't deny the appeal of reacting to it. The Greasy Leader's fist came towards Elena. She palmed a blade, prepared, when suddenly (unfortunately), Solas was there, cool, collected, and with his fingers wrapped firmly around her attacker's wrist. Elena willed her magic away from the trio of men and back inside her, mildly disappointed.

"Mistress Lavellan, thank you for waiting."

At hearing her name, Sidekick Two, clearly the smartest of the group, quickly snapped his eyes back to Elena, peering unashamedly at her features, seeing similarities he hadn't noticed before. The Greasy Leader wrenched his arm out of Solas' hold and glared at him whilst Sidekick One stepped towards Solas, his arms taut at his side. The almost-fight was over, and he was the last one to know. There would be no bloodshed today, it seemed; Solas had chosen to save the lives of the men in front of her.

"And what exactly do you want, slant ear?"

If he took offense, he didn't show it, as instead he stood there calmly, hand clasped behind his back as he replied in an even, cool tone.

"The Herald wished me to give her sister a tour of the village."

The Sidekicks looked at each other before turning to the leader for instruction. Elena watched them leave through slightly narrowed eyes, listening to them moan and grumble about her and Solas the entire time they were in earshot. She was furious, seething. How dare they assume she was a servant, simply because of her ears? She could feel her blood pounding inside, her body readying for a fight. Her magic was fighting to get free, thrashing and tearing away at her control, desperate to be released. Elena wanted to hunt the shemlen down, she wanted to make them bleed for the way they insulted her; it would be so easy, and so very satisfying.

Solas stepped into view, feeling the tension in the air, his composure only serving to frustrate Elena more.

"Atisha da'len; attacking those men will only damage your sister's reputation."

Elena's eyes darted over to his from where they had been staring at the men's retreating backs, suddenly finding her irritation had a new target.

"I am no child, nor am I in need of guidance. I am no stranger to the idiocy of their people." Her tone was curt, and she made little effort to hide her annoyance. Taking a deep breath before he could retort, she looked him in the eyes and allowed the anger to dissipate, willing her muscles to relax.

"I do not need the reminder, but you are right; maiming them serves little purpose."

Elena's eyes went back over to where the men had disappeared. Poor Thalia, she thought. She had wondered why her sister had been so eager to complete every mission and favour she could before returning to the village, but seeing the reception and rumours she faced here, the answer became clear. Elena knew that even should Thalia cure the blight, end all wars, and mend the sky, there would always be those who only saw her ears, unwilling to look to see the person who wore them. It was disgusting. Those people were disgusting; the society that taught them was disgusting. Every aspect was foul and corrupted from the head of the Chantry, to the leaders of the countries, to the peasants that kept it all going. She wouldn't be sad if it all burned to the ground.

She sighed to herself and turned around to gather her belongings, stopping when she saw Solas bending down to pick up her sketchbook from its spot on the icy pier. Elena tensed slightly, waiting to see if he'd start flicking through it or not, secretly hoping he wouldn't. Normally her drawings stayed close to her at all times, and nobody, including Thalia, had ever seen them. Elena drew as a way to centre herself, to focus her energies on something non-destructive. She didn't draw for others' praise, she drew for herself. Solas, although he might not realise it, held in his hands a collection of Elena's memories; her art was an extension of her mind, and just as private.

Despite the thinly veiled curiosity she could see written across his face, Solas resisted the urge to look, and instead dusted the snow off the cover before walking over and handing the book to her. Elena accepted with a small smile, and bent down to secure it in her pack before allowing Solas to show her around the village.

Solas was, she discovered, an excellent tour guide. There was no small talk, just simple facts and introduction, something Elena appreciated. She had never been particularly chatty, instead preferring to listen and observe people instead. She had learnt long ago that people showed who they were more when they thought people weren't watching; to her, actions spoke louder than words.

Although the pair had yet to meet in the fade, Elena was 100% positive Solas was the presence she'd detected before, suspecting that few other people would be competent enough to find her connection, let alone trace it back to its source and amplify it. At first, she'd been willing to pretend that she hadn't noticed him hovering around, but now it was starting to irritate her. Not only was she getting no privacy, she constantly had to ask Knowledge to shield her, whilst simultaneously hiding that she had any connection to any spirits.

Eventually though, Knowledge had gotten so sick of the intrusive behaviour, it was tantamount to spying, they insisted, that they materialised one night, and demanded to know what the 'mystery presence' wanted. Predictably, they hadn't received an answer; ever since then, Solas had stopped prying, and Elena had been able to sleep in a blissful state of privacy.

Elena would be lying to herself if she said she didn't find the man incredibly suspicious. She didn't believe his humble origins story for a second, and when she'd mentioned his presence to Andurfelen, he had too taken an interest in Solas, and asked her to keep a close eye on him. He had his secrets, and she would figure them out. Elena had considered, just for a moment, asking Knowledge what they knew of the mystery apostate, but ultimately decided against it. Solas guarded his secrets fiercely, and Elena knew that a person like that would guard them viciously, as she did her own. She'd allow no harm come to her oldest friend if she could help it.

The tour ended at his cabin, and he graciously offered to let her rest in there whilst she waited for Thalia to finish whatever she was doing inside the Chantry. She stepped inside, and found it to be surprisingly homely. With a simple gesture, he lit a fire in the hearth and warmth flooded the area, basking his possessions in an amber glow.

A number of little pots sat on a windowsill, each containing a newly grown stem. Curious, she walked over to them to examine their contents further. A couple contained feladara, one looked to be growing blood lotus, there was one for embrium, and the last contained... a surprise. She bent forward for a closer look, impressed that he had managed to grow such a plant in the freezing pit that called itself Haven.

"Royal Elfroot."

Elena blinked and looked at Solas in surprise. That kind of herb was rare, and certainly didn't grow in the types of terrain this village had to offer. She straightened, noticing that he didn't seem too concerned with the her invading his space so casually.

"I would not have expected to see such a plant in these climates."

 He quirked a brow at that before replying.

"I was unaware that a Dalish would be familiar with the herb. It is my understanding that it does not grow in the area you are accustomed to."

"Thalia is an excellent herbalist. I would gather for her a variety of different trimmings on my travels."

Solas just hummed then, and indicated that she should take the seat nearest the fire, which she took graciously. He busied himself with a kettle, watching from the corner of his eye as Elena looked around and took in the rest of his lodge. A small table sat near a bookshelf, strewn with a variety of different papers, the topics of which she couldn't see from her seat. There were a few drawings on his wall; a wall she could only assume separated his sleeping space from the living area. It was a cosy space, and she found herself wondering if Thalia's was similar.

He sat down across from her, and passed her a steaming cup of elfroot tea. She sipped it lightly, savouring how refreshing it was and relaxing as she felt its soothing effects on her body. When she looked up, she noticed that Solas wasn't drinking though, so she looked at him with a question in her eyes.

"I am not much of a tea drinker myself, but please, enjoy yours."

Elena looked down at the beverage in her hands. That meant that he'd made tea, a drink he didn't like, just for her. Why? What did he want that made him feel like he had to bribe her for the answers? She looked back up at him, noticing him watching her, and raised an eyebrow in response.

"I apologise. Prior to meeting you, the Herald mentioned having a sister, and I admit some of the things she told us about you have me curious. Perhaps you would be open to discussing a few topics with me now?"

She mulled over his request before replying, ultimately deciding that there was little harm in revealing a few details about herself. Nodding to him, she took another sip of her drink.

"You were originally the one sent to the Conclave, is that correct?"

"It is."

"I would have thought a mage proficient in both healing and dagger work would have been too valuable to risk losing to the perils such a journey may have afforded."

Elena fixed Solas with a steady gaze as she considered her reply. Ignoring the slights about the Dalish, Thalia had already warned her that he didn't care much for the nomads, she wondered what he was hoping to achieve with this particular line of questioning. Curious, she answered truthfully.

"I was the one with the most experience dealing with those not of a clan."

"Experience gained from your travels?"

"Yes."

Solas thought for a moment before continuing along the same theme.

"There are not many clans who would so readily agree to trade so frequently with outsiders."

"All the songs and prayers in the world won't fill an empty stomach, Solas."

Elena thought she saw surprise flit across his face before it returned to his usual polite mask.

"Those do not strike me as the words of a devout follower of the Creators."

Solas stared at her, his eyes boring into her own. She sat back into her chair and smiled lightly, ignoring what was probably intended as a slight. Her faith was not a subject she was willing to discuss this day.

"A question of my own, if you will permit."

Elena noticed out of the corner of her eye how he stiffened almost imperceptibly before he answered. Evidently he felt it was okay for him to ask probing questions, but not receive them in turn. Interesting, she thought to herself.

"You may ask."

"You are a mage, an apostate, surrounded by Chantry forces, part of an organisation that although claims to be separate from the Chantry, was founded by the left and right hands of the Divine. Should the Circles come back into force, will you submit?"

"I would hope that the rebellion ensures that magical education is not handled in the same way going forward. I would also hope that those in power remember those who assisted, and that I am allowed my freedom."

Elena tilted her head thoughtfully as she digested his reply, her eyes darting between each of his as she thought.

"What about yourself?" he continued. "I would imagine that a Circle would hold little appeal to a Dalish."

She offered him yet another of her small knowing smiles.

"So little as to be nonexistent; I will not be rounded up and caged like an animal."

"You expect it would be easy to avoid such a fate?"

"I never said that. I too would hope that those in power remember those who assisted, and allow me the freedom to return to my people."

"And if they did not?" Solas' words came out more rushed than before and were spoken with an undercurrent of... was it eagerness? Irritation? "Would be willing to fight, potentially kill those you have worked with to retain your independence?"

Undeterred by his attitude she looked him straight in the eye as she answered. Why did she have the feeling her next words could be extremely important?

"Is that so hard to imagine? There will be those who have gone to greater lengths in the pursuit of liberty- it is hardly an unworthy cause."

She held his gaze for a moment more, long enough so that he could see how she stood by her words, waiting to see if he would take the matter further.

"Indeed."

That was all Solas had to say on the matter. Just like that, his walls were back up and his mask of stoic indifference was back on his face. They passed the rest of their time talking about more mundane topics, carefully avoiding those considered too personal, until eventually she brought up a topic Thalia had mentioned he was interested in. His eyes lit up when she asked his about his travels through the fade, and Elena found herself oddly moved by the display. Thalia had already told her all the stories Solas had previously told her of the things he'd seen, but she couldn't bring herself to stop him as he passionately repeated them to her. He even managed to, once or twice, coax a genuine true smile out of her, though if they were in response to his words or because of his infectious enthusiasm, neither of them knew.

Chapter Text

Solas and Elena were mid way through a discussion on the differences and consequences of talking to demons and/or spirits when a soft knock interrupted them. Solas immediately stiffened, almost imperceptibly, before he rose fluidly to answer the door, seeming just as taken aback to find that the sun had set as Elena was; they'd been talking for longer than either of them had thought, and certainly far longer than was wise.

Elena looked over her shoulder as cool air rushed into the cabin that made the flames in the fireplace flicker and made goose bumps rise all over her body. She hadn't appreciated until that moment just how much heat Solas' fire was generating. Elena was utterly unsurprised to see the source of their sudden chill standing in the doorway wearing a huge grin as her eyes darted backwards and forwards between her and Solas.

"Good evening, campers. How was the tour?"

"Informative." Elena replied.

"I see, I see. Run into any problems? Exciting occurrences? Questionable situations?"

Thalia was either making conversation, making the mention of the events from before a coincidence, or (as was more likely), the Spymaster's little birds had been tweeting in her ear. Elena chose to say nothing, and instead shook her head, causing Thalia to make a low humming noise of consideration.

"Yeah," she drawled, "didn't think it would faze you. Still, I'll have their balls in a vice if they try that shit again. Anyhoo, I've come to collect you both for our nightly ritual. Solas has explained our little tradition, has he not?"

He had in fact, not, and the bright tone Thalia used seemed to indicate she expected as much.

"Gosh Solas, trying to keep her to yourself already; moving a bit quick aren't we? What happened to good old fashioned, slow burning courtship?"

She was the recipient of an unimpressed stare from both Elena and Solas, which evidently amused Thalia to no end, if her laughter was to be any indication.

"Well," her sister was kind enough to explain, "every night we all meet in the tavern for dinner and drinks, maybe swap a few stories, get to know each other, you know? Gosh golly, would look at the time? We're late already; Varric'll be extremely upset with us."

Thalia turned and left then, stopping every so often to allow her reluctant dining companions to catch up as they slowly made their way to the tavern.

Elena didn't know to allow herself adequate time to prepare before she entered the building proper. It stank. The sounds and smells of the place were almost overwhelming and assaulted her senses all at once. Roughly three quarters of the space had large tables crammed together, most of them filled with soldiers and scouts as they shared both sustenance and stories in equal amounts. The remaining space consisted of a crowd that gathered in front of a long wooden bar, behind which, a small, curvy human with dark hair filled glasses rapidly in an attempt to keep up with her thirsty patrons' demands.

A laugh from nearby caught their attention and the felt herself being pulled through the crowd over to a table. She was pushed into a seat that faced the door, hemmed in on every side by either people or furniture. Truthfully though, Elena was less concerned with her location, and more concerned with trying not to vomit everywhere. The stench of stale beer hung in the atmosphere so thickly she was honestly surprised that the air wasn't tinged with a yellowy brown hue. Stale sweat tainted the air, leaving Elena trying to decide which would be worse- breathing through her mouth but running the risk of tasting the air, or breathing through her nose and being hit by the disgusting odour full force, continuously.

"Take it your sister here isn't fond of taverns, hey Arrow?" A low voice asked as they chuckled at Elena's discomfort. Thalia laughed from where she'd sat in the chair closest to the fire on Elena's right, leaving the one in between them empty. Solas sat opposite her, managing to mask his own revulsion much more successfully than her, with Varric on his left, leaving Cassandra in the seat opposite Thalia. A waitress came over with a tray and deposited several mugs of- Elena sniffed the substance- ale before leaving to fetch their food.

"You did not visit taverns on your travels?"

Elena looked up at Solas' words, unaware that he'd been watching her since they walked in.

"I preferred to avoid them, where possible."

Thalia laughed at her again, enjoying her sister's uneasiness far too much.

"What she means," She began with a grin "is 'I preferred to avoid people, where possible'."

"Don't worry about it, Arrow; we'll have her singing and dancing with the rest of us in no time."

To Elena's dismay, Thalia and Varric toasted the idea with a loud 'cheers' just as the same woman from before returned and served them all their food. Placed in front of her was a bowl of steaming soup that smelt pleasant enough, but looked unappealing at best. Accompanying it was a chunk of crusty bread, warm and fresh that smelt delectable. There was a lull in conversation as they all began their meal, until their hunger had been curbed enough to allow discussion to flow again.

"So Dragon," Elena flashed a glare in Varric's direction; she did not care for that particular comparison. "Junior here tells us you refused the position of First?"

Elena inwardly raised an eyebrow. It would seem the dwarf was already somewhat familiar with the hierarchy of a Dalish clan- unless Thalia had taken it upon herself to explain to the group exactly what a First and Second were, and what the roles entailed. Still, she found herself vaguely amused at the dwarf's blatant prying; she'd deflected or ignored questions all their way back from the Hinterlands, and knew that eventually she'd have to start answering some before people got too suspicious.

"That is correct."

"Huh. I thought the mages all wanted the position?"

Elena was no fool, she knew Varric was looking for an interesting story, but she had no interest in embellishing her words; if he wished to repeat them, he was more than capable of doing that himself.

"I made them aware that I have little use for people who sit back and watch as the world suffers as they're praised in scripture or song. After that, they were less... eager to allow me the 'honour' of educating the next generation." Elena explained, smiling privately to herself as the memories of aghast faces and disapproving scowls flashed through her mind.

"Well that's..." Varric cleared his throat as he sought out the most appropriate word.

"Controversial?" Thalia offered. "Opinionated? Contentious? Ballsy as tits to advertise?"

"Yeah I'm going to have to go for the last one on this. You know I knew a Dalish once, as dedicated as they come. She got kicked out for some reason or another, but mentioned that they take that stuff very seriously."

"Indeed. I am surprised they would not object to your presence once your feelings became clear." Came Solas' melodic voice from his chair opposite Elena.

"Oh they objected alight, but Ellie here was far too handy to just exile. Plus, you didn't see how she stared the Keeper down every time she talked about giving her the boot. Man, let me tell you, I enjoyed every second."

"Why stay so long if your beliefs differ so greatly from your kin?" He asked, causing Thalia to snort in a way that said 'duh' and 'are you being serious'.

"For me, silly, because I'm just that adorable. People flock to me. I am a candle to their fluttery mothness."

Elena said nothing, but offered a small nod in Thalia's direction. Having her sister answer questions on her behalf was a useful tool, and one she used a lot. It helped immensely that Thalia was aware of, and accepted that her older sister wasn't the most sociable of people, and that she had a terrible temper with a hair trigger. Sometimes someone needed to step in for Elena and field the questions for her- Thalia was that person.

"For reals though, the number of times she's been threatened with exile is phenomenal."

Elena chuckled then, making an actual audible noise of amusement that had the group staring at her in wonder.

"Deshanna was always waiting for a legitimate excuse. She thought she was clever, so cunning to use the Conclave as such."

"Awh come on sissy, auntie D isn't that bad. You're just really freaking intimidating when you want to be; she always saw you as a threat to her leadership and hated that you're way more skilled than she is. Speaking of, I should write to them, let them know we're still alive. Anything you wanna add?"

Thalia was grinning again; she knew that nothing Elena had to say would be particularly friendly. Her sister, being the openly honest (and drama loving) person she had never bothered to hide how much she enjoyed it when Elena proved how much of a bitch she could be to everyone. Thalia would happily admit how sarcastic and rude she was, but was more than happy to acknowledge how she came second to Elena in the way she dryly delivered devastating lines without so much as twitching an eyebrow.

"I'll let you decide."

Thalia laughed as she sat back in her chair, her sea green eyes twinkling with amusement as she tilted back dangerously on two legs, playing with the loose hair that had escaped from her bun.

"Oh yeah." The remaining chair legs joined their counterparts on the floor. "I should probably fill you all in on what we decided in the meeting earlier. Guess who gets an all expenses paid trip to Val Royeaux? We do! Yay!"

Her 'yay' was delivered with false enthusiasm that earned her wry looks from all those sat around the table. Undeterred, she soldiered on.

"The rebels are due to arrive tomorrow, sissy-boo, I volunteered you to assess them to see who'd make good healers, which, trust me, went down a storm. Anyhoo, so you'll spend tomorrow doing that, then maybe the day after... and the one after that, and then we'll set off to the second least friendliest place for elves in the world four days from now. Can I get a 'whoop whoop?"

She did not get a 'whoop whoop', especially not from Elena who had retreated behind her carefully controlled stoic mask of indifference. She didn't mind what she had been asked to do, not really, it was more the fact that she hadn't been asked about it before hand. Thalia had, as she was known to do, thought of an idea, expanded on it, and ran with it, expecting everyone else to fall in line as she sewed chaos in her wake.

Sensing that the next few days were going to be rather taxing, she started to mentally prepare herself for the upcoming task she'd been given. From what she'd been able to gather in her short time spent with the more rebellious of the mage rebels, the Circle's teachings on healing magic were, for lack of a better word, appalling. They allowed mages to learn the theory, never took them into the outside world to practice their skills, and further restricted their mages by teaching that contact with spirits was the path to possession. It was ridiculous. Elena had been friends with her spirit since she was a child and never once had they attempted to forcibly possess her or any of the other ridiculous things demons were meant to do to mages.

After a while, the group called it a night and headed to their respective lodgings. Elena was to stay with Thalia until her own hut could be tidied out and spruced up. Tired from their week long horseback ride, the pair slowly made their way to Thalia's cabin, grateful that someone had been to light the fire before their arrival, and both climbed into bed before each fell into an undisturbed sleep.

Chapter Text

A familiar presence pulled Elena's sleeping mind deeper into the fade, and closer towards them. When she arrived, she found herself in a replica of the place she'd fallen asleep in, similar enough but for the differences she noticed. Where she'd previously been lying in a bed, the room she was in was empty now. All furniture- both beds, the desk and chair, the bath- all of it was gone and in its place were unremarkable boxes stacked upon unremarkable boxes, each one indistinguishable from each other. Where the fire had been lit, previously providing a gentle warmth to the cabin, it now lay dormant and judging from the layers of dust over everything, had been for some time.

Elena walked over to one of the boxes and prised the lid open, finding nothing more interesting inside than small bundles of differently coloured cloths.

"Are we safe?" she asked the presence that had pulled her.

They paused as they searched for the answer.

"For now." They finally replied. "He's organising his agents."

The pair lapsed into silence; her company said nothing as they watched her, and Elena felt the space around her ripple slightly when they moved closer to her.

"Does anyone suspect?"

She finally turned and looked at the spirit then, noticing that it had taken the form of her mother. Familiar eyes that held all the colours of sunset gazed steadily at her from the same ivory skin she was so used to seeing on herself. Of both her parents, Elena had inherited most of her mother's discernible features, most notably her almond shaped eyes, tilted in the same vaguely exotic way her mother's had been.

From her father she'd received his high cheekbones, freckles, and hair in a rich red shade, the colour of the finest wine (or so people used to tell him). That was where the similarities ended though, the rest of her was a strange amalgamation of her parents; she both did, and did not, look like either of them.

"If they do, they're keeping silent. However I am to be interrogated by the advisors tomorrow."

"You will be careful." Came her mother's voice. It wasn't a question, but a demand, and it made Elena smile to herself; her true mother had never been that bossy. Of all the people she spoke to, only two cared about her enough to worry, and only Knowledge expressed that as either a lecture (if after the event), or an order (if before the event).

"Come."

Knowledge didn't wait for a reply before turning from Elena and walking through the now open door of the cabin; her friend was so sure of themselves. Curious about what her friend wanted to show her, Elena followed them from the hut and into Haven itself. She followed the shape of her mother as they led her through the empty, almost lifeless village, ignoring the unease that settled deeper into her with each step. The fade was vast and limitless, so it was not unusual for an area to have few inhabitants, but despite that, Haven was eerily silent. It was as though Elena and Knowledge were the only people around for miles.

"The occupants weren't very open to visitors before the Hero arrived; they led relative mundane lives. Not many of us took an interest in them." Knowledge said, answering Elena's unspoken question.

"And afterwards?" Elena asked, already suspecting the answer.

"Afterwards there was nobody left to object."

Their reply caused Elena's brows to rise. If she understood correctly, Knowledge was telling her that the Hero of Ferelden had come to Haven and... Wiped out an entire village for one reason or another.

"Haven was already sparse before she arrived; it was dying out. The Warden just sped things along."

The pair continued their walk, their steps taking them away from the village and towards the former temple grounds. The closer they got to the temple, the worse the weather got. The air around them grew savage and unforgiving, the snow and ice under their feet was bitterly cold to the touch, and Elena was forced to step closer to the protective cocoon that Knowledge projected to will away the worst of the weather.

It wasn't long before they were inside the temple proper, the sturdy walls delivering a welcome break from the harsh winds outside. Considering what the Hero as rumoured to have found in this area, the main temple area was incredibly... nondescript. There were no lavish statues or ornaments, no grand chandeliers, no beautiful murals depicting the history of the area; there was nothing special about the interior at all. Elena was about to comment on the underwhelming temple when suddenly the doors behind them swung open and a group of five walked in with a dog, four of them armoured, one of them clearly injured and exhausted.

Knowledge and Elena watched the group for some time, the latter quickly realising who the leader of this particular group was, following them as they fought their way through the temple and out to the grounds that lay behind. Whilst Knowledge had been busy monitoring the rest of the group, Elena had been especially fascinated with just one member of the party- a large stone giant. She watched as the creature lumbered its way through the caverns, surprisingly quick considering its size, and found herself enjoying the dry wit the thing possessed. The fade clung to the giant in a strange way, one she hadn't seen before; it was fascinating.

Together the pair followed the group as they fought their way through the temple, killing dragonlings, cultists, spiders, and other such creatures. Although the group were all still young, therefore inexperienced, they'd found a battle plan that seemed to work for them. The giant stone creature and the hound would charge in first, drawing all attention (the looks on people's faces when they saw a huge statue come barrelling towards them amused Elena to no end), which left their dual dagger dealing rogue leader to slip in virtually unseen to deliver quick, lethal blows in the distraction.

A young barely dressed mage would stand towards the back of the group, casting and flinging spells, whilst directly across from her, a redheaded archer somehow always managed to find perches on higher ground that enabled her to fire rapidly from a safe distance. It wasn't the most elegant battle plan she'd ever seen, but it worked.

A short while later Elena and Knowledge followed the group out into the sunlight once more. Even in the fade, Elena could smell the stink of sulphur coming from the pools of harmful water that lined their path, the heat they produced was blistering and unbearable. A slight movement drew her attention upwards, where Elena could just about see a large shape on an outcropping of rock far above their heads. There, high up on a ridge and napping without a care in the world, was a mature dragon. Thankfully, the Warden and her group decided not to enrage the creature, so they quietly passed by on the path below and into yet another old stone building.

"This area used to be overseen by a spirit of Purpose." Knowledge explained, breaking their noiseless journey.

Elena stopped and concentrated. Through her connection to Knowledge, she could feel the echoes of a spirit, but she herself wasn't able to deduce the specific nature of it, unlike her friend.

"What happened to it?" she asked quietly, not wanting to disturb the silence of the mountaintop ruin.

"It did its duty for so long it forgot what it was. In the end, it knew only of its task. Once its duty was fulfilled, it returned to the fade to find itself."

Elena said nothing in return, and they both followed the group further into the ruins and past all the trials. The Warden walked through the fires and emerged unscathed on the other side. Triumphant she strode purposefully towards... a pot of dirt. Elena looked to the faces of the humans present, each of them filled with awe at their discovery, and found herself laughing at the golem's commentary.

The scene wavered and faded out then, leaving Knowledge and Elena in a field with golden flowers surrounding them that went on as far as the eyes could see. Elena turned back to her friend, noticing that they'd shed the form of her late mother.

"Thank you for sharing this with me." Elena offered her friend, who huffed, as much as a spirit was able to, before they fixed Elena with a steady gaze.

"Knowledge is meant to be shared. Knowledge is my purpose."

There was a subtle censure in their statement. Knowledge had said repeatedly that they didn't understand why Elena was so secretive. She'd tried explaining, of course, but it wasn't in Knowledge's nature to understand; they were knowledgeable, but not yet Wisdom. They couldn't yet tell the difference between information that would harm and information that would help. Elena moved closer to Knowledge and held up a hand, palm facing upwards. Knowledge immediately laid their own intangible approximation of a hand on top of Elena's and grasped it as firmly as they could.

"I will never allow anything to harm you, ma elgar falon." Elena told them softly, meaning every word.

"To harm me would be to harm you." Knowledge offered, speaking the start of the promise the pair had made to each other many years ago.

"To harm you is to invite vengeance and death; you keep my nature in check."

"As you do mine."

"My strength will protect you, bellanaris."

"My knowledge will keep you safe, bellanaris." The spirit spoke the last line of their oath, the familiar words flowing without fault or pause from either of them. Knowledge allowed the scene to fade away into nothingness as Elena felt herself waking.

"You are part of the Inquisition now; you will have eyes on you from all sources. I will instruct the others to make contact. Be extremely careful; the silence must not be broken."

Her friend's last words were ominous and held the weight of years of experience, leaving her with no small sense of dread. She knew, once she heard them, that nothing would be the same again; she'd placed her pieces and now the game was to begin properly.

Chapter Text

Elena woke slowly, drifting between consciousness and a hazy almost dream-like state. As she lay there, she listened to the hustle and bustle of early morning Haven. Low voices and hissed insults came from a small group of people who were scurrying towards the Chantry, presumably late for the morning prayer meeting, whilst around them, other people busied themselves with more practical tasks.

Elena lazily stretched, refusing to open her eyes, and dismissed the idea of leaving her bed yet. She could feel her sister next to her, back pressed to her side, her soft breathing telling Elena that Thalia was still asleep. The shared warmth was appreciated, as the wooden door to their hut couldn't quite fully block out the cold winter air that seeped underneath, the temperature hinting that there had been another snowfall last night.

Finally Elena opened her eyes. Thalia's cabin was bathed in a muted red colour, the curtains not thick enough to block out the light of the sun as it reflected off the fresh snow. Turning her head slightly to the right she saw that the fire had dwindled and died during the night, leaving only ashes in its wake. Her eyes continued their exploration of the hut, noting that Thalia's lodge had a similar layout to Solas', but was bigger and had a thick fur rug on the floor. Elena cast her eyes over something in the corner before she did a double take and stared at the object. It couldn't be, could it? It was. Suddenly she felt wide awake, the lingering effects of sleep completely forgotten as she carefully made her way from the bed and over to the object in the corner.

A beautifully made copper bathtub sat there, clean, empty, and begging to be used. A bath, an actual bath they had given to Thalia. Elena sighed with happiness; she'd had nightmarish visions of trying to bathe in frozen lakes or having to use freshly melted snow to scrub the dirt away. Just thinking about it made her shudder. Not willing to waste another minute, she restocked the fire with wood, lighting it with a wave of her hand, before lining the sides of the bathtub with enough runes to ensure her water would be the perfect temperature. Another gesture filled the tub with ice and a further one had it melted instantly, her glyphs quickly making sure that the water heated up.

After grabbing her bathing supplies, she stripped off the nightshirt Thalia had given her and sunk slowly into the water, almost groaning at the feeling. The experience was beyond words; Elena didn't believe in the concept of a perfect and idyllic afterlife, but if she did, she'd have said it felt a lot like this. She slowly washed her body, taking care to massage away any lingering tension in her muscles, and had just rinsed her hair when a sleepy giggle reached her ears.

"I should have known," Thalia mumbled, voice thick with sleep, "that you'd immediately commandeer my bath."

Elena just shrugged, thoroughly relaxed and completely unapologetically as she carried on soaking, reluctantly finishing once she noticed her fingers had pruned. She rose from the water and quickly dried herself and dressed as Thalia took her turn, not bothered about fresh water. As Elena wrapped her feet, she considered what to wear to meet the advisors. To go fully armoured would be seen as an insult, maybe even a threat, but to go without weapons was asking for trouble.

In the end she settled for raiding Thalia's growing closet and pulled out a forest green tunic, and pulled it on. It fell to mid thigh, overlapping the end of the legwraps by a couple of inches, and she secured it with her dagger belt, letting it lay comfortably around her hips. To show that she wasn't hostile though, she removed almost all of the weapons that were normally held there, keeping only two shorter throwing knives within reach. The tunic itself, made from a soft yet study wool, had long, close fitting sleeves, and Elena was pleased to discover that although they were a touch too long for her liking (reaching mid palm), they contained holes she could place her thumbs into. Figuring the deep V cut of the neckline wouldn't do her any favours with the weather, Elena reached into her pack and pulled out a cream scarf and wrapped it securely around her neck. One more examination of Thalia's clothes revealed a leather jacket, the colour of cognac, which soon found itself on Elena's back as well.

By the time Thalia had bathed and dressed, Elena had braided her hair and was making the bed; she was a guest here after all, and had stayed in enough inns to know how to make a bed look proper. At a faint knock on the door, Elena stood to answer it, finding a small bundled up elven teenager balancing a tray of food.

"I'm sorry to disturb you, my ladies." She stammered out, clearly not expecting to see Elena and flinching slightly as she fixed her with a steady gaze and raised eyebrow. "I've brought your breakfast. May I enter?"

Elena stood to one side and allowed the stranger to pass her. She rushed passed and quickly laid the contents of her tray on the table, looking up and smiling at the greeting Thalia offered her.

"Good morning, Lady Herald." She gave in return, her words making Thalia groan as her head dropped back.

"Awh come on, don't start that again. Please?"

Neither Elena nor Thalia missed when the servant's eyes flickered over to the former. It was brief, but enough to let the other two women know what she was worried about.

"Elena meet Iona; Iona meet Elena. Elena is the sister I've told you about, Iona is my breakfast buddy. She and I... well..." Thalia paused as she considered her words. An uncharacteristic show of nervousness and a small amount of grief flitted across her features before she sighed heavily and finished what she wanted to say. "Basically, yeah, Iona was really great and helped me a lot when I thought that you were, you know, dead."

Elena nodded her head in greeting as she sent Knowledge a mental command to find out everything her agents knew about this 'Iona', including to whom she answered. Thalia considered her a friend, and Elena needed to know exactly how mutual their relationship was. If it should turn out that this Iona was talking to the wrong people... well, that would be something Elena would deal with if she had to. Iona, blissfully unaware at the direction Elena's thoughts had taken, bowed slightly before making her way toward the door.

"Hold your halla," Thalia yelled after her. "What about grub? I know you haven't eaten yet."

"I apologise my Lady-" narrowed eyes made her rethink her next word. "-Thalia, but I wasn't aware you had company. I'm afraid I didn't bring enough for three."

"Pfft, sure you did. Old Inan'an doesn't need half as much food as you 'd think she does." Both comments- her clan's nickname for her and the comment about how much she eats- got Thalia a well-deserved glare.

"Sit down," Thalia continued, not bothered in the slightest by the look her sister was giving her. "We've started a tradition now; you may not know, but the Dalish take traditions very seriously."

Iona finally acquiesced and sat with them, wrong about not bringing enough food for all three. Thalia and Iona (but mostly Thalia) led the conversation, leaving Elena to speak up only when required. Eventually the conversation died down, and the outside world began to intrude on their breakfast meeting. Iona quickly gathered their bowls and plates before scurrying off to attend to the rest of her duties, leaving Thalia and Elena free to attend their meeting.

********

As soon as she stepped foot in the Chantry, Elena's thoughts went to the former inhabitants of Haven, specifically the murderous cultists. The ones from last night were no longer alive, but as she considered the nature of religion, she wryly thought to herself that perhaps she was still surrounded by fanatics, just of a different kind.

Thalia led the way through the darkened hallway, past small crowds of people silently praying in front of various statues, the only light coming from the candles that hung from the walls and ceiling. Considering that many people found comfort in prayers and their faith, Elena couldn't help but feel stifled in this place. There were no windows, there was no breeze, there was no... life.

Knowledge had once shown her the memory of an Elvhen temple dedicated to Sylaise as it had been in all its glory; to this day, it remained one of the most beautiful places she had ever seen. Waterfalls flowed down into glittering pools of impossibly clear waters where people would go to heal and socialise. Stairs made of crystal swirled up and into the clouds, lined by banisters that created music that would fill the area with music as the wind swept through them. Huge trees the world hadn't seen the likes of since grew to such a height that their canopies wove together to form a natural roof, whilst flowers of every colour under the sun had grown and woven their way up and around the branches. It was everything this building wasn't- inviting, relaxing, and filled with magic; it had a soul.

Thalia reached the large imposing wooden door at the end of the corridor and wasted no time, not even stopping to knock, as she swept it open and stepped inside with Elena close behind. The door thudded closed behind them and Elena found herself in front of a wooden table with a huge map laid out on it, which separated her and Thalia from four almost expressionless humans.

"Hiya, guys!" Thalia chirpily began, pointedly ignoring any tension in the room. "So... as you all undoubtedly already know- looking at chu Spymaster pro- I wanted you all to meet my sister, Elena; she's agreed to help us fix this mess. She's an amazing healer, good with a knife or two and can also land an arrow in someone's neck from across the sea. Probably."

Thalia stood there, bold as brass and with a huge grin on her face as she flung her arms in the direction Elena was standing in and waggled her fingers as if unveiling some great prize, looking quickly from her sister, to the advisors, and back again in quick succession. Cassandra offered the Herald a weary sigh, having downgraded from her usual disgusted noise when she realised Thalia wouldn't abandon her particular blend of optimism and sarcasm.

"Introducing the advisors of the Inquisition." Thalia started, doing her best impression of a town crier.

"Lady Josephine Montilyet, chief Ambassador and best dressed advisor." The woman in question, a dark haired beauty who was draped in gold ruffles and heavy jewellery bowed slightly and offered Elena a typical elven greeting.

"Commander Cullen Rutherford, leader of the Inquisition's forces and owner of the most fabulous cloak around." Elena's attention turned next to the man in question, noticing that he did in fact have a wonderfully warm looking cloak draped over his shoulders. His wheat blond hair was perfectly styled, and coupled with his well-maintained stubble, spoke of a man who took time out of his busy day to focus on his appearance. Elena approved of such dedication. She discretely took a breath in and confirmed what she suspected- this man smelt of lyrium, of a templar. There was something different about him though; instead of the sharp tang that normally accompanied such a smell, his scent was faint... muted somehow.

"Last but not least, Sister Leliana, aka the Nightingale. Left Hand of the Divine, Spymaster of The Inquisition, and owner of more titles and names that anyone else here." The two women looked at each other, noticing and cataloguing everything about the other, Leliana's pale blue eyes were shrewd, calculating, and haunted. They spoke about her past in a way words couldn't; she was a far cry from the bright eyed woman Elena had seen wandering through Haven with the Hero last night.

"Now please officially meet the Right Hand of the Divine, Lady Cassandra Fifty-Names Pentaghast, Seeker of Truth by day, professional book defiler by night."

There was a slight choking noise from the Commander, which drew the Seeker's glare from where it had been drilling holes into Thalia.

"Pleasure to meet you all." It wasn't, not really, and had she had her way, she'd never have met them, but Elena kept those thoughts to herself.

As if sensing that Elena was unwilling to offer more, the Ambassador took the opportunity to speak.

"We are thrilled to make your acquaintance, Lady Lavellan, and may I please be the first to formally welcome you to the Inquisition." Josephine declared, as she and the others bowed their heads slightly, not enough to seem submissive, but enough to appear respectful.

"If I may clarify," the Ambassador continued, "the Herald has led us to believe that you would be willing to train some new mages as healers?"

She looked at Elena with the same warm smile she'd had on her face since they walked in. There was an openness to the ambassador, an air about her that said if you went to her with a problem, she'd try her best to fix it. Such a presence meant that it would be only too easy to feel comfortable around her, to open up, to tell her what was troubling you. It made her dangerous, in her own way, and Elena made a mental note to keep her guard up.

"I must object. We can't, in good conscience, allow a mage with no training to perform magic on our people; it could endanger our soldiers."

For the first time since the meeting began, Commander Cullen had spoken, and what a terrible first impression he'd made. Elena said nothing as she watched the advisors argue, completely unimpressed at how little time it had taken before they started squabbling like children. The Inquisition was in a pitiful state indeed if they couldn't even agree on one simple issue, especially considering it had an easy solution. The organisation was in dire need of healers, as evident from the tents of wounded and the overworked mage that worked there, yet here they were turning down help from an experienced mage; the Inquisition was clearly weak, struggling without a proper leader. It was interesting information indeed, and Elena mentally filed it away, knowing there were a great many people who would be interested in hearing such.

"Whilst it is certainly true that I was never a member of one of your Circles, to say I have no training whatsoever belittles me, and insults my people." Elena bit out, acting as though he'd offended her, keen to see how they reacted.

Josephine was quick to speak up again then and attempted to steer the conversation back from less dangerous waters.

"We assure you, Lady Lavellan, that we meant no disrespect to either you or your culture."

Elena made a point of considering the Ambassador's words for a moment before she allowed some of the tension to leave her, and visibly deflated a little.

"Considering your Commander lacks any real comprehension or knowledge on the subject..." she started as she pointedly address Josephine. "...Perhaps I shouldn't be so quick to take offense."

Cullen bristled again and spoke before anyone else could, taking the bait Elena had laid out for him.

"I was a templar for many years-"

"Exactly." Elena interjected, cutting Cullen off. "No true understanding."

As the Commander opened his mouth to argue again, not realising that Elena was secretly enjoying how easy he was to rile, Cassandra spoke first, her tone brokering no argument.

"Enough. I was with Lavellan in the field; I have seen firsthand her healing abilities. The Herald would not have suggested she take on the role if she didn't think her sister was capable."

It was a surprising show of faith from the Seeker. Whilst it was certainly true that she'd healed her of a few bumps and scrapes, Cassandra hadn't been injured (and healed) enough to warrant such a defence. Perhaps Elena had been too quick to judge the human, or perhaps her faith in Thalia overrode any common sense.

"Come on Commander, be reasonable, yeah? You need healers. Ellie is a healer. Ellie can teach others to heal. Problemo gone-o, no?" Thalia spoke in a bored tone, not hiding the fact that she thought Cullen was being unnecessarily stubborn and difficult.

All eyes turned to him as he ran a hand through his hair and huffed out a 'very well' to the rest of the room. The 'on your heads be it' went unsaid, yet was clear from the way he spoke. Elena resisted the urge to sigh. She'd only been in the room with the advisors for a short while and one already had issues with her. It was going to be a long and tedious process being here indeed, she thought to herself, before turning her attention back to the interrogation that was masquerading as a meeting.

Chapter Text

The meeting continued like that for some time. Elena discovered that she was to receive her own accommodations across from her sister, and that for now, she was to stay with their so-called Herald and travel as a member of Thalia's protection party. Elena had inwardly smirked at the humans in front of her as they'd delivered their verdict. The arrogance of the shemlen never failed to amuse and irritate Elena. Little did this council know that truthfully, they had little choice in the matter; Elena was unwilling to remain, and Thalia was unwilling to leave without her.

As conversation moved on to plans for their upcoming trip to the Orlesian capital, Elena found her mind wandering as she kept half her attention on what the advisors were saying, and the other half on her own plans. She had contacts in the capital, contacts that had information for her. This trip to Val Royeaux was the perfect excuse to spread her influence across the world once more.

It wasn't until much later on in the day that the meeting finally ended. In that time, plans were agreed, argued, un-made, argued again, then finally decided on. It was chaos, and not the organised kind; it led Elena to, once again, worry for the future of this Inquisition. The council made their way out of the room, but just as Elena moved to follow Thalia, a soft voice came from the darkness.

"Lady Elena, a moment, if I may."

Elena almost laughed; firstly, because Leliana was taking the metaphor of working in the shadows too literally, but secondly because of the false choice she'd been offered. The reality of the situation was that she couldn't deny the request, not without making herself appear suspicious; Elena already had enough people watching her, she didn't need any more.

Both women remained silent as the door swung shut behind Thalia with a dull thud, each one fixing the other with a steady look as Elena waited for the Spymaster to say her piece.

"The Herald has offer little of your history, or indeed her own." The Nightingale began, staring unflinchingly into Elena's eyes. She never broke contact once; didn't even blink. To most anyone else, it would have been unnerving. To Elena, it was a front- just a play in their game.

"It would help me to place you in the best position if I were able to gain a proper understanding of your experiences and skills. Perhaps you could start with your role in the clan?"

Elena was quiet for a moment, deciding what to reveal about herself and her clan. Not revealing anything about either would be as dangerous as sharing too much.

"I helped wherever I was needed." Elena began. "However, if you are asking what I did that nobody else did, then I suppose you could say I was their... trader."

"Their trader?" Leliana echoed, able to hide the surprise from her face or her voice that Elena knew she felt.

Elena, not seeing the point of voicing an answer to a question already asked simply nodded and waited.

"What was it that you traded, exactly?"

 "Potions, jewellery, charms... amongst other things."

Elena could practically hear the cogs whirling in Leliana's mind; see the different branches her future was likely to take from here on out. Elena intended to give the Spymaster just enough information for an idea to form. Leliana would see that Elena had the skills she looked for in her agents; whether or not she'd make that decision was still unclear, and Elena knew that it was far too early to push for such a result.

"You worked mainly in the Free Marches?"

"My work took me all over the Free Marches." Elena answered easily. "I have buyers all over Thedas though, including, of course, Orlais."

At her reveal, one of the Spymaster's eyebrows flicked up, and sensing her next question, she answered it before it was asked.

"For all Orlais' dislike of elves, they are only too happy to buy elven trinkets and wares. Privately, of course."

Elena watched as Leliana's gaze wandered backwards and forwards across her face, her expression giving nothing away. Elena had planted the seeds of an idea in the Spymaster's mind, but only time would tell if they grew into anything worthwhile.

"I see..." Leliana eventually replied. "Your clan," she continued. "They are in the southern part of the Free Marches, no?"

Elena smiled inwardly at her probing, knowing what would come next and heading it off before the Spymaster could have a chance to pry further.

"I'm not certain of where they are at the moment."

A slight frown was the only reaction Leliana made to show her displeasure, but it was all Elena needed to see.

"I have a letter the Herald wrote to her family. You would not see it received?"

Elena chuckled inwardly at the implication behind Leliana's words. She could see why the Spymaster had been so successful in life so far; her ability to twist blame and truths would have served her well in Orlais.

"I would suggest you use the raven that delivered the original letter here; he will know where to return to." Elena suggested, her voice steady, her gaze unwavering.

"What reason would you have to keep this from us?" Suspicion and anger made her eyes glow almost from the darkness Leliana had stepped back into, the Nightingale in full control now.

"You're the Spymaster; information is your forte. You yearn for knowledge, seeking to know everything about everything, desperate to uncover hidden truths... but you are a stranger and the Dalish have learnt the importance of secrecy."

The Nightingale fixed her with another penetrating stare, her icy blue eyes boring into Elena as if trying to divine her secrets by sheer will alone.

"You do not trust The Inquisition." It wasn't a question, but a statement, yet Elena replied anyway, her tone cool, her face composed.

"I trust that you will do whatever you feel is necessary to win."

For one long moment, the two women stared at each other, uncertainty hanging heavily in the air. Elena waited, patient and still, to see the outcome of the Spymaster's choice. Either she would try to have Elena Lavellan killed, or she would not.

The future was rarely a simple thing to watch and predict, each person making a series of different decisions each day- most decisions people didn't think about, as they didn't realise they'd made them. Each choice lead to several other choices until eventually a person's life resembled the branches of a tree, reaching ever upwards and outwards as they aged.

Despite the complexity of it all, each person eventually found themselves in a position where they were forced to make a life changing decision- their future reduced to two paths. Down one path, they lived; down another, they did not. One path had the Spymaster and her agents whole and unharmed, the other path began with a whisper and ended with death.

Elena had been watching Leliana's movements since she first walked in the room all those hours ago. She knew Leliana was strong and fast, cunning and creative, but Elena was faster. She was stronger, smarter, trickier, more experienced, but most importantly, Elena had more to live for. Should the Spymaster try to take her life, Elena would strike, and she would win.

The Nightingale shifted her stance slightly and Elena prepared herself; it was time to see what future lay in store for the Spymaster and the Inquisition.

Chapter Text

In the end, the Spymaster had taken the sensible road; the pair had parted on somewhat cordial terms, choosing to overlook the mistrust they had for each other for now. Despite that, Leliana had given Elena a small sealed scroll and asked that since she was going to be in the area, could she ensure that it found its way into the hands of one of her agents in the area.

It was undoubtedly some kind of test, and not a subtle one either, but Elena imagined that that was probably the point. Leliana undoubtedly didn't expect Elena to truly realise what was going on, or that an elf such as her would be used to the way the spying game worked. In the Nightingale's eyes, Elena should have been under the impression that she was just delivering a letter because of opportunistic circumstances. Clueless; a perfect tool.

If she were to guess, Elena would put money on her task's true purpose as a way to assess her ability to follow orders, capability to see a task completed, and to measure her sincerity and loyalty to the Inquisition. Elena inwardly scoffed; she danced to nobody's tune but her own, certainly not the dull rhythm of a human in over her head- gasping desperately for air as the mantle of secret keeper dragged her further into the murky darkness of silence. Little did she know that this was only the beginning; it would be a while before the human saw the light again, if ever.

That evening Elena unravelled the subtle warding spell on the scroll (its purpose was so that another mage could tell if the seal had been broken; it was amateur work, really, and spoke of both how underestimated she was, and how poorly trained circle mages were), and read the note. The contents were utterly mundane. There was no hidden code, no cipher, no secret meaning. All it did was confirm her suspicions about being tested and prove that she wasn't reading signs where there weren't any. Elena sighed to herself, she hadn't expected Leliana to hand her a book of secrets, but being asked to deliver a requisition order for stationery was not a stretch of her abilities. Still, it was better to be underestimated and overlooked than it was to be in the spotlight.

Disappointed and bored, Elena rolled the scroll up, taking care to make sure it looked exactly as it did when she received it, and reset the wards without a flicker of movement. Nobody would know she'd looked, and the Inquisition would believe her to be a least a little more trustworthy than before. With any luck, she'd be a step further so becoming one of Leliana's agents in the field. With that thought in mind, she warded her doors and windows before settling into a deep sleep filled with flowing futures, orders to be given, and arrangements to be made.

********

The next few days passed in a blur. From the initial group of 15 who'd expressed an interest in healing, 5 had refused to return, outraged when Elena insulted the Circle and its teachings, and 3 had quit when they discovered healing wasn't as easy as they'd been led to believe. Elena had kicked out the last two almost immediately when it became clear that they were only there to trick her into proving the Circle teachings superior to her own, and to make themselves look smarter. Her remaining group- 3 females, 2 males; 1 elf and 4 humans- had progressed fairly well in the short time Elena had been given to train them, to the point where Elena felt comfortable allowing them to practice on the smaller injuries people received. Truthfully though, only one amongst them showed any true yearning for knowledge; Elena could see it in the young elf's eyes when she looked at him. Feron's desperation and drive for education lit a fire in his soul. As a result, he had taken to seeking her out much more often than any others had, and people were beginning to talk.

Luckily, beginners weren't the only healers around. In addition to the original overworked healer, Thalia had picked one up in the Hinterlands. That meant that Elena, Bryon (the overworked), and Ellendra (the Hinterlands mage) were able to tackle the more complicated problems between them.

So far, the 'seasoned' humans had proven to be somewhat competent at healing, though like the other circle mages, tended to be a bit too heavy handed when dosing out the magic. A sprained muscle, Elena was tired of explaining, required very little attention compared to a broken bone, yet for some reason the mages had been taught to send the same amount of energy at both injuries; it was excessive and wasteful. It meant that healers wouldn't be able to tend to as many out in the field as they should be able to before needing to rest. This in turn meant that more healers were required on the front lines, increasing the risk to themselves, and diverting their attention from the tents reserved for the more serious injuries.

Her trainees had at least listened to her when she insisted that they each prepare an emergency bag, filled with a variety of potions, bandages, other healing essentials, and a change of clothes. It was so that when an emergency arose (which happened when you were at war; the fact that the Inquisition didn't realise they were part of one yet was neither here nor there), the healers were ready and had everything they needed to give their patients the best hope of surviving until they could be moved to a safer location.

The process was long, and hard, but after a few days the number of injured had decreased dramatically, and only those who had a pre-existing condition were left. Despite the progress she'd made with her five apprentices, Elena was, by the end of their brief stay in Haven, more than ready to head out to Val Royeaux.

She soon regretted even thinking those words.

The ferry across from Jader was one of the worst experiences in recent memory. Choppy waters and high winds resulted in Elena's seasickness reaching levels she hadn't previously thought possible. She found herself cursing the superstitious and poorly educated minds of those around her- the drama that would come from being caught performing banned magics unfortunately didn't come anywhere close to outweighing the benefits of ridding herself of her sickness.

With every dip and surge the boat made, she felt her own stomach doing the same. After an hour and a half she'd stopped being sick- she was physically unable to anymore. Elena was weak, hungry, and exhausted, and after three more hours of dry heaving, she'd had enough. She crept back to the cabin she shared with Cassandra and Thalia, and after liberating her sister of a particularly strong sleeping draught, took the entire potion and lay down to rest. If she was forced to travel by sea, she was going to do it in the least traumatic way possible. Elena settled comfortably in her cot and allowed herself to fall into the rich blackness of sleep.

**********

Elena found herself at the end of a long and extremely narrow spit of land, the end of which was just wide enough to hold a bench big enough for two without it tumbling into the water that surrounded it. A tranquil lake lay all around her, reflecting the soft sunset of the sky that bathed the scene in delicate shades of peach and gold. Snowy mountains stood proud in the distance, their surfaces smattered with clumps of ferns that had also bore a dusting of the same pristine white powder.

It was wholly unfamiliar territory, and her concern over who had brought her here (and who had taken the care to do it so gently) stopped her from fully appreciating the stunning view before her. Elena concentrated on the bond she felt to Knowledge, feeling that they were far, far away from her, confirming that it wasn't them that brought her here.

Soft footfalls came from behind her and Elena spun around to see who was approaching, tensing when she saw a figure dressed in a familiar black uniform slowly walking towards her. She reached out and tasted the magic of the approaching stranger; it wasn't harsh, and bitter like Andurfelen's, but soft, and smooth, with a slight taste of lemon. Whoever this stranger was, they carried with them a serene and relaxing presence, and used magic that was refreshing and kind; Elena found herself growing more at ease with each passing second spent in their company.

"Hello, Elena. Please, won't you take a seat?"

She studied the speaker for a moment, before moving with him to sit on the bench. Despite the cool temperatures of the wind and earth, the wood of the seat was surprisingly warm and cosy. As she'd expected, the stranger's voice was as calm and soothing as his magic, the way he spoke made her think that he was the type of person who took great time and effort when it came to choosing his words. That last thought made her tense up a little more, though she hid it as well as she could. In her experience, the more collected a person was, the more devastating their temper could be.

"It's very nice to finally meet you. I am Radalas."

Elena still said nothing as she looked at him; it was difficult to hold a friendly conversation with a person when they insisted on covering their face completely. People's eyes, Elena had discovered, displayed many tells and held even more secrets.

"I see you allow the silence to speak for you. I appreciate that it's probably difficult to hold a conversation with a faceless voice though."

Radalas reached up and lowered the hood from his head, exposing rich auburn curls, the top half of which was pulled back into a bun, the lower half was shaved close to the scalp. His skin was a deep russet tone, and she couldn't help but notice how beautifully it contrasted against the silvery mirror-like appearance of his eyes. His gloved hands moved to roll down the protection that covered his mouth and jaw, revealing full lips and a strong, wide jaw.

The man in front of her was utterly beautiful, and judging from the small smirk he tried extremely hard to hide, he likely knew this and used his looks to devastating effects.

"Why am I here?"

If Radalas was offended by her bluntness, he didn't show it. Instead, he leaned back further into the bench as if he had no care in the world as he began to speak again.

"Andurfelen wishes for you to discover secrets all on your own, for you to remain clueless as he uses you and your information to outmanoeuvre everyone else. Others believe differently. They believe that if you are to have any chance of success, and it's imperative that you do, that you must be made aware of what you are up against, so you can start to understand the enormity of the situation you find yourself in."

Elena studied him silently as she pondered the situation, her own eyes flicking between his silver orbs as she thought.

"You aren't loyal to Andurfelen's leadership."

Radalas' mouth twitched with a ghost of a smile.

"I am loyal to our group and our leader."

"Does Andurfelen know this?"

"He took the same oath we all did." They sat in silence for some time more, Elena basking in the scene crafted in front of her, thinking, whilst ignoring Radalas' sharp gaze that she caught roaming over her features from the corner of her eye.

"You have a keen mind and an even sharper tongue, I would wager; you remind me of someone I used to know."

Elena had turned back to face him as he'd begun to speak, and raised an eyebrow in question at his last comment. He smiled at her, shook his head, and stood, dusting away the light snow that had started the fall on the area they sat in.

"A story for another time perhaps. Should you ever need my assistance, concentrate on forming this scene in your mind. I cannot interfere directly, it is not our way, but I will do all that I can to help you. There are eyes from on high that have taken a keen interest in your success. My allies and I wish you well, and pray that the Dread Wolf never catches your scent, Ashelena of the Lavellan clan."

With a small bow he disappeared from the lake scene, leaving Elena to digest what had just happened. Firstly, a new player had taken an interest in her- Radalas had revealed that he was merely a messenger, come at the request of another. Secondly, she'd managed to get herself involved in events that were clearly much bigger, more widespread, and certainly more interesting than simply what the newly founded Inquisition was up to; people were moving behind the scenes, but to what purpose? Thirdly, whilst Andurfelen was the leader of whatever group both he and Radalas belonged to, it was clear that he wasn't the original head of their order, and that he didn't have the members' loyalty. There was someone else pulling string in the shadow, someone people did respect; someone who'd noticed and taken interest in Elena of all people. Fourthly, whoever these people were, they knew much. Her name, her true name, wasn't something she'd used in quite some time; she could count on one hand the number of people who knew what it was.

Finally, Elena found herself pondering over the odd parting words that Radalas had given her. It was a decidedly Dalish thing to mention the Dread Wolf, never mind to wish her well against him. Normally that might not have bothered her, but Radalas clearly wasn't one of the wanderers, the lack of vallaslin gave it away. No, if Elena were to guess, she'd say Radalas was the same as Andurfelen: one of the Elvhen, her ancestors. Whatever it was exactly that was going on, the ancients of her people were very interested in it, and perhaps even actively involved. The explosion of the Conclave was just the beginning. Whatever was happening was going to get a lot worse and a lot more complicated before it got better- if it got better. At least one thing was for certain though, whatever happened involved, in some way, the fabled Fen'Harel himself.

She sighed to herself as she mulled everything over. If there was one thing Elena disliked, it was being in the dark about something. She would place more of her own agents, she would discover what was going on, and she would decide if she wanted to stop it, help it, or merely observe it. Either way, thinking in circles was getting her nowhere.

Reluctant to leave the paradise Radalas had created, she focused her energies inward and let her magic flow through her entire body as she worked to clear her mind. First step in her plan: recuperate from the thrashing the sea was giving her, second step: wake up.

Chapter Text

Elena woke slowly, her awareness coming back to her in waves. She first took notice of her limbs, where they were, and how heavy they were. The second thing she noted is how uncomfortable her cot actually was; stiff appendages were begging to be used once more, leaving Elena to conclude that she'd been asleep for quite some time now, much longer than usual. Excellent, she thought. Before opening her eyes, she concentrated on everything she could hear and smell around her. She was alone in the cabin, and the shuffling and activity outside her door and on the other decks led Elena to believe that it was morning- not too early, but not too late. The slight swaying of the vessel meant that they had made good progress and were in an area that was at least partially shielded from the elements, hinting that they were no longer on the open sea.

Elena opened her eyes before swinging her legs off the side of the bed and stretching as she stood, forcing some life back into the muscles she hadn't used for a day or so. Looking around the room, she saw that someone, undoubtedly Thalia, had been kind enough to lay out a fresh change of clothes for her. Wasting no more time, she quickly stripped down and washed as best she could, before hurrying to pull on the fresh clothes. High waisted, black, skin-tight trousers (both to the point of excessive Elena thought) sat snugly against her skin whilst a forest green, long-sleeved jumper was paired with the same leather jacket she'd borrowed previously.

It was incredibly un-Dalish, and Elena suspeted that was part of the reason Thalia had donated it to her. Still, her previous outfit was in dire need of a wash, and she wasn't foolish enough to turn away a perfectly good outfit. She did have limits though. Elena ignored the accompanying boots completely, instead making made short work of retying her footwraps, ensuring they were comfortable where they protected her from the balls of her feet to just under her knee.

She wrapped a thick leather band that was in the same dark tan shade of her footwraps around her waist, tucking the jumper in and securing it using the copious amounts of buckles it had. It wasn't the most comfortable accessory, but it would keep her innards intact should a blade rush to find them.

Elena roughly brushed through her hair with her fingers before deciding to forego her usual hairstyle, and braided it instead into one long fishtail plait that finished midway down her back. She quickly bent herself into a few stretches, making sure she could move properly in her ludicrously tight outfit, before leaving the cabin in search of the rest of the group.

********

"Look who's back in the land of the living!"

As soon as she stepped into the dim room that served as a makeshift dining room, the dwarf's voice rang out in greeting, causing the other members of their party to turn and look at her.

"Trust you're feeling better now, Dragon? You're less green, that's for sure." Varric continued.

Elena walked towards them and took the only open seat at the table, which unfortunately put her back to the door. It was an uncomfortably vulnerable position that she normally chose to avoid.

"You were asleep for quite some time." Solas' smooth voice spoke up from where he was sat next to Varric, who in turn, snorted when he heard his words.

"What he means," Varric explained in his best 'Solas' voice, "is: 'I was worried about you'." He didn't even try to hide his smirk, and it only widened when Thalia chimed in with her version of events.

"Oh yeah Ellie, I explained how that particular potion is meant to knock you on your ass for a bit, but he still wanted to find you in the fade. He was frantic with worry- it made all his hair fall out. The whole thing was rather sweet."

Thalia was openly grinning as she snatched a bread roll from the pile and began picking bits off it before popping them into her mouth.

"I assure you that my concern was wholly professional. Two days is a long time for a mage to spend dreaming without proper guidance."

Elena looked out at the faces of those sat around the table. By rights it should have been her taking the brunt of the teasing, her recent bout of seasickness giving them the perfect ammunition, but for some reason Solas took centre stage. She mentally shrugged, and thought nothing more of it. Looking back out across the faces of those sat with her, she was surprised to see varying degrees of worry written on all their faces, even Cassandra's. They were probably more apprehensive about whether or not she was possessed, rather than a genuine worry about Elena as a person, she concluded. After all, they hadn't known each other long enough to warrant genuine concern over their companion's states.

Thalia was the only person who was close enough to her to care, and would smother her with her feelings at every opportunity. Elena grumbled, but secretly didn't mind it at all; she'd raised the girl after all. Her clan all knew not to bother. It was widely know that Elena could, would, and did take care of her own matters. She didn't get sick, rarely got injured, never asked for help, and certainly didn't need friends or their affections; such things only brought complications.

"Sissy?"

Thalia's soft voice pulled her out of her musings as she looked up and saw everyone's attention was still on her. Elena smiled at her sister. It was a small thing, almost private, but it was real.

"I'm fine, Da'assan, thank you for asking."

Varric moved the conversation on, having realised instantly that Elena hated being the centre of attention. Inevitably, it eventually led onto the topic of Thalia and her potion making expertise, or as she put it, her 'investigations into liquid awesomeness'.

"So let me get this straight, you deliberately made a potion that could knock someone out for days at a time?"

"Heck yeah, my crossbow wielding friend; it's super useful when you've got a fussy patient who is writhing in agony, or say a sister with the stomach strength of a newborn. I've got a potion for everything. Hung over as balls when you've got stuff to do? I've got something for that. Monthly womanly troubles causing you grief? Got something for that too. If you ever decide you want to remove that rug you call chest hair, just let me know; I've got an excellent cream that will get rid of that before you can scream 'by the ancestors'."

"Thanks kid, but this fine piece of manscaping you call a 'rug' is part of the Varric Tethras package. Remove the hair and I become like a river without water. Like a poet without a muse. Like-"

"-Elena without her blades?"

"Exactly, kid. Or like-"

"-Solas without the fade?"

"Or the Seeker without her glare."

"Or a dwarf without his head." Cassandra's unimpressed voice cut into Thalia and Varric's back and forth.

"Now, now, Seeker, you're playing the game wrong. Allow us to demonstrate a bit more. Dragon, you start."

All eyes turned to Elena as they waited to see if she'd join in with Thalia and Varric's bizarre discussion.

"A Ferelden without a mabari." She finally offered.

"An Antivan without charm." Came from Varric next.

"A Tevinter without the arrogance." Cassandra threw out.

All eyes turned next to Solas, as everyone realised at the same time that he was yet to offer an insult.

"Come on, Solas." Goaded Thalia in a singsong voice. "We know you've got one in you. Nothing to say about the Dalish? Let it out, you'll feel so much better."

He sighed to himself before a small smile slid across his face as he offered his own suggestion.

"Or a Dalish without their ignorance."

There was a brief second of silence before Elena let out a small involuntary chuckle, and Thalia cheered Solas on.

"That's more like it, you sassy old thing, you. Okay Varric, your go again."

"Hmm, how about... an Orlesian without their mask." He offered.

"Or their impractical outfits." Scoffed Cassandra.

"Or their suffocating perfume." Quietly finished Elena, quite pleased to find that it wasn't just her who disliked Orlais. The game continued like that until they were ready to leave the boat, leaving not a single nation or group of people that hadn't been criticised in some way.

Chapter Text

The inn Josephine has rented was, mercifully, not in the centre of Val Royeaux proper. Weary and drained, the group released a collective sigh of relief when they reached it well into the evening that same day. It was far enough out to mean that the meeting with the mothers tomorrow was within walking distance, but far enough away to give them somewhere to retreat to when everything went wrong. Not that anyone thought it would- aloud at least. In private, and more importantly away from the eyes of Cassandra, Thalia and Varric had placed bets on the outcome. Thalia, ever the optimist, was convinced that everything would be okay and none of them would receive even as much as a paper cut, let alone die. Varric on the other hand, being the more practical of the two, felt that the chances of them all escaping without harm was slim to none, which his bet reflected.

After a quick, bland meal, the exhausted group trudged upstairs to their assigned rooms. Elena was pleasantly surprised when she saw the large wrought iron bath waiting, and had to resist the urge to dive in and claim it as her own for the near future. Thalia chuckled as she strode past Elena, who didn't need to see her younger sister's face to know she was rolling her eyes. Elena closed the door behind them, wishing the others good night as they left to find their own rooms. She turned back to her sister, waiting patiently as Thalia muttered an old Dalish rhyme under her breath (it was meant to help a person come to a decision when they had multiple options available), as she pointed from one bed to the other. With a triumphant 'aha!', Thalia strode over to the bed closer to the door and threw her pack down upon it, thus marking it as hers for the duration of their stay.

She flung herself onto her bed began unwrapping her feet, nimble and practiced fingers making short work of it.

"Da'nehn, I'm going out tonight."

"More sneaky smuggler business?" Thalia didn't even look up as she replied. Somehow sensing the unimpressed glare Elena directed her way, she snickered.

"Well okay, dear. Have fun spending time with your adorable sneak thief friends! Go take some names and kick some ass."

Thalia started rummaging around in her pack, eventually pulling out one of the books Varric had penned, before she climbed on the bed and settled leaning against the headboard.

"Try to be back by morning or else our resident bear puncher will start asking questions. And punching things. You, if you're caught, and me, for not stopping you."

That was all that was said on the subject and the pair lapsed into a comfortable silence, Thalia reading her book, and Elena sketching something she'd seen earlier as she waited for the bustle of the streets to die down. It wasn't long before most of the commotion of the inn had quietened, leaving Elena relatively free to leave. She pulled her cloak out of her pack and threw it across her shoulders, pulling the hood up so that it hid her face, and placed a nondescript silver mask within one of its inner pockets. 

Elena made her way over to the window, mentally going over her plan for the evening. Slowly sliding it open, she sent a pulse of magic out to detect if anyone was nearby, fully expecting Leliana to have placed spies on their tail. She had. Elena immediately cast a spell to redirect their attention onto anything but the window as she opened it fully and left.

Elena's feet never met the pavement. As soon as she was free of the window, she let her magic flow to all her limbs, feeling as they rearranged themselves until she no longer held her elvhen form. She finished the change just as she was about to make contact with the ground and shot up high into the sky. It was always risky, operating in Orlais- the Empress' former pet, Briala, was the leader of the elves in this part of the world and almost every elf reported to her. What few knew though, and what Elena wasn't meant to, is that Briala also had friends outside the empire, and that she regularly conversed with people from the same organisation Elena served. Briala's tenacity served her well. Where most people would have given up by now, Briala kept on going. The attribute was as much to be admired as it was to be wary of. She wants change for her people, there was no doubt about that, but if the road to victory is built from the corpses of her fallen allies, is that truly a success? Is it power she wants for her people, or herself? She may think they're two different concepts, but she'd be wrong.

Elena shook herself from her thought, concentrating instead on her own path and altering her course slightly. She could tell when she was reaching the more modest regions of Val Royeaux; the gaudy, well-maintained roofs of the large town houses below slowly became the smaller, less extravagant tiles of more moderately sized buildings. Whilst it was painfully obvious she wasn't in the 'poor' region of the city yet- the roofs were still too well maintained and lacked the dilapidation of the alienage's coverings- a missing tile here and there told her she wasn't in prime Val Royeaux territory anymore.

She circled one particular building several times until she soared down, gracefully landing on a chimney pot before folding her wings away. Elena watched from her perch, silently monitoring the patrons of a business opposite and slightly northward of her location. Watching. Counting. Waiting. Listening. It was some time before she made her move, having decided that it was busy enough to mask her presence, but quiet enough to mean she wouldn't be kept waiting.

Elena spread her wings and once again took off, gliding down, over the roof's surface, and making her way to street level. She turned right at the last moment, entering a long, dark alleyway between two different buildings. She hovered there in the air, hidden, and allowed her magic to flow into her limbs before she felt them rearrange until she once again held her natural form. She lowered her hood and pulled out the mask she'd brought with her before carefully tying it firmly around her head. After arranging her hair so that it covered the pointed tips of her ears (her height would add to the illusion of her humanity), she stepped out of the shadows, and made her way across the street to the building opposite.

***********

"Bonsoir, madame, bienvenue à Dubois'. Comment puis-je aider?" [Good evening, Madame, welcome to Dubois'. How may I help?]

Elena fought an eye roll at the fake cheer the Orlesian waitress used.

"J'ai une réservation; Martin, 20h." [I have a reservation; Martin, 8 pm.]

"Un instant, s'il vous plaît" [One moment, please.]

The server quickly scanned down the list of expected bookings before tapping one twice. She looked back up at Elena with the same fake smile she'd been wearing since she arrived, leaving Elena to wonder at the amount of energy it must take to maintain such a chirpy attitude all evening.

"S'il vous plaît attendez ici; je vais informer Monsieur Martin de votre arrivée." [Please wait here; I will inform Mister Martin of your arrival.]

"Je vous remercie. Pourriez-vous me dire où je peux me rafraîchir, s'il vous plaît?" [Thank you. Could you tell me where I can refresh myself, please?]

"Les installations sont juste à l'intérieur de l'entrée, et à gauche, madame." [The facilities are just inside the entrance, and to the left, madam.] She informed her as she stepped out from behind her station, using gestures to show Elena her exact path.

Elena nodded her head slightly in silent thanks and waited until the server was out of sight before moving. She entered the restaurant, striding confidently in the direction given, not stopping to admire the chic cream and gold interior as she did. Elena entered the washroom and, after checking she was alone, made her way over to the large ornate mirror that stood against a wall. She reached up and untied her mask, returning it to the pocket on the inside of her cloak once more, and took a moment to study what reflected back at her.

Her face was the same porcelain shade it had always been, same high cheekbones, same bow-shaped lips, same light grey vallaslin that had been there for years. She looked into her own eyes, focussing on the way the royal blue outer of her iris she'd inherited from her father faded into purple, then into the red she'd inherited from her mother nearest the pupil. Elena could just about make out the tiny flecks of gold dotted around (also courtesy of her mother) and wondered just when her eyes started to hold the timeless weariness she saw.

Elena shook herself from her musing and scoffed when she remembered the ridiculous nickname the clan had given her- eyes of vengeance indeed; they had no idea the face of true vengeance- Vengeance came slowly wearing eyes of ice. Her hands reached behind her and pulled up her hood once more, taking care to ensure every strand of her dark russet-red hair was safely tucked away out of sight.

Elena gently ran a palm along a particularly sharp edge of the mirror's ornate golden frame, causing a cut to form and bleed instantly. She pressed the wounded palm to the mirror's surface, waiting as it greedily accepted her offering, absorbing all the life force it could. When dim lights seemed to roll beyond the glass, she pulled her hand away and healed the laceration. All of a sudden, a bright light poured out from the mirror's surface, instantly illuminating everything in the room.

Confident the waitress would say nothing of her disappearance (the staff of Dubois' were paid handsomely for their silence), Elena stepped through the mirror's surface, enjoying the feeling of pure, unfiltered magic as it surged over her body, sinking into every pore in her body as it filled her with an overwhelming sense of completeness. All too soon, it was over though, and she stepped out into a dim corridor. Lit sconces lined the walls in a feeble attempt to light the area, showing that it was empty, save for a door at the opposite end to the mirror.

Elena walked directly over to the door and knocked on it- once, twice, a pause, then a third time. A smaller, previously unlit sconce roared to life as veilfire danced around inside, and a tiny slot opened from the other side of the huge, stone door.

"Pass code?" a faceless voice hissed, neither male nor female.

"The nug grows weary upon the halla's back."

Truthfully there wasn't actually a pass code. Perhaps in the past there may have been, but nowadays asking for one was an inside joke to the regulars, used mostly to intimidate newcomers. Those that visited often made a habit of offering rambled nonsense, whilst to those that didn't, sometimes the thought that there might be a code was enough to scare them away. It was a final test, in a way.

The restaurant wasn't the only entrance to where Elena was heading. Rumour had it that near the alienage there was a roof. This roof was said to have a hole in it, just big enough to fit a single elf. Rumour also said that should a person manage to survive a maze full of invisible wire, spiked pits, tripwires, and magic, they'd eventually come to a choice. One path led to the same door Elena was in front of, the other led to a room with all the gold, treasure, and weapons a person could ever wish for- a room where the entrance sealed behind you.

Those that managed to navigate the maze in one piece, and proved themselves brave/ foolish enough to bluff their way in, had, by some unspoken agreement, at least earned a right to enter the building beyond. Whether they made it out again was another gamble they'd have to make.

Elena watched as her pass code was accepted and a number of different runes lit up, one after the other, starting at the ceiling and ending at floor level. The lights dimmed and the colossal stone doors opened smoothly, silently, revealing yet another brazier-lined corridor. She stepped through and came to another thick, imposing door, though this one was wooden, and manually operated. Elena pushed against it and stepped inside, letting the door swing shut and lock securely behind her.

Elena took in the familiar surroundings; the decor was the same as it was the first time she came here, all those years ago. A bar sat at the far end of the room, whilst along the way cleverly positioned candles provided plenty of shadows, shadows that hid tables, their occupants, and their dealings. Considering how much blood had been spilt on the wooden floors over the years, there was an impressive lack of odour in the tavern. The air was as clean and fresh as it always was, and Elena knew it was down to the owner of the tavern- she was as fastidious as she was lethal. The bartender- also the head of the guild- knew not only how to kill someone in a heartbeat, but how to clean up after herself properly; her patrons were only too happy to settle their grievances elsewhere.

Elena wove her way through the tables and approached the bar, gaining the attention of the owner, known only as 'Orlei'.

"Bienvenue, Petite Oiseau " [Welcome, Little Bird.] She greeted Elena with a smile, the three claw marks that ran diagonally across her face from hairline to jawline not detracting from her beauty in the least. "Comment va la pêche?" [How goes the fishing?]

Elena settled on a stool at the bar before answering.

"Ils mordent." [They bite.] She replied. "Le plus gros poisson, cependant, reste insaisissable." [The biggest fish, however, remains elusive.]

"Il y a toujours de plus gros poissons, Petite Oiseau." [There are always bigger fish, Little Bird.] Came the reply, as Orlei's unfathomably dark eyes studied her cloaked appearance before they snapped up to meet Elena's gaze, even hidden as it was.

"Aimeriez-vous voir les spéciaux?" [Would you like to see the specials?] Orlei asked pleasantly, retrieving the menu from under the bar and holding out to Elena.

She noticed the swift topic change, but didn't question it, and accepted the specials list from Orlei. Opening it, she noticed that a number of jobs had been completed since her last visit, but some remained untouched as always. There was still a substantial reward offered for the capture of the Dark Wolf, believed to have fled to Orlais, and- a familiar face caught her eye and Elena immediately stopped moving, her eyes raking over and absorbing the information in front of her. There, in almost perfect detail, was Thalia's picture, and underneath- the promise of a huge payday.

Chapter Text

"Pour l'élimination de l'hérétique, faussement salué comme Le Héraut de Andraste, et récupérer l'arme qui a tué notre Divin bien-aimé, le client offre..." [For the elimination of the heretic, falsely hailed as The Herald of Andraste, and recovering the weapon that killed our beloved Divine, the client offers...]
Elena stopped reading at that point, utterly enraged. Her magic coiled tightly inside her, smashing against the will that caged it, desperate to seek out those that had done her wrong. Fenedhis¸ she thought bitterly to herself; she could live forever and people would still find new ways to prove themselves brainless. To prove themselves foolish, ungrateful, shortsighted, ignorant-

"Êtes-vous bien, Petite Oiseau?" [Are you okay, Little Bird?] Orlei asked, her sharp eyes undoubtedly picking up the sudden tension in Elena.

"Non." [No.] Elena bit out as she threw the advert onto the bar. "Cela va nous tuer tous." [That will kill us all.]

Orlei's eyes flicked down to the advert, then back up to Elena.

"Croyez-vous qu'elle est Le Héraut?" [Do you believe she is The Herald?] She asked, no judgement in her question.

Elena huffed before she replied. "Pas pour un instant. Je crois, cependant, qu'elle est la seule personne capable de sceller le fissures." [Not for one moment. I believe, however, that she is the only person able to seal the rifts.]

Orlei said nothing as she watched Elena whilst the wiped the bar down, contemplating something.

"Pourquoi est-ce ici?" [Why is it here?] Elena asked, knowing Orlei would realise she was referring to the advert.

"Ils ont payé les frais." [They paid the fee.] She replied evenly.

Elena considered her options, mind bouncing from one idea to the other. To go through her contacts and find out who posted the job would take too long- she was only in Val Royeaux for a few days; Thalia's attacker could strike by the time she got a name. No, truly her only option was for her to persuade Orlei, a woman who wore secrecy like a shroud, to give her the name of the person who'd posted the job in the first place.

"Petite Oiseau, vous savez aussi bien que je le fais une fois qu'un poste a été officiellement affiché, il est ouvert pour le processus d'appel d'offres." [Little Bird, you know as well as I do once a job has been officially posted, it's open for the bidding process.]

Elena did know this, which meant she also knew that she had a short time frame in which to work whilst her colleagues named their prices before Orlei awarded the job.

"Qu'est-ce que cette personne aurait besoin de faire pour le rétracter, officiellement?" [What would this person need to do to retract it, officially?] Elena asked, not portraying the anger and rising panic she felt.

Orlei made a noise of consideration before replying. "Cela n'a jamais été fait auparavant." [This has never been done before.]

Elena's irritation was beginning to rise again, and she was about to ask the question again, but Orlei spoke again before she could.

"J'accepterais une déclaration d'intention d'annuler le travail, à condition qu'il y avait une preuve indéniable qu'ils l'avaient écrit, bien sûr." [I would accept a declaration of intent to cancel the work, provided that there was undeniable evidence that they had written it, of course.]

Right, Elena thought to herself, so that was what needed be done. She needed to find the person who'd ordered the hit, persuade them to rescind it, and bring Orlei proof that they wished to cancel the job. Simple, in theory, but there was still one problem though- she wasn't any closer to finding out their name.

"Savez-vous, Petite Oiseau, ce qui nous sépare des meurtriers ordinaires?" [Do you know, Little Bird, what separates us from ordinary murderers?]

Quickly losing patience and hoping that Orlei had a point (and that she reached it soon), Elena replied.

"Nous allons où nous devons, pas où nous aimerions." [We go where we have to, not where we would like.]

"Oui tu as raison. Nous sommes les instruments de la mort. Nous ne choisissons pas nos cibles, ils sont choisis pour nous. En tant que tel, nous ne pouvons pas simplement tuer qui nous s'il vous plaît, indépendamment des sentiments personnels à leur égard." [Yes, you’re right. We are the instruments of death. We do not choose our targets, they are chosen for us. As such, we cannot simply kill who we please, regardless of personal feelings towards them.]

Elena's mind went into overdrive, seeing the picture Orlei was painting, and already planning her moves.

"Certaines personnes ne devraient pas vivre." [Some people should not live.] Elena stated, hoping she was reading the situation correctly, and that she wasn't pushing too hard.

"C'est vrai." [That's true.] Orlei replied. She took a deep breath and surreptitiously looked to see who was within earshot.

"Dire, par exemple, qu'il y avait un homme, un homme moyen par tous les comptes. Assez riche pour avoir des domestiques, assez pauvres tombent sous l'attention des nobles haut-volants d'Orlais. Cet homme donne du travail aux jeunes elfes d'Orlais; il les prend dans, et prend soin d'eux. Ils reçoivent de la nourriture, eau, abri, un lit pour dormir. Par tous les comptes, cet homme est raisonnable, non?" [Say, for example, that there was a man, an average man by all accounts. Rich enough to have servants, poor enough fall under the attention of the high-flying nobles of Orlais. This man gives work to the young elves of Orlais; he takes them in, and cares for them. They receive food, water, shelter, a bed to sleep in. By all accounts, this man is reasonable, no?]

"À première vue, oui..." [At first glance, yes...] Elena replied, curious to see where Orlei was going with this.

"Et si cet homme organisait des fêtes pour ses amis, et si ses amis bavardé à propos de comment ils n'ont jamais vu les hommes, ou quelqu'un de plus âgé qu'un adolescent, seulement jeunes, belles femmes?" [And if this man organised parties for his friends, and if his friends chatted about how they have never seen men, or someone older than a teenager, only young, beautiful women?]

"Cela commence à sembler moins raisonnable." [It’s starting to seem less reasonable.] Elena was eager for Orlei to get to the point now; time was ticking.

"Cela suggérerait qu'un tel homme ciblait les jeunes femmes, les a utilisés, puis les a réduits au silence, oui? Ces femmes seraient piégées, oui? Piégé sans voix." [This would suggest that such a man targeted young women, used them, then silenced them, yes? These women would be trapped, yes? Trapped without a voice.]

No, not necessarily, Elena thought to herself. "Peut-être que la nature trouvera un moyen de donner une voix à ces femmes?" [Maybe nature will find a way to give a voice to these women?] She suggested lightly, her tone betraying none of her impatience. The people of Orlais evidently had a different concept of how time passed than the rest of the world.

"Peut-être qu'il a déjà, Petite Oiseau. Peut-être qu'il va avoir un accident..." [Maybe it already has, Little Bird. Maybe he's going to have an accident...] Orlei trailed off and left Elena to her thoughts whilst she went to take a drinks order. Her convoluted message was clear in its own way- Elena would have to kill in order to get the name of the person who sought Thalia's death. She waited for Orlei to finish what she was doing, silently sending death threats to whoever was holding her up. Eventually Orlei returned to her spot in front of Elena, and she tutted loudly to herself.

"Je n'ai jamais demandé si tu voulais boire un verre. As-tu du temps?" [I never asked if you wanted a drink. Do you have time?] She asked casually, sounding completely at ease and unconcerned with the sudden subject change.

"Non, j'ai des affaires ailleurs." [No, I have business elsewhere.] Elena replied, letting Orlei know that she had accepted the job.

"Peut-être la prochaine fois, Petite Oiseau. Si vous me donnez un moment, je te dois de l'argent." [Maybe next time, Little Bird. If you give me a moment, I owe you money.]

Orlei disappeared behind the bar and went to the safe Elena knew to contain a log of everyone's pay. The way it worked in this guild was simple- someone would let Orlei know that they had a job. That person would pay the fee, Orlei would note the details down, take payment (both for herself and for the reward money), decide what rank the job was worth, and then open it up to the bidding process.
The bidding process was also quite simple- each assassin who wanted the job would let Orlei know what cut of the prize they'd be willing to give her if she agreed to offer the contract to them. A job with a high reward normally meant that it was expected to be difficult, or that it needed doing in a specific way. As such, those on the lower tiers of the guild's hierarchy couldn't bid on certain jobs; assassin houses were fiercely protective of their reputation, so there was no way they'd send an inexperienced bard out on a hard mission.
After the job was completed, Orlei would let the customer know. Provided they were satisfied that the job had been completed to their specification, their partnership would be over, and Orlei would release the reward money to the person who'd done the work, making sure to keep her promised cut.

A coin pouch landed on the bench in front of Elena, and she took it, immediately tucking it away in her cloak. Bidding Orlei goodbye, she left the tavern, and strode confidently through the restaurant beyond the mirror. Elena made her way through the streets until she found a dingy alley hidden between two buildings; it was dark, imposing, but most importantly empty. She reached into the cloak and pulled out the pouch she'd just been given. It contained a moderate amount of money- she hadn't been sent on many jobs recently- but her attention wasn't focused on her pay, it was instead on the tiny paper scroll Orlei had slipped inside. Carefully she unfurled it to read the contents, and after committing the address to memory, she burnt the paper to ashes. Elena once again pushed her magic into her limbs before she took to the skies again.

****************

Elena could barely believe her eyes; there had to have been a mistake. There was no way this could be happening right now; it was as if the universe had decided to prank her. Of all the times for a hunt to go wrong, tonight certainly wasn't the best.

She'd made her way to the address Orlei had provided her, and after breaking into the nobleman's house- the security was lacking- she'd managed to evade the servants whose presence lingered in the hallways and find her way into the sleeping man's room. Elena had expected to find a man in his bed, alive and unharmed, but what she found was the furthest thing from that. Instead of a peaceful nobleman, was a body masquerading as a pincushion.

Elena crept over to the corpse and laid a hand on his bare skin, stepping through a growing puddle of blood on the floor as she did. The body was still warm, which meant that she'd only just missed the killer. Elena had to force her fury to the back of her mind. How could anyone think that killing a person, a nobleman no less, in such an obvious way would be a good idea? Only an amateur, a charlatan, would even considering doing something so unprofessional.

That was how Elena concluded that this wasn't the work of a professional after all, that and the fact that the arrow protruding from the man's heart had, of all things, a red ribbon tied around it. Elena's wrath reached a new level. She'd run into the Red Jennies on other jobs in the past. They were reckless, bold, and fearless, mostly positive qualities for a person on paper, but an organisation that prided itself on the same virtues only sewed chaos and made life harder for many people.

For all their talk on serving those beneath everyone's notice, they did a terrible job of it. Should Elena fail to cover up the murder, the servants would automatically get the blame. They would get no trial, no chance for them to explain themselves or protest their innocence before Orlais declared them guilty and executed the lot- they were only elves after all. Who would miss them? Who would care? Elena forced herself to take deep breaths and calm down as the flames from the candles in the room surged and started dancing wildly. She needed to come up with a way of making this look like an accident. If she ever managed to track down the one responsible for this... she thought bitterly to herself as various revenge fantasies ran through her mind.

Elena grimaced, there was only one way she'd be able to cover this up, and it wasn't something she made a habit of doing. What she planned to do was unnatural, and if she were caught, the Chantry wouldn't hesitate before stringing her up and making an example of her. Elena walked over to the door and made sure it was bolted shut before warding it as well for good measure. She took another deep breath, and walked back over to the body on the bed. Elena started removing the arrows, one by one until they were all lying in a pile by her feet, before setting fire to them with a single wave of her hand.

Turning back to the mangled corpse on the bed, she laid one hand on his forehead, the other over his heart, and summoned her magic. She forced it to flow through her and into him, and slowly it made its way though his veins, into his bones, and muscles. Elena was able to feel how cold and lifeless he was as her magic mirrored what he was feeling back onto her; the death running through his veins felt cold and unwelcoming, like icy sludge.

Once she was confident that her magic had reached everywhere it could, she reached out to his heart and willed it to start pumping blood again. It did, slowly, and Elena used her magic to help force the blood to flow through his body once more, determined to ignore how uncomfortable and unnatural it felt being inside someone else's body like this.

Elena couldn't heal a fully dead person, which is why she'd had to bring him back to life before she could heal his wounds. In reality, the nobleman was stuck in a sort of limbo; his heart was beating, but his soul had left his body. He was dead and alive at the same time, a shell of what he once was. Elena concentrated next on where the arrows had punctured his body. She made organs, bones, skin, tissue, and every other part of his body heal until there were no traces of the attack left- the only blemished left on his skin were those that age left.

Satisfied with her work, she withdrew her attention and focused it instead on his head. A few strong pulses of her magic had certain parts of his brain ruptured and bleeding. For all intents and purposes, it would now seem like the man had died unexpectedly in his sleep, a victim of tragedy. Any examination of the body would prove that there were no wounds or traces of poison detected; his death would be classed as an unfortunate accident and no one person would take the blame.

Elena withdrew all her magic from the body, save the heart, which she stilled once more before retreating completely. She stepped back and looked over her work, making sure she hadn't missed anything. All that remained was what looked like a slumbering man in a pool of blood. A spell later, Elena had dealt with the problem and breathed a sigh of relief. She'd done it, she'd managed to turn a careless murder into an unfortunate death. Despite the revulsion that still lingered, she congratulated herself on a job well done; there weren't many mages she knew of who'd have been able to do what she just did.

Elena removed the ward from the door and unbolted it, careful to move silently. After checking once more that nothing was amiss, she stole through the house and left, leaving no evidence she'd ever been there in the first place. Hopefully persuading the person who'd put out the hit would be easier to deal with and she'd be able to get a few hours of rest before meeting with the Chantry mothers tomorrow. Hopefully Orlais would have burnt to the ground before then and the meeting would be called off...

Chapter Text

At last, Elena made it to the client's manor. She circled the building a few times, flying as close as she could to the windows whilst still maintaining 'bird-like' behaviour. She'd spotted a few servants dotted around, and assumed that the rest of them would be resting by now- it was extremely late (or early) after all.

She double, then triple checked which room she was aiming for- third floor, second from the right- before she flew down to the servants' entrance and picked the lock to let herself in. As she made her way through the house, she mused for a moment over the terrible state of security nowadays, and how locking up mages in towers (instead of letting them live freely) meant they weren't around to properly lay the appropriate wards to guard their homes from thieves... or assassins.

Elena climbed the stairs, sending out pulses of lethargy as she went; any servants that were already asleep would remain so, and those that weren't soon would be. She stole her way through the corridors, counting the doors as she passed until she found the one she wanted. She'd found it; on the other side of the door she was standing in front of lay the person who'd threatened the safety of her sister. Elena picked the lock to the door, and slipped inside.

Elena stood at the side of the bed, silently watching the woman’s chest rise and fall as she slumbered, blissfully unaware that she wasn’t alone. Even killers look peaceful when they sleep, she thought to herself. The woman had long, black hair that was slowly turning grey, and a beak like nose that made irritating wheezing noises every time she exhaled.

Elena, getting more worked up every time she heard the noise, held out her arm, palm up, and used a tiny shard of ice to cut deep into her skin. She waited until enough blood had pooled before allowing the life force she’d gathered to drip down and onto the woman’s forehead, where she used her magic to form it into a specific sigil, one she hadn’t used in many years.

The mark flashed once before red tendrils of magic came out from its centre and began making their way down the woman's body, wrapping around her limbs as they went, like weeds on a forest floor. The vines of magic didn't take long before they stopped moving and settled against the woman's skin, waiting for Elena's command. It was time for a discussion. Elena stepped back into the shadows, invisible to the human's eyes that she knew would try to seek her out.

“Wake up.” She said, and watched as the magic of the spell yanked the woman to full wakefulness instantly. Her eyes shot open and darted around, frightened, but they failed to see Elena, hidden as she was.

“Walk over to your desk, take your chair, place it in the centre of this open space, and then sit down."

The woman stiffly got out of bed and walked over to the chair, doing exactly as Elena had instructed, moving as though she were a stringed puppet. She sat rigidly, yet there was still an air of defiance about her which Elena didn’t like. It wouldn’t last long though, Elena would see that she proved exactly who had the power here.

“Who are you?” The woman demanded. Elena stepped forward and silently made her way to the woman’s back, where she bent down and whispered directly into her ear.

“You should worry less about who I am, and more about why I’m here.”

The woman attempted to turn her neck to look at Elena, but a sharp command halted her movements.

“You will look straight ahead and keep doing so until I release you. You will not attempt to turn your gaze anywhere else.” Her head immediately spun back around until she was staring at the gaudy wallpaper of the wall in front of her, as ordered.

Elena watched for a second as she struggled against the compulsion, before sending a jolt of electricity into her, causing the woman’s muscles to lock in place, taut, aching, making her unable to move.

“Blighted maleficar! What have you done to me? How dare you! Do you even know who you’re dealing with?”

“Do you?” Elena countered, allowing a dark chuckle out into the room. If she didn’t need answers, and this wasn’t the easiest way of getting them, she’d muzzle the woman and extract them a different way. She knew that she might still have to, but decided to give the woman a chance to act sensibly.

"I come representing a number of concerned parties. They all have reason to believe your association with the one heralded as Andraste's Chosen is unsatisfactory."

The woman scoffed before she answered. "I have no association with that filthy knife ear."

Elena's eyes narrowed to slits at the insult.

"You have no connection to The Herald of Andraste?"

"Of course not."

A wave of Elena's hand sent electricity coursing through the woman's body, causing her muscles to spasm painfully as a muffled scream tried to force its way out through teeth clenched shut.

"Try again." Elena taunted. "Before you answer though, you should know I can both deliver you to, and bring you back from the brink of death time and time again. Choose your words wisely."

"I have told you already. I have nothing to do with that murderer!" She spat out in-between pants, her muscles still twitching.

Elena sighed inaudibly to herself. She was quickly running out of time, a glance out of the nearest window had shown that the sun was rising.

"I'm truly sorry you've proven to be such a fool."

Elena walked over to the woman's vanity, where a decorative bowl sat. She picked it up and examined it. It was a delicate piece, the craftsman was clearly talented; they probably never even imagined it would be used the way Elena intended. She calmly walked back over to the woman, then reached into her cloak and pulled out a large throwing knife. Elena turned it over and over in her hands, appearing as if she was contemplating something as she watched how the light hit the sharp metal and bounced off it, lighting up parts of the wall.

"Hold out your arm."

"What- what are you doing?" the woman stammered as she was forced to obey Elena's command. The latter rolled the sleeves of the woman's nightgown to her elbows and answered the question.

"To control another's body is one thing, to control their will is quite another. This will hurt."

That was the only warning Elena offered before she slit the outstretched wrist. The cut was deep, and the woman watched in horror as the blood trailed down her wrist and collected in the bowl below. Elena, knowing the woman was about to try screaming for help again, sent another jolt of electricity into her body, causing her heart to hammer rapidly in her chest and her jaw to lock once more. It served as a silent reminder that older people couldn't handle as much as younger- perhaps it was better Elena had been forced to use alternative methods.

Once the bowl was full enough, Elena sealed the woman's wrist and turned the blade on her own, before stirring the two offerings together. After she was satisfied that her preparations were complete, Elena eased up slightly on the lightning that was still running through the woman's body and used the bloody mixture as ink to draw a series of swirls and lines before on the bare skin of the woman's face. Once again, the blood flashed, but this time it disappeared as it sunk into the human's body, and Elena felt a surge of magic as the woman's psyche connected to her own. She wasted no time before using the strength of her will to overwrite that of her prisoner. It took little time before the woman sat there placidly, obediently, dominated, just waiting for instruction, unaware of how Elena's stomach was churning with revulsion, and how waves of disgust skittered all over her body like a swarm of ants because of what she'd just done.

Elena collected herself and walked and faced the woman for the first time since their discussion had begun and lowered her hood as their eyes locked; after taking her will in this way, the least she could do is treat her with an ounce of respect, despite her previous deeds.

"You are going to answer all my questions honestly, and to the best of your abilities. You won't attempt to lie or deceive me; you understand that you'll come to no harm if you're truthful."

The woman simply nodded in response.

"Can you please tell me what your connection to The Herald of Andraste is?"

"I was told to order a hit on her, so I did."

Elena's brows furrowed- she'd not expected that.

"Who told you to do that?"

"The Elder One. His agents came in the night. They took my family."

The Elder One? Elena thought to herself, every instinct telling screaming at her that this was much, much more than one racist, fanatic, aging woman with too much money, ridiculously named boss or not.

"Who is this Elder One?" Elena asked.

"I don't know. I never met him."

Elena sat back as she considered her words, knowing that there was every chance that there was actually no 'Elder One', that it was just a name people were using to hide behind, but... that would be too easy, too much like a coincidence, and Elena did not like coincidences.

"Why does the Elder One want The Herald dead?"

"She stole something from him. He wants it back."

Suddenly everything clicked into place and a picture formed in Elena's mind. The order to retrieve the arm, the thing Thalia had that belonged to the Elder One- he was after the anchor. If he was after the anchor, then it was likely that he had been the one to blow the Conclave up in the first place. So then, where did Fen'Harel fit into it all, and what did an explosion have to do with a tear in the veil? There was a crucial piece of the puzzle missing, preventing her from seeing the complete truth.

Elena knew she'd have to consider the matter later, that she didn't have time now. Every second worked against her and Elena was painfully aware that she'd have to move her schedule along and invite someone else to help speed things up.

"Go over to your desk. You will write an official letter to the guild leader and inform them that you wish to withdraw the job you posted. You will sign the letter with your full name and signature, and allow the guild to keep the reward money as your way of apologising for the inconvenience. Seal the letter with your family crest. Do you understand?"

Elena felt the woman's mind pushing back against the command, which forced her to force more of her will out to subvert the human's attempts to gain back control.

"Your family is already dead; fighting for them is useless." Elena told her coldly as she wrestled the woman for control; she didn't have time for this! Her words had the intended effect, and coupled with the power of her commands, the woman slumped, and Elena sensed she'd lost the will to fight.

Feelings of regret and guilt threatened to overtake her, so Elena forced them down as she watched the human dutifully trudge over to her desk and do exactly as she'd been told to, down to the smallest detail. She placed the letter in a think envelope, before sealing it with wax, using the insignia printed on one of her rings to make an impression in the hot liquid before it dried. Satisfied, Elena took the document and placed it securely within an inner pocket of her cloak.

"Face me." Elena commanded, and the woman turned at once. "A spirit will visit us now. You will not resist their attempts to access your mind, and will allow them any information they want. You won't remember us ever speaking, nor will you remember ordering The Herald of Andraste's death."

Elena straightened up and drew a complex glyph on the ground that connected this world to the spirit world, and sent out the invitation across the fade for Knowledge to join them. The pair weren't waiting long before a bright light signalled the arrival of the spirit, their golden, semi-transparent form pulsing in time with Elena's heartbeat.

Knowledge left the circle of the rune and examined the docile woman Elena had been questioning, poking and prodding at the magic she'd used.

"Quite a hold you've got over this one; bent but not broken. It is well done indeed."

Elena inclined her head in silent acknowledgement of the words, and told her friend what she needed them to do.

"This woman can't remember we were here. She can't remember that she put a hit out on Thalia, nor can she remember her family was taken- let her think they all moved away and occasionally write to her.

"Quite a cruelty."

"Not as cruel as thinking that her family abandoned her."

Knowledge's edges fluttered as they thought over her words.

"I remember." They replied.

So did Elena, but she wasn't open to reminiscing at the moment.

"Remove any negative impressions of The Inquisition. The rest of her history is yours to browse as you will. Copy, do not take."

Knowledge accepted Elena's terms and sunk into the woman. Elena waited anxiously as they worked, conscious of the fact that the sun was now dangerously high in the sky- Val Royeaux was waking.

Elena removed the physical marks of her magic from the woman before ordering the woman back into bed, and began feeding her lethargy, watching as her eyes dropped closed once more. Knowledge withdrew their essence from the woman and retreated back to the fade, but not before telling Elena that they needed time to examine the information they'd gathered. Elena, her head pounding from the magic she'd used tonight, extinguished the glyph and threw one last wave of exhaustion over the woman before she too left the manor, making a short stop in the kitchen as she went.

After delivering the letter to Orlei, who'd waited up for Elena, she stealthily returned to the inn, taking every precaution to make sure she wasn't seen. She took a moment to look upon her sister's sleeping face, smiling gently to herself as she listened to Thalia mumble nonsense to herself, and knew that it had been worth it. Her actions tonight were disgusting, unforgivable even, but knew the child sleeping in front of her was more important than that.

The practical side of Elena knew that everything was bound to get much worse before it got better, that she'd probably have to do much worse in future. Still, she would much rather her soul take on such burdens so Thalia's could remain clean and untainted- as it should always be. Thalia was, at heart, an idealist with the power to change the world, and Elena... Elena was a realist who knew that change never came without sacrifice.

Elena walked over to Thalia and brushed a hair out of her face, before she reached into her cloak and pulled out the jar of honey she'd liberated from the woman's kitchen, placing it facing Thalia on her bedside table as a surprise for her sweet tooth for when she woke. She stumbled over to her bed, barely mustering up the energy to get undressed before collapsing onto her bed and falling into a deep, but short sleep.

Chapter Text

"Good people of Val Royeaux, hear me!"

The Chantry mother's voice carried surprisingly far despite how delicate and frail Elena thought the old crone looked. Thalia and Cassandra had gone ahead of the rest of the group to address the Chantry, leaving her, Varric, and Solas near the back of the crowd.

Not wanting to be trampled underfoot if everyone decided to leave, Elena walked over to her right and stood under one of the decorative arches that lined the main bazaar of the city, and waited, silently taking in the surrounding scenery. Her opinions of it ranged from gaudy to ridiculous; everything about the city screamed privilege, wasteful, and idiotic to her. The scent of a thousand different perfumes hung in the air, each slight breeze bringing another equally heavy and pungent one to assault their noses. If the decorations that littered the city were ludicrous, then the people were more so. Elena witnessed a woman almost faint when her sister winked at her as they approached the marketplace. Imbeciles, the lot of them, she thought sardonically herself, whilst privately considering doing common sense and good taste a favour by burning the place to the ground- it would certainly lighten her mood which still ranged from exhausted to irritated as an after effect of the previous night.

Another thing about Val Royeaux, and probably all of Orlais, that irked her was the colossal prejudice her, Solas, and Thalia faced. The inn they were staying in was pleasant; it wasn't the finest around, but it wasn't a wooden shack either. As soon as they'd arrived, the innkeeper had overlooked the elves' presence, speaking only to Cassandra. Then, to make matters worse, they'd expressed surprise when the Seeker requested the keys to their two largest rooms, 'for surely the elves would be sleeping with the rest of the servants?' they'd asked, completely genuinely. It had taken Varric's silver tongue to smooth things over after Cassandra had given the innkeeper a glare that almost made her wither and die where she stood. Whilst it was good to see that the shape of someone's ears didn't detract from somebody's person status to Cassandra, Elena felt that it was naive of her not to have expected such a reaction.

Elena was fantasising about the different ways she could set fire to the nearest object and/or person, when the clanking of heavy metal plate drew her attention. She watched as the Chantry mother stood there, a smug look on her face as she pointed out the obvious- that the templars had returned. Her gloating was cut short however when she received a painful strike to the side of the head that caused her to collapse and the crowd to gasp dramatically. Elena frowned at the man who'd attacked; she had no love for the Chantry or its clerics, but that didn't mean she agreed with unprovoked attacks on unarmed victims. Judging by Thalia's outraged shout of 'Dude, what is wrong with you?!', she was equally unimpressed.

Elena watched as Thalia argued with the Lord Seeker, sensing something odd about him. He had a certain presence about him, one that was completely new yet familiar at the same time; it was bizarre to say the least. She concentrated and examined him properly, it was as if there was a slight magical shimmer around him. Elena reached out the slightest tendril of her magic and touched his aura; he turned suddenly as he felt it, and stared at her. Elena stiffened- the Lord Seeker shouldn't have been able to feel what she'd done, he wasn't a mage; the man should be as ignorant as the rest of his kind, but he wasn't.

Elena hid her shock and met his gaze, unflinching as his eyes pierced hers, even at a distance. There was a flicker of something behind them, something like recognition, but... she'd never met the Lord Seeker before, unless. No, it couldn't be. Could it? It was. The realisation made Elena want to throw her head back and laugh until she cried. This was too precious; the templars were even more stupid and blind than she thought. If there were gods, they certainly had an odd sense of humour, she thought to herself as she fought back her amusement.

As soon as the templars started to leave and the crowd dispersed, Elena left the arches and walked over to her sister, making sure to keep the outlandish structure that sat in the middle of the bazaar firmly between her and the Order at all times. Her scalp prickled, they were being watched, she was sure of it. Varric, looking completely collected, reached Thalia first.

"Charming fellow, isn't he?"

Thalia scoffed, raising her eyebrow and crossing her arms at the same time.

"Well then, he's made his feelings perfectly clear. No templar help for us it would seem, what a shame." She folded her arms over her chest and proceeded to mumble under her breath. "I mean seriously though, who does that?! Yeah she was being a bit of an arse, but that doesn't mean I agreed with the punch. She should really put some ice on it..."

"I do not understand, the Lord Seeker was always a decent man, never given to ambition and grandstanding. This is very bizarre. There must be those in the Order who see what he's become, perhaps they might be open to an alliance?"

Cassandra's tone was laced with confusion as Elena found herself sympathising with the human. To see such a marked difference in someone you'd work with for a long time was never easy. It made you question all your previous interactions, sometimes even your own choices. The Seeker sighed and shook her head.

"We will get no answers here; we should first return to Haven and inform the others."

Thalia shrugged and made to move before she paused and went to have one last attempt at talking civilly with the fallen mother. Elena spotted a merchant who was gesturing in their direction, pausing herself to see if anyone else wanted to talk to her, before concluding that it was them that she was trying to attract for some reason.

She'd taken one step towards the woman when Elena heard the telltale twang of a bow, and heard an arrow fly towards them. Moving almost quick enough to be a blur, she reached out and was just in time to nudge the arrow just so, sending it straight towards a wooden platform. It narrowly missed two gossiping nobles before embedding itself in the structure, and Elena twisted around to see a figure darting away over the rooftops and disappearing- fleeing further into the city.

"Holy shit, Dragon, some impressive reflexes you've got there."

Elena tore her gaze away from the arrow and saw the rest of the group staring at her.

"Gotta say, sissy, that impresses me every time, you and your lightning fast magic reflexes. Catching it with your hand is definitely better than with your shoulder, if you know what I mean."

Elena rolled her eyes and turned her attention to the arrow she'd caught, trying to deflect attention onto it rather than her. She hadn't actually meant to display that particular ability of hers quite so boldly; it was too hard to explain how she'd done it. As soon as she'd heard that familiar twang though, her instinct had overridden all her common sense, and she suddenly found herself defending herself against an attack. Fenedhis, she swore to herself. She was too old to be carelessly slipping up like that; it drew too much attention. She was a dahn'direlan.

Turning her thoughts away from her mental chastisement, she walked over to the arrow and plucked it out of the wood, noticing a message attached. Elena unfurled the paper from around the arrow, and read the gibberish contained within. Her jaw clenched and the previously forgotten anger from last night came back with a vengeance. Once again she felt as though the universe was mocking her.

"Apparently there's someone, or a group of them at least, who wish to help the Inquisition. The 'Friends of Red Jenny', if anyone is familiar." She paused as she reread the last bit, just to make sure she had interpreted the meaning correctly. "They request that you first find 'red' things that will lead you to the location of someone who wishes Thalia harm. Either way it's a trap- if not for him, then for you."

Varric chuckled before reaching out and reading the message himself.

 "I've heard of these 'Jennies' before, even had a few dealings with them in the past. It could be useful to have them on our side."

"Well volunteered, Storyteller!" Thalia slapped him on the back as she stepped towards, then around him, and made her way over to a man in a circle robe who'd been bobbing his head around and looking straight at them. He wasted no time once he saw Thalia approaching, and began talking almost as soon as she was in earshot.

"You are the Herald of Andraste, are you not? I have an invitation for you."

She took an embossed, ivory envelope from the eager man, who didn't take it as his cue to leave, but stood there looking at her, waiting for something.

"You actually want me to open this right now?"

"But of course", was his reply. "I must inform the Enchanter of your reply."

Thalia raised an eyebrow and made an 'mmmhm' noise as she slid her finger along the opening and pulled out a lightly scented, yet again embossed, invitation. The card itself was in the lightest icy blue, the writing fluid, swirly, and in bright silver ink.

"You are cordially invited, blah, blah, blah, salon, location, time yada, yada. Signed Vivienne 50 titles de Fer."

Thalia made a humming noise as she thought about it.

"Perhaps." She put the invitation back into its envelope and ticked it away in a pouch in her armour. "I may attend, if I have time."

That was evidently all the reply the messenger was hoping for, as he bowed slightly before leaving them, presumably to deliver her reply.

Varric let out a slow whistle and a short laugh.

"Very impressive, Arrow, thought you hadn't been to Val Royeaux before?"

Thalia just shrugged.

"Meh, I haven't. I just don't know if I want to go. The card was perfumed Varric. Perfumed paper, I mean what is that all about?"

"First Enchanter Vivienne is a very powerful woman, and an extremely capable mage. She'd be a great asset to The Inquisition, I'm sure." Cassandra at least was eager, or at least willing to talk to the woman it seemed. That didn't leave Elena with a lingering feeling of ease.

"Perhaps she has her own interests, and is hoping that the Inquisition could help her achieve them."

Thalia thought about Solas' words, a thoughtful expression written all over her face.

"Alright, since we're all weighing in. Thoughts, feelings, and opinions, sissy?"

Everyone was looking at her now, waiting, and she thought she saw a mild frown on Solas' face before it quickly disappeared behind his usual blank mask.

"I agree with Solas. I think it is unlikely that she does not have her own personal agenda. I have read of the Orlesians and their love of this 'Game'; she undoubtedly wants to join as she feels it will further her cause, not because of the cause."

"Yeah, that would make sense. Get in big before it's too hard to access the bigwigs. Lay the groundwork for manipulation in the early days. Alright gang, let's go meet her. The invitation was for myself and one other..."

Thalia trailed off and grinned at her sister.

"I would rather stick pins in my eyes." Was Elena's blunt reply, her tone dry.

Cassandra sighed audibly as Varric chortled. "I will go with you, Herald. Unfortunately I have had... dealings with this sort of thing in the past."

The Seeker looked like she wanted to cry, or smash something; she looked like a woman with the weight of the world on her shoulders and Elena was infinitely grateful that it was Cassandra taking the hit, and not her. Thalia "absolutely needed" Elena's opinion on what to wear, so she was roped into dress shopping with the other two women, leaving Varric and Solas to go forth, find 'red things', and browse the stalls at their leisure.

Chapter Text

The two groups hadn't even managed to take one step away from each other when a polite coughing caught their ears from the direction of a shadowed archway. They all paused for a second before Thalia led the way over to the cougher, muttering under her breath as she went. A hooded figure stood there, as far back as they could be. They reached up and Cassandra tensed, ready to draw her sword, but they simply lowered hood, revealing an elf with brown eyes, short dark hair, and the same tanned skin, only a shade or two darker than Thalia's.

"If I might have a moment of your time?" she asked, her accent clearly identifying her as Orlesian.

Cassandra greeted her, identifying her as the former Grand Enchanter, Fiona. Elena kept the surprise off her face; she'd expected the leader of the mage rebellion to be... taller.

"Well," Thalia drawled. "Seems all you leaders are just crawling out of the woodwork today. I should count myself as blessed."

Her comment earned Thalia a glare from Cassandra whilst Elena had to fight to stifle her smirk.

"I heard of this gathering, and I wanted to see the fabled Herald of Andraste with my own eyes. If it's help with The Breach you seek, perhaps my people are the wiser option."

Thalia clapped her hands together and Elena knew that something the Seeker wouldn't approve of was about to come out of her sister's mouth.

"See, look, good old fashioned manipulation- that's more like it. I'm not a fan of the punching old ladies approach."

As predicted, she received another scowl for her efforts, as well as a sigh this time. In a bid to avoid letting her laughter out, Elena looked away and just happened to glance at Solas, noticing he was studying the Grand Enchanter a glint of interest in his eyes. Elena looked back at Fiona, then back to Solas, trying (and failing) to find what would attract a hedge mage to the head mage of the Circles.

"So you think the templars are responsible." Thalia stated blandly. It wasn't a question.

"Why wouldn't she." Scoffed Cassandra, earning her a raised eyebrow from Elena. She was openly mocking Fiona for her assumptions and closed-minded thinking, yet here she stood- a Seeker- a person trained to believe that mages needed to be collared. If that didn't make her a hypocrite,  Elena didn't know what did.

"So, explain to the uninitiated- The mages weren't willing to talk to the Inquisition before. Why now?"

"Because now I've seen what you are. And I've seen the Chantry for what it is." Fiona explained, to Elena her words translated as 'there's something I want from you. I'll hide my intention to manipulate you under subtle praise.' Elena wasn't impressed.

Thalia and Fiona wrapped up their conversation, leaving the latter to don their hood once more and melt away into the crowd around the market. Thalia watched her go, a thoughtful expression on her face.

"Ma'len?" Elena's soft voice drew Thalia from her inner musings.

"Hmm? Oh I was just thinking... I'm not being funny or anything, but I'd rather deal with tiny rebels than women punching thugs."

A strange noise made its way out of Cassandra- half noise of disgust, half choke- as she looked at Thalia with an expression that held irritation and surprise.

"We will discuss the situation back in Haven, Herald." Her tone brooked no argument and Elena openly glared at the Seeker, not only for her tone, but for the fact she insisted on never calling Thalia her name. Her, and the other advisors, insisted on addressing Thalia by the title they foisted upon her; it was one of the main reasons Elena disliked them so intently.

**********************

Finding a dress turned out to be easier said than done. Even with the Seeker's presence, the Inquisition was turned away from shop after shop, and Elena found herself thinking, one again, firstly how much she'd enjoy seeing Orlais burned to the ground, but predominantly how much she would prefer to have been with the men right now.

After hours of searching, they managed to find a place that would serve them, many having refused due to an elf being the intended recipient of the dress. Merchants were kind enough to explain to Thalia that their reputation would be in tatters if someone saw an elf (especially a savage one) wearing one of their dresses, as if that should have been clear from the start. As the hours dragged on, every member of the party reached the point of exasperation, which soon became irritation.

The shop that they found was only a small place, situated further out than they'd planned on travelling, and although it didn't hold the most 'current' stock, the dresses were undoubtedly beautiful. The women entered the boutique, Cassandra leading the way, and were greeted by bowing elves who hurriedly scuttled away the moment the owner came through from the back.

"Welcome, my Lady Seeker. I am Madame Celeste, how may I serve you today?"

Madame Celeste spoke in heavily accented trade, and made a point of addressing only Cassandra, her eyes not going to the two Lavellans even once. The Seeker cleared her throat and stood a little taller, fighting valiantly not to take her mood out on the owner.

"I am here on behalf of the Inquisition. The Herald of Andraste has a function to attend and we were hoping you might have something suitable for her to wear."

Cassandra, at the mention of Thalia's title, swept her arm towards the younger elf, drawing the shopkeeper's attention to her for the first time. She gave Thalia a calculating look, almost managing to hide her sneer on her face before it once again became a mask of feigned politeness.

"Of course, my Ladies. If you would kindly follow me?"

Celeste led them further into the shop and into the back towards the dressing area. Elena managed to catch a glimpse of the two servants as the darted backwards and forwards, rushing to fill an empty rail with an assortment of different dresses in a variety of styles and colours. They reminded her of wisps, flitting around everywhere.

Thalia stepped forwards, mesmerised, and uttered a soft 'wow' under her breath before she turned to look up at the proprietor with wide eyes.

"These are beautiful. Did you make them all yourself?"

Madame Celeste puffed up in pride, reminding Elena very much of some kind of bird- an annoying, small bird who painted itself blue and pretended to be a peacock.

"Why yes, everything you see here is an original, and unique to Madame Celeste's Boutique."

She finished her statement off with a titter, and if she wasn't looking, Elena would have missed the scowl that stole over the face of one of the attendants before they turned away.

"Now, tell me, what type of dress have you in mind?"

There was a definite condescending tone to Celeste's question; it was maliciousness hidden by helpfulness. It was clear to see from Thalia's face that she was Dalish, therefore wasn't accustomed to wearing dresses or attending parties. Those who dwelled in the forests had little time or desire for such frivolities. Thalia, out of her depth, looked to Cassandra, then Elena in a silent plea for help, the latter of whom stepped forward and replied confidently.

"The Herald seeks something bold, but not audacious, something that will set her apart, but won't alienate her. She wishes for something that speaks to her nature, yet doesn't speak for her."

The Madame made a 'hmph' noise, as she stared at Elena critically, not trying to hide the way her gaze roamed over her in the slightest. Cassandra and Thalia were also staring at her, but wearing expressions of disbelief, humour, and appreciation instead.

"I understand. It was wise of you to bring your attendant with you; it is always much easier when the client has a clear picture in mind."

Thalia's brow furrowed when she heard Celeste referring to her sister as an 'attendant', but a look from Elena told her to overlook the assumption. The sooner they could acquire a dress, the sooner they could leave. The sooner they left, the sooner they could meet up with Solas and Varric for lunch. The sooner she ate, the less likely Elena was to combust.

Several dresses were tried on and rejected, either by Celeste herself or Thalia, and the pile of potentials seemed to be growing smaller and smaller by the second. Clearly fed up with the experience, Cassandra stepped towards the rail with a grunt, flicking through it rapidly before reaching forward and removing a floor length gown, giving it a critical once over before handing it to Thalia and insisting she tried it on.

After sometime had passed, Thalia stepped out from behind the changing screen to show the crowd that was waiting. Silence descended on the group as five sets of eyes looked at her, awestruck.

"Ashalan, you look... beyond words."

Elena turned to look at Cassandra then, who hadn't yet been able to tear her eyes away.

"You have an excellent eye, Seeker."

Thalia blushed before taking another step towards them. The dress Cassandra had chosen was a deep plum shade, different layers giving the illusion of other colours. The bodice was made of crushed silk with an asymmetric hemline that led to a flowing skirt that reached Thalia's ankle. The skirt had a floor length layer of organza in the same shade of the rest of the dress over it that created flashes of light as the two fabrics moved against each other, evoking images of a lightning filled cloudy sky at dusk.

Elena cast her eyes to the side, noticing how one of the working elves was staring at Thalia. Her hand was over her heart as she watched the scene with proud tears in her eyes. It was at that point that Elena realised that the dresses in this shop were created by the two elves who served Celeste, not the dreadful human herself. The elf in question caught Elena's eye, and she smiled at the young woman, eyes flicking to the dress briefly, indicating to her that she knew who precisely had designed such a masterpiece, and giving her credit in the only way she could. To openly praise the servant in front of her mistress would have invited trouble into her life- if not at the moment, then later on certainly.

Gushing moment over, Thalia turned and went back to change into her own clothes as Cassandra went to bargain over the price with Celeste in the main room, leaving the elves to their own business for the time being.

"Da'len," Elena murmured softly, beckoning over the meek designer of the dress. She reached into her purse and pulled out a few sovereigns, before pressing them into the younger elf's hands. She gasped as she looked down, mouth opened to object, but Elena silenced her with a look.

"Da'len, I know it was you who made the dress. We may not be able to openly thank you for such a wonder yet, but we are grateful. You have immense talent; when the time comes, the right people will realise it. Until then, take that."

That was all she managed to say before Thalia came out of the dressing room, her sharp eyes noticing immediately what was going on. She gave both Elena and the other elf a warm smile and a nod of approval before walking off to stand with Cassandra as the two servants darted into the vacated area to begin preparing the dress to leave the shop.

Purchase safely secured, the Seeker led the way through the winding streets of the Val Royeaux market as they made their way back to the main bazaar. Evening was falling by the time they got there, and they decided to make their way to a small restaurant that Cassandra had spotted earlier in the day. This would be their only evening free to enjoy such a meal, as the following night it was Madame de Fer's soiree, which would undoubtedly run into the small hours of the morning.

Cassandra led them into the restaurant, an eager attendant was only too happy to show the Right Hand of the Divine to their best seat available. The three women sat, glad to be off their feet and relax, allowing Cassandra to order them a glass of wine each as they browsed the menu. They chatted idly until their food arrived; Elena had chosen a dish consisting of braised chicken, mushrooms, and garlic and took her time savouring the different flavours as she ate, regularly reaching for the red wine that accompanied it. Again, Cassandra had proven herself a woman of good taste, and Elena was impressed and appreciative of the fact.

It was still barely evening by the time the women had finished their meals, the light ensuring they found their way back to the inn easily. As they stepped through the passage into the main area, Thalia spotted Solas and Varric sat quietly in a corner and skipped over to meet them. Elena, being the one who'd carried the dress back, gestured with her head for Cassandra to join the trio before making her way upstairs to store the package safely away in their room. By the time she'd returned to the group, Varric had ordered another round of drinks and immediately pulled out the chair next to him and patted the seat when he saw she'd returned.

Thalia slid a bottle over to her, using just enough force to ensure it didn't fall and smash and handed down a spare glass for her to use. She and Solas slowly made their way through the wine as the rest of the table, with the exception of Cassandra who was on water, nursed mugs of ale.

"I must ask," the Seeker spoke up as she addressed Elena. "How did you know what to say to Madame Celeste?"

Elena breathed a small laugh to herself before she took another sip of her drink and answered.

"She was Orlesian." She left it at that, sighing as three people with curious looks on their faces waited for more.

"I have found that in my experience humans like to think themselves far more intelligent than elves." Elena explained as she thought about how best to explain her earlier actions. "She addressed us, elves, as a challenge. By saying what I did, how I did, I accepted. At that point, anything other than what she did would have been her conceding defeat. Her addressing me as the 'attendant' was little more than her trying to wrestle back control."

Cassandra muttered darkly under her breath something that sounded suspiciously like 'Maker save me from the Orlesians'.

Varric laughed and slapped the table. "Even shopping is an adventure for you, Arrow. Remind me to tag along next time."

"Remind yourself, shortie." Thalia grinned down at Varric, showing she meant no offense with her nickname.

"I admit I am curious as to what you said exactly." Solas spoke up from across the table. He hadn't been participating much in tonight's conversation

Thalia laughed as she watched her older sister wrinkle her nose, knowing that she didn't want to appear to be boastful by repeating her words. Regrettably, Thalia had no such qualms, and repeated Elena's words to Solas, trying her hardest to emulate Elena's original delivery.

"She told Madame Celeste that: 'The Herald seeks something bold, but not audacious, something that will set her apart, but won't alienate her. She wishes for something that speaks to her nature, yet doesn't speak for her'. It was glorious."

Solas chuckled to himself and addressed Elena. "I am impressed, not many would have noticed her silent challenge, yet alone risen to it. It was certainly well handled."

She smiled lightly and nodded, accepting the compliment at face value, choosing to ignore that it came with a certain amount of suspicion. At this point, Elena really wasn't concerned with impressing the man; she'd escaped the Chantry mothers and the templars unharmed, found a dress, verbally sparred with an Orlesian, and was at this point desperate for her bed to reclaim some of the sleep she'd missed out on from yesterday.

Thalia, looking between the two with a thoughtful look on her face, drained the last of her beer, and stood up, announcing her intention of heading upstairs for rest. The rest of the group followed suit, and soon their table was empty, the previous occupants locked away in their rooms. After undressing to their smalls, modesty not being an issue for the sisters, Thalia went around the room snuffing out the candles whilst Elena made short work of warded the doors and windows again.

The pair climbed into their beds, and Elena had just gotten comfortable when Thalia's low voice called out to her.

"So, asa'malin, now that you're a bit more settled, what do you think of the company?"

Elena thought for a moment before continuing, picturing each of their faces as she weighed her words. She'd grown used to Cassandra's particular brand of disapproval and weariness by now. Varric had interesting stories, but never stopped looking for his next, and Solas? Solas was... a complication. He had the potential, she suspected, to ruin everything. It was clear from the way everyone spoke about him in the fade that he was more than he appeared; the question was though, how much more? The fact that spirits spoke about him at all...

Realising her sister was still waiting for an answer, she fought to keep her hands still as they twitched with the need to rub her temples, knowing that if she didn't answer now, Thalia was likely to pester her for an answer she rest of the night.

"The relationship Varric has with his crossbow is at times disturbing. I can understand why he cares for it as he does however. He's also weighed down by misplaced guilt. He blames himself for the spread of the red lyrium, as he and Hawke were the ones that found some in a thaig and brought it to the surface. The truth is far simpler. It existed before him, it'll exist after him. It's highly unlikely that he just happened to stumble upon the only source of it in Thedas."

Thalia made a thoughtful noise but said little else.

"Solas is... to him, pride is more than just a name- it marks his. He often sets himself apart from others; it seems almost instinctual to him. There are times where he seems completely disconnected with anything around him. His barriers are the most skilful I've ever seen; they are technically perfect, and I'm envious of his talent and admire the lengths he must have gone to in order to achieve such mastery. I suspect that even if I studied for hundreds of years I wouldn't be able to accomplish the same level of perfection."

Elena massaged her aching temple before she carried on.

"Cassandra has a steadfastness about her that speaks to her inner strength. Her ability to look back on a situation and learn from it is admirable, as is her faith. I hope those she'd placed it in, her Maker especially, are worthy of it."

The end of her speech was met with silence.

"Huh." Thalia said thickly. "Seems people can't keep any secrets from you, sissy boo. If you discover any though, keep them from me, unless they affect me directly. Creators know how much I hate the fact that Leliana is digging around in our history right at this moment. Still though, you were... sort of nice about them. For you. The world truly is coming to an end..."

Elena gave her sister a stern glare, not that it did much good because Thalia had shifted so that her back was to her.

"I am perfectly capable of paying people a compliment, Da'assan. If I don't shower someone in kind words, it's because they haven't earned any. We'll all be working together for some time, constant nitpicking will help nothing."

"Aah," Thalia sighed. "Always such a pessimist; you'll get wrinkles before you're 40."

Elena corrected her sister's accusation in a dry tone. "I am a realist, Thalia. Better to plan for the worst and be pleasantly surprised when it doesn't happen, than not plan and fail as a result."

A tired laugh was all she received in return as conversation trailed off as the fade came to greet them. Elena drifted away, silently counting down the days until they could leave Orlais.

Chapter Text

The first thing Thalia became aware of was the stench from the world around her; she breathed in and gagged as it hit the back of her throat. Looking around she found that she was no longer in the grand, gilded market place of current day Val Royeaux; it had become a primitive, almost post-apocalyptic version of it instead.

All around her filthy humans peddled wears to passersby from their tents of oiled leather and mud, bedraggled mortals engaging in loud, angry haggling wars with each other. Elena walked around the various tents, browsing the selection available. Jewellery consisting of beads made from bones threaded together seemed to be all that was available at one stall, whilst another held nothing more than 'miracle potions' that Elena recognised as either mildly poisonous, or useless, when she started sniffing them and indentifying the ingredients. Disgusting, she thought to herself as she quickly replaced the stopper in a bottle that was labelled as 'Miracle Hair Growth Tonic', and contained Elfroot and urine.

"The humble beginnings of Val Royeaux's market." Came a voice from behind her. "How far they've come."

Elena turned around with a smile on her face to greet her oldest friend.

"Andaran atish'an, ma falon. I trust all is well?"

Knowledge floated over to her and laid a spectral hand on her forehead. Instantly Elena's mind was filled with the memories the spirit shared, of conversations with agents where information was exchanged and orders given. Knowledge had been feeding Andurfelen reports though a proxy regularly, keeping him away from Elena as she worked within the Inquisition. By silent agreement, Knowledge took the information they required from Elena's mind and memories, glowing as they filled themselves with new experiences and reinforced their nature.

Elena sagged slightly when they'd finished, mentally exhausted by all the prodding and poking around their friend had been going in their mind. The spirit looked pleased with itself and was just starting to settle themselves into an Elvhen form when their head snapped to the left and their form flickered with irritation.

"Pride certainly has questionable timing." Knowledge mumbled to themselves, waving their hand to an area to Elena's left as they settled back into their natural form. An archway appeared in the space and Solas walked though, looking at the spirit with thinly veiled curiosity (and a hint of joy) written across his face.

"Forgive the intrusion; I did not know you had company."

Before Elena could reply, Knowledge made a show of flashing brightly before they disappeared from the marketplace with a quiet popping noise. She turned to Solas, who was now standing there with a bewildered expression and spoke as she tried not to laugh.

"Forgive my friend; they can be prickly at times." Judging by how Solas' expression changed until it held a hint of disapproval, Elena knew she hadn't been entirely successful in hiding her humour.

"Welcome to the humble beginnings of Val Royeaux's market." Elena stretched her arms wide and swept them around the scene as she repeated Knowledge's earlier words. "To what do I owe the pleasure?"

"I felt the presence of a powerful spirit in the area and came to investigate. I had no idea you would be here as well."

Solas' slight emphasis on the 'you' sounded almost accusatory, and definitely defensive.

"Such pride... You aren't the only person who has friends beyond the veil, Solas." Elena rebuked.

His seemed to deflate in front of her very eyes.

"You are correct, forgive me. I am not used to seeing such open acceptance of spirits. Most people nowadays are petrified by the Chantry rhetoric- only too eager to believe that all spirits are evil and seek to possess you."

Elena immediately noticed the 'nowadays' in his sentence and filed it away for future consideration.

 "You wish to know about them?" she asked him, having known even before his explanation that she wasn't the one he'd come to see.

"I- yes. A spirit of Knowledge, if I am not mistaken. Extremely rare. You are lucky to have found one."

Elena tutted and crossed her arms. "There's that pride again. I didn't find them, Solas, they found me. We have been friends since I was a child."

Despite the jab at his nature, Solas' eyes lit up as the excitement and curiosity from before entered his expression.

"I would be eager to learn more, but if I may..." he raised his arm and flicked it at the world around them. The stench and uncleanliness of Val Royeaux's original marketplace was replaced by a warm gentle breeze and a view of untouched forests for miles, and Elena found herself stood on a balcony that overlooked the area, a small table holding wine, glasses, and small treats between her and Solas.

Solas gestured to a seat that had appeared behind her and waited until she was seated before he settled himself. He lent forward and uncorked the bottle with practiced ease, pouring them both a glass and chilling them before handing one to Elena before gesturing for her to help herself to the cakes that were there. She reached forward and selected one, taking a small bite, and moaning softly at the explosion of flavours that danced across her tongue. Layers of pastry, cream, strawberries combined perfectly to create a treat that was refreshing, sweet, and light at the same time.

Elena looked over to see Solas watching her with a small smile on his face before he reached forward and selected a small lemon tart for himself.

"For all the faults I find with Orlais, I do appreciate their patisserie."

Elena offered him a small, but genuine, smile in return as they both finished their pastries in silence. One they'd finished, Elena nodded for Solas to go ahead and start asking questions.

"You said you met Knowledge as a child. Do you remember how?"

Elena smiled widely at the memory, remembering that she had always been stubborn, even as a child, and it was that stubbornness, that determination to learn that had called Knowledge to her in the first place.

"I was very young at the time; I didn't realise I was in the fade. My parents were deep in conversation with someone else and naturally, I got bored. I slipped away from them and started exploring. I found myself in a strange building; bookshelves lined the walls, floor to ceiling, and I remember marvelling about the sheer amount of knowledge I'd found. I wandered around for a while before spotting the brightly coloured spine of one of the tomes there, calling out to me from where it sat high above my head. Not wanting to delay, I started climbing the shelves and slowly made my way up the shelves. As I got closer, I began to rush. My foot slipped and I tumbled to the ground, landing awkwardly on my leg. I tried to stand and try again but the pain was too much."

Elena grinned again at the memory, remember how she'd been frustrated with not being able to reach the book she wanted, and ignored the pain from her fall.

"I was frustrated, and hurt, so naturally started to cry until an unfamiliar voice from behind me shocked me out of it. I twisted as far as I could and saw a curious looking elf with pencils in their hair stood there, looking down at me to where I sat on the floor. They asked what I was doing, and I explained that I wanted to read a book. They asked why that book in particular and I explained that it was my book, that it wanted me to read it. They plucked the book from the shelf before settling down next to me and handing it over. Turns out it was a children's book in Elvhen and with their help I soon managed to read and understand it. Every night I returned to the library, and every night we read together."

"You speak Elvhen?" he replied eagerly.

"Before any others." Elena answered in the same language, enjoying how his face split into a grin at the news.

"That is wonderful, that such a skill survived. Have you taught others?"

"I've taught Thalia over the years, but the clan were... wary shall we say of spirits, and unwilling to listen to the teachings of one. Thalia's open-mindedness is refreshing." Elena responded, recalling how irritated she was by the Dalish's firm beliefs in their superstitions and how rigidly they held onto what they thought they knew.

"If I understand correctly, then you were the one who raised Thalia. Her willingness to see beyond is likely a behaviour she learned from you." Solas offered and Elena found herself moved by the words and the sincerity in his eyes.

"Thank you Solas, that means a lot. She is... not perfect, nobody is, but I have always been proud of her, even when her stubbornness nearly drove me to despair."

The pair laughed as they each thought of several occasions where Thalia had proved exactly how obstinate she could be. Elena trailed off and took another pastry off the plate.

"Perhaps one day I may introduce you to my friend. I have no doubt you'll have much to discuss with them."

"I would appreciate that very much, thank you. Have you studied any other languages? Any other subjects?" Solas fired out rapidly; his eagerness and passion was infectious, and Elena found herself filled with just as much enthusiasm.

"I admit that we focus mostly on languages, but we find time to share history if the area is interesting enough."

"Fascinating... have you seen anything of note? Perhaps of our own people?"

Instantly the pools and natural beauty of Sylaise's temple came to mind.

"A little. I once saw the memory of a temple dedicated to the Hearthkeeper. The way the trees and crystals twisted and climbed into the clouds remains one of the most breathtaking things I've ever seen, and just the other night, Knowledge showed me the memory of when the hero of Ferelden visited Haven during the Blight."

Elena watched as a sorrowful settled on Solas' face, and when he became aware of her attention, he offered her a small smile and an explanation.

"Forgive my melancholy; it pains me to think of all that the elves have lost."

He trailed off, lost in his own thoughts again and Elena found herself eager to remove the sadness that now rested in his features.

"I would be pleased to share some of the memories some day, if you'd like?"

It worked, and Elena was pleased to see a small amount of joy light up his eyes once more.

"I would like that very much, thank you. Perhaps when we return to Haven you could show me the Hero's journey?"

Elena readily agreed, and found herself becoming more and more curious about the man in front of her the more time they spent together. At first, she'd been content simply to journey with him. Since their chat in Haven on their first day, neither had taken pains to seek out the other, and Elena had assumed that they'd retain an impersonal relationship merely as colleagues. His dry humour amused her, certainly, and she'd asked his opinion on certain subjects, but she hadn't pressed for any more time with him.

Now however, she wanted to know him in more detail. Why did he attend the Conclave? Why did he offer to help? Why did he insist on keeping everyone at a distance? Where had his travels taken him? How did he learn his magic? How much did they truly have in common?

"What of yourself?" She eventually asked. "I doubt someone with an interest as keen as yours lacks friends in the fade."

"You are correct. I have enjoyed the company of a spirit of Wisdom for a great many years now. Perhaps one day I may introduce you to my friend." Solas replied with a grin as he repeated Elena's words back at her, causing her to laugh.

"When you meet Knowledge, I wouldn't mention Wisdom to them; they're very sensitive about that particular aspect."

"How curious... have they explained why that is?"

"Knowledge likes what they are. They are content to be knowledgeable. They don't want to start advising others, or debating. They know what they know, and they don't wish to change again."

Elena watched Solas' face as realisation set in and wonder stole across his face as he leaned in towards her, innocent of the fact he'd moved at all.

"Again... then they must truly be ancient..."

"They've been alive for ages beyond counting, and will likely be alive for many more. I am keen to see that happen; it would do the world no good to suffer such a loss."

Solas only offered an 'indeed' in reply, before he went silent, thinking. Elena used the time to gaze out over her surroundings once more. Forests surrounded them; the branches of the trees reached towards the sun where it sat proudly in the clear blue sky, whilst the canopies sheltered the ground below them from the worst of the elements. Small woodland creatures darted between the trees playfully, whilst flocks of birds soared through the skies and formed themselves into the most fascinating and intricate patterns. It reminded her of home. Had Solas known to bring her here, or was it just a coincidence?

"Since your thirst for knowledge is so great, it may interest you to know that I discovered a bookshop today that stocks a variety of exotic and unusual tomes. Perhaps I could show you? I understand that we have a few hours free before we need to prepare for tomorrow's affairs. That is if you can promise to keep your feet firmly on the ground once we get there, that is."

Elena found herself laughing at the teasing note in Solas tones and promised that she would certainly try to resist the urge to climb bookshelves. She didn't know long they'd been sat talking together on the balcony before Solas tilted his head and concentrated on something outside of Elena's awareness.

"I feel myself waking now, but before I go, ma serannas, lethallan. I had an enjoyable evening, and look forward to next time."

A pang of disappointment flew through her, then surprise. Disappointment because this was the most interesting conversation she'd had in many years with someone who wasn't Knowledge, and surprise because she hadn't expected to feel disappointed in the first place. Elena kept her feelings internal as much as she could, but due to their setting, knew Solas must have been aware of them on some level. She gave Solas a warm smile in farewell before he faded from the dreamscape and back to the waking world. Elena allowed herself a few moments of peaceful solitude before allowing consciousness to take hold of her fully, as she too left the fade behind, lingering feelings of joy and a promise of books left her eagerly anticipating the day ahead.

Chapter Text

Elena lay in bed with her eyes closed, basking in the lingering feelings of contentment and happiness that she had felt during her time with Solas. She hadn't been able to be that open and honest with someone in a while, and although she didn't know Solas' motivations, she still enjoyed the opportunity he gave to her to be her true self for an evening.

She rolled out of bed, nimbly twisting so she landed perfectly balanced as she looked around to see Thalia still fast asleep tucked away under the blankets. Elena raised her arms above her head and stretched her spine before falling forwards at the waist to start this morning's exercise. She took her time today, relishing in the fact that, apart from the book shopping with Solas, she had nothing planned until this evening.

Half an hour later, she had completed her ritual and set about filling the tub with water, retrieving a number of different vials from her pack as she waited. Content with the level and temperature of the water she quickly stripped and sunk down into the depths, completely submerging herself. Elena made short work of shampooing her hair and washing her body, but took her time as she combed thick conditioning liquid through her hair, ensuring that it coated every strand. She swept her wet waves into a messy bun and leant back against the bath, head leaning over the edge as she relaxed and waited for the cream to do its work.

By the time she'd rinsed the conditioner out and stepped out of the tub, Thalia had risen and was getting dressed, declining Elena's offer to refill the tub as she was going to bathe before she attended the salon tonight instead. If Thalia noticed Elena's good mood, she didn't mention it.

Elena and Thalia were the last to arrive at breakfast, and the group offered each other the usual greetings of 'good morning' before discussing what they all had planned for the day. Cassandra had no interest in going shopping again, so instead was to remain at the inn, writing reports and helping to plan their next moves. Thalia had offered to stay and help, which left Varric free to accompany Solas and Elena to the shop, if only to protect them from Orlais' treatment of elves or to keep them out of trouble.

Varric, Elena, and Solas departed soon after, and spent a pleasant afternoon chatting amicably and even sharing a few jokes, Elena's good mood affecting those she travelled with. The bookshop Solas took her to didn't disappoint, rows upon rows of books lined every wall and Elena was almost giddy at the amount of information at her fingertips. Unfortunately she could only choose a few titles, so limited herself to four, not counting one she'd purchased for Thalia on plants and herbalism.

On their way back to the inn, Varric insisted on stopping by a bakery and bought each companion a small cake or pastry each. Solas and Elena shared a private smile at the each other behind Varric's back as they each remembered last night's events. The group made it back to the inn late afternoon, and after all sitting together to share the treats, the women disappeared upstairs to get ready for the ball that evening.

Thalia, having bathed whilst they'd been out, slipped out of her clothes and into a loose robe as soon as the door closed behind them. She made her way over the dresser and sat down, patiently waiting for Elena to finish putting her purchases away. It didn't take long for her to finish, and she shortly found herself stood behind the younger elf as she gently pulled a comb through her long, honey coloured hair.

"Well, well, well. It would appear that someone had a good day." Thalia commented when she heard her sister humming softly behind her.

"I did." Elena replied.

"I wonder if it was what you did, or rather who you did it with, hmm?"

Thalia watched Elena's reaction closely in the mirror for any tells, but only got a mild frown directed at her via the glass instead.

"I did wonder when you were both going to get a move on."

"Da'nehn, we shared one evening together and went on a group shopping trip, after weeks of barely talking. I'd not start planning the bonding ceremony just yet."

For some reason Thalia giggled and started bouncing in her seat, earning herself a tut from Elena, who'd started separating her hair into sections.

"Oh you saucy thing! Visiting him at night now are we?"

"Hardly. I was exploring Val Royeaux's history when he entered my dream. He visited me, if anything."

"Aaannnndddd? You can't just leave it there. Go on, tell uncle T everything."

Elena genuinely considered not telling 'uncle T' a thing. Why Thalia thought calling herself that would make people more inclined to spill their secrets was a mystery she couldn't solve.

"The smell was beginning to get to us, so he changed the scene and I found myself on a balcony that overlooked miles and miles of forests."

"Okay, okay, I'm with you. Keep going, geeze it's like trying it pull teeth..." Thalia muttered the last bit under her breath, mostly to herself.

"We sat, drank wine, ate cakes, and talked."

"That's it?"

Thalia's disgruntled look didn't distract Elena who was mid way though backcombing the middle section of Thalia's hair and pulling it into a quiff.

"That's it."

"Right okay, it's a start. What did you talk about?"

"You are awfully invested in this, da'assan." Elena pointed out as she began braiding the remaining hair on the left side of Thalia's head.

"Not gonna lie, I ship you two. Two grumpy elves, grumping together, moaning about the state of the world nowadays... I was gossiping about it earlier with Cass. Not sure, but she might have a thing for Varric; sort of a love/ hate thing. Or a hate/ hate thing. I never can tell..." Thalia stated in a matter of fact tone.

"Such a nosy child... We talked about my spirit friend, about how I met them, and you."

"Me?" she sounded surprised, it almost made Elena laugh as she secured the braid and started on the other side.

"You."

 "You bitched about how impulsive and stubborn I am, didn't you?"

Elena did laugh then, both at how sulky Thalia's voice was, and at how accurate her words were.

"A little. Mostly though I talked about how proud I was of you, of what you've done and what you're about to."

"Ellie..." She trailed off, having not expected that answer. "I'm only going to a party..." she finished, mumbling.

"I wasn't referring to the soiree, da'vhenan."

"I know..." Thalia stopped talking as she gathered her thoughts. "It was so awful, you know, when I thought you were dead. I kept thinking 'what's the point?' every time they shoved my hand at a rift or asked me to help. 'What's the point when the person I'm closest to is gone?'"

Elena waited patiently for her sister to finish, having known that this conversation was a while coming. She finished off the second braid and started wrapping both plaits around the bun that started where the quiff ended at the base of her skull.

"Then you showed up and I was so happy! I was also furious; real time pissed. I wanted nothing more than to hug you and punch you. Hug you because I needed to make sure you were real; punch you because you made me miserable by dying." Thalia continued. "You know... the others are concerned that you have too much influence over me, Cullen and co. They don't understand though, they don't get it- what it's like to be so close to someone in the same way we are and then what it feels like to have their existence yanked away from you. I mean sure Leliana lost Justinia, but it isn't the same. It just... isn't. We're different, you're different. Just... promise you won't leave me again?" she finished in a small, desperate voice as she stared unflinchingly into Elena's eyes in the mirror.

"Thalia Lavellan, my most beloved treasure, for as long as I can, I promise that I will be by your side, come what may." Elena replied, using elvhen so Thalia would understand the sincerity behind her pledge.

"That sorta sounds like a goodbye. That's literally the opposite of staying. Are your ears faulty?"

Elena laid her hands on Thalia's shoulders and gently rubbed her thumbs back and forth, as she smiled sadly down at her sister in response.

"I'll have to leave you eventually, as much as it will pain me to do so. It's inevitable. Like tonight, for example, we won't be together then."

"Mmm okay, redirection noted and sustained." Thalia allowed, an almost pout on her face that brought the smile back to Elena's. "Any handy hints about what I'll face?"

Elena made a thoughtful noise as she gestured for Thalia to stand up whilst she undid the fastenings on the dress before helping steady her as she stepped into it.

"Although I've never been to one of these things, I have encountered a few Orlesians in my time. Be as vague as you can, and redirect as much as possible. What you can't- try to answer with a question of your own; Orlesians love talking about themselves."

Thalia laughed and was about to reply when a voice called out to them from beyond the door.

"Herald, are you ready?"

"Come in Cass, we're nearly done." She yelled back whilst she waited for Elena to finish securing her into the gown.

"Oh Herald, you look lovely." The Seeker gasped when she laid eyes on Thalia.

"Oh pish, I wouldn't look half this good if you hadn't put your foot down and chosen this dress. This? This is all on you, baby!"

It was late now, and Elena still needed to change into her armour if she wanted to walk out of tonight's trap unscathed.

"I'll leave you to discuss plans. May I use your room to change, Seeker?"

"Yes of course, here."

Cassandra reached into her pockets and handed Elena the key. She slipped out with her armour as soon as she received it and in almost no time at all she'd changed and had made her way downstairs to wait for her sister, waiting to see the reactions of the others.

The swishing noise of silk on silk reached their ears, signalling that Thalia was descending the stairs. Varric and Solas stood to greet her, and Elena watched with amusement as Varric's jaw dropped and Solas' expression filled with wonder as Thalia entered the room. Since Elena left, Thalia had applied light makeup, so now her sea green eyes were surrounded by a halo of gold and brown eyeshadow.

Their awed silence would have continued if not for the interruption of a servant announcing the arrival of the carriage Cassandra had arranged. Snapping out of their dazes, both men told Thalia how stunning she looked before she left the inn, turning to salute them before she disappeared through the door.

"No sense in waiting, a trap won't spring itself you know; let's get this show on the road."

The remaining members checked their weapons once more before they too made to leave, Varric's optimistic words guiding their way. Elena's group exited into the night, hugging the shadows as they began to hunt down their 'baddy'.

Chapter Text

Elena, Solas, and Varric wandered silently through the streets, avoiding chevaliers and pickpockets alike. By the 5th wrong turn, tempers were starting to fray. At the 6th wrong turn, Elena snatched the map back off Varric before setting it alight. They were lost. The map they'd pieced together was completely useless and Elena's previous good mood had disappeared, leaving severe irritation in its wake.

The last straw came when she walked through a door way, only to be greeted with a fireball aimed for her head. The combined frustration that came from a useless map and the Red Jenny's idiocy from the night before made something inside her snap. Elena caught the flaming mass in her hand and added her own magic, increasing its size and impact until it blazed a bright blue, and sent it hurtling back in the direction it had come from.

A steaming pile of ash on the ground replaced where a man once stood, and Elena had to admit that finally setting something Orlesian on fire did actually make her feel a little better. A crash sounded out from nearby and the three of them turned to the noise, weapons raised, and fire ready. A strangely dressed elf stepped out from behind a man who was unfortunate enough to be choking on his own blood.

"So where's...?" she looked around the area, confused. "Where's Lord Poncyfart?"

Assuming the blonde stranger was referring to the person Elena had just killed, the trio looked pointedly at his remains, the glow faded almost to nothing now.

"Oh. You killed him already dintcha?" The newcomer lowered her bow and started trying to yank her arrow from the corpse of the man she'd just killed.

"So, you followed the notes well enough. Glad to see you're..." The disappointment and disgust that made its way onto the elf's face could have been amusing, if Elena had been in a better mood and the person in front of her hadn't been a Jenny. Instead, she just found it aggravating. "...Aaaand, you're an elf. Well, hope you're not "too elfy"."

"Dahn'direlan." Elena hissed under her breath as she glared at the newcomer, who raised her hands and tried to grin through her obvious dissatisfaction.

"I mean it's all good, innit? The important thing is: you glow? You're The Herald thingy?"

"Din. What's going on here?" Elena replied sharply.

"No idea, I didn't know idiot from manners. My people just said the Inquisition should look at him."

"Your people? Elves?" Solas replied then, almost as if he could sense that Elena was two seconds away from burning Val Royeaux and all its idiotic inhabitants to the ground.

The plaid dressed stranger snorted unattractively as she corrected Solas.

"No. People people. Name's Sera. This is cover. Get round it. For the reinforcements. Don't worry. Someone tipped me their equipment shed. They've got no breeches."

The group barely had time to work out what she was saying before half-naked men poured in from all angles, surrounding them. Half looked embarrassed and tried to hold their weapons whilst covering themselves, the other looked angry to be the brunt of a joke. Regardless, they all charged towards Elena and the others and tried to kill them. A very short, anger fuelled lightning filled fight later, the half-naked men lay lifeless on the ground at their feet, and Sera stood over them cackling like a lunatic.

"Friends really came through with that tip. No breeches!" Sera laughed manically to herself again, and despite everything, Elena's lips twitched in response; the fight had cheered her up a bit more. Sera calmed herself down and addressed Elena once more. "So, Herald of Andraste. You're a strange one. I'd like to join."

"Been a bit of a mix up here, kid. That isn't The Herald..." Varric offered as he addressed the elf.

"Huh. Well who the tits are you then?"

Sera seemed remarkably unruffled considering her trap for the Inquisition and the mystery pile of ash hadn't gone completely to plan. Elena found herself wondering why this 'Sera' didn't know she wasn't The Herald; she'd already told her that she wasn't. Was she just not paying attention?

"Elena. Thalia, or the 'Herald', is my sister. Now, who are you people?"

"One name. No, wait, two. It's... well, it's like this. I sent you a note to look for hidden stuff by my friends. The Friends of Red Jenny. That's me. Well, I'm one. So is a fence in Montfort, some woman in Kirkwall. There were three in Starkhaven. Brothers or something. It's just a name, yeah? It lets little people, "Friends", be part of something while they stick it to the nobles they hate. So here, in your face, I'm Sera. "The Friends of Red Jenny" are sort of out there. I used them to help you. Plus arrows."

If Elena didn't already know which group Sera as part of, she wouldn't have been able to tell from Sera's words. She spoke, in Elena's opinion, gibberish. Why didn't she just say, plainly, who she worked for? Why the run-around?

"The Inquisition has spies already. Can you add to these professionals?" she asked Sera.

"Here's how it is. You "important" people are up here, shoving your cods around. "Blah, blah, I'll crush you, I'll crush you."." Sera stopped talking and took a moment to make some kissing noises before she remembered where she was and what she was doing, and cleared her throat. "Ahem. Step down, you've got big lords with big purses like the tit we killed. Or was he one of the endless arselickers who follow? Doesn't matter, his grand plan was ruined by scrap torn from his desk and a red sock. By someone who couldn't read it. So no, I'm not Lord Poncyfart, all ruffled. But if you don't listen down here too, you risk your breeches. Like those guards. I stole their... Look, do you need people or not? I want to get everything back to normal. Like you?"

Solas yet again stepped forward and took control of the conversation, leaving an appalled Elena to gape at Sera.

"So who are your "Friends of Red Jenny"? Surely you must know at least some of them."

Sera tossed her head back and groaned as she threw her arms up in despair.

"Ugh, it's not hard to understand, if you're not trying to waste your day on it. Someone little always hates someone big. And unless you don't eat, sleep, or piss, you're never far from someone little. Doesn't always work out, but a lot of people hated this guy. Someone got a laugh, someone got even, someone got paid. And someone has to have it explained to them that free help is good."

"You sound like nothing more than a thief, acting out petty revenge fantasies." He replied, only to receive a blank look in return. Varric actually chuckled before he replied.

"And that might be a bad thing?"

"Oh, right. You want to prop that up so I can say my sorries? Bad things should happen to bad people. We find someone not so bad, maybe they'll end up not so dead. Good enough?" The sarcasm pouring off the young elf was so potent Elena was surprised it didn't physically hit them in the face. The Red Jennies (specifically the person in front of them, most likely) killed the nobleman from last night because they too had heard the same rumours Orlei had. His time had been up either way, and although Elena was still irritated by how they'd gone about killing him, the thought placated her somewhat. Nature came through for the girls who worked for the nobleman indeed.

"A simplified view. Did you know him?" Elena queried.

"I knew about him." Was Sera's reply, confirming Elena's suspicions.

"So you act based upon nothing more than a rumour?" She retorted, aware and completely ignoring the fact that she was acting hypocritically.

"Look, I'd have been fine stripping his guards and nicking his stuff. Turns out, he deserved worse. Or was him trying to kill you a good thing? Are you the baddie? Didn't think so."

Elena stepped away and gestured for Varric and Solas to join her. There was absolutely no way she was going to allow herself to be blamed for making this decision alone. After some deliberation, the three of them all agreed to let Sera join, each person seeing the benefit gained from having extra eyes around Thedas. Elena was nominated to deliver the news to Sera, who was ecstatic, and spent roughly five minutes giggling and hopping around the place punching the air, whilst rambling about breeches, merchants, and Haven. Varric watched her disappear and chuckled.

"For the record, I am not telling the Seeker about that one."

He started walking back towards the inn before Elena could retort. She turned to Solas who skilfully avoided her gaze and left as well. Elena sighed to herself; they'd metaphorically thrown her under the wagon, then abandoned her before she could convince them otherwise. She grumbled as she too set off after her other companions, eager to climb into a bath. This was the last night she'd have to stay in Val Royeaux before they began the long journey back to the frigid nightmare that was Haven, but still remained the lesser of the two evils.

Chapter Text

Yet again Elena had found herself eager to leave the ever-growing village that was Haven. Their four-day rest had proved to be anything but restful. So far, Sera has managed to clash with Solas and Vivienne, the latter of whom had initially mistaken Elena for a servant. The Enchanter had haughtily reeled off a long list of demands before Josephine mysteriously appeared and officially introduced the pair, before she set about mitigating any damage the newcomer may have done; Elena's pride was well known in Haven by that point. The apology Vivienne had offered her managed to sound completely genuine, yet utterly unremorseful at the same time, and Elena had forced herself to bite back her tart response, having judged the Enchanter unworthy. It was the official start to a relationship filled with mutual contempt and scorn.

It wasn't long after the new companion arrived before both her and Solas' abilities and qualifications were called into question, due to their apostate status. Reports came in stating that Thalia and the advisors had been subjected to a lengthy discussion with Vivienne about her concerns, but her sister had had dismissed them entirely. To Elena's surprise, Cassandra had spoken up in their defence and stated that their skills and control were unquestionable, and that she trusted them to act in the Inquisition's best interests. Elena wondered, if only for a moment, if she had judged the Seeker too harshly; on paper, Cassandra and Vivienne should share and support about most of their beliefs, including the mages' educational system.

Vivienne had also attempted to claim a mentor-like role with Thalia, engaging her in a series of discussions about the state of the world whilst making sure to press her own opinions on the younger Lavellan. It had gotten so bad that Thalia had taken to avoiding the Circle mage by extended potion brewing sessions with Adan, or by hunting in the surrounding area.

One day, after a prolonged and no doubt dull meeting, Thalia had emerged from the war room and gathered her inner circle. In order to best use the people available, they were all to split into two teams and head to different locations, each with a different agenda. One team (consisting of Elena as lead, Solas and Varric as support) was Hinterlands bound, where they were to negotiate the horse master's support, find a Grey Warden, and meet up with the mages. The other team (Thalia leading, Cassandra, Vivienne, and Sera accompanying her) were to make their way to the Storm Coast to meet a mercenary. Overall, Elena was pleased with the way the teams had been divided, as she wasn't sure she'd be able to cope with both Vivienne and Sera in the same party without resorting to violence.

That was how Elena found herself in the position of staring up at the ceiling of Dennet's guest room. They'd been invited to stay the night after delivering the good news about the watch towers, and he'd agreed to help the Inquisition. To celebrate their partnership, he'd cooked them all (his family included) a delicious meal and opened up several bottles of wine.

Elena lay there in bed, lost in her own thoughts as the hours ticked away. She'd successfully managed to place agents within The Inquisition, now receiving reports from the kitchen staff, the stable hands, cleaners, and so on. Her people were overwhelmingly average and thoroughly unnoticeable. They were good enough at their jobs that they weren't reprimanded (drawing unwanted attention), but not enough to warrant regular praise, which would again gain notice. Their orders were simple- watch, learn, report, and if necessary, investigate.

Elena wasn't anywhere near naive enough to think that other nations wouldn't have placed their own spies within the Inquisition, so everyone involved, especially the people in Thalia's immediate vicinity, was under investigation, and treated as a hostile force until proven otherwise. One by one, the pasts of her colleagues were investigated; soon they'd have no secrets.

On another positive note, her investigations in to Thalia's friend, Iona, had proven that she only answered to the Nightingale- something Elena was comfortable enough allowing to continue for the moment. In Elena's line of work, it was good to keep your friends close, but better to keep your enemies closer. The more Elena could limit the amount of people Thalia disclosed personal details to, the better.

So far, her agents hadn't turned up anything too damning about the advisors. Leliana liked honey in her tea and kept a bottle of Andraste's Grace perfume on her table, which she smelt, but never used. Josephine was obsessively neat and tidy and collected pressed flowers, and Cullen had trouble sleeping as he often suffered from nightmares. All routine so far, nothing Elena could use as leverage should she need to.

What Elena was waiting for was the news of other agents, ones that didn't belong to her. Andurfelen would undoubtedly have sent some to spy on her and the Inquisition, but she wasn't concerned about those. Truly, she was eager to see if the whispers of the Dread Wolf held any water. Andurfelen had been quite insistent that Elena had gone to the Conclave, and a variety of sources had mentioned his presence to her. Only a fool would ignore the warning, and Elena was no fool.

A soft knock at her door drew her attention, signalling the start of a new day.

"Wakey wakey, rise and shine. Another glorious day awaits us!"

Elena sighed quietly at Varric, even through the door. The man was pleasant enough, but she found his perpetual good mood difficult to fathom. She stretched out all her limbs before she rose, making sure that she made enough noise so that Varric heard she was awake. Being the only female in the group, Dennet had insisted it was only proper she was given a room to herself. Elena hadn't complained, and had very much appreciated the privacy last night as she'd taken the time to strip down and wash, and was thankful for it once again as she dressed for the day. Muscles stretched and armour on, Elena descended the stairs to find that Dennet's wife, Elaina, had been kind enough to make them all breakfast. After helping herself to scrambled eggs and fresh toast, Elena made her way over to the stables and began to brush and tack up her mount as she waited for the others.

By mid morning, Elena, Solas, and Varric were well on their way southeast, their horses having no trouble making their way over the uneven terrain of their path. As they made their way over the rebuilt bridge on the West Road, Elena couldn't help but take notice of how much safer the area was now that the templars had been taken care of. That made the bandit-infested old villa the greatest threat to the inhabitants of the Hinterlands now, aside from the any new rifts that popped up, but she knew that it was unlikely the three of them would be able to clear it out without help. Before she'd met up with Thalia, she'd taken her time to scout the area, and had noticed that these particular bandits were heavily armoured; they would need at least one seasoned warrior to stand a chance at success. Perhaps the Warden could be convinced, she wondered idly to herself.

Elena, not wanting to have to take the long path, steered her horse to the right, and up the rocks that would take them to the Lake Luthias camp. Taking that path was certainly risky, but she managed to pick out a suitable path for their horses, which slowly managed to climb their way to the top of the ridge. Elena patted the neck of her mount and slid out of the saddle, murmuring praises to the horse as she loosened the saddle and led her mount over to the main area of the camp.

Since the Warden had already been spotted not too far away, Elena had decided to complete the rest of the journey on foot, as she had no idea what kind of reception the Inquisition would receive, and didn't want to put the animals in danger. After handing her horse over to a scout, she made her way up and around the hill that separated her from the Warden.

The group climbed over the last ridge and found exactly who they were looking for, as well as a few people they weren't. A soft breeze blew through the valley, carrying the Warden's muffled words along with it, as it rippled the water in the otherwise calm lake that lay between Elena's party and the Warden's. She stood there on the other side of the lake, watching as Warden Blackwall tested a few weapons before he handed them off to several lanky, twitching people stood around him.

Hoping to reach the Warden before any real fighting or training began, Elena made her way around the edge of the lake, using rocks as pathways and sliding down embankments as she went. Her group approached the man from the rear, and now that she was closer to his trainees, she was able to see the fear and determination that was written across their faces. What was going on?

"Remember how to carry your shields! You're not hiding, you're holding. Otherwise, it's useless!" the Warden instructed as he paced backwards and forwards in front of his recruits.

Elena stepped forward and tried to draw his attention.

"Warden Blackwall?"

He turned swiftly and looked at her, then Solas and Varric, in suspicion.

"You're not- How do you know name? Who sent..."

Elena's head snapped to the side as she heard newcomers approaching. She surrounded herself with a barrier as he cut his sentence short with a bellow as he raised his shield, stopping an arrow that had been travelling straight towards Elena's head.

"That's it." He cried out. "Help or get out. We're dealing with these idiots first! Conscripts! Here they come!"

At his signal, the Warden and his men surged forward, meeting the newcomers head on. Elena readied a ball of lightning in her hand before flinging it away from her and watching as it bounced from attacker to attacker, the metal of their armour only aiding it. From behind her, Varric released a round of bolts as Solas fired shards of ice towards the newcomers. Thanks to their superior numbers and skill, the fight was over quickly. Blackwall dropped his shield and stabbed his sword into the ground as he made his way towards the now dead group, where he kneeled and looked at them with remorse in his eyes.

"Sorry bastards." He muttered to himself, before standing up once more and addressing his conscripts. "Good work, conscripts, even if this shouldn't have happened. They could've- well, thieves are made, not born. Take back what they stole. Go back to your families. You saved yourselves."

Elena said nothing as she watched Blackwall's men depart; she'd heard rumours of a Warden's ability to conscript whoever they liked, but never seen it happen before. Those men were lucky it wasn't a Blight, she thought to herself. The chances of the Wardens allowing them to leave their service would have been slim to none.

"You're no farmer, why do you know my name? Who are you?"

At his words, Elena's attention went back to the Warden, and she got her first real look at him. A large, bearded man stood before her, with tired grey eyes that spoke of too much death. His armour was in excellent condition, with only a few bumps and scratches here and there. The picture Blackwall painted was of a man who'd fought in many battles, survived, and kept on going.

 "We come representing the Inquisition; they're investigating whether or not the Wardens were involved in the murder of the Divine."

"Maker's balls, the Wardens and the Divine? That cant- no, you're asking, so you don't really know. First off, I didn't know they disappeared. But we do that, right? No more Blight, job done, Wardens are the first thing forgotten. But one thing I'll tell you: no Warden killed the Divine. Our purpose isn't political."

Elena's eyebrow began to creep up her forehead. His resolute refusal to believe the Wardens were involved was somewhat admirable, but that wasn't what caught her attention. Two things called out to her, firstly, why would the rest disappear, but not him? Secondly, and more importantly, his use of "they"; it may have only been a slip of the tongue, but it was telling. Elena almost scoffed at his last comment though. The Wardens may not be political, but they had gained a lot of influence since the last Blight, especially since two of its former members now sat upon the throne. The Wardens might not openly meddle in politics, but they didn't mind benefiting from it behind the scenes.

Elena said nothing as she waited for him to continue, which he did, but only after realising she wasn't willing to offer a reply in return.

"I haven't seen any Wardens for months. I travel alone, recruiting. Not much interest because the Archdemon is a decade dead, and no need to conscript because there's no Blight coming. Treaties give Wardens the right to take what we need. Who we need. These idiots forced this fight, so I "conscripted" their victims. They had to do what I said, so I told them to stand. Next time they won't need me. Grey Wardens can inspire, make you better than you think you are."

It was quite the speech, if somewhat inelegant in its delivery. By this point, Elena had concluded that Blackwall spoke a lot, but said little. So far he'd vaguely waffled on about their purpose, then babbled about why he was in the area; two things Elena had neither interest in, nor asked.

"These treaties... I assume there are certain terms and conditions to them?" she asked, if only to make it appear like she was playing her role.

"It's complicated. If there's a Blight, everyone has to help the effort to fight it. The treaties are ancient. Outside of blights, it's as binding as a clever tongue can make it."

Elena made a noise of consideration in reply.

"You truly have no idea where your comrades may have relocated to?"

"Maybe they returned to our stronghold at Weisshaupt?" Blackwall offered. "That's in the Anderfels, a long way north. I don't really know. Can't imagine why they'd all disappear at once, let alone where they'd disappear to."

Growing impatient, Elena finally asked the question she actually wanted an answer to.

"Why is it that you haven't also disappeared?"

"Well, maybe I was going to. Or maybe there's a new directive, but a runner got lost or something. My job was to recruit on my own. Planned to stay that way for months. Years."

Well, Elena thought as she fought to keep herself from rolling her eyes. That was wonderfully nonspecific. She sighed to herself before the spoke, knowing Leliana wasn't going to be the least bit pleased about the lack of solid answers she'd acquired.

"I see. Thank you for your time."

With that, she turned from the Warden and started walking back to the Inquisition's camp. Elena was only about four meters away when he called to her once more.

"Inquisition... agent, did you say? Hold a moment. The Divine is dead, and the sky is torn. Events like these, thinking we're absent is almost as bad as thinking we're involved. If you're trying to put things right, maybe you need a Warden. Maybe you need me."

She turned and looked at him. Having a seasoned warrior would be useful, and she'd be more likely to get answers out of him if he joined their party, but...

"Whilst it's true that the Inquisition does indeed need support, can one Grey Warden do?"

A look of irritation found its way onto his face as he marched towards Elena. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Solas and Varric subtly readying their weapons to defend her if it became necessary.

"Save the fucking world, if pressed." He said, very much in Elena's personal space now. Before she could say anything however, Blackwall took a step back, sighing heavily as he ran a hand through his hair as he began to pace.

"Look," he began. "Maybe fighting demons from the sky isn't something I'm practiced at, but show me someone who is. And like I said, there are treaties. Maybe this isn't a Blight, but it's bloody well a disaster. Some will honour them. Being a Warden means something to a lot of people."

He held out a hand, waiting for her to accept. Elena wasn't convinced personally by the man in front of her, but couldn't deny that the lingering respect the Wardens had earned ten years previous would definitely be useful to the Inquisition. She waited, just for a moment, to see if either Solas or Varric would object, and when neither of them spoke up, she stepped forward and placed a gloved hand in the Wardens, gripping it firmly as they shook.

"Warden Blackwall, The Inquisition accepts your offer."

"Good to hear. We both need to know what's going on, and perhaps I've been keeping to myself for too long. This Warden walks with the Inquisition."

Blackwall nodded his head once before trudging back to the hut he'd presumably been living in whilst he'd been in the area, and it wasn't long before he emerged with a full pack. He confidently strode towards the group, collecting his sword and shield as he passed them, and came to stand by Elena's side.

"So, what other business do we have here, Lady, uh... huh. I never got a name."

Elena looked at Blackwall, thinking about the skill he'd shown in the earlier fight. Her eyes flicked next to Varric, then Bianca, and lastly Solas as she thought.

"Elena. No Lady, if you please. There is a bandit camp endangering the people of this area; perhaps we should clear it out?"

Chapter Text

The bandit fortress stood in front of them, dominating the landscape as it towered high into the sky. It was imposing, intimidating- a challenge. Elena felt as her magic began to buzz inside of her, the anticipation of a difficult battle sent excitement coursing through her veins; she never felt more alive than she did during battle.

"Hey, Dragon, you sure this is such a good idea?"

Elena barely offered Varric a glance as she mentally went through plan. Yes, the building was tall, large, and well built, but the people within were either few in number, or poorly trained. They didn't even have enough men to spare for a lookout. If they did, they'd have been able to see Elena and her group from where they stood at the other side of the bridge. For now, the assault looked like it would go in their favour.

"I wouldn't have suggested it if I didn't think us capable."

Honestly, Elena thought, it wasn't as if she were some foolish child, fresh from the woods and eager to prove herself. Elena knew her skills, knew her limitations, her strengths, her weaknesses, and knew that they'd be able to clear the villa with few to no injuries. Or rather, she knew she'd be unhurt. She couldn't speak for the others, but based on her observations during previous fights, she expected them to be fine. There was one other small matter to consider...

"With the templars and the mages taken care of, these bandits remain the greatest threat to the Hinterlands now."

To her mind, the path before them was simple. By killing the bandits, they were not only helping to keep the people safe, but also eliminating another player vying for control. The Inquisition, if they were smart, could take advantage of the power void created by the bandits' elimination by increasing their presence. They'd be the only player left in the game; the Hinterlands would be theirs.

"I agree." Blackwell spoke up. So far, the Warden was proving to be a man of few words, despite Varric's attempts to prise information out of him.

"Yeah okay... so I'm assuming you have a plan?"

She did indeed. The last time Elena was in the area, she'd mapped out the layout of the fortress. The left hand side was inaccessible to anyone who couldn't fly, as was built directly out of the mountain itself, directly overlooking a large lake. Similarly, there was no way of accessing it from the rear or the right, as it sat snugly against a large, curving cliff face. That left one option- a frontal assault.

Unfortunately though, that wasn't as dramatic as it sounded, as the lack of watch guards meant that they'd easily be able to approach without being spotted. Elena however, still didn't like that plan, it was too flimsy in her opinion. She cast her eyes over the patiently waiting group, weighing up her options.

"Solas, Varric, are you able to ascend uneven boulders with ease?"

Varric made a spectacle of gesturing to his short legs that made Elena want to roll her eyes. The Child of the Stone was short, yes, but neither of those things should have rendered him incapable. She turned her gaze to Solas, who, as per usual, looked placid.

"I can climb well enough." He replied. It wasn't quite an answer, but it would do.

Elena pointed over to a path to the right of the bridge that ended where it met several large rocks piled on top of one another.

"Solas, you will come with me. We'll approach the bandits from the side. Blackwall, you take the front entrance; Varric, there's a path just before the gateway that will lead you up and to the right. Provided you haven't yet been spotted, I suggest you take it and meet us."

Her plan was simple. Blackwall would approach directly, drawing all the attention. She, Solas, and Varric would enter the villa from above. Once there, they would each take a separate path to their goal. Elena would take the guard patrolling nearest to them, watching over the trebuchet, then slip away and down the steps that lay on the other side to the watchtower. Solas would make his way to the aforementioned watchtower, and descend the ladder within. Once at the bottom, he would wait for Varric to appear across from him in the other watchtower before launching an attack.

Varric was instructed to cross the bridge furthest away from them, enter the watchtower on the other side, and climb down the ladder. At the bottom he'd find himself opposite Solas' watchtower and Elena's stairs. Together the three of them would undoubtedly be able to manage any bandits present.

Blackwall would then meet the trio, having taken care of the bandit patrolling the lower courtyard, leaving the four of them to take out the leader and his bodyguards, together as once unit. The group waited patiently as she explained her idea, waiting until the end of the explanation to pass judgement.

"Surely such a plan would only be effective against limited numbers."

Solas was correct; if the bandits had been at full strength, their plan probably wouldn't have worked. Fortunately, however, there was information Elena had been holding back.

"Their numbers were recently diminished, quite severely, and with the Inquisition having a significant presence in the area, they won't have been able to increase them once more."

Elena watched the faces of the three men as they each privately deliberated. Solas looked indifferent, content to follow the others' lead. Varric's eyebrows were pinched slightly, betraying his worry, and Blackwall looked, if anything, eager. The plan received the go-ahead, the group set off to ambush the bandits.

Elena and Solas moved slowly through the water that led to the boulders, taking care to disrupt the water as little as possible. A quick blast of concentrated heat had each of them dry once again, before they nimbly made their way up the rock face. Varric had just arrived and Elena watched as both he and Solas made their way over to their planned positions. She waved them forward to attack and crept over to her own target. Timing was on her side; her target's back was facing her as he gazed out over the valley below.

Silently she palmed a dagger, creeping slowly up behind him. He wore heavy metal plate; it offered Elena minimal vulnerabilities she could take advantage of, drastically reducing the places she could strike. She remained unfazed; she'd trained for this most of her life. She'd studied his movements, examined his armour, and knew that when he shifted his weight slightly, putting his weight on one leg...

Elena struck swiftly, deftly reaching around and plunging her weapon deep, taking advantage of his helmet's design. The blade entered underneath his jaw, went through his mouth, and travelled diagonally upwards until it hit the bone at the back of his skull. Blood burst out, soaking her hands. He was dead instantly.

Elena yanked her blade out, and wiped the blood that coated it off on the fur that wrapped around the fallen bandit's shoulders. She crept over to the edge of the courtyard, and saw Blackwall standing back near the entrance, waiting for her signal. She picked up a handful of small pebbles, and gently threw them at him to get his attention. It worked. Elena gave him the signal to move into the compound and left to find the rest of her group.

By the time she reached Solas and Varric, they had already killed one bandit, and were well on their way to finishing off the other, which Solas did by way of an expertly targeted shard of ice. Elena briefly checked them both over for injuries, before the quiet clanking of heavy metal plate caught their ears.

Blackwall walked calmly towards the group, sheathing his weapon as he went. So far, so good. The leader's guards knew they were there- warriors weren't known for their stealthy fighting techniques- but their loyalty meant they didn't, couldn't, wouldn't stray too far from their leader's side. Taking advantage of this, Elena gestured for Varric and Solas to climb up the tower the latter had originally emerged from, whilst Elena and Blackwall took Varric's watchtower. By cutting off the leader's only two exits, the group were blocking him in; they'd allow nobody the chance to flee.

Blackwall reached the top of the ladder first and immediately went charging into battle with a fierce war cry. Elena followed close behind, using Blackwall's sheer size to conceal her presence. She spun out from behind him just as Blackwall firmed his stance to take a hit from the leader's enormous two-handed weapon. Elena, seeing that Solas and Varric were battling against one of the guards, made her way over to the other, marking her as her target.

She dodged a blade aimed for her abdomen and sent a bolt of electricity straight towards her attacker, followed quickly by another. She parried the woman's strikes, casting fire runes behind the bandit as she did, looking for weak spots in the woman's armour. Blade hit blade, hit blade, causing sparks to dance along their edges. Elena turned her magic inwards, forcing it into her muscles as she hit with more and more force each time she attacked, pushing her target backwards towards the hidden danger.

A loud bang sounded out in the area, as the magic within the runes immediately engulfed the bandit's entire body in searing hot flames. She screamed as her flesh boiled and burnt, and Elena took the time offered by her enemy's agony to call lightning to her hands. She charged up the spell, only releasing it once she had enough power gathered. Elena thrust the electricity towards the woman, constantly pouring magic into it. The bandit's screams gradually turned to gurgles as she struggled to make noise over the blood caught in her throat. Her target slumped to the floor, steaming, blistered, and dead.

Elena turned around when she heard Blackwall's almighty cry, watching as he shatter the bandit leader where he stood still, encased in a solid black of ice that Solas had created. To be able to create ice of that strength and quantity in such a short time was impressive indeed. With the last enemy felled, the group lowered their weapons, and stood silently for a moment, each getting their breath back. Elena was the first to speak.

"Is anyone injured?"

Solas and Varric answered in the negative, with Blackwall mentioning that he only had a few scrapes. Elena accepted their answers with a nod and took a deep, relaxing breath before she spoke again.

"That was well fought."

The men each responded in their own way as Elena made her way over to the leader's balcony, having spotted a desk with numerous documents upon it. She reached out and picked up the closest paper to her. It was a letter from the Carta; Elena almost shook her head in disbelief. What kind of criminal organisation made a habit of disclosing their hideout? A shoddy, idiotic, poorly managed, short-lived one, she mocked privately. She glanced down at the letter once more. The Carta were based in Valammar, where they reportedly had some form of mining operation underway. Elena found herself secretly hoping that those idiot dwarves weren't mining what she suspected them of mining.

Elena sighed and looked down at the table once more. Next to where the letter had been there was a large, ornate looking key. It couldn't be, could it? It was. Not only had the Carta expressly stated their location, they'd also provided a key to their base as well. Elena pocketed the key and turned to the other desk.

"Anything interesting going on?"

Elena just hummed in response to Varric's question as she read another report, this one just containing the bandits' orders. She put it back where she'd found it; it wasn't much use to anyone now, the bandits were all dead and the information was repeated on the first letter anyway.

"The Carta have a mining operation based out of Valammar."

Varric snorted as he voiced Elena's thoughts aloud.

"And they just wrote all that down? Seriously?"

Elena offered him a small, amused smile as she handed over the letter she'd read. Varric mumbled aloud as he quickly skimmed over the words.

"You want to head over there and see what's going on?"

"No." Elena easily replied. "We'll give the key and the information to the advisors and see what they wish to do about it."

Varric accepted her answer without so much as a word to the contrary. The group left the mountaintop villa and made their way to the nearest camp for the night. Tomorrow they would make their way to Redcliffe. Tomorrow they would be one step closer to an alliance with the mages.

Chapter Text

Camp that night was a quiet affair, each person silent for his or her own reasons. Some, like Blackwall, were simply tired, whilst others used the time to write letters or read. Elena had offered to take first watch, so whilst the others made their way into their tents, she sat on a nearby rock and pulled out the tools she needed to sharpen her blades.

She lost herself in the familiar motion of the whetstone on the metal and allowed her mind to wander freely. Both she and Solas had laid wards, so knew that it was unlikely she was going to be disturbed, especially with the region being much safer nowadays as it had been when she first arrived.

After a while, Elena halted her movements and closed her eyes, pausing for a moment to take a deep breath of the cool air. Eyes still shut, she concentrated her magic inwards, strengthening her ears and nose. In the far distance, she could dimly hear what she thought was a dragon's screech, but the wind held no scent of charred corpses or seared land. In fact, the air felt heavier than yesterday, and coupled with the telltale scent she'd become accustomed to over the years, she'd bet good coin that rain was going to fall within the next day or so.

She pushed her magic outwards then, away from her body, allowing it to taste the area behind her as it spread further and further from her. It stretched just far enough away from her that she could feel as it danced over the wards, the touch light enough not to disturb them. Pulling it back inwards, she moved it out once more, this time stretching it across the campsite. Suddenly her magic connected with another's and Elena couldn't help but suck in a deep breath as a skitter of familiarity and pleasure danced down her spine. Her eyes flew open and she yanked her magic back towards herself and turned her head to look at where the aura had been coming from.

Solas stepped out of the shadows, the darkness hiding whatever expression he was wearing, even from her eyes. Regardless, it didn't matter right then. To examine another's aura without invitation was almost a violation; a person's magic was unique, personal only to them, and to brush against it she been taught was unforgivable.

"Ir abelas, Solas. I didn't realise anyone else was awake."

"Think nothing of it. I admit, I have been curious about your magic; I never expected it to feel so... similar to my own."

Elena didn't yet know if that was a compliment or not, so said nothing. To her mind, the fact that their magics were so complementary was a problem; it raised too many questions and offered too many openings for them both. Elena placed her tools safely back in her satchel and gestured for Solas to take a seat. She watched as he almost glided towards her, confidently, purposefully, before he fluidly sank down into the space she'd made. The pair said nothing for a moment, each savouring the tranquillity of the moment, but Elena's curiosity eventually won out. She turned her gaze from the fire in front of her over to Solas, and was mildly surprised to see him already looking at her with a carefully constructed inscrutable expression on his face.

"Was there something you wished to discuss?" she asked. He looked vaguely thoughtful for a moment, remembering why he'd sought her out.

"Aah, yes indeed there was. As I explored the fade tonight, I became aware of an intriguing artefact nearby. If you are willing, I would like to locate it. I have marked its location as best I could determine."

Elena watched as he reached into his robes and pulled out a map. The location he'd marked wasn't on their direct route to Redcliffe, in fact, it would likely delay their meeting with the mages, but Elena found herself interested in what kind of an artefact would have such a presence as to resonate in the fade.

"Of course. We can head there tomorrow if that suits?"

A look of gratitude crossed his face as he nodded in agreement.

The pair lapsed into silence once more, and Elena considered what they were supposed to do if they came across any rifts. Theoretically, it should have been possible to create a barrier around them, but she wasn't sure she had the skill or knowledge needed to attempt such a feat. Taking advantage of the fact that Solas had yet to return to his tent, Elena took the opportunity to share her thoughts.

"Hypothetically speaking, is it possible to place a barrier around the rifts that somehow fed off the fade on the other side instead of the mage casting it?"

He turned to look at her once more, as he considered her question.

"Theoretically yes, although I am unsure how exactly one might achieve such a goal."

Elena just hummed in reply and returned to her thoughts. A barrier was normally powered by the one casting it; even the one that the rebel mages had over the entrance to their base always had someone nearby feeding magic into it. With that in mind, she pondered how it would be possible to create such a barrier. On paper, it seemed like an easy task, but in reality, it wasn't. Not only were the rifts themselves unable to cast the spell, Elena didn't know how to stop a barrier feeding off her magic. She'd never needed to transfer the source of a barrier before, so how... unless?

"What if it were possible to create the barrier by weaving the pure magic of the fade through ours? Once the barrier was stable, we could gradually withdraw ours until it pulls solely from that coming through the rift?"

"An interesting proposition, lethallan. I confess that I too considered something similar, but have yet to explore the idea further."

"Perhaps we could attempt a barrier on the next rift we face? The Hinterlands is as safe as it's been in years; in theory there's no safer place to try it out."

"Of course, but for now, I believe your watch is over."

Elena looked up to find the moon and discovered that it was indeed time for her shift to end. The trouble was, she wasn't remotely tired.

"I do not mind remaining awake; I'm doubtful sleep will come to me any moment soon."

"It would be remiss of me to shirk my duties." Solas replied calmly.

"You are a dreamer, Solas. Sleep is far more valuable to you than it is to me. Moreover, I don't need to sleep as often as others. Consider it my way of making amends from earlier."

"You need not apologise, I was not offended."

Elena sighed, the need to apologise was not something she wanted to explain, but knew it may be the only way to make Solas understand and accept.

"I was taught from a very young age that tasting another's magic without permission is unjustifiable. I am hoping you'll prove my teacher wrong, and allow me to make amends."

Solas remained where he was for a moment as he studied her face, reading the stubbornness there, before he rose to his feet.

"Very well, I will return to my sleep. Perhaps I may find a spirit to consult with about our barrier?"

Solas walked over to his tent, but turned to look at her once more before he entered.

"Hamina son, lethallan."

********

"I believe we are approaching the area of the artefact I mentioned."

The sound of battle reached Elena and Solas' ears first, and they darted forward to see a lone woman struggling against a group of demons. Elena felt Solas' barrier surround her as she drew her weapons, ducking and diving between bodies, dodging blows, and claws as she went. In short order, the fight was over, the demons having not proved to be much of a challenge for a skilled group such as theirs. Elena ignited the remnants of the demons that clung to her blades, cleaning them as effectively as she could for the moment, leaving the rest to catch up to her as she waited for the stranger to introduce herself.

The woman in question, an older looking Dalish elf, raked her gaze over the whole group before planting her staff in the ground and turning to address Elena.

"Andaran atish'an. I did not expect to see another Dalish blood here. My name is Mihris. By your weapons, I see you come ready for battle. Perhaps we face a common enemy in these demons?"

Elena said nothing as she studied the stranger. The fact that she had ignored all others in the group and only spoke to her did not endear her to Elena. She hoped Mihris wasn't a typical example of the Dalish, but was far from confident.

At her continued silence, Mihris started fidgeting, causing Elena to raise an eyebrow in response, she neither wanted nor needed this stranger's help; they were here for Solas, nothing more and nothing less.

"I- have I offended, friend?"

 Still Elena said nothing. People these days were far too quick to call each other friends. Two people did not automatically become friends simply by virtue of any perceived similarities between them. A chuckle came from her side as Varric stepped forward, Bianca slung effortlessly over his shoulder.

"Oh don't mind Dragon here, she's more of the silent but deadly type. So, Mihris, what brings you to the ass end of nowhere?"

Mihris must have sensed that she wasn't going to get anywhere with Elena, so instead turned to address the one who had spoken.

"I heard of Elvhen artefacts that measure the veil; they may tell us where new rifts will appear. I was not expecting so many demons however. I believe one of the artefacts is nearby, can you help me reach it?"

Varric barely hesitated before answering in a breezy voice.

"Sure thing. Luckily for you, we were heading in that direction anyway to check out something for Chuckles here."

At the mention of his nickname, Varric gestured to Solas and grinned, either not noticing or choosing to ignore the slight grimace on Mihris' face as she cast her eyes about Solas. Elena on the other hand did notice, and narrowed her eyes at the same time she shifted her stance slightly, drawing the stranger's gaze once more to her. Mihris took the hint and started to walk towards the ruins.

"Thank you, it shouldn't be too much farther ahead. I am grateful you have joined me; I do not think I could have done this alone."

Elena scoffed almost silently as Blackwall replied, drawing Solas' sharp gaze to her. She was aware that Solas had been watching her reactions to his newcomer, as she'd been doing to him.

"If you don't mind me asking, where is the rest of your clan, my Lady?"

"I was –am- first of Clan Virnehn. I left in service of my clan and saw that great tear in the veil on my journey. I know more of magic and the veil than any shemlen so I hoped to help."

Elena felt as Mihris' heart raced, causing the blood to pump through her body faster than before. Her keen eyes caught the sweat that started to bead on her brow, the way the skin around her eyes tightened. She saw the exact moment her fist clenched at the mention of her clan, and watched as her mouth pursed. Mihris was lying to them.

"Ma harel, da'lan."

"I, -we should keep moving."

Evidently, Solas had realised she was lying too. His words caused her heart to pound infinitely faster than before. It would be so easy for Elena to reach out with her power, to wrap it around her beating organ, and- no. Elena had no desire to expose herself, not yet anyway. Focussing on something other than the delicious feeling of Mihris' life force as it wove its way around her body, she thought back on her words and fought the urge to sneer. Here Mihris was, gloating about her knowledge of all things magical, citing the Dalish as a source, when in reality they were often just as clueless as the Circle.

By this point, they'd nearly reached the blocked entrance, and Mihris had moved on ahead to inspect the obstruction. Elena could feel her poking around it with her magic, and watched, content to let the stranger struggle. She stood there, patiently waiting to see what nonsense would come out of her mouth next.

"We'll need focussed magical energy to get by. You, flat ear, can you manage it?"

 Fury and disgust filled her. Elena shot across the clearing until she was mere feet away from Mihris and snarled her next words.

"Leave. Now."

Mihris, in her shock at Elena's sudden appearance, gasped and stepped back before she collected herself.

"Excuse me?"

Elena stepped towards Mihris, once, twice, three times until she was close enough that she would easily be able to reach out and slit her throat before the woman even knew to flinch.

"We will not help you. Leave while you still draw breath."

Seconds later, Solas had appeared at her side and laid a hand lightly at the small of her back. The touch grounded her, and reminded her of who she was, who Mihris wasn't, and why they'd come to the area in the first place.

Mihris, not content to be ignored or spoken to in a language she barely understood, had been watching the interaction between the two, her animosity growing with each passing second.

"Fine!" she hissed, "Then keep your flat eared lover and may the Dread Wolf take you both!"

At her parting words, Solas pressed his hand more firmly against her back in a silent warning. Elena forced herself not to kill the woman, and instead focussed on the weight of the hand on her back, of the person it was attached to, and slowly let her anger bleed out and into the air. She'd been moments away from stopping that woman's heart. If Solas hadn't had been next to her, reminding her of the role she was playing, she wouldn't have been able to stop herself, and her secret would have been exposed. From then, she would have had to kill Varric and Blackwall, or alter their memories. Elena owed Solas more than he realised.

Taking one last deep breath, she closed her eyes and forced her body to calm down.

"Ma serannas, lethallin."

Leaving Solas where he was, she walked over to the pillar that was blocking their path and raised it herself, darting inside as soon as it was righted and dispatching the demons that were waiting. The remaining demons were easy to dispatch once the others had caught up, and she stood to one side with Varric as they watched Solas walk over to the artefact and use his magic to activate it.

Sensing the dwarf's gaze on her, she turned to him with an eyebrow raised, waiting for him to say his piece.

"So uh, does anyone want to explain what just happened?"

Elena didn't reply, instead she simply turned her head slowly towards the artefact, her brow still raised.

"Very funny, Dragon, that's not what I meant and you know it. I'm talking about before; when you shouted Maker knows what at that Dalish."

She sighed. There was no way Varric was letting this go without an explanation.

"Quite simply, she proved to be an idiot, so I asked her to leave."

"Seemed to be more than that to me; thought all you Dalish folk stuck together?"

Elena huffed as she turned back to Varric, frowning.

"Is that truly what you believe?"

"Aah, nothing like good old fashioned solidarity to get you through a crisis."

Varric chuckled as he spoke, but Elena failed to see the funny side.

"So speaks the Child of the Stone as he wanders above the land. It is people like her, Varric, that are the epitome of everything wrong with the Dalish. She insulted Solas simply because he bears no markings of his own, as if that automatically makes her superior to him. It doesn't."

"Woah easy now, I meant no disrespect, I just wanted to know what happened. Any decent author does proper research before writing about something. Speaking of, I'll need you to translate..."

Elena sighed and let Varric prattle on without her, pleased when Blackwall stepped up and distracted him by talking about possible plots for his next bestseller. The group made their way back through the ruins until they reached the entrance, but before she could leave and follow Varric and Blackwall, a hand reached out and gently halted her in her tracks. She stopped and turned to face Solas, who was wearing a strange expression on his face; if she were to name it, she'd call it confusion, with a hint of wonder, a dash of suspicion, and a generous helping of gratitude.

"I..." she looked at him as his words drifted off, and in that moment, something inside her shifted at the vulnerable look on his face. Was he so used to solitude that something simple like a (potential) friend sticking up for him was so foreign and unfamiliar?

"I simply wished to thank you for before. Whilst your defence was not necessary, it was not unappreciated either."

Elena nodded in acknowledgement. Neither of them spoke after that, there wasn't much else to say, however they both felt as if a tentative bond had been forged. Whilst neither of them would call the other a friend yet, they had both learnt something about the other today. It was a start, and the pair wandered after the dwarf and the Warden, each pondering the actions and motivations of the other.

Chapter Text

Elena and Solas stood silently, watching the rift as it pulsed in the air. After studying it for some time, they'd both concluded that it was inactive, making it perfect candidate on which to test their barrier theory. From what she'd learned from Varric, the last time Thalia was in the area, she'd closed every single rift in the area. This one was therefore new, and Elena didn't yet know if that worked for them, against them, or neither. Regardless, it needed to dealing with, as it lay directly in front of the gates to Redcliffe and the guard stubbornly refused to grant Elena and the others entry until it was safe.

Solas stepped forward and pulled his staff from his back, but Elena stopped him before he could move too far away from the rest of the group.

"Perhaps I should cast the barrier?"

Elena watched Solas' jaw tensed and his nostrils flared as a stony expression found its way onto his face.

"If you feel that is best."

Elena inwardly sighed and rolled her eyes at his petulance, even though she understood the cause of it. Solas was, like her, infinitely prideful. However, she thought to herself, at least she hadn't yet reached the stage where she labelled herself as such...

"Of the two of us, you cast the superior barrier. If I produce the barrier, you are free to examine it and suggest improvements as necessary from an outward perspective."

Part of her balked at having to explain herself, but she was practical enough to realise that they'd have to work together in order to achieve their goals, something that would be that much more difficult if he was sulking. Elena watched as he deflated slightly before answering.

"You are correct. I apologise."

Elena said nothing more, but accepted his apology with a small nod. She gestured for Blackwall and Varric to remain where they were standing a short distance away, the two non-mages having agreed to keep a look out whilst Solas and Elena worked.

Elena walked slowly towards the rift, on guard just in case it suddenly woke up. Closer and closer she got to it until she began to feel the undiluted magic of the raw fade beyond. She slowed, considering her next move, but realised that the closer she was to the rift, the more magic available. She kept moving forwards until she stood about 2 metres away from it, and stopped, waiting. It hadn't altered its behaviour in the slightest.

Elena looked back towards Solas, seeing him ready to begin, and unfurled her magic from where it was coiled tightly inside, allowing it to connect with that which was pouring through from the fade.

Everything changed all at once. As soon as her magic made contact with the rift, Elena felt the air around her shift as it abruptly became active. The rift's edged twisted and jerked, as it angrily started hissing and expanding before her eyes. Elena tried to distance herself from the thing, but her entire body felt like it was moving through syrup, even her thoughts seemed to take an age to form. The ground started oozing and bubbling underneath her at normal speed, unaffected by whatever influenced her. Her body seemed to betray her, and there was nothing she could do but watch in horror as the ground flared up and exploded, violently flinging her away.

Time seemed to return to normal, if only for a moment, and Elena would have been able to protect herself from the fall if time hadn't suddenly sped up unnaturally. Her speed increased dramatically as she shot backwards through the air, faster than anyone's eyes could follow. She came to a halt 20 metres away from the rift by slamming against a rock, breathless, broken.

Her back smacked against the stone with numerous loud cracks that Elena felt, rather than heard. The sudden change in velocity caused her neck to jerk back sharply; black spots tainted her vision once her head struck the rock.

Her breath came in short bursts, her head pounding as she slipped in and out of consciousness. Elena tried to push past her injuries, but the slightest movement jarred her broken bones and sent agony shooting through her chest. Her body ached, and she had to fight with all her strength to push back the feelings of nausea and the dizziness, as well as the darkness that threatened to swallow her.

Weakly Elena lifted her head to see her three companions locked in battle with a variety of different twisted spirits. Ice from Solas's staff chilled the air whilst bolts flew in all directions from Varric. Blackwall was in the thick of the battle, having managed to draw the attention of all the spirits onto to him. All of them except one.

As if sensing her weakness, a Terror turned to face her. Within her damaged body, her instincts screamed at her, recognising the danger she suddenly found herself in. The change in circumstance distracted her attention from her pain just long enough for her to focus on the demon. She watched, unable to move as it disappeared in front of her eyes, sinking into the ground. Elena's heart pounded as she tried to swallow past a dry throat. She spared a quick glance at the others, but they were too preoccupied by their own battles to notice the danger Elena was in.

Stubborn determination filled Elena; she hadn't come this far just to die now. She had plans, plans that involved her staying very much alive. Her determination became anger. Elena tried to force herself to focus past her swimming vision and light-headedness, but couldn't. Every time she thought she had enough of a grip on her magic, another wave of pain would go shooting through her. She tried again, and again, but it was no use.

The Terror popped up from the earth only feet away from her and threw its head back as it unleashed an ear splitting shriek that made Elena's head throb even worse than before, bringing the nausea back full strength. Through their bond, she sent a silent apology to Knowledge, and prayed that they wouldn't be lonely without her, that they'd stay true to their purpose. Elena watched as the Terror drew its spindly arms back as it prepared to strike, knowing the hit would be fatal. The world spun out of focus one last time, and the blackness that had been threatening her vision finally took over.

*************

Death was... cold. Very, very cold, and dark, but it wasn't silent. Elena strained her ears to hear who was making the noise and listen to what they were saying, but no matter how hard she tried, the voices still sounded muffled, as if she were underwater. She turned her mind to other matters. This was certainly not the glorious afterlife she'd heard the humans bleat on about, she mused. Although... Elena rather imagined belief in their Maker was probably necessary to gain entry.

The coldness was getting worse now, almost unbearable, and she tried to look down to her chest to see what was causing it. She couldn't move. Trying not to panic, she took a deep breath, or at least she tried to. As soon as her ribs expanded, excruciating pain shot through her and the dampened noises seemed to increase in volume. Instinctively she reached out to find her connection to Knowledge, and was alarmed to find it much fainter than normal. Something wasn't right... surely, if she were dead, she wouldn't be able to feel her friend's presence at all? It wasn't like she was a spirit and could just return to the fade.

Suddenly the events of the past few moments came bursting through to the forefront of her mind. The rift, the barrier, the fall, the breaks, the demon. Elena realised then that she wasn't dead, and idly recognised that her head wasn't pounding any longer. Realisation turned to determination, and Elena focussed all her concentration on breaking free of the void, intent on returning to her body.

Her soul and its container reconnected sharply, and her eyes flew open as she shot upright with a gasp. The light of the Hinterlands blinded her, and she could feel Solas' magic trying to knit her bones back together. Her magic exploded from her body before she reined it in and focussed it on her injuries, healing herself rapidly. Knowing there was something wrong with her friend (the bond felt weaker than it had ever felt before), she then sent most of her remaining strength down the connection as she fed it directly to Knowledge.

Stopping only when she was on the verge of passing out once more, Elena slumped backwards, resting her upper body weight on two shaking arms. She took a moment to regain her breath; eyes she hadn't realised had closed opened once more as she gazed up at the clouds.

Eventually she had the strength to sit up properly and she lifted her head to see three worried looking men sat around her.

"What... happened?" Elena managed to get out, her dry throat making it hard to speak. Blackwall immediately passed over his water skin, which she gratefully accepted.

"It would appear that the rift was not dormant as we initially suspected, but instead was not yet fully formed. I suspect that as you took magic from the fade, the rift took magic from you, giving it enough power to open properly."

Elena considered his explanation as she looked into his eyes; they bore no deceit that she could detect, but seemed instead to hold a limitless sorrow that seemed disproportionate to what had recently happened. What secrets did this man hold for his soul to be burdened so?

"The rift?" she eventually asked.

"I did what I could, but the barrier isn't permanent."

Elena looked over Solas' shoulder to see that there was indeed a pulsing barrier around the offending veil tear. It was strong, exceptionally strong, but Elena could already see the rift chipping away at the runes that held it.

"Before, it felt as though I was wading through treacle."

Varric let out a nervous sounding chuckle as he replied, stroking his crossbow as if it brought him some comfort.

"Turns out, these things can now alter the time around them. As if we need this shit getting any weirder."

Elena hummed in acknowledgement. Time altering magic was indeed a concern, but not what she wished to discuss right then. The others were avoiding the topic so Elena decided to be blunt.

"How am I not dead?"

Varric and Blackwall looked at each other, their faces a picture of discomfort. She looked to Blackwall expectantly, and raised an eyebrow. What was it that had them both so uneasy?

"Well, my Lady, we were fighting our way over to you when we spotted the demon approaching. We thought we weren't going to get to you in time. We saw as it raised its arms to attack and then... it couldn't."

"Couldn't." She repeated.

"Yeah, kid, you uh, you got this golden glow around you and the demon couldn't get through it."

It was then that Elena understood two things- their concern, and the reason for her friend's weakness.

"I'm not possessed, Varric." She turned to Solas then, too distracted to bother hiding the worry from her face. "My friend, were they hurt?"

"I don't believe so, not permanently, although I believe the effort it took to protect you left them feeling somewhat drained. They were able only to stay long enough to inform me of a serious head injury you'd sustained."

"Sure Chuckles, if you class being barked at like a dog as informed..."

Elena barely heard Varric's comment as her thoughts turned to her friend. No wonder they felt so tired. Firstly, they had to force their way through the veil, then they had to protect her from an attack. Knowledge's purpose wasn't combat. What had she done?

"Lethallan, your friend is an old spirit, and likely stronger than you realise. If it would reassure you, I could assist you in finding them tonight?"

Solas' words of reassurance were kind, but did little to quell the guilt that churned in her gut. Her friend, her only true friend had been hurt protecting her. The one person who knew everything about Elena and accepted her without judgement was diminished to the point where they'd been forced to retreat far into the fade to recuperate after taking the attacks meant for her.

Elena had broken the promise she made to her friend, broken the vow she'd taken. She couldn't stop the thought that kept running on repeat in her mind, that she was unworthy of their sacrifice; she should have been better.

Chapter Text

Upon Elena's insistence, the party readied themselves to enter Redcliffe soon after. Elena was nowhere near fully recovered, any magic she regenerated went straight to Knowledge, but she knew she'd be okay provided any ambushes weren't resolved using magical attacks.

Once the soldier guarding the gate was satisfied that the rift wouldn't be producing demons any time soon, she bellowed out the order for the grill bars to be raised, thus granting them entry to the village.

Conversations stilted and heads turned as the group walked through the gates. It wouldn't have been anything out of the ordinary if it weren't for the look of surprise that many of them held. It was almost as if-

"We've spread word the Inquisition was coming, but you should know that no one here was expecting us."

One of Leliana's scouts stepped from the shadows as he addressed the group, his hood up, head low to protect his face from searching gazes. Although Elena thought he looked ridiculous, his words left her feeling somewhat unsettled.

"Not even the Grand Enchanter?" she asked.

"If she was, she hasn't told anyone."

Off to a fabulous start then, Elena thought dryly to herself.

"We've arranged use of the tavern for the negotiations."

Elena didn't offer the scout a reply, as a fast approaching figure nearby caught her eye. A young elven man dressed in a hideous brown robe shuffled over to her group, frazzled and out of breath.

"Agents of The Inquisition, my apologies! Magister Alexius is in charge now, but hasn't yet arrived. He's expected shortly. You can speak with the former grand enchanter in the meantime."

Meaning a little rat had spotted them and scurried off to tell their Tevinter master that the Inquisition was officially in the area. The more Elena discovered, the more unsettled she became. What was a Tevinter Magister doing all the way in Ferelden? More importantly, what were the chances that he just happened to be acquainted with the same mages the Inquisition sought an audience with? Slim to none, Elena knew. The information that Knowledge took from the Orlesian woman indicated that this Elder One's followers (or at least the ones that threatened her) consisted of people who spoke with heavy Tevene accents. This incident made it the second time now that Tevinter had almost (directly or indirectly) encountered Thalia - first the hit, now the mages. Elena was almost certain that this Alexius was working for, or with, the mysterious presence known only as the 'Elder One'.

The little man, who hadn't bothered to introduce himself, shuffled off out of sight once more, having successfully delivered his message. Knowing it was too late to turn back now, and wanting answers, Elena began to lead the party down the path and into Redcliffe proper. Looking to her right, she saw Solas was much tenser than before as his eyes stared into sights unseen. She caught his attention and raised a brow in silent question.

"The veil in weaker here than in Haven. And not merely weak, but altered in a way I have not seen."

Elena turned back to the path as she considered his words. Although all mages knew the basics of spell casting (therefore having a rudimentary knowledge of the veil), not all were sensitive to its state, its condition. The fact that Solas was able to notice beyond that, to see the differences in the fabric of the veil with such precision was... unusual to say the least. Surely such intimate knowledge of the veil would enable him to tweak it with more precision, meaning he should be able to, in theory, perform stronger spells than the average mage. The humble apostate may be much more powerful than anyone else knows... Elena didn't wish to dive any further into Solas' abilities just yet, it was neither the time nor the place, but mentally filed away the information, intending to consider it once her agents finished their report on him. Perhaps she might even ask her friend to watch over him if they recovered. No, when they recovered.

Elena picked up the pace and led the way down the winding path, across the village marketplace, and up to the tavern; the sooner she got to Fiona, the sooner she could get answers. She doubted that Fiona would be quite so open to interrogation with her new master around to yank her leash.

She pushed open the door and entered, finding herself in a dingy, barely illuminated space. All conversation stilted as she walked in, and at least 10 pairs of eyes glued themselves to the newcomers. The banging of the door closing caught the ear of the Grand Enchanter, and she turned to them from where she stood at the other end of the room.

"Welcome, agents of The Inquisition. What has brought you to Redcliffe?"

The tension Elena was feeling increased at Fiona's question. Elena would think that she was playing a game, if it weren't for the glint of confusion and nervousness in the former grand enchanter's eyes.

"We're here to discuss your proposition, per your request in Val Royeaux."

"You must be mistaken. I haven't been to Val Royeaux since before the Conclave."

Elena might have believed Fiona if it weren't for the fact that her magical signature was the same. Such things were unique. There was no doubt in her mind that the hooded woman from Val Royeaux was the same person who stood before her now.

"There is no mistake. After watching the templars leave, you approached us and requested this meeting."

"The templars left Val Royeaux? Where did they go? That sounds... why does that sound so strange?"

Fiona genuinely believed what she was saying, so then what was this? Mind control? Memory alteration? Was the grand enchanter little more than a Magister's thrall now? A mouthpiece for his words?

"Whoever... or whatever brought you here, the situation has changed." Elena held back a derisive snort. Even a corpse could have recognised that. "The free mages have already... pledged themselves to the service of the Tevinter Imperium."

Elena held back a hiss, appalled by such a blatant display of stupidity and short-sightedness.

"You fool. Do you realise what you've done? " She spat out instead.

"You may be afraid, but you deserve better than slavery to Tevinter." Solas added.

The group watched as Fiona's face changed to a mask of hopelessness.

"As one indentured to a magister, I no longer have the authority to negotiate with you."

"Then point me to your master." Elena demanded, still seething.

"What would you have had me do?" Fiona cried out. "All hope of peace died with Justinia. This... bargain with Tevinter would not have been my first choice, but we had no choice. We are losing this war. I needed to save as many of my people as I could."

It was clear to Elena that Fiona was incapable of understanding exactly what she'd allowed to happen. If she truly thought this would save people then she truly was ignorant to Tevinter's nature. A bargain? This was no bargain. Fiona had negotiated with a slaver and sold the mages like cattle, as if she had a right to. Sold their free will, their future, their bodies, their minds, their identities... their egos. Everything they were and could have been would die a slow death, providing they survived long enough for it to get that far.

As the door slammed again and a new person arrived, Elena addressed Fiona one last time.

"I would have had you use your brain, instead of betraying your people."

She didn't wait to see the anguish that wrote itself across the grand enchanter's face, turning instead to see if the magister had finally arrived. He had. A pair of well-armoured humans strolled across the tavern floor, the older one addressing Elena's group as they approached.

"Welcome, my friends! I apologise for not greeting you earlier."

Magister Alexius came to a halt directly in front of Fiona. He was clearly stating his claim on the Grand Enchanter, and by extension, the mages themselves. It was a power play; he was trying to show which of them was in control here, which of them had the power.

"Agents of the Inquisition, allow me to introduce Magister Gereon Alexius."

Elena ignored Fiona completely, not taking her eyes from the hooded man in front of her.

"The southern mages are under my command. And you are the survivor, yes? The one from the fade. Interesting."

Elena inwardly smiled; Alexius clearly wasn't as high up in the chain of command if he wasn't aware of who exactly the Herald was. It wasn't as if Thalia had spent all her time hidden away in Haven, hiding her identity. It was likely that all Alexius knew was that the Herald was a Dalish elf, but he could hardly ask Elena to remove her gloves to prove her identity.

As Alexius paused, Elena took the time to mention something that had been bothering her since they first arrived.

"We've yet to see any signs of the Arl and his men..." she left the end of her sentence hanging, intentionally, to see what Alexius would do.

"The Arl of Redcliffe left the village."

"Left?" Blackwall asked with no small amount of disbelief in his voice. "An Arl would never voluntarily leave his seat."

"There were... tensions growing. I did not want an incident."

So the Arl simply abandoned his ancestral home? Doubtful. There was more to the story, but Elena was unwilling to uncover it just then; they hadn't come to discuss the Arl's current living arrangements.

"I should be very interested in hearing about this alliance you have the rebel mages."

"Certainly. What specifically do you wish to know?"

Alexius' constantly helpful attitude was at once irritating and suspicious.

"The former grand enchanter informed me that she was "indentured to a magister". I was hoping you'd be kind enough to elaborate."

"Our southern brethren have no legal status in the Imperium. As they were not born citizens of Tevinter, they must work for a period of ten years before gaining full rights. As their protector, I shall oversee their work for the Imperium."

Each word that passed through Alexius' lips just made Elena's fury at Fiona rise. If she thought that her, or any of the other mages (especially the elves), would gain rights or protection in Tevinter then she was deluded. They all were.

"I'm not clear on when, exactly, you negotiated this arrangement with Fiona."

"When the Conclave was destroyed, these poor souls faced the brutality of the templars, who rushed to attack them. It could only be through divine providence that I arrived when I did."

Aah, yes, but which god was so eager to help? Elena questioned. Alexius looked every part the concerned figure he was trying to portray, but Elena didn't buy it for a second. If she didn't already suspect he was involved with the Elder One, his altruism would be questionable all on its own. He made Elena's stomach churn, and her hackles rise; she had to fight the urge to slit his throat where he stood.

"It was certainly... very timely."

Yet again Elena ignored Fiona, treating her as if she weren't even there as she sneered at the fact that the grand enchanter was only just starting to question the circumstances.

"What exactly does the Imperium gain from this deal?"

Aside from a fresh batch of slaves, Elena commented in her head.

"For the moment, the southern mages are a considerable expense. After they are properly trained, they will join our legion."

"You said not all my people would be military! There are children, those not suited-"

"And one day," Alexius smoothly interrupted, "I'm sure they will all be productive citizens of the Imperium. When their debts are paid."

A large part of Elena was glad to see that Fiona was finally beginning to understand at least some of the consequences to her actions. She narrowed her eyes at the woman, pleased to see the dismay in Fiona's when realisation finally took root.

"You've come a long way just for some mages, Alexius."

"Indeed I have, though I have heard you are no Ferelden, either. It seems we are both strangers here. Shall we?"

His comments confirmed Elena's suspicions. Alexius knew the survivor of the Conclave was Dalish, but little else. She could use this. Alexius gestured to a nearby table, seeming every bit the gentleman as he pulled out a seat for Elena, who was loathe to allow him her back. Fiona made her way to Alexius' side of the table, but didn't sit, whilst the other human he'd arrived with approached him from the other.

Elena took advantage of the change in positions and subtly stretched out a tiny part of her magic to taste that of Alexius' partner. Elena hid a shudder; the stranger's spirit was sick, corrupted, decaying. She'd felt something like this only once before. Whoever this boy was, he had the Blight. He was going to die.

"Felix, would you send for a scribe, please? Pardon my manners. My son Felix, friends."

The stranger dressed in yellow finally had a name. What Elena found curious was why Alexius would risk travelling so far from his homeland with a son who was as sick as he was? Did they hope to find a cure? Elena highly doubted they'd have travelled such a distance just so Felix could die in a cold, damp country, miles away from his friends and family and the comforts of home.

"I am not surprised you're here. Containing the Breach is not a feat that many could even attempt. There is no telling how many mages would be needed for such an endeavour. Ambitious, indeed."

Elena found his word choice... curious. Every word only made her more suspicious of the man sat across from her. 'Not many could even attempt'. 'Not many'. As far as Elena knew, only Thalia had the means to do so. His words seemed to suggest that he was aware of another being with the same power level as the anchor. There was no doubt now regarding Alexius' involvement.

"Large problems often require larger solutions." Elena replied evasively.

Alexius didn't seem impressed. "There will have to be-"

He cut off as Felix came stumbling towards the pair, making a beeline for Elena. She stood up and shifted her weight to catch the man as he collapsed into her arms. Alexius immediately rose from the table and rushed over to his son's side. Felix used the distraction to press something into Elena's hand; her years of training and experience were the only thing that kept the surprise and suspicion off her face.

Felix stumbled back, apologising profusely as he went.

"Are you alright?" Alexius once again looked the caring father figure, but this time, there was genuine concern and worry there.

He threw Felix's arm around his shoulders as he began to lead his son to the door, spouting out apologies as he went. He called Fiona to his side, and Elena nearly wrinkled her nose as she watched the former grand enchanter trot along obediently behind him. The trio left, taking many of the mages in the tavern with them, leaving behind only a handful of people.

It was only once the door thudded shut than anyone broke the silence.

"Ooh, very mysterious." Varric commented as he watched Elena unfold the note Felix had given her.

"Come to the Chantry." She read aloud. "You are in danger."

That was the extent of the note and Elena once again found herself resisting the urge to roll her eyes. There was a mysterious Tevinter sewing havoc, acting directly against the Inquisition, who now had a legion of mages, and the note's author wanted to summarise that in a dramatic note as 'danger'. Even a corpse would be able to detect that.

As she folded the note and hid it inside a pocket in her armour, Elena found herself hoping that the Chantry would actually prove to have someone useful inside, rather than a pray-away-the-danger type figure.

Stifling a sigh, Elena led the group towards the exit; the day was deteriorating by the second.

Chapter Text

"Excuse me?"

A male's voice came from their left as Elena led the group back outside. They all stopped and turned to look at who'd spoken. At first, he didn't say anything, he simply stood there and watched them all, his eyes unblinking.

"Magister Alexius wishes only mages to remain in Redcliffe." He finally announced in an impassive voice. "He will approve of you. He does not approve of me. Many villagers have already left to escape his ire."

Disgust and discomfort churned in Elena's gut, and she genuinely struggled to keep it from showing. She found Tranquillity- the rite and the people- revolting.

"They made you Tranquil." She stated, a touch of sadness in her voice for the violation he'd suffered.

"Yes. My talent for magic was... insufficient to protect me from demons. Rather than risk me becoming possessed, the Circle removed my connection to the Fade. My magic is gone, along with my dreams and desires. Those now in Redcliffe prefer not to see us; the Magister ordered us all away."

Now that he mentioned it, she had seen a suspicious lack of Tranquil about the area. Elena felt sick to her stomach. Instead of teaching him the difference between demons and spirits, and instead of teaching him how to defend himself properly, the Circle had effectively murdered him. The Tranquil were emotionless, ambitionless... in Elena's mind, they weren't truly people any more.

Elena, wondering why he'd stopped them in the first place, thanked him for his time, and made to leave. Unfortunately for her, the Tranquil hadn't quite finished.

"One moment. You are a member of the Inquisition, are you not? I am Clemence, an alchemist. You must require potions. If the magister will not have me here, perhaps I can offer my services."

As much as Elena wanted to deny Clemence's request on that basis that she found him disturbing, she knew she couldn't let her personal feelings get in the way of what the Inquisition was trying to achieve. Inwardly grimacing, she accepted his offer.

"The Inquisition would be thrilled to welcome you, and any other skilled workers, under their banner."

Once Clemence left the tavern to collect his belongings and find the remaining few Tranquil, Elena led the team outside, grateful to be away from the stink of the tavern.

 Once there, Elena let out the shudder she'd been holding back.

"You okay there, Dragon?"

She looked down to see that Varric was looking at her with worry in his eyes, not wariness as she might have expected.

"I find the rite... abhorrent."

"Woah, that's a bit harsh now. You heard the man; that was the safer option."

"No Varric, it was a lazy option taken by brutish thugs and ignorant people who are only too eager to blame their failings on other people instead of looking at the root cause. The Rite strips everything from someone- to the point that they can't truly be called a person anymore; I would rather die than become like that."

There was an awkward silence afterwards, the others either not knowing what to say, or not voicing their own opinion. Elena hadn't quite meant to go off on such a tirade, but Varric's attitude had irked her. She turned to head to the Chantry, but Varric blocked her path, moving surprisingly quickly for someone with such short legs.

"All right, who wants to bet this is an ambush?"

Elena just blinked down at him. The dwarf chose the unlikeliest times to gamble.

"Two silver against you." Blackwall offered.

The pair turned to look at her.

"Well, Dragon, what's it going to be?"

Elena wasn't going to get out of this; she'd realised that this was his way of trying to break the tension and lighten the mood. Since she'd caused the tension, she figured she could at least try to alleviate it. Before they left, Thalia had suggested that she should be, in a word, nicer to people. Elena personally thought 'nice' was a flimsy, useless concept, and felt that there were far better things to be, but Thalia wasn't having any of it and had made her promise to try to get along better with people.

Elena gave into Varric's request, decided to go along with the betting, and tilted her head as she appeared to consider her options. Although she'd agreed to place a bet, she hadn't agreed to lose. Elena reached out her magic, pushing it away from her and towards the Chantry. Inside she detected a huge influx of magic, which was certainly a surprise, but it made her decision easier to make.

"No ambush."

She gave Varric her coins.

"Okay... If you're sure... Chuckles?"

To Elena's surprise and good-humoured annoyance, Solas placed the exact same bet as her. That meant that when she won, she'd have to share her winnings with more people than she'd wanted to; she'd barely make a profit at this rate.

The group started walking again, and Elena glanced over to her right, seeing Solas next to her, already looking in her direction.

"You cheated." Solas commented, a slight smile on his face.

"As did you, lethallin. It isn't often that I'm unprepared for what might happen." Elena answered back.

Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Solas shaking his head still smiling, but he didn't have the chance to offer any other response as he reached around for his staff, noticing that Blackwall was opening the enormous wooden doors that led inside the Chantry.

********

The rift Elena had expected, certainly, but the man beating demons to death with little more than a wooden staff? Not so much. Blackwall and Varric hastened to close the Chantry doors behind them, and as they thudded shut, the strange man finished off the last demon, and turned to them, looking completely composed despite their surroundings.

"Good! You're finally here! Now help me close this, would you?"

None of them had a chance to explain to this person why that wouldn't be possible before the rift pulsed and another wave of demons appeared.

The demons were incredibly easy to dispatch, even without magic, so it wasn't long before the rift grew dormant once more. As there was no other alternative, Solas surrounded the fade tear with another barrier, similar to the one he'd used outside the gates, though this one was clearly much stronger, as not even sound could escape from it.

The well-dressed stranger looked at the rift, then at Solas, then finally at Elena with an expression of incredulity on his face.

"I don't wish to tell you how to do your job properly, but the rift appears to still be there."

"About that, Dragon here isn't The Herald."

The stranger's attention turned to Varric as he spoke, before he looked at Solas.

"Not him either."

Looking flabbergasted, he looked at Varric once more.

"You mean to tell me that none of you is The Herald?"

"Sorry, Shiny." Varric said with a shrug.

"Shiny?" he gasped, sounding appalled.

"Yeah I know; it's not my best. Just go with it."

The stranger let out a long-suffering sigh before he replied.

"Very well, if I must." He turned to Elena and Solas then, not knowing which of them to address as the leader. "Dorian of House Pavus, most recently of Minrathous. How do you do."

Dorian offered the group a grand sweeping bow, before straightening himself, standing there proudly, seemingly unruffled by this new development. He was ridiculous, but Elena found herself somewhat amused by him.

"Dorian of House Pavus, how may we help you?" she asked.

"Well I was rather hoping you'd be able to seal the rift, but I see that's off the table. Not to matter. I'm here to help. Magister Alexius was once my mentor, so my assistance should be valuable- as I'm sure you can imagine."

Elena didn't offer a response to his statement as she studied his body language, choosing instead to redirect.

"I assume Felix will be joining us?"

"I'm sure he's on his way. He was to give you the note, then meet us here after ditching his father."

That wouldn't be easy, especially considering how quick Alexius was to offer his son aid when he fell. She imagined he'd hover around Felix for some time before relaxing enough to lower his guard.

"Felix is... rather ill."

She saw a spark of surprise in Dorian's eyes before it disappeared.

"He's had some lingering illness for months. Felix is an only child, and Alexius is being a mother hen, most likely."

Likely because he knows his son is dying, she mentally corrected. Acknowledging Dorian's desire not to talk about it any further, she moved the conversation along.

"You're the one who sent the note."

"I am. Someone had to warn you, after all. Look, you must know there's danger. That should be obvious even without the note. Let's start with Alexius claiming the allegiance of the mage rebels out from under you. As if by magic, yes? Which is exactly right. To reach Redcliffe before the Inquisition, Alexius distorted time itself."

Elena was silent as Dorian's words sunk it. Time magic. Time magic. She didn't think such a thing was possible. It shouldn't be. She could only assume that Alexius' meddling was responsible for the rift outside the gates. The more she learnt about the slimy man, the more he went down in her estimations, which were low to begin with.

"He rearranged time to enable him to arrive here just after the Divine died." She summarised.

"You catch on quick."

"That is fascinating, if true... and almost certainly dangerous."

Solas couldn't hide the look of excited scholar from his face as he spoke, despite the circumstances.

"The rift in here? You saw how it twisted time around itself, sped some things up, and slowed others down. Soon there will be more like it, and they'll appear further and further away from Redcliffe."

Elena thought back to her recent experience with the time rifts; control over time was a potent weapon, one that would be all too easy to abuse. Nobody should have such a power; nobody could be trusted with it.

"The magic Alexius is using is wildly unstable, and it's unravelling the world."

Elena was correct; the writer was as dramatic as his note.

"As Solas stated, what you say is indeed fascinating, but why should we believe you? You've already admitted to working closely with the magister."

Dorian evidently did not like being questioned in such a way, and narrowed his eyes at Elena.

"I know what I'm talking about. I helped develop this magic. When I was still his apprentice, it was pure theory. Alexius could never get it to work. What I don't understand is why he's doing it? Ripping time to shreds just to gain a few hundred lackeys?"

"He didn't do it for them."

Felix had finally arrived, appearing from their right as he made his way over to Dorian.

"Took you long enough. Is he getting suspicious?"

"No, but I shouldn't have played the illness card. I thought he'd be fussing over me all day." Felix turned to address Elena then. "My father's joined a cult. Tevinter supremacists. They call themselves "Venatori". I can tell you one thing: whatever he's done for them, he's done it to get to you."

Elena pursed her lips slightly, as Dorian cleared his throat and pointed over Felix's shoulder.

"I'm afraid we're rather wrong on that front."

Felix looked behind him then, noticing for the first time that the rift was still hanging in the air. He looked back to Dorian, clearly confused, before his eyes flicked over to Elena.

"You... aren't the Herald?"

"No, though we are here at their request." Elena explained, before moving the conversation on; she wasn't eager to rehash old dialogue. "Alexius is your father. Why are you working against him?"

"For the same reason Dorian works against him. I love my father, and I love my country. But this? Cults? Time magic? What he's doing now is madness. For his own sake, you have to stop him."

Elena looked at the two humans with a new level of respect. Too often people went along with their family's plans, regardless of their motivation, due solely to their shared blood. If more people did what was right, instead of what was easy or what was expected, the world would undoubtedly be a vastly different place.

"It would also be nice if he didn't rip a hole in time. There's already a hole in the sky." Came Dorian's glib response.

Elena thought a little more about what the pair of them had revealed. Alexius rearranged time and indentured the mages just so he could get to Thalia, the bearer of the mark- the only thing that could close the rifts. Thalia was a target because she was a threat- hence the hit on her. Elena suspected that the only reason this Elder One hadn't come after her personally was because she hadn't proven herself worthy of his attention. Yet. At the rate things were going, Elena assumed that it wouldn't be long before a confrontation became inevitable. She only hoped that Thalia would be ready.

"At any rate, you know the Herald is his target. Expecting the trap is the first step in turning it to your advantage." Dorian seemed to think for a moment before he continued. "I can't stay in Redcliffe. Alexius doesn't know I'm here, and I want to keep it that way for now. Whenever you're ready to deal with him, I want to be there. I'll see you in Haven shortly."

Dorian was halfway to one of the side doors before he stopped and turned to look directly at Felix.

"Do try not to get yourself killed."

"There are worse things than dying, Dorian." Felix replied, and Elena couldn't help but agree with him. Tranquillity would be worse, as would deteriorating mentally and physically until your body was a hollowed out husk, far from what it used to be. That was the fate that awaited Felix, if he managed to live that long. Elena couldn't help but feel a little sympathy for him; Felix seemed like a genuinely good person, and appeared to be much more pleasant than his father did. She doubted Felix deserved such a fate, but knew plenty who did.

Chapter Text

After offering Felix their goodbyes, the group headed out into the sunshine once more. After they'd barred the doors to the Chantry, both Varric and Blackwall stopped, and looked at Elena, before looking at each other.

"Does Tevinter really need cults? Aren't they weird enough?" asked Varric.

Blackwall nodded in agreement before adding his input.

"Can we trust Dorian and Felix? I'm not sure who to believe here."

"They're certainly more trustworthy than Alexius- that much I'm certain of."

As the group walked down the path, Elena saw the same messenger from before, his head bobbing about as he looked for something. Spotting the group, he gestured for them to go over to him. Varric mumbled something about a lay sister, and veered off to the right with Blackwall following, leaving Elena and Solas to see what the messenger elf wanted.

"I didn't think you'd still be here." He began. "Is the Inquisition really looking to ally with us?"

Elena hesitated for a moment before answering, knowing that she herself didn't technically have any sway within the organisation, so couldn't offer the boy any promises.

"I'd rather this war ended without seeing mages returned to the circle."

"There has to be a way, right? We're not what they think: all blood mages and abominations. We just want to be normal. Have families. Use our magic to... to help grow crops or something. We never wanted war. What choice did we have? Stay and be slaves?"

Elena found herself once again growing angry. This was the face of the people Fiona had sold into slavery; this elf in front of her was a victim of centuries of prejudice perpetuated by an unjust system. Too often were the little people overlooked, seen as little more than a number a list, their own hopes and dreams forgotten or overlooked.

"Sometimes to achieve the world one desires, one must make regrettable measures."

Solas spoke from her side, his voice tinged with melancholy and regret. What had he seen which made him sound so?

"I... hope you can do something. Tying ourselves to Tevinter...? That can't be the right way to end this."

"You seem young to be a part of this."

He did, the boy looked barely past his 17th winter.

"I'm Lysas. I came into my magic when I was nine years old. Templars came into the alienage and took me to the Circle. They didn't even let me say goodbye." Lysas started to pace agitatedly. "It's not right. I studied hard, I passed my Harrowing, I sing the Chant. But I'll be locked up for the rest of my life. You have to see that's not right!"

Lysas' voice had developed an almost desperate hint to it. Elena held out a hand and called a flame to it, watching as it danced around in her palm, before she clenched her fist and extinguished it.

"I am as you are, da'lin. I would no sooner declare my allegiance to the Imperium or the Circle as you would."

Lysas looked down at her closed fist, to her eyes, then her ears, then her face again. There was something different in his eyes... It was as if he were seeing her properly for the first time.

"I was there when we voted to leave the Circle. The Grand Enchanter really seemed to care what we wanted. She was ready to rebel, but she wasn't going to unless it was the will of all mages. It's hard to believe she'd go behind our backs and sell us to the Magisters."

Idiotic, foolish, stupid, waste of space, traitor of a woman! Elena thought with vehemence. Her body tensed as her hands clenched into fists at her side.

"When did the magister arrive?" Solas asked as Elena stewed in her anger.

"Since a day or two after... after the Conclave. Come to save us from the wrath of the templars, they said. But this doesn't feel like safety."

Varric and Blackwall were approaching them now, having wrapped up their own business, and Elena knew that meant it was time to move on.

"Take care of yourself, Lysas."

Elena left the boy where he was, her mind churning. She turned and looked at the despondent youth once more, contemplating. Having made up her mind, Elena walked back over to Lysas to say one last thing.

"Da'lin, Lysas, you have a choice whether or not to remain here. I will return here tomorrow before leaving for Haven. If you, or any other wish to join me, you can. You gave Fiona your loyalty, but you don't owe her your future. Think on it."

Elena and the others left the area for good this time, walking down towards the docks as they explored the village.

"That was a kind thing you did."

She looked over her shoulder to see Solas looking at her with an unreadable expression.

"Would you not have done the same?"

 "I doubt the leaders of the Inquisition would be content to allow me to recruit whomever I liked."

Elena chose to ignore the emphasised 'me' in his statement.

"They haven't granted me the privilege either, but neither have they asked me to stop."

He offered her no reply as the group sat for a moment, watching the boats as they bobbed up and down on the waves of the sea. Elena wasn't sure how long they all stayed there, staring out at the water, but when the light dimmed and memories of stormy seas and churning stomachs came back to her, she knew it was time to go.

She led the group past the waterfront, away from the docks, and was on her way to the steps to the level above when she heard the end of a conversation.

"What world is this, that demons and brigands stop a man from taking flowers to his wife's shrine?"

Her ear twitched, and she looked over to see an old man, shoulders bowed with age, sat on a bench lamenting to a nearby woman. Elena stopped, and watched, waiting to see what would happen. The woman, clearly younger and fitter than the man, didn't offer to take them in his stead, though Elena noticed that she didn't carry weapons on her. Elena tried to imagine how she'd feel if she weren't able to visit her mother or father's resting place, and found herself compelled to assist.

"If you agree, I could take the flowers to your wife?"

He looked up, shocked.

"I... I do not know what to say, except thank you. That you would do an old man such a kindness warms my heart. Her shrine lies on a hill to the west, near the table stones. Thank you!"

Elena turned back to the group to see a variety of expressions. Varric looked proud, Solas unreadable once more, and Blackwall looked pleased under his bushy facial hair. For some reason, it irritated Elena; she wasn't as heartless as they seemed to think, and their attention felt somewhat patronising.

She turned around and stalked away from the group, off to the nearest camp, located not far from where a high dragon was nesting. As soon as they reached the tents, Elena claimed one by dumping all her equipment inside, minus her dual bladed daggers, before heading out once more into the valley.

Elena sensed, rather than heard, the rapid footsteps of someone behind her as they hurried to catch up. She made a quiet noise of irritation before she turned to look at her stalker, eyebrow raised, arms crossed.

A scout, similarly dressed to the one in Redcliffe, came jogging up to her, stopping mere feet away.

"Excuse me, my Lady, but sister Leliana has forbidden anyone from wandering alone."

Oh for... Elena looked directly into the scout's eyes as she considered the best course of action. She noticed that they fidgeted a lot, though they tried to hide it, as if they were unsure of themselves. A new recruit then...

"Forbidden." She repeated, not liking that the Spymaster was attempting to limit her movements one bit.

"Yes ma'am."

Elena suppressed a shudder at being addressed as 'ma'am'; it made her feel old.

"If you could return to camp, we could see if anyone is available to accompany you?"

The hopefulness in the scout's voice only emphasised how inexperienced they were. Elena said nothing as she stared the scout down, privately enjoying how twitchy it made them.

"Or... I could go see if anyone is free?"

Finally, Elena thought.

"Very well, if you prefer."

A look of relief washed over the scout's face as they nodded and turned around to make their way back into the camp proper. As soon as they were far enough away, Elena abruptly spun back around, and forced what little magic she had into her muscles, enabling her to dart off at speed. She heard a dismayed shout behind her and laughed to herself as she ran behind some nearby rocks as cover, before swiftly changing forms and taking to the sky.

A quick circle around the area allowed her to get her bearings, a quick glance at the sun helped, before she turned west and set off looking for the shrine. There was no better feeling that flying. The freedom that came from it was one she wouldn't trade for all the gold available. Up here, in the sky, she wasn't Elena, and she'd never been Ashelena. She had no responsibilities, no rules to follow, no reports to deliver, no people to manage, no apostates to investigate. No, up here she was just another bird- burden free and weightless.

Elena twisted and turned through the air, she floated along on the breeze, she dove down to dart between bodies in a heard of stampeding rams. She was free, but only for a moment. The memory of Purpose whispered in her ear and with a heavy sigh she but on the mantle of Dalish mage once more.

Elena made a stop to collect wildflowers, and by the time she reached the shrine, the sun had practically disappeared below the horizon. Elena was once again Elena, her previous joy pushed to the back of her mind where it would remain until it became a fond memory. Part of her resented the Inquisition, the world that they were trying to keep from the brink of destruction; part of her wanted the Breach to spread, for magic to flow uninhibited from the fade. It would certainly make everything a lot more interesting, she mused as she cleaned the shrine, choosing not to use magic. The loss of life however, both physical and otherwise, would be catastrophic. As the constantly shifting world of will met the immovable world of flesh, the world would be reborn anew as it was  completely reshaped by the memories in the fade as they merged with the physical realm to create an amalgamation of the two.

There would undoubtedly be a surge in the number of twisted spirits and abominations, as the physical people failed to control the darker aspects of their nature. Hope would likely become Fear as numerous people fell to the madness. Terror, Vengeance, and Despair would increase to almost unmanageable levels, as virtues such as Hope, Compassion, and Faith dwindled, but did not die.

Elena huffed as she went to stand once more, knowing that the Inquisition wouldn't let that happen. The Breach would be sealed, the veil healed, and she wouldn't live long enough for it to become thin enough for it to disappear completely, knowing that wasn't likely to happen for at least several lifetimes.

Elena stretched tired muscles, joints popping as she went, and once again shifted forms and took to the skies, fully expecting a lecture when she returned to the glory of the Inquisition.

Chapter Text

Elena perched on the edge of the ravine, watching those below bustle about. The scout that had 'lost' her had been given the cold shoulder by their team, who routinely made sure they glared at the youngster as they went about their tasks. That wouldn't do at all. Elena was the one who'd tricked the new scout, so she'd be the one to take the blame, not that a lecture would do any good. She cared not what the Inquisition scouts said to her, and even less about their opinion of her.

She ruffled her feathers as a cool wind blew over the landscape, tucking her wings closer to her body. Elena watched as Varric and Blackwall sat nearby the fire, playing some sort of card game and cast her eyes around the rest of the camp, finding it strange that Solas wasn't immediately visible. It seemed early to sleep, even for him.

A glint from the darkness only just caught her eyes, and Elena snapped her head around to find the missing apostate staring directly at her from where he sat perched in the shadows. An uneasy feeling settled in her stomach; Solas shouldn't have paid any attention to her. As far as he should have been concerned, she was just another bird perched on the edge of some rock. No, she didn't like this new development at all.

Elena spread her wings again and tilted her body off the edge of the cliff, as a particularly strong breeze blew. She glided over the camp, and around the corner, making her way to the same rock she'd originally transformed behind. Once back in her form she started to raise herself from the ground when her instincts fired up- someone was watching her.

The air split beside her and Elena had just enough time to spin around and dodge the bolt of lightning that was flying towards her, hurtling a throwing knife in the direction it came from. She heard the rustling of bushes to her left only moments before another attack came from her right. Diversion, she thought, a good tactic, and it would have been if she weren't as experienced as she was. The bushes rustled again, louder this time, and Elena spotted a shadowed figure darting quickly though the darkness.

To follow, or not to follow... that was the choice Elena faced now as she used her knives to block an ice shard this time. It was getting tiresome now and Elena's patience for games was quickly fading. A fireball came hurtling towards her and Elena reached out her hand in anticipation. She took control of the orb midflight and sent it tearing away from her, gambling on the direction her attacker was moving in. She smirked when a grunt and a thud indicated that she'd hit true. Elena was just moving to step into the shadows to claim her prize when a melodic voice from behind her stopped her.

"Lavellan?"

Her ear twitched at the sound of his voice, but that was the only indication she gave that she'd heard him. Solas's timing was appalling, questionable, or perhaps both. The forest in front of her was still and she sighed as she turned to face Solas; her quarry lost.

"Were you successful?" he asked, in a tone that wasn't quite kind, but couldn't be considered rude.

Assuming he was referring to the shrine, Elena nodded once and the pair lapsed into silence. She had nothing she particularly wished to discuss; he was the one who sought her out. The duty to begin a conversation was on him as far as Elena was concerned. Still though, she was curious about why he was there.

"Was there something you needed?"

"Perhaps."

That was all he said. He didn't explain, didn't elaborate, and didn't break his gaze once. Elena wasn't prepared to wait all night for him to say his piece, so moved to walk past him; he chose that moment to speak once more.

"It may interest you to know that the scout leader requests your presence upon return."

"For a scolding, I presume."

"I could not say, though it would not be undeserved."

Elena stopped walking and turned to face him, brow arched; now this, this was unexpected.

"You explicitly ignored the advice given to you by that scout, advice given to him by the Spymaster, who in turn bore the brunt of his leader's frustration, which should rightly have been directed at you. Not only that, but you are not yet recovered from your earlier injuries, which left you vulnerable, and drained- without proper access to your magic."

"Are you quite finished, Solas?" he said nothing more, so she took his silence as a yes. "Evidently it is necessary to educate you, and perhaps everyone else, on a few key details. I am not, as previously stated, some fumbling da'lan, fresh from the forest, eager to make my first kill. I am, in fact, a woman, in possession of certain skills, capable of making my own decisions based on my own experience and limitations."

The more Elena spoke, the more irritated she became.

"Need I remind you that I know exactly how to evade danger and detection? I followed your group unnoticed for days whilst simultaneously ending those who sought to harm you, and not one of you knew. I am more than capable of delivering some flowers on my own; I do not need a minder."

"Yet your selfishness tonight shows otherwise; those were not the actions of person capable of higher reasoning. You showed a complete disregard for that scout, and even less for the Inquisition or your sister's reputation."

Elena went completely still as her face hardened and her eyes blazed. He thought her selfish? He thought her selfish? He had no idea, no idea what she'd given up, of the things she'd sacrificed for other people, for Thalia. What right did he have to judge her? Not only that, but he'd also questioned her intelligence at the same time. Who on earth did this man think he was to speak to her such?

"This conversation is over."

Seething she stormed back into camp, marching straight past the scout leader, who attempted to grab her arm as she walked past. A swift glare that held the promise of violence in some form or another soon stopped her, and Elena stomped straight into her tent, laying wards all around it. If anyone tried to bother her tonight, they would come to regret it.

*************

Without Knowledge to help her shape it, the fade was a lot harder to manipulate. Her current mood would only have made the task harder, so Elena didn't even bother trying- she just let it take whatever form it wanted. Her dreamscape looked almost exactly like the ravine she was camped in, minus the tents, but she barely noticed as she paced backwards and forwards. The more she thought about Solas' words, the angrier she got; the angrier she got, the faster she paced, until she was practically flitting across the land.

A deep, masculine laugh from nearby sounded out, signalling the arrival of another, but Elena did little more than glare in its direction, still pacing. From her peripheral, she watched as a tall Elvhen man strode into view, dressed in a sleeveless, high-necked robe in a black so rich it seemed to absorb all the light around it. His long, golden hair swayed with every step he took, each stride splitting his robe to reveal toned, powerful legs wrapped in leathers of superb quality the colour of slate. Only a powerful sprit would be able to create such an accurate and detailed image, Elena knew.

"Aah, Little Bird, what a sight you make."

Elena stopped pacing and faced the newcomer, using her magic to get a feel for the spirit in front of her. She didn't even try to hide her sneer or noise of disgust once she identified it.

"Pride. I've had quite enough of you tonight."

The spirit's viridian eyes raked over her, seeing into her with a vision that went beyond the physical.

"Have you now? Somehow, I think not. Yours has been wounded, it calls to me. You called to me."

Elena just hummed as she treated the spirit to the same searching gaze it had given her. The form it had chosen was very much to Elena's approval- lithe and powerful, toned muscles that were in perfect proportion to the rest of him. Since the spirit didn't appear to be in any hurry to leave, Elena decided to play its game, thinking that perhaps she would be able to unload some frustration and enjoy herself at the same time.

"I am glad you appreciate the aesthetic; I created it with you in mind."

"Charmed."

The sprit laughed again as it moved closer to her.

"I watched what happened tonight; his words were... quite appalling."

"Indeed." Elena swiftly changed the subject, the reminder of her conversation with Solas only made her ire rise once more. "A strange territory you've picked out. I expected something a touch more lavish, I must admit."

"Oh sweet child, this isn't my territory, far from it. I roam where I like, venture where I desire."

Elena narrowed her eyes in response to the spirit's chosen description.

"You do not like being referred to as a child, I see. I can understand why. You are no incapable youngster. He doesn't see that, but I do."

Pride was right, of course, and it chuckled at Elena's thoughts as it began to circle her.

"We could help him see. It would be entertaining to see one so named brought down low, to assert our will; it would be so very, very satisfying."

Its last few words were whispered in Elena's ear, Pride having got close enough that she could feel the mimicry of its breath on the back of her neck. She shuddered involuntarily and felt as they stepped away from her, chuckling once more.

"Such small ambitions. I'm disappointed; I expected better."

Pride came to her front once more and tilted its head as it saw deep inside her.

"Yours aren't though, are they, Little Bird? Such aspiration I see, such goals..." its words trailed off as it considered something. "It would be interesting to see you succeed; I may even offer to help with your father."

Elena smiled sadly at the mention of her father and the memory of what fate had befallen him.

"I doubt even the oldest spirit of Pride could manage to do what needs to be done."

"They're somewhat diminished as of late, that's true, but we're not."

Elena didn't offer Pride a response, and watched it as it studied her once more.

"There's more to you than meets the eye, Little Bird. Masks upon masks; plots within plots. You honestly believe you can do it."

Solas' previous patronising words came to mind and she angrily stared down Pride as she replied.

"I know my limits, Pride."

"I wouldn't be too sure about that..."

Elena was just opening her mouth to respond when she felt the world around her shatter; it was as if someone had pinched her brain, yet without being painful. The scene melted away to reveal an angry looking apostate glowering at the pair of them. Elena's irritation came back with a vengeance; she did not want to see him at the moment.

"Aah look, another intruder. Perhaps now that Solas is here, he can offer you suggestions on how to belittle and insult people effectively. His skill is much superior to yours."

Pride bristled and narrowed its eyes, not appreciating being talked down to in front of kin.

"Careful, Little Bird..."

"Or? Da'elgar?"

Pride came striding forward until their noses were nearly touching.

"I may just decide to devour you."

"You may attempt such, Pride, but better and stronger than you have tried; all have failed."

Before the sprit could retort, the dreamscape changed dramatically. Pride was shoved away from her with quite some force as the scenery reshaped to mimic Haven, minus the constantly falling snow. Elena turned to look at Solas, arms crossed, brow raised.

"Do you make a habit of interfering in other people's conversations?" She drawled.

"Conversation? Is this a joke to you? Did toying with that spirit amuse you? Do you even understand the danger you were in?"

An unimpressed look is all he received in return, and Elena watched in secret fascination as Solas all about exploded.

"Pride is one of the strongest spirits that exists, and you just treated it as if it were a trifling lesser virtue! Not only that, you deliberately sought to demean and deride it!"

"Perhaps I was not aware of what effect my words may have had; I am, after all, incapable of higher reasoning."

The two stared at each other in a silent standoff, neither one willing to back down just yet. As far as Elena was concerned, Solas was in the wrong. She had snuck off, yes, but was never in any danger, and had returned to the camp fully intending to receive (and ignore) the lecture from the scoutmaster. Solas had no right to say what he said, to act as he did, jumping to conclusions without hard evidence.

Elena didn't want to talk to him, but she did want to know why he was bothering her yet again.

"What do you want, Solas?"

He opened his mouth to reply but Elena held up her hand to stop him.

"I just ask that you use small words, so that I, with my limited mental capacity, don't struggle to understand you."

He sighed and raised a brow of his own as if to say 'are you finished'? She was, for now, and waited for him to speak.

"I believe I offered you my assistance in seeking out your friend."

Elena blinked.

"No thank you." She easily replied.

"No?"

"Yes."

"Allow me to clarify. Your friend was severely weakened in an effort to protect you, and you do not wish to check on their wellbeing, or thank them?"

"No."

His face became stormy, and the wind started blowing snow around in Haven, creating miniature swirls that spun through the air. Elena dimly recognised that Solas was the angriest she'd ever seen him, but cared little in that moment, still smarting from earlier. She made a point of ignoring the tiny part of her that was pleased that she'd finally managed to crack his carefully crafted persona, and resolutely ignored the modicum of glee that brought her.

"Let me guess, Solas, you think I'm being selfish, no?"

His eyes narrowed, but he didn't contradict her and Elena felt her blood boil as her anger fed off his.

"If they wanted to see me, they'd be here. Right now, their wish to stay away is greater than my desire to see them. That is how the fade works, is it not? Forgive me; I assumed you'd know this already, being an expert in the field."

She spat the word 'expert' with such force that she wouldn't have been surprised if it had emerged physically and smacked him in the face; she certainly wanted to.

Somehow, during their argument, the pair of them had moved closer to one another. Elena only realised when she found herself staring up into grey blue eyes that blazed with barely contained wrath. She made a 'tsk' noise in her throat, done with this conversation and Solas' superior attitude. Using more force than strictly necessary, Elena forced herself from the fade and lay there in her bedroll for some time, only rising once there was more activity in the camp.

Another day had begun, and with it, another batch of fresh problems.

Chapter Text

Solas barely spoke to Elena, but when he did, it was with an air of professional detachment, which suited her just fine. Varric and Blackwall noticed the mood between the two mages, and for once, the former was wise enough not to offer comment. When they reached Redcliffe again, Elena didn't spare anyone a second glance and she immediately strode off in search of the elderly gentleman from the previous day. After delivering news of the shrine, and declining any sort of payment, Elena then turned her attention to Lysas, pleased to find that he'd decided to accompany her and the others back to Haven, and even more pleased to see that he was bringing a few friends along with him. Once they'd met up with Clemence the alchemist, the group immediately set off on their journey to Haven.

It was safe to say that the week it took her party to return to Haven was one of the longest weeks in her entire existence. Whatever steps her and Solas had made towards friendship had been very much erased; the pair of them continued to treat the other coolly, speaking only to the other when necessary.

For Elena, things went from bad to worse. After reaching the village and getting the new mages settled in to a variety of different roles (Elena managed to make sure Lysas became acquainted with Adan) she made her way back to her cabin in order to bathe and write a report for the Spymaster.

She only managed to get half of that done before another problem came to her attention- one that needed sorting urgently. Elena discovered a midsized vial hidden inside a hollowed out book and hastened to read the contents. Her stomach dropped and her face twisted into a grimace. Whilst Elena had been away, the Inquisition's advisors had secretly been preparing for an alliance with the templars, having judged them more capable and useful than the mages. Initially Josephine had remained neutral on the topic, but several loud objections and rants from the Commander later left the Ambassador on side. Only Leliana supported them now- it was 3 to 1.

The situation was less than ideal, and Elena found herself plotting ways to sabotage the deal before it had even been finalised. She knew that the advisors would never take her words on the subject into consideration, which left only one option- use Thalia to voice them. That then led her to another problem. How was Elena going to persuade Thalia to reject the templars without actually having a discussion about it?

Elena already knew that the advisors were concerned about her influence over their Herald, and knew that their every interaction was watched and reported back to the powers that be. It left, regretfully, only one option available to Elena; she knew what she had to do, but was extremely reluctant to do it, as there was no real guarantee that it would work. Elena would just have to gamble on her sister's moral code, and hope she hadn't miscalculated.

A forceful tug on their connection from Knowledge pulled her sharply from her thoughts and back to the present. She felt it again, and again, and might have put off their meeting if it wasn't for the fact she could feel Knowledge pressing on the veil around them, as if trying to force their way though again.

Elena almost growled in displeasure and quickly shut and locked all her windows and doors, before warding them against intruders and eavesdroppers. As the wards were settling, she cast a rune on the floor, and the magic had barely left her before Knowledge's golden form appeared in her cabin.

"Are you trying to get me killed?" She hissed. This was not how she thought the reconciliation meeting with her friend would go.

"You are managing that yourself. Your plan is foolhardy, based on too many what-ifs."

Elena sighed, she knew that already; her plan was risky, but she didn't exactly have an alternative.

"You should go to these advisors and tell them why you don't want these templars around. The mages are a better choice for handling the Breach."

"They won't listen to me, falon."

"You have the ear of Knowledge; they would be fools to ignore you."

Elena just shook her head. She wasn't going to explain, again, why not all knowledge should be shared.

A knock at the door stilled the pair of them.

"Mistress Lavellan?" a voice called from the other side.

Her eyes shot to Knowledge and she shooed them away and back across the veil before quickly removing all traces of its presence. Elena walked over to her desk and lit the candles that sat there, before picking up the first book she found, opening it to a random page, and placing it face down on the desk. She deliberately made noise as she strolled over to the door and yanked it open.

A small elf stood on the other side, an envelope in his hands. She watched as the messenger's eyes darted around the cabin, before falling to the open book on her desk.

"I hope I'm not disturbing, miss, but the Lady Spymaster wanted to know if you'd be able to check in with the healers' tent."

She took the note from the boy and inclined her head in acknowledgement. Once the messenger left, Elena sighed deeply to herself and burnt both the letter and the note before placing the books back on the shelf, leaving no evidence anything had even been touched. Elena got to her feet and left her cabin, making her way towards the healing tents as requested. As she approached, the two soldiers stationed as guards swept the material of the tent to one side, granting her entry. She smiled as she passed them and entered the main area. Immediately her eyes found the familiar shaggy waves of Feron's walnut brown hair where he sat kneeled on the ground at the bed of an unconscious woman, Ellendra at his side. Elena walked over to the pair just in time to hear the human healer rebuking Feron for one reason or another.

"Welcome back, hahren!" Feron greeted her, clearly glad to see her.

"Aah, yes, welcome back, Healer."

Elena inwardly groaned at Ellendra's words; she wasn't The Inquisition's official healer, and didn't plan on claiming the title either. Elena nodded at the pair of them, stifling a yawn as she did.

"None of these patients are urgent; perhaps you'd like to come back when you're more rested?" Ellendra suggested.

"Not necessary."

"Aren't you sleeping well, hahren?"

"Just strange dreams da'lin. Now, talk me through the patients and what you've been doing since I left."

Elena spent the rest of the day going through patient files, overlooking her students' notes, and double-checking their work. They'd performed adequately in her absence, and it led Elena to think that perhaps they were competent enough for her to take a step back, away from healing.

She rubbed her forehead as she cast her eyes around the tent, noticing that one of the guards who'd been guarding the entrance earlier was now sat in a chair next to a bed that contained a man with a badly broken leg. Elena sighed, having not realised before then that she'd been here for many hours.

Looking around the tent once more, her eyes inevitably wound up on the form of the unconscious woman Feron had been tending to when Elena had arrived. According to the notes, she'd been suffering from an unknown illness for years, but had managed it successfully using potions. Recently however, she'd run afoul of a demon, and her health had deteriorated rapidly. Now she was barely able to breathe, with skin that was swollen and red in some patches, oozing in others. She was exhausted to the point that she was only awake for a few hours a day, barely able to feed herself; she was slowly wasting away and nobody was able to say why.

Elena left her desk and walked over to the woman, bending down to sweep strands of sweat-soaked hair from her forehead. She hummed thoughtfully to herself as she considered her next move. She called out to Feron and watched as he trotted over, aquamarine eyes still alert and eager after all his time spent in the tent today.

"I'm going to examine her." Elena said as she went on to explain his presence at her side. "In order to help her, I might have to undo some of the work that's been done to her already. Try to keep the thrashing to a minimum."

He looked at her like she'd just announced that she was renouncing her people and was going to chop off the tips of her ears to make her more human.

"Help her? I do not doubt you hahren, but Ellendra said it wasn't possible..."

His words trailed off at the unimpressed look Elena gave him.

"Perhaps I've access to sources she doesn't, and have learnt things she hasn't?"

Feron mumbled an apology as Elena turned from him and laid an ice-covered hand on the woman's forehead, the other on her stomach. She took a deep breath in and allowed her magic to seep into the patient's skin, and- void take those imbeciles, Elena thought acidly to herself; the inside of the woman's body was like a circle tower's classroom. Numerous magical signatures lay on top of one another- some left by accident, some deliberately- and it was as if the mages here were guessing what to do.

No wonder the woman wasn't healthy; they hadn't understood the root of the problem in the first place, so the mages that had worked on her had forced certain parts of her body to act as they wished. By doing so, they'd caused other systems to stop working, or to clash, which the next person had some along and 'fixed'. The result was chaotic, and it was a wonder the woman wasn't bleeding unstoppably out of every orifice.

Elena pulled her magic out and sat back on her heals, thinking. It was a terrible thing to be pleased about- this patient's health and the healers' idiocy- but it did provide her with a certain opportunity she'd been lacking...

"Feron, use your magic to examine her, as I just have, and tell me what you find."

His brow furrowed but he did what she asked. Almost as soon as his magic was in her body, it snapped back to him reflectively and he clutched his arm to his chest. Truthfully, Elena had had to force her magic to stay inside as she examined the woman, as it automatically clashed with the magic that was already present. Each mage had a unique magical signature, and as such, sometimes it complemented another person's, sometimes it clashed. The more magic present in an area, the more likely it was to clash, often resulting in unstable magic- as found within the unconscious woman.

"Now you see. I'm going to undo all of their work, and start again."

"If you don't mind me asking, hahren, how are you going to do that? It took the others days to stabilise her."

It took the others days to mutilate her insides, Elena thought privately as she resisted the urge to scoff. Yet again, the circle mages had proven their incompetence. She'd taught them how to heal properly, that not all injuries or illnesses are as they first appear, but as soon as she wasn't there, they all forgot whatever she'd said, and ran back to their Circle teachings. Clearly, her time here was a waste.

"Forcefully." Elena said in response to Feron's question. "It's going to take a lot of power, and a lot of concentration. I ask that you don't disturb me until it's over. If you like, you may follow what I do with your magic, but don't interfere."

Feron nodded in agreement, only looking slightly nervous. Elena almost smiled to herself; he was right to look nervous. If she didn't need to make a scene, she would never allow the others to see how far she could stretch her abilities.

Her hands resumed their previous positions on the woman, and she once again reached out with her magic. The circle mages' work was the equivalent of building a house of out sticks- their work wasn't pretty, but it would hold for a while. Until nature caught up with it and everything came crumbling down, leaving them with a pile of broken twigs on the ground and an exploding woman.

She felt when Feron's magic grazed up against her own, as if his loud gasp didn't give it away.

"Feron..." she said in warning.

"Sorry, hahren."

Elena rolled her eyes and resumed her work.

"Now, follow what I'm doing and concentrate."

She forced her magic to start chipping away at the seals left by the other mages, hoping to gradually wearing them down until there was nothing left. As expected, the instant her magic made contact with the others, it caused the lingering spells and energy to become unstable, the clashing of various magics undoubtedly putting strain on her patient's already weak body. The woman started to thrash around, and Elena had to force more of her magic to run through the woman's body to keep her still as she hit a particularly stubborn remnant.

It seemed like hours before Elena felt confident enough with her work; she'd removed all the traces of other people's magic that she could find, and had a vague idea what the patient's 'mystery illness' was in the first place. Taking the opportunity to heal the woman of a few other issues whilst she was still, Elena turned her attention to the skin problems her patient had been having, and erased all traces of blotches or sores that were there.

Withdrawing all her magic from the woman, she sat back on her heals and stared at the ceiling tiredly. Elena felt sore all over; the amount of energy she'd used left her feeling drained, her head throbbing, her limbs heavy. Her work wasn't finished yet though; all she'd managed to do so far was undo the work of the other healers.

"Tell me, where did the potion come from?"

"Adan, hahren." Feron replied, trying, but failing, to keep the unease from his voice. In allowing the boy's magic to connect to hers, she'd allowed him to taste it, to get a feel for how deep her mana pool ran, as well as allowing him to learn just how powerful her core magic was.

Elena held out her hand for one of the potions, which Feron dutifully provided. She uncorked it and carefully dropped some onto the inside of her patient's wrist. Elena turned to Feron, and asked that he go back to Adan to retrieve a variety of other potions, as well as their ingredients. He left, confused, but quickly returned, burdened with a box filled with clinking bottles.

"This is one of everything he has at the moment. He, um, wasn't too pleased about having to give so many away and... Demanded that you explain to him what's going on?"

Elena didn't react as she started rifling through the box until she found what she was looking for- the scrolls that detailed all the herbs that went into Adan's potions. She flicked through them, pulling out the ones she was interested in, before she set about comparing the ingredients, looking for any identical ingredients.

Finding what she was looking for, she looked over to Feron before handing him the scrolls, gesturing for him to read them. He read them all, then turned them over, then looked up at her, and Elena (tired and grumpy) nearly rolled her eyes at the boy's stupidity.

"This woman is, by some unfortunate twist of fate, deathly allergic to elfroot."

As her words sunk in, his eyes lit up with realisation, before fading with sorrow.

"So then all this time...?"

"You've all been poisoning her, yes."

Elena spent a little more time by the woman's side, checking to make sure she was stable, and sent Feron back to Adan to return his potions. It wasn't long before Elena deemed the woman well on her way to recovery, and updated the notes to mention that elfroot shouldn't go within 2 meters of her, just to make sure.

As she rose from the desk, she rolled her shoulders and neck, finding relief in the way the tension left her body. If she'd done her job properly, the next few days would prove to be trying; she'd planted the seeds in their minds, now it was time to see if they'd take root.

Chapter Text

The templars came in the night, dragging Elena through Haven and down into the dingy depths underneath the Chantry. They threw her in a cell and slammed the door shut, making extra effort to make a show of locking the cage door. For hours they purged her, the pair of them taking shifts so they could rest and eat, and each time was agony, making her feel as if the blood inside her veins was aflame.

Magic was in her blood, she could no sooner separate it from herself than she could become human or a rock. Or Qunari. Or a dwarf. Night turned into morning, turned into afternoon, and nobody came to release her. The strain on her body from the torture was almost too much for her to handle; at one point, blood began leaking from her nose, slowly dripping down her chin and onto her lap where she lay slumped against a wall. It hadn't discouraged them in the slightest. If anything, they'd decreased the time between annulments, only stopping once blood trickled from her ears too.

Even lying weak in a dirty cell, Elena still had her pride. She clasped it tight, clinging to it as if it were a lifeline, though to her it was. She did not scream, not once. She refused to give the shemlen victory; to scream would be to admit they won. She would never stoop so low. Elena wasn't fed, wasn't offered any water, and certainly didn't sleep. She vowed to herself that one day she'd kill the two templars in front of her. Perhaps she'd hunt them for years, striking, but not maiming, before sliding back into the shadows where she'd wait until they felt safe once more. Then she'd attack again. Maybe she'd even slit their throats; let them be a reminder to all that she would always get her revenge. Or maybe, just maybe, she'd be content to look upon them and see nothing but puppets; after all, they predictability proved them to be the perfect pawns.

As she lay there, Elena congratulated herself on a manipulation well executed. It had been almost too easy to make the people of Haven believe something was amiss. There was only one miscalculation she'd made- Feron. Shortly after she'd arrived, her star pupil appeared in the cell next to her, and was treated to the same purging. He had screamed, and begged for an explanation, but received none. Still, as Elena lay there she couldn't help but see the positive side of the situation; Feron's presence provided her with an excellent opportunity to twist the situation so that it favoured her greater than before. She wouldn't let the boy's sacrifice go to waste.

As the day rolled on and the temperature dropped once more, Elena realised that it had reached evening, and gathered her strength for the inevitable confrontation due to take place later. More than anything, she was grateful for the bond she shared with Knowledge, not only did their presence ground her, but as long as they were bound to one another, no templar would be able to strip her of her power completely.

A bang from up above and the raised voices of several people approaching quickly reached Elena's ears, and she fought a satisfied smirk; it was time for act 2. Thalia skidded into view first, still wearing her armour, eyes wide and frightened- eyes that turned to fury as she saw the templars who caged her sister. Cassandra ran in behind her, and she too looked upon the scene in shock and rage; the situation kept getting better and better.

"What is the meaning of this?" The Seeker demanded.

The templars looked at each other before the leader (the once who'd been so eager to smite her more often) spoke up.

"We received news that the apostate was a blood mage and an abomination."

Thalia stepped forward, glaring at the men so ferociously that Elena wouldn't have been surprised if they combusted where they stood. Excellent, she thought.

"You two better have damn fucking solid evidence of that." Her voice was low and full of ice. She turned towards Cassandra, who herself was levelling the templars with her own hard stare. "Can you please, pretty please, go fetch Solas and a healer? I want them all here, now, no excuses."

Her tone, though sweet, brooked no argument and Cassandra hurried off to fulfil Thalia's request. The latter turned back to the templars

"My Lady Herald-"

"Not. Another. Word. When I want you to talk, I'll let you know. Until then, keep it shut, or I will happily, happily ensure you have to piss sitting down for the rest of your lives. Now give me the keys."

It finally seemed to be dawning on the templars just how much of a mistake they'd made, as they fumbled and hurried to place the keys in Thalia's outstretched palm. As soon as they made contact, she snatched them away and was busy finding the right key to Elena's cell when all three elves heard Solas and the healer arrive.

"See to the boy first." Elena rasped out, meeting Thalia's stubborn gaze with one of her own. The younger Lavellan rolled her eyes before doing as she'd been instructed, helping Feron to his feet and handing him over to the healer. Feron shot her a look of gratitude on his way out, moments before he disappeared.

Thalia finally managed to get the door open and beckoned Solas over as she tried to help her sister to her feet.

"No." Elena said.

"No?"

"I'm staying."

"Are you out of your ever loving mind?" Thalia hissed.

"I think, after what has happened, that I at least have the right to know why I was tortured."

Thalia threw her arms up in frustration and growled obscenities under her breath.

"Fine, fair enough. Will you at least let Solas make sure there isn't any permanent damage?"

Elena agreed; she was stubborn, but not stupid. Solas settled next to her on his knees and was surprisingly gentle as he moved her hair away from her neck, a cold rage taking over his features when he saw the further injuries. His magic gently alleviated her pounding headache, before softly examining the rest of her body; it almost felt like soothing fingers were lightly brushing the pain away. Solas' touch was much tenderer than she'd expected, especially considering their recent spat, and she wondered if it was partly his way of apologising to her. The specifics didn't particularly matter right then though, and the mages' attention turned to Thalia as she began questioning the templars.

"So, dim-witted duo, what evidence do you have to present, hmm?"

All eyes turned to the templars expectantly, and watched as the leader drew himself to his full height and straightened his back.

"We received reports that the elf had been acting strangely."

"Watch your words; you're on thin enough ice as it is. Strangely how?"

"Muttering strangely, acting unusually. An eyewitness reports her mentioning that she hadn't been sleeping well recently. She was then able to cure someone of an illness none of the other healers were able to."

"Don't make me carve the answers out of you, because I will. Unusually how?" Thalia gritted out through clenched teeth.

"She was- that is to say- the mage, sorry your sister, was... overly chatty and oddly friendly..."

The templar faltered, as if realising for the first time just how flimsy his excuses were.

"So let me get this straight. Elena smiled at someone, did a better fucking job healing than any of the so-called highly trained Circle mages could...and... That's it? Are you yanking on my balls right now?"

If the situation wasn't so tense, Elena might have laughed at her sister's colourful language.

"Well? I'm waiting for an answer, shit for brains."

"No, my Lady?"

Thalia uttered more obscenities under her breath before she turned to her sister.

"In the interest of being fair, and so these morons can understand just how astronomically goddamned stupid they're being, is any of that true?"

"I was reading out loud, being polite, and helped a dying woman, but didn't cure her."

A scowl made its way onto Thalia's face once more as she slowly turned back to face the templars.

"So where, pray tell, does the other healer fit into this?"

"He uh, he helped, Herald."

Thalia went absolutely still, but only for a second, before she started practically vibrating with rage.

"How soon until you can travel?"

Both Elena and Solas looked at the back of her head in disbelief.

"What?"

"How soon, will it be, until you can drag your arse to the stables, and we leave this dump of a village?"

Elena was mildly surprised at the turn this conversation had taken. She knew it was a possibility, certainly, but expected Thalia to need more of a push before she considered leaving the Inquisition. So far, her plan was going better than she could have hoped for.

"An hour..." she answered pensively. "It will allow me time to wash and pack, although you may need to provide me with a staff until I recover."

Thalia nodded and Elena watched as her gaze turned inward, likely plotting, and planning beyond their escape.

A dramatic gasp from the doorway caught their attention, as the Ambassador stood with the other advisors, shock on her face.

"You can stop the theatrics, I don't believe for a second that you didn't all know about this."

"Mistress Lavellan?"

Thalia ignored Josephine, and instead gave a signal to Solas, and the pair helped Elena to her feet. Thalia threw her arm around Elena's waist, whilst Solas chose to support her arm across his shoulders. The group were about to shuffle off, but one glance at the advisors' faces gave Elena pause.

"Thalia..."

"What?" she bit out as she tried to get Elena to move again. "Are you saying you don't want to leave after what they did to you? Really? You?"

"I want to gut them. I want to make them feel as I set their blood aflame, as they did to me, but I won't." Elena pulled her arm from Solas and placed her hands on Thalia's shoulders, looking deep into her angry sea green eyes. "If you leave, you'll be letting innocents suffer for crimes they had no hand in."

Thalia let out an unattractive snort and gave her sister a knowing look.

"Since when do you care about innocents?"

"I'm not a monster, Thalia. My grievance is with the templars and your advisors, nobody else."

Her sister's little comment irked her. She killed people, yes, but that didn't make her a conscienceless savage.

"I think you should consider staying, but on your terms."

"What about you?"

"I'll stay, if you want me to, but strongly suggest you stop allowing yourself to be treated like their pet Herald."

Thalia stepped away from her sister as she folded an arm across her chest, using the other to tap her chin as she thought. Elena felt dead on her feet, and swayed as she tried to take a step towards the exit. Before she could fall however, Solas appeared at her side and began to guide her from the jails, passing straight past Thalia who was still deep in thought.

Elena didn't look up at the advisors as she passed them, concentrating instead on her footing. Slowly her and Solas ascended the steps and shuffled their way across the Chantry hall. Elena had just enough strength to open the door and she stepped out into the night, free once more.

Chapter Text

The night air was crisp and cool, but most importantly, it was fresh. An icy breeze made its way across the village and Elena shivered as it brushed past her, reminding her that she wasn't dressed for a trek in the snow.

She turned to look over her shoulder until she could just see Solas in her peripheral, and thanked him for his assistance. Unfortunately, he insisted on escorting her to her cabin so the pair began their slow journey back across Haven.

A few times she noticed him looking at her from the corner of her eye. Before, she would have let intrigue take over and asked him what he wanted, but their spat was still fresh in her mind, and she was too tired to resurrect old arguments, not tonight.

Elena let out a small sigh of relief as her cabin came in view, and would have skipped up to it if she'd been able to. She walked up to the cabin and swung the door open, finding it unlocked from the previous day, and immediately approached her fire. Before she could even begin trying to light it manually though, it roared into life.

She turned slowly, watching Solas as he in turn watched her, silence hanging in the air between them. As a particularly cold breeze blew into her cabin and made the flames dance, she raised an eyebrow, as if silently asking what he wanted.

"May I come in?" he politely asked, and Elena was half tempted to say no, but resisted; he was being strangely accommodating after all.

After her nod of confirmation, he closed the door after him and just stood there watching her, back straight, hands clasped behind his back.

She rose from the floor and made her way over to the bed where she sat, and she waited.

"I believe I owe you an apology." He began in their shared language. "My words from last week were impulsive and discourteous."

Elena tilted her head as she studied him; as far as apologies went, it was terrible. He stood there, stance proud, talking about apologising, but without actually doing so. In addition, he never expressed that he no longer felt that way about her. No, that wouldn't do at all.

"Yes. You do, and they were."

As she examined his expressions, she could swear she saw a flicker of amusement touch his features. Although she could have been offended at such, she didn't get the impression that it was a cruel sort of amusement. Rather than making her feel like his apology was insincere, it seemed to be humour stemming from her stubbornness, and perhaps even because she wasn't willing to let him get away with a flimsy, nonspecific non-apology.

"Ir abelas, lethallan. I should have not insulted you the way I did; such words were undeserved."

Well, well, she thought, Pride is capable of humility after all.

"Thank you." She said in acceptance of his apology. "I'd like to offer my gratitude for your assistance tonight."

Elena left it there, hanging, and felt a flicker of the same amusement Solas had experienced when he raised his eyebrows at her deliberate wording. Their game was back on, she was pleased to find.

"Ma serannas, lethallin, for healing me and ensuring I reached my cabin safely."

He accepted her apology with a small smile and a nod, before it fell and a curious spark rested in his eyes.

"I find it strange that the templars would act so impulsively, especially when the inquisition has yet to choose which side to ally with."

Elena held back a chuckle; perhaps her secret ploy wasn't so secret after all. Rather than be offended that he'd realised her manipulation for what it was, she found herself intrigued to see what he'd do with the information; she could try to track it and see if it led to his superior or an organisation.

"I don't believe the templars need much of an excuse to harm a mage, Solas."

"Indeed."

He got to his feet then and made his way to the door. Stopping halfway through, he turned to address her over his shoulder. "You are more cunning that people give you credit for, Elena."

Solas left her with those parting words, strolling away into the night, the darkness soon stealing his form from her eyes.

***********

Elena looked out across the pond in her dreamscape, watching as fireflies hovered and played above the water, water that reflected the vibrant green and purple lights that waved and swirled through the night sky. In the distance, moss covered boulders lay stacked along low cliffs, their surfaces brought to life by the bushes and grasses that grew upon them, softening their edges. Crickets chirped, and owls hooted, providing the entire scene with a peaceful atmosphere.

"Savhalla, Miss Ashelena."

A familiar aura of serenity and lemon washed over Elena, and she turned to face Radalas as he approached her. He was dressed much the same as last time- in his standard black armour- though this time his hood was lowered, as was his face covering. His curly auburn hair swayed to an invisible breeze, free from the bun he'd worn it in last time.

"Good evening, Radalas."

He came to a stop next to her, and took a moment to take in his surroundings.

"Are you well?" he asked, and Elena just made a small noise of agreement; she wasn't well, but she was well enough.

"I heard what happened."

Elena said nothing, and rather than be offended, Radalas smiled privately to himself.

"Are you here for a report?" she finally asked.

"Not tonight, Little Bird."

Radalas began humming a tune to himself that was both familiar and foreign at the same time. As his pitch rose and fell, so did the fireflies on the water as they danced in time to his song.

His humming cut off abruptly as he asked her a question.

"Are you going to kill them?"

Elena thought about it before she answered. She wanted to kill them, absolutely, but at this point their deaths would look suspicious, as she'd be the most obvious culprit. If she did it, she'd have to wait for an opportune moment. Perhaps they'd leave Haven on a mission for the Commander? It would be simple enough to post a job with Orlei, or instruct one of her agents to do it, but then she wouldn't have the satisfaction of ending their lives herself...

"Perhaps, provided the right opportunity presents itself. Though it wouldn't be the first time someone in Haven insulted me." She said, thinking of the Greasy Leader who'd greeted her when she'd first arrived. She'd seen him around the area once or twice, and neither he nor his sidekicks ever failed to glower or sneer in her direction. The three were infinitely stupid, and they had better hope they never found themselves in a situation where they needed her help.

The pair lapsed into silence again and Elena watched as an owl plummeted from the sky to snatch up a rodent. She appreciated the simplicity in nature; birds did what birds did, and mice did what mice did. A bird didn't try to be a mouse, neither did a mouse try to be a bird.

"How goes the plot to undermine Andurfelen?" she asked, causing him to tut in reproach.

"I'm sure I don't know what you mean, Little Bird."

Truthfully, Elena hadn't expected him to answer, but experience had taught her that what people chose not to answer was as telling as what they did. She casually shrugged a shoulder, causing him to laugh, a reaction so unusual that she couldn't help but look over to him.

"So similar..." he spoke softly, seemingly to himself.

Elena looked into his mirrored eyes, and saw the burden a limitless life could be. Although many elves aspired to be immortal again, Elena doubted they took the time to properly think things through. She could imagine many positives to immortality, yes, but just as many to mortality. Here in front of her was a man who'd seen too much, and who'd survived too much; a deep sadness wrote itself on his soul. It was then that Elena understood part of it.

"They died, and you couldn't stop it."

He looked surprised for a moment before schooling his features and staring intently at her as she stood there waiting for an answer.

"Such insight can be dangerous, Little Bird, not everyone will appreciate you reading them so easily."

Elena said nothing, but raised an eyebrow in response as she waited to see if he'd continue. Radalas studied her for a moment before letting out a weary sigh.

"Yes, Ashelena, they died."

"Ir abelas, Radalas."

"Thank you, but it happened many, many years ago- over 4000 now. As the humans say, time heals."

Elena chose not to voice her next question, keeping it to herself instead. She suspected, deep down, that part of the reason Radalas was helping her, and part of the reason that he was so pleasant to her, was down to his lost friend. If Elena was right, that meant Radalas blamed himself, if only in part, for his friend's death, and was protecting her (as a substitute) as a form of redemption. Elena still didn't see why acting like a long dead elf meant that an Elvhen was willing to help her, but wasn't willing to press her luck or lose his support by asking.

It was as he said though, not everyone would appreciate his or her secrets being divined so quickly, and Elena got the impression that she'd poked him enough for one night. The truth would come out in time, and Elena was infinitely patient when she needed to be.

"Someone is looking for you, Little Bird."

Despite his words, Radalas seemed unworried, as if the possibility of the detection (and subsequent elimination) of a competent, well-placed agent was nothing to be concerned about. Or perhaps, she mused, the fade walkers of old truly were exceptionally powerful, and not easily intimidated.

"Spirit someone, or flesh someone?"

His head tilted to the side as he searched for an answer.

"The latter, I think; dreaming isn't always a precise art."

Solas then, her mind supplied.

"Perhaps we should continue this another time?" she suggested.

"Very well, Little Bird. I will leave you with this scene, whilst you recover. Remember what I said, Ashelena, it may save your life."

Radalas left as abruptly as he came, and in his place, he left a book lying on the ground. Intrigued, Elena bent down and read the title- The Rise of the Evanuris. Laughing quietly to herself, she decided to play along with his game, and settled comfortably against a bolder as she opened the book to the first page. Elena sat there for what felt like days, content to lose herself in the stories Radalas had left her, content to ignore the eyes that watched her every movement.

Chapter Text

Elena woke late the next day, deciding that she was due a lie in after the last couple of days. Still in bed, she reached her arms high above her head and stretched until her whole body felt as if it was made of jelly. She let out a deep, satisfied sigh and rose to greet the day. After a deliciously hot bath, she found the nearest oversized top she could, and threw it on over her underwear. As far as she was concerned, today was her day off. If she wanted to lounge around in clothing that barely covered her arse, then so be it.

Elena sat crossed legged on the floor, each foot resting on the opposite thigh and allowed her thoughts to slip away, for her consciousness to transport her far, far away from where she sat in her little cabin situated in the glacial nightmare called Haven, back through time as she remembered when someone had first tried to teach her meditation...

Ashelena opened an eye and looked around her, seeing the familiar form of her father sat next to her on the floor, back straight, legs crossed, eyes closed. She filled her cheeks with air and held it in for as long as she could before releasing it in one go with a huff. She looked over to her right again to see a familiar pair of eyes- royal blue orbs contained within an icy ring- watching her from a face that held little amusement. She smiled sweetly at him, earning her nothing more than a raised brow, before she sighed and turned back to the front and closed her eyes once more.

She was so very, utterly, completely bored. Ashelena knew she could be doing any number of other things right now. Her mother had just given her new toys she hadn't played with yet, it was a family of stuffed wolves; there was a papae wolf, a mamae wolf, and a small baby wolf. Ashelena had brought them with her today, and would much rather be playing with them right now than sitting in silence. Perhaps she could-

"I can feel your mind bouncing all over the place, Ashelena..."

"Papae..." she moaned, "can't we do something fun? I know! You could teach me how to turn into a bird... or a bear... or... or... or a dragon! Yeah! A dragon!"

Her father chuckled lightly under his breath.

"A dragon, you say, and what would you do as a dragon, pray tell?"

"Well, I could fly around and if anyone was mean to you, I could eat them for you. Or set them on fire. Or roar at them." Ashelena declared, her watertight reasoning filling her with confidence.

He reached out and tugged her gently towards him and onto his lap, her back resting against his chest.

"Ma'lan, learning to relax your mind and let go is just as important as expanding it with new teachings."

Ashelena knew that meant she wasn't going to get to play with her toys any time soon, and made a low growling noise in the back of her throat as she closed her eyes once more, chin resting on her fists.

She lasted for roughly 10 minutes before she grew restless once again. She slowly opened an eye, feeling her father's chest rise and fall with each deep breath he took. Ashelena timidly reached out, subtly brushing against her father's magic as she examined his mood. He was calm, peaceful, and she found comfort in the way his magic pulsed steadily to the beat of his heart. She carefully unfurled herself from where she sat hunched over, and as quietly as she could manage, climbed out of her father's lap, and got to her feet. She spun around quickly, grinning to herself when she noticed that her father hadn't changed in the slightest.

Ashelena tiptoed around the room, admiring all the books on the shelves, statuettes, and trinkets displayed on them, until her eyes fell upon a vase of flowers upon his desk. She stared at the flowers, in awe of all the different colours the bunch held, before inspiration struck. She looked at her father, back to the flowers, and once again to her father, a huge smile making its way onto her face as an idea began to form.

She crept over to the desk and carefully grabbed the vase and pulled it towards her, panicking slightly as it started to slip. With a small 'eep' sound, she caught it firmly in her arms, and cradled it to her chest as she looked over to see if the small commotion had disturbed her father. It hadn't. She placed the vase silently on the floor behind him, and started gently brushing her father's hair with her fingers, growing bolder when he didn't react.

By the time she'd finished, her father's hair had been braided, twisted, and curled to the extreme; his deep auburn tresses were barely visible through the sheer amount of flowers Ashelena had woven through it. She stood back, admiring her work, silently congratulating herself on a job well done, when the nearby motion of the door swinging open caught her attention.

Her mother stepped into view, jet-black curls falling over her shoulders as she turned to close the door behind her, before spinning round once more and taking in the scene before her. Her mother's red and gold eyes immediately fell upon her father, where he still sat meditating on the floor, and she had to cover her mouth to stifle her laughter.

"Hello, Da'nehn, what are you doing?" she whispered.

"We're mediating." She replied at the same volume.

"It's meditating, Da'ean."

Ashelena let out a strangled squeal and jumped out of her skin as her father's deep voice suddenly sounded out. He rose from the floor, each motion fluid and graceful, and walked over to meet her mother, cupping her face and kissing her softly in greeting. She made a gagging noise and both parents turned to her with brows raised, and smiles on their faces.

"Vhenan, I came to let you know that my father wishes to speak to you, but perhaps it would be best to postpone." Her mother said with a giggle.

Ashelena pulled a face at the mention of her grandfather; she didn't like him very much. He was always so strict and bossy and never let her play with his hair even though it was long enough...

Elena opened her eyes as she was drawn back to the present, filled with equal amounts of grief and happiness; she still hadn't managed to quite get the knack of mediating properly, but she never stopped trying.

Thinking about her parents was always bittersweet; she loved her parents, and missed them dearly. Up until that point, her childhood had been idyllic, and the younger, naive version of herself couldn't ever imagine them ever changing. Elena wasn't so clueless anymore; she'd learn the hard way that good things never lasted. That memory was of the last time her parents saw each other, before her entire world changed irreparably.

A loud thud on her door pulled her from her thoughts and made her heart hammer in her chest as her whole body jerked; though this time, she managed to contain any noises.

"Open up, sugarbutt, I come bearing gifts!" Thalia called out from the other side.

Elena stood and stretched again, lazily flicking her hand to dispel the wards Solas had left on her door last night. Her sister kicked the door open and Elena winced as it blew back and slammed against the wall.

"By Elgar'nan's curly nasal hair, why aren't you dressed yet?"

Thalia walked over to her desk and placed a plate down upon it as Elena sighed at the intrusion. Her sister's presence wasn't unwelcomed, not exactly, but Elena knew her arrival heralded a change to her planned schedule. As if it weren't bad enough that Thalia had burst her way into her cabin unasked for, she'd also invited Solas, who stood behind the younger Lavellan, pointedly looking at Elena's face, and nowhere else.

"Come in, shut the door, and then tell me what you want."

Thalia muttered under her breath as Solas did as instructed, still pointedly not looking any lower than neck level.

"Will you put some damn leggings on please? Poor Solas is about to have a nosebleed."

Elena sighed loudly as she turned to her draws and grabbed some clean trousers, before disappearing out of sight as she put them on, grumbling internally about the sensibilities of stuffy people. She came back into view and stood across from the pair of them, arms crossed, as she looked from face to face, waiting for one of them to speak.

"Soooo... now that you're dressed... good morning! I wanted to give you an update on the way things are gonna be 'round here from now on for the both of you, and Solas here, our buddy Solas, I asked him to come and make sure you were all fine and dandy after yesterday. I don't know how long these things last, I'm not a mage."

"I'm fine."

Thalia snorted, "You'd say that even if your arm was hanging off. Just let the man check you over, just to make sure, yeah?"

Elena rolled her eyes, but allowed Solas to examine her, giving Thalia a pointed 'I-told-so-so' look when he discovered that nothing was amiss. In response, Thalia pulled a face before launching into an explanation on what happened once the mages left. Thalia had made it abundantly clear that there was no way she would bring more templars into the Inquisition- not in this life or the next. She told them how she berated them for using her to suit their needs, without asking about hers, and informed them that in future she would be the one deciding where to go, what to do, and when to do it.

Thalia had seen fit to offer Elena and Solas more protection in the form of official titles and roles within the organisation. Solas was no longer the fade expert, but was now the official Fade Expert of the Inquisition, whereas (in a show of trust) Elena had been appointed the Inquisition's Head Healer (she fought a grimace at the pronouncement) and was given the honour of being Thalia's Personal Healer.

Overall, Elena's plans had turned out brilliantly; she'd by lying if she said she wasn't a little smug. The only blip came from her new role within the organisation, but as Thalia pointed out- if the Herald stubbed her toe, or broke a nail, and needed Elena's help all day, then it couldn't be helped- she was bound by her duty after all.

Thalia hadn't been content to stop there however, and had demanded a full investigation into the work and living conditions of all elves within the Inquisition, warning the advisors that if her people weren't treated equally, she'd take them and run, and they'd have to find a human with a glowing hand to do their bidding instead.

Elena was infinitely proud of Thalia; she'd put her foot down and proven that she wouldn't dance to their tune anymore, and attempted to use her influence to make things better for people- to make it fairer. Elena knew that, given the time and the resources, Thalia could change the world. Change never came without cost though, and Elena made a mental note to position more agents around her sister for protection; if Thalia wanted to make the world better for her people, then Elena would do everything she could to help her, for as long as their interests aligned.

Chapter Text

Thalia had informed everyone that they were scheduled to return to the Hinterlands the next day, with the view to clearing out the Carta, and forming an alliance with the mages. Alexius hadn't wasted any time before sending a letter to the Inquisition, so filled with praise that it was not only vomit inducing, but also clearly meant to lower Thalia's defences so she'd walk into a trap unguarded. Such flowery words spoke of transparent intentions, which was only one of the problems with people who just inherited their positions, Elena thought angrily. They should have to prove themselves worthy of it- to start at the bottom and fight their way up. Alexius clearly hadn't had to outsmart people or fight to get where he was.

Elena had come from a particularly well known line of mages, each of them renowned for their strength, their skill, their intelligence. Even as a child Elena had been trained rigorously until the point she couldn't take anymore, always pushed to produce better results that the others. Her bloodline had worked against her; she'd had to be twice as smart, twice as fast, twice as skilled for half the recognition, half the praise, half the rations. Elena had clawed her way up from the bottom and nobody, nobody, would ever be able to make her feel inferior. Never again.

Such thoughts brought up long buried feelings of anger and abandonment, setting her on edge. The walls of her cabin seemed to loom endlessly above her, and the air seemed to grow heavier as she paced backwards and forwards across the wooden floor. Each loud noise, each close sound had her fighting against lashing out with her magic; each laugh or cough or grunt only irritated her further. For a person who found comfort in solitude, it wasn't hard to feel trapped, especially when her own mind worked against her.

Haven had gone from being a quiet, picturesque little village, to a hustling and bustling small town. Each passing day brought more people: merchants, skilled workers, volunteers, and so on, and with them, they brought their wares, their equipment, their families, and much more. As time went on, Elena found herself becoming less and less comfortable within Haven, and increasingly short-tempered and on edge. As a person who enjoyed solitude and the benefits that came from being alone, the crowds, the smells, and the noise were all elements that bothered her, and made it impossible for her to relax fully. She couldn't read or draw without someone disturbing her to ask questions on matters that were either trivial, or that had obvious answers, and she couldn't walk around without someone bumping into her; she couldn't even sleep without warding the doors and windows to keep the noise at bay.

Elena grew increasingly antsy with each lap she completed; she had to get away for a while. A few days ago, she'd spotted a small secondary pier, hidden away between two rocks, which overlooked the frozen lake. It was far enough away to give her the privacy she yearned for, and positioned perfectly to allow her to see if anyone from Haven came looking. Elena gathered her supplies, placing her book, her sketchpad, and her pencils in her satchel before leaving her cabin and striding away. Anyone who tried to talk to her was ignored, and anyone who attempted to stop her received a particularly menacing glare.

Elena trudged through the snowy fields that surrounded the town until she came across the dock she sought. She laid down a blanket before sitting down, and marvelled at how muted the din from Haven was out here. Elena ignored the activities she'd brought with her, closed her eyes, and just sat in the silence, allowing the serenity of the setting to wash over her; she felt as her soul cleansed and her mood reset. With each deep breath she took, she felt the feelings of restlessness melting away.

She wasn't aware of how long she sat there for, but the sound of approaching footsteps drew her from her meditation. She waited, hoping that once the trespasser realised the dock was taken, that they would leave and go elsewhere. It wasn't to be, as a well-spoken voice reached her ears.

"Aah!" it said. "I see the denizens of Haven have driven another from its borders."

Elena didn't reply, but turned her head slightly until she could only just see the newcomer in her peripheral.

"Never mind," the voice continued. "They clearly didn't deserve us anyway."

Elena had to admit to herself that she was quite enjoying how confident the trespasser was, so she finally turned until she could see them properly. Dorian stood behind her, stylishly dressed with artfully sculpted black hair, his moustache perfectly trimmed and styled as always. He shifted his stance slightly, making light reflect off his various buckles and piercings as the sun hit them just right. He slowly started walking towards Elena, eying her critically, stopping only a meter away from her. If he was offended by her lack of responses, he wasn't showing it, and Elena found her irritation at being interrupted was slowly melting away.

"Dorian of House Pavus... why are you here?" she asked.

He sighed deeply before he replied. "As I've already told people numerous times- I'm here to help. What Alexius is doing is reprehensible; it goes against everything we worked towards. I'm here to prove that not everything from Tevinter is bad news, despite what the rumours say."

It was a well-rehearsed speech, she'd give him that, but it didn't exactly answer her question.

"Inspiring, I'm sure, but I meant why are you here?"

He paused for a moment before answering; clearly he hadn't expected her original question to be as literal as it was, and she fought to keep her lips from twitching.

"For the sake of peace and quiet, much like you I'd wager."

Yet here he was, holding a one sided conversation for the most part. Dorian got a thoughtful glint in his eye as his gaze roved over her once more.

"You're quite different to your sister, aren't you? Here you are, slight frown, approach and die attitude, whilst she smiles and laughs like there's no tomorrow. Remarkable really; it's like you're polar opposites of each other."

Elena just sat there as he spoke, face blank, wondering if Dorian realised he was speaking aloud. Still, she thought, she'd certainly heard less flattering descriptions of her before. Dorian's depiction bordered on complimentary.

"May I join you?" he asked, gesturing to the empty space beside her on the blanket. It was a strange request, she thought. By now, she'd have expected for him to have heard the rumours flying round about her- rumours she'd helped spread-  that spoke of how unfriendly and unsociable she was. Curious, she agreed, and gestured for him to make himself comfortable.

They sat in silence for some time, before he looked at her again, his gaze contemplative. Elena stared back, waiting, fully expecting Dorian to explain himself; he did seem to like the sound of his own voice, she'd notice.

"According to the rumours, you should have reduced me to a steaming pile of ash by now." He explained, proving to her that he'd heard at least some of the gossip from the townsfolk.

"It's a fool's job to put too much stock in rumours." Elena replied simply.

"Quite right. You should hear the ones about me. Too many talking about how I'm here to destroy the Inquisition from within, none about how devastatingly handsome I am. Travesty."

Her mouth turned up in a slight smile, causing Dorian to grin and flash perfectly straight, pearly white teeth.

"You know, it might not hurt to be a touch more friendly."

Elena rolled her eyes, still wearing her half smile.

"You like them!" he declared, realisation washing over him.

"Like is a strong word." Elena explained. "They amuse me."

"Not to mention they make people leave you alone."

"That too."

"Still though, doesn't it get lonesome? Not everyone is as brave as I am after all, daring to approach the untamed apostate."

Elena laughed then. This Dorian was rather full of himself, she thought, yet his presence didn't exasperate as much as it should have. Plus, no, no it didn't get lonely. The very idea was absurd.

"I must say though, I'd have expected the Inquisition's Healer to be... more motherly, I suppose."

Elena stared disapprovingly at him.

"I am not The Inquisition's Healer."

"Not according to the rumours. Word on the grape vine is that you're rather competent at healing magic, enough to be declared the Herald's personal bandage applier."

That last comment earned him an unimpressed, flat look. Until she'd been officially told about her new job (and until she could officially decline it), she wasn't anybody's officially titled anything. Dorian smirked at her look, but said no more, and the pair lapsed into silence yet again - Elena sketching the scene before them, Dorian reading.

It wasn't long before Elena heard Dorian rooting around in his pack before lifting something out of it with a triumphant 'aha!'. She heard a familiar noise and turned to look at Dorian, seeing that he'd uncorked a bottle of wine and was holding it out to her. Elena stared at it for a moment, before reaching for it and sending a bolt of magic through it- tasting it, testing it.

"You'd better not have just ruined that." He said, sounding disgruntled.

"It's for your benefit as much as mine; you are the hated Tevinter after all."

Confident that there wasn't any poison in the wine, she lifted the bottle to her lips and took a small mouthful. It was quite pleasant, full bodied and rich, not at all like the cheap swill many taverns served. The wine passed backwards and forwards between them as they resumed their previous activities, one bottle then two, until inevitably conversation began again, which ultimately turned into a debate on magical theory.

"You do realise that proper control can't be learned without using a staff, don't you?" Dorian stated, earning him a scoff.

"There is no one way to use magic, Dorian; I daresay my method offers me a certain level of finesse that yours doesn't."

"I can assure you I lack in very few departments; magical skill isn't one of them."

Elena made an 'hmph' noise, the alcohol making her uncommonly more expressive than usual.

"You may be skilled, Dorian, but there's more to magical attacks than seeing who can cast the bigger fireball."

"Where's the fun in that? If you're going to win, you should be seen winning; it sends a message."

"Yes, it tells your opponents that you lack true control and subtly." Elena fired back.

"Would you care to put your theory to the test?" he suggested, and Elena smirked in his direction. If he challenged her, she would accept, and he would lose.

"Be certain you wish to proceed, magister, as I shan't go easy on you; there are no slaves down here for you to lash out at and blame for your failings. Besides, you might even learn something."

He harrumphed as he stood, picking his staff up off the ground and twirling it around a bit.

"I hardly see what a forest dwelling nomad could teach me that I don't already know."

"Then let us find out." She gestured for him to walk into the woods behind them, and the pair soon found themselves in a wide, snow-covered area. There was no wildlife, no people around to disturb them- although Elena was quite certain Leliana's little birds would be perched somewhere, watching, and twittering.

Dorian took his position on the other side of the clearing to her, and she watched as fire swirled up and down his staff. She relaxed her muscles and began pushing her magic into them in preparation.

"Last chance to surrender Dorian, are you sure your Tevinter pride can cope with losing to a knife ear?"

Dorian struck first in response, sending a fireball hurtling straight towards her. Elena neatly dodged to the side, again and again as the attacks kept coming. The pair circled each other; each she took, Dorian mirrored. Elena was tempted to produce her blades, but resisted the urge; it would be unsporting to bring daggers to a magic fight.

She darted to the left, flinging out a shard of ice, before blurring across to the opposite side and doing the same. He blocked the first with ease, and only just managed to have time to spin around the block the second. Elena watched as his attacks turned to lightning and she couldn't help the smirk that found itself onto her face. Not only was Dorian yet to produce a barrier- he probably assumed that she'd attack from a distance as mages were 'meant' to do- but he'd also switched to her element; Elena used fire most often, but her natural skill lay in electricity.

A fork of lightning came towards her, and instead of dodging, she reached out an arm, allowing it to flow through her before she shot it back at him from her other palm. Elena took advantage of his distraction, and shot around the field and stopped behind him, using the snow to form an icy fist that she sent straight towards the middle of his back. The hit met its mark with a resounding thud, and it caused Dorian to stumble forward a few paces before he caught himself and twisted around to attack, but Elena had already moved and threw another attack at him from the opposite side.

Elena darted off again, noticing that Dorian had cast a barrier to protect him from ice, throwing a series of small fireballs in his direction before dashing behind to his other side and throwing enough lightning at him to send him flying off his feet and crashing to the ground several metres away.

He scrambled upright and reinforced his barrier but, once again, Elena was no longer there. She appeared at his side, and used her legs to sweep his out from underneath him and twisted to kick him hard in the ribs, causing him to fall to the ground once more, feeling his barrier shatter as his concentration left him. Seeing her opportunity, she manipulated the snow, using it to wrap around his legs and arms, and kicked his staff away to the other side of the clearing, far out of reach.

Elena stood over Dorian, who was trying to free himself from his icy prison, and send several powerful bolts of lightning at his heart and throat, stopping them millimetres away from his skin. Elena watched as Dorian went motionless, likely able to feel the heat and tingling that the electricity produced, as he looked at her with wide eyes.

She looked down at him, expression blank if it weren't for the fire that blazed behind her eyes, and asked him a simple question.

"Yield?"

"Yield." He repeated, sounding a bit choked.

Elena immediately ceased casting and reached down to offer Dorian assistance. He clambered to his feet and unconsciously took a step back, still looking at her with a wary expression.

"Maker's breath, how did you move so quickly?"

"It's a skill; as I said, you lack subtlety in your casting, and control."

"How did you even learn such a thing? I've never seen anyone move like that before."

"My grandfather's teachings were extremely... thorough. If you could still walk after training, you hadn't worked hard enough; he accepted nothing short of perfection."

"Well," Dorian began, "what a fun, laughter filled childhood you had. Though it certainly explains a lot..."

Elena huffed a small laugh, any tension left from their sparring seemingly forgotten as Dorian smirked at her. In some unspoken agreement, they returned to the pier, Dorian walking with a slight limp.

"I can heal you, if you'd like?" Elena offered.

"No, no, it's quite alright. I daresay I deserved such a thorough thrashing. Still, at least nobody was around to see it. What would my father say? Beaten by a savage from the woods."

Elena narrowed her eyes at him in mock offense as she offered a tart response of her own.

"I daresay he'd revoke your magister badge, perhaps even confiscate your favourite slave."

"Dear lord, it's like you've met the man already. Although I doubt even he'd be cruel enough as to make me change my own bed linens."

The pair chuckled as they walked back to Haven, each one decidedly more relaxed and at ease than when they'd left.

"Speaking of... you must teach me that little trick of yours, with the wine."

"Perhaps, little magister, perhaps..."

If anyone noticed their rumpled clothing or mussed up hair upon their return, they didn't mention it in front of them. Elena and Dorian chose not to explain their absence to anyone, content to allow them to draw their own conclusions; they'd enjoy sitting down and comparing the rumours later, she was sure.

Chapter Text

Thalia stood at the door to the Carta's hideout, hands on her hips as she just stared at it.

"Anyone got any idea what we're gonna find in there?"

"Leliana's Scouts reported seeing the same few people coming and going; it suggests limited numbers." Elena replied.

"My dear, acting upon supposition is rarely wise. It would be better to send in a larger group as a precaution, to enable you to wipe the Carta out quickly, rather than risking some escaping and calling for backup."

Elena completely ignored Vivienne's sly dig. Of all the people she'd met so far, the enchanter was one of the worst; she was extremely knowledgeable when it came to Circle teachings, but to Elena, that was akin to calling the Dalish experts on Elvhen history. The difference between what Vivienne thought she knew, and what she actually knew was so wide you could fill it with water and call it a lake.

Elena looked over to Thalia to see her eyes flick away from Vivienne and over to hers, before they turned away and fell on the rest of the group.

"Me 'n' BJ will enter first, take a peek around, and once we've got an idea of the place, I'll come back and let you know who I need."

"I'm sorry, you and whom?"

"Bo Jangles, Ellie Bo Jangles."

"Of course, silly me, I should have known."

Elena watched Thalia and Dorian's interaction with private amusement. She joined her sister at the entrance, and waited patiently for her to unlock the door.

********

"Well, go on then."

Elena turned around to see that Thalia had stopped midway down the path into Valammar proper, and was looking at her expectantly. "Flip, flop, fly away."

"Do you not think a lone bird flying around will draw attention?" Elena asked, disbelief colouring her tone.

"No more than two elves poking around will. Look, the sooner you do this, the sooner we meet Alexius. The sooner we meet Alexius, the sooner we get the mages, and can go home."

Elena studied Thalia, watching as she shifted her weight from side to side. It wasn't that Thalia had referred to Haven as 'home' that was unusual, but there was something else, something under the surface. What was it that made her to eager to return? Unless... ugh. Realisation dawned on Elena and she made a disgusted noise worthy of the Seeker in the back of her throat, only just managing to keep it quiet enough so Thalia didn't hear. What Thalia wasn't saying is that the sooner they left, the sooner she could go back to fluttering her eyelashes at the Commander. What terrible taste the child had, to fall for a bumbling, short-tempered, mage-hating templar.

"What exactly is that face for?"

Elena didn't answer Thalia's question; she didn't want to broach that particular topic.

"One day very soon, we are going to have a discussion about your presumptuousness, Thalia."

Thalia Lavellan, when left unchecked, was a force of nature. She tended to forge ahead with her own plans and ideas, happily implicating other people as she went, without realising she was actually doing so. Thalia had done it to her a few times recently; first, there was the time she volunteered her to train the Circle mages, then there was her new position and title, and now she was demanding Elena perform tricks, as if she were a well-trained dog.

Elena was not a coin-operated mage, and she didn't perform magic at the click of a finger; if Thalia wanted an obedient pet mage, she'd be better off picking one from a Circle, or make a convincing argument as to why Elena should do the work of two people.

"Oh sorry, mother, what have I done wrong this time?"

Elena gave Thalia a stern look in reprimand that told Thalia all she needed to know about how Elena felt about her attitude. Thalia sighed loudly and rolled her head on her neck before she replied.

"Okay fine, sorry I ordered you to fly around the place, but... this place makes me uneasy. Every instinct I have is telling that there's something down there, something wrong and icky. Will you please, please go scout out the area so we can leave?"

Elena shook her head and huffed out a small breath; she turned away from Thalia and swiftly took to the air. A quick look around the area proved what she'd said outside to be true, and that her sister's instincts were spot on; the only creatures roaming the walkways were darkspawn, and Elena could feel their corruption tainting the air around them. She flew close to a number of the doors, hearing only minimal chatter and movement from within, before returning to her sister's side and reporting her findings.

"Eugh, gross, gross, gross. Okay, okay cool. Please will you ask Dorian, Blackwall, Sera, and Cass to join me? I'll wait here and try not to vomit."

Elena agreed to go, if only so she'd have an excuse to leave; she was not fond of the deep roads, and the less time spent there, the better.

As the requested companions dutifully trudged away, Elena perched on the edge of the path, feet dangling over the edge of the rock, as she pulled you her sketchpad and continued working on a piece she'd started a few nights ago.

"Darling I do believe we are here to keep watch, not spend our time doodling."

Without missing a beat, Elena lazily waved her hand in front of her, laying wards around them in a large semicircle.

"I didn't take you to be so remiss in your duties; setting wards haphazardly does not constitute protecting the area. I would be happy to provide tutorage if you are unable to form protections properly."

Elena didn't even look up from her sketch as she replied in the driest voice she could manage.

"Enchanter, if I need a demonstration on how to improperly portion my mana during battle, then rest assured, you will be the first person I seek. Until then, assume there is nothing I wish to learn from you."

Whatever reply Vivienne was about to offer Elena was drowned out by a booming laugh that echoed in the area and sent the birds and nugs all around them fleeing. Elena looked up to see the huge Qunari towering over her with a huge grin on his face. Realising she wasn't going be to able to continue her art in peace, she closed her book and placed in back in her pack before she stood up and faced the group.

"So hey, we haven't been properly introduced, I'm the Iron Bull. Nice to meet ya."

From the corner of her eyes, she could see Varric and Solas stood together, each blatantly eavesdropping on their conversation. Varric, she wasn't surprised to see, was wearing a huge grin as he franticly scribbled who knows what down in the notebook he always seemed to produce out of thin air, whilst Solas watched impassively. Elena looked down at the outstretched hand Bull offered her, and back up into his eye. If she didn't know to look for it, she'd have missed the glint of anticipation behind the friendliness and humour that it hid behind; the Iron Bull was testing her, trying to get her measure. Elena decided to play up to the rumours; she ignored his handshake and just raised a brow as she replied.

"I know."

He laughed again and lowered his hand, winking (or blinking) at her to show he wasn't offended- not that Elena particularly cared either way. The Iron Bull strode away from her, and she noticed that he was surprisingly light on his feet for his size, and that he never quite had his back turned to any of them at any point. With little else to occupy her mind, Elena began mentally compiling a list of people she'd rather spend time with than a Qunari spy and an arrogant enchanter. Thalia couldn't return soon enough...

********

Elena hid in the passageway that led to the throne room. Dorian stood with her, alongside the group of scouts the Nightingale had handpicked for the mission. They waited there, patiently, silently as they waited for their cue.

"Announce us."

"The Magister's invitation was for the Herald of Andraste, not a random bunch of... whatever you are."

"Aah sorry, my sister couldn't make it, but she sent me in her stead, Andraste's Herald. I can see why you got confused."

Elena's group listened as whoever Thalia was talking to didn't reply.

"Well, get on with it then. Go on, we aren't getting any younger. Shoo!"

Despite the tension, Elena found herself glad that this wasn't a genuine diplomatic meeting, as Thalia clearly didn't have the mindset for it.

Only footsteps and the clanking of armour split the silence, as Thalia led Solas and the Iron Bull up to the top of the hall, where Alexius sat on his stolen throne, Felix at his side.

"My Lord Magister, Andraste's Herald has arrived."

"What an unexpected surprise! My friend, it's good to meet you... and your associates of course. I'm sure we can work out some arrangement that is equitable to all parties."

"Are we mages to have no voice in deciding our fate?"

Elena fought a sneer as she heard Fiona join the discussion, wondering if the woman was naturally dim, or if she had to work at it. By now, Fiona should have realised that she was a slave, and that slaves had no opinions, no rights, and no free will; she despised Fiona more and more with each passing moment.

"Fiona, you would not have turned your followers over to my care if you did not trust me with their lives."

"What the heck... if the Grand Enchanter wants to be part of these talks, then I welcome her as a guest of the Inquisition. We're all friends here, right?"

"Thank you."

Elena was mildly disappointed that Thalia hadn't told Fiona where to go- she certainly would have. Getting the conversation back on track, Alexius spoke again.

"The Inquisition needs mages to close the Breach, and I have them. So, what shall you offer in exchange?"

"We'll get to that, but I'd much rather discuss your time magic, far more interesting, wouldn't you say? I defiantly would."

"I'm afraid I have no idea what you mean."

"Oh Gereon, may I call you Gereon? Gereon come on, let's not play that game." Thalia said, sounding remarkably chipper.

"I can assure you-"

"She knows everything, father."

"Felix, what have you done?"

"Nothing bad... in fact, you should probably be thanking him. Felix is concerned that you're involved in something terrible."

"So speaks the thief. Do you think you can turn my son against me?"

"I don't actually think I need to." Thalia muttered as Alexius spoke over her.

"You walk into my stronghold with your stolen mark- a gift you don't even understand- and think you're in control? You're nothing but a mistake."

Elena heard Thalia's cry of indignation and knew, just knew, that something equally sarcastic and inappropriate was about to come pouring out of her sister's mouth.

"Firstly, that's not what my mother says; secondly, if you know so much, enlighten me. Tell me what this mark on my hand is for."

"It belongs to your betters. You wouldn't even begin to understand its purpose."

"Father, listen to yourself! Do you know what you sound like?"

Dorian took Felix's plea as his cue to move into the hall, not speaking until he'd emerged from behind a column that hid his approach, clearly one for a dramatic entrance.

"He sounds exactly like the sort of villainous cliché everyone expects us to be."

"Dorian." Alexius said, not sounding remotely pleased to see his former pupil. "I gave you a chance to be a part of this. You turned me down. The Elder One has power you would not believe. He will raise the Imperium from its own ashes."

"Ugh, blah, blah. "My cult is better than yours.", "no! Mine is!", "No, mine!". We've all heard it a thousand times before. At the end of the day, you're just another fanatic in a daft uniform."

"Well, you know, it's a chance for the Imperium to really one-up that whole "starting the blight" thing."

Thalia made a noise of agreement in her throat. "Tru dat."

"Enough!" Alexius yelled, having reached his limit of how much disrespect he'd suffer before snapping. "He will make the world bow to mages once more. We will rule from the Boeric Ocean to the Frozen Seas."

"You can't involve my people in this!"

Once again, Elena wanted to sneer at Fiona's protests. Alexius could, and Alexius would involve her people, because they belonged to him now. Elena struggled to understand what part of that the enchanter still didn't understand.

"Alexius, this is exactly what you and I talked about never wanting to happen! Why would you support this?"

At her gesture, Elena and the rest of the agents moved into position. Those who were particularly stealthy managed to sneak across to the other side of the hall, using the shadows as their cover. They stood there, blades unsheathed, magic humming. Elena subtly reached out and gently tweaked the guards' bodies, filling them with a practically undetectable wave of lethargy. Only Solas seemed to have noticed what she'd done, and she briefly saw him looking in her direction from his peripheral, before his attention focussed fully on Felix who was still pleading with his father.

"I'm going to die. You need to accept that."

It was the wrong thing to say; Alexius' face closed off, all previous grief locked behind a wall of arrogance once more.

"Seize them Venatori! The Elder One demands the elf's life!"

In one synchronised movement, the Inquisition's agents struck. Necks snapped, throats bled, and hearts stilled, as one by one Alexius' guards fell to the floor.

"Sure he does, him and what army? In case you failed to notice, your men are dead, Alexius."

As Thalia and Dorian began approaching Alexius on the dais, Elena slowly made her way further into the throne room, eyes glued to the magister; the most dangerous predator was one forced into a corner.

"You... are a mistake! You should never have existed!"

Time seemed to fluctuate, as the next few moments played out both agonisingly slowly, and painfully quickly. One second, Alexius was standing there, determination etched into every line on his face, the next he'd produced an amulet and was channelling all his power and energy through it. Dorian yelled out a desperate "No!" mere moments before he and Thalia disappeared into a large, inky vortex of energy, almost hidden by the murky green clouds it produced.

Everything stopped in the hall- all movement, breathing, sound, whispering- everything. Elena heard a low, mournful noise, not realising at first that it came from her. She reached out franticly with her magic, before turning it inwards and probing the tether she had to her sister. Where once she'd been able to feel her sister's life force, there was now a void that seemed to stretch on endlessly. Their blood bond was broken, her sister, her daughter, the woman she'd raised was dead, and there was nothing she could do to bring her back; there was no body, no lingering traces of her soul- nothing remained of Thalia Lavellan.

The despair from losing her child turned swiftly to a furious rage that thundered through her veins, stirring every long lost piece of her power back to life as she turned to confront the man responsible for taking Thalia away from her.

She didn't manage to take a single step before the rift spluttered into life once more, Thalia and Dorian stepping out of it, each covered in blood and filth. Elena barely paid any attention to Dorian as her eyes were glued on Thalia's form, noticing every cut, every tear in her armour, every bruise, every drop of blood, every shaking limb, everything. Her eyes met Thalia's and Elena was taken aback to see the wealth of agony that swam in those sea green orbs as, Thalia too catalogued everything about her sister.

"You'll have to do better than that."

Thalia's anguish turned to rage as she spun her head around and marched directly up to Alexius, fists curled, and once he was within reach, she sent it flying straight at his face. A resounding crack echoed through the throne room and Alexius fell to his knees, holding his nose as blood poured out of it.

"You stupid fucking idiot!"

Thalia was pulling back for another shot when Dorian appeared behind her and wrestled her arms down to her side. They struggled for a bit before he whispered something in her ears, which appeared to calm her down significantly. Elena watched as all the energy seemed to leave Thalia at once, causing her to sink back into his arms. What had happened to dampen her spirit? Elena wondered.

"Well? The fuck you got to say for yourself?" Thalia snapped, sounding weary and irate.

"You won. There is no point extending this charade."

Thalia lunged for Alexius once again, and Dorian only just caught her in time.

Elena watched as Felix joined his father on the floor, attempting to comfort the older man. As she listened to their exchange, she couldn't help but pity them both. Alexius' actions had been reprehensible, yes, but they were the actions of a man driven by grief, of a man whose soul gave in to despair because of the slow, lingering death his only child would suffer. Alexius was a man whose poor choices and decisions were fuelled by a desperate, maddening desire to save his son. Although Elena despised this slimy, arrogant human, she felt a level of compassion for him; had Alexius' spell been successful, and had Elena felt there was even the slightest chance to bring her daughter back, she'd had entered the void itself.

Alexius' spell had failed though, and for a moment, Thalia's presence had disappeared from the world completely. For as long as she lived, Elena would always be grateful to Dorian for keeping her daughter safe, for bringing her back.

A hand on her arm pulled her attention away from her thoughts, and she looked down to see that Solas was gently steering her out of the way of the guards who were escorting a chained up Alexius from the room.

"Well, I'm glad that's over with!"

The clanking of heavy armour did an excellent job of proving Dorian wrong. Roughly 20 guards entered the throne room and took positions at every blind spot, every column, and every door- the reason why soon became clear.

"Grand Enchanter, imagine how surprised I was to learn you'd given Redcliffe Castle away to a Tevinter magister."

Elena watched as Fiona approached the King of Ferelden, and felt a grim satisfaction when she saw she was wringing her hands nervously.

"King Alistair!"

"Especially since I'm fairly sure Redcliffe belongs to Arl Teagan." Alistair carried on as if she'd never spoken, which caused Fiona to flinch slightly, as her uneasiness went up a notch.

"Your majesty, we never intended..." Fiona trailed off, not quite knowing how to put words to her actions.

"I know what you intended. I wanted to help you, but you've made it impossible. You and your followers are no longer welcome in Ferelden."

"But... we have hundreds who need protection! Where will we go?"

Elena barely suppressed a snort, thinking that Fiona should have thought about the repercussions of her actions before she'd taken them. Every move she made, every word out of her mouth made Elena hate the incompetent, whiney, miniature woman just a little bit more; though perhaps she shouldn't be surprised- most Circle mages were clueless idiots, and Fiona was the supreme leader of them all.

Thalia, who'd been leaning against a wall, took that moment to clear her throat and wave.

"I think this would be super time to point out that we did come here for mages to close the Breach."

Fiona looked at Thalia with uncertainty in her features.

"And what are the terms of this arrangement?"

"Hopefully better than what Alexius gave you. The Inquisition is better than that, yes?"

Thalia pursed her lips in thought, and eyed Fiona up and down before they flicked over to meet Elena's steady gaze. Elena saw the slight indecision Thalia tried to hide; what happened to her must have rocked her to her core if she was truly considering conscripting the mages instead of offering them full partnership rights.

"Thalia, the others don't deserve to be punished for the utter failings of their leader." Elena said softly.

Fiona narrowed her eyes slightly at Elena, who glowered back in response, before all the fight seemed to leave her in one go, leaving only resignation behind.

"It seems we have little choice but to accept whatever you offer."

"So little as to be nonexistent." Thalia sang with a grin, though it was obvious to all it was a front.

Thalia fixed the former Grand Enchanter with a steady gaze before she took a deep breath in to deliver her decision.

"The Inquisition would be honoured to have the mages fight as allies at our side."

"A generous offer, but will the rest of the Inquisition honour it?"

Oh, so now the woman decides to use her brain, Elena thought nastily.

"In case you haven't noticed, the Breach threatens all of Thedas. If it isn't sealed, there won't be an Inquisition to honour anything. Any chance of success requires your full support, but make no mistake, enchanter, I do this for them, not you."

Alistair, who'd been quiet during the whole exchange, took the opportunity to add his thoughts to the discussion.

"I'd take that offer it I were you. One way or another, you're leaving my kingdom."

"We accept. It would be madness not to. I will gather my people and ready them for the journey to Haven."

As Fiona turned to leave, Thalia called her back, and Elena noticed the underlying anger in her sister's eyes.

"Before you go, I need to make something very clear. I don't trust you, and your people shouldn't either. You gave your followers away to a slaver, and that really pisses me off. Going forward, you're going to share leadership of the mages. There's this great guy I know, you might too- Tobey? Larger guy? Great at telling stories? Leader of the rebellious rebels? Anyhoo, you should definitely be aware that the whole sharing power thing is, how you would say, nonnegotiable; but hey! At least you won't be a slave in Tevinter, so look on the bright side."

Fiona took a while to respond, but Thalia didn't seem put off. She stood there, arms crossed, brows raised, staring unblinkingly at the Grand Enchanter as she waited for her reply.

"I understand. The Breach will be closed. You will not regret giving us this chance."

Chapter Text

Thalia was unusually subdued for the remainder of the day, and no amount of coaxing from the others would draw her from the shell she'd retreated into. Elena watched worriedly from the other side of the fire; seeing Thalia lost in her own mind and memories was not something she was accustomed to. Dorian stayed glued to Thalia's side, the pair often whispering to each other in muted tones, and once or twice, he even managed to wheedle a smile from her.

Elena gave her sister the space she needed to lament over whatever it was that she'd experienced, but always made sure to keep Thalia within visual range. Until Elena knew exactly what had happened, and was confident that there wouldn't be a repeat, she wasn't willing to do anything less.

She caught Thalia, one or twice, staring at her. As hard as Thalia was trying to keep her emotions locked away, it wasn't quite enough, and Elena could still read the mournful sorrow that lay in them. Elena was torn, she needed to know what had happened to her sister, but didn't want to force her sister to relive what had quite clearly been a traumatic experience.

Dinner at camp that night was a subdued affair, each person lost in their own thoughts, and it emphasised how alive Thalia made everyone seem when she was around. A movement at the edge of her peripheral drew her attention, and Elena looked up to see Thalia watching her, only this time she didn't look away. She jerked her head in the direction of their tent before muttering a goodnight to everyone and heading off to bed. Elena waited for a moment, then two, before she followed Thalia, and fastened the entrance securely behind her.

Thalia sat facing away from Elena in the middle of her bedroll, back hunched, as she rocked, body shaking with suppressed sobs. Elena's heart ached for the sight in front of her, and she cast a series of wards around the tent for privacy as she made her way to Thalia's side. She didn't look up when she felt Elena kneel down beside her, nor stop her movement. Thalia had folded herself into the smallest shape she could manage; her face was buried in her knees, and her legs were held tight to her body by quivering arms.

The pair didn't speak for a while, and Elena was at a loss of what to do. She had never been any good at offering comfort to anyone in distress, even Thalia, and didn't know if her touch would be welcome.

She settled for gently placing her hand on Thalia's arm. Her sister flinched at the contact, and Elena moved to pull away, but a noise of disagreement had her leaving it where it was, and privately wondering what caused such a reaction.

"Da'lath, how can I help you? How can I make this better?"

"You can't." Thalia mumbled into her knees.

"Especially if I don't know what happened." Elena gently pried.

Thalia uttered something unintelligible that Elena assumed she wasn't meant to understand, but didn't offer anything further. Elena removed her hand from where it had been stroking Thalia's arm, and moved so that she was kneeled behind her. Slowly and carefully, she loosened Thalia's hair from its bun, and gently undid the braids she wore. Reaching for Thalia's pack, she rummaged around until she found what she was looking for, and began softly combing through it.

"You broke your promise." Thalia said after a deep shuddering breath.

Elena paused for a moment, before continuing, knowing that it was better to let Thalia continue without interruption.

"You said you wouldn't leave me but you did."

Elena didn't quite know what to say; from the sounds of it, whatever happened to Thalia involved her dying. That was the only think Elena could think of that would make Thalia say she'd broken a promise, but how...

"How do you do it?"

"Do what, Da'nehn?"

"How do you carry on after seeing someone you love die like that? Die for you- right in front of your very eyes? How did you pick yourself back up?"

Elena put the comb down with shaking hands and closed her eyes as long buried pain rose to the surface.

"I made a promise to myself. I promised that one day I would get revenge, and that I would get better- so that next time someone I loved needed me, I wouldn't be too weak to do anything about it."

"Have you? Gotten revenge I mean."

Elena let out a humourless laugh.

"No, not yet, but I will. One day."

They lapsed into silence once more and Elena started braiding Thalia's hair as they sat there, as she used to do when they were younger.

"Does the pain ever fade?" Thalia asked in a quiet voice.

"It fades, in time, but it never truly disappears. For me, it remains a dull ache in my chest, constantly present, but easy to ignore should I choose to. What you should remember though is that I am here, I am alive, and I am healthy."

Elena picked up the now tangle-free strands of Thalia's hair and began to braid them into a simple plait as she waited to see if Thalia would tell her in more detail what had happened. After some time it became clear that she'd fallen back into her memories, but instead of prying, Elena gave her the time she needed.

"What would you do if you discovered a hidden aspect to someone you thought you knew?"

"It wouldn't surprise me. Why?"

Thalia didn't answer, except to snort and mutter a derisive comment under her breath that she didn't know Elena could hear.

"Why, Da'assan?"

"You killed Felix."

Well that certainly explained a lot. Elena just hummed in response, not understanding how that caused such an overreaction.

"Don't just... ugh. Don't you understand? You murdered somebody. It was so cruel."

Why would she murder Felix though, unless...? Yes, that made sense... Elena knew she'd have killed Felix to punish his father. Forcing Alexius to feel the same pain she did would have been justice- or vengeance. Sometimes she truly couldn't tell the difference.

"I don't understand how you can be so nonchalant about it. You're a coldblooded killer, don't you understand?"

"Why should it surprise you?" Elena replied shortly, slightly irritated by Thalia's judgement.

"You're a healer! Meant to heal! Not... do what you did."

"I'm not a healer. Never forget that."

"Are you seriously telling me that you only learnt to heal so you could... twist it?!" Thalia spluttered through her outrage.

"No." Elena answered coolly. "I learned to heal to untwist- as you put it- what I knew."

As Thalia mutter an 'oh', and her body slumped once more, Elena found herself growing more and more concerned. Given the evidence Thalia had already provided, Elena could only conclude that Alexius' investigations into time travel hadn't all been fruitless, that somehow he managed to cast both Thalia and Dorian through time. Judging from the fact that Elena couldn't remember ending Felix's life (and thanks to Knowledge, Elena never forgot anything), Elena could only assume that Thalia had been sent into the future. It was equal parts fascinating and horrifying.

"Thalia, has it crossed your mind that you're shouting at me for something I have no idea I did?"

"Yes, I know, I'm sorry. I mean I knew you killed people as a living, but I'd never seen you do it. I guess I thought I could keep those parts of you separate. My sister, and the Murderer; two people, you know?"

A pang went through Elena's heart at her sister's rejection; as a child, Ashelena never wanted to be an assassin, but circumstances dictated that her life took that path. There was a time, not so long ago, where Elena had faced a choice. One road led to freedom, but left another to pay the price; the other led to death, but ensured the other person remained free- untainted. Innocent. Whole. Elena chose her course, and still walked it to this day. Thalia's words, whilst painful, only cemented the belief that she'd made the correct call; Thalia wasn't cut out for the life Elena led.

"Are you ready to tell me what happened, Thalia?"

"I don't want to talk about it." She snapped; her mood swings, whilst concerning, were exhausting to keep up with.

"Da'lath, I cannot help if you do not tell me, nor can I make amends without knowing why they're necessary."

For the first time since they'd begun talking, Thalia raised her head. Tired, red-ringed eyes darted over Elena's features, as if they were searching for something, though what that thing was, Elena couldn't say.

"I don't want to talk about it... but... I can show you." Thalia held out her hand. In it was an amulet, a very old amulet the likes of which Elena had only even seen once before. "Take it."

Elena reached out and plucked the amulet from Thalia's hands, twisting it this way and that as she examined it closely. A small, circular mirror was held in place by a think, metal snake, forged to look like it was eating its own tail- whatever shine it once held had dulled over time. From the bottom hung a small Raven, carved from the blackest stone, wings outstretched in flight. The amulet wasn't classically 'pretty', but it held a disconcerting sort of beauty to it, Elena supposed.

The pendant emitted small pulses of magic, but they felt different somehow, almost as if there was something wrong with it, like an instrument that was only slightly out of tune. Elena quickly realised what had happened to the amulet, and by extension herself; the corruption in the reality Thalia got this from was so dense that the taint affected absolutely everything, not just living matter.

"You said it contained your memories, and that I needed to give it to you in private... so... there."

Did she now? Clever thing. Elena hummed a low sound of agreement as she continued to stare at the amulet, as if entranced. She stood, and made her way over to her own bedroll, before laying it out and sitting down comfortably with her legs folded underneath her. Elena, still holding the amulet, crossed her hands together, palms up, and reached out a tendril of her magic towards the amulet. The two magics connected instantly- identical if not for the taint- and Elena raised her eyes to see Thalia watching the amulet wearily as it spun lazily in the air. Elena nodded once to let her sister know she was about to access the knowledge stored within, and pushed more magic into the spell. Images instantly flooded her mind, and she almost cried out in pain as she felt herself struggle to accept the new information as a year's worth of experiences forcefully plant themselves in her memories.

Chapter Text

"-your men are dead, Alexius."

As Thalia and Dorian began approaching Alexius on the dais, Elena slowly made her way further into the throne room, eyes glued to the magister; the most dangerous predator was one forced into a corner.

"You... are a mistake! You should never have existed!"

Time seemed to fluctuate, as the next few moments played out both agonisingly slowly, and painfully quickly. One second, Alexius was standing there, determination etched into every line on his face, the next he'd produced an amulet and was channelling all his power and energy through it. Dorian yelled out a desperate "No!" mere moments before he and Thalia disappeared into a large, inky vortex of energy, almost hidden by the murky green clouds it produced.

Everything stopped in the hall- all movement, breathing, sound, whispering- everything. Elena heard a low, mournful noise, not realising at first that it came from her. She reached out franticly with her magic, before turning it inwards and probing the tether she had to her sister. Where once she'd been able to feel her sister's life force, there was now a void that seemed to stretch on endlessly. Their blood bond was broken, her sister, her daughter, the woman she'd raised was dead, and there was nothing she could do to bring her back; there was no body, no lingering traces of her soul- nothing remained of Thalia Lavellan.

The despair from losing her child turned swiftly to a furious rage that thundered through her veins, stirring every long lost piece of her power back to life as she turned to confront the man responsible for taking Thalia away from her.

So lost in her fury she was that she didn't notice Bull's eye grow wide when he looked at her face, nor did she notice Solas' look of complete shock. With a snarl, she lashed out and forced her magic into the man in front of her, rooting around until she found what she was looking for. She pushed her power into the target, forcing life and energy into the corruption, giving it all it needed to continue its task much quicker than before.

Elena watched Alexius with vindictive glee as he noticed the taint in Felix's veins turning his blood black, and smirked when the magister frantically tried to prevent his son's skin from adopting a deathly pallor. Elena might have been able to help Felix before, but not now; now Felix faced a far worse fate than death, and Elena found not one shred of remorse for her actions.

Solas yanked her back and away from Alexius, throwing up a strong barrier as the magister let out an anguished cry and launched a series of spells their way. Guards began pouring in through every doorway and it wasn't long before the Inquisition's scouts lay dead, and Elena and her party were surrounded.

"Get out of here; I'll cover you!"

Bull palmed his huge two-handed battle-axe and bellowed a war cry, effectively distracting everyone for a second. It was all the time the elves needed. Solas kept the pair of them safe in his barrier, using it as a battering ram as they forced their way through the crowds. When she felt his energy flagging, Elena stopped pouring lightning into anyone who approached them, and forced it into the barrier instead.

Solas and Elena fled from the castle and only just managed to dart behind a nearby building before chaos erupted in the village. Villagers turned on villagers as traitors revealed themselves, and soon there were hundreds of Venatori making their way to the castle, the sheer number of them blocked the main path from the village. They wouldn't both make it, the barrier from before was difficult to cast on its own, without having to make it large enough to cover two people continuously. Elena closed her eyes, took a deep breath in, and opened them again as she exhaled. She knew what she needed to do, but she wasn't pleased it had come to this.

"Solas. I'll gain their attention; it should enable you to slip through and leave."

He didn't say anything, and when she turned to look at him, he wore an expression that was both calculating and weary.

"What of you?"

"I'll attempt to meet you back in Haven." She said, knowing the chances of them meeting up again were slim; judging from the remorse Solas didn't bother trying to hide, he knew it too.

Elena made to move away, but a firm hand on her arm halted her.

"Lethallan..."

Elena could see in his eyes that there were many questions Solas wanted answers to, but this was neither the time, nor the place. She gently laid her hand over his for a moment, before she removed it from her arm, her thumb idly stroking his knuckles. It was a shame they were unlikely to meet again; she had so many questions only he had the answer to. Elena offered Solas a small, sad smile as she let go of his hand.

"Travel safely; I will see you soon."

Elena darted out from behind the house and straight in front of the nearest group of Venatori. She shot lightning out from her as she went, sending it surging through the first three rows. Their attention immediately locked onto her, and as planned, they shot after her in pursuit. Elena ran through the village, laying various wards behind her, and made her way to the cliffs by the Chantry, picking off stragglers as she went.

With her back to the ocean, Elena cast a huge wall of flames, and sent it away from her. It scorched the ground as it went, and every person it touched died screaming. Using the distraction, Elena reached out to the energy in the air around her, and energised it. She felt all her hairs stand on end as the electricity in the area built, and she kept pouring more and more of herself into the spell. The air darkened around them and tiny flashes of lightning skittered their way up and down her body.

Elena raised her hand in the air, and closed her hand around an almost-formed fork of lightning. She forced it into being, and yanked it from the air before firing it at the nearest person. A huge boom sounded in the area as lightning poured from the sky all around her, bouncing from target to target as it went. She gave as much of her energy as she could before retreating. Exhausted, Elena staggered back, and plummeted off the cliff. She forced any remaining magic into her limbs and managed to change forms moments before she plunged into the ocean. She turned her body and made her way northwards and up towards Antiva; she would return to the Inquisition in time, but more pressing issues took priority.

********

Elena approached the Hidden City on foot, hood pulled high to protect her face from the fierce heat of the midday sun. Ancient protections covered the area, the specific spells used now lost to time, and only those who were faithful to the cause gained entry. To come here with ill intent was folly; the city wouldn't reveal itself to the unworthy, and traitors would pay a great price for their betrayal.

As she stepped over the threshold, she felt the magic sink deep into her body, mind, and soul, determining her intentions and tasting her loyalty. Elena had nothing to fear from the spells; she was more committed to the cause now than she had been when she'd taken her first tentative steps along this path.

The locals offered Elena no more than a passing glance as she went; a hooded stranger darting in between buildings was a tame sight to the inhabitants of the city the Ravens called their base of operations. Elena quickened her pace, hoping to retrieve her amulet and leave in as little time as possible; if luck was on her side, Andurfelen wouldn't realise she'd been there until she was far away.

The Hidden City housed more than just an ancient spy guild though. Many old relics dating back to Elvhenan were stored here, including, but not limited to, eluvians. It was regrettable, but many of them were defunct, either because their partner mirror was broken, or because the magic to sustain the connection simply wasn't there anymore. Only about one in every ten still worked, and provided you were able to fulfil the requirements needed to open it, the eluvians could take you places undiscovered by mortals.

Elena picked up her pace, darting through eluvian after eluvian as she followed a familiar path she'd walked many times before, as the mirrors took her further and further away from the inhabited world, and deeper and deeper into the untouched wilderness beyond. Elena was nearly at her destination when an ethereal blade at her throat halted her in her tracks.

"Who dares to tread these halls?" A voice boomed, echoing endlessly off the stone walls.

"You know who I am, old friend. Feel my mind, my spirit, my purpose."

The blade didn't lower, and Elena felt the sprit sifting through her experiences as they sought confirmation of her identity and intent.

"Ashelena. You return."

"I cannot stay."

The spirit, having chosen a heavily armourer warrior's form, finally lowered their weapon.

"Come. I will take you."

Without waiting to see if she'd follow, the spirit turned abruptly and strode off further into the ruin. She trailed after them as they traversed familiar hallways until the spirit stopped in front of one final eluvian.

Elena stepped forward, and pulled one of her smaller throwing knives from its sheath. She carefully used it to slice across her palm, willing a moderate amount of blood to accumulate in the centre. She returned the dagger and dipped the index and middle finger of her right hand into the blood that sat pooled in her left, and used it as ink to write the password on the mirror's surface. After she'd done, she stepped back and allowed Purpose to complete their part of the ritual, using the time taken to return the unused life force back to her body and heal her wound.

The eluvian's surface shimmered slightly as the blood was absorbed, before all the colours in existence seemed to shoot from the surface all at once, bathing the area around them in a radiant light.

"I will wait here."

Elena offered the spirit a nod before she took a deep breath and stepped though the surface. The room on the other side was partitioned in two; on one half, various items of jewellery, armour, clothing, and other personal effects sat proud, and on the other-

Elena pointedly didn't look at the other side of the room as she walked straight over to a large bookshelf, reaching up and removing a small chest from one of the highest shelves. She brushed a hand over the top of the box, feeling the familiar pulse of magic associated with protective spells, and removed them all. Elena didn't open the box immediately, knowing that her presence here meant one thing- that something had gone wrong, and that she was running out of time. If something had gone wrong, then she was either running out of time, or had already run out; death was on the horizon and there was little she could do to stop it.

She opened the lid slowly, and looked down to see what was contained within. There, on a blood red velvet pillow, sat an amulet. Elena reached out and plucked the amulet from the chest, twisting it this way and that as she examined it closely. A small, circular mirror was held in place by a think, metal snake, forged to look like it was eating its own tail- whatever shine it once held had dulled over time. From the bottom hung a small Raven, carved from the blackest stone, wings outstretched in flight. The amulet wasn't classically 'pretty', but it held a disconcerting sort of beauty to it, Elena supposed.

The pendant emitted small pulses of magic that matched her own heartbeat, and Elena reached out a tendril of her magic towards the amulet. The two connected instantly, each magics identical to one another, and Elena stood mesmerised for a moment as the power ebbed and flowed between her and the amulet. Comfort turned to amusement, amusement turned to laughter, and laughter turned to screaming and Elena turned and threw the empty chest against the furthest wall.

Through the fog of her sudden rage, she suddenly noticed all the armour and jewellery in the room and she realised how much she despised it all. Unconsciously using her magic to strengthen her, she marched over to the nearest surface and threw all the contents off it, earning a feeling of grim satisfaction when she heard most of it smash and break on the marble floor. She picked up the now empty display and hurled it against the opposite wall, where it flew into a mirror that hung there, shattering it into thousands of tiny shards. The more Elena destroyed, the angrier she got, until she released all her frustration in one violent surge of magic that demolished everything left whole.

Elena didn't realise when rage turned to sorrow, and she fell to her knees amidst the chaos, unable to prevent the tears from falling. She'd failed, so thoroughly in fact that it was almost laughable. Her daughter was dead, the Dread Wolf was sauntering about the place getting up to who knows what, some idiot Tevinter was trying to overthrow the south, and... And she'd run out of time to fix things, to undo her mistakes.

Elena picked herself up from the ground and wiped her eyes on the back of a shaking hand, wondering when she'd cut them. She paid no attention to the carnage that surrounded her, as she tucked the amulet into a pocket within her armour and turned to walk to the other side of the room- the side she'd been avoiding since she arrived.

A large, ornate bed stood pressed against a wall, the frame of it made from a series of different metals, delicately forged, and formed into vines and leaves that curled and wove around each other. Elena's attention wasn't on the bed frame, beautiful as it was, as instead it was on the man that lay atop the covers.

Elena knelt by his side; he looked perfectly peaceful, and one could almost mistake him for sleeping, if it weren't for the fact his breaths were few and far between. She reached out and brushed her fingers gently through his dark cherry coloured hair, pleased to find that there weren't any knots, before she tenderly traced his face, as if committing it to memory. His usual golden skin tone was much paler now than when he'd been alive, and it made his previously subtle freckles stand out all that much more where they lay upon high cheekbones.

She stood up slowly, and bent down to kiss his forehead before whispering one last message in his ear. Elena offered the resting figure one last glance before she turned and went back through the mirror. Without giving herself time to convince her not to do it, Elena turned and hurled a bolt of energy at the mirror, shattering it irreparably.

Elena looked over to see the spirit of Purpose watching her intently.

"I will remain." They declared, surprising Elena with their words. Their purpose was fulfilled, their duty over. There was nothing tying them to this place anymore; they could now go back to the fade, should they wish.

"If that is what you choose." She answered, careful to keep her tone neutral so as not to sway the spirit's decision.

"It is still my purpose. I will fulfil it until the end of days."

Elena didn't attempt to persuade them otherwise, respecting that they were able to choose their own path. She quickly strode away from the spirit filled with renewed resolve; it was time for her to return to the Inquisition and fulfil her promise to Thalia. Just before she left, she turned and asked Purpose to complete one last task for her.

"Call our people back; they should be with their families when the end comes."

Chapter Text

The Inquisition was in chaos. The disappearance of their 'Herald' resulted in the faithful falling apart and praying for forgiveness, when they should have been preparing. Elena had no time to sneer at their incompetence and idiocy before she was frogmarched to the war room and interrogated.

"Where in the Maker's name have you been? Where is the Herald?" Cassandra demanded.

Elena furrowed her brow as she realised that Solas hadn't made it back. An unfamiliar feeling churned in her gut when she realised she'd likely never see him again; she'd enjoyed having another knowledgeable mage around...

"You are the only one who returned." Leliana stated coldly. "What happened?"

Elena straightened her back and looked the Nightingale straight in the eye as she spoke.

"Thalia is dead. Her killer sends an army towards Haven as we speak."

"Then there's truly no hope." One of them muttered, earning them a glare full of vitriol.

"There will be time for despair later, for now, all children and non-combatants need to move to a safer area where they'll be out of the way."

"What do you know of war? Removing those at risk is one thing, but-"

"Then don't bother," Elena snapped. "And you can listen to their screams as the enemy tears them apart without mercy."

"Enough!" Cassandra bellowed. "If what you say is true, then we don't have time to bicker like children. Cullen, prepare the army. Josephine, gather all the children and those who can't fight in the Chantry. Leliana, call everyone back to defend the village, and you-" the Seeker turned her gaze from Leliana and looked Elena directly in the eye. "- tell the mages to prepare to fight."

Elena didn't wait to be dismissed; she immediately left the war room and started directing people to various posts, before sending a runner out to gather the mages. It wasn't long before all the mages in Haven, Vivienne included, stood in a large group in front of her, of all course except the enchanter who placed herself at Elena's side.

Elena split the group; those who could heal stood to one side, those who knew combat magic to another. The Inquisition was woefully unprepared, and they knew this. Thankfully, that fear (coupled with Elena's no nonsense tone) stopped any of them from questioning the fact that Elena had taken control, or that she knew how to.

Elena turned her attention to the healers then. All her trainees stood there, as well as a few more who she hoped were good enough to do what needed to be done; she didn't have time to check.

"Ellendra, you'll oversee the healers. Don't take unnecessary risks, and don't waste energy on anyone too far gone."

Elena noticed the look of shock across many faces, but ignored it; they likely thought she was callous, but they were about to enter battle. War wasn't a time for sentimental, bleeding hearts. Her attention turned to the so-called fight proficient mages next.

"Everyone raise a barrier." She instructed, before inspecting them all individually, and asking several of them to stand forward.

"You." She gestured to the mages she'd selected. "You will team up with a healer. It is your job to keep them safe on the field. The rest of you will follow Vivienne's lead."

"Well said, darling. Now..." Elena left Vivienne to instruct the rest of the mages and went in search of Thalia's remaining companions. Vivienne had been strangely silent during Elena's exchange with the mages, and the fact that the enchanter hadn't been chomping at the bit to prove her relevance was infinitely helpful. Elena could only hope that the rest of them proved to be so level-headed.

Before Elena reached the others though, a runner came to her, letting her know that Leliana wished to see her. She arrived and found a small group of scouts gathered, as well as Varric and Sera. After a short briefing, their instructions were clear: eliminate any stragglers scouting the area.

By the end of the day, several plans were in motion, and each member of Thalia's Inner Circle had their parts to play. Cullen, Blackwall, and Cassandra each lead a different squadron of soldiers, ready to defend key positions around the area; Vivienne led the mages, and Elena, Varric, Leliana, and Sera had to take out as many of the enemy at range as they could before they got too close.

The teams were as prepared as they could be; all that was left to do was wait.

********

A week later saw Elena perched in a tree, arrow notched, as she hunted down the invaders. Where one fell, two more took their place, and it wasn't long before Varric, Sera, Elena, and Leliana each found themselves positioned along the walls of Haven.

A twig snapping in the distance drew Elena's attention, and she immediately aimed her bow, the others following her lead. Templars came bursting from the trees all around them, and Elena loosed the first arrow, her aim deadly, but she didn't have the chance to acknowledge it before moving onto the next target. Bodies were scattered all around Haven's perimeter, those that made their way through the hail of arrows fell to destructive wards; the Inquisition had survived the first wave.

Haven, as isolated and cut off as it was, wasn't the type of place that an army would find easy to swarm. There was only one main road in or out, and it certainly wasn't wide enough to accommodate hundreds of people at a time. That was one of the reason Elena suspected the Elder One's army came in waves. The other, she assumed, was to learn the Inquisition's tactics. The second wave fell to arrows, spells, and swords, but their approach had changed; the army was learning their secrets, and had the sacrificial pawns available in order to enable them to do so.

It wasn't long before Elena ditched her bow and arrow for her daggers. Each wave that came brought more and more soldiers with it, until distance attacks simply weren't enough to repel the invaders. Elena darted and dove between enemies, nimble and swift as she cut down any who stood in her path. She felt liberated; free in a way she hadn't felt for some time, and wagered she was one of the few people able to appreciate the artistry of death.

She parried stroke after stroke, dodging sharp jabs, powerful lunges, and was just in time to whirl to the side as something red and wicked whizzed past her head. She turned to see where it had come from- there!- and took off after her assailant. As the pair fought, Elena couldn't help but notice how hideous and warped her opponent was. He had once been a man, of that she was sure, but now he was... less. Long, deadly shards of red lyrium jutted from its shoulders in a grotesque mimicry of what an arm should be, and a series of tumours ad growths gave it a hunchback appearance.

Elena spun low and twisted, forcing her dagger into the creature's neck and through to the other side. She watched in horror as it staggered back a few paces, taking her weapon with it, before letting out a blood-curdling scream. Fearing that it was calling for assistance, Elena poured electricity into its body, using the metal of her blade as a conductor, until all that was left of the former templar was a twitching, steaming pile on the ground.

A horn blared out in the background, signalling for the Inquisition to reform ranks, and Elena got there just in time to see dozens of templars, practically identical to the one she'd just killed, come pouring out from the forest. What Elena didn't know until it was almost too late, was that they were capable of firing projectiles of red lyrium out of their skin. She raised a barrier in front of her instinctively, just in time to stop a shard piercing her skin. A grunt of pain in a familiar voice had her turning her head to watch Varric falling from the walls, a huge piece of lyrium protruding from his gut. The majority of the other archers shared the same fate; only those close to a skilled enough mage survived. The lack of distance support took a toll on the ground troops, as they were slowly pushed closer and closer back towards Haven, gradually becoming overwhelmed by the ever-increasing number of assailants.

Elena fought with fire, ice, and blade, years of instincts perfected in battle the only thing keeping her alive. She didn't think, she just acted, listening to her body and following her blades. A barrage of flame came from her side moments before a spirit blade sliced a Venatori mage in two. Spells fired from all angles as magic was traded back and forth between both sides. In her peripheral vision, she noticed a young man quietly ending the lives of those who lingered in between this life and the next, but didn't have the time or the desire to pay any more attention to him than she already had.

Their mages fell quickly to the templars, unable to fight without their magic, forcing those with blades to push their bodies to the limits; they weren't just fighting to win, they were fighting to survive. Elena watched as the Seeker charged into the fray, cutting down dozens of Venatori and templar alike before a knife in the back left her crippled, and bleeding out on the icy ground; it was an unfitting end for such a skilled warrior.

A nearby wall shattered, debris hurtling away from it, forcing Elena to roll out of the way to avoid impact. She glared at the wall, anger swiftly turning to horror as a humongous creature, roughly seven or eight feet tall came crashing through the hole, lurching forward as more of the Elder One's forces poured in behind it. Any buildings in its path were soon reduced to dust by one mighty swing of its impossibly think, deformed arm, as a trail of death and destruction followed in the beast's wake.

The Inquisition was wheezing its last, dying breaths, and as Elena ran back to the Chantry, she passed mangled bodies, many belonging to the people she'd fought beside for the past few months. She snatched Vivienne's staff from her hand, the rest of the enchanter was buried under what used to be the apothecary, pulling magic from the fade as she went. Elena skidded to a halt in front of the doors and began writing a series of glyphs on the stone above them, as she also called to the earth underneath her feet. With a blinding flash, and deep boom, the large wooden doors to the Chantry were hidden underneath mounds of rock and stone. Elena stood there, panting from effort of the spell, and wiped the back of a bloody hand across her forehead. The Venatori would get to the people hidden in the Chantry eventually, but she'd at least bought them extra time to say goodbye.

An outraged roar was all the warning she got before a colossal fist crashed into her side, sending her flying through the air for the second time in recent history. She hit the ground with a thud hard enough to shatter more of her bones, and tumbled across the frozen earth before coming to a halt at the base of a large rock nearby. Elena tried to stand, but couldn't convince her limbs to move; she could only lie there and watch the pool of blood she lay in grew larger by the minute. Darkness invaded the edges of her vision, but not enough to block out the view of the huge behemoth that came trudging towards her.

Elena cast her eyes around; she didn't want to see the moment death took her. No matter where she looked, Haven was overrun; the Inquisition was beaten and broken. They had all failed...

Chapter Text

Drip... drip... drip...

The feeling of cold, wet droplets falling on her forehead woke her. The fact that she'd woken at all was an unwelcome surprise. Though she was conscious, Elena didn't move. Instead, she focussed on her injuries, equal parts grateful, and displeased to find that they'd been healed- to an extent. The worst of her wounds were gone, taken care of by a fumbling idiot. Their casting was erratic and unfocussed; evidence of a Circle mage, she thought sardonically. Elena subtlety healed herself properly, taking care not to move as she did so.

She next turned her attention to analysing her location. She was lying down on a cold, stone floor, the walls of which had water dripping down them constantly. The world was almost silent around her, except for one, small disturbance; across from her, she could just about make out faint breathing, and muttered words.

"Ir abelas, lethallin."

The familiarity of the voice had her sitting up and turning to face the speaker.

Solas looked more than a little worse for wear. His signature long sleeved cream tunic had patches of blood on it, and contained more holes than usual. He stared out at her from behind a caged door, sorrow written deep into the lines on his face.

"You're awake. I had feared..." he trailed off, but Elena didn't need him to finish to know what he was going to say; he thought she was dead.

"Hello Solas, are you well?"

He offered her an unimpressed stare before realising that her question was completely genuine. If he was unable to heal himself, she would help.

"I am well enough, despite the circumstances; the Venatori have mostly ignored my presence."

That was... good, all things considered; it meant that the Venatori weren't torturing him regularly for their own amusement.

"What... happened?" Solas asked slowly, almost as if he didn't want her to answer.

Elena sat back against the stone cold wall before she replied.

"I escaped my pursuers, returned to the Inquisition, joined them in battle, and was pulverised by a monstrosity."

If it wasn't the full, properly detailed report he wanted, he didn't show it. Elena looked at him expectantly as she waited for his version of the events.

"There was... an ambush."

Elena didn't press for more details; she hadn't offered him any after all. The pair lapsed into silence, and hearing the rustling of cloth, she turned to see Solas easing himself down onto the ground. Elena turned her gaze back to the wall in front of her, wondering which steps they were exactly that had led her down this path.

"The Qunari?" she eventually asked.

"Unknown."

Elena just made a noise of acknowledgement in the back of her throat, neither sad not happy at the thought of the Iron Bull's death.

"Where are we?"

"I believe we are in the cells below Redcliffe castle."

Bringing the prisoners back here seemed... wasteful; resources were scarce in war. Although, she supposed, the south faced annihilation, not war; you had a fighting chance in war...

********

"Tell me, Solas, are you merely an agent of the Dread Wolf, or the man himself?"

Elena's question caught him by surprise, and she smirked at the sight of Solas patting himself to dry the water he'd spat out. She knew the water contained red lyrium, they both did, but a desperate thirst drove them to drink it anyway. She'd done what she could to lessen the effects, but maintaining their protection against the lyrium was beginning to take a toll on Elena. Blood magic, or rather her take on it, got its power from the life inside the blood, and the will of the person casting, not the substance itself; realistically, one could use the blood of any person or creature to cast with. The more someone clung onto life, the more vibrant they were, the more powerful spells could be cast. Elena knew that she wasn't going to survive the Elder One's reign, thus her will, and therefore her life force, were fading.

People who used the magic nowadays gave their fellow maleficar a bad name, too focussed on the dramatic displays and demon side of it. There was nothing morally wrong with using blood as a focus in spell casting, given that it was donated willingly, as there were some spells out there that needed to use blood as a base. To Elena's mind, healing was a form of blood magic, as both required the user to have the will power to take control over a person's body. Control wasn't always a bad thing; people needed control and to be controlled in return...

"Come, Solas, be honest. Consider it payment."

"Payment?" he immediately asked, incredulously.

"For services rendered; assuming, of course, that you don't want the lyrium to poison your system, or for the guards to torture you?"

He stared at Elena long and hard, and for a moment, she thought he might not answer.

"How did you know?"

"The clues were there." Clue, she mentally corrected. If it hadn't been for Radalas' clues she likely wouldn't have worked it out until much later, but Solas didn't need to know that.

Solas let out a deep, weary sigh and all the fight seemed to leave him at once; Elena had never seen him look more ancient.

"I have always been Solas, I am Solas. "Fen'Harel" was a name my enemies gave me; it was an insult that I took as a badge of pride."

Elena surprised him once more by chuckling.

"Always so prideful." She said fondly, because of course he turned their insult against them; it was exactly what she would have done.

"The Dread Wolf inspired hope in my friends, and fear in my enemies."

"He who walks alone..." Elena murmured, her mind going back to the story her father once told her about stars and soul mates. "Your enemies were cruel to you, Solas."

He looked at her, taken aback once more. Elena found that she enjoyed shocking the Dread Wolf, despite the fact that she should be insulted that he thought so little of her in the first place.

"My father told me a tale once, on how the stars came to be, about how alluding to a person's... lack of companion was once a grave insult."

Elena didn't believe the story that two elves magically met, knew they were soul mates, and became a star after death so that they could stay together forever, of course she didn't, not really, but she had always loved that story ever since she heard it, and the idea that there was someone out there for everyone. In troubling times, Elena often used to sit with only her thoughts and the stars for company, wondering...

"Who are you? My agents combed the Free Marches, looking for any mention of you, and returned empty handed."

"The Dalish aren't the best record keepers; you know this first hand." She said calmly.

"No. It is more than that. Elena Lavellan does not seem to exist."

"I am Ashelena, and I am not a Lavellan. Not by birth, at least."

"Ashelena." He murmured. "Fitting."

The corner of Elena's mouth quirked up at his comment, and she wasn't sure if he'd meant to say it out loud.

"You are not Dalish, yet you wear their marks?"

Elena tilted her head in thought as she considered how much of her past to reveal. Ultimately deciding that a) no secret of hers was going to match the revelation that he was the Dread Wolf, and b) ... who was he going to tell? They were locked in a cell each, with only the other for company.

"Thalia was very young when we joined. She was growing up so quickly, and although she seemed to enjoy our travels, I knew she needed more; she needed friends. I would not subject us to the abuses city elves face, so I tracked down the Lavellan clan, and after applying the appropriate disguise," Elena paused to gesture to her face "I approached them as survivors from a different clan. Thalia settled in well, and... we stayed."

Elena anticipated the next question, and answered it before Solas spoke.

"I never told her the full truth." And now she'd never be able to, Elena lamented privately.

The jangle of keys in the lock grabbed both of their attention, and their eyes simultaneously locked onto the door that separated their wing of the prison from the next. A hooded man walked in, flanked by four others, and he stopped directly in front of Elena's cell.

"It's your unlucky day, knife ear." He sneered at her, before turning to his colleagues. "The magister wants her upstairs."

Elena's eyes darted over to Solas' where she saw him gripping the bars to his prison, watching the scene intently. When the cell door swung open and rough hands grabbed her, she didn't fight, instead letting herself be dragged harshly out of the dungeon, and up to Alexius.

Chapter Text

They chained Elena's arms together behind her, and led her up through the castle and into the great hall. It hadn't changed much since her last visit, the dog statues still stood tall and proud, except for the odd smattering of red lyrium here and there. She contemplated an escape, but ultimately decided that there was no point. Where would she go? She could seek refuge in the Hidden City for a while, yes, but how long would it be until it was found? The artefacts there were more valuable than her safety, and any one of them in the wrong hands would spell disaster. A greater disaster, she corrected mentally. She could always live the rest of her days hidden away in a forest; perhaps she could even seek sanctuary in the Tirashan, provided the fanatics that lived there didn't kill her on sight of course. Alternatively, she could leave and start a rebellion, but to what end? She had no idea how many the Elder One commanded, was clueless to his plans, and couldn't say how he'd managed to rise to power so quickly. There were too many questions, and not enough answers; it was too risk to act without the relevant information, so for now, she would wait.

"Leave us." Alexius called out from the shadows, not emerging until the guards had left the pair of them alone. As he stepped into the light, Elena noticed that Alexius was a very different man to the one she'd seen only two and a half months ago. It seemed longer than that since Thalia had disappeared... Alexius' face sported deep wrinkles, and the dark bags under his eyes spoke of countless sleepless nights. He moved slowly to the throne, back bowed as if burdened by some great, invisible weight.

"You... what did you do to my child?"

Alexius' gaze held a number of emotions- regret, anger, defeat, and grief. As much as she understood the grief that came from losing your child, she couldn't find it within herself to spare any compassion for Alexius. Elena merely repaid like with like- she took a life for the life taken from her.

"Returned the favour." She said coldly.

"Felix was innocent!"

"And so was Thalia," she hissed, "but that didn't stop you from playing with forces you couldn't possibly understand, killing Dorian and Thalia in the process!"

The pair glared at each other, but before Alexius could open his mouth and deny her accusation, Elena spoke again.

"Besides, was your great and powerful leader not meant to fix your son?" she mocked.

"And what would you understand of greatness, rattus? As we speak, the Elder One raises an army of demons to sweep across the land. The Empress of Orlais has already fallen, and the rest of the world is next. That is greatness; all bow before his power!"

Elena was almost disappointed with how easy it had been to trick Alexius into revealing his master's plans.

"Yet he cannot undo my spell. Pity. It's almost as if he's forgotten about you."

Perhaps it wasn't smart of her to ridicule a man who was clearly teetering on the edge of sanity, but he was the one responsible for Thalia's death.

"He has not! He promised. He will fix it, he said so." Alexis said the last part mostly to himself.

"Of course, and in the meantime, you are content to allow your witless son to crouch in the corner."

"You did this to him in the first place!"

Alexius burst from his throne and tore down the steps to reach Elena. She stayed exactly where she was, not moving a single muscle as they stood nose to nose, barely resisting the urge to point out the fact that she wasn't the one who'd given Felix the Blight in the first place.

"I've tried, but I cannot. I can't undo what you did." Alexius muttered as he paced in front of her distractedly. His head suddenly shot up and he looked Elena directly in the eyes. "You will fix him; you will help my son."

"Why?"

"Because you will pay, if not."

Elena said nothing as she stared at him with an eyebrow raised in scepticism. He'd already taken her daughter from her, and she had no other surviving family. What else was there for him to destroy?

"That elf you are with, you are friends, no? Lovers even. I see it. You travel together a lot, don't think I don't remember. How much is his comfort worth to you?"

Elena fought a glare. She was the one who'd hurt Felix, therefore she should have been the one to take the punishment. Solas shouldn't suffer more than he was because of something she'd done. Still though...

"You expect me to learn how to cure the Blight by using someone else as a bargaining chip? What about me? What do I get from this?"

"I will keep you from the Elder One's grasp. I will give you whatever you need, a workspace, test subjects, anything."

There were worse deals, she supposed, and if she somehow managed to perform a miracle and discover a cure for the Blight, she could use it as a bargaining tool when she made her escape.

"Very well. Here are my terms: you will not torment the elf known as Solas in any way, shape, or form. You will not speak to him impolitely, or stare at him inappropriately. You will keep your hands to yourself at all times, and regularly pass him food, water, and clothing- all of it fresh and untainted- on a tray; I use the word "you" both personally, and generally. In return, I will do my utmost to find a cure for the Blight, specifically Felix."

Those were her terms, and she was sticking to them, they weren't watertight, but they were the best she could do with the circumstances she'd been given. As far as Alexius was concerned, she was the one with the knowledge he desperately needed, therefore he had to satisfy her before she'd share it. What she hadn't told Alexius though, and what she wasn't planning to tell him, is that she had no idea if it was even possible to cure the Blight. For as long as Alexius thought she was genuinely trying to find a cure, she'd be safe, as would the only other living person she actually respected in this world.

********

Elena received a room in which to research, and worked in solitude for the most part, unless she needed assistance. For almost a month, she tried to remove the taint from Felix's blood, but to no avail. She didn't know if what she'd done to the boy all those months ago was having any effect now, but was almost positive it was. Elena ordered blood from all the prisoners who weren't tainted by the lyrium yet, and introduced the Blight to each sample, wanting to track its movement as it corrupted the healthy blood.

Elena tried altering the Blight, making it less poisonous than it was, and more similar to how she imagined a Grey Warden's blood might appear, but that didn't work either. She was slowly losing confidence in her plan, when one day she noticed that one particular blood sample was proving to be more resistant than the rest. She needed more, and the Venatori delivered, providing, for some reason, strips of skin as well; Elena idly thought that she didn't envy the person they came off, before returning to her work.

Alexius was growing more and more impatient by the day, and a month into her research they had a terse exchange, in which she tried to explain that she was attempting to cure something that, as far as the world knew, was incurable. He left, placated, but she knew he'd return.

In hindsight, Elena should have expected Alexius' madness to overtake his reasoning. A week later found her in chains, wrists cuffed above her head, toes barely touching the floor. She'd fallen prey to a particularly potent sleeping grenade, and though she tried to fight the effects, she wasn't able to hold her breath indefinitely.

She dangled there, for a time unknown to her. Waiting. Listening. Eventually the door slammed open and Elena could just about make out the silhouette of a man standing there against the dimly lit background.

"I am Lucius, and I am your trainer."

He stepped into the light, and Elena saw the face of the man who'd spoken. Flaxen hair, tinted darker by the oil that held it in place sat scraped back and out of his eyes. He would have been handsome, if it weren't for the menace that lay behind his dark eyes, eyes that glinted with anticipation. He tilted his head as he walked around her, examining her in much the same way a farmer would when buying livestock. It left Elena feeling angry. Unsettled. Apprehensive.

"A fine specimen indeed."

Elena wanted to sneer; perverts the world over found elves attractive. She knew some slavers bred their most attractive elves like cattle in a bid to produce the highest quality stock to sell off as pleasure slaves; a Tevinter finding an elf appealing was no compliment.

"You should be thanking me. There were many who wanted this job, most of them far worse than I am. All you need to do is behave, and we'll both benefit." He said in a light, airy tone.

"Such an attractive face, it's a shame truly, but this-" he cupped her face in a gloved hand and tilted her chin up as his other traced the lines of her vallaslin. "-this will have to go. The Elder One tolerates no other god but himself."

Elena's blood froze in her veins and she had to force herself to keep breathing as he turned away from her and started rummaging around behind her.

"How to remove them though? Can't burn them off, no, no; that would spoil the pretty face. Can't peel them off, can't wash them off. What to do? What to do? Oh I know!"

Lucius turned around Elena's eyes automatically fell to what he was holding as the light reflected off it. In his hand lay a long, deadly looking blade, the edges of which looked sharp enough to cut glass. She knew what was coming, and although her pride balked at it, she still struggled to turn her face away from him when he came to stand in front of her.

A swift, solid blow to the gut had all the air in her lungs shooting out of her at once, causing her body to attempt bending over in order to protect its more vulnerable parts. A rough hand darted out and pinched her chin, holding her head still as he leaned in threateningly.

"Be still, knife ear!" he demanded, before introducing the blade to Elena's flesh.

Tears sprang to her eyes involuntarily as she felt her skin split under the pressure of the knife, blood welling in its place. A trail of flame worked its way over her skin in the wake of the blade, and Elena clamped her teeth together to prevent pained whimpers escaping.

Elena deliberately didn't look at Lucius as he worked, focussing intently on a paining hanging over on the opposite wall, but in her peripheral vision she couldn't help but see how his brow furrowed in concentration, or how he bit his lip when it came to a particularly delicate carving. She hated him, this shemlen. She hated him, Alexius, this Elder One, the Chantry, Tevinter, the templars, the Circles, this world.

A splash of cold water snapped Elena back to attention, as Lucius dropped a bucket to the floor and stood back to check on his progress. Blood dripped down her forehead, and into her eyes, where it pooled, before running down her cheeks, giving the appearance that she was crying blood.

"Forgive me." He said, sorrow, and regret softening his eyes. "I'm not an artist, so it isn't completely symmetrical."

Elena's rasping breaths were all that filled the silence, as Lucius stood there, staring at his handiwork thoughtfully.

"Mmm, yes, you're right; there's still something missing." His index finger tapped his chin thoughtfully before his eyes lit up with a triumphant glint. Lucius swiftly turned and left the chamber, returning moments later clutching a stone bowl to his chest. He came to a halt in front of Elena, and smiled sweetly, in a mockery of the expression, before he held up a hand and tipped the powdered contents of the bowl into his palm.

Elena's panic cut through the lingering waves of pain as she twisted and turned, trying desperately to avoid what was coming next. Lucius' free hand, how bereft of the bowl, shot out and wound its way through her hair, clutching it in a tight fist as he held her face still. We winked at her, before taking in a deep breath and releasing it in one powerful exhale.

"Hush." He crooned. "You'll be perfect."

Elena screamed as the red lyrium entered her wounds, the pain unlike anything she'd felt before. Ice flooded the engravings on her face, cold enough to burn, and Elena felt as the lyrium buried itself in her skin, deeper and deeper until she would swear it seared the shapes on her face into her skull. The sensation of silk brushing over her face, a feeling once so soothing, dulled the pain somewhat, as Lucius healed her skin around her new tattoos, trapping them in her body.

"You're so beautiful, so magnificent. The magister said to get answers from you, but his methods are so crude, so overused... But you have inspired me; I will make you into a masterpiece! The Elder One will praise me when I give you to him, a living piece of art. The magister won't be pleased, no, but even he answers to our master."

He started on her back, tutting and cursing when the position of her arms proved a troublesome canvas on which to record his artistic vision. In short order, Elena's arms separated, still above her head, as the chains fastened to opposite corners of the room.

In the dark, when she was alone and time stretched out endlessly in front of her, she heard the whispers most clearly. They started out subtle; almost a breath of air at the edges of her hearing, but with each swirl and whorl carved into her skin, their voices grew louder, until the crescendo was too loud to drown out. It was beautiful, why didn't more people listen to it?

Elena didn't know how long she hung there; the number of carvings in her skin grew daily, as did the song. By the time Lucius had finished, there wasn't a limb left bare. Her legs, her chest, her face, her feet, her back, her hands, her neck, her arms; there were very few places left untouched.

She felt them all- every pattern, ever shape carved on her body, the lines of lyrium constantly blisteringly hot, and bitingly cold simultaneously. There were moments, few and far between, where Elena almost thought she felt them pulse to some invisible beat, but the more she tried to concentrate on it, the further away it seemed. She remained there, attached to the ceiling, trapped in her own body as she tried to chase the beat, until eventually she managed to catch up to it. In the back of her mind, Elena had noticed that the more magic she fused to the markings the stronger the pulse got, until it was like a heartbeat living outside her body. It wasn't perfectly in time with hers though, and the sensation was almost maddening... until the whispers helped; they told her she could take control of the marks, make them beat with the same rhythm, sing the same song.

When the veil fell, her song became a chorus. She didn't recognise the change for what it is at first, and it wasn't until Knowledge came to them, physically, that Elena realised what had happened. She wasn't a monster, so she offered to free her friend from their bond, not wanting their oldest and dearest companion to fall to the same corruption Elena had, but they refused. Knowledge stated that they were learning more about Elena, and about the world, each day.

Alexius wasn't happy. He screamed and shouted at Lucius, asking how turning Elena into- he struggled to come up with a name for her- helped cure Felix. By the time he was done, Lucius had seen the error of his ways, and promised that Elena would reveal the cure to his ears. He tried for a month to get her to talk, to get her to reveal her secrets, but she ignored him, too lost in the comforting memories of the past and the soothing melody of the lyrium to realise that she no longer needed to hide inside her mind.

Eventually, impatiently, he tried forcing his way into her mind, but years of experience doing the same thing, and the red lyrium that'd forged a cage around her mind protected her. Elena turned the spell back on her trainer, trapping Lucius in his own mind as she fed him endless waves of the same suffering he'd inflicted upon her. Sometimes, when boredom cut through the apathy, she increased the pain, other times she lessened it; she didn't want him to get used to it and escape it, as she had.

She allowed him a reprieve, so that he might unchain her, and then began the torture anew, this time with him as the prisoner. Elena never touched him physically- a line she refused to cross- but did continue to torture him. The voices screamed at her to share her gift, to share her song with him, but she refused; it was her song, they were her whispers, and she was not a monster. For days she kept this up, feeling the cracks in his mind turn to chasms, and the marks, they enjoyed his screams of agony; they revelled in his anguished pleas.

Eventually though, Elena learnt to push the lyrium whispers to the back of her mind. She systematically shut down Lucius' organs, one by one, until the only thing that kept him alive was because she willed it. He lingered there, between life and death, until she took mercy on the pitiful shemlen, and ripped his still beating heart from his chest. He thanked her for her thoughtfulness, grateful for her kindness.

Elena was not a monster; she was a survivor.

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Since she'd received her markings, she'd lived in a constant state of limbo, gently treading the line between life and death. The lyrium in her skin fed the Blight running through her veins, the Blight in turn keeping the lyrium strong. It should have killed her, and it most certainly would have if the lyrium hadn't also bolstered her magic, giving her the power needed to heal. She liked it, she thought, a world without the veil. Casting became effortless, and it was no struggle to keep a constant healing spell running through her body, as well as many others.

Elena began hunting, hunting for Alexius, determined to find him. She left a trail of corpses in her wake, none of the Venatori able to defeat a mage with limitless mana and an active imagination. Yes, she thought again to herself, she definitely liked the world now.

A rift spluttered softly in the background, and she found herself wondering how they could still with the veil destroyed? She paid the question no more thought than that, and strode purposefully though the castle to her final destination. The demons there didn't bother her; she was far more twisted and corrupted than they were at that point.

Elena found the magister, locked up tight behind a thick, imposing door and weighed her options. She could go the dramatic route- ripping the door off its hinges and tossing it away, or she could play his game, and find the keys. Slowly. Deliberately. In the end, Elena decided to go for the second option; Alexius was undoubtedly aware of her presence by now, and she found the idea of him quivering in fright on his stolen throne as he waited for Death to find him more than a little appealing.

The fight with the magister was, ultimately, extremely disappointing. Even when she taunted him about how she'd have been able to help prolong Felix's life before Alexius pulled his little stunt, the resulting power increase from his anger was still barely a blip compared to her own. Elena was bored; she needed something more to fill her time with, something better. She needed a challenge. Elena sent out a message to the Venatori, that Redcliffe had changed hands, and if they wanted it back, they'd have to come and take it from her. She wanted to see this Elder One's face with her own eyes; to look upon the man who destroyed the world.

First to arrive was some woman named Calpernia, a liberated slave working for the betterment of Tevinter. She'd actually tried to convince Elena that she was doing the right thing, but only lasted a few moments before Elena decapitated her with one sweep of her lyrium infused arm. Elena bore a grudge against Tevinter. As much as she could admit to herself that holding the modern day inhabitants of Tevinter accountable to their ancestor's appalling behaviour was unfair, she did it anyway. Their ancestors had taken from her people, feasting and gorging themselves on the decaying corpse of a dying empire like vultures. The tradition that carried on today; their descendants were no better.

The Elder One sent an ex-templar next, and she at least managed to get a name out of him; Samson answered to Corypheus. Fighting Samson was exciting; his armour was enchanted with red lyrium and it granted him unbelievable strength, as it did her. It became a battle of application; was it better to wear red lyrium, or to bear it? In the end, she slew Samson, but thanked him for the challenge.

Corypheus changed tactics then, sending wave, after wave, after wave of demon at her; they were endless, but so was her energy. Thanks to the lyrium, and thanks to the destruction of the veil, Elena no longer needed to sleep; she needed no food, no water, and no rest. If she ever felt she was slowing down, Elena was able to successfully tweak her body, and energise/ repair/ renew whatever it was that was affecting her.

After a while, they stopped coming, and Elena grew restless once more; she turned her attention to other matters. A while ago, Elena renewed her Blight research. Felix was... not Felix anymore, and she pitied him; she was no monster. The creature that sat in the library with her now wasn't truly a human; it lacked the motivation to do... anything; it just lingered. Felix didn't eat, sleep, or drink. He never spoke, laughed, or even sneezed. Felix was without a soul. She'd punished Felix for his father's mistakes, and that was wrong. Elena owed him her help; even if she couldn't cure the Blight, she may be able to reverse some of its effects, possibly even restore some of Felix's functions.

Her life continued in much the same way for a number of weeks, until one day, something changed. A ripple in the air heralded an oncoming change, a fault in the norm. Elena immediately tensed and prepared herself; changes brought danger.

Elena watched from the shadows as Change's Heralds entered the throne room, and snarled when she recognised the one in the lead. Was this Corypheus' new tactic? To wear her down mentally, using spirits to parade about the place wearing the faces of those she'd loved and lost? The only evidence Elena could find to the contrary, was that all but two of the group were people she didn't even like, yet alone love. The Elder One would have to do much, much better than that.

"What in the Maker's name happened here? Where's Alexius?" Fake Dorian asked.

Elena watched as the Leliana clone marched over to Alexius' corpse, still lying in a heap on the floor from when she'd killed him, and started rummaging around in his robes, looking for something.

"It's gone." It said brusquely as it straightened out.

"Could we, I don't know, make another?" Elena's dead daughter asked.

"Not without my books, my research, and, oh! Of course... years of study."

They were very convincing, Elena admitted to herself; they were yet to prove themselves imposters. She slipped round the back of the group, who were standing in the middle of the throne room, and slammed the door shut behind them. Trapping them. Her prey. Startled and on edge, the group jumped and immediately spun around to face her. Elena watched as anger and protectiveness washed away and horror and sorrow took their place.

"Mamae!" A broken voice called out, and Elena clenched her teeth and fists in anger. How dare it call her that? By the title only her daughter used? Hastily approaching footsteps signalled its quick approach and Elena reacted swiftly, darting over to the other side of the room, still keeping the things in her sight at all times.

"Mamae? It's me, Thalia. Don't you remember?" The creature had tears pouring down its face and its arm outstretched towards her, but wisely didn't move away from its position near the door.

"I remember my child, how they were ripped away from me. I remember there being no trace left of her. So tell me, spirit, why are you here? Why do you wear her face? Is it to beat me? He'll have to do much, much better than that."

"Mamae, but... it is me; I am here. I never died." It pleaded in a language she hadn't heard spoken for... for how long had it been now? Years or months? Time seemed to move differently without the veil.

Elena's eyes shot to Solas, who nodded and took a tentative step forward. She could feel the nervousness and pity rolling off him in waves, warping the air. Solas felt; he was unlike the others. Truthfully, Elena had forgotten about the prisoners the Venatori kept; it was sloppy, but she'd had the lyrium for company. She wasn't alone when the whispers sang to her.

"Listen to her, Ashelena, she speaks the truth. The magister's spell sent your daughter forward in time. She's alive."

Elena tilted her head as she thought; Solas was a liar, like her, but that was why she could trust him. All the best lies had a grain of truth in them. She felt a tentative tendril of trust and reassurance brush across her skin, but ignored it. There was one concrete way to find out if this creature was who it claimed to be. Faster than anyone could react to, Elena sent a bolt of magic into the things; it was harmless to a flesh person, but would have been fatal to a spirit. The creatures remained standing, looking perturbed, not pained. Solas was telling the truth, and she hesitantly tried to send a wisp of her disbelief and longing over to him.

"Felix!" Dorian's cry came from the far corner of the room, stealing everyone's attention.

"I would not touch him if I were you, little magister."

"What happened to him? What happened to you for that matter? You look like you've been attacked by a paint-wielding botanist."

Elena didn't bother replying; the answers to both of Dorian's questions stared him in the face, clear as day. Her eyes flickered over to Felix and regret filled her as she took in his pitiful state. Paper-thin skin sat across hollowed out cheeks, and vacant eyes stared into nothing as he perched on the edge of a step, not quite sitting, but not quite kneeling either. She walked over to Felix, and cupped his face in her hands. Eyes met hers, but there was nothing behind them, it was as if he saw straight through her. Elena lowered one of her hands until it rested over his heart, before gently wrapping her magic around it, and stopping it. Felix slumped over almost immediately, and Elena caught his body before it could fall, lowering him gently to the ground, before offering him a silent apology, and closing his eyes for the last time.

"You didn't have to go and bloody kill him!" Dorian stuttered.

"I did, I gave my word. I said I'd help him, help find a cure, but I honestly don't know if there is one. It was cruel to make him wait so long for death."

"Is this what happens if Tevinter wins?" Thalia murmured, as her eyes raked over Felix's body, anger and disgust written across her face.

"If the Elder One, Corypheus, wins, Orlais' empress will die, a demon army will sweep its way across the continent, and thousands will perish. Again."

There was no 'if' about it; the Elder One had already won. Unless...

"You were looking for the magister's amulet. You intend to undo all of this?" Elena asked Dorian.

"That was the idea, but as you can see. It isn't here."

Elena reached into a pocket of the armour she'd stolen and held out Alexius' amulet.

"Then make it quick. The Elder One approaches."

"Maker's balls!" the Warden blurted out. "How long do we have?"

"He did not see fit to inform me."

The spymaster let out a hiss as she spoke her next question through clenched teeth as she prowled toward Elena. She wanted to break the silly little human's neck, and only just resisted the urge.

"You work with him?"

"I see confinement hasn't lessened your idiocy." Elena said dryly. "I killed his generals and took a large portion of his army out. He comes to kill me. A man who calls himself a god won't tolerate a rival, and a man who calls himself a god is no god at all."

Whatever Leliana said in reply, Elena didn't quite hear, as Thalia took that moment to take control of the situation, loudly.

"Dorian, how long do you need?"

"I'm not entirely sure. An hour perhaps, to work out the spell Alexius used."

"An hour? That's impossible! You must go now!"

As if tempting fate, the Elder One arrived just as Leliana finished speaking. The walls shook, and stones fell loose as the unmistakable cry of a dragon came from above their heads.

"The Elder One." Leliana announced, as if it needed any explanation.

"You cannot stay here!"

Solas looked over to Elena, desperation clear in his features, resignation in hers. No words passed between the two elves as they silently agreed that they would do whatever it took to buy Dorian enough time to return to the past.

"We will hold the outer door as long as we can. Leliana will stay here; she will be your last line of defence."

Blackwall and Solas were already making their way to the door when Elena gestured for Thalia to join her in a shadowed corner.

"There is no time!" Leliana protested, but both elves ignored her.

Elena reached into her armour once more and pulled out the other amulet, the one that belonged to her. She brushed her thumb across the surface of the mirror and activated the spells contained within. Almost immediately, Elena could feel it absorbing her essence; it was uncomfortable, yet necessary.

"Do they hurt?" Thalia asked quietly, green eyes tracing the visible brands on her body.

Yes, Elena thought. Every minute of every day. They scream at me, they whisper at me; they burn me, they freeze me.

"No, da'vhenan." She deftly wrapped the amulet in layers of cloth, and carefully handed it to Thalia, taking pains to ensure their skin didn't touch. "Give this to me when you return; it is a collection of my memories, deeply personal, and endlessly private. Please, please don't allow anyone to know you have this. I must go now. I will see you when you return. Ar lath ma, da'nehn."

********

"Can she fight?" Elena asked when she noticed Sera crouched down on the floor, drawing pictures in the stone with a piece of lyrium. The looks on their faces said it all. Elena sighed and reached out her magic, seeping into Sera's organs. With barely a thought, Sera slumped to the ground, dead.

"What did you do that for? She did nothing wrong!" Blackwall cried out.

"If she cannot fight, then she is a liability, just as likely to fire upon us as the enemy."

"I knew you were cold, but I never knew you were heartless."

"You know nothing of true cruelty. To succeed in a savage world, one must first become a savage."

"You did this to yourself then? Why?"

Elena gave Blackwall a patronising look that screamed 'are-you-an-idiot'.

"Of course not, fool boy. I suggest you not speak from now on unless you have something intelligent to say. I do not want the last words I hear to be those of an idealistic, clueless moron."

Solas remained quiet through their whole exchange, staring at a point in the distance, and Elena took the time offered to consider the man in front of her. She found herself wishing that they'd met in another world- not the one they were in, and not the one they were returning to- but a different one, where Solas wasn't the Dread Wolf, and the ghosts of the dead didn't burden Ashelena.

"Ashelena?"

"I am glad I met you, it has been a long time since I spoke to someone so... apart from this world and its ideals. It is just a shame that..."

A wave of understanding stroked her face, and she smiled lightly in response.

"For what it's worth, I am glad we at least had a chance to talk freely." The pair stood in a comfortable silence as they waited. "Do you think you would ever consider telling me that you know? When we get back, I mean."

"Solas, if I tell you I know your identity, you won't hesitate to eliminate me. Me knowing isn't safe for either of us."

"I, yes, you are right. I would not have been able to risk you exposing my secret to others, as much as it pains me to admit it. Ir abelas, falon."

"Tel'abelas; I'd do the same in your position. I understand, truly."

"Perhaps given time..." he trailed off, and Elena suspected that his words were thoughts spoken aloud, as opposed to a sentence in a conversation. "Things were different then; you were different."

"The last year has been difficult, yes, but not enough to alter my personality too much, of that I'm sure."

"No, I mean- before that. You were- are- a curiosity. Your vallaslin marked you as Dalish, but your attitude did not. You conduct yourself with confidence, unwilling to apologise for being who you are; it is equal parts fascinating and frustrating. You do not bow under the influence of others, boldly staring authority in the face and challenging it. You are unlike the others of your kind; they are a pale misinterpretation of the real thing, but you... you are different. You are alive."

Solas truly, truly disliked the Dalish, but Elena could understand why; if she'd been the wrongful subject of their horror stories for the past 4000 or so years, she'd likely be-

The doors opposite them crashed open and demons poured through the gap. Solas wasted no time before casting a barrier over the three of them, and Blackwall charged straight into the fray, an intimidating war cry tearing from his throat.

Elena called blood into her hands, waiting until enough had gathered, before forming each pool into a long, limber whip. Electricity flowed up and down its length, and she wasted no more time before spinning and slashing them through the air, Solas at her back.

The pair worked in harmony; every time Elena moved to the left, Solas would instinctively adjust and fire from the right. When the demons eventually got too close, both Elena and Solas traded their distance weapons for blades- Elena's formed once again from her own blood, Solas' woven from the raw fade.

With one powerful sweep of its arm, a pride demon sent Blackwall crashing back into a wall. The sickening sound of bone crunching, and crystals shattering reached the elves' ears, bolstering them. She stepped forward to take Blackwall's place, but Solas was already ahead of her, deflecting strikes and carving through the oncoming army with an ageless grace. He looked... beautiful.

The screaming from her markings was almost unbearable now; the more of herself she stored in the amulet, the weaker her magic became, until Elena was forced to change tactics. She allowed her blades to disappear, leaving puddles of electrified blood on the floor and focussed on activating her brands. Elena cast the hallway in an eerie red light as her marks started glowing, and she dove straight into the fray, using her hands to rip and tear as the lyrium within her marks crystallised her skin.

The more Elena moved, the further her marks spread, until they encased her arms in the pulsing, tainted crystal. She refused to give up, but it was becoming harder, and more painful to move with each passing moment. That agony was nothing compared to what she'd endured to receive her markings though, and she decided that if they were going to kill her, they were going to do it properly.

As the lyrium overtook her, she gathered all of the energy she could, and compressed it into a volatile ball within her. Elena waited until she was overrun before releasing her hold on the energy, red lyrium shards shooting out from her position, impaling dozens of creatures as they went. As her soul freed itself from its prison within her tainted body, Elena drew together the very last fleeting fragments of her will, and with one last mighty effort, poured the rest of herself into-

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Elena pitched forward, collapsing on to the ground as she desperately fought for breath. She more she fought, the harder it got; it felt like the entrances to her lungs grew tighter by the second. She could feel the lyrium in her skin- feel the patterns and lines that wove around her limbs. Elena looked around the tent with wild eyes. Instead of seeing the soft canvas of her shelter, she saw walls made of lyrium, walls that came closer and closer to her with each passing moment; she wasn't safe here, it wasn't safe. Elena hauled herself up on shaking limbs and unsteadily made her way to the bars of her prison, letting out a quiet sob when they refused to open. Think! She ordered herself. She frantically expanded her aura, feeling for any traps or magic in the area, discovering that someone had laid wards around her cell.

After a few fumbling attempts, Elena undid the wards and darted out of her tent, passing whoever was on guard duty in a blur. She was dirty, corrupted. She needed to get rid of the lyrium before it turned her into a monster. She ran through the area, faster than she'd ever run before, not slowing, or stopping as branches reached out like gnarled fingers to clawed at her face and limbs. The whispers kept coming though, and she pushed herself forward. Her lungs, limbs, and throat burned and she raced to outrun the helplessness.

They were still there, and worse, they were gaining on her. Elena frantically looked around for something- anything- that would help her, but nothing stood out. She leapt to the side, up and onto a rock with her right leg, before pushing off it and twisting her body in the air and speeding away in a flurry of feathers; she was safer in the air, they couldn't catch here there.

Higher and higher she flew, until her shortness of breath came instead from altitude. Elena shuddered as she felt the lyrium encase her limbs again, and in one deft turn, spun around and shot downwards. The further she fell, the faster she went. Lyrium flaked off her as she dove, until she plunged into the sea- shattering the remaining crystals on her body.

Elena drifted for hours, or seconds; decades, or days. The fresh, salty seawater cleansed her body of the corruption, and freed her mind from the torment. She broke through the surface of the water, and floated aimlessly, content to allow the currents to direct her at their whim. Now that she was calmer, she could look back at what she'd learned objectively.

One- Solas was Fen'Harel, two- he had agents combing the Free Marches looking for any mention of her. Would Clan Lavellan betray her origins? She doubted so. For as much as the Keeper didn't like Elena, she did respect her and the power she brought to the metaphorical table. There wouldn't be a clan without Elena, so no, those indebted to her wouldn't betray her, and Deshanna wouldn't want to risk looking weak by contradicting them to an outsider. Three- the Elder One had a name, and a dragon. The former information was not as interesting as the latter. The presence of a dragon suggested that Corypheus was attempting to emulate his old gods in some way, either that, or he did it to increase his power and image. Perhaps both. Four- she knew Corypheus' plans, or at least she knew most of them. However, the question of how he'd known how to sunder the veil, and what enabled him to do so remained ever present; Elena hadn't left the castle in the Red Future, meaning she hadn't had chance to investigate properly. Five- she was no closer to understanding or curing the Blight. There were people that proved resistant to it, but nobody immune. Six- red lyrium was much, much more powerful than its blue counterpart was, and much more unstable too. Seven- Thalia had demonstrated, once again, just how prone she was to viewing the world in black and white. Elena would have to consider carefully how she wanted to proceed- to open Thalia's eyes forcefully, or allow her the safety of naivety.

The main question Elena had to ask herself though was what was she going to do with all this knowledge? Realistically she had no proof of any of her discoveries, which is why she was content to allow Thalia and Dorian reveal Corypheus' plans, knowing that the humans were much more likely to take the word of their holy Herald elf over the claims of an unknown savage elf, but did Elena even want to reveal the rest? Sometimes inaction was as effective as action; one didn't necessarily have to do anything to change everything.

Eventually the bone chilling temperature of the sea caught up with her, and Elena knew she had to return; she could, and would deal with any lingering issues later. She opened up her connection to Knowledge, and asked them to arrange for one of her agents to come pick up a package, disguised of course.

When she walked into camp early the next morning, everyone aside from Thalia and Dorian were present, all in various states of readiness. They all stopped what they were doing and looked at her with varying expressions, ranging from the thinly veiled disgust of Vivienne, to the curiosity and gentle concern of Varric. She imagined she made for quite the sight, pale and bedraggled, wearing nothing but a tunic and leggings that stuck to her uncomfortably, hair and clothes salt stained from where they'd begun to dry. Elena resolutely refused to consider what the salt was doing to her skin and hair as she made her way over towards her tent.

"There you are, Dragon! We were getting worried." Somehow, Elena very much doubted that, but inclined her head in acknowledgement of Varric's words anyway; it was kind of him to pretend.

Upon hearing the dwarf's words, Thalia came storming out of their tent and stood glaring at Elena, hands on her hips, radiating disapproval.

"Where in the shit did you run off to?"

Elena was not going to reveal her temporary lapse of control, especially not in front of other people, so said the closest thing to the truth that she was willing to reveal.

"I went to bathe."

"Uh-huh, sure. In your clothes?"

Elena raised a brow as if to say 'obviously', and surreptitiously looked Thalia up and down, making sure she hadn't picked up her amulet and brought it out into the open. In her bid to escape the prison she'd thought she was still in, Elena had left the amulet on the floor where it had fallen. A careless mistake, Elena chided herself.

"It's in the tent."

She marched past Elena, huffing and puffing with every step, and Elena fought an eye roll at her behaviour; she did not have the patience to deal with Thalia's dramatics right then. She swiftly changed her clothing and combed her hair, forgoing her usual style in favour of one, long, much simpler braid, before looking for her amulet, frowning when she noticed that Thalia had just tossed it onto her bedroll. Elena wrapped it back up under layers of cloth, before pricking her finger and using the blood to cast multiple wards on the package, ensuring that nobody but her would be able to open it. She placed it in her pack, ready for her agent to collect, and left to rejoin the others by the fire.

********

The ride back was silent for the most part, and for some reason, Thalia refused to talk to Elena. Elena gave the matter a minute of thought before moving onto other things. When Thalia wanted to talk, she'd be there, but she wasn't going to go chasing for answers, she had enough to worry about beyond her daughter's attention seeking. Her agent came the day before, arriving in camp in her bird form, waiting until Elena's watch until she emerged. Elena had handed the package off to Mananor with strict instructions that she was to deliver it straight to Purpose, no deviations, no side missions. Mananor left knowing that failure to see the task through would have resulted in a swift and severe punishment.

They arrived back in Haven in the afternoon, one week after they'd left the Hinterlands. Scheduling a mandatory meeting with the advisors the next day, Thalia dismissed everyone, and they each disappeared to their respective cabins. Elena spent the rest of her day bathing, then catching up on reports with Knowledge, who had, for the majority of the trip, waited for Elena in Haven, watching the inhabitants in her absence. Someone had tried to break into her cabin whilst she'd been gone, but Elena's wards had deterred them, and the thief left with singed fingertips, much to her grim satisfaction. A reply arrived from Deshanna, addressed to Thalia directly, but her people managed to take a glimpse at it before it was delivered; as Elena suspected, Deshanna was taking care not to reveal too much information.

It wasn't until much later on in the evening that Thalia came to her, finally ready to reveal what had made her so unwilling to face Elena.

"I'm mad at you." She began, and Elena fought a wry eyebrow raise. "Not you, you, but future you."

Elena didn't fight the brow raise that time.

"Oh don't give me that look; you know perfectly well what you did."

She didn't actually, and her face must have shown that because Thalia threw her hands in the air in exasperation.

"Are you really that far gone that you don't know?"

Evidently, yes. Elena thought deprecatingly, well aware that her prolonged silence was only riling Thalia.

"You murdered someone in cold blood! Who knows how many others too? I knew you killed people, it's your job, but I at least thought you ensured they were guilty. Felix did nothing to deserve what you did to him; I'm so... disappointed in you. I thought you were better than that."

Elena's posture was rigid as she listened to Thalia's tirade, and she crossed her arms, fingers undoubtedly leaving marks in her arms where they dug into her skin. How dare she?

"What makes you think for one second that you have any right to criticise me, da'lan? You lived that world for a few hours at most; I endured it for a year. What you saw me do to Felix was merciful, trust me." Elena bit out.

"Oh my god! You actually believe that! How is killing someone merciful?" Thalia yelled. "Murder is never the right thing to do, and you just did it so... easily. Is that what you are? Are you a cold-hearted killer? Did you enjoy it?"

The flames in the torches flickered and grew dangerously as Elena struggled to keep her temper in check. She'd gone utterly still, aside from her breathing, which Elena was attempting to regulate so that it was deep and even.

"You look down on me for having the resolve to do what is necessary, when you know nothing of that world, or of this. You are a child, playing at being an adult. The world is not good, the world is not kind; it takes what it wants and discards the rest. Tell me, do you believe that all the people you kill are guilty, that they deserve to die? Are you truly that arrogant that you believe you have the final say on what is good and what is bad? It is time you grew up, Thalia."

"I might not be as worldly wise as you, but at least I've got friends. At least I try to see the best in people. At least I try. You? You're a bitter, angry woman who sees the world as your enemy. It took from you, so you take from it, is that it? You were too weak to save your family, so you take your frustration out on other people, instead of helping people who have been through the same thing, or trying to make sure it doesn't happen again. Do you imagine their killers' faces when you do it? Does that make you feel better? They'd be so disappointed if they knew what you've become; it's probably better they aren't here to see it."

The world seemed to freeze around them as Thalia finished her outburst; even she looked shocked at her own words, eyes wide, face fixed in a mask of horror.

"Mamae-" she tried, but Elena cut her off immediately in a low, deceptively controlled voice.

"Get out."

"Mamae, I'm sorry. I didn't mean-"

"Get out!" Elena hissed, her voice sounding layered, as if one hundred people were talking, each one livid and menacing. A cold wind blew through the cabin, causing the flames in the candles to dance wildly in the wind as Elena felt electricity charge the air around them. Thalia darted out of the lodge, leaving Elena there alone, fists and teeth clenched as she fought the urge to lash out. Heat skittered up and down her spine as her whole body shook with barely suppressed emotion. A scout came by to see what all the commotion was about, who promptly fled at Elena's snarl as she stalked towards the door to slam it shut. Elena warded every entry point to her cabin, and then warded them again before attempting to sleep, hoping to find a spirit of rage waiting for her.

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Elena was in luck. As soon as she drifted off, Rage was waiting; called to her by the anger she'd been projecting. Before they got a chance to talk however, Rage disappeared in a flash of light, leaving a familiar Elvhen man in its place. Elena fought a grimace, knowing that Solas wasn't half as likely to react well to her anger. Had he been waiting for her?

He didn't ask what she had planned to do with Rage, but likely had a vague idea as to her intentions.

"I felt your mood from across the fade; you have scared as many gentle spirits off as you have attracted their counterparts."

Elena ignored the subtle censure in his statement and began pacing up and down the room, shaking her limbs out as she tried to shake the anger from her body. As she was wont to do when angered, Elena had ignored shaping the fade, allowing it to take the form of her sleeping space. The more she moved, the calmer she got, which allowed her thoughts to focus on something other than what Thalia (ungrateful, idealistic prat that she was) had said.

Now that Elena knew who Solas was, everything about him seemed different, despite the fact that it hadn't changed at all. His posture, so regal, and so proud, screamed of hidden confidence; a confidence that he'd presumably earned over the thousands of years he'd walked this earth. His baldness, a humble guise designed to trick, now spun a tale of timeless wisdom. His true identify certainly explained a lot about his magical prowess though- at his age, she'd expect a spell caster to do so perfectly. From the first moment she'd laid eyes on Solas, she'd been equal parts impressed and suspicious about his skill, and now she knew why.

"Atisha, lethallan."

Elena immediately stopped her prowling and looked towards Solas with the smallest hint of a scowl on her face.

"Why are you here Solas?" she asked, voice soft enough to betray how weary she felt, which served to take the edge of her words. She didn't have the energy or the patience to play any games with him tonight.

"I came to see if you needed any assistance."

"With the spirits?"

"Partly. If you wish to discuss what vexes you, I am willing to listen."

Elena stopped moving, and turned to examine Solas. His words were arrogant, but his body spoke differently. Instead of standing in what she'd come to call the 'classic Solas pose' of hands clasped behind his back and spine as straight as physically possible, Solas' arms hung to his side, and his posture looked more relaxed. If it weren't for that, and the genuine, if not subtle, sincere look on his face, Elena may have had something biting to say. She was certain that by now, Solas knew she was the last person who'd beg him for scraps of his generosity, superior knowledge, time, or attention.

"Thalia made certain comments tonight that I found offensive. That's all."

"They must have been cutting indeed to have elicited such a reaction."

Elena sighed as she remembered their argument. In hindsight, it was no wonder Rage had been waiting for her. Now that the moment was over, she could admit to herself that she wasn't pleased with the way she'd allowed her anger to take over, but sometimes it just happened. Those times were rare enough, but always left a lasting impression. Her father had always told her that she had inherited his father's temper, and that he too favoured lightning, which again, wasn't a comparison she particularly favoured. She huffed a breath at the thought of the people who'd been close enough to witness her outburst, no doubt in her mind that the fool Inquisition members might start murmuring about possession again; perhaps she had acted too hastily...

Elena noticed the silence that surrounded them, and looked up to see Solas watching her, a thousand questions in his eyes.

"They crossed a line." She finally replied.

"Did she know the line was there?"

"The line has always been there."

Solas clasped his hands behind his back as he studied her, adopting his scholarly pose, something Elena wasn't pleased to see.

"That doesn't mean she was aware of it, lethallan; although I very much doubt she remains ignorant on the subject."

Elena resisted rolling her eyes at the mighty Fen'Harel's perceived wisdom and chastisement. Or perhaps it was an attempt at humour? She didn't much care either way.

"She was aware beforehand."

"Others are not though. Perhaps it would be better to make them aware of the line, so that it is not crossed again?"

Or, as is far more likely, so that they have something to say that they know will get a reaction, she thought sceptically. Solas' prying was subtle though, so she decided to throw him a bone, even if it was just to see what he'd do with it.

"Very well. Thalia suggested that the death of my parents was a good thing, as it meant they aren't around to see how poorly I've turned out."

Elena watched as the information sunk in and Solas placed the pieces together. He wanted to know more, that was clear in his eyes, but Elena suspected that he was struggling to think of a sensitive way to ask about what had happened.

"You can ask." She said, it didn't mean she'd answer though.

Elena walked over to her bed and climbed on top of it, leaning back against the wall as she crossed her legs. She gestured for Solas to join her, and he did, choosing to sit at a right angle to her as he lent back against the headboard. She watched him with a private, dark sort of amusement, as he seemed to struggle with which question to ask first, and how.

"Ir abelas, I wasn't aware that your parents are no longer with us."

"My mother died when I was very young, and my father died years later, both at the hands of other people."

"Which makes what your sister said particularly cruel." Solas murmured and Elena had to bite back her response. He made it sound as if the manner of their death had greater impact on Thalia's comment than it did. "Not to mention the inaccuracy of the statement."

Whatever Elena might have expected Solas to say, that wasn't it. She whipped her head around and stared at him Solas with confusion, waiting for him to explain himself.

"Elena, you are a resourceful, intelligent, powerful, and thoughtful woman. The skill and surety in your steps as you dance your way across the battlefield speaks of years of dedicated training. I imagine all such qualities are those any parent would wish for in their child."

"Solas, are you suggesting I'm graceful?" she asked with a smirk, not willing to focus on the other parts of his statement just yet.

"No, I am declaring it. It was not a subject for debate."

He said it with unwavering confidence, as if he were pointing out something as blindingly obvious as the weather; the surety in his voice when he spoke had Elena barking out a short laugh. He was one of the most arrogant, prideful people she'd ever met, and yet strangely, it wasn't as repulsive as it should have been. She looked over to see him looking at her with a brow raised imperiously, earning him a good natured roll of her eyes. His expression morphed into a full-blown smirk then, as if daring her to question him, which brought forth a genuine chuckle from her that time, as she shook her head and called him an 'arse' under her breath, though he no doubt heard it.

Once their humour died down, Elena caught Solas looking at her quizzically and offered him a curious gaze of her own. He continued to stare at her, almost as if debating something internally, before the look cleared and he opened his mouth to speak.

"I am curious about something, if you would be open to discussing it. I have noticed that you do not refer to your sister as the Herald. Do you not believe she was chosen?"

Elena scoffed at his question.

"Do I believe the shemlen's Maker sent someone in their hour of need? Absolutely not; he hasn't before, so why would he now? Furthermore, the idea that the object of the Chantry's worship would send an elf is laughable, and the fact that these humans need some holy sign to prove to them that elves are people, and deserve to be treated as such, is repulsive."

Solas absorbed her answer, but chose not to comment on it, likely saving it for a later date.

"You mentioned previously that you are not a believer in your gods?"

Elena looked as Solas, one of their so-called 'Gods', and noticed him looking at her with curiosity, not offence. She'd have expected a man used to being venerated as a god to have taken it as a personal insult that she didn't worship him or his kin. Elena mentally filed the observation away, as something to consider in private.

"I think people should rely less on their absent gods, and more on themselves, and their own capabilities; all the prayers in the world won't stop an innocent child starving to death."

"You say you do not believe, do not worship, yet you wear marks of devotion upon your skin."

Solas' eyes traced the lines of her tattoo as he spoke, face oddly blank, as he hid his feelings about the vallaslin from her. To Elena, the fact that he tried to hide his opinions in first place spoke volumes. By concealing his thoughts, he'd revealed them.

"A necessary requirement when living with the Dalish; I chose to mark myself in this colour for a reason."

Solas' masked slipped just long enough for a hint of disbelief and dislike to shine though before it was firmly in place once more.

"You... applied the vallaslin yourself?"

"I wasn't going to allow just anyone to mark my skin." She said, mildly haughtily.

"Then, if I may, why that particular brand? Dirthamen's, if I'm not mistaken."

"A number of reasons, but primarily, because I can hide behind them."

At Solas' curiously raised brow, she explained in more detail.

"The Keeper is deeply religious, and believes that the Dalish should resemble what their marks represent. Thalia, a hunter, was allowed June because for all her talent with a bow, she is a much better crafter; there are few that compare to her, particularly when it comes to potions and the like. Choosing this particular vallaslin gave me the perfect excuse to keep certain details from the clan. There are very few secrets between members."

"You play up to their expectations." He summarised, with a particular edge to his voice, and Elena couldn't decide if she thought he sounded impressed, or disapproving.

"Or down, depending on your interpretation, but yes. I am allowed my privacy because it's expected of me, because doing otherwise would make me a terrible follower of the Keeper of Secrets, no?"

"That is indeed an interesting way to accomplish your goals." He said thoughtfully, leaving Elena to think that she must have heard mild approval before.

"It doesn't need to be interesting, Solas, it just needs to work. Information traded for information."

Elena could tell by the way his ear flicked that she'd triggered his curiosity.

"Such as?"

"Are you asking me to reveal a secret, Solas?"

"No, I can understand the comfort privacy can bring. I would not want to ask you to do anything that would make you feel uncomfortable."

Elena fought a grin; the Dread Wolf was baiting her, playing on his interpretation of her pride.

"True, but... perhaps I can make an exception, since it's you that's asking after all. A secret for a secret then. A secret shared for another secret of perceived equivalent worth to the one given. Deal?"

She watched as he mulled the deal over, probably weighing up the pros against the cons. Thanks to the Red Lyrium Solas, Elena knew that he'd been unable to discover much about her, and that he saw her as a puzzle to solve. She would play with him for a while; let him think he'd outsmarted and tricked her. If this went well, they could be trading 'secrets' for months.

"Very well. After you, lethallan."

Elena's face took on the appropriately serious expression one would normally reserve for revealing information of the utmost importance. She took a deep breath in, fixed her eyes firmly on Solas', and in her gravest voice, she announced:

"I hate tomatoes. Biting or cutting through their skin makes me shudder; I cannot eat one without wanting to vomit."

Her training was all that kept the serious expression on her face. She'd wanted to laugh when her words had caused Solas' face to morph into one of momentary dumbfounded confusion before it adopted the same expression she wore. Solas leaned closer to her, and she mirrored his actions until they were inches apart; she even went as far as to glance around surreptitiously, looking for eavesdroppers.

"I loathe tea." He began, in a low, barely audible voice. "It is a vile drink that is either too bland or too strong. At best, it tastes of stagnant pond water."

The two stared at each other for a moment before one side of Elena's mouth twitched into a smile.

"I'm sure you can see why I'd rather keep such dangerous knowledge from the clan."

Solas chuckled in response, mirth dancing in his eyes as he played along with the lingering mock seriousness of the situation.

"Of course, lethallan; there is no telling what nefarious plans they might concoct should they gain such valuable information."

"I swear upon my honour that I shall not reveal your deepest secret, if you would do me the same courtesy; who knows what the Chantry would do if they ever found out?"

Elena huffed out a laugh and leaned back against the wall again, eyes twinkling as Solas did the same. She'd enjoyed that.

"You have my word."

The pair sat in comfortable silence for some time. It moved differently in dreams; Elena couldn't properly tell if they'd been talking for minutes, or hours.

"Thank you Solas, for listening."

Elena placed a hand over Solas' where it lay on the bed beside him. She gently laced her fingers with his and gave them a small squeeze, which she hoped conveyed her gratitude.

"It was no trouble, I would be happy to do so again." He said quietly, and offered her hand a tentative squeeze of his own. Slowly the scene around them melted away, but Elena left her hand where it was. Her skin tingled where it touched Solas', as if goose bumps were breaking out, yet it wasn't unpleasant or cold. It was as if the power that flowed through her veins was bubbling and fizzling in excitement, happy to have direct physical contact with Solas' magic, which, as she'd discovered previously, complemented her own almost perfectly.

Elena began to feel the tug of wakefulness properly then, and moments before she awoke fully, she turned to face Solas, who was eyeing their clasped hands with interest, suggesting that perhaps he also felt the same tingles that she did.

"Oh, and lethallin?" she said, the smirk on her face translated into her voice. "You should look forward to the day you can actually see me dance."

Elena didn't offer him a chance to reply before forcing herself awake. Her night may have started out poorly, but it ended well; the picture of the true Fen'Harel grew larger by the day.

Chapter Text

The next few weeks proved to be particularly hectic for the Inquisition. The day after her chat with Solas, all the companions attended a meeting Thalia was holding with the advisors. Together, she and Dorian answered multiple questions regarding what they'd each experienced in the alternate future. A host of different plans emerged, based on the information provided, but everyone agreed that the most pressing issue the Inquisition faced was the second attempt to seal the Breach.

The day after their meeting, the bulk of the mages arrived in Haven. Vivienne offered to help Josephine get them settled in, and their training started the day after that. If the mages were to be of any use to the Inquisition, they needed to a role that went beyond simply being a mage; they weren't allowed to sit around studying all day anymore. Elena was, once again (to her chagrin), put in charge of assessing those who claimed to be able to heal, whilst Solas helped them bolter their barriers and defensive magics, and Dorian, now trusted within the Inquisition, taught offensive magics.

Thalia apologised to Elena for insulting her several times, each time less patient than the last, but Elena hadn't accepted. Thalia hadn't offended her by calling her a murderer; Thalia had offended Elena by suggesting that her parents' death was a good thing. In truth, Elena's mother probably would have taken issue with her profession; Belavhana had a silver tongue, and it was very rare (to the point of being almost unheard of) that she wasn't able to sway a person to the direction she wanted them. In saying that however, she would have trusted that Elena was intelligent enough to know herself and her skills, and would have respected that Elena was mature enough to make her own choices in life. Although... Elena thought to herself, if her mother hadn't been killed, she wouldn't have been raised by her granddad. If she hadn't been raised by her granddad, she wouldn't have been subjected to his rigorous training regime. It was unlikely that Elena would have become an assassin in the first place, although she was positive her father would have insisted she learned most of the skills anyway.

Elena's parents died years before their time. Until Thalia realised the truth about why her words had insulted Elena, she wasn't likely to forgive her; she'd realised that Thalia's naivety and lack of awareness for the world around them was mostly her fault. Elena wasn't willing to spoon feed Thalia anymore; it was time she grew up.

The day the Breach was sealed started out like any other, which is to say, cold and loud. With the addition of the mages, and new people clamouring to join each day, Haven was well overcapacity; the Inquisition either needed a new base, or it needed to stop hiring. Judging from the chatter about the town, the residents were optimistic about their Herald's chances to seal the Breach, and openly wondered what might happen afterwards, the idiocy of the question made Elena want to slap them; sealing the Breach was merely step one, finding the person responsible was step two.

That afternoon, Solas, Cassandra, Vivienne, Dorian, and the mages made their way to the Temple of Sacred Ashes. They stood below the Breach, circling it, and waited for instruction. The mages in Thalia's inner circle, with the exception of Solas, positioned themselves evenly within the others. Elena had, for the first time, agreed to use a staff to channel her will, and she stood spinning it idly as she waited, Feron at her side.

Solas, Cassandra, and Thalia walked calmly up to the Breach; the closer they got, the brighter Thalia's mark flared. She stared down at it with a frown, as both Cassandra and Solas turned to look at her. With a nod from the Seeker, Thalia strode confidently forward and stopped once she was in position. Cassandra and Solas turned around and approached the closest group of mages.

"Mages!" she called, immediately silencing any chatter from the group and gaining their full attention.

"Focus past the Herald! Let her will draw from you!"

At Solas' words, Feron turned to Elena, nervousness in his eyes. Elena placed her staff firmly in the ground in front of her and looked to Feron out of the corner of her eyes.

"Feed it to me." She murmured, before turning her attention back to the Breach as she saw it twist and write in the air above them.

Thalia struggled to push herself through the air around the Breach; it was almost as if the air got thicker the closer it was to the Breach. On Solas' signal, the mages all slammed their staffs into the ground, and opened up their mana reserves. Elena sent the magic, both Feron's and her own, out through the air, and directly into Thalia's mark. It wasn't what they'd been instructed to do, but it did mean that she could control the amount of energy Thalia would take from her. The other mages, although they might not realise it, left themselves wide open; there'd be nothing to stop Thalia from draining them dry if they weren't strong enough. It was why she'd told Feron to focus his will into her; she had the experience to know when and how to stop Thalia.

Thalia twisted and thrust her hand up towards the Breach, and as the mark connected, the ground shuddered and quaked around them all causing pebbles to bounce and rocks to fall. As Thalia poured all the energy around her into the anchor, Elena felt another magic joining her own that was familiar, comforting, and complementary to her own.

The air grew thinner around them, as mages started collapsing to the ground at their feet, empty and burnt out husks. Elena huffed out a breath, and poured more of her power into the mark, as Feron poured more of his into her.

With a deafening boom and blinding light, the Breach closed, sending a shockwave out that sent nearly everyone who wasn't already on the ground flying backwards. Elena simultaneously raised a barrier and grabbed Feron as he stumbled, keeping him upright, noticing that only a few mages remained on their feet- Vivienne, Fiona, Dorian, and Tobey amongst them.

She looked down into the crater, immediately spotting Thalia kneeling on the ground, head bent, her whole body moving as she sucked in desperate breaths of air. Elena sent a tendril of magic out to assess her state, breathing a small sigh of relief when she discovered that Thalia was okay, just fatigued. Just to be sure, she sent a touch more magic into her, and used it to sooth her sore muscles and eliminate Thalia's pounding headache. By the time Thalia had noticed a difference and looked up to find her sister in the crowd, Elena had already turned away and was helping Feron navigate his way through the bodies- some of them lifeless, others merely unconscious.

A cheer rang out from the mages as Thalia got to her feet, and Cassandra officially declared the Breach closed. The Inquisition, Thalia, had done the impossible.

********

Elena rested motionless on the roof of her cabin, having separated herself from all those celebrating. As she sat, she allowed her senses to explore the area around her. The air of Haven was heavy with the scent of burnt wood, as smoke rose high into the sky from the numerous fires decorating the landscape. Laughter, music, and singing rang out across the village; even the sternest of the Chantry Mothers cracked a smile or two. Beyond the walls though, the night was heavy, carrying nothing more than the sound of the wind as it rushed through the forests; the animals that once called those trees their home had fled.

When she'd returned to her cabin after the Breach, Elena had received a report from her people. Spies and watchers were going missing. She'd waited until the Spymaster acted before she made her own decision. Where Leliana had pulled her people back, Elena ordered hers further afield. Only a few returned. Whilst the loss of life was regrettable, she now knew what the Spymaster didn't- that there was an army making its way towards Haven. Elena briefly considered leaking the information, arguing with herself incessantly. Whilst she would risk eventually being discovered as the source, this was so much bigger than her secret, wasn't it?

Elena told no one, but made sure her people were ready to move at a moment's notice; ready for what they thought would be their next assignment. The more people knew, the greater the risk of exposure was. The people of Haven needed to look sufficiently scared and surprised when the attack came, or else someone was likely to notice, probably that damn Qunari who seemed to notice everything... At the end of the day, losing the game she was playing had far wider reaching consequences than the loss of a handful of lives. Elena would remain forever grateful to those who sacrificed themselves to keep her secret and ensure that the silence remained unbroken.

Light footsteps brought Elena out of her thoughts as she turned to look down at the ground to see who stood behind her.

"On dhea'lam, lethallan." Solas greeted her with his usual polite tone.

"Hello, Solas. Are the celebrations not to your liking?"

"I could ask the same of you. All of Haven is celebrating, yet I find you here- on a rooftop, lost within your own mind."

Elena studied Solas for a second. Was he not joining in because he too knew what was coming? The information hadn't been particularly hard to come by, so it wasn't unlikely. Or perhaps he, as someone venerated as a god, understood the mindset of the 'Divine', and knew that they wouldn't tolerate a rival- as Thalia has just proven herself to be. Perhaps it was both?

"Truthfully, Solas, I do not wish to... ah, what is it that the humans say? Count my chickens before they've gone to roost?"

"Hatched." He automatically corrected before falling silent.

"You don't believe this is over."

It was a question posed as a statement; something Elena knew to expect from him by now. She could ignore it any carry on what she was doing, but...

"It is not. There is still this 'Elder One' to contend with." She continued before letting out a breath she didn't realise she'd been holding in. "Still, I can understand why they might wish to take the time to relax; it wasn't too long ago everyone feared that The Breach would never be sealed. They probably feel like a weight has been lifted."

"You-"

The loud clanging of the village bell cut Solas' reply off, and Elena knew that the army was about to reach Haven. Elena slid off the roof as she heard Cullen calling the troops to arms.

"This bodes poorly." Solas commented from right next to her. Elena inwardly scoffed at his understatement and briefly glanced in his direction before rushing after Cassandra towards the gates, Solas following closely behind.

The pair arrived just as Cullen was telling the Ambassador that the templars marched under no banner, watching as shock made its way onto the faces of nearly all those present. A bright flash and loud bang from beyond the gate drew everyone's attention as a voice cried out from the other side.

"I can't come in unless you open!"

Thalia shrugged to herself before rushing forward to open to gate, nimbly dodging Cullen who'd reached out an arm to stop her.

A bulky man fell to the ground dead, revealing a bedraggled boy standing behind him, wearing worn out clothes and a hat that hid most of his face and the majority of his pale blond hair.

"I'm Cole. I came to warn you. To help. People are coming to hurt you. You probably already know."

Elena tuned the rest of his conversation out as she looked around the faces gathered; she would examine the strange boy and his familiarity later. Spotting someone she recognised, she called him over to her side.

"Feron." Elena walked over to where her healers had been huddled together near the entrance, waiting for Feron to catch up until she began issuing her instructions.

"Take the other healers, grab some scouts. You need to start loading all your supplies onto carts. Potions, bandages, blankets, anything you might need. Make sure that there is transport ready, then wait in the Chantry for the injured to come in."

"Hahren?"

"Feron, I need you to make sure that everyone will be able to evacuate quickly if the order is issued. Now go. Start preparing for the injured."

Elena didn't have time to watch him as they rushed away to repeat Elena's orders to the rest of the healers; she knew Feron at least would do as she asked.

"Mages! You- you have sanction to engage them! That is Samson. He will not make it easy! Inquisition! With The Herald! For all your lives! For all of us!" Cullen cried as he held his sword high in the air. His men cheered as his army surged forward towards the bulk of the oncoming templars whilst the mages waited for assignments.

Elena immediately dashed off, turning left and rushed towards the trebuchet that was furthest away, having expected that the majority of people would stay at the one nearest the gate. She parried strikes as she made her way towards the machine, noticing that the electricity from Dorian (who had followed her) was paralyzing them, which gave her an extra few moments to ensure her strikes hit the most vulnerable parts the templars.

Elena heard a bellow from behind her as the Iron Bull charged into the fray, swinging his weapon and smashing his way through the red templars, his laughter and yelling drawing everyone's attention as he went. It was a disturbing sight, but it did leave them open enough for Sera's arrows to cause maximum damage.

By the time Elena and her group had cleared their trebuchet, the two they'd ran past were firing freely. Elena darted over to the controls and began turning the crank. She was halfway done by the time Thalia and the rest of the inner Circle turned up, just in time to intercept another wave of red templars. Once ready, Elena thumped the firing mechanism and stood back to watch as the projectile sailed through the air and hit the mountain beyond the valley with a dull thud that echoed all around.

From the corner of her eye, Elena saw a new figure appear who immediately started muttering to her in a low, frantic voice that she had to concentrate to hear properly.

"So many injured already, so much death raining down on us. What do we do? Who do we help first? Where is she? What is she doing? They need your help."

Elena immediately knew what the boy meant, but as she started to thank him, he vanished. Seeing that Thalia and the reinforcements she'd brought with her had the situation under control, she set off back in the direction of central Haven just as a small avalanche tore down the mountain, taking out anything and everything in its path.

As she ran, she dodged both Inquisition forces and templars alike, killing any of the Elder One's forces if they got in her way. She dashed through the large village gates and bounded up the stairs, turning right as she noticed people flocking to the tavern. Elena burst through the doors, catching everyone's attention.

"Start making your way to the Chantry, take only the essentials. Those that can fight, help defend those that can't. Those that can't, spread the word. Get as many people as you can to safety."

There was a moment where everybody looked at her in stunned silence, but a fierce 'now!' from Elena prompted everyone into action as chairs scraped along the floor and people scattered. Elena remembered that this 'Elder One' had a dragon, a dragon that was yet to join the battle and that everyone else seemed to have forgotten about for some reason.

Elena heard the unmistakable cry of an approaching dragon, as if her thoughts themselves had summoned it, and turned to bolt towards the Chantry. The dragon sewed panic in its wake, and hoards of screaming people rushed towards safety, sweeping through Haven like a tidal wave. Those that couldn't keep up were abandoned; those that fell were crushed underfoot as the villagers stampeded with single-minded purpose.

Elena wove through the crowd with ease, thanks to her barrier, and arrived in the Chantry to find it in chaos. Injured people covered the floor, whilst frazzled looking mages darted between them, trying to heal as many as they could, had these people learnt nothing?! She seethed. She spotted the familiar head of Ellendra and picked her way across the hall, assessing the damages as she went.

"Healer, thank you for joining us. We're struggling to cope with the injured."

Elena bit back her reproach and stopped Ellendra from healing a badly hurt man, who looked vaguely familiar. The answer came to her a split second later; it was the greasy leader who'd greeted her when she'd first arrived.

"You're burning yourselves out. Stop healing everyone you come across and prioritise; don't waste energy on anyone too far gone."

"Healer-" she gasped before Elena cut her off.

"It's a question of numbers. Heal one person on death's door, or five who aren't. End the suffering of the one, and save the five. If you can't accept that, then find something else to do."

It was harsh, and it was cold, Elena knew that, but it was necessary. Healing wasn't just about getting people back on their feet, it was about ending the suffering of your patient; such an end came in many forms. Sometimes the ultimate cruelty was a kindness in disguise.

"I understand Healer. I will do what needs to be done."

Elena left Ellendra to see to her patient, and made her way around the other mages, telling them the same thing. Perhaps if there had been enough time between the Breach and the invasion, the mages might have had more time to recharge, but there hasn't been. The fact of the matter was that the healers were running on fumes, and the Inquisition was dying. Again. Elena shuddered as a wave of déjà vu washed over her, stubbornly forcing her mind to focus on the halls of casualties.

Chapter Text

As soon as Elena saw Thalia skidding through the Chantry doors, she rose from where she'd been knelt next to a patient, gesturing for Feron to take over from her, and approached the front of the building just in time to see Cole lowering Roderick to the ground.

"He tried to stop a Templar." He explained to Thalia. "The blade went deep. He's going to die."

Elena quickly glanced over the chancellor's wounds, silently agreeing with Cole's prognosis; without help, he would die.

The Commander appeared at her side and marched towards where Thalia stood, and listened as he and Cole helped explain what was going on, amused by Cullen's exasperation with the strange boy, despite the circumstances.

"Herald, there are no tactics to make this survivable. The only thing that slowed them was the avalanche. We could turn the remaining trebuchets, cause one last slide."

Thalia looked at Cullen, both her brows creased as she considered the consequences of such a plan, reaching the same conclusion the Commander had.

"We're overrun. To hit the enemy, we'd bury Haven." Her tone made it clear how reluctant she was to commit the village to such a fate.

"We're dying," Cullen explained, "but we can decide how. Many don't get that choice."

Elena found herself feeling a slither of respect for the Commander in that moment; he knew they wouldn't win, knew that their fates were sealed, but refused to just lie down and die without a fight. He was willing to fight until the bitter end, a true soldier.

Cole's soft voice split the silence. "Yes, that. Chancellor Roderick can help. He wants to say it before he dies."

"There is a path. You wouldn't know it unless you'd made the summer pilgrimage. As I have. The people can escape. She must have shown me. Andraste must have shown me so I could... tell you." He slowly managed to explain, quite pale and woozy from blood loss now.

Thalia didn't bother to school her bewildered and slightly irritated expression as she addressed Roderick.

"Roderick, old man, are you trying to say there's actually a way out of here?"

"It was whim that I walked the path. I did not mean to start- it was overgrown. Now, with so many in the Conclave dead, to be the only one who remembers... I don't know, Herald. If this simple memory can save us, this could be more than mere accident. You could be more." He wheezed out, missing the impatient look Thalia gave at his rambling.

"A 'yes' would've been quicker," she mumbled. "Well, what about it, Cullen? Will it work?"

"Possibly. If he shows us the path. But what of your escape?" He replied as he dragged his hand through his hair once more.

Thalia just waved her hand flippantly, not wanting to say aloud that there was a minimal chance she was making it out of this alive, just smiling at Cullen as he looked at her with dimming optimism in his eyes.

"Perhaps you will surprise it, find a way..." he commented, mostly to himself as he walked away from Thalia, and towards a group of people in Inquisition uniforms and started barking out orders.

"Thalia." Elena called, ignoring Thalia's surprise; it was the first time Elena had initiated contact in a fortnight. Elena eyed a darkened corner, and led her daughter over to it, painfully aware of the last time she'd done something similar, and tried not to draw parallels. The others moved away, allowing the pair their privacy.

"You aren't coming." Thalia said, as both a question and a statement.

"No, I'm going to stay with the healers and organise them."

"Fair enough. So, is this the part where we both cry, I say I'm too young to die and you fall to your knees at the injustice of it all?" the younger Lavellan attempted to joke, to which she received a raised eyebrow from Elena in response.

"It's possible, however, I doubt it; if anyone can survive this, it is you. Your stubborn nature will allow no less. Your part in this story isn't over." Elena laid a hand over where Thalia's heart lay in her chest as she concentrated on her spell. Her magic seeped into Thalia's body, connecting first with the blood they shared, before fanning out and spreading all over her body- to her muscles, to her bones, to her joints, to her organs. Everywhere. Elena used her magic to reinforce Thalia's body, resolutely ignoring Thalia's giggles because of how 'tingly' it felt as she concentrated hard on her task. Elena cut off the flow of magic, and lowered her hand, giving Thalia an appraising look before she stepped away.

"There. That will make you more durable. Now go, da'assan, the soldiers are waiting. I will see you soon."

The pair walked back out into the light to see their companions and a group of soldiers waiting for them near the door.

"Inquisition! Follow chancellor Roderick through the Chantry! Move!" Cullen called out, spurring everyone into action until only a few people remained with Thalia near the entrance.

"Herald..." Roderick rasped out, "If you are meant for this, if the Inquisition is meant for this, I pray for you."

Thalia nodded in his direction before turning back towards those who were waiting, watching as the group silently divided itself until only Cassandra, Sera, Vivienne, and Dorian remained with the soldiers.

"They'll load the trebuchets." Cullen explained, gesturing to the soldiers. "Keep the Elder One's attention until we're above the tree line. If we are to have a chance- if you are to have a chance- let that thing hear you.

Thalia and Sera high-fived each other before striding towards the door, and back out into the cold.

"Oi, sissy!" she yelled, "You better have a hot drinking waiting for me at the end of this."

Leaving those as her parting words, Thalia joined the soldiers and slipped out of the Chantry doors, leaving Cullen to bar them behind her. Elena stared at them for a moment, feeling worried, lost, afraid, and nervous all at once. She would see Thalia again, even if she had to drag her soul back from the void itself; they still had much to talk about.

Elena abruptly turned around, and made her way swiftly through the Chantry, passing through the group of remaining companions as she went, who were all eyeing her warily, as if she might snap at any moment.

"My Lady" a gruff voice called out from behind her. Elena turned and looked over her shoulder to see the Warden stood slightly in front of the rest.

"I-" he quickly cut himself off and started again. "My Lady, can I assist you in any way?"

Elena tilted her head in thought as she considered what task she might give Blackwall.

"Blackwall, I would be grateful if you could please help the healers load the injured onto the wagons."

He bowed slightly, and left, leaving the others behind.

"Need the Chargers for anything, Mini-Boss?"

"No thank you," Elena replied, not wanting the Qun or anything about it near her. "I imagine the advisors would appreciate a hand moving the supplies however."

She turned back and carried on making her way through the Chantry until she found the healers, her people working much more effectively now than they had been when she'd first arrived. Elena, with the help of a few others, quickly healed the least hurt of their patients, who in turn helped load the more serious cases, and the rest of the healers' supplies, on to the wagons. Thanks to Feron starting the task early, the injured, and the means to heal them, were quickly packed, and Elena began to lead them along the pilgrim's' path and out into the mountains beyond.

Once clear, Elena immediately got to work, going from cart to cart, healing those who needed it and assisting others. Elena watched as, at a nod from the Commander, Fiona raised her staff into the air and fired off a flare. The entire procession stopped to watch as one last projectile from the trebuchet sailed through the air and crashed into the side of the mountain with a crash that echoed throughout the valley. They watched as snow started to fall, slowly at first but it quickly picked up pace, racing down the mountain with a roar. What remained of the Inquisition watched as the village they'd called home for four months, and those that had attacked them there, were swallowed completely by the avalanche.

The entire group stood in silence as the snow settled. Haven was gone. Their Herald was gone. They had no base, a huge amount of injured, limited supplies, and no leader. Elena's eyes flickered from person to person, noticing the shock and sorrow on each one's face until the loud wail of a child split the night and jolted everyone back to awareness, each one now more determined than ever before to survive.

It felt like days before the Inquisition stopped to rest, but in reality, it was only hours. The healers were all still hard at work, with lyrium potions handed around almost as frequently as the healing ones; Elena refused to use the lyrium they offered her, insisting other people would have more use for it. Despite their numbers, Elena could see how weary they all were. There were still too many injured, and not enough mages; they'd all collapse before managing to see everyone.

"Cole." She called softly, only having to wait a moment before a familiar large hat appeared at her side. Elena subtlety glanced around her to make sure that nobody was paying attention to their conversation before she addressed the spirit boy in low tones.

"Many of these people aren't going to survive, their injuries are too severe, and we don't have the resources or time they'd need. Some of them are going to be in agony until they finally slip away, until a healer can help them pass peacefully. You can feel death pulling at their spirits; you can feel their pain, cant you?"

"The wound, it burns. I can feel the poison inside me spreading. Oh Maker, please don't let me turn into one of those monsters. Maker, please have mercy on my soul. It burns, it burns, it-"

"Yes, Cole." She cut him off, not wanting him to become lost in the suffering he was feeling from the person at their feet. "She isn't the only one feeling that way. Da'elgar, can you help them?"

"Yes." Cole disappeared from before her eyes and she let out a sigh as she returned to work.

********

Elena stood silently at the top of a snow bank that overlooked the valley they'd just travelled through. The wind howled unwelcomingly as it passed through the mountains, dragging clumps of unsettled snow with it as it went. She watched as the falling snow began to cover the tracks the Inquisition had left behind them, but didn't truly see, as her mind fixated on all the loathsome little comments she'd heard around the camp regarding Thalia. How fickle the shemlen proved themselves to be- how untrustworthy. How unworthy they were; the void could take the lot of them for all she cared. Not two hours had passed since Thalia had sacrificed herself for them, and yet she'd already been forgotten, likely reduced to a minor mention in some future scholar's textbook at best. Tittering nobles walked around the camp, offering nothing useful and getting in the way of everyone trying to work, loudly singing praises about Cassandra's bravery and prowess. For surely she'd be a suitable candidate for the Inquisition's leadership, they'd said. She was more devout, of better stock, and undeniably much more human. Elena hated the lot of them.

The wind swirled around, her faster than before, reacting to her angry aura as Elena's magic spread around the area. Elena had been monitoring the bond between her and Thalia, trying to get a vague location on her. The blood she'd gifted Thalia all those years ago still flowed through her veins, and as long as Thalia's heart still beat, Elena would always be able to find her. At least that was the theory. In reality however, the greater the distance, and the less energy she had, the harder it was for Elena to locate anyone this way.

A ripple in her aura caught her attention and she looked to her left to see Cole appear next to her.

"You remember me. People don't remember me. I make them forget."

He sounded so confused that Elena had to fight a smile. She was already aware that Cole had tried to erase himself from her mind, but unfortunately for him, Cole was a long, long way away from being anywhere near strong enough to be able to take knowledge from Knowledge.

"I'm not people." She replied, turning her attention back to the scenery.

"No, you're you. Just you. There's no one else left."

"No, not yet."

"You're going to bring them back."

Elena narrowed her eyes as she looked at the... actually she didn't know what he was, not properly. He wasn't a human, but he wasn't fully a spirit either. How much did his dual nature allow him to see?

"Not all of them, someone else will take care of the others."

Cole just made a noise of agreement and started fiddling with his sleeves, but didn't leave her. Elena turned her attention back to her previous task, and noticed out of the corner of her eye when Cole titled his head and focussed on something beyond the visible.

"You're waiting for her."

Elena didn't offer a reply.

"Your blood calls to hers, pulls her home. Yes, a strong heart with noble blood. She's survived worse."

Cole's comments were troubling; he was speaking of matters nobody else knew about, nobody except Elena and Knowledge, and she had intended to keep it that way.

"You helped before too. She's special now, but she doesn't know. You never told her."

"Nor will I, not until it's time. Sometimes secrets are better- for them and for you." Elena looked over at Cole as she pondered his age. He was old enough to have amassed the strength and the will to cross the veil, that much was certainly true, yet there remained something innocent and young about him, as if he still wasn't comfortable within his own skin, unsure about who or what he was.

"Keeping secrets can hurt people though, like it hurt you."

Elena snorted quietly under her breath. Her grandfather was an arse; he'd raised her, true, but he'd also told her that it was because he had to, that nobody else would, because her father couldn't, and wouldn't, forgive her for causing her mother's death. In reality, her dear grandfather hadn't liked her father, and hadn't approved of his daughter's relationship with someone not of 'his people'. Her grandfather had taken her in and raised her out of spite, despite her father's pleas otherwise. By keeping Ashelena from him, he'd stolen the last tie her father had to Belavhana. At least he'd tried to, and it had worked, for the most part; Ashelena had grown up believing that she was unwanted- a burden. That her grandfather resented her, and her father hated her and wanted nothing to do with her. By the time she'd confronted her father and learned the truth, they only managed to enjoy a few short years together.

"My grandfather lied to me out of cruelty, not kindness."

"Yes, that was a secret to hurt, not protect."

Elena didn't like the topic Cole had chosen, but at least the spirit boy could see the truth; she was extremely glad she didn't need to explain the difference between a well intentioned fib and a malicious lie.

Elena suddenly felt the bond shift a little, as if Thalia bad begun to move. Her head snapped round as she tried desperately to see what direction it was coming from, but to no avail. With a small growl in her throat, she turned to Cole, intending to ask a favour.

"You don't want the others to know because they'll hurt you. A secret to protect. I'll help."

Without saying anything else, Cole vanished. Elena immediately bolted to the cover of the nearest trees, hoping that Cole had properly understood what she intended to do, before her magic flooded her limbs and twisted her shape. She fell down onto four paws, and darted off into the night, back towards Haven.

Chapter Text

Elena tore over the land, her blood thrumming in her veins; the closer she got to Thalia, the stronger their bond became. She paid little attention to the landscape, and often found herself climbing out from within mounds of snow that hid deep ditches. The further she ran from the camp, the thicker, deeper, and faster the snow fell until she had no choice but to stop, unable to see further than a metre away from herself. Elena whined uneasily; she was so close to Thalia now, but still couldn't see her, and she knew Thalia wouldn't be able to see her either. Elena's pure white fur made sure she blended in seamlessly to her surroundings; though with how thick the snow was, she doubted even bright green fur would have helped.

During her journey, she'd caught the interest of a local pack, who, once she'd stopped, started sniffing around her with interest, as if they could tell that she wasn't quite the same as them, but wasn't different enough to not be like them at the same time. Elena snapped her jaws at a wolf that got too close as she started to pace the area in agitation, before an idea struck. She sat back on her haunches, and howled into the night, not stopping until she felt Thalia change direction. It was crude, but it was all she was able to do.

With the help of a few of the pack members, she eventually managed to direct Thalia away from the worst of the blizzard, and towards the camp. Once Thalia was almost in sight of the camp, Elena sped off and switched back forms before slipping back into the crowds of workers darting about, as though she'd never left.

In her absence, the Inquisition had erected several tents, including one specifically for her and Solas, which Elena tried not to bristle at, and tried to convince herself it was for any other reason than their shared ears and magic. She circled the tent, preparing it for Thalia's return by casting a variety of wards around it that were there to offer her some privacy; she'd need to be able to concentrate if Thalia was to survive her ordeal, and Thalia would live.

Having ensured the tent was secure enough (she wanted to see how Solas would handle the wards), she dashed off in search of Feron, noticing that Cole whispered something in the Seeker's ear before she and the Commander darted off, taking a few scouts with them. She found the elf in question tending to a fussy noble whose only problem was that he was severely overweight. After recommending a daily course of exercise and a reduction in food intake to alleviate the noble's symptoms, she pulled Feron away and out of the tent, leaving a spluttering, red-faced human behind.

"Hahren! I thought you were..." Feron trailed off and looked around them with confusion, but Elena's irritated huff brought him back to the matter at hand. "What do you... can I help?"

Elena nodded and jerked her head in the direction of her tent and the pair of them picked their way through the various groups of people on their path.

"I would like your help preparing my tent for Thalia's return, and, if you're agreeable, I would like you to help me heal her."

Technically speaking, Elena didn't need Feron's help, but since she'd unofficially taken him on as her apprentice, she felt that it was her duty to train him properly.

"She's alive? How do you know?" he asked eagerly, the enthusiasm in his aquamarine eyes dimming slightly at the look of 'don't insult me' he received in return. "I mean, yes, of course. What do you need?"

"Blankets, bandages, fresh water, clean clothes, cloths, and elfroot salve." She reeled off easily.

At Elena's nod, Feron darted off to find the supplies. By the time he'd gathered everything, the din in the camp had increased tenfold, with whispers flying here and there, speculating as to how Thalia had managed to survive. The most popular theory was that Thalia had died, again, and that the Maker had saved her, also again, but Elena barely paid any attention to the rumours, as her eyes couldn't look away from Thalia's unconscious body as the Commander carried her towards Elena's tent. She looked so small in his arms, so vulnerable and so very, very young.

Elena removed a few of the wards, making a safe path for Cullen to walk down, and he took every care to be gentle when he placed Thalia on Elena's bed. Elena watched, seemingly forgotten, as he reached out with a shaking hand to sweep a few strands of Thalia's honey blonde hair from her face before he seemed to remember himself, and snatched his arm back, looking at Elena sheepishly. From what Elena had witnessed, Thalia had made Cullen the target of her relentless flirting and teasing, and often left the Commander a flabbergasted, blushing mess. Elena almost pitied the man. Almost.

Elena kept her face carefully neutral as he made to stride past her, and just before Cullen swept the tent entrance to one side, he turned to look at her over his shoulder.

"Send word when you're done."

Elena didn't reply to his command; she didn't even acknowledge it. Feron, much to her relief, had already started laying out the various supplies, and once he'd finished, she asked him to fetch Solas, but told them both to wait outside until she said it was okay to enter. As soon as they were alone, Elena started removing Thalia's armour, careful to make sure she didn't jostle her any more than necessary, and covered her in blankets. Once freed, Elena ran her magic over and through Thalia's body, cringing at the damage she'd suffered, as she tried not to think about what might have happened if she hadn't enhanced her body before Thalia left the Chantry.

She knew when Solas approached, and felt him dismantling her wards as he walked towards the tent, hoping that he'd have the presence of mind to reset them once he'd passed. He gave her aura a gentle nudge to let her know that he was ready, and as soon as Elena responded, he swept the entrance aside and both he and Feron entered the tent.

"Lethallan, how can I help?"

Elena turned around so she could address Solas directly. He looked weary, but not exhausted, she found herself pleased to see, though she couldn't explain why that was. Her eyes flicked over to Feron, seeing him properly for the first time since they'd stopped to camp. His shaggy walnut hair was stuck up at all angles, and various items of his clothing had streaks of blood on them. Eagerness radiated from him most prominently, but Elena was able to see past that, to the fatigue that started to settle in the background. She should have noticed it before, Elena chided herself; she should have insisted he rested earlier with the other mages. A slight shift in Solas' stance drew her attention back to him, and she remembered why she'd requested his presence.

"Thalia is unconscious; I'd rather she be asleep instead."

Solas inclined his head in understanding and his eyes looked over Thalia's prone form, noticing the injuries on the limbs he could see, before they inevitably fell to the anchor, and seemed to linger there. There was something strange about Solas' expression, something Elena didn't like, and she made a mental note to examine the mark once Solas was asleep.

"What's the difference?" Feron asked, genuinely curious and confused, dragging her attention away from Solas.

"When someone is unconscious, they may suffer a disconnect between their mind and their body. A spirit, if so inclined, could take advantage of this, and attempt to fill the void." Solas replied, sounding ever the scholar.

"Her worship isn't a mage though."

"That is correct, da'lin, and usually it would not be as great a concern, however the mark on the Herald's hand is a direct link to the fade; it causes her presence to shine like a beacon when dreaming."

Feron pursed his lips in thought. Elena could tell that he had more questions, but before he could quiz Solas on how he was able to look after Thalia in the fade, she interrupted.

"Feron, how are your fire glyphs?"

"Um, okay hahren. I didn't get much chance to use them before, you know."

"I could set one before I rest, if you like. It would be no trouble."

Elena fought to keep the expressions of confusion and incredulity off her face; Solas was being oddly helpful tonight, and far more forthcoming with his magic than usual.

"Thank you ser, but I won't get better without practice." Feron replied easily.

Solas gracefully accepted his refusal, and made his way over to his cot, and, once he was asleep, Elena began to heal the damage to Thalia's head. Elena worked slowly, careful not to pelt Thalia with too much magic, and once Thalia began to regain consciousness, she forced her body to rest properly.

Elena instructed Feron to assess Thalia's injuries for himself, and once he'd done so, set him to work healing the lesser injuries. As a result of what Elena could only assume to be a fall, Thalia suffered several broken or fractured ribs, a concussion, a severely sprained ankle, a dislocated shoulder, numerous broken fingers and toes, most of which were frostbitten, and she was bruised so badly there was more bruised skin than not.

Elena gently coated each frostbitten limb in elfroot paste before wrapping it in a bandage, careful not to cause more damage. Once she felt Thalia acclimatising to the tent's temperature, Elena added more magic to heat up the glyph. Whilst Thalia's limbs were slowly heating up, Elena, with Feron's help, reset Thalia's shoulder and made a start on the broken ribs. Halfway through, Elena noticed that Feron was struggling to keep casting, so sent him off to rest, but not before asking him to fetch a replacement. In his usual exuberant fashion, Dorian swept into the tent with all the subtlety of a druffalo in a pottery shop. Elena wasn't quite sure why Feron had asked the altus to assist her, but couldn't deny that his presence was preferable to many other mages in the Inquisition.

Elena tasked Dorian with making sure that the tent warmed up gradually, and asked him to keep adding blankets to Thalia's body. Once Elena had fixed everything she could, she undid Thalia's hair and washed it for her, knowing how her daughter felt about poor hair care. Once washed, she gently towel dried it and braided it, before thanking Dorian for his help and sending him away so she could wash the rest of Thalia. With Cole's help (that Elena accepted only due to his nature), the pair of them rinsed Thalia's body as best they could, before adding more blankets to her.

Elena woke once an hour, every hour, for the next day, each time checking Thalia's frostbite and adding more energy to the glyph that was still heating the tent. People had started to try creeping closer to the tent- to peek at their great saviour Elena could only presume- but her wards soon took care of the trespassers. Part of her felt as if she should feel remorseful for causing the healers extra work, but a larger part of her felt that the nosy gossipmongers deserved their fate; the shock from her wards wouldn't kill them, but it would sting for a while.

Solas spent as much time as he reasonably could in the fade with Thalia, and when he wasn't dreaming, he was active around the camp, helping whoever needed help or refreshing Elena's wards. Cole took it upon himself to drop into see Elena, periodically bringing her food, pulling faces when it remained largely untouched, but not commenting. 24 hours after Thalia made it back to camp, Elena made a start on healing her fingers and toes properly, having judged the flesh once again stable enough to do so. Some of Thalia's broken limbs had started to heal, so Elena had to re-break them, which she did reluctantly through gritted teeth, reminding herself that it was for the best.

Elena had been working solidly for over a day and a half now without proper rest or food, stubbornly ignoring all the warning signs. The strain on her body seemed to crash into her all at once, as her vision faded and her limbs refused to hold her any more, sending her tumbling towards the floor...

Chapter Text

Elena fell forcefully into the fade. She looked around her and saw that she was in a forest bathed in darkness, the trees so thick that they blocked almost all the light shining from the moon. Silence surrounded her; there was no wind, no insects, no birds, nothing. It was completely unfamiliar territory to her, which meant only one thing- that someone had summoned her. Elena had limited skill at bending the fade to her whims, and wouldn’t call herself proficient by any stretch of the imagination. Against a true dreamer, she’d have very few means of protection; she might not even be able to force herself awake. Against a dreamer who sought to harm her, she’d be defenceless.

Uncomfortable with the idea of waiting, Elena set off in search of her host, forcing her mind to focus on a friendlier meeting spot. Elena was only able to see a few feet in front of her, but didn’t let that deter her as she wandered through the forest, weaving her way around the thick trunks as she went. Every so often, she’d hear a twig or a branch snap behind her, and she found it very hard not to feel herded in one particular direction. Elena fought to keep control of her emotions, painfully aware that the last time she’d been hunted like this was when her mother died. If Elena were going to die here, she wouldn’t make it easy for them, just as Belavhana hadn’t.

Eventually Elena came across a small clearing that held within it a small veilfire campfire and a fallen tree, bathed in bright silver by the light of the moon. She walked over to the log, and sat quietly, listening, waiting. The rustling of branches caught her attention and Elena’s head snapped up as she stared directly ahead of her; she would not face her host with fear or trepidation.

Elena watched as the shadows at the edge of her vision seemed to move and form a solid shape, and sat there motionless as she watched a colossal inky black wolf step forth from between the trees, head lowered, teeth bared. Dark smoke seemed to pour off its limbs and disappear into the shadows beyond and Elena couldn’t help but note how uncomfortable it was having all six of its blood red eyes fixed on her small form. The wolf stepped forward until it towered over Elena, and she had to bend her neck back to keep eye contact. Elena frowned as she caught a tendril of its magic, observing how familiar it was to her. Her face fixed into a frown as she opened her mouth, and-

Does the Dread Wolf know that you’re impersonating him?

The huge wolf huffed out the lupine equivalent of a laugh before the fade rippled around them and she found herself standing on a sandy shoreline with Radalas.

Perhaps, Little Bird, or perhaps not. Perhaps the Dread Wolf never existed in the first place; perhaps it was more than one person. Perhaps-

Perhaps” she interrupted, “this is another test to see if I've managed to piece your clues together yet.

Radalas’ auburn eyebrows shot upwards before they fell and he laughed to himself. Elena stood staring out at sea, the waves gently lapping at her feet as she waited for his mirth to subside, not quite understanding what was so amusing about the entire situation.

Aah, Miss Ashelena, the picture of you grows more complicated with each brush stroke, and yet I can’t help but feel as if I've seen the piece before, or at least one familiar. Tell me, who were your parents?

Elena stiffened slightly at his question.

Why?

Mere curiosity, Little Bird.” He said in a reasonable tone.

Elena very much doubted that was true. If she were to guess, she’d say that Radalas thought she had some connection to his deceased friend, as unlikely as that was, especially considering they died thousands of years ago.

I don’t see how that’s relevant to the Dread Wolf and his plans.

Perhaps it’s not, or perhaps it’s everything.” Radalas commented, still using that same, even tone.

 “I highly doubt that my parents, who might I add are no longer with us, will have much of an effect on anything. Perhaps if you gave me the name of your friend I might tell you if they at least have that in common.

What makes you think this has anything to do with them?” he asked, his voice having taken on a dangerous edge to it.

You are continuously comparing me to them, and suddenly you demand to know my lineage. I doubt that the two matters are unrelated.

Elena looked at Radalas then, and saw a hint of desperation behind his mirror-like eyes. There was definitely more to the story than Radalas had shared with her; whoever this person was that he’d lost, they were more than a mere friend.

Very well,” she sighed, answering if only to shut him up. “My mother’s name was Belavhana, and I can guarantee that she wasn’t around 4000 years ago.

Radalas’ shoulders seemed to slump then, as if he had, for some reason, pinned all his hopes on the idea that Elena’s mother was the friend he’d lost long ago.

I apologise, Ashelena; it’s just that you remind me very much of my friend. Sometimes it’s like speaking to her again. Even if she had somehow evaded death, she would have contacted me; I'm sure of it. Please excuse my appalling manners. If there’s anything you need, ask.

At his second apology, Radalas bent himself into a deep bow and didn’t look up until Elena reached out and gently touched his shoulder.

Think nothing of it. I understand what it’s like to lose someone that close to you.

Radalas straightened out and offered her a sad smile as the pair of them briefly thought about those who’d left them.

On to more pleasant topics I think. Tell me, how does the Inquisition fare?

Badly.” She answered simply, resisting a smile at his raised brow. “Their Herald nearly died, their base was destroyed, and they are lost in the mountains.

“‘They’, Little Bird. Do you not feel part of their group?

I am a part of the Inquisition, but I am apart from the Inquisition.

Radalas tilted his head to the side as he studied her expression, looking very much as if he was privately debating something.

Miss Ashelena, I say this with your best interests in mind... but I have heard of the reputation you have, and perhaps you might considering being... more friendly?

To his surprise, the corner of Elena’s mouth flicked up as she smirked at him.

I need to be this way for now. Perhaps- once Thalia has a secure enough position- that might change, but not before.

Then...” Elena watched as Radalas' face lit up with realisation. “Little Bird, you are full of surprises indeed. I hope for our sakes, that the Inquisition doesn't realise how cunning you are; you would undoubtedly draw their gaze.

Elena’s nose scrunched up in dislike; the last thing she wanted to do was end up working directly for the Nightingale for a number of reasons, least of all that she’d managed to miss the approach of an entire army. Besides, her cunning had already attracted the Dread Wolf’s attention.

Radalas...” she began, considering which question to ask first. “In your opinion, what was the difference between the Forgotten Ones and the Evanuris?

Radalas hummed in thought before he answered.

On the face of it, the two groups weren’t that different; both had leaders, both had a hierarchy, both had followers. Followers of the Evanuris looked down on those who followed the Forgotten Ones, believing them savage and uncultured. That was an unfair representation though. The Forgotten Ones believed that one’s position must be earned, and defended; it was a direct insult to the way the Evanuris chose its member. You see, the Evanuris was one family, but they weren’t as the Dalish remember them. Mythal and Elgar'nan only actually had two children- Dirthamen and Sylaise- and... How familiar are you with the concept of twin souls?

I was taught that each elvhen had a soul mate, but that they weren’t always romantic. They were the embodiment of everything the other lacked, and they balanced the other out. I was taught that a couple who’d completed the soul bonding rites was immensely powerful; a force to be reckoned with.” Elena neatly summarised, earning her a nod of approval.

That’s the essence of it, yes. Falon'Din and Andruil were Dirthamen and Sylaise's twin souls. The Forgotten Ones believed that they joined the pantheon because of this and this alone, and that June and Ghilan'nain did so through marriage. The younger Evanuris did, once or twice, prove themselves in battle, but they never allowed anyone to challenge them. If a threat emerged, the Evanuris banded together to eradicate it. That is the main difference between the two.

What of Fen'Harel?” she asked, fascinated by the picture of the past Radalas was painting.

Fen'Harel was a different case entirely. He proved himself to the Forgotten Ones, and they called him a brother, but he also had very strong ties to Mythal. History was right when it said he walked amongst both groups.

The pair lapsed into silence as Elena thought over everything she’d discovered. The Dalish had so much history wrong.

Why are they forgotten?” Elena asked.

They lost the war.” Radalas replied simply, leaving Elena to fill in the blanks herself, which she did. The history of the People was bloody and long, and sounded like it was very different from the idyllic fantasy the Dalish pictured in their minds. The elves had lost much since the fall of the empire, perhaps even too much to count; part of her could see why Andurfelen looked down on her, why he regarded her as little more than a human with pointed ears.

I have good news.” Radalas said in a rapid change of topic, firmly shutting the door on their previous conversation. Elena looked around and saw him grinning at her, and raised an eyebrow as a silent indication that he should continue. “Andurfelen no longer has time to deal with you directly, so I am to be your direct contact. Congratulations.

Elena didn’t offer a reply, not entirely sure about what kind of a response Radalas would be looking for. Andurfelen was a prat, yes, but easier to manipulate than Radalas, whose laid back attitude Elena was sure to be a front for someone far more deadly than Andurfelen who wore his emotions openly. Given the choice, she’d rather things had stayed the same, but nobody had asked her opinion; after all, she was nothing more than a disposable pawn to these people. Elena would have to think of some other way to monitor Andurfelen's movements and moods without being discovered, though chances were she’d freeze to death in the mountains with the rest of the Inquisition long before they caught her. At least she wouldn’t have to worry about facing a traitor's death, she mused.

The edges of Elena’s dream began to wobble and both she and Radalas turned to look at the sun as it bobbed and fell out of the sky. Elena turned to look at Radalas who smiled at her and offered her a sweeping bow as a farewell.

Until next time, Little Bird. Do stay safe.

Chapter Text

Elena woke gently, confused when the ground proved to be a lot softer than she’d expected, not to mention a lot higher up too. As awareness came back to her, she quickly realised that she was in a bed, and not on the floor where she’d fallen. Elena turned onto her side, and saw Thalia lying across the other side of the tent; it didn’t look like she’d moved in the past... how long had she been asleep? Elena's eyes moved on to the chair beside Thalia’s bed, noticing that Solas sat motionless, an open book resting on his lap that he ignored in favour of cataloguing Elena's every move with an unreadable expression on his face.

Hello Solas. How is she?” she asked, sidestepping the issue of how exactly she’d ended up in his bed, and why, but Elena suspected the answer was as straightforward as it appeared to be. Elena wasn’t ignoring the question, not precisely, but Thalia took priority.

Solas snapped his book shut and placed it under the chair before he answered, his gaze never once leaving hers, nor hers his.

Good afternoon. The Herald is resting well, and healing at a good rate. I predict she will awaken in the next day or so.

Elena nodded and sat up in bed, relieved to find that she was still dressed; not that she thought Solas was the type to relieve an unconscious woman of her clothing, of course, but there were definitely people in the Inquisition who wouldn’t be quite so courteous. She undid her hair before brushing it with her fingers and tying it back up in a messy bun. All the while Solas sat there, watching, unmoving. Elena could feel the atmosphere building to uncomfortable levels, and rose from the bed, turning to straighten it out as she stood, before quickly stretching her limbs in a much shorter version of her usual morning ritual.

Solas still hadn’t taken his eyes off her, and Elena could feel his gaze and his aura (deceptively, and forcefully calm, she thought) as she made her way over to Thalia and began examining her herself.

Stop.

Elena’s hand froze and her head shot up at Solas’ quiet command.

I would like to know why, when I returned to the tent yesterday, I had to catch a woman before her head hit the floor as she fainted from exhaustion.

Several different sarcastic replies flickered through her mind, each more acidic than the last, but she decided not to voice any of them; Solas had already answered his question. His eyes narrowed marginally when he realised that she wasn’t going to offer him a reply, and Elena watched as his jaw clenched tightly.

I admit that I do not have your skill when it comes to healing, but I am hardly incapable. Are you truly so proud that you’d prefer to push your body past its limits than ask for help?

Underneath the anger and the bristling, Elena detected something else, something softer; it stopped her from snapping back a tart reply of her own. His anger was much different to the last time they’d argued, and rather than snap back, she was curious about the reason for the change.

Ir abelas, Solas, I didn’t mean to imply that you were incompetent. It’s just that... Thalia is dear to me; I needed to ensure that she was stable before I rested.

He let out a soft sigh, as if exhaling his anger, and Elena watched as his eyes searched her face, possibly examining the expression she didn’t bother to hide.

I understand, lethallan, truly, but working yourself to the point of exhaustion benefits nobody.

In the grand scheme of things, I matter very little, especially compared to the one who yields the mark. Her life is, undoubtedly, more important than my own.

Fenedhis lasa, asha!” Solas stood and began pacing the tent, his anger back in full force; Elena had the distinct feeling that if he’d had hair, he’d be running his fingers through it in frustration. She sat there, silent and slightly shocked at his outburst, as she waited for Solas to articulate his thoughts. Truth be told, she didn’t fully understand his anger. He’d given up his bed, so perhaps he was tired? Perhaps... something else? Elena had the distinct impression that voicing her thoughts would only make things worse, so she kept them to herself.

Despite your best efforts to drive them away, there are people here who care about you and your continued wellbeing. Have you considered how your sister would feel if she awoke only to discover that you’d traded places with her? Have you thought about what happens when you aren’t there to help anymore? Who might take that role? Feron seems to be progressing adequately, but your skills far exceed his.

Elena almost snorted at her own idiocy. For a moment, she thought that perhaps his worry stemmed from a personal concern over her health, but she quickly realised how naive that was. Solas cared about her, yes, because she was the best healer in the Inquisition; she was their Herald’s personal healer. Logically, Elena knew that, but she still felt as her stomach dropped and she had to force her expression into a bland mask. Despite his tricky nature, Elena had come to respect Solas, more than the skills he had to offer, but now she realised that it wasn’t mutual. Felasil, she chided herself, she was a fool for feeling this way- for caring about the opinion of a man who’d sooner kill her than be honest with her.

Now that Elena knew his concern wasn’t personal, she didn’t feel the need to continue this conversation; he’d said his piece. He was right; it was undoubtedly better to keep their relationship strictly professional.

Thank you for lending me your bed; I apologise for the inconvenience caused.

Elena felt Solas’ aura expand and brush up against hers accidentally; her dismissal had irritated him, and it made his magic crackle in the air. She looked up and gave him a quizzical look- was it not the answer he’d wanted? Was he looking for an argument? Solas left the tent, and mentally shrugging to herself, she put the matter aside as she went over Thalia’s injuries just to make sure Solas hadn’t missed anything. She hadn’t been lying when she said that she didn’t think him incompetent, but... he wasn’t her.

Upon discovering that Thalia was well on her way to making a full recovery (though Elena wouldn’t be surprised if she came back stronger and healthier than before thanks to her previous intervention), Elena set about dressing her. It wasn’t long before Cole popped in to help her, and soon Thalia was dressed in thick, brown leggings, a long sleeved, woollen top, and once Elena had redone the enchantments of them, Thalia's usual footwraps.

Thalia slept on, blissfully unaware of the state that the Inquisition was in. Initially, Thalia’s return resulted in hope running rampant throughout the camp, but the longer she slept, the more it dwindled; her people were impatient and clearly didn’t appreciate the effort it took and the amount of healing she’d required in the first place. They just thought that Elena would shove some magic into her, and perform a miracle.

Elena stayed sat in her chair, silently watching vigil as the hours ticked by. At one point, Solas had entered and gone to bed, but Elena had barely noticed, so enthralled in her book that she was. Somehow, Elena had managed to get hold of one of the books that Varric had written, and it was, to Elena’s mind, so bad that it was actually quite good. She couldn’t stop turning pages as she devoured chapter after chapter. One scene consisted of a particularly brutal battle involving mages, and if Elena didn’t already know that the author wasn’t a magic user, the writing alone would have told her; she decided there and then that she’d have to educate Varric if he planned on using mages in any future publications. It was a matter of pride.

As the light was dimming in the clearing, Elena heard a quiet tapping at the tent's entrance and looked up from her book, forcing her face into a blank expression when she saw who'd come to visit. Evidently someone had noticed that she'd removed her wards, and done what they thought to be the most logical thing- telling Mother Giselle. Elena was half-tempted to hunt the person or people responsible down and strangle them.

"I am here to see if you need any assistance." She said quietly so as not to wake Solas.

"Not necessary." Elena replied, turning back to her book; she’d just reached a love scene and didn’t feel it was appropriate to read such a thing in a crowded tent.

"I'm sure you have other duties to attend to." She tried again.

Elena looked up from her book; she didn't bother to hide the fact that she thought the interruption was an irritation.

"You have been at the Herald's side for some time, child. Surely you must need to rest?"

Elena's jaw clenched and her magic flared as she resisted the urge to remove the mother from her space; she hated when people referred to her as a child, and she had already rested. She snapped her book shut and offered Giselle her full attention.

"Why are you here?" she asked bluntly.

"I am merely here to offer you a reprise, Healer."

Elena narrowed her eyes as she looked at the mother, whose placid face only served to annoy her and make her suspicious. Whilst Elena hadn’t wanted to argue with Solas earlier, she had no such qualms when it came to anyone else.

"I highly doubt that. I think you're here for much more selfish purposes. I think you're here so that as soon as Thalia wakes up, you can spout off some Chantry spiel and reiterate to her that yours is the only religion that matters, that it was your god that saved her, that it is your god that she should be thankful to, whilst blissfully ignoring her beliefs. I think that no matter what she says, you're going to twist until it fits a teaching, ignoring the bits that don't fit."

"The Chantry offers comfort to anyone in need, Lady Lavellan. I understand that it might be hard to see all you believe called into question."

"'All I believe'?" Elena asked incredulously. "What do you know of my beliefs, mother?"

"I know that you revere a number of gods, but that it was the Maker that saved the Herald, and that it must be hard for you to accept." Giselle said in an infuriatingly soothing and faux understanding voice. Elena wanted to hit her, or at least set her on fire.

"Just how, exactly, did your Maker save anybody?"

"By sending his beloved bride to save the one person who could stop the violence."

Elena almost didn't hide her scoff. Where was the Maker's benevolence when Celene purged the elves? Where was the Maker's goodness when Orlais marched on Halamshiral and took the city from them?

"If that's what you believe, that's your prerogative, but don't think it's acceptable to force your beliefs on me, my sister, or anyone else. Just because the masses believe something, that doesn't make it true, mother."

"I meant no offence, Lady Healer, truly."

"That might be the worst part about it; you genuinely believe that turning people to the Maker's side is the best and right thing to do. If Thalia wants to talk to you when she is awake then that is up to her. In the meantime, I'll ask you to leave."

The mother left, somewhat disheartened, and Elena picked up her book, intending to resume where she’d left off. A quick glance over at Solas showed he was still deep in the fade, but when she looked over at her daughter, she was surprised to see a pair of glazed turquoise eyes looking at her from a face that openly showed its confusion and disorientation.

Chapter Text

"Mamae?" Thalia's weak voice called out to her from the bed. Elena immediately searched her daughter's face for signs as to how aware she was. There were deep, dark circles under Thalia's eyes, and her voice was rough from disuse. Her skin, normally a healthy golden colour, had lost most of its usual depth, resulting in the tan lines of her vallaslin looking much more prominent than usual. Elena helped her sit up, propping her up against some pillows, before reaching over to retrieve a water skin and passing it to Thalia, who gratefully accepted it before slowly drinking her fill.

"Am I dead?"

"No." Elena replied, taking the water skin back once Thalia had finished with it. She watched as Thalia's eyes darted around the tent before she sunk further into the pillows.

"Did you save me?"

"I had assistance."

"No, I mean before. Did you save me?" Elena paused as she realised that Thalia was referring to the wolves that guided her path.

"I... yes."

"Why?" she asked bluntly, and Elena looked at her in shock- what did she mean 'why'?

"I was horrible to you. I wouldn't have blamed you for just leaving me there. Well, I mean I would have, but I'd have deserved it."

Did Thalia truly think she was so cruel that she would abandon her to her fate in the mountains just because they'd argued? The thought stung more than it should have, and Elena swallowed thickly as she tried to keep the hurt from showing by busily rechecking to make sure Thalia's injuries had all healed properly.

"I am sorry mamae, for what I said. I don't think you're heartless, and I know you aren't weak."

Elena sighed to herself. Thalia's apology was sincere this time, and she did appreciate it, but Thalia still didn't understand what she'd said wrong in the first place.

"Thalia, I wasn't angry because you called me names."

"Eh? So then..." realisation dawned and all traces of confusion left Thalia's features. "It was what I said about your parents?"

Elena hummed in acknowledgement.

"...That makes no sense. I called you a murderer. Isn't that way worse than your parents being- than what I said?"

"Not to me."

She could feel Thalia's eyes on her, but avoided meeting her gaze as she continued checking wounds she already knew to be healed.

"You really, really, really loved them didn't you?" Thalia asked, her voice filled with wonder. Although Thalia certainly didn't mean to keep offending Elena, the fact that she viewed the depth of Elena's affection for her parents as astounding was insulting. The fact that Thalia didn't seem to hold her in the same regard felt like a punch to the gut; Elena found herself questioning whether they truly were more like sisters, rather than mother and daughter. How would Thalia describe their bond?

"Then, I'm sorry for what I said about your parents. I should never have said what I did. The fact that you adore them so much means they must have been pretty great people."

Memories of her parents flooded Elena's mind then. The way they both looked when they laughed, the way they stared at the other with unabashed devotion in their eyes, the way they looked at Ashelena with marvel and adoration, so proud of what they'd made together, and of the person she was becoming.

"They were." Elena said softly, with a small smile on her face.

"Do you think... do you think they would have liked me?" Thalia asked with uncharacteristic hesitation.

Elena tilted her head to one side as she thought about the answer. Her mother would have cringed at most of the things Thalia came out with, and would have made it her personal mission to teach her how to insult people subtly, but she would definitely have admired Thalia’s ability to make friends easily. Her father wouldn’t have appreciated that Thalia often acted without thinking, but would have admired her dedication when it came to how hard she’d worked at perfecting her bow technique and potion knowledge.

Whilst they would have undoubtedly argued from time to time, Elena could say with absolute certainty that-

"They would have cherished and loved you dearly, Thalia."

A broad smile lit up Thalia's features as she snuggled further into her pillows, tugging her blankets up with her. Elena watched as Thalia’s eyes roamed about the tent as she catalogued her surroundings.

Where are we?” she asked.

Somewhere in the Frostback Mountains.

Somewhere?

Elena nodded.

Why haven’t you scouted around?” Thalia asked, and Elena narrowed her eyes at the curtness. Thalia wasn’t asking why she hadn’t left with a group of scouts; she was asking why she hadn’t flown around the mountains, as if it was somehow Elena’s duty to perform banned magics on a whim. The girl didn’t understand what she was asking.

As you know, Thalia, there are certain capabilities of mine that I’d rather keep private, if for no other reason than my own personal safety.

Thalia pulled a face before she responded, letting Elena know that she thought she was being dramatic.

You’re helping them though, they wouldn’t attack you.” Thalia said, to which Elena scoffed. If only the world was as black and white as Thalia seemed to believe.

Don’t underestimate the Chantry or a righteous mob, Thalia. They mistakenly think what I do is blood magic.

Thalia started muttering under her breath about the fact that technically Elena did use blood magic sometimes, but quickly shut up when she caught sight of the glare Elena sent her way. Thalia huffed and pouted as she undid her hair from Elena's braid.

Ugh, fine, but for the record I think you’re being selfish.

Elena mentally counted to ten in every language she knew, barely resisting the urge to deliver a few unwelcome truths about Thalia’s opinions. There was a time, and a place, and this was neither. If Elena wanted Thalia to learn, she’d have to show her the truth of the world, as anything she said she knew Thalia would flippantly brush off and ignore; Elena would force Thalia to see the truth if she had to.

Duly noted, da'lan. Now, is there anything you wish to know?

Thalia tapped her chin in thought as she considered Elena's question.

Nope, so I’ll tell you what happened with the Elder One instead if you like?” Elena nodded in agreement. “Okay, so, there we were, we’d just killed some huge red templar monster thing, aimed the trebuchet, and that damn dragon swooped down towards us all before we could fire. For the record, swooping is bad. Okay. Okay so, so then we all tried to make a break for it, but the lumpy dragon cut me off from the rest of them. With me so far?

Thalia looked at Elena expectantly and Elena just nodded; of course she was still ‘with her’, though she might not remain so if Thalia insisted on telling it in such a terrible manner.

Cool, cool, okay so there I was, wind knocked out of me after bouncing along the ground, and I looked to my left to see some big, weird shaped thing coming towards me. You’ll never guess who it was!” she burst out, oddly excited to be telling a story about how she nearly died.

The Elder One.” Elena said unenthusiastically.

Wow, story spoiler much, but yes, yes it was. Let me tell you now, he is an ugly bastard- all spindly limbs and stretchy skin. He’s like a walking, talking piece of red lyrium. Super gross. So... He strolls up to me, and pauses for dramatic effect as his dragon lands behind me and starts lolloping along the ground. Have you ever been face to face with a dragon? Well I have. Word to the wise, hold your nose, because their breath stinks! Honestly, it’s like it ate something that died, barfed it back up, then ate it again. I mean really-”

“-Thalia.” Elena interrupted. So far, she’d learned nothing useful or that she didn’t already know.

Right, yeah, sorry, anyway, yeah so, then he starts to talk- this Elder One, not the dragon. Obviously. He’s all “fear me and obey!”, and I was like, “pfft, I’m not scared of you, I’ve weathered my mother’s rage fits”.” Thalia winked at Elena and took a deep breath to carry on. Despite how dramatic Thalia’s retelling was, Elena knew, with 99% certainty, that Thalia had said exactly what she said she had. “Then he was all like “exalt me, because my name is Corypheus.” I mean if I was him, I’d go by that name; it’s much more badass than ‘the Elder One’, because that just makes him sound like somebody’s grumpy grandfather. Wait, do you think he’s got ugly lyrium infused grandkids running about the place?

Elena sighed as she fixed Thalia with an unimpressed stare. At this rate, the Elder One would have conquered the world and the Inquisition would have died from old age before Thalia had finished her tale.

Sorry, sorry, but you didn’t see him. Major yuck. Anyway, he told me to kneel, I kinda sorta definitely laughed in his face, which he did not like at all. Then, the dude pulled out some frickin’ ball, orb thing out of his arse and activated it and it had red shit coming off it, or from it, or whatever. Then the bitch pointed at me, and he tried to remove the anchor, and, oh sweet Sylaise’s jiggly fun bags, did that hurt. He activated the Anchor and did some fuckery with it, he was all “I was planning this ritual for years and then you just waltz in and screw me over. I want to beat up heaven. You ruined my plan, blah, blah, blah.” Then right, he strolled over, and the twat picked me up like a damn rag doll, I just swung about, which, bad decision because I think I did my shoulder in. Anyway, there I was, swinging away, and he’s all “let me tell you all my plans”, because he’s a moron. He wants to breach the fade and make Tevinter great again, or something. I think he’s planning to be its god or something? Keeping up?

Elena, having only paid minimal attention to Thalia before now suddenly focussed completely on what her daughter had revealed.

An orb?

Yeah, it was all like, small and had swirls on and stuff. Like a fingerprint. Or maybe it wasn’t small, it just looked small because of his huge monster claws. Why? You know anything about it? I know Solas said an artefact had created the Breach, do you think that’s what he meant?

I imagine that was the artefact that Solas mentioned, yes. I suspect that without it he wouldn’t be half as powerful as he is.

Thalia made a noise of consideration and tapped her chin again in thought.

Okay, so, let’s try and get it off him. That would be sensible, yeah? Hey, maybe I’ll give it to you for your name day? It would make a lovely paperweight... maybe if you shaved the bottom off...

Elena barely heard Thalia’s quip, too focussed on the fact that she’d discovered a major piece of information; she’d need to share it with Knowledge as soon as possible.

Back to the tale, so then the prick launches me across the clearing and I slam against the trebuchet, and then he has the goddamn cheek to blame me when he proved too useless to remove it! I mean can you believe that? Saying shit like how I’d spoiled the Anchor and other crap. Anyway, then he’s all like “oh well, let’s try again. I’m going to kill you now, sorry, not sorry” and his dragon blatantly agreed. I saw your flare go off, so I kicked the lever, he flew away, and I dove headfirst down a mineshaft. In hindsight, it wasn’t my best plan, but... it looked daring. We know the rest, I woke up, followed some wolves, fell into Cullen's arms, and woke up here. That, my dear mother, is how I faced a dragon and this Elder One and lived to tell the tale. Epic, huh?

Elena didn’t answer, lost in her thoughts as she was. Thalia’s tale, whilst unnecessarily long winded, contained snippets of useful information, but still wasn’t enough to complete the picture she had of the events that led up to the Conclave; there was something she was missing, some clue dancing at the corner of her vision. The sensation was maddening; Elena needed more information.

Quickly she began listing what she knew, what she suspected, and in what order. One- Solas is the Dread Wolf, two- whispers of the Dread Wolf stirring intensified a year ago. Three- Corypheus acquired a magical artefact- the exact nature of which remains unknown- potentially the same artefact Solas was already aware of. For now. Four- The Divine, templars, and mages called peace talks. Could the Dread Wolf have influenced their actions? If not, did the Elder One’s influence reach that far? Five- The Conclave blew up, eradicating many prominent members of Chantry leadership, as well as a few key mages and templars, creating the Breach- a tear in the veil through to the raw, physical fade. Six- Thalia received the Anchor (the only means of closing the veil tear) and was imprisoned in Haven whilst it ate her alive, if Adan's private notes were to be believed. The Dread Wolf turned up at Haven, claiming to be a fade expert, and soothed the mark as best he could. Eight-Thalia closed the Breach, using dozens of mages to do so, and then nine- The Elder One came for Thalia in order to retrieve the Anchor, using the orb as the means in which to do so. During the attempt, he revealed point ten- that he intended to breach the physical fade, and judging from the red future, to tear the veil down whilst he’s at it. Lastly, point eleven- he has an extremely obedient dragon.

Elena pinched the bridge of her nose as her mind helpfully provided her with a few quick conclusions. Corypheus and the Dread Wolf are, or were, connected in some way. Perhaps not in league with each other, but still affiliated nonetheless. Additionally, the orb and the Anchor are linked; the stability of one affects the stability of the other. Thalia wasn’t, at first, strong enough to bear the mark. Was it because she’s mortal? Because she isn’t a mage? Something more? The Anchor is somewhat like a portable door to the physical fade; it can close rifts, so logically should also be able to open them too, though Elena wasn’t sure if the other members of the Inquisition had realised that yet. Just as Solas has ties to Corypheus, he also likely has links to the orb, therefore meaning that Solas and the Anchor may be linked as well. Lastly, the orb likely created, or was key to creating, the Breach, therefore meaning that it contains at least the same amount of power as the dozens of mages used to seal it.

The most pertinent questions on Elena’s mind though were about the Dread Wolf himself. Was Solas the enemy, what were his goals, and what would he do if he got his hands on the orb? Instincts told Elena that finding the answer to one of her questions would reveal the answers to the other two, and Elena knew, deep in her gut, that she really wouldn’t like what she discovered.

Chapter Text

Elena and Thalia’s conversation petered off soon afterwards, tiredness hitting them both, and they curled up together on Thalia's bed. Knowledge came in the night, and Elena shared everything Thalia had shared with her, and asked them to keep an eye on Solas’ movements during the day. Hopefully he wouldn’t notice, but if he did, Knowledge was under strict instructions to retreat. Solas had many friends across the other side of the veil, so Elena wagered that it wouldn’t be unusual for some of them to follow him during the day.

Elena woke earlier than Thalia the next day, and after leaving her with specific orders not to engage in any strenuous activity, she left the tent for the first time in a few days and went to check on the other healers. Supplies were running critically low, and the mages were all exhausted, not able to sleep much between their shifts. Elena’s departure from the tent seemed to open the floodgates for visitors. Elena watched from a distance as each of Thalia’s companions took a few moments to visit her, privately noting that the Commander spent the least time out of everyone, but he did leave with a blush on his face that Elena could see from across the other side of the camp.

Elena put the matter to the back of her mind; it wasn’t any of her business who Thalia flirted with. She looked around the camp in search of Dorian, as there was something she’d been meaning to say to the young Altus, something that shouldn’t have taken her nearly half as long to say. Elena walked over to the tent she knew Dorian stayed in, nodding at Solas along the way, and found him sat on his bed, reading. She knocked on the tent pole and noticed the flicker of surprise that flit across Dorian's face when he saw her standing there.

“Aah, our prodigal healer emerges victorious! It was the fire glyphs that tipped the balance in the end, wasn’t it? No need to thank me, you’re quite welcome.”

Elena rolled her eyes as she looked around at their surroundings. Dorian’s tent was on the edge of the camp, his Tevinter status meant that many still distrusted him despite everything he’d done to help so far. Without leaving the camp itself, it was as secluded as it was going to get.

“Do you have a moment to speak? Privately?” Elena asked.

“Well, well, well, aren’t we bold? I must tell you, even as beautiful as you are, that you aren’t quite my type, my dear.”

Elena snorted and crossed her arms. For all Dorian’s bravado, she detected an undercurrent of nervousness underneath it, as if he thought she might somehow reject him. Fool boy, she thought, somewhat fondly.

“Then the feeling is mutual, little magister, for as handsome as you are, you aren’t my type either.”

“Darling Elena, I’m everyone’s type; I’m delightful.”

Elena laughed under her breath and took the seat that Dorian offered her. She watched as he studied her; he looked like he was trying to decide how to word something, so she waited, curious, for him to speak first.

“I meant to come talk to you myself actually, but there never seemed to be the right opportunity to do so. There never seems to be a good time to deliver bad news, does there? I wasn’t actively trying to avoid you, but neither did I seek you out either.”

Elena furrowed her brows, not quite understanding what Dorian was blathering about. Truth be told, she hadn’t really noticed that Dorian had been avoiding her.

“Is this about the Red Future?”

“I- yes. How did you know?”

“Stab in the dark.” Elena answered. “How privileged is this information?”

For some reason, Dorian chuckled before he answered. “For you? Very.”

With a flick of her hand, Elena cast a variety of runes in and around the tent. Nobody from the outside would be able to approach without her knowing, not that they’d hear anything if they did; the large glyph Elena cast on the floor of the tent prevented any noise escaping its boundaries. Dorian studied the aforementioned glyph with one eyebrow crooked; he made a noise of consideration before he looked at her questioningly.

“Interesting magic you’ve used here; it’s similar to the ones used in Tevinter. I’m surprised a Dalish elf would know it, yet alone be able to cast it.”

Elena bristled slightly at his tone; he was so sure that what he said was true.

“The spell is elven; though I'm not surprised your countrymen created a bastardised version and called it their own. Your people pillaged the shattered remains of mine, remember?”

“Not quite how I’d tell it, but I see your point.” Dorian mumbled. He stood and walked over to his pack, rummaging around until he found what he was looking for and produced a bottle of wine. He walked over to his bed and sat down, before uncorking it and taking a sip. “Would you care for a drink? I’m afraid I don’t have any glasses.”

Elena ignored the bottle he held out to her and looked at him impatiently, causing him to sigh and take another drink before he spoke.

“Aah, right. Down to business, I suppose. You are aware that the Herald and I were sent a year into the future, yes?” Elena nodded her head in a silent confirmation. “Has she spoken to you at all about the things we saw?”

“I know enough.”

“Excellent. Now, naturally what we both experienced was mostly the same, however there was one thing I learned that the Herald did not. I found your notes.” He said conversationally, leaving Elena confused. Notes? What notes? She wondered. “On the Blight. They were in your language so I asked Solas to translate.”

Elena stilled as the implications set in. After all the times she’d looked down on other people for leaving notes, she’d gone and done the same damn thing. Her mental state had... deteriorated somewhat in the Red Future, and she’d had to rely on writing things down to keep her scattered thoughts in order. Her private writings contained some extremely sensitive information. In the wrong hands, it would prove to be beyond damaging. In anyone’s hands, the information was dangerous.

“I see.” Was all she said, not willing to give Dorian more free knowledge.

“In the Red Future, you were working on a cure for the Blight. Your notes detailed a series of experiments you were performing on different blood samples. They also mentioned ‘the last time’.”

Elena had to fight to keep a calm exterior, when inside her chest her heart was pounding and her magic coiled, ready to strike.

“You’ve cured Blight before.” He stated.

“I have?”

“I know what I read.” Dorian snapped, clearly not amused by her non-specific answers.

“No, Dorian, you know what Solas told you those notes said, that's it.”

“That’s exactly what I thought, so I asked your sister to verify what was written. She admitted that whilst she couldn’t read or write the language, she was able to identify the penmanship as yours.”

Elena sat back as she rested her forearms on the arms of the chair.

“Even if the notes contained the information you claim they did, you are taking the ramblings of a half-crazed, lyrium-tainted woman as fact. If they’d have said that a cat had usurped the Orlesian throne would you have believed them?”

“Fasta vass, woman. It’s a tremendous thing you’ve done! Why won’t you admit it?”

“Dorian, I have never before cured the Blight.” Elena stated firmly.

“That’s simply not true, I know it isn’t. You duck and dive admirably, my dear; you should consider a career in politics.”

“Elves don’t have careers, Dorian, unless you count being classed as a valued servant to a spoiled, pampered human as a career.” Elena sneered as she replied, spitting out the word ‘human’ as if it offended her.

“Perhaps not, but I digress. I know that you’re lying. Take your daughter for example.” Dorian put extra emphasis on Thalia’s connection, as if bragging about the fact he knew what many others didn’t. “I suspected there was something special about her when we were investigating Valammar; she seemed to know exactly where, and how many, darkspawn there were. She was even better than Blackwall. At the time, I thought it was on account of her being an elf- heightened senses and whatnot- but now that I think about it, it all makes sense. Our beloved Herald can sense the darkspawn, can’t she?”

Elena sighed deeply; Dorian knew too much and too little simultaneously. Without knowing what he was going to do with the information, she couldn't make a decision on what to do about him. She needed to know how far he’d take it.

“It isn’t what you think.” Elena replied, sounding weary.

“Oh this should be good. Go ahead, do enlighten me.”

Elena sighed again, ignoring Dorian’s glibness as she thought about how best to explain what happened.

“When Thalia was extremely young, she encountered someone carrying the Blight. As a result, she caught the sickness.”

Elena looked up and saw Dorian’s eyes darting between her own, as if he were trying to will the information from her head by sheer force.

“How?”

That one word somehow managed to ask several questions at the same time. How had Elena done it? How did Thalia catch it? How did she survive? How could you have known? Elena looked straight into his face as she answered, so he’d be able to see the seriousness of her words.

“I removed the tainted blood.”

The colour drained from Dorian’s skin as he stared at her in horror.

“You- you- on a child?!” he whispered. “Maker’s breath; you performed blood magic on a baby.”

“Tell me, Dorian, what is worse- to use forbidden magic to save a life, or to allow someone a slow, painful death, even though you know how to prevent it? You judge me for doing what needed to be done, for using so called ‘evil’ magic, when in reality, you know nothing, and understand less.”

“I wouldn’t call sacrificing the lives of countless other people just to save one merciful. I like Thalia, Maker preserve me I do, but how do you think she’d feel if she knew that people had to die just to save her?” he asked, earning him a raised brow. If Dorian were trying to appeal to her conscience, then he’d have an extremely hard time doing so. Firstly, Elena didn’t subscribe to a one-morality-code-fits-all scenario, and secondly:

“Nobody died to save her.”

“Oh, so you just partially drained a few of your relatives instead. Yes, that’s much better.”

“Firstly, if someone willingly offers their blood, then I don’t see a problem with that, as long as they know the consequences and do so freely, and secondly, I only used one person as a source.”

Dorian actually looked shocked then, and Elena wasn’t sure if it was because she’d used one source, or if it was because she was the one she’d used in the first place. She wasn’t particularly interested in finding out either; it was unimportant.

“Putting your... beliefs to the side for now, clearly something went wrong, or else she wouldn’t still be able to sense the darkspawn. I thought only Grey Wardens could do that?”

His tone was borderline accusatory and Elena scoffed in response; she wouldn’t be judged by a child who didn't fully understand what he was lecturing her about. It was akin to her lecturing him on proper moustache maintenance.

“Nothing went ‘wrong’, so perhaps you could save your ill informed opinions until a later date? I removed all the blighted blood I could, before replacing it.”

“’All the blighted blood you could’; are you telling me that the beloved Herald of Andraste still has darkspawn blood in her system?”

“No, but by the time I knew to act, the Blight had already started to affect her organs. A disadvantage that came with her being so young and tiny, I suspect. I repaired what I could and replaced the blood I took.”

Dorian didn’t look convinced. In fact, he looked like he was ready to bolt into the nearest crowd of people and scream her sins to the world. Elena couldn’t have that.

“Dorian, I can understand why many people dislike blood magic, I can. Too often is it used as a crutch by imbeciles who don’t fully understand the power they yield; too often do morons use it to reach heights far beyond their comprehension. What you, and many others fail to see is that it is man who corrupts, not magic. Blood magic is a perfectly legitimate form of magic, just like any other. It is no more evil that primal magic, or spirit magic. It has much more in common with healing that people are willing to admit.”

Dorian made a strange choking noise in the back of his throat.

“Oh yes, of course it is. That which destroys life is exactly the same as that which restores it. Yes, absolutely identical. Let us completely overlook the atrocities caused by people, and completely disregard history, for clearly you are much better informed than everyone in the past thousand years.”

“It is the source of the power which makes it different from the other schools. Is elemental magic evil because you can create ice shards that impale people? No, of course not. Magic isn’t evil, swords aren’t evil, axes aren’t evil; it is the person behind the weapon, and the choices they make that determine such a thing.”

Dorian scoffed at her and waved a hand in the air before crossing his arms.

“Empty words that come from a person who clearly hasn’t had it used on them before.”

Elena formed her face back into its usual blank mask as she studied Dorian. His reactions were a little too extreme for her liking, and his body language showed signs of stress. She wondered if his hatred of the magic went beyond the Chantry’s propaganda.

“Not true, but I learned how to defend against it.” She finally said, and watched as a variety of emotions flicked across Dorian’s face. Anger became surprise, and surprise became incredulity.

“I wasn’t aware that it was so easy to do.” He said, clearly not believing her words.

“It isn’t, but with enough practice, anything is possible.”

This time Dorian studied Elena. She watched as he thought, and could practically hear his mind whirring.

“Very well, I propose a deal. I’m positive you’ll find it mutually beneficial.”

Elena stifled a smirk, already knowing what Dorian was about to suggest. Little did he know that she could just reach in and take the information from his mind, should she so desire, leaving him none the wiser. Still, she admired him for having the courage to blackmail someone he’d just discovered was a powerful blood mage. Elena was intrigued; she wanted to know what he’d do with the knowledge.

“In return for your silence, you wish me to teach you how to defend against the forbidden school of magic?”

“Exactly. One never knows when they might find themselves in the company of a dangerous blood mage after all.” Dorian said with a smirk, indicating that their spat was over. Elena quite liked the little magister; it would have been a shame if she’d had to delve into his mind, or kill him. Only time would tell if she’d made the right choice here today. Elena was quite looking forward to educating the young man, perhaps she’d be able to convince him to look past the Chantry’s lies?

A commotion across the other side of the camp drew their attention and both of them got to their feet and walked over to the entrance of the tent. Thalia stood in front of a large crowd, each of them on their knees, each of them singing. A trickle of uneasy made its way up Elena’s spine and she had to stop herself from flinching. What the Inquisition was doing was far too close to worship for her tastes, and history had already proven what it did to elves in the spotlight. She should never have agreed to go to the Conclave, that way, Thalia wouldn’t be in this scenario now; she had no idea the danger she was in.

Elena wanted to laugh bitterly at the sight of all those humans bowing to an elf. If there was a Maker, he had a terrible sense of humour, she thought dryly. From her peripheral, she was able to see Solas watching at the sidelines, same as her, and she couldn’t help but wonder if he’d ever found himself in Thalia’s position himself, being a former god and all. As the last note floated into the night sky, she saw the irritating Mother say one last thing to Thalia before Solas approached her and led her away from the camp.

Curious about what they were discussing, but knowing there wasn’t a way she could find out yet, she let out a small snort, Elena turned around to see Dorian holding out another bottle of wine towards her. Surprised, she looked at the wine, and looked at Dorian, before looking back at the wine. He huffed out a breath and wiggled it for her to take, which she did.

“Well, that’s not something I expected to see today; you southerners truly are a strange people. Still, it’s been a day of surprises, wouldn’t you say?”

Elena puffed out a breathy laugh, fully agreeing with Dorian’s assessment; when she first approached Dorian, she certainly hadn’t expected him to confront, and then blackmail her with knowledge he’d pieced together using half-forgotten clues and evidence. Today was indeed a day of surprises.

It did beg the question though; if Dorian could see it, did that mean she was in danger from the others finding out? Elena hoped not, as she knew the others, with the possible exception of Solas, wouldn’t be quite as restrained as to blackmail her. Luckily for her, Dorian clearly valued knowledge and education above ignorance. Elena was in a precarious position, forced to trust Dorian to keep his mouth shut until she could determine whether or not he was a threat to her. If it had been anyone else, a general scout, or servant, Elena wouldn’t have hesitated before ending the threat towards her, but she knew she could hardly use the same technique on a member of Thalia’s inner circle and get away with it. Or at least she couldn’t without lots of planning and forethought. Ugh, she thought. This is why she preferred working alone- fewer complications. Speaking of complications, there was still the original matter to attend to, the reason she’d actually sought Dorian out in the first place.

“Dorian.” She said, diverting his attention from her rune on the floor to herself. “I wanted to thank you.”

“Thank me?” he repeated, with no small amount of incredulity in his voice.

“Yes. You took care of someone very precious to me when I wasn’t there to do it myself. Your actions directly resulted in my daughter returning to me. I will not forget that, and I hope that one day you will allow me to return the favour.”

Dorian took another swig from the bottle as he eyed her critically, but not without sympathy.

“You don’t need to thank me, but you’re welcome. For what it’s worth, I’m sorry for what you suffered in the Red Future. If I hadn’t helped Alexius with his research, he would never have been able to cast the spell in the first place.”

Elena smiled kindly at Dorian and shook her head, as she slowly reached out and gently placed her hand on his arm. The poor boy had everything mixed up. There was no reason for his guilt; he’d done nothing wrong.

“Dorian, you are no more responsible for Alexius’ actions than I am. Alexius made his own choices; he chose to use his magic for ill purposes, just as you chose to turn it against him and bring you and Thalia back. We are each accountable for our own actions; the consequences of Alexius’ are his to bear and his alone. Do not trouble yourself by thinking otherwise.”

“I’m not quite sure I believe you just yet, but... thank you all the same.” Dorian’s watery smile vanished as he straightened his spine, and in its place sat his usual smirk. “Now my dear, how about we switch to more pleasant topics, such as that delightful glyph of yours, and finish this bottle of wine, yes?”

Elena readily agreed and the pair of them spent the night drinking wine and arguing about who cast the better glyph- Tevinter or the elves- that included several different demonstrations. The more wine they drank, the harder it was to cast spells, especially those that relied on a precise and steady hand or mind, so the pair soon gave up and moved on. Once the wine was finished and the bottles empty, Elena made her way over to the spare cot in Dorian’s tent, before flopping onto it and drifting off as she pulled the covers over herself, pleasantly buzzed for the first time in a while, and pleased that she didn’t have to kill her way through the Inquisition. Yet.

Chapter Text

Elena looked up at the bejewelled ceiling above her head, admiring the artistry of the work. Thousands of rubies, emeralds, sapphires, diamonds, and other precious stones combined into one, huge work of art that depicted an armoured elvhen man standing with his arms spread in front of a pair of humongous, mechanical outstretched wings. Light seemed to radiate from the man, bathing the rest of the ceiling (and indeed the entire room) in various shades of gold, magenta, and cobalt. It was one of the most ostentatious and wasteful things she’d ever seen. The money and time spent on creating this ludicrous display of wealth and ego could have surely gone on other, more practical endeavours.

June was as subtle as he was wise.

I assume he was extremely proud of his creation.” Elena commented, gesturing up at the obnoxiously large wings attached to his back.

This was his formal suit of armour.” Knowledge informed her, and Elena snorted at just how impractical the outfit was. Of course someone who commissioned a mural of himself would have a formal set of armour. What a tit.

Did he have an orb?” she asked.

No. The foci were granted to specific members of the pantheon.

Knowledge’s precise wording had Elena twisting from where she lay on the chaise lounge, and turning until she sat facing her mother’s form.

Specific members?

The Evanuris had four, as did the others.” Knowledge brushed out a crease in her floor length, forest green dress, the gesture so similar to one her mother made, Elena couldn’t help the smile that crept its way onto her face.

The Forgotten Ones.” Elena surmised.

As they are now known, yes.

Elena tilted her head in thought. Radalas told her that Mythal and Elgar'nan only created two children together, and of all the Forgotten Ones, only three names remained. Based on that information, she’d assume that Mythal, Elgar'nan, Dirthamen, Sylaise, Geldauran, Anaris, and Daern’thal each, at one point or another, had an orb. Who was the mystery fourth person though? Fen'Harel?

Yes, and no.” Knowledge confirmed and denied her thoughts.

The next question on Elena’s mind pertained to their location. She already knew, roughly, where one orb was- Corypheus had it- but what had happened to the others? Tevinter, as she’d told Dorian, was built upon the carcass of her people, so it wasn’t beyond the realms of possibility that they had, within the last few thousand years, discovered and kept a foci or two. How many though? Even if they had some, it was highly unlikely that they'd managed to use them, or else surely Tevinter would be immensely more powerful than it was. Corypheus only had one, yet he’d managed to open a huge tear in the veil and blow up a mountain with it, probably at the same time. Elena was certain that Tevinter wouldn’t think twice about using that kind of firepower if they had it, for surely they would have wiped out the Qunari long ago, instead of letting the fighting between them linger on for as long as it had.

Another thing Elena considered was time. There was no saying that all the foci had survived so long. Granted, they didn’t seem to be the kind of relic one just left lying around, but even the strongest protections diminished over time, so there was no guarantee that the buildings or areas they’d been stored in hadn’t collapsed by now. Of the eight that once existed, how many remained? More to the point, how did their friend obtain such information? She wondered.

I traded for it.

Elena watched, as a golden light seemed to shine from her mother's skin. Oh my friend, she thought fondly, how they had enjoyed themselves.

Yes. I enjoy knowledge. It is what I am. You allow me to be more me. You will not allow me to falter.

Warmth bloomed in her chest at her oldest friend’s words, and she allowed the feeling to fill her entire body as she clasped Knowledge’s hand in her own and fed them her love for them.

You are more precious to me than I can describe; for as long as I live, I will never allow anyone to harm you, my dearest friend.

Knowledge shed her mother’s form, and Elena watched as the edges of their natural form fluttered with the knowledge of her praise and affection.

Come.” Knowledge said as they turned and floated away through the dreaming. “Tell me about your day.

Elena thought back on the conversation she’d had with Dorian, and once she could clearly picture the setting in her mind, allowed Knowledge to reach in and solidify it, shaping the world around them. The pair of them sat and watched as the conversation played out again, and Elena found herself cursing her Red Future self for her idiocy. All of this could have been avoided if she’d been more careful.

I could take it from him.” Knowledge offered.

Elena declined; her budding friendship with the Altus may prove useful in the future. Provided he resisted the urge to blab to the nearest set of ears, having someone to cover for her wouldn't necessarily be a bad thing. Besides, she did always enjoy teaching people new things.

Once again, the crowd faced Thalia and started to sing. At the peak of the song, Knowledge paused the scene around them, and started wandering through the frozen bodies of the Inquisition.

This one has tears in its eyes.” Knowledge commented.

Sometimes, when one is overcome by emotion, one cannot help but express that by crying. Tears are not always a sign of sadness.” A new voice interjected.

Elena sharply looked over at Knowledge, noticing that they didn’t seem surprised or irritated by Solas’ sudden arrival, and narrowed her eyes at them before she schooled her face into a less hostile mask and turned to face the interloper.

Good evening, lethallin. To what do I owe the pleasure?” Elena greeted him cordially.

I was exploring this region when I noticed the presence of another in the area.” He explained as his eyes tracked Knowledge’s movement as they fluttered back to Elena's side.

With so many mages in the area, surely such an event cannot have been unexpected?

Indeed. I was not, however, expecting to find such a powerful spirit, and so I came to investigate further.

Elena looked over at Knowledge, surprised they hadn’t left yet. The last time they’d almost met Solas, his intrusion had been most unwelcome, and they'd left in the spirit equivalent of a huff.

I want to stay.” They said in answer to her thoughts, and Elena just offered them a shrug in response, respecting their choice; she certainly wasn’t going to ask them to, or make them leave.

Knowledge, please meet Solas. Solas serves as the Inquisition’s fade expert, and Knowledge... needs no introduction.

It is a pleasure to meet you at last.” Solas offered as he bowed formally to the spirit.

Yes. It is.” They replied, and Elena had to stifle a smirk.

You are the spirit that taught her our language.” Solas stated and asked at the same time.

Yes. We learn much from one another. It was a welcome trade.

Elena watched as one of Solas’ eyebrows raised, and just knew that Knowledge had sparked his curiosity with that last statement. She wondered how long it would take him to ask her about it.

Do you have anything you’d like to trade?” they asked.

Not a present. If I may, what attracted you to this area?

Knowledge, not wanting to answer too many questions free of charge, drifted off to examine the crowd of singers again, leaving Elena to answer Solas’ query. It was hard not to laugh at the affronted look on his face at Knowledge’s dismissal.

I was showing them how my day went.

Well, I presume, considering you felt comfortable enough to sleep unprotected so close to a person who is no doubt used to having an elf so close by to tend to his every whim.

Elena narrowed her eyes at his implication and bristled as she prepared to give Solas a piece of her mind.

Excuse me? Dorian is here trying to help the Inquisition. He left the finery of his station to try to stop his mentor from using the magic they both spent years of their life researching, simply because it was the right thing to do. He deserves better than your insinuations.

Forgive me, I did not realise you had grown so close. When I noticed you weren’t in our tent, I grew concerned that perhaps something unfortunate had happened.

Elena rolled her eyes at his blatant attempt to twist the situation to make her seem like the overreacting villain, and him the caring friend. Firstly, if she hadn’t wanted to sleep next to Dorian, there wasn’t a thing he could have done to stop her leaving. Secondly, Thalia’s tent only contained two cots- one for her, and one for Solas. Thirdly, how she spent her spare time with was none of his business.

He didn’t force me to do anything, Solas. We were discussing magic and neither of us noticed the time passing. He offered me the spare bedroll, and I accepted. I didn’t realise I needed anyone’s permission to sleep.

Elena watched as his grey-blue eyes darted between her own. She wasn’t sure what he found hidden in their depths, but whatever it was made his shoulders slump as his breath left him at once.

Of course. Please forgive me for my poor manners.

It was a suspiciously easy victory, but Elena wasn’t petty enough to hold onto her irritation just for the sake of holding onto it. She inclined her head in acceptance of the apology, and the two turned to watch Knowledge as they continued examining the crowd.

If I may, was there anything in particular you were discussing tonight?” he finally asked.

Blood magic.

Ah, I am unsurprised to find a product of Tevinter a proponent of the craft.

At Elena’s short, yet amused laugh, he turned to look at her with a slight frown on his face.

Then it will surprise you to know that Dorian is vehemently anti blood magic.

Oh?” Solas replied, his voice filled with curiosity. “You do not hold the same view point, I assume?

It has its place in the world. Like any other school, blood magic isn’t inherently evil. It’s the will of the caster that determines such a thing. Fundamentally, it’s a tool just like any other.

That is a remarkably open minded stance to take, though perhaps I should not be surprised. It was my understanding, however, that the Dalish also do not practice blood magic.

Elena wanted to laugh at Solas’ tenacity; he never stopped asking questions. He often tried to hide them as statements, yes, but by not asking directly, he was hoping that she’d answer anyway in a bid to correct his presumptions about her. As much as she knew it could, and most likely would, cause problems for her in future, she enjoyed their verbal game of cat and mouse.

As separate as they pretend to be from the rest of the world, they can’t help but adopt certain common beliefs. This is one of them.

Elena saw that Solas’ eyebrow twitched at the word ‘they’ and offered him a sweet smile that told him she’d deliberately used the word, and was testing him to see if he’d react. Her smile widened into a grin when instead of asking what she meant, he switched the subject.

If you are agreeable, I would be pleased if you would be willing to share your thoughts with myself sometime, lethallan. I find the twists and turns your mind takes to be... fascinating.

Elena offered him a noncommittal hum of consideration in reply, and stared out at the crowd as Knowledge unfroze the scene and drifted back to their side. Elena looked out and saw the devotion and dedication on the Inquisition’s faces; it made her skin crawl.

Why?” Knowledge asked, gaining both of the elves’ attention.

I find their devoutness unsettling.” Elena replied as she studied the faces of the crowd. “The way they worship her, an elf, is disconcerting. History has proven what the Chantry does to elves. I feel like I’m just waiting for the time they all turn on her, the time they remember the shape of her ears.

You don’t think Thalia is worthy of their praise?” Solas asked, and Elena heard the disapproval tainting his words.

Praise? Yes. Worship? No.

Such is as much as burden as it is emboldening.” He said.

Their devotion gives her power over them.” Knowledge agreed.

Power tends to corrupt; absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Solas added with a strange lilt to his voice, and Elena wondered if he was thinking of how he’d seen the Evanuris wield their power, or how he himself had. “Seeing her people like that may keep her from forgetting the faces of those that serve her; their humanity may tether her conscience.”

A tether is just a chain with a pretty name. Their display may prevent her acting rashly, yes, but it may also stay her hand when action is necessary. After all, sometimes to achieve the world one desires, one must make regrettable measures.

Elena watched as Knowledge drifted off after the reflection of Solas and Thalia, noticing that Solas was looking intently at her with an unreadable expression on his face. Had she said too much? Knowledge floated back to them and stopped directly in front of Solas.

What did you talk about?” they asked, and Elena’s ears pricked; she had wondered what their private discussion had been about.

Solas and Knowledge had a private discussion, the latter of which moved their head in an approximation of a nod before the former twisted the fade around them, leaving the cold, snowy mountains of the Frostback campsite behind. Where Elena had previously been standing in a valley, she now found herself atop a large outcropping of rock under a clear, cloudless sky. Mist rolled through the valleys below them, obscuring everything but the very tips of the mountains.

I believe the orb Corypheus wields to be of our people. I suspect he used the orb to open the Breach, and that unlocking it must have caused the explosion that destroyed the Conclave.

Solas was extremely good at ducking and diving, at ensuring that he never once stated anything with absolutely certainty. She knew, because she did it herself, that the deniability always came in handy. For all his clever sentence crafting though, he had unwittingly revealed a couple of things to Elena. One- the orb needed unlocking in the first place, therefore two, that he was indeed connected to the orb, and lastly three- that he knew exactly how powerful the foci was. Only someone familiar with such an artefact would know how it worked with such precise knowledge.

The humans will not be happy when they discover that, Solas.” Elena stated, eager to hurry the conversation along and discuss the orb in more detail.

I agree. We must prepare for their reaction, when they learn the orb is of our people. The foci were said to channel power from our gods. Some were dedicated to specific members of our pantheon. All that remain are references in ruins, and faint visions of memory in the fade; echoes of a dead empire.

His wording mirrored Knowledge’s almost exactly, and she had to resist the urge to look at them to see their reaction. ‘References in ruins’? ‘Faint visions’? Did that mean that this orb truly was the last of its kind?

How, exactly, did this ‘Corypheus’ stumble upon such a powerful artefact?” Knowledge asked bluntly.

I am unsure. Perhaps he discovered it in a long forgotten ruin. Regardless of however Corypheus came to it, the orb is elven, and with it, he threatens the heart of human faith.

Or perhaps, Elena thought acidly, you stumbled upon his plans and attempted to manipulate Corypheus to your own ends, and then stayed to help clean up your mess when your schemes literally blew up in your face? Elena did admire Solas’ poise, he didn’t flinch or stutter once, and his face gave nothing away. If it wasn’t for the fact Elena now knew that Solas was linked to the orb, she’d have bought his innocent reply.

If history has proven anything, it is that eventually elves will shoulder the blame anyway. Humans are remarkably fickle, I have found.” Elena replied.

I suspect you are correct. Whatever the case, the trust their people currently have in the Herald cannot grow in the wilderness. She needs every advantage if she is to succeed in taking down the magister.

You have a plan.” Knowledge stated.

There is a place, far to the north, that waits for a place to hold it. The Inquisition can use it, can grow.” Solas turned to the misty mountains below and watched as the clouds parted to reveal a humongous, grand fortress nestled into the mountains; it looked like it rose up from the rocks it was built upon. Elena could see from her perch that it was in need of some maintenance, but even that couldn’t detract from the majesty of it.

It’s beautiful. What’s it called?” she asked.

In the common tongue, Skyhold, but to us, lethallan, it is known as Tarasyl'an Te'las.

‘The place where the sky was kept back’, she translated in her mind. Though the current structure didn’t look remotely similar to any of the elvhen architecture she’d previously seen, there was no denying that the castle had once been elvhen. Even in the fade, and even at such a distance, Elena could feel the tendrils of protective ancient magic that seeped out from the stone. She wanted to explore it. She wanted to uncover every single secret it had to offer, and more. The books that it must contain, the memories it must hold! Solas’ chuckle at her side told her that her excitement was palpable, and when she concentrated, she could feel it buzzing in the air around them.

She loves to learn.” Knowledge helpfully explained, and Elena was too giddy with the prospect of new information that she didn’t mind them talking about her as if she wasn’t there. “As do I. Tell me about this foci he uses.

Elena noticed that Solas bristled slightly at Knowledge's command, and fought a yet another smile at his expense.

As I said, that must be the means by which he created the Breach. I suspect the blast that destroyed the Conclave was more accident than anything; the result of unlocking power that had sought release for ages. What I cannot understand is how he managed to survive such an explosion.

Elena privately scoffed; of course that was what Solas focussed on. Why, it was almost as if he’d tried to use Corypheus as a sacrificial pawn to unlock the orb. Elena’s sarcastic comment brought her mind to a screeching halt. It was exactly as if he’d used Corypheus to open the orb. She turned her head slowly and looked at the god-sized idiot stood next to her, who didn’t notice as he was busy being interrogated by Knowledge. Elena subtly tried to take deep breaths; she needed to focus her mind before the urge to slap Solas into next year took over, and before he noticed something was wrong.

You believe the orb is elven.

I never would have believed a Tevinter mage could unlock such a powerful relic. Clearly it enhances his abilities, giving him power he should never have known.” Solas said, blatantly not answering the question.

Such the power to control what looked like an Archdemon?” Elena asked with a somewhat accurate fake smile plastered to her face.

Indirectly, one assumes.” Solas trailed off when he noticed how strange her smile looked, but carried on when she only stretched it further. “Nothing in any lore connects my people to the Old God dragons who became Archdemons.

That's nice, Elena thought sarcastically. Nothing in any lore shows that Mythal and Elgar'nan only had two children, but apparently, they did, so clearly ‘lore’ can't always be trusted. The urge to slap the bald off Solas was getting harder to ignore, so Elena turned to say goodbye to Knowledge when her consciousness was shoved forcefully back into her body at the sudden offensively loud noise that rang throughout the camp.

Chapter Text

Elena immediately leapt up, lightning running up and down her arms as she surveyed their surroundings. She could hear her pulse, and feel as her blood raced around her body. Elena heard the noise again and threw open the entrance to the tent just in time to see that some idiot had given Thalia a war horn, and that she was happily wandering around the main area of the camp, making as much racket as she could. Her magic calmed and her muscles relaxed, but Elena’s anger rose in its place. She was half-tempted to hunt the person responsible for their jarring wake up call, and forcibly remove the horn from commission by shoving it somewhere deeply unpleasant. She’d be a hero, of that she was sure.

Elena turned back around when she heard a low groaning coming from Dorian’s side of the tent; it was the type of noise she’d come to associate with soon-to-be-deceased, and for a second, she was genuinely worried that someone might have crept into the tent during the night and poisoned the human. Her concern lasted all of a second, or until the moment she looked down and saw the empty bottles of wine that they’d consumed the night before. The only person that had poisoned Dorian was himself, and Elena had to resist the urge to snicker at his expense.

“Maker have mercy, turn it off.” He half-whined, half-groaned as he vaguely gestured to the entrance, where a perfectly positioned ray of light, brighter than usual thanks to the snow it reflected off, came through the gap of the tent and shone directly onto his face.

“The sun?” Elena said, not hiding the slight amusement in her tone.

“Yes, what else? And tell whoever is making that damned awful noise to pipe down, or we’ll be having stern words later. Much later. Good lord, it’s loud enough to wake the dead.”

As she took in Dorian’s dishevelled, pale, hung over self, she idly agreed with the accuracy of his statement; he looked awful.

“How in the name of all that’s good and holy are you so...” he flailed his hand around in the air in Elena’s general direction, and she smirked at his expense.

“One of the many perks of being me.” She said dryly. “Would you like assistance?”

“That depends entirely on how many people you’ll have to trot in here to drain.”

Elena fixed Dorian with an unimpressed stare as the corner of his mouth ticked up in a poorly hidden smug grin. He finally sat up and stretched his arms above his head, wincing and moaning at each joint that popped as he shoved wakefulness back into his sore, tired muscles.

“Maker’s breath, these cots are appalling; it would be comfier to sleep on the ground.”

Elena ignored his grumbling in favour of getting dressed. She quickly stretched, and by the time she was wrapping her feet and calves, Dorian had just about managed to do his hair. He stood from the bed, and set about buckling himself into his robe, wincing and complaining at every muscle twinge.

“Dorian.” Elena said when his moaning toed the line of her patience. “Would you like some help?”

He eyed her critically, as if not quite trusting her offer of assistance.

“What would I have to do in return?”

At first, Elena wasn’t going to demand anything in return for her services, as his silence would be reward enough, however since Dorian had asked...

“Not moan, grumble, or complain in any way for the rest of the day.” She said with a completely straight face.

Dorian hmphed, and straightened his spine as a haughty look slid onto his face.

“Easy. Work your magic. You'll see; the great Dorian Pavus is sturdier than he looks.”

Elena smirked privately to herself as she worked on alleviating Dorian’s pounding headache and aching body; she really, really didn’t think the prissy Altus would be able to manage to keep his opinions to himself, but was ready to be pleasantly surprised.

The hustle and bustle from the rest of the camp had increased in volume by the time Elena had finished, and the pair of them turned to leave the camp, but before they could, Dorian reached out and grabbed her arm, halting Elena in her tracks.

“Before you leave, there’s something I've been thinking since last night. Felix he’s... too far gone to help, isn’t he?”

Elena sighed, and gently placed her hand over his, and gave it a soft squeeze.

“Yes. At this point, the number of lives it would take to remove and replace his blood, then to repair the damage would be astronomical. Even then, there’s no guarantee his body would recover from the poisoning. Can you honestly say that the life of one person is worth the death of dozens upon dozens of people, even if the person you're saving is your best friend?”

“No. You’re right. I can’t. Perhaps more importantly, Felix wouldn't want it either.”

“For what it’s worth, Dorian, I am sorry that your friend is ill.”

He took back his hand and ran it through his hair distractedly as he mulled over her words.

“Thank you for your honesty. There’s one more thing as well. I... wish to apologise for what I said last night. Your secrets are your own; I have no right to hold them over your head. For that, I apologise.”

Dorian offered Elena a small bow that showed the sincerity of his words; she knew that if he hadn’t meant them, there was no way that an Altus would bow to an elf. As he stood there before her, back bent, pride swallowed, she came to a decision. If a person from Tevinter, a person from the highest tiers of the hierarchy could lower himself before her, a person who'd be on the lowest rank in his society, then perhaps there might be hope for the dreadful country yet.

“I accept your apology, Dorian. Stand up.”

He did so with his usual grace, and raised an eyebrow when he saw her studying his expression.

“You plan on returning to your country at some point, yes?”

“Eventually, yes, unless, of course, my father has managed to get around to disowning me. I hope he’ll at least do me the courtesy of sending a letter; I’d hate to travel all that way just to be turned away at the gate.” Elena ignored his false bravado, and mentally filed the information about his father; they could discuss it later. “Why do you ask?”

“I will still teach you.” She declared and watched as Dorian’s eyebrows shot into his hairline.

“Not that I’m ungrateful, but... why? If you’re still concerned about your secrets, then allow me to reiterate: I will not tell a soul what I know about you.”

Elena resisted the urge to sigh; the number of people who thought they could force her to do something she didn’t want to... Clearly, she hadn’t been stubborn enough to prove that she could take care of herself, that she didn’t need others’ charity.

“If I didn’t want to teach you, there wouldn’t be a thing you could do to make me, young magister. I am of the opinion that if Tevinter is capable of producing a person like you, then perhaps there’s hope for it after all. Besides, not everyone is as weary of the craft as you are, it would be useful to be able to defend yourself against those who don’t share your nervousness, no?”

“When you put it like that... you truly require nothing in return?” Dorian asked, sounding sceptical.

“Only that you keep everything about the lessons to yourself.”

“Sounds reasonable. What about the others though? What will we tell them? You don’t think they’ll notice when we start spending more time together?”

“I couldn’t care less about what the others think; if they want to gossip, let them gossip. I daresay their wild theories will prove to be much more interesting than the truth.” Elena said as she stared out at the aforementioned group of people where they sat around a fire.

“Just think how our silence will rile them...” Dorian said with a chuckle. “Very well, I would be pleased to accept your offer. Provided, of course, that we actually manage to get off this void forsaken mountain anytime soon; frostbite is not a good look on a person.”

Elena nodded her head in agreement, and the pair of them strode outside to find breakfast. They joined the rest of the circle members, with the exception of Vivienne who chose to eat with the advisors, chatting idly as they ate from their bowls, occasionally stirring the contents of a large, bubbling pot that sat over the flames to keep warm.

Thalia scooted over on the log she sat on, making space for Elena and Dorian to sit, waving at them until they’d sat down.

“Hiya guys! How’re you feeling?”

Elena pointedly looked at Dorian, waiting for him to answer.

“Never better, my dear. I must say, you’re looking lively. Nobody would be able to tell you slapped a dragon mere days ago.”

“That didn’t happen, but if anyone asks, that’s awesome, tell them it did.”

Dorian readily agreed whilst the Iron Bull’s booming laugh was almost loud enough to echo through the mountains.

“Seriously, I feel great. Did you drug me?” Thalia asked Elena, completely seriously.

“No, da’assan, I did not drug you.”

“You may be experiencing heightened senses and mobility as a result from the lingering magic in your system.” Solas explained.

“Pfft, blah, blah, magic shite. Blah, blah, words.”

Thalia actually snickered at Sera's comment, whilst Solas and Elena just looked at her expressionlessly.

“My, my, aren’t we bitter today! You should consider trying some of what the Herald had; it might actually make you coherent.” Dorian helpfully suggested.

Before Sera could retort, Varric interrupted, successfully managing to head off an argument between the pair.

“So Sparkler, couldn’t help but notice you and Lady Dragon here slept in the same tent last night.” He said, earning him a glare from Elena, which only caused him to wiggle his eyebrows suggestively.

“Wha? Really! I’d have expected her to be all up in elven glory’s shit, rebuilding the empire and all that.” Sera spat out around a mouthful of porridge, whilst laughing at the same it. Elena thought it was as repulsive at it was impressive. Mostly repulsive though.

“Awwh, that sucks- no offence Dorian- I had a bet that you’d end up with Solas.” Thalia whined.

Both Elena and Solas sighed at her casual words, and Elena suspected it was for the same reason. Both she and Solas were private people, and certainly did not appreciate having their personal lives so openly discussed, not that there was anything to talk about, but that was beside the point. Thalia knew this, and yet still she persisted despite that.

“Speaking of, Arrow, how’s it going with Curly?”

Thalia turned several shades of scarlet and began spluttering around her breakfast, which was, again, quite disgusting, but Elena was glad for the distraction from her rising irritation.

“What? No? Curly? Who? Me? Nah? Wait do you hear that? Cassandra’s yelling at me to tell you about what we’re all doing today.” In an absolutely, awful impression of Cassandra's Nevarran accent, Thalia whisper yelled at herself. “I heard it. I know you heard it too. Okay, so, we’re all packing up today. Solas knows of a place the Inquisition can set up shop. As soon as breakfast finishes, we’re hitting the road again. Or path. Whatever.”

Everyone turned to look at Solas with expectation on their faces. If he was uncomfortable with all the sudden attention, he didn’t show it, as he calmly began a repeat of the conversation they’d had last night.

“As I mentioned to the Herald last night, there is a place northward of here...”

********

The journey to Skyhold took ten days. Elena and the rest of the mages couldn’t do anymore for the injured without proper supplies, so the worst cases were all loaded onto wagons and transported. When the Inquisition first departed from the clearing, morale was high, but the longer they journeyed, the more the Inquisition’s positive attitude flagged. By day four, many had started to question whether or not there actually was a specific destination in mind, or if the Herald was wandering aimlessly. On day seven, the grumblings reached Thalia's ears so she called the procession to a halt and made them set up camp again. Although Thalia never said it aloud, Elena could tell that she was beginning to share some of the Inquisition’s concerns. That night, Thalia came to her, and asked if she’d scout ahead and report back, just to make sure they were on the right track.

She left that night, slipping away unseen under the cover of darkness.

It only took Elena a few hours of speedy flight to reach her destination. She felt the ancient magics that saturated the mountain the structure sat upon from miles away; once she knew what she was looking for, Skyhold shone like a beacon, beckoning her forward. Elena circled the structure a few times before she landed, looking for any signs that the fortress wasn’t as empty as Solas believed, but found none. Still not completely convinced, she flew up to the balcony of the tallest tower, and silently entered through the shattered remains of the stained glass doors.

Elena knew that the was most probably alone, but there was still a part of her that urged her to be safe; for all she knew, the inhabitants were still asleep, as it was still very early in the morning after all. Luckily, the room she entered was empty. Elena shifted back to her usual form and idly began poking around the room. Normally the cleanliness of the place would have offended Elena, but in this case, the numerous layers of dust coating everything told her that the room hadn’t been disturbed for a while.

She knelt down and examined the fireplace, finding that it was empty of even ash (though most of it had, courtesy of the wind, undoubtedly settled on everything in the room over time), before realising that the room wasn’t as cold as it should be. Elena paused, and realised that Skyhold was a lot more temperate than she’d expected. The balcony doors she’d entered through were broken, so they should have let in all the elements; there weren’t any pools of water, or snow, and there was barely a draft. Whoever built this place had spent a lot of time and effort ensuring that the fortress would be as comfortable for the inhabitants as possible. Whoever built this place was a genius, and Elena found herself admiring their skill.

There wasn’t a barrier around Skyhold, not that she could tell (and not that barriers were her area of expertise), and it wasn’t as if the spells lay in the brickwork, as the current structure clearly wasn’t elvhen anymore. It was as if somehow nature itself welcomed the fortress and went out of its way to keep the worst aspects of itself away; it was a marvel. Elena truly wished she had more time to examine the how whilst she was alone, but knew Thalia was waiting for her report.

Pushing the matter to the back of her mind, she closed her eyes and concentrated on herself, on her mind, her spirit, and her magic. Elena felt her soul where it sat comfortably within the confines of her body, steadily pulsing, and felt her magical aura twist and float along the breeze as it danced in the air around her. She took a deep breath in and gathered her magic inwards, and after pausing for a second, she then flung it away from her, stretching it as far away from her as she could manage. Elena felt as her magic poured through the area with all the force and finesse of a river as it raced down its course on a stormy day, wild and untamed. Once it reached its limit, her aura snapped back towards her and she stumbled back a few paces as it crashed into her. As unpleasant as the entire process was, Elena now knew that this area of the fortress was empty of life, aside from the occasional rat.

Elena made to depart the tower via the stairs, but paused as she felt a tugging on the bond she shared with Knowledge. Curious, she turned back around and drew a summoning circle on the ground in front of her. Almost immediately her friend appeared in the centre, their usual golden form looking brighter here than when they’d last crossed the veil in Val Royeaux.

Welcome to Tarasyl'an Te'las, my friend.

Knowledge didn’t reply for a while, and Elena watched interestedly as they pulsed in place, growing larger and smaller, brighter and dimmer.

The fade sings differently in this place. The veil’s weave is weaker here, in the place where it all began.

Elena’s eyebrows shot up as the implications of what Knowledge said sunk in; the veil was born in this place. There was no telling the secrets and history contained within the walls, and Elena found herself wishing she’d discovered this place on her own, that she had years to find every secret and nugget of information on offer. It was irrational, she knew it was, but Elena wasn’t surprised when she realised that she resented the Inquisition, as she doubted they’d be content to linger in the mountains whilst she documented their new base. The more logical side of her mind chose that moment to remind her that there was no guarantee she’d ever have found this place on her own, so perhaps she should be grateful to the organisation instead.

You have some time yet. The childish one awaits your report, but is willing to wait a while longer. Your absence has gone mostly unnoticed.

Elena chose not to comment on Knowledge’s particular description of Thalia, knowing that they weren’t particularly fond of each other, so turned her attention to the more important section of Knowledge's information. Her brows furrowed for a second before she realised that Cole must have helped her sneak away by erasing her departure from their mind, and perhaps by distracting them when anyone noticed her absence.

Indeed. A curious thing, that creature. A spirit in the shape of a man; such a rare thing to behold nowadays.

Elena just hummed in agreement and turned back around to leave the tower- she did have a job to do after all. Knowledge floated along behind them, not offering anything in the way of conversation, and it wasn’t long before the pair of them reached the main hall. Elena flinched when she heard the door swing shut behind her with a loud bang that resonated throughout the area, scaring all the roosting birds and bats into flight, and undoubtedly letting the fortress’ inhabitants know that she was there.

Noticing a door directly in front of her, Elena walked forward, and pushed it open, no longer concerned about stealth. She quickly walked down the stairs, careful to avoid any fallen stones, and just when she thought she couldn’t get any lower, the pair of them came to another door. Elena shoved it open, dislodging the debris behind it, and was pleasantly surprised to find an abundance of fresh air. Where she’d expected a dank, dark prison, instead a huge, airy space greeted her. Elena walked straight forward and looked out over the mountains beyond Skyhold in silent marvel, the only sound that accompanied the scene was that of the waterfall that parted above her head and flowed around the balcony. Elena didn’t know what this room had been used for before, but there was something very freeing about the space, something very relaxing and welcoming.

Knowledge drifted forward and reached for Elena’s hand, which she promptly presented. She laid it over the spectral equivalent of her friend’s, enjoying the buzz along her skin where their bodies met, and allowed Knowledge to experience the feelings the view created within her.

It reminds you of home.” They stated, causing Elena to blink in surprise. She felt at peace where they were, and it was certainly familiar, but she hadn’t realised why she felt so relaxed there. Now that she thought about it, she realised that, as always, Knowledge was right. Remove all the snow from the scenery, add a few more trees, and it indeed became like the mountains she grew up around. She allowed herself a few more moments to allow the crisp air to swirl around her, before turning back the way she came and continuing with her investigations.

Elena spent a couple of hours exploring the fortress, pleased that there weren’t any looters or squatters for her to have to deal with. Skyhold was vast, rundown, and impressive. During her wanderings, Elena discovered a huge kitchen, an impressive forge and armoury, a building she was sure had been a tavern at some point, an enormous garden, filled with lush, fertile soil, as well as several other places including barracks, and enough sleeping areas to house a small town. Her night ended with her overlooking the mountains once more, this time from the edge of a crumbling floor in the centre of the prison wing. Elena looked down at the drop below her, and wondered what it was exactly that had caused such damage in the first place. It was as if there had been some kind of explosion here at one time or another. Knowledge mentioned that the veil originated here, could this be its origin, Elena wondered, whilst also thinking that if so, it was a strange location to choose.

With an irritated huff, she spun around and left to find somewhere to rest, knowing that she wouldn’t get answers by staring at the mountains. Elena made her way back through the fortress and to a private library she’d found, carved into the mountain and directly underneath the rotunda, Knowledge dutifully floating along behind her. Elena shut the door behind her, using the bolt there to secure it shut, before she laid a series of wards on the door for protection and twisting her form into one that provided a lot more comfort and heat.

You’re calling them here?” Knowledge asked, and Elena just nodded in response. She didn’t want them all to come swarming in like locusts, but knew she didn’t have a proper reason to keep them away that went beyond the fact that she simply didn’t want them there because she wanted time to explore properly. “And then?

Then, my friend, I am expanding. I will get my people in, I will play my role in earnest, and I will secure Thalia her title. I have been far too passive of late; it’s time to take this to the next level and ensure our future.

Chapter Text

Hiya, everyone!

I know you were expecting this to be another update, and if you haven’t already guessed by this point- it isn’t.

Just a note to say... that I’m taking a break; it's not you, it’s me.

This story, whilst fun to write, is a much larger undertaking than I could ever have imagined, and writing it takes up the majority of my spare time. As a result, I've been putting off certain, boring adult tasks in favour of this, (mostly updating and distributing my CV), as it’s much more fun to do, and I am terrible at forcing myself to do things I don’t enjoy. Not only that, but my motivation for The Listener has slowly been dropping, and I need to find it again. I’m hoping another play through and time away from it will sort that little problem out though.

As well as finding another job, I’m hoping to sit down, and fully, completely, plan out (in ridiculous detail) exactly what will happen in this story, so that I don’t drop any threads and ultimately leave you with unanswered questions. I may also go back and edit certain details of what’s already been written, as over the course of the story, some of my initial ideas have evolved/ changed from what they were originally, and there might be areas of the uploaded tale that don’t quite reflect that. If I do change anything, I’ll let you all know though.

That’s not all!

I’d like to learn how to paint digitally. I bought myself a tablet a while ago, but haven’t really been able to play with it as much as I’d like, so I hope to change that. If my painting fails are particularly (hilariously) awful, I might upload them to Tumblr so we can always have a good laugh at my expense. Not taking yourself too seriously is an important life skill. At least that’s what I tell people.

I hope you all understand, and I’d like you to know that this break isn’t permanent, not by a long shot, but it is necessary. I will probably post the occasional chapter to Tumblr, but they won’t be released on a regular schedule. I absolutely, definitely will be back; I haven’t written over a hundred thousand words just to abandon it, but you deserve better than someone whose heart isn’t in it; someone who writes out of obligation rather than enjoyment.

I want to say it again- I will be back. My break won’t be long, just a month or two, but it’ll be long enough for me to chill and get my head back in the game. In the meantime, if there are any short snippets you’d like to see, or anything you’d like more information on, please feel free to let me know and I’ll see what I can do! You never know, maybe writing a few prompts will make it easier to return.

Lastly, I’d like to thank you all for reading this far- particularly the people who have been here since day one. You might not be aware, but every kudos, every bookmark, every comment, and every hit has me giggling like a maniac. Dragon Age is a great community, and you’ve all been very welcoming.

All the best,

13_Ravens xxxx