Chapter 1: Homecoming
A Tower on the Lake
In Your Heart Shall Burn
The mage's back arched as a blade came precariously close to her spine. A gasp left her lips, and she took a side step, a disruption field erupting from her feet. The templar’s eyes were red, but instead of that rage they were filled with fear as his blade slowly finished the strike, hitting the ground with a solid thud. Eliza’s hair whipped around her and she drove her dagger, the size of a sword, into the gap between his chest piece and back. That templar grunted, blood oozing out of his mouth. She pulled back, that knife now at regular size, and the templar crumpled at her feet. The sound of metal against metal made her turn, and she would fade from the Lieutenant’s view. He let out a roar, fire erupting from behind him. A staff waved through the air, coming to rest behind the man’s back as another burst of flame engulfed the Lieutenant.
“And here I thought mages from the Circles were all passive children,” he laughed as her blade felled another Templar. “So glad to be wrong.”
“And I thought all Tevinter’s used blood magic. So glad to be wrong” she smirked, sarcasm dripping from her words. That blade being tucked back into her belt as the two rushed up the well-worn path to the village. Her battlemage armor made her stick out against the Tevinter robes, brown hair falling loose around her face, framed by her cowl. She was a few inches shorter than him, light build and seemingly at ease in the middle of the carnage. They had fought for hours, getting to the base of the mountains before running into the Venetori. There was no reasoning with them, they attacked on sight. They were both exhausted, panting as they rushed to the gates of the village. There was little time left, the roars of the army echoing in the valleys.
“And sassy, my fortune has improved,” he chuckled as they both rushed to the door. They both slammed their shoulders into it, and she let out a low curse as it bucked back against them, nearly knocking them on their backs.
“You were saying?”
“Kaffas. If someone could open this, I’d appreciate it!” he shouted. There were voices on the other side, but after a moment the doors would open. Eliza helped Dorian through, a hand under his arm as two men came running out, both dressed in armor. She felt a weight drop in her stomach, hoping her cowl was pulled up over her head as she kept her view down. “Ah… We’re here to warn you. Fashionably late, I’m afraid.” A man in a red cloak, trimmed with fur reached out to help, but Eliza just shook her head. “We’re a mite tired. Don’t mind us.” He pushed on Eliza’s arm and she nodded, letting him straighten up without her help. “My name is Dorian Pavus, and I bring grave news from Redcliffe—an army of rebel mages, right behind us.” He took in a breath and Eliza’s eyes went to the two men in front of them, both staring at Dorian. One of them was young and was dressed like an Orlesian Chevalier, his accent was from the Free Marches she could tell. His hair was short, dark brown, crystal blue eyes staring at them as Dorian explained that the mages were under the command of the Venatori, who were following the commands of the “Elder One.” Dorian turned to point out Calpernia and the Elder One, and Eliza turned to back up a little, her staff clutched tightly in her hands. “They were marching on Haven and when we realized we had to get here first.
“Cullen! A plan, anything,” the younger man asked, turning to the blonde Commander beside him. Eliza didn’t turn around, watching those marching masses getting closer and closer to Haven.
“Haven is no fortress, if we want to survive this we must control the battle,” he said firmly. Dorian struggled to stay on his feet, the momentary pause in battle allowed for all that adrenaline to disappate. Eliza reached out to steady him as he shook his head, muttering that he was fine.
“The trebuchets,” she said, nodding at them, and the younger man nodded.
“Bury the army,” he finished, turning he looked at Cullen. “Get who you can to the chantry. I will handle it.” The man, Cullen, would nod and turned, barking orders as Inquisition soldiers started to retreat towards the Chantry. Eliza moved with Dorian into those walls as yells echoed.
“Ahhh the fun just continues, doesn’t it,” Dorian laughed.
“Get to the Chantry,” she said, patting his shoulder.
“What do you think you’re doing?!” he shouted as she ran off into the town. The sounds of people screaming were getting louder as buildings started to burn. Mages were at the walls, and people were starting to flee for the Chantry.
“I’m helping!” she yelled back. She took a quick turn around a corner, hearing the screams as villagers came face to face with Venatori. All she could hear was her own pulse, screaming in her ears as she rushed into the fray.
Chapter 2: Andraste’s Knickersweasels
Eliza let out a roar, lighting ripping through her staff as crackled from one Venatori to the other; jumping down the line of mages. They were stunned and the villagers took the chance to run. The Venatori collapsed, and Eliza rushed forward, staff raised as she cut down the first one. A fire rune appeared under her and she dashed away, hitting him in the side of the skull with her staff. The crack made her stomach queezy, but Eliza ignored it as the mage crumpled to the ground. The staff rolled over her hand as she turned to finish off the other Venatori who was scrambling back. There was yell behind her, and with one step Eliza turned, staff leveled, electricity crackling off of the warped wood. The Venatori Zealot had his sword raised, that steel helmet reflecting the fires that surrounded them. He didn't move, and it took Eliza a moment to realize that there was a sword sticking through the soft tissue right under his ribs. There was a grunt, and the Venatori crumpled forward onto his knees, blood dripping out of the helm before he crashed into the ground. Behind him, panting, was the Commander of the Inquisition. Cullen flicked his sword, blood splattering onto the snow next to him, and when those eyes met hers, she knew that her gift at hiding had finally failed her. Her hand went absently to her head, noticing that her cowl had fallen during the fighting, brown hair in a tangled braid behind her. She cursed, lowering that staff as they stared at each other.
“Andraste’s knickersweasels,” she cursed, "Duck!" She raised her staff and Cullen would crouch down as lightening crackled from the end. The Venatori Zealot behind him crumpled to the ground and before he could fully stand she rushed over to him, extending her arm, “Come on, we have to move.” The attack knocked both of them out of that faze, and Cullen took her arm. Eliza pulled hard, rushing towards that Chantry. Inquisition soldiers were fighting off Venatori, and Dorian was there, his staff raised as fire engulfed a Venatori near a Chantry chancellor. She ducked under his spell, an arm coming around the Chancellor as she dragged him into the Chantry. Dorian helped the Inquisition soldiers close the door. There was an explosion in the distance, and a faint rumble caused everyone to take a moment to breath. The Herald of Andraste apparently had succeeded in his plan.
Eliza sat that Chancellor down as he winced, “Brave man…” His face was bruised and bloodied, blood soaking his white robes at the sides. It was a lot of blood, and the man could barely stand on his own.
“He was. He took on a Venatori…” Dorian said as Eliza raised her hands, asking permission before her hands moved over his sides.
“Tried to, but I am no Templar,” the Chancellor coughed. “That’s for sure.” He would look up past Eliza, and she could feel eyes on the back of her head. Raising her hands, she shook her hair out of that tattered braid. Don't turn around. Don't turn around.
“Commander, are your eyes broken?” Dorian asked. There was a small sound from behind her, but any words that might have been said in response were lost as a roar echoed around them. “What was…”
“Dragon,” Eliza said, taking that leather cord that had kept her braid together and just wrapping it around her hair. The tight bun would be good enough. She still didn't turn around, green eyes steeled as she gripped her staff.
“You are surprising, aren’t you,” Dorian chuckled, "Southerners fight dragons often?" Eliza turned to look at Dorian with a smirk, but her gaze continued, meeting Cullen's. He was still staring at her, and Eliza would have rather been out in the courtyard fighting off Venatori than trying to understand what he was thinking behind those eyes. Panicked soldiers would rush from the wings of the Chantry, reporting to their commander that there had been signs of an Archdemon. The soldiers and chantry members started to whisper loudly, but it was immediately silenced when loud bangs were heard at the Chantry door. Soldiers went to the door, quickly removing the barricade and yanking it open to allow for the same young man, as well as his companions, to come rushing into the Chantry. Cullen finally broke that eye contact, rushing to the young man who had entered; the Herald of Andraste. She didn't know if she should bow, be in awe, or just be exhausted from the hours of fighting. She had heard he was a noble from Ostwick, but from the look of him he was a rogue; not a commander. This must have been a lot for him to process. She almost felt sorry.
Eliza turned away, and that Chancellor coughed, motioning for her to come near. She did so and he held onto her shoulder, imploring that she help him up. As the Herald and Commander discussed possible; Eliza could only hear bits of their conversation.
“If only those trebuchets remained an option…”
“They are. If we turn the last of them to the mountains above us,” Cullen turned from Dorian to the Herald.
“We’re overrun… To hit the enemy, we would have to bury Haven.” The Herald looked nervous, Eliza sighed, he was barely a man, too young for a war.
“This is not survivable now. The only chance is how spitefully we end this.” Cullen said, shifting from one foot to another as Dorian quickly walked over to him, shaking his head.
“That’s not acceptable.” Dorian said firmly. “We didn’t risk our lives racing here only to have you drop rocks on our heads.”
“Should we submit? Let him kill us in his own way?” Cullen snapped.
“Dying is typically a last resort, not first! For a Templar, you think like a blood mage.”
“There is a path. You wouldn’t know it unless you made the summer pilgrimage… the People can escape,” The Chancellor coughed. “She must have shown me… so I could show you.”
“Would it work, Cullen?”
“Possibly, if he shows us the path. But what of your escape?” The Herald didn’t look at his Commander, who took the sign and went to rally his men. Dorian helped Eliza with the Chancellor.
“I was expecting some action, but this is certainly more interesting than I thought,” Dorian chuckled as the Chancellor gave his last comments to the Herald. Avoiding the Commander’s gaze, Eliza would help move the Chancellor through the Chantry. There were rooms upon rooms under the Chantry, and with a cough he would lead the rest of the Inquisition. Eliza manipulated veilfire in front of her, lighting the way as they finally emerged onto the mountain side. The troops would fan out, setting up a perimeter as they started to move. It was a fast march to the ridge-line, the distance they needed to be safe from any avalanche. A flare was lit, and the rumble of the mountain could be heard in the distance. She didn't turn to look at the avalanche, but could hear the dragon roar above them. Her focus was the Chancellor; who was holding on the best he could. Eliza had to barter with a soldier in order to get another blanket for the man, but she knew he was fading, and that the longer they marched the worse his condition would get. There was no arguing for a rest, those advisers set the pace, and it felt like hours before they finally settled into camp.
What did I just get myself into?
“So… your name is Dorian?” she asked as they sat at camp. Much debating had occurred, but scouts found a suitable valley for the Inquisition to rest in. Sitting by Chancellor Roderick, she was tending to his wounds. The man groaned and she sighed, her hand chilled as magic flowed through her. The cooled hand was placed on his side, causing him to sigh. The camp was bustling with activity, ever since they found the Herald of Andraste half frozen to death in the snow. Seeker Cassandra, Commander Cullen and a few other members of the Inquisition had helped bring the man in, and now after some medical attention, they were just waiting to see if he would wake up… and loudly arguing about the next move.
“You heard correctly,” he smiled, leaning back against a beam as they watched the advisors from a distance. “Ahhh look at them… the circular logic is very impressive you know. Each one arguing almost the same point from just a slightly different angle.” He turned to look at her. She had spread out her meager belongings, a staff, knife, small sack that barely had anything in it. “I don’t believe we had time for proper introductions while we were battling for our lives.” Eliza just chuckled, “what should I call you?”
“Eliza. Eliza Amell, your regular apostate,” she smiled up at him.
“We’re all apostates according to them,” he chuckled, nodding at the members of the Chantry and Templars that patrolled around them. “At least you’re not from Tevinter.” She went to open her mouth and he shook his head, “No, I’m not a magister. Really, do you Southerners actually know anything about Tevinter?” Eliza just sighed, leaning back against the tent’s post, watching them bicker. “That being said, I think we came to the wrong place.”
“Well… two apostates show up at the gates of a Chantry, warning them about the other mages marching to kill everyone, and on top of that the Chantry is full of Templars.” Eliza looked back at him as he shrugged, “To be honest that sounds like the beginning of a fantastic joke.”
“It was your plan, I was just a happy accomplice,” she chuckled. “I don’t think we have to worry… we’re probably low on their lists of concerns…” at that moment, the Commander’s eyes looked up from the war map, on Eliza. She felt red creeping up her neck and into her cheeks, looking away from him, and catching the eyes of Dorian. His eyebrow creeped up, glancing at the Commander, then back at Eliza. “No.”
“Oh, come on!” he whined, “You can’t have that kind of a reaction and not tell me all the juicy details.” Dorian moved quickly to sit down in between Eliza and where the Commander was still brooding over the map. Eliza looked past him, that commander rubbing his neck as he looked down, his eyes stealing glance up before looking down again. She coughed for a moment, rubbing her face and groaning.
“No,” she said gently, looking at him with a weakened, pained expression. “It’s already been too long of a night, and although I love our time together, this is one story that I don’t want to retell.” He sighed, disappointed, but nodded.
“Keep your secrets then. Just remember how this team works. Of the two of us, I’m the dashing brooding one,” he said. Eliza turned, looking at Mother Giselle as she heard the woman’s voice. She was talking to the Herald, who was now awake, looking completely crushed. The mountain must not have gone in his favor, Eliza looked over at Chancellor Roderick, the young man with the wide brim hat standing next to him. She didn’t move, watching him as Roderick slowly slumped. A sigh escaped her lips and she leaned her head against her knees. That’s when the camp started to sing.
It was Mother Giselle… Eliza looked up to see her standing close to the Herald, who looked even worse than the first time she saw him. It was a Chantry hymn, and after everything that damn group put her through, Eliza couldn’t help but mouth the words. Dorian turned to look over the camp, before turning back to Eliza with a bewildered look.
“Do you all know this?” he whispered. "Is this a thing in the south?" Eliza just chuckled, not knowing why the song brought a smile to her lips. Maybe it’s because she was used to screaming it, mocking it, when she was younger. Now… now it just brought comfort, even with those memories.
“It seems so,” Eliza whispered as the majority of the camp sang in unison. It echoed off the mountain, bringing a bit of warmth to that downtrodden place. Once the last note rang, Dorian went to go gather inquisition soldiers to help build a pyre for Roderick. Eliza just moved, pulling her hair back as she knelt next to straw haired boy.
“He heard the song… that brought peace,” the boy murmured, wide brim hat obscuring his face, but before Eliza could say anything, he was gone.
All she could do take the Chancellor’s hand… growing cool by the moment. “The.. the Light shall lead her safely, Through the… paths of this world, and into the next. For she who trusts in the Maker, fire is her water. As the moth sees light and goes toward flame, She should see fire and go towards Light. The Veil holds no uncertainty for her, And she will know no fear of death, for the Maker, Shall be her beacon and her shield, her foundation and her sword,” Eliza fumbled at the beginning, but the Chant of Benediction soon poured from her lips like a cool spring. It was refreshing to hear the words, and as she put Roderick’s hand down, her mind wandered to the last time she was in a Chantry, or even said a chant. “Blessed are they who stand before, The corrupt and the wicked and do not falter. Blessed are the peacekeepers, the champions of the just. Blessed are the righteous, the lights in the shadow. In their blood the Maker’s will is written.” The second chant came off her lips a bit easier, but as her gaze drifted up, Eliza saw a pair of military boots on the other side of Roderick. Her mouth went dry, but fortunately for her, a voice from behind spoke.
“That was very kind of you child,” it was Mother Giselle. She had known of the Mother’s work in the Hinterlands, and although rebel mages and Templars fought in the valley, she had always been respectful and kind to both sides, as well as the refugees. Still… to have a member of the Chantry thank her, it caught Eliza off guard. It had been a long year of fighting, she wasn’t used to kind words… they were a sign of weakness in the pitched war mages and templars found themselves in. Inquisition soldiers soon came to wrap Roderick’s body in spare linen as others tried to find something for the pyre. There were many bodies, and many yet to come. The religious focus of this band seemed to dictate everything. The pyre was important… both so they didn’t have to carry the bodies, and to give these men and women of the Inquisition the proper rites.
“He… he was a man of the Chantry, it was only right,” Eliza practically mumbled as she stood. As her eyes lifted, she could see military boots in front of her, which gave way breeches and the glint of a sword catching the fire light. Ten years and nothing, but now it’s every minute you seem to be there…
“I’m… I’m surprised you would have that memorized,” the voice was rough, and Eliza could almost image the surprised look as she took a step back, allowing those soldiers to work.
She couldn’t help but chuckle, “They were…good at teaching us the Chants in Kinloch.” Eliza looked at him, and now with the battle over and an uneasy peace falling on the camp, she realized how tired he looked. There was a ring of red from sleepless nights, his face was older than she remembered. It seems that the Maker hasn’t been kind to either of us… “It is one I’ve had to say too many times this past year,” she watched as pain flickered in his eyes. Eliza turned to Mother Giselle, “I will go to make sure he receives a proper burial. The snow will… make it difficult…” The Chantry Mother nodded, thanking her softly. Eliza would bid her farewell before turning back to that man, “Knight-Commander.”
“It’s… just Commander,” he corrected gently and Eliza nodded.
“My apologies.” She would turn, pulling her hood up and going to the edge of that camp. There were many dead, and after some convincing, Eliza convinced Dorian to help her with the pyres. Many in the camp would gather to sing verses of the Chant of Benediction, and Eliza did her best to discreetly stoke the fires as they consumed the departed. There was some effort for the ashes to be collected from the ground, at least for the Chancellor. Some of the soldiers were unknown, the camp having swollen to breaking right before the attack. They sat down in their own part of camp, away from the Templars who watched them cautiously, but it was too long and hard of a day for those sorts of wounds to come to the surface. Eliza found herself on her back, looking up at a remarkably clear sky. She fell asleep counting the stars, like she had when she was a child.
A hand traced over her face; finger tips brushing over her cheeks, her forehead, comforting. A gentle voice was calling her name. She tossed in her sleep, opening her eyes to see that familiar Circle chamber. It had been so many years since Kinloch, but even the scratchiness of the feather bed came back. She heard the voice again, sitting up slowly as she pulled that sheet to her collar. The room was empty and dark save what moonlight could enter through the window. Eliza leaned back on the bed, closing her eyes. That’s when she felt a hand cupping her cheek gently, a thumb dragging lazily over her lips, lingering on her lower lip. Her eyes opened slowly and came to meet a pair of fiery red eyes. A warped face was in front of her, crystals jutting from his jaw line and hairline, and they sparkled like dangerous rubies in the moonlight. A gloved hand held her chin roughly and the eyes of an abomination stared straight into her soul as she heard a course laugh.
“Maker!” she shouted as she jolted awake. She heard a hiss, looking to see that she had accidentally kicked Dorian in the shin. He turned with a groan, cursing wildly in Tevene. She was still panting, eyes searching wildly to make sure that the abomination she saw wasn’t there, as well as that she didn’t set the campsite on fire. When she didn’t see anyone, she laid back, panting as the sounds of heavy breathing and sores hit her ears. She let the sound soak over her, trying to drown out the sound of her drumming heart. “Sorry Dorian,” she whispered as he just groaned and acknowledgement and turned his back to her. Eliza realized she was soaked in sweat, and she would move from that makeshift sleeping mat, pushing herself up to leave camp. She went to the edge, channeling her magic to heat her skin, steam soon pouring off her body as that fabric dried. Turning back, she heard someone else yelling in the camp. Someone was crying out a phrase of the Chant before deafening silence… she wasn’t the only one having a nightmare.
a longer chapter, but the end of the first 'segment'. Still getting use to this style of formatting.
From the Ashes
Chapter 1: The Spirit with Straw Hair
The Inquisition traveled for days, led by the Inquisitor, who in turn was guided by Solas. Although it raised questions, like how an elf knew these mountains so well, none of the concerns were voiced openly. Whispers ran rampant as people looked for anything to talk about. Morale was too low, and the injured got worse every day as they wandered. Eliza and a few other mages did their best to heal those they could, but it was only on the sixth day, when a castle seemed to materialize out of the mountain, that everyone sighed a breath of relief. The sick were the first ones that were tended, a make shift infirmary set up in the yard. There was a surgeon, who was a real wonder with herbs and other medicines, but Eliza did her best to soothe those who needed it. Some of the Templars were reluctant, but pressure from the surgeon, along with some insults, went a long way in gaining their cooperation. Eliza wouldn’t sleep far from the infirmary, just in case. The loft of a barn nearby provided enough comfort, a roof and a bit of warmth if she slept over the hearth. If it wasn’t the infirmary, she was in the library, listening to Dorian criticize every book the Inquisition seemed to bring back. It brought a little laughter, and although she had to cut through the elf’s study to get out, it was a warm enough place to soothe her. At least there was no fighting there.
“Hold his hand,” there was a gently urge behind her, but Eliza wouldn’t turn. The voice was familiar enough that she would just gently take the soldier’s hand. His fever was high, she could feel it radiating from his hand as he fussed in his sleep.
The soldier would shutter, calling out for his sister. “Sick with a fever as a boy. Sister use to hold his hand to help him sleep. Warm. Soft. Kind.” The soldier would slip to sleep and she would smile, cooling her hand with frost before placing it on his forehead. “You’re kind. Why? He’s a templar. You don’t like Templars.” She soothed the boy with a bit of a song before letting his hand go and placing a cool cloth over his head.
“They are in pain.” She said simply, turning to look at that straw haired boy with the wide brimmed, and he jumped. “You disappear a lot…”
“You remember me?”
“Yes,” she smiled. Eliza moved her hand. “I’m Eliza… and you’re the boy they’ve been talking about.”
“Fear. He’s different. He disappears. Not natural.” the boy muttered, walking away. Eliza would follow quietly, noticing how the eyes of the surgeon and others were on him. “Could be corrupted and possess mages. Why are you not worried?”
“You’re a spirit, not a demon., or something in between the Fade and there” she shrugged, and he turned to look at her, wide blue eyes meeting hers. Eliza chuckled, “I can’t judge… I bet some people think that I’m a danger to the Inquisition."
“You’re not afraid? Of becoming a danger?” He finished and Eliza just nodded.
“No, if I did then I’d be hiding in a room right now. It’s part of life,” she shrugged, leaning back on her heels and standing up. “I am curious. Spirits usually either want to stay in the Fade, or want to come here with someone… but you’re alone.”
“Yes. I… I came to help. I couldn’t. I stayed to try and help others.”
“That’s very kind.” Eliza smiled.
“I make most people forget.”
“I make them. It’s easier if I… mess up.” He sighed. “Sometimes I scare people.”
“Have you made me forget?”
“Yes. I… I did not want to scare you.”
“Cole…” she chuckled with an amused smile. “Hey...I remember your name…" she shook her head with a small smile. "You don’t have to make me forget.”
“Oh, but what if I messed it up. Can I make you forget?” He said, raising his hand, and Eliza smiled, shaking her head. “Why?”
“Because we learn from mistakes.” She asked, taking his hand and lowering it. “And learning makes us better.”
A small wiry smile crossed his lips under that wide brim, but it would change when Eliza’s own changed. The Seeker and the Commander were coming down to the lower courtyard with the Inquisitor. “Sun setting over Lake Calenhad… Cool breeze off the lake makes the summer less stifling. I just can’t decide what move to make… the pawn is warm in my hand, do I let him win again or do I make it a challenge…”
“Cole,” Eliza paused, “are you… saying what I’m thinking?”
“Y…yes. Well it’s what you feel. Heavy. Heavy stones and vines strangling. I’m sorry. Should I not?” he asked as they grew closer.
“We usually don’t want people to know what we are thinking.”
“I know, but sometimes it’s better if you do…”
“Cole. Stop,” Eliza urged, moving over to the surgeon as the Inquisitor and the other advisers started to check on the men in the infirmary. There was no reason for her to get in the way… or linger as they overlooked their work. Eliza was good at her job, and now that the lower courtyard had been dedicated to the infirmary, she and the camp surgeon had a lot of space to work. She pushed her hair back away from her face, watching as the Inquisitor started to talk to Cole, Solas and Vivienne nearby, watching carefully. Scouts and soldiers were gathering as Commander and Seeker Cassandra started going over plans for putting Skyhold back together. Roofs and towers were still damaged, but most of the space was smoothly being dedicated and divided among different groups within the Inquisition. Scouts were sent out, and she looked away quickly as the Commander looked up in their direction. Eliza excused herself, letting out a deep sigh as she went to that far staircase. As light started to wane, the lights in The Heralds Retreat started to glow. Songs were starting up, and it made Eliza smile. Although she would normally join Dorian for a heavy dose of drinking and storytelling, she bypassed the tavern and made her way to the Chantry’s garden.
Cole is my favorite. Absolutely love his character so i'm like 90% sure the point of this section was to 1) Have Cole somewhere and 2) Draw out my character's personality. So sorry if it just seems like a filler. .. sorry not sorry
From the Ashes Chapter 2: An Arm's Length
The Divine Mothers, Clerics and other members of the Chantry had moved in quickly after the Inquisitor provided the supplies they needed. They started to turn the garden into a sanctuary for the devout; favoring statues of Andraste over flowers and herbs. There were pots with elfroot growing steadily, but the small Chantry space always seemed packed with the devoted, but Eliza had lost her faith a long time ago, so the statues did nothing more than make her uneasy. It wasn’t the sanctuary that she was looking for, it was the pavilion. It sat to the side, near a staircase to the ramparts. That was the hub of activity during the day, almost giving the Chantry a run for its money. In the confusion and fevered pace that Skyhold was in, going to the pavilion was a chance to retreat from it all and catch your breath... that was if there was no one playing games or already there. Now with the cold moonlight steadily rising, the garden was empty. The only light came from candles burning against the walls. They provided a soft glow, but it was the moon's light that allowed for Eliza to find that pavilion.
Beautify carved wooden seats with simple cushions were set up there, for people to do… well whatever they did. Eliza didn’t pretend to know what the soldiers and scouts and other arms of the Inquisition did on their off time. There were a few tables that had cards, dominoes, and even a board game or two set up. A small smile crossed her lips as she ran her hand over the chess board, remembering some long past games. Her mind was so distracted she didn’t notice she was alone until that wave of uneasiness passed over her. It was pure reflex that her anxiety and fear manifested into static electricity, flickering and crackling around her fingers. They raced up her blue tunic, encasing her arm as she turned, her pose not at all afraid, prepared. Her eyes caught that of the person behind her and both jumped.
“Maker,” she breathed, and she swore she heard it on his voice as well. That electricity dissipated and she shook out her hand to let the remaining static fly into the air like fireflies. “Please don’t sneak up on me…I could have hurt you.”
“I didn’t mean to.” Eliza was honestly surprised he didn’t stumble over his words. She was nervous, Why? Her internal monologed was talking rapidly as Eliza turned to go sit up on the banister. Deer skin boots kicked back and forth as she let out a heavy sigh. This was what she was trying to avoid. She had spent every waking moment in the library or working in the infirmary, and stayed as far away from the training fields as she could, as far away from the towers on either side of the drawbridge. Eliza finally mustered the strength to look up at Cullen; and he just had one hand on his sword, seeming to study her. The light was dim but she could still catch his golden eyes; they weren’t as bright as they were years ago, not as happy. It was just… heavy, a weight on him as if he was carrying an invisible burden around his neck. He looked better without the heavy Templar armor on, it had always looked too cumbersome. Although she was glad he kept wearing red, it looked good on him. Stop. No. Don’t think stuff like that. Eliza sighed, watching as he took another step into that pavilion. Now he was in between her and the exit. A familiar pull of fear and anxiety came over, channeled into her fingers as she tapped on the banister. Always know your exits. Always be able to reach them. STOP! You're not in the Wilds anymore. No one is after you. The silence between them was stifling, and it made her head race even more than it already did. She hated silence.
“Alright, what do you want?” Eliza winced as she pulled her hair out of that ponytail, she hadn't meant for her tone to be so harsh. Her fingers moved to pull that wild hair back into a braid, something to keep it tame. It was a nervous habit, something she did when she was trying to fill the awkward silence…just like when he rubbed his neck... which he was doing... Maker, he still hasn't changed from that unsure boy I met in the Circle, she watched him out of the corner of her eye. He rubbed his neck, one hand on his sword as he took another step forward. Eliza ran a hand over her face, the braid falling down, “If you want to ask about the mages at Haven, I wasn't part of that rebel group. I went to Redcliffe to try and...”
“It’s good to see that you’re alright,” he finally broke the silence, cutting her off and causing Eliza to look up back at him. He was nervous, even though there was little light except for the guards above them, it was painfully obvious that he was struggling. “After Uldred was killed… well no one knew where you went. We all thought… that you had died.” That was a name she hadn't heard in a while and it ripped into her like a mace: Uldred... how many of her friends had he killed? Turned into abominations? Corrupted with honey words about how blood magic wasn't that bad... He could die a dozen times and it wouldn't be enough...
“Um... Some of the Knights were talking about the rite of annulment and, well, a few of us ran,” she said simply. From the look he gave her... was it regret? It caused Eliza to pause for a moment, running her fingers behind her ear, catching a piece of missed hair. You weren't with us though... As far as Eliza could remember, he hadn't been with the rest of the mages and templars at the base of that tower, when they sealed it to prevent the demons from escaping. The memory made her head and heart hurt and she just shook her head. That anxiety was swelling in her chest, that pull to get out of that place before the memories overtook her. “Well, if you were just here to say hello, then I think we’re done with that.” She pushed herself off that wooden bannister, and Eliza skated around the sides of the pavilion. Her feet didn't even hit the stairs before she felt a hand close gently around her wrist. “Cullen…” His hand was warm, and she didn’t know if it was just him or because he was wearing gloves. Her pulse quickened a little, No. Calm down. You're fine. He's not like Carroll, or Hadley... or any of the others they send out to catch apostates. You're fine.
“I just… want to talk,” he said simply, his eyes looking for hers as she just looked forward and down, studying the stairs. “Eliza...”
“What is there to talk about?” she asked with a sigh, turning to look at him, keenly aware of that grip on her wrist. No… please don’t look at me like that, I'm acting like a bitch and you're still wanting to talk?! her mind was screaming. No not that look...How could I say no to that look… “It’s been a really long time. I... I heard you went to Kirkwall.”
“And I heard you were in the Free Marches… Ostwick…” he didn’t let go over her wrist, holding it gently. How did he know I was in the Free Marches?
“Wycome, mostly… but it was a little too much,” she chuckled. Wycome wasn't known for the same restraint like in Kirkwall or Starkhaven. Eliza pulled her hand back gently, and he released her hand, “It was a good place to hide, but I ended up traveling the Free Marches a little before wandering home.”
“You became an apostate?”
“Yes…” she said slowly, looking up at him to get a sense of how that news would affect him. Apostate, she hated that title, she hated everything about it. Not being accepted. Feared. Hated. Cast out. The only benefit of being an Apostate was that it made highwaymen and thieves pause before targeting you. The flip side was that you had to avoid civilization… or at least the Chantry. Confusion? Why are you confused? What did you expect me to do? Let Carroll drive a sword through my back? “Like I said… some of the mages heard the word Annulment. Most of the Templars were in the tower and we didn’t know what was happening. With First Enchanter Irving gone all we had was Wynne… and then she went with the Wardens to try and save Irving and… We got scared.”
“Why did you not return? After the Blight?”
“It… it was too hard.” She backed up, she was good at talking her way out of situations, had to be after the Blight. "I was afraid of what the Knight-Commander would do since I ran away. He was always fair but... you know how Greagoir was..." Eliza didn’t need to see where she was going, but this was the first time she felt unsure. “Besides, I wasn’t the only one who left after the Blight.”
“That… was different,” the hesitation hid something. It made her pause, which didn't help her whole escape-the-awkward-situation plan.
“How?” Cullen shook his head, moving again, towards her. Eliza realized that her chance for an easy getaway was now gone. She watched him, and she tried to shake off that edging fear in the back of her mind. That war is over, stop acting like you're in it! Her mind was screaming, and distracted her enough to make her stiffen in surprise when he wrapped his arms around her, and Eliza froze as she felt him against her. That hug tightened a bit, and she felt her own arms moving, wrapping around his back so that her face was pressed into the fur collar of his cloak. Oh Maker… no no no no…You're an idiot, Eliza. You're an idiot for doing this to yourself.
“I’m glad you’re safe,” the sentiment was repeated as he hugged her, and Eliza didn’t know what to do. She had been trying to disengage, and keeping everyone at Skyhold an arm’s length away was easy. Dorian was her only friend, as so far as they both trusted each other and were wary of the Chantry and Templars. Keeping everyone at arms length would make it easy if she had to leave. Him... Cullen... why did she let that defense down around him enough to allow him to hug her. She couldn’t help but sigh, resting her head against his shoulder, fur tickling her nose as she hugged him back.
“Me too…” Andraste preserve me...
Yes. Angsty backstory on Amell to come. Just a reminder that my Amell didn't end up becoming the Warden in DA:O.
From the Ashes Chapter 3: Iron and Ice
The pace of Skyhold came in waves of furious action, with lulls of utter stillness. Everyone spoke of the war as if it was some glorious adventure, but in reality Eliza spent most of her time trying to fill in the spaces between work. Never the less, recruits and conscripts were coming daily, and integrated into the military and different forces with little difficulty. With every victory, every closed rift, every mission completed, his power and influence grew. People were coming to and from the keep for supplies, audiences with officials, and even just a glimpse of the Inquisitor. It was difficult for Eliza, the religious fervor was almost stifling, and it was only in the library that she received a little reprieve. Dorian criticized the different books available, and although the Inquisitor would return with some new tomes or books after his weeks long adventures, they never seemed enough.
“I don’t think you’ll find an anarchist librarian,” Eliza chuckled as she watched him move around.
“It is a dream, but can you blame me?” he pulled a book off the shelf and made a disgusted noise, “I mean really? This is Chantry propaganda against Tevinter. I’m not saying that we are a shining example of devotion, but really? This garbage?”
“You could always go back to the Imperium and retrieve some for us.” Dorian turned and gave her a disapproving look, “I’m teasing. I don’t know what I would do if you left.” She sighed, turning the page in her book.
“You’ll start spouting the Chants like the rest of these people,” he said, gesturing at the numerous Sisters and other members of the Chantry. As he went on another lecture about the inconsistencies within Chantry teachings, Eliza couldn’t focus. It had been almost a month since she had that conversation with Cullen, and besides a few long glances and brief conversations, there was nothing. Templars in the Keep were always talking about him, and what had happened at Kirkwall with Knight-Commander Meredith, and the few discussions she had with Varric on the subject were not helpful. To be honest, she avoided Varric. He knew the Champion of Kirkwall, and although she had traveled the Free Marches, she never thought to ever return to Kirkwall. Despite the fact that it is where her mother’s family was from. The idea that her cousin was the Champion of Kirkwall, and one of the people who started the Mage Rebellion, it was a little overwhelming. He had offered to set up a meeting, since their small noble house had been drastically reduced, but Eliza had avoided him at every turn. She liked being a nobody, and had been one for so long, it was a terrifying idea to become someone. Eliza sighed, closing her book and rubbing her face, this was all too much. If it wasn’t for the fact there was nowhere to go, she would have run after Haven. With Red Templars and Venatori about, it was dangerous for anyone, but a powerful mage and a former member of the Inquisition? She might as well have a target on her back. Dorian had tried to encourage her to get out and work out some of her anxiety by fighting the good fight, but even the idea of working with the Templars in Skyhold made her nervous. Although Mages were tolerated, the Inquisitor’s leaning to Vivienne’s point of view was making Eliza feel a little less comfortable.
“I’m sorry, am I boring you?” That slightly accented voice pulled her out of her head and back to the present.
“No… you’re not… I just have a lot on my mind,” Eliza didn’t look up, only shaking her head as she rubbed her temples.
“Well, after the Inquisitor’s meeting Hawke’s informant, your time is about to be consumed.” That got her attention. A small smirk caused Dorian's mustache to curl up a bit. “What? You haven’t heard?”
“Do I look like I’m privy to that sort of information?” Eliza chuckled, putting down her book on that ever growing stack next to the chair.
“Apparently not,” he chuckled. “We, the Inquisition, are going to Adamant Fortress to stop the Wardens in their foolish pursuit of Blood Magic and that nonsense. That same old silly tune, Lets play with magic we don’t understand. It will make us incredibly powerful. Ugh. Please don’t ever do something as idiotic as that. Even if the Wardens did agree to it for good reasons, it was still idiotic. We will be trying to stop an army of demons and Wardens that are controlled by the Venatori… This is something that will require the might of the full Inquisition. You’ll have to come with us of course… between the Surgeon, who needs your expertise, and myself needing a mage that I can trust, you’ll just have to come.”
“Dorian, I am not a fighter.”
He could only pause before laughed out loud, earning a glare from her, “Are you serious? Did you forget our epic battle to Haven? We fought for hours through enemy mages and I watched you cut down Venatori and Red Templars like they were wet tissues. No, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a mage fight the way you do. Besides, once at the Fortress, who is going to watch my back? Vivienne? Iron Bull? Sera?”
“The Inquisitor probably.”
“Pssshhhhttt, he’s going to be too busy saving the world and killing demons in droves. I need someone I know can handle their own,” he winked at her, “You’re my girl.”
“You’re going to make me blush,” Eliza laughed and Dorian just smiled.
“Don’t tell anyone though. If word were to get back to my father he might piss his smallcloth in excitement.” Eliza just laughed, knowing there was no way she was going to get out of it. In fact, it explained why the Surgeon was stockpiling herbs and why the military part of the keep was starting to prepare to move.
With Dorian’s plan apparently settled, Eliza made her way out of the library, to start to double check her gear and supplies. That apostate took a longer route to avoid Solas’ study, and it took her out to the balcony. She was about to head down the long staircase, but heard someone clear their voice behind her. Eliza flinched. She turned slowly on her heels, and her hands would clench. There was Madame de Fer, Vivienne herself, looking down with disapproval.
“You. You’re the mage that works with the surgeon. Are you not?” she asked and Eliza wished she could have faded into mist right there. Unfortunately, the Iron Lady could have probably forced her to rematerialize, her attitude towards here was complicated; a mix of jealousy for her gifts, as well as utter distain for her view of her fellow mages.
“Yes, Madame,” Eliza said with a small nod. Vivienne looked amused, and that was not necessarily a good thing.
“They say you are very good with potions and herbs. To be honest, I’m a little surprised you would be working with a surgeon,” she said, descending from her space at the top of the stairs, onto the landing where Eliza was currently at.
“Well, the surgeon tries not to use magic unless absolutely necessary,” Vivienne was sizing her up, Eliza knew that, but forced her spine to be like a steel bar. “It’s interesting that she would allow a mage to help.”
“I know how to heal with and without magic, Madame,” Eliza said simply, green eyes glaring into hers fiercely. It was a struggle of wills… all be it a polite struggle of wills.
“Where did you get instruction? You’re Circle?”
“No, Madame. I am self-taught,” Eliza wanted to just jump off that rail and start running to the court yard. Solas and Vivienne, she didn’t understand why they both made her feel sick. Vivienne just gave her a small smile.
“Life as an apostate must have been difficult, to learn such a skill.”
“It’s not for everyone, but I didn’t choose it willingly,” Eliza regretted saying that last part. It opened questions for Vivienne, lines for investigation that she did not want followed.
“Ah, so you were at a Circle,” she said, walking closer with that calm, assertive walk that made men in the court weak in the knees, but just made Eliza feel as if she was being stalked by a predator. “From your accent, you are Ferelden?” Eliza just nodded, watching the Enchanter as she walked around her. “Hmmm, so I’m guessing Kinloch… but with your age, that must have been during the Blight.”
“It was a chaotic time,” Eliza agreed.
“Well, if you were at Kinloch, how come the Templars didn’t collect you?” Eliza tried to steel herself for that question, knowing exactly where the First Enchanter was going. She might as well have said it, Where is your phylactery, darling?
“Like I said… it was a chaotic time. In the process of repairing the tower, some of us who left were left alone.” It was simple enough. The only downside was that Eliza practically admitted that she was a fugitive apostate to a First Enchanter who detested apostates and the Mage Rebellion. Vivienne just smiled and nodded.
“I see. Well I hear you have quite a gift,” Vivienne would retreat back to those stairs, on her way back to her lounging area. “When this is all over and the Circles are rebuilt, we should consider having you come to the White Spire. Such an addition would benefit my Circle greatly.” Eliza would just politely smile, thanking her before rushing down that stairwell.
“I hate her.”
If you read a few chapters ago, I basically disclaimed that it was my "I love Cole and want to make sure I have an exchange with him chapter"
This serves the same purpose... because I hate Vivienne and always struggle with getting enough approval in the game lol
Chapter 7: Deathroot
Here Lies the Abyss
Chapter 1: Deathroot
The Hinterlands were always beautiful at night. She could hear that fire crackling behind her, and the talking of other apostates. She was sitting at the edge of their camp, overlooking the Crossroads. The grass was cool under her, scratchy against her legs, but it didn't seem to bother her. Camp, and the Apostates, seemed far away, but all she could look at was that small red vial, barely longer than her finger. The glass was cool in her hand, markings were faded along one flat side. It glowed brightly, but the liquid that filled the central vial gave off no warmth. She wanted to find a way to hide it, but right now it would dangle from a leather cord, resting against her sternum. The warm summer night was almost stifling, and the fire behind her started to roar. Eliza turned quickly, to look behind her, watching as the three Apostates that had been sitting near the fire were lying prone, thrashing as the fire consumed them. The flames lept and crackled as if they had their own mind, racing across that grass towards Eliza. Flames leapt at her, but didn’t burn as they started to race up her arms. A feeling of anger swelled in her; anger at the Templars who betrayed them, hunted them, anger at the Chantry that damning them, anger at her mother who letting them take her, it swelled in her chest. It was a fire burning in her chest that grew even as Eliza tried to calm herself down. That red vial would fall from her hands as she braced herself on the ground, and it was as if the oxygen in her lungs was burning up with the fire. The anger welled inside her, and she saw fire spreading from her finger tips, engulfing the grass around her.
“That’s it…” the voice was soothing, nurturing, and she felt someone brushing her cheek. The fingers were soft, but there was something else, a faint red glow, more vibrant than her phylactery. Eliza looked up, an abomination kneeling right in front of her. Rage demons were sprouting from the bodies of those apostates, shifting quickly towards her. She gasped, looking down as the fire around her started to creep up her arms. “Come now…” Eliza screamed, her arms giving out as she curled into a ball, knees tucked under her. She heard a throaty laugh above her, and she just shuttered.
The scream must have been loud because that knock on her door pulled Eliza out of the nightmare. She was covered in sweat, leaping to her feet to answer the guard who was asking if everything was alright. Opening the door a crack, she explained that it was just a nightmare. He would nod, wishing her well. Closing the door, she sunk to the ground, waving her hand to put out a few cinders that were starting to smolder on the stone floor. It was late, but with her heart pounding there was no way she was going to be able to sleep. With a groan, she pulled on her breeches, pulled that mess of brown hair into a ponytail and left her room.
The cold mountain air was refreshing against her hot skin, and the clear night helped her clouded head. She flexed her hands, feeling that pent-up feeling, like she needed to run, or fight, or something to get it out. It was why everyone was so worried about her Harrowing, this feeling, a pull, that could overcome her sometimes and make her just want to act. Irving had said it would make her a powerful mage, but Knight-Commander Greagoir warned that it could make her susceptible to demons. Either way, it made her want to just move. Bare feet barely made a noise on the ground as she walked, carrying her throughout the sleeping hold. The patrols didn’t pay her any mind. She must have looked horrid, her long tunic untucked, breeches barely tied; she looked more haggard than even the newest recruit.
Her walk took her to the Great Hall, that Andrastian throne glittering in the fire light. All the hearths were still lit, although no one was there to take in the warmth. Eliza was rarely in this part of the Keep. This space was for members of the court and the inner circle… If she was honest, Eliza was glad she didn’t have to spend too much time there. Court always seemed more dangerous than anywhere else in Thedas. She found herself in front of that throne, lights causing it to shimmer, and the marble figure of Andraste looked as she was being consumed by flames. It was too real, and she flinched as her dream came back to her. Eliza swore she could feel the heat of flames creeping up her arms and burying into her flesh. She held her hand to her head, shaking the image out of her head before she turned on her heels. The urge to run was swelling again, but she only made it a few steps before she nearly ran into someone. Two hands caught her arms, keeping her from colliding, but making her jump with a gasp.
“Oh,” her eyes found another set staring back at her. Eliza found herself paralyzed for a moment, Cullen’s eyes were like warm honey, concerned, but as his hands gently let her go, Eliza found herself taking a step back and shaking her head. She pushed a strand of hair behind her ear. “Um… sorry… lost up here,” she laughed nervously, pointing at her head.
“I’m just surprised to see someone else up,” he chuckled, and Eliza caught herself smiling for a moment, but shook her head. No. No. Can’t get comfortable.
“I was… just leaving,” she said, side stepping him. “I shouldn’t be in here…”
“Why not?” The question caught her off guard, and Eliza turned to look at him. He looked just as disheveled as she was, shirt just off center, untucked from his pants and boots. No cloak, no armor, and not a side of Cullen that Eliza had ever seen. He looked more tired than normal, hair disheveled and showing why he earned the nickname Curly. Eliza found herself slowing down to a stop, barely making any ground towards that chamber door.
“Um… well this is for the court, and I’m not properly dressed,” she chuckled.
“Neither of us are… or ever will be for Orlesians,” he smirked, and Eliza couldn’t help but smile. He was toying with a small wooden figure, a lion with a spiky crown in its jaws.
“Late game of chess?” she asked gesturing at his hand. Cullen would he look down at the piece, as if suddenly remembering it was there.
“Oh… no… I found it on my desk and thought I should bring it back,” he said, holding the piece tighter. “Can’t use a War Map effectively if we don’t have all the pieces.”
“I’m sure it’s going to be important in the next few days…” he seemed confused, and Eliza just shrugged. “Adamant… Dorian told me that the Inquisition will be moving soon. I’m sure you’ll need everything.” Cullen just nodded, running a hand through his hair as he looked down at the piece.
“Yes… we’ll need everything and a bit more,” he mused. “The Surgeon…”
“I know. We’ve already talked,” Eliza said with a small nod. “She trusts me at the front lines, so I’ll be following with the soldiers to get the wounded to the back lines.”
“Are you worried?”
“A little.” She shrugged, rubbing her arms a little, “I’ve never been in something this big, but… I am, unfortunately, familiar with fighting,” she chuckled. “I mean… I was at Haven.”
“Ah yes…” he chuckled. “I remember. You almost hit me.” That got a laugh out of Eliza. She watched him closely as he took a few steps off to one side of the hall, he gestured for her to follow him. Her feet were frozen for a moment, but that hesitation, faded as he beckoned again. One in front of another, she would find her feet moving.
“I didn’t almost hit you. I saved you,” she corrected, moving through that side door he opened. This place was enormous, you could fit a thousand men in here and still have space for more. Of course, she was rarely, if ever, in the main hall. The side passages were completely off limits, save the one to the library.
“If I remember correctly, I saved you,” he chuckled. “And what did you say to me?” Eliza just giggled as they passed down that hallway.
“Andraste’s knickersweasels,” he finished with a laugh. “I don’t think I’ve ever heard that before.”
“I picked it up from a friend.” Eliza admitted, pulling her hair down over her shoulder as she started to tug at the ends. “He was always creative when it came to swearing.” Cullen opened a large door, holding it for her, and Eliza would take a step in before freezing. “I’m fairly certain I’m not supposed to be in here…”
“I’ll make sure the guards don’t throw you out,” Cullen chuckled, standing still as Eliza took a few steps towards the War Map. It was on a huge table: war markers, letters, pints, bottles and knives scattered about the edges. It was impressive, and she touched the table lightly as she walked around.
“Wow…” she breathed, “This is where all the decisions are made?” He nodded, rubbing the back of his neck with a wince.
“We do our best…” he muttered, even now the map just looked full. He lingered back for a moment before walking to that map, placing that marker in his hand near Adamant. Eliza just couldn’t tear her eyes away, there were dozens of requests from all over the Free Marches, Ferelden, Orlais, Nevarra littered the map with markers, or with notes stacked on the sides.
“Given what you’re up against, I think the Inquisitor and his advisors are doing a fine job,” she said, lingering over Ferelden. She touched the Hinterlands, a few markers were carefully avoided as she ran her fingertips over the map. A soft sigh left her lips, and she looked up to catch his eyes. They were watching her closely, but for what reason she couldn’t figure. Eliza would blush and look away, pulling her hand away from the map. “Is it strange?” she raised her eyes to catch his again, “Being back in Ferelden?”
“Yes…” he said with a sigh. “To be honest, I never expected to return.” He looked down over Orlais, where all the markers seemed to be piling up on top of each other. “But Cassandra can be persuasive.”
“You mean she’s intimidating,” Eliza grinned. “The way Varric tells it, he was basically dragged here in irons.”
“I would not put it past her. But then again I didn’t need much pressure; by the time she found me I was ready to be done with Kirkwall,” Cullen chuckled. “Varric on the other hand… he was close to the Champion and was set on rebuilding Kirkwall. Well, let’s just say her feelings towards the dwarf are… adversarial at best.” Eliza nodded with a small chuckle, although the two worked well together, there was a bit of tension left over the events of Kirkwall and what the dwarf did or did not tell the Seeker. She watched his eyes turn down back to the map, finding their way across Kirkwall and she sighed, Bad luck seems to follow you, doesn’t it…
“You couldn’t sleep?” Eliza asked, looking back down at the map, staring at Ferelden. Skyhold was barely on the edge in the Frostback Mountains, but the shapes and cities of Ferelden were still within just a few weeks ride. They seemed so familiar even after being away for so long… a bit of comfort in a chaotic time.
“Uh… yes.” he smirked, walking around and coming to stand next to her. “I guess there’s no point denying it.” He looked down at the map for a moment before trailing his gaze back up to Eliza. She glanced over at him, “If you’re not worried about Adamant, then why are you up?”
“Nightmares,” the word tumbled off her lips before she could stop them. She heard him sigh, his shadow joining hers on that side of the table.
That revelation surprised her… if her nightmares were enough to send her wandering the ramparts at night, then what dreams plagued him? “Look at us,” she chuckled, turning to lean on the table. “The Commander of the Inquisition and an apostate; more afraid of our nightmares than what faces us in the day.” She sighed, the last part was barely a mutter as she ran her hand through her hair, messing it in that ponytail. “Have you tried anything? To help with it?”
“No,” he said with a sigh. “I can’t afford to take a draught and then something happens in the middle of the night.”
“I just don’t like the taste,” she sighed, “Sera has offered me some, but it’s all Deathroot. It leaves a bad taste and…yeah… I don’t like how I feel after.”
“Do you have them often?” He pressed softly, “Nightmares, I mean.” Eliza just shook her head, rubbing her arms for a moment as a flash of that nightmare resurfaced.
“No… they’re just bad when I get them,” she turned her head to look at him, “You?”
“Same.” He repeated, they stood there awkwardly for a moment before Eliza pushes away from the table. She felt his hand gently catch hers before she moved too far away. “Do you… want to talk about them?” She turned to look at him, Maker no please don’t look like that… she bit her bottom lip, a small smirk crossing her lip.
“Don’t worry Commander,” Eliza tried to tease, “You have my promise. I won’t be possessed.” There was a second where he looked wounded, letting her hand go quickly. “I… It was a joke.” A small smirk crossed his lips as he nodded, pushing himself from that table.
“Come on, we are leaving in the morning. We should try to catch some sleep.” He walked past her, and Eliza sighed, running a hand through her hair as she followed him out of that War Room.
“Andraste’s knickersweasels .”
Chapter 8: The Chaos Adamant
Here Lies the Abyss Chapter 2: Chaos of Adamant
A quiet gasp, and a quick movement stopped the rapid slide off of her saddle. Her heart was racing, but after readjusting the reins on her hands, Eliza took in a measured breath. Eliza hated herself and her weakness. There was something about being on the road, surrounded by the clinking and grinding noise of metal on metal that made her pulse race and her breath grow shallow. She had figured out a way to contain that urge to run, finding herself wandering the edges of camp during the night. What she couldn’t figure out is how to sleep. The first week was fine, but then the nightmares started, and after a month she couldn’t get more than a few hours of sleep before they took her. Every night it seemed she was plagued by nightmares that left her sweaty and shaking when she woke. It was a miracle that her shouts and screams were not loud enough to require immediate intervention. But it was becoming more difficult to stay in her saddle as the entire camp moved, and the Surgeon was becoming more and more concerned that she was sick. Dark rings were starting to form under her eyes, and her thoughts were fleeting and unfocused. When it came time for battle, Eliza knew she would be a hindrance. Although she hated it, Eliza was finding herself using that sleeping powder that Sera made for fighting. It was safe enough in small doses, and if she timed it right, the grogginess would be over by noon the following day. That draught reduced the number of bad nights dramatically, but Eliza knew it was only temporary. After the battle, there would be long nights that guaranteed that she couldn’t take the draught, but she pushed that reality away. The fear was starting to grow in her; the Fade's adaptation to her inner wants, the fear of that cool, inviting voice, the scrapping and clawing of demons in her mind. I’ll cross that bridge when I get there.
Adamant was the immediate obstacle. The approach on was at night; something she didn’t agree with but then again, this wasn’t her plan. Eliza watched the front lines advance on the tower, arrows raining down on the troops as the battering ram echoed. It caused her to jump, even though she could see the soldiers fighting. The troops around her cheered as they watched the gates fall, Inquisition troops pouring into the keep. It was on the battlement that the real fighting was taking place. The horn sounded, the second wave was to advance. That meant her. Her primary purpose wasn't to fight, it was to find the fallen. A medic. Her job was to assess the wounded and get them back to the lines… and not die in the process. There were a few other medics in the field, each with their own team, each with their own segment of the battlefield. They were all to meet at the gates before entering the fortress. Then inside, they would do what they could. She had a few Inquisition soldiers, the ones too young to be on the front line, but too old for any of the courier jobs. They treated her with respect; as Eliza had been the one patching them during their training on the way to Adamant. That trust was felt both ways, their survival depended on each other at this point. It wasn't to anyone's benefit if they held back.
Eliza felt herself rushing forward, like a rough tidal wave had caught her and was dragging her into the field with the force of an ocean. Her mouth still tasted like cotton, and the edges of her mind felt fuzzy. A few shakes over her head and Eliza was moving with hastened steps. The soldiers around her felt the same boost, carrying them forward at an amplified pace. Eliza eased when she could, ordering soldiers where the injured were to go. Some of the wounded were already being led off, superficial wounds, deep lacerations that weren’t life threatening. A few had arrows in arms, legs. Blood, sweat, and remains staining the ground as they walked. Charging a fortified location was costly, and now the Inquisition had to address those who remained.With this sort of fight, the pitched battle against an entrenched enemy and a firmly held position, all they could stand to do was triage: those that could be saved were saved, and those who couldn’t were made comfortable. They moved closer and closer, her section of the battlefield carrying her directly to the gates. Her hands would move quickly, hastening some soldiers out of the way of arrows, providing barriers to all of them as a shower would fall. The battle continued, and she could see that the battlements were slowly coming under Inquisition control. It was a relief, since she was the first to enter Adamant.
The fortress was filled with screams, to the point it was deafening. Screams of battle, of pain, of the dying and of those who found the dead. Eliza would send her men in, leading them. Her battlemage coat blended into the blue-grey stone of the fortress, silver thread glistening as the fires raged. The trebuchets had done their job at weakening the fortress, but the fires were starting to consume stairwells and corridors that they needed to get to find the wounded. She did her best to quell the fires, but the oil the Wardens had planned to use on the siege weapons was making the infernos burn brighter. Wardens and Inquisition forces had withdrawn... mostly. There was some fighting that still was taking place around them, and the frequency only increased the farther they went into the fortress. Their aid didn't just fall on Inquisition soldiers, the Inquisitor held out hope that the Wardens could still be useful. Eliza's own force was diminishing as she sent back carriers with the wounded to make sure they could retreat safely. The few numbers would have only been an inconvenience in normal fights, but this fight included demons. Rage, Despair, Sloth, Terror and Pride demons were still fighting, their tethered Wardens barely holding on as the monsters screeched and clawed at Inquisition fighters. One demon was no match for a handful of soldiers, but they just kept coming. One would be cut down, or it's Warden tether would be destroyed, but then more would appear: around corners, under their feet, from underneath bodies. It was terrifying, and made it difficult to concentrate on the wounded and dying. The roar of the Archdemon overhead made matters even worse. The battle was nearly over, but the presence of the dragon seemed to drain the courage that remained in the Inquisition soldiers. It’s after the Inquisitor, not you, focus. And that she did, moving around the ramparts to assist the laddermen, working her way towards the inner square.
Eliza was always the first up the stairwell, first into the pitch of battle to try and keep an Inquisition soldier from becoming a feast for a demon. The injured were her priority, and she coordinated with the other medics as the battle started to wind down. The demons were further and farther between, Wardens were giving up… or dead. The dragon had flown off, and everyone assumed it was due to another Inquisitor victory. That’s when the whispers started. In the Fade? Soldiers had seen the Inquisitor fall, along with some of his companions, but a flash of green, that blurred haze, and then nothing… and no bodies. Along with the missing Inquisitor, Warden-Commander Clarel was also dead… a victim of the dragon. With no Warden to lead their forces, the others had surrendered…
It was only after the Fortress was won, that the chaos started for Eliza.
Here Lies the Abyss Chapter 3: The Aftermath
“Move him over there now,” Eliza yelled at a soldier as he assisted a wounded warrior. The man had a compound fracture, his elbow was exposed and half of his arm was dangling limply by his side, blood rushing down in rivers, “Get your belt off and put it around the better half and tie it tight.” He would make it… probably. The camp was a mess, soldier after soldier coming in. The surgeon was doing her best, and Eliza assisted when absolutely required. However, there were less skilled mages who could do the easy task of cauterizing a wound or use a chilling spell. Eliza’s job a bit more involved: Set, bandage, move. Those with simple cuts or abrasions were left for the minor healers and mages, her patients were the halfway point between basic and catastrophic.
The number of arms, shoulders and legs she had set was staggering. Fortunately, her men trusted her, and held her patients down as she did her job as efficiently as possible. Bloody hands were washed as frequently as she could, and she was glad they had picked the land clean of herbs between Skyhold and Adamant… even with that they were starting to run low. Compound fractures required herbs, setting, and a heavy dose of healing magic. It had been a long while since the battle ended, and since Eliza put down her battlemage coat, pauldrons, gloves, and greaves. Her iron grey vest was spotted with blood, and her red tunic had been rolled up at the sleeves so she could work. Red was a conscious decision: it would mask most of the blood. She didn’t know how long she had been working, days it felt like, but the men just kept coming in. Inquisition soldiers, Grey Wardens, hell half of Orlais could have walked through her tent and Eliza wouldn’t have noticed. In the fight against Corephyus, every body, every sword was needed. As she moved from one cot to the next, feeling the ground giving way under her as she slide on the mud beneath her. It had grown wet under the medical tents, a mix of things from the battlefield: blood, guts, tears, sweat… anything the body could create.
It was a fight to keep her head clear, exhaustion was creeping in, as well as a throbbing headache ever since she got close to the fortress. A few other mages had been talking about red lyrium that they found within the fortress, and Eliza could only assume that was the cause of her head ache. In the fortress, it had felt like a demon had gotten into her mind and was scrapping at her brain, at her heart, the normal song of lyrium twisted into something darker, more powerful, seductive. There was a pull in her mind in that tent though, a soft song dancing at the edges that she couldn’t quite hear, nor could she shake. She knew it was from the lyrium she had on her, that emergency supply if she found herself in a pitched battle where every spell counted. No…can’t take that here… She didn’t need that high, she didn’t want it. Others were doing just fine without the boost, she could too. Moving to a new cot she just took a shaky breath and soothed the soldier under her hands, hair was falling in her face as her messy ponytail barely held together.
“Take a breath in three, two, one...” Pop, the boy screamed as his upper arm found that shoulder socket. She would nod at one of her aids, who came to bandaged the arm to the boy’s chest. He let out a groan and she just placed a hand on his shoulder, soothing the pain with a little magic. “This will help, but the pain will come back in a bit. Go lay down, drink some water, and remember to breath.” They couldn’t hand out what herbs they had for pain, not enough to go around… Every once and a while she would see Cole, but he didn’t stay in her part of the infirmary… he was with the Surgeon… and the dying.
“I want to see the surgeon!” Eliza moved to the next cot. His leg was cracked, his smaller fibula was jutting through the flesh and he thrashed. It must have been a fall, or one of the demons having slashed the weak part of his armor. The Templar had some of his men around him, and she motioned for them to take the greaves off his legs and remove the heaviest parts of his armor. They moved after a moment of hesitation, and after she gave them a stern look.
“She’s busy with others who have swords or arrows in their gut,” Eliza brushed the sweat off her face, blood smearing on her forehead as she took a seat next to him, looking at his leg. It was a nasty break that was going to be hard to set. Great… one of these. They required some patience, and some good men to hold down the patient. Eliza had practice, and most of the time it worked on her first go, it depended on how cooperative the patient was.
“I don’t want a fucking mage, I want the damn surgeon!” he bellowed. He couldn’t have been much older than she was, mid-thirties? Maybe forties? His hair was receding, brown hair cut short to try and hide that fact that it was disappearing of its own accord. Sweat was pouring off his face, and she knew that he would have a fever soon if his would was left open in that damp, filthy air that was lingering in the infirmary. He was a Ferelden from the sound of his voice, and from the attitude against mages. Eliza just sighed, moving to lean over the cot so they could talk face to face.
“I’m all you got. You wanna walk ever again? Without a stick?” she growled, and he moved to lash out at her, metal gauntlet swiping at air. Eliza felt the metal pass near her chin, and there was a shout as the Inquisition soldiers went to hold him down. The Templars around her started to draw their weapons and she sighed, sitting back down on that stool. “He’s going to lose the leg if we don’t set it and clean it.”
“He says he wants the surgeon.” The boy whose sword was on her shoulder couldn’t have been more than a teenager. Eliza highly doubted the boy had completed his vigil and oath, let alone been assigned to a Circle or Chantry before the rebellion started. Either way, she didn’t move. Eliza couldn’t decide if it was because she was exhausted, or worried that this child was dumb enough to actually hurt her.
“I told him, and I’m going to tell you, so listen very closely because apparently the common tongue is hard to understand,” those green eyes were cold, as deep as an emerald, but sharp enough to make that boy nervous. “The Surgeon is looking after those that have a likelihood of dying. Your friend doesn’t, so he doesn’t get to see her. His leg, however, is at a very high risk of being lost. If he continues to be an idiot, he might very well lose it. If you want me to save his leg, then you need to put that sword down and hold him for me.” She saw the Inquisition soldiers moving towards the young templar and she held up her hand and they paused. The blade got closer to her neck and Eliza swallowed nervously. “You really, really, don’t want to kill a healer, boy. Not in here, not right now.”
“Hhow can I trust you,” his voice nearly cracked and Eliza could feel that ice creeping up her finger tips. If she was going to freeze him, she would have one shot before that sword cut her throat…
“MOVE IT! Ya dumb igiots! Get out of the way!” A trail of people burst through the tent’s opening. That young templar’s eyes went wide, startled. Eliza watched as an Inquisition soldier came up alongside him, restraining his arm and driving him to the ground. He let out a grunt, thrashing a bit as his face was pressed into the mud, the soldier’s boot stomping down on his hand and forcing that sword loose. Eliza turned away from the now restrained templar to watch as Sera came rushing through, throwing people to the side as Iron Bull nearly toppled the tent with his horns. He had someone clutched in his arms. Half of the Inquisition team came bursting through that tent, and Eliza just watched with a dazed look.
“I can take care of it…”
“Shut up, Vivienne,” Sera hissed as Iron Bull set the Seeker down on an empty cot; Dorian, Cole, and Vivienne following close behind Sera and Iron Bull.
“What do you mean he disappeared?!” that roar shook Eliza, and most of the soldiers in the tent froze. Cullen walked in, dirt and the grim of battle covering his cloak and armor. He paused at the entrance of that tent, scanning the unusual settle. Those honey-brown eyes darted between the Inquisition soldier who was restraining a Templar, the discarded sword in the mud next to Eliza, and then to Eliza whose attention was now turn to the hurt Seeker. The Inquisition soldiers quickly saluted, someone picking up the sword and getting it out of the way. Cullen just shook his head at them with a frustrated growl and they went back at ease. Eliza stumbled a little as she walked towards Cassandra, catching herself on the edge of the cot.
“What happened?” Eliza sighed, pushing the hair out of her face. The Templar behind her started screaming, and she growled, turning around to face him. “Are you going to let me save your leg or not?” Tears was streaming down the man’s face, and Eliza nodded at her men. They held him and she returned to his side. Her hands were ice cold, and she braced his foot against her stomach as she lined up the leg. A twist and push and a scream later his leg was set. He thrashed and she looked at the Templar friends. “Hold him. You two, bind up his leg and raise it up so it’s above his chest.” The Inquisitor’s party watch the entire scene unfold, a little startled, but Eliza just ignored it as she finished her job. The Templars would hold the thrashing man down as the Inquisitions soldiers did as they were instructed. Eliza supervised for all but a minute before turning to the unconscious Seeker.
Her hands were bloody, and the Inquisition soldiers brought her water. Bloody hands dipped into the water and it nearly boiled on contact as she tried to clean her hands. The water turned to the color of mud and she growled in frustration as she tried to get all the grime of her hands. Dorian came over, looking at her wide eyed and panting. “What happened, Dorian?”
“Pride demon,” he said with a breath. “After the dragon flew off there was a demon just waiting to clean up the leftovers.” Cassandra was unconscious and pale, Vivienne nearby as Eliza scrubbed her hands in that nearly boiling water. She removed them, steam evaporating from her hands and drying them in a minute. She leaned over Cassandra, fingers moving quickly to remove the chest plate, feeling the underlining was wet. She sighed, taking a seat as her hand moved under the Seeker’s tunic, searching frantically for the wound.
“Uhhh,” Iron Bull muttered, watching as Eliza started to reach around Cassandra’s mid-section and then along her sides. Eliza just growled, frowning as she tried to concentrate.
“I don’t know how the Qun handles such injuries, but there is a wound that is bleeding bad that I need to seal. If that means I’m reaching under her shirt, I’m sure the Seeker Pentaghast will understand,” Eliza nearly barked.
“Darling there’s no need to…”
“Madam La Fer, I really don’t need your opinion.” Her voice was curt as she moved her hands deftly over the Seeker’s side, looking for that split flesh. “Right now, I think my panic and concern are well measured...” she groaned in frustration, “For Andraste’s sake… Dorian can you help?” He nodded, helping Eliza by moving Cassandra onto her side. The gash extended from the Seeker’s side around and almost all the way to her spine. Eliza would focus, her hands hot as she touched that wound. It was a struggle, her head pounding against her temples as she moved her fingers slowly, cauterizing the gash as cleanly as she could. Cassandra let out an unconscious groan, and she just bit her lip.
“Eliza…” Cullen’s voice was thin. She couldn’t look at him, and it wasn’t because she looked like she had been chewed up and spit out by a marabi. That tone had cut her deeper than she expected, His men are dying around me, I’ve been setting their limbs and easing their pain for hours and we are nowhere close to being done. Not another loss, not one of mine, not this one… not her… not the Seeker. Eliza grit her teeth, her arms trembling as she felt down the cut. There were a few places where the blood flowed freely, and her fingers, white hot, did her best to seal those gaps.
Cassandra groaned again, “I know… I know… I’m almost done.” Eliza caught herself whispering gently as she worked. The Seeker was unconscious, Eliza knew that, and knew that her words weren’t going to soothe anyone… well.. maybe they would soothe the healer whose hands were trembling with effort. Eliza looked at Dorian, words unspoken, he nodded, holding Cassandra’s arms over her chest.
“What…” Sera’s voice trailed.
“Her arms are in the way,” Eliza explained as she moved, fingers lingering only long enough to do their job. Eliza sighed, her hand pressing over the wound and she channeled a lot of her remaining magic into the spell, a green glow appearing under Cassandra’s tunic. The skin knit together, reforming in the right order as Eliza’s breath struggled. She finished, wincing as she pulled her hand back. It was bloody, glowing faintly green before she flicked her wrist and it dissipated. Blood was dripping off her finger tips and Eliza struggled to catch her breath. Cassandra was still unconscious, but no longer bleeding; the healer’s job was done, now it was up to Cassandra. Eliza folded her arms in front of her, resting her head in the middle as she leaned on the edge of that cot. Sharp pain rested just behind her eyes, the light in the tent, even as soft as it was, made her feel sick, and her breathing was ragged. Mana imbalance if she could call it anything, but instead of having amassed more mana, she was tapped out and trying to draw from an empty well.
Eliza felt hands on her back but she shrugged them off, “I’m fine. I just need to catch breath.” She could hear people shifting away, the moment of terror and worry passed. Vivienne’s voice fluttered over the rest, she was taking over giving orders to the Inquisition soldiers in the tent. Eliza wanted to yell at her to back off, but she wasn’t in the right state. People still needed help, even if one healer needed to take a break.
“How long have you been working?” it was Cullen’s voice. She didn’t know whose hand touched her shoulder again, but it didn’t matter. She didn’t have the energy to shrug it off as her headache crippled her. She drew in long steady breaths in an attempt to reign in her racing pulse. Calm down or you’ll pass out. A knot was forming in her stomach, and she felt sick, but she couldn’t afford to rest, not now.
“Second wave.” whomever was still behind her… they were talking. Eliza couldn’t pick out the words, but she leaned back, sitting up as she rubbed the bridge of her nose. Hold on a few more hours... That hand on her shoulder shifted lower, catching her under her arm, pressure signaling for her to stand. Eliza would shake the hands off, pulling away with a groan. “I’m fine. There are good men that need my help.”
“No, you’re not fine,” it was Dorian, his hands out, palms up as he offered a hand. “Although I love the fact you’re trying to be the hero, you are at your limit. You need to rest.” Eliza stood, not taking Dorian’s hand though. She backed up to lean against one of the posts keeping the tent standing. Her legs felt like jello under her, and she pressed her head against the pole, relishing the slight coolness. Now is not the time to rest. Stay awake.
“There are other soldiers who need help,” she stumbled as she took a step towards another cot. Another man screaming and begging for help. Another break to set. She gritted her teeth as her second step was less sure than the first. The third had her knee buckling, but before she could hit the ground a set of hands caught her from behind. She shrugged, trying to shake them off, but they didn’t move.
“And there are other healers who can help them,” it was Cullen’s voice this time. Eliza went to protest, but the edges of her vision began to grow fuzzy.
“Eliza…” Dorian’s voice lingered in her ears, and she shuttered.
“I’m… yeah…” She would stand, pressing her head into her hand. Eliza felt herself being led out of the tent, whatever protests she might have offered were useless. The air outside the tent was cooler, crisp, the dunes and rocky outcrops in the distance had a faint pink and orange light. Was it already dawn?
Without mana, she always felt sick, like a stone had been dropped into her gut and her brain had been scrambled. The next… however long… it was all fuzzy. Her knees had nearly buckled when she was led out of the medic’s tent, and it had been difficult for her eyes to stay open. When they opened, she looked up to see the post of a tent, red with faded stitching of the Templars’ emblem. Eliza felt her pulse racing as her hands scrambled for the edges of the sleeping cot. Shaky arms pushed herself up, legs swinging for the edge, but a hand found her shoulder and kept her seated. She turned and saw Cullen, sitting on one of those camp stools against the bed. Why are you here?
“Stop.” That growl would have stopped any of his men in their tracks. For Eliza, it was just annoying, Who made you in charge?! Her mind screamed as she came almost face to face with him. Oh… right…
“I’m fine.” She started to move again, but she gained no ground as he practically held her down.
“You’re exhausted,” he snapped. “What good is a healer if they collapse in the infirmary?”
“What good am I if they die!?” she caught herself yelling and she just groaned, lying back down on that cot. Cullen just sighed, his hand resting on the edge of the cot. It was a sigh that she understood, she breathed the same breath when she passed someone that wouldn’t make it. Everyone knew this battle was going to cost a lot of lives, and even with all the precautions, the maps, the extra assistance on the ramparts… and yet the piles for the pyres were growing. Even with the victory, the aftermath of the battle was still being felt among the members of the Inquisition. Eliza reached her hand out, knuckles brushing against his hand. She didn't know why she did that. Whatever weight caused his shoulders to sag, for his head to hang... he reached and took her hand in his, giving it a firm squeeze. “Seeker Pentaghast? Is she awake?”
“Yes, and she’s going to make a full recovery. Thanks to you,” Cullen said, and Eliza could have sworn she saw a smile play at the corner of his mouth, that scar creasing just a bit more over his lip. Eliza felt relaxed, and that cot feeling a bit more comfortable, more inviting, when he gave her that good news.
“Thank the Maker,” she sighed. “And the Inquisitor?”
“We… just received word. He returned with Varric, Solas and Blackwall…and Warden Alistair,” She felt him squeeze her hand, “They are alright… although the stories they tell are… difficult for some of us to believe. But Hawke…” Eliza couldn’t stand to look at him, knowing those eyes would be searching hers for any response to that news. Cullen wasn’t dumb, and Varric wasn’t the quietest. Hawke didn’t make it back. I’m alone…
“At least Trevelyan is back,” Eliza sighed, feeling another pulse on her hand as Cullen squeezed it. He let go, looking down at her.
“Rest for a few hours…” Cullen said as he walked to the tent’s opening. “and I’ve told the guards you’re not allowed to leave before then.” A growl came from that tent, and Eliza would move back to the cot. He chuckled, looking back at her, “You were always stubborn.”
“You have no right to call the kettle black,” a smile crossed her face when she heard him laugh, but then that tent got very quiet. Eliza struggled to keep her eyes open, to resist the urge to pull that draught of lyrium from her waist, to rejoin the recovery effort. Staring up at that sword embroidered on the tent, she felt a pull on her heart. Hawke was dead… she never met him, and heard he was a little bit of a jerk, but still. Why did that sudden wave of sadness hit her? Was it because Hawke had been her only family? She could feel herself getting light headed, and she sighed. The only thing she could do was muster the strength to finally close her eyes and drift off to an exhausted sleep.
Long enough for a page break, but I didn't want a pitifully short chapter. It didn't make sense lol
Chapter 10: Starkhaven
Wicked Eyes, Wicked Hearts
Chapter 1: Starkhaven
Skyhold was that steady place that seemed to ground everyone. After the battle of Adamant, no one in Thedas questioned the might of the Inquisition. And after a second trip into the Fade, the whispers around the Herald of Andraste only grew. The Inquisitor was in a continuous state of tying up loose ends before the next big step at thwarting Corephyus. This often meant he was gone for months at a time, visiting the Hissing Wastes, Hinterlands, Storm Coast, Exalted Plains, Emerald Graves… seemingly traveling through half of Thedas. There were Grey Wardens at the keep now, and they continued to get recruits at a staggering rate; and that was before the Inquisitor slayed a High Dragon. Eliza was kept busy, since for every mission the Inquisitor and his companions went on, there were dozens of missions coordinated by the Ambassador, the Spymaster, and the Commander. The soldiers under their command would come back to Skyhold with either long tales of daring fights, or with a long list of injuries that needed patching. Eliza was getting better at setting bones, as well as dealing with illness and disease that was common in barracks. They got good enough food at Skyhold, considering where they were in Ferelden, but that many people in a small space led to some nasty outbreaks.
If she wasn’t in the newly expanded infirmary, Eliza found herself walking the Chantry gardens, or in the library relaxing with a book. If Dorian was there she would get a detailed report of the Inquisitor’s latest escapades… or at least how Dorian saw it. Of all the Inner Circle, they were the closest. She worked with Cole once and a while after a battle… he lingered in the infirmary a lot. He looked pained now… whatever happened at Adamant was wearing on him, and he would mutter constantly about “them being nothing alike”. Eliza didn’t want to pry, it wasn’t her place, and more often than not he would disappear before she could even speak to him. Her walks brought her in contact with Cassandra, who thanked her for her work at Adamant. There was only a thin scar on the Seeker’s side, and she was genuine in her thanks. Her abilities impressed enough templars to soothe some of the feelings between them and the apostate that lived among them. There were other mages, but they kept their distance from the Templars. No matter what Eliza did, it seemed as if she was stuck in close quarters with them. The task of handing out lyrium had fallen on Eliza and the Surgeon, with some guidance from the Chantry and Seeker. It reality, it was Eliza and the surgeon’s job to prepare the doses, the Chantry’s job to hand it out. Most of the Templars were handling the change well, if they got their regular doses. Any delay, due to a deployment for instance, was usually met with a poor attitude, followed with an apology. With her dreams plaguing her, Eliza didn’t take a single drop of lyrium. Some of the other mages did, but they all helped each other when it came to resisting that call, that hum that got in their veins. All the Templars had was the chant… and a tall pint at the Herald’s Retreat tavern to get their mind off the hum. Templars still treated her and the other mages at Skyhold with suspicion, but at least no one was lashing out at her when she tried to heal them.
Well… besides one Templar. Martin Widmann. The man was a pain in the ass on a good day, and on a bad day it took a few Inquisition soldiers to keep them from fighting in the courtyard. He continually accused Eliza of stockpiling and hording lyrium, and it took the full extent of her patience to keep from knocking him on his ass. It didn’t help that he used to rank as a Knight-Lieutenant among the Templars at Ostwick… that meant he was, experienced in fighting, used to barking orders, used to getting his way, and normally followed by younger and more loyal Templars. About the only time he had any sort of manners was when a member of the Inquisitor’s Inner Circle was nearby. She avoided him as best she could, and fortunately, her duties kept her busy enough that she couldn’t even entertain his snarky comments to her.
“And there, that’s the last one,” Eliza smiled, mostly talking to herself, pushing the crate back so it would fit snug among the other boxes of supplies. The Western Approach was a long way from Skyhold, and with the battle of Adamant, the Inquisition was focusing on preventing the Venatori from exploiting the power vacuum. Inquisition soldiers were already on their way to deal with a water issue, and a varghest problem, but now supplies would be needed in order to maintain the fort, Griffon Wing Keep. Eliza had overseen the gathering of a base supply of herbs and medicines, enough to get them through the trip and on their feet. Scouts were already in the area to look for the most common and necessary herbs, but it would take time for them to amass a supply necessary for the force they were sending. Turning on her heels, she moved quickly to avoid getting in the way of others who were loading up the wagon.
Everything seemed a bit lighter since Adamant. It had been a victory that the Inquisition needed, and with it came a flood of volunteers, supplies, and prestige from the corners of Thedas. It was a pleasant turn of events, being able to feel as if your effort was worth it. Taking a few steps back, Eliza felt a pair of hands catch her.
“Aye lass, watch out,” the Starkhaven accent was unmistakable. She turned, blush creeping up her cheeks.
“Oh, I’m sorry.” The man was just a few hairs taller than her, brown hair long but pushed back either with a comb or just because it was stuck under a helmet for so long. The Inquisition helmet was tucked under his arm, and their green eyes met for a moment. He had to be close in age with her, and Eliza felt her throat tighten for a moment, “Oh… Knight-Captain Rylen.” He smirked, that scar on his right cheek shifting.
“You have me at a disadvantage.” He chuckled, but it didn’t last long as those green eyes narrowed. “Do I…”
“I’m sorry I bumped into you,” Eliza interrupted. “I was just finishing up stocking the medical supplies. Everything should be fine now.” She was talking quicker than normal, and she started to tug on the end of her hair, offering a weak smile. “I think I should get out of your way.”
“Let’s walk for a moment, Serah,” Rylen said with that rough voice, causing Eliza to pause mid step. A soft sigh escaped her lips and she tugged her hair out of that braid. Turning, Rylen extended his hand, a cooler look in his eyes, and Eliza would start walking the way he motioned. Andraste’s tits…
The walk was awkward, away from that gate, towards the stables and then up the stairs near the broken part of the battlement. Not a word was exchanged between the two the entire time. The silence was stifling, and when Rylen finally came to a stop near one of the towers, Eliza found herself trapped. He was leaning against merlons, letting out a sigh as he looked over the mountains.
“It’s a sight, I’ll give the elf that,” he finally broke that awkward silence, turning so he was looking at her. “Ye already know I was a Knight-Captain?” Eliza would just nod and his lips curled into a grin before turning to look back out over the Frostbacks. “Aye, well you must know I was at Starkhaven. Came down here after the Knight-Commander agreed to join the Lord Seeker in running to the hills and abandoning our mission.” Eliza shifted from one foot to the other, biting her lip as he continued. “Anyway, but when I was Knight-Captain, we had this apostate issue. ‘ell, it wasn’t an issue per say, the Knight-Commander wanted the apostates running from Kirkwall all round up. I didn’t like it, that Meredith was insane, but orders were orders and having mages running around never seemed to sit too well with anyone. So, I sent my men out there, and when they returned they were empty handed. All bruised up, tattered, said that some daft girl from the Marches, but spoke like a Ferelden, fought like she was possessed.” Eliza swallowed, though her throat felt like sandpaper. “You know anything about that Serah?”
“I… um… that was me,” Eliza sighed. There was no point in lying, the tattoo-faced Starkhaver knew it was her, and she wasn’t going to insult his intelligence by trying to lie her way out of it.
“Ah… so yer the Witch of the Lake.”
“Witch of the Lake?” Eliza choked back a laugh. “What? Is that the Starkhaven version of the Witch of the Wilds?”
“Might as well be. Men said you fought like a demon with tooth and nail. That you could appear and disappear in the fog that rolled off that lake as if you controlled it. I never actually saw you fight, but damn the stories they told,” he shrugged. “But lookie here. I didn’t think I’d actually run into you after the War started. Small world.” He let out another laugh, and Eliza just crossed her arms.
“What? You walked me all the way up here, to see if I was this Witch of the Lake?” she tried to soften her tone, but after the charade, her nerves were a bit shot. It was the dumbest nickname she ever heard of… the Witch of the Wilds was real, everyone in Ferelden knew that, but giving her a nickname like that? Ridiculous
“I just wanted to talk,” he grinned, “Not every day you meet an apostate like yourself. What were you doing up in Starkhaven?” Eliza turned to look away from him and she could hear him chuckle, “What? You think any of that matters now? There are holes in the sky, Archdemons, and a bloody Magister bent on destroying the world. You really think I’m going to try and bring in an apostate? What Circle am I gonna put you in?”
“When I left Ferelden, I just tried to stay on the move to avoid… well Templars. I was in Markham for a while, but the Chantry there found out about me and sent their Templars. I was following the road north, hoping to get into Antiva. It was either that or work my way south to Kirkwall…”
“Yeah, that would have been a pissing awful choice,” Rylen grumbled and Eliza just nodded, rubbing her arms. “But you’re an Amell, eh? Why not go runnin’ back to Kirkwall durin’ the Blight like yer cousin? Ya at least had family there” Eliza’s head shot over to Rylen, and he just chuckled. “I…uh… knew yer name, not yer face. Commander mentioned ya after Adamant.”
“Um… thanks. I… I was there for a while, after the Qunari attack. It was a little… tense in Kirkwall so I didn’t stay that long.”
“Tense is a mild way of putting what sort of shite storm that city was in,” Rylen laughed. “What ya do there?”
“Um… honestly I went there for food and a soft bed,” Eliza shrugged. “Then I ended up leaving after I found out about the Underground and… the guy who was starting to take it over.”
“Met that Apostate?”
“No… I was too afraid to after I heard about Justice and some of the things he’d done… or almost did,” Eliza shivered. “I left, but I promised I’d help anyone I found on my way north. That seemed to appease the Underground enough.” Rylen would just listen, and watch her. It was unnerving, she had heard he was direct, but everything about him was. “What are you staring at?”
“You, literally, beat every knight I sent at you. There had to be at least twenty in total, from Knights to Lieutenants, and they were all sent back black and blue as if they were green from training,” he chuckled, running his hand through his hair again. “You, a wee lass, knocked them around like they were those dummies the Seeker wails on, but you didn’t kill any of them.”
“None of them tried to kill me. So I was going to do the same...”
“That’s horse shit and we both know it,” he cut her off. “There were plenty of those guys who wanted to get ahead in the ranks. Bringing you in, dead or alive would have made my Knight-Commander very happy. They must have tried to kill you. But you didn’t kill them.”
“...I stabbed a few,” she offered with a shrug.
“Aye, you did." Rylen chuckled. "I always tell them to not let their guard down when mages don’t have a staff, but they never believe me until they see it.” Rylen's expression turned serious, “So, why didn’t you? That Anders fellow in Kirkwall would have.”
“I’m not that kind of apostate.”
“So I’ve heard,” he smiled. “Ya still didn’t answer.” Eliza bit her lip again, moving to one of the merlons to lean against, looking at the Frostbacks. The wind was cool against her face, and she just sighed.
“I didn’t want to, and I never got into a situation when I had to,” she just laughed. “I don’t like killing. It happens, and I’ve had to, but if I don’t have to, then I won’t.”
“Most apostates don’t try to avoid killin' templars.”
“I don’t hate Templars. It wasn’t why I ran from my Circle,” Eliza ran her fingers through her hair. “If I could have stayed, I would have, but at that time I didn’t think I was safe.” She turned to look at him, “Your men weren’t Red Templars, they weren’t Samson, or Meredith. They were out there because you sent them out there… they didn’t deserve to die because of that.” Rylen just chuckled, moving towards Eliza, extending his hand.
“Well Serah Amell, thank you for sparing their lives, and saving them now.” Eliza seemed a bit shocked, but a small smile crossed her face and she took his hand, shaking it. “The Commander seemed to be telling the truth after all.”
“Oh?” Eliza asked, feeling blush creeping up her neck as she let his hand go. “Um… what did he say?”
Rylen just laughed, turning to go back to those stairs that led to the courtyard and the wagons. “When I went to Kirkwall, there were Amell sigils everywhere. You would have thought they were royalty. Everyone knew about the Champion, but one night, after work, we sat down and I asked him about the Amells and this damn sigil I kept seeing. Would have thought I kicked him in the groin, he starts firing off about this warrior and his band of vigilantes getting their nose into all Templar business, only to find out that they were right about Meredith all along. Well that was Hawke you see, and so when I asked about any others he just got quiet and said I knew an Amell once. She was a special woman. Never met her like again.” Rylen turned to look at her from the second step, a small grin on his face. “Aye, you seem like a special woman indeed.”
Chapter 11: Dignity
Chapter 2: Dignity
A sigh escaped her lips, eyes closed as she felt at peace. The battlements were empty, and it was just the crisp mountain air and moonlight. Not even a bird cried. It was one of the rare times that Eliza let her hair down, a breeze catching it gently. Alone with her thoughts, until she felt a hand on her. No noise, just two hands on her hips, rough hands, battle worn hands that moved slowly up her sides, fingers barely dragging against flesh. Eliza felt herself shiver, but it was as if she was frozen. Normally she would have sent a fireball at anyone who touched her like that, but they felt so familiar. She knew this person…thing…
A dream, it’s a dream, it’s a dream . Those hands continued to stroke her sides, pulling her back into a hard body. She felt lips on her shoulder, trailing soft and gentle kisses up her neck, and she could feel fur tickling her shoulder and neck. Wake up. Eliza let out a breath she didn’t even know she was holding, and she tilted her head away from that mouth, allowing it free reign as kisses continued. His chin and cheek were rough, the early stages of a beard. It scratched her skin and added to the growing list of things that were making her shiver. Heat was starting to pool in the pit of her stomach, a warmth that was electrifying and worrisome at the same time. Rough and worn fingers pulled at the edge of her tunic, and one strong broad hand reached under her shirt, calloused fingers and palms passing over her flesh. Another shiver and another pulse of warmth rushed over her. “Why can’t I have one dream that doesn’t end in attempted possession…” her breath hitched as she felt that mouth bite her neck gently, a growl pressed into her flesh.
“You don’t seem to be minding this one…” the voice crackled, as if it didn’t fit the speaker quite right. “Usually you’ve awoken by now…” Her pulse quickened as that voice evened out, falling into a familiar pitch that made her tremble. Those lips were back on her neck, hungry, as hands wandered over her flesh, knuckles brushing against the underside of her breast, the other pulling her hips back into his own.
“This… this isn’t right,” she shook her head, pulling away, but a palm rested on her abdomen, keeping her firmly against him, that mouth trailing up to her ear as his free hand went across her hips, hugging her into him as fingers traced lazily across her thigh.
“Are you sure?” it breathed, kissing that spot behind her ear, “We can keep going…” it was a promise, that hand on her stomach creeping lower and lower, fingers slipping under the waist of her breeches.
“Stop!” and Eliza woke with a scream. She gripped her mattress, sweat soaking her tunic and pillow, sheets were wrapped around her lower half. A groan escaped her lips, her stomach churning, that heat lingering in her groin. She closed her eyes, rubbing them. “Maker’s breath.” This isn’t good... She thought the nightmares were gone… after Adamant Fortress they had basically stopped. The march had been long, and she spent most of the time tending the sick and wounded. Seeker Cassandra had made a full recovery, but even with the defeat of the demon army, few celebrated. The camp was torn over the Inquisitor’s decision to save the Wardens, now under the control of Warden-Commander Alistair. Varric was taking it especially hard, and any time Eliza saw him he just looked restless, and he wrote. He was sending out ravens constantly. How many people did he have to inform about Hawke’s death? The Commander had the habit on checking in on Inquisition soldiers still in the Infirmary. Many were out and about on reduced workloads, but a few had extensive enough injuries that they were still being seen over by the healers. Eliza saw him more often now than before, and after her talk with Rylen, ever small smile, or word he said forced her to fight back a blush. Never met another woman like her… What the fuck did that mean?! But that smile, slow to curl his lip, a laugh that always seemed nervous, as if nothing had changed since they were at Kinloch…
Eliza pulled herself out of her bed, curses tumbling off her lips as she doubled over on the side of her bed, hugging her knees and pressing her head hard into them. “Stop. Thinking. Like. That.” Each word was emphasized with a small knock of her forehead against her knees. Childish, but at this point she need anything to get that voice out of her head, the feeling of those hands off her skin. It took a while for her to get ready, it’s going to be a bad day. Brown hair was pulled into a messy bun, and she struggled to put on a new tunic. There was no way she was going to be able to work, not with this much going on in her head. A walk was the only sense of relief, but after that dream she avoided the battlements. Why why why why is this still happening, it had been years since the dreams were this bad. The waves seemed to come to her like waves, the tide coming in and threatening to drown her and take her, before recessing. This tide was unpredictable, and after ten years she was just tired of looking out for them.
The Chantry’s garden was her place of peace… the low murmurs of the devout, mixed in with lines from the Chant seemed comforting. Years away from the Chantry, and yet there was something still comforting in the old rituals. She walked the pathway, short, but enough of a walk to allow her to slip away. The number of times she walked the paths didn’t matter, it was the fact that in that path she could escape her own thoughts and be at peace. That’s when she jumped when a hand came to rest on her shoulder.
“…are you okay?”
“What are you doing here?” she turned on her heels to see Dorian with a wolfish grin on his face.
“You know how much I love messing with your Chantry,” he leaned in with a smirk. “I think the effect of my presence here is wearing off though.” Eliza just laughed, rubbing the back of her neck as the Sisters and Clerics behind him whispered in hush voices.
“You don’t wander out of your library for little things like this,” she teased and he nodded, extending his arm. Eliza took it with exaggerated flourish and she would just let him lead her back down that path.
“You are absolutely correct. But if it wasn’t for me, the tomes in that library would be so one-sided it would cause Skyhold to fall off the cliff.” Eliza chuckled with a nod, “Alas, I have unfinished business here in the Chantry’s little retreat.”
“And that would be?”
“Reclaiming my dignity of course.” Dorian took a those few steps up and into the pavilion, “Alright Commander, wipe that smirk off your face and let’s settle this once and for all.” There was a small table set up with a chess board, one empty seat, and the other occupied by Cullen. He was leaning back confidently, one arm draped over the chair with a small smile on his face.
“Ahhh, I see it’s a matter of pride now. I wonder how long until you cheat like that first match,” he was amused, relaxed. That laugh was genuine as if the chaos outside of Skyhold wasn’t happening. Eliza was slow to walk up those stairs, and his eyes caught hers. “Oh… Eliza…” She gave him a weak smile, which he returned. Maker’s breath… don’t think about him like that…
“Let’s not bring that up… And this is absolutely a matter of pride,” Dorian said, sitting down quickly and pulling that seat closer to the board. That seemed to pull Cullen’s attention away, and all she could do was smile.
The banter between the two was amusing, and Eliza watched the pieces on the board eagerly, playing out her own game in her head. It had been so long since she played, she didn’t realize how much fun a game of chess was. The strategy, having to out think your opponent, it was a battle that could be drawn out for hours, or cut to a matter of minutes depending on the players. Dorian was playing for blood, but as Eliza leaned on that pillar she could only chuckle, He’s playing with you Dorian… quit talking and look at the board. Apparently, her laugh was not quiet enough and Dorian turned in his seat to look, and glared at her.
“Is there something you would like to share?” he asked, raising his eyebrow. Eliza shook her head, nodding at the board as Cullen moved his last piece.
“No, but it seems that your dignity is still beyond your grasp.” Dorian whipped around in his seat, looking at the board and growling.
“Kaffas,” he cursed. “How did I not see…”
“And I win, again,” Cullen just smiled, leaning back in his chair. “How many times are you going to do this to yourself Dorian?”
“As many times as it takes for me to win,” the Tevinter growled, staring at the board. Eliza would chuckle and he turned again.
“Do you think you can do better?”
“Absolutely,” Eliza smiled. “When you grow up in the Circle you get really good at board games.” She felt Cullen’s eyes on her, but courage was failing as parts of her dream flashed back into her mind. The sound of a chair scrapping against stone brought her mind back, and she watched as Dorian gestured firmly at the chair.
“Then you win my dignity back,” he dared. Oh no… Biting her lip, she moved towards that chair, sitting as the board was rearranged. “I hope you get devoured by this lion,” Dorian cursed, rubbing his temples, “He is absolutely ruthless.” A shaky breath passed over her lips as she looked up at Cullen, he was leaning back, hands folded in front of him, watching her closely. Pull yourself together, it’s chess. Her hand reached out, lingering on her pawn for a moment before switching to another piece and moving.
They didn’t talk, but the silence wasn’t due to some awkwardness, it was concentration. Eliza had her elbows on her knees, looking over the board, running through moves in her head, what he might and might not do in reaction to her moves. It had been a while, and she made some errors at the start, but now the pieces were adding up on either side of the board. That gloved hand would pick a piece, but unlike with Dorian, Cullen lingered with each move. There is no way this is an actual challenge for him, he’s gotta be toying with me. Dorian was making comments behind her, but besides a nod and a word here or there, they were dead quiet. Glances were exchanged over that board, but they were quick, as if they wore the next move they would make on their face. Eliza would sit up, moving her remaining bishop into place.
“Andraste’s tits,” Dorian breathed, his hands coming to rest on Eliza’s shoulders as she crossed her legs at the knees, looking across the board at Cullen. His brow furrowed, and he let out a growl, staring at the board as he rubbed the back of his neck.
“It looks as if this game is yours,” he said, looking up with a smile. Dorian was celebrating behind her, but all Eliza could do was just smile back at Cullen.
“So it seems,” she pushed her chair back a little, moving to stand, but he would lean forward, his hand coming to rest on top of hers.
“Please…” she looked at him and saw that plead in his eyes. He doesn’t want to go back to the real world either. “At…at, at least allow me a chance at redemption.” She would chuckle, pulling that chair back to the table.
“As you wish.”
“Maker, I haven’t had games this good in years,” Cullen laughed, leaning back as Eliza let out a frustrated growl.
“The game is yours,” she huffed, running a hand through her hair as she looked down at the board. The morning and afternoon had come and gone, neither noticing as they played through game after game. With the exception of a few reports and one diversion to the war room, there were no breaks, no interruptions, just the two of them. The score was pretty much split, but Cullen had won just a few more games. “How did I not see that last move?”
“You were too focused on the future steps that you didn’t have a clear vision of the board,” he smiled, and Eliza just sighed. “To be honest, I thought you had me beat a few times.”
“I did too,” she chuckled. “I guess I’m not as good as I thought.” She reached across the board to start putting the pieces back on the correct side. He joined in, the board coming back to its original start quickly.
“Don’t worry, it took almost a year for me to be able to beat my sister.”
“You’ve told me before…” she said with a small chuckle, “Mia, right? I doubt I’d be able to ever beat her.” His hands stopped and Eliza looked up. He seemed a little surprised, but just nodded, finishing moving the pieces.
“Uh yes… Mia…” he trailed for a moment before shaking his head with a small smile. “I wonder if she still plays.” Eliza pushed her seat back, stretching a little as she stood. The sun was starting to set over the mountains, painting the sky in oranges, reds and yellows. Eliza moved to the edge of the pavilion, turning to look past the watchtowers and towards the west. Hearing that other chair scratch against the stone, Eliza turned to watch him gather up his gloves and walk over to her. “Thank you… for the games. I think this has been the longest I’ve gone without talking about the Inquisition, or troops, or the Inquisitor.” She smiled, leaning against the post.
“It was a nice escape,” she agreed. He reached to rub the back of his neck, wincing a little as he did, but before Eliza could say anything he smiled.
“We should do this again some time.” He caught her mid thought, and all Eliza could do was close her mouth and nod with a smile.
“I would enjoy that. I woke up this morning thinking this was going to be an awful day. This… this helped a lot,” he reached out, taking her hand in his calloused ones. The touch was so familiar, and she felt a bit of blush creeping up her cheeks as he planted a soft kiss on the knuckles. What in the name of the Maker…
“I’m glad I could help,” he smiled before letting her hand fall. There was a call from across the courtyard and he sighed, “Duty calls. Goodnight, Eliza.”
“Good night, Cullen.”
Wicked Eyes, Wicked Hearts
Chapter 3: Steadfast
“Hours, you were there for hours,” Dorian laughed as he pulled a long drink from his glass. They were sitting at a table on the second floor of The Herald’s Retreat. The place was bustling, which was usual for that time of night. Soldiers, Templars, Mages, Grey Wardens, everyone pressed into that three-story building looking for their own sense of escape. Eliza was nursing her beer, watching the people below her, as Dorian continued, “And that was just today. I swear, how often do you sneak your little games, hm? Do you like to be bored with talk of… well whatever the Commander has to talk about? Really, I don’t think I could have survived. That man is as stiff as a board sometimes and doesn’t know how to take a joke.”
“Dorian, many people don’t know how to take your jokes,” she teased, turning her attention back to him. He was twitching, that moustache flicking as he struggled to swallow the liquor.
“And it’s a travesty that no one understands my particular humor. It’s quite good,” he shuttered as he took another drink. “Ugh, but this is not. You people call this liquor? If…”
“No please,” Eliza laughed, “not another Tevinter comparison.” His brow furrowed for a moment, but he could only chuckle and take another drink in response. “Don’t ever act like you hate the Imperium, it’s all you talk about.”
“It does have some redeeming qualities, I’ll give it that,” he smiled. Putting that glass down he leaned back in his chair, legs crossing, “What is really peaking my interest is this little thing you have going on with the Commander.” Eliza froze, struggling to swallow her beer, “Don’t even…”
“I don’t know…”
“That, don’t do that.” He stopped her, “the way you two look at each other is enough evidence to prove my point. There is no denying it. There’s a story, and I want to hear. I told you about my fantastic familial drama, I feel as though I deserve an explanation.” Eliza sighed as he stared her down across that table, lifting her glass up and finishing the rest of that pint.
“It’s not much of a story,” she said with a shrug. That look Dorian was giving her pressed the issue, and she sighed. “Did I ever tell you that I was a Circle mage? It was a long time ago… my mother took me to Kinloch Hold when I was ten. The mages told me that she cried the entire way there, and the letters I got sometimes looked wet… but to be honest I don’t remember what she even looks like. I don’t even know if she’s still alive,” Her fingers were moving over the rim of that glass, avoiding his gaze. “So, at the Circles, it’s like your Academies in Tevinter, we study how to control our magic, what we can and can’t do… but unlike your Academies, everything is reviewed and watched closely by the Templars. There were about seventy… maybe eighty mages who lived in Kinloch Hold when I was there, and like thirty Templars who watched us at all times. It sounds awful, but it wasn’t so bad. There were other Circles that were much worse. Most of the time everyone just kept to themselves… it could get dicey if we had to talk, or if an apprentice had a nightmare and set his room on fire…no I’m serious that happened down the hall from me. Needless to say, interactions between Templars and Mages didn’t really happen. With that... a much, much, younger version of our Commander was stationed at my Circle during my seventeenth summer.” Dorian held up his hand, reaching over the table and pouring some of the liquor from his bottle into her glass, refilling his as well.
“It helps,” Dorian encouraged. Eliza just sighed, taking a sip. “So, was he still the uptight Commander we know today?”
“Um… no… well kinda,” Eliza chuckled. “He was just a Knight-Templar back then. I would say the best way to describe him was steadfast. He really believed in the whole purpose of the Templars and wanted to be the best.” Another sip of liquor passed her lips. “I mean, during the rebellion some mages acted like we were walking around in chains and our life was awful in the Circles. Some days were worse than others, being a youth, you just felt trapped in a tower, but the purpose of the Circles was to give mages a safe place to learn and practice our craft. The purpose of the Templars was to protect people, all people. They were to protect mages from non-mages, and vice versa, and he really did believe in that.”
“So yes, he has always been a stick in the mud,” Dorian smirked, raising his glass. Eliza just chuckled, shaking her head. “And what? A secret forbidden romance?” he asked, leaning forward, the corner of his mouth curling into a grin and his eyebrows raising. She couldn’t help but laugh, shaking her head quickly as she finished off that glass, flipping her cup over before he could fill it again.
“Oh stop Dorian, I’m not going to tarnish the Commander,” she chuckled. He just took her cup, pouring a little more in, but placing it just out of her reach.
“There, if you need it.” He smirked, tapping the rim, Eliza shook her head with another laugh, but just exhaled.
“We were friends… as much as a mage and templar could be,” this earned her a laugh, “When Cullen first came to the Circle, he would get lost in the Circle, which was normal… there were so many doors, so many floors. At first, I was just taking pity on him and showing him where everything was. I mean, the Harrowing chamber was the easiest, just at the very top of the stair case, but where the First Enchanter’s office was, where the Senior and Junior Enchanters were… it was a maze really. We started to talk after a while, and that’s really what it was… he was a nervous kid from Honnleath who felt like he was doing the right thing, and I was a Free Marcher who had lived in Ferelden all my life because my family found mages to be an embarrassment.”
“Really? That’s it? Maker take me, you Fereldens are absolutely stifled,” he took a drink. “You could at least spin a story worthy of the trash Varric writes.”
“What do you want me to say, Dorian?” Eliza laughed, “That there was some secret tryst?”
“Yes, actually yes.”
“Well, there wasn’t,” Eliza smirked. “We would talk and take walks when he wasn’t on patrol. We would play chess near Lake Calenhad when we didn’t have something to do for our superiors. We were kids; we talked about home, about families, about the other mages and templars. The only bit of drama in our lives was my Harrowing.”
“Now… this is a perfect time to clear up that little practice for me,” he pushed that now empty bottle to the side. “I’ve heard that Circle mages are purposely pushed into the Fade?”
“Yes… to see if we’re strong enough to overcome possession.”
“And if you decide to not partake in the Harrowing…”
“They make you Tranquil.”
“And if you fail?”
“They kill you before you can become an abomination.” Eliza reached over, taking that glass and sipping some of the liquor. “First Enchanter Irving was a little worried about mine…”
“Strong willed and rebellious mages tend to struggle with it,” she explained, pushing that glass away. “When you’re at the Harrowing your given a draught of lyrium to drink, so you’re in the Fade. Demons see you, you see them. Demons don’t always want the weak willed, sometimes they go for stronger willed mages because they are also easy to tempt. Irving was worried. It’s not just you though, the First Enchanter is there, as is the Knight-Commander, and a host of Templars. They have their own little process to prepare for Harrowings, but they do elect one Templar to be the one who kills you before you become an abomination.” She pushed the hair out of her eyes. “I’ll give you one guess.”
“No… are you serious?”
“Yep.” She felt the warmth of the liquor in her ears and toes. She knew she needed to get going to her quarters and try and get some sleep. “I mean…” she chuckled. “He stammered through his apology afterwards. But being steadfast, it was all part of his duty and such… That’s how it was though.”
“How did you become an apostate then?” Eliza didn’t look up at Dorian as her grip on that cup tightened, then relaxed a little.
“Um… the Blight happened,” she sighed, rubbing her neck. “I had just passed by Harrowing when the Betrayal of Ostagar happened… the Enchanters were meeting to discuss who the Mages should support. One of them… Uldred, supported Loghain, and when he did not gather enough support he attempted to flee the Circle. We found out that he had been encouraging people to run away from the Circle for years, and was teaching blood magic to apprentices.” She ran a hand through her hair. “Anyway, I was told that in the fight he tried to summon a Pride demon… but failed and became an Abomination. He was too strong for the Enchanters and templars at the top of the tower… and soon he was sending demons out to catch mages and bring them to the Harrowing chamber to be turned into Abominations. Demons were wandering the upper halls within an hour of the battle. The Templars got many of us to the lower levels, but as the battle turned against the loyal mages and Templars… some of them started talking about the Rite of Annulment…”
“That’s the one where they slaughter everyone?”
“Yes, and needless to say that I was not okay with that. I escaped with a few other mages in the chaos. The Hero of Ferelden had shown up, and the Templars were dealing with her, allowing for us to slip out… Some of us made it, others didn’t.” she sighed, finishing her glass. “It’s a hard switch, from living in the Circle to regular life. I just went north, found a boat that would take another Ferelden refugee, and ended up in the Free Marches.”
“Well… that was a story that could rival Varric’s,” Dorian sighed, reaching over and patting her hand. “I’m glad that it worked out for you, friend.”
“Me too, Dorian,” she chuckled. “Now that I’ve been down that twisted route of my past, I think I’m going to take a more direct path to my room.” Her first step was unsteady, but she just chuckled, “Goodnight Dorian.”
sorry for the long time between posts. lots of drama on my end
Chapter 13: A Thief in the Dark
Long absence due to personal drama. I'm close to finishing the flick, just took a while to post
Just enough alcohol flowed in her veins that it numbed any memories of the dreams that had been plaguing her. The moon was almost completely gone, barely lighting up the pathways on the grounds. The wind was picking up, brisk cold air rolling over her. Even with the warmth of the alcohol, Eliza shivered, moving past the Quartermaster and Smiths, towards some of the lower fortress rooms. Her status as a healer paid off enough that she didn’t have to sleep in a tent. The bad part of it, was they gave her the room near the Templar’s tower.
It was late enough that most people out and about were either patrolling, or returning to their quarters from patrol. She took the stairs near the watchtower, moving quickly over the ramparts to those second floor rooms. There was no way she could dream now, that feeling around the edge of her mind signaled a deep sleep, though probably not restful. She would pay for it tomorrow, but right now she just wanted a dreamless sleep.
“Oi, Mage,” there was a voice behind her, and Eliza was slow to turn. She heard boots falling quickly behind her, and with a turn she saw the young Templar walking over to her. He wasn’t in full get up, but since the Inquisitor formed that alliance with the remains of the Templars, they put their flaming sword on anything they wore. He approached her urgently, and Eliza moved to sit near the edge of the battlement. “You’re the one who works with the healers, right?”
“Yyes,” she stuttered, rubbing her head. Andraste please make this child go away…
“And make the potions?”
“Yes,” she forced a smile, shivering as another gust of wind rolled over the battlements. “What can I do for you?”
“I…I need a dose of lyrium,” he stammered, his hands bundled up tight in his cloak that he had pulled around him. He was tired… worn beyond his years. She looked up at him, running a hand through her hair. He looked like a normal farm boy; wide shoulders, messy brown hair that was just a bit too long, and soft brown eyes. It was like a doe if you spooked it, wide and afraid.
“You’ve already had yours?” Eliza sighed, standing.
He nodded frantically, “Yes… but when we were at Therinfal…”
“This isn’t Therinfal,” Eliza stopped him. “I’m sorry, but the Chantry controls when we give out lyrium. I just help prepare it. You will have to speak with Mother Giselle.” She went to leave, but felt a hand grasp her upper arm. “Ser…”
“You… you don’t get it.” He was muttering frantically, “Please. I can’t sleep, I’m in pain.” Eliza turned to face him. “I need it.”
“I do not have access to the lyrium stores,” she pulled her arm out of his grasp.
“Like hell you do!” he yelled, causing Eliza to stumble back a little as he advanced. “I’ve seen you take some out, prepare potions for mages, I know you have some!” Her back hit a wall, and she held out her hand.
“You need to think, very, very, hard about what you are doing,” she warned, electricity crackling over her finger tips.
“Are you threatening me?”
“No more than you,” she shot back. Maybe it was the alcohol, or the fact that she didn’t actually want to hurt him, but in a blink, he had side stepped her hand, his own wrapping around her throat. He was shaking, his hands ice cold and soaked in sweat, but Eliza just gasped, clawing at that grip as his other hand reached around her.
“Come on, you mages always carry a draught on you,” he half muttered to himself as his hand moved over her waist line, trying to find a pouch or anything that could store a vial of lyrium. Her arm moved over his, upper arm resting on his elbow and she would twist, forcing his shoulder down, and causing him to shout out. He released her throat and she held that wrist, turning and kicking him in the chest. He hit the ground with a groan, and Eliza just rubbed her throat. For the Maker’s sake…
“Go to bed,” she hissed at him. “And don’t touch me again.” She wanted to kick him again, but her head was splitting. Turning her back, she moved to those stairs. It was on the second landing that she felt a hand on her shoulder, and when she turned she saw stars, crumpling to the ground, clutching her cheek. What the fuck…
“I said give me that lyrium!” the young man grabbed her shoulder, pinning her down with a knee on her side as he searched her again.
“I don’t have any!” she yelled, ice forming under them and causing the man to slip as his frantic movements made him lose purchase on that slick stone. Eliza scrambled, to the stairs, feeling a hand wrap around her boot and she turned and kicked him, her foot landing on his shoulder. He let out a yell, and Eliza yanked her foot back, sliding down a few stairs before scrambling to her feet. There was yelling on the ramparts, and Eliza watched as Inquisition soldiers came running up the staircase she was on. She held her hands up, nodding at the soldiers as the Templar up the stairs was being restrained.
They didn’t ask what was going on, simply asked Eliza to follow them. Her head was splitting, but she just nodded, rubbing her temples as they walked down those stairs, circling back towards the Herald, but stopping at the smith’s. The forges were still warm when Eliza entered. They motioned for her to sit at a table at that lower level, and she nodded. Her hand started to steam as she chilled it and pressed it to her cheek. She could hear yelling outside, and the sounds of something being slammed. It didn’t matter, and even though every urge was telling her to run, she stayed put.
Chapter 14: It Sings
“Serah Amell,” Eliza raised her head off the table, pushing her hair out of her face. A wince passed over her face, and she did her best to suppress it as her eyes looked to Seeker Cassandra's. She had maybe been there for an hour, she couldn’t remember. It was long enough for the smith's forges to die down, but not die enough to allow her to drift to sleep. The heat staled the air, but it had been 'for her safety' when they closed the windows and doors to the smiths. The shouting and commotions outside had scared her at first, but now, Eliza just wanted to leave. The Seeker sat down at the table across from her, awkwardly placing a glass of water placed in between them. Eliza muttered a soft thank you before taking it. There was a slight moment of hesitation, but eventually Eliza downed the entire glass. Well this night went to hell… “The young man from the ramparts has been taken care of,” it was a sharp statement. Not uncommon for the Seeker, but a surprise to Eliza none the less.
“What did you do to him?” Eliza asked. She toyed with the glass, watching the small drop of water dance around the bottom of the glass before she turned her gaze to the Seeker once more.
“What would have you done?” Cassandra asked cautiously, and Eliza sighed, rubbing her face with a sigh.
“Put him someplace cool, give him a blanket and a bucket of water and let him sleep it off,” she smirked, looking over her hands. They were bruised, probably from the fall... and her cheek hurt like hell. The young Templar had left her with a split lip and bruises, but in her experience, she had been lucky... it could have been worse.
“Good, because that’s what we did,” again it was sharp. A small glint from the fire light caught her gaze, and that's when she realized they weren't alone. Polished armor reflected most of the light from the embers, but Eliza could recognize the Commander's armor easily... Not that she'd been looking.
“Good.” Eliza cleared her throat, pushing the cup away as she rubbed the back of her neck. What else could she say? A thousand other questions went through her head in the span of a second: Why were they keeping her? Why had she not been sent back to her quarters?
“We were hoping you could tell us... why were you targeted tonight? What happened before you were attacked?” the Seeker continued. “Our investigation as pointed us in a few directions, so I was hoping you could inform us of your side of the story. My hope is that we can find a quick resolution to this.”
A moment's pause and Eliza couldn't help laughing. The scowl on the Seeker's face didn't help her, but after a few laughs Eliza finally was able to speak. “You’re kidding, right?” Eliza chuckled. She looked to Cassandra, spending just a second to steal a glance to Cullen. The look on their faces made her stop instantly, “Surely you both know. What he said. How he was acting. You don't need 'my side' to explain his actions.”
A scoff from Cassandra was answered with a small 'ahem' from Cullen. She would turn to look at him, and then sigh, “The lyrium that we give here…”
“You know as well as I that the lyrium administered here is more heavily controlled than it was in Therinfal.” Eliza cut her off. The Seeker looked a bit surprised, but Eliza continued. “I don’t know everything that happened at that fortress... I am not as well connected as your Nightingale. However, if that demon was trying to corrupt Templars with Red Lyrium, then I bet they weren’t strict about how much lyrium they gave out and when. Especially for newer Templars wouldn’t know the difference. They wanted to create a habit, and then change an already potent form of lyrium with the high from red lyrium. I will bet ten gold pieces that boy was never coached on how to deal with...” Eliza sighed, rubbing her brow, “He’s… adjusting… to the new dose. I bet a few of them still are, and I’m surprised we’ve only had a few instances.”
“That would match some of the correspondences the Inquisitor has found on Red Lyrium soldiers…” Cullen nearly growled, “Samson could have used higher levels of lyrium to prepare Templars for the switch.”
“But Therinfal was months ago.”
“You couldn't have forgotten...Lyrium sings to you, Seeker.” Eliza sighed with a small laugh. “I know the Seekers don’t use lyrium, but trust me. The song is soft at first, and you can ignore it. It’s like one of those bard tunes you get stuck in your head and find yourself humming a day later. It’s annoying but can be managed. But after a while… it gets louder and louder and then you can’t ignore it. That’s what I’ve been told at least. It sings to me... but our connection with the Fade… its just different for mages. I dunno, it’s not as bad for us of we cut it out. But you get near the stuff and it’s practically begging you to take it. I don’t know how it is for Templars, but that soldier wasn’t faking his pain. He’s going through a withdrawal,” She looked up at Cassandra, “He’s just a kid. Probably joined right when the war started. I bet no one has actually talked to him about it. He’s in pain, and probably has seen or done stuff that no one should have to. He’s trying to cope. He doesn’t know any better.”
“So, what? You’re not angry?” Cassandra scoffed.
“Oh, no I didn’t say that.” Eliza chuckled, running her thumb over that split lip, “he busted my lip and nearly tossed me off the ramparts. I don’t want to see his face for a long while, but I doubt he wants to see me. The thing is that I’m sure that if he wasn’t going through withdrawals, none of this would have happened.” She would stand, wincing a little from slowly forming bruises. “Give the kid a break. Have someone go down there and explain what is happening to him. Get him some help and support, I don’t know, maybe get the Chantry to do something about it. It might make enduring a bit easier... Giselle is good at talking with people.” Eliza walked past the Seeker, stopping in line with her chair, "Can I please go? I... I just want to sleep this off.”
“Seeker, I’m going to be honest,” Eliza stopped at the door. She ignored the fact that Cullen was just a few feet away. She could feel his gaze on her, and it took everything she had not to steal a glance. She had been focus on Cassandra... what would he have said about this? The lyrium? The calling? The only reason you know anything about lyrium and Templars is because he told you about it so long ago... “I’ve had a long day that went from bearable to terrible in a matter of ten minutes. I just want to try and get some sleep.” Eliza heard the sound of a chair against the floor, and she winced.
“Go. If we have questions, I will come find you.” That rough voice was the break that she was looking for, and she just nodded.
“Thank you, Commander.” She turned a little to look at Cassandra, “Seeker.” Before they could change their minds, Eliza was gone.
Chapter 15: Well...Shit
Eliza rarely, if ever, handed out the lyrium rations after that night. Members of the Chantry, as well of the Surgeon, handled it, and Eliza made up by leaving Skyhold to gather and barter for herbs and other medical necessities. A familiar groove was finally starting to settle over Skyhold. Most of the buildings had been repaired, leaving only a few watchtowers and a wall that still had some significant work needing to be done. The Inquisition was truly a force to be reckoned with, and it was all thanks to the Inquisitor and his adviser's work. With all of the praise, there was still work to be done. It didn't mean that it didn't have it's issues, internal conflicts occurred. Even though the power of the Inquisition was growing, and peace was coming slowly to Thedas as they beat back the forces of the Void, the tension within Skyhold was growing.
Eliza sat at that pavilion, looking across the chess board at Dorian. His brow furrowed, a hand tugging at his moustache, the other tapping on the table. She sighed, finally giving into his request for her to teach him to be a better player. His serious didn’t play well on his face, and he would move his piece with a sigh. Leaning forward, Eliza would move her own piece, staring down at the board. How did you miss that move Dorian?
“So, I take it you’re feeling better?” he asked, moving another piece around the table, claiming one of her rooks.
“Yeah, it wasn’t as bad as it looked,” Eliza answered, taking her time with the next move.
“What happened to the Templar?” A soft thud barely echoed as another piece moved.
“He went to the holding cells to sleep it off.” She didn’t tell him that it was a lyrium withdrawal. The Templar had his full life ahead of him, and the mistakes of Therinfal shouldn’t destroy his life. Intoxication by any other means was less damaging. Another soft thud.
“You should have lit his breath on fire...before scorching his cloths for good measure.” Dorian suggested. Thud.
“Then I become a ‘dangerous mage’,” Eliza smirked, pausing for a moment before she moved her piece. “I don’t need to give anyone reason to be afraid of me.”
“Oh no, Maker forbid you defend yourself,” Dorian would move another piece across the board. “It’s not as if you have patched up almost every member of the Inquisition at this point.”
“Dorian,” she chided, “We’ve all done dumb things when we’re drunk.”
“Yes, for me that includes wandering into rooms that are not mine or flirting with people I shouldn’t. I don't attack people... well I don't attack good people. If I ever do, feel free to light me on fire.” Eliza finished up her move, and Dorian would sigh. “And I lose… again.”
“It takes a lot of practice,” she shrugged. “Do you want me to explain when I turned the game?” He would nod, but as Eliza started to reset the pieces, she saw Seeker Cassandra marching over. That woman is terrifying… “I think you’re about to be called away,” she whispered to Dorian, nodding back at Cassandra.
“Ahhh Cassandra,” he smiled, arms stretched out. “Care for a game? Suggestions for your wardrobe? Or do we need to run off to save the world?”
“I’m not here to speak to you, Dorian,” that Nevarran accident was thick, and Eliza jumped a little when that intense gaze fell on her. “Serah Amell, may I have a word?” She glanced at Dorian, who just shrugged.
Eliza followed the Seeker out of those gardens. They walked for quite a while, making their way up and around Skyhold’s battlements. The walk was terrifying, because they didn’t say a word. Eliza had absolutely no idea why the Seeker wanted to speak with her, and the list of things she might have, or not have, done raced through her head. Seekers can set lyrium on fire inside a person… don't mouth off…
“How well do you know the Commander?” she asked, leaning against the wall, looking out over the mountains in the distance. That was… not even what I expected. Eliza cleared her throat a little, shifting from one foot to another.
“I don’t know him that well…” Cassandra let out a disgusted sound before turning and glaring at her. “Okay… okay… He was a Templar at Kinloch when I lived there… before the Blight and before I was an apostate.”
“How close are you?”
“Um… what?” she felt blush creeping into her cheeks. Sure, they stole a game of chess here in there where they could just relax from the duties of Skyhold, but after her run in with the young Templar, she barely saw Cullen. Even before, outside of their chess games, they had barely talked. There were small smiles, a wave here or there, but nothing to allude to anything… “Does he trust you?” Cassandra asked briskly and Eliza just shrugged.
“I… I don’t know.” It was an honest answer that didn’t please Cassandra. “Listen, I don’t know what you’re getting at.” Eliza was starting to get frustrated, “I was a mage at Kinloch before the Blight. That was his first posting as a Templar. We were friends okay? I know that’s not appropriate, but it isn’t anything that should involve a Seeker.”
“I’m not here as a Seeker, I’m here as his friend,” Cassandra shot back.
“So then tell me what this is actually about,” Eliza crossed her arms, leaning against the merlons. There was a moment of hesitation in the Seeker, but she would just make a disgusted noise.
“Commander Cullen has asked me to find him a replacement.”
“What?” Eliza stood up straight. Wait… why am I concerned. “Why… why would he ask that?”
“Because he thinks he is unfit for command,” the Seeker said pointedly. “I was hoping that, as his friend, you might be able to convince him otherwise.”
“Me? Why not the Inquisitor? Or why not you?”
“Cullen’s stubbornness rivals my own,” the Seeker sighed. “And the Inquisitor... doesn’t know about our arrangement. If we bring him in now, I do not know how he would react.”
“What arrangement?” Eliza watched as the Seeker shifted a little uneasily, as if just asking for help was causing her pain.That must have slipped.
“If… Cullen felt that his… condition would interfere with his role as Commander, then I would find a replacement for him. I do not think he is unable to Command, I think he is starting to doubt his ability to,” Cassandra chose her words carefully. “I need your help to convince him that he is still able to.” Eliza pulled her hair out of her normal ponytail, running her fingers through it as she let out a small sigh.
“What condition are we talking about Seeker?” she asked pointedly. “Or do you want me to guess?”
Shifting from foot to foot, it wasn't normal. The Seeker was always cool and sure. At this point though, that guard was weakened, “Cullen has…”
“... withdrawal.” Cassandra looked a little irritated when she was jut off but Eliza just sighed.
“Yes. When I approached Cullen and offered him a position within the Inquisition, he made his decision to cease taking lyrium.”
“And when was that?”
“Almost a year ago, when he left Kirkwall”
Chapter 16: Give Them Nothing Less
Everyone knew where the Commander’s office was, soldiers, messengers, and the Inquisitor were running into and out of that office to speak to the Commander. It wasn’t even that far away from the gardens where they played chess. Everyone knew where it was, but that didn’t make Eliza feel any less awkward approaching the door. She released a shaky breath, If it is getting to the point that Cassandra is concerned, I can’t afford to wait. Better just rip the bandage off now…
The door was ajar a bit, so Eliza didn’t even think to knock. In an instant, she watched as a wooden case, about the length of her forearm, sailed through the air in front of her. It crashed into the wall just next to the door on her right. There had barely been enough time to lean back, but she was able to just enough to move out of the way. The crash was loud enough to alert the guards on the battlement. They took a few steps forward, but Eliza shoot her head, motioning that it was okay.
“Maker’s breath… I didn’t see you…” Cullen shook his head, walking around his desk towards the door. “Forgive me.” Haggard, that’s how he looked, as if he had been on watch for a week without any rest.
“Cullen,” Eliza looked back at the kit. She knew what it was, having spent enough time around the Templars to know those items. He already had the lyrium… and he chucked it across the room as if it was a demon. Cassandra didn’t tell me how bad he was… “If you need to talk,” she turned to look back at him.
“You don’t have to…” his next step was unsure, and he caught himself on the corner of his desk. A sigh escaped his lips, and he motioned Eliza away as she walked over to him. “You shouldn’t be here.”
“Are you okay?” She moved closer to him as he steadied himself on that desk. “Cassandra told me…” There was an awkward silence as he refused to look up at her, both hands on his desk, a pained expression passing quickly over his face before he pushed himself up.
“I wish she hadn’t.”
“She’s worried, Cullen,” Eliza shook her head, approaching slowly. “You are thinking about leaving?”
“Being replaced,” he moved back around that desk. “I made a promise that if this got too bad that I would relinquish command. Promises are useless unless you keep them. I will work within the Inquisition, but I cannot lead… not like this.” Eliza approached him, and he held up his hand again, stopping her. “Don’t.”
“I am not one of your soldiers,” she said firmly. “You don’t get to order me around.”
“If you are part of the Inquisition, then you follow orders,” he barked back.
“For the sake of the Maker, stop being stubborn!” she shot at him, “Let someone help you.”
“You don’t understand,” he said backing away and leaning against the arrowslit behind his desk.
“Then tell me,” she said gently, leaning against the corner of his desk, watching him carefully. “I’ve seen this before. I can help…” Those eyes screwed shut, his hand rubbing the back of his neck, causing him to wince in pain. Another hand balled into a fist and smashed down on the wall, not hard enough to break his hand, but hard enough to hurt.
“I… I keep remembering what happened. I keep going back there. Kinloch,” he growled. “Uldred and his madness. He…” a strained laugh left his lips. “He…my brothers and sisters at arms were slaughtered. I watched him torture them… torture mages before dragging them, screaming, into the Harrowing chamber.” He ran a hand through his hair, “The sounds from that chamber… They tortured me. They tried to break my mind…” he looked back at her. “How can you be the same person after that?”
“I…” she was frozen. Eliza had expected a fight, arguing, maybe something else being thrown against a wall. But this…memories were coming back a waterfall. And it chilled her to the bone. “You were… up there?” Kinloch... It had been the only home she knew, and yet when she left everything was in ruin and coated with blood. How many fell trying to save the mages? How many fell trying to aid and protect the templars? The Harrowing chamber had been the center of the slaughter... and he had been there . Cullen just nodded, another choked laugh as he leaned back against that wall.
“Yes… and after…I was so angry, but I still wanted to serve. They sent me to Kirkwall. I trusted my Knight-Commander, and for what? For her to encourage my anger towards mages,” he turned to look back out of that window. “That anger blinded me… almost to the point of ruin. I trusted her to be right about mages, and there were blood mages in Kirkwall. When her madness was finally exposed… I realized she had kept things from me, things that I didn’t agree with. Kirkwall’s Circle fell. Innocent people died in the streets. After, I couldn’t be a part of that life anymore… I gave it up, joined the Inquisition, thought I had a new start…” he growled, fist slamming into the wall again. “But these thoughts won’t leave me… I close my eyes and I’m back there.”
“Cullen…” he waved his hand at her, one clutching his head.
“I gave everything to the Chantry, to the Order. When I joined the Inquisition, I swore I would give as much to it as I did to them,” he pushed himself off that wall, walking towards the door, towards the contents of that kit that laid scattered across the room. Eliza walked around that desk, her hand first coming to the door, closing it from prying eyes and ears. “I should be taking it…”
“Cullen,” Eliza moved, catching his hands as he bent down to pick up the pieces. “Wait... wait wait…” she pulled his hands together, holding them in front of him. It was a struggle, but she was finally able to catch his downward gaze. “Look at me please,” she whispered. He shook his head, but his eyes looked at hers.
“I should be taking it… You of all people should be questioning the things I’ve done… the things I’ve said...”
“Stop,” she said firmly. “Stop think about what the Chantry wants, the Templars, the Inquisition,” he looked down again, but she caught his gaze. “Cullen, what do you want?”
“I… not this.” He sighed. “I thought this would be better… that I would regain some control over my life. But these thoughts won’t leave me. All these people depend on me… I can’t give them any less than I gave to the Chantry.”
“You aren’t,” Eliza squeezed his hands. “You’ve given everything for this cause, Cullen.”
“I don’t know if I can endure this…” he choked.
“You can,” she smiled. Cullen just shook his head, pulling his hands away from her. She sighed, rubbing her face as the Commander went to his desk, sitting down with a heavy thud, rubbing his temples. Eliza watched him practically put his head down on his desk, and she walked carefully around him. She let out a breath, her hands chilled for a moment, glowing faintly green.
“I’m fine, it will pass,” he practically growled. She reached down tentatively, standing behind him now. Those cool fingers coming to meet his own. “What are you…”
“Just… let me try,” she said softly, feeling those leather covered fingers slowly pull away. It wasn’t much effort, keeping her fingertips cool as she gently rubbed at that soft spot just behind his eyes. His shoulders dropped, that tension under her hands easing a little as he let out a heavy sigh. Biting her lip, she continued, her fingers starting to glow faintly green. One would go to rub at the base of his skull, fingers weaving in that short dark blonde hair, gently massaging soft spots on either side of his spine. She moved back to his temples, working for a few moments as he just sighed. Her fingers returned to normal and she would take a step back, moving towards the door.
Cullen just rested there, his arms had folded in front of him, on the desk, allowing him to rest his forehead there. When he lifted his head, those golden eyes blinking a few times. Eliza finished returning to that desk; she had picked up that lyrium kit, everything returned in it, but closed.
“You don’t need lyrium to be a good soldier, or a good commander. If this is something you want for yourself, then you should do it.” She said simply, walking over to the door. “If... if you need someone to talk to... about what happened, well... you know where to find me.”
Chapter 17: The Game
Tension. That was the best way to describe how Eliza felt in the weeks and months that followed that confrontation in the tower. There wasn’t any angry, animosity, or really anything that might make her feel unsafe, but it was just awkward. Eliza felt as if she was stepping on egg shells, she wanted to be caring, but not expose a weakness. She was concerned, but an air of control and level-headedness was necessary if rumors were to be avoided. For her, caution just manifested into distance. Before, it was rare for them to see each other or sit down for a game of chess, now it was almost unheard of. Small glances at each other were stolen here or there, but they lasted no more than a second and may if ever translate into a one or two word greeting and goodbye.
Eliza pried a few times to get out of Skyhold, maybe go down to the Hinterlands to gather herbs, supplies, anything, but each request was answered with a no. War was waging outside of the walls, not just against demons from the Void, but the Templars and Mages were still roaming the Hinterlands, and now the Freedmen of the Dales were starting to cause havoc. Even though the thought of fighting a rouge mage or templar made Eliza’s stomach drop, the threat of battles and conflicts within Skyhold made her just as nervous. Cole tried to explain it to her once… everyone was just tense and scared. It made sense but didn’t put her any more at ease. It also didn’t help that after her incident on the ramparts, the Templars were keeping a close eye on her. The boy that attacked her had been released and put on an easy job patrolling camps and strongholds on the periphery of Skyhold, but word of what he did had spread. And as happens, rumors morphed and changed with each retelling. She stopped listening a while ago and would have been able to forget the incident completely if it wasn’t for the rest of the Templars. Their gaze reminded her so much of the Circle, quiet watching, evaluating, judging for threats. A familiar fear clawed at her throat, and more than a few nights she could only find sleep at the bottom of a sleeping draught. Fear and tension… yeah Cole, you summed it up well. What they needed was a party, revelry, a victory, anything to serve as a safety valve.
The Inquisition had spent a lot of their political cards, and risked everything, to succeed at brokering peace at the Winter Palace between Empress Celene and Duke Gaspard. There could be no victory without Orlais’ support, but with their civil war, that support was tied up. Everyone knew of The Game. It was a dangerous, Orlaisian, and one misstep could send everything the Inquisition stood for into the abyss. The Inquisitor had a small saving grace, being a noble from the Free Marches and all, but playing the Game in the heart of the Winter Palace was going to be savage and bloody. No one knew how the blood would manifest, or whose it would be. All they knew is that the Civil War needed to end and leadership in Orlais established if they were to avoid the Inquisitor’s vision and prevent Corephyus’ ascension.
The Game was played thousands of miles away and across the seas. Peace in Orlais was the key, but peace in Skyhold was just as difficult to come by. The only peace Eliza could find was the battlements. The seemingly endless stretch of stone wall was patrolled consistently, but standing guards were rare. The towers would have a watchman, and a flaming brazier to keep the chill at bay and signal trouble, but the walls were mostly bare at night. She would change locations frequently, favoring the area above the barn now, since it was opposite of the Templar’s tower and The Hearld’s Retreat. The Inquisition had returned a few hours prior, and the tavern had been a bustling hive of celebration and libation. Cheers to the Inquisitor, the Inquisition, the Maker, all of these toasts and cheers rang out as songs echoed through the mountains. After a drink or two, Eliza couldn’t handle the packed rooms or heat any longer. She sought the peacefulness of the battlements.
She sat on the ledge often, feet dangling into nothing as the mountain air bathed her in a familiar chill that kept her awake most nights. Her brown hair whipped around her face, down and untamed in a rare moment of apathy as the mountain’s cold air blasted her face and brought tears to her eyes. There was a small cough behind her, and she turned her head a little. “Oh… You survived the ball,” Eliza smiled, turning back to look out over the mountains. The smile faded for an instant as she tried to scramble to come up with something to say. After two months, she figured words would come easier. “I do have to say I am impressed… I wasn’t quite sure you could dance.” There must have been hours of meetings, Cullen was still wearing that formal attire, although the coat had been unbuttoned at some point. He had a white tunic undershirt, which stood out against that red fabric of his coat. She had never seen him in formal cloths, and he just seemed out of place and uncomfortable.
“I didn’t dance,” his voice seemed a bit rougher as he answered, rubbing his neck. Tired from the travel? Or was the rumor about fighting, demons, and numerous assassination plots all correct. “Josephine was careful with her instructions,” he continued, “She was particularly focused on avoiding diplomatic incidents. We agreed that my dancing may cause one, so it was avoided at all cost.”
“Oh, I’m sure the Diplomat and Lelianna are planning to use you in some political game,” Eliza chuckled. “From what I’ve seen, those ladies cannot endure for a second without playing the Game.” She heard him shuffle a little behind her. Letting out a soft sigh, Eliza pulled herself back and swung her legs back to rest on the battlements. Standing, she brushed off her pants, finally looking up to face him fully.
“I… I wanted to thank you.” Um… what? That caught Eliza off guard. “When you came to see me…” Cullen stammered a little, head turning a little as he let out an exasperated sigh, “this sounded much better in my head.”
“But you’re feeling better?” Eliza pried gently, leaning against one of the merlons.
“I… yes…” he said with a nod.
“Have you found anything to… help when it gets that bad?” she asked, and he shook his head.
“Time…” he said with a shrug. “The pain comes and goes, but always passes. I should not have pushed myself that hard.” Eliza nodded, taking a step towards him. “I wanted to apologize for how I acted. Sometimes the pain makes it feel as though I’m back there.”
“There’s nothing to be sorry about,” she said with a small smile. He just let out a sigh, rubbing his neck again and she would just chuckle. “You always do that.”
“Rub your neck,” she settled to lean against the merlon right next to him. He shifted, consciously stopping himself from rubbing his neck. “You used to do it back in Kinloch too.”
“I must do it a lot then,” he chuckled weakly. “I… I haven’t told anyone about what happened.”
“Not even Cassandra?”
“No… she knows something happened, but not what.”
“It’s hard for me to talk about too,” Eliza admitted, “It wasn’t… It’s hard to explain to other people. The Blight… Ul…Uldred…” She shook her head, “I stopped trying to explain what happened there a long time ago.”
“Yes,” He sighed, “I was different after. I was angry and… unkind. I did not like the man I was after that, but…I’m hoping I can put some distance between him and who I am now.”
“You will,” Eliza encouraged with a small smile. She took a few steps away from the wall and towards him. “When I was in the Free Marches, I ran into a few mages from the Underground. They told me stories of Kirkwall and the Knight-Captain there,” she watched as his gaze shot straight at her, panic dancing across those eyes. “They said he was some ill-tempered Ferelden. All the mages used to warn that we shouldn’t get anywhere near Kirkwall. That he was a terrifyingly strict man; with both mages and Templars,” Eliza reached forward and touched his forearm arm with a small smile, “I don’t think you’re that same person…if you were, none of the mages here would have stayed for very long.”
He sighed, turning away, “Believe me, you wouldn’t have liked me back then.”
“Well, then I’m glad that version of you is gone. You are more like you were when we were at Kinloch. A little less naïve, but still good.” Eliza moved her hand, but his came to rest on top of hers, his arm moving so that both of his hands encased her own.
“You don’t understand,” he said with a shaky breath. “I…” She just shook her head, squeezing his hands and drawing his gaze back to hers.
“You are a better person now than you were in Kirkwall, and in Kinloch,” Eliza said firmly. “So please stop apologizing.” His hands came to her cheeks, and she felt him pull her into a kiss. She gasped, but he held her firm as one hand wrapped around her waist, pulling her tight against his chest. He deepened the kiss, tongue dancing over her lips. Eliza leaned in, her mouth parting slightly as she moved one hand to his shoulder, the other to his back, holding herself close as that hungry kiss ended abruptly.
“I’m sorry… I…should have asked…” his gaze fell from hers. His hands lingered on her jaw line and Eliza couldn’t help but laugh lightly as she felt blush creeping to her cheeks.
“Did… did you just kiss me?”
“I… yes.” His cheeks were turning red, and his eyes were searching hers. As the moment lingered longer, his hands feel from her cheeks as he stuttered through another apology. Eliza slowly leaned forward, feeling him tense just a little as her lips lingered just inches from his.
“Ser!” the sound of rushed footsteps on the stairs gave them enough warning to untangle. Eliza’s face flushed, and now it was her turn to rub the back of her neck as she turned her head to look away from that messenger. Cullen turned as that Inquisition scout came rushing down the rampart, papers in his hand.
“What?” he growled, and Eliza could just barely catch the glare he was giving that poor scout.
“Ser, you said you wanted Lady Montilyet’s reports from Orlais, and she is requesting your…” the scout would stop dead in his tracks when he saw that look the Commander was giving him. Eyes darted between the two and he cleared his throat. “I… should just put both on your desk…”
“Yes, that,” the words were curt, and the scout just spun on his heels, rushing down the rampart as quickly as he could. Once out of earshot, Eliza couldn’t help but laugh, leaning over a bit as Cullen just shook his head, running a hand through that blonde hair. “Sorry.”
“That poor boy,” she finally was able to collect herself enough to look up at him. He still looked unsure, and Eliza would push herself from the merlon. She closed the distance again, leaning up to lay a gentle kiss on his lips. She could practically feel him relax, and she just smiled against his lips before taking a step back. “Good night Commander.”
Chapter 18: Tranquil
Wherever she was, it wasn’t Ferelden. It was hot, the sky a dark midnight blue. Not a mountain visible in the distance. Maybe they were far away, the walls around her were tall. Statues littered the courtyard, or was it a processional way? They looked Tevinter in nature… were they depicting the Old Gods? White stone was everywhere, and braziers casted shadows around her. She could see the shadow of the massive entranceway cast in front of her, but she couldn’t see what was behind her. The clicking of chains brought her attention to her hands, bound and slacked only a few links. She could bring her hands to her mid thighs, only because she was being forced to kneel.
“Murderer!” The voices were bodiless, echoing out from those dancing shadows. The sound of armor clanking behind her, footsteps approaching and heat licking at her back. Something was on fire, or a fire was nearby, she couldn’t tell because the sound and sensation came from behind her. As the heat intensified, Eliza yanked her arms harder and harder.
“For your crimes…” a thin female voice echoed behind her. Eliza couldn’t recognize it, but she also couldn’t see who it was. A shape was in her periphery, but besides armor and straw blonde hair, Eliza couldn’t make out any other features of the women. It was at that moment she could make out people below her. She was on some platform looking out over that entryway, bronze statues looming over her and the faceless crowd below here. They were humans and some elves, dressed in simple robes or dresses. A few had staffs, but most had their blank faces down cast. “You have been sentenced to the Rite of Tranquility.” The crowd seemed to stir and cries once again fell from their lips.
“What?!” Eliza struggled to yell as fear choked her. The fire billowed hotter behind her and the sweet smell of lyrium started to fill the air. A stone dropped in Eliza’s stomach. Figured were on her periphery, but she couldn’t see who they were. She let out a yell, pulling hard against the chains.
“Stupid girl. I tried to have sympathy! Maker knows, I tried! But how can I allow mages like you freedom when you use it to commit atrocities?”
“I didn’t! It wasn’t me! Let me go!” Eliza shrieked. Metal grind against metal, and she heard a pop as logs shifted and something was removed from the fire. “This is a dream… this is a dream…” She felt sick, her stomach turning over and over as she heard feet approaching her. Something hot came near her cheek and she flinched. “Someone HELP!”
“Do you really need help?” Eliza didn’t realize her eyes had been shut, or that angry tears had started to fall down her cheeks. She had held her eyes so tight that she needed to blink a few times to adjust to the dim evening light. The voice was deep, calm, but it… it didn’t seem to fit. Like there was a distortion over a few words here or there. It was… “You’ve broken out of chains like this before… and if this is really a dream, you put the chains there yourself! Tsk, I thought we were over this…” The voice was… floating, or at least seemed to be. Looking up, it was the face of a corpse. Not long since dead, but the skin was pale, and greenish-purple veins and patches were starting to cover the face. Dirty black hair covered his head, almost reaching his shoulders. It was a mess, and looked singed in some areas. A ragged scar covered the left side of his face, ragged and fresh, but no longer bleeding. Her eyes met his, and his face was curled into a wicked smile, “I missed you little mage.”
“What are you doing?”
“I didn’t do a thing!” he chuckled as feet fell under him. “You’re the Dreamer, I’m just watching the show and cheering on my champion.”
“Don’t call me that.”
“What? Don’t want to compete with your cousin? I guess you can’t now that he’s dead.” The demon chuckled. He was in a young man’s body, clothed in rags that had seen one too many fights. Long dried blood was splattered on the sleeves, and the edges seemed burned. “You know what you need to do here…”
“You’ve done it before,” there was a small chuckle and a flash of his hand as he conjured a fireball into his palm. “Boom, just bring that ring of fire up, and all of these templars will burn.”
“I said stop.”
“Here,” dead lips pulled back into a smile as he came around behind her. Eliza yanked hard against those chains, and simply earned a chuckle. “Come now…” Cold hands reached down to touch hers, and she could feel him pressed against her back, chin resting on her shoulder. “Feel that fire inside you, and pull it to your fingers… you remember.” He turned Eliza’s hands so they were facing palms up, and a small fire started to burn in each. The flames were a warm and welcomed contrast against his flesh.
“St...stop.” Her voice was cracking as that fire grew, encompassing their forearms now, and she could hear a pleasant laugh ringing in her ears. The cold body seemed to give way to flames engulfing her. They were different from the flames of the Templar’s fire. These were warm, caressing her body gently and lovingly as it spread down her arms to her back and legs. Shouts were starting to ring out, and as she closed her hands, thinking the flames would extinguish, there was a burst as those flames jumped from her body and shot up twenty feet around her. Screams hit her ears, and she could hear shear panic as those Templars around her caught fire or burnt.
“You are an infection among humanity!” The shrilled female’s voice behind her cried before Eliza heard her crumple to the ground. The shackles melted, and Eliza stood slowly. She didn’t feel completely in control… like she was watching herself from above. Her body stood, and those still manacled, but freed, hands raised up and the fire grew and spread. The screams got louder and louder… people fleeing and screaming in her wake.
“I missed you little mage.” The voice whispered into her ear, Eliza heard something clatter to her left. Turning, she saw that sunburst brand, white hot and painted with lyrium, roll onto the ground near her. The flames were so hot, the handle was starting to warp and melt. A gauntlet covered hand was extended, though no longer moving. Whom ever had held that brand had been consumed by the flames. “He’s was right though… you would have hated him back then…”
“Serah, can you come here for a moment?” Eliza turned to see the Surgeon walking down that path around the Herald’s Retreat. Groggy, sleep deprived, and a little buzzed, Eliza had spent the early morning trying to drown the dream from her mind. She could still feel flames crawling up her legs… maybe she could get some Deathroot after she helped the Surgeon with… whatever.
“Yes ma’am,” Eliza nodded. She walked to join the Surgeon, who beckoned her to come a bit quicker.
“We had a patrol come in from Nevarra, they were accompanying the Inquisitor, so their injuries are minor,” the Surgeon explained as she opened the door. “Normally I’d be able to take care of them myself, but another group came back from a recent mission north of the Hissing Waste. Red Templars and the such were there, so make sure you note if any of the Templars in that group were affected.” They entered the newly created stone hospital ward. “You’ll need to grab some of those poultices and threads…” Eliza nodded, going to their supply shelf to get what she needed. They split the infirmary in two, both women moving relatively quickly from patient to patient. There were a few soft groans among the cots, but they were quickly soothed with some healing spells and water. The soldiers were talking among themselves, about home, missions, anything to keep their minds off their pain and the smell of the place. Eliza was used to this, working quietly so they could have their moments to recover. The story swaps also gave her an idea of what was going on outside of Skyhold.
“…that Qunari is a monster with that maul…”
“Did you see the Grey Warden jump into the fray? He let out a blast from his battlehorn and I swear I saw one of those Red Templar bastards shit himself in fear!”
“…Now I get why the Commander yells at us about shields, did you see him?”
“I swear to the Maker, she threw bees at them! This jar of bees!”
“…dumb Tranquil lit the place on fire…” Eliza froze for a moment, her hand over the ankle of one of Harding’s scouts. The voice had been behind her, and one of the other soldiers in that back half of the Infirmary groaned.
“I know. We had to fight through flames at that creepy Temple. Did you see those bronze statues?”
“Fucking creepy if you ask me. And there was Red lyrium everywhere…”
“Yeah… I’m no Templar, but I swear… it was singing. Don’t give me that look! It was! And with the flames…”
“I can’t believe the Inquisitor was able to take out all of those Templars so quickly. You blink, and he’s got knives sticking out of someone’s back I swear.”
“He is an assassin. You saw all the trainers here.”
“Assassin or not, the Inquisitor wasn’t quick enough though,” one grumbled. “That Tranquil still offed himself.”
“Yeah, said he wasn’t going to be used against Samson or something… they were both in Kirkwall.”
“Tranquils just creep me out.” Eliza bit her lip, moving to her next patient. “Agatha, you were at Kirkwall, right?”
“Yeah.” “You know who he was?”
“Only Tranquil I could think of that would be close to Samson would be Maddox.”
“Yeah! That’s his name!” one of the other soldiers seemed excited. “Commander was talking to him, but the guy was pretty tight lipped. Was he some blood mage or something?”
“No… he was just writing some letters to a girl outside of the Circle. Knight-Commander Meredith went insane when she found out. That’s what got Samson kicked out of the Templars… and Maddox got turned into a Tranquil.”
“That’s how it was back there. If anyone had a problem with it, they sure as hell kept their mouth shut.”
“So you just left that dead body there? Was there anything of use?”
“I think they found a book, or plans, or something. The Tranquil was an enchanter or something,” another soldier shrugged. “Inquisitor said something about a proper burial, but I think it was just to keep everyone he took with him happy.”
"Hmph... he got better than he deserved. Stupid Tranquils."
Chapter 19: What Pride Had Wrought
So a few things:
1. This fic is completed, and baring any major rewrites/edits or personal issues, I am planning to post a chapter a week until it's done. It's been a few years in the making, but I am mostly happy with how this all turned out
2. To celebrate the release of the Dragon Age 4 Teaser, I am going to post two parts this weekend. I'm a little disappointed in the trailer, since it doesn't add anything to the story if you've played the Trespasser DLC, but at least I know there's something coming from Bioware after all of this Anthem hype. I posted the teaser link below.
Dragon Age 4 Teaser: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XHZt3j18Lxg
After that dream… Eliza found it hard to focus. She would see an emblem of the Templars, or hear a segment of the chant and she would be back there. She could still feel the flames licking up her thighs as that courtyard was set ablaze. It made her feel sick to her stomach, but at the same time that fear was gone. As quickly as it came, that sensation would leave, and she would be left with a chill and a twisted knot in her stomach. There was no voice, no presence or a dark patron, but that fear still clawed at her chest. Every time she laid down to sleep, a silent chant was uttered, and every peaceful night was a miracle.
Her work took her mind away from the worry. Fighting had increased between the Inquisition and Corephyus’ forces; the slow push back against the Magister had now turned into a wave. Although successes far outweighed failures, the battles brought men back to Skyhold in search of care. The regular soldiers were more than happy to get help from the healers, and Eliza had earned the respect of many… with the exception of the Templars. Although many were coming to an understanding with the mages that worked with the Inquisition, there was still a bastion of stalwart soldiers who still thought the conflict between Templars and Mages extended to the Inquisition. They seemed to try and battle for the heart and mind, keeping the minor magic users at bay, and giving begrudged respect to the magic users of the Inner Circle. The reigning Knight-Lieutenant named Martin Wideman kept an eye on his men, and a closer one on the mages. He hated Eliza, and had seemingly taken it upon himself to warn any templar about the mage who tempted good men with lyrium. She spent time enough ignoring him, and others who suggested that she brought the issue to the Seeker’s attention. The war was going in the Inquisition’s favor, and they needed cohesion. This could wait, and it wasn’t any worse than the treatment she had as an apostate.
But even with the chaos of war, a few moments could be stolen here or there. They were little moments, something to distract from the endless list of things to do. Eliza had been hesitant, especially after the nightmare, to talk with Cullen. Sudden sensations would distract from a conversation, or cause her to overlook a move in a chess game. As time went on… their meetings were a bit longer. Sometimes it was a game of chess, other times it was just a short walk around the battlements before one of the scouts or messengers could hunt him down. Eliza knew there was talk already in the barracks, but there was no helping that. Within two weeks, most of Skyhold was whispering about it, but it was just another piece of gossip. The glares from Wideman’s men intensified, but after hours of treating the wounded, or days searching for enough herbs to serve for potions and potulices to heal the sick… the relief that came from a simple conversation on the battlements was worth the stares.
“So, I hear you have a thing for strapping young Templars.” Eliza couldn’t help but feel blush creep up her neck as she leaned against the fence of that sparring circle, watching as two scouts sparred with training knives. Crowds always formed around the training circle; people betting on fights, showing each other techniques, or just enjoying the show. She saw Dorian here every once and a while, usually on his way to the Hearld’s Retreat for a drink. His voice seemed to carry, with that Tevinter accent standing out against Ferelden and Orlesian. “Oh, it is true.”
“You are going to make this a very easy story for Varric to write,” he teased, his back against the post as he watched other soldiers training against the far wall, under the guidance of Cassandra. “Oh, I do hope he uses this material. It may be a better seller than Swords and Shields .”
“Hmm… a mage and an ex-Templar is so overdone,” she teased back. “A Vint and a Qunari though…” Dorian’s head snapped to look at her, and Eliza just grinned. “Oh? It seems the table has turned, Altus.”
“I think we’re getting off topic…”
“Oh, come now Dorian,” Eliza chuckled, “Are you blushing?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” He said with a flustered expression, well, as flustered as he got. Eliza just smiled, enjoying her little victory as the scouts finished up and moved out of the ring, making way for some templar knights. One of them gave her a small shove out of the way as he entered the ring, laughing as she glared.
“Ugh,” Eliza pushed herself away from the ring. She didn’t need to deal with this shit today. Everything was going well, the weather was starting to warm, the hospital house was emptying as men were well enough to return to easy duty. She didn’t need angry templars ruining her day. Even if she didn’t want to admit it, the Templars brought a sense of righteousness to the Inquisition that was sorely needed, especially in the absence of a new Divine. The sound of that thick, coarse accident filled the air and Eliza shuttered, “Maybe you should watch how real warriors fight. With honor and face to face, not with weapons of demons.” Damn that ass-hole. Eliza’s knuckles turned white as she clenched her fists. Before a foul word could leave her lips, Eliza felt Dorian’s hand on her shoulder.
“Come on,” Dorian ushered Eliza away, “It’s no matter.” That accented voice grew a little louder as they walked away. “ Besides, it’s not as if you’ve already proven you can take down Templars …”
“ Dorian, ” Eliza hissed as they picked up their pace a little.
“You may as well have dropped a stone fist in his face!” Eliza snapped as they walked down that long stairwell towards the shops and stables.
“That might have been a better use of energy...”
“Dorian, I’m trying not to cause problems here.”
“Cause problems? Do you even hear yourself? I swear you Southerners are hopeless. If that brute wants to pick a fight with you because you’re a mage, he’s also picking a fight with me,” Dorian countered. “Remember when we took out all those Venatori so long ago? It’s like a distant… slightly less violent dream…” A chuckled left his mouth, “Back before I was tripping over the bodies the Inquisitor leaves in his wake.”
“Trevelyan can’t kill that many people…” Eliza trailed off, but the look Dorian gave her made her swallow hard. “Really?”
“I’m just proud that he hasn’t killed anyone on his way in or out of the main hall,” Dorian smirked. “Anyway, those Templars are all talk. If you dared them, they would just stammer about the Chant, or Andraste, or some other excuse and go run off to prayers.” Eliza just sighed, shaking her head, looking back and up those stairs where the training ring was. She didn’t need another reason to be exhausted, worrying about what might appear in her nightmares was enough, she didn’t need any more problems.
After being with the Inquisition for so long, the Apostate had apparently lost her habit of keeping people at arm’s length. Eliza found herself actually trusting the men and women of the Inquisition. Sure, they could be crass, or cold, or bold, but they were just people. They took care of each other. They looked out for each other. She didn’t feel like an apostate anymore, Eliza was just another mage working in the Inquisition. Eliza didn’t believe that the Inquisitor was the Herald of Andraste, that Andraste herself had saved him from the Fade, but then again, not everyone who was helping believed in all of those tales either. The thought that she couldn’t trust those Templars in the Inquisition, the ones that were training just yards away… she didn’t want to acknowledge it. By no means did she want to be friends, or did she agree with the ideas of Circles under Templar control, but that didn’t mean she wanted to be openly adversarial to them.
“Just let them be Dorian,” Eliza said, putting a hand on his shoulder to stop that hasty retreat they had embarked on. “We don’t need to fight amongst each other… not now.”
“You’re worried about the Arbor Wilds?” Eliza couldn’t help but nod. The fortress was in the process of mobilizing, the march was still weeks away, but the intelligence provided by Morrigan was too good to pass up. The more they delayed, the more chance Corephyus had to beat them to the temple of Mythal.
“Why?” Dorian shrugged, “It’s another set of elven ruins tucked away in the middle of nowhere…”
“That Corephyus is hell bent on getting to. We are pulling everyone, every alliance, into this fight. Isn’t that concerning enough?”
“It is,” Dorian agreed, but a grin was still plastered on his face. “In my experience with this whole Inquisition, we have done some pretty impossible things. What’s one more to add to the list?”
The Inquisitor had taken the opportunity after Orlais to solidify his reputation. Assisting Dalish clans on the Exalted Plains and Emerald Graves, receiving boons from a particularly unnerving temple in the Forbidden Oasis, and if the stories were true, he and his team had ended the reign of quite a few vicious dragons throughout southern Thedas. Materials had been gathered, weapons forged, armor created, and then promptly dyed as Doran and Vivienne refused to don some of Inquisitor Trevelyan’s …unique design schemes. All Skyhold was mustered for the assault in the Arbor Wilds. More men and weapons of war than had been at Adamant. The tide of the war was changing, and even though the Inquisition seemed to be pressing Corypheus into a corner… that was when animals were the most dangerous.
The path to the Arbor Wilds took them through Orlais. It was beneficial for the Inquisiton to take this route, since it allowed for the camps in the Emprise du Lion, Emerald Graves, and the Exalted Plains to be restocked. For the mages of the Inquisition, the path brought a sense of dread. Orlais was a bastion of faith. The strongest, and still loyal, Circle operated. It was where the heart of the Chantry operated. Templars here were still well respected and had great influence. Most of the Inquisition’s mages had joined as apostates. Without the host of Inquisition forces, Eliza doubted that they could have navigated the towns and countryside safely. There was a reason why she avoided Orlais on her travels.
Just like with Adamant, Eliza’s pre-battle preparations were the same. The Surgeon gave her orders for herbs and supplies that would be required for the care of soldiers after the assault, and Eliza would organize mages and scouts to gather the supplies. Forests and fields between Skyhold and the Arbor were picked clean, and linens were bought in bulk from every town along the way. At night, Eliza and many of the mages would sit and make healing potions, poultices, lyrium draughts, rock armor tonic, healing mists, any and every potion, elixir or grenade that the Inquisition may need for the battle to come. Everything worked like a well-oiled machine, and some nights, Eliza almost felt as if she was back in Ferelden’s Circle Mages were teaching each other, sharing techniques and advice in camp as the last bits of light faded. The closer they got to the Arbor, the more and more it felt like that Circle. She didn’t know if it was because battle was near, or because there was a proud apostate in the form of a Witch of the Wilds amongst them, but the Templars started to monitor the mages even closer. No issues had arisen, but they claimed that the Veil was starting to thin in these old wild places, and that meant mages were more at risk of possession. The every day people believed them, so no one raised a fuss. The mages had heard this excuse before, the mages weren’t worried about the well being of the mages, but more so afraid of losing control of them in this old place.
Even though it was a well-earned complaint, the attitude of the Templars was about the only thing Eliza could complain about. The Inquisition had gained a sense of unity that was lacking at Adamant. Once untested, many of these soldiers had seen battle against Venatori forces. They passed their knowledge and advice to the newer recruits, and the host grew stronger for it. The confidence of the soldiers was swelling, and Eliza couldn’t help but feel a pang of worry. There was little knowledge of the true strength of Corypheus forces, nor an accurate assessment of its size or capabilities. Scouts would come back, reporting on what they saw, but the forest was vast, and the army was still too far away to assess the risk. As they marched, the column would pass elven ruins. The great empire reduced to ashes and rubble for all the world to see. No doubt they had once been as confident as the soldiers of the Inquisition. Who was to say this ruin couldn’t befall them as well. Will the future look at our ruins and say, “Look what their pride and hubris has wrought?”
Eliza had expected sleepless nights on this journey, but fortunately none overtook her. The days were long, and mornings early; most days she fell asleep the moment her head hit her pillow. No nightmares, no dreams. Maybe it was the exhaustion, or the focus she felt, but either way she didn’t complain about the uninterrupted rest. Now that she knew what to expect from battling with the Inquisition, her anxiety was lessened. Her job was to stay with the main body, moving through the battle with them while commanding her now larger team of healers. They were mostly mages and rogues, but they could follow the main force, provide support and move through the battlefield with relative ease. The Surgeon didn’t have fighting experience, so she would be at the main camp waiting for the worst. Eliza was the one who had to triage soldiers on the battlefield, sending who could make it back to the Surgeon, and doing her best to help those that were too injured to survive the trip. It was a level of responsibility that Eliza never had, and it made her feel sick at times. She did her best to prepare the teams, walking them through basic procedures, giving advice, and showing some techniques whenever a scout returned injured or so. The weeks flew by as everyone prepared, and there was still more to do when they finally reached the Arbor Wilds.
In all those weeks of travel, Eliza rarely saw Cullen. Their paths hardly crossed; he was preparing the troops for battle, and she was preparing for the aftermath of that battle. Her place was in the main column, protected by the front and the rear guard, while Cullen stayed at the head of the marching column organizing the Inquisition as well as allied forces. Their numbers were swelling as fighters from Orlais, Ferelden, different Dalish clans, and even remaining Grey Wardens joined up for the onslaught. It felt like there was a small city traveling through Orlais, and it was easy to get lost inside of it all. If they saw each other, it was usually when the column stopped to camp. His rounds brought him to the Surgeon to check supplies and progress. That was when a glance or two could be stolen.
It wasn’t unexpected. The two had discussed the march long before it happened, back in the safety of Skyhold. It wasn’t the first time either had traveled long distances, and they discussed their various experiences with poor food, tents and gear in disrepair and unpleasant cold nights. Their experiences were similar, even if they happened at different times in different parts of Thedas. A game had been stolen here or there in the days leading up to the departure, and with those games a short walk and conversation. As always it was a welcomed break from the chaos of mobilization, and although neither would admit it, they had both been worried about the march to come.
The glimpses she saw of him confirmed her own worry. He looked exhausted, but in a way that was more worrisome. Everyone looked exhausted, but countless sleepless nights were apparent on his face. Stress, worry, bad reports or something else? The source of the problem wasn’t apparent, but they symptoms were. At least at Skyhold, there were plenty of plausible reasons for why their paths may cross. It allowed them to have a break, as well as gave Eliza a chance to check up on him. He might have said that he was feeling better, but lyrium had a stronger hold than most people realized. It was something she couldn’t ask about. There was no reason for the Commander of the whole Inquisition to cross paths with the main assistant to the Surgeon. With the battle ahead, everyone had to focus and play their part. Asking about it might raise suspicions or expose a weakness that couldn’t be afforded now. Distractions at this point could lead to ruin, so Eliza held her tongue and channeled the anxiety and frustrations he felt into her work.
She looked up into the dark canopy of the Arbor Wilds. Was this what every forest was like before the fall of Elves? Dense and untamed? Wild and beautiful and dangerous all combined into one. It was pitch black, but a small shutter of wind would hit the canopy and show just a glimpse of the stars above. She was alone, a blanket under her and wild branches above. Footsteps drew close, but she didn’t look to see who approached. They were close to her head, and Eliza turned her head to look. That’s when she felt the pressure against her throat. She gasped, reaching out to pull, whatever it was, away from her throat. Those hands only moved a foot before coming to a halt. She could see green wrapping around her wrists, and assumed it was the same wrapping around her upper arms, her ankles, her thighs… the pressure growing firmer and firmer the more she struggled. She could feel branches snaking up her legs, around her hips to pin her to the ground. Her nails dug into the ground, and all the fire she mustered was extinguished before she knew it.
“Shhhh… did you think you could come into this dark place, this place where the Veil is thin, and I wouldn’t take the time to come see you?”
“I’ve been away… I know,” the gravely voice cooed, and whatever was near her head shifted. She could see knees out of the corner of her eyes, but she still couldn’t see who it was in the darkness. “I’m sorry I haven’t been here to keep you company. After last time, well, I thought you were ready for the power I could give you. I’m a little disappointed…” Fingers brushed against her temple, running through her hair gently. “You were so close to embracing it… and letting it consume you…”
“Fuck off!” She hissed, gasping as that vine around her throat pressed firmer.
“You’re almost ready… I’ll just have to be patient for the perfect moment,” pale blue eyes came into focus as Eliza struggled. “Soon…”
“Nn..never…”she wheezed, flinching as something wet hit her forehead, the dripping continued, and as the warm liquid, ran down her face, a copper taste hit her lips. Blood.
“When the battle ends, it’ll be time,” the figure shifted, and Eliza groaned as weight pressed onto her chest. She thrashed as she felt lips press against hers, drawn back into a smile. She couldn’t breath now, stars dancing in front of her eyes as that mouth pulled away. “Soon little mage. Blood will be everywhere, and you’ll feel that rage and rush that you felt so long ago. It’ll be just the opportunity. After that, we’ll both be free. What a good time we’ll have…”
Two parts this weekend because Dragon Age 4 had it's teaser released on Friday. This is it for the week though. See you next Sunday!
Also, who hasn't made Vivienne, Dorian or any of the other characters wear shitty plaid armor? If you haven't, you are truly missing out.
Chapter 21: What's Real and What's Not
Eliza woke in a cold sweat. Her hands flying to her mouth as she let out a muffled scream. Her heart racing and it sounded like war drums in her head. Pulling her hand back, she looked in the dim light, expecting her fingers to be covered in crimson, Eliza could still taste blood even though nothing was there. Figures walked near her tent, and between that and Eliza’s startled awakening, the surgeon turning a bit in her sleep. Luckily, she didn’t wake. Everyone was restless that night, and many were plagued by nightmares, but their nightmares focused on the battle at hand. Eliza scrambled to her feet, grabbing her cloak to throw over her shoulders. She needed to get out of there.
Eliza hadn't been this afraid in a long time, not since she fled the Kinloch Circle all those years ago. All she could do was pace the camp, rubbing her throat. It had been months since the last dream, and they were becoming more and more aggressive. It made her afraid to sleep, so she walked. Walking kept her awake and awake meant that he couldn’t seep into those dreams again. Eliza made sure to keep to the edges of camp, so as not to disturb those few people who could find sleep. A small nod at the perimeter guards was enough for her to pass safely. Everyone knew her at this point, for better or worse.
As Eliza walked, she just listened. The sounds of birds and insects were blended with the sounds of crackling, dying fires and muffled voices. One sound made her pause in her tracks. It was faint, but clear enough that Eliza could tell that the voice was straining, and the source was in pain. Her path changed from the periphery to the interior through the tent city. Curiosity and concern drove her towards that sound. There was no way an assassin could infiltrate the camp; not so far away from the enemy and with so many wards and watchmen about. A demon though could get through the perimeter, though. Maybe… with so many mages… did it really cross over? Eliza shook her head with a sound of disgust, I sound like one of them… Eliza moved towards that noise as the tents grew larger in size and ornateness.
Of all the ornate marquee tents… one was just out of place. This bell-shaped tent was half the size of the other ornate tents around it. They were in nicer condition, this one was well-worn and torn around the tent’s anchor points. It had a rusty red color, and whatever design had adorned it had worn away after countless times of use. As she neared, those soft cries were a bit louder, and she approached cautiously. There was no sign of movement within the tent, the dim light from a small brazier casted enough light for her to see movement. She carefully pulled back that opening, slipping into the shadows for a moment to just see what was going on. It felt wrong, and she knew she shouldn’t be there, but the sounds of someone else having a nightmare pulled at her. She just hoped that the terror in their dreams wasn’t even close to the one that plagued hers.
Whomever was sleeping was thrashing, sheets were tangled up around their legs and their hands were clutching what little was still lingering over their chest. She could make out a few words, but nothing was strung together for a full sentence. The tone was one of pure terror, a fear that was so deep that it could chill even the most hardened person. Moving around the edge of the tent, Eliza approached the cot, her breath hitching a little as she slowly recognized who it was. It was hard to swallow as she sat on the edge of that cot, one hand gently going to cup that stubbled cheek, pushing some of that longer blonde hair back out of his face. “Cullen… it’s okay… it’s just a dream...”
She blinked, it couldn’t have been more than that. There was a rush of air as she felt a hand grip hers, painfully, and throw her to the ground. She landed close to that brazier, scrambling to sit up, but a weight land on her waist. It was like getting hit by a bronto, and it knocked the wind out of her. Small lights danced before her eyes, and before she could utter a word, she felt something cold pressed to her throat. When her eyes finally focused, she looked up into Cullen’s. They were wide, and his pupils had dilated so much that they were nearly black in that dim light. He was breathing hard, his teeth clenched as he kept that knife dangerously close to her throat. His free hand pinned her shoulder painfully to the blanket covered hearth below. He was straddling her chest, his knees pressing painfully into her wrists.
“Don’t touch me!” he growled, and Eliza just stayed perfectly still as that dagger pressed against her throat. He was unfocused, half here and half still in that dream, “I said begone! I will kill you demon! You will not torment me any longer!” A log popped in that brazier next to them, and she felt him shaking with each breath.
“Cullen… breathe… It’s me…” she said softly, swallowing carefully as that knife pressed closer. Eliza winced, tilting her head back a little as that edge pressed against her flesh.
“Stop!” he roared. “You’re not real!”
“Cullen… I swear it’s me… It’s Eliza. Do you know where you are?” She was gripping the ground, trying to go through her options as she fought that overwhelming urge to fight. A small voice in her head was encouraging her, all I need to do was reach out and coax the flames from the brazier to him.. I…no. Eliza swallowed again, drawing her eyes back to him. That dagger started to tremble, and it slowly moved from her throat. She watched him blink a few times as those wide eyes started to adjust; pupils contracting as he blinked and shook his head. A growl escaped his lips and he shook his head. His hand left her shoulders, going to press against his temple as whatever resolve he had was cracking.
“No… no… I know your tricks! We are at Kinloch…”
“Cullen. Listen to me. You’re in the Arbor Wilds,” Eliza was trying to be as calm as possible, wincing as his knees came off her wrists. His weight suddenly shifted, as if something had caused him pain. Scrambling off her waist, he fumbled backwards, dropping the dagger before his back met that cot. Eliza took a deep breath, before she pushed herself up with her arms. She was still lying down but watching him and trying to not make any quick or threatening movements. “Cullen…” she was trying to stay as calm as possible, “You’re with the Inquisition. You’re not at Kinloch… It’s okay.” His hands tangled into in his hair, pressing against his head as elbows rested on bent knees. A groan of pain came from him, and Eliza couldn’t tell if it was because he was tearing at his scalp, or if it was his realization. Slowly, Eliza shifted again, pulling her knees up under her so she crouched on the far side of the brazier. At least this way, there was some sort of barrier in case he… Please snap out of it…She kept her hands on the ground to steady herself and prepare a spell in case he was overtaken again.
“I… Maker preserve me…” his voice was breaking, crackling as he stammered. He was back and realizing what had happened. The grip on his hair loosened, his shoulders slumping as his breathing evened out. “I… I’m…”
“You’re with the Inquisition. You’re in your tent. You’re safe.” She soothed, shifting back to a seated position, wary still. She felt his gaze slowly fall on her as his hands left his head. Those golden eyes, pained, red, tired, looked at her. That’s when she started to really feel uncomfortable. This was his space, more so than his office back at Skyhold. She was here… and if she hadn’t been than this… Eliza just shook her head and continued, “You’re not Kinloch…”
“I… I had a dagger to your neck…”
“Yy… I… I’m fine,” she rubbed her neck absent-mindedly. There was a bit of blood dripping down her neck, and she pressed her fingers to it quickly as the wound healed up. There was an angry growl and she watched as he threw that dagger away, hitting a trunk before it clamored to the ground.
“I could have killed you!”
“You thought I was a demon…” At least it was what it sounded like to Eliza. She ran a hand through her hair, still trying to piece everything together.
“No… no you were a demon,” Cullen stood, shaking a little. A groan escaped his lips, doubling over a little, but as Eliza rose to her feet to help, he just waved his arm to keep her. He stumbled as he stood, leaning heavily against the interior post of the tent for a bit of support. “You were…” Eliza stood shakily, and he would just sigh. “At Kinloch… When they were…” The words caught a little, “…demons would take the form of people I knew. I saw Mia, Rosalie, Branson, my parents, Honnelath… They…they tried to break me with them, but… I knew they weren’t really there. After a while it was you.” He just gave a pained laugh as Eliza backed away a bit. “At first, I knew it wasn’t you, it was wrong. It wasn’t you, I knew it wasn’t you. The things they said… they weren’t things you would have said… I was able to hold. But then as it went on it got worse…”
“Cullen… you don’t…”
“The demons and blood mages made it look like you were among the captured mages. I had seen others dragged into the Harrowing chamber, and then emerge as abominations. Templars too, but they didn’t come out. You…” he laughed again, “foul-mouthed and defiant, but beaten and broken… like me. They were going to drag you into that Harrowing chamber …” He started to pace, running his hands through his hair. “Maker save me… your screams… All of the screams from the Harrowing chamber… The only thing I could do was pray. I had to convince myself that all of you were dead and they were toying with me. That they were trying to break my resolve with… I had to convince myself that it wasn’t you because if it was… then I wouldn’t have been able to live with myself...” He stumbled again again, hand fumbling to catch himself on the corner of that cot as he finally sat back down. He was running his hands through his hair, still trembling.
“Cullen…” Eliza would take a step towards him and he recoiled.
“And when we couldn’t find you, I thought it wasn’t a dream, that those demons and abominations had dragged you in there and I saw it and did nothing. That you were one of the mages the Warden killed in that Harrowing Chamber. I hated them for it. I hated the blood mages who started it all… I was so angry, and I couldn’t stay there… I couldn’t go into that chamber that you died in…I went to Kirkwall to escape it all.” he sighed. “I told myself it was a stupid boyish infatuation, and that the only way to protect others from your fate was to control the worst Blood Mages in Thedas… Then one day the Templars from Starkhaven were talking about a spit-fire apostate with a Ferelden accent wandering near a damn lake. They said your name and…”
“Cullen…” Rylen, he had said that he knew Cullen. That his men had gone from Starkhaven to help rebuild Kirkwall. He found out six years later? No wonder he acted like I was a ghost when he saw me at Haven. That stone in her stomach was heavier, and that urge to run was greater. His torture… I was part of it…She felt like she was going to throw up, I shouldn’t be here… I’ll make it worse. Her mind was racing. “I’m sorry. I… I didn’t know… I… I shouldn’t be here…” She turned from him, moving to leave that tent, but a hand caught hers and she sighed, her head turned down a bit.
“Stay…” It was weak, strained, as if he could barely form the words in his mouth. “…please.”
Eliza flinched, “You just said you have nightmares about demons that look like me,” Eliza turned to look over her shoulder. She was barely keeping herself together and didn’t want him to see. “I’ll…I’ll make it worse.”
“If,” he said softly. “But… if you’re here then… I’ll know it’s just a dream.” Eliza felt him pulling her hand gently and she took a few steps backwards, feeling him against her back, his hand leaving hers and those arms wrapping around her waist in a hug. She sighed, leaning back into him. “I just…if you’re here then this is real,” he murmured against her neck, that stubble tickling her flesh.
“…Alright, Cullen.” Maker preserve me…
Chapter 22: I'll Rest When I'm Dead
Happy Holidays all!
Eliza took a deep breath as she adjusted her grip. It was different this time, a few scouts and mages with her, waiting for their orders. Their job was to save as many injured soldiers as possible. Sometimes saving them meant applying a bandage, other times it meant killing a demon… she did whatever the situation called for. Eliza didn’t shy from the fight, but that wasn’t her job. Adamant had been chaotic compared to this. This time she had time to prepare, although it had been a little shorter than she expected. A loose frenchbraid gathered most of her hair into one long braid down her back, but each side of her head had two smaller braids that gathered up any tendrils that could cause a problem in battle. Those smaller frenchbraids met, and then were woven into the main one. There was an actual rumor being whispered that she was part Avvar, and since everyone was too afraid to ask her, Eliza simply encouraged it by taking pigment and smearing it over her face in an Avvar design. To be honest, she never felt like the Free Marcher she was. She felt more like a Ferelden than anything, and even the most steadfast Ferelden would start at the sight of an attacking Avvar. Either way, encouraging this rumor could possibly take attention away from another rumor… that was circulating.
A horn signaled their advance. The healers spread out, rogues and mages finding pockets of fighters to follow into battle. Numerous scouts were already in the thick of it, and there was a priority to find those scouts and either shelter them back to the safety of the line or aid them in whatever fighting they found themselves in. As the minutes dragged on, Eliza didn’t even notice who she was with as they moved through that jungle. It was thick, heavy, undisturbed and wild. It made moving difficult, but did provide cover from Corephyus’ forces. They had cut paths as well, making it easy to catch up to them, but difficult to surprise. She kept a low profile as the sounds of battle drifted nearer and nearer. Fighting was spread wide, providing no focal point, no battle line to fall behind. Every inch of ground would have to be cleared. The only point of reference was the Temple, but it seemed to loom far in the distance, swallowed by the thick and ancient forest.
A numbness fell over her as they entered battle. That numbness that pulls the warmth from your skin, from your soul, and shields it so when you act you feel nothing. Eliza closed her eyes, extending her hand as fire erupted from the ground under a pair of Grey Warden’s feet. The despair demon behind him wailing sharply as that Warden collapsed, writhing in pain. His screams made her shutter, but Eliza let the sensation come and go. An energy barrage erupting from the end of her staff, pelting the demon as the Templars moved in to finish it off. It was only after they fell upon the shrieking demon that she turned to the scout behind her. The dwarf was cursing, trembling under Eliza’s hand as a deep burn coated his arm. He roared in pain as Eliza placed a poultice on that arm, making him thrash and curse.
“Two seconds and I’m done,” she assured, her hand trembling as a soft green glow covered that bandage and the dwarf sighed. “You’re done. You need to go back to the rear camps and get this mended.”
“My ancestor’s ass I have to go back. I can still fight.”
“The pain will make you slow, and that will cause you to die.” He seemed surprised at her bluntness, but Eliza was buried somewhere deep, deep within the woman that was tying the dressing, “You need to go. Now.”
“Aye…” his blonde beard was covered in mud and leaves and blood. He stumbled to his feet, gathering the sword he dropped and moving slowly towards the rear line. Eliza turned, pushing her cloak behind her as she rushed to catch up to that group she was moving with.
It felt like hours, the screams and fighting echoing out of that forest, but the Temple still seemed so far off. She took in a shaky breath, wiping the sweat from her brow, mud coating her forehead. She had lost count of the number of soldiers she had saved, and even earlier she lost count of the numbers she lost. The only thing left to do for them was make sure that their identification was someplace easy to find… for when their respective army came to collect them. She was shaking, resisting the urge to use her staff as a walking stick. The few minutes between fights allowed for her to regain some of her energy, but it was a strain. Why did I give up lyrium …
Screams in the distance drew them and Eliza watched as her group ran off. She had to stop though, checking the bodies that were left behind. It had been a pitched battle; Wardens, Templars, Chaveliers, piles of ashes littering the pathway. She did her best for their men, finding a few that were good enough to move, and she pulled a few to safer places, giving them supplies to stabilize and promising to be back for them. They would tug at her cloak, begging for her to stay, but all Eliza could focus on was the screams ahead. It made the already pale soldiers even paler, and she could only whisper a chant and apologize before leaving them.
By the time she reached her group, she immediately yelled, her hands going up to throw a barrier around the soldiers that were grouped together. They grunted as the ground around them erupted, throwing them back into red crystals that sprouted from the ground. Over them, a Behemoth screeched in anger. The massive beast used its arm as a club, the red lyrium pulsing as it tore through an Orlesian soldier, sending him flying into a tree. A sick crunch echoed as his body crumpled. Eliza struggled, ice flying from her hand and slowing the Behemoth down a little as the soldiers sliced at it. The beast screamed, breaking through the ice and bringing that arm down again. The sickle sliced through the soldiers, throwing them back and breaking through what remained of the barrier that she threw on them. As it advanced, Eliza groaned, fire erupting from underneath it, causing it to catch fire and panic for a short minute.
“We can’t,” she screamed at the Orlesians she had been running with. There was a shout near her, and from one of the other pathways she saw a group of Inquisition Templars running towards the monstrosity. Never in her life did Eliza think she would be happy to see Templars. The Orleasians would gain their footing and join in, Eliza providing barriers and slowing down the monster until it finally let out a scream and collapsed. A cheer erupted from them, but that celebration was broken by an ear piercing, terrified shriek.
Eliza was on her back, scrambling backwards as that monstrous Terror Demon erupted from the earth. It was on all fours, screeching as it emerged from the ground, it’s tail whipping behind it, cat-like in it’s excitement. She was stunned, slowed down as it approached her, gaping mouth on its neck letting out another aggressive roar as it raked it’s claws over her arm. A scream erupted from Eliza’s throat as she slammed the ground with her staff, a wave of lighting stunning the demon as she struggled to her feet, holding her bleeding arm. The creature trembled under the force, multiple eyes redirecting back at her as it reared back on its two legs, aiming another strike. Eliza blinked, preparing for a strike, but it never fell. The creature instead screamed, and when Eliza opened her eyes there was a templar behind the demon, his sword dripping green and that terror demon clawing at its side. The nimble creature turned, claws raised as it struck the templar to the ground. Eliza roared, that magical blade materializing from her sword hilt, and swiping across the creature’s back. It screamed, collapsing to the ground. By then the other Templars and Orlesians had made it to them and cut the creature down.
She didn’t stop, sidestepping the creature as it evaporated, moving to that Templar it struck down. His brothers were around him, and frantically she pushed her way to his side, pulling that bag from her side and immediately digging through. He was gasping, groaning in pain, his voice high and hoarse as he clutched at his neck and shoulder. Blood was running through his fingers and down the corners of his mouth; Eliza was frantic as she tried to hush him, her hand glowing bright as she placed that poultice on his neck. The wound was turning black and she hadn’t realized she was crying until she saw tears dropping on to the struggling boy’s hands. His brown hair was longer, sticking to his sweat covered head as it creeped under the edges of his helmet. He looked barely old enough to be a man.
“It’s going to be okay… it’ll be okay…” Eliza panted as she pressed the dressing into his neck. Her hands were trembling and despite all effort, she couldn’t get them to hold still, “Hold on, you’re going to be fine. I’m going to get you out of here.”
“Serah…” he choked, and Eliza finally turned to look in his eyes. Brown eyes shone at her, dark and soft as a doe. Eliza’s breath caught, and her hands trembled harder. “Serah…”
“You’re going to be okay…” sweat rolled off her face as she heard yells behind her. Eliza couldn’t look away, that boy reaching to her hand, gauntlet encasing the hand on his neck.
“Serah… I’m… sorry…”
“Shut up.” She snapped at him. “Stay. Stay with us. Maker, stay with me.” Screams erupted behind her, growing louder and louder before she felt someone grab her under her arms. Eliza shrieked, “No!” thrashing as she was ripped to her feet. That boy’s eyes went wide, surprised. Where he had been, the ground pulsed blue, and then icicles erupted from the ground. His armor couldn’t protect him from such a spell, and it shredded him. She watched his broken body fall back to the ground, blood pooling from the gapes in the armor, from broken exposed bone and guts. He was gone and broken, messy dark brown hair exposed through a shattered helm. Eliza screamed, feeling someone drop her on the ground and run from her. Turning, she saw a group of Venatori approaching, the Templars rushing to go and confront them. Eliza’s nails dug into the earth and she let out a primal scream of rage.
A wall of flames erupted behind the Venatori, cutting off their escape route as the Templars pushed them back. A few of them faltered against the heat of the wall, and turned to look back at the mage who was slowly approaching. The Venatori scrambled away from the flames, and into the arms of the Templars. Eliza raised a hand again, letting a pulse of green float over all the Templars as barriers formed. Panic danced across the faces of the Venetori as they tried to flee. The Templars cut most of them down, but one spellbinder slipped around the edge of the wall and started off into the forest. Eliza brought her staff to her side, but then shifted, closing the distance incredibly quickly. There was a small cry from the Spellbinder, but it was silenced as a magical sword pierced his gut. The Venatori let out a wet cough before Eliza shoved him off the blade. It dissolved into just a sword hilt. Eliza turned, walking back to that group of Templars. They hesitated, raising their shields a bit as she approached them. Sweat and tears had caused the markings on her face to streak, and her hair had been pulled out of the tight braids, falling over her face. "Let's move." Her voice was hoarse, and she almost didn't recognize it. The Templars simply nodded, giving her a little bit of room, and with a few unsure steps, they all moved towards the temple.
The shouts of battle were dying down, and the army was starting to amass around the entrance. Separated for much of the battle, Eliza started to see members of her own group. A simple nod was all it took for them to start setting up the forward camp’s infirmary, allowing for any wounded to get some basic care so they could make it back to the rear camp. She tossed her bag to one of the rogues in her group, raising her hands up and causing rocks and fallen branches to move, clearing a small area, and those rocks and branches became cots and benches for the wounded. When she lowered her hands, her staff jutted out, saving her from crashing into the ground. Blood was dripping steadily from her right arm, and she couldn’t remember if it was the Venatori’s, the Templar’s, or her own.
With unsure steps, she made it to one of the many creeks that criss-crossed the Arbor Wilds. Her knees collapsed at that edge, and she winced as she put her hands in the cold water. It turned muddy brown as she furiously tried to scrub the blood off her hands. Dumb kid… you… You shouldn’t have tried to save me… Not… not again. A shaking hand shot out, catching herself in the water, and Eliza heaved. She didn’t vomit, but as her stomach dropped and her throat tightened, she struggled to breath. The water was cold against her, a mild reprieve as soldiers started to pour in. The arches that ran along the creek were quickly populated by archers, and soldiers were standing near the two halla statues, prepared to enter, but stopped by Solas. Eliza couldn’t hear why they weren’t pursuing the Inquisitor, but she didn’t really care.
“Serah?” Eliza felt another wave of sickness creep up her throat, but she just coughed. “Serah are you well? Do we need a healer?”
“I’m… I’m the healer,” she struggled as the words caught in her throat. She leaned back onto her legs, now soaked from the waist down. Taking a cup of spring water in her hands, Eliza splashed her face. It was cool, but a mixture of white, ashen, paint and rusty red dripped into the water. Catching her reflection, Eliza sighed and washed the rest of the paint and blood off of her face. Behind her, there were men groaning; the wounded slowly being brought to the secured location. Eliza just sighed, shifting to stand. The soldier caught her elbow as she stumbled a little.
“Maybe you should rest.”
“No… get… get me cloth and clean water.” The soldier nodded, running off, and Eliza fumbled for a moment as she found her own water flask. I can rest when I’m dead.
“ Serah… ”
“ No… no no no. Stay with me… I’m sorry.”
“Eliza… Eliza… Thedas to Eliza.” Blinking her eyes as someone waved their hand in front of her, she just coughed and turned to see Sera putting another mug and a filled shot glass in front of her. “Oi, look like that fer too long and yer eyes won’t ever focus.”
“Heh, sorry,” Eliza gave a weak smile, and looked back across the table at the rest of the group. It was mostly the Chargers, and a few other scouts and mercenaries that worked with the Inquisition. The Herald’s Retreat was alive with people cheering and celebrating the victory at the Arbor Wilds.
Most of the force was still on their way back to Skyhold, but Eliza had been sent back with some of the injured troops, making sure they were up and out of the infirmary by the time the worst of the injured returned to Skyhold. She had to make sure that the Infirmary was stocked and ready for the Surgeon’s return. She was with the main body, tending the badly injured. Working the Infirmary now was an easy job now: a few soldiers with broken bones, but the rest only came in to get wounds redressed and a stitch fixed here or there. It was boring, but steady and it kept Eliza’s mind busy enough. These quiet moments were where the danger lie, when her mind started to wander into dark places she would rather forget. Her mind was back in the Wilds, staring into that Templar’s terror filled eyes right before the ice ripped him in two. In a moment, the brown eyes turned blue, but they had the same terror as that face was ripped apart. Eliza’s stomach did a somersault, but she just shook her head to get the images out. Her hand trembled for a moment, that mug lifting back to her lips.“Um… what is that?” Eliza asked, motioning to the shot glass.
“Something to help you get your mind off of the long stare,” Sera smirked, climbing over the bench to sit near Eliza. “Gonna need something stronger than the beer you're drinking to cure that.”
People were brushing past the table on their way to the bar, and Eliza could feel people brushing against her back as they sought out a refill on whatever they were drinking. The place was nearly packed to the seams, and the ale was flowing heavily although Dorian was criticizing it, for… some reason. The fog from the beer and memories was making it harder for her to focus on what was happening around her.
Her attention was pulled back to the present as a particularly hard shove hit her shoulder, and before she could say anything someone yanked on her shoulder, almost causing Eliza to fall out of her chair. Her mug tipped and spilt the nearly full glass all over her tunic. Eliza let out a disgusted noise and a few curse words as she wiped off what liquid she could. Looking up, she caught the eyes of Sera, Dorian and Krem. They were looking past her, and that’s when she noticed that the noise was dying down, just enough for her to hear someone speaking.
“You hear me?” The voice was angry, and then there were other angry voices. Turning on that chair, she saw a soldier standing behind her, cheeks flushed red, and his look could have killed her if it was a sword. Others were coming over, pushing him back for a moment, and Eliza just shook her head, pushing that fog away enough to process the words. “You got him killed, you fucking mage!” the soldier yelled as someone grabbed his shoulder and pushed him back.
“Oi! Leave ‘er be ya pissant,” Sera’s high voice could be heard as she flipped him off. “Go fuck off in a corner with your friends.”
“He would still be alive if it wasn’t for you!” Eliza shook her head, looking at the soldier whose face was red from screaming and liquor. The tavern had fallen silent, and the sound of a few chairs scraping against the floor made Eliza look around. Inquisition soldiers, Templar soldiers, Chargers, Orlesians, groups of people were on their feet, staring at each other as some hands drifted to their weapons.
“Hey now,” Bull’s thick voice echoed from the back of the tavern. “Everyone needs to sit down and cool off.” Krem stood from his seat, and Eliza could hear him give a low order to those Templars who were holding their brother back. They would nod, pulling that man out of the bar.
“He’s right you know.” Eliza strained to hear as the bar seemed to cool off a little. She turned and sighed, that fucking Knight Commander Wildman was sitting just a few tables over. His thick accent carried even in that bar, and he was seated with a few other templars. “That Knight would still be alive if he didn’t go and save you. Saving a dumb fucking mage. Poor sod.”
“I didn’t ask him to,” Eliza shot back, and she felt a hand on her shoulder.
“From what I heard, he died a hero.” Dorian’s voice was like silk compared to the Ostwick’s gravelly cadence. Dorian’s grip on Eliza’s shoulder tightened for a moment before he took a seat next to her. “He did his duty admirably.”
“Saving one mage to die by a Venetori,” Martin downed whatever copper liquid was in that highballer glass. “It would have been helpful if, with all that power you have, you could have perceived the demon under your feet.” The alcohol was not aiding in Eliza’s self-control as she balled up her hands into a fist. A hand reached out to encase her’s, and Eliza traced its origin back to Dorian, who hadn’t looked up from his glass.
“In the heat of battle, a lot of things can happen,” Dorian smirked, giving Eliza a stern look that clearly said Don’t. “From what I heard, there was a Behemoth bearing down on some Orlesian’s and without a few barriers, they would have been lost.”
“Well Pavus, I was there.” Martin growled, his men around him nodding as they worked on their own drinks. Eliza had turned to stare intently at her glass, picking at the wooden handle with her fingernails, anything to keep from leaping behind her to punch that templar. “Me and my boys went in and saved those Orlesians while that mage just sat in the back and did nothing. And my boy gave his life
keeping that one alive. The one that made him sit in the hold for a week. A shame he had to die protecting some dumb witch .”
“Fuck off Wildman,” Eliza snapped. In an instant she was on her feet, turning to face those Templars.
“Eliza…” Dorian’s voice tried to ease her, but Eliza’s hand, unwavering as steel, clutched that shot glass and downed it. The Knight Commander rose to his feet, holding his hand out as other Templars had started to draw weapons.
“Yeah, I’m a fucking witch ,” Eliza spat, glaring at him as she took a step towards him, “The Maker gifted me with magic. So stop calling me a witch like it’s an insult, it’s just an adjective you Chantry prick. I didn’t need it to beat Templars in the Free Marches, and I don’t need it to kick your ass. You wanna fight me? Then do it!”
“ Eliza ,” she turned to see Dorian glaring at her. “You are putting me in an awkwardly responsible role. I think it’s time for us to…”
“Alright then,” The look of utter defeat crossed Dorian’s face, and once again turning around, Eliza saw Martin standing, his men standing as well as they looked down on Eliza. “You may have been able to evade those weaklings out of Starkhaven, or Kirkwall, but no mage can stand toe to toe with an Ostwick Templar.” His assertion was met with loud cheers from that table. “No magic, no swords. Just practice knives. We’ll see who’s a better fighter.” He took a step towards her, the two in each other’s faces now.
“You’re on,” Eliza said before Dorian could even get a word in. There was a heavy sigh, and Eliza turned to see Dorian pinching the brow of his nose like he had a headache.
“ Damnit… ” The tavern started to empty. Templars were leading Wildman away as the rogues and Chargers gathered around Eliza, talking quickly as they started to usher her out towards that fighting ring.
“A good on fight, yea?” Sera bounding over, leaning on Eliza. “None of that spooky nonsense?”
“Yeah. No spooky shit,” Eliza said, feeling herself getting pushed out the door.
“Andraste’s tits…” Dorian cursed behind them.
Sorry for the late post. Busy Day
The sparring circle was a common place for disputes to be settled. Outside of some officer being called, lower level Inquisition personnel solved many disputes, spats, or other issues in the fighting circle. The rules were simple: no head shots, when someone gave up the match would stop, and whatever grief caused the fight ended when the fighters left. By this time, the dirt in that circle was well compacted and gouged from countless sparing sessions. The two parties made there way from the tavern to the sparring circle, separate and condensed as sides started to gather around the fighters.
“I know you’ve been in fights before, but just remember. He’s bigger and if he gets a good shot at you, you’re done for. You know all the soft spots though; keep moving and hit him there and you’ll be able to trade well enough.”
“What? I want her to win!” the Charger laughed as he took Eliza’s vest. She was starting to shed clothing, freeing up her movement. The cold air caused goose pimples to ripple over her arms. Bandages were draped across her arms, and under her tunic.
“You don’t have to do this Eliza…”
“Why are you being so responsible?”
“I don’t know. Maybe it’s because the responsible one of us is about to climb into a fighting pen with a crazy Templar?”
“I have to do this Dorian.”
“And why in the name of Thedas do you have to?”
“I just want him to shut up.” Eliza groaned. She moved into that ringed area, moving backwards in the pen as Wildman took his position across from the pen. Templars were all pressed against the fence line; gathering up Martin’s gear and offering advice. Martin was a broad chested man, scars on his arms and sides from battle were a testament to his rank within the Templar Order. He cracked his knuckles before taking that practice knife in hand. Thick black hair covered his chest and face, hardened brown eyes glaring down at her as he squared up for the fight.
Eliza took in a shaky, and freezing, breath. Maker help me win and make this arse hole shut up… Eliza’s sleeves were rolled up and she moved that training knife from one hand to the other, assessing it. The grips were well worn… obviously these had many hours of use. It was weird, not having her staff, but then again, she always had knives on her for just this instance. The crowd from the Herald was finally done pouring out into the training yard, everyone vying for a spot along the fence to watch the two spar. She knew she was the underdog. Templars were some of the best fighters in Thedas, and she had no magic to help her.
"Alright! Here are the rules!" Krem, announced in the middle of the ring. "Contact is permitted but only way to win is to get a surrender or knock out. No cheap shots. Keep it clean. Fighting stops when someone gives up or is unable to continue. No magic or magic suppressing skills from either, that will be an immediate loss." Dorian was back a way, but near the opening to that ring, looking worried as Iron Bull patted him on the back and probably said a word of comfort or two. The Chargers were nearby, a buffer between the Templars and Eliza… and for some reason she felt a little safer with them on her side.
"Kick ‘im in his little sword," Sera yelled with a laugh.
"Go!" Krem yelled, backing up and out of the ring as the two fighters squared off, circling each other.
Eliza would turn her stance sideways, raising her hands up in front of her face as if to box. That dull wooden knife was in her right hand, and she would shift from foot to foot, nervous, but ever vigilant.
"Regretting your decision, mage?" Martin laughed as he lunged, hitting nothing but air with his fist as she moved to the side. "I've had years of training to fight the likes of you."
"And I've had years of actually fighting people like you," she taunted. The alcohol was clouding her mind. Martin lunged again and she side stepped around him, her foot coming up to contact with his side. The kick was hard and quick into his ribs. He grunted, grabbing her by the calf and tossing her across the ring. On impact, Eliza rolled to a crouched position, a few cuts opening on her arms as they hit the compacted ground. Her arm was still bandaged from the Terror’s attack, and that healing wound broke open. That pain made her wince, but she knew in such a state she was vulnerable. Looking up, she watched as Martin rushed her, shoulders low and reading to drive her farther into the earth. Eliza moved, waiting to the last moment to move, ducking under his arm as he tried to grapple her to the ground. She used his weight instead, plowing her shoulder into his side, driving him off balance and into the ground. Her knee had found the back of his own, forcing the joint to bend as his body hit the ground, and she tried to lock up his legs, so he couldn’t get a hold of her. He hit with a grunt, the wind knocked out of him, and she moved over onto his back, driving her knee into his spine and trying to bring that practice knife down to deliver a ‘fatal’ blow. Before she could land it, Martin rolled, one hand pressed into the ground as he slammed onto his back, pinning her under him. His face was bruised and starting to bleed. Grappling him was her best chance to win, because if he got a solid grasp on her, Eliza knew there was going to be little she could do to stop him from knocking her out. Martin shifted and pressed his shoulder into her sternum, his free arm reaching back for her leg. Eliza squirmed to try and avoid the hold, her arm moving around his now exposed neck. The other hand rested against the back of his head and she pressed hard. Her grip had hooked under one of his arms, preventing him from grasping her leg, and now she could hear him wheeze and cough as his hands moved to try and grab her.
They struggled on the ground as the crowd roared and cheered over them. She felt Martin drive his elbow into her side. A wheeze left her lips, but she grunted, refusing to let go of that grip. Eliza could feel him shift under her grip, his arms coming in front of him as he pulled himself to his knees with Eliza on his back. She kicked her legs out, trying to get purchase on the ground so she could have some leverage, but she couldn’t angle herself against the ground to stop his next move. She felt his weight tilt forward, and Eliza tightened her grip, driving her knees into his waist to try and gain more purchase. It was all for nothing as he flipped her off his back. She crashed to the ground with a groan, dazed as she tilted her head back to see his shadowed face above her. That wooden knife came over her head and down towards her chest, and Eliza just reached up, bracing her arm against the path of his hand. It caught, and she felt him press down hard. Using her arm, she deflected his blow into the ground. As his shoulder turned to the left, she rolled right and kneed his side. He let out a howl of pain before his hand came back around and he backhanded her hard. The crowd hissed at the blow, and Eliza swore she could see stars as blood started to drip from her split lip. Martin’s hand came down again and she grabbed his wrist, causing the hand and knife to miss her. She angled it back over her shoulder as she leaned back onto her butt, Martin now leaning over her, and he was practically hissing through clenched teeth. He was tiring out quickly, sweat mixing with dirt and blood on his brow. She let out a groan, dropping her knife and moving her legs up, wrapping around his extended arm and his shoulder. Martin roared, as he fought to break that grip, one hand forcing one leg off his shoulder, his body moving in the gap to grab her throat. Eliza gasped, feeling the grip tighten as he pressed her hard into the ground. “You think your special? Untouchable? Just because you’re the Commander’s personal whore?” He hissed into her ear, his hand tightening around her throat. Eliza clawed at his hand, wheezing, feeling light headed as she tried to get purchase against that grip. “I know your kind. You’re just another dumb witch. Remember that when I put you in your place.” The crowd was roaring, but whatever they were saying was lost on her. Eliza let out a yell as she twisted Wildman’s wrist, hearing a pop as well as a roar from above her. Everything was going hazy as he picked her up using that grip on her throat, and he slammed her head back to the ground.
"You bitch!" He bellowed as he slammed her head into the ground again. Eliza’s grip on his wrist loosened, stars were starting to appear in front of her face. Another boom echoed through the courtyard. She barely felt the hands on her as they separated the fighters. Yelling was muffled, as she rolled onto her side, coughing and gasping hard as she turned onto her side. Her legs kicked out from her, and she wheezed, fighting a wave of nausea as she pulled herself to her knees. Blood had soaked through the bandage on her right arm, mixing with the dirt and sweat. She tried to stand, but there was a shot of pain and she fell back to one knee. “Fuck...”
"Stupid piece of shit," Sera yelled before someone else started yelling louder. The elf came to Eliza's side, "prick was gonna lose that..." Eliza pushed her hands away as she stumbled back a little.
“I’m fine,” she wheezed.
“Like the Samson’s tits you are.”
“Dorian…” she felt someone touching the back of her head and she hissed. “Fuck.” She recoiled, driving her head down into the dirt away from that hand. The ground was cold… a relief against the pounding that was starting to fill her skull.
“I’m so glad our Surgeon is half way across the world right now.” She could barely process Dorian’s voice. A wave of nausea rolled over her, and Eliza just closed her eyes, focusing on breathing. Slowly she rocked back, resting on her knees.
“You’re gonna need a stitch or two,” Sera said plainly, kneeling down next to her. “Eh? You think you can talk someone through a stitch?” Eliza groaned a little, her head was throbbing, and she hissed as she pushed her fingers through her hair. It felt muddy, tangled, and when she pulled her fingers away and looked at them, they were ruby red.
“Shit. Yeah… yeah I could talk someone through…” she groaned. Stars passed through her vision and she closed her eyes, swallowing back a gag. “Shit.”
"Uhh," Sera stammered. Eliza could see her scramble to her feet, but any movement made her head throb.
“What is going on here!?” The voice was booming. It made Eliza’s head throb even more. Shit…shit…shit…
“Just… uh… match?” Sera laughed nervously, her feet moved out of Eliza’s periphery. She could hear the sounds of people coming closer. Their steps were heavy, metal, and made her wince. Eliza moved to stand, but her leg trembled once more, and she dropped to one knee.
“Knight-Lieutenant Wildman, what is going on!?” the woman’s voice scratched painfully in Eliza’s ears. Taking a deep breath, Eliza finally made it to her feet. Once up, she stumbled, barely catching herself as a wave of light-headedness raced through her. Her hand shot out, clutching Dorian’s forearm for a second before she raised her head. Eliza caught Cassandra’s angry eyes before they turned to look back at the Templars.
“Seeker Pentaghast, like the rogue said, we were… sparing…” Martin trailed off, holding his side. He was bruised, but not as bloody as Eliza. There was a large cut on his face that was trickling blood, and the other Templars had fallen into line behind him. The rest of the crowd was quickly breaking up, some lingering to see what happened, others going into the Tavern to debate their winnings. Eliza moved her hand from Dorian’s arm, trying to stand on her own, but her legs were still unstable. She stumbled a little, and thought her legs were going to buckle again. Someone caught her though, an arm around her waist, practically propping her up at this point.
“I’m fine…” the words were thick on her tongue, and she shook her head. “Really. I’m just a little dizzy…” Those hands didn’t leave her side though, steadying her as those legs partially buckled again. “Fuck.”
“That is the result of a sparring match?” Cassandra’s voice was higher, not breaking eye contact with Martin as she pointed angrily at Eliza.
“Aye… we got… carried away…”
“We? You smashed her head into the ground…multiple times!” another voice behind her roared. “Andraste’s breath, you could have killed her.”
“And she dislocated my wrist! Like I said… we got carried away,” Martin spat, crossing his arms as Cassandra stormed over to him. She may have been half a head shorter than Martin, but her mere presence made the rest of the Templars take a few panicked steps back.
“Go to the barracks. Now.” She held herself tall, glaring right into Martin’s eyes; it was an order that seemed to dare the Knight-Commander to make a comment. None came, and Eliza watched blurrily as those dark figures moved out of her line of sight.
“Is near the Emerald Graves.” The voice behind her said. That arm on her waist didn’t move, but she did feel the figure shift behind her. A hand under her knees, and Eliza winced, as she was lifted. A wave of nausea hit her link a brick, and she groaned. “Dorian, I’m going to need your help.”
Sorry for the late response, work just started up and I have a very very sick pet at home. I will try to have my normal updates, but no guarantees
Chapter 25: Bent, Burned and Broken
Red light flooded her eyes when she finally blinked them opened. It wasn’t bright light, and it danced in the distant among yellows and oranges. It was like a…fire. Eliza tried to stand, but the chink of a chain filled her ears, and her arms strained against rough metal. Looking down, she was on stone, manacles around her arms and feet, keeping her bared to the ground.
“Wwwhhat…” panic started to fill her chest, and with another pull, not an inch was gained. She groaned as she struggled against those hard clasps. The fire in the distance grew, engulfing the horizon, and growing closer… and closer.
“Help!” She didn’t know if that was her voice… but a second cry came from a distance. As the fire grew closer, the screams grew louder, and mixed with sounds of battle and death. A full range of screams, cries, whimpers and curses flooded the air. The firelight seemed to dance closer and silhouettes appeared in contrast against the light. Figures seemed to surround a central point, but they were being cut down in waves; tumbling through the air like rags. Soldier after soldier fell with a choking, gurgling cry. Eliza started to struggle more, screaming and tugging against the bindings that held her fast. Chains ripped into flesh, making the metal slip against her wrists, but nothing gave.
“I’d like to live!” a panicking high pitched voice screamed, and one of those silhouettes drew a bow, firing towards the source of the fire. There was a blast of heat, and Eliza screamed as that silhouette fell, and she could swear a bow clattered to the ground near her. Tears started to stream down her face as her hands glowed in rage. Any magic she tried was repelled and scream after shout resulted in more and more death. Familiar voices screamed out for help, and even as Eliza screamed and called, they all fell silent. The fire grew closer and closer and as the screams grew louder and louder around her, all she could do was try and block it out. Her eyes screwed shut, her head tilted down as she panted.
“It’s not real. It’s not real. This is a nightmare. It’s not real. Maker please protect me, Andraste deliver me from this. Wake up! This isn’t real!” The mantra was repeated, again, and again, and again as the screams and cried became louder and closer. The clanging of weapons got louder, and she swore she could see crossbows, and staffs, swords and shields. She was bathing in fire, and it stole the air out of her lungs. Sweat covered her body, the source close enough now that she could see the figure of a person bathed in fire and stepping through blood. "In the long hours of the night, When hope has abandoned me, I will see the stars and know, Your Light remains.” The chant was drilled into her for years, and now as the figure stepped closer, and she was consumed in a cold and unwelcoming fire, Eliza stumbled through her Chant. “…Though all before me is shadow, Yet shall the Maker be my guide. I shall not be left to wander the drifting roads of the Beyond. For there is no darkness in the Maker's Light…” Something clattered to the stone in front of her, causing Eliza to wince. Her eyes struggled to open and scattered in front of her was a shield and helm. The shield was a diamond shape, with a radiant sword emblazed on the front. It was stained black from the flames, and blood was splattered over the top edges. The helm was in the shape of a lion, a gash through the eye had markings of blood and flesh on it. The entire thing turned her stomach… she knew the shield… she knew that helm.
“No!” She pulled on the chains harder, her eyes flaring open to look up at whatever had stopped in front of her. Still cloaked in darkness, even at such a proximity, the figure leaned forward. A lithe hand stretched out, proportions just slightly too elongated, but still... the fingers tipped Eliza’s head up, and she could feel other hands on her, claws tearing into fabric as those fingers gripped her chin and drew her face in closer. Green eyes met green. Eyes that were detached, lifeless, green eyes as pale as death, but as familiar as a reflection.
“Oh! You’ve met my friend,” the sing song voice made her feel ill, and she wrenched her chin out of the figure’s hand. She turned to try and see who it was, but the presence was behind her. It snapped its fingers and the burning courtyard was gone. Chains still enclosed Eliza’s ankles, but her hands were free. That helm was still in front of her, bloody, scorched… but empty. Reaching out for it, her fingers connected with nothing. The room shifted, and she was back in the tower from long ago… outside of the Harrowing room. Broken bodies littered the ground around her, and she immediately withdrew. Her retreat was stopped by the wall behind her, but her eyes were wide, and she started to pray again.
“You look like you needed the company,” that warm feeling had a voice now. Something moved in front of her, and Eliza flinched as a hand pushed what remained of her messy hair out of her face.
“It… It’s been what… nine? Ten years? Can’t you just… stop?” Eliza’s voice cracked as she tried to act as if she wasn’t afraid. The figure just laughed, the voice crackling again as if the user was still adjusting to the pitch and tempo of words. It came to kneel down across from her, soft but strong hands coming to clasp hers.
“Well at first, I was going to,” it said, “You were fun and all, but with the Mage Rebellion, I had a better chance of getting out of the Fade. You were so… numb back then.” Thumbs softly caressed the back of her hands, “Between the alcohol and sleeping draughts, it was difficult to get in here.” One hand pulled away, and Eliza flinched as she felt two fingers pressing into the side of her temple. “That’s Deathroot for you. It lets you sleep, but without these pesky trips to the Fade. How much Deathroot did you take? You could have killed yourself, you know.”
“I wish I did.”
“No, you don’t,” the voice crackled, patting the side of her head. “Maybe a year ago you did. You came close a few times, but you’re so… resilient,” Eliza could feel that breath on her face and she turned her face to look down towards the stone “That’s what I want in a host, and now you want to live. My darling, the possibilities are endless now.”
“Go back to the Void and take your monster,” Eliza snapped.
“Oh… didn’t you see her? Here I thought you were so smart,” the voice next to her soothed. “That was you dear… you murdered all those people. Cut them down like a blade on grass… Poor things didn’t stand a chance.” She flinched as that hand ran through her hair again, “Don’t play dumb.”
“Fuck off,” Eliza snapped, earning her a laugh.
“Oh no! No! This is too much fun,” the voice chuckled, stroking her hair again. “You know you have the magic to break out of this right? You put this entire nightmare together yourself, shackles and all. You can break it, you’ve done it before. You can try to fight me here, in the Fade. You could kill me and make your dreams peaceful like they were before. But,” he chuckled, cheek brushing against her own as he took in a deep breath, “I’ve come to think you like my little visits…”
“Being tormented in my dreams? You know me so well...”
“You embrace the pain, Eliza.” She stiffened under that touch as the hand moved to stroke her face. “You like it… or rather you think you deserve it. Although, I don’t think getting into fists-fights with Templars is as… satisfyingly painful as these dreams you torture yourself with.”
“So, angry,” the voice laughed. “You’re usually feisty, but to be so foul... tsk tsk tsk… very unbecoming. I could give you everything you’ve wanted… I could end that guilt, that fear. I could give you everyone that you want… You almost let that Templar kill you. If you would just let me help, we could have showed him what real magic looks like.”
“There,” the voice laughed, “There it is… that’s why I stayed.” Knuckles brushed against her cheekbone tenderly, and Eliza flinched away. “You finally want something bad enough. You’re getting over this depressing little bout you’ve been in for so long…”
“I thought Desire demons are supposed to manipulate the Fade to tempt mages. You must be weak to not be able to do that…”
“Don’t try to insult me, Eliza…” the voice chided. “You know I can do all of that and more. You give me a lot of material to work with, but we both know you’d see through it. You don’t trust happy dreams, so there’s no point in trying.” She could feel that presence moving, standing against the wall and starting to pace. “I think this is more fun anyway… I don’t want to dupe my host. It’s better if you choose anyway. We would be so powerful if you were a willing host.”
“Your last host was willing. It didn’t do you any good.”
“Yes well… he was just an apprentice, wasn’t he?” Eliza finally turned her gaze up to look up at him. The demon was a man this time, pacing back and forth in that open room. His hair was jet black, long and untrimmed, like Cole’s. Pale blue eyes would turn to look at her, and Eliza swallowed back her pain. He would have been handsome, if it wasn’t for the wound on his face. A gash adorned his face, crossing from his forehead over the left side of his face. It was fresh, and blood dripped from eye to collar. “That mage wasn’t any match for you, was he? He got all of that extra strength from the Fade, from his blood magic, and you still cut him down like he was nothing. What was his name?” He looked over himself, dressed in those green and maroon apprentice robes, that accent distinctly from the northern parts of the Free Marches. “Edan? Eder? Edin?”
“Ah yes… he was such a talented mage,” the demon laughed, moving over to crouch next to her. “He could have been a good mage… and would have made a good host if you had let him finish his job.” A smile crossed those pale lips, “But you just had to ruin our fun, didn’t you? Well… I guess it was ruining my fun and killing him…but still.”
“Shut up,” Eliza hissed through clenched teeth.
“Careful Eliza,” he chuckled, “The angrier you get, the sooner we’ll have another guest. You know I don’t like to share.” She would watch as he approached her, that grin on his face that she’d seen a thousand times. Each face was different, but that smile was the same. “Don’t feel sad… he carried me from the Tower, I just never had a chance to complete the possession until that attack. And after your breathtaking performance, I just knew you were the better host.”
“What? You think you’re going to survive this?” he looked over her face as Eliza stayed still, looking up at him. “You attacked a Knight-Lieutenant. Seekers and Templars don’t like it when little mages get out of hand.”
“He attacked me.”
“After you dared him to,” the demon’s eyes changed from pale grey to a deep red. “If you had used magic they would have made you Tranquil right then and there. I bet they are getting that lyrium brand ready right now.”
“That’s a lie.”
“Is it? You think the Altus will save you? Oh, little Mage,” he clicked his tongue. “You’re still so naïve. You are more alone than you think.”
“You think they’d let a dangerous mage run about? Do you remember what you are capable of? Sure, you’ve saved a few of them with those herbs and some magic, but remember, magic is supposed to serve man. And we both know you’re not the serving type. They are going to find out exactly what you did, what you are, and they are going to make you Tranquil for it. I could help you though…”
“They. Wouldn’t. Do. That.”
“Ah yes… a Seeker of Truth who goes after rouge mages, the Inquisitor who is fighting an ancient Magister and has helped the Seeker kill rogue mages, and you think a former Templar is going to help you? I doubt any of them will let yet another dangerous, tainted mage to pass freely.” he stroked her hair and Eliza flinched. “Don’t forget the First Enchanter. She would just love to have you as part of her Circle. If you’re not Tranquil, they’ll just give you to her. You think that would be fun? Being a mage under Vivienne in the White Spire? Imagine all the Templars just gathered around that gilded cage, making sure you don’t sneeze without someone watching…”
“Don’t touch me,” Eliza scrambled back on the floor, her legs kicking out from under her as she scooted back as best she could with the chains over her feet.
“Or what, Eliza?” he cooed, standing and walking slowly towards her as she retreated. “You’re going to fight me? Kill me? Just like you killed Edric?” Eliza groaned as she hit the wall, and the demon crouched down in front of her, smiling bright. “Come on Eliza… let’s make a deal…”
Chapter 26: Trust
It was cool, but not cold. Dim, but not dark. Still gripped in that nightmare, Eliza’s eyes shot open. She felt fingers, that had once been combing through her hair, stop. Her breath came in short gasps, and the throbbing pain from her head did nothing to calm her down. Eliza let out a startled yell, panic was still with her, her heart felt like it was beating like the war drums at Adamant and the Arbor Wilds. A hand touched her elbow, but she flinched back, scrambling away with a yelp. “Nonononono. Stop! Don’t touch me.” She yelled into the darkness. Her head was still spinning as she scrambled back. There was a short fall, but she scrambled backwards until a solid surface stopped her. Eliza whimpered, pressing back into that wall before she pulled her knees to her chest. She pressed her head into her knees, letting out a shaky breath as electricity crackled over her flesh and fingertips. She heard something move in the darkness, and she shook her head. “No. It’s not here. It’s not here. Though all before me is shadow, Yet shall the Maker be my guide. I shall not be left to wander the drifting roads of the Beyond. For there is no darkness in the Maker's Light…” She rocked herself back and forth, shivering a little. “It’s gone. You’re awake. Its’s gone. You’re awake,” the chant was enough most nights, but this dream had been so long… She screwed her eyes shut. “Stop. Maker please, make it stop…” she could still hear It’s voice in her head, that cooing, urging voice that was like silk against her flesh.
“Eliza… Eliza…” someone nearby was calling her name, but she couldn’t stop the pulsing in her ears. A hand came down to gently, touch her arm, and she flinched. The hand recoiled. “It’s alright… your safe.”
“Wh…where am I?”
“The gate tower in Skyhold,” whomever had touched her arm had moved to sit near Eliza, but not right next to her. She hissed as she ran her hands through her hair. “You suffered a bad head injury. Dorian was able to heal most of damage, but it was pretty bad.”
“Dorian…” she pulled her fingers away, sitting back a little as she looked at the small red dots on her finger tips. Her right arm was bandaged, and her hands went to touch that still healing wound. “I… ugh I agreed to spare that sadist.” She cursed, balling up her fists, “I shouldn’t have done that.”
“Good. I won’t have to tell you then.” Finally, Eliza raised her head up, whatever little blood she had left in her body probably drained from her face as she looked across that space. Her eyes met Cullen’s, just enough light coming in through the hole in his ceiling to show his face. Eliza scrambled to her feet, teetering a little and Cullen was immediately on his feet. “Don’t. Your head…”
“I… I shouldn’t be here…” She leaned against that wall, wincing as she held her head for a moment. Cullen approached her slowly, “I… I’m sorry. I should go back to the barracks.” She took a shaky step, trying to sidestep Cullen, but her footing was unsure, and she felt her knees buckle. He caught her around the waist, helping her stand.
“Come on,” he said, completely ignoring a few protests from Eliza. There was a large bed at the back of the room, pushed to the side just enough to avoid the gaping hole in the ceiling. One dresser was pushed against the wall, but besides that the only thing in the room was a tree branch hanging into that opening, and a pile of debris in the far front corner near the ladder. No armor, no coat, just a simple white tunic, pants and boots. All of Skyhold must have been asleep by now… but she was now awake and in that gatehouse tower. He sat her down on the corner of the bed and left her side to go pour something into one of the glasses on that dresser. Eliza was frozen, her head still throbbing, but she thanked him softly when he handed her the glass. It was a bitter drink, but she finished it, not realizing how thirsty she was.
“Someone handed that to me and said it would help when you woke up,” he shrugged, taking a seat next to her, looking down at his hands. “It was one of your people… so I figured they knew what they were talking about.”
“Thank you,” she said, picking at the cup for a moment. “How… how long…”
“You were out a few hours,” he finished. “You were… uh… breathing fine, so I didn’t want to wake you…”
“Thank you… for uh… watching over me,” Cullen’s eyes didn’t leave hers, and Eliza just sighed, finishing that drink before putting it down on the ground next to her. “I was having a bad dream. I’m fine.”
“I can see that.” The pause was just long enough to be uncomfortable. He didn’t seem convinced, but he just ran his hand through his hair. She could feel his eyes on her, but she was just staring at her hands. They were clean… someone must have wiped the dirt and dry blood off after she passed out. “Edric… that name sounds familiar.”
“You cried that name in your sleep.”
Maker, no… don’t ask me about it. “He… he was a mage at Kinloch. Someone I knew.”
“I don’t remember anyone by that name.”
“He was new… Arrived maybe a month or so before the Blight. From the Free Marches.” Eliza sighed, rubbing her neck and still refusing to look over at that pair of golden eyes that watched her closely.
“Oh.” It was short, and Eliza was about to thank the Maker for ending that. “What happened to him?”
“I… I don’t know…” she lied, her hands going to her upper arms.
“Eliza.” She groaned as he pushed, pressing her head into her arms. “I… Dorian found this when he was taking care of you.” Her hand went to her neck, a wave of panic rushing over her as she pulled her tunic forward, as if the small token was still hanging heavy against her sternum. Looking up, she saw Cullen extending his hand, a small hexagon phial in his hand. Tentively, Eliza reached out, taking that end from him. The cork had been cut flush with the glass, but the glass was engraved with initials. E. O’B. “It’s not yours.” Eliza shook her head, looking at that black liquid that moved back and forth in the glass. The blood inside didn’t glow, no magic, no life, just liquid trapped in glass.
“He was one of the mages that ran away with me,” she sighed, just watching the liquid within the glass. “Edric was… he came to the Circle right before the Blight. I didn’t know him that well, but he was from the Free Marches like me. I tried to take him under my wing, show him where everything was.” A small smile pulled at her lips, “It was good… not being the only Free Marcher… not feeling alone. He had all these stories about Kirkwall, and Starkhaven… about life outside the Circle.” She clutched the phial tightly, “He overheard Irving and Greagoir talking about how he was a risk. He was giving everyone these ideas about leaving, about life outside of the Circle. He came into his magic late in life, so he had all of these experiences a lot of us didn’t. Irving was pushing to let him stay for a bit longer, let him adjust and to council him about how life in the Circle was, but the Knight-Commander said that a decision would have to be made soon about if he was going to endanger us. Then the Blight and Uldred and that mess happened…”
She finally looked up from the phial, catching Cullen’s eyes. He had settled into a chair near that desk; arms resting on his knees, hands clasped together as he watched her. Her throat tightened a bit, and she looked back down at the phylactery in her hand. Shut up. Shut up. What are you doing?! Why would you tell him?! Eliza let out a shaky breath, “When they brought us out of the tower, the Templars kept all of the mages in a few side rooms, just below the second level. We… we heard some of them talking about the Annulment. Wynne was arguing a lot with Greagoir about it, but a lot of us started to panic. A few people said we should try to run… that everyone was distracted, and this could be our chance. Edric begged me to come with them. He knew what life was like outside of the Circle, that we could get back to the Free Marches and be free of the Circle. I… I believed him. Some others were with him, and that’s when I decided to go. We… we broke into the vault to get our phylacteries… but we had all gone through our Harrowing and since he had just arrived, we figured they were being taken to Denerim.” She shuttered, “They said that we had to go find the soldiers taking them. That if we didn’t then we’d never really be safe. They could find us with these…”
“Eliza… you don’t have to…”
“We found them in the Hinterlands…” a few tears were running down her cheeks as the memories poured from her. “I… I had taken some Deathroot from the stores in the Circle. I told them if we could just keep the Templars asleep, we wouldn’t have to worry about fighting them. No one had to die. They… the others broke the locks to the cart, but it took a while to find our phylacteries. One of the Knights was on patrol and came back earlier than we thought. He woke the others. I put up a wall,” she held her free hand out, weakly, as if she was reliving the memory. Don’t Eliza… Her mind was screaming at her, but she just wiped the tears away. “to try and let the mages escape, but they just stopped and were prepared to fight. I knew the Templars and they knew me. They… just stared at me, and the others…” She trembled, her voice wavering. “They started to fight them. I told them to stop, but they were already fighting. The mages I went with… they were blood mages, like Uldred. They had brought demons with them. The Templars cut down Deion, then Shaeril, and it was just me and Edric. I… I had put my staff down, but they came after me. Edric… Edric summoned a Pride Demon… it killed one of the Knights, and Edric hurt the other badly. He was going to kill him and I…” Eliza just sighed. “I killed him. When I got to the Templars… I tried to save them. I swear I tried…” She pressed her head into her hands. There you go. You just admitted you’re a murderer, or at least an accomplice. Now what? Are you happy now? Are just another corrupted mage. Her chest tightened as she stopped a sob from breaking her lips. You are just like them.
“So… the phylactery?” Cullen’s voice broke a long pause.
“It’s Edric’s phylactery,” she sighed, silently wiping the tears from her face as she untangled her hands from her arms and looked at it. “It’s just a reminder. I shouldn’t have trusted them. They had studied under Uldred and learned blood magic from him. They all knew blood magic, but they knew I was strong too, so they convinced me to go.” She sighed, “It reminds me how I dumb I was; I trusted the wrong people. They used me. They were going to use me. I won’t be naïve like that again.” Eliza’s throat felt dry, and her stomach felt like a boulder was sitting in it, rooting her in place. The room was absolutely still, and the silence was deafening. Her mind wasn’t kind to her as she ran her fingers over that phylactery. Run. You need to get out of here before they make you a Tranquil.
She wiped the tears away from her eyes, taking in a shaky breath as she tucked the phylactery into her waistband. Eliza stood, taking one shaky step towards the ladder. She felt a hand on her shoulder and felt a gentle tug to turn. Cullen pulled her into his chest, and Eliza just shook her head as his other hand went to her upper back. That strong hand gently rubbed her back, and Eliza felt her chest heave. He was still quiet, and Eliza just closed her eyes as she pressed her head into his shoulder.
“I’m… sorry.” The words were strained on her breath. “I didn’t mean to…” She could feel that pain edging back into her chest, tightening her chest and making it hard to breath. That grief threatening to spill out into the open like an old wound. She struggled to breath as that embrace tightened.
“You were used.” he said softly, “You trusted the wrong people… I… I know what’s that like.”
“I killed people, Cullen. I helped blood mages escape the Circle and then helped them murder people. I’m no better than they are.” The admission was breathless, harsh, angry, painfilled, and Eliza wished nothing more than to curl up into herself and ignore that it happened. That was… until dreams reminded her.
“If you’re evil for trusting the wrong people… then I am as well.” Cullen said quietly. “We both have blood on our hands because of those people… but… after what I’ve seen you do here… you are not evil.” Eliza struggled for a moment to breath, and Cullen leaned back, tilting her chin up a little to face him. She was caught in his gaze, softened by a few candles and the moon’s like. He pressed his head to hers for a moment before leaning up to kiss her forehead. “Let’s just… sleep. You’ll feel better in the morning. I promise.” Eliza would shift as he let her waist go, standing there awkwardly as he stepped back. “You can stay here… I promise nothing will happen.”
“Why? Why are you being so kind?”
“Did you expect me to start shouting?”
“…” There was a heavy sigh. And Eliza turned to see him settle back into that chair.
“You know what I’ve done… in Kirkwall. How many people I hurt, how many times I stood aside as Meredith ruined lives of Templars and Mages alike. She was corrupt before the red lyrium, and I let it happen. You forgave me for that… how… how could I judge you for this?” Eliza turned to see him rubbing his neck, looking up at her with a small sigh before dropping his head again. “You don’t have to stay…”
The bed was huge compared to her own. It wasn’t any more comfortable though, practically just a mattress thrown on the ground. Eliza lowered herself to sit on the edge, a small pile of rubble had been swept hap-hazard into the corner. With a shaky breath, Eliza laid down, pulling that heavy quilt over her before looking up. The ceiling had a large jagged opening in it, and she could see stars through the branches of a tree that grew through the hole. Eliza released the breath she didn’t even realize she was holding. A small creak echoed in the silence, and Eliza turned to look at Cullen. He had looked up at some point, now was just watching her quietly. She felt a blush creep to her lips, and she shifted again. “Cullen?” He seemed to snap out of it, that smile on his lips growing a bit before he settled in the bed next to her.
The first time she had awoken like this, she had to be absolutely quiet when she moved. He had placed a blanket between them, spooning her on that cot in the Arbor Wilds, arm draped over her waist and under her head. Eliza had to unwrap herself from that blanket, and then gently move him so she could slip from the tent before the sun crept over the Arbor Wild’s camp. This morning, there wasn’t that need for secrecy… at least not immediately. The sounds of birds were… closer here than at the Arbor Wilds, but it was the sunlight creeping up Eliza’s hand that woke her. The warmth made her turn in her sleep, turning away from the light and into that body behind her. She felt her hands hit something hard, with curves and edges that were as warm as the sun. Something brushed the hair off her face, behind her ear, and that is when her eyes fluttered open.
There was fabric under her fingertips, cotton or something like that. It was that tunic that she saw first, the crinkled fabric that had been slept in and no longer fit right. Her fingertips brushed against it, as if she was half convinced the tunic was just part of the sheets that had bunched up in the night. There was a sheet, folded and tangled between them, but at some point, it had been kicked down in the night. The body under that tunic moved slightly, and she could feel the arm under her head moving slightly, the legs against hers flexing and shifting. A wave of nervousness rushed through her, and as fingers slowly pushed the hair out of her face again, Eliza raised her gaze.
So that’s why Varric called him Curly. She knew he had curls, in his younger days they weren’t hidden at all. Ten years later, and that longer, now unkept hair, curled around the edges. Golden brown eyes were softer now, not the same gaze she saw when he was around Skyhold, around the soldiers, or even around the Inquisitor and the Inner Circle. They were softer now and matched the smile that he had on his face.
“Morning,” he said softly. Last night the lines on his face has been harsh in the moon light and the shadows, but in the early morning sun he was just a bit softer. Eliza blinked a few times, turning her head down for a moment to yawn in that small space between them. He just chuckled. “How are you feeling?”
“Um… better,” her hand went to the back of her head, the wound was tender, but no longer bleeding.
“Good,” that smile lingered on his face, and Eliza could feel her own face starting to flush. His hand came to stroke against her cheek. “This is… um…very different from how I woke up in the Arbor Wilds.”
“I… I left as soon as I woke up.” Eliza admitted with a bit of a blush. “Imagine what the gossip would be if an apostate slipped out of the Commander’s tent on the morning of battle? No one would have been able to focus.” She sighed, relaxing her arm and rolling onto her back as she looked at the ceiling, and that tree branch that jutted in from the hole in the roof. “I’m sure the fortress will be buzzing after today anyway…” And Wildman is going to have more shit to spit at me…
She heard him make a disgusted noise, gently retrieving his arm from under her pillow and using his hand to rub the bridge of his nose, “Ugh… you wouldn’t believe how fast gossip spreads through the barracks.”
“Cullen,” Eliza propped herself up on her arm, looking at him with a small smirk.
“I live in the barracks… or at least right next to them. I know exactly how fast gossip spreads.” He let out another disgusted noise and Eliza felt that wave of nervousness creep over her again, “Does it bother you?”
“That they… they talk about… um… this,” Eliza found herself unable to even describe what this was. Is this how he feels when he can’t find the words? Just thinking about it made her already pained head, hurt a little more.
“I’d rather my… our… private affairs stay that way,” his hand moved, stroking her cheek once more. “But if there was nothing here for them to talk about… I’d regret that more.” Eliza found herself leaning into that touch a little, even as her mind was screaming a reminder that she was a mage, he was a Templar, and all the thousand other excuses she had made up over the years to keep people from getting close. Damnit, this is turning into one of Varric’s stupid books… “Can I kiss you?”
Eliza froze. The last time had been rushed, as if he wanted to do so before her feelings changed, before they were interrupted, before she found out about the nightmares. His habit of restraint had momentarily broken in a flood of emotion that night on the battlements. Now he was asking with that soft look, his hand still cupping her cheek, eyes searching hers. Eliza could feel the blush rushing up her face, and his hand would slowly lower from her cheek. He sat up, one hand rubbing the back of his neck as he sighed, looking away from her. Those curls dancing over his eyebrows and ears, that scar pulled as his expression turned down slightly.
“I… I shouldn’t have asked. I just took the last one and I didn’t want… You’re probably still recovering from yesterday… I... I’m sorry…I’ll,” he stopped, a soft gasp leaving his mouth. Eliza had moved from her reclined position under the sheets, turning him onto his back as her legs straddled his own. Cullen reached up, one hand pushing her unkept and unbound hair out of her face as a small laugh left her smiling lips. You’ll regret this in the end... this will never work out…
Eliza leaned forward, resting her hands on either side of his head. Her green eyes bright with her smile as they caught his confused gaze. They were both fully clothed, the soft sun making that room hotter now that she had closed the distance between them. She could feel his hands move over her knees, and then stop. The ultimate restraint as those hands were balled into fists, pressed gently against her calves. Eliza leaned in, her mouth gently pressing against his temple, a chaste kiss for the moment, before she leaned back, catching his gaze again.
That word seemed to snap all restraint. Cullen shifted under her so that he was sitting in front of her. His hands moved, one coming to rest on the back of Eliza’s head, pulling her into a deep kiss as the other rested on her lower back, pulling her body closer to him. Eliza’s hands went to run through his hair, as she leaned into him. She nipped at his lower lip when he pulled away and Cullen practically groaned, pressing his forehead against hers as that hand on the back of her neck moved, fingers dragging over her spine, the fabric of her tunic hitching higher. The hand on the small of her back moved to her hips, gripping her tightly, his thumb pressing into that soft junction between her hip and her groin and Eliza sighed. Their eyes met, and Eliza swore he looked like a man who had not eaten in ten years. The hunger in his eyes made her shiver, and she cupped his face, fingers running over the stubble of his cheeks as she kissed him again. It was gentle, not as hungry as before, but tongues would drag over lips, over teeth, exploring at a much more tempered pace. Her hips moved under that pressure of his hand, lifting and coming down slowly, and she swallowed what noise he made as her groin rubbed against that hardened part of his breeches. His hand fell from her back and came to grasp her other hip, pulling her tighter to him as she moved her hips again. She broke that kiss with a breathy gasp, her hands moving from his hair.
One or two tugs and that tunic started to move up his chest. Fingers slipped under the edge of the fabric, and Eliza felt his hand guide her back into a kiss. She still moved slowly, her hands moving up over his sides and chest. Fingers traced the outlines of muscles on his abdomen, his obliques, and the higher the got, there were other lines to follow. Jagged with rough edges, dimples in the flesh that were soft and not covered with a fine layer of hair. Ones on his chest and collar were longer, more jagged, and when Eliza leaned back to break that kiss, Cullen’s hands finally left her so to help with the removal of his shirt. Eliza could see what those lines were, scours in his flesh from weapons, molted places on his shoulder from acid or fire, lines down his back that look like claws. They crossed over is spine and sides as if a varghest had mauled him. She could feel his eyes on her as she traced the scars on his chest, they were some of the oldest, and when her green eyes met his… there was no need to confirm how he had received some of these scars. Her hands came once again to cup his face, one hand moving slightly to brush some hair out of his eyes. She leaned in peppering his face with soft kisses before her lips fell back onto his, pulling him into a deep kiss. His arms moved from her hips, wrapping around her back as he pulled her into that kiss. That kiss was soft, gentle, intoxicating as he ran his hand gently over her cheek. “Eliza, I…” he breathed as he broke the kiss, eyes searching hers as he struggled to catch his breath. “Is this… are you okay with this?”
“Y…yes,” she stammered, taking a shaky breath before she reached up to touch his cheek. “Yes, Cullen. I want this.” Eliza smiled gently, and his eyes got a little brighter, a smile crossing his face as he leaned down to kiss her again. Her arms wrapped around his neck, her hands running through the hair at the back of his neck as he kissed her… growing more and more hungry as his hands went down over her blouse, down to her hips. Fingers found their way under the fabric, and strong hands moved up her rib cage, fabric bunching up as they moved higher and higher. Eliza sighed as his mouth left hers, finding new ground on her throat and collar, those hands moving the shirt up her arms, over her head and tossing it to the ever-growing pile of cloths. She tilted her head back, wincing for a moment as that tender wound on the back of her skull sent a throb of pain, but what pain she felt was quickly drowned out. She ran her hands over his back, nails lightly scouring against his flesh and she could feel him shiver against her fingers. His arm wrapped around the lower part of her back and he leaned to the side, cradling her to his chest as he laid her back down on the bed. His mouth kissing down her collar and sternum as his free hand found her breasts, cupping and teasing one, and then the other with his fingers and thumb. Eliza whimpered, her eyes closed as Cullen looked up, watching her intently. Whatever hesitation must have left him as Eliza let out another sigh of delight, her heart racing a hand ran through the loose curls of his hair. He continued, his hand lingering to cup and tease one breast as his mouth latched onto her teat and sucked gently, a leaving sharp nip and a broad stroke of his tongue before switching to do the same on the other breast. She couldn’t help but sigh and whimper, squirming under his attentions as one hand held onto his shoulder, the other running through his hair. He shifted forward, moving from under her and leaning her back gently. Her hands moved, pressing against his back as he leaned over her.
Eliza’s eyes opened when she felt his hands and mouth leave her. His hand was wrapped around her waist, holding her gently, but Eliza watched as he hesitated. Cullen was framed in the soft light of that morning sun, and she saw his brow furrow, that same torn look on his face that she saw more often than she’d like. Eliza moved, pulling her legs back so she could kneel in front of him. Cullen froze, his head hanging for a moment as if in defeat. Eliza’s soft hands moved, running over his chest, outlining the scars of battles past, up over his shoulders, and then down to hold his hands. With a small tremble, her hands brought his to her waist, where the tie for her breeches were. He froze for a moment, looking at her questioningly as she released her gentle hold. A sigh left his lips, and he shuttered, her own hands having moved as one ran lightly over his groin, tracing the outline of his cock as the other pulled at the ties of his breeches. His hands started to move, slowly at first as he undid the ties at her waist but growing more and more urgent as she finished her own task, pushing his breeches down over his hips, her hand gently cupping him, fingers teasing lightly over that soft flesh as she leaned to kiss his neck and collar. The last tie fell from her breeches and she gasped as he pushed her back onto the bed, his hands pulling her pants down, and she kicked them free as he rid himself of his own. She shivered in warm light, heat growing in her cheeks as well as the pit of her abdomen as he looked down at her. It was slow, lingering, drinking her in slowly. “Maker…” he breathed, leaning down to kiss her again, his hand cupping her face before moving down over her body.
He traced every line and curve on her body before coming down between her legs. Rough fingers felt moist, soft flesh. His palm pressed against that junction between her legs and she could have sworn she saw him smile through her half-lidded eyes as her hips pressed up and into his hand. She whimpered as his rough palm moved, her moist anticipation already wetting his hand as his fingers moved against that sensitive nub. He drank in her soft mews as fingers played with those soft, wet folds, his thumb circling that nub painfully slow as he teased her. Eliza broke his kiss as she moaned, her back arching, her hips grinding against his hand as his fingertips teased her opening. She could barely think as he slipped one finger into her slowly, making her hips rise off the bed as one hand held onto his arm, the other twisted and tugged at the sheets beneath them. He moved slowly, steadily, coaxing those moans and whimpers from her. Eliza managed to open her eyes, meeting his as he watched her squirm and sigh under him. The small grin on his face disappeared when Eliza managed to reach out, and with heated eyes and a sly grin, let her fingers fall and play over his swollen length.
A small growl left his throat, and Eliza could feel him shift, moving just out of her grasp and settling between her legs. They parted a bit farther, and she whimpered, arching her back as the fingers teasing her picked up their tempo. “Cullen…” she barely choked out the words as she sighed, those hips grinding down into his hand. “Ohhh…” her hips trembled as she stopped moving, her fingers gently wrapping around his wrist. Those fingers stopped instantly, his thumb though continued those agonizingly slow circles.
Cullen’s breath hitched as those fingers around his wrist moved, brushing against that hardened length again, “Are… are you sure?”
“Yes…” she leaned up to kiss his shoulder, and she felt that hand between her legs move. He guided that length against her, teasing her yet still, and earning a frustrated groan in response. The groan turned into a soft gasp, and a whimper as he pressed himself in slowly. Eliza’s hands went to his shoulders, holding him as her legs pressed against his sides. He moved slowly back and forth, leaning down to litter her shoulder with kisses and soft nips until he was completely within her. They both gasped, her body squeezing him and trembling under his touch as he ran his hands over her sides. He held himself close to her, kissing her gently as his hips moved, withdrawing himself as he drew a sigh from her. Another move and he pushed forward, and Eliza moaned, her hips moving in time, grinding against him as her hands went to grip his broad back. His arms held himself over her, gasps and groans issuing from his own mouth as he continued to move, that rhythm slowly picking up. They moved together, changing between peppered kisses on exposed flesh, hungry kisses, and stolen heated glances. He was measured, focused, and driving Eliza insane as he pumped his hips back and forth. She felt that heat building in her, and when one arm dropped to his elbow, steadying himself as the other hand went to tease at that sensitive nub, she cursed. Her hips moved out of time, hungry, needy as he teased her towards release, and as her thighs trembled and she squeezed herself tight to him, she could feel him muffle his moan against her hot flesh. His hips bucked, his hand flying from between her legs to clutch those sheets tightly as he steadied himself. She whimpered into his ear, her breath hot against his skin. They were both sweating, his curly hair starting to stick to his forehead and neck as her own covered her shoulders. He would finally stop moving, shuttering against her as Eliza held him.
They coaxed each other down from that high with soft kisses and a tender embrace; Cullen shifting to his side as she draped one leg lazily over his own. His arms pulled her to his chest, stroking her back, fingers finding scars of her own. That was for another time though. She felt her heart rate slowing and steadying, and after a few moments, they disentangled from each other. The distance that separated them didn’t last long as Cullen pulled her again to his chest, his hand moving then to her cheek. He kissed her forehead before looking into her eyes.
“Are you… was that…” Eliza cut him off with a kiss, her own hand going to cup his cheek. Whatever tension he was still holding seemed to evaporate, and when she finally broke that slow kiss, he chuckled. “Hmm...”
Forgive me for the shitty chapter title. Nothing was coming to mind.
Chapter 28: A Shadow Upon the Mountain
Sorry for the delay. Between commitments and being a little down lately it took a while. If this chapter feels out of place, that's because it wasn't originally a part of the story. There was an odd gap between the last chapter and the next one, so I wanted to abridge the distance. I may add one, or two, chapter long fillers to bridge time gaps later, but right now I'm just trying to get through the story. Enjoy.
Chapter 28: A Shadow Upon the Mountain
Winter was back, and that meant that wind was howling on the mountain, whipping snow around outside of the gatehouse-turned-housing. A fire crackled nearby, twigs and brush snapping and crackling in the flames. Eliza was near, but paid no mind to the noise. It was too familiar now, and the only thing that held her attention was the small trinket in her fingers. Running her fingers over the edge, she sighed, pulling a worn gray shawl tighter over her shoulders.
“ Cullen...Thedas to Cullen…”
“Oh? Uh… what?”
“It’s your move.”
“Right, err… um…”
“If your distracted, we could always pick this up later…”
“No...no… I’m sorry. I was just thinking.” His hand moved, hovering over a piece before shifting ano moving another.
“Hm… yes, I see that.” Eliza smiled a little as she moved her chess piece across the board. “Hopefully nothing too serious?”
“No...no nothing about that.” The war was still waging. It had been over a week since the Arbor Wilds, half as much since the sparring match. Skyhold was in a holding pattern, waiting for the Inquisitor, and Corypheus, to make the next move.”
“So then… what are you thinking about.”
“How to steal away for a day or two…”
“You’re always fidgeting with that.” Eliza shook her head, clutching her fist before looking up at the two soldiers who had just returned from patrol.
“There isn’t much to do up here,” she chuckled, offering a small smile. “I have to keep myself occupied somehow.”
“Ehh… well you’re right about it being boring as piss,” one of the soldiers, a dwarf, coughed as he neared the fire. “So I’m guessing nothing happened up here?”
“Nothing up here but howling wind.”
“Ancestor’s ass.” With a heavy thud he sat down near the fire. He reached up to knock some snow out of the braids of his beard, dropping his warhammer and shield to his side. “Who did I piss off to get stationed in this mess? I’d rather be in Dust Town than here.”
“Who knows, Endol,” the other soldier, a human, smirked, as he took the other open seat near the fire. “Probably nothing as bad as me.”
“What did you do?” Eliza asked as she stood. She grabbed a log from the nearby stack to toss onto the flames, now that the scouting party had returned.
“Drunk on patrol in Empris de Lion,” the human smirked. “Almost lost my fingers to frostbite. They got me all patched up, then put my ass back into the snow. And to make it worse, a snow graveyard.”
“Don’t speak ill of the dead,” Endol growled angrily.
“I’m not, it’s true. There’s dead people under the snow here. I don’t want to be in these ruins, or close to that town,” the human pulled his cloak tighter around his body as he scooted closer to the fire. It was crackling louder now, alive with that new log fueling it. “Who did you piss off, mage? Fart too close to a sister? Burp in front of a Templar?” He laughed a little, causing Eliza to chuckle.
“Something like that.”
“Cullen… Cullen!” Eliza giggled, pulling against that grip as he led her towards the stables.
“You’re acting like an apprentice sneaking into the stores…”
“Like a what?”
“Apprentice? Getting into the wine or ale? Oh never mind,” Eliza chuckled, pulling his hand again. “Where are we going?”
“To have a moment.” That earned a full blown laugh as they turned around the back corner of the stable. Eliza finally was able to stop him for a moment, catching up to plant a kiss on his cheek.
“This wasn’t what I was thinking when I sent that note,” she smiled, her hand going to pull on the edge of his coat, pulling him in as she stole a kiss he was all to happy to give. Stolen moments were all they had, and although it did nothing to counter the rumors circulating the Keep, it didn’t stop them. A game of chess here or there, a walk around the battlements between meetings and chores, but moments like these were few and far between. They had to take care, but the occupants of the stables could either not say a word, or were too busy with chores to be nosey. With a sigh, ELiza pulled away, standing on her toes to press her forehead into Cullen’s as he smiled.
“I didn’t expect you to be so happy…”
“Why wouldn’t I be happy?” His hand moved up to cup Eliza’s cheek, and she couldn’t help but lean into him, “You’re here.”
“I just hope we can have more of these moments before I leave.”
“Leave?” his hand dropped back, and Eliza leaned back a little, watching a confused expression pass over his face.
“On assignment… didn’t you know?”
“When Cassandra came to tell me, I just assumed you knew as well,” Eliza took a step back, and she could see his lowered hand balling into a fist. “Oh… oh … Maker’s breath.” Cullen took a step back towards the edge of the barn, and towards the barricks. Eliza’s hand shot out, clasping around his upper arm and pulling him back. “Cullen, wait .”
“No! I’m going to figure out…”
“Stop.” Eliza said firmly, enough to catch him off guard and cause Cullen to pause in his tracks. He hung his head a for a moment before reaching up to rub his neck. “This… this may be for the best.”
“Not like that.” Eliza soothed, moving a bit closer. “It’s not like I want to go, but the Templars are still angry about what happened and you know it. Wildman might have gotten off with a warning, but they are still angry. The Inquisitor needs their support for the final fight, and that might be easier if I’m not here.” Cullen went to speak, but Eliza just shook her head. “It’s just Haven. I’m not far away. Once everything is settled, maybe I’ll be able to come back. Space will help calm the Templars… and it might stop the rumors.” Cullen still wasn’t looking at her, his clenched fist relaxing a bit before his other hand dropped.
“I should have been a part of that decision.”
“Do you really think you would have agreed?” Eliza pressed, and a lack of response earned a small smile from Eliza. She leaned up to plant a soft kiss on his lips, “It will be okay. I’m not going far. I’ll be back before you know it .”
“At least you have a proper healer to reattach your fingers.”
“Hmpf. Maybe she can teach you a thing or two about fighting Venatori.” Eliza shook her head, coming out of that thought as she looked over to the two soldiers. The human looked over, “I heard you fought them when they attacked Haven. I’ve only seen Red Templars in the Empris…”
“I’ve cracked enough of their skulls to see that they aren’t some Tevinter monster,” Endol chuckled, taking a moment to light his pipe. “They bleed red like you and me. They just use that blood to summon some nasty shit.”
“Yeah, like demons!” the human shouted. “Or they turn people into those Red Templars…” when the dwarf shuttered, the human smirked. “See! I knew you got creeped out just like the rest of us.”
“That lyrium ain’t right, and anyone who willingly takes it into them deserves to have an axe in their head.” He took a few long puffs from that pipe as silence fell over the group. Small fires were starting to pop up in the surrounding area. Most were low on the mountain side, twisting around the ruined walls and pathways down from the Temple of Sacred Ashes all the way to Haven. Each plume of smoke was about a hundred yards away from each other, and although they were far up the mountain, they were not outside of the temple’s gates. None of this was familiar to Eliza, but Endol, the foul mouthed dwarf, had been stationed on the mountain long enough to be their navigator. Each group stayed on the mountain for twelve hours before returning to Haven to swap with another group. There was a rotation down the mountain ever few hours, and they were just creeping upon the early morning hours.
“When do you think this will all be over?” Eliza turned to look at the human, he was looking up at that scar in the sky, green and glowing like an eerie omen. “I mean… the Inquisitor has to have a plan.”
“He does… I’m sure of it,” Eliza nodded, turning back to look at the token in her hand. “More of a plan than we do.”
“Eh,” the human laughed. “I don’t think we need a plan. We just need to keep our eyes open and our mouths shut up here.”
“Hmrm… we may need a plan,” Endol grumbled, standing as he knocked the ashes out of his pipe. Eliza turned to follow the dwarf’s gaze. Lights on the mountain were flickering, then extinguishing. He let out a guttural growl, picking up his shield and axe.
“Come on… I’m sure that it’s just the wind knocking out the fires…”
“Better go check it out anyway,” the Endol spat to the side for a moment. “You too, mage.” Eliza sighed, leaning back to pick up her staff, and as she did, a growl echoed from the stones around them.
“Endol…” the wirey human whispered loudly, grasping his sword.
“Shut up,” the dwarf hissed. The growl continued, low and ominous… but solitary. It was outside of the gatehouse, and behind them… closer to the mountain. “Don’t make a noise…”
“What if it’s a bear?”
“If only we were so lucky,” Endol answered. He started to creep closer and closer to the door. Eliza leveled her staff at the door, keeping close to the dwarf, but before they could make the threshold, a bloodied elf came running in. He was Dalish, a ranger or the like from the weapons he had on him. A large gash cut across his collar and shoulder, more on his leg. As he tumbled in, chest heaving, Eliza put her staff down, clutching him and dragging him farther into that room. The human’s eyes were wide, and immediately Eliza placed her hands on the elf’s obvious wounds, green light pulsing as those wounds closed. His lids, once lulling as the blood loss zapped his energy, suddenly opened wide as that magic surged through him. He went to scream, but Eliza put her hand over his mouth, motioning for him to be quiet.
“Shhh… shhhhh…” she tried to soothe as the human joined Endol at the door. The growls were getting louder, something scratching on the stone. “Don’t scream… you’re okay… what’s out there?”
“Ttterrrorr…” the elf stumbled before a loud yell pieced the air. Eliza turned back to the door and Endol was gone, the other soldier following him out into the darkness. A shriek pierced the air, soon joined with the sick sound of metal piercing flesh. The sounds of battles echoed, and as that one shriek died, others seemed to appear. The elf started to panic, thrashing in Eliza’s grip as he stumbled to his feet. Before he could dart out the door though, his path was blocked by the human.
“Eliza, we have to move NOW .” The elf shoved his way past the human, running in the general direction of the path that made its way down to Haven. Eliza stood, the sounds of battle now echoing down the mountain. Screaming voices mingled with the shrieks and howls of demons in the distance, and a large form casted a shadow over the mountain. A roar echoed over the valley, causing everyone to look up as the massive Archdemon flapped its wings, kicking up the wind as it flew higher and higher on the mountain.
“I think it’s time to leave.”
The dust of the battle was settled. Stones stopped raining from the sky weeks ago, and the last of the demons had been banished to the Fade by the Inquisitor and his Inner Circle. For the first time in almost a year, Thedas was at rest. The Venetori had been chased back to the edges of Nevarra, and the chase continued all the way to Tevinter. Orlais was regaining its strength and rebuilding under it's new ruler, and Ferelden was finally easing back into a state of peace. The war was over it, and the world was at peace.
“It's no use going back there.”
“We haven’t checked the remains of the Chantry…”
“Listen to yourself,” Dorian slammed his hand on the table laid out in front of him. The markers on the map clattered and shifted, and well worn paper threatening to rip after the strike. The man across the table looked up as hands balled into fists. “You need to actually think with your head…”
“Do not presume to tell me how to do my job, Pavus.”
“Then stop acting like an idiot and listen to me.” Green eyes finally caught the sharp gold, and the two men fell silent. “Eliza wouldn’t have stayed at the Temple of Sacred Ashes, not if she thought she would endanger the soldiers there.”
“Are you even certain she was possessed?”
“I’m from Tevinter,” Dorian took a step back from the map. “Those scouts might have been bumbling idiots numb from deathroot, but I know what I heard. The signs sound classic, and in either case, we have yet to find... You know her better than I do, what would she do if she thought she was a danger? Where would she go?”
Cullen sighed, running a hand through his hair before it came to rest at the back of his neck. The two had been pouring over the map for days, or was it weeks? Dorian had been there, at the temple when Corephyus was defeated, but even he couldn't find a trace of her after victory was declared. Eliza wasn’t supposed to be anywhere near the fighting... Haven and the Temple of Sacred Ashes was suppose to be a safe assignment. Under the watch of Skyhold, Eliza could work with the troops there without stepping on the toes of the Templars. No one expected Corephyus to move that quickly after the Temple of Mythal. No one was expecting a new Rift to open at the temple, or for the Inquisition forces to be thrown into battle unprepared. In the chaos, something… happened. A dark aura had descended upon the snow covered temple, and although the other demons were banished in an explosion of fire, the mage that had caused the explosion had disappeared. “Cullen…”
“She would make sure she couldn’t hurt anyone… she would cut herself off.” A soft voice from so many years ago echoed in his head, If I fail… just make it quick. I don’t want to hurt you… ah, I um mean anyone. I don’t want to hurt... anyone at the Harrowing… Looking down at the map, the Commander would just shake his head, walking over to the bookshelf. Dorian watched as he went through more and more scrolls. “When you first met her… where was she?”
“What? Oh… uh… the Hinterlands, near the East Road.”
“Where had she been?” Cullen finally found the scroll he was looking for, bringing it over to the table and unrolling it. The map of the Hinterlands stretched out, much larger than the map of Haven that he covered.
“Crossroads, helping with the refugees there… and trying to keep other Apostates and Templars from the village… What are you thinking?”
“You have crossed this land a hundred times with the Inquisitor,” Cullen smoothed out the map, weights placed in the corners as he peered over her. “There’s a half destroyed castle here. An abandoned cabin here. The dwarf ruins here. The Bandit Fortress…”
“What are you getting at?”
“They’ve been cleared?”
“Yes. The bandits, thieves and murderers have all been cleared. Red lyrium stores destroyed, wolves taken care of, bears hunted ruthlessly, ruins discovered, rogue templars dealt with… Maker there was a lot to do there,” Dorian shook his head, rubbing the bridge of his nose.
“So where would she hide? If she didn’t want to be found, and wanted to make sure no one found her, where would she have gone?” Dorian would sigh, walking around that desk to look at the map with its numerous markers.
“Rutherford,” Dorian paused for a moment, his hand stretched out, hovering over the map. “If Eliza is…”
“Just start marking the map, Pavus.”
My USB drive is dead with all of my work on it. I backed up the rest to Google Drive, but edits are a slow time coming. School is out though, hopefully I can get onto a weekly update and finish this lovely off.
“Please tell me why I’m here, darling. I was looking forward to returning to the White Spire and having the time to put things back in order. Now I’m out here, trudging amongst the bears and beggars again…”
“If we find Eliza, I may need another mage to help me enter the Fade.” Dorian grumbled as his feet entered the pool of water near Dennet’s farm. Vivienne let out a sigh of disgust, stepping gingerly from stone to stone before she finally had to enter the water. “Believe me, if I had another option I would have taken it, but no one has seen Solas since Corephypus’ defeat.”
“This is insanity. There is no reason to enter the Fade in the case of a possession. You should know that.”
“If there is a possession, entering the Fade may be the only chance we have of saving Eliza. For that, I need your help.” The sloshing of water filled the air, and with a flick of his wrist, the water evaporated off of Dorian with a matter of minutes. “Again. Believe me. I wish there was another I coud have asked for help.”
“Ah, Dorian, you're so charming .”
“Only when dealing with you, darling ,” Dorian’s voice dripped with sarcasm. He dug his heels into the hill as they descended the steep hill, down towards another creek. The sound of a waterfall was nearby, scars in the rockbed was evident enough of a battle long past. The Despair and Terror Demons had been particularly fierce at this Rift, but thankfully the gashes in the rock was all that remained of that battle. The countryside was returning to normal; houses and villages being rebuilt, the bridge repaired, and trade once again followed the road through the Hinterlands to Redcliffe and onward. Soon, with some hope and luck, nature would swallow up the signs of war. For all the green and growth around them, the mood in the air was foul. It was as if the Despair demon had never left them.
“Come on.” The pace was urgent, even in the absence of an enemy. It had been almost a week since they started their search in the Hinterlands. There were numerous caves and pockets that contained secrets, letters, remains, but no Apostate, and little sign that anyone had visited those locations. The list was growing shorter and shorter, but there was still no sighting or sign.
“Commander, the only thing we’re likely to find over there are wolves and nugs,” Vivienne observed with a small huff. She pulled on her skirt, pausing for a moment on the far bank as Cullen Rutherford and Dorian Pavus continued moving into the short ravine.
“There is a cave up here that we haven’t checked.”
“It’s empty, Cullen.” Vivienne sighed, following them. “The apostates who hid there were cleared out ages ago. The Inquisitor already searched the Astrarium there as well.”
“Fasta vass.” Dorian muttered, but said nothing else as his brow furrowed in frustration. If it wasn't for the fact that his friend was in danger, it was quite possible that Dorian would have ripped the Fade open just to be rid of Vivienne and her incessant complaining.
The cliffs closed in around them, allowing only a narrow passage for the travelers to traverse. Runes and symbols were scrawled into the rock face, and tracks did suggest that wolves had, and one point, traveled the path. A right would lead them to the remains of the Apostate camp. Half destroyed crates, the barely discernible remains of tents and a camp littered the ground leading up to the cave. Rocks jutted out of the ground like jagged teeth, narrowing the pathway. It had provided the apostates cover and given them advantage when the Inquisition had arrived before. Now they just served as reminders of the war that had ripped the countryside before the Conclave. As they approached the cave, Cullen drew his sword, pulling his shield from his back.
“What is it?” Vivienne’s voice echoed off the rocks as Dorian drew his staff.
“There is someone in the cave.”
There was a soft sheen, barely visible in the dim light. The haze looked like heat radiating off stone in the mid-day heat. Dorian leveled his hand, a burst of flame erupting out of the air and crashing into the haze. There was a crackle in the air, the flames spreading over the barrier before dissipating.
“It’s stronger than the barrier that was here before.” Dorian grumbled, flames erupting from his staff again. It took several tries, but the barrier would eventually fade, letting the scent of stale air drift over them. They paused for a moment, listening, waiting, and when nothing came they moved cautiously within the chilled space. The shelters were still there, discarded carts and personal effects of the Apostates that had called the cave their home. The smell of a fire drifted through the air, mingling with the stale air to give the cave a stifling feeling. Cullen took a step onto the rocky outcrop that led farther into the cave, but Dorian’s hand fell upon his shoulder.
“Pavus…” that growl was a warning, but Dorian didn’t move his hand..
“You need to take a moment and think about what we are going to do,” the caution was evident in Dorian’s voice. “We don’t know who is here… or what state they are in… We have to have a plan before we go in there, or else we are more likely to make rash decisions.”
“Shhh… what is that sound?” Vivienne hushed them, stepping past the two men and deeper into that cave. It was a soft voice, humming that broke into lyrics, then back to humming, as if someone was working and passing the time with song.
“Vivienne…” Dorian hissed.
The humming continued for a moment, but fell silent as Vivienne’s body occupied the small fissure in the wall that had once hid the Astrarium’s cache. She extended her hand, and it came to rest on a second barrier, this one crackling with blue lightening.
“You don’t want to do that, Vivienne,” the voice was cold, deep, distant and detached… like it didn’t belong in the body, or the place, where it came from. Vivienne would raise her staff, but the electricity in the air crackled again, making hairs stand on end. “Don’t.”
“Eliza?” The space within the barrier was clouded. Although electricity crackled on the edges, there was no light beyond. The lights of the Astrarium had been extinguished. The alcove had space enough for a few people, but it looked more like an endless pit than a cache of old treasures. As the lightning crackled, it outlined a figure. It was just barely visible, sitting on some stony outcrop that led up into the chamber beyond. It was doubled over, but due to pain or cold, it was unknown.
“Leave me… please. Seal this place and go away.” The voice cracked, weak and as brittle as autumn leaves.
“You promised , Dorian. You promised .”
“I couldn’t… not like this. Not like this,” Dorian approached the barrier, taking a knee at the edge of the barrier. “We’re here.”
“I can’t risk it. You have to go.”
“No...” a whimper echoed, followed by a choked cry. There was movement behind that barrier, and there was a hoarse laugh, deeper and more menacing than the voice a moment before. “Ahhh, finally a moment of fresh air. Well... as fresh as a cave can be.” The voice seemed frustrated, but it was warped. Vocal cords scratching in an unfamiliar tone. “This thing is still up?” Finally, a figure walked out of the shadows and just into the light casting from Vivienne and Dorian’s staves. Battlerobes were tattered and torn, stained with blood and grime and barely seemed to fit anymore. Eliza’s drawn figure leaned against one of those walls. It jutted out just enough to be in the light, but just behind the barrier. “Dumb girl must have drawn a glyph when I wasn’t looking…” Her eyes were black now, with purple irises that searched the darkness eagerly. First catching Dorian’s gaze, and then Vivienne. There was nothing there: not a spark or light or a speck of life. It was like looking into a void, but it looked back hungry. “Oh… you’re who she was talking to? And here I thought she had actually fallen off of the map.” Eliza’s hand stretched out, dirt covered her arms, cuts and dried blood coated her fingers as veilfire materialized in her hand. “Ohhhh… this is a rescue isn’t it? I mean… maybe I should have stayed silent a bit longer. If she had seen you , she would have lost it.” That laugh was haunting and cold. Cullen finally stepped within the light, harsh lines drawn across his face as that sword was placed back in its sheath. “What? Been too long since you’ve seen an old fashion possession? Do you want me to refresh your memory?”
“Shut up, you wretched thing,” Vivienne snapped.
“Oh, poor Vivienne, torn away from her delights and seat of power. What are you so upset about? “You don’t even like her,” Eliza’s unkept hair clung to her face as she turned it at an awkward angle to look at Vivienne. “Mages are only useful to you if you have a hand on their collars.” Bare feet made no noise as she walked closer to the barrier. “Your dear Bastien passed through not too long ago… would you like to know where he ended up?” The First Enchanter’s hand started to steam as ice crept up her finger tips, earning another cool laugh from Eliza. “You want to kill me.”
“It’s the easiest way to rid Thedas of a demon.”
“Could you win though?” a wide smile crossed Eliza’s lips.
“There’s no doubt.”
“Do you really think the odds are in your favor?” the darker voice cackled again, and Vivienne turned to see Dorian, now standing with a tight grip on his staff, and Cullen’s eyes watching her closely as a hand rested on his sword.
“It is playing you.” Vivienne hissed. “We need to kill it before it can escape.”
“You said you would come to help.”
“If we could, yes, but I’m not letting a demon enter Thedas!” Vivienne snapped. “There is too much risk involved if one of us enters the Fade.”
“Dorian, you just advised the Commander to think with reason. You need to take your own advice.” The creature laughed again, moving along the edge of the barrier. Fingers dragged against the edge, and lightening jumped across Eliza’s fingers, blackening and burning the flesh. Cullen approached the barrier, and the demon laughed, green eyes meeting gold as she licked her lips.
“Brings back memories, right Commander?” the demon breathed, and as Cullen shook his head it just laughed, taking a step back. “Right back to Kinloch? I wish I had been there. I remember that call from Uldred and the other blood mages. Uldred helped so many of us get our freedom before that damn Warden ruined everything!” A blast of fire struck the barrier, fire crawling up the walls of the barrier before disappearing. Flames travelled over Eliza’s arms, scorching and burning up the sleeves of her robes before finally disappearing. There was a flinch and cry as Eliza sank to her knees. Her forearms and hands started to blister and swell under the angry red and black burns. A sobbed wracked her body, and she hung her head as one hand hit the ground hard.
“Dorian you promised! ” she screamed, green eyes welling with tears as she looked past Cullen to a startled Dorian. “We made a deal! You have to! I can’t do this...”
“What is she talking about?” Cullen turned to look at Dorian.
“She asked you to kill her, didn’t she? If something like this happened, she asked you to kill her,” the words left Vivienne’s lips in a hushed voice as another sob wracked over Eliza. The Knight-Enchanter took a step towards that barrier, squatting down to look over Eliza. “You still have some control… don’t you?”
“I… I don’t for long,” Eliza groaned, a cry piercing the air as she flexed her hands against the stone. “I… Vivienne please. You can’t… it can’t get out. The battle at the Temple… My guard was down during the fight and I stretched myself to thin… I… I failed. I’m sorry. I know you don’t believe me, but I never meant for this to happen. It was too much at stake, and the Veil was so thin...” The words choked on her lips, as she looked up at Vivienne. “You’re a First-Enchanter. This is your duty… If I was in your Circle…”
“I know. I know,” Vivienne soothed, her hand raising to the barrier. Dorian let out a shout, but before he could do anything, Eliza’s head dropped, and she fell to her side on the ground. That barrier shimmered but did not fall.
“Kaffas,” Dorian breathed, lowering his staff.
“What did you do?” Cullen roared, taking a step forward.
“For the Maker’s sake… calm down she’s asleep. It’s easier that way,” Vivienne sighed, standing and walking towards Dorian. “Do you have it?” The Altus fumbled for a moment before producing a vial of lyrium from his pockets. “You won’t have much time. The demon is going to be too powerful to kill… and she may not have the strength to pull herself out of the Fade.”
“It’s been done before.” Dorian just nodded, turning to Cullen. The Templar’s eyes had not left Eliza. She was thin, almost like a corpse on the ground, covered in tattered and dirty robes. He approached the barrier, looking down on her.
“Cullen,” the Templar turned to look at Dorian. “I’ll do my best.” There were no words, just a small nod from the Templar. A sigh fell from Dorian’s lips as he went to sit near that barrier, uncorking the lyrium vial and raising it towards the other two. “Na via lerno victoria.”
Man... I forgot how frustrated at Vivienne after my last play through... I REALLY don't like her lol.
Ah well. I had to rework this part a bit, cause it was either cut and make two short chapters, or one long one... figured the long one was preferred by everyone.
Chapter 31: Plaidweave
Haven looked different in the Fade. It wasn’t the small hovel nestled into the mountain side that Dorian remembered. The sparse buildings that usually supported the pilgrims were still there, but imposed upon them were even more buildings that were darker, older, with a dangerous feel. The angles seemed wrong, as if they were hovering over you, threatening to collapse. The village of the Cult of Andraste merged with the Sanctuary built for the faithful and created a chaotic mess of stone and wood. It made navigating difficult, as once memorized pathways were blocked by a sudden wall, or were enveloped entirely into a tavern, shop, or other structure. Nothing made sense, and instead of the calm diligence that Dorian felt before, there was a looming darkness that was too dark to see into.
The only structure that hadn’t changed was the Chantry. The building loomed ahead, ever a beacon of power. Dorian knew the pride demon was watching him, probably licking his lips like a hungry varaghest. It was dangerous to go straight to Eliza, but the longer Dorian stayed in the Fade, the more dangerous it would be for both. For a Ferelden mage, to be possessed was to fail a right of faith. For all her anger towards the Templars, towards the Circles, Dorian knew that Eliza was more devout than she let on. He figured she would try to find her salvation in the Chantry, or, at least feel the ability to be contained by it.
The door was just as difficult to open here, as it was in the material plane. The screechy whine that it gave off pierced the soft rustling. Echoes bounced off the stone, and green ghostly orbs danced in the dim fire light. The familiar voices of Oskar Trevelyan, Vivianne, Josephine, Mother Giselle and Cullen echoed faintly… like an afterthought. Leliana's voice echoed, but it changed between the firm tone of a hardened spymaster, and the voice of a young hopeful and devout woman. The side alcoves were empty, filled with pews facing an unfamiliar alter at the back. Angry unfamiliar voices rang out as orbs seemed to battle amongst each other around the room. Times and memories were blending in the space, alternating between light and shadow, elation and pain. Dorian avoided what specters he could see or perceive, staff clutched tight in case a battle was to manifest in corporeal form. Josephine’s former office, the rectory-served-war room, the living quarters, all were empty. “Kaffas.” Dorian hissed as he stepped into the main sanctuary. He had only been Haven for a short time, minutes really. In the chaos of the attack, they had only really gone to one place.
“Andraste must have shown it to me, for this purpose,” Cleric Roderick’s strained voice echoed unnaturally as a faint white orb bounced form where his seat had been, over to the first set of doors Dorian had previously ignored. He knew they went down to the cellar, but his memory didn’t serve him well. The last time he went that way, it was a bit… intense. Between the dragon roars and the fleeing soldiers, there were a lot of distractions. The white orb fluttered back, hovering near Dorian again, before bouncing towards that solid oak door.
“Alright,” Dorian grumbled. The stone chantry was already difficult to see in. Veilfire barely lit a safe walking path, let alone assisted in navigating the dim cellar. The stairwell descent was as dark and precarious as he imagined, but turning the corner thrust him into an unfamiliar terrain.
Solas always talked about the events and battles he could witness in the Fade. How they left such an imprint on a soul that the events were reflected in the Fade. The darkness that enveloped this cellar must have left an impression so strong that souls couldn’t escape. Lit by the eerily green veilfire, faded forms occupied each cell. What the Inquisition had used for storage, the Cult of Andraste used these cells to hold anyone who threatened to expose them, or the dragon they worshiped. Bodies writhed back and forth, dressed in rags, groaning from pain, cold or hunger, Dorian couldn’t say. The first few cells had a few bodies, but as Dorian approached the back of the cellar, there were more. They weren’t individuals, but they were spirits all the same, stripped of what made them unique and unified by what scared them. A false back in the alcove, just outside of an Interrogation room led to that mountain pass that facilitated their escape during the battle. It was closed and barred. The only room that remained was the Interrogation room.
Tools littered the rear room, and it was surrounded on three sides by cells. Used by the cult, or the Inquisition, it was unclear. Nonetheless, their presence made Dorian’s stomach turn. Black fluid stained stone and straw under the yoke propped in the middle of the room. The smell caused Dorian to pause. In all his dealings with the Fade and demons, he had never experienced anything quite like this. The cells here were larger, each covered in straw and furnished with a rickety wooden bed. The groans from the hallway were barely audible here.
Another Tevinter curse fell from Dorian’s lips; these cells were empty too. Small black shapes, like spectral scavengers, darted out of the dark corners as Dorian searched. Just as he was about to leave though, a shimmer caught his eye. The surface was reflective, mirroring the chamber, but at an angle it looked like oil rippling over water. The translucent surface hinted at something behind it.
“Amell,” Dorian breathed a sigh of relief as he saw a familiar outline through that surface, seated on one of the straw covered beds. Eliza’s face was twisted in concentration, hands resting on her knees. Beads of sweat gathered on her forehead, and as she heard her name, she flinched. “Eliza, it’s me, Dorian.” He took a step towards her, hand reaching to grasp the cell door, but it crackled with static energy, causing him to recoil. “Eli…”
“Stop,” her voice crackled, hoarse. From strain or stress, Dorian couldn’t tell, but the warning was clear. “Leave me be. I won’t let you out again. It doesn’t matter who you impersonate.”
“Ah… I see. Well at least this demon has good taste,” Dorian laughed nervously. “But it’s really me. I need to get you out of this mess, and the only way I can do that is if you let me.”
“Really? You think I would let my guard down that easily?” Her breath was a little labored, but sharper than any sword, dripping with venom. “If you’re really Dorian, than prove it.”
“Hmmm. How about I re-enact that tirade I went on a few months ago. After the Inquisitor bestowed a set of mage armor to me that was crafted from plaidweave. Plaidweave? Seriously, though. Me? In plaid? Vivienne and I have never agreed on anything with the exception of our despise towards that armor. Well, that and... getting rid of this demon possessing you.”
“You… you’re the one who asked her to come?” Eliza’s shoulder’s dropped, her arms were shaking a bit as that guard slowly came down.
“Yes. Well, you know how she feels about apostates. I would have brought Solas, but no one has seen him since Corephyus.” Dorian stepped away from the cell door, kneeling across from her. “I know what I promised after Adamant… fighting the Grey Wardens, but I hope you can forgive my attempt at another solution. It’s hard to come by friends these days, and I would be inconsolable if something happened to you.” Dorian watched as she unfolded her knees, and a small smile crossed Eliza’s worn face.
“Iron Bull is going to be upset when he finds out about this.”
“Amatus will get over it,” Dorian smiled. Eliza’s eyes slowly blinked open, fully showing the lines and creases in her face. She looked as drawn and dead as one might be after a long battle and sleepless nights. “But before I save your Ferelden ass from the Fade, you have to promise me something,” Dorian said, “Never run off like this again, eh? I already have one suicidal friend, and I don’t need to worry about yet another Free Marcher.”
“Sorry to make you worry,” Eliza practically whispered. The barrier shimmered one more time before falling. She didn’t move from her seat as Dorian entered the cell. Her brown hair had been pulled out of her typical braid, plastered to the back of her neck and face by sweat and muck. As he knelt down to put a hand on her shoulder, he could feel her trembling. Her mouth moved, but for a few seconds no sound emerged, until. “I'm sorry…”
“Shhh…” Dorian hushed as Eliza’s shoulders shook again. She choked back a sob and Dorian pulled her into a hug. “Don’t.”
“I panicked. I didn't think I could stop them. The soldiers couldn’t see them, and if those demons fell upon them… I don’t remember what happened, I just knew I could...”
“You finally let in that little confidence you needed,” the voice was firmer now, deeper, closer. Dorian turned his head to see the Pride Demon leaning against the wooden stockade in the middle of the room. He let go of Eliza, an arm pushing her behind him, as he raised his staff protectively. The demon’s presence was larger now, the frame as large as Blackwall, but younger, eternal, powerful. Golden eyes seemed to smile at Dorian before darting back to Eliza. “The same hesitation I felt all those years ago, you could use me. I saw what power comes with your confidence. The clarity you felt when you just let it happen, gave up that restraint… It. Was. Glorious.” He pushed himself away from the stockade and stalked closer to the cell. “I’m just here to help, give you that little push you need to unleash your gifts. You’ve been so depressed since poor Edric, I just want to help you regain that confidence…”
“You want me to abandon restraint for raw power.” Eliza snapped angrily. Her voice scratchy as hoarse as if she had spent the last weeks screaming, “And don’t you dare say his name! You’re the reason he’s dead!” The demon’s purple-hued flesh took on a burnt orange color and he grinned toothily.
“What better way to show confidence than with a display of might? Those soldiers, demons, your companions, they will never doubt you again. Never dismiss you as some lowly mage. With that confidence, you can finally gain everything you’ve been denied since you were a child! And no one, no one will throw you away like your mother did!” The flash of anger from the demon caused Dorian to raise his staff, necrotic energy crackling in the air. The demon just chuckled, raising two clawed hands, “I’m just trying to help, Pavus. Surely you can see that. I’m doing the same thing you have been since you found her in Redcliffe.”
“Our methodology couldn't be more different,” he warned. “I think it’s time you let her be. Go crawl back into whatever hole you came out of.”
“Or what, Pavus?” the form stopped a few feet from the cell. “This is the Fade. My realm. You know I can do whatever I want here. Take whatever I want.” His face hardened. “I want to thank you for finding my dear Eliza, but now I think you should return to the material plane.” His hand rose, wrapping around an invisible item, and as he did there was a pulse of red, electrical energy that lashed out like a rope. It crackled and hissed, the demon’s form seeming to shift even taller now, rivaling Iron Bull in size. “You may be strong, Pavus, but you don’t know what dangers you’ve fallen into.” The Altus raised his staff in anticipation for the blow, but from his side flew a crystal blue object. The shard of ice pierced the exposed shoulder of that demon and he roared. His free hand went to cradle the wound, but the knife suddenly shattered, cutting his flesh even further. A low, threatening growl emanated from him. Black blood poured through the numerous cuts over his chest, hands, and face. Eliza was panting heavily, and Dorian knew that between the mirror barrier here, the binding circle in the Hinterlands, and this attack, she was getting close to expending what precious mana she had left.
The demon laughed coldly, the blackness overtaking his eyes and leaving only small yellow pupils. “That’s what I’m looking for! Even in the face of defeat you are refusing to give in. That is the resolution I am looking for. It feels good, doesn’t it? I could make you feel like this forever.”
“When I kill you, you’ll be thrown so deep into the Fade you’ll spend eternity clawing your way out,” Eliza hissed angrily.
“And when you fail… I’ll make you see the wonders of this gift I’ve given you…”
Time passed differently in the Fade than it does in the realm of the living. Days or months in the Fade could be just seconds in Thedas. Although Dorian had not been gone long in Thedas, it still felt too long for Cullen. At the edge of that barrier, all he could do was look down at the still form of Eliza. Crumpled onto the ground, she had not stirred since Vivienne knocked her out. His shield was discarded against the far cave wall. He had his longsword, both of his hands clasped over the pommel as he stood lost in his thoughts. Vivienne had taken a seat near him, watching Dorian intently.
“Something is happening,” Vivienne’s voice jarred Cullen from his thoughts. Turning slightly to look at her, Vivienne’s gaze went from Dorian to Eliza. There was nothing from Eliza, but Dorian’s hands twitched slightly. “A battle, most likely.” Taking a deep breath, Cullen waited for a moment. He was out of practiced, years had gone by since he utilized any of his Templar training, but there were somethings that never left a person. After a bit of concentration, Cullen could feel the electricity. The air felt thin, as if they were back on the top of Skyhold, or near a rift. Cullen’s face furrowed into a frustrated scowl. In the past, he would have been able to feel that shift the moment it happened. Now, it was hard to even perceive the difference. Months without lyrium dulled his senses, and it frustrated him.
“You gave up a great gift, Ser.” Vivienne’s voice pierced the silence again.
“I don’t need it anymore.” It was a lie that he told himself often. When Dorian had drawn out that vial, Cullen swore he could hear a soft hum in his bones, and his mouth had gone dry. He didn't need it, but the yearning he felt signed that he wasn't over that addiction quite yet..
“Hmph. So you say, but once a Templar. Always a templar.”
“I’m no longer part of that Order, Vivienne.”
“Even so, you slipped into that vigilant stance so quickly. ” His gloved hands flinched over the polished hilt.
“Habit.” It was all Cullen could say. It was so surreal, standing over Eliza like this. For a moment the cave fell away and they were in that top chamber of the spire. Eliza was younger, and the echoes of Knight-Commander Greagoir and First Enchanter Irving seemed so close.
“How many Harrowings have you participated in?” Vivienne asked as she approached the barrier.
“More than I care to count.” Cullen's hand flexed over the hilt of his sword. An old instinct as another crackle of energy erupted over the barrier.
“Are you prepared?”
“I’ve carried out this duty before.”
“That’s not what I asked,” Vivienne pressed. “Are you going to be able to strike down a demon if Dorian is unsuccessful?” Cullen didn’t answer. His palm flexed again, and he stood fixed on Eliza. That barrier shimmered and fell. Her figure started to stir, and Cullen let out a breath he hadn’t realized he was keeping in.
“When I was younger, Knight-Commander Greagoir asked the same question when it came to Eliza’s Harrowing; so I will give you the same answer I gave him,” Dorian’s form started to stir behind them, and Vivienne’s grip on her staff tightened. “Eliza made her wishes clear long before this moment, and I will do as she has asked.”
A gasp left Dorian’s body as he gained consciousness, followed by a string of Tevinter curses. His brow was covered in sweat, and with one shaky hand he reached out to steady himself on the rocks around him.
“You spent too much time in the Fade,” Vivienne chided, but she did not move to help him. Instead, she just leveled her staff at Eliza’s soft breathing form.
“Kaffas, I may not have stayed long enough.” Cullen gave him a quick glance, watching the Altus stagger to his feet before another noise brought his attention away. Eliza’s breathing went from soft to rapid, her eyes shooting open as she went to push herself up and away from them. As her blistered and torn hands hit the ground, she let out a painful scream, quickly drawing and tucking them against her body. Her entire body was shaking, trembling from exertion, pain, and mana imbalance no doubt wracking her body. Without the haze of the barrier, it was easier to see the condition Eliza was in. Bruises covered her body and, dark circles had formed under her eyes. Grime, sweat and tears had soiled her hair and robes. The seclusion had taken its toll on her. Cullen took a step forward, that sword clutched in his hand firmly.
“V... Vivienne,” Eliza coughed, blood dripping out of the corners of her lips. Red lines were starting to form on her sides, jagged and wide, her hands went to clutch them. A whimper of pain left her lips, and she wheezed as air struggled into her lungs. She looked up to catch Vivienne’s cool gaze, turning her head to look at Cullen. “I’m…”
“Don’t move,” the venom filled warning left the Grand Enchanter’s lips, and Eliza dropped her gaze with a nod.
“I’m sorry,” Eliza whispered, that doubled over form trembling for a moment as another wave of pain wracked her. Her nails dug into her forearms, gritting her teeth and channeling the pain into some other outlet besides a scream.
“Vivienne,” Dorian tried to sooth, rising to his feet with the help of his staff.
“You said yourself that you didn’t know if it was done,” she said simply. “If we let our guards down, it could be the end of us.”
“Vivienne is right, Dorian.” Eliza’s voice was weak. She struggled to sit back, hands shaking as she pushed the hair out of her face. Cool green eyes shifted from Dorian back to Vivienne before, very, very, hesitantly glancing to Cullen. The normal warmth had been replaced with that cool detachment she knew from the Circle long ago. The pit in her stomach grew larger, and she felt as if she would be sick. That gaze rested back on Vivienne, and she let out another shaky breath. “What would you have me do?”
“Prove that you are not a demon.”
“That… that’s impossible to do Vivienne,” Eliza’s voice broke with a small cough.
“If you want to live, you’ll come up with something.”
“ Vivienne !”
“This isn’t Tevinter. We do not step aside and let demons walk free here.” Vivienne snapped. That stifling silence filled the cave again. A few tears slid down her cheeks, and Eliza nodded, dropping her head a bit.
“Cullen…” her voice was weak, soft, but seemed to hit him like a brick. She didn’t raise her eyes, just letting her hair fall back into her face. “The altar behind Vivienne… my staff is there, and the sword haft I use in battle. Please go get it.”
A moment of hesitation passed, but Cullen’s hands would move, sheathing his sword as he walked past Vivienne and to that altar where long raided chests were left abandoned. He glanced back at her, and he saw her tentatively look at him before looking back at the floor. Staff and sword hilt were there, just outside of where the barrier had been. Without knowing where, it would have been difficult to find. “The grip… there is an engraving. A compartment is behind it.” Cullen glanced up at Vivienne, who was all at once disappointed and nervous, but it didn’t stop him. Bending down, he picked up the hilt for examination. The grip was covered in soft red leather. Unwrapping it revealed a grip inlaid with bright summer stone, decorated with the shining Templar emblem. Raising his gaze for a moment, he caught Eliza’s. She looked exhausted, scared, but offered him a small nod before dropping her gaze again. His fingertips found the small ridge that separated the compartment from the rest of the grip, and with a little prying, he was able to open it. It was a narrow opening, barely large enough for the contents inside. With a tilt of the blade, a small, solid vial of liquid fell into Cullen’s open hand. The red liquid was thick and moved sluggish within, the gold covered end-caps were tarnished, scraped, but intact. It was warm in his hand, and outside of the container, it was giving off a soft, but bright, red glow.
“I… I thought you destroyed it.” The realization of what was in his hand knocked the wind out of him. How could she still have this after so long, and so many fights? His voice was filled with disbelief, and he looked up to see Eliza choking out a small laugh.
“I’m sorry…I lied.”
“You kept your phylactery?” Dorian practically spat the words like a curse.
“It was in case someone had to find me… if I lost myself.” She explained softly, turning to look at Dorian. “I hoped someone would find it and be able to track me down…”
“Commander?” Vivienne’s voice questioned, glancing over at him.
“It’s real.” He held it gently. “It’s a Ferelden style phylactery.” Vivienne nodded, looking back at Eliza. She sat back, resting her weight on her heels, open palms towards Vivienne.
“That’s all I can do,” her voice trembled, “My freedom is tied to that vial. I don’t know if it’s enough to prove anything. That’s up to you, Vivienne.” The First Enchanter raised her staff, only to have another hand clasp the front of it.
“Do you really think a demon would have handed you the phylactery of their host?” Dorian snapped, stepping between Vivienne and Eliza. “You now have her leash and her freedom. She gets to keep her life.”
“She’s susceptible to possession,” Vivienne hissed. “And as an Apostate and Tevinter Altus, you have no rights to decide what happens.”
“As a member of the Inquisition I do,” he growled back. “And all mages run that risk of possession. Even you.”
“We didn’t give in.”
“We haven’t yet . And the possession only took place in an effort to save Inquisition soldiers who were under attack by Corephyus!” The bickering grew louder and more heated as Eliza stayed silently kneeling. Cullen tucked that vial carefully into one of his belt pouches, straightening his stance and rejoined the scene.
“Every mage has an excuse as to why they gave in, but none of them are good enough.” Vivienne spat. She seemed relieved as Cullen approached, but that relief turned to confusion as he stepped behind Dorian and took a knee next to Eliza. “Cullen, what are you doing?”
“This is my responsibility, since she is a soldier of the Inquisition. Her fate will be decided at Skyhold," Cullen extended a hand to touch Eliza’s chin, tilting her head up as a few more silent tears fell down her face.
“I’m sorry,” she repeated, voice hoarse as Cullen gently brushed a few hairs back out of her face and behind her ear. Gently, he placed his arm against her back, the other moving under her thighs and behind her knees. He lifted her up, turning to face Vivienne. Her staff was still raised, and Dorian still stood between them.
“This isn’t over,” Vivienne warned.
“It is for today.” Calmly, he stepped around Dorian and towards the entrance of the cave.
The end is drawing near. This has been a fun, but laborious process. I enjoy writing, and hope to continue with something else soon. Thanks for sticking with me, and although this isn't the end (yet), I want to thank you all.
Chapter 33: The Scars Remain
The scar in the sky had been there for about two years, but demons no longer poured from the wound, and rifts had long stopped appearing across Thedas. Orlais, Fereldan, the Free Marches; they were all at peace. The Inquisition had been busy maintaining order as governments and nations rebuilt in the aftermath of Corephyus’ war, but with the exception of strange happenings in Alienages, everything seemingly was back to normal. A new Divine had been crowned, and Divine Victoria had gone a long way in easing tensions between Templars and Mages. Threats still existed. Par Vollen was starting to wage new attacks against Tevinter. Already weakened and decaying, the empire struggled against the onslaughts and war threatened to spread south. The Inquisition had done all they could to keep in touch with Dorian, but letters and messengers had gone unanswered. The Circles were slowly starting to form, and although tensions between them and the College of Enchanters was starting to grow… few were willing to go to war again.
All of that seemed far away for Eliza. After… everything… she had managed to dodge the worst punishment possible, but the scars still remained. In nightmares she could still hear the yelling around her echoing off the walls of the great hall. Her wrists still bore scars from chains that they had kept her in until they could decide what to do with her. She would wake in a cold sweat, still feeling radiant heat from the brazier in the great hall, the handle of a brand sticking out as the design on the head glowed bright red in the coals. The memories plagued her nightmares, but those nightmares were starting to be fewer and farther between. If those were her only nightmares… about events after the cave… it was the best Eliza could hope for.
Now, as she did most morning, Eliza quietly took in the sunrise. The chill was slowly leaving the air as dew collected on the grass. It was going to be winter soon, and there was still much to do. Even with frantic winter preparations, life was rarely rushed, just consistent. The largest threat was a first frost that might ruin what harvest was still left in the fields. Besides that, maybe a hungry wolf or bear might creep closer as winter’s hunger set in. These threats were minor to what had faced her before. They were manageable. She stepped down the stairs to her wrap around porch, bag on one shoulder, and staff in her opposite hand. The blade had been taken off long ago, and was gathering rust somewhere in that round home. It was now more of a walking stick than a weapon. She doubted she would ever leave her staff behind, it gave her comfort and peace of mind. War might have been over, but it never really left someone.
The routine was the same most morning. Eliza would be awake and moving a few hours after dawn. On her way to town, Eliza would gather leaves, flowers, routes and other things to make medicines and salves for the town nearby. Once in town, she barter what she had found, or took in medicinal orders to be filled within a day or two. Her medicines bought supplies for herself, as well as the small lodge and stables on her land. The venture wasn’t fully her idea, but it made her life less lonely… and those attachments kept her from wandering off. The village was happy to have a healer, and even the town’s small Chantry was grateful for the mages’ assistance. Of course there was a wary person here or there, scared of the possibility of corruption, but rarely did it manifest as a confrontation. Usually it was just a long stare that would stop once they were caught. It didn’t bug her; Eliza would rather take a stare than any sort of aggression. The post-war years were being kind to her, and she wanted the dream to last as long as possible.
She started off away from her homestead and towards the woods, still dangerous, but work had to be done nonetheless.
“Kilian, how many times do I have to tell you...” Eliza chuckled as she turned. The lodge was a hundred or so meters away from her personal home, and was bustling with people in the early morning. An older man waved at her as he took a few large steps towards her. He had a stocky build, and even though he was in plain leather armor now, no doubt he could have carried full plate with easy in his younger years. Brown hair was peppered with white and silver hair, and it was even more apparent in his beard and facial hair. Dark brown eyes met hers as he laughed, carrying a sword, but no other weapons. He also had a pack.
“Yes, I know, I know,” he gave her a toothy grin as he started to keep pace with her. “I know you say you’re not a lady, but rumor has it that there’s some property in Kirkwall with your name, literally on it.”
“There is surely more than one family in all of Thedas with the surname, Amell.”
“But some say that you’re related to the Champion of Kirkwall.”
“...That doesn’t make me a lady.”
“But if you are, than all that property in Kirkwall…”
“Is still the Champion’s,” Eliza countered. “And since he’s dead it’ll probably go to the Viscount. No matter what happens with it, there’s no use bringing it up now.”
“Suit yourself, Serah.”
“ Kilian .”
Life now wasn't much different than it was under the Inquisition. With an escort, Eliza went out to collect herbs for the community she was a part of. She returned to make salves and medicines for the men under her care, and then have chores keeping up the property and organizing those who could work, and prioritizing the jobs that needed to be done. Many wounded soldiers from the Inquisition, and Templars alike, had turned that lodge into their home. Some for just a time as they recovered and found new purpose in the new world order, but for some it was the quiet place they needed to gather themselves before they left to meet the Maker. The vast majority were humans, but a few dwarves came and went. It was quiet, uneventful, and after a year of war, the inhabitants needed that gentle retreat.
The repetition got boring sometimes, and some became restless, but the boring repetition was good for Eliza. During her times as a Circle mage she had yearned for freedom, but during her time as an Apostate, she would have given the world for the consistency of the Circle. Her life had always been wanting for one, and then the other. Here, nestled in the southwest of Ferelden, there was a balance. She could move as she pleased, life was comfortable, and there were few surprises. Life was beginning to settle into that comfortable rhythm that so many longed for.
Eliza's final chore of the day was making one last round around the property once the sun set. Her lantern gave off a soft glow as she checked the stables, then the lodge, then the perimeter and work site with covered timber and supplies. There were plans for an expansion of the property; a small farm, greenhouse, small individual quarters... but that was a ways away. Those plans were started, but far from completion. Other business had to be tended to before it could start; but hopefully it would be soon.
A whinny of a horse caught her ear and she turned to look behind her towards the well worn road to the property. Riders just after dusk weren't completely uncommon, everyone tended to get behind schedule when traveling the roads. Travelers this late though were still rare enough to raise some alarm. Even though peace was established, an unfortunate thief or highwayman had appeared to try and take advantage of a woman they presumed to be living on her own. They never lasted for long. More likely though, the riders were coming from town because of an emergency. Eliza quickened her steps towards the road, staff in one hand as her lantern was in the other. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw the door to the lodge open... a tenant probably wondering who was approaching so late.
“Welcome. State your business, please,” Eliza said firmly. “There are a few beds available if you’re looking for lodging... but I'm afraid that unless it's an emergency whatever business you have will have to wait till the morning.” Eliza motioned towards the lodge, and whomever had stepped out on the porch just raised a hand in greeting before stepping down the stairs towards the path. The rider, hooded and on a mud splattered white steed simply nodded, slipping from their saddle to the ground. They approached, saddlebags full, and the edge of a sword stuck out of one bag while a shield was strapped to the other.
The rider met the man from the lodge first, he offered out a hand. "C'mon, I'll take your horse to the stable if you wanna grab your stuff and head in. There's still food if you move quick."
“I can take care of it, but thanks.” The tenant laughed, nodded before giving Eliza a wink and turning to go back tot he in. Whatever tension in the air melted as the rider let off a small chuckle, pulling off that weather worn hood.
“I thought you would be in Val Royeaux for the month,” Eliza lowered her staff, her shoulders dropped a small smile crossed her face.
“I was… and now I’m here.” The rider chuckled, "If I ruined your plans I guess I can ride back..."
“When did you become a smartass?” Eliza smiled, leaning forward to plant a soft kiss on Cullen’s lips.
“Long rides will do that,” he smiled as they broke. "Also, Dorian is giving me pointers." Eliza laughed, leaning back up to give him another kiss and a long hug. "I missed you."
“I missed you too," Eliza said, the words muffled against his cloak. "Hurry up. I’ll get the fire going, and you can tell me what happened with the Inquisition.” Eliza was practically beaming as she gathered up his bags, minus the sword and shield. "You'll have to tell me everything..." Her words drifted off as she walked off towards the house. Cullen sighed, running his hand over his horse's neck, watching her disappear into that house. How am I going to tell her…
This is the second to last chapter. I will probably write a small thread for the trial... but I haven't worked out the details yet and it felt like it wouldn't go well with the rest of the flick.
“So it’s over?”
“Yes… the Inquisition is officially disbanded. Lelianna, Josephine and the Inquisitor are on their way back to Skyhold to inform everyone and start dividing up supplies. Lelianna is planning on maintaining her network, but she said she was planning on scaling back… Whatever that entails.”
“How did Cassandra… I mean the Divine take it?”
“After the Inquisitor explained what happened… she understood. We will still get information from Val Royeaux and our other contacts. The Inquisition was too large to properly protect. If Solas has infiltrated the Inquisition as thoroughly as he claimed, and after the Qun infiltrated the Inquisition… Trevelyan didn’t think it was possible to avoid corruption and be able to prepare for what Solas has planned.”
“That’s what Varric said too,” Cullen took a drink of the steaming liquid in his cup. “Dorian will go back to Tevinter and try and weather the storm against the Qun and the Magisters; Varric said something about rebuilding Kirkwall; Rainer is traveling to Weisshaupt to warn the Wardens; Vivienne is trying to rebuild the Circles, and Sera and Iron Bull are in the wind. Everyone is keeping their ears open for what may come next…” The stove in the center of the hut was lit, but the fire was starting to die. The night had started well enough. Eliza hadn’t expected him to return for months more. The meetings in Val Royeaux, and then whatever needed to be tended to at Skyhold usually kept Cullen away for months at a time. Now he was back… and would be back for a long time. A trip to Skyhold here or there to gather personal effects, but the Inquisition was gone. The Anchor was gone. Although he didn’t divulge much… it was bad. “It’s not as if any of us can just sit by and let Solas, or the Qun, run around unchecked.”
“What is Solas planning?”
“We… we aren’t certain,” I hate lying. I’m bad at it… she knows I’m lying. “He was responsible for the Anchor and the Rift… More likely than not his plan involves the Veil.”
“Cullen…” Shit …
“Eliza…” She would stand to her feet, starting to pace in that open area. Her house was larger than most of the round huts that dotted the countryside. It was actually partitioned, cooking and living area taking up the majority of the space, and a walled off area for sleeping. Still, there wasn’t much room, and she moved back and forth in front of that stove, biting her nail. “Eliza… Eliza. ” She jumped as she felt two hands on her upper arms, and there was a crackle in the air. “Eliza, breath…”
“How the hell do you know?! If the Veil opens then that... it can get out!” She yelled, shaking his hands off and taking a step back. The energy in her eyes dissipated, and she let out a shaky breath. She shook her hands, rubbing her wrists as she looked down. “I… I’m sorry…”
“It’s okay…” Cullen reached out and as Eliza approached he pulled her into a hug, rubbing her back gently as she buried her head into his shoulder. “I know because the Inquisitor is still with us, and I’ve seen him do things that no living person has ever done, and Lelianna thinks the Wardens are preparing for something as well and I’ve seen the Hero of Ferelden survive odds that no one has before, and that was before she destroyed an Archdemon. I won’t let anything happen to you.” At least I hope… “Until then, we just do what we can.”
“What you’re doing right now,” he smiled, leaning back so he could turn her face to look at him. “You’re helping people here… you’re doing good work.”
“I’m serious. The Divine gave me this land when I told her about my plans, and you’ve been taking care of it in my absence. We can stay here and do what we can for these people, and if something happens, the Inquisitor and Divine know where to find us.” He took her face between his hands, “We can be here, for as long as we have, and be happy for as long as we can.”
Eliza just laughed softly, “When did you become the optimistic one?”
“I went to Orlais knowing everything was going to change after the Exalted Council. I didn’t know how, but with it over, I have found a little bit of certainty in my life.”
“It’s a nice change, isn’t it.”
“It is…” he smiled, leaning in to meet Eliza’s lips in a kiss. One hand cupping her cheek as the other wrapped around her waist to pull her closer and deepen that kiss. He broke it was a small sigh, pressing his forehead to her’s. “Marry me.”
“What?” He leaned back to watch that look of surprise engulf her face.
“I… well… I had a plan, trust me that it was a bit more romantic, but this… I’ve never been more certain about this… about us. I don’t know what is going to happen… but I’m certain that I want to be with you and face it with you. I just hope that’s what you want too.”
“Cullen…” she watched that seed of doubt suddenly flicker in his eyes, and his arm loosened a bit around her waist. In rare form Eliza just laughed, her arms wrapping around his neck and he barely had to react as she jumped into his arms. He stumbled, arms grasping under her thighs before moving to wrap under her butt. “Yes… yes yes yes!”
“Maker’s breath,” he laughed as her hands came to cup his cheeks, pulling him into another kiss. Stumbling back a little, he bumped into a table, earning a laugh from Eliza’s otherwise preoccupied lips. Gently, he let her down, waiting till she had stable footing before his hands went back to her cheeks, slowly breaking that kiss. “Please don’t scare me like that.”
“I’m sorry, I was in shock,” Eliza laughed again, smiling as she planted another short kiss on his lips. “But yes, yes I want to. I will.” He pulled her into a tight hug, this time burying his face in the crook of her neck.
“I love you.”
“I love you too Cullen.”
Final chapter. It's been a fun ride, and hope to get a touch of creativity soon to start another fic. Till then