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Two Souls, One Heart

Chapter Text

PROLOGUE

 

He left her.

Again and again and again, he left her.

Vhenan, he said. A kiss, a breath. Fingers intertwined with her own, the sweet taste of tears on her tongue. The word still echoed within her mind. A kaleidoscope of colors, a symphonic melody of death. He faded further and further from her reach, his silhouette opposing the shimmer of the glass before them. He was a shadow she would never catch, a longing she would never grasp, a dream she would never fulfill. He was nothing, yet he was everything.

His voice, the Dread Wolf’s voice, remained an anchor to the fact that all of it was real. He was real, just as much as she was. But everything she ever believed was a lie.

She was a fool, an ignorant fool, blinded by what could have been. And she bought it all, drunk on his words in the hopes that one day she would finally win. One day she would finally understand. But all she could do now was relive it all, relive him leaving her again and again and again.

You change everything. You are so beautiful. In another world.

She could scarcely tell whether she already died, whether this was what death felt like. The knowledge that it could never be, that their misery would never cease to stop. The memory of her and him, together but never complete. But vhenan. It was all she needed to keep death at bay, and it was all she needed to fulfill her own demise.

Ar lasa mala revas. You are free.

Another bitter truth, another sweetened lie. She could have never been more imprisoned. His pain, her pain, the world’s pain on her shoulders, her lungs, her heart. The world forever unsatisfied with its appetite for her sorrow. It fed on her agony and drained away whatever joy she once remembered like a long-forgotten dream. This damning world taunted and teased her with hope and love and beauty… with him.

She screamed, the memory of his lips ghosting over her own, the shattering pain piercing up her arm. He couldn’t leave her. Not again. He couldn't.

Losing him would—

She reached out desperately into emptiness, but the silhouette was gone.

Again and again and again.

It was an unspoken promise: he would always leave her, and they would always break.

Chapter Text

CHAPTER I

 

Run, the Breach warned her. Run and never look back.

One would assume that a gaping hole in the sky spewing demons that attacked the living would make most, if not all avoid the incomprehensible chaos and seek shelter away from its premises. For the elf gasping on the ground before a shemlen warrior, it seemed some weren’t granted even that kind of mercy.

Miera cried at the incessant sensation of thorns slicing through her skin, the biting cold of the snow at her knees doing little to ease the suffering. “Fenedhis!” she cursed, clutching her arm to her chest and begging the agony to cease. She choked back a sob, too paralyzed by the strain to follow the Breach’s whispering warnings.

Magic. It had to be magic. It always was. Damn this.

The shemlen warrior who called herself Cassandra was at Miera’s side in seconds. “Your mark is spreading,” she told her, “and it is killing you. But you are exactly who we need to stop this.”

Miera clenched her teeth at the woman’s inexplicably ridiculous logic. She bit back the need to retort at the irony of a human asking her, a Dalish elf of all people, for help at a time like this. “In what way could I possibly stop this?” she spat with a glare at the light swallowed by an empty vortex in the sky. It was impossible for people to be near enough without dying in the first ten steps in its direction. It had to be. 

“Your mark,” Cassandra explained. “It may be linked to the Breach, and it may be the only chance we have of sealing it.”

Miera blinked, dumbfounded. “You’re telling me you actually believe this... thing in my hand is going to close that hole in the sky?!” As if on cue, the magic imprinted on her bleeding palm flickered, engulfed by a halo of light. The pain ricochetted to her core and shattered it into oblivion.

Oh, how she'd desperately clawed at it in the cell in a fit of fear and rage. Her spite against Cassandra for interrupting the process only grew tenfold as the ache resisted ceasing. She just wanted the damn thing gone.  

Cassandra nodded, obviously having much more faith than the one with the glowing green magic in her hand. A shocker. “We will not truly know for ourselves until we reach the rift at its center and have your attempts to seal it.”

Miera glanced at the Breach, its terrorizing nature a flashlight to her despair. This couldn’t be happening. This couldn’t be happening

And that's how it began.

The world became too small, the soldiers stood too close, her clothes tightened against her skin. And she saw it. It could have been the first time or the thousandth time. It didn't matter. The shadow never cared. But it burned and seethed and boiled, a relentless fever plaguing her soul. She trembled, a flash of heat scorching her body. 

Not now. Please, not now.

Closing her eyes, Miera reminded herself to breathe. In. Out. In again.

Petal, river, gold. Petal, river, gold. 

“If I do what you ask,” she somehow willed herself to say, each word a rake against her lungs, “will I live through it?”

She was met with nothing but silence, the constant rumbling of the sky the only reminder that this was indeed a nightmare of which there was no awakening. Miera doubted Cassandra of having even heard her feeble words, the anxiety coating them a poison to any brave soul. But when one pair of eyes locked onto the other, that was all Miera needed to understand.

She had pondered the mortality of her own life plenty times before, a curtain of death lingering upon the precipice of her mind, but pouncing towards her demise was another matter entirely. She thought of her clan, of her people, of—

She cursed at herself for not having done better.

It seemed fitting, really, that of all people in Thedas, she’d be the one granted with even more magic that could kill her.

Cassandra offered an arm Miera refused to take. Impassive, the warrior turned and strode down the path of the town before them.

So this is how it ends, Miera thought to herself before following close behind.

 


 

Being informed she was the only remaining survivor of an explosion that rocked the very heavens was grim enough, but when the bridge her and Cassandra were crossing collapsed and they fell to the frozen lake below, Miera thought her death impended much, much closer than she anticipated.

When they stood, Cassandra bellowed at the creature before them—an ugly, scorched thing that proved it should have remained in the Fade for a reason. “Stay behind me!” she roared before charging forwards like the warrior she was and taking an initial swing, an attack that was readily dodged by the demon.

The impending crash of a green flame that fell from the Breach to Miera’s right threw her off-balance. Another demon’s blood-curdling scream vibrated through her when it stood from the rubble of impact. It was a grotesque creature, its own pelt ripping at its own muscles, with raging, beady eyes and claws that could rip her heart out in seconds.

She stepped back and tripped over her own feet in horror. But it was too late—it saw her.

And oh, did it come for her.

Miera barely evaded the demon's first swipe, diving towards the ground with a newfound sense of adrenaline pulsing through her body. One glance in Cassandra’s direction proved she remained caught in the battle with the other leaving this one to Miera’s own devices. She hoisted herself up onto her elbows, crawling and slipping against the ice in the opposite direction while making a desperate scan for anything that would help ward off the creature.

That was when she saw the almost too-convenient staff leaning against crates of supplies not a few paces out of reach.

Every muscle flinched in an instinct to grab it but Miera fought the urge and hesitated, faltering at the realization of what it meant to do so. She scoured the region for any other weapon, begging silenced gods for any other option to protect herself, but the screech behind her was enough to convince her there was no choice and time ran short. With fuming anger at herself, at the demon, and at the very world itself, she reached for it, grasping it within seconds in her hand. She rolled onto her back to witness the demon lunging for her, claws out for an attack she knew would kill her instantly.

It was timeless luck that saved her when she reached down to that inner parched glow, a hint of its nature escaping the suppressed well within her. A crackling bolt shot out from the jeweled tip of her staff and halted the demon in place for a mere second, but it was enough for Miera to scramble to her feet and run towards Cassandra. The woman had just impaled the other demon in the chest, her sword gleaming green from its reflection of the Breach. Miera's movement shifted the warrior's gaze to the remaining demon, likely an instinct of many years of warfare. And before Miera was even given the opportunity to aid her comrade-in-battle, she heard the plunging of the sword, the screeching of the demon, and a thud as it fell to the ice.

She had only just blinked when Cassandra whipped her sword up to her chin. “Drop your weapon. Now."

Miera didn't react to the sword, let alone glanced at it. Nothing now compared to the image of the demon bringing down its claws to tear her own life from her hands, let alone the endless void brewing above them.

Miera grimaced at her. “What would you have had me do? Let the demon feast on me for dinner?”

Cassandra frowned, clearly displeased with the choice of wording. But after a moment's consideration, she sighed and sheathed her sword to properly study the wide-eyed elf before her. If she noted the very mannerism in which Miera held her breath at the woman's sharp features, she did not show it. “You are right. I cannot protect you. We cannot know what we might face on our way to the temple," she finally said.

"If it can't be helped," was Miera's only reply. 

Cassandra nodded and, with one last glance in Miera's direction, turned to continue leading their trek towards the Breach. 

It was Cassandra’s lack of attention that brought Miera's own to the staff in her hands. It was weaker at channeling magic to ones she was once used to, but the thrum invigorating her bones like a well long parched had her sniveling at the discomfort. Too heightened were her senses, the cold pinching her body and the heat within it intensifying at the rush of enlighted energy. She loosened her grip on the weapon as much as she could in hopes of appeasing the feeling, but today was capable of anything but generosity. She nevertheless kept the staff as far away from herself as she could before falling into step behind Cassandra once again.

It didn’t take long for them to encounter a second round of demons, then a third, then a fourth. Cassandra took the weight of the battle each time, the demons too focused and distracted by her deafening roars and gleaming armor to notice the smaller figure lingering just outside of view. Miera cast a barrier for the warrior and herself as often as she could while ensuring her energy wasn't completely diminished before reaching their destination. Doing her best to avoid the use of offensive magic, she would instead plunge the end of her staff into the demons' skulls or swat at those that got too close with as much physical strength as she could muster. Luckily for her, that usually wasn’t the case. It would take a fool not to note the skill and precision with which Cassandra moved, her body an unconquerable force of nature that had seen the many provocations of battle. Such power attracted the demons to her instead.

It was when they were rounding up a steep hill, however, that Miera heard the clashing of swords and firing of weapons in the distance much unlike the quiet stillness they had trodden through before. Cassandra’s voice broke their acknowledged silence.

“You can hear them fighting up ahead!” 

“Who’s fighting?!”

“We shall see soon enough.”

And soon enough they did. When they finally reached the top of the hill, legs aching and lungs heaving, the chaos was difficult to miss. Demons spewed as far as the eye could see with fewer and fewer remaining soldiers left alive to fight back. Only a number of trained warriors were left standing, to her observations, before her eyes fell upon the whips of arrows and the flashes of magic towards the center where a dwarf and elf stood back-to-back. She slunk back in confusion at the green-lit fracture hovering in the air above them, that of which radiated the same chaotic energy of the Breach conquering the sky. The mark thrumming at its proximity did little to dampen her alarm.

“That puts me two up against you, Chuckles!” the dwarf laughed, laughed at the elf despite the fighting surrounding them.

She didn’t get the chance to hear the elf’s response before Cassandra huffed forwards. “We need to help them!”

Miera followed suit and hailed barriers where they were most needed for those she could only presume to be Cassandra's allies. She stood at the edge of the skirmish while eyeing the thing floating above them as if this day couldn’t get any more convoluted than having a hole tearing apart the sky.

It didn’t take long for the last demon to fall by Cassandra’s hand. But just as Miera breathed in the further evasion of fatal endings, someone took hold of her wrist.

“Quickly, before more come through!”

She whipped around in time to see the elf she’d observed in battle yank her hand into the air. A yelp escaped her lips at his grip, but soon it became an agonizing scream at the magic residing within instead. The fracture fed from the essence held within her palm, like a never-ending thread being yanked from her fingers, before the tension finally exceeded itself and climaxed. The magic snapped in place, it and the fracture going dormant in unison.

She snatched her arm away from the elf instantly. A heat blazed her skin at his unwarranted intrusion.

“What did you do?” It was an accusation the elf hardly appeared to notice.

“I did nothing. The credit is yours,” he motioned to her with a smile.

Miera warily studied him through a haze. He was quite taller than herself, his shoulders much broader than any elf she’d ever seen. It was a rarity in his case, that of which included the complete lack of hair. His posture was timid, shy even, which came as a surprise when her gaze met his downcast eyes, those of which pinned her with a fervor she couldn't comprehend. The clothing he wore was peculiar as well—simply-knit layers of cloth and an unusual jawbone necklace that dangled at his chest. There was an aura of his presence, a certain trademark of his magic she somehow thought familiar. 

She shifted her weight to face him as his words registered at last. Opening her palm, she regarded the mark while doing her best to remain poised beneath his stare. “This was by far a lack my own doing."

“Whatever magic opened the Breach in the sky also placed that mark upon your hand. I theorized that the mark would be able to seal the rifts that had opened in the Breach’s wake…” A pause. “It seems I was correct.”

“Meaning it could close the Breach itself,” Cassandra interjected with much-needed hope as she came to stand at their side.

The elf finally moved his gaze to match Cassandra’s, his eyes reeling in that almost natural observance seeped within them as he spoke. “Possibly.” Gently clasping his hands together, he looked back at Miera again, this time no indication of the sharp attention he wielded before. His body had danced into an encompassment of neutrality so quickly, so organically she doubted the change having been there at all. She would have believed she was merely a witness to a conversation he held with another stranger were it not for his next words: “It seems you hold the key to our salvation.”

The understatement of the century, so I've heard.

“And here I was thinking we’d be ass-deep in demons forever,” a rugged voice remarked behind her.

Miera turned to look at the dwarf she’d noticed in battle. He strode towards her with such radiating confidence she could do little to prevent looking as baffled as she actually was. It was the first time she’d ever seen a dwarf up close, and whatever expression she wore upon her face must have given it away. He grinned, amusement dotted on the dimples on his cheeks as he said, “Not unusual I'd be the first someone else has seen, believe me.”

A blush colored her own cheeks in embarrassment, one she hoped could be mistaken for the cold. “S-Sorry, I didn’t—”

He waved his hand, the smile on his face enough indication of his opinion on the matter. “Ah, kid, I know you meant no offense.” He stopped before her. “Varric Tethras! Rogue, storyteller, and occasionally, unwelcome tagalong.” He winked at Cassandra, an action that was only rewarded with a disgusted noise from the warrior.

Miera’s ears twitched at the exchange. There was evidently history there.

She wasn’t quite sure where to place Varric amid such commotion. His shoulder-length, ginger hair was somewhat pulled back to reveal a kindly rounded face. He wore intricate inner clothing that did nothing to cover his chest yet leathered armor that otherwise protected him from the cold. Most curious, however, was the beautifully crafted crossbow attached to his back, a weapon so elaborate in its design it took Miera a few seconds to will herself to look away.

Hesitantly, she asked, “Are you with the Chantry, or…?”

The elf to her side gave a song-like chuckle. “Was that a serious question?”

Miera was unsure of what to make of the comment, let alone the giddy sarcasm.  

“Technically, I’m a prisoner… just like you,” Varric sighed, fumbling with his gloves as a distraction.

Cassandra stepped towards him, an air of sudden frustration about her. “I brought you here to tell your story to the Divine. Clearly, that is no longer necessary,” she thought the need to explain to him. Varric gave her a knowing smile. If his intention was to agitate her, the sour expression on her face was evidence of his success.

Miera scoffed. “How many prisoners do you have, exactly?” It was a genuine question but it nevertheless earned a snort from the other two.

“More than she would likely be willing to admit, one assumes,” the elf joked.

Cassandra grumbled, “You three are insufferable.”

The elf turned back to Miera then, the smile still echoed upon his lips. “My name is Solas, if there are to be introductions. I am pleased to see you still live.”

Confusion restrained her from the ability to reply. The lack of vallaslin given his name was nothing but unusual, and he failed to carry himself much like the few city elves she'd ever had the chance of meeting. Many questions were on the verge of spinning from her tongue when Varric cut in, “He means, ‘I kept that mark from killing you while you slept.’”

A new realization settled in. She looked at Solas, diffident of the proper thing to say. “Your magic. I thought it felt familiar.” His grin faltered before she continued, “Before I awoke, I sensed it when you helped me... Thank you. The name is Miera,” she finally managed, comforted to know she was not only under the presence of another of her kind but also that not everything wished to bring death to her doorstep that day. 

He simply nodded. “My travels have allowed me to learn much of the Fade, far beyond the experience of any Circle mage. I came to offer whatever help I can give with the Breach. If it is not closed, we are all doomed regardless of origin.” He turned to the warrior. “Cassandra, you should know: the magic involved here is unlike any I have seen. Your prisoner is a mage, though I find it difficult to believe any mage having such power.”

Miera couldn't have bit back the retort even if she tried. "How reassuring given a mage must close that hole in the sky on her own."

All she earned was a blank stare from the three of them. A fun bunch for a suicidal mission, she concluded. 

Cassandra broke the terse silence that followed. “We must make our way to the forward camp. Leliana is waiting for us." 

Solas and Varric nodded too easily, and to Miera's dismay, the group traveled on with little hesitancy.

 


 

It didn’t take long for them to come across yet another few sets of demons before reaching the camp, and there they faced the results of Miera's having been freed. 

Her presence gave rise to a heated discussion with a Chantry-man that urged her to prove how true those fanciful tales of savage Dalish elves could be, and she hoped never to cross paths with him again. She made a motion to lunge forward and assault the bloody man where he very well stood when he blamed her for the Breach, nevermind her lack of complacency. Her attempt was barely stopped in time when Solas placed a hand on her arm and wordlessly reminded her of the consequences she would potentially face if she did. She couldn't tell if she was angry or grateful for it. 

Not long after, Cassandra decided that the best course of action was to charge with the remaining soldiers to reach the temple—a strength-in-numbers approach Leliana, the other of the shemlen that had interrogated her when Miera had awoken in the cell, refuted. But eventually, the red-head digressed. Following the warrior's orders, their trek up the mountain had the party shivering and clutching at their clothes. Snowflakes hailed like rain, each of their steps growing heavier in exhaustion.

But that was one of the last things on Miera's mind as she constantly reminded herself not to gawk at the Breach looming above them in the sky, not quite believing they were walking towards it rather than away. Though she tried miserably not to dwindle over where they were going or what they were doing, her mind failed to blockade the thoughts dampening whatever resolve she had the will to muster. The panic rose like tempered bile in her throat, and she swallowed down the aching sob that sought release several times.

Varric, however, did well in filling the empty silence, deterring her from thinking about it more than she needed to. He drifted the group’s conversation away from the obvious and onto more trivial matters… like his novels, of which she had never heard of, and nugs.

“Have you ever seen them?" he asked her. "Leliana loves those critters, contrary to what she’ll have you believe.”

Miera couldn’t help the surprised smile that made its way across her face, almost doubting the dwarf. She took a moment to dig her staff into the snow just shy of her knees to propel her forwards before replying, “Really. The I-could-kill-someone-by-murderously-looking-into-their-soul Leliana likes nugs.” 

“She doesn’t like them, kid. She loves them,” Varric corrected her. “The woman has a knack for keeping her cards hidden, absolutely, but she wears her heart on her sleeve for those things. Wouldn’t have believed it myself if she hadn’t threatened me when I asked her about it. She promised me she’d—”

He stopped abruptly, pursing his lips. Miera gave him a sidelong look of amusement as she dug her staff into the snow again. “You were saying?”

He cleared his throat. “Not important.”

She was having none of it.

“You mean to tell me, Varric, that a rogue storyteller like yourself is intimidated by a woman’s love for nugs? Never would have pegged you as someone who backs down from a good story.”

Cassandra snorted behind them, the only evidence of anyone else listening in. Miera wasn't quite sure she could say the same of Solas. Once glance in his direction proved his mind was elsewhere, far beyond the stretches of the valley, and it was difficult not to be envious of it. Her wonder stirred at what it was that could spark such detachment before Varric's hand on her arm caught her attention. She flinched at the contact, not that he noticed. There was a panicked impulse, a mental warning she should shrug his hand away but her body wasn't keen on following her own command, so all she could do was stare at the fingertips resting lightly against the chained armor at her arm.

How long had it been since she'd felt the touch of something real and breathing, since she'd sensed that flickering warmth of contact? And if he knew the truth of her, would he brace himself instead?

“I like you, kid. Keep it up," he said, the same hand giving a pat on her arm. There it was again—that beaming smile of his, wider than before. She could have fooled herself into believing it was truly intended for her if she'd tried, and a parched, desperate part of her wanted to. But instinct was chanting it would only rebuild her naïveté again. With seasoned purpose, she clenched her jaw, her soul welcoming reality as it hardened the gadget beating in her chest.

No, it wasn't real. A fool she was to believe even fleetingly that his softness was truly intended for her and not the necessity of her being—no, not even that. It was the necessity of someone else's being, someone else's magic, something that didn't even belong to her. She was nothing but an empty, jagged vessel of "salvation," as Solas dared to claim. Was she gullible enough to trust it?

Before an answer came to her, Varric withdrew his hand. 

Only moments later did the group reach the top of the mountain’s impasse and find themselves within a gated-off camp at the edge of the front line. The stillness of it caught them off-guard, but they soon realized most, if not all of the soldiers that had been stationed there were already killed or wounded in the aftermath. 

Miera clamped a hand over her mouth at the multitude of bodies gathered for their loved ones. 

Hollow, empty, culpable. The thought probed and radiated into her, with her, from her as it mixed with the crimson red paint in the snow. A lost locket buried in the snow, a tear-stained letter left unwrittenso many trivialities that would forever be lost to the cosmos, and no one to remember them by.

Run. Run and never look back.

It was no longer a whisper. It was a scream. And it banged and clanged and rang until all she could hear was the resounding echo of their lives sundered before her.

She made fists of her hands until she was satisfied with the warmth of the blood at her fingertips, her own red paint blending with that of the deceased. 

The gates slamming open snatched the whispering warnings away. The group turned to observe the few bleeding soldiers as they limped their way inside, and they caught a glimpse of another rift waiting just past them.

There was no need to yell a command. Warrior, rogue, and mages alike moved in coordination as they ran towards the fracture and leaped off the edge of the camp, hailing their weapons against the demons that awaited them. Miera remained at the rear with Varric and Solas while Cassandra charged to the forefront. The whip of arrows, the crackling of ice, and the swinging of a sword were now a more acclimated melody for the group that was heightened by the adrenaline of survival.

But after laboriously sealing the rift, Miera noticed the extent to which her body was shaking, the tremor irrelevant to the weather. It didn’t help that the mark was unbearable enough her pursed lips were bruising from how rigorously she was suppressing a scream. She knew by the lack of control of her fingers it was now only a matter of when the magic would finish the kill.

Solas’ voiced tore Miera out of the thought. “Sealed, as before. You are becoming quite proficient at this.”

She turned towards him just as he approached her. The nearness at which he stood had her entire body clenching in an effort to hide the quiver, but it seemed he was too keen a man. His gaze fell straight to her trembling hands, though nothing else in his mannerism indicated he noticed it at all.

Her tone was unduly light when she said, “Closing rifts and saving lives—it’s what I do."

Solas only nodded. 

Things, however, did not fare any better. Once crossing paths with a Commander who's made Miera's heart nearly flutter at the sight of his prince-like appearance, the forward-traveling group reached a massive ledge that led directly to the entrance of the temple. They each jumped off one by one, grunting at the impact. Miera froze when she fully stood, a horror rooted deep in her gut halting her from the ability to move at all.

Scorched corpses of those whose fates had been sealed by the explosion surrounded them. Each body remained frozen in time, the last remnants of a memory best lay forgotten, an immobilizing fright palpable on their bloodied faces. Some held their arms above their heads in an instinct for cover while others stood naturally, unaware that their lives had already been stolen from them. They encompassed everything that had been lost in the chaos: devastation, despair, injustice. And the silence hovering over the group was strained enough even the drop of a feather would have thundered in their ears.

Slowly they traversed, somehow willing to take a step after another, but each corpse struck a harder blow against Miera's already fragile mind.

It was the body of a man clutching his child that finally broke it.

She fell to her knees before their huddled forms, reality shattering into extinction. There was nothing but them—man and child, forever lost to a world that would never care to remember them, and she'd be the last to know. And her body seared and shook and burned at the unpayable cost of the Breach, of the task that awaited her in the name of every life lost. Her skin had become too much—too much of a cage, too much of a flaw, too much of her own.

Petal, river, gold. Petal—

The thought died before she could further encourage it, the words' comfort lost to time. Her shallow breathing was an inescapable feat at the knowledge they had all been alive moments before, that they had only hoped to bring peace in a time of war, that the frame in the man’s arms was a child—

It should have been her. It should have been her. It should have been—

There were muffled voices, muted sounds Miera couldn’t understand at first. Dizzy, the sky was no longer above nor below her yet everywhere at once, the world too confined yet unmistakeably boundless. She clutched her chest, her sorrow and fear and guilt so profound and unforgiving she could barely recall who she was, what she was. She wished the guilt would press further, exceed the point of no return and break her heart entirely, break it until she felt nothing at all.

“Miera, listen to my voice. Focus on my words.”

But the thought couldn’t leave her head. It echoed infinitely like a chamber within her mind.

It should have been her. It should have been her.

“Feel the lungs within your chest, the ground beneath your feet. Allow yourself to breathe.”

How could she? How could she possibly allow it if they never got the chance to again? What gave her the right to have stolen these lives from them, to continue living now while they remained as forgotten corpses in the rubble, disposed of like they were nothing? That shadow was simmering inside again; it crept and slithered until it consumed her, until it ripped her very essence away.

But she sensed it thenthe mingling of a spirit. Soothing, soft, gentle, a mere stroke of it. It reached out to her, body and soul, a melody of calm. But it was too soon, all too soon. Someone was prying open reality against her will, tearing apart her guard, unleashing the burning in her lungs, the fire in her soul, too hot, too hot, too hot— 

She gasped for air, the first breath of hope. Refreshing. Calm. Real. The snow at her legs, the shivering cold, the whip of the chilling air.

It should have been her.

But it wasn’t.

“You are doing well. Breathe with me. Feel the rhythm of my magic.”

And the rhythm… she could sense it now, yes. Even and raw, consistent, tangible. It seeped through her skin, her muscles, her bones, pooling in warmly and softly and tenderly until it filled her with hope and loss and life.

In. Out. In again.

Her body was no longer a cage. It was a shelter.

The panic dissipated, the magic brushing sweetly against her skin like the lapping of the ocean shore, and hesitantly, she opened her eyes.

She was clenching her body as she sat on the ground, fingers numb from the grip, clothes drenched from the snow. Her breathing remained labored and strenuous as she recovered, but the shadow that had lingered only seconds before had crept back into the abyss, almost forgotten. Solas was knelt before her, his hands on his knees and his gaze locked on hers. His expression was heavy-lit with an undefinable sentimentpity, she supposed. It always was.

“Is she—”

Solas lifted an arm without glancing away, wordlessly cutting off Cassandra's motion to speak. Miera would have flinched, would have receded, would have crumbled at the sound had her gaze not been intertwined with his, had she not absorbed the violet interwoven delicately within it. It was a lifeline lifting her from the darkness enveloping her existence, a stable reminder that life was around her, part of her, within her. Yet she faltered in her ability to hold on when she glanced up to see Cassandra and Varric staring. 

Her breath caught in her throat in realization.

They'd seen it, seen her, cracked open the basin of her substance like a light blinding a soul obscured. How she wished the ground would swallow her up now. 

As if reading her thoughts, Solas reassured her, “What you feel is justified. You are well, and that is all that matters.”

She stared at the blanket of frigidity at her feet, falsely observing the snowflakes melting against her clothing in an effort to avoid the lie. She knew they were empty words meant to inspire. None could heal what was never meant to exist. 

With a sharp, steadying breath, she dared to look up. She endured the sting in her eyes. They would not see her break again. 

“I didn’t mean to—”

“Do not apologize,” Solas interrupted her, his expression rigid and unchanging. The assuredness in his assumption of her next words paralyzed her. “It is a rare occurrence to find ourselves amongst such demanding circumstances. What you have been burdened with is as common as unearthing a breach in the sky. We will not proceed until you find the strength within you to do so.”

Miera fumbled with her fingers then, the beating in her chest invigorating at his words. Although the set of options before her were bleak, it was a small comfort to know her struggle did not fall on deaf ears. The irony of their need for the magic she possessed, despite it not being her own, was a placid venom in her veins. She nodded at him regardless, a small token of appreciation if he ever desired one.

But it wasn't Miera's body that stood up from the ground. It wasn't her body that untangled itself from its own clutches, breathing in the cool winter air. And it certainly wasn't her body that took one step before another as easily as it did, walking past the burning bodies of men and women left for this damning world to forget.

All that was hers was the grasp of her demise and the silence absorbing her final moments as she stepped into the temple, bracing herself for what was to come. 

 


 

Needless to say, things did not go according to plan—or as close to it as there ever was to being one.

A disorientating recollection of memories, an accusation of secrecy, and a preparation for battle later, Miera’s mark had only just linked itself with the massive rift at the Breach’s heart when a wave of force propelled everyone nearest to it into the air; all crashed at the furthest reaches of the temple’s edges. A chain of crackling green lights emitted from the fracture and struck different portions of the temple at once, the combined force stirring the ground beneath them.

There was a roar. Miera stood in time despite the lingering dizziness from impact to witness a demon ten times larger than any she’d ever seen materialize before them. It was grotesque and monstrous as it stood on its two towering haunches with six gleaming eyes that glared with a diligent desire to kill. It heaved back, peering up at the Breach above him in sheer glee, and laughed.

As if answering the demon’s call, a shriek of a multitude of entities echoed within the valley. Miera turned to survey the rest of the temple.

The demons were everywhere.

And with a massive series of shrilling cries, they charged.

The creatures assaulted their closest targets. Miera was the first to generate a barrier for the group, all of whom stood back-to-back in preparation for the first round of demons that would reach them. Unluckily for them, however, it happened to be the only one Miera hadn't the slightest idea how they’d manage to defeat on their own.

The massive demon launched a whip of lightning that crushed the barrier she had created for them in pieces, the defense’s remains scattering about them.

Ah. Comforting.

Cassandra was the first to issue a command, voice laced with years-worth of experience in battle. “Solas, remain at the rear and shelter me while I distract the demon and bring the fight to our soldiers. Varric, stay at his side and keep the remaining demons from reaching us. If we are surrounded, we will lose the advantage.” The group split apart just as the demon lifted its whip again and battered it against the ground where only moments before they stood. Despite the battle echoing loudly in their ears, Cassandra continued, “Miera, strip the demons of their defenses. Use your mark to seal the rift while we hold the inner ring. Use whatever chances you have to aid Solas and grant us with your barriers. Are we understood?”

Cassandra didn’t even wait for an answer before charging forwards with a battle-cry, drawing the attention of the demon that had only just attacked them. Like clockwork, the group shifted, Varric and Solas darting to the outer edges of the battleground to linger out of sight and Miera sprinting towards the center where she could reach the rift at its closest.

A smaller demon just out of reach spotted her and swatted out with its arm, barely missing its opportunity to dig its claws into her armor. She used her momentum to throw herself to the ground and slide on her rear while sticking her staff outwards. The creature tripped just as she willed herself to a stand and dash on. She hoped another soldier would distract the demon in time for her to do her part.

After dodging several other demons along the way, Miera finally got close enough she believed the rift would listen to the mark’s call. With a heaving breath, she flung her hand into the air and re-linked the magic pulsing within her palm with that of the Breach.

The sheer force the rift met her with nearly caused her to black out immediately. She choked on her own breathing, eyes shut in focus, and when she somewhat regained any will of her mind, she had to impose every fiber of her being to contradict what the rift was persuading her to dogive in. 

Just then, a blanket varnished in desperation soothed her bones.

Magic.

Miera blinked, confused as she drew her gaze up, then bit back a yelp when she saw the blistering face of a demon only inches from her face. Its fangs were out in a coat of blood and its arms hung over its head in a preparatory stance to attack herfrozen.

She didn’t have to look to know who it had been.

With staff in hand, Miera used her other arm to smash the demonic sculpture of ice. It burst with a crack, its remains showering to the ground. This was repeated several times, a silent, mental agreement made between her and Solas on the battlefield on how to interact with demons that closed in on her. But when one of the demons managed to do so, its unforgiving rage requiring her to impale it in the chest with her staff, she knew something was amiss.

Before she was given a chance to search for the mage, the mark and the rift flared brighter. Both the ground below and the Breach above them rumbled in unison, and the weight of their power knocked everyone within the temple off their feet.

The mark nearly slaughtered her right then and there.

She took that small window of time to glance at Cassandra despite her own vision blurring from the ache. The warrior fought mercilessly against the massive demon, her bravery never wavering for a second. The demon flung its whip at her, barely missing her as she dodged just out of its reach. Cassandra stood regardless, panting, and plowed into the demon with her sword and shield again as faithful in her skill and song of battle as ever. Blood lay splattered across her armor, and whether that was that of the demon’s or her own, Miera couldn't tell. But the demon whipped a string of its lightning again, quick enough she didn’t see it coming, and it struck her right across the chest. The warrior fell.

“Cassandra!” Miera screamed, panic gripping her shoulders, but the ache of the mark was even firmer and it snatched away the strength in her legs, bringing her to her knees.

Come on, come on… hold on just a little bit longer, Cassandra. Just a little bit longer, please.

Miera ground her teeth and forced her eyes to remain open despite the rift’s flourishing pressure. Varric stood at the other edge of the clearing; he vaulted backward in time to evade a group of demons that met him with nothing but biting jaws and swiping claws. The Fade trailed along her skin leaving burns in its wake but she didn’t care. This couldn't be the end. This couldn't be how it ended, how everyone decayed into dust. But the demons were relentless, and despite Varric's efforts to keep them at bay with a dexterity for traps and arrows, they had him surrounded. And they pounced.

A guttural sound escaped Miera's lips in a desperate effort to call for him, but the Breach had stolen her voice. 

No, not him. Please. Not him too.

And just when Miera thought the torment could no longer grow, just when she was believed no greater harm could be done, the strain multiplied two, three, ten times as much. She trembled from the Fade's sheer potency as it clawed and sliced right through her, tearing and reigniting the very nature of herself and the Veil in harmony. The agony fragmented every part of her being she never even believed existed.

She wanted to scream, wanted any silenced god above to be able to answer the world's cry for help, but the pain incapacitated her completely.

Solas. Solas can help them. Where is he?

She could no longer see. She could no longer hear. Her senses dimmed until she was but a speck in the heart of the ending, a stain in the midst of chaos. She crawled and grappled and sought her way up, but the rift suppressed and countered her own fortitude and pushed her down, down, down

"No," she pleaded with a broken whimper into the abyss, her voice but a fragment of existence in the darkness.

The shadow stood before her, unyielding and everchanging. She stepped back, but it stepped forward. Another step back, another step forward. Until suddenly, it was taking her hand and swaying with her in a dance of imminent death, slowly yet surely, softly yet boldly.

They needed her. They needed her. Not even death could take that from her. She was but one lone soul in the expanse of creation, and she couldn't be at death's mercy, not yet. 

But the shadow lingered around her, murmuring sweet promises of a new beginning. It licked her, tasted her within and without, taunting and dallying her to give up, give in. It dared her to let go. To the music of death, it danced, carrying her along in its footsteps, leaping to the melody of closure. And she was soaring to it, free from the bars of a long-forgotten cage.

She wanted to let go, but she couldn’t. Even if she died, she couldn’t.

She wouldn't. 

Because she was but one lone soul in the expanse of creation, and she was at the mercy of death itself. 

The shadow smiled as it slithered around her, swallowed her spirit, and faded into the abyss, carrying her with it.

 

Chapter Text

CHAPTER II

 

Miera flitted her eyes to a close, inhaling the sweet scent of lilies and honey-wheat drifting through the air. The soft warmth of the sun glistening high upon the sky caressed her back and transcended into the core of her being. She wiggled her toes further into the dirt, relishing in the feel of the sand-like texture seeping and trickling off her feet, and she hummed in pleasure at the soothing heat. The brushing of the blades of grass at her legs pulled her further and deeper into a dream-like state. How she wished she could remain in that moment for an eternity—perched upon auburn hills, no clouds touching even the horizon in the distance, the birds’ song a welcoming aura of peace and serenity.

She blinked her eyes open and lifted her hand into the air. With the slightest tap of the familiar well pulsing within her, she blew into her palm and breathed life into wisps of golden magic that drifted from her fingertips. Strings of it wandered among the breeze like a thread of twinkling stars, and when each speck of dust landed on the field about her, a primrose emerged; it grew and grew until it bloomed completely, glowing from the magic streaming through its stems.

A faint chuckle, then a relaxing exhale at Miera’s right. “I could stay here for hours.”

Miera tilted her head towards the sound, her heart crumbling for reasons she didn't understand. “Why don’t we?” It was a question as coy as it was rebellious.

The girl at her side giggled, the ends of her rich-brown hair lifting at the slightest hint of a breeze. “Having fun ideas, are we?"

"You know I always do."

"And you know how much they love that.” A pause, coupled with a sigh. “But you know why we can’t… why I can’t. I–”

“Stop feeling like you owe them something,” Miera interrupted, the words spilling out much, much harsher and abrasive than she’d intended. She bit the inside of her cheek as the shrilling sound echoed around them, disrupting the serenity they'd come to treasure. Gently, she added, “You're here because we want you to be. Never forget that. But that doesn't mean you should allow us—them to dictate your life. It won't make it any different than—”

“Miera.” The shun glimmered along the freckles on the girl's skin as she turned to Miera, the light embellishing her eyes and bringing out the green within them Miera always loved. There was something almost fanciful about them, an undefinable idealism that made her breath hitch. But her words were a warning, and they both knew it.

With a sigh, Miera tore her gaze away. She was already dancing upon the unspoken boundaries of their affection, a common feat she rarely controlled, but the matter couldn’t be helped. Miera just needed her to see, to understand, to live. After all that had been endured, her friend deserved it as much as anyone.

Miera waved her hand. “Fine. Sorry. I know I shouldn’t bring it up. I just worry you’ll always feel indebted to them. You deserve better.”

The tense silence that followed indicated her friend had heeded her words regardless of however much she would have preferred refuting them. It was an unspoken promise threaded between them, their little dance of cat an mouse on the topic, but Miera hoped the day would come when the game would end, when the girl would brace that life within her hands. Miera only hoped she would be there when the moment came. 

A gasp, then a thwip! as something whipped just past their ears. 

"Miera!" the girl cried.

Miera stood and whirled around in instinct but was paralyzed by the sudden cleave of her leg. She heaved and stumbled back, her gaze dropping down to its source. The blood drained from her face at the arrow she saw protruding from her thigh.

“Seize her!”

An unrelenting force struck Miera in the chest and she fell onto her back, the air ripped from her lungs at the impact. The figure pressed along her body like a cage and locked against her skin, and its nails dug mercilessly into her neck, relishing in the wheeze that escaped her parted lips. Miera hopelessly gazed up at her attacker, but the light cascading the figure's shoulders seared it into a silhouette of a nightmare, and her vision blurred from her own lack of breathing. All she was left to do was squirm uselessly against it—a wounded animal left for the bloody kill.

"Don't resist, sweetling," the figure cooed into her ear, and a chill raced like acid along Miera's spine at the sound. "We both know how this ends. All you have to do is let me help you and this will never happen again."

Miera desperately reached out with her hand, fingers fumbling along the grass in search of the staff she could have sworn was there only moments before, but her grip came back empty. A heightened understanding of the end smothered the scream that sought release.  Her vision pummeled deep into the crippling darkness while a coolness crept along her skin, the rush for survival reinvigorating her every muscle yet paralyzing them all completely.

"You filthy little wench," a man's voice snarled at her. 

Miera froze. She recognized that sound. Why did she recognize it?

A crackling racket followed by the scent of burning flesh. 

“Wait! Don't—"

Miera woke with a start.

It was a terrible thing, truly, considering the extent to which her head throbbed. She choked at the rush of consciousness and placed a hand on her forehead, falling onto her back.

But the memory of the dream intruded her every waking thought. With a yelp, she fumbled her hands to where the arrow had been. The echo of the piercing pain lingered on her thigh, but her trembling fingers paused when she realized the injury was long gone.

It was a dream. Just a dream. It’s okay. You’re okay.

Miera counted numbers in her head, timing her breathing to harmonize with it. She thumbed the area over her leg where she knew the scar was.

Stop. You’ll only make it worse.

With her other hand on her chest, she eventually managed to calm the emotional storm brewing within and blinked several times to rid herself of the haziness, adapting her vision to the dimness around her. She lay confused as she studied the many intricacies of the wooden ceiling above her, its carvings illuminated by a dwindling light. She noted the boiling scent of foxite and elfroot and was suddenly aware of the softened sheets wrapped around her shivering form.

With a sharp inhale, yet another flood of memories swept her from the calm.

The Breach. Did I stop it? Cassandra, Varric, Solas… Shit!

She hoisted herself up, slower this time to allow the blood to drift back to her head, and pushed off the covers, dangling her legs over the mattress she’d been resting in. Her heart stammered against the cage in her breast, and she warily took a moment to absorb the details around her.

She sat in a rather small cottage, obviously shemlen made, that lay tattered and messy with ornaments, goods, and scattered papers all about. A fireplace had been lit to her left with a pot brewing above it she could only assume the herbs she smelled were being broiled in. A window opposite of her revealed the smallest detail of her location outside—a wooden fence among bushes covered in a blanket of snow. The place itself was excessively claustrophobic compared to the freedom of nothing but the sky lingering over her head. Yet the overabundance of the cottage affirmed her lack of imprisonment and the care for her recovery proved there was time to do more than resist the world's ending.

It was a comforting thought, but one leaving her with more questions than she longed for. 

One glance at her change of clothing and Miera knew she'd been unconscious for some time; her bandaged, healing wounds did not go by unnoticed. She winced when she tested the severity of her injuries with prodding fingers and frowned at her lack of recollection earning them. The thought had her shuddering at the knowledge of her comrades falling in battle, and the remembrance bloomed a new memory entirely.

Hesitantly raising a hand to her chest, Miera hoped by a miracle whoever had removed her dressing hadn't taken the only part of it she truly cared for. But when a familiar, cool metal met her skin, she breathed a sigh of relief and tugged at the necklace before holding the ornament in her palm reassuringly.

The fleeting thought of her clan at the memory accompanying the ring gnawed at her. She needed to know they were safe. They needed to know she was... in some sense, at least.

All was forgotten, however, when an all-too-familiar shade of green was caught in the reflection of the ring. She lowered her gaze to her other hand in dread.

Just as before, the mark remained.

Miera stared at it, skeptical of whether to be surprised that, despite the magnitude of her efforts, foreign magic still dwelled within her, banging against a long-forgotten part of her entity. The energy was duller now, she noted, and perhaps more consistent (not having yet cried out in pain was a good sign if any), but it was undeniably still a danger. Precaution over its effect was necessary, even if it meant a lifetime of infinite inquiries as to its origins and how to remove it. The idea was exhausting—a moment of change a lifetime of difference—but she knew the concept well. Too well. And the warmth enveloping her in the cottage almost, almost tricked her into believing none of it ever happened at all. There was no greater desire for it. 

A distinct wooden box on the floor a few paces from the bed soon caught Miera's attention, halting the momentum of her thinking. It was larger than the many scattered clumsily and carelessly across the shed, a further proof of its distinctiveness. Miera stood from the edge of the mattress, lightheaded from what she assumed to be days-worth of inactivity, and walked to it, curiously lifting its lid. In it was a folded set of well-forged armor tinted with striking threads of whites and blues. Metallic scales harbored its shoulders that glistened in the warm lighting of the fireplace. It was hardly the kind of clothing Miera would choose to wear by her own accountshe much preferred the feeling of knitted wool and fresh leather crafted by the hands of those in her clanbut she nevertheless found the armor beautiful, as if any frame were undeserving of wielding it.

Placed neatly at the top, a note:

For the Herald. 

 


 

Miera did not consider herself one to run away from things in life.

At least, that was the lie she was telling herself given she was quite literally doing so. 

It started upon stepping out from the shed she awoke in.  After changing into the armor she no less expected the humans were implying she wear and opening the door to the outside world, she hadn't known where to look firstthe set of iron-brimmed soldiers stationed at either side of her door, the crowd of people standing so cordially... no, bowing before her, or the Breach that remained as ominously as she remembered in the sky.

That moment in of itself took every ounce of willpower not to run back into the safety of the shed and lock the door, perhaps even chug a few glasses of liquor to soothe the aching in her chest while she was at it.

Then came the quite beautifully perverted luck of chancing a meeting with that one Chantry-man whose face she so desperately wanted to meet her fist. More than one time. Several, in fact.

And oh, did he blame her for the Breach, and oh, did her desire grow. It wouldn't have surprised her if he stooped so low as to blame her for the immorality of his own religion, better yet the fall of her own people. It was difficult, as well, not to forget his rather humorous attempt at meeting her at eye-level given his shockingly dismal height for a human while accusing her of the events at the temple. It was Cassandra and Leliana, both of whom had been alive and well as they awaited her within the Chantry building, who stepped between them before things got "out of control" as they so eloquently phrased it.

Ironic, considering how “out of control” the hole in the sky was.

But the minute the warrior and rogue informed it necessary for her to remain at Haven, to have her attempts once again at sealing the Breach, to in the meanwhile play a pivotal role in the creation of something called the "Inquisition," Miera found herself irrefutably running.

She didn't get very far.

In fact, she didn't make it past the doors of the Chantry's entrance. They were much heavier than she would have ever given them credit for.

Defeated, she rested her forehead against them just as Cassandra and Leliana reached her, their footsteps echoing within the ominously quiet chamber.

"I... was just heading out to... there was, um... something II wasn't..." Miera fumbled for words, the last of them dying on her lips. A pathetic attempt, she knew, but one made in the hopes of redeeming any part of her dignity.

She could have sworn the doors laughed at her at that. Damned things.

"We know this is much to ask of you," Cassandra told her, slicing right into the heart of the conflict. "But you are our only chance of amending what has been broken."

"You mean the mark," Miera retorted. She wouldn't give them the satisfaction of letting them believe she bought their comforting lies. 

Leliana noticed the grudge and made a more encouraging remark. "You may leave if you must. But you should know that just as there are those who praise you for what you have done, there are others who still believe you responsible. You and your clan would always be in danger."

Miera sighed, turning to them both and pressing her back against the doors. In truth, though her act of fleeing had been instinctual, a small part of her doubted her ability to have left at all. Though it was easy to forget about the complications and intricacies of the shemlen world when living among aravels and glades and shimmering forests, there was no avoiding how far the Breach's threat expanded. 

She supposed as well that if Cassandra and Leliana, both of whom had devoted their lives to the Chantry only to be cast out for refusing to dally about such political nonsense, were at the forefront of a force that would attempt to stop it, she would be of any aid, even if she didn't understand how.

Biting her lip, Miera met Cassandra's eyes, then Leliana's. Behind their obvious coat of sympathy lay something she'd long forgotten existed: hope. For it to be aimed at a Dalish elf, of all people, was telling enough.

She finally fully stood before the two, armor clanging as she clenched her firsts.

“If you’re truly trying to restore order for everyone...” she began, the sentiment echoing within the walls of the Chantry. 

"That is the plan," Leliana confirmed.

Cassandra stepped towards Miera with an extended hand, optimism radiating about her at enough quantities one could taste it. "Help us fix this before it's too late."

Miera's eyes lowered down to the palm before her. Every muscle in her body was resisting, hoping to fulfill her one chance at escape, but the thought alone was stripped away by the severity of the cause. She could barely numb the fear permeating her bones, and it was impossible not to acknowledge the posing threat when the Breach remained morose in the sky at every second, almost as a reminder of its unconquerable terror.

Regardless, Miera forced herself to meet Cassandra's gaze again and nod. She gave the woman an awkward, unpracticed shake. 

Without further ado, Cassandra and Leliana stepped towards the door and clasped a handle Miera had evidently forgotten to notice. With a smirk in her direction, Cassandra pulled it back, a gust of wind whipping into the hall.

So the doors didn't open both ways. Good to know.

Her comrades stepped out into the brisk morning of the town in the means of preparing what Miera could only assume to be the beginning of their Holy expedition. She followed suit after giving the entrance one final glare of her own.

How she despised those doors.

 


 

It was when Miera was given a moment's rest that day she saw a figure she believed long lost on the battlefield. Finding Varric alive and well within a sea of strangers was a relief within itself, but his words of the Inquisition's impossible wish for miracles hampered her desire to stay. The urgency behind the truth was a growing weight on her already teeming burden. "You're too young for this," he'd told her, a comment that stunted her ability to reply.

Her need to explore outside the vicinity of the village was enhanced by the growing unease that anyone she crossed paths with would bow down their heads to her, muttering nonsense about her being a “Herald of Andraste” even when she vocally protested against it. 

Stepping out Haven’s borders, she observed the tents of the many planning to extend their stay: Chantry sisters who had no accustomed walls for shelter, soldiers hesitating to lay down their weapons, refugees still shaking from the adrenaline. She saw the despair on their faces, their wary mannerisms, the fear clutching their every gesture. To one lacking insight, it could have seemed it was the very day of the explosion at the Conclave, the day when the world had almost been brought asunder.

There was a knot in her heart, an unintelligible heaviness, but for reasons far beyond her comprehension, Miera also felt nothing at it all. She wanted to scream, or at least knew it was what any logical person would do under the circumstances, but she couldn't find it within her to care. A small part of her wondered what that meant, whether she had finally tread past her ability to find refuge in personal contentment.

She stopped before an ice-varnished lake a few paces outside the town. The sight was magnificentwhite-capped mountains valleying the humble abode of the retreat, the trees swaying in harmony in the chilly air, the sunset leaving all in soft shades of pinks and oranges, a stark contrast to the green scorching the sky. The sweet scent of pine and sleet drifting in the breeze provided a refreshing breath of peace despite the turmoil.

She studied the edge of the lake at her feet and tapped the surface with one, testing the strength of its ice before fully leaning her weight onto it. She smiled to herself as she was reminded of a ghosting figure, a presence always lingering but never quite reaching.

How she would have loved this place.

She was about to take another step forward when a voice stopped her in her tracks.

"The Chosen of Andraste, a blessed hero sent to save us all."

She fumbled to place its familiarity until a myriad of memories overswept her, her breath catching in her throat. She whipped around and almost tripped over her own feet when finding herself standing before Solas, perfectly unscathed and unharmed with a staff in hand. 

She remained that way, half-startled, half-disbelieving he had survived along with Cassandra, Varric, and Leliana. One more to have lived was too great a stand against the odds yet there he stood, walking proof of the impossible. She was at a further loss for words at the immediate remembrance of her... incident before the temple, of what he'd done, and she braced herself for the worst of possibilities given the advantage of his knowledge. Then, they'd had an audience to pry open and indulge the festering shadow, but now

His comment finally registered in her mind, snatching away the thought, and she frowned when it did. The practicality he delivered the greeting with made the title sound as common as the name of any other. Whether the notion was less or more unnerving than being bowed to was difficult to determine. But her tinkering exhaustion of being this "Herald" everyone was adamant on naming her had her feebly making a pass at a joke instead.

"Am I riding in on a shining steed?" she asked dryly. 

"I would have suggested a griffon. But sadly, they are extinct." He said it too wistfully given how long it had been since. "Joke as you will, posturing is necessary."

The remark cut right to her core. It was as if he had seen through her, read her very mind, and given the context, she was nearly convinced he had. The thought admittedly terrified a small part of her before she reminded herself how absurd the idea was.

"Well then, if you're seeking the Holy Andraste's word, I'm afraid you've come to the wrong place. I believe the Chantry is up that way," she pointed a thumb while telling him.

He blinked at her comment before following her footsteps instead and standing at a modest distance from her, gazing at the silhouette of the mountains attentively. His aura was clustered, intangible, veiled by serenity, and she didn't quite know what to make of it. Her paranoia was a further reminder of the magic he'd used to calm her during her mishap before reaching the temple; the thought alone probed her interest as to how he'd known what to do and when to do it. She long ago grew used to the idea it was a trait none could aid her with, a feat she'd forever experience and learn to cope on her own. That he of all people had been the only one to succeed...

His voice was soothing and melodic when he began, "I've journeyed deep into the Fade of ancient ruins and battlefields to see the dreams of lost civilizations. I've watched as hosts of spirits clashed to re-enact the bloody past in ancient wars both famous and forgotten." He turned to her then, the hint of a stare similar to that of when they first met. "Every great war has its heroes. I'm just curious what kind you'll be."

She raised a brow at that, amused. "You're quite certain of my heroism! Should I be flattered?"

"Perhaps, if the compliment proves deserving."

Well, aren't you just a great big bundle of joy?

The slight tilting of his head made her realize he was still waiting for a legitimate answer.

Narrowing her eyes, she wondered where the question was rooted from and what he would gain from her answer. A means of obtaining information to use against her? A simple sating of his curiosity, perhaps? Or the chance to scrutinize the Chantry's Dalish "Herald" and what she stood for? There was no doubting how exclusive the question was, something along the lines of a pre-determined analysis, and she didn't necessarily like entertaining the idea. But he had just as well been the only one to see past the virtue of her fraudulent title. That, along with his albeit helpful behavior at the temple, slightly encouraged her to sheathe her mental weapon, but it was not enough to trust letting go of it. 

She pursed her lips, giving herself time to think, before answering, "All heroes are the same—they're only remembered by their finished deeds rather than what led them there. If I were ever to become one, I'd like to be remembered as the kind that amasses the least amount of casualties to get the job done."

He remained quiet, pondering her response in a drowned silence before saying, "Spoken nobly indeed."

It felt like a test she wasn't convinced she'd passed, and all it did was further intrigue her of his motivation to ask such a question. He was undoubtedly reclusivenone would come to the outskirts of an isolated town at such an hour if they weren'tbut what possible use would he find with her answer?

Her interest in what he'd initially said encouraged her to reprise his earlier comment instead. "If I may ask, what did you mean when you mentioned ruins and battlefields?"

He gave her a side-long glance, the slightest hint of a grin on his lips as he explained, "Any building strong enough to withstand the rigors of time has a history. Every battlefield is steeped in death. Both attract spiritsthey press against the Veil, weakening the barrier between our worlds." He drummed his fingers over the staff with the hand that gripped it as he spoke. "When I dream of such places, I go deep into the Fade. I can find memories no other living being has ever seen."

"You delve that deeply into the Fade?" she asked him. "I thought the practice dangerous. Not many are capable of enduring it."

He smirked at that. "The difficulty of the practice for a Dreamer is all but remembered once one experiences those memories for their own." 

Her lips parted in surprise at the term. So he was a Dreamer, then? A Somniari? She'd only ever heard of them in stories passed by generations of her clan, in vague whispers of a previous lifetime. The feat of him being one answered a singular question of his existence yet only created more for her to investigate, the rarity of such abilities already taking root in her notes of what she knew of the world.

Solas continued, "Regardless, I do set wards. And if you leave food out for giant spiders, they are usually content to live and let live."

The outer corners of Miera's lips tugged upwards mischievously. "And when they aren't?"

His brows furrowed ever-so-slightly, the most of a reaction she'd seen from him so far. "I prefer the former circumstances.”

She hummed in amusement, biting her tongue to ensure the laugh seeking release didn't escape her lips. But the twitching of his ears indicated he had most definitely heard it. 

Her eyes set on his, her curiosity grew. The potential places he'd seen, the events he'd witnessed, the memories he'd found... how far back in history he'd managed to traverse fascinated her beyond measure.

And there it was, that rekindling of energy. She was immediately desperate to ask if he'd gone far enough to the times before Tevinter had rummaged the prosperity of Arlathan, when the Chantry's influence had yet not spread over Thedas, when the elven people had yet not fallen.

Eventually, she told him, "I've admittedly never heard of anyone venturing that deeply into the Fade. The things you must have seen... I can barely fathom it."

He paused before fully turning to face her. "Thank you. Indeed, there are a great number of remarkable things long buried by time. It's not a common field of study for obvious reasons. Not so flashy as throwing fire or lighting. But the thrill of finding remnants of a thousand-year-old dream? I would not trade it for anything."

The lift of his voice, his genuine excitement over the subject had her smiling. He was an adventurer at heart, then, a seeker of lost knowledge. She supposed it youthful in its own way, the hunt for the unknown, the thrill of finding treasure no coin could ever buy. And despite the insanity that had become of their world, some authenticity remained, however fleeting it was in the endurance of his words.

Something in his expression shifted then, that almost impassive neutrality obscuring him from possible understanding again. His eyes were set on the rim of the sun just as it wholly disappeared below the edge of the mountains.

"I will stay then. At least until the Breach has been closed." He said it so firmly, so finally, as if he hadn't even considered the thought before. It suddenly struck her she had been a witness to his departure given the staff he had in hand coupled with the leather kit on his back.

"You doubted staying?" she asked him despite her assumption he most certainly did. 

"I am an apostate surrounded by Chantry forces in the middle of a mage rebellion. Cassandra has been accommodating, but you understand my caution."

All at once, panic gripped her, and it took only but a moment to realize why. Complete alienage from everyone at Haven who perceived her no more than a prodigy of the Chantry was no future to look forward to. And it struck her then how she'd need to face the seething shadow alone the next time it caught her if he left, let alone that she'd never learn how he'd chased it away. He'd been the only one to ever successfully do so, to suppress the bottomless anxiety that had festered within her for years. She was angry towards the circumstances knowing how justified he was in his vigilance. She was even angrier at herself for caring.

"You came here to help, Solas. I won't let them use that against you." She said it as if he hadn't just told her he would stay.

He looked at her, his confusion evident. "How would you stop them?"

"However I had to."

She was left baffled by the fierceness she delivered the words with, unexpecting to have said them at all. It was ridiculous thinking it possible to stop anyone here from throwing out an unassuming elf who hadn't proven any ill omen by being there, but her mind was convinced she already had plans, it seemed. 

Contrary to what she would have expected, his expression softened, the neutrality slipping, fading. "Thank you." The grace with which he delivered it with was simple and soft yet heavier than anything he'd said. His reaction alone brought more comfort in the hope that perhaps she hadn't been so brash. 

The silence that followed made her hesitant to break it, an inexplicable tension surrounding them. She half-expected him to have turned and walked back to Haven afterward but his intentions showed anything but as he remained, mystification perceptible on his face.

Looking at him, she was reminded of when his magic had tangled with her own and lapped against her spirit so tactfully. He'd raised a hand to quiet Cassandra's at the moment too-loud-voice despite the warrior's authority, and he'd been reassuring in waiting until she was prepared even though the urgency of sealing the Breach held much more significance. It was a tactful action that uplifted her already dissipated faith. She couldn't stop questioning how he'd suspected it, how he'd done it, how—

"Does it happen often?"

His voice startled her. She flinched, realizing his eyes were already meeting hers.

How long had she been staring, exactly?

"I-I... what?"

"What occurred before reaching the temple. Does it happen often?" he repeated. There was no threat laced in his voice, no emotion, if not anything at all. He could have just as easily been asking about the weather. 

Her lips parted in an effort to reply, but she was left too stunned to form a coherent sentence. It was an inquiry none had ever asked in large part due to the fact that none had ever known. The sudden cracking and peering of her being had her feeling vulnerable and naked before him. Panic took control to defend herself against it. 

"That's nothing you need concern yourself with," she told him just as neutrally as his question had been, but the quivering of her voice near the statement’s end betrayed her of the ability to hide. 

He searched her face, but it appeared her refusal to indulge his curiosity unfazed him when he nodded as he would have had she given an answer. "Fair enough."

If the tension was great before, it was even greater now—or at least, it was awkward to her, but nothing in his mannerism told her of his opinion on the matter. His focus was so resolute on the far-off distance she wondered if he was even aware of her presence at all. 

And just like that, he swiftly turned to her and nodded his head curtly—a farewell—before stepping in direction of the town. Realizing how far the sun had already set, the hint of stars gleaming amidst the sky's darkness, she made the decision to follow him back almost forgetting what it was that brought her out there in the first place.

He said nothing when she joined him.

Walking beside him, she couldn't help but mull over at the name. Solas. It was unlike any she'd ever heard, but it was even stranger that it sounded elven despite the little she knew of the language. His clothing was hand-stitched in a manner that indicated frugal inexperience, convincing her they weren't bought by the hands of a city merchant. But his lack of a vallaslin paired with the feat of his clothing was almost contradictory. Although he ceased to carry himself much like the few non-Dalish elves she'd met, him being one was the likeliest possibility. Even then, she wasn't entirely assured. His entire being radiated endless waves of questions she wasn't certain there would ever be answers to. But she would try answering some nonetheless. 

"If I may ask, what's your opinion on elven culture? You seem quite dignified for a city elf."

She regretted the words immediately when she realized the bias laminating them. A cool shiver ran through her in dread. She hoped he would somehow miss it and cast that particular inclination of it aside but what he said next only further proved her wrongdoing.

"I thought you would be more interested in sharing your opinions of elven culture," he snickered. "I am not a city elf, as your people would have you so readily assume. You are Dalish, are you not?" He drawled the name of her people stoically as if it were the most demeaning title known to man.

The sheer rancor rolling off him had her reeling at the ferocity he delivered it with and at how he'd suggested it as an accusation.

"I'm sorry?" she asked, a startled laugh escaping her lips.

"Am I mistaken?"

She stopped then right at the entryway to Haven, and her lack of presence at his side made him turn to look at her apathetically from the first step. There was a glint of furious curiosity tucked within the question she could barely understand. She knew she'd been impulsive but it was hardly enough to have riled such animosity, and she wasn't about to let him deride her for it.

"Are my markings not enough proof for you?" she bit back. "And what's your problem with the Dalish, anyway? Allergic to halla?"

"They are children acting out stories misheard and repeated wrongly a thousand times." He had the audacity to look even more impassive despite his dragging her culture through the muck, stepping over it so casually as if the struggles her people had faced were anything but relentless.

"Children? You're one to talk given your sudden lack of common courtesy," she snapped. 

"Is it common courtesy to shun the few who dare seek shelter in your camps? To mock those unlike yourselves who do not share your frail convictions?"

An avid heat burned her lungs. He had no right to call to that memory, to touch it, touch her. She could feel that well pulsing and churning, seeking freedom and release, but she would not let it win. He would not tear open her resolve that easily. "So you choose to judge the many by the few? That's hardly sensible," she challenged.

"Sense seems lost to your people given your neglection to the truth."

She stepped towards him slowly, clenching her fists. "Oh, and you happen to know whatever 'truth' there is, right?"

"While you pass on stories, mangling details, I walk the Fade. I have seen things you have not."

"Then by all means, please extend your world-shattering knowledge to us!" she taunted him. "Would you prefer us to bow at your feet and quell your pride in the meantime?"

His nostrils flared at that one. "This is only further proof of how you insult yourselves."

Magic tickled her mark, her skin, her very veins. It irritated her he was capable of drawing it out so easily when it had taken years of practice to restrain it. The anger burned her throat and lungs, stole her from the energy it would take to have him shove his words back in his mouth. She breathed in, out, in again. "Fine, we're terrible. I get it. What about the alienages full of elves who aren't Dalish? Do you rob them of this truth as well?"

"Why? What would it benefit some poor man in a Ferelden alienage to learn his ancestors strode the land like gods?" She didn't know how to acknowledge the comment, didn't want to, but he continued anyhow, "It would only make him bitter, or inspire him to take a foolish risk and get himself killed."

"You've decided his reaction for him, just like you have the rest of the Dalish!" she defended, voice raised. It incidentally caught the glimpses of a few whispering Chantry sisters who passed them along the steps. She pursed her lips until they walked out of view from the stairs. So much for the image of their glorious "Herald of Andraste."

Solas gave no inclination of having cared. His eyes were already narrowed at her when she looked back, deliberating his response.

Finally, he said, "Perhaps I have. If you have questions and believe the answers will help, ask."

Miera scoffed at that, and how sourly entertaining was it to see a flash of offense cross his face. Out of all the impossible and ludicrous things she'd heard that day, that was by far the worst. He had the nerve to stomp on the smallest of voices her people had left, belittle the fragments they had left to cherish, and seconds later believe himself the better man for offering knowledge he thought superior to that of an entire population. She hardly understood how she had once found refuge in someone so conceited by his own ideologies, how she had sought to defend his ability to stay. 

"I'm sorry, but no, I’m not interested, especially if it means being in the company of a man who believes us so terrible, apparently, for doing all we can to survive in a world that would rather see us massacred. Forgive me for trying to explain why we profusely protect the little we know." He remained unmoving, unyielding, even when she came to step up beside him, even when she deliberately leaned towards him, even when her face stilled not a few inches from his own.

Her words were slow and calculated when she said, "For all your proclaimed wisdom, Solas, you forget the most basic principle of survival. Tease and play with a cat all you like, but everyone knows once you back it into a corner, it will resort to its last defense and bite."

She could already sense him readying himself to reply but she brushed past him before giving him the breadth of a chance to do so.

Ass.

 


 

Days passed agonizingly slowly before Cassandra finally approached Miera and informed her of what the Inquisition's next course of action was, or at the very least, what it was they were meant to be doing.

Before then, Miera believed every second to lull longer than the last. For the most part, she rested near the frozen lake with borrowed books from the sweet Flissa, the owner of Haven's The Singing Maiden, out of sight and out of mind. It was relaxing finding relative quiet and peace among the trees, the sound of clashing swords and chattering townsfolk and the Breach's thundering rumble in the distance a pleasant ambiance she became accustomed to. Although she wished to find a sketchbook of some kind instead, or a journal to create something with her own hands rather than read the melodramatic forbidden romance between an apostate and a prince, this town was lacking in that respect, among other things. If this was the world's idea of torture through boredom, it was most definitely succeeding.

She spoke briefly with Varric at the tavern when he wasn't conversing with strangers she would have sworn he'd known his whole life, and she avoided Solas if she ever happened to come across him on the rare occasion she was within Haven's walls. Oftentimes, she'd notice him walking alongside the other side of the lake and into the forest in the early morning, only coming back when the sun had set. Though they both were aware of each other's presence, they cared little to give the other a greeting. It disappointed her, more than anything, that the one chance of kinship and understanding within Haven had been squandered so easily by his arrogance. But she ultimately didn't mind the lack of company, it serving as a welcoming hint of familiarity from life before the Breach. 

There was solace in the fact her clan had been informed of her survival as she waited for news of further development within the Inquisition. It did little to appease her apprehension at the circumstances, at her fear of the unknown. But despite her Keeper having sent a letter once hearing of her relative safety, Miera refused to open it.

Some nights were easier than others.

However, Cassandra's urgency to lead Miera into the newly-decorated war room at the back of the Chantry was a welcome to a long-needed refreshment of activity. It was there Miera formally met Commanding Officer Cullen (otherwise coined as "prince" in her mind) and Ambassador Josephine ("princess") that they discussed the political unrest in Thedas. It gave rise to Miera and Cassandra's need of travel to meet a woman by the name of Mother Giselle in an area of southern Ferelden.

The following morning, Miera found herself preparing a traveling kit in the shed she'd been given to do so, eager to finally be doing something else with those lulling seconds.

She changed into the armor she'd been given the day she awoke and looked at her reflection in the vanity mirror placed at the entrance of the cabin. She didn't sleep within the structure, always choosing to spend her nights beneath the openness of a twinkling night sky, but her days-worth lack of presence before a mirror was obvious. An absence of sleep coupled with boredom did not fare well for her, and there was no hiding how appalling she looked.

She warily studied herself—the freckles and moles along her nose and cheeks, the gold flecked around the inner rims of her eyes, the charcoal-colored vallaslin branching delicately over her face. ‘A protector,’ she once proudly called herself. Now it only served as a symbolic prison she'd long ago given up escaping.

Disregarding the thought, she picked up a ribbon she found on the desk and pulled the upper portion of her silver-blonde locks into a braided bun, or at the least attempted to. She hissed when the pain on her left hand became too much to bear and resorted to tying the bun untactfully with her right, the rest of her hair falling at her back when finished.

Annoyed at the pain, she ran her fingers along the cloth bandaged over the mark, the tint of red barely evident where it covered her palm. She considered slipping on her armor's matching gloves but frowned knowing the cursed things would leave bruises from their rugged build in a matter of hours. Lowering the undersleeve of her armor, she hid the mark as best she could and grabbed her equipment from the bed. 

She froze when her eyes darted to the snakelike staff leaning against the doorway on her way out. She hated the sight of it just sitting there so innocently. Biting her lip, she contemplated whatever excuse she could come up with were she to leave without it. But she knew the Inquisition had given the weapon to her deliberately. There was no tampering with its build, no dampening its channel to the Fade. She'd attempted as such the moment it had been given to her only to grow frustrated at her unsuccess after several hours of tinkering. Whoever forged it had built it well, and she wasn't necessarily grateful for it. 

With a defeated sigh, she gripped the staff and stuck it on her back, her bag in hand and her irritation in the other. 

Stepping out of Haven, she first came across Cassandra who was attempting to control four Ferelden horses by the reins on her own in front of the armory, her efforts futile. It was evidently too early in the morning for any other workers to help. 

"Won't all of you stay still!" she barked at the horses as they wound in circles around her. She had to turn on her feet as well so as to not risk getting tangled within the reigns. "Damn you, Varric. Where are you?!"

With an amused smile, Miera cut in, "Here, let me help." She stepped through an opening the horses provided her with and took two of the reins from the warrior's hands. Both of them stepped away from each other so they could untangle them.

"Thank you," Cassandra sighed in relief. "You would think I would have learned by now not to trust that incompetent little—"

"Don't you mean handsome, charming, irresistible dwarf?" Varric chimed in behind them.

Miera turned her head just as he walked towards them both from the side of the town's entryway, arms crossed with an impish grin on his face.

"You weren't standing there all that time, were you?" Cassandra narrowed her eyes at him, her accent thicker at her frustration.

"Me? Never."

Cassandra pinned him down with a stare and he feigned offense, looking at Miera.

She playfully shook her head and waved a hand. "Ah, no... I'm not taking my chances defending you on this one, sorry. She seems like one of the few who would threaten to lop my head off and actually mean it."

"Thank you," the warrior told her with a proud smirk. Miera saluted her humorously in form of a welcome.

Sighing in defeat, Varric reached them both and took one of the reins from Cassandra's hand. His face lit up when he saw something behind Miera, saying, "Ah, Chuckles! Just in time. It looks like these two are already teaming up. Prepare yourself for the longest road trip of your life."

She froze at the nickname, the memory of a laughing dwarf yelling it back-to-back with another on a battlefield sending a shiver down her spine.

No.

In retrospect, she shouldn't have been as surprised as she was. By a miracle, she'd hoped the fourth comrade would have been an Inquisition soldier, maybe even the prince given his obvious experience of warfare and travel. But of course Solas would have made an inquiry to come along given his studies of the Breach, the rifts, and no doubt the mark connected to them she possessed. That they hadn't spoken since their argument did little to alleviate her horror at the time they would have to spend with each other.

She heard his approaching footsteps and all too quickly noted she was the only one holding the reins for two horses, Varric and Cassandra already having their own.

"My life has been too short then," Solas said. 

She almost flinched at how close his voice was. With a deep breath, she turned apprehensively only to find him standing not a few feet from her, staff in hand as always while his other reached out expectantly.

She was dismayed at the lack of emotion on his face. It was as if their argument had never even occurred in the first place. She couldn't tell if it relieved or angered her more.

Clenching her jaw, she gave him the rein of the horse on her left but immediately realized her mistake.

But it was too late.

He looked down, gaze darting over the bandage that peeked out from her sleeve. Something flickered in his face, a sentiment she didn’t dare define, and regret roared in her ears at having been foolish enough to stash her gloves away on the off-chance of getting bruises, as if this wasn't the most unthinkable punishment yet.

His gaze met hers again, imperceptibly distinct, but it was enough to have her desperately wish the moment end as quickly as possible, shame ripping into her gut at having been caught. She practically pushed the reins into his hand, and she knew, she knew he was about to make some insulting comment, some derisive statement that would further humiliate her for her very existence when his lips parted but she turned away before he got the chance, throat burning from the tears threatening to form.

She hastily climbed onto her horse, smoothing off the traces of snowflakes on its copper-colored hair to distract herself.

"So the Hinterlands, then, Seeker?" Varric asked, already having climbed onto his mount. Miera wondered whether he or Cassandra had noticed her and Solas' interaction.

"Yes," Cassandra replied. The word came out flat and clipped.

"Now, now, there's no need for that. You know we're going to have to tolerate each other until we get there."

"Don't remind me."

"I'm only stating the facts!"

"I never asked for them."

Their bickering kept going back and forth, and it eased Miera's stammering heart at the wistful entertainment. It was enough she almost missed how Solas clumsily placed his footing on the stirrup of the saddle, lifting himself up and swinging his leg awkwardly only to have his foot pivot too low and hit the horse's side. The rebound of it made him lose his balance and fall; he would have hit the ground on his back had he not desperately clung to the reins for dear life and kept himself propped up.

A laugh escaped her lips before she could clasp her hand over her mouth to stifle it. His eyes snapped straight to hers at the sound, his expression darkening, and she could have sworn there was a slight tint to his cheeks that hadn't been there before. She could practically feel his resentment in the air when he focused his attention on the saddle and attempted climbing up to it again, though this time he managed to swing his leg over the horse despite struggling all the same. Served him right.

Glancing at him one final time with a knowing smile, Miera tipped the reins and urged her mount forward along with Varric and Cassandra as they began their journey.

But there was only one thought infiltrating her mind as she did.

May the Dread Wolf take you, Solas.

 

Chapter Text

CHAPTER III

 

The trip took a week, but it was a week far too long.

Between hearing Varric and Cassandra chipper at each other every opportunity they got, ignoring Solas' glooming silence, and having her ass hurt from being on horseback all day, Miera was desperate to determine how long it would take to acquire the support the Inquisition needed to close the Breach and be on her way.

That the hole in the sky could be seen no matter how far away they traveled from it wasn't exactly a comforting note to travel with either, as if the constant numbing in her hand wasn't enough of a reminder already.

Cassandra claimed this to be their last day of travel before reaching the Crossroads where Mother Giselle awaited them. The current politics of the Chantry at the news of the Conclave still bewildered Miera despite Cassandra's numerous explanations of it along the way. That those within the organization would be shocked anyone would dare fight against the entitled restrictions they had enforced upon Thedas appalled her. Then again, anything humans did under the banner of the "greater good" always did. Miera did not hesitate to argue rather heatedly with Cassandra in favor of the rebellion because of it; the mages were nothing but slaves to a system built to control them, and chilling stories of Tevinter were an equal match to the Chantry's infinite list of treasons. But Miera's stance on the matter paved the way to even more heated arguments with the woman—an ironic first strike for the mighty Herald of Andraste. 

The trip was thankfully made somewhat more livable by Varric's presence within the group. Whatever Miera suffered in boredom, the rogue made up for in both storytelling and humor, not to mention the things he'd witnessed sated her growing curiosity to hear more about the world beyond the borders of her Dalish clan. The disparate differences between each of the group's members paved the way to some awkward silences, which was why Miera assumed Varric swallowed their lack of conversation with his stories. 

Her shock at the one he was currently telling must have been obvious. With a twinkling in his eyes, the rogue told her, "Keep your face like that for much longer and it'll get stuck that way."

She pursed her lips, her cheeks warming in embarrassment by their own volition. "Sorry, I just... didn't realize you were that involved. You were truly that responsible for the rebellion?"

"It was a long time coming, and Kirkwall was one of the worst places for Circle Mages to be. Whether we helped create it or the rebellion was inevitable... the answer usually depends on the perspective," he explained with a shrug.

"And you happen to share enough perspectives to make the answer muddied, don't you?" Cassandra implicated, a frown on her face.

"I wouldn't be as good an author if I didn't, Seeker," was his reply.

Miera shook her head in disbelief then, her mind finding it difficult to grasp the extent of the circumstances at all. "I can't decide whether you were fortunate or unfortunate to be there."

"Little of column A, little of Column B," he told her with a sigh. "It was anything but uninteresting, I'll give you that."

"I don't doubt it. News of the rebellion even spurred talks among my people."

"I'm surprised the Dalish would show any interest in the matter," Solas cut in behind them. Miera nearly jumped out of her skin when he did. He'd rarely spoken since leaving Haven, save the occasional one-liners about ruins they passed or particular beauties of the area, yet it ceased to amaze her this was how he chose to break his streak. "It is rare for any clan to show concern for political affairs not of their own," he finished.

Of course.

"I'm surprised you'd care what we think at all," she retorted, taking that moment to twist around and observe the man as he read a thick book placed neatly across his lap despite the rhythmic movement of his mount. One glance at the pages was enough proof it was in scripture she didn't understand. She bit her tongue so as to not give him the satisfaction of asking him any questions regarding it, more so since he hadn't even bothered to look up the entire time. 

"I care a great deal," he said. "Just not the way you want me to."

He flipped over a page, his eyes never leaving the damn thing.

Miera clenched her jaw to suppress the frustrated scream burning in her throat. It took more willpower than it should have to turn away instead of yelling curses at him she knew wouldn't help her case—not that it mattered, anyway. But he would not goad her out that easily.

All the ludicrous people in the world and he was the one to come. At this point, even the Chancellor seemed a viable alternative. 

There was no pretending how much Solas' presence bewildered Miera during the party's week of travel, a matter she had no doubt would remain in the days to come. Every shift of his movement she'd catch in the corner of her eye, every word escaping his tongue that disrupted the peace of not hearing his voice, and every idling sensation of his casted wards around their camp was just another reminder of the blatant tease masking a world of torture. His presence was a chance to understand something, anything about the people she was traveling with, to speak with someone of her kind who wouldn't blatantly disregard her worth by the shape of her ears and, in Solas' case, the blood-marks on her skin. And his aid of her panic during the events of the Breach certainly didn't help swallow how bitter being ripped from that spark of hope of understanding was.

A sudden blast very nearly searing the side of Miera's face yanked her out of the pesky thought. Miera had barely even comprehended what had transpired when her mare reared back in resigned terror, the action knocking her off the saddle and sending her face-first into the ground despite her last, desperate attempt to reach the reigns. Her skin was nevertheless blazing when her senses finally came about her, her mind reeling from the aftershock of the sound.

To make matters worse, she flipped over onto her back in time to notice her mount coming down from its hind legs to nearly stomp over her. She rolled away to the side in instinct, feeling the tremor in the ground of the mare's hooves landing mere inches away from her head, to avoid being trampled as it fled.

She was suddenly aware of the cool water seeping into her armor. A glance down and she found herself lying in the heart of a puddle.

Lovely.

Cassandra was the first to shout among the chaos of blood-curdling roars in the distance Miera miraculously hoped wasn’t directed towards the group. Something, like the lingering burn of the explosion that had nearly baked her face, told her it was.

“Mages up ahead!” Cassandra cried just as she gracefully leaped off of her horse while unsheathing her sword (was it really possible to do both at the same time?) before charging out from the forested canopy.

Miera winced as she unsteadily stood on her feet in comparison, shaking out the water from her armor as best she could. She reached for the weapon at her back expecting to find the comfort of a nulled staff awaiting her only to freeze as her fingertips grazed a magnified one instead. She flinched at the magic that channeled through her at the touch, and her irritation at the need for it only grew. She had to blink away the blinding rush before sprinting towards where the rest of the group had scampered so quickly off to.

Miera stopped short at the edge of the clearing, shoulder to shoulder with Varric and Solas, Cassandra already at the crux of the fight. 

The chaos of the skirmish made it difficult to ensure she didn't unintentionally create a barrier for the very people Cassandra was so directly fighting. Despite their location among an open clearing, pinpointing who was who became just as difficult as it was avoiding a rogue fireball or magical mine. Luck was on her group's side, however, since neither the rogue templars nor the mages seemed to notice they were there at all, their need to kill anything and everyone evident in the raw and chaotic energy of their respective abilities. Cassandra used this to her advantage, utilizing the momentum of other people's swings and loss of defense to pierce them through with an overpowered movement. 

But the magic and blood and death tingling in the air smothered Miera, and for every person the group cut down, the harder it was for her to help at all. 

Until the world came to a strangling stop.

All of it, all of this, was everything she'd fought to ignore—and she was here. Years of sobriety thrown out the wayside as she breathed the poison back in. After everything she'd done to hide from the world's prying eyes, she was here, as if she'd never even left, as if she'd never even tried. The air suffocated her with the ambiance of final moments as bodies hit the ground, each fall cracking the barricade and bringing to light the memory churning beneath her skin. She didn't know when she took a step back—two, three, four—and the mark pulsed, her heart pounded, her lungs tightened, and she needed to go, she needed to run, she needed to—

The mages and templars fell before the notion gained control. 

Petal, river, gold. Petal, river, gold. 

It was the closest thing to comfort Miera could find. Her senses were soon trickling in at the words, a calm reinvigorating her with the energy that had been stripped from her in seconds. 

Miera's hands were trembling and numb from gripping the staff so tightly, she realized, and her knuckles were white from the effort. She could scarcely process the pain of fingernails pressing so harshly against her skin. Loosening a breath, she forced her fingers to unhook themselves and nearly collapsed at the flood of reality that overswept her when she did. She looked up in time to recollect herself as Cassandra came trudging towards them, stepping over the corpses on the ground to meet the rest of the group on the other side of the clearing. The bright blood staining the sun-kissed grass was a haunting spectacle to observe as she did so. The woman was barely even panting regardless of the exertion of her unparalleled combat abilities. 

Miera glanced towards Solas and Varric, both of whom watched the warrior approach as they inspected any smaller number of their injuries. Miera was grateful to have at least managed to slink away from the shadow without gaining any unwanted attention.

"The Inquisition camp should be just across this ridge," Cassandra said as she rejoined them. "We can make it to the Crossroads on foot from there to speak with Mother Giselle. Your presence there, Herald, will hopefully—"

She paused, glancing at Miera through narrowed eyes.

"What happened to you?" she asked. "I don't remember it raining."

Miera blinked in confusion before realizing what the warrior meant. She looked down to confirm her own obliviousness at the clothes that hadn't yet dried, her mind wholly preoccupied with other matters. She could sense Varric and Solas' observance of her as well despite moments before having been able to avoid it, and she didn't have to look up to know what expression on their faces would be.

"One of the mages' spells," she lied.

"I do not recall drenching an opponent to be a competent form of attack," Solas said. Miera's eyes darted straight to his, and she hated the obviously knowing look in them. Her skin was blazing for other reasons entirely now. 

"Apparently you don't know everything," she snapped at him. She did not need his deprecating drivel right now. 

"I know enough."

She froze, her heart nearly missing a beat from the awful chill that surged through her.

He knew. He knew. Of course he would. 

The remark squandered her ability to seek any retort against him, his apparent knowledge stifling her leftover resolve. She wanted to deny it, but he knew she wouldn’t—couldn’t. He was testing her. Damn him.

"Let's keep moving," she irritably suggested before turning her back to the party and treading to where their horses awaited them. She almost lost her footing when she remembered hers had already fled. 

Cassandra was the next to note the lack of her mount’s presence. “Herald, we could—”

”l’ll walk,” Miera huffed, never once wavering in her forward stride. Doing so meant having to turn, having to face the recognition of her stupidity. 

She had absolutely no idea which direction they were meant to take, if she had even chosen the right one, but Miera would sooner walk off a cliff from Solas and the others than admit the loss of her dignity. 

 


 

It took a better part of the day to reach the camp and receive reports from a Scout Harding as to the dire situation in the Hinterlands. Unluckily for the traveling group, their first skirmish upon arrival was the least of their worries. Between Fade rifts, bandits, rogue mages and templars, and refugees of the war in dire need of aid, it seemed the Inquisition needed to expand its influence more than what was initially anticipated.

After leaving the camp and fighting through several rogue bands to reach the Crossroads, Miera was approached by Mother Giselle almost immediately. Needless to say, the conversation that was a week's worth in the waiting was not what Miera had been expecting.

Despite the wariness surrounding the arrival of the Inquisition in the Hinterlands, the Revered Mother was eager to help in any matter that she could. She encouraged that the Inquisition end the forefronted trouble in the area before traveling to Orlais and demolishing the united voices of the nation's angered clerics. "They have only heard frightful tales of you," she said, and Miera did no less but remind the woman those tales existed for more reasons than the mere "a scary elf has a scary mark on their hand" thanks to the Chantry's tales of her people.

Mother Giselle clamored for words at that, however gracefully.

It was for that very reason Cassandra stepped into the conversation having been near enough to hear the interaction. She greeted the Revered Mother and thanked her for her wise counsel which Miera took as a cue to find herself elsewhere for the time being, not that she minded.

And so she explored the vicinity of the Crossroads on her own. The many wounded victims on the outskirts clinging to their clothes and shivering was an unsettling and foreboding sight, and it took a fool to believe it was from the cold. Entries of several of the journals that had been laid to waste were even more disturbing to read. There were many first-handed accounts of the horrors the Mage-Templar war was inflicting on the area's people. Miera had heard of the war, heard the many whispers among her people of the conflict that had struck Thedas so deeply and the opportunities it arose. But no conversation could have prepared her for what it truly was. That most of those affected were human was somehow rendered unimportant at the despair stroked before her, painted in the same tint of crimson red from the deceased at the Breach. 

Miera spent her time aiding the refugees while awaiting Cassandra's next orders for the Inquisition because of it. The shadow lingered as she did, but she’d been trained for this, she remembered. It gave her the courage needed to traverse between as many of the injured as she was able, offering help to those that accepted it, and it was a surprise that most did no matter the shape of her ears. Carefully, she would help bathe and heal the wounds of the many that needed it with herbs and minimal magic alike, a relatively comforting familiarity to fall back to from her days before the mishap at the temple.

Miera was speaking with one of the casualties, a younger girl who by accounts of witnesses hadn't spoken since arriving at the passing with a charred and broken leg when her eyes fell to a too familiar figure across the pathway.

Miera wasn't sure what she had expected. Perhaps it was a many number of things that fared less courteous to what she remembered. But watching Solas single-handedly wandering from refugee to refugee and healing the wounds of those inflicted by the war was not one of them. He was respectful and calm as he approached several groups of huddled victims, mustering as much of his healing magic as he was able, much like Miera was doing.

She must have been observing him for far too long, her mind too coerced by her inspection of his mannerisms to realize he'd noticed her gaze. But it would have been impossible to guess it. From across the clearing, solely a brick road separating them, he abruptly turned his head and looked straight at her.

Miera claimed the needs of the refugee she was helping responsible for her having looked away first. 

 


 

The party rested at the Crossroads for the night and awoke at dawn, the need to resolve the area’s conflict the motivation needed to be on their way as soon as they were able. Miera made specific note of some within the vicinity that were in need of dire aid too distinct for Inquisition troops. She was mildly relieved when, after sharing the needs of the individuals with her comrades, they agreed to help regardless of however disparate the path to fulfilling such tasks would be. 

But the bright blue sky hovering above them was inappropriate to the death they brought to many within the day alone. Bandits, templars, mages, rogue hunters... It was tiresome. It was gruesome. But it was a distraction from all Miera was desperate to forget nonetheless, not unusual to the tempo of the life she’d always known. Her hands trembled with every corpse laid to waste, but each body that fell only brought her closer to the edge of absence—a blessing, however sadistic. 

Regardless, Miera would also be lying were she to deny Solas' good-natured actions further heavied the weight of her thinking, the memory of the previous day clinging to her mind like a glib demon that resisted shutting up. She didn't understand the sheer hypocrisy he failed to be aware of having—or, for the lack of a better word, ignored—and the frustration prickled her core, but she tucked away her search for answers as best she could. It would be a fruitless attempt to solve a puzzle created with no solution at all. She didn't even want to know why.

But Miera had only just sealed a rift when Solas spoke up in regards to the area's devastation. 

“Hopefully the Inquisition can find some way to help these people.”

The comment instantly fractured her already teetering restraint, the anger roaring like an enraged fire on her skin. He was a few steps behind her as they trekked further into the bloodiest areas of the Mage-Templar front, scouting for any signs of their bases despite the already retreating sun, but she refused to turn around when she muttered, “Funny how particular you are about caring for those who suffer.”

“These people embrace the chance for help regardless of who it is providing it. Yours do not.” The lack of hesitation in saying such cruel things had her stopping in her tracks. She spun around to face him with a huff, and he stopped just as well, though his face was completely, ridiculously, infuriatingly neutral. Cassandra and Varric halted but they knew better but to intervene.

"Tell me, do you actively look for any opportunity to deride my people and what they stand for?" she asked him.

"I only speak the truth you wish to ignore."

"And you wish to ignore people aren't perfect regardless," she bit back, pointing a finger at the ground in frustration. What right did he have in implying her ignorant? 

He scanned the distance, impassive at her attempt to derail him. "Perfection and the strive to better oneself are not one in the same."

"Surprising you'd say that considering you certainly like to pretend you're of the former."

His eyes met hers again at that. "I seek knowledge, even if it does not benefit my judgment. Would you say the same of your clan?"

"We—"

For a moment, she truly believed she would have something to counter him with if she tried. The expression he wore multiplied her urgent need to prove him wrong, to make up an answer that would shut out the vileness he was taunting her with, but all she could do was stand there stupidly, stunted in her ability to find an element that would help fight her case.

But her lack of an answer was enough proof of his triumph against her. He didn't wait for her to form any semblance of a reply before walking past her as she had done to him in Haven, the ends of her hair lifting slightly at the nearness of the movement.

Varric was the one to approach her seconds after. "What's going on with you two, exactly?" he asked, incredulously eyeing Solas as he did so.

She rolled her tongue against the back of her teeth. "You should ask him. I'm sure he'd just adore telling you all about it."

Varric was on the verge of a response when a battle-cry behind them cut him off short. Thwarted at the prospect of fighting yet again, her muscles already worn by the expelling of magic of that day alone, Miera reluctantly turned to find a group of rogue mages charging towards the party, swinging their staffs with calculated movements as they channeled spells against them.

Miera instinctively threw a barrier for her and Varric, Solas and Cassandra having been cut off by the mages' choice of location in the clearing.

There were six of them, more than the group had yet faced, but not enough to match what they hadn't endured given their surviving of the Breach.

At least, that's what Miera believed until a blazing heat scorched her skin, a feeling of thorns prickling inside her halting her of the chance to defend herself and Varric. Turning in instinct, she noticed the smallest of the mages nearest to her relentlessly sending missiles of flaming energy her way.

But Miera stilled, momentarily doubting her own vision. The next fireball hit her with the same visage, but the pain barely scathed her, her mind paralyzed by the absolute horror she felt ripping into her guts, to the tragic sight she inexorably knew to be true.

The child couldn't have been more than fifteen, yet there he was, fighting a war that had been waged by men and women four times his age.

"I need a little help back here!" Varric yelled at the others, his back against Miera's as he fired up Bianca again. "Kid, you—"

She didn't get a chance to hear his next words.

Hatred. An infinite sea of it. Hatred so vast and unbending and unyielding, woven in a cluster of spite and vengeance and contempt and youth.

Youth shouldn’t be there. No. Not like this.

But there was more of it, of his fear, his anger, his misery; an endless void of it, wrapping around her, suffocating her with the same infernal shadow. The years of torment. The counted bars of a stone cage. A constant warning, a gnawing pressure that stripped her of freedom, her spells, her liberation. The walls closing in, torturously slowly, enough to doubt their movement, but enough to encourage a lifetime of paranoia. And it tightened against her, the guilt burning her from the inside. She was crushed beneath the lifetime of bloodied beatings, the shame for what was rotten and immoral about him. The sorrow nearly brought her to her knees there and then, made her want to beg him to give her a chance and prove him wrong. 

Let me help you, she called out to him, innocently believing her hope would somehow reach him. Let me—

He took a step towards her, never wavering in his determination to bring her down with him. He knew it. She could feel it. He knew he would die. He knew they would never win. Mages would never win. The world would always ensure it. The world would always seal their fate. The world would always scream and curse and snarl at their very existence. 

Please. Please don't make me do this.

One step closer. And another. 

Please.

It was a broken whimper that escaped her lips. She thought him an arm's length from her, and maybe he was. Or maybe he wasn't. Maybe she wanted to believe he was, that there was ever a chance they would meet halfway.

All she remembered was reaching out to him, one lost soul to another, before one final spell indented itself into her shoulder, like a dagger piercing her heart, and she fell.

 


 

She saw her. For a moment, she saw her, heard her, smelled that sweet primrose scent of hers, the girl's soft whispers a sweet and soothing tempo to Miera's damaged heartbeat.

Ma Felassan.

But Miera couldn't find herself. She wanted to call after her, beg her to stay, to taste her name on her tongue as it once did, but the girl was fading, falling, embers in an expanse of ash. She was leaving her, as she always remembered, and she couldn't. She couldn't. Not again. Not like this.

Miera.

It was quieter, sadder, like the loss of an embrace warming her being. A bruised, tangible, beautiful mess. But once, it had been hers. Once, it had been theirs. 

No. No, please. Please, don't go. I'm so sorry. Forgive me. Please.

"Miera," it was a voice again, the first she clearly heard, but it was no longer the one she remembered. It made it worse. It made everything worse.

There was a scathing throb in her shoulder. She winced, pulled back into the sweet abyss by the gashing and burning of it. Yet a hum accompanied the wound and brought her back from the edge, like the ghosting touch of fingertips sealing it whole. A small improvement, but the pain overbore it and ripped away the docility of the sensation.

She blinked her eyes open. The bright lilac colors of the sunset almost blinded her when she did. Hissing at the burn, she covered the injury with a hand while doing the best she could to sit up.

"Easy, easy now. You took quite a hit there." There were hands settled on her back and she shrunk away from the touch, her head pounding at the intolerable rush of consciousness.

"What happened?" Miera heard Cassandra ask.

"I don't know. I think the guy came at her and she choked."

Varric.

There was a lulling pause in the conversation before he spoke again, or it could have been Miera losing focus entirely. She supposed it didn't matter.

"Seeker, we should set up camp, get her patched up and have her rest for the night," suggested Varric. "The healing potions won't last long if she keeps going.”

“I’m… I’m fine. It’s okay, I’m okay," Miera willed herself say. She was dizzy when she made the effort to stand.

“By the Maker, I thought we lost you," Cassandra said breathlessly.

“I…” Miera’s hearing drowned in white noise once she fully rose to her feet, her mind weightless as it floated away from her reach. Time passed incoherently when it came back to her. She had to force her eyes to open to rid herself of the empty haze, the brightness of the clearing too harsh against her vision.

There were arms clutching at her back holding her upright. One look at Varric and Cassandra standing before her proved in whose direction she’d fallen.

She pushed herself away from Solas, blinking several times to rid the remaining murkiness clinging to her mind before brushing away at her clothes. The stench of the mage's blood mingling with her own repulsed her to her stomach. She could barely make herself look at what had become of him, in her spirit already knowing what fate of his awaited to be found.

“You okay?” Varric asked, hands reaching out apprehensively in case she fell again. “Here, take another one of my—”

“I-I’m fine, there’s no need,” she told him as she straightened out the leather clothing of her armor. Dread pooled into her stomach at the bodies she saw around them, at the wine-red gleaming through blades of grass in the sunlight. 

Varric’s expression was solemn, exasperated when he said, “You scared us shitless back there. Why didn’t you hold the guy back when you had the chance? He came at you from the front.”

“I didn’t… I wasn’t trying to—” Her stammering heart helped little to conjure any reply. “I couldn’t,” she finally managed.

“Was that the first you’ve...?” he trailed off, the question barely needing to be finished for her to understand what he meant.

She eyed him irritably as she ran trembling fingers through her hair. “We've been fighting people all day.”

Varric tilted his head at that, the outer edges of his eyes wrinkling from his solemn gaze. "You never fought back until now."

She blinked at the comment, forgetting to breathe as the words slammed into her chest. Glancing at Cassandra, it seemed Varric wasn't the only one who'd noticed as Solas had.

Damn it.

Her legs almost gave out beneath her when she said, "No, i-it wasn't. But..."

She finally chanced a look at the fallen mage's face. Her blood ran cold at the far too youthfulness fading in his still-open eyes, the delicate freckles dotting his nose and cheeks. She wanted to rake herself from her own skin and lurch again at the horror pooling into her guts. The derision of it all left a bitter taste on her tongue.

"He was merely a child," she explained simply, her voice barely a whisper. "He didn't need to die, not like this. We could have helped him."

There was a pause within the group, all eyes turning to the small, huddled figure at their feet. Perhaps Miera should have been upset. Perhaps she should have been livid at her fatal dance across the line of death because of him. But it was wrong. Everything they were doing, everything she was becoming was wrong.

The shadow traced its fingers along her spine. Miera inhaled deeply and prayed to the quiet gods above they keep it at bay long enough the rest wouldn’t see. 

Petal, river, gold. Petal, river, gold. 

Cassandra was the first to step closer to her. Her footstep barely made a sound in the grass, but the grip on her sword told Miera enough of the woman's pestering instincts, however unconscious they were. Miera was an animal to her, just another creature to be tamed—wildling and mage alike. She always was. "I agree with you, Herald. But..." there was a brief pause as Cassandra sighed desperately, a dent in the mask that concealed the effort it took to continue, "He fought and died for a cause that would have never bought an end in his favor. He would have slain countless others, innocents and children alike, had he lived."

Miera snickered at that. “And your faith is blinding enough to make you believe we won’t butcher misguided victims along the way?! You don't think it cruel of us to define the rest of the life of a child for this?!” she yelled, hands gesturing uncontrollably at every syllable, the anguish festering inside of her like an ignited knot in her core. How satiric that the feeble Herald of Andraste was incapable of becoming the ruthless figure who lived up to her Holy title. But she couldn’t bear what she was becoming, not again. Too long had she gone without cutting the threads of her own cause to fall short now.

Miera froze at the sound of Solas’ voice when he said, “I understand your caution, Herald, but our efforts are of no use if you cease to defend yourself at all.”

“And what is it to you?” she spat at him, livid he felt the need to say anything to her now. “I’d be ridiculous to assume you’ve had a sudden change of heart for my well-being, right?”

She despised how easy it was for him to keep his expression stoic and unchanging, even when he said, “You would be foolish to expend yourself at the risk of losing the only means we have of sealing the Breach.”

Miera stilled at that, breath catching in her throat, lungs heaving in her chest. The words shattered whatever delicate faith she had held.

How ignorantly oblivious had she been to it all. She hated herself for it, hated being stupid enough to think any of it mattered, that she mattered. There was no refuting the truth that hung thickly in the air, the brutality left unspoken because everyone knew how twisted and shameless it was.

She would be the one to remind them then.

Miera let Solas' words etch themselves into her mind, a notion to never forget, and pursed her lips before saying, “Ah… of course. How could I forget. That’s all I am to you.” She paused, re-enforcing all she'd ever known before turning to the other two. “To all of you. Just an empty, walking shell of magic.”

Varric spoke too late, reassuring her, “You know that’s not what he meant.”

“No, but it is, isn’t it?” she laughed, the sound vulgar against the scent of burnt blood and smoke in the air. She choked in the effort, and the fleeting thought of a small, singed child in the arms of a burning father stripped her of the chance to ignore it. But Miera couldn’t pretend any longer. She didn’t want to. “Why else would I be here?”

Varric’s ability to maintain her gaze faltered at that.

Miera turned to glare at Solas again, the effort made difficult by the tears pricking her eyes. She was already prepared to throw the colossal weight of her rage at him with every feasible curse she knew only to halt at her gratitude for the sick reminder. His diligence in refusing to make up comforting lies was a bitter clemency in the wake of fallacies she’d endured. “He’s a grown man, he can speak for himself. Tell me I’m not wrong, Solas.”

There was a moment of deafening silence. Even the world itself seemed to come to a halt as it waited for his answer.

But he clenched his jaw instead, not even trying to reel back in that dismissive gaze of his for the sake of moral decency. His lack of a vocal response said enough, and she was thankful he for once refused to deride her further.

Miera didn’t hesitate to stride past them all at that, the last remnants of the wound’s sting still etched on her shoulder, the potion’s magic still tingling with her own. It took mere seconds for the rest of the group’s footsteps to echo around her as they pushed their way forwards, Miera already eager to make camp for the night and leave this day behind.

She knew Varric attempted keeping quiet enough she wouldn’t hear, but his softened voice reached her regardless when he broke the rhythmic sound of their footsteps against the grass. “Was that really necessary, Chuckles?”

Miera’s ears twitched as she waited for his response.

But Solas never said a word.

 

Chapter Text

Chapter IV

 

Time ceased to exist.

Miera couldn't recall when it was the party cleared the rogue Templars and Mages from the Hinterlands nor where they'd been located. She remembered glimpses of unfulfilled promises of malice and rage, leaping like demons from pages found in the rubble of emptied bases. She remembered muted conversations between her and her comrades, small trivialities in the wake of their murderous skirmishes. She even remembered the growing consistency of crimson red tinting the bandage wrapped around her palm regardless of whatever space she was drowning in.

But time. She remembered nothing of time.

Worse, she didn't wish to.

The white noise tingling her ears was a constant numbing of her spirit. The shadow enveloped her completely, claiming her and everything she ever became, and she supposed it desired her time most. Its crime was the only proof of its existence, so far as she could tell.

And she reveled in the loss.

Gone was the Breach, the mark, her past. Gone was the worry of the blood on her hands, the scars on branded skin. Gone was the nightmare that was the hole in the sky of which there was no awakening. It was another version of Miera that aided the Inquisition in bringing corpses to their feet with physical dexterity, an echo of who she once was. Her true self stood at a distance—watching, surveying, waiting. For what, exactly, she didn't know—

Until the grip of Miera's shell on a newly-discovered bow faltered in realization, the weapon falling to her feet, the sound of it clattering against the brick of the crumbling ruin the first she remembered hearing again. All at once, the solution flooded her veins and trickled into the woodwork of her mind.

Miera picked the bow up with determined hands, time slamming into her at full force. The severity of it caused the shadow to pause in its urgency of consumption.

Fingertips darting over the smoothened wood, Miera recognized it for what she ignored: a reminder of the place she once considered home. The weapon was aged—years of battle were painted with scratches on its limb and grip. Perhaps the familiarity of the craft was what yanked Miera out of whatever state she'd been in. The bow held a distant memory of the Dalish, and one glance at the aging, forgotten container she looted it from proved the original owner was long gone.

"Find anything interesting?" Varric chimed in behind her. She couldn't deny the well-deserved credit on his part for his consistent attempts at conversation with her, but it wasn't enough to conceal the truth of the cause for his effort.

Nevertheless, Miera nodded in response, daybreak's light catching on the sleek edges of the bow. She observed its making and used what little she knew of archery to aid her now in determining its sturdiness. The string notch was slightly dented out of place, and the handle-riser a bit worse-for-wear, but it wasn't anything a pair of sturdy hands and sundry equipment couldn't repair. Plucking at its string, she was entertained by how its whipping movement blurred together before her eyes.

She turned to Varric. "It's of Dalish making," she explained and winced at how foreign her voice sounded to her ears, estranged to their surroundings, estranged to anything at all.

Cassandra sharpened and cleaned her sword while leaning on a nearby decaying wall, and Solas remained engrossed within his inane need for brooding silence at the other end of the temple, but Varric otherwise beamed at her comment. "A little reminder of home, then! I understand. Kirkwall may have been a mess, but I still get homesick every now and then."

There was a lulling in her movement as her mind contemplated the addiction of conversation. Her lack of partaking within it in recent days made the urge to speak yearn for even greater release, her self-control be damned.

"Do you think you'll go back once this is over?" she asked him before she could stop herself, suddenly aware of how dry her throat was.

Varric loosened a long-held breath after a moment's consideration. "Hard to say. I do know though that hole in the sky needs to be dealt with first before I dip my hands into even more boiling water. One step at a time, as they always say."

She attached the weapon on her back along with her staff as she listened, not that it was very easy; her every cask and bag was filled to the brim with resources, herbs, and materials she'd been gathering while traversing through the region. Nevertheless, her fingers traced the ends of the bow absentmindedly in the process as she pondered what use she could get out of the weapon when nightfall came."I wouldn't worry too much about it," she eventually told him as she leaned down to search another buried chest. "An impending apocalypse is just a tiny little thing in the way."

He chuckled at that and crossed his arms. "You don't expect the Breach would happen to go away if we stormed up to it and asked nicely, right?"

Miera's search for forgotten loot came back with a few meager arrows, but his fanciful hope had the outer corners of her lips lifting ever-so-slightly. She stood up to observe the dwarf before her, his daliant aura contagious to any observer, before telling him, "I wouldn’t put it past the end of the world to try."

Varric grinned in return, but the shared solemnity was etched onto his lips.

Miera was razed by the sudden inflammation of her palm as the mark burst into life, light beams escaping from the indents in her gloves. Miera bit back the surprised yelp that escaped her lips at the ache stealing the air from her lungs. The throb of foreign magic was vicious, and she had to remind herself not to tear at her skin in the presence of others right there and then.

Miera sensed two additional figures at her side that hadn't been there before.

"Another rift, I assume?" Solas asked her, his voice too close for her liking; though, to be fair, being able to hear it at all was proving to be too close.

Miera didn't look at him when she nodded in response.

"You alright there, kid?" Varric asked her, his voice stirring a calm at the distraction. Her heaving breath and the thrumming of the mark was the only sound engulfing the party.

But she didn't—couldn't reply. How could she? For, in the end, she didn't even know the answer to that herself.

 


 

The rift was a mess. Miera wasn't certain how it was any of them survived.

Looming above a waterfall, it was impossible for Miera to use the mark's call to tear down the demons' defenses. Every time she found a new position to capture the rift's essence with her palm, a new materialized demon swatted and lunged for her, and she was left with many more scratches and injuries from the skirmish than any other rift they'd diminished before. A deeper wound on her hip halted her from walking properly at all.

The others didn't fare any better. Cassandra got sliced by a claw in the leg, Varric chilled, and Solas burned on his back (though he did make matters worse by unintentionally setting his own coattails on fire). It was a bruising sight, the four of them limping and hobbling their way up towards relative safety once Miera was blessed with an opening to seal the fracture.

They all collapsed on a nearby hill at dusk to mend their wounds, the farms where a man by the name of Dennet awaited them visible in the distance. The Inquisition's need for the man's horses was, after all, one of the primary reasons the party hadn't yet traveled to Haven. Miera only wished that rifts weren't dotting every nook and cranny of the region and waking her mark when she least expected it.

A campfire was lit as the sun set below the rim of the mountains; the retreating day embellished the sky with strokes of lilac, coral, and amber, imbuing the stretches of greenery in soft opal tones. Miera soaked in the ambiance of a nearby trickling creek and of the rhythmic crackling of the campfire as she bandaged what she could of her hip. She and Solas, in an acknowledged silence, both aided the others with their injuries as well, using the many herbs and remedies Miera had concocted during their quests to help soothe their wounds. Only after every member was ensured to be in condition for further travel did she spend her time fixing the bow to the best of her abilities.

But Miera did not hesitate once her work was done. She excused herself after a helping of ram the party had hunted along with their supply for a hunter in the Crossroads. "I'll only be nearby," she reassured them as she stepped away. Cassandra and Varric urged her to have any one of them keep her company, an offer Miera was desperate to refute. Their efforts in persuading her to stay were futile, anyhow—she would have left regardless of their stance on the matter.

Her bow and traveling kit in hand, Miera retreated into the thicker line of trees. She weaved silently through the greenery, eyes glinting as they adjusted to the darkness, until she came across a smaller, pebbled clearing. With an apprehensive sweep of the area, she ensured the campfire was still in sight, its flickering light dancing among the shadows of the trees, before pulling out several arrows from her sack and placing them neatly on a nearby boulder. She then ripped a few strands of fabric from her armor, weaving them together with quick hands until she was satisfied with the shape they created and hung it on a low-hanging branch of one of the many trees encircling her.

Her bow and an arrow were in her hands by the time she stepped twenty paces from her newly-created target. She drummed the weapon with her fingers as she studied the cloth, the green and brown of the material staring back at her as intensely as she did it. The feeble little thing was demanding as much as it was intimidating, not that she’d ever care to admit the stroke of panic that crawled at her skin at the reminder of what its purpose was.

The wind brushing in whispers among the over-hanging leaves was a comforting sound to her racing heartbeat as she nocked an arrow.

"No rest for the wicked, I guess," she muttered to herself as she tightened her stance, the posture awkward to her wider frame. Her shoulders were too stiff and her arms a stranger to the weapon.

But that didn't stop Miera. With new-found purpose, she aimed the arrow as best as she could at the cloth, the idling rush of the weapon’s discovery her only beacon to the decision awaiting her.

Three steadying breaths. Two. One—

Until her finger released the arrow from the bow's notch, the satisfying sound of a twhip! rushing through her ears.

But she missed.

Terribly.

The arrow hadn't flown even ten paces in range of her mark, the dart lost in the tangling knot of trees behind it.

She frowned as she grabbed another arrow and aimed yet again at the cloth.

She missed.

Another arrow.

She missed again.

It was a sickening rhythm she became accustomed to, the absent rush of victory. Each thwip! left unpaired with the visual presence of a target being struck was a drop of bitter bile in her tongue; that bitterness intensified in its poisoning effect in minutes. Miera growled by the time she grabbed one of the last remaining arrows, none of those beforehand having once hit the trunk of the tree, let alone the fabric itself.

She was breathing in her aim and steadying her hand, her finger tightly coiled around the strained string of the bow, when a voice behind her startled her half to death:

"A mage who refrains from magic and a Dalish incapable of hunting. Most curious indeed."

Her grip faltered at the abrupt interruption, the arrow flying unsteadily in the air and somehow further missing her mark than her many efforts before.

She whipped around in instinct. "Fenedhis!" she gasped at the sight before her, raising a hand to her chest to calm her racing heartbeat. Her frustration grew only tenfold at Solas standing before her as calmly as ever in comparison, hands resting behind his back as he observed her, no worry or care in his expression for how close he’d come to killing her by fright alone. "You could have given me a warning, you know,” she snapped at him. “I would have hit it had you not stepped out of the shadows like some wolfish predator.”

His glinting eyes, those infused with a hue of violet in the darkness, darted to the unscathed cloth. He soon returned his gaze to her own. "Of course."

She cursed the warmth rushing to her cheeks at her embarrassment, shame already blustering her at her fruitless attempt to be of any more use without her magic. Sighing, she asked, "What do you want, Solas? Don’t you have something better to do, say speak with quite literally anybody else?"

"You are the Herald of Andraste," was his only reply.

Miera waited for him to clarify the purpose behind the statement like any other normal person would, but when he refused to further speak his mind, she gestured helplessly to the air.

"...And?"

"As the only person capable of sealing the Breach, your survival is imperative until the time comes for you to do so," he explained as she nocked another arrow and readied her aim. If her impassiveness to listen bothered him, he showed no sign of it. "I suggest you use the magic at your disposal if you seek to survive at all."

She loosened her stance at that and scoffed, turning to him. "You suggest? You’ve got to be joking."

"I would not be here if I was. If your practice with bow and arrow is any indication, it would do you well to listen."

He had the nerve—

Miera glared at him with a barbarity she hoped felt as vicious receiving it as it was delivering it. Her fingers fidgeted as she ignored the roaring need to pull at her hair in frustration; she was thankful they were otherwise preoccupied with the weapon in her hand for she had no doubt several locks of hair would be missing by the end of the night, if his determination to stay served any indication.

Miera faced the target again, the urgency to be elsewhere so drastically stripping her of her own willpower to appear poised and calm. "And who’s to say that with practice," she raised her arms, tightening her posture, "my magic won’t be needed at all," she pulled back the string, "and because of it, it’ll one day render this entire conversation useless," the tip of the arrow lined itself to the fabric in the distance, "and we won’t ever have to speak of it again?"

There.

She released the arrow... to no avail. It flew barely any closer than the rest had.

"Your bow," Solas said simply, giving her a pause.

It took Miera several moments to make sense of the joke; she spun around when she did, skin blazing and nostrils flaring at the smirk waiting on his lips.

Mythal grant her the strength not to violently swipe the smug expression from his face.

"Why do you even care?” she questioned him. “You didn’t deny what little I am to you, or anyone, for that matter, just days ago."

"All will perish if you die. Any sentient being can hardly afford not to care at a time such as this one.”

Ah, so that was what this was about.

She pointed a chin in his direction. "Is that why you're here then? Because you happen to be one of those sentient beings?"

The immediate darkening in his demeanor bristled uncomfortably along her spine. "I seek to help because the world is in desperate need of it. I am only suggesting that you not throw yourself to the jaws of death in the meantime if you care to save anyone at all."

Silence overcame them, a long one where the rustling of the leaves served the only buffer to the tension. Miera stared at the man before her, a stranger to the one who'd comforted her during the Breach. The comment was a blow to that tightening knot in her stomach.

"You truly think that little of me?" she asked incredulously. "Solas, I wouldn't be here if I didn't care."

He tilted his head at that. "Yet you choose to parade in a line of death before your work is done."

"That decision is mine to make, not yours."

No. Not even Solas or the Chantry or the Breach could take that away from her.

Because not once would she hesitate to defend the name she’d vowed her life to, no matter how much her effort had been stripped from her hands and slapped mockingly across her face on any moment on a battlefield. The thread between life and death, her promise to pursue life, and the need to count the seconds she’d been given, however recklessly they were spent, belonged to her. Even the almighty mark that might as well be a set of chains at her wrists couldn’t strip that away.

That one, delicate, freeing decision was hers and hers alone.

He didn't answer for some time, his gaze never once wavering as it bore into her own. "That may be true," he finally said, stepping dangerously closer to her. "But perhaps the better question you should be asking yourself, Herald, is whether or not the rest of the world would agree."

"Agree the choice is not mine to make?" she challenged him, growing cold at the closing distance between them.

He nevertheless took another step forward until he was towering above her, features taught and lips drawn, no doubt a manner to provoke her. "Agree there is no other choice left for them at all."

They stood that way for a few moments, eye-to-eye, the ambiance of the night drowned by the ferocity in both their gazes.

Miera hated the deafening truth he choked her with like a single hand squeezing every last breath from her lungs.

Even more, she hated there was no manner for her to pry it open.

The swelling magic in her palm was a precarious salvation for the world they knew, however cruel that world may very well be, and the mark a feeble barrier to that impending cliff of doom. And she bore it all: a mage who refrained from magic and a Dalish incapable of hunting.

She would have laughed at the absurdity were she not the one being chased by it.

But Miera had been at her limit since the day she awoke with the mark. She turned away from the man, breathing heavy from the tightening in her chest, to distract herself with a preparatory stance to shoot at the target once again.

With a deep intake of breath, she cleared her mind of the nagging thoughts probing away at her. Solas' presence burned into her being, the aura of his magic recoiling and festering in the air around them, but she ignored it, ignored him. She needed to if she were to prove him wrong of one thing, at least.

With a determined grip on her bow, she raised her arms again and drew back the arrow, eyes pinned on her mark in the distance.

The tip of her arrow wavered in movement as she aligned it within her line of sight. Her hands and arms shook from the focus pulsing through her, but she couldn't let that get in her way, not now.

One shot. One clean shot was all she needed to prove she was worthy of something. One clean shot and the weight on her soul would falter.

Softly, hesitantly, quietly enough to make her question its validity, a presence made its way into Miera’s being, shifting her position. It was a whisper in the empty crevices of her heart that prompted her drawn arm down, like a thread seeking connection. And suddenly the arrow steadied, the gears and cogs and prongs of the shot's alignment clinking into place.

A moment ticked by where target and dilettante were nothing but a singular, confined point of clarity in a world shrouded in mist.

Now.

An echo of the bow's string snapping back into place. An arrow flying from its notch eager to meet its target. A thud resonating within the clearing.

The sound rung in Miera's ears as her eyes darted to where the arrow had struck.

Bright red feathers lingered towards the bottom of the tree's trunk. The arrow was nowhere near the cloth, if at all. But it was closer to an achievement of any kind.

Miera turned to the man behind her with a knowing smile—

But when she looked back, Solas was already gone.

 


 

Dennet was... kind, to say the least.

Too kind, in fact, after Miera's off-put mention of his possible grudge against the Dalish. The man scrambled to reject the possibility while highlighting how glorious and majestic the treasured animal was. The minute the mention of a halla echoed on Miera's lips, he had her sitting down for several hours within his own home despite the group's audible yet polite protest to speak of their nature and behavior. He showered Miera with questions of the revered animal she had never pondered herself; he took a rather keen interest in how, exactly, was it possible to hypothetically avoid being trampled by hallas on the hypothetical chance that an onlooker would startle them by hypothetically falling from a tree as they hypothetically surveyed a herd.

Nevertheless, the group was given direction as to how to earn the man's assurance that he would provide horses for the Inquisition, not that the assurance would come easily.

A killing of a demon in control of a pack of wolves, a march across unrivaled areas in search of hills worthy of lookout towers, and a search for lost caches of materials later had the party traveling through the other end of the Hinterlands within the week.

Miera's legs trembled by the time she sealed a rift within the premises of a fortress' walls that belonged to a group of dreary cultists. Her exhaustion after late nights of self-taught archery practice coupled with the overbearing desire to collapse at the mention of her distasteful title had her nearly fall the minute the fracture was closed.

The exhaustion was made worse by the people she found bowing before her and chanting that very title when she tread back up the stairs where the rift had been. She swayed on her feet at the sight, her mind uncoordinated to her body as she twisted through them. Her temperament worsened with every step she took, the heat coiling inside her rising the longer their gazes bore holes onto her back.

Miera had gone from being invisible to the eyes of her generation to an illuminated figurehead in the span of weeks; all too soon did she realize how much she missed her previous way of life, the memory of it a ghost that lingered on her every step, treading along the hollow crevices she’d done little to fill.

Amongst the chatter of the cultists around them, Varric was the first to disrupt the silence encompassing the group.

“Anyone care for a drink? Saw a tavern on the way to the rift and… I think we’re more than deserving of a break.”

“Growing tired so quickly from fighting, Varric?” Cassandra teased him.

“Tired? No. In need to forget about death and gloom at the world’s doorstep? Absolutely.”

“I’m with you there,” Miera cut in through gritted teeth, nails scratching at her palm absentmindedly at the sight of even more cultists bowing before her as the party stepped through. The constant babbling and unbashful pointing from others in the distance did little to calm her already frantic heartbeat. Alcohol, and plenty of it, was an option she was welcome to undertake so long as it was enough to null each and every voice, including her own.

“See, even the Herald’s in on drinks! How about it, Seeker?” Varric turned to Cassandra, no doubt in need for confirmation.

“Perhaps we should do well to remember our need to remain on the course of our endeavors,” Solas interjected.

Miera couldn’t suppress the need to roll her eyes at the comment, the world spinning in her view. “What, am I not sealing rifts quickly enough for you?”

“I was not protesting the suggestion, only implying we be careful considering the circumstances,” he clarified. “If any and all of us suffer the effects of inebriation unto tomorrow, we may be compromised of our ability to defend ourselves from those wishing to do us harm on our travels.”

Someone meaning me?” Because no, Miera was most definitely not forgetting Solas’ creative implication of that exact inability a week ago. His lips had only just parted when she cut him off, no interest left within her to hear him speak any further. “If I so wish to get drunk, Solas, I’ll do as I please. Or did you forget the part where you can’t make everyone’s decision for them?” Yeah, like demanding Miera ‘use her magic,’ as if that decision was ever his to make.

“I did not forget,” Solas spoke cooly. “Or am I no longer allowed to make even a simple suggestion in the presence of our mighty Herald?”

Miera clenched her fists, the heat dancing upon her skin and the pressure of magic yearning release nearly rupturing right then and there.

Damn him, damn him, damn him.

A hand on her arm distracted Miera from her darkening thoughts. She turned to meet the eyes of the Seeker herself.

“Calm yourself, Herald. There is no need for conflict,” Cassandra said, the words a blatant warning. Miera was prepared to fight for her own stance on the matter, to remind the woman Solas was just as enthusiastic to create said conflict, but Cassandra dropped the hand that held Miera’s arm and continued, “I won't, however, object to a drink in good spirits for all we have accomplished in our time here. We’ll make due with your suggestion, Solas.”

The man tipped his head in acknowledgment.

“Great!” Varric chimed in, effectively moving the conversation forward. “Should be the perfect opportunity to break out the deck of cards I brought too, in case anyone was wondering. Miera, ever played Wicked Grace?”

Miera was grateful for the change in topic, releasing the strain in her hands she’d done little to dissipate. “Wicked Grace?” she echoed.

“Yes! Good. I mean… not to brag or anything, but I’ve had my fair share of winnings with it, so don’t beat yourself up for an inevitable loss on your end.”

Miera gave out a startled scoff, her loosening tension enhancing it into a nervous chuckle. “I believe I hear a challenge in there somewhere,” she told him with a pointed finger, earning a sly smile from the rogue in response just as they stepped into the tavern within the fortress.

The chatter and laughter and clinking of glasses of other customers already inside forced Varric to speak louder to have his words heard. “What can I say? I am pretty damn good.”

“Never celebrate a victory before it’s earned, Varric. My… ah, a friend taught me that, once,” Miera quipped just as the group unclasped their knapsacks to drop them beside their chairs and seated themselves at a table near the back wall. The aroma of alcohol and baked goods from the bar behind them was a startling change to weeks-worth of blood, ash, and nature. She liked it, too.

“Wise words,” Solas spoke among the clatter around them. It was quiet enough Miera nearly missed it, but when she looked up at Solas, the man having seated himself opposite to her, he showed no notion of having said anything at all.

A server soon came to their aid attending to each person’s requests for a drink. Varric a Butterbile (Miera was suspicious enough to believe he chose it based on name alone), Cassandra a Carnal, and Solas and Miera both the House’s Special Rowan’s Rose (Miera really tried ignoring the fact that she and Solas shared the same tastes—couldn’t one thing be her own?), along with a few pastries to ease their appetite for the night. It was while the group waited for their drinks that Varric explained Wicked Grace to both Miera and Solas upon learning that the man with ‘great wisdom’ had never partaken in a round of the game either.

Miera understood why Varric was so engaged in teaching Wicked Grace to them. The chance to play sneakily and strategically while cheating being not only expected but applauded? It wasn’t a difficult leap to make. But she was nevertheless as engaged in his teachings, rummaging and filing the rules into her mind while awaiting the opportunity to take her first turn, a welcome distraction from her bleak truth suffocating her throughout their journey. Soon enough, the server came with their drinks just as the first game between them all began.

And Creators, did they play.

The first round was akin to a trial, Varric using it as an opportunity to reiterate the rules to ensure Solas and Miera both had a chance to swallow his teachings before proceeding. Varric won, of course, though Miera couldn’t tell whether that was on ability alone given the premise of the game was so foreign to her and she had nothing to compare his winnings to.

Then it was another round. He won again.

And another. Cassandra won, to Varric’s chagrin.

Until at last, they reached their fourth.

Miera kept watch of any and all interactions throughout the round, doing all she could to pretend that she did not, in fact, have a grasp on any of the rules, asking the occasional question to imitate the mind of one who only craved feeble understanding, and using those opportunities to steal additional, much needed cards for herself. The feeling of being observed by a man who shall not be named, however, dampened her resolve, but she wouldn’t let that diminish her eloquently placed trap. 

Varric revealed his deck once the Angel of Death was played, reveling in the exposure of his full house. The rogue leaned back on his seat and pretended to study his own fingernails with a smirk when he did. Cassandra, who had folded well into the match, elbows on the table as she surveyed the game, snickered at the display.

“Might as well not show your own. I’ve got this one in the bag,” Varric teased before taking a swig of his drink.

Miera raised a brow. “You know, just for that comment, I think I will.”

With deft fingers, Miera revealed her own deck: a four of a kind of Songs.

Varric choked on his drink and slammed it down on the table at the sight. 

Wordlessly, he slid the cards towards himself to survey the deck at a closer distance to ensure they were, indeed, all the same. Miera bit the inside of her cheek to hide her grin as he fell back into his chair with a mewl. Wide-eyed and slack-jawed, he was practically broken. “I…”

Cassandra was shuffling in her chair and pressing a hand to her lips to suppress her laughter, further elevating Miera’s rising mood.

“What was it I said? ‘Never celebrate a victory before it’s earned,’” she cooed as she took a sip from her own drink; she was well into her third, not that she was counting.

Solas propped his arms on the table, reminding Miera he still had his own cards to play. “Indeed. And as I said, ‘wise words.” He then elegantly proceeded to drop his own deck beside her own, revealing his cards for all to see.

Miera’s face fell slack at the sight.

A four of a kind of Angels.

There was a pause where Miera swore she heard the crashing and burning of her own victory in the distance. Not a moment after did Cassandra and Varric burst into laughter, the sound enveloping the entire tavern and earning a few glances in their direction. Miera met Solas’ gaze, and yes, that was definitely a smirk on his lips.

Miera’s shock turned into a glare, one Solas gave no inclination of backing away from.

Why? Why was the universe conspiring against her? Why?!

The roaring mirth coming from her other two companions did little to aid her in determining it.

“I’ll be damned.” Varric barely managed to speak despite his fitful laughter, one that was reinforced by his many drinks. Wiping away at some of his tears, he continued, “I should have never taught either of you how to play but Andraste’s ass is this gonna make a good story.”

“Do leave out the part where he wins, please,” Miera groaned into her hands, earning another bout of laughter from the rogue.

Solas leaned back on his chair and elegantly crossed his legs. “I assume this is your forfeit?” 

Miera could do nothing but give him another glare, a feat that was becoming much too common between them. “You assume things too much. So no.”

With no hesitation did Varric and Cassandra reach for the cards when Miera agreed to another match.

Not long after, the group receded into a rhythm of Wicked Grace again despite no round afterward coming close to the momentous ‘entertainment’ that was the fourth. Nevertheless, Miera relaxed as the evening progressed, a wave of calm soothing her amidst the dimming light as the day came to a close, the tavern trickling to a gentle hush. The atmosphere was soft and pensive, the whispers of the few left at the bar and the scraping of cards being played between the party a cadence to them all. 

Varric recited many of his tails, Cassandra asked many questions that were relished in her curiosity, and Solas resorted to listen in his morbidly quiet state as ever. Talk was made to remain within the walls of the fortress for the night, the perfect opportunity for all to gather modest rest after weeks of traded hours of camp-watch. Miera, however, half-listened to their banter as she hummed along to the tavern’s bard; her music had drifted to a repeat of ballads, and her voice remained unrivaled to even the beauty of her own songs. The tempo of the conversation at the party’s table gave way until none spoke at all, each of them lost in their own minds as they participated in rounds in fleeting peace.

Miera was absentmindedly running her fingertips along the rim of her bottle as she pondered her turn when Cassandra spoke up, breaking the group’s longest stretch of silence yet.

“Solas, if you do not mind me asking, what do you believe in?”

Solas briefly looked up at Cassandra, deliberating his answer for some time, before saying, “Cause and effect. Wisdom as its own reward, and the inherent right of all free-willed people to exist.”

Miera bit back the instinct to snort as she finished her turn and took a swipe at her drink.

Free-willed people my ass.

The beverage was a pleasant burn to her throat that further warmed the pooling heat in her stomach. Her eyes darted upward from the now emptied container when she finished, but she froze in her seat when she noted everyone at the table was staring at her; only once she caught Solas’ gaze did she realize why.

“Pardon?” he asked her, his expression more sinister than she ever remembered it being.

Miera blinked, her mind slow in catching up to her own tongue. Or was that just the effect of her drink? She could no longer tell.

Huh.

“If you have anything more promising to share, Herald, then—”

“No, no, please, by all means, go on!” Miera insisted, finding her voice once the recollection of their arguments jolted her awake from her lulled state. She wasn’t about to back down from the truth he’d been adamant about pushing on her now, nor ever. “I, too, would just love to hear how free you believe people have the right to be. I'd hate to deprive ourselves of the rich experience of hearing all about it. Right, Cassandra?” Miera hoped her words were delivered as sharply as she thought them to be as she turned to the woman beside her.

Cassandra looked liked a startled fennec at suddenly been addressed—it took her several moments to conjure a reply. “Erm... right, yes,” she hesitated, her gaze darting between them both before settling on the man in question. “But… that is not what I meant, either, Solas.”

Solas was still glaring at Miera, seizing her up in a challenge as she smiled mockingly at him when he said, “I know.” But he eventually glanced down with a sigh as he pondered his cards. “I believe the elven gods existed, as did the old gods of Tevinter. But I do not think any of them were gods unless you expand the definition of the word to the point of absurdity. The claims of one in power can trickle down to blind and shift the minds of many.”

Miera tilted her head at his answer; it was not what she had been expecting, to say the least. Not once had she ever heard of anyone conjuring the idea of co-existing godhood, especially between two factions of people with such bloody history. She would have shrugged the notion away were it not Solas, a man who spent much of his time wandering the many spectacles of Thedas’ past in the Fade, insinuating the idea.

Miera crossed her arms to observe the man, re-evaluating his explanation to find a detail she may have missed but coming up empty. "So you... believe each god was real.”

He glanced up at her through narrowed eyes. "Is that such a surprise to you?"

Miera stilled in her seat, uncertainty ghosting up her spine. She would have assumed his words to have been another pass at a jibe were it not for the seriousness with which he’d directed the question, nevermind the inkling shift in topic.

"Wouldn't it be for anyone?" she asked as if treading without the care needed would be another misstep in understanding his intentions. Something convinced her they were no longer speaking of gods and men, and his infinite layers of ambiguity didn’t help any.

Solas’ gaze remained locked on hers in search of something she had no knowledge of being able to provide, and she reminded herself not to squirm under his scrutiny. The sharpness of his ever-observant stare made her queasy past the effects of her inebriated state.

"Perhaps.” He reverted his attention to his cards.

Miera’s frown only grew deeper. There was something she was overtly missing, and his calculated, ever-withdrawn demeanor did little to give it away. It was a pester founded in oblivion, an answer she knew existed but couldn’t quite grasp.

What wasn't he saying?

She shook her head, disregarding the thought, and at last further asked, "Alright, then how would you justify the existence of multiple gods at once? Or that they were able to live among each other despite the differences in their origins?"

“Harmony between the gods may have been as likely and unlikely as that of people,” he explained. He finished his turn before meeting her eyes again. “As I said, the matter lies in what the notion of a god was to the respective masses. Are spirits worshipped by an Avarr any different to those exhorted by a mage of the Circle? Yet to one, they are revered, and to the other, they are terrorized. But the divide between each culture is not as great as we like to believe.”

“Not a perspective taken lightly, Chuckles,” Varric cut in as he studied his own deck.

Solas nodded. “Not a perspective taken at all. But I appreciate the idea of your Maker, Seeker—a god that does not need to prove his power.” Tapping a finger along the rim of his own glass, he softly added, “I wish more such gods felt the same.”

There was a listless beating to Miera’s own heart at the depletion of her calm, an anchor pulling it down in such a great magnitude she could scarcely breathe. The statement provoked so much, too much to a degree where everything once forgotten fractured back into the remembrance of agony. Solas’ expression, the lulling weightlessness of the alcohol, and the memory of a man playing god were dragging her to an edge she’d spent an entire life distancing herself from.

She couldn’t afford to fall now.

Miera glimpsed down at her trembling fingers, using every measure of the pain to break the forging thread instead.

Another drink, she decided. She needed another drink now.

Miera stood up abruptly, the sound of the chair bouncing backward startling the group. "I'm... um... going to the bar for a refill," she muttered, not knowing nor caring if she’d been properly heard by the rest. The need to escape was far too great, like running from a monster biting her ankles at every step. She could scarcely tell if she was swaying or if the world had suddenly decided to spin faster.

Her footsteps were thundering in her ears too. Did they always do that?

“Another Rowan’s Rose, please,” she requested to the barkeep as soon as she reached the counter. The man nodded, stepping away with grace to swoop through the back of the tavern in search of her much-needed beverage.

She braced two hands on the counter, eyes shut in hopes of appeasing the feeling that wouldn’t just leave her alone already. Petal, river, gold. Again and again and again, she recited it. But somehow, this felt different. Why was it different? Why couldn’t she control it? And was it always this hot in here?

The clink of a bottle being set in front of Miera was the sufficient modicum of peace needed to bring her back to the present. She’d barely mumbled a “thank you” to the barkeep and fumbled for a few coins of payment when a silky voice to her right proclaimed, “Well, well! If it isn’t our great savior, the Herald of Andraste.”

Miera huffed at the comment, ceasing to even glance in the person’s direction as she clenched the bottle with tight fingers and took several consecutively large swallows of her drink, hoping the action was enough an indication for the man to leave her be. The taste burned her throat and pooled into her stomach and she basked in its bliss, but the man apparently couldn’t take the hint. “You know, I wondered myself how great this Herald could be. I mean, the stories! Purges holes in the sky, seals rifts at a glance, demons cower in her wake, and is the hand of the Maker herself, no less... All of this while being nothing but a wildling mage with knives for ears.”

Miera slammed down her drink at his last words and spun sharply to face him. Her blood burned from intoxication and annoyance and anger, and she was too damn tired and irritated to determine which feeling to tame if any.

The man, an older human dressed in an overabundance of leather that reeked of smoke and cinder, greeted her with an unfitting grin. He was perched up beside her, resting his weight on the counter with his elbow and holding a drink in his other hand. “I have to say, I expected nothing but the worst, but looking at you now...” His eyes, those unsettling, deplorably dark eyes were in no hurry as they raked their way along her form, from her toes to her legs to her torso and up until they matched her own. “I'm not entirely disappointed.”

Miera sneered, agitation permeating into her bones. “Right. Because out of all the crazed fanatics there are, your approval is the one I gave a damn about.”

“Is that an attempt at flattery?”

“Mockery,” she corrected. “Though I suspect someone with a head as big as yours couldn't tell the difference.”

The man placed a hand over his heart and chuckled. “Oh, I am wounded! And here I was thinking those tales of savage elves couldn't possibly be so accurate.”

“And here I was thinking demons were a sight for sore eyes.”

The man’s laughter sobered up at that one. He watched her with an acute ardency now, an excitement boiling behind his stare she had no intention of becoming acquainted with.

Miera reached backward with a careful hand to ensure her staff was still on her back, to have something to defend herself with, and was relieved when her fingers grazed the cool metal, but the man’s eyes caught the movement. “Come now... there's no need for that, is there?” He took a step closer, and it took every ounce of willpower for Miera not to mirror the action in reverse. “Surely those stories aren’t all there is to the likes of you. Not that I mind, of course. I could use a lack of self-control from a pretty thing like you, every now and then.”

Miera fidgeted, her legs shaking in an effort to keep standing up straight. The chatter of the few left in the tavern was like metal grinding glass now. Was it always this loud?

“What’s the matter? Cat got your tongue?” the man drawled as he further closed the distance between them.

Calm. Stay calm.

“No. But if you keep talking, my knife will cut out yours.”

The man hummed and took another sip of his drink. “I suppose I wouldn’t mind to taste those ears of yours myself, no.” Fenedhis, she felt sick. “You know, normally, I would turn away at such indelicate demeanors, harmless as I am.” Another step, close enough now she could barely keep herself from hurling at his revolting stench. “Lucky for you, I find it... endearing. So why not put that savagery to good use somewhere else, hmm?”

"Back off."

He flashed his teeth, and the smile was like a thousand needles pricking her skin at once.

Calm. Stay calm. Stay—

Someone approached Miera on her peripheral. Cassandra.

"Herald? Is this man—"

The man precisely chose that moment to lift his hand, too quickly for Miera’s slow mind to register, and flick the tip of her ear with a finger.

Miera’s world ripped into black.

A roar from adrenaline and a whirlwind of movement and a screeching thud and a shatter—all of these sounds were folded in a cage of black, far beyond Miera’s traitorous control to open until it all came to a standstill.

Miera blinked herself out of the haze; she stood above the man, one foot pressing down on his chest as he lay sprawled on the floor, the end of her staff directed right at his throat.

Within that cage of memory had the tavern fallen as quiet as death itself.

But Miera didn’t care. She was already speaking before she realized her lips were moving.

"Don't claim to know me for what I am, shem, for I am well aware," she snarled. "If I'd so cared to waste my time on the likes of you, I would have obliterated you into the worthless pile of ashes you already are the moment you so much as took a step in my direction. But then again, a wildling mage apparently lacks all sense of self-control, right?"

A bluff, one the man hardly seemed to notice.

It didn’t matter anyhow; he laughed when she finished, the sound as hollow as her threat. "This one's got some fire in her, lads! Wouldn't mind putting it to good use in—"

Miera swung back the leg that was pinning him down and kicked him right in the groin before he could finish.

"Good luck finding use for that tonight,” she spat as he doubled-over and clutched himself where she’d hit him.

Miera turned to leave then, the panic and adrenaline seizing and crawling and gnawing away at her from the inside, enough her teeth chattered from the fading heat… but a deathly grip on her ankle nearly caused her to trip when she did.

"You savage, little wench.”

A barrier of flame, a maniacal promise, a potent desire to—

“Miera, don’t…!”

An arm enveloped her at her waist, pulling her backward and inclining her to stop but she couldn’t. She couldn’t, and she wouldn’t because it was everything and nothing like what had stripped her of everything she once had.

Miera yanked herself free and she seared and she growled as she swiveled around, pushing against that barricade to drive the end of her staff right at the man’s throat again. He propelled himself onto his back when she did, breathing heavy and hands up in concession while glancing where staff met skin.

The throbbing in her head and the lingering touch on her arm was a focal point as she braced herself against the swelling pressure in her chest. The well of her magic screamed for release and scorched every nerve laced with the potency of the rush.

But she restrained it all despite her quivering spirit. For her.

Lowly and viciously enough for only both of them to hear, Miera spoke at last:

"Don't you ever lay your filthy hands on me again."

She didn’t dare give the man another second of her time.

Miera spun around at the deliverance of her parting words, swiping her hand along the counter to grasp her bottle with an outreached hand. Her mind was no longer in control as her body carried her forward. She could have sworn there were people calling after her, reaching for her, fingertips dancing along her armor like shadows as they plead for her return but she couldn’t think of why anyone would try, why anyone would even care.

And she ran.

Past the silhouettes pressing against her form, suffocating and haunting her and reminding her of everything she wanted to escape. Past the murmurs of a memory begging her to stay, to bathe in the aftermath of her sins. Past the holy candlelight vouching her to be bigger and stronger and braver than she could ever be credited for.

Miera ran until the cold air jolted her to a grappling state, but her breathing was so, so heavy, and she was so, so tired. Gasping, she fumbled along the grass, her skin and throat and lips burning from the alcohol and the well and the anger. The merciless surge of it ripped through her stomach, seeking to bleed away the poison that was her own existence because she was angry—angry at the world for all it had done and angrier at herself for having done worse.

Searching and escaping—both the same yet nothing alike.

She ran until she fell, collapsing near a clearing of boulders, scraping her armor along their surface. Her mind was spinning and her heart was pounding and her lungs were heaving to breathe in any semblance of serenity, of hope, of anything that would enliven all that had crumbled and died within her long ago.

She stayed that way on her knees, a bottle and staff at her side, until the rustling of the leaves ushered down to a whispering lullaby that remedied her bones and eased the simmer to a stop, until she remembered that she was, in fact, still here, still breathing, still alive—fulfilling that promise she’d uselessly vowed to hold.

But she couldn’t shake it away, no matter how much she abdicated to its every whim and demand.

Because the truth would always remain the same, and Miera would always be the one to burden it.

"You were right,” she whimpered, the sound lost to the basin of her solitude. “I shouldn't have left. Maybe things would be different, then." It was a lonely whisper into the night, one that braved no response in return.

Something cold trickled down her heated cheek, and only then did Miera realize she was crying. She wiped it away furiously with the back of her hand, but it didn't matter—tears fell faster than she could rid herself of them.

She reached for the bottle for another sip of the Rose, two, three, until her tongue could no longer taste, until her mind could no longer think, until her heart could no longer feel.

And for the first time since the sky had broken, Miera clutched herself and wept, the twinkling stars above her only company.