Chapter 1: The Alienage and the Ex-Templar District
Warnings: This chapter will include mental illness, specifically about withdrawal and dementia-like symptoms.
Chapter 1: The Alienage and the Ex-Templar District
"See here, Eve? How you can feel a rounded firmness - no, use the pads of your fingers, not the tips - there, feel it now?"
Eve held her breath against the sweet smell of rot, knowing that if Nessa spotted a shudder that she would get an earful later. Gently, she edged around the work table and obediently used her fingers to locate the lump under the patient's grimy, whiskered jaw. Just to the side of a muscle was a pea-sized spongey node.
The man hissed in pain and jerked away, cupping the side of his face so just the tip of a pointed ear stuck up above his hand. "I'm so sorry," Eve sputtered, hiding her flushing face behind her long black hair and twisting her hands behind her.
"S'alright da'len," the man muttered, trying to smile but grimacing around his swollen jaw instead. "I just need to grit and bear it."
"Hmm, well, gritting will only make the tooth rot feel worse," Nessa mused. She deftly coaxed the man's mouth open and lifted a candle to illuminate the inside of his mouth. "Eve, how can we tell that it's tooth rot and not an ear infection?"
"Umm," Eve said, trying to ignore the sounds of a spirited foot race outside. It sounded like her friends from the thieves' guild were out there racing the all the alienage children. "His tonsils and ear drums aren't swollen or red, no change in his hearing, and no pus found, thank the Maker."
"And what are the cardinal signs of a localized infection, Eve?"
Eve, who was edging to the clinic door, stopped in her tracks. "I can't remember," she muttered to the dirt floor, tamping down on the guilty twinge at the lie. She curled her bare toes, hoping Nessa would just dismiss her in exasperation.
"Tsk. I taught you better than this and Maker knows I've dragged you to see more than enough infections since you showed up at my door," Nessa said imperiously. There was an undercurrent of steel beneath the wry amusement in her crisp tone.
Even surrounded by mismatched furniture and tools cobbled together from odds and ends, Nessa was regal in the daylight streaming in from a nearby window. She sat on her patched clinic stool like a shem noblewoman - no, as if she sat on the Ferelden throne, a sharp light glinting from brown eyes stamped with crow’s feet. The man dutifully held still in her hand as she surveyed her apprentice with an expectant look.
Eve straightened and crossed her arms. "And they have all been disgusting," she declared. A prickle of pride glowed in her chest - her voice hadn't wavered that time.
The man winced and Nessa pursed her lips in a disapproval. "While that was true for some - most - of them, that is not a cardinal sign and your rudeness will cost you latrine duty for the week," Nessa said coolly, boring her eyes into Eve'. "What did I tell you about treating patients, your people , with respect?"
"Oh, it's alright, she's just a child-"
"A child old enough to know better," Nessa said firmly over the man's protests, fixing Eve with a look that made her feel like a flea-infested nug.
"It'd be easier if infections and the pus weren't so gross!" Eve protested, knowing that she should shut her mouth like Nessa was always after her for, but she was right - infections were horrifying, and the smell ... she was just telling the truth.
"Well, don't get any high hopes for the future," Nessa said, "you are the child of an alienage surgeon. Your future won't be full of gold and candy. More of the pus and guts variety, I suspect."
Eve curled her little hands into fists. She was frustrated . She'd just learned that word that week and that was what she was. Frustrated of being cooped up in the same shabby clinic day after day with its never-ending line of sweating, coughing, puking patients that looped around the Vhenadal all the way to the outskirt fence penning the alienage in the city. Frustrated of standing on aching feet, as hour after hour she would hand over a tool Nessa needed to fix the patients or look at a particularly stomach-turning piece of anatomy that Nessa would present for inspection. Frustrated of having to trot at Nessa's heels as they paid house calls to particularly sick elves who would inevitably be stewing in their waste by the time they got there while the other alienage kids ran and played past them, or ran messages for extra coin from the thieves' guild. Not that she was mistreated by Nessa, not like some of the others or those who served in shem houses, but it was hard to live with the formidable woman.
Heat boiled into her cheeks and she glared as sharply as the costly scalpels Nessa used in her surgeries. Then I wish I'd been left on someone else's doorstep! Eve thought fiercely, wishing she could say it all out loud and hating how calm and expectant Nessa looked, as if she knew and it didn't matter .
A beat of silence stretched, then two. Only the somewhat muffled sounds of a crowded alienage pressed in through the thin walls as Eve glared then dropped her gaze. "Swellingheatrednesspainlimitedmovement," Eve spat out quickly. She sent a small pair of tongs skittering across the table to Nessa then bolted out the door.
Then, because she had what Nessa called ‘an unrepentant need for noseyness’, she hid around the corner. A low whistle drifted through the swinging door. "Thought for sure that she'd do something stupid and curse you til she was blue in the face," the man’s voice said. "What a fiery little troublemaker. And what spooky eyes. Must've rained and stormed the night she was born."
A short sigh followed. "Well, she was left at my door nine years ago, so I couldn't tell you," she heard Nessa say dryly, "but let it never be said that I raised a dumb bunny. Now, close your eyes, open your mouth, lay back and think of Andraste."
Evening settled down into the alienage, the dust quieting as families retreated from the deep blue shadows into the warmth of their shabby but cheerful kitchens. Eve loitered under a ratty awning, tugging the hem of her threadbare shirt higher to cover the colorful bruise she'd earned in her latest roughhousing match from her messenger friends. If only Nessa would let her out more; she'd be able to keep up with them and learn how to do more than just slip out of an attacker's grasp. She could learn to return the blows, learn how to wield a dagger with her eyes closed, slip by Nessa's watchful gaze with the stealth of a black cat. Then maybe she'd be able to join the thieves' guild one day and become one of its infamous Fangs.
She jumped when the door to the clinic opened and shielded her eyes as a bright light pierced the gloom. "Is that my loving and respectful aid?" a familiar voice drawled. "Will the Maker never cease his miracles?"
"I'm sorry," Eve blurted to the dirt without preamble. Even as she’d raced and scuffled with the other alienage kids, she’d felt guilt for leaving Nessa and the patient behind in the clinic. Nessa was the best surgeon of the alienage and deftly cared for patients too complex for apprentices, but what if she needed Eve for something? What if a kid came in with tooth rot and needed Eve’ smaller hands? She hadn’t been able to shake the guilt, even when her friends were teaching her how to dodge a flying kick. "I shouldn't've been rude to the carpenter. I didn't mean to make him feel bad. I know it's worse from a surgeon."
A thoughtful pause. "Why?"
A crimson flush flooding from the collar to the tips of his pointed ears of the bedbound patient flashed through her mind's eye, red in his chagrin and mortification. It'd been the first time Eve had felt such strong waves of nausea and pity at the same time, warring with each other until she could school her face into the semblance of calmness that Nessa wore all the time when she pretended to not notice these things. "Because," she said slowly, looking up, "we're there when people feel their worst. And they need us to help. It'd be worse to ask honestly for help when you feel weaker than nug piss and the surgeon told you to nob off because you stink."
Nessa's dark eyebrows had steadily climbed her forehead, the corners of her lips twitching. "That's- Maker's furry nut- I mean, for Maker's sake, where did you learn-" Nessa heaved in a breath then seemed to count silently to ten like she was after Eve to do. "Next time the guild kids start that talk, I want you to stuff your fingers in your ears or I will clean your mouth out with soap," Nessa threatened firmly.
Eve nodded, biting her lower lip to keep from grinning. She was about to offer to make dinner when Nessa hoisted her traveling satchel higher on her shoulder and instead blurted, "Where are you going?"
"Hmm? You know where I'm going," Nessa said absently, now adjusting her cloak and checking the oil supply in her lamp. "I go there every other week, for Maker's sake."
Eve didn't want to say anything that broke the bridge they'd just repaired, but a cold tendril of fear snaked around her insides. "You shouldn't," Eve said, "not alone. I can go with you-"
"Da'len, you are shaking in your boots - well, if you ever actually wore boots," Nessa said dryly, swinging her lamp to light the cramped alley. "Eat the stew and make sure the fire is put out by the time I am back."
"Nessi, no, I'm fine - I can do it!" Eve insisted, feeling like a baby, using her nickname for Nessa while clutching her fists against her sides and trying to stop the quivering. She knew that she was glistening with sweat in the amber lamplight and didn't care because Nessa could not go alone. "You can't go - not with those, those things . They're crazy!"
Nessa's face vanished in shadow as the lamplight swung in the breeze, obscuring her expression. But her voice sounded thoughtful when she spoke again. " That ," she murmured, "is precisely why I need to go. They may be crazy, but they gave their lives to the Chantry and that blasted dwarf dust they keep begging for. The People are not the only ones who suffer, and we have not forgotten - just as we will not forget others who suffer."
"But, but they're shems," Eve protested, rooting around her frazzled mind for a good enough reason to keep Nessa home and safe, away from the walled-off district full of emaciated wandering humans out of their mind with madness. She sometimes glimpsed their shivering, rail-thin figures hunched beyond the fence separating the grungiest streets of Denerim from the alienage, bloodshot eyes roving; their enraged shrieks and wails for lyrium scared her more than anything. "The Chantry have sisters, don't they? Can't they help? Or pay healers to?"
Tapping came from under Nessa's oiled leather work cloak, a sign of impatience. "You know as well as I that the sisters only know basic remedies," Nessa said tartly, then muttered under her breath, "wouldn't know the difference between an umbilical hernia and a pregnancy without checking the genitals, but I'm not the Revered Mother, thank the Maker." She continued in a somewhat more dignified voice, "And you know as well as I that nothing can be done for lyrium withdrawals, not even with the magic of a healer. And who has the gold to waste for a lost cause? No, better to be eased a little with some headache draughts and focusing solutions than die alone in complete agony."
She wasn't going to stop trying until Nessa stopped using that adult voice and listened to her. "But they don't care about us so why-"
"Who came and put down the abomination in the Banal'ras district last month?" Nessa interrupted.
Eve bit her lip. "Templars," she muttered, hanging her head.
"That's right. We were able to help the injured People thanks to those 'shem' templars whether or not they wanted to kiss every single elf in the alienage. Now, get back inside and not another word out of your smart mouth or I will put you to work with Cyrion."
Help Cyrion fuss over every single human, elf and dwarf that entered his house and listen to him haggle with them over things like 'trade agreements' and 'taxes'? Eve squirmed on the spot, watched Nessa take a few brisk steps down the alley, then ran to catch up before her courage ran out. "I'm coming with you," she declared, hopefully with as much conviction as her hands were shaking, "you can't talk me out of it even if I have to work for Cyrion for days."
"Is that so?" Nessa mused, lamp swinging away to reveal dark glittering eyes and a small furrow between her brows. "Even if the 'crazy' ex-templars start raving?"
"Yes," Eve said stoutly, hiding her hands behind her and summoning every ounce of determination in her nine-year-old body.
She waited on a knife's edge, trembling between wanting to go with Nessa and wanting to run inside the steamy warmth of their home until Nessa finally gave a curt nod. "Get your boots and your bag," she ordered in a tone that brooked no arguments. As Eve scurried inside to obey, she heard Nessa mutter, "and I hope your sticky-fingered friends in the guild teach you how to lie better."
Eve clopped along behind Nessa’s trailing cloak, trying not to trip on the patched leather boots that she was still growing into. The further they walked from their clinic by the vhenadal, the more cramped the dirt roads became with piles of filth and the buildings teetered higher and higher to accommodate the poorest of the alienage. Jagged bricks and hungry eyes gleamed in Nessa’s lamplight as they neared the gap-toothed fence on the outskirts of the alienage. Two tall silhouettes loitered by the posts, their armor glinting in the lamplight set behind them.
“Hello there,” Nessa called in a carefully neutral tone. Eve was suddenly struck with the need to drag Nessa home by the cloak as a distant moan carried through the blackness beyond the light. Was it too late to turn back?
“I am Nessa Surana, and this is my daughter,” Nessa continued, “we are here to help the ex-templars.”
The human closest to them peered down at them from under his helm with eyes rounder than any elf’s. “Help? Riiight… You know that the crazies don’t have anything worth stealing even for you rabbit-ears, eh?” he asked suspiciously. “They’ll have lost it or traded it for dust by now, and they’re howling at the moon tonight. Best to stick to your side of the fence-”
“Trenton, that’s the elf surgeon from two weeks ago.” Another armored human walked up and peered down at them, the lamplight throwing his acne scars in sharp relief. “You here to try and get them to shut up again? We won’t say no to that.”
“They aren’t supposed to,” a new voice interjected from behind Eve. She almost jumped into Nessa as a redheaded elf dressed in battered leathers suddenly stepped out of the shadows with a scowl. “They’re supposed to be home letting the shems take care of themselves.”
“As are you , Shianni,” Nessa said, looking unperturbed. “You’re going to worry Cyrion being out so late and I don’t need him on my doorstep first thing in the morning.”
“And who’s this?” the guard with the scars asked with his hand on his sword hilt.
“No one you need to know, shem,” Shianni sneered with a hand on her hip. At thirteen, she was four years older than Eve and starting to blossom into womanhood. The new swell of her hip emphasized the wickedly curved dagger hanging from her belt. Despite herself, Eve felt a stab of admiration at her courage against the large, towering humans.
“This is my niece,” Nessa said as she swept the youth under an arm. Eve could see Nessa’s fingertips pressing into Shianni’s shoulder tightly. “She is a demure flower who likes to keep her opinions to herself and is always polite to strangers,” Nessa continued, “because otherwise, her aunt will tell the nice guards about that time she ran through the alienage stark naked-”
“I don’t care if you do,” Shianni sputtered, flushing as red as her hair and trying to squirm out of Nessa’s grip. “And anyway, I’m only here because you shouldn’t be out alone and uncle Cyrion agrees with me-”
“Look,” the other guard interrupted, “I don’t care who you lot are or who your aunt or uncle or fourth-removed humpback is. What do you want with the crazies?”
“We want to help heal them,” Eve said when Nessa and Shianni started to argue again.
The two guards instantly took a step back and raised their shields. “What, like magically?” the scarred guard asked.
“No, thank the Maker,” Nessa answered swiftly. “None of us are apostates. We are just surgeons, seeking to help ease the old templars.”
“Well, she’s the surgeon,” Shianni said, pointing at Nessa’s bulging work bag full of draughts and surgical tools, “best one in the alienage and the brat’s her apprentice. I’m their messenger.”
The taller guard glanced at her dagger and the hard look in her eyes. “Messenger. Right. And I’m King Cailan,” he said.
“Just let them through,” the scarred guard said, elbowing his peer. “The Chantry doesn’t look out for them enough after they leave,” he muttered to the elves, “five gold bits and a thank-you doesn’t pay the bills for long or buy enough lyrium for the rest of their blighted lives. It’d be more than what the Chantry does if you could make them feel better with your potions and whatnot.”
The other guard snorted. “Softie.”
“Thank you,” Nessa said gracefully as they passed, leaving the guards to bicker with each other.
Past the fence, the dirt road occasionally winked with shards of broken glass. The muddy puddle Eve stepped in crunched oddly, and she was suddenly grateful to Nessa for insisting on her wearing boots. She didn’t fancy walking around on bleeding feet, forcing glass shards deeper and deeper into her flesh with every step. Then she’d get an infection - probably the nasty kind that turned the skin green, then black and foul until the toes shriveled and fell off… she shuddered and tried to peer beyond the small circle of light the lamp threw off instead.
Skeletal remains of burnt buildings loomed out of the darkness as they passed, broken walls yawning with shadows. Cloaks and jackets propped up on sticks lined the dirt roads as well, sometimes with feet or a hand poking out from underneath. Eve stifled a yelp when the makeshift tent they were passing emitted a high-pitched scream and immediately glued herself to Nessa’s side.
Shianni scoffed, her hand on her dagger as they passed another tent with a pair of bare feet covered in sores sticking out. “You should tuck tail and run home, bunny,” she said, “don’t know why you’re even here, not being a full surgeon or a healer to help at all…”
“Eve’s been really helpful around the clinic,” Nessa said with a warm hand on Eve’s shoulder, “and she’s mostly been good with her studies. Not so much with infections, however.”
Eve flushed a little even as her eyes jumped from tent to tent. “I wish I could heal magically,” she said, giving voice to a persistent thought she’d been having, “so I can fix everything and people won’t hurt anymore-”
“No,” Nessa interrupted. Eve flinched as her fingers turned into claws on her shoulder. “No, da’len. Be glad that you aren’t mage-touched,” Nessa continued in strained voice, “they can turn into abominations in a moment, then tear apart a building and its people in a blink.”
“I wouldn’t become an abomination if I were a mage,” Eve said indignantly. “Or use blood magic. I know better.”
“Well, thank the Maker that you aren’t touched with magic,” Shianni said, “or you’d be shipped off to a Circle, like Neria. Then you’ll vanish when the templars take you in the night, never to see the alienage again.”
“That’s enough,” Nessa said sharply. “Eve hasn’t shown a single sign of magic and that’s how it’ll stay. How else am I going to retire as an old lady? As if your uncle hasn’t enough grief with his only child gone. And enough talk of blood magic, we’re getting up to the right tent-”
A roar made all three of them jump and the lamp clattered into the mud. Shianni scrambled in front of Nessa and Eve with her rusty dagger thrust out as something erupted from the tent right next to them and roared, “BLOOD MAGIC?”
At first, Eve thought a scarecrow had been possessed and brought to life. What froze the scream in her throat was realizing that the black pits carved into the scarecrow’s haggard face were in fact sunken sockets with only a pinpricks to hint at burning, roving eyes in their depths. Greasy, matted grey locks hung around hollow cheeks and dirty skin hung in wrinkled drapes off the bones. What Eve realized to be a painfully emaciated old human staggered to his feet, waving a roughly sharpened tent pole in Shianni’s snarling face while clutching a fist to his breastbone.
“You looking… sacrifices?” he shouted, waving the stick and they all leapt back another pace. “ABOMINATIONS?”
“Hugh, no!” Nessa shouted, raising a beseeching hand toward him and holding Shianni back with the other. “My name is Nessa, do you remember me? I gave you the headache draught two weeks ago when you were feeling bad.”
Hugh jumped at his name, then swayed on his feet as he peered at them with a bloodshot eye. “Nessa?” he mumbled to himself, his fetid breath and quick, jerky movements making Eve mince a step back. “Feel bad… all th’time. All the time. Not abomination? No… not Nessa. Circle prayers start in an hour. Must ready… things. Headache… yesterday?”
“It was two weeks ago, Hugh,” Nessa said soothingly, trying to shake off Shianni and Eve as they tried to pull her back to the gate. “I brought more for you-”
Shianni and Eve cried out as Hugh suddenly dropped the stick and hauled Nessa to him by the arm. “You have it?” he asked fervently, the tip of an open sore on his nose almost touching hers, “you have the lyrium? I need my next dose, knight-captain, I’m burning on low and I found a little yesterday - day before yesterday? Monday? But it wore off fast and I got a wildfire in my head and I need it -”
“Hugh, listen to me,” Nessa coaxed and Eve could hear a note of desperation in it. Nessa threw a warning look at Shianni and continued softly, “Hugh, my name is Nessa. I’m here to help your headache. It’s in my bag - would you like some?”
Hugh swayed and blinked slowly at her as Eve discreetly scrambled to find the right potion in Nessa’s satchel. “Nessa…? Surgeon?”
“That’s right, Hugh,” Nessa said. “I have this headache draught for you. Best to drink it now.”
Hugh stared emptily at her, then relaxed his skeletal hands. He grabbed the bottle Eve offered without really looking at her and swigged down the red concoction as Shianni tugged Nessa back behind her.
“My thanks, Mother Christine,” Hugh said brightly, bouncing on the balls of his bare feet and trying to tuck his stick at his waist like a sword, seemingly unaware that he was wearing nothing but a long, holey tunic. “Best thing for a growing boy like me, need all the food I can get. All this trekking up and down the tower in full armor tires me out like nothing else. Well, maybe not as bad as drill. These mages better appreciate the view, eh?”
“I hope they did, Hugh,” Nessa murmured sadly. “You should get some rest.”
“Not a bad idea, Mother Nessa,” Hugh croaked, turning to peer up the line of makeshift tents. “My room… over here. I’ll see you at morning service. Good night, Mother.”
He bent to wrap a ratty blanket and the lamp threw a ridge of shadows down the knobs of his spine. As Hugh laid down on the dirt and made himself comfortable under the blanket, Shianni and Eve stared at each other, then at Nessa who was rapidly blinking wet eyes.
“We aren’t done yet. Come, he’s usually just along here,” Nessa said briskly, scooping up the lamp and heading past a few more tents towards a burned-down lean-to. Eve lingered, staring at Hugh’s shiny balding pate and at the small glass vial cradled in the hand laying by his whiskered chin before hurrying to catch up to Nessa and Shianni.
Nessa was crouched in the shadow of a crumbling wall with Shianni standing guard at her back. In the corner of the lean-to lay a shriveled husk on its side, even more painfully thin than Hugh. This man - who was probably an ex-templar - had sparse hair, neck and limbs stiffly bent inwards, and if it weren’t for the shallow rise and fall of his ribs Eve would have thought Nessa was paying her respects to a dead man. His crusted eyes didn’t even flutter when Nessa murmured soothingly to him, trying to coax him to swallow the drops of a draught that she’d poured into his mouth.
“Nessa,” Shianni hesitated, for once looking like a young teenager as she watched her aunt work, “I don’t think… will that even help? He looks like he’s going to…”
A muscle jumped in Nessa’s jaw as she abandoned the draught and instead tucked the patched cloak the man was curled under more firmly around him. Eve quietly kneeled beside her and helped. “Yes, he is on his way to the Maker,” Nessa agreed.
“Then why bother?”
“Because no one should die alone like this,” Nessa said. “The Chantry uses up their youth and dedication, then kicks them out when they can’t keep the delirium at bay. You saw Hugh - and you’ll see more, here. They all end up here eventually, without a copper to their name and begging for the demon dust even if it’s what got them to this stage in the first place.”
“Don’t the sisters come here?” Shianni persisted. “They should help-”
“But they don’t,” Nessa said, her voice laced with contempt. She laid a soothing hand on the man’s shriveled fist, the skin covered in old scars. “The withdrawal leeches at their sanity. They forget the most recent events first… how they got here, where they are, where they pawned their sword. Then they forget people - family, if they ever had one. Then their name. Then they forget how to walk, talk… how to eat or drink. Sometimes they remember certain things, but once they forget how to do bodily things… it isn’t long, after that.”
Eve’s eyes burned and she choked down a shuddering breath, patting the man’s cool skin unseeingly. She swiped at her eyes and was surprised to see Nessa watching her, a warm light in her own. “Do you see, da’len?” Nessa asked. “This is… we can’t leave others to a fate like this. Even if they don’t have pointed ears. It’s never a competition to see who has it worse… we must help, if we can.”
Watching the man gasp shallowly through chapped lips, Eve couldn’t help but agree.
Chapter 2: Alienage Reality Check
Note: hey lovely readers! Again, thank you to everyone who left a kudo! I'm playing around with medical knowledge in this chapter and future chapters, so if you have any questions please do not hesitate to leave a review or shoot me a DM with your question/comment. Otherwise, please R&R =)
Also, Cullen will be making an appearance soon. Not saying when, just... soon. =)
A big thank you to my fanfiction writing group! You're all amazing!
Warnings: blood, violence, attempted murder
Chapter 2: Alienage Reality Check
Eve tried to focus and shake off the grip of sleep, her bones leaden with exhaustion. If only things would stop smearing into hazes of color; orange light gilded everything with a hypnotic blaze, like that ear covered in black warts that was strangely looming closer and closer...
A sharp flick on the point of her own ear made her lurch back with a yelp. Maker's pustulated gronk, that hurt! Eve ground down on her reflexes, her body remembering that she held a scalpel in her hand even if her mind was asleep. She caught the side-eyed glare from Nessa, her profile fiery in the evening sun streaming in from the third storey window. The bedroom was cramped, only barely accommodating a straw mattress on the floor and a chair. A ratty rug did little to hide the rough slats that made the floor, through which Eve could see the rooms of the floor below. Eve shuddered away from the reminder that they were three storeys up in one of the most rickity buildings in the alienage and refocused on her task.
"...and I wake up drenched at night, coughing my head off worse than my mother," the patient complained between rattling breaths. " I... I hope it is just a stubborn cold. It's been going around in the district. I have to get back to the shem's estate gardens and start work again tomorrow."
Eve got back to work as Nessa nodded, her eyes bright above the muslin mask swaddled over her mouth and nose. "Well, that may be out of the question for now," she said gently, "you are barely able to get out of bed and your lungs are much too wet. Your husband can take care of things for a few days."
"No, they are short of work at the farm at least for the next week and we are beggaring ourselves as it is," the patient said, wincing as Eve delicately cut off a wart. "We have three children. I must get back on my feet soon. Are you sure this isn't just a cold?" she asked hopefully.
"Well, your symptoms are very general-"
The diagnosis popped out of Eve's mouth without thought. "Consumption."
The patient jumped a little under Eve's hand at her statement and too late, Eve caught Nessa's warning look. "Con- consumption?" the patient asked, a touch of dread in her voice.
Eve grimaced at Nessa's pointed look. Too late to take it back now. "Yes, serah," Eve said warily, holding her bloody scalpel still, "you have consumption. It's not uncommon for it to travel through crowded places, especially in the alienage-"
"Consumption," the patient repeated in a determinedly calm voice. "Like... what my mother had?"
Nessa was glaring at Eve now. "Most likely," Nessa said, gentling her tone while addressing the patient. Eldrina, Eve's tired brain belatedly remembered, mother of three who has an elderly mother with consumption that she and Nessa visited every month. Maker, as if having these warts that would spread if left unchecked weren't bad enough... "It is easy for it to pass to others who share the same space often," Nessa said, taking Eldrina's trembling hand in her own, "but you know that it is livable. Your mother has had it for years and she manages with the coughing and fever draughts when it recurs. It need not be dire."
"How can you be sure?" Eldrina demanded, voice rising between hacking coughs. Gobs of spit and mucus landed on Nessa's oiled leather work tunic. "It's just a little coughing! It killed our neighbor - I need more proof before you sentence me to a slow death!"
This time, Eve bit her tongue without having to meet Nessa's glare. As much as she believed that everyone should know the truth, especially about their own health, giving the news now wouldn't help Eldrina accept it. And Nessa's glare promised consequences, so she kept her mouth shut.
Never mind that the truth was right there, waiting to be seen. Recently, Eve had discovered that all she had to do was close her eyes, find the singing thread that lived inside her and flex it a certain way, and open her eyes to see things in other people. Like the cluster of what looked like boggy, soft eggshells beginning to crust the bottom of Eldrina's lungs - every single person who had consumption had lungs that looked like that, on top of the night sweats and common cold symptoms. But Eldrina didn't seem ready to hear it.
Instead, she said, "I may be mistaken, serah Eldrina. I am but an apprentice and still learning."
Eldrina finally stopped fretting in her seat. "You are young. Only thirteen, if I am not mistaken," she said stiffly. "There is much for you to learn. But, I have heard of your... keen awareness, from others. Nessa must be teaching you well."
"She is a thorough teacher," Eve said quietly, resolving to keep her mouth shut for the rest of the home visit so she didn't spook the nervous mother. "Please keep still, I am almost finished here." With sure deftness, her scalpel darted quickly, cutting the last of the black warts dotting Eldrina's left ear, warts that had tripled in size since their last visit. She was so focused that she didn't notice the queer look Nessa gave her.
"Well, I have your cough draughts here Eldrina," Nessa said smoothly, fishing corked bottles of green liquid out of her work satchel and lining them up on the floor next to the meager straw mattress. "And some extra for your mother. I'd like to check her over before we leave since it's been a month since we last saw her and I'd like to listen to her lungs again-"
"Oh, no that's not necessary," Eldrina interrupted hurriedly, pressing a grey rag to her ear to staunch the bleeding. Interestingly, the un-pocked parts were blushing a bright red. "She is dead - er, she died. Last week. Of- of consumption."
Both Nessa and Eve stilled. Eve remembered that they hadn't seen the kind, doughy grandmother in a couple months. "My deepest condolences," Nessa said softly.
Eldrina nodded, her greying hair swinging forward to hide her lined face. "Thank you," she said curtly, "it... it was her time."
There wasn't much to say after that and Eldrina didn't seem to relish prolonging the home visit, so Eve wrapped up her tools in her satchel quickly as Nessa started tallying the total for their services.
"My husband should have your coin, Nessa. He'll be down by the entrance waiting for word from the farms."
Nessa thanked her and gave Eve a telling look on her way out the bedroom. Eve nodded - she knew what her duties were by now, after three years of seriously undertaking surgeries and responsibilities at Nessa's clinic.
"Ser, I'll help you to your bed," Eve offered. After she'd helped Eldrina into her bed with a little struggle - Eve was still rather small and slight at thirteen years old - she slipped out of the bedroom onto the landing.
Leaning against the wall, Eve sighed and rested her eyes, mindful not to fall down the long flight of stairs leading down to the second floor. Muffled domestic sounds and the smell of home cooking floated through thin walls, attesting to the numerous families living cheek-by-jowl in this grey building, little better than a lean-to that had shot up with each family forced to its door. Maker, she felt little more than overwhelming pity every time she stepped foot in the Banal'ras district with Nessa, the district holding the poorest elves in Denerim who had nowhere else to go.
Eve wished she and Nessa were home already. Maker, it had been a long day - this was the fourth day where they had got up to work before dawn to help the people in the Banal'ras and Vunen'vallas district with a sickness that was sweeping through the alienage. Most patients had a cold or a stomach bug, thank the Maker, but here and there had been more serious things and Nessa had kept her working and practicing her skills until her eyes felt like crossing from the fatigue-
"-don't see how you're charging so much for picking skin off," a rough voice complained in a rare lull in the building.
Eve could hear tension in Nessa's voice as she answered. "Serah, if left alone those lesions would have multiplied and grown roots deep in her skin then turned raw-"
"Then if it were so bloody serious, why have the kid do the work-"
"-the kid is my apprentice and has completed one hundred and three surgeries in the last three years-"
"-then I'd like an apprentice-discount-"
That was her cue to hurry to Nessa and subtly encourage the irate husband to pay so they could leave. Eve had learned long ago that the least pleasant interaction between surgeon and patient was not the assorted sights and smells of sickness or getting puked on, but negotiating payment for important supplies or procedures that the family suddenly deemed trivial and certainly not worth their hard-earned coin. Eve always had to bite her tongue from pointing out that the amount would be far higher without the discount that Nessa handed out indiscriminately to the point where they barely turned a profit.
Keeping her eyes on her boots, Eve carefully climbed down to the second floor landing and was about to climb down to the first floor when something tugged at her inner thread.
Instead of climbing down, Eve turned left tightly on the landing and peered down the hallway leading to someone else's quarters. No, the tugging didn't come from there… it came from…
There was a small door under the stairs. Unlatching it, she blinked at the gloom inside the cupboard then almost gagged at the sour smell. Swallowing a retch, she almost backed away until she spotted a pair of wizened feet curled in the dark, then heard a thin moan.
"H-hello? Ser?" Eve asked uncertainly. Why was this person hiding here? Maybe this was someone's very cheap living quarters - was she intruding? But the latch was on the outside…
Pushing the disturbing thought aside, she waited a breath for a reply, and when none came she crouched low and poked a foot. Still nothing. "Ser, I'm coming in," Eve announced quietly, "I just want to make sure you're alright." Eve carefully sidled into the cupboard without jostling the person. Maker, it was dark - but she could just make out a slight elf curled on her side, white hair disheveled over her wrinkly face, skin sagging where flesh should have filled it out.
She knew that face. "Gertrude?" Eve said, laying her hand gently on Eldrina's mother's shoulder, "what are you doing under here?"
Gertrude shivered, her shoulder little more than bone under Eve's hand and moaned again. Splotches of something dark - mud? - smeared her seamed skin except it smelled like rust when she tried to clean it off-
Eve froze, then swore and twisted her vision. Cracks like starbursts etched Gertrude's skull, the neck of her thigh bone was broken clean through, blood was slowly pumping out from torn arteries and veins from swollen tissue and cut skin-
"Eve! Maker, what's taking you so long, girl?"
A second later, Nessa's harried face and curly hair was framed by the cupboard door. "You just left me with the nattering- Maker, what did I tell you about poking your nose into things-?"
"Nessa, it's Gertrude, Eldrina's mother," Eve whispered quickly even though Gertrude didn't seem able to hear anything, "she's badly hurt. Left skull fracture with moderate bleeding, femur broken with some swelling in her pelvis - I think her nerve is damaged; her heart and breaths are slow. She's unconscious, can't get a response from her. I think she fell down the stairs but I don't know how she got in here with these injuries."
Nessa's silhouette stilled, then she swore under her breath. "I didn't - I'd hoped that they hadn't - sweet Maker. Get out, I'll stay with her while you get the guard-"
The city guard? Eve wondered. Why would they need-?
Nessa yelped as a larger silhouette pushed her over. "You'll do no such thing," a man's voice said softly while Eve scrambled to get out of the cupboard. "Just forget you saw this, alright?"
Eve stepped out onto the landing just as Nessa found her feet and shoved Eve behind her. "How could you?" Nessa squawked, outraged, "your own mother in law! You wait til Eldrina hears of this-"
A mirthless grin crossed the man's face, who Eve recognized to be Eldrina's farm-working husband. "You think she'd be bothered by it?" he asked, keeping his voice low with a glance down the hall. "Her mother, coughing every other night and spitting up blood and demanding this and that every week with coin we don't got? Having to pay you cutthroat shams every month even though the potions never fixed her? Eldrina will breathe easier when she won't have to worry about that hole in our purse anymore."
"You can't just kill family when they can't work any longer," Nessa spat as Eve' blood ran ice-cold. "She raised your wife and did the same for your little ones while you were working. If you were having trouble with payments, you could have appealed to Cyrion-"
"Cyrion," he snorted, "with his 'united People', then forgetting about us the second a shem gives him a sob story, then he sends help their way and where are we now? Didn't throw a copper my way last time-"
"He isn't a fool like you," Nessa snapped, "maybe if you'd spent coin on your family instead of at the gambling den he would have helped you again-"
The slap echoed in the landing and Eve squeaked as Nessa was knocked sideways into the wall then slumped to the floor. The man was no longer smiling; his tired face was suddenly a paroxysm of rage.
"I've had enough of you quacks," the farmhand spat, raising a booted foot to stamp down on Nessa's ribs, "better to rid the world of useless leeches like you and Gertrude, bleeding us dry-"
The farmhand fell down the stairs with a shout when Eve shoved him before his boot could stamp down. Feeling equally triumphant and scared, Eve hurried to Nessa's side and tried to ignore the pounding in her head. The crashing roused Nessa as a bar of light pierced the gloomy landing.
"Ser! Help us," Eve beseeched the woman peering through the hall door, heart pounding in her ears as she tried to help Nessa to her feet. Nessa groaned and shook her head of greying curls and Eve was struck with the realization that Nessa wasn't as young as she used to be, and her heart tightened with fear. "He pushed his mother in law down the stairs and we need someone to call the guard-"
The door closed with a snap, then rattled as if something were shoved under the handle to reinforce it. For a second, Eve was speechless. "How could they-? They're just going to ignore us?" she exclaimed, indignant.
Nessa winced, rubbing her reddened cheek as she swayed on her feet. "Never underestimate a fool's fear," she muttered to Eve as she grabbed her apprentice's cloak and pulled her to the stairs. "They're scared of getting involved and somehow blamed. No one wants to get on the bad side of the city guard, and those neighbors had an old uncle fall down the stairs and die three months ago."
"Was it - did they kill him?"
"It's not rare when money is tight and the family can't work anymore," Nessa said bitterly as they hurried down the narrow staircase. She gave Eve a sympathetic look when she saw her shock. "They'd rather pay a one-time undertaker fee rather than send for a surgeon every month. Remember the patient with the faulty heart in the Vened'has district? His head was definitely hit, but probably not on a table end like his granddaughter claims-"
Eve blanched and almost stumbled on the creaking steps. People - her people - just killed each other? Over the pittances that Nessa charged? Disbelief gave way to hot anger as she remembered Eldrina's peculiar comment and realized that the wife was in on it too. She couldn't fathom pushing Nessa down the stairs when she eventually got too old to hold a scalpel anymore, not to the woman who had taken her in and taught her everything she knew and more. The pounding in Eve's head was building into a roiling storm, mixing everything up inside her with a roar, even the singing thread-
They rounded a corner - the door leading to the alley was right there - when a shadow blocked their way. The farmhand was winding his arm back for another punch and Eve darted under the arm Nessa had thrown out to protect her; there was no room for fear around the need to hurt him back and suddenly he was flying through the gloom from her punch, dust showering him as he hit the wall with a crack. Eve didn't bother to see if he was hurt, she grabbed Nessa and hustled her out into the alley.
The sun had set behind the grey thunderheads hanging low in the dark sky, bellies swollen with rain. Eve followed Nessa, cloaks flapping behind them as they cut through the thick humid air to the end of the alley and Eve was the first to leap through one of the large gaps in the fence. The dirt road lined with the burnt skeletons of old buildings and makeshift tents was surprisingly quiet, and the hurricane of voices in her head quieted at the familiar sight of the ex-templar district; she was back in familiar territory, territory that was usually filled with roving raving human patients, but familiar nonetheless. She knew where each nook and hidey hole was, knew that the guard tower was on the other side of the district and it'd only take them a few minutes at a flat run to reach it-
A sharp cry froze her in her tracks. Panting, she wheeled around and saw two figures by the fence - Nessa was yelling and trying to squirm out from the farmhand's grip on her hair.
"I can't let you get the guard," the farmhand shouted over Nessa's enraged screeches. "The shems won't care about an old elf who fell down the stairs. I'll let you go if you promise not to get them-"
"You tried to kill your mother in law!" Nessa yelled, trying to claw at his face. "That's murder-"
"Doesn't matter, she's dead by now," he grunted as he caught one of her flailing fists, "if the shems find out, I won't be allowed back on their farm and then who'll work-"
He cried out as Eve slipped up behind him and broke his grip on Nessa with all the strength she had in her fist. He backed up to the fence with a bellow of pain and bewilderment, cradling his left forearm which was now clearly bent the wrong way and bleeding from four long lacerations. How had she done that?
"They'll listen to us when we tell them what we saw," Eve said, her voice steady even as the storm pitched and raged inside her head. "We'll tell them about the skull and femur fracture, about the bleeding, even about the two older fractures - you tried to kill her before, didn't you? In the last month after our last visit - she was in agony, you monster, they didn't heal right and that rib was piercing her lung for weeks-"
Color was draining from the farmhand's tanned face as he gaped down at her, but it was Nessa who spoke. "Eve," she said quietly as she nudged Eve away from the farmhand, "how could you know?"
"Don't - don't you know?" Eve asked, confused but letting Nessa shove her further up the street. "You can see if a bone is broken or if it healed crooked-"
Nessa shook her head, her curly hair glimmering in the distant flashes of lightning. "It takes years of practice, da'len. It's hard to find old breaks if they healed, even crookedly, and rib fractures can be very deceptive-"
"What does it matter?" Eve interrupted impatiently, never taking her eyes off the farmhand, "there are people like him who do that to their own family-"
"And how do you expect us to feed our families, our children, if we have to keep paying surgeons for family that don't bring coin in?" the farmhand spat, jerking away from the fence. "We barely have enough to get by, we're already in debt and I'll be damned if I have to turn my family out on the streets for potions that don't fix things for good. Your head's crammed up Andraste's blessed arse if you think there's a perfect solution to everything - what we did is normal! Normal in the alienage!"
"That doesn't make it right," Eve spat, trying to get around Nessa's arm to try and hurt him as much as he deserved, "and if it's so normal, will you do the same for your wife when she can't work anymore?"
"What do you mean?" the farmhand asked, looming closer but for the first time he sounded nervous.
Eve hesitated. She'd never broken news about a patient's health with vengeance in her heart - with the intent of hurting someone else with it. But then she remembered Gertrude, broken and alone, curled under the staircase and Nessa crumpled on the landing as the boot came down and her anger rallied.
"Your wife has consumption," Eve jeered over Nessa's attempts to shush her, and she felt a thrill of savage satisfaction at the farmhand's shock at the karmic revelation, "she'll need regular checkups too, and-"
Suddenly, Nessa's curls obscured her vision just as the farmhand swung his fist. A crack reverberated through the bones of her skull as the back of Nessa's head collided with Eve' nose. Tears of pain sprung into her eyes as she toppled backwards into the squelching mud, squeaking out a breathless yelp when Nessa landed on top of her.
Something was wrong. Wriggling out from under the dead weight (that wasn't right), Eve peered blearily down at Nessa's empty eyes (something's wrong), blankly reflecting a flash of lightning. She was so pale and still in the mud (wrongwrongwrong).
"Nessa? Nessa!" Eve squeaked through aching ribs. She scrambled to her knees and clumsily smoothed a curl away from Nessa's pale face and her hand came away black with hot blood.
Someone - the farmhand, she realized - boxed both her ears. Eve yelped in eye-watering pain and confusion, dazed as she was roughly hauled to her feet by her hair, made all the more painful as she squirmed, trying to get back to Nessa to make sure she was alright, that she was just knocked breathless from the fall and nothing more serious until a muscled arm wrapped around her neck and unrelentingly pressed against her throat.
"You're lying, you little lying shit," the farmhand growled between pants, "lying's what you do, isn't it? Lying to winkle us out of more money to treat imaginary sicknesses and giving us potions and teas that don't work to bleed us dry, that's what you do to honest folk; be doing us all a favor, getting rid of your kind-"
The world was dimming as Eve struggled wildly, trying to focus even as her head spun as she fought to choke in a gasp of air. A cool side of her brain noted that she was experiencing the effects of air deprivation, that she will use up all the air in her struggles and become light headed enough to not notice when she slipped into unconsciousness and died with a swollen throat ringed with blue bruises when her body was found. Another side of her brain was only focused on getting to Nessa,insisting on making sure she was alright and only shocked by the fall and that she must be getting back on her feet by now but needed to see it for herself. The loudest part of herself was screaming, yelling at her to do something more than weakly flail at the dimming sky. That part found the singing thread in the mental maelstrom, seized it as a fork of lightning seared the sky and demanded that it do something-
The sky cracked and white light burned the world and singed her vision. Pain roared fleetingly and then her mind was empty, empty of anything but searing agony, almost empty of all sense, but the shadows were pressing in again, the whiteness flickering until it slowly vanished.
Eve opened her eyes and wondered if she was blind. She slowly realized that she was staring up at the dark underbellies of the clouds as rain silently prickled her skin. Could she move? Her muscles spasmed as she shuddered in racking gasps and she found that she painfully could.
She'd been lying on something. With trouble, she peered down at it until her mind recoiled; that couldn't be a charred mouth frozen in a silent scream, but the ivory glint of teeth proved her otherwise. She flung herself away from the body smoking gently in the rain, scraping her hands on the scorched furrows of mud dried around her and retched, trying to get the sticky smell of burnt flesh out from the back of her swollen throat.
She'd scrambled far enough away from the charred remains of the farmhand that she bumped into something else. Nessa's vacant face was chalk-pale against the churned mud darkened by the halo of blood, black in the lightning flashes. She didn't so much as twitch when Eve pinched the pressure point by her neck. Slowly, Eve realized that it wasn't her vision, her mind or the cold rain that was hiding Nessa's breaths and her pulse - she had none.
"Nessa?" she asked dumbly. She didn't know what to do. Vaguely she remembered that when a patient stopped breathing, she and Nessa would usually try to force a few breaths down the throat and then inevitably sent a street urchin for the undertaker. But this was Nessa.
Eve reached for her - somehow she had to touch her, hold her - perhaps it would bring her back, erase everything that happened that night - and noticed too late that the white flickering wasn't her vision, but thin streaks of lightning arcing around her arms. She heard herself yell in fear and flinched back when Nessa twisted upwards after Eve' palms touched her torso. And then her chest rose. And again. And again. Her breaths were hoarse and shallow, shallower with each gasp.
Curiously, Eve knew what to do. (She was so far beyond disbelief at the turn of events of that night; perhaps this was a hallucination from the lack of sleep these past four days; perhaps she was dreaming). Confidently, she found that keening song just outside of her hearing, felt for it - then opened it like a curtain.
A glowing ball of light shimmered into being, shedding deep blue light on Nessa's unnaturally still body. Eve commanded the spirit to mend her, to mend them both but to leave the woodcutter to his fate and with her inner vision, fractures mended and the bleeding stopped as arteries knit themselves together. Nessa's frazzled, uncoordinated heart began to pump slowly and in unison.
Nessa sat up with rosy cheeks, brown eyes bright and vibrant, smile radiating warmth and beaming with pride because she'd done it, she was the best surgeon, she was the best in the alienage-
"This is all as sweet as Andraste's fuzzy dimpled peach, but I'd rather you stop before I vomit."
Warnings for this chapter: none beyond the usual.
Chapter 3: Harrowing
"This is all as sweet as Andraste's fuzzy dimpled peach, but I'd rather you stop before I vomit," Eve said.
A rumbling laugh echoed through the alley as everything froze; even the raindrops hung suspended in the air like glittering crystals. "What's the matter, mageling?" Nessa asked in a cavernous and commanding voice much too large for her slim body. "Is this not how it happened?"
Cold mud squelched under her boots as Eve recoiled from Nessa's open arms and scrambled to her feet, shivering. Beneath the horror, she marveled at each freckle dusting Nessa's high cheeks, creamy skin rosy from the flush mantling her lightly lined face. She looked as perfect as Eve remembered her. It had even got Nessa's eyes right - the exact shade of sunlit chestnuts in autumn that sometimes glimmered with what Eve was sure was pride whenever she had completed a particularly difficult surgery or draught.
Eve drank in Nessa's face greedily even as her insides wrenched at the reminder that she hadn't seen the real Nessa in over five years. Ever since this night, when she'd been shipped off to the Circle Tower in Kinloch Hold.
Kinloch Hold. She was in the Tower. She'd been told to lie still and quiet on the cold marble slab as templars cinched the worn leather restraints tight around her wrists and ankles. To make the Harrowing safer, First Enchanter Irving had said. But he'd meant safer for the templars when they have to execute you if you become an abomination. And then she'd left her anxiety and fear behind as her mind and body sung with the heady potency from the largest draught of lyrium she'd ever drunk. The stained glass window of the Harrowing chamber had swirled like a kaleidoscope as euphoria bubbled and then she'd somehow found herself standing in Eldrina's cramped bedroom with a scalpel in hand, which meant-
"This is my memory, isn't it?" Eve said bluntly, squashing down a twinge of fear, "you got most of it right, but you got a little ham-handed with the warm fuzzies. This isn't real."
"Ah, but it is as real as you want it to be in the Fade, da'len," the thing wearing Nessa's face crooned. "And I can make it real. I can make it all nice."
Eve crossed her arms even though she couldn't feel the damp chill in the alley anymore. She needed to stop shaking. She needed to be careful. "Oh, it would've been nice if it had happened like this," she said lightly, "but who gets what they wish for in life? It's bad for moral character. Perfect mental and emotional health is overrated, just ask the Hero of Ferelden."
Nessa's head tilted up to stare into Eve' face, the rest of her body still frozen in an open embrace tauntingly. "But you should be proud, mageling," the demon - for it must be a demon - rumbled with narrowed eyes, "you did fix her. Fixed her better than you fixed yourself. Look at you."
Suddenly the acrid smell was back. Eve gasped at the pain searing from under her left eye to her scalp and down to the tips of her left fingers. She knew without looking that the lightning strike that had killed the farmhand had also singed her shiny black hair off and laced smoldering burns down her neck and body that would never heal perfectly in the next four years.
"I didn't fix anything," Eve bit out through her teeth, "the spirit healed us. Empathy healed us out of kindness when I asked it for help. For Nessa. Not for me."
The demon tsked. "That spirit was foolish and unimaginative," it chided, "I would have healed you whole, healed you so your skin was perfect and your arm didn't ache on cold nights. I would have healed your scalp so your hair grew back as black as the night instead of white. I would have healed the rift between you and Nessa so you'd be talking now, fixing wounds for your true people in the alienage instead of your solitude in the Circle, waiting for replies to your unanswered letters."
That hurt. How did it know?
Eve pushed that aside. The Fade was reflecting her mind; as horrifying as the thought was, perhaps it had poked around her head just like how it had conjured this memory. It had somehow delved into her past and found something she craved - power to fix everything, to heal everything. But she could never blindly grasp for such power, not after learning the bitter truths of alienage life and its people. It was almost like…
"You're a pride demon, aren't you?" Eve said slowly even while sincerely hoping she was wrong.
The demon dipped into a graceful bow from the waist up. "At your service, da'len."
Sweat broke out on her temples and Eve scrambled to remember what she'd read about them in the library during her feverish scramble to prepare for her Harrowing. Pride demons were exceedingly clever, which was not good, and used the victim's talents against them so they unwittingly fooled themselves, which was really, really bad.
Eve might be smart for an seventeen year old, but she wasn't fool enough to think she could outwit a demon whose purpose it was to use a person's best skills against themselves. With a sinking heart, she remembered that pride demons were also extremely powerful and highly resistant to magical attacks. This was the worst demon that could have been summoned for her Harrowing; all the apprentices dreaded it and instead hoped for an exceedingly lazy sloth demon instead. She was really, stinkingly, proverbially screwed and not in the fun way, damnit.
She blinked as Nessa's warm, soft hand cradled her cheek. "What do you say, da'len?" she asked in Nessa's low voice, and it took a second for Eve to remember that a demon wore her family's face, "don't you want to help me? To help the alienage? Don't you want the power to fix everything?"
Clenching her hands made the charred burn split and drip blood down her left fist. Her heart ached for it, hungered for the temptation the demon laid at her feet. But power wouldn't fix everything. Power to heal the most complex and dangerous illnesses wouldn't heal the poverty and injustices in the alienage, despite the rumors that Neria had named Cyrion as the newfound bann of the Denerim alienage after the blight two years ago. Brute power wouldn't heal the rift between mages and non-mages, between elves and humans, between elves and elves. No enticement of power could strip her of knowing that power alone could fix everything. It should have sent a desire demon instead.
But she was trapped in the Fade. Time was ticking in the Harrowing chamber, and there had been frantic rumors that if apprentices took too long, they were killed before they could be possessed. How long was that window of time and had she passed it? She couldn't get a sense of how long she'd been in here. And what had the demon said? Things were only as real as she could make them in the Fade. That included memories, emotions, magic… what about non-magic? And since it was trapping her in her memory…
"I just want the truth," Eve said with as much conviction as she could muster.
It frowned with Nessa's plum lips. "You do want power, you're just not admitting it to yourself, da'len," it said with a small edge of disapproval in its silky rumble. "More power would've saved your messenger friend from that brain bleed. More power would've saved Gertrude, dying alone and ignored under the stairs. More power would've shown Nessa what a gifted surgeon and healer you'd be, the pride of the alienage, her best apprentice-"
Her fist shot out and cracked against Nessa's jaw before she'd realized it. The brief bloom of satisfaction died as the demon turned back to stare at her with Nessa's face empty of all fascimile of emotion, its eyes empty and terrible.
"You want the sordid truth of your small life?" it hissed. "Have it."
A thunderclap later Nessa was lying flat in the mud, her arms askew as the cool rain pelted down into her open, blank eyes. Eve shuddered, the water pooling in her raw burns and stinging her wounds as she peered around through the rain. No light shimmered into being, no ex-templars pelted out of a skeletal shack, no elves peered through the gapped fence. Perhaps the memory wouldn't move forward without her playing along - which was exactly what she needed. Her escape from the Fade counted on believing that this memory was reality.
Looking at Nessa - the demon? No, Nessa - it wasn't hard to take a deep breath and sink back into how she'd felt five years ago. She was alone in a forgotten muddy corner in the ex-templar district, kneeling in a puddle by her only family with tendrils of lightning licking up and down her arm in supreme uselessness. She was caught between the screaming need to do something and the clammy certainty that she had absolutely no idea what to do. She could see that Nessa's heart was frazzled, spasming erratically, the blood settling in arteries and veins instead of being shunted to where it needed to go.
Five years ago, she'd grabbed Nessa in her shock and grief, so Eve seized the front of Nessa's soaked robes. She cried out as Nessa's torso arched as lightning whipped down Eve's arms, through her hands and traveled through Nessa's heart. Overjoyed, she watched it beat with strength and synchrony for a few beats, then slouch into a jitters again. Panic tightened her throat as she tried again and again to shock Nessa's heart back into working order and failed again and again.
Nessa's chalky face blurred as the rain and tears obscured her vision and the air raked her throat as she sobbed, knowing that if Nessa didn't get air to her brain soon that she'd die in the dirt.
"Some - SOMEBODY. HELP. PLEASE," she shouted up at the clouds. She grit her teeth and swallowed back a sob, then two, then three, straining to hear the faint footsteps of the people surely rushing to help the one surgeon who had helped them through childbirth and plagues and fires and held their hand as they died.
But there was only the steady drumming of rain.
Her hands were tight, numb claws in the lining of Nessa's favorite blue robes, slowly staining black from the burns furrowed in her left hand. And despite the bolt of lightning that had killed the farmhand and disfigured her, Eve found that singing thread because she could not leave Nessa and had no other choice but to pluck it again and beg please.
This time, instead of the sky splitting open, something opened inside her.
A gentle presence nudged around curiously in her mind. Her fleeting impression was that it was strange but benign and after a moment of panicking about how to talk to it, Eve just concentrated on her guilt, grief and worry for Nessa and desperately asked please.
The presence jerked still and looked through her eyes. Then it grasped her singing thread and yanked.
The thread glittered pale blue in her vision as it shot down her arm and Eve scrambled to lay her hand on Nessa's bare skin, instinctively knowing that she needed bare contact. The threads wove through her fingertips and channeled down through Nessa's arteries until they coalesced in a glowing web in Nessa's heart and her skull. Eve couldn't keep up with each repair that was happening, she only knew that once the threads pulled back, Nessa's heart was pumping strongly and in unison, pushing blood up to her brain nestled in a whole and unbroken skull and she was finally, finally breathing.
Eve could hardly believe it. She watched Nessa’s chest rise and fall, hardly noticing how the presence felt tired and was starting to fade as the threads whipped back up her fingers and up her arms. But she definitely noticed when the thread lashed back into her core and violently flared.
The bellow echoed off the crumbling buildings as a skeletal figure staggered from out beneath a tent. Maker’s furry coin purse - the ex-templar, for it could only be an ex-templar sleeping in these parts, threw and broke a small glass bottle at his feet and wiped his mouth with the back of his mouth as he raced towards her with an enraged cry.
Eve tried to throttle the wildly flaring thread which was now a fountain spouting from an inexplicable wellspring inside her, and simultaneously threw up a beseeching hand. “No, I’m not-” the rest of her shout morphed in a horrified gasp as blood spurted from four long slashes that suddenly raked across the man’s ribs out of thin air. Had she done that?
He roared like a wounded boar and charged, brandishing open palms that glowed pearly in the downpour and suddenly she was slammed back, her teeth clacking as she hit the rough fence. The ache in her head was nothing compared to the bone-dragging sense that something was leeching at her, relentlessly strangling the fountain until she was breathless, sleep dragging at her eyelids and nausea roiling up her stomach. Maker, she was drowning in a soundless sea, the fountain nothing but a faint thread glimmering deep inside her. The ex-templar, Nessa, the alleyway - everything was fading to black and distantly she could feel the demon's incandescent fury because she was leaving, she was escaping the Fade because her plan had actually worked-
With a gasp, Eve wrenched her eyes open and blinked. Colorful rays of light lanced down through the circular window above her, dazzling her vision. She blinked, slowly recognizing Andraste's beatific face captured in glass. She wasn't in the ex-templar district. Disoriented, she remembered the stained glass from when the templars had strapped her down to the marble platform for her Harrowing-
"Stand down!" a deep voice shouted.
Rosy light glinted off a naked blade as it flashed overhead. Eve shouted in surprise and futilely wrenched at the bindings tying her down to the marble slab as two templars fought an arm's length from her, bellows mingling to create an echoing, confusing din in the chamber. What was happening? She had to get off this icy executioner's block-
Too late, she glimpsed the sword swing overhead before hot agony bit into her arm. She screamed and yanked her hand out of the mangled leather buckle, surprised at how real it felt, how shockingly crimson the blood was as it gushed down from the deep slash below her wrist and stained her Circle robe.
"-is an abomination and I WILL NOT ALLOW IT!" a harried voice bawled nearby.
There was no time to think. She screamed as a templar in full armor suddenly lurched over her with his sword aimed at her heart and her magic roared to her fingertips in her favorite Force spell that knocked the templar back with an almighty crash.
"I am ordering you to stand down or Maker save your hide!" the other templar shouted, shoving the fallen templar back away from the table Eve was strapped on.
Her spell had knocked his helmet off and one of her Force claws had found its mark to score a deep, bloody cut up through his lip, through his unkempt beard to stop just below his right eye. A fanatic light burned in his bloodshot glare, his visage tightened into hate-filled snarl as he tried to dodge around the defending templar to get back at her like a rabid dog.
Recognition clicked into place as Empathy perked up in her head. He was that templar that all the mages whispered about, the sternly handsome one that even the senior enchanters tiptoed around. She'd heard that he whipped out harsh repercussions for the smallest of transgressions, a fact which terrified all the apprentices and made them scuttle up a different path whenever they glimpsed him in the hallways.
Empathy was urging her to feel his pain, to feel the hurt and fear that the spirit could feel throbbing off of him in waves. Eve steadfastly refused and kept the insistent spirit at bay. Andraste's girdles, he's trying to kill me, she scolded mentally.
"She's run over the alloted time and that means we are risking another Uldred-" the enraged templar was arguing, jabbing a finger at Eve.
A thin man with grey, shoulder-length hair and a stooped back suddenly stepped in front of the platform, and Eve recognized First Enchanter Irving's creaky voice. "Eve was one minute over the allotted time and shows no sign of demonic possession," he said, hard strength in his words. "You may check as you will, templar, but you will see that she is not an abomination."
"What are rules for if you'll arbitrarily ignore them? And you can't tell just by looking at her," the templar spat, seemingly blind to the other templar keeping him at bay with a hand against his chest plate, "it could be hiding inside, waiting for the right time-"
"Rutherford, you will shut your damned mouth," the defending templar shouted in his face. He tore off his own helmet and Eve recognized the weathered profile of Knight-Commander Greagoir. "I am sending you to Kirkwall," he barked, "Maker knows you won't level out here, not with you going to pieces every other week. Pack your things, you're leaving at first light."
For a breath, Eve thought the templar would punch the Knight-Commander. Empathy seized the moment to broach past Eve's mental barrier and channel the templar's feelings - a disorienting turmoil of hate, anger, but at its core, a dense and implacable terror and cold certainty that things will go wrong - and before Eve knew it, words had stumbled past her numb lips.
"I can heal that," she blurted. At everyone's surprised looks, she pointed with her one free hand at the templar's lip and cheek, blood dripping on to his armor from the laceration. It wasn't what Empathy wanted, and she was already regretting this, but it was the only thing Eve could think of that she could actually fix. "See, here," she stammered, quickly baring her sliced forearm and knitting the skin and muscle together in a blink. "I can do this for that cut-"
The templar jerked back, the rancorous denial in his expression making her shrink, her offer struck dead on her tongue. "Keep your magic away from me," he snapped, using the back of his forearm to swipe angrily at his mouth and gripping his sword tightly. "I will not give the likes of you another chance-"
"Harrington, Smith, escort him to his quarters and ensure that he does not leave them until first light," Greagoir commanded. With a start, Eve realized that she'd been so distracted that she hadn't noticed a few other templars standing guard around the chamber and two of them were now striding towards Rutherford obediently.
Irving turned, his face deeply lined with worry and concern. "My child, how is your hand?" he asked.
She'd been trying to peer around him, trying to see if the terrifying, deranged templar had been clapped in irons and taken away. Instead, Eve flexed and flared her fingers. She could move them with her usual strength, and feel her short nails draw lines on her palm. Everything past the slash had been healed, so perfectly that not even a scar remained on her blood-stained skin. Empathy disapproved when she hoped that the templar's would scar. "Everything in working order," she answered, relieved.
"That is good to hear," Irving muttered fervently as he bent to unbuckle the other bindings. Finally, she was free to spring off the marble platform, relieved to see that most of the templars had clanked their way down the stairs to the third floor. "Still, I'd rather the senior enchanters look over you to check," Irving insisted as he gave a passing nod to Greagoir, who was now conferring with another templar. "This isn't the first time that I've wished that we had our own spirit healer in the Tower, but we will make do."
Eve bit her tongue and nodded, deliberately dragging her feet. As much as she wanted to get out of the Harrowing chamber and leave the slab with the bloodied leather bindings behind, she would much rather not bump into the deranged templar's back before he was safely shut in his room.
"Oh, and," Irving said as he held the door open for her, his bushy smile cynical, "congratulations on passing your Harrowing."
So I hope you're alright with my creative license when it comes to Cullen's signature scar! Please leave a comment/DM if you have any questions/opinions/etc :)
Chapter 4: The White Spire
Hey readers, I know I promised Haven and Cullen but this chapter would not leave me alone. Please R&R if you can :)
[9 years later]
“En - enchanter Sunara? Su - Surana?”the young man slurred, blinking owlishly in his small cot. Catching Eve’s eye as she lugged over an empty bucket, a wide smile blossomed on his scarred face. “Can - can you kish it? Kiss it and make it better?”
Eve didn’t hide her amusement at how the templar’s feet, poking out from the sheets since he was just so tall, wiggled with glee. “Bit hard to get inside your brain and kiss the bruising away,” she pointed out. “Now, Farrian, I need you to hold still so I can get in there and heal it, alright?”
“Oh, I can he - heel for you any-which-way you want,” Farrian leered, waggling his scrubby eyebrows.
The templar seated next to him, Martin, groaned and hid his face while another templar sniggered. “Oh Maker, please make him stop,” Martin muttered, the candlelight highlighting the white scar at the base of a knuckle where he’d lost a finger during training. “At least, make him stop before the sister returns.”
“You weren’t much more discreet when you were here last year,” another templar pointed out. Titian, the templar with the missing tooth who’d made her promise not to tell anyone that he’d lost it by falling out of bed instead of against a rogue demon. “Didn’t you ask her to hold you and called her mum-”
“I said nothing!” Martin said with a flushed glance at Eve.
“If it helps, it’s nothing I haven’t heard before,” Eve offered as Martin sputtered. Farrian followed her movements dreamily with a speck of drool leaking from the side of his mouth as she plunked down beside him. He looked much thinner than his colleagues, but templars always looked shrimpier when pried out of their metal shells. Three templars surrounded her and her patient, leaning against the wall or standing around imitating statues. After seeing enough of them naked, Eve knew that templars had the ability to bend their stiff spines and she wished that they would at least admit to being human in the clinic, if only to stop towering over her. Despite the audience, Eve was glad that Farrian’s condition had improved vastly since yesterday and he was no longer trying to climb out of bed with only one working arm and leg.
Knight-Captain Brassard leaned in with a pinch between her fair brows. While she had never been a patient in Eve’s clinic, she frequently bustled in after injured templars like a mother hen and poked her head over Eve’s shoulder. Like she was doing now, and the little impulsive voice in Eve’s head pointed out that she was close enough for her to turn and lick the Knight-Captain’s cheek if she chose. Which she wouldn’t. Probably. “Enchanter Surana, is this behavior normal?”
Eve refocused on grappling Farrian’s wandering hands. “He’s loopy from the pain-killing potion I gave him earlier,” she explained. “When patients have severe internal injuries, I usually induce sleep or paralyze the body part in question so they don’t resist or try to fight me. Most healing procedures are painless, but they can feel odd, depending on the organ and region. Normal people are reluctant enough, but templars don’t appreciate it when a mage rummages around in their organs like a puppet…”
The Knight-Captain looked distinctly uncomfortable at the thought and a light of understanding brightened her eyes. “I see. I wouldn’t want to sleep through magic being worked on me either.”
“Especially nowadays, what with the Kirkwall mass-murder,” a large-nosed templar interjected. Eve squinted at him - his name escaped her, but she’d healed his twisted knee a few months ago. “No offense, enchanter Surana. It’s just… people are uneasy, see. Supposedly it was done by an apostate spirit healer.”
“It was done by a possessed abomination,” a nasal voice corrected. Eve swivelled in her seat to glare at the speaker, who was probably the blonde apprentice that had strolled in with blisters stretching half their face from a spell gone wrong. But that apprentice was fast asleep in the cot two spaces over - the speaker was an unfamiliar human man seated on an empty cot across from them. He had a broad, fresh-off-the-farm face scattered with freckles, a mop of red hair, and a contemptuous sneer aimed at Ser Bum Knee which displayed his lack of front teeth. “It shouldn’t mean that all spirit healers or mages want to destroy the Chantries.”
Brassard looked decidedly unimpressed. “That is not what he is implying, young man.”
Ser Bum Knee nodded to Brassard. “Indeed. Enchanter Surana has been an exemplary healer ever since she transferred here from Kinloch Hold six years ago. Perhaps not as reassuring in her political stance… but I am explaining that recent events have caused tensions to run high, and not everyone appreciates magic being cast upon their person.”
“Yes, the Kirkwall disaster was a tragedy for mages, templars, and citizens alike,” Eve said quickly, shooting a look at the mage to warn him not to open his gob again if he knew what was good for him. “And the poppy seed potion allows the patient to stay awake but not feel much pain while I work inside them,” Eve continued. “A side effect is that they can become liberal with their thoughts and start to… over-share.”
“You smell nice,” Farrian supplied helpfully. She swatted the hand he’d been trying to sneak around to her backside.
Martin’s expression sobered as he hitched up his belt from the slight paunch around his waist. “Looks like Farrian needed more than most I’ve seen pass through this clinic before,” he said, “that abomination got him good.”
“Yes, well, getting sliced by a demon in a Harrowing gone sideways then a getting a stroke thanks to a blood clot from the wound is, as we surgeons and healers like to say, ‘really fucking unlucky’,” Eve murmured, flinching back as Farrian made a grab at her chest. “I broke the clot yesterday, but the bruising needed time to settle. Actually, could you-?”
Brassard and Martin leaned in to hold their squirming colleague down and Eve quickly got to work. She could see that while the clot was gone, the bruised brain tissue in the areas past the clot had to be coaxed back to their normal size which would hopefully improve the weakness in the left side of Farrian’s body. Eve settled her hands on Farrian’s temples, closed her eyes and counted to ten in her head, falling into herself until she had every bit of her focus under tight control. With her practiced discipline, she pulled a thread from the wellspring of magic inside her then delicately guided it through the intricate spiderweb of arteries and veins in his brain until she could reach the stiff contusions and will them to shrink into normal, spongy cerebral tissue.
A light sheen of sweat had popped up on her skin by the time she was finished, and Farrian had started dozing with his mouth open. She withdrew her magic with a sigh and slumped, feeling a headache drumming in her temples. Her wellspring was running low, and that meant she needed a gulp of lyrium to halt this headache in its tracks.
Brasard was watching her closely. “How is Ser Farrian, Enchanter Surana?”
Reflexively, Eve's back straightened and she smiled. “I've been able to bring the swelling down and we'll be able to see if his left side improves in strength. Progress may be slow and he will have to exercise that side, but he is young and I am hopeful.”
>Before Brassard could do much more than smile and thank her, the other templars started gossiping.
“It could’ve been much worse. We found evidence that the apprentice was practicing blood magic under his bunk. I swear, they’re getting bold as brass and just as smart these days,” Titian muttered to Bum Knee, glaring at the scars that the demon had raked across Farrian’s face.
Ser Bum Knee shook his head. “We’re fortunate to have Lord Seeker Lambert here,” he replied, “we need more oversight. We’re inching closer to the madness that reigned in the Gallows with each passing month and it needs to be nipped in the bud.”
“You can’t be serious,” Redhead interrupted, his ham-sized hands curling in his lap. Eve couldn’t believe that he was still loitering inside the clinic when most apprentices with an inkling of sense would have scampered away after pissing off a templar. “The rise of blood magic started because of the noose the templars tightened around the mages’ necks there! Stricter control is not the solution!”
Ser Bum Knee turned to look down his nose at the mage while Eve scrambled off of her stool as all the templars within earshot stiffened and honed in on the apprentice like hawks. “And you propose that we ignore all signs of blood magic? We already have a maleficar running around on a rampage!”
Redheaded Halfwit unfolded off the cot he’d been sitting on and smugly loomed over the irate templar. “If you mean the Ghost of the Spire, that makes no sense,” he said. “Why would a supposed blood mage go ‘round killing other mages? Who’s to say that it’s not you lot taking it out on us and blaming mages again? Wouldn’t be the first or last time that’s happened.”
>”That is a serious accusation, mage,” Brassard said, eyes flashing.
“Someone is taking the bedtime Tales of the Champion a little too seriously,” Titian said snidely.
Eve knew that she shouldn’t get involved, but she couldn’t resist pointing out the facts. “Except that the new reports issued by the acting Knight-Commander of Kirkwall support Tethras’ claims,” she interjected. “And the Spire Ghost is real, I have seen him before-”
The Redheaded Halfwit looked even more gormless and even the templars looked incredulous at her declaration. “But everyone knows that ghosts aren't real,” Redheaded Halfwit said, nonplussed. “It’s probably another Kirkwall-inspired templar. And I hear that the same is happening here, in the White Spire now that Lambert is around-”
He didn’t even flinch when Ser Bum Knee waved a gauntleted finger under his broad nose. “You are dangerously close to insubordination, mage,” Ser Bum Knee said quietly with a glance at Brassard as Titian whispered urgently in her ear. “It looks like you are new here, but you will find that we do not bear disrespect as willingly as they do in the Ansberg Circle and there is a reason why we have cells in the Pit.”
“That is enough, Ser, uh, Ser Knight,” Eve interrupted, making sure to trod on Redheaded Halfwit’s foot as she pushed herself between them. “I will ensure that this apprentice’s primary mentor provides him with lessons in etiquette,” she said firmly, “And I insist that you leave the Chantry clinic - there are patients who need rest, not least of all your injured colleague here.”
Knight-Captain Brassard shook Titian off with a tight disapproving frown, but nodded to Eve after a quick glance around the clinic. “Enchanter Surana is right. If you are not on duty soon, then back to your quarters, all of you,” Knight-Captain Brassard commanded.
Bum Knee regarded her with a look of contempt before it vanished behind the impassive mask that every templar mastered in their career. “As you say, Knight-Captain,” he said in a carefully neutral tone.
Eve nodded to Martin and Brassard as they departed from the clinic, then quickly glanced around to make sure none of the patients were in the throes of death. Redheaded Halfwit yelped when she clamped an uncompromising hand on his upper arm and steered him through the nondescript door at the back. Cheerful golden light spilling from candles embedded in wall brackets greeted her as well as a faint hint of vinegar that meant the laboratory floors had just been cleaned. Her spirits lifted a little, until Redheaded Halfwit started ranting again.
“Can you believe those gaolers?” he scowled, stamping his staff on the flagstones as he followed Eve further into the spacious work room. “They have no regard for the truth of the matter when mages or magic is involved-”
“Speaking of magic,” Eve said as she drew up to her desk. It was cluttered with notes, sheaves of dried herbs, books and a lone chess rook but the skulls she had borrowed from her mentor’s collection were easy to find. Sweeping the fine-boned skull of an elf off of the latest instalment of Swords and Shields, she poked two fingers up through the base of the skull and turned its empty sockets to face Redheaded Halfwit <apprentice>. “What is the first lesson that an apprentice learns when a mage is working magic? Especially when they are working magic in someone else’s brain?”
Redheaded Halfwit deflated as he glanced between her and the skull. “Shut up and stay out of the way?” he asked sheepishly, keeping a nervous eye on the skull. “I mean, they phrased it more politely at the ‘Berg…”
“Right,” Eve agreed with false cheer. “You don’t start debates with templars over the patient’s breathing body like it’s a podium in a rhetoric class. You especially do not start debates when a spirit healer is metaphorically wrist-deep in their brains,” she said, making the skull clack its jaws, “because while some people enjoy being numbskulls, we aren’t supposed to create them - not intentionally, anyway. Farrian’s been through enough, he doesn’t need to wake up paralyzed on top of all that.”
“But you heard Ser Asshole,” Redheaded Halfwit retorted, waving his staff at the door, “if anything goes wrong around here, it’s always the mages’ fault-”
“I am not having this argument with you, apprentice whoever-you-are,” Eve interrupted, turning the skull so that they were both glaring up at the towering mage. “There is enough angst between mages and templars, and frankly I have heard enough about it in the screaming matches between the fraternities. What is the name of your mentor? I need a word with them because they will soon be an apprentice short the next time you piss off the wrong helm-head.”
“Technically, I am a mage since I passed my Harrowing a month ago-”
The clinic door swung open, cutting off Redheaded Halfwit’s answer and Old Turin shuffled in clutching a plate of cheese and crackers. She relaxed when she caught sight of his frizzy grey hair and fluffy beard, which gave him the appearance of a cheery raincloud. “Ah, Eve!” he greeted warmly, his eyes lighting up as he slid the plate on to her desk and patting her arm. “I see that you have met your newest student! Getting him acquainted with the laboratory, are we?”
The skull clattered onto the floor as Eve numbly stared at Turin, but he didn’t seem to be winding up for a punch line. Actually, he was scooping up the elf skull and examining it with dismay. “Eve! How many times do I have to tell you to treat my grandchildren like they were your own? If you’re done studying Ellana, then return her to the collection-”
“That’s your grandchild?” Redheaded Not-Her-Student gasped.
“No,” Eve answered. “And no,” she pleaded to Turin, “he can’t be my student. One, no one informed me of this, and two, he’s got the wrong attitude to be a spirit healer.”
Redheaded Not-Her-Student looked affronted. “I’m right here,” he said.
Turin scoffed as he daintily set the elf skull back on her desk and stroked its bald crown. “As if you didn’t have a chip on your shoulder when you first arrived here to study spirit healing. You weren’t the first and you won’t be the last to pinch magical care from templars.”
“To be fair, the templar at my Harrowing tried to take my favorite and only head while I was still fade-walking,” Eve muttered, rifling through one of her cluttered desk drawers. The bloodied and snarling face of that templar sometimes troubled her dreams. Worryingly, she saw echoes of it more and more often in the faces of the Spire templars. “And I got over it... eventually,” she said, spying a stoppered vial among her personal stash of tea. Maker, she needed a hit of lyrium - she always felt refreshed when the ocean-blue potion washed down her throat. Hopefully it would make her headache vanish. And the Not-Her-Student.
“You only ‘got over it’ after working in the clinic for a while,” Turin pointed out. He plucked the vial out of her hand and replaced it with the plate of cheese and crackers he had brought in. “Randolph is new here. Give him a chance, like I gave you. And look how it turned out! You’ve grown into one of the most competent and passionate spirit healers in all the Circles of Thedas.”
Eve frowned down at her former mentor, who was beaming back all of his affection and faith from his wrinkled-raincloud face. She sighed and crammed a slice of cheese in her mouth and turned to redheaded Randolph who was watching the exchange on the edge of his seat. “Alright, if you are bent on becoming a spirit healer, then you should know that most of the patients in the Spire are injured because of magic,” she mumbled around her mouthful. “And that’s not me being a Loyalist, which I’m not, that’s just fact. And aside from just being a good person, caring for others equally is a good idea since most benevolent spirits are attracted to that quality-”
They all jumped when the laboratory door banged open and a templar in full armor lurched inside. “Senior Enchanter Turin, Enchanter Surana, you are needed in the Pit,” he gasped as he leaned against the door jamb. Bright crimson blood splattered his gauntlets and smeared on to the wood.
Hearing the muted panic in the templar’s voice, Eve had leapt to her feet and twisted her vision to see that there were no torn veins or arteries in the templar’s hands - the blood was not his. “Another one?” she asked, hurrying to the door with her satchel in hand. Some patients in the clinic had woken at the commotion and were craning their heads around to peer at them from their cots.
The templar nodded, the whites of his eyes visible through the slit in his helmet. “The Ghost. Struck behind locked doors again,” he answered. He held the door open and hesitated, looking behind her.
“Go,” Turin called, his shuffling steps slow. “I will catch up. Eve, take the new boy with you. Better start learning sooner than later.”
Now? But she didn’t know anything about his Ansburg education or his abilities - all she knew was that she wouldn’t be able to trust Randolph to care for templars, if the victim was a templar this time. Before she could protest, the templar had nodded and started to jog across the clinic.
Randolph stared at her, paling under his freckles. “There’s been another murder-?”
“If you want to start learning, then keep up,” Eve said shortly as she hurried out the clinic. She tried to nod reassuringly to the worried patients half-roused in their cots as she sailed by them, though she knew she didn’t look convincing. Randolph quickly drew abreast with her thanks to his long legs and they were soon jogging right behind the templar as he clanked down the spiral staircase.
“Enchanter Surana, what am I to do?” he asked between breaths. He managed to shrug with his staff in hand as they careened around the stairwell. “I studied humorism and bloodletting at the Ansberg Circle-”
“No good,” Eve huffed, “Turin and I proved that bloodletting is ineffective and anyway, the Ghost likes to stab his victims dry so that technique won’t be very useful.”
“Err, I could massage the gall bladder?” Randolph ventured, “Get the black bile going to balance out the lack of blood-?”
“Randolph whatever-your-surname-is, while humorism is the common medicinal theory of the age, I fail to see how massaging the gall bladder of a bone-dry patient is going help keep their heart beating,” Eve said drily. “Turin and I will arrange your curriculum later. For now, you must follow my instructions to the letter. Do you understand?”
“It’s Randolph Farmer. Just call me Rand. And yes, Enchanter Surana,” he answered as they followed the templar to the deepest landing of the Spire.
“It’s just down here,” the templar said as they stepped off on the landing. The air was chilly and damp this far down in the bowels of the White Spire, and their voices echoed off the mossy stone walls. Words like ‘ominous’ and ‘foreboding’ popped into Eve’s head as she trotted after the templar and Randolph down the cramped and gloomy corridors, trying not to glance into the dense blackness that seemed to crouch in every off-shooting hallway. Everyone swore that the darkness stared back at if you looked at it too long. She quickened her pace.
But Eve was starting to get used to the warren down here. Two of the three bodies had been found in the locked prison cells that were built into the Pit, the last one found in a locked interrogation room in one of the upper floors. There was good reason for the mages to blame the templars who were supposed to be guarding the mages locked into the cells and conveniently discovering their bodies when it was too late for Eve and Turin to revive them - too late for the victims to name their murderer. Granted, there were easier and legally-sanctioned ways of getting rid of troublesome mages, but perhaps the Lord Seeker Lambert was being extra cautious, now that the whole of Thedas were scrutinizing how Circles were run in the wake of the events at Kirkwall…
They rounded a sharp corner and spotted a small group of templars milling around the open door of a cell.
“Hurry, I think he’s still breathing!” one of them called.
“What happened?” Eve puffed as she skidded to a stop by the door, Randolph at her heels.
One of them pointed into the torch-lit room. A small, robed body was huddled in a large, dark puddle of blood. “Dagger through the ribs, like the others,” the templar said shakily. “Me and Sheena were here all evening, didn’t hear a peep and found him like this during rounds.”
“What was he even in here for?” Randolph asked, hesitating at the entrance as Eve strode inside.
“That is templar business,” one of the templars snapped. “Who are you? If you have no business but to gawk-”
“He’s with me,” Eve said, kneeling beside the mage. Unconscious male human in his early thirties, brown skin ashen and purple under his eyes and around his lips. With a jolt that clenched her guts into a knot, she recognized him as the mage who liked to pull small pranks on novice templars - there was the round scar on his jaw from a gauntleted punch he’d earned a few months ago. She quickly opened his robes and shoved his tunic aside to bare his naked, bloodstained torso to the torchlight. Occasionally, the mage choked in a gasping breath but judging from the gaping slit that exposed glistening red meat in his side, he didn’t have a lot of time for that privilege left.
“Enchanter Surana,” Randolph whispered as he squatted just outside the puddle of blood, his freckles stark against his pale skin as he stared. “What do I do? I don’t know anything-”
Her student sounded scared, and that helped her switch into her spirit healer mindset. “You are going to act as his heart and lungs. Kneel on his other side,” Eve rapidly directed, twisting her vision so she could see past the skin and into the stabbed torso. The dagger had cut a path clear through his fourth and fifth ribs, through the membranes surrounding his lungs and heart, and had managed to pierce the lowest chamber of his frazzled heart so that blood spurted out of the wound in time with his weakening and erratic pulse.
“Overlap your hands - like this - and place them here at the center of his breastbone. Kneel over him and lock your elbows. Press down so you compress his chest by at least two inches - good - just keep doing that and don’t stop,” she instructed, already laying her hand on the mage’s chest, gathering her magic and streaming it through her fingers. Fervently, she stitched together the torn muscles in the chamber until a thick band of scar tissue mended the muscle. Eve took a deep breath as Randolph continued to pump the mage’s chest in the rhythm that she’d shown him, satisfied that she’d at least plugged the hole. Now, she needed Empathy’s support.
Reaching inside herself, she found the thread which connected her to her Fade spirit. Immediately, Empathy filled her with its inquisitive presence and Eve was bolstered by its aura like a second wind. They could do this, they could save this man where they’d failed the others.
Randolph gaped and threw up his arm at the light emanating from Eve in soft waves. “What - are you - is that your spirit?” he gawked.
“Don’t stop now,” Eve snapped, “Does your heart ever take break? No! Keep-”
“I’m here,” Turin’s voice wheezed as he shuffled into the cramped cell, his own spirit causing him to glow far more brightly than Eve. “You’re doing a good job, keep going, you won’t go blind. I’ll work from here.”
Turin was here. She knew that he would bind the mage’s soul to his body if it still lingered. Randolph was pressing on the mage’s heart hard enough and in rhythm so his remaining blood kept pumping around his body. She could see that the mage yet still tried to breathe on his own.
There was a chance.
Suppressing a surge of hot excitement, Eve returned to her task and mended the muscles stretching between the ribs, then returned to the scar tissue she’d knitted into the heart. If she had more time, she would replace the thick scar tissue with functional heart muscle to avoid complications - but as it was, she repaired just enough so the scar would not tear open on its first beat. Then she mended the slippery sacs surrounding the heart and lungs, and coaxed the blood that had leaked between them back into nearby veins.
“Eve, I think you’ve got it,” Turin murmured.
Eve nodded, eyes trained on the mage’s frazzled heart. Time to put the theory and research that they had been working on to the test. Licking her lips, she strained to summon a flickering ball of lightning into the palm of her left hand. “Randolph, hands off and make sure that no part of you touches him,” she ordered. Hoping against hope that this would work, she slapped her left hand onto the mage’s right upper chest and her right hand on his left lower ribs as soon as Randolph pushed himself away from the mage. The mage arched into the air, his torso cresting as lightning shot from her hand, through his heart and into her other hand.
“What are you doing?” someone was shouting, the echoes creating a ringing din in the tiny cell. “You were supposed to be healing him!”
“She is - I mean, he is! I think,” Randolph whisper-shouted through bloody hands pressed to his mouth.
They all held their breath and listened.
The mage quietly breathed in, then out.
Randolph flung himself to wrap his arms around Eve, shouting incomprehensively while Turin shuffled side to side, waving his staff. The onlooking templars were also yelling with excitement. Eve’s shouts - she had no idea what her mouth was saying, if any of it even made sense - was lost in the commotion as she watched the mage’s heart fill with blood on one beat, then pump it out to the rest of his body on the next in perfect synchrony.
Wild euphoria surged through her veins. The mage was alive! He was still in rough shape and would definitely be under her watch for a couple weeks to come, but he was alive to scribble another poor joke on the back of an unsuspecting templar. Eve was ecstatic at their success - she and Turin had done it, had proved their theory in a roomful of witnesses with the help of a student and she couldn’t have asked for things to have gone better. Laughing through inexplicable tears, she turned in the swaying crook of Randolph’s elbow, trying to catch Turin’s gaze - then looked, dead-center, into a piercing and colorless protuberant eye staring out from a forgotten shadowy corner.
“You shouldn’t have done that,” the spidery figure whispered from gnawed and scabbed lips. Details slipped in and out of focus so nothing held still - Eve only had fleeting impressions of chalky skin stretched over gaunt cheeks, grimy clothes hanging off a rail-thin crouching frame and a bloody dagger flashing as it passed between skeletal hands before the impressions seeped away like water dripping through a sieve. “You made it worse. Hounded, haunted, holding their breath as they watch shadows pass under their cell doors. I freed him and you locked him back up inside.” The lip of a wide-brimmed hat appeared and dipped sideways as the colorless eye pierced her with a detached air of curiosity. “Why would you hurt him?”
This pale apparition could only be the Ghost of the Spire. Eve leaped over shock that it was real - as real as the translucent boy appeared, anyway - and went straight to fury. “Me? Why are you hurting them?” she hissed. “What’s your point - and who are you? Why kill people? Why-”
“They are free,” the Ghost said simply. His voice feathered around the cramped cell and he didn’t seem concerned when the templars and mages finally seemed to notice him. He shrugged a bony shoulder, birdlike, and nodded at the unconscious mage in the center of the stunned circle of people. “No longer fettered by the fear borne from their birthright. You shove them back in their shackles for the templars to toy with even though you’re one of them - why?”
Eve gaped, arguments galloping over each other and stumbling on her tongue. “You’re not freeing them - you’re murdering them,” she finally declared, “that’s not the same. You end their lives.”
The Ghost seemed to become denser the harder she focused on it, her eyes pinning details in her head and suddenly he was no longer melting in and out of the shadows. He - it - looked vaguely like a scarecrow brought off of a farmer’s fields. “You value a beating heart over the knots of pain it strains against,” the Ghost replied, bewilderment naked in his tone. “You are wrong. I end their suffering. It’s better.”
“No, it isn’t,” Eve said. “How could you end what they could have? You take the years they could have to help others, to help themselves! They should be allowed to live and find out-”
“They were and are and will hurt in these walls with no escape,” the Ghost said. “The dagger frees them.”
This thing - human? Mage? Maybe the templars were right - wasn’t getting it. “You don’t know that, and you take away their chance to find out,” she hissed. An almost-embarrassing amount of sincerity tempered her voice as Eve promised, “I be there to heal anyone who needs it. I will stop you and I will revive whoever you decide to kill.”
The scarecrow tipped its head and peered at her through its straw-like hair. “You don’t understand,” he said, sadness and disappointment tingeing his words which infuriated her. “Closed yet clear, able to tread where templar walk because they think you are needed.” The edges of his form blurred as he shook his head, fading into shadow again as the templars started returning to their duties and Turin and Randolph focused on the mage again. “But you are blind and you will see, eventually.”
Chapter 5: Escaping Redcliffe
[1 year later]
Sliding a deft hand under the young man's stubbled chin, Eve twisted her vision until she could see inside him. The tincture and ritual had cleansed his body of the lingering fever and dried the mucus from his lungs, but the blackness in his veins remained. It traveled in waves through his arteries with every pump of his heart, threads of darkness spreading out from his core into his muscles and tissues. She bit her lip, hoping that her vision lied, yet knowing that it never had. This man was corrupting very slowly, from the inside out, and would turn into a ghoul then die.
A gentle hand on her wrist startled her back into seeing things normally. Her patient - a young human man with a face that hinted at a sensitive nature, bronze skin and dark, thick hair marking him as Tevinter as much as his style of robes - was watching her with a kind look of understanding. So, he knew. He knew his diagnosis and he embraced it. Her heart wrenched; she'd failed him and he was comforting her .
"Well?" a waspish voice asked, painfully hopeful. "How is Felix? Did it work?"
Eve tensed, gritting her teeth. She couldn't hide the truth, and she didn't want to hide it. The diagnosis had to be delivered. She lowered her hands, squeezing Felix's shoulders. "I am so sorry," she answered without taking her eyes off of Felix. "No, the Taint remains-"
What could only be described as a two-tonne bronto bitchslap flung her across the flagstones until she crumpled and slid down a bookcase. Well, at least it was her least favorite bookcase in the study, she thought dazedly as The Canticle of Andraste fell beside her head. If she didn't beat down this burgeoning fear and protect herself, she'd be in danger of losing her favorite head at this rate. Something hot leaked into her eye as she tried to both push her long white hair out of her face and scramble up from her hands and knees when another blow slammed her cheek-first into the floor; she could hear her nose breaking through the bones of her skull. Blinded, she gasped and scrambled to sit up and flung her arms out helplessly as a whip of fire lashed her arms. She cried out as her skin bubbled with angry welts and reflexively sheathed them in ice to cool the burns. Think, just think - Andraste's skid-marked smalls, how did that spell go for making a magical barrier?
"-father, STOP! You can't change her answer like this!" Felix shouted. Blearily, Eve could see a figure skidding to a stop in front of her with his arms flung out.
" How can he still have it? " Alexius shrieked, pushing his son aside to stand over her, fiery whip raised in one hand. "You are supposed to be the best spirit healer this side of Thedas!"
Eve glared back mulishly at the snarling Tevinter magister and swiped at the blood dribbling out of her nose. "The best died at the Spire before the mages and templars collectively decided to lose their shit. Lucky arse probably timed it on purpose. So you're stuck with me." And she was stuck with him . If only she'd kept her mouth shut about being a spirit healer two weeks ago - maybe then she'd still be with Fiona and the other rebel mages, wherever this mysterious Tevinter magister was keeping them.
He was now so different from the doting and concerned father he'd played every time he had visited her throughout these weeks, at times bringing her tea personally and politely asking about her progress in curing his son. Alexius snarled, his thin lips curling back to bare greying teeth; he looked like a deranged, desperate animal at the end of its tether. "But they call you the Reviver, do they not? Although," he mused, "you don't look much like a spirit healer. You're barely out of your Harrowing and clearly you don't know what you're doing, by the state of your face."
Eve glared at the pointed insult about her scar, then reminded herself that this man was watching his son die every day. She took a deep breath and tried to will the aching from her nose to fade away. "Look, I know that you're hurting," she started, "you clearly love your son-"
"Don't try to weasel out of this, knife-ear," Alexius sneered, then casually lashed her across her jaw.
She gasped, but managed to bite back another cry as her skin and the fine hairs on her jaw sizzled. Clasping her hand to the burn, she looked back up at him thoughtfully. Then she leaned over and spat blood on his shoe.
The crack that reverberated throughout her skull from a quick kick was almost worth it. Disoriented, she threw her hand out and summoned a flickering barrier that shattered on the first lash of the whip. Shit, that wasn't supposed to happen, she was complete shit at this fighting nonsense. Piercing pain licked up her arm as she tried and failed to summon the barrier against the unrelenting whip of fire.
Felix seized Alexius' arm. "Father, stop. This is what we knew - there is no known cure for the Taint!"
Alexius struggled to extract himself from his son's grip without hurting him. "That is why we had to find the foremost expert, even if it was this lying little idiot. I should've known that Southern mages like you just invent titles to better yourselves - look at the so-called Champion and now that Herald-"
During the argument, Eve had seized the moment to heal herself so quickly that it almost hurt. There was no time to heal carefully, with attention to how bones should be precisely aligned or ensuring that tissues fused to each other properly. She settled for 'passably functioning' and staggered to her feet to snap, "I didn't choose the name, I only got it because I picked a fight with the Ghost of the Spire. And I wasn't lying-"
Alexius thrust his long nose down into her face, enraged. "I allowed you to pour that concoction down my son's throat and let you do your elfy dance on the understanding that you were telling the truth!"
Eve took a deep breath in a vain effort to calm her mounting anger. It was in vain, since his condescending tone and flying spittle just made him so punchable. "The Dalish ritual I performed worked," Eve said. "But your son was already resistant to the Taint - that he survived the initial day of being infected is proof of that. While the ritual will slow down its progression, he will become a ghoul."
"You're just lying to get out of a failed ritual, you pathetic little-"
"Don't they teach you magisters how to read in Tevinter?" Eve retorted, her temper getting the better of her. "If you'd actually read my research, I state that there is no cure for it. There are two methods of slowing its progression and that is only if the patient survives the initial acute phase, which is extremely rare! By and large, no one escapes death or ghoulism, not even the blasted Wardens themselves!"
Alexius suddenly looked a little hopeful. "But did you actually ask how the Wardens-?"
Eve scoffed. "Of course I did. And, of course, they told me to bugger off. Well, technically they just never answered my letters and appeals which is Warden-speak for 'fuck off'."
The whip of fire flared, then dissipated. Alexius was regarding her thoughtfully, and while it seemed to make Felix relax, it only made Eve press up into the bookcase behind her. "Perhaps the fault lies not in the mage or the magic," he murmured, turning to sweep over to a chest resting on a nearby desk. Glass vials crashed as he swept them aside, the residue of the thick green potion that she'd given Felix staining the red carpet.
Eve cast about for an exit in the stone-walled study that she'd been kept prisoner in for the past two weeks - but the only entrance were the double oak doors past Alexius, and she'd bet her lucky scalpel that she wouldn't be able to slip by him without getting proverbially smacked to the next age. Not for the first time since the White Spire fell, Eve wished she'd spent some part of the ten years since her Harrowing in studying combat magic. But she'd been adamant on becoming a renowned spirit healer like her mentor, Old Turin, not knowing that it would take years to become passably competent, and then the years had flown by in their laboratory and clinic…
Felix was trying to signal to her to run, now , but she was mouthing back to him that she wouldn't be fast enough when Alexius turned back, a bottled glass beaker in hand. "If it's not the mage or the magic, then it is the mana," he said triumphantly. "Drink this."
Eve eyed the glowing crimson potion; molten yellow veins laced it like it was a living thing. It felt alarmingly alluring and anything that could make someone feel like licking it from five feet away was just wrong . "How many times do I have to tell you, Alexius?" she asked, edging sideways so she could hopefully make a break for the doors, subtlety be damned. "I don't take potions from strange magisters-"
"Perhaps the ritual didn't work because you didn't have enough power," Alexius said over her, advancing with the potion in hand. He shattered another of her flimsy barrier spells with a well-placed burst of fire and enclosed them in a barrier of his own, which flared brighter than hers and she was now trapped in a bubble with him. "This will fix that problem. It will give you more power than you can ever achieve with normal lyrium, more power than you can dream. Perhaps it will iron out some kinks in your ritual, and next time it will work ."
"Ah, Alexius, I don't think you're singing the Tevinter anthem with quite enough gusto," a glib voice chided. "Although, throwing more magic and blood sacrifices at the problem didn't really help with the decline of the Imperium - quite the opposite, actually. I'm surprised there aren't more sacrificial virgins bleeding out around here, now that you're dancing to the Elder One's tune."
Alexius turned to glare at the newcomer who had swept into the study with a familiar nod to Felix. A sudden stab of hope crumpled to ash in Eve's chest. He wasn't a mage of the rebellion uprising, or Grand Enchanter Fiona as Eve had hoped. Instead, the man looked every bit as Tevinter as Alexius and Felix, from his ridiculously outlandish mage robes that seemed to show more skin than protect it, to the stupid little goatee under his curled mustache. As playful as his tone and goatee were, the man's dark eyes were entirely serious.
"Dorian. What are you doing down here?" Alexius snapped. "Where is Calpernia?"
"Oh, you mean the woman who was supposed to brainwash me to be as blind as you and these Venatori idiots?" Dorian asked. "She was summoned away in the middle of her 'Let's All Hold Hands and Follow the Insane Elder One Into Peace and Tranquility' spiel and I admit that I got a bit bored. You're being a poor host, to both me and that girl you got there."
"Summoned away?" Alexius muttered, suddenly sounding concerned. He shook his head. "No matter. I will catch up with the army after I make this little liar heal Felix. And if the red lyrium doesn't work, Dorian, then there is no choice but to follow the Elder One," Alexius continued. "He has the power to raise the Imperium to its golden age. He was the one who ripped the hole in the sky and created the Breach! He will recruit an unstoppable army, slay Celene and absorb the Grey Wardens! What is curing one child to a being of such power?"
A cold spike of fear skittered down Eve's spine. Wait, this 'Elder One' was the one who destroyed the Conclave and tore open the Fade so it now rained demons on Thedas? He was going to take over Orlais and the Grey Wardens to return the Tevinter Imperium back to its golden age? He - the Elder One, and Alexius - were insane. They would destroy Thedas and kill millions for what gainful purpose? To sit on a throne?
"Father, it isn't worth indebting yourself to this crazy-"
"It's worth it if it means that you will be cured!"
Dorian rapped his knuckles against the barrier, making it shimmer. "Alexius, you and I both know that even if the mage were to increase the amount of mana he pours into a ritual, the rules of magic do not change. They literally cannot change unless the ritual is changed! That is one of the basic tenants of magic! So how do you expect her to cure Felix even if you drown her in this - did you call it lyrium ?"
"You don't know what this lyrium can unlock, Dorian," Alexius hissed, his face alight in his resolve. "A steady diet of red lyrium can infuse the mage with power beyond reckoning. Just watch-"
Eve struck out with her Force claws as he turned back towards her. This was her favorite spell, molded over the years to nick the thinnest and most delicate of arteries with an edge sharper than any Antivan Crow's razor. But it was a surgical tool, honed to hold an edge instead of packing a wallop - so all it did was rake four crimson lacerations across Alexius' cheek and forehead before he magically grabbed her by the neck and slammed her up against the bookcase so books rained down around her and the tips of her toes barely scraped the floor. She kicked out uselessly and tried to grab whatever was choking her - it felt like hardened air under her fingers, indicating a Force spell - but it did not yield to her scrabbling fingertips. Just as she tried to gulp down a breath, a bottle hovered over her nose and dumped red lyrium all over her face, burning a path down her throat and stinging her eyes. She spluttered and coughed, trying to spit it back out but what little she managed to choke down curled in her stomach, hot and soothing until it crackled, filling her head.
There was a distant shout, then the barrier flickered and disappeared. Eve fell as the invisible choking hand dissipated from her neck and she buckled to her knees, wheezing in gasps of air. But what was a bit of swelling in her throat and suffocation compared to the red lyrium? It thrummed through her veins with a powerful song, making everything crystal clear and so, so vivid. It lit up her insides so brightly - it was a wonder that the thin shell of her body could contain such heady, powerful light. Weeks of hunger, worry, and fatigue evaporated. She was brimming with mana and the feeling of unlimited potential - it was intoxicating. Why had she objected to this nectar of the gods?
Someone strong pulled her up to her feet. Large, concerned grey eyes lined with kohl - it was the other magister, named Dorian. He looked surprisingly concerned for a stranger, let alone another Tevinter magister. Eve tried to struggle out of his grip - were all the mages this muscular in Tevinter? Between bouts of blood magic, did they do a hundred push ups with their textbooks? "You look awful and drunk," Dorian said not altogether pleasantly, "and unlucky for you, I don't know a lick of healing magic to patch that up-"
Healing her bruised and swollen throat only took a second longer than thinking about it, and it was done. Eve straightened and rubbed her neck, trying to erase the memory of slowly being crushed. "Where is Alexius?" she asked.
Dorian was watching her with raised eyebrows. "Maybe Alexius wasn't nugshit crazy about this red lyrium business, the way you clean up," he mused. He rapped his staff against Alexius' backside as the magister sprawled unresponsive on the floor with a purple lump as large as a goose egg on his forehead.
Eve was suitably impressed. "I see you're rubbing salt into his wound," she noted, "Well done."
Felix knelt beside Alexius and shook his head. "It's not worth it," he mumbled, "I'm not worth all this. Bending time to conscript the rebel mages, abducting you and trying to recruit Dorian… and the red lyrium is the worst part of this whole thing. They've been feeding it to the rebel mages for the past two weeks. It turns them into mindless addicts, just soldiers who do his bidding for another draught of the stuff and I've never seen this before the Elder One showed up. I doubt it can be found anywhere else - he has them on a tight leash."
"All the rebel mages?" Eve asked, a sliver of worry shoving itself through the sense of exultant power the red lyrium bestowed on her. "Grand Enchanter Fiona? First Enchanter Adrian? Rhys? Randolph?"
"All of them," Felix said, staring fixedly at his father's pained grimace.
"But didn't you know this?" Dorian asked. "Haven't you been here for the past two weeks with them?"
Eve shook her head. "I was kept separately in this study and another chamber close by. I was tasked with finding a cure for the Taint day and night, and I haven't seen them since the start…"
Alexius grunted and his eyelids fluttered in the torchlight. "He'll come to in a moment," Dorian warned, turning his sharp profile to the exit. "We need to leave while we can. Who knows how many more of those draughts he's hidden around here, or how many he's drunk already."
Eve glowed briefly as she cast a healing spell. The lump on Alexius' forehead receded and his grimace smoothed out. Felix looked slightly alarmed when he looked at her. "What did you do?"
"I only healed him, and sank him deeper into sleep," she answered, combing her blood-crusted hair back to tie it away from her face. "He's lucky that I my spirit hates violence, else I'd start playing knifey-stabby on him."
Felix let out a relieved sigh. "Thank you," he said.
Dorian was looking at her shrewdly, and Eve wasn't sure she liked it. "You're more gracious than I would be, in your tiny shoes," Dorian said.
"He's only doing this because he loves his son so much," she said. She bit her lip, feeling sorry for the man. But her sympathy only extended as far as her memory of the choking or the fact that he allowed this Elder One to drug her friends. Granted, she felt fine right now - downright godly - but the masked horror in Felix's expression when he'd spoken of them had her on edge.
Dorian waved an impatient hand. "Yes, well, misplaced fatherly love aside - not that I don't know anything about it - we need to get out of here or that army outside will find out what we've done and kill us when we don't heartily sing the Elder One's anthem or drink his lovely homemade fruit punch."
"There is a secret escape route through the dungeons under the castle that leads to the windmill atop the bluff by the village," Felix said, getting to his feet without waking his father. "Take the south corridor down this hall, avoid the courtyard - that's where the army is camped - and it will lead you through the dungeons and into the windmill. Go west around Lake Calenhad and into the Frostbacks. Warn the Herald at the village of Haven. The Elder One will be sending the first wave of his army today and she might be able to put a stop to all of this."
Dorian grabbed Felix's shoulders as Eve darted around the study to collect her meager few possessions. "You must come with us, Felix, you can't stay here-"
"I'm not leaving him," Felix said with more resolution than Eve had thought him capable of. "Dorian, you must promise me that you will not get caught and stay safe. Get to Haven as fast as you can and warn the Herald."
Dorian drew Felix into a hard embrace. "You big-hearted idiot," he said, words muffled by Felix's shoulder. "I will. Take care of yourself. And Alexius."
Sticking the scalpel that Nessa had given her into the satchel she'd brought from the Spire, Eve turned to see the two Tevinter break apart and regard each other with obvious warmth. It made her think of the other mages, of her apprentice Randolph, even of her fraternity leader, Rhys. Worry was starting to gnaw at her through the red haze of exultation.
Felix held open the door and gestured to the both of them. "The guards will be here soon to check on us. I'll try to keep them here as long as I can while you two escape down through the dungeons."
"I'm not leaving without the other mages," Eve objected.
A furrow arched Dorian's eyebrows as he turned to Eve impatiently. "Dear girl, they won't want to come with us even if they had two thoughts of their own to rub together."
Felix nodded, darting a glace into the shadowy hallway beyond the study. "Dorian is right. You'll see that they are in no right state." As Dorian ushered Eve through the doors, Felix put a firm hand on Eve's arm. "Enchanter Surana, I truly am grateful that you slowed down the taint and bought me some time. I hope to convince my father to leave the Elder One and return to Tevinter with it," he said, glancing at Alexius slumbering on the carpet, "But you mustn't waste time trying to convince the mages. You'll see what I mean when you get down in the dungeons."
She was to just leave her friends in the Redcliffe castle dungeons with a dying man and a crazy magister? Eve shook her head, knowing that that wasn't an option. "I'm only sorry that I could not heal you completely," she said while Dorian watched them with interest. "I wish you the best, Felix. Hopefully we will return with good news."
Felix's directions had proven true, and after they had stuffed themselves into a closet from a passing patrol of guards they had located the right staircase without too much difficulty. Eve crept along the musty and dank corridor by touch, her left hand trailing along the rough stone wall and the cold iron bars of prison doors in the dungeon. She knew that Dorian was creeping along behind her by the light tapping of his staff against the floor and she found that she wasn't too scared - hiding from the enemy in a broom closet squashed up against each other was at least one way in building a little trust. They hurried along, the darkness seeming to press up against their eyes. The hairs on the back of her neck prickled at the dark, at every skittering sound that might hint at guards coming at their heels, and the fact that she was now supposed to escape the castle and find the Herald of Andraste in the mountains to warn about invading Tevinter supremacists with a turncoat Tevinter mage was making her life a borderline crazy fiction that could only be dreamed up by someone like... what was the name of that Tales of the Champion author? Tethras?
Eve supposed she preferred this strange mission to the outright war against the templars that had raged throughout the Hinterlands. Grand Enchanter Fiona had tried to pick a path through the fighting to Redcliffe village, but some skirmishes had been unavoidable, even when they had proclaimed that they just wanted to pass through peacefully. The templars had been unheeding and ruthless, eager to butcher them just as some of the mages had been eager to strike against their former jailers-
She halted in her tracks as she spotted a dim, red haze glowing from a dungeon cell further up the hall. A second later, an elbow caught her sharply in her shoulder. Unnecessarily.
"Don't suppose you can lull any guards to sleep, if they're in there?" Dorian whispered in her ear, his mustache tickling the tip.
Eve flinched away - that was way too ticklish - and shrugged. "I think I can manage," she whispered back. "What, the Tevinterest Tevinter doesn't have a spell to decimate the peasants?"
Dorian snorted quietly. "The term is 'magisterial magister', you uneducated southern heathen, and I'm not even a magister. While I can decimate peasants if I so chose, they are rather loud spells and in case you haven't noticed, we are in the middle of enemy territory."
"Excuses, excuses," Eve muttered under her breath as she sidled closer to the prison door, pressing her back against the wall. No sound carried over to her pricked ears, and she half-hoped that there was nothing actually in there even as she readied a sleep spell in her right hand. She took a deep breath, then peeked into the cell quickly.
At first, she didn't even recognize what she was seeing. Roughly human figures in raggedy robes either lay on the filth-strewn floor or slumped against the walls, entirely silent. Some of them may be dead, but others were tellingly alive by the red glow emanating from their eyes. Red light also wafted in a haze from their skin, from what looked like little pustules - rocks? Crystals? - laced with throbbing yellow veins. One of the strange figures slumped against the bars, his sweat-matted auburn hair curling away from his broad face - it looked like his pale skin was melting , like candle wax…
The bottom of her stomach dropped out and the air in her lungs evaporated as the pieces splintered together into recognition.
Dorian uttered some kind of warning as Eve dropped any effort at concealment and clung to the iron bars, her knees threatening to wobble out from underneath her. "Randolph?" she breathed. It couldn't be, she'd seen him only two weeks ago…
Her stomach roiled when the misshapen figure's red eyes lifted to meet hers. Out of habit, her eyes flicked to the scar on his nose he'd earned while helping her treat a thrashing templar, and the patch missing in his left eyebrow from getting too close to a flask fire in her laboratory. Her last meal was clawing its way up her throat as she clung to the bars staring at what had once been her apprentice. Pain twisted his pale and clammy face as he bared his teeth once, twice… numb, Eve realized that he was trying to pronounce the nickname he'd given her, 'Evey', but couldn't frame the syllables since crimson crystals had erupted in the cracks of his chapped lips.
"Maker's breath, this is what Alexius meant?" Eve almost jumped at the Tevinter mage's muttered oath. She'd forgotten that he was there. "'Infuses the mage with power beyond reckoning.' Left out the part where it literally infuses the body and bursts from the skin, from the looks of it."
She blinked. "Right," she said, turning back to the cell. This is what was pumping in her veins? This is what the red lyrium will turn her into? She couldn't stop herself from looking around and recognizing some of them in the wends of their waxy skin and pulsing crystals. There was Galimede, the enchanter who had taught her how to hone her Force spells, and curled on some rotten straw next to her was the mage who had sold lurid drawings just before curfew, and there lay Frida who actually didn't seem to be breathing… "How do you think we should get them out of here?" Eve asked absently, "There are twelve of them in here, don't know if-"
Dorian stamped his staff, embers sparking from his hands as he pointed down the hall impatiently. "We can't possibly sneak a contingent of half-mad and glowing mages out from under an army unnoticed," he argued, "let alone across the countryside with templars around every corner and into the mountains."
"I can't leave just leave them here," Eve protested. "They need help, they need to be assessed and the red lyrium extracted so they can heal-"
"Red lyrium?" a hoarse voice choked out.
Pairs of clammy, twisted hands thrust through the bars and seized her before she could leap away. "Lyrium? Red lyrium ?" they clamored, desperation tainting their excitement. Alarmed, Eve tried to fight out of their bruising clutches, yelping as one of them pulled her braid and another bit her wrist. In a stroke of clarity, she shot a wave of magical sleep and as the mages pressed up against the bars collapsed, she wrenched away from the bars as Dorian pulled her by the arm and conjured a wall of bright orange flames in front of the door.
"Stop!" Eve cried out. "Don't hurt them!"
The wall of flames stopped charging the door. "Why not?" Dorian demanded. "Look at them! They're nothing but mindless drones at the beck and call of anyone with a draught of that - that poison , and they'll be sent to wreak havoc on Haven! Better to take care of them now-"
Eve faced off against Dorian in the dim corridor, the red haze giving her just enough light to see the man's angry and impatient expression. He was larger, stronger, and if that wall of fire was any indication, he was skilled in offensive fire while she was pathetic at it. But she couldn't let him murder them. "They're my friends," she argued, "Randolph is just a kid, and my apprentice! He was studying to become a spirit healer, just like me-"
"Eve, they aren't who they used to be," Dorian interrupted, "they're drugged and addled tinderboxes just waiting to explode!"
"They're people I lived with and saw every day in the Spire," she retorted fiercely, "they're like Felix to me!"
Dorian regarded her with sadness and pity. The heat at her back vanished as the wall of flames flickered and died. Glancing behind her, she saw that the corrupted mages were watching them listlessly, uninterested now that they weren't speaking of red lyrium. "That's a rather cheap stab at my nonexistent feelings," Dorian murmured, "but I can admit that I am not pragmatic enough to execute a cell of chained mages, even if they are the enemy."
Eve sighed, relieved. Then she stiffened as a pair of footsteps echoed distantly, back where they had come from.
She and Dorian looked at each other. "Come on-" Dorian said as he grabbed her wrist and started running down the hall. Eve cast a final look behind her at Randolph who was slumped against the bars and watching her. Guilt gnawed at her heart, and she could only start matching Dorian's sprint after she promised herself that she'd be back to help.
Chapter 6: Chapter 6: Haven, Hello
I AM SO SORRY THAT I'VE BEEN GONE SO LONG. Moving to a new country did things to me. Unspeakable, non-productive things. If it helps any, I've already started the next chapter. But, since I am in a new country now and will continue to be fairly busy, I may not be able to get it up in a week but I will die trying. Thanks for sticking with me and Eve despite my terrible delays. Now, on with the show!
Warnings: the usual. Violence.
Chapter 6: Haven, Hello
[10 days later]
"-spank paddle!" Eve swore as she skidded on the icy cobblestones. Shartan's elfy ears, she was a breath away from getting shanked on an icy bridge in the middle of the Maker-forsaken mountains because of course the Herald had chosen the most remote sacred village in the frozen tits of Thedas to nest in. There was so much space out here, so much snow and dirt and trees. Who needed so much of these things? And the Herald chose to be far, far away from any sort of civilization, convenience, or sense. Apparently, this is what blessed-in-the-head people do. So here she was, about to die on the Herald's blasted welcome mat without delivering the warning that had burned in her and Dorian's hearts since their escape from Redcliffe. Splotches of muddy snow sprayed into the frigid air as Eve skidded around a desk weighed down by snow and paperweights and shouted, "Stop! Uh, what if I pinky swear that we won't tell anyone about your little massacre? Deal?"
The Elder One's soldier stepped over the bloody body of a guard and judging by the shiny sword he held aloft, he wasn't going for the Deal Of The Age. In fact, whoever the person was underneath the full-faced helm had shown no sign of relenting ever since she and Dorian had started crossing the bridge that would lead them to the village of Haven and accidentally stumbled into the aftermath of a bloodbath. The Elder One's soldiers had looked up from the crimson slush surrounding the fallen bodies of what looked like guards and hadn't stopped chasing them ever since.
Never mind that she didn't even have a stick to defend herself with. While Dorian had smote one with lightning, she had successfully dropped two of them with her paralysis and sleep spells. The remaining two were stubborn, shaking off her paralysis spells easily and seemingly angrier at the attempts to put them down. She scrambled to the side of the desk, keeping it between her and the soldier absurdly like a game of tag in the alienage except the stakes were much higher than a filched apple.
"Dear girl, they aren't listening!" Dorian called as he fought the other soldier though with considerably more grace. She chalked it up to the fact that he had a staff and not because she had never been in a real fight in her entire life.
The soldier cocked his head to the side then stamped on top of the desk. Shit. Eve was a breath too late in twisting away from his lunge and the sword sliced into her arm through her heavy wool robe. But she was finally close enough. She slapped a hand on to his leg and while his greave was in the way, this close it didn't matter. She blasted a sleep spell through her hand. He dropped like a sack of potatoes on her and they both hit the ground in a resounding crash.
Dorian staggered over to her while leaning heavily on his staff, looking just as bedraggled as she felt but still managing to tsk at the sight of her struggling to crawl out from under her snoring would-be murderer. "Evey, I am sending a strongly-worded letter to the White Spire First Enchanter about your lack of deadly education, if they're still alive in all this mess," he tutted as he shoved the soldier aside with his foot. Pulling Eve to her feet as if she weighed no more than a feather, he smiled grimly. "Your body count will never catch up if they're still breathing."
Eve whistled in a painful breath, then healed her bruised ribs in a blink. Blood stopped blooming in her sleeve as she healed the slash. Dorian kept a strong grip on her and didn't comment on the fact that she was still shaking, had been shaking for the last day now that the red stuff was burning out of her blood leaving behind corroded, jangling nerves and throbbing headaches. But they had relied on her red lyrium infused powers to survive the terrifying journey from Redcliffe - pushing themselves to run ahead of the Elder One's army, dodging into forests or ditches if the stamp of marching soldiers rode too close to their heels. So they had both ignored her shakes and retches and mustered on with jokes and banter.
"Seeing as they aren't waving their swords around and trying to stab us in their sleep, I'm counting them," she said grumpily, waving a hand at the two other soldiers snoring by snow-dusted crates. She carefully avoided looking at the very dead bodies of the other two soldiers which were smoldering gently in the night air. "Remind me, who snuck us past four groups of evil Tevinter without having to make a bonfire about it? Magisterial not-magister 5: sneaky spirit-healer 13."
"And as I keep saying, they don't count because they may wake up from their power nap at any time and ambush us from behind," Dorian pointed out as they finally crossed the icy bridge and started to wearily climb up the mountain trail. "You need to put them into their last, permanent sleep for it to count. Like this." He turned and raised his staff aloft, a bright ball of fire spinning into being at the tip.
Eve yanked his staff so it pointed away from the defenceless soldiers sleeping in the snow. "Dorian, stop," she said, trying to keep the note of pleading out of her voice because she knew he was right but she couldn't let him flambe the soldiers anyway. "I've put them into deep sleep, they won't wake up before they freeze to death in all this blasted snow. Their sleep is going to be pretty permanent and we don't have time - that army is getting close." Eve knew that she wasn't making a whole lot of sense, but she just couldn't bring herself to slay anyone, just like that. Better to give them the sliver of a chance to wake and stumble off home…
She tried very hard to ignore the pragmatic voice inside her, which was pointing out that the Frostback Mountains were aptly named for their cursedly cold conditions. The sleeping soldiers didn't have the benefit of a heating spell sheathing their bodies, like the one she and Dorian maintained around themselves. Never mind that constantly burning mana on low made her temples throb; she needed it to survive. Snowflakes hissed into light drops of rain before clinging to the wool robe she had traded for her healing services, but as the night passed, the snow would frost then bury the soldiers. The hard, frozen ground underneath them would leech their body warmth away.
They probably would not see the sun crest over the mountain.
But at least they had a chance.
Dorian sniffed as she wordlessly pulled him up the mountain path. "Alright. We're so close to Haven it would be a pity to get there only to be stabbed in the back," he said as he cast a final glance over his shoulder. "Imagine explaining with your dying breath that we were supposed to warn them except we were done in by our pacifist attitudes. Yes, I would technically be dead due to a sword wound but truly, it would be death by embarrassment."
"Look, my body count still stands. Well, lies down," Eve groused. Slowly, signs of life emerged through the slow flurry of snow. A strange, wooden tower with wheels that Eve was pretty sure was called a trebuchet, an open smithy and stables... Just beyond them, pale moonlight washed a deserted training ground and camp in black and white. Finally, signs of civilization. Which meant food, fire, and baths.
Sounds of merriment drifted over the palisade built into the boulders, along with flickers of light. As bone-tired, dirty, and delirious for sleep as Eve was, relief buoyed in her chest - this rough wooden village hewn into the side of the mountain was Haven. The gates looked formidable, if small, and the wooden mabari guarding it on either side announced it as a very human encampment. But behind them sheltered the Herald of Blessed Andraste Herself and their army, the hero who had been ushered out of the Fade by the Divine and had healed the Breach closed. Only a faint, shimmering scar remained in the indigo sky as a testament of the Herald's abilities and blessed hand. It didn't matter how big or remote this village was - the sheer fact that the Herald made this modest place their home cast a holy sheen over the rustic walls and canvas tents. Even the golden palaces of Val Royeaux wouldn't be good enough to house the Herald.
They were so close.
"Alright, bringer of gentle deaths," Dorian said as he swept his dark gaze around for a guard. His mustache twitched at a particularly bawdy verse that drifted over the palisade. "Do you have a spell from that pitiful Circle education to open the gates? Because it doesn't sound like they're expecting company and probably won't hear us over all that premature celebration."
"I've got just the gift to do the job and I was born with it. Ready?" At Dorian's piqued look, Eve raised her hands and waved them spookily before cupping them around her mouth. "HELLO, EXCUSE ME. IS THE HERALD HOME?"
Dorian rolled his eyes as the sounds of the party continued, unchanged. "This is how it's done." With an unnecessary flourish, he summoned and shot a fireball at the doors. Just as the fireball showered into embers on impact, an arrow sprouted from his staff right at eye level with a thwok.
"WHO TAUGHT YOU MANNERS FROM TITS?" someone shouted with a distinct slur from somewhere above. Roughly, Eve dragged Dorian behind a nearby upturned wagon as arrows thunked into the planks. "I OUGHTA-"
"Sera!" A new voice shouted as more arrows pelted into the wagon, some going absurdly wide of the mark. "What are you- Maker, what are those lights?"
"DUNNO, DO I? IDIOTS TRYNA ATTACK US-"
"Yes master, please teach me how to open my mouth and stick an arrow in it," Eve muttered, giving Dorian a quick once-over to check for any injuries.
"Well, it did the job-" Dorian defended.
"-and made them think we're with the Elder One!" Eve retorted.
"Who are you? You with that army?" a strident voice called from the top of the palisade. This must be a proper guard, since they didn't sound like they'd had too much to drink.
Dorian pointedly ignored Eve's see what did I tell you look. "No, in fact, we are here to warn the Herald about it," Dorian called back as arrows whizzed past their shelter. Eve sincerely hoped that someone had confiscated the drunken archer's bow. "Or, we will if we live through your idea of a welcome!"
The arrows suddenly abated. Eve's pounding heart filled the ominous silence - what if the villagers were trying to lull them into a false sense of security so they could shoot her and Dorian as soon as they popped their heads around the wagon? What if they had run all this way for nothing? What if the Herald didn't even bother to listen to them and killed them outright instead of risking a chance on strange mages who claimed that they weren't part of the Elder One's army? Who would listen and understand that the rebel mages had been tricked into the Elder One's army and were being controlled against their will? Would they be spared? She glanced over at Dorian's tense expression as he peered over a wheel; what if they decided to kill him because he was also Tevinter and looked like the other Elder One soldiers?
Eve couldn't let that happen. Not to the man who had escaped Redcliffe with her and bolstered her throughout the journey with his glib jokes and cutting wit. They had lived in each other's hip pockets this past week and a half, her and this strange Tevinter man, watching each other's backs and encouraging the other to press on for another hour. She had sold her meager possessions and healing services to feed them and took care of their injuries; he had charmed their way into more than one spare bedroll and spelled their defenses. While trust had taken root out of necessity somewhere between the begged wagon rides, relentless hikes and sharing a cloak under a tree, a tentative friendship had budded. She liked this crazy ex-patriot who was so far from home. His fiery passion and inexhaustable conviction to do what was right had carried her long after when her endurance would have given out in a ditch somewhere.
And she wouldn't let anything happen to him if she could help it.
Eve scrambled to her feet as the sound of a door being thrown open cracked through the stillness. Dorian straightened with considerably more grace as he grumbled, "About time, as if the Elder One wasn't nipping at our heels already-"
He drifted off mid-sentence as a stream of armored soldiers trotted into the clearing to form a tight circle around them, their shields facing inwards. The bottom of Eve's stomach dropped out even as her guts tried to shoot up her throat at the sight of the sword of Andraste emblazoned on each shield. The symbol was engraved into the mind of every Circle mage, just as she recognized the pearly glow emanating from the hand of each of the templars. There were more templars here than the number that typically served at any Circle. More than either she or Dorian could take on.
For a moment, Eve was back in the Harrowing chamber, panicked and struggling to free herself from the templars' execution slab. She bit her lip and wildly looked around for an escape like a rabbit caught in a snare, but it was no good - they were surrounded by a ring of steel and 'righteous' conviction. One of them would step forward at any moment to kill the two of them in cold blood, no explanations needed - they were mages, apostates running free of Circles or Chantry-loyalist factions, tainted by magic and at the fore of an invading army. The thunder of her heart almost drowned out the alarm bell in her head.
"Not good?" Dorian muttered to her as he grasped his staff with both hands.
"Not good," she agreed just before the ring of templars shouted in unison and blasted them with Holy Smite. Her simple heating spell was extinguished in a blink. The sudden cold was nothing compared to the excruciating sensation like her bones being pulled out from her body one by one. White-hot fingers churned mercilessly through her skull. She promptly fell to her hands and knees, heaving up bile from her empty stomach and she was suddenly glad that they had found nothing to eat in the blasted foothills around the mountains yesterday. There was no denying it - the red lyrium that still ran through her was making this worse; if she had legs to stand with, she had forgotten it. If she had eyes to open, she was convinced that she had been born blind. Her mouth was meant for nothing other than spewing vomit. Maker, this had to stop-
Suddenly, her brains were no longer trying to puddle out of her ears like oatmeal and she gasped in a sour breath. Coughing, she peered through streaming tears to see that Dorian had summoned a shimmering barrier and instead of draining them both, the templars were only leeching from him. Under the chill that penetrated further than her bones, she was deeply impressed that he remained upright and shouting right back at the templars. Granted, he was clinging to his staff like a wilting vine and there was a grey pallor under his bronze skin - he wasn't going to last long against a dozen-odd templars.
Trembling like a newborn lamb, Eve mustered the strength to stand beside Dorian. Hiding her hands in her sleeves, she curled a favourite incapacitating spell in her fists - it would make the victim spew from both ends horribly unless she chose to relent.
She wasn't going to be executed without a fight. Not again.
"Templars! Cease nullifications!" A deep voice roared, cutting through the chaos.
Dorian slumped as the templars obeyed, but maintained his barrier, now as fragile as spidersilk. The templars to her right stepped aside to make room for a tall armored soldier to stride in to the circle.
It was immediately apparent why every single templar had their eyes trained on the man.
"Is that supposed to be a lion head?" Eve muttered to Dorian as the soldier approached.
"It's supposed to be a travesty," Dorian muttered back.
Lionhead would have attracted attention anywhere he went due to his height and breadth alone. If that didn't work, then the way he walked - self-assured, ready for anything, wearing a fortune in steel and carrying a sword and shield like he didn't notice their weight - would have made anyone wary. Yet, crowning the formidable soldier was a steel helmet fashioned to look like a lion baring its mouth in a roar unfortunately paired with a ruff of crimson fur. An opening between the jaws allowed the pale man inside the armor to glare out at them as he came to a halt right outside of Dorian's barrier. All she could see of his face were the hard planes of his cheekbones, heavy brows pinched into a V, and snapping eyes that tracked every shiver she tried to suppress. It was familiar - too familiar to mean anything other than 'templar' through and through. Every Circle mage knew that look.
Just as every Circle mage knew that a templar could break their magical defenses, if pressed. Eve flinched when the shimmering barrier cracked and dissipated under the hand Lionhead laid on it. Her mind distantly noted that strangely, Lionhead flinched when it broke as well. "Mages, identify yourselves," he ordered in a tone that brooked no compromise. She'd thought that maybe he was Orlesian, based on his fashion sense, but that accent was as Ferelden as the mabari statues behind him.
A startling thought popped into Eve's head. Was this the legendary Herald of Andraste?
Heart drumming, Eve shared a nervous glance with Dorian. He gave her a subtle nod and braced her with a reassuring arm around her shoulders. The burst of affection she felt for him gave her the strength to finally speak. "My- my name is Eve. This is Dorian." She gulped down a breath and finally - finally - started giving the warning that had beat in their hearts since escaping the castle. "We bring grave news from Redcliffe," she said, pointing east into the mountains gleaming pale in the moonlight, "right behind us is an army of rebel mages. They are drugged and being controlled by someone called the Elder One." Eve watched Possibly-the-Herald's eyes widen as he realized that the inky shadows and specks of torchlight crawling over the snowy foothill was not the shadow of the mountain, but hundreds and hundreds of soldiers marching down to the trail that would take them to Haven's gates.
Before she could elaborate on how the rebel mages were being twisted by red lyrium and plead their case, Dorian continued. "They are under the command of the Venatori," he said, pointing at the closest cliff. Two dark figures, one of which was impossibly tall were just visible in the distance. "One of them is Calpernia. She commands the Venatori for that, the Elder One." He dropped his hand and fixed Possibly-the-Herald with an imperious look, only marred slightly by the fact that he was still clinging to his staff. "They were already marching on Haven. We are not with them. We actually risked our lives to get here first to warn you. Fashionably late, I'm afraid."
"How do you know this?" If Possibly-the-Herald was shaken by the news, it didn't show.
Eve shared another quick glance with Dorian. "We were at Redcliffe," Dorian said evasively just as Eve blurted, "We saw the Venatori take control of Grand Enchanter Fiona and the rebel mages."
She didn't need Dorian's foot helpfully trodding on her toes to know that she'd said too much.
Possibly-the-Herald scrutinized them. "Because you are also rebel mages or part of these Venatori?" he asked softly.
They were saved from having to answer when a small group of people pushed through the line of templars.
"Cullen, what's going on?" a brunette woman asked in a noble's precise accent as she hastily buckled her breastplate. She didn't seem to notice the crown of elfroot leaves and wine bottle corks sitting on her head or the empty mug swinging from her sword hilt.
Possibly-the-Herald urged her back and firmly planted himself between her and Eve and Dorian. "Herald, you should stay back, these two may be forward spies or assassins-"
This was the Herald of Andraste? Was this a joke? Disbelief and disappointment sank like a stone in Eve's gut as she surveyed the unremarkable human woman. Chestnut hair, heart-shaped face, an aquiline nose and fair skin that smacked of noble blood. Drunk noble blood, judging by the high flags of color on her cheeks. She was a couple hands taller than Eve, with a lightly muscled build that hinted more at horseback riding than needlepoint but… where was the holy aura? The larger-than-life stature that Lionhead had in spades? She didn't seem able to close the Breach anymore than closing a wine cask. And she didn't seem to have any sort of holy mark on her anywhere. Were the stories of a brilliant, demon-defying symbol blessed into her hand by Andraste just that - stories?
They might as well bend over because they were so screwed.
"We don't have time for this, Commander," a tall, short-haired woman said brusquely as she shouldered up to him. The sword she was holding seemed rather pointless - that scowl was deadly enough.
"Cassandra is right," an alabastor-pale woman in purple robes and eyes like ice chips chimed in. She was reading from a scrap of parchment paper, uncaring that a large black crow was squatting on her shoulder. "My scouts say the first wave of soldiers are approaching the eastern bridge."
The Heraldic-Disappointment turned to peer into the mountains. "Cullen, give me something. Anything!" she ordered. Eve begrudgingly gave her a sliver of respect for keeping the I'm-shitting-bricks note out of her voice.
Lionhead shook his head, unhooking a horn from his belt. "Haven is no fortress," he said ruefully, "If we are to withstand this monster, we must control the battle." He somehow fit the end of the horn under the jaw of his helmet and blasted a series of notes into the night air, then started barking orders. Wincing, Eve pressed closer into Dorian's side as the templars fanned out into a defensive line around the gate and other soldiers behind them began shouting to each other and running. The Heraldic-Disappointment vanished in the flurry of activity, along with the scary woman and crow woman.
"Evey, think it's best if you stick to the back," Dorian said gently as he stepped away from her. Raking his hair out of his face, he shook himself and bounced on the balls of his feet with renewed vigor. "We're going to need your cheery bedside manner soon. Tevinters turn everything into a pissing match when 'honor' is on the line. Which, of course, it always is."
She shivered in a sudden gust of snow. "And where are you going?" She tried to convince herself that her voice didn't sound as pathetic as it seemed. Now that it didn't seem like the Heraldic-Disappointment and her people would kill them on the spot, Eve had started permitting herself to take a breath. She and Dorian had hoped that they would arrive early enough to warn them and escape with them out of the Elder One's reach, but here they were - sitting ducks. What was she going to do? She didn't have any delusions that she would be an effective fighter in the ensuing fray. She'd get creamed into elf-pate. And what was she going to do without Dorian?
"Well, I didn't come all the way here just to hand them the warning and run. There needs to be at least one sane Tevinter fighting against these fanatics." Dorian glanced around and noticed a couple templars approaching them. "Oh good, here are your ruthlessly efficient southern templars. Charming. Hopefully with some spare lyrium so we don't collapse after the first volley of pleasant exchanges," he said with a grim smile, and stretched out an expectant hand.
If Eve had ever seen anyone else go from smiling to looking like they'd been gobsmacked by a frying pan in a blink, she couldn't remember it. Dorian blinked dumbly at the silver shackle that cuffed one tanned wrist to the other. Eve yelped as a templar reached around to do the same to her.
They stumbled as the templar yanked them through the wooden gates. "You're to stay together and stay silent in the Chantry. Commander's orders."
"-LEAVE IT, IT'S NOT WORTH-"
"There's a whole horde of them-"
"-will the gate hold up-"
"-you have to stick by me-"
Pale, panicked faces streamed by as villagers fled into the Chantry. They clutched their meager possessions to their chests, the torchlight flicking over the whites of their eyes as they swarmed like panicked rats past Eve. Children cried and clung to their coattails as Sisters tried to direct the chaos, their shouts shredding away into the cacophonous din. Eve swallowed a curse as she dodged back behind the helm-headed templar guarding her and Dorian. A burly bald man cradling a soot-stained hammer barrelled by, almost catching Eve's cheek with his shoulder.
Despite the river of jabbing knees and elbows, Eve was loathe to give up her piece of prime real estate by the open Chantry doors. She couldn't have retreated further into the warmth of the only stone building in the village anyway, what with the iron shackles weighing down her wrists and held tightly in their guard's hand. He seemed just as intent on watching the snowstorm outside for a hint of the battle as they were. Clashes and cries pierced the night, cloaked in a shifting veil of snow and shadows.
Eve's jaw ached with how tightly she was gritting her teeth. With every scream carried on the winds and she tried to will her elven eyes to be sharper, to actually see the Elder One as he marched his army into the village. Judging by the distance of the sounds of battle, the Herald's army was putting up a good fight - but she and Dorian had fled past fields of Venatori soldiers when they'd escaped Redcliffe. The Herald and her disappointingly small army may have closed what Helm Head had called The Breach and scarred the sky shut, but what could they do against thousands of well-armed soldiers and dozens of mages hopped up on red lyrium?
Randolph's face passed through her mind, crimson crystals bursting between the cracks in his waxy skin as his brow furrowed in confusion, his stunted tongue garbling between broken teeth…
"Is this the heroic welcome you were expecting?" Eve said tightly, elbowing Dorian rather harder than necessary. Andraste's frothy cock wallet, she needed a distraction before she did something marvellously stupid. Like hunting down that villager and taking his hammer to break her wrist, squirm out of the shackles, heal them whole and actually do something useful. That would take her mind off of feeling like a cornered rat… or from dwelling on that savage crimson song that was draining from her veins.
Dorian chuckled bleakly. "As well as could be expected, given that my idiot countrymen are doing their damndest to kill the one true Herald of Andraste," he said, flourishing his shackled hands in mock merriment.
Right, the completely generic and tipsy human noblewoman. She was probably barking orders from behind three lines of soldiers or letting someone else do all the work. Eve frowned. "Do you really think that she's the Herald? Because if she is, we're kind of screw- you there, stop!"
Maker of Makers, here was the perfect distraction. Distraction came in the form of a human man stumbling past her who bellowed in pain when she caught him by the arm. "What the void are you-" he recoiled away when he spotted the iron cuffs. "Maker's balls, you're those apostate spies!"
Either he was one of the villagers who'd seen her and Dorian being frogmarched through Haven, or gossip spread ridiculously fast even in the thick of battle. Figures. "We aren't. And you definitely need a healer-" Eve yelped as she was yanked away.
"What do you think you are you doing?" the guard demanded, apparently deciding that this was the perfect moment to finally do his job. "Back, apostates! And stay here-"
Dorian snorted, yanking back on the shackles. "What do you take us for? We may be mages but we are housebroken. It's not like we were going to widdle on the Mother's blessed carpet in the middle of a battle-"
"Look at him," Eve demanded, pointing with her chin since her arms were busy trying not to part with their sockets. The once-blonde hair on the left half of the villager's head was crinkled and black, his quilted gambeson singed and smoking, and the skin around his nose and mouth was swollen like a ripe strawberry. Obviously Burned Man was bent double with his puffy red hands braced on his knees, doing his best to cough his lungs out. Between chest-rattling hacks, he laboriously whistled in breaths. Stretching her magical senses, Eve could feel that this man's life force was dimming with each strangled breath. She didn't have much time. "He is whistling. Meaning he's having trouble breathing in air, otherwise known as the stuff that helps keep you alive?" She gave the helm-headed guard a withering look - it had been a few months since she'd been among templars. Had they always been this thick-headed? "Surely you've heard of it."
Helm Head gave Obviously Burned Man a terse once-over. "What happened to you, Seggrit?"
The muscles in Seggrit's thick neck jumped as he whistled in a breath and hacked out grey phlegm. "Storeroom caught fire somehow," he wheezed. "Got out by the skin of my teeth. I'm taking it out of the Inquisition's payroll for my lost goods."
"Right," Helm Head drawled. "Just find Mother Giselle. One of the Sisters will help you."
"Don't have to tell me twice," Seggrit said, tears clearing tracks in his charcoal-smeared cheeks. "Keep them away from us," he spat as he limped away.
"I'm starting to see a theme in everyone's gratefulness here," Dorian muttered as he glared at Seggrit's singed back.
Eve waved that aside - she'd said goodbye to getting any thanks the second the templars had blasted them with Silence - and glared at Helm Head. "Sisters?" she scoffed, gesturing to the throng of villagers cowering behind her. The Sisters' white robes flashed as they ran back and forth, guiding the villagers through doorways on either side of the great hall. "He needs a real healer, not someone who will tell him to suck on a snowball and call it a day. His airway is swelling shut and he's going to need magical healing-"
"That is not for you to decide," Helm Head objected, eyes jumping from her to Dorian and back again. "Neither of you are to unleash magic until you are verified by the Commander or the Nightingale and seeing as they are busy, you will shut your blighted mouths."
"So we are to sit around and wait for this Elder One to crush us after we barely survived the thankless journey to get here and warn the Herald?" Dorian asked imperiously, though there was a telltale heat to his words. He gestured at the Chantry doors furiously, "How many times must we repeat ourselves? We are of far more use helping you fight out there against the-"
Helm Head pulled the chain taut, yanking Dorian's hands back down. "Try that and you will be silenced," he promised.
"Alright!" Eve said, thrusting a hand in the middle of Dorian and Helm Head's tug-of-war. "No magic or we'll be gagged faster than a whore in a Chantry, got it." She dropped the placating tone and raised a single finger. "One stipulation: let us flag down a healer, because that man's condition is serious. He's obviously inhaled a lot of smoke and it's swelling his airway. It may not stop until it is choked shut. He needs a healer who knows what they are doing and he needs one now."
Helm Head paused then glanced around the Chantry. "He will have to wait. I have not seen Adan all night… he may still be out in the village," he said, a note of uncertainty creeping into his voice.
Dorian tossed his head impatiently. "Then summon the others. Or let Eve go, she's a decent mage healer and more than capable of unswelling his airway or whatever."
Helm Head shifted his weight from foot to foot. "We don't have one," he admitted, "The Sisters are knowledgeable and have been caring for the-"
"Hold on," Eve said, the corners of her lips tilting upward in a disbelieving grin. "Surely I've misheard you. Are you saying that this village, that the Herald of Andraste and her blasted army don't have healers?"
Helm Head made a noncommittal sound. "We do. The Sisters do what they can with Adan's assistance. Although, he is more of an alchemist..."
She stared at him in outright disbelief, aghast. No magical healer? All Haven had were some Chantry Sisters and an alchemist? The memory of every cut, scrape and bruise that had glared out at her from the villagers' chalky skin as they ran past jumped to the forefront of her mind's eye. She had thought that the Sisters would lead the villagers to safety, and in those rooms receive healing from a proper healer or surgeon. How had the Herald survived so long without one?
Icy horror bloomed as a thought occurred to her: how will the Herald survive the Elder One and save them?
"MOVE! Where is Adan?"
The shout interrupted her daze. They turned to see two templars lurch through the doors, supporting another templar draped between them as stragglers followed them inside. Eve grit her teeth again upon seeing that Lionhead was one of them, easing the insensible templar to lie face up on the Chantry floor. Orange torchlight slid over furrows and hand-sized dents in the templars' armor, and dark stains glistened in the light. Brunette hair matted with blood spilled out as the caved-in helmet was lifted away to reveal a woman, chalky under her tan and vacantly staring up at the ceiling.
Before she knew it, she and Dorian were doing stupid little hops to catch themselves from falling as Helm Head dragged them over like dogs. If she ever got out of this, Eve promised herself a hot bath and a night with someone who owned a pair of strong, miracle working hands.
Dorian steadied her from tripping as they reached the templars. Helm Head stood before Lysette, seemingly dumbstruck. Lysette didn't seem to have the faintest idea that she was lying in the grimy rushes of the Chantry, nor that her commanding officer was standing nearby barking orders at soldiers and messengers. Her eyes were fixed in the far distance, one of them a yawning pit while the other was a pinprick in a flat chestnut disc. The left side of her head was a snarled, bloody mess of snaggled hair and crusted blood. Whoever, whatever had done this had enough brute strength to cave in plate metal like tin… perhaps it had been an abomination.
Lysette wouldn't be out of place in the Circles. The double doors would silently swing open, allowing Eve, Old Turin and a contingency of templars to walk into what had once been a laboratory, a library room, a dormitory. Sometimes the rooms were wrecked beyond words as if a giant had shaken its contents like a salt cellar; sometimes, the rooms were remade into filthy nests decorated with glass shards and bones. Sometimes, the room was ordered on a different plane - as if the abomination had taken affront to gravity and had nailed everything to the ceiling as a giant middle finger to the natural laws of the world. In all cases, after the abomination was killed, Eve had walked past dead templars who resembled jam mixed into crumpled steel with the surviving templars little better off. The worst times were when the abomination hadn't outright crushed them and instead played with the templars for a time. Those had been the most critical patients to care for… and the ones who slipped through her fingers.
Hopefully this one would receive help from this Adan person or whatever. Splinters of white glimmered out from Lysette's hair; was that bone-?
Eve's magic was bathing them all in cool, pale blue light before she even realized that she'd called it forward.
Immediately, the templar trying to unbuckle Lysette's chestplate and Helm Head were on their feet, hands on their sword hilts. "Cease-"
"We have been over this," Eve snapped, "I am a spirit healer, not a spy or a demon. Let me help or she will die."
"How could you possibly-"
Dorian gestured at the bloody side of the templar's head, his dark brows knit together. "How could anyone not know is the better question."
The templars glanced at each other, then at Lionhead's back as he conferred with a female soldier in an orange hat. "Help them without magic, then," Helm Head said tightly.
Eve rounded on him incredulously. "Andraste's braided pits, what in Thedas can I do for a hemorrhaging skull fracture and a comminuted rib break piercing her lung without magic? Slap on a bandage and pray the Maker makes it quick? Assuming that we survive waiting around like idiots, the Sisters won't have it easy when scraping her brains off the cobblestones before the next service-"
"I don't know!" Helm Head shouted, his voice cracking. "Maker, this is the best I can do-"
"No, what you can do is let competent people do what they are good at," Dorian advised, not unkindly.
"I can't go against orders-"
Eve was seeing red and about ready to blow an aneurysm. She wheeled on them and called to the tin soldier overlord before they could protest. "Hey! Lion- uh, Ser!"
Lionhead wasn't listening as he marched to the Chantry doors. Soldiers trotted to and fro around him as they came to give information and left with new orders. "Threnn, reinforce the Chantry defenses. Holden, lead your squadron to the eastern trebuchet and meet-"
Eve screwed up her courage. "Knight-Commander!" she shouted.
That got his attention. Lionhead turned and glared, his cold eyes making her skin ripple in chills. "Do not call me that, apostate. I am no templar."
If it barks like a dog and acts like a dog… Under the weight of all the soldiers turning to look at her, Eve forced her spine straight. "Ser, you need a healer. A mage healer-"
"We have Adan," Lionhead dismissed. He scanned the crowd over her head as if expecting for the not-healer-slash-alchemist to pop out of his hiding place at any second.
"We don't, Ser," a pale woman standing at his shoulder replied crisply. The strange hat she wore had extra flaps made for no purpose that Eve could discern, the entirety dyed a glaring shade of orange, possibly to match the wearer's eyebrows. Eve could see Dorian in her peripheral vision, eyeing the trembling feathers topping the atrocity with a sort of affronted mirth. In that split second, Eve dubbed the woman 'Hatrocity'.
"Haven't seen him come in, yet," Hatrocity finished.
"As I said," Eve reiterated, "you need-"
"What I need is for you to-"
"My apologies, Commander," Helm Head interrupted, yanking Eve back, "I have repeatedly told her-"
Eve yanked the chain right back, though Helm Head didn't budge so much an inch. "That you would rather this woman die than let a mage help her!"
"That's not what I-"
"I am a spirit healer," Eve said over Helm Head. She pointed a glowing finger at Lysette. "Give me a chance to help her."
Silence greeted her declaration as Lionhead swept his piercing gaze from the top of Eve's unwashed, bedraggled hair down her travel-worn robes to her scuffed boots. A chill worked its way down her spine as Eve crossed her arms and glared back stubbornly; she'd forgotten how unnerving it was to face down a hostile templar in full armor head-on. She had no idea what his face looked like aside from his brown eyes but she did know that the rest of his face was probably set in the same derisive lines that cocked his heavy brows. Eve grit her teeth to prevent herself from blurting something dumb and ruining the chance when Hatrocity piped up.
"Right, you're a spirit healer," she said, arching an auburn brow. "Exactly what we need at exactly the right time. Or you could still be a spy, easing into the backranks to stab the Herald from behind-"
"Ser, she's telling the truth," the templar who had had one foot out the doors said. Eve couldn't bother telling them apart anymore - and at this angle, she couldn't see his face anyway. "That is Enchanter Eve from the White Spire. She was one of the resident spirit healers there before the rebellion. I was stationed there for three months before the Circles fell. She looked after everyone with Old Turin in the Chantry clinic."
"And I will add my vouch as well, if this is to be a vote of all things," Dorian said tartly. "She's taken care of our injuries since our escape from Redcliffe-"
"You mean 'deployment' from Redcliffe," Hatrocity interrupted. Eve's opinion of this woman was past the bottom of the barrel and now digging into bedrock with every word out of her mouth. Hatrocity wasn't even looking at Eve and Dorian anymore, instead scoffing at the templar by the door. "Just because you knew her months ago doesn't mean she and this other apostate haven't been recruited by that maniac since-"
"Are we all forgetting that Eve and I both risked our lives to get here?" Dorian asked with a tight grin, though his tone was rather testy. "Effective spies are usually alive, if I recall. We would have to survive this invasion and so far the Elder One's army seems to be doing its best to kill all of us, so-"
Eve opened her mouth to do something to end all this pointless arguing while there was someone dying on the floor right in front of them when Lionhead suddenly marched over, the small crowd scrambling to get out of his way. She watched, dumbfounded, as he fished out a small silver key from the depths of his cloak and popped open her manacles.
YES! Eve had to stop herself from punching the air, settling for rubbing her chafed wrists instead. She finally had those icy and embarrassing leashes off! And despite reminding herself that Lionhead had ordered her and Dorian in shackles in the first place, she could feel her respect for him climbing. Perhaps he truly cared for the soldiers in his command and had some sense; magic was useful, especially when someone didn't have to needlessly die. Feeling like she should probably give him a quick thank you before turning to her patient, she opened her mouth just as Lionhead held up a gloved hand.
"Before you help Lysette," he said grimly, slipping off a gauntlet, "you will heal me."
Eve clacked her teeth shut and scowled, scrutinizing him from head to toe with lightning efficiency. Old and healed breaks, scar tissue concentrated in a T-shape on his face, hands, chest and back along with feet - old wounds in all the signature areas a veteran templar earned over a long career. Other than that, he was in good shape - she couldn't even tell if he'd been in the battle raging outside yet. "Only if you're dying faster than this woman and it doesn't look like you need help breathing," Eve retorted, her newfound respect suddenly as nonexistent as her patience. "Then that Burned Man - Seggrit? - is next-"
She trailed off as Lionhead unsheathed the dagger at his hip and flicked its sharp point over the heavily scarred and calloused palm of his hand. Blood quickly welled and dripped on to the Chantry floor as he presented it to her with a glare. "I am not letting you work magic on anyone else before-"
"Of all body parts, why would you slice your hand?" Eve demanded as she seized the proffered limb, light flaring under her fingertips. "Don't you soldiers need these to bludgeon each other with? What if I weren't actually a healer or botched it?" She shoved Lionhead's hand back at him in disgust, the palm now seamless under the droplets of blood. "Where would you and the Herald's army be, then?"
Lionhead flexed and examined his palm, then looked at her as she chewed her tongue. Yet again, the absurd helmet blocked her from reading the rest of his expression, but there was something undefined in his eyes. "Good thing you seem to know what you're doing, then," he said briskly. "Ivanna, give this mage a draft of lyrium. Mattrin, continue as her guard. And you," he said, catching Eve's eyes with his, "get to work. And stay inside the Chantry."
Eve did not stay inside the Chantry.
Note: Part 2 of the Haven attack will be up asap! Please leave a review if you have a minute :)
Chapter 7: Haven, Goodbye
I'M ALIIIIIIIIIIIVE! I am so sorry for the unexpected hiatus. I moved to a new country, moved back, no big thang. I tried to work on new content but it was a bit hectic during that time. ANYWAY, I did write new stuff - WOOHOO! And now it's posted!
VERY VERY IMPORTANT: this chapter got ridiculously long. Think fire-alarm-REDONK. So I cut it into chunks, with like 6 new pages added to Chapter 6. YOU SHOULD GO READ THAT RIGHT NOW before digging into this chapter. This chapter will still be here! Go for it!
Warnings: graphic violence and descriptions of body parts. It's not Tarantino-level gore, but more descriptive than previous chapters. Also, minor character deaths. You've been warned.
Chapter 7: Haven, Goodbye
Eve did not stay inside the Chantry.
With Ivanna's lyrium pooling in her stomach and chasing away her headache, Eve had done what she could for Lysette. She had pushed the slick edges of Lysette's skull together while ignoring the blood and straw-colored fluid gushing over her fingers, and fused the fracture shut. At some point, she had had to pause to order onlookers to either stop gawking or point their puke outside of the treatment area. After that, she had had the vaguest sense of time passing as she darned tears and plugged holes in Lysette's head. In comparison, knitting the ribs and encouraging the buildup of blood and fluids in the lung to recede back into the veins had taken no time at all. But no matter how many times she had tried to revive the downed templar, Lysette did not wake.
At least she was alive and whole. Lysette's life force no longer flickered and now held a steady glow. Following the Sisters' directions, Mattrin and Dorian had carried her through a side door and down into the dusty depths of the Chantry. There among the huddles of villagers waiting out the battle, they had found a quiet spot to lay out the templar. Eve had been surprised at the sparkle in Mattrin's eyes as he thanked her profusely, going so far as to clasp her bloodied hand.
Brimming with mana and with a victory under her belt, Eve had asked to be taken to Seggrit. She had just healed a cracked skull so the brain hadn't slithered out; a swollen mouth and larynx would be far simpler.
Except that she was too late. Villagers had pointed to a small storeroom, where in the far corner someone had fashioned a small fence of crates and knick knacks. Curled up behind them was Seggrit, slumped against the wall. A quick glance at the grey pallor under his mottled skin and telling silence filling this dusty corner immediately told her that she'd taken too long. Staring at Seggrit's heart sitting like a stone in his chest, Eve reminded herself that blaming the templars wouldn't bring him back; but it drove home the fact that she had to ditch her templar watchdog and leash at some point if she wanted to do some good here. Distantly, Eve remembered the vigorous look of contempt Seggrit had worn earlier; in death, his slack face took on the uniform emptiness of all corpses.
Seggrit may have died but his attitude towards receiving her or Dorian's help lived on among the villagers. No one took up her offer of healing, though it seemed like most of the villagers had retreated into the bowels of the Chantry in relative safety. Surprisingly, the best reception had been the injured soldiers who had started to cluster around the Chantry doors to wait for her. Some had required some persuasion to let Eve anywhere close to their gaping wounds, but between her and Dorian's sharp tongues and Mattrin's firm insistences they had begrudgingly relented. Eve had set to work, with Dorian and Mattrin assisting by sorting out who was dying fastest and holding limbs still or staunching wounds.
Eve had had every intent to 'work and stay inside the Chantry', but that had been before the earsplitting roars followed by two earthshaking rumbles. She, Dorian, Mattrin, and the last injured soldier had burst outside the Chantry to stare at towering tongues of fire licking at the night sky, incinerating broken buildings and throwing the village into harsh relief.
Now… she had no idea what to do.
Shivering in the bitter wind, Eve goggled at the blinding conflagrations. It looked like an abomination had erupted in the village square, one of those incandescent demons of rage trailing a skirt of white-hot lava and incinerating everything in its path. But try as she might, she couldn't hear their signature hair-raising howl… so what had happened? Did that mean the Venatori were inside the village? The sounds of fighting seemed to have died down, but did that mean that they were winning or losing? Should she go find those soldiers and help them there, to give the village and the Herald a better chance? She didn't want to sit around in the Chantry waiting for the Venatori to hunt her down like a rat. Close by, Mattrin and the other soldiers had gathered to murmur among themselves, casting worried looks out into the night.
Eve almost jumped when Dorian clamped a bloodstained hand onto her shoulder. "Did you - did you see that?"
Her heart ratcheted into a frenetic jig at the slight catch in his voice. This was the man who had displayed more alarm at the lack of bathtubs in Ferelden than the Venatori snapping at their heels. "What? What is it?" Eve turned her eyes to the sky as he was, though there didn't seem to be anything to see through the snow besides thick clouds and a faint, pearly shimmer from the moon. "Is it-? The Elder-?"
"No, no. I just thought I saw a dragon, is all," he answered with a careless wave. "Must be finally losing my mind-"
An ear-splitting shriek like metal being torn in two pierced the air. A ball of fire lit up the sky like a midnight sun, framed by two large flapping shadows. Another metal-tearing shriek rent the air and the ball of fire soared through the sky, erupting in the distance.
"Venhedis lassa," Dorian swore.
"Crud cakes," Eve agreed faintly. What else could you say to a motherfucking dragon attack?
The soldiers around them were in a panic, clamoring among themselves as Rude Orlesian tried to keep order. Mattrin reappeared out of the fray and shoved a couple bread rolls into her hands before she could even think of protesting. "Eat those. And stay here in the Chantry," he said, swinging his shield off of his back and readying it on his arm. "Take care of the villagers!"
"Where are you going?" Eve shouted as Mattrin jogged towards the village, a handful of soldiers falling in with him. "Are they going to fight a dragon?" Eve demanded to no one in particular. "They're going to roast to a crisp before they get within a ten yards of that thing!" Eve was by no means a draconology expert and didn't think she had Nevarran ancestry, but she assumed that it would take more than poking a dragon with a sharp metal stick to kill it. And that was assuming the dragon even landed instead of raining brimstones and death from the skies. Did that make the soldiers incredibly courageous or incredibly stupid? Or just garden-variety suicidal? She couldn't decide.
"Come," Dorian said, plucking a bread roll from her hands and waving it towards the Chantry. "I am not going to die without a ring of Venatori ashes around me and to do that, I need my staff. You need to get downstairs-"
So, she wasn't alone in thinking that this was it. She tried to swallow around a suddenly-parched throat and ignore her twisting stomach. "I'm staying out here," Eve said, stepping out from his grip. She searched his face, committing the dark fire of his eyes and the concern pinching his brows together to memory. Dorian's 'dastardly Tevinter villain' look had grown on her from his rakish hair to the stubble that had grown since their escape. His chin was still red from when he'd irritatedly pawed at it earlier. "The soldiers out there will need me," Eve explained, gesturing vaguely in their direction with the remaining bread roll before stuffing it into her pocket, "You go find your staff. I won't wait around in a cellar when I could have done something."
Dorian looked almost mutinous and suddenly eyed her right ear as if he'd really like to pull her into the Chantry with him when the dragon shrieked again. It sounded closer this time and they instinctively searched the sky for a hint of its large shadow. "Fine," Dorian griped. "You'd better be here when I get back! Remember, you are patently not allowed to die!" Dorian called before he vanished into the Chantry.
"Where do you think you're going?" Rude Orlesian shouted as Eve darted by. Eve ignored her, summoning a sheath of warmth around her as she followed the soldiers into the biting cold.
The village had seemed small and rough on the way in; now, alight with fires and empty of goggling villagers, it was a strange landscape strewn with dancing shadows. The snow was churned with mud and shouts drifted from the distance. The closer ones came from archers, Eve realized; humanoid silhouettes shot from wooden struts built just below the spikes of the palisade. They didn't seem to notice her as she hurried by, focusing on keeping her footing as she followed the slushy trail of the soldiers' footsteps.
Eve heard the soldiers' heavy armor before she saw them. Firelight gilded the heavy plates as they jogged past a large burning loghouse, the stamp of their heavy boots almost masking their coughs from the heavy smoke. A wooden sign that had not yet been eaten by the blazes proclaimed the building as The Singing Maiden. She trotted along slowly, keen to go undetected until they reached wherever the fighting was - then she could try to sense if there were any injured soldiers nearby and slip away. As long as she kept out of the major fighting, she could hopefully make a small difference in the tide of the battle.
Just as she drew even with the loghouse, Eve felt an insistent tug. Slush and mud sprayed as Eve skidded to a halt. Staring into the bright flames ravenously devouring the wooden walls, Eve stretched her senses - and felt a flickering answer.
Maferath's traitorous balls. Someone was trapped inside. And not for a leisurely nightcap.
"Hey!" Eve shouted over the crackling roar of the fire. There was a large gap where the wall had crumpled inwards - but between the thick, cedar-scented smoke burning her nose and the air rippling over the leaping flames like a mirage, she couldn't see anything. The spark of life was low and still - what if the person was pinned under something? "Can you hear me? Come toward my voice!"
Was that an answering cough? A roof shingle fell at her feet, the shower of embers startling Eve almost ass over kettle. Heart hammering in her ears, Eve checked around for any skulking Venatori soldiers then flung magic at the gap in the wall. Columns of ice burst from the wood only to hiss into steam, evaporating to nothing as flames sprung back up. Gritting her teeth, Eve flung more ice until she was growling wordlessly in frustration. She frantically wracked her brains for a more useful spell - but what else did she have? If a patient needed to be burped or changed, Eve had spells to fix that at her fingertips and so much more. But she hadn't needed to master ice spells further than cooling body parts, and only because she hadn't wanted to lug ice packs from the Circle store rooms in the first place.
Eve's ear pricked as she heard a faint cry over the crackle of burning wood. She faced the crumbling tavern as sweat poured down her sides, the magic stuttering in her shaking hands. Dreading what she'd find, Eve felt for the life force - for a second she couldn't sense it at all. It stuttered, like a hot coal hissing in water before it extinguished.
This was usually the part in the stories where the hero girded their loins and charged in to save the innocent townsfolk. And yet, as the roof sagged in on itself and sprayed sparks into the night, Eve could not make her feet budge any closer to the gaping, fiery maw. Someone was searing to a crisp in there... but she knew with cold certainty that she would only become another roast ham if she stepped foot inside.
Eve dealt with aftermaths. She was good at that. No matter how puffy or singed the elf was after another inevitable fire in the alienage, she'd pressed poultices to their singed limbs or sawed feverishly through charred bones to save what she could. And if they'd resembled little more than crumbling skeletons, well… that had been for their families to deal with. If only the patient were outside the tavern!
Rocking on her heels and yet unable to budge an inch further, Eve knew that she was being a coward. A smart, selfish coward nailed to the mud, watching a life force unfurl into the Void because she couldn't make herself go inside. At times, Eve had idly wondered if she could have been a primal mage or one of the fabled knight enchanters if it had not been for Empathy answering her call all those years ago. When it came down to the wire, would she unearth steel beneath the poultices and bandages? Would she find a hero within herself like the legendary Wynne of the Fifth Blight, or tenacious in the face of uncertainty and furious templars like Fiona?
Throat thick and eyes blindly fixed on the flames, Eve knew that the answer was no.
Eve only had a second to gape at the bright silhouette wreathed in flames before a figure charged out of the gap in the wall. Ashes shook off of the soldier's plate armor as he collapsed into a nearby snowbank with a clatter. Heaving with coughs, he rolled to the side revealing a woman curled up in the snow beneath him.
"Holy- are you alright?" Eve demanded as she hurried over.
The soldier waved her off, coughing. Coughing was good, it meant a clear-ish airway so she focused on the woman lying beside him. Tan skin, short brown hair, puffy red face and angry red burns criss-crossed her arms and chest. Her once-white shirt was in tatters, her corset hanging off of her shoulders by one strap. A long and wide burn with straight edges had branded itself across her back. A plank had been pinning this woman down, Eve thought as she summoned a torrent of magic and poured it into the woman's windpipe. Ears full of the woman's whistling and hacking breaths, Eve concentrated on fighting the inflammation in the woman's windpipe until someone smacked her arm.
Eve ignored it; the inflammation was stubborn. It was like trying to cool a hot kettle by pouring cold water over it - it had to boil the heat away before the water inside calmed. But Eve was even more stubborn and had a decent pool of magic to quell the insistent burn-
A strong hand gripped Eve's arm and pulled her to her feet. "Mage," the soldier said hoarsely over Eve's protests, "Please return Flissa to the Chantry. The enemy forces are getting through the palisade. They were right behind me-"
Eve tried to shake the soldier off. "This woman needs more healing before she can be moved," she insisted, quickly checking the soldier over. He had lifted the visor of his helmet to gasp in fresh air. Finely arched brows, pale skin under the streaks of soot, nose as straight as an arrow and thickly-lashed, pine-green eyes. A young man? His voice sounded young, clear and high under the rasp-
"Herald!" A soldier in heavy armor called as he and a stocky dwarf in dark leathers barreled around the tavern as the roof finally collapsed. The dwarf held some kind of metal and wood tool clutched in his broad hands.
"They're coming 'round! Curly's bringing up the rear- shit." The dwarf planted himself in the middle of the path, aimed the contraption to Eve's left and a sharp snap whipped through the air.
The Herald? Eve couldn't help but stare as the Herald slammed down her visor and unsheathed her sword, turning to rush down the path towards three charging figures. The Herald was here, in the fray like any other pair of boots instead of shouting orders safely from behind three lines of soldiers in the Chantry - that's how nobles usually worked, didn't they? What was this noblewoman doing in battered armor, gallivanting through burning buildings and rescuing the common folk? This truly was the end of the world. Unless she had mistakenly recognized some other female soldier as the Herald, which was entirely possible given that they were in the middle of a fight now-
"Hey, you two!" the dwarf shouted, shoving something into his contraption and lifting it up to his broad shoulder again. "Get your asses through the workshops to the Chantry - path behind us is blocked!"
"Workshops?" Eve muttered, looking around frantically. The path split at the palisade, one way wrapping around the burning tavern and the other curving up on a rocky hill, the top obscured by a low stone wall and skeletal trees. She had had the barest glimpse of this village when she and Dorian had been marched in and no one had graced them with a welcome tour. Flinching as more fighters rounded the burned-down tavern, Eve threw up a barrier and hoisted the woman - Flissa - to her feet. Eve almost wilted with relief when the fighters didn't spare them a glance and ran to the Herald's aid instead. Flissa wasn't healed as much as Eve would like, but they didn't have time to spare for Eve to fix every single problem in her body when the Venatori could charge in at any second. Flissa could walk and talk so they needed to get to safety, now.
Clasping the gaping front of her corset to her chest, Flissa pointed up the rocky path. "This way," Flissa coughed.
Eyes darting everywhere and trying to ignore the mantra of ohshitohshitohshit galloping through her head, Eve trotted up the steps roughly hewn into the hill then screeched to a halt. A battle raged between three rough wooden shacks with a curious clearing in the center of the fray. Soldiers roared and whacked each other with swords and shields, lightning bolts and ice burst through the crowd; it was chaos. Eve couldn't tell who was on what side.
Flissa grabbed Eve's arm and pulled her toward the pointy swords. "There's a path around the corner-"
"ARE YOU CRAZY?" Eve demanded, digging in her heels. Why was everyone still pulling her around? "We have to go back-"
A tongue of bright blue fire caught her eye. The roof of the workshop at the far end was ablaze, the dancing flames flaring from orange to green to blue and back again. The open doorway was guarded by an elven woman holding a staff, a glimmering green barrier keeping the Venatori at bay. A bald and bearded man appeared behind her with a battlecry, whipping a glass bottle full of dark liquid into the melee - and Eve watched as it bounced off of a crested helmet, gracefully spun in the light, then landed in the center of four large clay pots.
The next second, Eve was flat on her back with the wind knocked out of her. A deafening ringing echoed through her head even though her ears felt like they'd been plugged with beeswax. She vaguely recalled that there had been an explosive BOOM a split second before she'd been flung through the air like a doll. At least the barrier had taken the brunt of the impact. Groggily, she stared at the stars and morosely wondered how she turned out to be such an idiot. Go warn the Herald, Felix had said. We'll save them from the Elder One, Dorian had said. No one had said anything about being accused of being spies, getting locked up, and exploded. Aftermaths, Eve thought as she woozily sat up, I should really stick to aftermaths. I'm not cut out for this shit.
What had once been a little square between workhouses was now quiet, except for the multicoloured fire crackling on the flattened shack on the far side. Smoke curled up from a crater in the center of the battlefield, the surrounding soldiers either still or moaning in the mud. Someone was sobbing quietly. Eve quickly squelched a roil of nausea when she realized that the unlucky bastards closest to the crater had been blown into chunks.
"Ser mage!" a hoarse voice called. A figure was rooting through the wooden planks of the burning shack, the flames lighting up the ragged white bodice sagging around the figure's shoulders. "-found Adan!" she called, "They need help!"
Eve was about to snap back that they were the ones who needed help - they had just been blown up for Maker's sake and they were sticking around like ninnies in a temporarily quiet battlefield surrounded by enemy soldiers who could spring up to kill them at any moment - when the body nearest to her arched, gasping.
Eve scrambled back in an awkward crab-walk. Cotton-mouthed and trembling with adrenaline, she was nearly on her feet when the firelight sprayed off rubies encrusting a cheekbone. Eve's eyes focused; the body transformed from a nameless writhing casualty into a wild-eyed woman pouring blood from what had once been an arm. The other hand was outstretched, the air shimmering and distorting around the splayed fingers-
With a shout, Eve dove to the side and blindly cast a spell of paralysis. The mage shouted incoherently with fury, but didn't budge another inch. Snapping a barrier around herself, Eve cautiously shuffled forward on her knees, uncaring of the brown slush of mud and snow.
"Helena?" she breathed.
Helena glared at her, rich walnut skin flushing as she struggled against muscles that no longer obeyed her commands. Her thin lips were frozen in a snarl, the ruby red crystals erupting from her skin almost as if her blood sought to leave her body. She looked half-starved, as if the red lyrium were sucking the muscle and fat from her body and growing a garden from her bones. Back in the Spire, Helena had been unassuming and kind, always quick to praise a student's efforts and compliment the kitchen staff on the daily gruel. She and Eve had sometimes shared tea after a long day of lecturing rowdy apprentices, laughing at the squabbles of the day in the third floor enchanters' lounge. Randolph would sometimes pop in during their chats, showing off his privileges as her student, and sometimes the nights would be cut short when Turin called for assistance in the clinic-
Eve jerked up to her feet, straining her neck as she squinted around in the flickering shadows. Was Randolph here, in the ring of tangled and strewn limbs? Helena couldn't possibly the only rebel mage to have made it this far-
"SER MAGE!" Flissa called, the urgency in her voice ratcheting up as she struggled to pull something from the wreckage. "Please, they're badly burned-"
-what if he was here? What if he was emptying out his lifeblood in the square like Helena, staring up at the cold and distant stars through the warp of a concussive shroud? What if he had been standing too close to those nondescript pots and-
Staring into Helena's hazel eyes, Eve made a decision. Reaching inside herself, she called forth Empathy.
The little square lit up as bright as day as the spirit bloomed to fit just under her skin. Glyphs and sigils flowered in glowing calligraphy in her mind's eye, layered over and through each other as the spell branched out until it enclosed itself in a scripted circle. Eve knew her part and obeyed Empathy's instruction without hesitation. The Veil fluttered under her fingers, never-calm and always rippling; it was flimsy here, wide swaths of it as thin as a pleural membrane. Eve grabbed a fistful of the Veil and deftly twisted it just right; magic cascaded through the spell, torrented through her body and flooded the square.
The bodies closest to her were hit with the first wave. Helena's outstretched arm jerked as the forearm fracture healed itself straight; the dark, steaming puddle underneath her halted in its tracks. The man laying next to her startled awake as his nose snapped back into place; another soldier close by struggled carefully to his side, gawking at the scar tissue springing into the holes in his mangled ankle. Eve couldn't see every single break or tear; but she could sense them fixing themselves, the magic radiating outward from her body. She could even sense Flissa and what had to be the bald man and elven women she had been helping through their rapidly healing burns. Eve concentrated on holding the spell together and allowing the magic to channel through her until the whisper of hurts dimmed in her mind.
Eve blinked as she drew the spell to a close, the magic leaving her almost empty of mana. She let Empathy go with a silent thanks, and felt a warm caress in return. The light faded from her skin as the spirit withdrew back into the Fade but it was enough to survey her handiwork. Helmets bobbed as soldiers started to wake up and push themselves up from the ground, the shuffle of plate armor bringing the battlefield back to life. Their life forces shone brighter than before she'd cast the spell; there were at least ten people solidly planted in the land of the living now.
Now, all she had to do was sort out the Haven soldiers and rebel mages from the Venatori, paralyze their asses and get everyone else to the Chantry. Easy peasy, right? And it looked like the two people that Flissa was helping were already climbing to their feet, so Eve didn't have to worry about them.
Wondering how she was going to move Helena when she was paralyzed, Eve turned to the rebel mage and just barely had enough time to register that the mage was drawing back on her newly healed stump, any flicker of recognition absent from her gaunt face as an intense ball of magic coalesced around her hand aimed right at her face-
Helena's head whipped back in the next moment. The threads of lightning coiling around her hand died as her body fell, slack. Eve's brain distantly registered that the thing now lodged inside Helena's left eye looked like the back half of a short, stout arrow.
"Hey, newbie!" a gravelly voice called from behind, "Nice lightshow, but you realize that half these blighters aren't ours, right?" A sharp twang split the air and a second later, a Venatori soldier struggling to get to his feet collapsed back into the mud.
The next arrow glanced off of the immense barrier that Eve had conjured up as she leapt to her feet. "STOP!" She cried out, curving the barrier so it fit around the battlefield behind her. "Stop, at least long enough so I can find the mages!"
A barrier had also sprung up around the group of approaching soldiers - probably cast by the tall, bald elf in roughly woven robes. His modest wooden staff cast the same green glow that the barrier shed around them. Standing in front of him was a dwarf - the same dwarf who she'd seen just before the explosion - along with a few humans in armor. They were close enough that she could see them casting confused looks at each other from their defensive stances.
"Ser mage," the slightest of them all stepped forward, her voice hard, "explain why you are protecting the Venatori."
"We do not have time for you to give every single person a fair trial," a taller soldier snapped in a harsh accent Eve couldn't place. She stalked forward, the eye painted on her shield seeming to glare accusingly at Eve. "She is clearly the spy we suspected her to be. Let us kill her and be done-"
"I am not!" Eve shouted. A small, slightly hysterical part of her was calculating and recalculating the odds of her survival because by the Maker's foulest morning breath, the laws of the cosmos seemed determined to lay out her bones for the birds tonight. "Look, alright-" she dissolved her barrier, the translucent shell melting away so she stood alone without a spark of magic, "Just listen to me for a minute."
Eyeball Woman made an impatient noise. The soldier who Eve now realized was the Herald held out her arm to bar anyone else from marching forward. "You have ten seconds."
Shit. Where could she even start? "I am - was - a rebel mage but I escaped them to warn you about the Elder One. I wanted your help to save the other mages since they are being controlled by the Elder One with red lyrium," Eve said rapidly, noting that the dwarf took a half-step back in surprise. "It's liquid power, like holding a dragon inside of you and they are addicted, controlled by him. He's the one who drugs and supplies them so now they do whatever he asks instead of helping you, which is what they originally wanted."
A stunned silence greeted her words, punctuated by another snap. The dwarf shrugged unapologetically as another Venatori slumped to the ground.
A soldier built like an oak door and sporting the bushiest beard that had ever bearded scowled. "You aren't making a lick of sense," he said flatly.
Why wasn't there a wall conveniently close by so she could bang her head against it? "Right," Eve grit out, "Let me summarize: I just want to help whatever brainwashed friends I may still have in this pile before we make it to the Chantry."
"Then why heal these Venatori along with them?" Bald Elf asked shrewdly.
Eve deflated a bit. Yeah, that had been a dumb oversight on her part. "I couldn't tell which dying person was a Haven soldier and who wasn't," Eve admitted, lifting her chin even as her cheeks heated up. "It was quicker just to heal everyone."
"And what was the second step in this brilliant plan?" the dwarf deadpanned. He was getting to be a pain in her ass.
Eve crossed her arms to try to regain her poise but shivered in the bitter cold instead. "Sort out the good apples from the rotten, slap on some magical bandages on the good, paralysis glyphs on the bad, and hightail it to the Chantry?" she offered.
The Herald ignored the sounds of disbelief from her team and waved them forward. "Great," the Herald said, unsheathing her sword as she marched forward. And even though the barrier broke off to follow her, she kept her shield between her and Eve. "Then you won't object if we execute the rotten apples and help our men to safety."
Eve clenched her jaw at the word 'execute'. "As long as I can sort through them with you and help any rebel mages I find," she said tightly. "I will, of course, heal any Haven soldiers and villagers that need it as well." Or try to, anyway. Her mana was drying up after tapping into Empathy, as it usually did. But the Herald and her stabby friends didn't have to know that right now.
"Thank you for your offer," the Herald said courteously as she passed.
"But you aren't going anywhere," Pain in the Ass finished. He aimed his contraption at Eve, a tired grin curving over his strong jaw. "Just in case you change your mind," he explained lightly, though his aim never wavered, "I mean, I can't help those guys walk anyway, what with these short legs, but I can watch you at the very least-"
"Herald!" Dozens of soldiers rounded the bend lead by Lionhead. He slowed when he spotted the dwarf, then Eve. "And mage…" he acknowledged her with a glare, "why are you not in the Chantry as ordered?"
"Long story," Eve muttered, stepping out of the soldiers' way as they hurried to help their fellows.
Pain in the Ass chuckled grimly and shouldered his weapon. "Curly, you used to be good at keeping the mages rounded up," he chided.
Lionhead glared down at the dwarf, seemingly about to make a retort when an earsplitting shriek interrupted him from the sky. He faced the frozen soldiers instead. "MOVE!" he bellowed.
"Wait, no!" Eve tried to object as everyone started to scramble. She couldn't see the Herald, couldn't see the other executioners. "The mages-"
Someone shoved her forward to the path - it was the Bushiest Beard. "Couldn't find any!" he shouted as he dragged along a limping Haven soldier. "Get moving!"
Any objections were drowned in the scramble. Roiling between relief and suspicions that the gruff man was lying, Eve almost fell into Flissa as soldiers barrelled past. Flissa was trying to heave her two charges to their feet; Eve fired down magic into the bald and bearded human's foot, almost severed by shrapnel as Flissa pulled the elven woman along. Surrounded by soldiers on all sides, Eve felt a bit like a minnow in a school of glittering silver fish as they jogged towards the looming Chantry.
Eve could only muster up an ounce of dread when she realized that the Chantry was under attack. She caught a few snippets of the battle: Dorian incinerating the last Venatori soldier with an almighty blast of lightning from his staff, Hatrocity lying still in the snow with sword still in hand, a Venatori soldier flying from a well-placed shield bash. But there didn't seem to be many of the opposition left - they were quickly crushed between the Haven defenders guarding the doors and the soldiers approaching from behind.
Warmth greeted her as they finally stumbled through the double doors of the Chantry. It felt like an age ago since Eve had decided (stupidly) to leave the torchlit safety of the stonework building. The bearded man lurched, sending both him and Eve to the floor as the rest of the soldiers stampeded further inside. Gasping, Eve slumped against the wall and counted her lucky stars that she was still alive to enjoy the burning ache in her muscles and the painful stitch in her side.
"Eve!" someone called. "Spirited spirit healer of all healers, we need your magic touch here!"
If it weren't Dorian, she may have pretended not to have heard the call. Then she called bullshit on herself since it sounded like someone needed help. "Over here," she croaked, easing up from her seat and shaking the fog of exhaustion creeping on her mind. "Who's this?" she asked as Dorian sidled through the dissipating throng, helping what looked like a Chantry brother over to her quiet corner.
"A brave man," he said wryly as he eased the older man into a chair by a pillar. "He stood against the Venatori."
"Briefly," the brother croaked, holding himself around the middle. Blood was blooming bright red around his clenched hands, spreading down his white robes. "I am no templar," he said ruefully, beads of sweat gleaming in the torchlight, "nor a battle-ready mage."
"We can't all be perfect," Dorian said kindly. He shot a bright-eyed look at Eve. "Glad to see you made it back in one piece. Can you help him?" he asked in an undertone for her ears only.
Eve nibbled her lower lip as she eyed the now-damp front of the Brother's robes. "Brother, allow me to help you," she said in her best soothing tone. "I need to see your wound first-"
"Herald!" Lionhead called as he barred the doors shut. His broad shoulders slumped as he turned to face the Herald, the lines of her body also weary. "Our position is not good-" Eve almost snorted at the understatement of the age, "-That dragon took back any time you may have earned us. There has been no communication, no demands. Only advance after advance," he said flatly.
"There was no bargaining with the mages either," Dorian interjected from the Brother's other side. "This Elder One takes what it wants. From what we gathered in Redcliffe, it marched all of this way to take your Herald."
The Herald had shucked her helmet to swipe grimy sweat out of her eyes. With lines of exhaustion bracketing her plum lips and looking twenty years older than when Eve first laid eyes on her, the Herald looked over her shoulder at the villagers and soldiers waiting in the depths of the Chantry. Most were human, which didn't surprise Eve - but here and there, she spotted elves and dwarves. While most of them seemed to be soldiers, she was surprised to see that the villagers held swords, shields, even gardening hoes at the ready. Some were downcast, pressing themselves into their friends' and families' sides and clutching their children close. All of them watched the woman with sweat-matted hair and battered armor with hope burning in their faces.
"If it will save these people, he can have me," the Herald declared softly. Eve coughed to cover up how her heart pinched at the raw sincerity in her voice. A cynical part of Eve scoffed at how anyone but storybook heroes could actually spew such cliche lines and swallow them, then she immediately berated herself. The noble whom she'd dismissed as the Disappointment of the Age - the Herald of Andraste - had been running around all night literally fighting off evil and rescuing the innocent. To ignore her squirming insides, Eve studiously returned to coaxing the Chantry brother's hands away from his front and finally succeeded - only to hiss in sympathy at the glistening, gorey mess spilling down the front of his ripped robes.
Eve held the brother's trembling and bloodstained hands away, ignoring the foul stench as she twisted her vision to look inside. His intestines are shredded, Eve noted clinically. This wasn't swordwork; it looked like a bear had treated this man's abdomen like a scratching post. The reek and black ooze had been intestinal contents, never meant to stray outside of the organ walls like it did now, poisoning the surrounding tissues and blood vessels. Even if she weren't achingingly low on mana, it would take hours of intense magical healing with Empathy's guidance and a vault of lyrium potions to reverse the fatal damage in this man. Over half of the Circle templars who had suffered similar wounds to this had never risen from their patient beds again no matter what she and Turin had done. Never mind that his aging body may not bear up through the healing process or that they were in the middle of a losing battle-
The brother suddenly lurched up in the chair with a cough, scooping an arm around his middle again. "There is a path!" he panted, hectic spots of pink staining his stubbled cheeks. He knocked away Eve's hands as she tried to get him to sit back in the chair, suddenly full of rigorous energy. "You wouldn't know it was there unless you'd made the summer pilgrimage, as I have," he continued, addressing the Herald and the motley group assembled around her. "The people can escape! She must have shown me - Andraste must have shown me, so I could tell you…"
"Brother, you need to stop using your core muscles if you want to keep your insides on the inside," Eve said firmly as she pushed him back. He blanched, gasping blindly at the ceiling and trying to clutch his front again, getting in her way. She had at least enough mana to scrape together a basic healing spell, fusing the rips in the skin of his intestines and abdominal muscles together to buy him a little time before he succumbed to the poison. Let the bigwigs hash out strategies and decide the fate of the people crowded under the Chantry roof; she couldn't make such pivotal decisions. She could only stave off exhaustion through sheer willpower and focus on what was under her fingers-
Eve's magic winked out from her hands as the Brother covered them with his own. For a second, she thought he was going to snap at her for using 'magic, the condemned arts'. Instead, he gave her a reassuring squeeze. "Thank you," he huffed, "It is time to start our journey. I must lead-"
"Journey?" Eve repeated blankly. She glanced around, suddenly aware of the people streaming to the back of the Chantry and Lionhead in the thick of it, shouting something about following a man named Roderick. Where was everyone going? "You can't possibly think about walking let alone-"
"Healer!" Pain in the Ass appeared at her side, pulling along the Herald insistently.
"Varric, I'm fine-"
"Ah, no. You aren't," Pain in the Ass Called Varric retorted. He turned back to Eve with a heavy brow raised. "You are a spirit healer, right?"
Eve gestured to the Brother, almost in tears of exasperation. "What do you think I'm trying to do?"
"Great. Does your little ghost pal tell you to, I don't know, kill all templars or blow up Chantries?" Varric asked offhandedly. "Cuz I gotta tell ya, that's gonna cut Ray's plan to save all our asses short if we all die here. And she needs to not have an ankle sprain to go up against a dragon."
"Injured?" the Brother gasped, struggling upright.
Outside, the dragon shrieked again as if it just knew it was being gossipped about. "It's nothing," the Herald said quickly, jabbing an elbow into Varric's shoulder. "We're wasting time here and Brother Roderick needs healing more than I do to lead everyone to safety-"
"You're staying?" Eve demanded incredulously. The Herald nodded firmly, eyes darting from the ceiling to the doors as if waiting for the dragon to burst through at any moment. The realization dawned on Eve that this woman was sincere, ready to be a distraction while everyone else ran away.
"Weren't you here five minutes ago when we were talking about all of this?" Varric asked. "She needs to be shored up-"
"I'm almost completely empty," Eve interrupted numbly, "I poured most of it into the Brother and he may still…" Shit, she hadn't known that the Herald was injured. She needed another lyrium potion, something because the Brother could die in the next hour as he lead them out of the Chantry without more healing while the Herald shouldn't die in the first five minutes of a fight if the dragon snapped her up by the ankle.
"Heal Brother Roderick," the Herald insisted just as the Brother jabbed a tremulous finger at the Herald.
"Heal her," he croaked.
Calling forth the last of her mana was like wringing blood from a stone. Feeling paper-thin and parched, Eve grasped the Herald's hand and shot the spark of magic down to her left ankle, soothing the swollen tendons back to normal.
"Thank you," Varric and Brother Roderick said simultaneously. The dwarf actually sounded genuine. The Herald nodded, gave Eve's hand a hard squeeze before she marched to the double doors, her sword singing as she unsheathed it from her scabbard. Eve wished that she could follow her, to do more to help the Herald of Andraste and the motley fighters surrounding her-
"Come on," Dorian said, marching up quickly from behind. He hoisted one of Brother Roderick's arms over his shoulder and helped the older man out of the chair while Eve quickly helped with his other side. "Evidently, we've got a village to lead."
Note: Okay, so... no promises, but I hope to upload chapters more regularly from now on, since I'm back on home turf. Perhaps not weekly, but I'll do what I can. Please leave a review! They help speed up the writing process it's scientifically proven okay? Thank you!