Actions

Work Header

A Wonderful World

Chapter Text

 

Disclaimer:I do not own the Dragon Age franchise, only my OCs and any other plot modifications and world modifications that I make.

 

A Wonderful World

 


 

Prologue

 

That's the world. Everything you build, it tears down. Everything you've got, it takes. And it's gone forever. The only choices you get are to lie down and die or keep going. He kept going. That's as close to beating the world as anyone gets. – Varric Tethras, Dragon Age: Inquisition

 


 

I should start this by saying, I really should have known better. There’s no such thing as coincidence; it’s an illusion, a fabrication we create because we just want to move on with our lives as if nothing happened. For the longest time, I clung desperately to that illusion, to the belief that being reincarnated into a world I’d once known as a game was nothing more than a coincidence.

It sounds so foolish, now that I think about it. I was so foolish. My only defense is this: the power of denial can never be underestimated.

Yes, it’s a poor defense. Especially for me. Especially after what I’ve done.

So here it is. A compendium of my life’s memories, jumbled together in the hope that someone, anyone, finds it in themselves to understand.

 


 

The beginning is perhaps the hardest part.

I don’t remember a lot of details about the first time I died. There was fear, certainly. Desperation, on some level and regret. I remember a little girl, not mine… perhaps a niece, or a neighbour…running after a ball. There was the smell of burning rubber and the sound of screeching tires. I was reaching, not knowing if I would get there in time. Reaching, it seemed like forever. Reaching… She tumbled away and then…

DL-8882

The paint was missing from the middle part of the ‘D.” I remember that quite clearly and… feeling dumb. I didn’t even know her. Why would I jump in front of a car for her?

There was no memory after that, only vague sensations and pain. There was a time when I was something new, something familiar, and something completely different. I doubt I was meant to remember anything of that time; there was always so much new racing through my mind that I could hardly remember one need to the next, but I didn’t forget what I already knew.  I was a creature driven by pure instinct and need. I would express myself with nonsensical melodic cries that would always bring relief to the needs that drove me, be it in the form of touch or food.

My first memory of this world was when I was still an instinctual creature. I was hungry and I'd learned that crying a certain way resulted in food. A giant figure approached me and lifted me up.

The eyes were a sharp clear grey that reminded me of icebergs. Something in my mind triggered; it felt like a switch going off, like having an epiphany. I reached out, fascinated with my first clear thought.

A sudden scream permeated the room and I fell headfirst.

A primal instinct acted up, the stimulus evoking a strange response. The floor became soft, but an intense exhaustion took over my body.

Why was there screaming? Where was I?

Who was I?

My mind shattered.

 

Chapter Text

AN: A shout out to my beta reader A Markov who helped me improve immensely. A Markov is a great writer, check out his work!


Playing catch

There is always a catch. Life is a catch! I suggest you catch it while you can. – Flemeth, Dragon Age


A rush of memories assaulted me and pounded relentlessly against my psyche. They induced a headache so severe that I lost focus, lost time and lost any ability to retain information. My mind was breaking: it was not ready to handle this sudden influx of information for this was unnatural. People were not supposed to remember past lives, especially not new born babes. If I didn't deal with this information soon, I would go insane. Already, I could feel a fight impulse building, responding in time with a strange stimulus in my body.

The only escape I found was in sleep, so, I slept. A lot.

And in my sleep, I discovered a hidden resource. A land of dreams.

In my previous life, dreaming was normal, trivial even. Lucid dreaming was barely worth mentioning. Even controlling your dreams was quite common unless a person's subconscious came out to play, which in the end, amounted to the same thing. But this was nothing like that. It was like being in a different plane of existence, one that could simulate anything that you could think of and be completely conscious of it. If I extended my consciousness beyond my body, I could exert absolute control over the plane and receive information in return. I called it "extending my aura", and did exactly that as I played, designing landscapes around me as if I were god.

Huh.

Perhaps the most surprising thing was that I could slip between this dream world and the waking one easily. Regardless, it was the land of dreams that presented a solution to my problem.


My memories swam in front of me as they always did, pushed aside so that it couldn't hurt me. Today, I was trying to go through them one at a time, in the hopes that finishing it all consciously would make them fade. One memory was of me burning data onto a CD and then packing it away.

It was ingenious. It was obvious. It was ultimately foolish, in hindsight.

I compressed the memories in front of me, in the way that I remembered studying that these disks stored information; laser lights that stored information in 0s and 1s. But the brain worked with electric impulses so instead of numbers I used different voltages to compress this information that would only activate when I 'played' the disk. Then, I tried to burn them onto a rock.

I failed. What I created, instead, was a raging green fire that burned my left hand until weird squiggly lines appeared on them.

I woke with a jolt, shocked to feel a similar burning sensation on my left hand.

Hadn't that just been a dream?

I started wailing.

Lucidity returned even as I bawled. My mother, it seemed, was a tribeswoman. She was attired in hunter gear, with a large bow fastened onto her back. To add to my theory, her reaction to seeing a third degree burn on a toddler was severely subdued. When she noticed the burn on my hand, she only froze momentarily in concern before dismissing it with a sigh. Such an injury probably seemed negligible to her when compared to the dangers of her profession.

For what seemed like the first time in months, she lifted me up into the air and brought me cautiously in front of her face, rocking me back and forth. There was an odd cut that ran across the bridge of her nose and disappeared under a brown eye patch.

Where did that come from? Oh, wait, she's a tribeswoman.

I looked up and saw her hair tied up, flyaways brushing some odd appendage flapping down the side of her head. The appendage reminded me of Bugs Bunny's ears. Or rabbit ears, as it were.

What?!

I focused on her features and a belated realization dawned on me. She wasn't human.

I was surrounded by aliens.

It's okay. It's okay. If I was right and I'd been reborn then it was foolish to assume that in all the infinite planes and species in the cosmos, I'd be reincarnated on Earth as a human. Being the baby that I was, I was probably an alien too. Or I was the alien to them.

I am the alien .

It felt like a life-changing epiphany. It really shouldn't have been, especially with all the hints around me pointing to the fact that I was in a different world. But the realization brought an aching chasm of loneliness I couldn't shake. I need someone, anyone.

The woman carrying me was my mother; there was no bond more sacred than that. I sighed in relief. And suddenly, it registered that there had been no lullabies for months. The hugs, the soft brushes across my face, the nuzzling, the light kisses on my forehead, they had all stopped. Why? Did she know? In the few months I'd been reborn, I'd never left the wooden structure I called home. Was this why? Was she ashamed of me because I was an alien?

I focused on her face and noticed she looked very serious as she babbled some nonsense at me. She kept me at her hip as she lifted my left hand to her face and amazingly, carried me out of the wooden structure that was home.

As it was the first time I had ever been outside, I stopped crying and turned excitedly, trying to take in all the sights. We were in a forest of some kind, and there was a very tribal setup around the campsite. There were a surprising number of people going about their day, churning pots and cutting different plants and vegetables. There was a man working with weapons on the side and a very primitive chemical lab on the opposite end. It reminded me of the poor in my last life who huddled together and shared the few resources that they had.

All of them had different kinds of bunny ears with weird drawings on their faces.

Mama took me straight to an authoritative man seated at the centre of the village. He was full of smiles and laughter, entertaining a group of children.

Mama said something and held out my left hand, dispersing the crowd around him. The man looked young, only barely old enough to be my father. He was my father, right? Why else would she take me to see him?

He stood in concern and approached me quickly, grasping my hand gently as he observed the squiggly lines on my hand. He made a sound of muted dismay and shifted his gaze to me, pressing his palm to my face and neck. I was abruptly handed off to him and there was another exchange of nonsense.

I'm getting the impression I did something I wasn't supposed to.

There was a sudden wave of force against my being, like wind buffeting against me and I yelped in outrage. When the wave came again, I started crying. Who wouldn't? Nothing made sense. My mother wasn't helping, and a strange man was attacking me, trying to blow me away. I was powerless to do anything to stop them.

This is wrong. This isn't how people should react to their baby getting injured. Why weren't they treating the burn? Why were they attacking me? I felt so sluggish; I could barely muster any emotion except the need to cry. I cried mostly because of the pain, not because my mother apparently had no maternal instinct in her body.

There was a jolt of electricity in my left hand and I shuddered in pain before the memories hit me again, playing from the beginning like a movie. But this time, I noticed the man stood in a trance, likely seeing the same images as me.

NO! He had no right! There was another shock and the images stopped.

I screamed bloody murder.

There was a commotion around me, and the man took me inside a private tent. My mother didn't follow me.

I hoped that neither of these adults were my parents.


I lived with the man, the leader, after that. Mama came to see me sometimes, but I suspect it was more to see the leader than me. She'd give me the obligatory check then scuttle off to her do her work.

Months passed, and I tried to be normal. I learned how to crawl, then walk. An accidental "baba" from my mouth resulted in the leader beaming in joy and peppering me in kisses. That was the first word in that language to enter my vocabulary. His reaction confused me; was he my father?

I didn't spend much time with my mother. The abandonment hurt. Curiosity prompted a jaunt into the dream world to find out why; I had stabbed my mother in the eye when I gained awareness in this world. She feared me. And for me. There was a huge bundle of complicated emotions that I couldn't make sense of.

However, Baba wasn't the same. He seemed accepting of my abilities, though sometimes I'd see a look in his eyes that I couldn't decipher. I ignored it, and just assumed that he thought I was a lazy baby especially since I continued to sleep a lot.

But from then on, I refrained from using the strange stimulus that transcended both the waking and dreaming. I couldn't trust them. Either of them.

These occurrences made me realise that whoever I was before, I couldn't be that person again. It was a different world, with different mechanics and rules, and to survive I had to adapt to it.

But when I was alone, I took comfort in those old memories. I even tried to relearn the scientific and mathematical knowledge from that world, trying to find anything useful that I could apply to this world.

The dream world was my refuge. The one place where I could do what I wanted.


I was reliving my old memories again, trying to recapture that feeling of being loved unconditionally by my parents. I missed it. I wanted it. So very badly.

Suddenly there was feeling that I was being watched.

I momentarily freaked, because I was dreaming. Who spies on dreams? But it was a new plane of existence, and in all the ways that mattered, I was a new born babe to the ways of this world. There was nothing to fear. I was the alien. I just had to deal with this like I was a new immigrant to a new country This calmed me down, and I took a deep breath.

I dismissed the memories away, watching them dissipate into green fumes that retreated into my left hand.

Longing came over me and nearly overwhelmed me. Longing to go home, go back to the universe that made sense to me. And I could, all I had to do was…give in? To what?

Hello?

"Hello?"

There was mild surprise that I identified as a foreign emotion.

"Hello? Is someone there?"

"You can speak. Babes your age can rarely speak so well."

The voice echoed around me, as if coming from all directions.

"But being the place this is, I shouldn't be surprised. Tell me child, do you want to go home?" The voice echoed with mocking laughter.

Oh. A land of dreams, that I could easily manipulate like a god. A voice speaking to me from around me. Was this some afterlife plane that I gained access to because I died? Maybe this was a god?

I was surprised religion had the right of it.

"Do you want to go home, child? Back where you came from? I can help." The voice suddenly changed and became soothing and gentle.

If the tone of its voice hadn't changed so abruptly, I would have bought it. That was the only clue that things weren't as they appeared, and despite being a toddler, I still retained some sense of dishonesty. Or perhaps children were better at spotting it.

Alien. Adapt. Just like an immigrant.

"I miss home, but I'm fine where I am. Hello. Where are you?"

"I'm around you. Do you want to see me?"

"If you'd like?"

A frustrated feeling that was foreign washed over me. A dark indistinguishable figure materialized in the periphery of my vision and I turned trying to get a clearer image. It was hard making out a face, as if I was looking at a pixelated image.

"Hi! It's nice to meet you."

Surprised amusement filled the area, "Meeting babes really is a novelty. What do you desire, child?"

I was picking up a theme here. "Are you here to grant wishes or something? Are you a genie?"

Laughter filled the air again. "Yes, whatever you wish. I can grant you power, anything you desire."

This was too easy. In a world where I couldn't even trust my parents, a genie randomly approached me in my dreams to grant me wishes? If the world was really that magical, why were my parents living in an impoverished tribe instead of magical palaces with unicorns? Where was the "foolish" wand waving? Where was Hogwarts?

But, I had to admit, the con was nearly successful. It played on all the assumptions I made.

This time, I was the one who laughed. "We haven't even done introductions. What's your name? Who are you?" Because asking what are you was just offensive.

The figure seemed to glow a little brighter. "I am Desire. I move people into getting what they want, I am not necessity but a want, I make life worth living. I hear all the yearnings of people and provide the ambition to fulfil their life."

It was an emotion. A sentient emotion. Aside from being all kinds of weird, the previous questions suddenly made sense. Desire wanted to know what my desires were. This was like Inside Out. Was I in my inside?

I tried making eye contact with Desire. Its eyes seemed glow brighter. "What do you desire, for I am inside you and can help you achieve it."

It felt like I was under a trance, but there was a fullness in my head and a compulsion to answer. I tried to expel that feeling from me and felt a migraine build up.

"There's too much inside already. What a pity. A somniari like you already filled up."

I couldn't affect pleasantness anymore. Desire had just tried to mind control me and proven it was hostile.

I didn't know what it was. I didn't know how to fight it. The land of dreams wasn't safe for me anymore.

I could only wake up.

Chapter Text

AN: Thank you, A Markov, for your excellent beta skills!


What is a god?

" Most misunderstandings in the world could be avoided if people would simply take the time to ask, "What else could this mean?"

Shannon L. Alder


I couldn't escape from the land of dreams because I couldn't escape the need for sleep. What had once been a refuge became a prison. Desire would not leave me alone.

I did the only thing I could; I ignored it. It was not easy.

I focused on the waking world and threw myself into everything around me. I played, I ran around, I tried very hard to learn about everything around me. I did not let myself feel fear or desire or even happiness; I made sure I was too exhausted to feel any emotion when I fell asleep.

It was during a history lesson that Baba was giving us that I figured out where I was.

"-Elven calendar works from the founding of Arlathan. It's denoted by FA. It is currently 8413 FA. Tevinter copied the Elvhen calendar system but have a different start date. However, Andrastians have a different calendar system. The Chantry measures time in Ages and each Age lasts for a century. Now, it is the Dragon Age and before that was the Blessed Age. The numbers are denoted-"

Dragon Age. Despite being handed this information on a silver platter, I rebelled against the very idea of it. How could it be possible? What were the chances of me being reborn into a world that had been defined in the confines of a game in another? But the facts added up: I had rabbit ears. I was an elf with a clan. A Dalish elf. I visited a land of dreams when I slept. I knew a spirit named Desire. Desire called me a somniari, someone who could transverse between the dreaming and the waking easily.

I was an elven apostate mage. One of the most hated existences in this world. In Thedas.

I couldn't control my disbelief. How? How was this possible?

Even worse, I was not prepared – who would be? . I had played the games and had been a fan, but I hadn't obsessed. I had never bothered to read codex entries or gather information about the world. I'd always been surprised when a whimsical decision resulted in grave consequences in the game. My friend had obsessed. He had gone on and on about the lore in the game.

A game.
This was a bloody fucking game. No wonder these people didn't react properly to anything;. they were NPCs. I was the playable character. I was god. I was supreme.

Yes, that makes sense.

This world will bend for me for I am the only real thing in it.


I was a horrible child.

I grabbed other's food when my own didn't suffice. I stole anything that I thought that I could use. I demanded information from my Baba as if it were my right. I treated everyone like they were NPCs to be exploited.

I killed for the first time at the age of four. No one expected it from me, there had been no need for it. I stabbed a fennec simply because I wanted to see if loot would magically appear. It didn't, but we did use the fur and meat, so loot it was.

I treated the world as if it were a game.

I didn't even fear Desire anymore. I felt invincible and whenever Desire tried to tempt me, I would just grin at the spirit in condescension. What need did a god have for desire, especially since I knew the world would bend to my whim?

The Fade was mine. I owned it. It would bend to my will because I was god. And no spirit, no sentient emotion, would have any sway over me. This world was mine.

Desire changed.


It was my mother who snapped me out of my ego trip.

"Who taught you to behave like this, da'len?" I had pushed a boy in front of me violently to the floor so I could get to the food first. She slapped me twice across my face when I sneered at her.

Hostile enemy. I kicked her across her shins. I grabbed some dirt and threw it in her face, turning to run in her distraction but she picked me up by the collar of my tunic and threw me to the floor..

There was a snap, like someone pulling something out very quickly, then -

THWACK.

I turned in alarm at the stinging pain in my back to see her holding a belt. She prepped the belt again to swing and I hunched as she swung again, trying to dodge her sharp blows. She didn't miss. I cowered on the floor as she held me down and swung again. And again. And again.

She belted me that night in full view of the clan. No one came to my defence. I learned later that no one wanted to come to my defence. I crawled away when it was done, huddling under a tree away from the camp, trying to stay still so that my tunic wouldn't rub against the welts.

There's nothing quite like flogging to remind you that you aren't invincible. That moment when you realise that another being has absolute control over your pain, and they just won't stop hurting you. You have no control over it, can't make them stop, because you're truly helpless. It's the oldest form of domination, ubiquitous in every civilization, every species, every universe.

It hurt. My back was stinging, and I could feel thin trails of blood flowing down my back. It hurt. Hurts. Hurts.

I was supposed to be god, but, if not a god, then what was I? Why was this happening to me? What had I ever done to deserve something like this?

Mama approached me slowly carrying elfroot paste. I didn't say anything to her. She didn't love me. She hadn't even named me. I spent an entire year thinking she named me Da'len until I found out what it meant. And now, she had thrashed me in full view of the clan.

I didn't need any further proof.

It hurts.

A hand ran gently over my back and I snapped out of my thoughts at the pain.

"What you did was wrong da'len. You cannot behave that way again." Mama lifted my tunic and gently spread the paste over my back. I tried to inch away from her, but her other hand firmly kept me in place.

I cowered. There was a quiet sigh from above me. "You cannot push others. You must respect your elders. You cannot hurt others without reason. Only monsters behave like that…and shem. Do you want to be a shem, da'len? Only shems act like you do." She lifted my face to meet her clear grey eye, "We are Dalish, keepers of the lost lore. The last true remnants of the Elvhen. We must be the best of our people. Do you understand?"

I couldn't help it. I sniggered. Last true remnants of Elvhen? The last true Elvhen didn't even consider Dalish people;. I shared more with the Elvhen in that regards than the Dalish did. I received a sharp flick to my head in response to my sneer.

"What is wrong with you?! This behaviour is unacceptable!" A sharp glare graced her features and I shivered in fear and quieted down. She noticed the abrupt change and came close, looking at me intensely, "What is it, da'len?"

She beats me brutally, then has the audacity to ask me why I'm afraid of her. Fine, mother. If you want to play this game, I'll play.

"What's my name?" Let me see you answer that, dear mother.

She froze. She opened her mouth and closed it a few times. So, this wasn't a normal thing then, they hadn't named me intentionally. While the confirmation didn't surprise me, it still…hurt.

She didn't explain. She just sat quietly beside me, looking torn.

"In two weeks, a special event is taking place called Arlathvhen. Only Hhahrens and Keepers are invited, so when others are invited it's a privilege." She paused and took a deep breath before continuing, "When other clans are having trouble, we help each other out. When one clan has an excess of mages, they offer them to other clans who are lacking-" She stopped at the stricken look on my face.

"How did you know I was a mage?" I asked, unable to hide the quiver in my voice. Right, I'm talking to the woman whose eyes I'd stabbed with ice when I was a baby.

She let out a heavy sigh again, "You showed signs from a very young age. You are a very special mage, one of a kind. A somniinari."

They knew everything?! "W-what's a-a s-sominari?" I couldn't hide the tremble in my voice from my fear. I knew perfectly well what happened to mages that refused to heel, and I'd been nothing but a menace the last few years.

"When you were little, you slept a lot. An unnatural amount. A somniari can navigate easily between waking and dreaming. That place you visit when you sleep, it's called the Beyond. Shems call it the Fade. Keeper Nelran detected a spirit haunting you when it embedded veilfire glyph onto you. The desire demon hasn't left you alone since, and Keeper fears what will happen when it overpowers you. He doesn't think he can help you." She was looking straight while talking, not making eye contact.

Why? Why did she expect that I would understand everything that she said? It didn't matter that I did understand, to her I was a five-year-old child!

Then a horrible realization dawned. This was just a clearing of her consciousness. She was telling me this because she truly thought I was beyond hope. That I had no chance of living through childhood. It explained why I hadn't been disciplined before this; they had feared I would become an abomination. They probably still did.

She can't do this! She can't do this to me! She's supposed to be my mother!

"So, you are looking for people who can help me." There, I provided her an excuse. A nicer way to say she was throwing me away. I wonder if she will refuse. Please, refuse. I looked at her face, willing her to make eye contact. Please, just look at me.

She continued to stare straight ahead, "Yes."

I couldn't bear it. She was accepting something that we both knew was a lie. She didn't even try. She doesn't want me. She doesn't want me!

"Mama, I'm sorry. I'm really really sorry. I'll be a good girl. Please don't send me away!" I cried out, gasping. The only change in her I could see was that she clenched her fists. "Mamae, mamae please!"

She was sending me away, so that she didn't have to deal with me. Didn't even bother naming me because she considered it a wasted effort. She doesn't love me. Why? Why don't you love me?

It was the first time I broke through my perception of her as my mother and saw her. Saw her as something beyond a person who saw to my needs. As I tried to rub my tears away, fighting the clogged feeling in my throat, I finally noticed the trembling in her hands. Her face that was turned away from me had droplets falling from her face. I could hear her take deep shaking breaths.

It was working!

"Mamae, please! I won't trouble the others anymore. I'll be the best Dalish in the world." She still didn't turn to look at me. If only she'd look at me. Please look at me. "Mamae, please, please just look at me. See me!"

I was suddenly lifted and tucked into her breasts. Mama was heaving and shaking, trembling as she held me tightly to her chest.

I could do nothing but cry. I knew what this meant. There was no hope. The damage was done. I cried until there were no more tears. I vengefully rubbed my snot all over her shoulders. She deserved that and more.

"What's my name Mama?" The least she could do was remember it, so she'd remember me. Remember the fact that she abandoned me to my fate. I wasn't stupid, I knew she was right. The chances of me surviving beyond childhood was low. It was the fate of sominiari.

"What name do you want?" She asked gently, the quiver in her voice showing me that her face wasn't dry either.

This question posed a welcome distraction, one I grabbed desperately. Legolas! No, too masculine, Ameridan! Too wonky, Mythal! But that felt too much like borrowing divinity and it was pretentious. Solas! But that name would only be funny when I met the guy, and that was a huge condition clause.

"I don't know."

"Do you like Erelani?" She combed gently through my hair and I noticed she smelled like elfroot and petrichor. There was a faint hint of eucalyptus, but it was buried deep. The odd mix of smells was memorable, and I couldn't help but snuggle in.

"What does it mean?"

"It means one who dreams. Do you like it?"

Wow, mama, you're so original. I can just feel the effort you've put in, "Hmmm."

"How about Telana? It comes from telanadas which means that nothing is inevitable. It's my name too."

"Erelani is good." I looked up at her finally and caught her one-eyed gaze. At least she never told me that I was the one who hurt her. I could give her that. "Is the Keeper my baba?"

There was a long pause. "No, da'len. Your baba died when I was still pregnant with you. The shems attacked a group of our hunters when they were out hunting."

Oh. The Keeper was a better man than I thought. He was a better parent to me than Mama had ever been.

"Mama, are you sending me away because you hate me?" Because why else was she throwing me away? Why not twist the dagger in a little deeper? I'm not going to let her get away from this so easily, not when she hadn't even raised me.

"No, Erelani. I don't hate you. I didn't finish telling you about Arlathvhen." I noticed she didn't say she loved me either. "Keepers of all clans come together every ten years for Arlathvhen. It's a secret meeting where they discuss extremely important things. When a clan needs something, like mages, or any specific craft that is exclusive to that clan, special requests are made." She raised me so that I could see her face. "When Keeper Zathrian heard about you, he was eager to take you in."

Keeper Zathrian. The Keeper who cursed humans with the werewolf curse and let his clan suffer so that he could enjoy immortality.

Fuck.

"But I want to stay here. I want to stay with you, baba and the Ghil'ain clan."

"It's the fate of elves to endure. A lesson you should learn as early as possible." Her voice echoed with the bleakness that came with experience.

As unfair as it was of me, I hated her in that moment. Not only was she abandoning me to a clan that was routinely attacked by werewolves, she had effectively killed any delusions that I had of my godhood.

I stood up and looked up into the starry night sky. This was probably the first and last heartfelt moment I'd share with my mama. A moment initiated only after I was beaten by her.

My mother doesn't want me. She doesn't love me. It was a horrible truth to swallow, one that my mind naturally rebelled against. In the before, family had meant everything to me. It had been one of the most fundamental blocks of who I was. And now, despite everything I tried, I was unwanted.

Maybe this was punishment. Karma for daring to believe I was a god.

I couldn't hold eye contact with her, not anymore. "Bye bye mummy." I ignored the tight feeling in my chest throat as I made my way back to the Keeper's tent. If the meeting was in two weeks, then all the tents would be packed into the aravels. The clan would go to a new campsite while the Keeper and his chosen journeyed to Arlathvhen.

For the first time in years, I fell asleep while trembling in overwhelming emotions.


Mama was waiting for me in the Fade. My gut twisted in a painful mix of hatred and longing.

"This is cruel, even for you." I stated even as Mama approached me with a loving smile.

"It's what you want, isn't it? And far be it for me to deny our god." Cruel laughter followed her words.

"Why are you still here? Do you want me to kill you?" I gazed intensely at Desire and projected my aura onto hers. She wouldn't be able to deceive me if I covered her in my aura. But she would have full access to my thoughts like I had hers.

The reason my delusion of godhood had lasted as long as it did was because the Fade had responded accordingly. If I wanted, I received. Perhaps there was a lesson hidden there that I hadn't yet discerned. I hadn't killed Desire before because I had thought her harmless and inconsequential. Truly beneath me. Like an errant fly that I couldn't be bothered killing.

That wasn't true anymore. First and last warning.

"Why am I still here?" She cackled while wearing my mama's form. It was a disturbing sight to see. "I am here because you want. You want everything. You desire knowledge. You want your mother. You desire power, money, wisdom, herbs, paintings, armour, weapons, spells, everything! And you wonder why I'm here?"

I keep forgetting that she is a sentient emotion. The game had made it seem like they were floating ghosts that mirrored people and their emotions, and perhaps spirits did do that. But from what I experienced, from facing Desire, the most devious and powerful demon around, spirits were just emotion. They were sentient emotions that could see and mirror the emotions you had. And what about emotion was rational? Emotion wasn't good or bad, it just was. When you felt rage, you lashed out. Sometimes rage built up and exploded. Despair made you sluggish and inactive. Sometimes despair made you pause, sometimes it inspired empathy.

When you desired something, you acted. Sometimes you played the long game until the pieces fell into place, or you tried relentlessly until you succeeded.

I did want. Fiercely. I wanted to do more than survive, I wanted to thrive. I didn't want to endure. I would never be rid of Desire, because I was full of desire.

But I was full of pride too. "Why are you the only one here?"

She smirked, "I've been keeping the others out. You are my territory." Desire for the real. For more than just vague impressions reflected on the Fade. Desire for the waking, even if it was momentary.

Then I remembered. The Veil wasn't a natural construct. My clan, most likely everyone didn't react appropriately to anything. They had bizarre priorities that made no sense, like blocking people's dreams from the Fade, carrying water rather than conjuring it and even letting wounds fester rather than treating it.

Maybe since the spirits had been estranged from the waking; emotion had been separated too. Perhaps these people couldn't feel emotion unless they were connected to the Fade. They weren't NPCs, they just couldn't make sense of what they felt and therefore couldn't connect. This wasn't like being tranquil, it was like watching characters on a TV and feeling pity and joy, but not truly connecting because the characters weren't real.

So, when mages finally spawned their abilities, after living in muted emotion for so long, the sudden vividness of emotion in the Fade made them susceptible to spirits, because it was emotion. Rage was that much stronger, despair that much more debilitating and desire even harder to resist.

It made sense. It was just a working hypothesis, but it made sense.

The history lessons that the Keeper had been giving added to the hypothesis too. A lot of wars and massacres happened from a distinct lack of connection.

In the last world, when people had been exposed to different races for the first time, there were massacres, wars and subjugation. But as time went on, the systems rapidly improved and decayed as people struggled to reach equilibrium. They hadn't yet, but there was a move towards equality that arose from empathy. The entire process had occurred over 500 to 1000 years and was ongoing.

In Thedas, despite being exposed to different races for more than 5000 years, there was no improvement. There was no change. There were only squabbles and disputes that arose from greed and desperation, even those that arose from cold calculation. The conclusion certainly seemed to indicate a lack of empathy.

Was that it? Were they just primitive?

Or I was wrong. I was an alien and using a different value system to judge another culture was wrong. Maybe I was missing a few pieces.

But it's hard to disbelieve a theory that ticks all the boxes.

"You are dreaming in the dreaming. You never cease to surprise me. Where did you come across this knowledge, I wonder?" Desire moved towards, eyes shining in curiosity, "There are no spirits that I know that consider the Veil as an unnatural construct. Are you really a god? A rather pathetic one, I must say."

"I thought I was god. Can you blame me?" I grinned unrepentantly at her, changing the landscape to show the Milky Way galaxy just to prove my point. I was stuck with her, I might as well be friendly. "So, you inadvertently protected me from other spirits. What do you want in return? Be reasonable, though." And she had protected me, hadn't she? Always been there, no matter how unwelcome…and would continue to be there. Almost unwittingly, a swell of affection rose in me.

I really was pathetic, wasn't I?

"I'm flattered. Now you want me." Despite her smug response, I could feel her bewilderment.

Join the club.

"You made this awkward. Go away." Stupid blush on my face. But she'd given me a loving smile, something my mother never had. And Desire wanted to be around me, something that didn't hold true for anyone else in my clan.

I really was pathetic.

Desire approached me and I stiffened in caution. She wasn't exhibiting any signs of threat, but it would be stupid of me to only trust that aura sense.

Desire awkwardly patted my shoulder, her hand passing through on the first two pats before making solid contact on the third. Desire stopped, scratched her hair-mama's hair- awkwardly before disappearing into the mist.

Fucking pathetic.

Chapter Text

AN: Only weekly updates from now. Warning: Swearing included. Enjoy!

 I Choose You

Sanity is not truth. Sanity is conformity to what is socially expected. Truth is sometimes in conformity, sometimes not. -ROBERT M. PIRSIG, Lila

 

Arlathvhen was disappointing.

I had imagined an organized meet, a festival or at least a party to commemorate meeting after ten years. But it was just a group of Dalish coming together around a fire. Food was hunted and distributed like it was just another day. From the numbers, it looked like we were part of one big clan. As boring as this was, it was safer; outsiders wouldn't know that something important was going on.

The Keepers had sequestered themselves into a private cave while Hahrens met up and did some idle chit chat. I sat with the 'extra' mages, looking awkwardly from one face to another. There weren't many, just five other mages. There weren't that many Keepers either, around twenty from the rough estimate I'd gathered before they rushed into the cave.

Suddenly, the implications of that number had me freezing in horror. The Fifth Blight hadn't even started, and the Dalish numbers were already severely diminished. If I calculated the number of people in each clan and extrapolated, even if I used an optimistic average, the number of Dalish left were only a few thousand, if even that.

My stomach curdled at the conclusions that formed; for there to be such less of the People left, and if the tales told by the Keeper about shems attacking were true, then there was an ethnic cleansing of elves underway.

Really, there was no 'if' about it. Humans were known in my previous world for performing race cleansings using some macabre or racist reasons, and this was Thedas. The elves were considered sub-human, at worst, only useful as slaves, or at best, treated as second class citizens. When considering all the abuse elves had faced from humans, the Keepers had been extremely smart in avoiding human civilization as they had.

I couldn't use my world ethics or tactics. Non-violent protesting would just result in a massacre. Rebelling would result in a massacre. An outright war would result in massacre. We were so outnumbered that a big enough conflict with humans would result in extinction.

We needed to keep the humans away. If the Chantry propaganda that had run rampant in the game was even slightly true, then the Dalish had always been right in staying away from human conflicts.

But the Dalish nomadic lifestyle wasn't conducive to large populations either.

A nudge brought me out of my depressing thoughts and I looked up to see five other faces peering expectantly at me.

"Huh?"

"What's your name?" A redheaded girl asked, raising her hands in exasperation.

Fuck. Not over that yet. Deep breath. "Erelani," I returned slowly, "What's yours?"

"Ellana. Weren't you paying attention at all?"

"What?" Her name was Ellana? What the fuck. Wasn't that the default name for the Lavellan clan?

"Ugh." She turned away from me and began chattering with a small white-haired child whose gender I couldn't tell.

"Right, um, sorry. I'm Erelani, what's your name?" I asked a brown-haired boy next to me but tried to include the others too by smiling at them.

"I'm Selon," Selon pointed at a black-haired boy, "that's Alashi," he pointed to the blonde girl, "that's Silana and whitey doesn't have a name."

With a sudden jolt, I realized that the others were much older than me, in their preteens. The thought discomfited me because standing out was never a good thing, especially among a group of children.

"Why are you here?" Ellana suddenly asked, turning back to look at me. She was the most gregarious one in the group, actively engaging the one in conversation while the others watched.

"I'm a mage." I stated quietly.

Her face scrunched up, forest green eyes twinkling in annoyance, "Well, don't think that they'll pick you just because you're a baby. I am the best at control in my clan and I can speak Elvish and Trade really well," She stuck her tongue at me, and it suddenly struck me that despite her annoying behaviour, she was a cute kid, "They're going to pick me first."

If this was going to be popularity contest, then I'd failed before I even entered Arlathvhen. I didn't care about seeming likeable.

"Is it really a popularity thing?" I asked Selon, since he seemed the oldest.

He ran a hand through his hair in nervousness, "I don't know. But my Keeper did say that being well behaved mattered." That was just adult talk for behave properly and stop annoying me.

Whitey spoke up in small quiet voice, "I heard that if no one takes you, they set you out into the wild. Clanless."

I froze in fear. I remembered such tales being told in the game, but I'd dismissed it as misinformation that the Dalish spread to prevent human intervention.

But I was okay, wasn't I? Keeper Zathrian wanted me. I was safe.

But still, having such a sentence hanging over your head was horrible, "I don't think that's true. There aren't that many of the People left, they wouldn't just set a child off like that."

"But we're mages!" Alashi cried out.

"Most clans only allow for a maximum of three mages," Whitey confirmed in a small voice.

"Keeper Zathrian isn't like that. He has a lot of mages in his clan. And not just him, even Keeper Nelfran does. Each clan is different." I insisted.

"I guess." Alashi quieted down with tentative hope on his face.

Silana finally spoke up, addressing Whitey, "Sooooo, why don't you have a name?"

"They don't think I have much time left." Whitey's tone was cautious and I couldn't help what I blurted out.

"Dreamer, huh?"

Whitey jumped in alarm and gave me fearful look, "I-that is-No! I'm not!"

I stared at him in confusion before it dawned on me; he was a Dreamer. He didn't have foreknowledge of how this world worked. He didn't know that the Fade wasn't what everyone said it was. He thought he was a guaranteed future abomination. Everyone probably feared him for what he was.

Like me.

Empathy rose in me, "It's fine. My name is Erelani and I'm a five-year old mage." When he stared at me without comprehension, I explained, "I'm a Dreamer too."

"What?" Whitey looked at me with a mix of emotions, "How is that possible? You're way too young to have acquired the gift."

I just shrugged, it was what it was. "Your clan didn't name you yet? My mom only named me recently and only after I yelled a lot."

He returned the shrug, looking uncomfortable.

Not naming someone like that, it just…it made my blood boil. "It isn't right."

Ellana spoke up to break the tension, "Well it's not too late now! I know a lot of Elvish so I can help!"

"You wanna do that?" I asked, poking him for a response.

He looked around and rubbed his neck in discomfort, "I'm not supposed to."

Surprisingly, Selon, Alashi and Silana rose and sat close to him. Ellana placed her arm over his shoulder and gave me a look.

Right. I sat in the only available spot, on Whitey's lap, and took his hands in mine, "You can choose whatever you like."

Selon interrupted, "It'll just be between us. And when the others ask you later, you can tell them you chose this name."

Whitey looked a little overwhelmed, "I…I don't know."

I got excited and clapped his hands together, "Do you like Legolas? Or Elrond? Thranduil?"

"Such strange names," Silana stated, "Do you like Mahanon? Mahariel?"

We all got into it and spewed random names, eventually stating increasingly ridiculous names. I stated all the names I knew, including Fenris, Solas, Isabella, which got a few laughs.

Whitey listened patiently to all the names and laughed at ones he didn't like. Eventually he interrupted our suggestions, "I think I like Thranduil."

I squealed and pointed a finger at Ellana in victory, "Yes, I win! I give the best names!"

"You mean like Erelani, for a Dreamer?" Ellana rolled her eyes but patted my head gently.

"So, what does it mean, Thranduil?" Silana asked, a curious tilt to her head.

"Uhhh," I really didn't know, "I just thought it was a really cool name. All royal and king-like. What I'd imagine Arlathan elves to be named."

"Yeah, that's what I imagined too," Whitey agreed with a small smile, "Hi, I'm Thranduil."

"Awww." The girls squealed before all of us gave him a group hug. Thranduil let out a sheepish smile.

 


 

 

The six of us were lead in front of five Keepers. The logical math there made me uncomfortable, but I dismissed it. All my arguments before had been logical. With a dwindling population, it would be stupid to send even one of us away.

One by one, the line depleted, Keepers leading their chosen ones away until only Thranduil and I remained. Only one Keeper hadn't picked yet, a bald middle-aged man with a severe expression on his face. A vague sense of deja-vu confirmed his identity, but the trend of picking only one mage made me extremely nervous, dismissing everything else.

"You, boy, come here."

Thranduil passed me a sorrowful glance before moving towards the Keeper. The other Keepers circled tighter around us, as if preparing for something.

I knew I was being intensely obtuse when asking but, "So, where do I go?"

"Child, there are no other clans that have a spot open." Keeper Zathrian was armed, but his tone was sympathetic.

Shock. Disbelief.

"Ok, what am I supposed to do now?" My mind wasn't really processing this situation. I just couldn't understand. The Dalish had a depleting population, why would they send me away?

"Perhaps you'd like to make your way into the world? Your Keeper tells me you didn't like the Dalish way of life. You might like living with sh-city elves. You can find either an alienage or a Circle of Magi and tell them what happened." Zathrian explained.

I am five years old! How am I going to survive such a journey?!

They want to get rid of you. You're nothing but a burden to them. A walking time bomb. You think you're a godly being they can't control? You're nothing but an emotional child too dangerous to keep around.

Laughter echoed in my head. Desire.

Let me in, and we can show them the consequences of messing with us! Aren't they monsters? Throwing children out into the wild where bears, wild sylvan and darkspawn linger, isn't that the Dalish way?

Let's teach them a lesson. The consequences of messing with a god.

A white light broke me out of my trance. Someone had erected a barrier over the camp, excluding me from its reach.

I was the threat. I was proving them right.

No one controlled me.

The whispers faded away.

Desire held too much sway over me. Despite my grudging admiration for it, Desire was an opportunist. Until I could show it the benefit in keeping me, me, Desire wouldn't stop its harassment.

But once Desire was convinced, what about the other spirits? I was always going to be under threat from them and consequently a threat to others around me.

A prod with a stick made me open my eyes. Zathrian receded his staff and tilted his head in curiosity.

I didn't want to die in the wild. There was no way a five-year-old could survive alone in the forest, not even me.

The little innocence that I had retained from being a child faded away. To survive, I needed to be beneficial to Zathrian and to his clan. While the morals in my previous life were useless, the knowledge wasn't.

"I know I'm a danger to you as a somniari. You are right in picking Thranduil because he can control his emotions better. But you should keep us together."

"Sorry, child but it isn't safe for the clan. We are already under attack, but watching for threats within the clan will become difficult." Zathrian explained gently.

"I'm not a regular somniari," I lifted my left hand and showed him the veilfire glyph, "This was done when I was just a child. I was hoping to relive the incident in my dreams and find a way to recreate these glyphs. If we succeed, we will have more ways to retain knowledge than just drawings and oral stories."

Zathrian gestured to the other Keepers to stand down and crouched in front of me, "Nelfran mentioned seeing memories of things he'd never seen before when he activated the veilfire," he mumbled, "if I take you in, you will respect the Dalish way of life. You will not hurt your brethren or behave in an unbecoming way."

That had been surprisingly quick. I had been about to tell him about being a reincarnation, but he'd given in so easily. But then again, no one really wanted to sentence a young child to exile.

"I promise. I am Dalish. The best remnants of the Elvhen."

Zathrian nodded and placed a gentle hand on top of my head. My facade cracked, relieved tears running down my face. Thranduil enveloped me in a bear hug as I started sobbing.

I knew what this was. Peer pressure to conform. Join or leave. Knowing didn't change anything, because it was effective. And conforming to be respectful of my peers wasn't bad. I had been lashing out at others due to my pain and delusions, but that didn't have to continue.

I could do a whole lot worse. Humans would have made me tranquil by now. At least Zathrian had agreed while asking almost nothing in return. He was right to be worried that he had two Dreamers in his clan and despite his better judgement, he'd taken me in. Whatever he was to outsiders, he was a kind leader to the Dalish.

There was a lesson that my Keeper had been trying to teach me that finally took.

Respect and tolerance.

I had forgotten the motto that I had adopted when I had first come into the world. I just had to adapt. I needed to let the other world and its morals go.

But it was easier said than done.

 


 

Years passed.

I was proud to be Dalish. I was particularly happy that I had joined clan Arwen.

Thranduil and I learned with a zeal that Keeper Zathrian took great pride in.

We learned everything they could teach us; archery, daggers, basic magic. These were compulsory fundamentals that were taught to all mages so that they were never caught off guard against shems, templars or even werewolves.

There were more than a dozen Hahren mages in the clan and they used little tricks to make tasks more efficient just like I imagined mages could. Temperature spells, glyphs, nature spells and other charms that could be varied in intensity depending on the application.

Learning to do these spells outside of the Fade was an experience. For me, doing spells in the Fade was as easy as intent and visualization. Across the Veil, it was like trying get a thread through a needle. You pushed, missed, adjusted then pushed until you got a tiny trickle of power. Then try again until you got a steady trickle of mana from the Fade. The mana that hahrens talked about was just the essence of Fade permeating their being. When they used up the essence, it took time for it to replenish across the Veil. I didn't understand why the other mages had such a hard time realizing this, but perhaps it was easy for me to comprehend since I was a somniari. Thranduil agreed with me.

I learned to use mana better so that 'threading the needle' became effortless. At one point in my training, it became more about using the available mana efficiently, using spell strategies and combinations than accessing raw Fade power.

I couldn't reconcile this concept. While it was prudent to use mana efficiently, I couldn't help but begrudge the necessity across the Veil. From the analysis and study carried out by Keepers over the years, I theorized that if I could maintain enough connections across the Veil, I could enjoy a significantly larger pool of mana. But any such executions thinned the veil around my person which frightened the Keeper. Therefore, any new ideas for spells or applications had to be restricted to the Fade and the only person I could show was Thranduil. Unfortunately, Thranduil didn't share my enthusiasm and always tattled to the Keeper.

Eventually, worried about my activities, the Keeper tried to redirect my scholarly fervour towards the veilfire glyph on my hand. I remembered the analogy that had worked, but I was reluctant to have another glyph burned on my person, so I attempted to guide Thranduil through the process.

It was extremely difficult. I had to create a new school of thought.

How was I to explain electromagnetic waves and their functions to Thranduil? I wasn't even sure that that was what had provoked the veilfire. Truth be told, I wasn't even sure that this world operated within the same laws of physics. This, in turn, lead to me running a series of experiments to confirm the basics forces of the world. Having magic as a tool helped.

My experiments lead to the following conclusions: the fundamental forces existed, but the Fade component of the world introduced a modification factor that made them different. Essentially, the Fade factor allowed magic to manipulate the fundamental forces without destroying them, but the more matter needed to be altered, the greater the expense of magic. The threshold magic requirement for overcoming the different fundamental forces was drastically different.

Gravity was surprisingly malleable, but when taken constant, it had a very different value from Before. This provided a very puzzling mystery, for Thedas had two moons, and if gravity was so arbitrary, those moons should have crashed onto this planet a long time ago. The answer, in retrospect, was obvious. It was Fade magic.

This discovery poked a hole through my People Are Robots Because Of No Fade theory, because Fade essence did exist across the Veil, just in much smaller amounts, flowing through the Veil membrane and compensating for the moods of gravity.

This behaviour was bizarre. Alien. Gravity was supposed to be constant for a given mass not change arbitrarily.

Maybe the only consolation, the only normal, was that we were all carbon-based lifeforms. At least, elves, were carbon-based lifeforms. We were extremely compatible with the Fade, and it took very little to form a connection with it. More often than not, the ability to wield magic was a decision for elves, one that very few, understandably, made.

Surprisingly, a lot of my brethren enjoyed partaking in these experiments. They helped me conduct these experiments, affirmed values, repeated experiments for accuracy. They thought science was fun. They enjoyed learning about the behaviour of nature and loved expounding on the virtues of our race.

When I explained the basic design of a telescope to the blacksmith, Leras, and the nature of optics and foci, he created the first rudimentary telescope. My Keeper was really proud of me for that one. There were times I created things just to get Keeper Zathrian to claim how proud he was of me in front of the clan. I think he knew.

My clan loved me, I loved them; it was a welcome change.

I didn't mind the constant state of war we had against the werewolves. The way I saw it, it was the least they deserved for tormenting our clan. And what was a few human lives worth when compared with the Dalish? By the law of demand, Dalish lives were more valuable because we were dying out.

I was glad when I found that I could help my fellow mages when they dreamed. I kept the demons away by pulling them to me, then had Desire banish them away.

I reached a tentative truce with Desire. It wouldn't torment me and in exchange, I shared my knowledge and desires of the waking world. Desire still retained its malevolence though. I didn't know what to do about it. Willing it away didn't work. Calling it a spirit and seeing the good in it didn't work. You couldn't just ignore the malice directed at you, pretend it didn't exist. I thought about ways to redirect its purpose, but Desire would just scoff condescendingly at me.

I was aware it changed because of me. I knew why; I had directed my darkest desires at it as a child, and Desire had enjoyed it. Reversing the process was a mystery that I hadn't yet solved.

I was as happy as I could be.

Then the Hero of Ferelden came into our lives.

Chapter Text


 

Chapter : There is only one way; my way.


 

“Teenagers. Everything is so apocalyptic.”

― Kami Garcia, Beautiful Creatures


 

 

As time passed, my knowledge of the Fade grew. In a way, it wasn’t all that different from the waking world. In many ways, it was.

Spirits and demons in the Fade sought to incite their namesake feelings in their victims. In the beginning, I had thought that they fed on those feelings, growing in power as they did so but that was not true. From the memories seen in the fade as well as seeing Desire in action, I realised that feeling a spirit’s namesake bolstered them, giving them a foothold in the Waking world. So, if Fear gained territory, then the people living in that territory in the Waking world would act more fearful than others. But some people could build an immunity towards it, learning to act beyond the fear. The same worked in reverse; if a city’s denizens were terrified, then the chances of a terror demon coming to nest in that area was that much more likely.

I didn’t know how others worked through the mind games, but for me it was like exposure therapy. When I felt terror, I learned to work past it. That was the only way I could overcome the thrall that spirits or demons had over me. The worst part of it was, desensitization didn’t exist when dealing with spirits and demons. A terror demon would incite the same amount of terror each time you faced it.

I was starting to grow frustrated. I was learning that like everything else in the world, walking the Fade was about practise, control and experience.

But despite my growing experience, I didn’t have as much control over the raw Fade as I once did. As I grew older, it became harder to exert the control and belief necessary to affect the Fade. The truth was, the more I observed and learned, the more I realised that I didn’t actually know anything. Ironically, opening my mind and being flexible made the Fade inflexible to me. Creating laws in my head about how the Fade worked, limited my power.

Sometimes in my darkest moments, I wondered if I had been right as a toddler. If I really was a god and belief was all I needed. That unshakeable belief and confidence had made me undefeatable in the Fade. But unlike then, the possibility of that being true brought forth unimaginable terror, because this world was real. It was as real as the world before, and the thought that there could be a god that could dictate it, and that it would be me, was too incredulous, too crushing, and too tragic. I was only too aware of my flaws, with Desire flaunting them in my face whenever it could.

To cast that delusion aside, I always recalled the way Desire used to laugh when it dealt with me as a child. There were days when it would literally be rolling around on the ground, laughing as it heard my thoughts. That was also the image that killed most of my fear of it, but never completely because only a fool would underestimate it.

Even just a year ago, Desire had reminded me that it wasn’t a friend by inviting other demons into my domain. In all fairness, I had requested that Desire let other spirits through, so I could interact with them. I wanted to know what other spirits were like, and I felt that I was ready after handling a Desire demon for so long. But Desire had loosely interpreted the term spirit, intentionally bringing Rage, Fear and Terror along, smirking smugly as it did so.

Desire got a kick out of seeing me fall prey to Rage, Fear and Terror. It brought them in every night for a month, gaining a lot of entertainment as it watched me deal with the demons. Unfortunately, it would always banish them away before I could kill them, shaking its head with a mocking smile as it did so.

"You asked for it. Don’t blame them for doing as you asked."

After all these years, I wanted to believe that Desire had just been training me, taking perverse joy in the process like some sadistic teachers did. I wanted to believe that it was just a spirit that acted out its desires in unorthodox ways. I wanted to believe that Desire returned a little of the sentiment that I held for it.

But sometimes, I thought those of the waking world had the right of it. It felt as if I was in an emotionally abusive relationship that I couldn’t escape.

There were times when Desire would point out my flaws in the most cutting manner it could, calling me prideful and blind. Selfish and short-sighted. The worst part of it was, as I never let it out of the range of my aura, I knew it truly meant what it said, and that it could feel the impact that its words made.

When the words worked too well, it would quiet down and give a quiet sigh. Desire would then pat my shoulder until I allowed its touch to connect, and in an absurd parody of the first time this had happened, it would disappear.

Emotional abuse at its finest. Carrot and stick applied at just the right stress so that I didn’t want to escape. Desire had me wrapped around its finger and knowing that changed nothing.

Some days, only the love of my clan and the worried glances of Zathrian and Thranduil prevented me from giving up.

It was hard. Really hard.

My pride helped. The Dalish motto to never submit also helped.

Zathrian tried to pre-empt my highs and lows but as I had just entered the volatile age of thirteen, he was at his wits end. He even had his First, Lanaya, take additional responsibilities, having her survey the daily operation of the clan. He turned most of his attention to Witherfang, the werewolves, Thranduil and me. No one begrudged him this change especially after hearing my nightly screams.

I want to say I did better than Thranduil, but that would be a massive lie. At seventeen, he was calm and grounded, never giving an inch to the spirits that approached him in the Fade. While he didn’t carry an academic inclination, he showed an incredible aptitude for combat and strategy. He even tried to learn about the different natural forces I was ‘rediscovering’. He was charismatic, drawing the entire clan in like a moth to a flame. He was gentle and considerate of everyone in the clan.

He was also very handsome.

I was crushing on him bad and everyone knew it. Thranduil included.

Zathrian tried to use my feelings to stop my ‘stupid’ experiments, trying to get Thranduil to influence my behaviour but Thranduil was reluctant to help in such a way. And I was at the age where anyone telling me not to do something only pushed me to do it.

The only thing Thranduil tried to earnestly help me with was the Fade. It made me happy that I was the only one who could share this with him, but the idea that I was receiving help from someone who thought the Fade was something to be avoided made me reluctant to listen to his advice.

Thranduil tried to share his dream with me once, hoping he would be able to banish Desire away from me.

It was horrible.

Desire was merciless and nearly possessed him. Only a quick WAKE UP saved Thranduil’s life. I realized the difference in our capabilities that day.

Thranduil took away something else from the encounter. His glances became filled with pity and worry, and he made waking me his personal responsibility.

His whisper, “You’re strong, you can do this. We are Dalish, we never submit. Never submit, Erelani,” became my nightly anthem and I ignored the pitiful glances that accompanied them.

I swore never to share dreams with anyone after that, not with Desire attached to me. I couldn’t even blame it, for Thranduil had threatened its territory and it had responded accordingly. Desire didn’t apologize, and I didn’t ask it to.

I did state that the Fade area surrounding the clan could only be inhabited by Desire and no one else. It was Desire’s responsibility to ensure that it remained so. If it wanted any spirit or demon to interact with, it had to be in my domain and no one else’s.  

It wasn’t a bargain. It was my way or the highway. Because despite knowing Desire was not really at fault, I was still angry.

Desire agreed. Then proceeded to torment me for days.

My morale suffered. My experiments suffered. Zathrian and Thranduil grew even more worried. It was a vicious cycle.

I forgot that there was a world beyond my clan. I forgot the Fifth Blight. I forgot the Hero of Ferelden.

 


 

The fighting between the clan and the werewolves grew intense. The werewolves had adopted a new strategy, infecting our brethren so that they would either die a horrible death or convert and kill everyone in the clan.

Zathrian was frightened, though he hid it well. I knew that Zathrian could easily end the curse by killing himself, but what then? The surviving humans would still try to get their revenge on the rest of the clan. Even if they left us alone, they would reintegrate with in the human cities and spread tales of the Dalish ‘evil’ and then we would be hunted.

The humans had started it. They murdered our brethren in cold blood, demonstrating a horrible brutality that predated their werewolf forms. It was foolish to imagine that this would suddenly change about them when the curse wore off. Problems and conflict didn’t just suddenly disappear in real life.

Zathrian called out to me, pulling me out of my reverie. He gestured for me to accompany him in his aravel.

“Erelani, I need you to stop all your side projects. You need to try and find a cure to this infection.”

I gazed at his harried expression, more than slightly confused. He knew the cure, didn’t he? And why me? “But Healer Nari has been trying to find one for a while.”

Zathrian seemed to be at the end of his tether, “I know, I know! But you, you’re different,” he sat down next to me, sighing, “you’ve done so much at such a young age, if anyone can do this, it’s you. Looking at you, sometimes I think the Dalish could rebuild Arlathan, if we had more like you. If only your judgement was a bit better, da’len.” He patted my head, giving me a rueful smile.

“Are you okay, Keeper?” I couldn’t help but notice the slight shake to his hands. Zathrian tilted my head and stared intensely at me, his concern shining through.

“Da’len, I want you to promise me something.” There was something very fragile about the Keeper then and it frightened me. I didn’t want to see him like this, he had always been the calm and rational leader of the clan. “It’s most selfish of me to ask you this. But promise me this. If the werewolves ever cross the outer boundary of the clan compound, I want you to take Thranduil and run. Tell him whatever you must to get him to agree. Do you understand?”

“What? NO!” There was no hesitation in my response. I would never abandon this clan. Never.

“Da’len, please da’len, listen to me.” No! How could he even think-? “No! Never! Never! Never!” I shouted.

I felt tears falling on top of my head, and I looked up to see what I had never wanted to see. Zathrian was hugging me to him with one hand while the other covered his face, a stream of tears falling down his face.

No! I didn’t want to see this! Seeing him cry so openly broke my heart and I couldn’t help the tears that trailed down my face.

“Please, da’len, not you too. Please, da’len, please.” I don’t think he meant for me to hear, but I understood. He loved us. He didn’t want us killed like his children had been.

But it was impossible for me to run away. How could I leave the home that had accepted me with such open arms? I was loved unconditionally. Only a fool would run away from that, no matter the reason. If I was going to die, then I would rather die with the clan, doing everything that I could to save them first.

I loved the clan. I loved Zathrian.

He wasn’t going to die.

If there was any other cure to the curse, I was going to find it.

Or just kill all the fucking werewolves.

 


 

 

An insane drive took over me. Nothing I had done so far compared to the monumental task ahead of me. Never had such a task been so emotionally significant to me.

I would save my clan or die trying.

Desire tried to distract me, but I ignored it, focusing on the problem even in the Fade. For the first time in my life, I left Desire’s domain, uncaring of the possible consequences.

I ventured into Witherfang’s territory, aware that the forest spirit would be cautious of me. But the best way to solve this was by studying the enemy.

 Witherfang was tending to the humans asleep around her in the Fade. The sight sickened me, seeing her treat those savages as though they were just people.

Witherfang glanced up and glared, getting combat ready as she approached me, “Run away, child, before I am forced to do something I don’t want to.”

Witherfang had nothing on Desire in terms of intimidation, but I wouldn’t underestimate her, not at this juncture. I extended my aura and poked at her gently, in a mimicry of permission. She startled in surprise and frowned thoughtfully.

“I am Erelani, of Clan Arwen. If you would allow me to extend my aura to you, you will be able to sense my intentions.” I stated diplomatically, willing away my feelings of hatred. I needed to focus on the goal and any emotion would be to my detriment at this moment.

Witherfang extended her aura over mine and waited patiently. There was a predatory look to her eyes that had me cautious of my next words.

“I am Erelani of Clan Arwen. I have been assigned by Zathrian to find a way to end this curse.” The truth.

“He gave this task to a child? His commitment to this endeavour is apparent.” Witherfang’s voice was dry.

“I am not any child.” I would do anything to get what I wanted. Become anything.

“A spoilt brat then. Because that makes this so much better.”

The sensations and darkness I had pushed away as a child came rushing forward. Even if the world wasn’t mine, the Fade was. It had always been mine. Fuck Fade laws. The only Fade laws that mattered were mine, and the only law that mattered was that the Fade was mine. If she wanted a demonstration, she was going to get one.

I created a curled fist and made a downward motion, destroying the dream state of the Fade. I made it reflect the waking world, showing me the ruins the werewolves were located in. I held it constant, usurping control from Witherfang.

Witherfang got into a battle stance, likely only refraining from attacking because she detected that I wasn’t hostile.

“I am a brat. A talented one. Will you listen now?” I asked, keeping my voice and intentions bland.

“How is this anything but a trick?” Witherfang frowned, holding her combat stance, “Zathrian is fully aware of how to end this curse. He has refrained from doing so because he wants to exact his vengeance upon the humans.”

I observed her clinically, filtering all my emotions out. I needed information and getting her side of the story was crucial. “Can you tell me your side of the story? Once I know I can possibly find an alternative cure, one that doesn’t depend on Zathrian’s mercy.”

She launched cautiously into her tale, the Fade reflecting her story with surrounding wisps acting out the part as she continued.

A human tribe had attacked the Dalish clan and kidnapped Zathrian’s son and daughter, brutally murdering his son while raping his daughter. The Dalish hunters had rescued his daughter, but upon finding out she was pregnant, she had committed suicide. Zathrian had summoned the Lady of the Forest and bound her to a wolf to obtain revenge. He had then sent Witherfang to execute the human tribe, but a few members had survived. They had developed lycanthropy, devolving into mindless beasts.

Centuries passed, and the perpetrators were long dead. Witherfang found the remnants of the werewolves and tried to restore the humanity she had stolen from them.

“Do you understand child? The perpetrators are long dead, this vengeance must end. The cycle of hate must end, or else your clan will die. The curse will still continue unless Zathrian stops it.”

Fuck.

The spell and its workings were clear. This wasn’t a disease, it was a curse with a simple solution. Witherfang was the source of the curse so she had to die, but Zathrian had used his blood to summon the spirit so he was linked to the curse.

There was only one acceptable solution…that served my needs.

“Thank you for sharing your story. I will try to find an acceptable solution.” I withdrew my aura and gave a small bow before receding.

“I will forgive this trespass just this once since you only sought information. But a repeat of this behaviour will not be tolerated.” Witherfang warned, her tone forbidding.

I nodded once to show I understood and retreated to my domain, forcing myself to wake up outside of the normal cycle.

Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.

Not only had I behaved like an absolute brat, I had withdrawn into the worst frame of mind possible to deal with a spirit. The last time I had dealt with a spirit in such a manner, it had turned into a demon.

The results hadn’t been worth it. Plan A had to be discarded, because there was no other recourse. I had gone in knowing the story and Witherfang had only confirmed what I already knew. If the curse lifted, Zathrian would die. Which wasn’t going to happen.

The werewolves had to die.

The only problem was my infected clansmen. I would not leave them to their fate. It was unacceptable, and I could not reconcile that Zathrian would let his clansmen suffer just so his vengeance could be eternal.

I got up from the bed, jumping a little as Thranduil jolted awake at my movement.

“Are you okay Erelani?” Thranduil asked, moving closer to me. My heart squeezed at seeing the concern in his grey eyes. Despite the different relationships each of us had with the clan, Thranduil and I shared a special bond that went beyond others. I wanted to tell him. I wanted to share it with the only person who ever understood me. Thranduil got exasperated, angry and irritated with me a lot but the concern and affection he held for me always shone through.

But how could I tell him something like this? How could I tell him that Zathrian had started the curse that plagued the clan? I had accepted that part of Zathrian long before we’d ever come into the Brecilian Forest, aware that people were flawed. In the end, everyone always served their own selfish purposes.

But Thranduil wouldn’t understand. He was the good boy who thought everyone should act morally.

“Erelani?” Thranduil shook his head in exasperation and pressed my nose as though it were a button, “Snap out of it, Erelani. What’s wrong?”

“Nothing. I’m going to sleep.”

A loud commotion at the front of the camp startled the both of us out of the aravel. A group of travellers had arrived and Mihiris was accompanying them into camp.

This was very bizarre because outsiders weren’t allowed into the clan. Sarel saw us watching and pushed us back into the aravel.

“Go hide, this doesn’t look good. They have a qunari with them. Pack, go pack, quick!” He ordered, before moving onto the other bystanders.

I saw Zathrian walk out of his tent, fully armed and cautiously making his way to the group.

Like hell I was going to hide. This situation was giving me a horrible sense of déjà vu. I creeped out of the aravel, dodging Thranduil’s restraining hand. I followed the entourage of hunters shadowing the group of travellers.

There were three human women, two human men, one qunari male, one dwarven male and one elven male. The diverse group was jarring, an unwelcome reminder that there was more to the world than just my clan.

Zathrian led them to a secluded corner of the clan and bid them to rest. As much as I loved Zathrian, it shocked me to see such courtesy from him. This hospitable behaviour towards non-Dalish was against his very nature.

Zathrian turned back, gesturing for the hunters to keep watch. As he returned to his aravel, he locked eyes with me and gave me stern glare. He gestured to his aravel impatiently, silently ordering me to join him.

I acquiesced, feeling discouraged at being caught so easily.

“Why are you out here da’len?” He shook his head suddenly, muttering, “It’s like asking the birds, why do you fly?”

“Who are they?” I demanded, impatient. “I thought we don’t welcome outsiders. Who are they?”

“They are Wardens. They are here to ask for reinforcements to fight against the Blight.”

“Huh?” My brain short-circuited. Fuck. I had forgotten. There was a third party to this equation I had completely forgotten to consider. It had been a few years since I had last gone through the veilfire memories. I had ignored it out of spite after failing to figure out the veilfire.

Zathrian sighed, “Don’t worry about it. But you’ll be sleeping here tonight. Take my bed, I have a lot of work left to do.” He gestured to the roll laid out.

I jumped onto it, too used to this routine to question it. If I had him to myself tonight, this would be the best time to ask my questions.

“Keeper?”

“What is it, da’len? Go to sleep, we have a long day ahead of us tomorrow.”

“About the curse…”

Zathrian stopped his shuffling. I turned to look at him and found him watching me.

“You already know. You really do make me proud, ashalan. I have met no one like you in all my years.” My heart burned fiercely at the endearment.

“What are we going to do? I met Witherfang and she wants to stop the curse. But that means-“ I sobbed, “that means- ” I started crying uncontrollably, unable to say the horrible words.

Zathrian soothed me by gently patting my head, “It’s enough for Witherfang to die. I can cure our clansmen using her heart.”

So, he had already known. But… “If you already knew the cure, then why did you-?”

Zathrian cut me off, shaking his head regretfully, “I was being a foolish old man.”

A horrible feeling of failure settled in my gut. Zathrian had really thought that I would succeed, that I would find another cure.

I failed. The one time that it mattered, I failed him.

I quieted, holding my breath so that Zathrian didn’t know I was crying. He gave me a kiss on the top of my head and turned back to his work.

I gasped quietly, trying to control my tears.

What was the point to all this? Why was I so powerless? So useless? I was incapable of protecting the people I loved.

Not Zathrian. Please, not Zathrian.

I closed my eyes, and for the first time in a long while, reactivated my glyph.

 


 

After floating in the memories of another world, the next morning felt bizarre. Despite being a completely different person in this life, I couldn’t help the strong disassociation that came over me.

I counted it as a blessing.

There were three possible choices. There was only one choice that was acceptable to me.

I joined my clan for the communal meal, noticing that the Keeper and the guests were absent. A glance around the compound revealed a pair of hunters standing guard in front of Sarel’s aravel. I gathered my bowl and made my way to them, my course of action decided.

“I need to speak to the Keeper.”

“Not now,” Mihiris warned, “There is an important meeting going on.”

“I was researching the disease. I think I can help with the information I have.” I passed an entreating look to Mihiris. She was among the few of the clan who thought I was a walking time bomb. She liked me; she loved listening to my lectures on gravity and participating in my experiments, but she thought I was a good thing that wouldn’t last. Like I was a terminally ill cancer patient. Or exploding patient, as it were. Still, pitiful glances from the pitiful sister worked on her.

“Fine. Just wait outside for a moment.”

She went in then returned shaking her head. “Zathrian says no.”

“I’m going in anyway.” Mihiris put a restraining hand on me, but I fadestepped into the aravel.

“Erelani! Out!” Zathrian barked, “Please excuse me, she is a handful sometimes.”

I passed a glance over the entourage, dismissing them for the moment. Zathrian grabbed my ear and I yelped, trying to remove his grip. He dragged me to the door and I crushed my heels down, trying to stop him.

I couldn’t let him do this.

I aimed for his solar plexus, but Zathrian dodged, restraining me with his other hand. Shit.

“Just hear me out! Hear me out!”

“No, Erelani! You have disobeyed my orders! This behaviour of yours has gone on for far too long! Do as you are told!”

Fuck no.

I tried to fadestep again, but Zathrian stopped me, his magic creating a block. Shit, I wasn’t going to win this.

“I did it ok! I found an answer! Will you just listen to me?!” I stopped struggling to show I meant business. Zathrian stopped dragging me, freezing in his tracks in shock.

“What?” He breathed, stunned, “You found another way?”

“Would someone please explain what’s going on?” A voice spoke up behind us. I turned, unable to pinpoint which male had spoken. It broke Zathrian out of his reverie and he let me go, standing partially in front of me.

“It seems we won’t be requiring your assistance after all Warden.”

“Actually, we do.” I cut in and I saw Zathrian clench his fists. He turned his body partially to me, his eyes passing me a silent warning.

“Keeper, let me sit in on the meeting, please. I can share what I’ve discovered.”

Zathrian watched me cautiously, uncertain. I knew what he feared, “You have nothing to worry about Keeper.”

“Your judgement has always been terrible da’len, and I fear it’s rubbing off on me. Very well, you may join us.”

“Let me guess,” A feminine voice drawled out, “You assigned a bratty kid to research possible remedies to lycanthropy and she succeeded? I must say Warden; our journey gets more and more bizarre the longer it continues.”

“What did you tell them?” I demanded from Zathrian and he frowned, placing a warning hand on top of my head.

“Quiet, dalen.” Zathrian took a deep breath before continuing, “Erelani is very gifted with the…elven arts. If she has found some insight in to the situation, it will be helpful.”

“Well, kid,” the dwarf spoke, “Spill already. We have more important things to do then watch you throw tantrums.”

“There is a way to circumvent the curse,” I started after receiving a nod from Zathrian, “But I will need to be present when you harvest Witherfang’s heart.”

“No can do.” “No.” “Not happening.” Multiple voices voiced out their disagreement.

Zathrian glared furiously at me, “That was your brilliant plan? No, you have no discipline, no restraint and you are nothing more than a child despite your achievements.”

Yeah, so what?

Now to put in some fear. “There is a high likelihood that the curse will transfer once Witherfang has been killed. I have been devising a spell that can take advantage of that moment.” Absolute bullshit.

A woman with black hair spoke up, “Is that so? Well I’m a powerful mage so maybe you can teach this ingenious spell to me. That way, we don’t have to protect a little brat.”

The older woman spoke up, cutting the other lady off, “Untested spells are not safe, child. It is better if we destroy the source of the spell.”

I grit my teeth in irritation. While their words suited my agenda now, I could not anticipate the direction their thoughts would take once they found out the truth. I couldn’t trust a stupid game about their reactions, and their actions would be easier to guide if I was present when they made their decision.

“I know where the hideout is. I know the spell to undo the curse. I have dealt with Witherfang before. Are you seriously going to refuse my help?” I ground out, forgetting diplomacy in my petulant anger.

The qunari spoke up, “You’ll just be deadweight.”

“Right,” I drawled, “I’m Dalish. I don’t expect protection from you lot.”

“The Maker protect me from the follies of youth.” The dark haired human man groaned, “Alistair, what do you think? Zevran?”

The blonde human shrugged, “It seems like a bad idea.”

The elven male watched the Keeper and me. He tilted his head respectfully at the Keeper before speaking, “If the Keeper permits it, then having her along could prove useful.”

They all turned to face him.

“No.” Zathrian refused with a stony face.

“Keeper!” I protested, desperately searching for the words that would make him agree, “You assigned me the task of finding the cure for our clansmen!”

“Yes, I did,” Zathrian intoned, “And I’m regretting that decision.”

“I will protect my clan! You can’t stop me!”

“Protecting the clan is my job, Erelani! Now leav-”

I cut him off by hugging him. He froze at the unexpected gesture, growing uncomfortable at the public display.

“Baba, please,” I whispered, and he stopped pushing me off him, surprised. “Trust in me. Believe in me. If you believe in me, baba, I can do anything. I can do this too. Have I ever failed you?”

Zathrian looked gutted. He looked down at me, his eyes conflicted, “How can I send you into their territory? You are just a child, ashalan.”

I extended my magic into the Fade, weakening the veil as the strands caught. I needed to make an impact and I could only do what always worked on Desire. I extended my mage aura into him and forced my conviction to him.

“Yes, I am. But I am also your Erelani. I will go, and I will save the clan. I will save you.” I let the pressure of my presence extend across the room and I felt the others get up in defense.

“Place your faith in me, Baba. Please.”

“Creators, help me,” Zathrian covered his face, took a deep breath then responded, “Very well, da’len. You may go. But if you are going to do this, you will first undergo the rite to adulthood. You will receive your vallaslin today.”

He turned to face the human Warden, “Please feel welcome to rest in our clan compound while we sort a few details out.”

Zathrian walked out, gesturing me to follow him.

I took a deep breath, letting the strands fade from the Veil.

A whistle echoed through the room. The dark-haired woman spoke, “That was some expert manipulation there.”

“It’s called love.” I growled out.

She laughed, “I was talking about the veil.”

Chapter Text


 

Chapter: Greed, the bottomless pit

 


 

There is a sufficiency in the world for man's need but not for man's greed. -Mahatma Gandhi


 

 

I sat before Zathrian, twitching in anticipation as he laid out a series of colours, so I could choose the shade of my vallaslin. Lanaya sat next to me, a bowl of my extracted blood lying next to her. Thranduil sat hunched near the entrance, his expression thunderous.

No one was happy that I was receiving my vallaslin so early. Well, except me. Lanaya had agreed to help with the ceremony, confident that I would give up midway from the pain. Thranduil held the opposite opinion, aware of my obstinate nature.

Zathrian was reluctant too, if the pace he was setting up the ceremony was any indication. He still hadn’t asked me which god I wanted to honour.

While I was indifferent about the gods, their tales still caught my fancy. They were the fairy tales that Dalish children grew up with and the morals espoused weren’t necessarily wrong. Don’t betray your kind like Fen’Harel. Be a competent leader like Mythal. Adhere to justice as Elgar’nan did. Innovate like June. Respect your halla to honour Ghilan’nain. Hunt with Andruil’s finesse. Heal as Sylaise did.

It was hard to criticise the beliefs of people who had taken the best qualities of supposedly horrible leaders and turned them into morals. That was life, wasn’t it? Find a lesson to take away from the shit that is life.

I knew Arlathan wasn’t the fairy-tale that the Dalish stories depicted. I knew our gods were just powerful mages. But this was a battle that I wouldn’t fight. What was the point in arguing about leaders who had no relevance in my life? Why should I care that Fen’Harel was misrepresented? The Ancients were still alive and gave zero fucks about us. Fen’Harel killed Felassan for the crime of seeing the modern elves as people. Solas could bitch and moan all he wanted, but he was exactly what the Dalish portrayed him to be, a cunning treacherous bastard who only cared about his own goals.

But the true crux of it was, my information source was defective. I hadn’t gotten this information from the Fade, but from my previous life’s memories of a game. How could I trust that as a reliable source of information? Game mechanics did not hold true for this world. There were no such things as instant healing potions, only energy drinks, stamina drinks and lyrium potions. A mage healer could only heal you if he knew what was wrong with you. Sometimes, even then there was no cure. If you were magically healed, your body would grow extremely lethargic at the foreign exposure, forcing patients to rest until the foreign agent dissipated. Even after the heal, there would be psychosomatic pains in the wounded region for the next few days.

More importantly there was no spirit magic that could revive dead companions like you could in the game; I’d even asked Desire to be sure. Desire had stared gobsmacked, stupefied at the idiocy of the question.

That wasn’t to say you couldn’t prevent someone from dying through healing techniques. If you managed to catch the spirit of the person before they departed from the Fade, it was possible to heal them if you knew what was wrong. But that time period before departure varied from instantaneous to unknown lengths of time. And only the best mages with impeccable control and knowledge of the body could perform the feat.

If all this information was wrong, how could I trust anything else? Even if the lore surrounding the game was true, truth was relative. The person observing, and their perspective, changed the nature of truth observed. This was a fact that I could not ignore, for it held true in both the Dreaming and Waking.

So, unless the prescient knowledge directly affected me, as in the case of my clan, or I found evidence in the Fade to affirm the knowledge, it was extraneous. I wouldn’t dismiss it entirely, but it would be like the pantheon tales; entertaining but irrelevant.

“Erelani?” Zathrian’s tone indicated he’d called me multiple times already, “If you don’t want to proceed with this, I’ll understand. But you will not accompany the wardens in their journey.”

Thranduil’s head turned abruptly at that, Mythal’s vallaslin temporarily hidden as he ran a hand through his shiny white hair in relief.

“I want it to be white!” I ignored Zathrian’s statement, pointing at the white coloured vial. Zathrian sighed in resignation.

“Which god do you want to honour? June? He is the god of innovation, the master of all crafts.” Zathrian seemed sure of my choice, and I grimaced. I didn’t want to pick my vallaslin to honour a god, false or not. If I was going to be wearing it on my face for the rest of my life, I wanted it to mean something.

“No, I want yours.”

Zathrian paused, “Dirthamen, the god of secrets?”

“Yep, the design that’s exactly like yours.”

“That isn’t how this works, Erelani. You must meditate on your choice of god and endure the pain in silence as I inscribe the vallaslin.”

“I’ll meditate on Dirthamen,” Yeah, right, “while I get the same design as yours.”

Thranduil groaned in exasperation behind Zathrian and I passed him a smug smile.

“Very well. Which shade of white?” Zathrian seemed to have resigned himself to my stubbornness, his eyes holding a small measure of regret as he dipped the needle.

I shrugged, “Faded white so that it’s not too visible at night.” Zathrian mixed the shade, painting the colour on my hand until I agreed with the shade. A faded white that was barely visible against my skin.

I leaned against the wall, bracing myself as Zathrian outlined the shape with a brush made of soft halla fur. He poured the blood in the bowl into the paint. There was a sheen before it turned back to its shade.

He heated the needle with a spell and dipped it into the paint. The needle glowed white and Zathrian cradled my face lifting it to him. His face was blank, his eyes filled with conflict. I closed my eyes.

It was pure agony. A physical pain I had never felt before. It felt like my face was being carved with a thin knife. I could feel a fire spell trailing the needle, mercilessly burning the areas behind the needle. This was nothing like a tattoo. I was being branded.

Fuck. I wasn’t allowed to make a sound.

I understood now why this was a rite to adulthood. To endure such pain without sound was a sign of maturity. An acceptance that sometimes you had to endure difficulties in silence. It was the undeniable truth of being a Dalish adult.

I remained silent. But I couldn’t help the tears the pain brought forth.

The needle paused.

“She isn’t ready, Keeper.” Lanaya’s voice came from behind Zathrian. “Look at her. This ritual is about more than being silent. You know this. She is a child, still.”

“You are right.”

My eyes shot open in surprise and I caught Zathrian’s hand as he drew away. I held his gaze and wiped my tears away cautiously, mindful of the burning pain.

If crying was the problem, then I wouldn’t cry. I didn’t speak because I wasn’t confident my voice wouldn’t quiver in pain, but I forcefully pulled his hand back to my face. I held his gaze and nodded for him to continue.

“I have to stop the ceremony Erelani.”

I gurgled my throat to ensure it was clear, “Just finish it.”

Thranduil rose up in anger, “Enough Erelani! Don’t disrespect the Keeper. He’s right, Lanaya’s right, I’m right, you aren’t ready for this!”

I couldn’t hesitate here, not now. If I couldn’t even manage this, how would I protect my clan?

“Keeper, finish it. I will not carry the dishonour of stopping midway.” I gazed pleadingly at Zathrian, “Please, I have endured the fate of a Dreamer, this is nothing.”

I heard a thump and turned to see that Thranduil had punched the wall in anger. “This is wrong! Stupid! Foolish!” He stormed out.

“He’s right, Keeper. She’s not ready for this vallaslin, forget accompanying the Warden company.”

“Why are you so adamant that you must go, da’len? Do you truly have no faith in me?”

I stared in shock at the hurt on Zathrian’s face, “I’m doing this because I have complete faith in you Baba. I love you. This clan. How can I not act when I know I should? When I could help?”

Zathrian’s face twisted through a series of complex emotions before he nodded slowly, “Perhaps I was wrong, ashalan. Perhaps your judgement is improving.” His eyes closed in pain as he muttered, “Certainly better than mine.”

Zathrian moved back to me and I closed my eyes as the agony returned.

 


 

I jumped on to the next tree branch and scouted the path ahead of us as the Warden and his company trailed behind me.

I was envious and ashamed.

I had greatly overestimated my abilities and underestimated theirs. The entire group outright refused to accept any magical help from me during combat and after seeing them in action I understood why. The offensive spells I knew were all destructive and didn’t discriminate from friend and foe. The domestic spells were useless, and the group couldn’t trust that I would time my defensive spells right. In the wake of their finesse, I seemed like a bumbling awkward child.

They functioned like a streamlined machine. Whatever conflicts and dislike they had for each other disappeared during combat. While I was adept with a bow, capable of hitting enemies without hurting my allies, Leliana and Zevran could predict their teammates’ movements and fire their arrows rapidly, never taking a moment to aim. Zevran and Leliana provided both ranged and frontline support, shifting to daggers when dealing with close range combatants. Sten, Oghren and Alistair fought in the front while demonstrating a great deal of faith in their mages, trusting that the Warden, Morrigan and Wynne were capable with ranged spells and would shield them when necessary. And they did.

Group combat was about teamwork. While each member was clearly capable of more, by restricting the use of their talents and functioning as a group, they were almost invincible. And the credit of their cooperation went to the Warden, Aedan Cousland. No matter their prejudices, all the companions adhered with great respect to the Warden’s judgement.

The Dalish implemented such strategies too, but I had never done more than the necessary drills. This was Thranduil’s area of expertise.

I turned back and noticed that the Warden had bent down to collect herbs. Again.

That was something else that bothered me.

Aedan had the unnerving habit of stopping to collect any useful herbs that were lying around. If it had been just that, it wouldn’t be a problem…if he didn’t stop to loot every corpse that they killed.

The behaviour set off so many warning bells that I couldn’t help but keep my distance from the group by scouting ahead.

It wasn’t possible, not really. He never found any magnificent loot, only weapons that the enemies already had. He collected sylvan wood after killing the possessed trees, which was, admittedly, rare. He didn’t loot everything, just useful items like money.

He was being resourceful. That was it.

To be fair, even the Dalish looted corpses. Assigning meaning to something I had considered normal, just because the Warden was doing it, was irrational. Illogical. Foolish.

The dread, fear and horrible uneasiness remained.

 


 

 

The sun set, and we made camp next to the talking Grand Oak.

I was assigned fire and cooking duty. Because I was the deadweight.

I sighed, and passed the roasted meat spiced with a powder unique to the clan. Everyone was settled around the fire, Zevran on one side while Morrigan sat on the other side of me.

“Not bad,” Oghren grumbled as he chewed on the meat.

A quiet settled in the camp as everyone proceeded to eat after that judgement from Oghren. Like a magnet, my gaze was drawn to the Warden and I watched him, searching for any other inconsistencies. He ate weirdly, taking dainty small bites but a quick look around confirmed similar behaviour from Wynne and Alistair. Anything that seemed unnatural was always mirrored either by Wynne or Alistair.

When dinner finished, I was slightly reassured. An arm came around my shoulders and I turned to see Zevran smirking at me.

“So which human do you have a crush on? Aedan, Wynne or Alistair? Though I am hurt,” He placed a hand dramatically over his heart, “Just barely a glance in my direction.”

Morrigan snorted in humour and Alistair groaned, “Really, Zevran? She’s barely a teen.”

Morrigan laughed, “I’m more surprised it’s a human, especially after the reception we received back at the clan.”

I hid my face behind my folded knees, embarrassed that my regard had been so obvious.

“Oh, that’s so cute! She’s blushing!” I elbowed Zevran and everyone laughed. Except Sten.

“So why did you join us?” Sten asked sternly, “And don’t do the mage thing to explain. Or else.”

“Sten, it’s obvious. She wanted to help her clan.” Leliana gently explained.

“Actually, it’s a good question,” Morrigan poked me to get my attention, “While you seem talented for your age, I’m sure there were better options. What are these elven arts that you’re so good at?”

Outsiders. They were outsiders. I didn’t know them, not really. This amiable atmosphere wasn’t genuine. It couldn’t be.

But it didn’t matter. Because after their display of combat today, they were extremely intimidating. Objectively, they had the skill necessary to slaughter my clan. They would suffer large losses, but they would still win.

I remained silent, struggling to find something I could tell them. Saying I was a somniari would result in my life being in danger from Sten and Alistair. I couldn’t explain the scientific method in one sitting either.

“Now you’ve made me curious,” Aedan said when I remained silent for too long, “Go on. Answer her question.”

“Unless you are just deadweight.” Oghren mocked.

I bristled, “Do you really think I’ll tell you lot? After everything you shems have stolen from my kind? Let me be clear, I won’t.”

Fuck.

“So much pride, Erelani. So very short-sighted.” Desire mocked.

“Ugh. The ‘we elves are the victim’ speech.” Oghren rolled his eyes.

 “Now, now,” Zevran placed a consoling hand on my shoulder, his foreign accent suddenly prominent, “Let’s not get political. We’re just getting to know each other.”

A cold settled in my stomach. “The destination is an elven ruin. For your own good, don’t touch anything.”

“Have you been there before?” Wynne asked tentatively.

“Yes.” I stated succinctly.

“I’ve heard rumours that elven ruins have really good armour,” Aedan moved forward eagerly, “Is that true?” He turned to Alistair, “Imagine if we get a good haul of armour!”

I couldn’t help the glare and the sudden sinking feeling in my stomach, “And there it is.”

Alistair frowned in reproach, “Do you imagine we’ll win against an archdemon using subpar armour?”

“So, when it comes to our things, they are capable of defeating archdemons. But my people, the ones who made them, they are subpar?” I growled, unable to stop shaking in anger.

“Well, she’s got a point there.” Oghren nodded in slight apology.

“But I never said elves were subpar!” Alistair protested indignantly, “I was talking about the armour! She’s putting words in my mouth!”

I was encouraged by Oghren’s concession, “Why don’t you go to your human leaders and ask for a set of armour, huh? Why are you stealing from us?!” I finally directed my anger to the true recipient, Aedan, “Who gave you the right?! Picking plants and looting corpses like a thief! What kind of warden are you?”

Aedan grit his teeth, “The kind that does what is necessary. If you’re not using the armour, you don’t need it. And since your clan will be joining us to fight the Blight, I imagine they will be using that armour too, don’t you think?”

“And what,” I glared at Leliana, “Your precious Chantry doesn’t have money to help with the Blight either? Despite having tithes and maintaining templar orders, they can’t spare the cash to outfit soldiers against the Blight?”

Leliana kept her calm, “The Chantry is already providing support to the Warden. And, I want to emphasis this, this company is doing everything in its power to help your clan.”

“The girl isn’t wrong about the Chantry, though.” Sten objected.

“We all feel like we could use a lot more help with the Blight,” Wynne spoke up diplomatically, “But Erelani is right. While the Blight is the most important issue, there are other issues at hand that we should try to fix.”

“You mean like traipsing through a living forest to kill a bunch of wolves?” Morrigan mocked.

“What, did you think anything in life was free?” I snapped, “We’re volunteering the entire clan, asking for some help in return isn’t unjust!”

“Okay, that’s enough,” Zevran wrapped an arm around my shoulders again, “You’ve got a hot head, eh? We are trying to help, and the Dalish signed treaties long ago so there can’t be payment. We are doing your clan a favour, da’len, and so we’ll consider any loot found as payment. No such thing as free meal, is there?”

I glanced in surprise at the use of elvish and Zevran winked, “My mother was Dalish.”

An awkward silence settled over the camp. I shifted in discomfort, aware I was the culprit for the discord. While I didn’t regret my words, I was suddenly ashamed by my behaviour.

Respect and tolerance.

I had to be better. I needed their help.

“Uhh, umm,” I swallowed my pride, “Ir abelas. I shouldn’t have behaved in such a way,” I looked each of them in the eyes, “I hope you will forgive me.”

Aedan sighed, “Don’t worry about it. This wasn’t even that bad, compared to the spats that we normally get into.”

“What does irr abilas mean?” Leliana smiled sweetly as she butchered the pronunciation, indicating she held no hard feelings.

I relaxed in relief, “The literal translation is in sorrow. Depending on the way it’s used, it can mean I’m sorry or I’m in grief.”

“What is andaran atish’an?” Wynne’s pronunciation was surprisingly accurate.

“It means, we welcome you in peace. Or enter this place in peace.”

“That’s rather sweet, isn’t it?” Alistair opined.

“Well, I’m off to bed,” Morrigan stretched her limbs and I noticed her clothes for the first time. Shit, puberty, “I need rest especially if we have to hunt for an acorn for the oak tree.” She turned to Aedan with an intense look, “Did you hear that, Aedan? Look for an acorn. For a tree.”

“I heard you the first time, Morrigan.” Aedan laughed.

“What is my life coming to?” Zevran snorted in the laughter, “Going from being a Crow assassin to gathering acorns to stop the Blight.”

“When you put it like that,” Sten started, before guffawing loudly in laughter. Everyone joined in, shaking their heads.

 


 

We found the acorn. We followed Swiftrunner. We entered the elven ruin.

I had been on my best behaviour, being amiable with everyone, gently ribbing the Warden each time he stopped to pick loot.

I held my own in battles, so I seemed at least marginally competent.

My gut clenched in fearful anticipation. I had to discredit the werewolf story or make my clan the priority. I couldn’t rage when they paused to consider their options. I couldn’t let fear of the outcome overpower me.

I needed to be calm. I needed to be diplomatic.

“You? Prideful, selfish Erelani?” Desire laughed. I drowned it out.

I kept pace with the others, situated in the middle of the group. Despite my protests at the position, a stern look from Aedan had been effective in silencing me.

We entered a small library, surprised to find it empty. A broken stone altar stood in the centre. Aedan called a brief halt and we settled into the fringes. Wynne and Morrigan moved to the shelves, perusing through the dilapidated volumes. I moved closer too, eager to find something my clan could use.

Aedan pressed past me, and the sudden forcefulness had me turning, and I caught him bending over to pick up a phylactery.

Phylactery. Spirit. Arcane Warrior.

Sudden realization jolted through me. They were already taking the armour, even the books. But the way of the arcane warrior, a true remnant of Ancient elves, how could I let-?

I fadestepped and caught his hand just before he touched it.

“Don’t touch it!” I yelled, unable to hide the urgency in my voice.

My voice alerted the others and they approached in a hurry.

“What? It’s just a phylactery.” Aedan backed away.

“No, it isn’t.” I firmly intoned. Aedan gave me a scrutinising look. I explained, “I can feel the presence of a spirit. Let me check first.”

“I’m a circle trained mage,” Aedan emphasised, “You’re a child.”

Fuck. But not this. I couldn’t just give the ancient elven way of life away. They already stole the way of the Knight Enchanter, but this was the original derivation.

“Don’t touch it, please.” I caught Aedan’s dismissive face and took a deep breath, “I’m a Dreamer. Believe me, this has a spirit in it.”

“How convenient.” Sten moved behind Aedan, effective in intimidating me.

I took a deep breath, “Please, let me handle it. If something goes wrong, I’ll be responsible.”

Morrigan sighed and moved toward me, “Are you really a Dreamer?” I nodded. “Let her handle it.” She turned to me, “I hope you’re aware, you’re the most susceptible to the spirit.”

“I know.”

I turned to Aedan. His jaws were clenched and his gaze, piercing. He nodded slowly, reluctantly.

I knelt and picked up the phylactery. Images flashed through my mind and I extended my aura into the phylactery. Its intentions were clear.

I want to die.

I closed my eyes.

 


 

A faint mirage of an elvish woman stood before me. She was clad in armour, but the shape was muddled, as if she didn’t remember what she looked like.

“I want to die. Please show me the mercy of killing me.”

“Who are you? Where are you from? Arlathan?”

“No, Arlathan had fallen. There was a war. I don’t remember what it was about. I just remember being surrounded, then doing a spell to hide away.” The Fade changed, reflecting faded images of a battle, “My team was supposed to retrieve me, but they never did. You are the first. After so many years, you are the first.”

I didn’t extend my aura again. Not this time.

“What would you have me do?”

“There is a stone alter that I must be placed on. It was where I performed the spell. The alter has a spell built into it that will release me from this device and I will be able to pass on. But I don’t know where it is. There was a library in the room, but that’s all I remember.”

“You are asking me to do something with such vague instruction, what will I receive in return?”

“I do not have anything to give. I can only rely on your generosity, da’len.”

“There must be something that you remember. Can you teach me anything?” I hinted strongly.

“Nothing appropriate for a child.”

“I face enemies that threaten to slaughter my clan once I leave. But before attending to that, I’m expected to look for a stone alter in a display of generosity, but you would not extend the same courtesy?”

“The only thing I remember with any clarity is the Dirth'ena Enasalin, and if you truly seek to protect your clan, this will be helpful to you.”

“Do you know any magical theory?”

“Magical theory…only the fundamentals. And the knowledge required for Dirth’ena Enasalin.”

I finally extended my aura to the spirit and thought about my clan. About Zathrian and Thranduil. “I swear that I will help you. But please, help me in return. Teach me what magical theory you remember and the Dirth’ena Enasalin.”

The spirit paused, analysing my aura. I enforced my conviction, I would do this. The spirit nodded, “When we are before the stone alter, I will transfer my memories.”

“Just one more thing.”

“Yes, da’len.”

“Do you remember any of the gods? Fen’Harel?”

“Fen’Harel. He did something big. Unimaginable. I don’t remember what.”

“Thank you, hahren.” I bowed in respect.

 


 

I opened my eyes. Alistair stood before me, his sword extended towards my neck. I retreated in alarm, banging my head against the wall.

“State your name.” Morrigan intervened, pulling Alistair back.

“Erelani. It’s fine. The spirit wants to die, it’s no danger to us.”

The team seemed to marginally relax, “So your elven art is Dreaming. How quaint.” Oghren moved back to the shelf he’d been lazing against.

“T’was sensible of her not to tell us.”

I didn’t want to get into this. I held the phylactery tightly and went back to the library, whiling away the time before departure. I couldn’t just immediately place the phylactery on the alter, the deception would be too obvious.

The books were not legible. Most pages were missing, or the ink had faded out. I lazed around, reassured that nothing of value was being stolen.

When the break ended, I walked up to the alter.

“What are you doing?” Aedan queried.

“Just destroying the phylactery. Placing it on the alter should do the trick.”

I extended my aura into the phylactery, “It’s done. I found it.”

“Thank you, da’len. Mythal’enaste.”

A rush of images flooded my brain. Something inside snapped. I fell forward, collapsing onto the alter. There was a crash, and something cracked into pieces.

 


 

There were voices.

“Of course, it’s real, it’s always been real.” The whisper was tortured. “She died, and it could have easily been me.”

“What will we tell the Keeper?”

The voices faded.

Time passed. New voices joined the previous ones.

“I want to see her!”

“Ashalan, my sweet ashalan. All my fault. All of it. Forgive me, please forgive me.”

“Erelani! Stupid Erelani!” The voice choked, “Stupid, brilliant, idiotic, Erelani. Why didn’t you think? Why did you leave me alone?”

“She managed to destroy the phylactery.”

“Her body?”

“She loved knowledge. There is no better place than here.”

“We need to burn-”

“No! This is none of your business! I want to see her again. I’ll be using a stasis charm, back away.”

What have I done?

 


 

I couldn’t move. I wasn’t breathing. Was I dead for real this time?

I let go.

 


 

The Fade.

I was in the raw Fade.

I was expected somewhere. Needed somewhere.

I went to the need. An elf was desperately calling out for a name. He caught sight of me and banished me away.

There was need again. I followed it again. A desire demon stood before me, smirking.

“Well, you never cease to surprise me. What is your purpose?”

Purpose? Why would I have purpose? I was.

“Do you understand now? Will you even remember this?”

Remember what?

“As amusing as this is, this is also quite horrifying. Remember who you are.”

Who I am? Who was I?

I played in the Fade with Desire, easily altering the Fade. Well, of course I could.

Why?

Because the spirit was made of the essence of the Fade.

How did I know that?

Memory transfer occurred by transfer of fade essence with memories embedded in them. Any element could be used to embed the memory, but memory worked best with fire, because fire would sear it into the Fade essence and which would imprint strongly into the brain. Electricity was better for storage of memories. A combination of both created veilfire, for veilfire stored memories with electricity and imprinted the memory with fire.

Didn’t veilfire only create green fire?

Once the Veil descended, memory transfer occurred only if the magical aura was extended. Otherwise, the fire burned green, with the colour of the fire used to imprint memories. The fire was capable of showing the memories of what once was, at the time of the fire’s creation.

Who am I?

 

Who was I?

 

How did I get here?

Memory transfer occurred by transfer of fade essence with memories embedded in them. Any element could be used to embed the memory, but memory worked best with fire, because fire would sear it into the Fade essence and which would imprint strongly into the brain. Electricity was better for storage of memories. A combination of both created veilfire, for veilfire stored memories with electricity and imprinted the memory with fire.

I got here by a memory transfer.

What memory transfer?

Memory transfer occurred by transfer of fade essence with memories embedded in them. Any element could be used to embed the memory, but memory worked best with fire, because fire would sear it into the Fade essence and which would imprint strongly into the brain. Electricity was better for storage of memories. A combination of both created veilfire, for veilfire stored memories with electricity and imprinted the memory with fire.

This was useless.

 ....

Useless.

The word resonated.

I was Useless.

Desire froze, its gaze transforming into pity.

I continued to play.

              

Chapter Text


 

Walk In Another’s Shoes


 

“Nobody is impervious to misfortune.” -  Ferdinard Marcos


 

I spotted a blue vein of something – lyrium-and followed the trail until it disappeared into the foggy ground. I transformed my extremities into a shovel and started digging through Fade essence enthusiastically, wanting to see where the vein ended. I stopped digging for a moment and took a slight peek at Desire. It was doing exactly what it had been doing for the last couple of hours after it had stopped playing with me. Standing in one stupid spot.

I pouted in annoyance. Desire was being so difficult. It refused to let me go anywhere! It was so boring! I wanted to play! I wanted to explore the Fade, jump up and down, fly from one place to another. But instead of playing with me, Desire was being weird. It kept phasing in and out of the Fade, flickering like a candle flame in that one spot. Whatever it was doing, it seemed to be failing, if the frustrated cusses meant anything.

Maybe Desire would join me now?

Are you done yet?

“That is quite enough!” Desire glided agitatedly towards me, “If I can’t get access, then hopefully you can.” Desire dragged me towards that same spot and I struggled against its hold.

I don’t want to! So boring!

“Try to go back! I have never seen something like this before! You-this isn’t normal!” Desire tightened its hold on me, squeezing until I was stuck on the spot. “Go back! Remember who you are!”

Stupid! I know who I am! I am Useless!

“No, you aren’t! You are nothing like Useless!”

Desire compressed me until I fit into a vaguely familiar shape then slammed me to the ground. For a moment, it felt like I connected to something; there was a phantom breath before I was suddenly pulled back, ricocheting until I collided with some gelatinous substance before squeezing through its holes.

I oozed like a liquid, waiting for all bits to assemble before popping back up.

I was back in the Fade.

That was fun! Was that what Desire was doing? I knew it was fun!

I turned to Desire and felt the horror permeating its aura.

“What was that? How-how did you-why didn’t you go back? How did you come back?” Desire withdrew from me, and started vibrating in its spot, “What-what can I do? This-this isn’t any of my business.” Desire recoiled, “I tried, and you seem fine with how you are. Who am I to change that?

Wait! Where are you going?

I followed Desire in confusion as it retreated from me. Desire panicked, disappearing and reappearing on a rock ledge at the far end of the horizon.

How did Desire do that?

Fadestep in the Fade. Visualize your destination, have intent then move.

Oh, that was like Apparition, wasn’t it?

Not this again.

But where did I get the word Apparition?

I shook away my unease and set my sight on the rock ledge that Desire was perched on. We were playing Tag! I need to catch up! I fadestepped and appeared on the same rock ledge.

Yes! Success!

“Why are you following me? Go back to that place! Don’t follow me!” Desire disappeared again. I searched the horizon again and found it gliding on a river far away.

Hmph. As if I would stop playing Tag just when Desire showed some interest in games.

I fadestepped again but splashed into the water instead of walking on it. I waded out and noticed that Desire had turned back in fear and disappeared again.

This isn’t fun! Desire, I don’t want to play this game anymore!

“We aren’t playing. Stay away from me!”

Desire was being such a jerk! Well, I don’t want to be friends with you either! Stupid Desire! You followed me first!

Desire froze in its tracks and I watched as the air wavered in indecision.

You came to me first! But if you want to run away, don’t pretend it’s because of me! As if I’m something evil!

I only wanted to play with you.

The feeling of submission wavered in the air before Desire reappeared on the river bank in front of me.

“If you want me to stay, you need to listen to me about your form. Choose now. My way or no way at all.”

Those words were familiar somehow. My way. There was only one way.

I nodded and leaped in joy towards Desire to give it a hug. Desire slid to the right and I fell into the river again. Ugh, Desire was so annoying. It enjoyed playing hard to get way too much.

“I don’t know what to do. There’s only one spirit that possibly could. But I hate that stupid spirit, ugh this is all your fault! Stupid useless girl.”

See, even you agree I’m Useless.

“Shut up! Just follow me and let me do all the talking.”

I sighed and followed Desire quietly. It grumbled under its breath as it held my hand and pulled me to speed up. Just to have some fun, I elongated myself like elastic, then suddenly let the tension snap, bouncing up and down like a yoyo.

“Stop that!”

Ugh, why was Desire being so grouchy? Desire always wanted both useful and useless things, so pretending like I was unwanted, was too unbelievable. Not by Desire. I was Useless, of course I would do useless things.

“That isn’t how it works, and you are not Useless. We’re almost there, so keep quiet.”

Desire had taken us to a large cliff facing an ocean. We slid sideways, down the rockface and faced a large cave entrance. It had intricate designs on the wall, the main centrepiece was the elongated archway, filled with sketches of wolves, griffins and halla.

Disquiet settled in my being and I pulled at Desire’s grip. Stop. Stop!

“What is it?” Desire stopped and sighed, “I can feel it too. It seems like Wisdom has a visitor.”

We stopped at the entrance and Desire pulsed its aura twice, before extending it in pseudo permission. After a moment, Desire reluctantly stepped inside, and I followed, equally unenthusiastic.

A bright yellow glow from within turned Desire’s dark purple form into a dark red that looked very sinister.

“Thank you.”

I rolled my eyes in exasperation. We kept quiet as we walked down the passage, unable to ignore the overwhelming magical power pulsing deep inside the cave.

“I never thought I’d see the day when Desire would intentionally seek Wisdom.” A voice growled out. It came from within the shadows, cast deeper in contrast to the bright radiance. When the glare of the light lessened, bright blue eyes became apparent in the darkness.

“Any who seek wisdom are welcome in my domain. Don’t mock them, lethallin.” A lilting voice replied. I looked around searchingly and noticed a particularly radiant spot of yellow approach us.

Too bright!

“Oh, you brought a babe with you?” The brightness dimmed, and I could finally discern a bright yellow spirit in the middle of the cave, radiating gentleness towards me. “Why do you have it with you Desire?”

“She is my territory. My domain.”

Wisdom exchanged a look with the figure in the shadows, “Do you need help raising a new spirit?”

“No, there is no need for that. She is my responsibility.”

I love you too Desire!

Desire’s aura twisted in discomfort at my sincerity. Wisdom let out a heavy sigh and glided towards me, its hands extended, but Desire moved protectively in front of me. The movement seemed to turn Desire a brighter red with the extra exposure to the yellow light, “I would appreciate a private audience with you. I need to discuss something-”

A scoff came from the shadows, “I’m not leaving. Everyone knows how much Desire demons hate Wisdom spirits.” There was rustling, and a black outline moved forward until it entered the light.

Doggy!

I rushed forward but slammed to the floor as Desire caught me and pulled me back.

“I told you to stay put!”

But it looked so fluffy! So fluffy!

Wisdom giggled, and Desire crushed me to the floor with its heel in retaliation. Wisdom’s giggles abruptly stopped.

“That isn’t necessary, Desire. Let the spirit go.” The doggy snarled menacingly. As the dog stalked forward, I grew concerned for Desire.

I melted out from Desire’s grip and stood up, waving my hand placatingly. See, nothing to worry about. Desire likes playing hard to get.

Wisdom sighed, “What can I do for you, Desire?”

“This! She’s forgotten who she is. She isn’t a spirit. She’s been maimed.”

A tense silence fell, and I turned to Desire in shock. Suddenly, the air in the cave became stifling.

“She’s just another casualty then. She isn’t one of the People-”

“Lethallin, that’s enough.” Wisdom turned to me and I retreated warily at the hostility radiating from the dog, “Who are you, child?”

I am Useless.

I hid behind Desire after the declaration, unable to trust the intent of the other two beings. Perhaps Desire was right, I should have been quiet.

You are not Useless-your name-”

“No, Desire. If she is to ever return, then she must remember on her own. Preferably where her body is, if it hasn’t been destroyed.”

Desire, let’s go. I don’t like it here.

“Wait.” Desire ordered, before turning back to Wisdom, “Can I help her along? Jog her memory-?”

I tuned Desire out as the big black dog moved towards me. I cowered. The fluffiness that had captivated me fell away as I focused on the dog’s monstrous fangs as it flexed its jaws threateningly.

“How did you get here?”

Desire dragged me. I glided back further as it stalked forward.

“Into the Dreaming? Are you erelan?”

Erelan. Trepidation and dread settled in the pit of my stomach. I turned to Desire again, only to find it watching me expectantly.

I couldn’t-I wasn’t-what-have-I-done-

I want to go! I want to go! I don’t want to stay-home-

I fadestepped back to the only place that was vaguely familiar, the place Desire had kept me trapped.

Erelani.

Visions of another-no-me-flashed through my mind. The Fade flickered with multiple colours as if I was under a psychedelic drug.

My spirit pulsed into the Fade before squeezing, compressing through a small tiny hole that felt suffocating. I dropped, twisting, bending and adjusting until I fit the encasing. Too big in too small.

My mind ached. My spirit ached. My body ached.

My lungs felt like they were going to burst, squeezing, stabbing, desperate for a breath.

I exhaled. Inhaled. Exhaled.

Memories, both old and new, came rushing back as if a dam had broken. The spirit had tried to cross over, into the Fade and beyond. My aura had been entangled with it and due to the mixing of its essence with mine, especially the memory transfer, I had been dragged along with it. I had gotten stuck in between, both in body and spirit, until I had chosen to let go.

I should have died. There was no reason for my spirit to linger, not after failing my family and clan.

It was me. I trapped you. Though I admit, I did regret that choice for a while. But did you really think you could escape me so easily? That I would relinquish my territory so easily?

Desire. I don’t understand it. I don’t think I ever will.

 


 

 

I opened my eyes.

It was cold. I couldn’t tell where I was, only that I was lying down. The darkness was absolute, constricting, and I strained to see beyond that blanket of darkness.

Something scraped against the wall and I bolted up and rolled to the ground in self-defence. Clicking sounds followed me and I retreated in the opposite direction, cussing quietly when I collided against a wall.

Light. I needed light.

I created a ball of flame in my right hand and cringed at the ache in my eyes. I blinked frantically, relying predominantly on my hearing as my sight adjusted.

A giant black spider was in front of me, at least two meters tall. Its’ legs were hairy, hideous while its numerous eyes were trained unflinchingly upon me. The two mouth legs clicked ominously, and I felt my heart swell in fear. Beside the spider, on either side, were two smaller spiders that I couldn’t help but ignore for they were completely eclipsed by the gigantic hairy spider scuttling towards me.

I regretted creating the light for I had effectively drawn its attention.

I was the prey.

I ran. Out the library door and down twisting passages. I heard the scraping of multiple legs pursuing and feeling my panic swell up, I fadestepped.

Left, right, straight.

A dead end. No. No!

I fadestepped again, dodging the legs that attempted to trap me as I doubled back.

A stabbing pain started below my ribs, and I looked down to see a piece of glass embedded in my ribs. How hadn’t I felt that before? Where did it come from?

The phylactery. I had fallen on the phylactery.

I couldn’t keep running much longer. I paused as I approached a narrow opening that widened out into open air.

I did it. I got out.

But it was night-time, and the spiders wouldn’t hesitate to follow me outside. I jogged through the opening and waited to hear the scraping sounds of the spiders approaching. Two of the smaller spiders reached first, and I held my hands together in a circle in front of my face. I closed my eyes and envisioned a flamethrower before ‘breathing’ fire through the circle. Shrieks engulfed the passageway as fire blazed through it, and I waited for the large spider to approach.

It didn’t.

The fire died down, the corpses of the small spiders burned to a crisp. A burning metallic rubbery smell hung in the air and I felt bile build up at the horrendous smell. My enhanced vision caught the glint of multiple red eyes focused unblinking upon me. I shuddered.

I waited for it to approach, cautious, but it stood there patiently, unmoving.

 A sense of horror pounded my heart at its calculating behaviour. Spooked, I turned and ran, heading straight for the Arwen camp.

 


 

The clearing was empty, but still showed signs of habitation.

The nug nesting on the discarded Arwen heraldry startled at my approach and turned to run.

Seeing the nug woke a deep-seated hunger. How long had it been? How much time had passed? The absence of my clan was disquieting, but there was nothing in the clearing that indicated a fight had taken place.

It was highly likely they had joined the Warden to fight the Blight. I just needed to join them.

I tracked the nug and killed it with Flashfire. I removed the viscera manually, and cast a miniature fire spell, that I called Incendio for nostalgic purposes, and cooked the meat.

My stomach spasmed viciously at the first voracious bite and I slowed down, afraid any meat eaten would just be vomited out. I took three more bites, taking care to chew thoroughly before forcing myself to stop.

I settled down on the roots of a tree and lifted my tunic. Tiny glass pieces were embedded in my skin, but only one piece had stabbed through.

I wasn’t a healer. I was capable of healing minor scraps and injuries, fully aware of the elven anatomy, but I had never dabbled in the healing arts. Especially not in spirit healing. The one spirit that had consistent contact with me, Desire, was not inclined to participate in such an endeavour either.

I took shallow breaths, unwilling to aggravate the injury further, especially after the chase through the ruins. I left the piece in, aware that it was preventing me from bleeding out.

I didn’t know healing. But I could ask for help.

I closed my eyes.

 


 

“I’m surprised you returned to the Fade so easily. Especially after what happened. Tell me, do you remember anything?”

Yes, I do. Memories have the essence of the Fade, remember? And you were there in all of them.

Desire sighed, “So what do you desire?”

Do you know healing?

“What are the terms of the bargain?” Desire shook its head suddenly and rephrased, “Forget that, I’ll teach you the basics of healing magic, enough to heal your injury, and in exchange, you will return to speaking your intent rather than communicating it with your aura.”

Huh?

“Why?”

“Communicating like that is reserved for newborn wisps and regular erelans. You are a somniari, you should already be able to control your intent in the Fade so that you only show what you want to.”

“You’re being surprisingly helpful.”

“Just don’t want to feel like I’m dealing with a stupid babe,” Desire muttered under its breath, “again.”

I shrugged, “Okay. So, the healing magic, how do I do it? Also, do you know what happened here?” I paused, then raised a hand, “Can you give me a moment? I want to know what happened at the campsite.”

As I said the words, I dissolved the boundaries of my domain and integrated into the Fade realm that reflected the world.

The wisps bounced agitatedly at the sudden disruption, the Veil already paper thin in the region due to the blood shed from countless conflicts in the region.

It was only too easy for the wisps to enact what had happened.

The Warden and his company entered the camp, armed with the knowledge endowed by the werewolves. The perspectives switched rapidly between the Dalish and the Warden company; the incident was too fresh.

Aedan had tricked the Keeper into following him into the Ruins, and Zathrian had readily followed, grief stricken at the news of my death. He’d wanted to see it for himself and Thranduil had followed doggedly, refusing to leave despite repeated orders.

No, no, no, no. Please, please, no!

Not because of me.

Zathrian never questioned…. he followed unthinkingly…. Thranduil with him…. because of me!

Anguished screams echoed through the Fade and it was a moment before I realized that I was the one screaming. Sobbing.

I only wanted to save them. I only wanted to help.

Why was I so useless? So powerless?

The adrenaline that had numbed my emotions in the Waking world was absent. I could only drown in my misery.

Despair filled my gut. What was I good for? Why live? Surrender to-

“Leave. Now. She is my territory and I will destroy you if you attempt to even influence her.”

Despair stood at the scene, staring contemplatively at me. For a moment, I felt a strong kinship with it, but Desire stepped in front of me, waved its right arm and Despair flew back, through the boundaries of the vision and into the raw Fade.

Desire.

“You may despair, but don’t give up your desires. There will always be pain, physical or emotional, but having goals, even just desires, will get you up. Get up. You have a lot to do.”

I absorbed its words. If Desire had cared or even pretended to care, I wouldn’t have listened, for it would have deepened my despair. But the indifference to my pain stabilized me.

I didn’t have the luxury of despairing, because there was no one who would listen.

I needed to see the rest of the vision.

The wisps re-enacted the memory again. Thranduil returned with the Warden company and his face was aged, matured. Sorrow, anger and resolve set his features as he spoke privately with Lanaya. Thranduil discovered Zathrian’s involvement and after my death, he’d been driven to the limits of his rage. He’d lashed out at Zathrian for my pointless death, for I had died while setting out to find a cure that Zathrian already knew about.

Zathrian hadn’t had any fighting spirit left, his guilt defeating him before the battle had even begun. Zathrian died destroying the curse and Thranduil had saved the day, negotiating a truce with the surviving humans with Aedan’s help.

Lanaya had pledged the Arwen clan to fight against the Blight. They set out immediately for Denerim, accompanied by the humans they had saved.

It wasn’t fair.

No one in the clan, not even Lanaya, had held a good opinion of Zathrian for his actions. They only saw that he’d created the curse and refused to uplift it. That I had died creating a cure that Zathrian already had.

It wasn’t fair.

 It hadn’t been that simple. There had been no reason to believe that Witherfang would keep her word. That the humans would have accepted the truce gracefully. They wouldn’t have. It was only the addition of a third neutral party that had resolved the issue.

Only the looming Blight that reinforced the truce.

It wasn’t fair.

Zathrian had acted in the best interests of the clan. He had retained the only leverage he had in the situation.

He had taken me in. Raised me. The only one ever to call me ashalan.

He died removing the curse, revoking his vengeance and his immortality, only for the clan. For Thranduil and me.

No one would remember that. Not even the Fade. For there was no memory of anyone seeing his death as a sacrifice.

It wasn’t fair. My heart squeezed in pain and I couldn’t help the stream of tears running down my face.

I’d find my clan. I would tell them.

My clan was in Denerim. Thranduil was in Denerim. I needed to heal quickly and help them. Protect them.

I turned to Desire, “I’m ready, please, teach me healing magic.”

For the first time in years, Desire’s dark purple shade lightened to a jam like colour.

Healing magic needs to be neutral, with no intent. Let the neutral magic permeate the affected area and it will alter to reflect all parts in the area. This helps identify the problem. Infections are categorized by foreign agents, bleeding can be stopped, healing of skin and organs accelerated. Usually injuries and infections can be easily cured, but normal bodily functions that harm are hard to identify unless you’ve studied anatomy in detail.”

I nodded in comprehension. Healing magic was a lot like the raw magic of the Fade. The magic would reflect, but unless you knew what you were doing, the knowledge was useless. Like everything else, this too required practise, knowledge, dedication and a healthy dose of luck.

“Where does spirit healing come into this?”

“We are very acquainted with magic and the shades of intent. Spirit magic can’t cure everything, but spirits are skilled in identifying which intents don’t align together peacefully and direct healing magic accordingly.”

“Anything else?”

Desire gave me a deadpan look, “No, that’s all there is to healing magic.” Desire rolled its eyes, “Of course not! This is the most basic of lessons! But for your purposes, start practising! Now, in the Fade so I can correct you.

I disengaged my aura from Desire.

Desire was different.

I knew why now. Desire wasn’t just a sentient emotion. It was a complex being that gained territory by harvesting one chosen emotion. Desire. The spirits and demons weren’t emotions. Not really.

They were a different race.

There was no such thing as spirits and demons. They were beings made of Fade essence. Like how our bodies were made of materials of the Waking. Their intent towards dreamers in the Fade, however, transformed them. Not unlike people. Enemies who attacked us were demons. Friends who helped us were good friends, spirits.

Demon was a Spirit whose purpose was corrupted, indeed.

Desire had been borderline tolerant and even amiable towards me before because it wanted something nefarious from me.

I wasn’t surprised.

The Fade suddenly shook, indicating a disruption in my Waking body. I snapped awake, opening my eyes suddenly.

A human man had restrained me, tying my hands to my back with tight knots. I looked up to him in uncomprehending shock.

I had forgotten to put up wards. Rookie mistake. But I had never had to, for I had never been alone before.

“Lookie, another elf! A young Dalish one too by the looks of it!” He kicked me in the stomach and I curled up to avoid further blows.

“Don’t damage the goods! She looks barely of age, she’ll fetch a good price at the market in Qarinus!” A burly voice rang out in front of me.

Oh, fuck. Slave traders.

 

Chapter Text


 

The Way of the Warrior


 

“Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.” – Capt. Edward A. Murphy


 

 

I didn’t fight. I couldn’t.

I made a mistake.

I had decided to wait for them to make camp before acting, thinking I could burn their entire camp to the ground.

There were eight humans decked out in armor. But there were four elves and three dwarves tied up with three guards standing watch.

One female dwarf stood next to the fire, cooking under the eye of another guard. Her brown eyes were hollowed out, empty.

My gaze passed through the other captives. One elven man was clutching a little boy close. He was the only one who was semi-alert; the others didn’t seem alive. Their eyes too were hollow, too defeated.

I couldn’t fight eight people alone. While the techniques of Dirth’ena Enasalin were embedded in my memory, I had never used it. My body had not been conditioned for its use. How could I use a fighting style that I had never even practiced in?

I was pushed into the circle of captives and I landed on the ground stomach first. I groaned, unable to contain the pain as the glass was pushed in further. Something inside my chest tore and I gasped as it became harder to breathe.

My lungs!

I didn’t have long. Whatever I was going to do, it had to be now.

Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.

I choked, spitting blood out as I gasped, desperately trying to catch my breath.

I was going to die. I was going to die!

There was a flash of white from the corner of my eyes.

Thranduil?

There was a sudden spray of blood as a guard’s head was cut off. The face was frozen in permanent surprise as it rolled to a stop, two grotesque pools of blood forming from the detached head and body. The three sentries stood back to back, their eyes roving through the camp as they searched for the attacker.

I made eye contact with the elven man and his child.

Run.

He shook his head discretely, indicating the binds.

We had to run! There were no assurances that the people who attacked were here to save us. Even the slavers could turn on us in their rage.

I ignored the growing breathlessness in my lungs and focused. I set the ropes binding me on fire, ignoring the searing heat burning my hands and legs. As my clothes caught on fire, I executed a localized freezing charm, dousing the flames.

“Apostate!” The bound dwarven male cried in fear.

Shit.

But it didn’t matter. Their fear didn’t matter. Not right now.

Dirth’ena Enasalin. Way of the Warrior. Protecting others.

I grabbed the sword of the dead guard and quickly freed the others. I scanned my surroundings, shocked to find a white-haired elf dressed in a warrior’s ensemble battling seven slavers alone.

I couldn’t fight like this. Not while I was fighting to breathe.

I turned to find my fellow prisoners huddled together. “Run!” I commanded, but almost all of them shook their heads.

What?!

“Run! We can’t trust that he’ll help us!”

“When the humans win, they’ll catch us and punish us for running. It’s better to wait,” the female dwarf who had been cooking before ignored my incredulous look, “This isn’t the first time they’ve been attacked.”

No. No! I would not submit. I would never submit. I would rather die fighting!

I pulled the glass piece out and grit my teeth against the throbbing pain that pulsed through my ribs. I focused neutral magic through the wound as I watched the elf fight against the slavers.

Against all odds, he was winning. The white haired elf was ruthless, a killing machine, never hesitating as he weathered their relentless attacks and cutting through any opening. Once, as a man breached through his guard, the elf glowed white before ramming his hand through the man’s chest, pulling out his heart and throwing it straight at the attacker behind him.

If the elf decided to attack us, we didn’t stand a chance.

I looked back to my chest and found it glowing red with a dash of yellow at the opening. Internal and external bleeding with a dash of infection. As Desire had instructed, I guided the healing magic, encouraging the bleeding to stop by clotting and having the cells in my lungs multiply until the internal bleeding stopped. There was a severe drain on my mana and I stopped as I felt intense fatigue set in. I couldn’t finish the healing, so the impact wound was still open, but it would have to wait.

At least I won’t be bleeding to death. But I couldn’t ignore the threat right in front of me either.

I stood in front of my fellow captives and held my sword defensively in front of me. One of the three remaining captors caught sight of us free and roared incoherently in rage.

He charged towards me. His distraction proved fatal to his two companions as the attacking elf stabbed the remaining two with each arm, piercing one with his faded arm and another with his greatsword.

I fade-stepped, circling the last man’s charge, stopping at his back. Before he could turn around to face me, I swung my borrowed sword at his neck. He ducked and stabbed forward and I cussed as I dodged. These humans were well-trained.

I couldn’t call anymore magic. Not if I wanted to remain standing.

As he struck again, I let his sword pierce my shoulder and used the opening in his form to stab him through the stomach. He gasped and his face twisted in fury. He twisted his blade, clearly intending to cut off my arm in revenge.

I gathered every last bit of strength in my body and forcefully swung upwards, splitting his upper body vertically in half.

Blood sprayed all over my torso and I spit to get rid of the blood that entered my mouth.

My head spun, my vision splitting into double before darkening at the edges.

Not now. It wasn’t safe.

I desperately fought to stay conscious as the elf approached with his sword pointed straight at me.

“Lethallin, please, stop,” I begged, all my pride swept away at the very real possibility of death.

Mage,” his accusatory tone conveyed his entire attitude towards them. Hatred, derision and fear. There would be no compromise.

I ran a hand down my face to clear my vision and the blood off my face. I swallowed to clear my dry throat and took the guard position in front of my fellow prisoners.

At least I’d die fighting.

As I bent my knees to raise my guard, I looked up and found the elf staring gobsmacked at my face, tracing it intently.

“What is that? Why do you have lyrium markings on your face?”

“I am Dalish. And these are vallaslin, not lyrium markings.” The elf had a Tevene accent. It was possible that he had been fighting the other slavers just to “steal” their property.

“Dalish?”

I stared at him uncomprehendingly, “The keepers of the lost lore. The free elves of Thedas.”

 He glared at me, “Move away from them.”

It felt like I was staring death in the face. But, “No, we will not submit. Not to you, and certainly not to Tevinter. I’d rather die fighting.”

Someone bashed the back of my head, and I collapsed to the ground, catching a glimpse of the female dwarf behind me as she addressed the elf, “We submit. That elf doesn’t speak for us.”

No.

I strained to fight against the limits of my body desperately trying to retain my consciousness as the white haired elf approached me.

I blinked. Then failed to reopen my eyes.

 


 

My eyes were crusted shut. There was jostling; I was hung over someone’s shoulder.

Where was I? There was a fire inside me. It was hot, too hot.

There were voices mumbling quietly.

A deep rumble echoed from the figure holding me.

I lost consciousness again.

 


 

I woke up and found myself lying down, staring at the night sky. There were voices a few metres ahead of me.

My mana had returned but I was weak. There was a throbbing ache in my shoulder and ribs.

I was still alive.

I connected beyond the veil, increasing my mana pool, and as my mana grew, I heard a sword being unsheathed.

“I knew I made a mistake. Shouldn’t have brought you with us.”

I bolted up straight and scanned my surroundings. The white-haired elf was holding his greatsword with both hands, ready to strike.

I looked around at the others and found them unbound, huddling close to a fire.

Belated realization dawned upon me, “You aren’t a slaver.”

“Clearly. Stop what you are doing right now, or your head will roll.” He took a menacing step forward.

“I was about to perform healing magic.” I abruptly severed the connections, creating a small ricocheting boom at the feedback.

He relaxed, but still stood armed, “You may proceed under my watch.”

 I watched him cautiously as I spread the healing magic again, taking a preliminary scan. My shoulder and ribs were infected.

Shit.

I was too afraid to ask Desire what to do while facing the cautious elf.

Taking a gamble, I destroyed the infected sections until the bleeding began anew. Once the infection cleared, I encouraged clotting and then regeneration of the cells.

As the healing completed, I felt the edges of my vision darken again. This was too taxing. Healing magic was too difficult.

I swayed and the elf caught me before I crashed to the ground.

“You’re a rookie healer. Perfect.” I ignored his sarcasm as I fought to stabilize myself.

He lifted me by the back of the tunic as if I was an errant puppy and placed me before the fire, “Eat something first. We are heading to Gwaren and I’m not going to carry you again.”

I ate the stew handed to me quietly. They had taken the slavers’ supplies and horses. The two horses available had clearly been cut away from the cage that had held the slaves. They were now fitted with supplies and grazing quietly next to the tree they had been tied to.

After eating a full meal, I quietly sauntered off to my bed roll, too tired to make any conversation. I had no friends here.

The elf followed, sitting close to me as I nodded off.

 


 

The next morning was marginally better. When the others decided to skip the morning meal, I halted them, aware that there was a collection of edible herbs further east of the forest. After asking them to wait for an hour, I trekked east alone after giving them assurances that I’d be back very soon.

As I walked further away from them, I contemplated making a run for it and heading to Denerim. But it wasn’t feasible.

My skills so far had been concentrated on information collection, for that was what Dalish clans valued. I had experimented with magic, the basic forces of nature and with the Fade. I had created weak mimicries of spells half-remembered from a past life. Flashfire, chain lightening, barriers, runes and a few unorthodox spells like incendio, aguamenti and levitate were among the most common spells that my clan used after I ‘invented’ them.

But I was an amateur.

Even if I set out to join my clan in Denerim, the chances of reaching were close to nil. I had barely survived my encounter with slavers. Darkspawn hordes were reported to be heading north towards Gwaren, and would eventually reach Denerim. The possibility of encountering a horde while travelling alone wasn’t reassuring. Apart from darkspawn hordes, templars, chevaliers, and even the common folk considered the Dalish as enemies.

I only wanted to be a scholar. I wanted to do research. Explore the boundaries of magic, the Fade and see what adaptations I could bring in from my past life that could help my clan.

But I also needed to survive. Dirth’ena Enasalin could help me do that. However, it required the complete application of mind, body and spirit. There could be no doubts, for a weakness in will weakened both the spirit and body. There was also no finish line, for Dirth’ena Enasalin required constant upkeep and improvement.

I also needed healing magic. But healing magic also required almost complete dedication. Magic, anatomy, intents and the harmonies between intents inside the body needed to be studied.

I worried over the possibilities as I harvested the edible herbs and fungi. A nug skittered past and I sighed as I zapped it with a Paralysis. I levitated it towards me and snapped its neck. I started heading back.

I wanted to do all three. I didn’t want to give up any of it.

“So, don’t give it up. Do all three. But learn Dirth’ena Ensalin first. It’s good to attain an understanding of the limits of your body and…well; you need to learn to protect yourself. “

I sighed. Desire was right.

“Desire, for now, it might be good if you don’t talk to me when we are around the marked elf.”

 There was a scoff, then complete silence.

To learn Dirth’ena Enasalin, I had to be completely devoted to something. I had to believe in it enough that my will transformed both spirit and body.

I wasn’t sure it was possible for me. Being a Dreamer showed me that there was no such thing as truth. I couldn’t blindly devote myself to a person either, not without having that devotion returned. And abstract causes such as morality, leaders, nations, and gods meant nothing to me.

The only thing that meant anything to me was my clan. And Thranduil.

I could devote myself to Thranduil.

As I pondered that possibility, I walked into the clearing where we had set up camp.

And found it empty.

I don’t think they expected me to return.

I sighed and considered my options. They had left a clear trail and they didn’t have more than half an hour’s lead on me.

Or I could head towards Denerim…alone.

I wanted to live. With all my being, I wanted to be alive, free and loved. Survival was one of the few rarely corrupted goals. Due to my previous life and Dalish influences, I believed everyone in Thedas was born equal and free.

I didn’t have to like the other races. I didn’t even like non-Dalish elves. But I could fight for those ideals. For those basic rights.

I had fought for it. I hadn’t been able to abandon those would-be slaves. Not even when we’d been outmatched by that elf. I suppose that was what Dirth’ena Enasalin was about. The will defining the limits of the spirit and body.

It was decided then. I would fight to survive and defend basic rights of all people.

I sighed again.

And followed the visible trail left behind by the travelling party.

Survival was important.

 


 

 

“You’re back.”

I disregarded the white-haired elf as I handed out the herbs, ignoring the awkward sideway glances the others gave. The elven father placed his hand on my shoulder, “Thank you, da’len.”

I looked him straight in the eyes and found a trace of remorse. He squeezed my shoulders in silent apology and I sighed heavily before nodding slowly.

I didn’t care. I had expected this kind of behavior anyways, for I was an elven apostate.

“My name is Duran and this is my son, Pulai. What’s your name, dalen?”

“I’m Erelani of clan Arwen.”

No one else volunteered any introductions. I gathered my courage and approached the white-haired elf.

“What do you want, mage?

“Are you from Tevinter?”

Why, are you curious about the mage paradise? Yes, I am from Tevinter and its full of elven slaves bound to human mages.”

I tried to brush off his pointed insult, “Thank you for helping me.”

He paused in his strides before continuing, “It was nothing. It had nothing to do with you. I was a slave once.”

A feeling of déjà vu was starting to nag at me, “My name is Erelani. What’s yours?”

“Fenris.”

 

I froze in my tracks. I had just met Fenris, before he had ever met Hawke, and his paranoia and anti-mage sentiments were strong. But this was Fenris. My chances of surviving were exponentially higher with him around than not.

But he hated me. He couldn’t even stand to be civil to me. I still had to try though.

Because this was Fenris.

“That’s rough. My clan was recruited to fight the Blight while I was trapped in the Brecillian Ruins.  I got out and ran into slavers. That’s it about me.” I offered with a guileless smile and gave him a friendly nudge.

Fenris caught my receding arm and squeezed painfully tight, “Don’t touch me.”

I sighed and tried again, “Sorry. You resemble one of my clansmen, so I forgot.” I stared intently at the lyrium markings, “Do you phase through the Fade using lyrium markings? You know, to rip hearts out?”

Fenris glared pointedly at me and I backed away, “If you don’t want to talk about yourself, do you want to hear about the Dalish?”

“No.”

I retreated to Duran and kept pace with him. I wouldn’t give up, not so easily, but, clearly, I needed to give Fenris some space.

 


 

 

As the journey continued, I grew bored and started practicing the basic forms of Dirth’ena Enasalin. It wasn’t anything spectacular, just basic strength exercises that used targeted healing to build strength efficiently. I used a lot of healing magic in an attempt to cultivate that knowledge base too.

When I got tired, I looked up to find the party maintaining a considerable gap from me. I stared in incomprehension until Fenris punched me lightly on the shoulder.

“Watch what you’re doing. You’re emitting so much magic that it’s making me twitch.”

“I’m just training.”

“Doesn’t change the fact that no one here likes what you’re doing.”

I grit my teeth as I tried to brush off his offensive words. “Doesn’t change the fact that I’m training.” I repeated firmly.

Fenris gave me a considering look before dismissing me.

I bristled again in offense and stopped, letting him pass me.

I was making him twitch, was I? I had been refraining from practicing magical enforcement and spawning Fade weapons, aware that it could discomfit my travelling party. But guess what I was going to practice next? As if I would submit after such blatant and deliberate offense.

I ignored Fenris’ glare as I practiced spawning swords, bows and daggers. When we set up camp that night, everyone gave me a wide berth.

As if I cared.

The next morning, as we traveled, I deliberately stood in the middle, between everyone, taking a perverse pleasure in their discomfort. I refrained from spawning weapons, but I repeatedly reinforced my armor, sending deliberate magical pulses each time I did so.

Eventually Duran pulled me aside, “Erelani, perhaps your clan is accustomed to magic, and I understand you have a different upbringing, but most of us do not like having such constant exposure to magic. Please refrain from practicing while travelling with this company.”

Some of the frustration that had been clawing at me since yesterday faded. While Duran had expressed his discomfort with magic, he’d been mindful of his words, aware that there was a cultural gap between us. But as my gaze passed over the others, their disgusted and fearful countenance gave rise to a crawling feeling that I thought long forgotten. I felt shameful. Disgusting.

No. I would not feel this way. How dare they!

As I turned to reply, I spotted an arrow heading straight towards Duran. I impulsively stood in front of him and cast enforced armor over my body. The arrow struck me straight in my heart, the impact pushing me, before the spell bounced it off my body. Arrows started raining from all sides and I cast barrier over the surrounding party, aware I’d only have five minutes before I had to recast.

“Take cover with the others!” I yelled, pushing Duran towards the others.

I pivoted and found Fenris racing into the trees with his sword drawn, outside the range of the barrier spell. I cursed and recast on him as I headed the opposite way.

We were surrounded. There were arrows flying from every direction.

Another wave of arrows hit the horses, killing them instantly.

“Fenedhis!” I swore and I fadestepped to where the archers were located on the left side. I stopped far away from them, taking a moment to survey the attackers.

Darkspawn. There was a small horde surrounding the road.

Fuck, fuck, fuck.

I cast a Static Cage over the seven archers in front of me before casting two Fire Mines successively to ensure they wouldn’t survive. A darkspawn Hurlock mage noticed the spell and shot a Fireball at me, drawing attention to me. Four of the Hurlock warriors rushed towards me and I fadestepped around them, stopping behind the mage.

Come on, create a blade. I need to live, live!

A sharp blade spawned, and I quickly beheaded the mage, a rain of darkspawn blood splattering me.

Darkspawn blood! I couldn’t ingest it, even accidentally, or have any open wounds come in contact with it.

Shit! Fenris was a warrior and had lyrium running through him!

I needed to make sure the barriers didn’t fade out!

I could do this. I would do this!

I felt my focus sharpen as the Fire Mines went off, burning the Hurlock archers to death with two localized explosions. The warriors were caught off-guard and I froze one with Winter’s Grasp. I cast Paralysis on another and fadestepped when the other two got too close, beheading the paralysed warrior as I passed through. I stopped next to the frozen Hurlock, using the momentum from stopping to slash through him.

Two down, two to go.

As the last two charged me again, I levitated the corpse and threw it into the closest one, making him stumble. I cast Chain Lightening, and took advantage of their momentary disorientation to behead them both.

Dirth’ena Enasalin. While I wasn’t too experienced in physical combat, the Way of the Warrior had helped me use the knowledge I had already accrued in a devastating fashion. The memories had provided me with an inherent knowledge of which spell combinations would do the most devastating damage.

I fadestepped back to the clearing and found Fenris fighting alone, the sheen of his barrier still present as he battled three warriors alone, seven others lying dead on the ground. Three archers maintained a steady stream of arrows at the eight civilians in the company, two elves whose names I hadn’t bothered to learn already dead. The others were using their bodies as an impromptu shield against the arrows.

I cast a barrier over them again and cast Chain Lightening over the archers. Two were caught in the attack, but the third dodged and shifted his aim towards me. His arrow flew, and his aim rang true, the arrow piercing my ribs yet again.

I choked, blood spewing out at the force of the blow. I struggled to breath yet again, blood welling up in my lungs. Another arrow caught my peripheral gaze and I rolled, barely missing the shot.

Focus, focus, focus!

I cast enforced armor again, taking care to recast a barrier on Fenris, just in case.

My mana was running low. I cast the remaining mana out recklessly through the veil and into the Fade, suctioning the energy desperately into my body.

I channeled the energy through my body and out, straight at the archers. The only thought through my mind was burn.

And they did. A fierce line of fire extended from the ground, splitting in three quickly to surround the archers. One escaped, but two of them were unable to escape, shrieking as they burned to death under white hot flames.

I stopped as the two flopped to the ground, the fires still blazing as it slowly encroached the tree line. I turned to the last one and found him impaled by Fenris, his sword pinning the archer grotesquely to the tree behind him.

Focus. It’s not over yet.

Fenris scanned his surrounding carefully, taking a guard position in front of the remaining survivors. I joined him, casting a barrier over all of us as we waited cautiously.

We couldn’t conduct a cautionary check, not when Fenris and I were the only combat capable people in the party.

Desire, if you can, will you please help me?

There was silence.

Desire!

There was no response. A shade of worry rose, but now was not the time for distractions. I cast my senses about for any spirits that might have witnessed this battle.

A spirit of Valor responded.

“What a novelty! A Dreamer that doesn’t fear spirits! You have impressed me with your show of valor. What can I do for you, young lady?”

I took a deep breath to compose myself.

Will you please scan the surroundings for me from the other side? There are civilians with me that I must protect, and I cannot do this alone. I would greatly appreciate your assistance, Valor.

“Yes, brave girl, I will help you, but to do so you must send out a pulse of Fade energy. I can relay the information to you in return. Perhaps you will learn to do it yourself.”

I opened my eyes, and saw that the others were still watching warily. Pulai had started sobbing, shaking in his horror.

I gathered my last remaining mana, the drain making my knees wobble. I released a pulse again, the energy putting out the fires raging in front of us as it traveled through, like a wave cresting at the shores, only in all directions.

As dark spots started appearing in my vision, Valor spoke.

“The area is clear. There is one darkspawn in the area, but it’s running away from you. Chances are, it retreated and is headed back to the horde to provide information.”

Ma serannas, Valor. I won’t forget this. And I wouldn’t. Valor had been remarkably kind and helpful. It was the only silver lining after a string of horrible days.

“So, any information?” Fenris queried as he scanned his surroundings.

“One darkspawn escaped, it’s likely heading back to the horde. We’re safe, for now.”

It was finally over. My vision faded as my body gave up. As I tilted, someone caught me.

“Not again!”

 

Chapter Text

At The Fringes Of Society

 


 

“There are far too many silent sufferers.  Not because they don't yearn to reach out, but because they've tried and found no one who cares.”

― Richelle E. Goodrich, Smile Anyway  


 

AGAIN:

WARNING: This chapter contains violent descriptions of abuse and rape. Please read ahead at your own risk.

Consider yourself warned.


 

 

I woke to find my ribs bandaged with the scraps of someone’s tunic, likely belonging to one of the dead elves. I healed my arrow wound, letting the neutral magic leak so I could conduct a cursory scan of my body. As I sat up, Duran pushed at my shoulder, encouraging me to lay back down. I shrugged off his arm and sat up, finding everyone crowded around the fire. Unlike the last time we set up camp though, they were all watching me, a mix of caution, fear and gratitude ranging across their faces.

Once my health scan finished, which stated my malnutrition, I started the gulping down the food Duran placed in front of me with my hands, trying to ignore everyone else as had been the norm for the past few days, but their gaze was relentless, making me twitch with their intensity.

I slowly washed my hands with a cleaning charm, trying to delay the inevitable before finally addressing them, “What?”

Duran surveyed the others, giving an expectant look at Fenris. When he refused to answer, Duran placed a gentle hand on my shoulder, “We want to extend our heartfelt apologies for our behaviour before. You saved our lives, da’len.” He squeezed my shoulders again, “Thank you.”

I evaluated the others’ expressions warily, recognizing the reluctant acknowledgement of Duran’s statements, “Okay.” I responded slowly.

“Your technique,” a male dwarf, Kerd, started, interrupting the awkward silence that had fallen, “it looked like the Knight Enchanter discipline.”

“It’s not,” I snapped, but at his recoil I forcibly relaxed, “The Knight Enchanter discipline was stolen from the Emerald Knights of the Dales. We call it the Dirth’ena Enasalin, the Way of the Warrior.”

“The Emerald Knights?” Pulai asked, timid curiosity shining in his eyes, “The Chantry says they were warriors who slaughtered many mercilessly.”

I sneered, “Of course they did. The Chantry declared war on the Dales for believing in the Creators. For having their own faith. The Chantry declared an Exalted March, and the Emerald Knights fought desperately to defend their home. Wouldn’t you fight to save your home?” I spotted the boy’s grimace at my condescension and toned it down, “The Way of the Warrior created soldiers who fought with a singular purpose, their mind, spirit and body coalescing to form the perfect soldier. And yet, even higher than their purpose was their sense of honour.”

“And I suppose that’s why you saved us, for your honour,” Marian, the female dwarf who’d knocked me out, interceded, a derisive twist forming in her mouth, “That’s the first time I’ve seen ‘honour’ used to help someone other than yourself. Honour, pride, noble, they’re all just words, innit? They don’ actually mean anything to the people using ‘em.”

“And you’re a Dalish mage. What could you possibly know about honour?” Kerd added, clenching his fists, “You were sending all that magic out before the darkspawn attacked, ‘tis likely they attacked because of you.”

“Are you saying I wanted us to be attacked?!” I snapped, growing defensive at their accusations.

“To be fair, you were releasing a considerable amount of magic today,” Fenris added, looking pointedly away from me.

This-this was ridiculous! I didn’t do that to attract a darkspawn horde! I wasn’t - but had it been my fault? Had I really -

“That’s enough.” Duran’s voice cut through my guilt, “She saved us today. As the Chant states, magic exists to serve man. And she used magic to save us. Let’s not forget that.” Silence descended on the camp again.

I stared at him in surprise, moved by his words. I hadn’t saved them to earn recognition, but it certainly helped that someone was on my side now, particularly in this situation. I had formed a tentative friendship with Duran and Pulai, but the others refused to recognize my help, because they refused to acknowledge me. They didn’t want to see me as anything more than the wild hostile Dalish that the Chantry depicted me as, and I was unknowingly feeding the stereotype.

“What happened to our supplies?” I asked hesitantly.

“We managed to salvage a few bed rolls and food, but most of our utensils are gone. We’ve been reusing the same food bowl for everyone.”

My face twisted in disgust at that thought. We didn’t even have a supply of drinking water, let alone water for washing, so everyone was sharing utensils unwashed.

“I might have a solution,” At Duran’s encouraging nod, I continued, “In my clan, we used plates and bowls made from leaves so that they were easily discarded. I can make a few now, if you want?”

“But it might be too dirty-”

I cut off Marian, “I know a water spell for simple cleaning-”

She interrupted me in turn, her green eyes flashing, “No. No more magic.”

This was going to be an uphill battle, but one that I would not concede. Not when the solution was so easily available. But Duran intervened, “Do you have another suggestion Marian?”

“Let’s continue doing what we’ve been doing.”

I opened my mouth in outrage when I noticed that most of them had nodded along with the suggestion. I turned to Fenris for support, “This is ridiculous!”

“Maybe you need to get used to how normal people do things.” He looked away refusing to make eye contact with me.

“Okay then,” I huffed, “But you’ll excuse me if I continue to practise my own more sanitary habits.” I cast Aguamenti to wash the bowl Duran had given me just to prove my point. I stood up, getting ready to go back to sleep when I suddenly remembered the mistake I had made the past few nights.

“I’ll also be casting a ward around the camp for protection.” When no protests came, I bent at the centre of the camp, drawing the runes for a protection ward around the perimeter of the camp that wouldn’t allow anyone to enter or exit. It was easily destroyed but its destruction would wake everyone up.

I lay back down, clenching my fists in frustration. There was no point in arguing with them about their prejudice against magic, not when it was so deeply entrenched. Either way, the Dalish believed in deeds, not words, and I could only show them the usefulness of magic through my actions.

 


 

Our journey to Gwaren wasn’t seamless; wild starving wolves attacked us, there was the occasional encounter with darkspawn scouts and blighted animals, but we didn’t encounter any more hordes.

As expected, the protection provided by the barrier spell warmed Duran, Pulai and two of the dwarves, the male, Olar and a female, Renden to magic, and subsequently to me, but Marian, Kerd and Fenris remained discomfited and cautious.

Desire continued to be absent from the journey. I worried, but dismissed it, wondering if Desire was being petty because I told it to back off for a while. Instead, Valor was a constant companion, only too eager to help me out with anything I asked.

Valor felt like a child, a new spirit, and it made me uncomfortable asking too much of it. Hence, I avoided the Fade, finding it prudent to be vigilant with the party travelling with me.

Despite the growing camaraderie between us, I still felt alone. I missed the easy companionship of my clan, the unconditional love that they had shown me. I felt out of step with the others, who at least had a common faith tying them together. It seemed I was blatantly different from other mages too, even those from Tevinter, for Fenris often stared, perplexed at me, as if I made no sense to him.

A pit of dread and anxiety twisted my stomach at the reminder that I was an outcast, even as I desperately sought companionship with Duran and Fenris. Duran was patient and kind, thankful that I kept an eye on Pulai while Fenris rebuffed any amiable overture I made.

A week later, the walls of Gwaren outlined the horizon, the sound of crashing waves drowning out the hustle of the city. A large contingent of archers became visible on the walls as we grew closer, a platoon of foot soldiers guarding the main gate into the city.

A Chevalier captain approached us, eyeing our gear critically as he evaluated our party. “Stop right there!” He commanded, an arm on his sword in blatant warning.

We halted and Pulai hid behind me as Duran took charge of the group. Fenris accompanied him and an intense discussion began as we watched them from afar.

There was yelling and wild gestures from the captain and a lot of demure nodding from Duran while Fenris glared menacingly at him. Fenris folded his arms defensively and suddenly pointed in my direction. Unease stirred in my gut as the captain turned and gave me an intense once-over.

Fenris and Duran 0nodded curtly and made their way back to us, muttering quietly to each other. “They’ve granted entry to us, but we only have access to the alienage. The prices for sailing across to the Free Marches is posted on the Docks, but the average cost per passenger is 50 sovereigns.”

I nodded in understanding, having expected this. But from the ashen looks of the other party members, they hadn’t. As I headed to the gate, Fenris held me back.

“They won’t grant Dalish elves entry into the city. They mistook me for one, but when the guard captain ascertained that I “believed” in the Maker, he let me through.”

“Why didn’t you lie for me?!” I asked, indignant.

“We tried, but he was also particular about mages. You’re a Dalish mage, so he was reluctant to grant you entry, but since you’re a child, he’s willing to admit you into the city if you agree to be taken into the Circle at Denerim.”

Denerim. This was an easy route to get to exactly where I wanted to go. But I wouldn’t submit to shems, not really.

I made my way to the auburn-haired captain, “I cannot accept your Maker.” His face twisted in derision as he moved to unsheathe his sword, “But I do not believe in the Creators either. I don’t believe gods exist, not after seeing the Blight.” His face softened in understanding and he relaxed as I continued, “I don’t mind travelling to Denerim, but I wanted you to know, we spotted a large darkspawn horde heading towards Gwaren.”

“We know, we’ve been getting daily reports, but thank you for informing us.”

“Are you evacuating?”

His jaw tightened in frustration, “All noteworthy people have already departed. The rest of us are waiting for the ships to return,” His face turned impassive, “You may enter the city as long as you agree to stay within the prisons. All the templars and Chantry Mothers have left, so we can’t spare manpower to monitor you. You are a child, the chances of you performing accidental magic and harming someone is high.” He stood waiting for my answer and I realized that this was non-negotiable.

“But I am a-!” Fenris covered my mouth with his hand and I startled in surprise, “She accepts. She’s a kid, she doesn’t know any better.”

“What the hell,” I wasn’t some emotional kid who had no control over magic! I didn’t need to be imprisoned! Fenris dragged me away as I struggled to escape his grip.

“If they find out you’re a combat capable mage, they’ll throw you out!” Fenris released me with a jerk once we were out of hearing distance, “Once the boats arrive, they’ll ship you out to Denerim, so just wait it out.”

“What if they leave me behind?” Fenris softened at my distress and I pressed my advantage, “If the city gets attacked, I’ll be trapped inside the city, and they’ll probably just leave me behind. And who knows what kind of people are locked inside the prison?”

Fenris sighed, “I’ll come for you.” My surprise must have shown because he hastened to explain, “I’ll probably be assigned to the last ship, especially since I’m combat capable. When I leave, I’ll take you with me.”

“Promise me.” It didn’t mean much, but at least I’d have something to hold on to, if things went south.

Fenris rubbed the back of his head in discomfort before nodding reluctantly, “If you’re still in the city when I leave, I’ll take you with me.”

I stared at him a moment, evaluating his sincerity, before returning the gesture in good faith, “If you’re still here when I leave, I’ll help too.”

Fenris’ eyes widened in surprise before he placed an amicable arm on my shoulder, “I’ve never met someone like you, Erelani. Stay safe.”

The guards dragged me away then, and I couldn’t help but watch Fenris as they took me away. He never stopped looking back.

 


 

The dungeons were damp, filled with the smell of rotting fish, piss and excreta. I gagged unconsciously, and the overwhelming smell settled on my tongue, a nasty toxic taste filling my mouth. I closed my mouth abruptly, covering my nose with the fabric of my tunic as I descended.

“Watch yourself,” the captain warned, “If you misbehave or disobey your guards, we’ll leave you behind to deal with the Blight.”

I nodded guardedly, surprised to find most of the cells empty. “We’re busy dealing with the oncoming horde, so we’ve lumped you together with another prisoner.”

“But-” I protested but he cut me off, “You’ll be sharing with a female prisoner.”

Light from the sun outside faded and the path ahead was lit by torches spaced two metres apart. There were no guards stationed, except at the far end, where a pair of guards were playing a card game on a table under the light of a torch.

The captain led me towards them, “Where is the prisoner?”

“Sleeping, sir.” One of them replied, as they both stood to salute the captain.

“Here’s another. She’s a mage scheduled for transport to Denerim,” He sighed, “You’re responsible for transporting her when the ships arrive.”

“The ship that arrives on the last dock, right?” The captain nodded at the guard who spoke, both their faces hidden behind the shadow of their helmet.

“The other prisoner,” One of them started tentatively, “She hasn’t been doing well after the ritual that the templars did. Acting very odd.”

The captain ran a hand over his exhausted face, “It can’t be helped. She either makes it, or she doesn’t.”

I stiffened at the blatant disregard shown to the prisoner. What was this, a subtle warning to behave properly, or did they truly not care about their prisoners? The captain's complete indifference to my unease answered that.

I followed them quietly, feeling cowed despite myself. Negligence was not just common, but a necessity in this city especially with incoming attack from the horde. The guards could kill me, and I wouldn't even go down as a statistic.

One of the guards opened the cell door and pushed me in, straightening as the captain followed right after.

“I'm not a prisoner!” I argued, unable to keep quiet under such manhandling.

The captain rubbed his forehead, “You are an untrained mage and we can't chance that you'll lose control, not now.”

I bit my tongue, remembering Fenris’ advice and looked cautiously around the dark cell. There was a large bulking figure huddled in the corner of the cell behind the bed, the darkness of the cell camouflaging any defining features.

“Adaar! This is your cellmate! I don't want any funny business or else I'll leave you behind, understand?”

“Understood, sir.” A monotonous voice replied.

The captain turned without another word and left the cell, the clank of his armour echoing through the dungeons until the door slammed shut.

There was silence for a few seconds before the quiet murmur of the guards filled the hallway.

I stood alert, palming the sheets of my bed to find something to defend myself with if my cellmate turned hostile. But there was nothing in this cell except two thin beds and a small chamber pot at the corner. Heart thudding in apprehension, I cleared my throat then addressed my cellmate, “Hello, I'm Erelani Arwen.”

“Kaari Adaar, formerly of Valo-kas Mercenaries.” The stoic voice responded.

Adaar. The name rang a few bells. I had never met horned people, and meeting one of the Inquisition playable characters caught me off guard.

“Why are you in here?” I asked tentatively.

“Valo-kas mercenary group was hired to protect a group of merchants from any dangers encountered in the Brecilian Forest, including bandits, darkspawn and other hostile parties. Once we reached Gwaren, a Chantry mother took offense to my presence and had me tried. I was found guilty of apostasy and made Tranquil. The Chantry mother wasn't willing to take me along when she left so I've been locked in here since.”

What? Adaar was Tranquil? How...was that even possible…?

Tranquil?

I carefully checked the guards outside and found them lounging at the far end, playing at the table next to the exit.

“May I approach you?” At the approving hum, I lit a small flame in my hand and approached her slowly. On Kaari’s forehead was a large symbol of the sunburst throne, the sun branding the centre of her C-shaped horns.

“May I touch you?” I asked again, fascinated by the horns sprouting from the sides of Kaari’s head.

“No.”

I gazed in surprise at the cold refusal and retreated.

Tranquil. What was that really? I extended my mage aura, expecting to find a void, especially since Adaar seemed emotionless.

But Adaar’s aura was screaming. The kind of desperate ear-piercing screams that people let out when they realised no one was going to save them.

I recoiled, looking for traces of that anguished suffering on Kaari’s face. But her face remained impassive, her fingers tapping tonelessly against the bed frame.

What was going on?

I extended my aura again, only to find the aura still screaming in desperate agony. Conflicted and confused, I bade good night to Kaari and went to sleep.

 


 

 

The Fade was sombre, reflecting the tension and anticipation that hung over the city. I circled around, watching my surroundings but Desire was still absent. Valor strutted towards me, looking eager.

“Ah, Dreamer, welcome back! What activities did you get up to today?”

“I've been locked up in jail.”

“For saving all those lives and warning them about the upcoming attack?!” Valor looked taken aback.

Valour’s shock reminded me that it was still quite young, “I'm still an untrained mage and they were worried that I might be a risk. So, I agreed to be contained, until provisions could be made.”

Valour beamed, “As expected, your valour is commendable, Dreamer. To risk your wellbeing for others is the true mark of valour.”

“Just call me Erelani, Valour.”

“Oh, how can I?” Valour twittered around, “To receive such an honour, your kindness knows no bounds.”

“Have you seen Desire around?”

Valour frowned in confusion, “What business would you have with such an uncouth demon?”

I crossed my hands over my chest, “It's a friend.”

“You should be careful, not all spirits should be befriended. If you like, I would be only too happy to fill this most honourable role.”

While this helpfulness was welcome, Valour’s smarmy behaviour was off-putting.

“Desire!” I called out focusing on my friend. There was no response.

“Spirits can choose to ignore a Dreamer's summons, but to actually follow through,” Valour glared in anger, “Such a rare honour, to be summoned by a dreamer for companionship, only to ignore it. Desire!”

Again, no response.

Worry gnawed my stomach as I searched the horizon for any purple forms.

Desire is just playing hard to get. It was just mad. Nothing was wrong.

I focused on Valour to disregard my worry, “Can you see something other than me here,” I shifted the scenery to depict my jail as I spoke, “Do you sense someone else here?”

Valour frowned, “I'll try,” Valor’s aura pulsed multiple times before homing in on the bed, “There’s someone on the bed...is that a Tranquil?” Valor recoiled, it's essence twisting in horror.

As Valor focused on Kaari, a faint highlight of the lyrium brand reflected into the Fade. Curious, I prodded the brand as I had Kaari’s aura in the Waking. High pitched screaming surrounded the Fade, momentarily depicting Kaari’s spirit trapped inside the lyrium brand, banging desperately against the cage and clawing desperately to reach back into her body before the image disappeared.

My knees became weak, and I collapsed to the ground, losing all control of my Fadescape. The image had dissipated, yet I couldn’t remove my eyes from the place where the horrifying image had sprung forth, resulting in wisps re-enacting the scene over and over.

This was heartless. Callous. Truly cold-blooded and cruel.

Tranquillity was a breach of the most fundamental right, your ability to feel.

It was to rob someone of their spirit, so they had no emotions left. How could a person with no emotions differentiate between good and bad when morality was defined through empathy?

Emotions!

Emotions were the basis of living; they were the foundation of experience, memory and personality. That’s what the spirit was: the sum of your emotions and your reactions which made your personality. Without them, there was no distinguishing good from bad, only the logics of survival. A virus had the logics of survival. Without spirit, there was no higher mental activity, no way to realize if you were happy or sad, loving or hateful, glad or angry and therefore no true ability to give consent.

My hands shook, fear flooding me. I was under threat of Tranquility from the Chantry if I misbehaved, and being a Dalish mage, there wouldn’t be any mercy.

No. No. No. Please, no. What did I get myself into? I don’t want anything to do with humans, not when they consciously and gleefully robbed people of their soul.

Out. I need to get out! I’d make my own way to Denerim.

No, I couldn’t go to the shem city of Denerim. I needed my clan. My people.

Humans were monsters.

I’m sorry, Thranduil. I can’t face humans, not alone. I’m not kind, pretty or gracious. My only virtue, my intellect, will be my ruin if I follow you to Denerim.

I’m so sorry.

 


 

I stayed as far away from Kaari Adaar as possible inside the cell. Kaari didn’t notice nor care, staring listlessly at the ceiling.

She displayed no signs of boredom.

I shuddered, trying desperately to ignore her by Dreaming, but I only received food if I was awake, so I couldn’t completely escape the horror of her company.

Four days passed before the social isolation made me converse with the guards, still refusing to acknowledge Adaar.

Both guards sounded young, but the older one refused to engage me, looking away every time I tried. The younger one showed no such hesitation.

“I’m Colen! The other guy, Max, he and I are squires for Templars now! We haven’t decided if we want to be a Chevalier or Templar yet, so this guard duty is supposed to be a temporary thing.”

I nodded, surprised by the cracking of his voice at the end, “When did you join?”

“It hasn’t been long for me, just five years. I train every day. But Max has been at this for ten years! He’s really good too, and from a noble family. He’s set to be a captain in a few years, whatever he chooses.” Colen moaned in envy, “Some people have all the luck!”

“Where’s he now?” I asked, growing curious despite myself.

“He’s off to grab some lunch. There’s no point to both of us staying here, all the time. These cells are empty ‘cept for the two of ya.”

Colen moved closer to the bars, eyes shining in curiosity behind his helmet, “Is it true what they say about those Tranquil types?”

“What do they say?” My guard rose as I noticed Adaar tilting her head towards us.

“They do whatever you tell them to. Can you imagine what all you can do with that?” His fevered breathing told me exactly what he was thinking about. I remained silent, unwilling to continue this conversation and growing wary of the older teenager as the gap in the power between us was highlighted. My silence didn’t dissuade him, “Look at all that woman! Just one meal a day and she’s still got a bountiful-” He made a lewd gesture with his hands while he cupped his chest.

I retreated, dread growing as Colen turned to appraise me, “Not too bad yourself, though you look like a boy. But her, now I just can’t get my mind off-” He made an obscene sound, cupping himself. “You, Adaar!”

I closed my eyes, unwilling to witness the horrible abuse that was about to happen. I heard Adaar get up and approach the bars.

“Yes?”

“Take off your clothes and face me.” Colen ordered.

“No.”

My eyes opened in surprise at the stern refusal. For the first time, I truly saw her, the towering Vashoth who gazed emotionlessly down at the scrawny guard trying to abuse her.

“Do as you are told or else!”

“Or else what?”

Colen retreated, growing angry and discomfited at the unexpected resistance, “You’re nothing but a savage, aren’t ya? If you can suck me good, I’ll take you everywhere with me, but you have to be really good.”

I watched her, hoping and praying to every possible god that she could detect the dishonesty and lechery that coated his oily words.

“No. I refuse.”

I stared, stunned. Adaar refused Colen. She had the capacity to detect deceit.

“You refuse?!” Colen shook the bars violently, “Get on your knees right now or else I’ll tell the others you misbehaved, and have you put down like the savage that you are.”

Adaar kneeled.

I closed my eyes, pressing my hands desperately against my ears to ignore the sounds that followed.

 


 

Colen became arrogant. He was a hormonal teenager that had power over two females. He grew tired of Adaar’s unresponsiveness. He turned his attentions to me.

Every time he bargained or cajoled, I turned a deaf ear, looking placidly at the opposite wall. Despite my resolve to never submit, my fear and anxiety grew every minute, aware that the situation could escalate any second.

The only reprieve I had was when the second guard, Max, was around as Colen behaved around him. But Colen had a plan for that too.

“Are you worried you'll never get out, Max?”

“Why?”

“The horde is heading towards the city yet there are no ships in the horizon. Aren't you worried?”

“If the Maker wills it, we will get out of this alive.”

“Maybe you could ask for an update? You know people, and they'll answer to you. It's not like this is a difficult job, these two prisoners are really mild, the worst they do is try to chat you up.” Max turned to face Colen, his head tilting in consideration, “it'll give me peace of mind. Please Maxie, get an update from the captain.”

Max sighed, then took out the keys, handing it to Colen, “Be careful, and don't engage them.”

 Colen nodded, watching Max stroll up the stairs and leave the dungeon. He turned to me, tossing the keys in the air as he spoke, “So how about it? You and I have some free time. Entertain me, and I'll make sure you're aboard the first ship that arrives.”

I looked away, fully aware that he had no such power, “Keep ignoring me, and I'll tell the captain how uncooperative you've been.”

I kept silent yet again, choosing to stare at Adaar's horns instead, “Hahaha,” the gate clicked as the door unlocked, “Let's see how quiet you can be when I'm fucking you.”

Fear tightened my chest, and my gaze darted around desperately. It landed on Adaar who was watching the exchange intently, hiding behind the railings of the bed. She met my gaze and mouthed something, but it was lost to the darkness.

A hand landed on my shoulder, but I jerked it and swatted his arm away. He reversed my grip, tightening his hold on my wrist painfully. I kicked him, struggling to think through the panic but he was training to be a professional warrior. I was powerless against his absolute strength, and he restrained me quickly despite my struggles, crossing my arms painfully across my back before slamming me against the wall.

I won't submit, never!

But even as I called my magic, the consequences of killing him was only too obvious. If I killed him and Max discovered his body, I would become the enemy. It wouldn't matter that Colen had taken advantage of me because I meant nothing. Because Adaar meant nothing.

The image of Adaar mouthing a word came to mind. Endure. If I kept quiet, endured, then I would be free, eventually.

Colen tore my pants with the other hand and I abruptly realized that I couldn't endure this violation. I continued to struggle, kicking backwards with my legs as he reached out to grope my chest, “Tch, nothing here.” The cruel handling made me cry out in pain, and the sheer revulsion his touch incited, made me gag.

As I gagged, he threw me violently towards the ground, offended, and I banged my head hard against the floor, seeing stars.

He stalked towards me, only his demonic grin visible under his helmet. I kicked his knees repeatedly each time he approached, gaining some ground, but he eventually caught one ankle then the other, holding them apart until my inner thigh muscles tore at the strain. I screamed, feeling my torn muscles grind against the bone.

“Like that, do you?”

He stomped on my vagina with his greaves and I screamed again, feeling blood trickle down.

This was too much. Escape, I needed to escape.

I closed my eyes.

 


 

Fear, Terror and Rage stood around me. I looked around desperately for Valor or even Desire, but they were missing.

You can't do this alone. I can help you strike Terror into his heart. He deserves it, for does he not inspire the same in return?

You're scared. Trapped. Alone. No one's going to help you, except me. Us. Trust us.

How dare they do this? You aren't a prisoner! You surrendered willingly, and this is how they repay it? They should burn!

No, I had to endure. Endure. Don't submit. Not to anyone.

We aren't asking you to submit. Fear. But you need to act out. The answer to fear is fear. He'll stop hurting you, once he's afraid of you.

Fight back. Rage. Burn him. Feel me and know my intentions. He is the monster, not me.

You aren't alone. Terror. We are with you. In your terror, fear and rage, we will always be with you. Fight back. Let us help you.

The most horrifying part of it was that they were in earnest. They wanted to help me. But it came with a price. Magic always came at a price.

Desire! Valor!

There was no answer.

I was ripped from my dreaming when I felt something prod against my nether regions.

I tried to headbutt him, but he slammed my face to the floor. He reared back.

I screamed.

In our struggle, he'd penetrated the wrong hole. He'd ripped open my rectal canal and I could feel the blood flow rapidly through the penetration.

He ignored the blood, pulling my hair as he laughed out his victory.

Something inside me died.

“Will you keep quiet again? Or will you answer me when spoken to, like the obedient elf that you are.”

Rage was right. Fear was right. Terror was right.

Help me, please.

Even as I felt my magic surge, there was a repelling pushback.

What did you do?!

And just as suddenly Desire was back. There was a moment of intense quiet, before it spoke,

Play the game. Rip him to pieces then put him back together. Have you learnt nothing from me?

As if Desire was guiding me, I thrust back, surprising him enough to stop, before I launched forward, my hair tearing as I rolled away from his grip.

He followed, placing a restraining hand on my diaphragm, pressing hard until I was gasping for breath.

For a moment, I saw red. Then I looked up to see a gaping scar across his chest, cutting across his nipples. Blood dripped onto my face, and he looked down, shocked at the attack.

I took advantage of his confusion and spawned another blade aiming it exactly where it would hurt most.

I slashed haphazardly across his hardened appendage.

There was a high-pitched scream and blood started gushing out. He rolled around the floor, screaming in anguish, and yet all I could do was stare.

“You'll pay for this! I'll have you hanged! I'll kill every last one of your kind!”

And somehow that brought me out of my shock. I stepped forward, and stomped mercilessly on the hand covering his bleeding genitalia, “Like that, do you?”

He screamed until his voice gave out, and when it did, I slammed his head down to knock him out.

“Heal him.” I turned to glare at Adaar, “Heal him enough so that we aren't under suspicion. Do you know how to heal?”

I took a deep breath, desperately trying to calm down. My hands were shaking, yet I wasn't angry or terrified or gleeful. I didn't know how I felt.

I don't want to heal him. Not after what he did. But Desire was right.

I needed to play the game. The key to success lay in perception. Colen could accuse us all he wanted, but if he had no proof, then we were safe.

I sat down and started to heal him.

 


 

I opened the door as Adaar carried him out, laying him out on the dungeon floor. I cast a cleaning charm on his armour to remove the blood stains, then turned up to look at Adaar.

“What do you want to do?”

“Go back. There is no escape from here except through the ships, and the only way to get access, is through the captain.”

I let out a sigh, before walking back into the cell. I locked it before levitating the keys back to where Colen lay, a few metres from the dungeon exit.

“And now we wait.”

--

Max returned first, “Lazy, good for nothing Colen. Says he's worried, but sleeps like a log. Wake up. Up!”

Colen startled awake, but bent over in pain, “That fucking bitch. I'll make her pay.”

“What is it? What happened?”

Colen’s face twisted for a moment before he continued, “That elven bitch attacked me! See!” He pulled off his armour and gestured wildly at his shirt.

Max’s face tilted in confusion, “You sure you weren't dreaming, mate? There's nothing there.”

“What do you mean, nothing there! It hurts like a bitch!”

The side effects of healing: the pain doesn't go away, not until the foreign healing agents disappear from the body. And psychosomatic pains will persist.

Colen looked down, uncomprehending. He raised his head, then looked around, bewildered, “How did I get here? I was inside- standing guard at the cell!”

Max rolled his eyes, “Sure you were.”

“No!” Colen yelled, “That elven girl attacked me! She, she was begging for my attention and suddenly she attacked me!

Max frowned, “Are you trying to tell me that little elven girl overpowered you, lay you down here and went back into her cell? Are you sure you weren't dreaming?”

“She did! She lured me inside and attacked me!”

Max frowned, then turned to look at Adaar and me, locked inside the cell. We gave befuddled looks as we had practised.

“It seems you really were worried about leaving Gwaren, if you're dreaming about locked prisoners attacking you. Take a few days off Colen. I can take it from here. The ships should be arriving soon.”

Colen turned, glaring at the two of us. He opened his mouth, but seemed to think better of it, storming out.

I turned away, hiding my tears of relief.

 


 

I hated humans. All of them. My trauma demonised them all, and while I was aware of this, I made no move to fix it.

Why?

Because I hated them.

My suffering had been pointless. All because one racist human boy couldn't control his urges or handle his responsibility. Having Max as a contrast didn't help.

I was painfully aware that bringing his partner’s misbehaviour to light would yield nothing. Honour, pride and nobility were only words, after all, especially to humans.

Perhaps the worst was myself. I hadn't moved to help Adaar from her plight until it had directly affected me. Marian had been right, honour had just been a word to me. And under my own definition, Adaar was helpless and in need of saving.

But Adaar was logical about the experience, “The lesson to take away is this, do not blindly trust those who have power over you. Be resourceful. Also, power corrupts. And teenagers should never have power.”

Her words helped, but they also made everything worse.

My guilt towards her pushed me to heal her, fixing all the bruises inflicted by Colen. Unfortunately, while my wounds had healed quickly, the damage Colen had done Adaar took multiple healing sessions, largely because I had no understanding of Kaari’s anatomy.

As reluctant as it was, I felt a form of kinship with Kaari. We were both outsiders in this city, and had undergone trauma at the hands of the same abuser.

My guilt made me wonder if I could reverse her Tranquillity.

I started researching in the Fade.

 


 

 

Two days later, Fenris stopped by, “I arranged transport. It’s not through conventional means, but we can get out of Gwaren.”

I turned to Max, who was watching all of us cautiously, “What about the captain?”

Fenris noticed my gaze and turned to the guard, “I’m sure he’ll be relieved that he doesn’t have to arrange transport for a prisoner.”

Max scrutinized all of us before nodding slowly, “I’ll talk to the captain.”

I felt a hand on my shoulder and with a guilty start, I turned to Kaari. If I left her here, she would be alone, raped repeatedly by humans fascinated by a female Qunari.

“We can take Adaar with us too, right?”

Fenris turned in surprise, regarding Kaari intently as his gaze travelled up and down. He spoke a few rubbish words, but she shrugged, “I am Vashoth. A mercenary. I do not speak that tongue.”

Fenris sighed, “Why her too?”

“She’s Tranquil. She’ll be left behind, otherwise.”

Fenris rubbed his forehead, “Fine, bring her along too.” He turned to the guard, “Please let your captain know of the situation.”

Max nodded, then opened the cell gate. As I brushed past him, he stopped me, “I know what you did to Colen.”

I froze, unguarded against the sudden accusation. He squeezed my shoulder, “I let it pass since you two weren’t genuine prisoners and because Colen was wrong.” The squeeze turned painful, “But if I catch you using such magic again, I will hunt you down.”

“And who is it that I should watch out for?”

“Maxwell Trevelyan.”

And again, the bottom of my stomach disappeared. Three important Dragon Age characters were right before me.

But it didn’t matter. Not really.

“Just so we’re on the same page, if your colleagues abuse their power, it also falls to you to correct that behaviour, doesn’t it? So why didn’t you stop Colen?” I stared intently at him, waiting for his response.

Maxwell clenched his jaw.

“An elf and tal-vashoth weren’t worth the effort then? Despite being innocent, in your own words?”

“Colen is a good soldier.”

“Is he? You have the audacity to stand before me and defend his actions, call him a good soldier, despite all that he has done? And you’re going to hunt me down? For what, defending myself? Or healing an injured innocent?”

A slap resonated across the dungeons, my face turning from the force.

“Mind your place, elf.”

I grabbed Maxwell’s offending hand and squeezed but Fenris grabbed me, pulling me back, “Let it go, Erelani. If you hit him, you’ll be thrown in prison.”

I struggled, fuming in rage, how dare he slap me? I couldn’t hit him? Then words it was, “Trevelyan, huh? You might call yourself noble, but your actions are anything but, Trevelyan.” To add salt to the wound, “May the Maker abandon you and your unholy ways!”

Maxwell stormed towards me, but Adaar pushed the dungeon door open and dragged the both Fenris and I through.

“Control yourself, Erelani!” Fenris rebuked, “Why are you raging? I don’t want to deal with an abomination, calm down!”

I shrugged off his grip and stormed out of the cell but halted when I realized I had no idea where I was going. Fenris followed, but sighed, “Calm down.”

Those words enraged me further. If only he knew.

And why shouldn’t he? “Colen, that guard’s partner assaulted us, raped us.”

Fenris froze, his face growing darker, “What?” He growled.

Adaar stepped between us, “That’s enough. Our primary objective is to leave this city as soon as possible.”

Fenris snarled, but clenched his fist, trying to control himself, “Right! This way.”

He guided us through the winding streets of Gwaren until we reached the docks. A small ship was anchored, a feeble bridge connecting the ship to the harbour.

A red-headed dwarf stood on the bridge, gazing cautiously around the harbour. Once he spotted the three of us, he gestured towards the ship and retreated inside.

“That’s the ship, then?” I asked, my anger fading.

“Yes, it’s headed to Ostwick, in the Free Marches.”

I nodded and climbed aboard the ship. It was quaint, a large sail descending from the top mast, the captain’s cabin situated right under the wheel.

“Into the hol’, the lot of ya! Hurry up, we’re set to sail at dusk!”

I shifted uncomfortably, unaware of what he was talking about, until Fenris grabbed the back of my tunic, “This way, come on, hurry up!”

He led Kaari and I to a hatch that he pulled up, ushering us down the stairs into the darkness below. I turned around, inspecting the interiors of the boat. It seemed so flimsy that I wasn’t sure it would last long in a storm.

Once Fenris joined Adaar and I, we followed him into a dimly shining corner, staring fascinatedly at the structures around us.

“Well, here we are. To a good tomorrow!” Fenris exulted, and the dim blue light lit his smile, giving his markings and smile an ethereal glow. I grinned in return.

“What’s this?” Adaar’s voice rang out and I turned to look where she pointed. The dim blue light was coming from a blue glass mounted against the wall.

Fascinated, I moved closer, pressing my hands into the glass. As I reached the edge, my hands met etched wood, carved with several animal shapes.

A growing suspicion had me backing away, taking the glowing glass in its entirety. The glass was shaped like a dome, the darkness hiding the shape of the wood. I conjured a ball of fire, and held it up.

Standing in front of me was a dome shaped glass, framed by dark ebony wood etched with spectacular animal carvings.

It was an Eluvian.

 

Chapter Text

The Conclave

"Every great war has its heroes. I'm just curious what kind you'll be." – Solas, Dragon Age: Inquisition

Haven.

I shuddered in muted dread as my gaze swept through the quaint village buried under a large sheet of snow. Tents decorated the edge of the village as numerous people passed through on their way to the Temple of Sacred Ashes.

The world was going to end any day now.

"You alright?" Kaari stretched an arm across my shoulder as we entered the village, "It's full of Chantry zealots, but that's nothing new. Just another job."

I nodded distractedly, unable to look away from Kaari's determined gaze. Even though years had passed since a spirit of Faith had returned Kaari's emotions, it still jarred me to see her display her emotions so freely.

It hadn't always been so easy. Right after the Tranquillity had been reversed, Kaari had cycled through emotions senselessly, raging with no source, crying without cause and laughing without reason. Kaari lost control multiple times, raging at clients, laughing madly at corpses and crying at attackers.

She learned control though, eventually, but it required her to think carefully about each emotion she felt and why she felt it. It was a depth of introspection that people normally didn't employ, and she had needed constant reminders of what was appropriate.

All that, and she'd only been Tranquil for a handful of months.

It had taken a lot out of me, caring for her. In a way, I had been grateful for having such singular focus, especially since we were stuck in Ostwick, alienated by the populace by our pariah status.

In the end, the addition of Kaari's reputation as a wild card had forced us to move on.

"Look, Eldric's up ahead!" Kaari's voice jolted me out of my mood and she dragged me along, pushing past the others in our mercenary group, "Erelani, get your head out of the clouds! Eldric, tell her!"

I smiled, addressing the handsome dark-skinned dwarf, "Eldric Cadash, hello authentic member of Valo-kas mercenary group," I teased, a mischievous glint appearing in my eye as he elbowed me in my side as reproach.

"Be discreet, kiddo." Eldric swept his gaze quickly over me, evaluating, "What has you on edge? Hear something?"

I shook my head, desperately trying to forget what awaited us at the Conclave, "Just the usual. Chantry, Templars, Mages, even Grey Wardens in the same place. Feels like something's going to happen."

Eldric let out a heavy sigh, "Yeah, don't know what the Divine is thinking, getting them all together like this. Unless she's just going to kill them all." He massaged his forehead, "And Valo-kas is in charge of keeping the peace among the factions. As long as we do our job right-" Eldric stopped midway, losing steam as he caught sight of my incredulous expression, "Yeah, I know, it's going to be a losing battle."

A vague sense of guilt set in seeing his downtrodden expression.

Eldric wasn't your typical cynical dwarf. Eldric Cadash was a merciless, greedy, opportunistic rogue. He was a lyrium smuggler that took advantage of every opportunity that came his way. He was ruthless and charismatic; he had the ability to rob you blind, and you'd walk away smiling.

But somehow, Eldric was still kind. If you could do something beneficial for him, he was willing to overlook anything; race, nationality, even a criminal record. He paid the elves in his employ well. He set up safe contacts for the Lavellan clan to trade with. He even sabotaged slave traders and gave refuge to apostates.

He was as fair as could be in his line of business.

I still don't know what Eldric had seen in us in those early days. He'd been kind enough to rehire us after one of Kaari's episodes and even sponsored our relocation to Wycome after things went bad in Ostwick.

Though, occasionally, Eldric had moments of extreme cruelty. He revelled in making brutal examples of those who crossed him, especially those inside his network. Sometimes, I suspected he aided us, so he could gain a potential asset for his Carta business: external agents that would carry out his assignments discreetly and without question. And we had, unrepentantly.

That was the funny thing about gratitude. When you feel overwhelmingly grateful for someone's kindness, you gave them a little leeway in terms of bad behaviour, for better or for worse.

"We should check in and find our assigned squads," Kaari pointed towards the crowd of Valo-kas mercenaries crowded near the tents next to the bar, "He should be there."

Eldric gave me a quick once-over, caution in his gaze, "You don't have to come with, if you don't want to. We'll report you in."

A rock settled in my throat at the reminder and I swallowed, "No, it's okay. This is one of the most difficult jobs we've ever done. I can," I swallowed again, "I can set it aside."

Kaari and Eldric both sighed.

I trudged slowly towards the tent, ignoring the details of Haven as I climbed up the stairs. A grown Pulai stood to the side with the other rookies of the mercenary, while the more experienced fighters congregated around the leaders.

"Erelani, what took you so long?!" Ellana rebuked, her angry green eyes only serving to enhance the beauty of her ethereal face, "Thranduil has held up most of the assignments waiting for you!"

I ignored her tone, searching the crowd around me, "Have Aslad and Okad reported in yet?"

"Yes," Ellana's expression smoothed into cool neutrality, "But Thranduil wants to see you first."

I nodded and turned to Eldric and Adaar, "I'll sign you guys in, can you guys try to get a layout of the area or a map before we head out?"

They nodded and dismissed me with a wave, heading towards the rambunctious bar up ahead. Ellana tapped me on the shoulder and gestured towards the tent where our colleagues had gathered.

My heart thudded in anticipation despite everything.

Thranduil.

Life had a way of reuniting people when they least expected it.

Wycome had been a different breed of city then I was used to. Traditional Andrastians thought of it as "Sin City", because you could find almost all races mingling there, indulging in all the vices you could think of.

But Kaari and I had resolved to start anew in Wycome and I had a budding hope that I could reach out to the Lavellan clan when they stopped by, letting me return to my people. Kaari had wanted to sign up with Valo-kas mercenary again, confident that her connections with the Vashoth that ran it would rehire her.

With Eldric's help and Kaari's connections, we managed to locate both the Commander and his lieutenant. The Commander had been a seven-foot-tall, platinum blonde Tal-Vashoth with no horns and the lieutenant beside him; Thranduil.

One look at him, and I had burst into uncontrollable tears, only managing to gasp his name as I collapsed, weak-kneed, to the floor, sobbing.

Thranduil hadn't fared any better.

We'd clung desperately to each other, tears soaking our clothes as we both rambled at each other.

Needless to say, we'd gotten the job almost immediately.

"Erelani, there you are," I snapped out of my daydream, nearly melting at the warm smile Thranduil directed at me, "Ellana, thank you. You're in the tent next to mine, so please set up. I'll have Erelani inform you when your squad is assigned."

I tried to ignore the jealousy that burned my stomach as Thranduil's eyes shined at Ellana. I grit my teeth as Ellana returned a glowing smile before leaving.

It was not supposed to be like this. He was supposed to be mine.

"Erelani," Thranduil gestured to the seat next to him, "There are a few things we need to sort out before Aslad, Okad and Max join us."

My blood boiled hearing that shem's name. I pressed two fingers in the space between my eyes, struggling to remain professional and maintain control.

I took a deep breath, then exhaled, "What is it?"

"I'm making you Lieutenant, for the duration of this job," I looked up at him in surprise, "I've informed Leliana about the extra manpower we had commissioned from Eldric and his terms of agreement. Since they're here for information gathering, like Ellana, she was amenable to their presence."

I waited apprehensively, because he wasn't telling me anything new. Thranduil wasn't in the habit of wasting his words.

Thranduil's eyes reflected his inner conflict for a moment before steeling, "But Leliana has conditions of her own: all rogue elements can operate as long as they are outside the Temple. So, you're in charge of Eldric, his team, and Ellana. And Kaari too, since she won't leave your side. You're in charge of surveillance in the area and maintaining order. You'll be working with Leliana's agents."

"You're keeping me out of the action," I stared, dumbfounded, "Is this some foolish attempt to protect me?" My stomach dropped in relief despite my words.

If I wasn't at the Conclave…

"No, Erelani," Thranduil chastised, "You're well acquainted with Eldric and his team. You understand them and their troop dynamics better. And these weren't my conditions, but those of the Right Hand of the Divine."

"You're still secretly happy," I accused, unable to keep from pointing out the obvious, "Ellana and I are out of range of immediate danger."

Thranduil's eyebrows rose condescendingly, "And? Am I supposed to pretend to be angry that my vhenan and sister will be safe?"

I ignored the stab to my heart at his words. I had no illusions about who was which.

"Where will you be?"

"Where the Commander should; at the Conclave."

My mind raced as I tried to find an alternative. When the previous Commander had fallen in combat, there had been no question as to who his successor would be. Thranduil had survived fighting the Fifth Blight, had connections to the Warden and his companions, and demonstrated a wisdom that far exceeded others.

It was Thranduil who had increased the reputation of Valo-kas until even the Chantry employed its services. Our reputation had grown so great that Divine Justinia trusted us, rather than Grey Wardens, to mediate between the Templars and Mages.

If the events of the game held the slightest consistency, which the incidents at Kirkwall had shown that it did, then Thranduil would make the best leader among us. The best Inquisitor.

But he was not a playable character.

It was a disconcerting thought, because neither was I.

But still, only the playable characters had survived the explosion at the Conclave and sending Thranduil there was a guaranteed death sentence.

"Thranduil, you…" I took a deep breath again, "You're a good leader. But ever since the previous Commander died, you haven't thought about the other Tal-Vashoth," Thranduil frowned in confusion at my words, "This mercenary group was founded by them and for them. They were generous enough to take in others, and you've done an amazing job, but you still need to acknowledge them."

Thranduil tilted his head and gazed at me intently, "I don't know where you're going with this. What do you want me to do? Resign as the Commander?"

"Let Aslad and Okad take the lead at the Conclave."

Thranduil sighed, "Do you think I don't know what you're doing?"

"Let her finish," Aslad's deep voice rumbled out as he entered the tent, "You were saying?"

"Leliana is aware that Ellana is here on behalf of the Lavellan clan, and both you and I are 'beloved' guests of the same clan. If you go out to the Conclave, they'll think you have some Dalish ulterior motives. But if Aslad and Okad are stationed at the Conclave, it'll be what they expect. And both of them are experienced veterans of Valo-kas. I believe they should receive the honour of heading this assignment."

"What a load of bull," Okad scoffed, his large curved horns casting a shadow onto me, "Erelani, you're terrible at lying. You just want to keep Thranduil away from that human cesspit."

"But there's sense in that," Aslad contradicted, and I sighed in relief at his support, "Thranduil can manage the situation better at the Forward Camp and still be safe. If something goes wrong, we can't afford to lose him."

Maxwell strolled in, having caught traces of the conversation as he approached, "That sounds like a good idea," Maxwell caught my gaze and froze, "What's she doing in here?"

"Need another lieutenant for Eldric and his team," Thranduil waved casually in my direction, dispelling the tension between us as he directed the attention towards him, "No offense, Max, but sending two Vashoth into the Conclave full of Chantry zealots, even with our reputation, is just stupid."

"I'll go with," Maxwell shrugged, "The Trevelyan name will reassure most people."

"And it has nothing to do with your power grabbing tendencies," I taunted, "Thranduil will do the hard work but you'll get all the credit. Isn't that what being a human noble is all about?"

Maxwell stiffened at the provocation but ignored me, "Aslad is right. If something goes wrong, you'll be able to help better if you can coordinate with the Nightingale and the Left Hand."

Thranduil sighed before nodding reluctantly, "The idea has merit. Now, your squad assignments,"

As Thranduil distributed the soldiers, I watched Maxwell intently. If this played out as expected, then he would be the Inquisitor.

I clenched my fists at the fury that the thought incited.

Maxwell wasn't even half as capable as Thranduil was. He had joined the Templars in Ostwick but had resigned when the Mage-Templar war erupted. Thranduil said he'd been disillusioned with what he'd seen and wanted to find another way of life.

I thought otherwise.

He was a selfish power-grabbing coward. He'd only thought to join Valo-kas when we attained Chantry recognition. The worst part of it was that Thranduil had promoted him quickly through the ranks, to Lieutenant in two years, which was the fastest turnover in our ranks ever.

Maxwell didn't fight better than me, he didn't even have a better reputation among our clients and yet he was still promoted.

Only because he was a human noble.

Maybe I was the problem. Maybe I made Maxwell the target of all my hatred because I couldn't express my disdain to my abusive human clients. But when I had tracked Maxwell down to discuss my issues with him, especially under Thranduil's encouragement, he turned a deaf ear.

Why?

Because Colen and a few others had died fighting the darkspawn in Gwaren, biding time for the others to escape.

One good deed doesn't redeem a man of his bad deeds.

But he wouldn't hear a world against Colen. Suddenly, I became the unreasonable woman who couldn't let her grudge go. What was one woman's grudge compared to a hundred lives, he'd argued.

I turned around and never tried again.

But something lit Maxwell up because he never stopped. He started tracking me down, telling me I was reaching above my station, that my grudges were unladylike and only Andraste could show me the way.

He was the living embodiment of human ignorance and arrogance, of everything that was wrong with humans.

Saying I loathed Maxwell was an understatement. But bringing my concerns to Thranduil changed nothing. Telling him about Maxwell's criminal negligence and superiority complex changed nothing.

The tent emptied until it was just Thranduil and me, "Did you see the way Maxwell talked to me?"

Thranduil only sighed, "No one is perfect. He's not bad, Erelani. And people change."

No. No, they don't Thranduil. Especially not humans.


 

 

That night the tension in the Dreaming was nearly tangible due to the anticipation and dread rampant in the Waking. The spirits were restless.

Desire sashayed in, the gleeful anticipation in its aura transforming its form to a soft lilac hue.

"Exciting days are up ahead!"

I disengaged my aura, unwilling to divulge anything more than necessary, "Care to share?"

"And ruin the surprise? Why, I never!" Desire giggled gleefully.

"I didn't think you cared so much about the Mage-Templar war," I offered, being deliberately obtuse.

"Shows what you know." I pretended that I didn't hear any undertones. "In the interests of preserving my property, stay away from the Conclave."

I blinked my surprise, but only smiled in return, "Desire, I'm touched. I didn't know you cared!"

Desire grinned, the sheer joy of it reaching me despite being disconnected, "I'll tell you a bit more, just so you never forget. Your desire to rebuild your peoples' empire, the ambition that formed after seeing the Eluvian," I tensed in anticipation, "they will bear fruit soon."

The Eluvian. The bright blue ornate mirror that had bewitched me.

The memory swam into being before me.

 

"Why is this here?" I turned to Fenris, hoping he'd have the answers.

"This is a merchant ship run by the Merchant's Guild. They transport all kinds of goods across borders. Why, is the mirror special?"

"It's an enchanted mirror."

"Get away from there, Erelani!" Fenris stood suddenly and dragged me back, "Don't play with enchanted items."

I listened, only because he was right. I had no clue if this was working or broken, or if it had the Blight, like the one that the Sabrae clan had encountered.

Still, I couldn't keep away.

 

The memory swirled quickly into the next.

 

The two weeks spent on the ship was hard. The ship was run by a dwarf captain named Clegane. His crew contained a diverse range of people. But food was sparse, especially since the ship had been unable to restock at Gwaren. Fenris and Adaar spent most of the journey making large fishing nets to harvest food while I was given cleaning duty.

When I wasn't on cleaning duty, I was in front of the Eluvian.

What I felt standing in front of the Eluvian was difficult to describe.

This mirror was a dimensional portal that made roads completely redundant. Roads.

Here stood irrefutable proof that this world was nothing like Earth. This, right here, was proof that the civilization of the ancient elves far exceeded the one I had been in before.

I couldn't imagine that. I couldn't even comprehend it.

I was an elf. A remnant of that fallen civilization.

What did we have now? A few scraps off the table or the bits that fell to the floor?

Not even that much.

My heart ached. My people were suffering, squished under the boots of every other race.

My head dropped into my hands in defeat.

What could I possibly do?

It was simple, in the end. If the ancient elves weren't going to do anything, then I was.

So, I spent countless hours in front of that Eluvian, enough that Fenris believed I was bewitched.

Maybe I was.

I could not decode the password. I didn't know how to overwrite it. I didn't even know how it worked. No spirit in the Fade would help me either. All I managed to understand was that the portal needed a keystone gem to activate. One that I didn't have.

When the ship docked at Ostwick, I begged the captain to tell me who the buyer was. It was a noble, but the captain refused to tell me who.

I even offered indentured servitude to the household, but Fenris forcefully dragged me away from the ship, an indifferent Adaar following behind him.

I failed my people again.

How was I supposed to restore my people? How?

It was the first time I realised how powerless I really was. I didn't even have the power to change my own fate, let alone those of others.

But the determination Fenris had shown while single-handedly supporting a Tranquil and a minor had shown me the fault in my thoughts.

We might be all that remained, but that didn't mean we had to suffer. Ancient elves might have had incredible magic, but they still died out. We had endured.

We could learn from their mistakes. Even from our own mistakes. We just needed to take the first step. Restoration was still possible.

It would be a long arduous path, but Rome wasn't built in a day.

But until I reunited with my people, I would leave no stone unturned regarding magic. I would learn anything that could ease their suffering.

 

My heart wilted in shame at the naivety that I had displayed back then. Nothing is that easy.

I finally understood that there was no such thing as a first step, not for elves, not in Thedas. Fenris had run away evading slavers, leaving Kaari and I destitute. The only occupation that had been open to us was mercenary life, yet the same occupation had exiled us from the alienage.

I recognized that there's no way out of poverty except violence and crime. What else could you do when society asserted your race was worthless and cut off all paths of improvement? Any protests to the status quo would only be met with human brutality. The elven massacre at the hands of Empress Celene had shown that much.

Knowing that, how could I warn others about the Conclave, Corypheus and Fen'Harel? With what evidence would I warn the others? Why would they ever take the word of an apostate elf seriously? What if they massacred my people as a deterrent? Any warnings would only be useless and once the events came to pass, I'd be the first in line to be executed, either at the hands of the Chantry, or by Fen'Harel himself.

It was futile. I'd always known that, deep inside.

But those damn memories of a life lived long ago both heartened and doomed me.

If only I had the right opportunity. Except Briala had failed.

If only I had power. Except Briala had failed.

If only I had the connections. Except Briala had failed.

If only I had ancient magic. Except Briala had failed.

What could I possibly do?!

I was a lowly elf, and nothing was going to change that.

But. Desire.

I still waited doggedly for any opportunity to further my people.

"I admit, while I hadn't expected you to break out dancing," Desire taunted playfully, "I did expect some measure of joy at my news, especially after that rerun of your memories. Can't you even manage a smile?"

I smiled, practised at the games Desire loved to play. I wasn't surprised that Desire was unable to read my emotions. As a Dreamer, my thoughts were my own, at least until Desire extended its aura.

And I had finally learned the error in extending auras. Nothing remained private; every feeling and every thought unfiltered between the afflicted parties.

Which meant leverage blindly handed over.

Desire had been extremely put out when Knowledge had shared that information. After seeing its disappointment, I had resolved to never be so careless with my aura again.

"Where are the others?" I asked, surprised at Valour's absence, "Doesn't Valour usually spend all its time correcting the way you address me? What I wouldn't do for some proper respect." I mock sighed, watching as Desire twitched in irritation.

"Wisdom went around advising spirits to leave the Frostback Mountains."

I jolted in surprise at that, "What? Why?"

"These are dangerous times, Erelani," Desire's smirk returned twofold, "Focus, Valour, Knowledge, Fear and a few others cleared out, but many stayed, especially for the Avvar Tribes."

"Why are you still here?" I asked, puzzled.

"There's nowhere else I'd rather be!" Desire twirled in joy, "Remember, stay away from the Conclave!"


 

 

I woke to Ellana's face hovering over me. I smacked her, "Don't do that Ellana!"

Ellana rubbed her cheek with a frown on her face, "You'd think you'd be used to it by now."

I sighed and got up, rolling up my blankets and deactivating all the runes and charms along the way, "Sleep, Ellana, will always be important to me," I motioned her closer, "Show me the morning cleansing spells."

I monitored her as she carefully cast a mouth cleansing spell followed by a small Aguamenti.

Ellana Lavellan.

The boon and bane of my life.

When the Lavellan clan had sojourned at Wycome, Thranduil and I had rushed to them, carrying carts full of necessities, like food, metals and herbs to them, hoping desperately that they'd adopt us into their clan.

The problem was, they were among the few clans that traded with outsiders. While they appreciated the extra supplies, they weren't interested in adopting two additional mages into the clan, not when they were already at full capacity.

Thranduil and I were gently rejected, only welcome into the clan as 'beloved guests'. It had been a terrible blow, no matter how kindly given.

Until Ellana, as First, had showed up at our doorstep, asking for help in setting up reliable contacts and merchants for them to trade with. After Thranduil and Eldric had helped the clan establish trade, Ellana had nagged at Keeper Deshanna until she offered us temporary refuge within the clan which gradually evolved to permanent residence.

In retrospect, it wasn't all that surprising that Thranduil had fallen head over heels in love with Ellana. And Ellana with him. Ellana was the quintessential heroine. Beautiful to a fault. Kind. Assertive but easily amenable to a strong opinion.

A match made in heaven.

A match that took away the one person that I loved with all my being. My best friend, my family, my leader, and my salvation all rolled into one, taken away by a sheltered girl with a pretty face.

He was supposed to be mine. We grew up together. We endured the Fade together. The Warden, the Blight and the world separated us, but we still found our way back to each other.

I could never love anyone like I love Thranduil.

I wanted to hate her.

But if Ellana loved Thranduil, she idolized me. Me. The average looking muscular elf with permanently pursed lips framed by a masculine jawline. Despite being five years younger than her, she called me Hahren.

Hahren. That was a title of respect that could never be taken lightly. It was a sign of trust, respect and an acknowledgement of learning and experience. It was a promise between the hahren and dalen, a promise of security, a promise of knowledge.

She followed me like a little girl when Thranduil was busy, demanding tales from the Fade, training in Dirth'ena Enasalin and coaching in spells.

It was flattering, but mostly overwhelming. Kaari and Eldric understood my predicament and ran interference when they could, because I was hurting.

Perhaps the most puzzling part was that she didn't care that I loved Thranduil. It was obvious; I had never been skilled in any artifice outside of the Fade. But it didn't faze her at all.

That shattered my heart all over again. I didn't even have a chance.

Nevertheless, Thranduil was happy with her.

And that was that.

Ellana shook my shoulders to snap me out of my daze, "All done, Hahren."

"Stop that Ellana," I chastised, "Don't be so frivolous with that title. I'm not an elf of great age or learning."

"You sound exactly like one, that's good enough for me," Ellana winked.

"Ellana, I don't like it. Stop." I scolded as I went through my own morning routine. This was a long standing argument that neither of us conceded.

"Never," Ellana sang as she walked towards the exit flap of the tent, "Hurry up Hahren, I want to get some training in before we have to meet with the scouts."

I groaned, feeling every inch like an annoyed Hahren as I followed her out.


 

 

I circled the perimeter we'd been assigned, doing routine checks with each of my squad members to ensure there were no problems.

It was so cold.

I'd already drawn heating runes onto my team's ensemble and taken extra care to energise my own, but the mountain winds were so sharp, easily penetrating my bubble of warmth and making me shiver.

As I approached the Eastern perimeter, I spotted Eldric returning to his post, "Why did you abandon post?" I demanded, trying not to snap at his negligence.

Eldric looked to the side and ran a hand through his black hair, conflicted, "This isn't my business, so I really don't have the right to speak. But I don't like this."

I frowned, puzzled, "Eldric, what are you talking about?"

"One of the Chantry aides was harassing one of you-ours." Eldric clenched his jaw but refused to make eye contact.

"Harassing?"

"I caught the aide cornering Pulai."'

Outraged, I stalked towards him, "Tell me you protected him!"

"I did and reported the incident to Maxwell. But-"

"But he believed the Chantry aide."

"No, in return, the aide accused Pulai of assaulting her. Max had to dismiss Pulai."

"He dismissed Pulai? Even after your testimony?" I shook in barely suppressed fury. That bastard was going to pay, "I'm going to have a word with Maxwell."

Eldric put a restraining around my waist, "Wait, Erelani, it's not-,"

"Don't leave your post. There have been reports of unusual activity," I forcefully removed his arm as I spoke, "I'll return in an hour."

Who could believe that Pulai had assaulted a Chantry member?! He was the most devout Andrastian I knew.

But I knew why. It was because he was an elf.

I stormed towards the Temple of Sacred Ashes, fuming at the injustice of it all.


 

I opened my eyes, feeling my vision split in two as I stood. My vision started spinning and nausea washed over me.

Copy. Paste. Rewrite. Copy. Paste. Rewrite. Copy, paste, rewrite. Rewrite. Copy. Paste. Rewrite. Rewrite. Rewrite. Rewrite.

Run.

Nonsense words swam through my consciousness. I felt concussed, I could barely see, and everything was a green blur.

I stilled, feeling the hair at the back of my neck stand up.

Run. I needed to run. Something was after me.

Adrenaline spurred me forward, and I looked back as I ran. Giant spiders were trailing me, snapping their pincers viciously as they closed the gap.

"Here, this way!"

Something golden was waving at a bright green light behind it.

It was too far away.

Location. Intent. Fadestep.

The golden entity caught me as I stumbled and spoke again, "You have to! Do it!"

Do what? What do I have to do?

I was pushed. I fell through the hole and debilitating pain reverberated through my body as I sprawled onto the ground.

I surrendered to the pain, and closed my eyes.

 

Chapter Text

 


 

Why Ignorance Is Bliss

 

Hate begets hate; violence begets violence; toughness begets a greater toughness. We must meet the forces of hate with the power of love. – Martin Luther King

 


 

 

An alien feeling of coldness pervaded my being, numbing the agony that my body was in and consequently stealing the little lucidity I regained.

A hand cradled my head and I opened my eyes. Everything was a blur and my vision didn’t focus. Two fingers pulled the skin under my eyes taut, and I saw a blue so light it was almost grey.

My eyes rolled back as I fell unconscious.

 


 

A rough kick to my stomach jolted me awake and I convulsed, throwing up bile from the force of the blow. My head throbbed and the lethargy saturating my body had me nearly collapsing into the puddle of vomit. An unnatural heaviness weighed my hands down.

“The prisoner’s awake! Inform the Seeker!”

The vehemence and threat in the guard’s voice had me fighting for lucidity, and suddenly I was back in the cell in Gwaren surrounded by multiple Colens hiding behind their helmets. The sound of horror died in my throat, suffocated by the bile rising from my stomach. I forced myself onto my knees; I wouldn’t let him get him away, not this time. I will not cower, I will not hesitate, and I will show no mercy.

“It’s the end of the world, all because of this fucking knife-ear,” the guard’s anguished rage had me shrinking in confusion, “We should kill her, do the Seeker and the world a favour.”

What?

No, I couldn’t let him distract me, humans loved playing the blame game, and used any justification to blame others. Colen had demeaned Kaari and I multiple times just to rationalize his lust.  Finally, the agonised fury that had been eating away at my soul for years would be quenched.

Colen. Colen. Colen.

“Look at her,” the guard, Colen, raged, “She has no remorse, no guilt.” He grabbed my hair and pulled my head back, “Fucking elves. This is why we hate you, y’all just mindless murderers, savages.”

He hauled my head back to slam my head against the floor, but I used his momentum to smash my handcuffed slab onto his chest, pushing him back. He roared, and suddenly the nearby guards unsheathed their swords. My eyes ran wildly about the room, counting desperately; there were eight in total.

Shield!

There was a pulse of magic before it drained into the rectangular board cuffing my hands.

Shield! Shield! But they all drained away into the magic inhibiting cuffs. My left hand suddenly sparked in raw agony, feeling as though someone had stabbed straight through my palm.

My head spun from the pain, my vision going double as I strained to focus on the guards in front of me. I can’t lose focus, not when Colen’s so close. Colen’s going to pay.

All eight of them charged at once, and I caught the legs of the man closest to me as his sword descended, quickly sliding under his legs before pushing him right into the swing of his comrades. Their swings stopped immediately, and they turned as one towards me.

They were highly trained. And now, cautious.

The adrenaline pumping through my veins finally cleared the haze permeating my thoughts and a terrifying realization dawned on me.

Colen was long dead. I was in prison. I had somehow angered these guards beyond reason. There was nowhere to hide: all I could do was survive this fight.

Fucking racist shems!

If they wanted to die so badly, who was I to refuse them?

One of them charged me as the others circled me, and I let him get close before jerking his sword away from him. He tried to elbow me, and the others closed in to take advantage of my distraction. I bent away from his attack range and swung the sword in my cuffed hands in a wide arc, making the guards back away quickly from the range of the swing.

I was outnumbered, without mana and quickly losing ground. I wasn’t going to survive this. But I’d be damned if I didn’t take them all with me!

One of the guards behind me swung wildly, and I dodged using the sword I stole to guard myself, but he broke through my defence, managing to slash my left thigh.

Fuck!

Another guard swung, and I brought the slab inhibiting my arms into its range, hoping he’d shatter it. There was a loud clang and the slab dented. I took advantage of his shock to stab him through the only gap in his armour: his throat. There was a gurgling sound before he collapsed.

One down, seven to go.

“Gaarghhh!” Several guards roared in rage and charged wildly, and I staggered back, my rush of adrenaline fading, overcome by my injuries and fatigue.

If only I had my magic. I wasn’t going to win, not even close without it, but I’d fight back with every breath I had left in me.

A door banged open and a commanding feminine voice barked out, “Stop this at once!”

A tall woman with short dark hair and scars running from her cheek to her jawbone stormed forwards and the guards retreated immediately. A person of authority.

She stopped in front of the dead guard, “What happened?”

“The prisoner attacked us! That knife-ear killed Gregory!”

Her face twisted in fury and she stalked towards me, her arm drawing back to strike.  Panic swelled in my chest, and in response to my growing terror, sharp searing agony blazed in my left hand, lifting on its own rising until the large rectangular slab faced the woman.

“Cassandra, stop! We need her!” A figure melted from the shadows near the door, and with a jolt I recognized her: Leliana. I had been keeping a paranoid eye on every figure in the room and she hadn’t even registered on my radar.

Gazing into Cassandra’s stormy brown eyes, my mind oriented and everything clicked. Cassandra Pentaghast. Leliana. A prison.

Oh. Fuck. Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck.

“Guards, back away. The Seeker and I will handle this,” Leliana opened the door and gestured for the guards to leave. As the guards left Leliana pointed at the corpse, “Take Gregory with you.”

One of the guards tried to kick me on the way out, but I caught his leg, forcing him to trip in retaliation. Seeker Pentaghast advanced towards me again and I backed away in caution.

My head throbbed again, and my left hand seared in response, but I couldn’t afford even a moment of inattention, not with the Seeker standing in a murderous rage only a few feet away.

The door banged shut and Seeker started circling me. I watched her carefully, keeping her in my range so that she couldn’t take me by surprise.

She bent low and grabbed the back of my head, whispering viciously, “Tell me why I shouldn’t kill you, right now.” She jerked my head and let go, withdrawing completely, “The Conclave is destroyed, everyone who attended, dead! Except for you!”

Panic, anxiety and terror welled up again and I breathed frantically to overcome the shaking of my body, because, why? Why had I been at the Conclave?! Because of Maxwell! But what happened?

I remembered nothing.

I knew, theoretically, what should have happened. But theoretically, I should never have survived the Conclave.

I could only keep silent.

Leliana and Cassandra closed in around me and Cassandra grabbed my left arm, “Explain this!”

The truth was, “I-I can’t.”

Cassandra leaned in and punched my face, and I fell back, feeling my jaw ache and head spin from the force of her blow.

“You attacked the guards, you’re refusing to cooperate, and you-you killed the Most Holy! I should kill you-,”

“Cassandra, no, we need her.”

How stupid did they think I was? This was a well-established routine to harvest information from clients or even our targets in the mercenary. But if Leliana was playing the good cop, then I had to appeal to her, as there was no other choice. Things had gone horribly wrong, and I was now under the mercy of vengeful shems desperately looking for someone to blame. Yet, even though Leliana and I were well acquainted, she would never show leniency.

And it seemed Leliana realized this, because her act dropped the moment she turned to evaluate my response.

 “Leliana, it wasn’t me.” I gazed at her directly, trying to ignore the gnawing ache in my left hand.

Leliana turned, the hood covering most of her features so that I couldn’t decipher her expression, “The evidence and your behaviour suggest otherwise.”

“Leliana, it wasn’t me. I was conducting patrol, like you asked. And these guards attacked me first.”

“Really?” The scepticism in her voice was only second to her aloofness, “Well then, Erelani, report. How did this begin?”

“I was-,” I hesitated, wondering if I should tell her about Pulai, but I soldiered on, “I got a report that one of my men was being harassed by a Chantry aide,” Cassandra scoffed, “So I set out to the Temple to change the roster, and that’s it.”

Cassandra glared, “That’s it?”

I took a deep breath, “I don’t know if this was a dream, or, or something else, but when I woke up, it, it was green. A, a,” I stammered, unsure if I should say it was the Divine, a spirit or something else that had spoken to me. What had the game said it was? What did I think it was? “I don’t know, something, a woman I think, told me to do something, I, I don’t remember what.”

“A woman? She spoke to you?” Leliana exclaimed in surprise, moving closer to me.

“Leliana, I don’t remember, I really don’t remember,” A note of plea entered my voice, “We’ve known each other for years, Leliana. You know what I am, I wouldn’t do this, you know that. I don’t even know what happened! Leliana, ple-,”

“No,” Cassandra cut me off and pulled Leliana back, pushing her towards the door, “Go to the Forward Camp, Leliana. I’ll take her to the rift.”

Leliana passed me an assessing stare before retreating. Cassandra approached me again and I tensed, “Treacherous elf.”

“Where are you taking me?”

“Keep quiet and follow. If you run, I’ll kill you immediately. Do you understand?” Her hands hovered over my restraints, waiting for an acknowledgement.

I gave her a measuring stare, noting the muted contempt on her face, “Yes. But what-,”

She cut me off, unlocking my restraints, “You’ll see soon enough.”

I finally looked down at my left hand, free from restraints. Dancing across my veilfire inscription was a bright green light, sparking furiously before snuffing out. But while it looked like green light, it didn’t feel like harmless light. It felt like a heavy entity was pressing down, caught between the scripts of the veilfire, crackling energy sparking each time it interacted with my mana.

My mana?

But if the Anchor was on my left hand, what happened to the memories inscribed onto the veilfire?

Cassandra jerked me up, dragging me through the prison door. As I followed her, I was reminded abruptly of my injuries and my fatigue, limping desperately after her as she pulled me through the Chantry, letting go as a priest unlatched the wooden door.

The door swung open and I looked up.

Blood drained from my face, terror knotting my stomach as the massive tear in the sky came into view, storm clouds churning the closer they reached the centre. A hole in the centre showed the Fade and as I stared, I was falling, seeing beyond into…colours, magic, life but also emotions, power and death; it was sensory overload, like hearing for the first time, seeing for the first time, feeling for the first time, yet all combined, like being reborn: I was stupefied.

I couldn’t look away.

Cassandra shook me, “That is the Breach. A massive rift into the realm of demons that grows bigger with each passing hour. It’s not the only rift, merely the largest, created by the explosion at the Conclave. By you.”

Her accusation snapped me out of my daze and my caution rose. Why were they so sure it was me? Why was Cassandra being so hostile? Had something happened that I didn’t know about?

But then again, why was I even surprised? This was the real world; an apostate Dalish elf was the perfect person for the Chantry to blame.

“What happened?” I repeated, because despite everything, it did not make sense. I would never have rushed in to save the Divine, not when I had created a trump card to escape that very situation.

“There was an explosion at the Conclave that ripped through the Veil. The Breach has been growing ever since and unless we act, it will swallow the world.”

But, “Explosions don’t tear the Veil, not unless enough blood is shed.”

It was the wrong thing to say. Cassandra’s face twisted with contempt, “Hundreds of people died, is that enough of a number?”

The Breach pulsed and suddenly I was on the floor, panting through the excruciating pain. It was like something was trying to dig its way through my palm, clawing, burning, sizzling in its attempts to get out.

Cassandra kneeled in front of me, her gaze merciless, “Each time the Breach expands, your mark spreads, and it is killing you. It may be the key to stopping this, but you don’t have much longer left.”

And I could feel the truth of her words in my bones. The heaviness, the entity, in my hand was pushing relentlessly against my mana, my spirit, expanding alongside the Breach, desperately reaching out to connect to something and failing, and each attempt battered both my body and spirit.

I didn’t engage Cassandra, even as she waited for an acknowledgement of her words. Nothing I said would appease her. As the Seeker, my life had no value to her, only the possibility of successfully closing the Breach was keeping me alive.

She was assured of my guilt. There was nothing I could say to convince her otherwise.

I trudged silently through the snow, subdued as Cassandra strode beside me.

I had severely overestimated my stoicism to this disaster because seeing the Breach rain fire down from the sky was like seeing the Blight ravage and corrupt the lands, destroying everything it touched. It was impossible not to feel your heart break in empathy as houses burned.

People were screaming, calling out desperately for help. Distant unintelligible screaming interspersed our journey through the town.

I was the only one who could end this suffering. How could I not?

“That knife-ear, she did it!”

“Burn her, Seeker, like my family burned!”

“Show no mercy to that savage!”

“Give her to us! Let her know the wrath of the people! Of the Maker!”

“Kill her!”

 A man broke through the crowd of onlookers and tried to attack, the guards ‘conveniently’ looking away as he pulled out a kitchen knife.

“My wife! My children! Why? Why did you do this?” He roared, slashing his knife wildly in rage.

Cassandra stepped forward, “Enough, we are doing what we can,” Cassandra glared at the guards nearby, “Take him away.”

Cassandra hauled me forward, her forceful presence dissipating the crowd, “They have decided your guilt. The Divine, the Conclave, the Breach; they believe you are responsible, they need it.”

As much as I wanted to rail against the injustice and proclaim my innocence, I understood. People were dead, more were dying because of demons, and fire was raining down from the heavens. Despair was rampant but only anger could spur people to action.

And now was the time to act.

“We must think beyond ourselves, beyond our race and differences and act,” I jolted in surprise as Cassandra mirrored my thoughts, “Until the Breach is sealed.”

She came to a stop as we exited the gates of Haven, “Will you aid us? Answer.”

“It wasn’t me,” I repeated, “And if I must aid you to have you believe me, then I will.”

Cassandra stared intensely, her eyes roving over my face, “There will be a trial, I can promise no more. Come.”

She strode purposefully down the road but paused when she noticed I wasn’t following. I took a moment to take stock; low mana, severe fatigue, possible concussion, psychosomatic pains and additional unhealed injuries.

I needed to be a miracle.

I needed a miracle to get through the day.

I closed my eyes and cast my mana through the Veil to reenergize. There was a sudden jolt, a tearing of the Veil and I abruptly stopped.

This isn’t good.

“What were you doing?” Cassandra barked, storming towards me, “I felt that from here!”

“I-,” My hand sparked again, lifting into the sky and I collapsed, gasping, “The Breach is expanding.”

Cassandra helped me up, “The pulses are coming faster, we must hurry.”

I calmed myself, thinking of all the times Desire had tormented me with different demons. Fear, Rage, Terror, Despair and so many more. I had overcome them all.

I will overcome them all. I must set my emotions aside.

I must. Act.

A battle calm settled over me.

I crossed the bridge, jumping over the broken crates and corpses lying on the ground. I ignored the wounded soldiers grunting in pain, the Chantry scholar that glared at me as he recited the Chant to a group of civilians and the corpses lining the stone floor.

Calm.

We raced through the gate, avoiding the barricades and dead bodies decorating the path as we climbed the hill. As we reached the second bridge, a meteor lit by green fire crashed onto the bridge, toppling it over like a deck of cards. Screams rent the air and Cassandra leaped down, desperate to save those she could.

I followed, pulling a man from underneath the debris before handing him off to the survivors. Another man was stuck under a boulder, his legs undoubtedly crushed from the weight, sobbing from the pain.

Levitate!

My magic stuttered before the spell finally took and I suppressed my anxiety about my failing magic as I lifted the boulder away from the buried man.

A hand fell on my shoulders and I turned to see Cassandra’s gaze soften as she met mine, “We need to go. Only you can put a stop to this.”

We treaded through the frozen river, climbing a hill before another meteor hit, breaking the ice along the river. A green light lit the area, a Shade spawning even as the light faded.

There was an anguished cry from the Shade.

“Stay behind me!” Cassandra pushed me back, launching an unprovoked attack on the Shade. There was a shriek of rage and their fight began in earnest.

There was another shriek, and I twisted, finding another Shade making its way towards me.

It was a traumatised wisp, lashing out in confusion. That’s what the Shade was.

And yet, violence begets violence.

I couldn’t attempt to reason with a wisp that was beyond reason, in the same way that I couldn’t reason with a human who was out to kill me. It was kill or be killed.

I picked up a sword lying discarded next to another corpse. I didn’t bother with magic; I couldn’t trust it wouldn’t fail me, especially with its sudden instability.

I dodged the Shade’s claws and slashed through its middle. As it groaned in pain, I circled around to its back and slashed down from the top of its head. There was another shriek before it dissipated, bits of essence falling to the floor.

This was a tragedy. A wisp was just a baby spirit, and I had killed a baby. A baby that lashed out in confusion. A wisp that turned into a Shade because of its intent.

I buried the grief. This Shade wasn’t going to be the last.

Ignorance really is bliss.

 


 

Cassandra didn’t confront me about my weapon. She passed me a long sidelong glance before tilting her head, “Let’s go.”

I soldiered on, trying to bury the surprise I felt at her sudden display of trust. There would be time to think later, if I survived this.

We ran along the river until we reached a staircase. A cabin on the side was on fire, and the fire had spread until it encompassed the staircase. Another pair of Shades attacked us, and we made quick work of them before strangling the fires at the staircase with the surrounding snow.

As we climbed up, I stumbled, but instead of finding purchase on the steps, I slipped, rolling down the staircase until I petered to a stop on the frozen river.

I couldn’t get up. Exhaustion was weighing me down and to make matters worse, my hand sparked again, pulled in the direction of the Breach.

“Get up, we’ve almost reached the others!”

I struggled onto my knees, fighting the pain and fatigue.

Cassandra jerked me up before handing me a bottle, “Here, have this. It’s the last remains of my energy potion.”

I gulped it down, waiting for the artificial energy boost to kick in. While this would prove effective for now, when I crashed, I was going to crash hard.

If I lived through the day.

We trudged forwards, and we fought another group of Shades before climbing down the hill towards another staircase.

Suddenly a wraith blocked our path, casting balls of pure arcane energy at us.

A quick blow dissipated it, leaving behind dusty dreamer rags.

I gazed at it, confounded. Despite being the easiest things to overcome and kill both in and outside the Fade, wraiths perplexed me.

They could affect neither the Dreaming nor Waking and usually just scavenged off the remains of stronger spirits. But they were not spirits. Spirits, by definition, had impeccable control of the Fade, navigating its landscape and magic with seamless efficiency.

So, what were they?

“We’re close to the rift, you can hear the fighting! Come on!”

We trudged up the hill and leaped down, altogether ignoring the collapsed bridge and broken junk lying scattered around. We crossed the shattered walls to find over ten people fighting.

Cassandra grasped my shoulder, “We must help them.”

Yet as I grew closer, a sudden tingling pervaded my mana senses before my mana suddenly started to refill at a rapid rate. I wanted to help, but my attention was completely arrested by this anomaly. The glare of the sun receded, and a bright green light filled my vision. I resolutely ignored the aching pulsing of my left hand as I gazed at it.

A rift. An opening through the Veil.

Sometimes the obvious was so obvious that it was easily forgotten.

I cast healing magic, waiting for the stutter in my mana to disappear before healing my injuries.

All my injuries, and yet my mana wasn’t even dented. Fatigue set in but was easily set aside by the energy potion.

I looked up to find the fight still going on and I sighed as even more Shades spawned while others were being killed.

There was no break between spawning from the Fade. If a spirit was passing through, then it would.

I threw away the iron sword, spawning a magical blade before fade-stepping around the battlefield, killing the remaining wraiths and shades with almost no effort.

Fade Cloak. Mage Armor. Shield. Reflective damage.

I was not usually this powerful, limited as I was by my mana, but with the Rift replenishing my mana at a nearly godly rate, I was near invincible.

I came to a stop beneath the Rift and suddenly someone grabbed my left arm.

Piercing light blue eyes glinted with undisguised hate and distress, “Quick, before more come through!”

He thrust my hand forward, a tingle running down my hand before agony seared it. That thing, the entity surged forth, drinking my mana greedily as green light rapidly connected with the Rift.

My mana regeneration dropped drastically even as the green light circled through the tear, patching it closed.

What was this?! “What did you do?” Even as I turned to the man, a subconscious deep-rooted terror robbed my voice.

“I did nothing, the credit is yours.” Even as he said those words, his eyes conveyed mild disdain.

Fen’Harel.

I ran a quick look over him before staring desperately at the mark in my hand.

He was not handsome. His face was sunken, cheeks hollow and the skin around his eyes, an exhausted black. His clothes were threadbare and bloody, his bags the only possession with any semblance of quality. He looked every inch what he was pretending to be: an impoverished apostate hobo.

Another shudder of overwhelming terror washed over me, stealing my voice absolutely.

That his deception was so complete. Fen’Harel, the god of betrayal, or was it rebellion? Whatever it was, he was extremely skilled in deception.

Of course. He had all the time in the world, since he was an immortal god.

Some form of despairing hysteria overcame me, and I hid my face under my right hand as I started laughing, unable to hide its unhinged nature.

Any scheme I tried against him would fail spectacularly. How could I attempt to outwit someone who was renown for being the trickster god?

A fucking snowball’s chance in hell that I would succeed.

“Easy there, while I understand why you’re losing it, at least we won’t be ass deep in demons forever,” A deep voice rang out, coming to a stop next to me, “Varric Tethras, rogue, storyteller and occasionally unwelcome tagalong.”

I struggled to gather myself, taking deep breaths to calm down. I looked up, finding a blonde dwarf garbed in a navy-blue shirt that was gaping open at his chest and a thick brown coat that swished at his ankles, “Erelani Arwen of Valo-kas.”

I held out a hand and he flinched.

I retreated, “Here with the Chantry, or?” Why was he here?

There was a condescending laugh from behind me that I studiously ignored, “Was that a serious question?”

“Technically, I’m a prisoner. Just like you.”

Cassandra growled, “I brought you in, so you could share your story with the Divine. Clearly that is no longer necessary.”

“And yet, here I am. Lucky for you, considering…”

I nodded at Varric, “Well met, Master Tethras.”

The man behind me huffed, “You may reconsider that stance, in time. My name is Solas, if there are to be introductions. I’m pleased to see you still live.”

I didn’t turn around, resolutely facing Varric.

Varric eyed me, then Solas, “He means, ‘I kept that mark from killing you while you slept.’“

Turn around. Say something. Anything!

 But all I managed was a half turn, only a portion of my face turned towards him, “Hn.”

Varric sighed, “I’m sure we’ll become friends in the valley.”

Cassandra made a disapproving noise, “No Varric, while your help is appreciated-,”

“You need me, Seeker. You need all the help you can get.”

Cassandra scoffed at Varric before turning to me, assessing, “Like you, Solas is an apostate. He volunteered his help.”

I didn’t know if that was a jab at me or Solas.

“Technically, all mages are now apostates, Cassandra. My travels have allowed me to learn much of the Fade, far beyond the experience of any Circle mage. I came to offer whatever help I can give with the Breach. If it is not closed, we are all doomed regardless of origin.”

I noted Solas turning towards me as he finished his spiel, cold calculation in his eyes as he waited for my response.

I was hyper aware of the fact that everyone had realized my reticence towards him.

Bury the fear. Bury the terror. Bury the rage.

Calm.

“He’s right. Seeker, we need to move.”

I dispelled the magical blade, picking up the sword I had discarded. The mark had drained my mana yet again and the refilling rate was abysmal.

“Well, Bianca’s excited!”

Chapter Text


 

Guilty Until Proven Innocent

 

It's not about whether you are innocent or guilty. It's about whether or not you can prove you're innocent. If you can't prove you're innocent, then you're considered guilty. It's been flipped: Now it's guilty until proven innocent. - Ronald Jones


 

 

As we trudged through the snow, soldiers accompanied us, keeping pace with the Seeker.

“Seeker, you ought to know, the magic used here is unlike any I have seen.”

Liar.

Solas picked up his pace until he was even with the Seeker, “While the prisoner is a talented mage, I find it difficult to imagine that any mage has the power to rip the Veil.”

“Noted,” Cassandra dismissed him, before issuing orders to the soldiers, “Clear the roadblock ahead for other soldiers. We will circle the bank.”

Varric kept pace with me, “You’re Dalish right? Had a Dalish friend once, Daisy. Well, you’d probably know her better as Merrill, from the Sabrae clan?”

I gave him a look, “I don’t know every Dalish elf.”

“Oh,” Varric gave a sheepish laugh, “So how did you come to join a mercenary group? Don’t the Dalish stick with their clans?”

The questions were so incredibly personal, but still, it was Varric, “My clan fought against the Fifth Blight.”

A series of emotions quickly crossed his face, “Oh. I know this means shit, but thank you, and I’m sorry for asking.”

Silence fell as we crossed the river.

“Demons ahead!” Solas warned, and I cast a quick barrier spell over the party.

We made quick work of the wraiths and shades, until suddenly a cry for help sounded through the river.

I looked up.

Another cabin had just caught on fire, the fire having spread from the broken crates. A woman was trying to climb out the window but was trapped by fire on both sides.

Cassandra raced forward, and I followed her, dodging the sparks of fire. We came to a stop next to the burning crates, unable to find a way across.

“Help me, please! Help! Help!”

There was sufficient mana for one powerful Aguamenti, especially if I drew from the snow and river below me rather than directly from the Fade.

I waved my arms in a spiral in the direction of the river and finished by cupping my hands towards the fire.

Water sprayed like a geyser over the fire, strangling the blazing fire. The woman hopped down, “Thank you, thank you! May the Maker bless you!”

“We must keep moving.” Solas reminded us, and we trudged back down, heading towards the stone staircase.

“So, you’re from Ferelden then, if you fought in the Blight. But I hear a bit of Free Marcher in your accent.”

Surprised, I turned to Varric, “You’ve got a good ear.”

“And an enormous mouth.” Cassandra interjected.

“And clever hands. It’s all a part of my charm.” Varric winked at me, and I couldn’t hide the small smile that crept over my face.

“So, are you innocent?”

I froze, the small feeling of camaraderie that Varric had inspired vanishing completely.

Varric was interrogating me.

He’d noted my distance from Solas and Cassandra and set out to build a rapport with me, cataloguing all my reactions. And now, he was waiting, having built a behavioural baseline, for my reaction so that he could deliver his own little judgement.

I had never been good with deception. The Fade was different; my innate talent made hiding my emotions in my aura almost disturbingly easy, but spirits were not capable of reading facial expressions and hence I never felt the need to learn.

The only mask I ever wore was my professional one, a necessity for working with human clients.

A mask that I was already using.

“I don’t remember what happened,” which was the unfortunate truth.

“Yeah, that’ll get you every time, should have spun a story. It’s more believable and less likely to result in premature execution.” His face was expressionless.

I had no friends here.

Agony seared through my hand and I stumbled again.

Cassandra steadied me, “Hold on, we haven’t much further.” We continued down the path and found a Greater Shade, Wraith and Lesser Shade sitting around a fire, chatting. I paused, taking in the peculiar situation.

“Demons!” Cassandra charged them, and the others followed her lead.

I stood still. That had been unprovoked and callous. They were attacking a group of people who had just been resting.

They returned, Solas passing me another calculating gaze. Cassandra frowned in reproach before gesturing towards another set of stairs, “The others should have gathered above, at the Forward Camp.”

I nodded, then started climbing up. At the top, there was a tug on my left hand and I pressed forward, finally spotting a rift near large wooden gates.

“We must seal the rift, quickly!” Solas advanced forward, casting a barrier before freezing the closest Shade.

I didn’t want to seal the rift. I felt invincible again. My mana was back to full, nearly overflowing but if I closed the Rift, all the mana that I’d accumulated would disappear in my attempt to seal it.

“They keep coming! Help us!” A soldier cried out from the watchtower.

I fade-stepped until I was under the Rift, feeling the Fade pour out of the Veil like water leaking from a cracked dam.

I thrust the entity towards the rift, feeling as if my hand was being rendered in two as the entity circled the tear, drawing my mana fitfully as it repaired the veil. There was a suction, like when you stuck your hands together to create a pseudo vacuum between them, before I pulled back, sealing it shut with a pop.

The entity receded.

I turned around to find the others still fighting three Shades and two Wraiths, Cassandra cornered by the Wraiths.

This time, there was considerably more mana left over from the sealing, and I fade-stepped, slashing one of the Wraiths in a wide swing before moving onto the next target.

A few moments later, Solas’ voice rang through the clearing, “We are clear for the moment. Well done.”

“Guards, open the gate! The rift is gone!”

The gates swung open to the bridge, supplies  laid out haphazardly while a bonfire warmed a group of soldiers.

“Come,” Cassandra ordered, before marching down the bridge, coming to a stop in front of a large tent, “Leliana!”

Leliana walked out with a Chantry priest, arguing viciously as she approached, “We must take the prisoner to the Temple, it’s the only way to stop all this!”

“No! You’ve caused enough trouble!” The priest spotted our approach and glared, “Here they come, guards, restrain the prisoner! Take the mercenary group to Val Royeaux to face execution!”

The guards moved, but Leliana held out a restraining hand, “No, we cannot ignore the Breach! You are not in command here, Chancellor Roderick!”

Roderick seethed, “Haven’t you all done enough?! You are all thugs, but thugs who supposedly serve the Chantry!”

“We serve the Most Holy, Chancellor, as you very well know.” Leliana rebutted, crossing her hands.

“Justinia is dead! We must elect her replacement and obey her orders on the matter! You cannot do as you wish!”

Cassandra interceded, “I will not ignore the Breach!”

Suddenly, the words pierced me, “Wait, what do you mean the mercenary group?”

I had gotten so caught up in the immediacy of the Breach that I had completely forgotten about the fate of the mercenary group. Leliana’s face hardened but it was Roderick who addressed me, “Exactly what I said! Your mercenary group had the perfect opportunity and motive to kill the Most Holy! The Divine should never have hired a group of malcontents to mediate in such a momentous occasion!”

 “What?” I asked hoarsely, disbelief and horror grabbing my heart in a vice grip, “What possible motive could we have had to do this? Where are the others? What have you done to them?”

“A mercenary group full of apostates, malcontents, criminals and qunari, and you’re asking me what motive they would have for killing the Divine? You jest, surely?” Roderick mocked, before despair clouded his features, “And the Divine had the heart to reach out to people like you. We told her it was foolish, and here we stand, proven right.”

My hands started shaking, “Leliana, you can’t, you don’t seriously believe this bullshit, do you?” Her face remained impassive, “But Thranduil, you, you reached out,” I gasped and started hyperventilating, what had they done to Thranduil, Kaari, Ellana, Eldric, everyone, where were they?! “We fought the Blight together. We, we came because you asked! Because the Divine asked! Why would we, ever, our reputation, our soldiers, we came because we wanted to help.

Leliana’s gaze sharpened, “I didn’t forget. Thranduil was the one who fought in the Blight, not you. And one of your mercenaries came forward and presented incriminating evidence.”

“What?” My voice strained, “Evidence? What evidence?”

“Maxwell Trevelyan stepped forward and presented information about your leader and you.”

My body flashed hot in rage, before a dangerous cold descended, “Maxwell. Maxwell told you this fiction?” I growled, my tone conveying exactly what I thought of him, “And in exchange, what did he ask for? Money? Safe passage? Or immunity from prosecution? Which was it?”

“Trevelyan is fighting at the front as we speak,” Cassandra contradicted, a frown gracing her face.

“And this, this is exactly why we Dalish want nothing to do with shemlen scum!” I yelled, losing control completely, and a hand settled on my lower back, jolting me.

  “This is not the time to lose control,” Solas whispered, only for my ears, “Stay calm.”

It was the worst thing he could have said to me. This was his fault. His fault.

I wrenched his arm away from me, “Don’t. Touch. Me.”

He backed away immediately.

Bury the rage. Think. Think!

“Call a retreat, Seeker. Our position here is helpless.” Roderick spoke, completely ignoring my outburst.

“We must stop this before it’s too late.” Cassandra objected.

“How?” Roderick asked, despairing, “You won’t survive long enough to reach the Temple, even with all your soldiers.”

“But we must. The Temple is the quickest route.”

“But not the safest,” Leliana interceded, “Our forces can charge as a distraction while we go through the mountains.”

“But squads have gone missing on that path.”

Roderick slammed a hand down on the table, “Stop, before more lives are lost.”

The Breach expanded and the mark on my hand sparked viciously, distracting everyone from their quarrel. Before their argument could continue, I stepped forward, “Release the surviving members of Valo-kas.”

“No.” Roderick objected emphatically.

“You don’t have enough soldiers in the valley. If,” I swallowed, my mind racing even as I spoke, “Even if you believe we are guilty, you need us. If you put us on the front lines, then you won’t have to bother with an execution.”

“Are you confessing your guilt?” Cassandra turned, startled.

“I can scream myself raw proclaiming my innocence, and you won’t listen to me. Even though the perpetrator is obvious, you still want to execute me,” I struggled to control my rage, “Because you don’t want to take the second it’ll take to think, to set aside your hate. Because a human noble saw an out and took it.”

Leliana was the only one who took a moment to consider my words, “Obvious?”

Reckless rage and desperation overpowered all common sense, “It was Fen’Harel.”

There was a sudden scraping behind me and the folly of my words caught up with me. My heart skipped a beat. He was at my back!

Stupid, prideful Erelani was going to be food for the Dread Wolf.

There was the sound of someone slapping their forehead and I turned to find Varric shaking his head, “I understand you’re in a bad situation, but do you realize what you sound like?”

“What? Who is this Fen’Harel?” Cassandra pressed, moving forward, “Varric, who is she speaking of?”

“He’s the Dalish equivalent of an evil god,” Varric sighed, “Daisy used to take his name in vain a lot.”

“The Dalish are known for their superstitions.” A cold voice spoke up from behind me.

I placed a shaking hand to cover my face. I made a terrible mistake: not only do I now sound like a mad superstitious savage, but Fen’Harel was going to kill me.

Bury. Bury it all.

I had to take the exit they had given me, because while the Chantry was formidable, Fen’Harel was Fen’Harel. I couldn’t throw accusations without proof.

“He was the god fabled to have erected the Veil, but yes, perhaps it wasn’t him. But which people are famous for having tampered with the Veil before?”

“Are you suggesting it was Tevinter?” Varric was incredulous.

“And the alternative? I am Dalish, and our mercenaries are outcasts. Where could we have possibly attained the knowledge to do this? While we do have a handful of mages in our mercenary group, few of them are Circle trained. But Tevinter, it has the resources, the knowledge, motive and precedent.

“Then why do you have the mark instead of a Tevinter mage?” Leliana contradicted and my stomach sunk, because she was right. Why did I have the mark?

“I don’t know. I don’t know!” I grit my teeth, “But I want to close the Breach! I’m already fucking dying, so I’d rather die closing the Breach than have it swallow the world whole,” I took a deep breath to calm myself, “And if even that means nothing, we still need every able-bodied soldier to charge the Temple. Release the Valo-kas mercenaries.”

When silence befell the bridge, Roderick sputtered, “You can’t seriously be considering this! What if they revolt and there is a repeat of the Conclave?!”

I couldn’t antagonise them further, no matter how much I wanted to kill the Chantry bastard, “Leliana, please. How can you believe, Thranduil, of all people, Thranduil-,

“Leliana, despite the prisoner’s dubious nature, she does make a valid point. We do need every soldier we can get.”

“I’ll negotiate their terms with their commander,” She exchanged a veiled glance with Roderick, who seemed to lose his objections to the arrangement, “It’ll be smarter to charge the Temple directly then, especially if we have the mercenary group at the front lines.”

 My head spun in relief and I nearly collapsed against the railing. I gripped the rails, stoutly ignoring the others as much as they were ignoring me while I waited anxiously for my friends.

Please be alive. Please.

“Erelani, what the fuck!” Eldric’s voice echoed across the bridge and my head shot up, finding a dozen of Valo-kas mercenaries, over a half whom were from Eldric’s posse, tied up and moving in a line towards me.

Ellana turned her teary-eyed gaze to me and I spotted the bruises decorating her face, “Hahren.”

Her desolate gaze had me moving before I was conscious of it and I ran a frantic hand over her, checking for any lasting bruises.

“Hahren, what happened?” I shook my head, indicating now wasn’t a good time.

I moved over the others, running a cursory check over all of them. Eldric grabbed a hold of me, “Erelani, what the fuck happened?”

“Eldric, I need you to tell me, how much time passed between you giving me the report about Pulai and the explosion?”

“An hour? The explosion made everything, everything, shit. Erelani, did you have anything to do with this?”

“No! I don’t even know what the fuck happened!” At Eldric’s disbelieving gaze, I shook my head, “Where is Kaari? Where is Thranduil?”

Ellana tilted her head behind me. I turned and found Thranduil supporting Kaari as they stumbled across the bridge, Kaari’s weight slowing both down considerably.

I fade-stepped across and caught Kaari when she recoiled in surprise, “What happened to you?”

“The explosion.”

Guilt set in deep as I took in the extent of her injuries. Why hadn’t I done more?

Because there was nothing else to be done.

When we rejoined the others, I found Solas and Varric reclined against the railing, watching the rest of us intently while Cassandra and Leliana mobilised the forces.

Thranduil straightened, “Our group is the main suspect for the events at the Conclave,” He studiously ignored me as I tried to catch his gaze, looking everyone else in the eye, “The only mercy we’ve been given, is the ability to choose our death. We can either wither away in the prison, languishing for crimes we did not commit, or fight against demons and show them the true spirit of Valo-kas, that we protect all people regardless of race, origin and magical ability.”

Everyone became subdued, but no one protested the implicit assumption.

I reached out to him “Thranduil-,”

Thranduil wrenched my arm away from him, “You destroyed everything.

I froze in the face of his cold fury, his eyes like flint. I panicked, “It wasn’t me! It wasn’t me!”

“I assigned you the Outer Quadrant, you had no business being at the Conclave. Why were you at there, Erelani?”

His quiet fury made my stomach drop in dismay, “It was Maxwell’s fault! Eldric reported that Pulai had been dismissed because a Chantry aide was harassing him. I, I went to fight-,”

“Maxwell was not wrong. He was acting on my orders! If any conflicts were to arise between our mercenaries and Chantry workers, he was to dismiss the mercenary from his position and send them back to me!”

I balked, “You didn’t mention….no, it doesn’t matter! Maxwell framed us! He fabricated evidence to accuse you and I of this crime and acquitted himself!”

Thranduil’s gaze sharpened, “Did you-,”

I grabbed his arms, cutting off his words, “It wasn’t me. Why would I do this? Believe me, please, you have to believe me.”

“What happened at the Conclave?”

“I don’t remember,” His disbelief was palpable, “I think, Thranduil, I was in the Fade.”

“Sleeping, you mean?” He scoffed.

“No, physically. Something did happen but there’s a noticeable gap in my memories. To steal my memories, there’s some cover up going on,” I held out my left hand, “The mark is over my inscription Thranduil. I wouldn’t have tainted this, not for anything.”

And it was only that that finally convinced him, because he knew how obsessively protective I was of that veilfire inscription. I had never allowed any experimentation on it, never allowed another to touch it, or even experience its memories.

What kind of person did Thranduil think I was, that an assertion of my innocence hadn’t been enough? That only a sign of my selfishness convinced him of the truth?

“Be that as it may, there is no way we are going to survive this,” Thranduil’s gaze finally softened, “I’m glad that my last day will be spent with the people I love most.”

He ruffled my hair before turning and pulling Ellana into his arms.

Fuck.

Bury. Bury it all.

Today was not going to be his last.

“I swear,” my gaze swept over every Valo-kas mercenary still alive, “I will vindicate you, I will protect you. Today is not going to be your last, even if that means I must kill every demon, human, anything that stands in your way.”

Thranduil sighed heavily.


 

We charged the Temple, Valo-kas heading the charge as we advanced.

Fade-step, stab. Fade-step, stab. Barrier. Stab. Stab.

Rift. Recharge. Heal. Seal. Barrier. Stab.

Energy potion. Stab. Stab. Fade-step. Stab.

Temple.


 

I gave zero shits about the mummified bodies burning, their mouths open in a silent scream.

They were dead. They were on their next great adventure, case in point, me.

And they had been humans. I didn’t give a fuck about how much they had suffered before dying. They probably deserved it too.

My entourage did not share my dispassion.

Cassandra kept bemoaning the tragedy and I tuned her out.

What about the tragedy that occurs in Circles of Magis? In Tevinter? In Sehron?

The mistreatment of elves, the poor, the slaves, mages, even spirits?

And they were bemoaning the death of a few rich people who were responsible for most of the tragedies that occurred.

Fuck humans. Fuck shemlen scum.

“That is where you walked out of the Fade and our soldiers found you. They said a woman was in the rift behind you. No one knows who she was.”

I glanced at the place where Cassandra had indicated and found nothing unique in the scenery of death and destruction.

“The Breach is a long way up.” Varric interrupted, struck with terrified awe.

Thranduil placed a hand on my shoulder, “This is your chance to end this. Are you ready?”

“Where will you be?”

“Right beside you, as always.” And despite everything, my heart constricted.

Kaari stepped up next to me, followed by Ellana, and Eldric.

“You can do this.” And Kaari’s genuine faith calmed my nerves.

Cassandra approached with Leliana and her soldiers, “We’re all here. Leliana, your men need to take positions. Erelani, come.”

“How am I going to do this?”

Solas approached and I reflexively stiffened, “This rift was the first and is the key. Seal it, and perhaps we seal the Breach.”

As we climbed down, a bone chilling voice echoed through the temple.

“Now is the hour of our victory. Bring forth the sacrifice.”

 “What are we hearing?” Eldric looked spooked.

“At a guess: the person who created the Breach.” Solas passed me a glance that I resolutely ignored.

“That isn’t even the worst part,” Varric’s voice called from the back, “This shit around us is red lyrium. What the fuck is red lyrium doing here?”

“Magic could have drawn on lyrium beneath the temple, corrupted it…”

“It’s evil. Don’t touch it.” Varric warned.

The five of us exchanged glances, and I whispered to them, relieved, “See, it wasn’t me. Do you believe me now?”

Kaari shook her head with a smile, “I never thought you did it.”

“Doesn’t matter in the end, though, does it?” Thranduil said, then moved away to command the remainder of Valo-kas mercenaries.

“Someone, help me!”

“That is Divine Justinia’s voice!”

There was a sudden mad rush as soldiers leaped the remaining gap to reach the source of the voice, Cassandra leading them.

As I reached the Rift, my hand sparked furiously, and suddenly ghostly images started playing.

Divine Justinia suspended in the air by red energy.

A dark black figure with glowing red eyes.

“Someone, help me!”

My ghostly image stumbled in and her face paled, “Fuck.”

“Run! You have to warn the others!”

“An intruder! Slay the elf.”

My ghostly image had started drawing a circle, when abruptly a white light flashed, making the images disappear.

I recognized the circling motion. It had been my exit strategy, my one foolproof plan in case I got caught in that exact situation.

What went wrong?!

Cassandra shook me, breaking through my thoughts, “You were there! Who attacked? And the Divine, is she…? Was this vision true? What are we seeing?”

“I don’t remember!” Because any other response, now, was going to damn me and in proxy, damn Valo-kas.

Solas intervened, “These are echoes of the past. The Fade is bleeding into this place.”

And he was right, because I felt rejuvenated. Invincible.

“This rift is not sealed, but it is closed… albeit temporarily. I believe with the mark, the rift can be opened and then sealed properly and safely. However, opening the rift will likely attract attention from the other side.”

Cassandra turned to Thranduil, “That means demons. Stand ready!”

Thranduil nodded, signalling the others into position.

Solas stood close and my skin crawled, “Do you need instruction on how to open the Rift?”

My jaw locked and all I could manage was a shake of my head.

Just a Pride demon. This was going to be easy.

The heaviness that had been weighing my heart since awakening eased a little.

I could do this.

I stretched my left hand out, flinching as the entity came out. Instead of circling in, I forced it to circle out, destroying the fraying patches that had sealed the rift.

Two bright green lights shot out, an incredible wave of power resonating as they spawned.

And there, on the right, was the Pride demon.

I turned to the left and my world ended.

Desire.

What have you done.

 

Chapter Text


 

Labour Of Love

 

Love is the most powerful emotion, and that makes it the most dangerous. - Anonymous


 

A volley of arrows headed straight for Desire.

Shield!

A bright blue light encased Desire and it turned, looking for the source of the spell, before its gaze locked on me.

“Desire is mine, Pride is yours.” I ordered Cassandra but Leliana caught me before I could Fade-step across the field.

Leliana frowned, “You can’t be serious, alone?”

Cassandra passed me a quick assessing glance, “She can do it.”

Leliana shot an arrow at a passing wraith, “We can’t risk her life-,”

“I can do it.” I interrupted, then cut through two Shades that blocked my way before finally reaching Desire.

“This is a new level of stupidity, even for you. You, fighting me alone?”

“You know very well I’m not here to fight you,” I stretched my aura out without hesitation and caught Desire in its web, “Move right.” I stabbed to its left.

I couldn’t pretend I wasn’t fighting Desire, because we’d both end up dead.

“Which is why this is stupid. Get out of my way.”

“No. Go back, you need to go back!” Desire lifted a lazy hand to block the swing heading for its shoulder, “Desire, do you have any idea what you’ve done?”

“Yes, I am finally free. I finally have what I’ve always desired! Get of my way, Erelani, I won’t ask again.”

Yells and shrieks echoed through the battlefield, “No, this isn’t going to work! They’re not going to let you walk out of here alive! You know exactly what humans are like! Now isn’t the time to do this! Go back!”

“And when is the right time? When won’t I be hunted, enslaved or demeaned for being what I am? This seems like as good a time as any.”

“Fuck, you have to go back! Not now, not now!”

“Erelani! We can’t pierce through the Pride demon’s guard! What do we do?” Eldric’s voice rang across the clearing, distracting me.

“You must disrupt the rift!” My eyes fell on Solas, wordlessly conveying my confusion.

Disrupt? How the hell was I supposed to do that?!

He fade-stepped across the battlefield and materialized three feet from me.

There was mocking laughter from behind me and I glanced at Desire, finding its gaze riveted on Solas.

“My, my, how the mighty have fallen.”

As if in slow motion, I saw Solas cast Winter’s Grasp on Desire, before stabbing the blade of his staff straight at Desire.

I moved and felt the force of his blow break through my protective barrier and pierce through my abdomen.

He froze, horrified shock decorating his features, “What? Why?”

I stared at the blade protruding from my abdomen and up the staff, to the hands frozen in shock.

I grabbed one end and jerked it out, ignoring the blood spurting out of the open wound. I held out my left arm, “Disrupt the rift.”

His stunned gaze moved to my wound before returning to my hand, then my face, before his shock disappeared behind a mask of impassivity.

His hand circled my wrist, jerking me forward as the entity sprang forth, but rather than circling clockwise or anti-clockwise, it blocked the flow of the Fade, like placing a finger on a full powered hose and unfortunately, just as weak. There was a sudden wave of not magic that dispelled any residual magic in the area. A calm descended.

It was almost like there was equilibrium at the rift, no outburst from either end, but the temporary calm in the fabric of the rift also made it easier for more spirits to pass through.

He disengaged, pulling my arm back before letting go completely. He turned to me, his hands reaching out for my wound, but I cut him off, “Pride is the greater demon, I can handle Desire.”

He ran a measuring gaze over me, then turned a quick glance to the battlefield behind him, where Pride was kneeling, stunned, “The others are handling Pride well. You are the one in need of help.”

I grit my teeth, before running a healing hand over my abdominal wound. With Desire defrosting by the second, Solas would spare no opportunity in trying to kill it, especially since Desire had recognised him.

The time to reason with Desire was gone. If I didn't do something now, it was going to be killed.

Desire, who had been horrible, tortured me with endless demons, but still, never left me alone. Desire, who had saved me, even when I didn't want to be saved. Who forced me to get up. Badgered me, manipulated me, even mentally abused me until it got what it wanted. Until I got what I wanted.

Desire was never going to forgive me.

Desire broke free, shattering the ice encasing it before aiming those shards straight at Solas. He dodged and sent Flashfire straight back.

I extended my aura to Desire again and bound it with magical rope.

Desire turned to me, stunned, betrayal flowing through our connection.

 I heaved, aiming straight for the rift, hoping, praying that I could throw Desire straight through it, but Desire read my intent even before it passed through our link.

It jerked the rope, twisting the momentum until it landed on a rock jutting out next to the rift.

“Not bad, Erelani. But the only way I’ll pass back into the Fade is through my remains.”

I injected urgency into our connection, “Not going to happen. Even if you hate me afterwards, I can’t let you do this. They’re going to kill you.”

“Then I’ll die free. Whole. That is my choice.”

A barrage of lightning struck Desire, and it started seizing uncontrollably. I turned, and found Solas with a pitiless expression, his hand encased in a sphere of lightning.

“Erelani needs help! Desire is still standing!” Ellana called out, and my head twisted, finding Pride dissolving into fade essence that evaporated away. Most of the soldiers engaged the remaining Shades, but the Valo-kas mercenaries turned as one towards me.

A shriek from Desire had me turning and I watched it fall to its knees, shuddering violently despite the spell dissipating. It coughed, spitting out black ichor before giving Solas a crazed grin, “That was a nice warm up. Try lasting a little longer, baby.”

Desire called forth vines to trap Solas but he burned through them all, casting multiple spells its way. I stayed rooted to my spot, unable to move.

Kill Desire or die protecting it thereby letting the world burn from my absence.

The choice should have been obvious.

I couldn’t look away from Desire, even as it dodged the spells Solas sent its way. Thranduil, Kaari, Ellana and Eldric joined in, Kaari casting Ice Mines everywhere to trap it, but remarkably Desire evaded them all.

Then Thranduil fade-stepped, swinging his spirit blade into Desire’s path as it dodged Solas’ Flashfire. His sword slashed through Desire’s middle, the force punting it against the rocks near the rift. Thranduil advanced, his sword held high.

Desire’s gaze moved from him to me.

The choice should have been obvious. But it wasn’t, not to me.

As Thranduil’s sword descended in an arc, my body moved, fade-stepping faster than I ever had before, my own spirit blade clashing against his as I intercepted his blade.

“Erelani! What are you doing?!” Thranduil retreated, his face alarmed.

“I believe she has been…bewitched. She interrupted a decisive blow once before,” Solas advanced menacingly, standing ready to attack.

I lowered my blade, my gaze sweeping over the carnage around us. The rift was still disrupted, the block holding but it was fading fast.

Try again, one more time.

My aura reached out to Desire again, and its blinding pain and shock filtered through to me.

“Go back, please. I am begging you, go back.”

“No. I would rather die.”

And the truth of that resonated through our connection. I turned towards it, holding my blade ready, and met its unrelenting red gaze burning in challenge.

“Okay, then.”

I raised my blade and even as Desire flinched, betrayal, disappointment and a resigned knowing flowing through its aura, I knew I was utterly defeated.

There was no possible way I could kill someone I loved.

I was going to die protecting Desire. Resignation flowed through me as dismayed exclamations from Ellana, Kaari and Eldric rang out. I turned to face Thranduil’s horrified face, resolutely ignoring everyone else, “I’m sorry, Thranduil but no, not Desire.”

There was no way I was going to be able to hurt any of them. The only option left was to provide a suitable distraction so that Desire could escape, and then let Thranduil kill me so that the blame, for all of it, could fall upon me.

Valo-kas could be vindicated and I would die protecting the people I loved while upholding my promise.

Then the world would burn.

For all the knowledge and experience I possessed as a warrior, I was an idiot. Desire had never shown any love towards me and only kept me around because I served an unknown purpose, and here I was, sacrificing myself to save someone who didn’t love me in return.

But love doesn’t work like that. You never love someone with the condition they love you back; you try but that love doesn’t just disappear because its unrequited.

“Erelani, don’t do this, please,” Thranduil pleaded, his voice catching, “Desire isn’t worth this. Step away, we have to close the Breach. You have to close the Breach.”

“Then let Desire walk away, unharmed.”

Thranduil’s face contorted, before he turned to look at the others. I ignored Ellana’s distress as she shook her head.

“Fuck, you can’t be serious,” Eldric swore, “Let a Desire demon go free?”

“What’s going on here?” Cassandra joined us, confusion ringing in her voice, “Why hasn’t the demon been killed? It’s bleeding!”

A tense silence descended, and Ellana exchanged fearful looks with the others.

Thranduil’s features twisted in pain before becoming impassive and I guessed his words before he spoke, “Erelani refuses to kill the demon.”

“What?!” Her voice rang with shock and fury, “Has she been bewitched?!”

Thranduil’s gaze bore into me. I knew what he was trying to convey: this was my last chance to save the world, save myself.

But what awaited me at the end of this? Valo-kas survivors executed by the Chantry? An impossible task with no rewards?

More oppression? More hatred?

With the Conclave explosion, the world was going to change, but not really. The nobles would still stomp all over the poor. The mages would continue to be mistreated for their talent. The elves would still be powerless servile non-citizens.

I’d rather die protecting the people I loved, than kill them to save a thankless world.

I shook my head at Thranduil, “It’s better if you kill me.”

Cassandra roared in rage before charging towards me, Solas casting a barrier over her. The others remained frozen, watching in horror.
Resignation flowed through my link with Desire before it connected its own aura with mine, the connection singing for a moment before strong pink light lit the surroundings.

Desire cast a mind-blast, pushing Cassandra back before flower petals started descending all around us.

What the fuck.

Everyone froze at the spectacle, staring in befuddlement at the different petals hitting the floor.

I turned to Desire, and my eyes widened in shock. Desire was incandescent: strong sharp pink suffused its body while golden light emanated from its eyes.

I could feel its glee as it took in my stupendous shock and it spoke through our mental link, “Don’t disengage your aura. I can only hold this form because I’m feeding from our combined intents towards each other. Otherwise the intents of others will pollute my form. Now, watch and learn why desire is the most powerful emotion.”

The fallen petals started glowing and a feeling of intense love, of desire, permeated the battlefield, and everyone, everyone, stopped fighting.

“Why,” Desire’s voice reverberated with devastating heartbreak, “Why is protecting someone wrong? Why is staying your blade a misjudgement? Why must we always fight? Don’t you feel love? Where is your love?” The intensity of the emotion increased, and I glanced at Thranduil who was gripping Ellana desperately, “Erelani, my sweet noble Erelani, everything you do, from protecting me, protecting your family, even protecting those who condemn you, is with a passionate love that even gods can’t deny.” A shiver of mischief came through, “And now, you have been chosen. The fate of the world lies in your hands and there is no one better. The gods are watching, Erelani, and you have my blessing.”

My jaw dropped, unable to believe Desire was capable of such behaviour. It winked once, before there was a bright flash of golden light, Desire disappearing into the rift.

That was one of the shittiest tricks I had ever seen Desire play. It was paltry, and no one, no one, could fall for such an idiotic con. ‘Desire is the most powerful emotion,’ what bullshit.

Well, of course. Desire had made a measly attempt to save my life, then bailed on me as usual, leaving me to deal with the aftermath of its mistakes.

That was nothing new.

Suddenly there was a huge wave of incoherent yelling and I flinched, casting a quick barrier upon myself, warily gazing upon everyone around me. People were suddenly beating their chests, wailing in despair or joy I couldn’t tell, a sudden madness overcoming them.

I retreated warily, afraid of their retribution, but a hand on my back stopped me. I turned to find Solas at my back and I looked up, anxiety building as I met his calculating gaze,

“Close the rift.”

The command in his voice was unmistakeable as was the underlying threat. My gaze fell on Thranduil, who was watching with a cautious frown.

I took a deep breath, my gaze sweeping over Leliana, Cassandra, Varric and countless other soldiers, who all turned, facing me.

I extended my left arm, and even as the entity came out, I knew I wasn’t going to be able to close the Breach. The tear was too large and the mana I had too little. The only thing I could do was patch up the ends of the tear so that it would stop expanding, exerting more energy to strengthen the Veil around it.

My mana drained drastically, but I soldiered on, fearing the hand at my back. Spots dotted my vision, and still I pushed, afraid of what would happen if I didn’t succeed.

There was a sudden explosion of anti-magic and I staggered, falling unconscious, unable to call for help as Solas’ hands descended upon me.

The Dread Wolf had finally caught me.


 

I jolted awake and a bearded human held me down.

Fuck, shems, there were only shems all around me. I struggled desperately, outraged and scared, fighting the man’s grip with all the strength I had, which was admittedly abysmal.

A woman garbed in Chantry robes brought a sheet of cloth and cupped it over my nose and mouth, forcing me to inhale the fumes. I recognised the scent: it was a mix of black lotus and dawn lotus, used as a strong anaesthetic to induce a temporary coma.

What were they doing?! What was going to happen to –


 

A repetitive rocking motion brought me awake and I shot my eyes open, frantically looking around me.

Thranduil was carrying me bridal style, keeping a cautious watch while holding me in a protective grip.

This…was a good dream.

I relaxed, and let my eyes drift close.


 

Desire stood in front of me, looking concerned.

Well, that was a first.

“Want to explain yourself? Or do you want to be banished from me forever?”

Desire’s concern faded, a sneer gracing its face, “Believe it or not, not everything is about you.”

“Oh, is that so? That’s not what you said though, I believe it was,” A cruel mocking edge came over my voice, “The fate of the world lies in your hands, and there is no better.

Desire smirked, “Don’t act like my performance didn’t save our lives.”

“Not in the mood for our banter today. Explain yourself, Desire, you nearly got me, you, killed.” I held my aura tight around me, maintaining an impassive uncompromising atmosphere.

Desire grit its teeth, “As inconvenient as my desires are to you, I will never stop fighting for them. Don’t blame me for your misfortune. I told you to stay away from the Conclave, but you ended up there anyway. I never asked you to save me or choose my wellbeing over the others.”

A heavy weight settled in me at Desire’s words and even Desire seemed to realize that it had crossed a line.

Desire’s face contorted in remorse, but no apology came forth.

I wasn’t surprised. This was just routine.

“Why are you here?”

There was a long pause, and Desire looked around cautiously, “There’s another Dreamer in the vicinity.”

Apprehension blossomed at those words and I feared Desire would take his name, thereby giving him access into my domain. Even though I couldn’t kill Desire, I still didn’t trust it, “Friendly or hostile?”

Desire gave me a measuring glance, “Not sure. But I think he’s looking for me, and if he finds me, he might kill me.”

“Who wouldn’t? Aren’t I the only fool who entertains you and your atrocious behaviour?” I joked, purposely making light of a bad situation.

Desire didn’t go through its usual arrogant routine, “For your own sake, deny any connections you have with me to anyone who asks.”

“Too little, too late. Everyone saw what happened at the Breach.” I couldn’t hide the flash of resentment that went through me, because being a spirit sympathiser was among the worst crimes in Thedas and being sympathetic to any Desire spirit was considered the height of insanity.

Sometimes, it made sense.

Desire stood in silence, passing me an assessing glance. Its stance suddenly stiffened, “Do you want me to leave you alone?”

I started laughing, unable to control the waves of humour that hit me. After more than two decades of unwanted badgering and mental abuse, Desire had finally gotten a clue.

What a selfish creature.

Desire never cared about anything except its own agenda. That it even showed such consideration was a growth of phenomenal proportions.

I stopped laughing, shaking my head in amusement, “You’re fine, Desire. I am proud of you though, you grew a little today.”

I sniggered, and Desire vibrated in annoyance, “I’m going to see the other Dreamer.”

Alarm wiped any lingering trace of humour, “What? Why would you do that?”

“My goals are my own. I might not be around for a while. Don’t freak out like you did last time.”

“Seeing greener grass are you?” I mocked, trying to hide my apprehension and wariness, “Well, shoo, go on now, I know I can’t stop you, now that you’ve found fertile fields to plant your goals in.”

Desire scoffed before staring intensely at me, “What do you remember from the Conclave?”

I stiffened, dropping all pretences, “Nothing. Why, do you know something?”

Desire advanced, probing with its aura to verify the truth of my statement, and I let it, “Do you know something about what happened?”

Desire shook its head, “I wasn’t in the vicinity when the explosion occurred, but there have been…rumours. I wasn’t lying before, Erelani, not completely. The gods are watching. Be careful.

With that cryptic statement, Desire disappeared from my domain.

If I had been any other idiot, I would have taken the last comment as some evidence of divinity. But I took it as the warning that Desire had intended.

Desire knew a whole lot more than it was saying. I knew that.

Disappointment unfurled in the pit of my stomach, anger and despair following doggedly.

Why? Why, even after everything I did for Desire, why didn’t it trust me? Why didn’t it love me? Why couldn’t I just walk away?

This wasn’t right. One-sided love and devotion like this wasn’t healthy.

I was just damn lucky that I already knew everything Desire hadn’t said.

Doubt pooled in. Or did I?


 

I opened my eyes, finding the darkness of night outside the window. The familiar weight of a body curled around me had me identifying Kaari, while rhythmic snores had me attuning to Eldric’s presence two feet below me. I sat up quietly, finding Thranduil and Ellana curled up on separate blankets on the floor.

That’s odd.

I dismissed that thought, taking stock of the small cabin that all of Valo-kas had been squeezed into. As I tiptoed across the room, a hand grabbed my left knee, forcing me to stop.

Looking down, I found Thranduil watching me and he gestured for me to wait outside the cabin. Dreading the conversation that would follow, I waited outside, trying to ignore the elves that stopped to stare at me while doing their early dawn chores.

We climbed the cabin, settling on the roof to get some privacy. Thranduil surveyed the surroundings before scooting close.

“We’re still alive,” My voice conveyed my bewildered confusion. Nothing had gone as I expected, nothing.

“Not without some effort,” he seemed to be weighing a decision before sighing, “You were kidnapped while you were incapacitated by…devout Andrastians. Fortunately, the alarms were raised, and the offenders were apprehended.”

“You saved me,” I couldn’t hide the smile that spread across my face and his arm landed across my shoulders.

“Of course I did.”

“Thranduil, at the Breach-,”

“Shsh, it’s okay,” I stared befuddled at his resigned expression, “I knew what you were thinking, give me some credit. Despite what you think, I do know you, Erelani.”

And this is why I love him. He knows me inside and out, the ugliness of my heart, and he loves me anyway.

“Just don’t do that again. Don’t choose Desire over me again. Not when Desire doesn’t care about you. Not when it’s been tormenting you for years.”

I sighed, neglecting to explain that I hadn’t really chosen between them. I’d just wanted everyone I loved to come out alive and forfeiting my life in return had seemed a good bargain.

Even if it came at the heels of condemning the rest of the world.

A hand brushed my hair to the back of my ears and I looked up in surprise. Thranduil’s face was so close.

Why was he so close? He didn’t, surely, he couldn’t…

Thranduil clutching Ellana. Always Ellana. Erelani, the sister.

A sinking feeling grounded me, destroying every giddy feeling that had built up.

I clutched his face, stopping him right before his lips touched mine.

Those soft beautiful lips. Regret blossomed, but I shoved it away. This wasn’t right.

“What are you doing?” I whispered, feeling something inside me straining until breaking point.

Thranduil took one look at my face and receded completely, his face collapsing into his hands. He just shook his head repeatedly, muttering chants of, “I can’t, I can’t do this.”

“Who told you to do this?” I ignored the betrayal and indignation that rose up in me, both for Ellana and me. Because Thranduil’s behaviour was so out of the ordinary that it could only be inspired by someone else.

“There was a meeting. Many suggested binding you to service to ensure your loyalty but Leliana suggested I use your loyalty to me instead.”

“And Ellana knows about this?”

“She thought it was better than the alternative.”

I looked to colours filling the horizon, unable to face Thranduil in the wake of the turmoil his words caused.

This was so much worse than a kiss inspired by pity.

How could I? Even beyond the love I had for him, he was my childhood friend, my confidante, my family.

Something inside me broke, and I knew what I had to do.

“You could have just asked me,” I finally turned to face him, placing a hand on his shoulder, “All you had to do was ask for my loyalty.”

He gave me a deadpan look, “That’s not what happened at the Breach.”

“I’m not going to engage in senseless cruelty, Thranduil. It’s all too easy to commit cruelties in ignorance, but to do it knowingly…”

“You chose to let the world die to save a Desire demon, that’s the definition of senseless cruelty.”

“No. After killing Desire, we were going to be next. I just didn’t feel motivated to save a thankless world that was going to kill the people I loved.”

Thranduil sighed heavily, “You can’t be this short-sighted, Erelani. Everyone matters, regardless of their feelings towards you. You can’t let the world burn just because you won’t be there to see it. It’s not about gratitude or reward. You do it because, because,” Thranduil gestured wildly, looking for the right words.

“Because no one else will. Because it’s necessary,” I covered my face, hunching in shame, “Fine, I’ll meet the others.”

Thranduil patted my head, “You need to be careful with them, Erelani. They’re waiting for a reason, any reason, to cut your head off.”

I closed my eyes, daunted at the task ahead of me. I was not a diplomatic person, not when dealing with humans and their ignorant bullshit. The only way I was going to survive this was by keeping my mouth shut and my head down.

Like so many elves did every day.

 “Ir abelas, Erelani,” He looked miserable, “For before. It won’t happen again.”

I nodded, ignoring the mix of relief and disappointment that flooded me.

“Just one more thing.” His cautious gaze had me stiffening, “They’re calling you the Herald of Andraste.”

I inhaled in disbelief.

That still happened?! How?

That title was so grossly misfitting that it was insulting. Who the hell would believe that a Dalish elf was the Herald of Andraste?

Thranduil’s hand on my shoulder tightened, “We’re Dalish, we always endure Erelani.”

What was meant as an encouragement only served to drive home how powerless we really were.

Endure.

I hate that word.

Chapter Text


 

Oaths

'Tis not the many oaths that makes the truth,

But the plain single vow that is vow'd true.

-William Shakespeare, All's Well That Ends Well (1600s), Act IV, scene 2, line 21.


 

The Haven chantry was not welcoming. The sheathes of light filtering through the windows should have softened the stone walls, but only brought its ugliness into sharp relief.

I fidgeted, evaluating the Chantry’s décor, as I ignored the stares from the Chantry mothers while waiting for Leliana and Cassandra to arrive. I sneaked a look at Thranduil, who was quiet, standing off to the side with an impassive look on his face.

I twitched again, trying to bury terrible thoughts cycling in my head. Here I stood, inside the Chantry, waiting to convince its most devout followers that everything that they believed about the Fade was wrong. That I wasn’t evil because I sympathised with spirits. That I didn’t need to be bound magically to save the world. That they shouldn’t turn me Tranquil, even if that would make their lives so much easier.

Even one of those things would need a healthy dose of luck. Yep, nothing to be terrified about. Not impossible at all.

My breathing stuttered.

Calm.

I know what to do. I’ve decided. There’s no turning back.

A flurry of activity from the door pulled our attention to where Leliana, Cassandra, Chancellor Roderick, a blonde Templar and a lady clothed in gold and purple strode forward, arguing intensely as they approached me.

I straightened. I am Dalish. Zathrian’s words echoed in my head. We do not submit. Even as we yield, we find resilience. Do not waver.

 “You!” Roderick’s voice rang out, “Why is she unchained?! I thought we discussed this already!”

“She helped us, Chancellor. Let’s not repay her kindness by throwing her into jail,” the lady dressed in purple and gold interrupted.

I shared a glance with Thranduil, and we stepped forward in unison, our backs straight despite the threatening atmosphere.

“Thranduil said you wished to speak to me,” I stated neutrally, holding only Leliana’s gaze and ignoring everyone else.

She nodded, before tilting her head towards the door on the far end of the Chantry, “It’ll be better if we discuss this in the War Room.”

“War Room?” Thranduil’s eyebrow raised in alarm.

“With so many people joining the Inquisition, it’s the only place we’ll have privacy.” Leliana gazed intensely at Thranduil who gave a minor shake of his head. Her jaw clenched for a moment before she strode purposefully into the War Room.

I waited for the rest to make their way into the room, extremely reluctant to have any of them at my back. Thranduil placed a gentle hand on my shoulder before ushering me in.

Inside, the blonde Templar and Roderick glared at us, while Cassandra maintained a stoic façade, watching us enter the room.

“Well, it’s time we did introductions,” Roderick scoffed at Leliana’s words, but she continued as if he hadn’t interrupted, “Thranduil Arwen, Erelani Arwen, you’ve met Cassandra Pentaghast and Chancellor Roderick, this is Cullen Rutherford, the Commander of our forces,” Cullen gave a terse nod, “this is Josephine Montileyet, our Ambassador.”

“Andaran ati’shan,” Josephine smiled, turning completely to face me.

I jolted, thrown off guard by her use of Elvish, “Enan’salen Ambassador. You speak Elvish?”

“I’m afraid you’ve heard the entirety of it,” Josephine took a step closer and held out a hand, “It’s a pleasure to meet you.”

I smiled at her before shaking her hand, “You’re a good diplomat.”

“Yes, because she needed your validation,” Roderick sneered.

Josephine grimaced before moving back to the others. I ignored him, fixating on Leliana. Having worked with her, I knew that the true power lay with her as the spymaster. It didn’t matter what the others thought; if she thought you were suspect, you were dealt with.

“That’s enough!” Cassandra barked, “We need to discuss how we are going to proceed, and what we’re going to do with the prisoner.”

And I had to watch out for Cassandra.

“Discuss what we’re going to do?!” Roderick turned red, “The prisoner needs to be taken to Val Royeaux, to be tried by the future Divine! That’s standard procedure!”

“She isn’t guilty, Chancellor. Not for the Breach, at least.” Cassandra straightened, her posture indicating her readiness to defend her assertion.

“She’s a Dreamer! You heard what Trevelyan said! What’s more believable to you? A spirit sympathizer who failed in closing the Breach, or one who opened it? Furthermore, she failed to close it, for all you know, that was her plan all along!”

The tension in the room rose. I drew out of the gathering and watched Thranduil do the same. Our eyes met, we have no voice here. If they thought we were criminals, anything we said would be to our detriment.

You can only be heard if people want to listen.

“Chancellor, as it stands, we need her to close the Breach. We cannot ship her off to Val Royeaux, not with things as they are.” Josephine interceded.

“We don’t actually need her. If we seek the aid of Templars, we’ll be able to close the rift.” Commander Rutherford crossed his arms, “If the recounting provided by Cassandra, even Trevelyan, is correct, then we can’t depend on her to act in the best interests of the Inquisition.”

“Don’t be foolish!” Leliana snapped, “She’s the only one who can close the Breach. Or did you forget the endless demons that kept attacking until she finally woke up?”

They continued to squabble, ignoring the fact that their topic of debate could hear everything. Thranduil’s jaw tightened as our situation worsened. Somehow, Roderick’s argument that I was untrustworthy carried a lot of weight, and while Cassandra and Leliana seemed to be on my side, they couldn’t seem to shake that accusation off, because they didn’t trust me either.

“Then we make her Tranquil. No muss, no fuss.” Commander Rutherford cut in, his deep timbre ringing clearly across the room.

And that was enough. I banged the table hard and everyone jumped at the sudden sound, “I think that’s quite enough.” My voice was quiet, but unyielding.

“You-!”

“I wasn’t finished speaking,” I cut a sharp look at Roderick, “I will have my say. And then you can pass your judgement.”

Thranduil placed a hand on my shoulder and squeezed. I relaxed a smidgeon, picking up his cue to calm down.

“I did not create that Breach. Those of you who were with me, know very well that someone else is responsible. I want to close the Breach. If you have any issues against me, then tell me clearly. I cannot defend myself from a crime I have no knowledge of.”

“Did you protect a Desire demon?” Commander Rutherford asked immediately.

My jaws clenched, an ugly fear building at the question. I turned to Cassandra, who stared piercingly at me.

“I protected a spirit, yes.”

Roderick smirked in triumph, “There we go, a confession from the criminal herself!”

“Is that the extent of my crime? That I asked you not to kill a spirit?”

Leliana’s gaze spun towards me, but it was the Commander who spoke, “It makes you a maleficarum, especially since you associate with demons. As it is, you are a dreamer, which makes it that much easier for you to become an abomination!”

I closed my eyes, feeling their hatred of the Fade. They didn’t want to hear anything good about it and how could I blame them? Rifts were opening across Thedas, ejecting violent spirits who only left devastation in their wake. The spirits were just panicking, but who would understand that? Defending the Fade now would only make me look guilty.

“What was the accusation that Trevelyan made?” Because that was the root of their distrust, wasn’t it? That if one of our own was willing to testify against us, then we must be guilty.

“He didn’t make any accusations,” Josephine started placatingly and I could only raise my eyebrows in disbelief, “He said Thranduil and you were Dreamers, and that you’ve had dealings with spirits before, even after his strict disapproval.”

My hands clenched in rage, because it was true. “I am a Spirit Healer. That’s the association he’s talking about.”

Josephine looked taken aback, “I see. He also said you were interacting with people from Tevinter.”

What? How did he know that? “Just one. Fenris. An ex-slave. The Commander knows who I’m talking about.”

“You mean Hawke’s companion?” Cassandra asked, surprised, “That Fenris?”

Thranduil nodded slowly, “He reached out to us many times, asking for protection from Magister Danarius.”

“If it’s a crime to fight against slavery,” then Andraste was your biggest sinner, but Thranduil’s hand squeezed painfully and I changed track, “then Trevelyan is right. As it stands, I think he’s horribly mistaken.”

“How convenient. Where were all these excuses a few days ago?” Roderick glared viciously at me, “You are an apostate! This is your fault! For all I know, you could be working for the true culprit and are just trying to distract us!”

“She defended a Desire demon. How can we trust her judgement after that? She could be bewitched by the demon.” And somehow Commander Rutherford’s words did what Roderick’s couldn’t; it turned everyone against me.

And really, on what grounds could I counter his logic?

“That’s why we should perform the Rite of Tranquillity,” And the way he said it, as though it was a kindness I should be grateful for, made that ugly desperate fear grow. He continued, “She’ll be reliable as a Tranquil, and we can still use the Mark to channel energy to close the Breach.”

Like I was nothing more than a mindless dog. One that could be chained and told to heel.

Josephine looked down in discomfort, fidgeting, but didn’t voice any protest. Roderick looked discontent but seemed amenable to the idea.

Cassandra and Leliana were both staring at me, evaluating.

I reached out for Thranduil’s tunic and grabbed tightly. Help me Thranduil. Because anything I said was just going to sound dishonest, because I was the suspect, and their accusation was true. I had saved Desire. But did that justify turning me Tranquil? I was good at many things but lying wasn’t one of them.

“We are not Andrastian,” Thranduil spoke up, “We are Dalish. We do not appreciate you imposing your values upon us.”

“This is not a conflict of religion,” Leliana replied, “We need her to cooperate with us.”

“She already is,” Thranduil replied, his voice dry, “I think there has been some misunderstanding. Erelani didn’t defend a Desire demon, but a spirit of Love.”

“What?” Cassandra breathed, astonished.

“That was a spirit of love.” Thranduil repeated patiently.

“I-respectfully-there is no difference between spirts and demons,” She was righter than she knew, “But are you sure?”

“You were there, you tell me.”

Cassandra looked gutted, “That spirit, it, it said so many things.”

“You’re going to trust the words of a Desire demon now?” Roderick spat out, “This is ridiculous! They’ll say anything, and you’ll just swallow it up?!”

“It said, the spirit said, gods are watching,” Cassandra was shaken, and her gaze swerved to Leliana, “You heard it too, didn’t you? The gods are watching, and she’s been chosen. Leliana, you heard it too!”

Leliana only inclined her head forward.

“I was right! She’s the Herald of Andraste! I told you, I told you!” Cassandra banged her fist against the table, “She was there exactly when we needed someone! And there was a woman! There were witnesses that said they saw a woman behind her!”

“She’s a Dalish elf!” Roderick roared, “She’s not the Herald of Andraste!”

I recoiled, surprised by his venom.

Here lay the true crux of their fear; the possibility that an Dalish apostate could be the voice of their Maker.

“Why not?” Josephine asked, her expression placid.

That was a surprising turn in her stance from before. “Are you listening to yourself? ‘Why not’, she says, ‘why not’? Because she isn’t!” Roderick snapped.

And for the first time I found myself agreeing with him, “I think I have to agree with him. I don’t think I’m the Herald of anything.”

“Regardless of what you believe, the people saw what you did. They were desperate for some sign of hope, and for some, that’s what you were.”

“And the opposite for others.”

“What has become of you people?! The Chantry already disapproves of the Inquisition, but if you claim this heretic as the Herald of Andraste, then they will denounce us!”

“Don’t you mean that you will denounce us?” Leliana countered.

I grit my teeth, growing tired of their arguments. They were purely cyclic and just feeding off each other’s anger but weren’t accomplishing anything.

“So,” I interrupted again, unable to stand the fighting any longer and desperate to reach a resolution, “Does that mean we can proceed as normal with Valo-kas?”

A sudden quiet fell in the room.

“No,” Leliana enunciated slowly, “While you are not responsible for the Breach, we can’t trust you won’t endanger us all.”

“And what will it take?”

There was a resounding silence that said only one thing.

Tranquillity.

“If you don’t want to undergo Tranquillity, there is a second option.” Leliana said slowly.

“Second option?” My voice was blank.

“Bind yourself to the Inquisition.”

“Leliana, no! We agreed we wouldn’t do this! What will the others think? What message will we be sending? Think about it!” Josephine reprimanded.

“We will not resort to blood magic!” Commander Rutherford roared.

And yet, Tranquillity was more acceptable.

Be our slave or feel nothing and be one anyways. Those were my options.

It was disappointing that I’d still held some semblance of hope for humanity. That I had expected something better than this.

Why? Because of some game? Because I had once been human?

All that stuff really didn’t matter, did it? I was just an elf, in the end. A lowly elf in Thedas.

Well, the joke’s on them.

“I accept,” My voice cut through their arguments, shifting their focus to me, “I will bind myself to the Inquisition, if that’s what it takes.”

Thranduil’s face broke, despair spreading across his face, “No! That’s unacceptable!”

I grabbed his arm and pinched hard, “However, in the spirit of not making the Inquisition seem like another slave organization, I have conditions of my own.”

“It depends on what they are,” Leliana nodded agreeably.

“This will happen in full view of everyone in Haven. There will be an exit clause that I can use, if I feel I’m being taken advantage of. You won’t harm anyone from Valo-kas.”

“If you use the exit clause, you will have to provide sufficient reason for doing so. And everyone will be notified when you do,” Leliana swiftly corrected.

“Is this really happening?” Commander Rutherford’s hands shook in anger, “Leliana, I won’t be party to this! This is wrong!”

“Which part of it exactly?” I asked him, trying not to sound condescending but failing miserably, “Binding someone with magic, or destroying someone’s mind just to enslave them anyway?”

“That isn’t what Tranquillity is!”

“Isn’t it? You’re going to tell me, a Dreamer, what Tranquillity is?” His face turned red, and I knew my next words were going to make me disliked, but I didn’t care, “And somehow using a few drops of blood makes you worse? On what moral ground are you standing on, exactly?”

I turned back to Leliana, “I also expect payment.”

“Of course.”

“In land. Paid directly to Thranduil.”

A tense silence descended. No one spoke.

“You don’t care about my people; you never have. Not the slaves of Tevinter, not the elves in the alienage and definitely not the Dalish. My people need a home. Only a few years ago, Empress Celene massacred ten thousand elves under her care, and what justice was served? Here I stand before you, completely willing to close the Breach and you’re reluctant to trust me, ready to enslave me, and some of you are ready to kill me.”

The silence stretched, until, “There’s no land, I mean, most of it,” Josephine cut in, frazzled, “I mean, you’re right of course, but there’s no land, all of it has already been claimed.”

“Has it? Isn’t the Dales disputed territory?”

She wilted in discomfort, “There’s a lord already, but the dispute, that is, the lord is,” she trailed off, looking desperately to Leliana.

“Her real agenda has come out! This was all a scheme by elves, to destabilize the Chantry and cause discord among the nobility!” Roderick intervened, his face turning purple in rage.

“Right. I didn’t do it, as everyone already witnessed.” I sighed, “If you’re going to insult me and my people by binding me, then the price of that is the Dales for Thranduil.”

“And what’s stopping us from killing you now?” Roderick threatened, “Even better, we can turn you Tranquil, with or without your permission, then take you to be tried by the Divine.”

And he was right.

“Yes, you can,” I nodded, “And there’s nothing I can do to stop you. I can also make things difficult by turning into an abomination. Loss of property, loss of life and most importantly you’ll lose the Mark. Then there will be no end to the demons pouring from the Fade. I don’t want to do it, but I can.”

“Do it,” Cassandra challenged.

My eyebrows raised in surprise, I hadn’t expected such a response from her. I noticed the Commander staring oddly at her too.

She clarified, “This Inquisition, it was about restoring order, fixing the mistakes we’ve made. Let’s do it. Let’s try and give the elves their own home.”

And for the first time in this life, I respected a human.


 

Roderick left the very next day.


 

There was a large crowd gathered around the front of the Chantry. Dozens and dozens of people stood, pushing against the line that Inquisition soldiers created for Leliana, Cassandra and I to pass through.

They were calling it an “Oath Swearing” ceremony.

The irony.

I climbed the raised dais they had set up, resolutely looking through the crowd in the hope of finding familiar faces. And there, at the far end of the crowd, Valo-kas members stood silently, Varric and Solas standing among them. Kaari and Ellana waved at me as I passed, and I nodded back.

Leliana and Cullen stood next to me, either in support or to prevent me from escaping. Likely both. Cassandra stood in front as an honour guard. Or to trap me in.

Josephine stepped forward, her words to the crowd lost to me over the blood thumping in my ears. I hated these people and yet I was dedicating myself in service to them. The fact that I was taking a magical oath instead of a regular one clearly depicted the mistrust the advisors had for me. Framing it with pretty words wouldn’t work: the public wasn’t stupid.

A golden bowl filled with a red concoction was brought before me. I took a deep breath, trying to bury my anguish.

I cut my forefinger, allowing a few drops of blood to fall in before healing it shut.

“With the people of Haven as my witness, I solemnly swear,” I began, ignoring the red liquid in the bowl that started bubbling, “to protect with all loyalty and conscience,” something inside me tugged violently, cutting me off as the concoction suddenly splashed forward, covering my face grotesquely in it, “ the people of Thedas, regardless of race, religion, station, birth, nationality and magical ability.”

And as I spoke the words, tasting the bitter liquid in my mouth, I came to believe it. I was sworn. This was it, this was what I had been born to do. This was my job. Except…

“Until the breach is closed.”

And with that condition, the tugging inside eased, bright golden light flashing from the concoction on my face before it receded. I had barely managed to add the exit clause, my mind swept away by the enchantment.

An eerie quiet descended and in that window of opportunity, I took my chance. My revenge.

“I took this oath, because I wanted you to know, beyond a shadow of doubt, that this Inquisition is for you. The lives of the people, the baker, the miller, handmaidens, merchants, and nobles are important. I will extend every effort to protect your life from the Breach. In that vein, the Hands of the Divine, our Commander and Ambassador will now swear their oaths.”

Out of the corner of my eyes, I saw the four of them startle in shock. I held the bowl out to Leliana expectantly as the crowd cheered.

Had they really thought I’d let them get away with binding me? For turning me into a slave? If I had to be one to be trustworthy, then they needed to be one too.

Leliana’s eyes glinted dangerously. “Make the oath for the people. How else will they trust you?” I whispered, holding her gaze unflinchingly.

As she remained still, the cheering started to fade. I could feel the bewilderment of the crowd growing, “What assurance do they have that you won’t compromise their lives? That some bribe won’t change your priorities? Take the oath Leliana. The needs of the people come first. There is no duty more sacred or more noble.”

It was Josephine who stepped forward first.


 

There’s a difference between misery and suffering.

The people of Thedas are no strangers to misery; it was so ubiquitous that we learned to live with it. There’s discrimination against every personable trait; socio-economic status, race, nationality, birth, magical ability, religion, gender, physicality and everything else that could differentiate one from another. Misery was so pervasive that no one questioned it. However, suffering is different; when disaster strikes, we actively fight, doing anything to ease the suffering of others especially since natural disasters and the Blight don’t discriminate. You don’t think, ‘do I save this person drowning in front of me?’, you save them. You help. You do anything to make life better.

It’s why every Inquisitor, regardless of race, ability or gender, agreed to help the Inquisition in the game; there was no possibility that you wouldn’t especially when you had the ability to do so. You don’t refuse when the sky breaks open and starts raining fire.

It’s why Fen’Harel, one of the culprits of said disaster, stayed behind and helped.

It’s why I agreed to help, despite the terrible conditions posited to me.

But while disasters don’t discriminate, people do. Despite my oaths, very few people listened to me. Their indulgences to me felt on par with the indulgences granted to young children. Worse still, I didn’t have the patience to deal with their wilful ignorance and casual cruelty. Resource distribution was an issue: while some distributed food evenly, others were biased. Confronting them didn’t help,

“How much can ya’ elves eat? I mean, look a’ you and me, who’d believe that you went frolicking about killing demons? Mind you, I love elves, don’ get me wrong, Herald,” Seggrit scrambled, attempting to placate, “But I’m jus’ bein’ fair. Waste not, want not.”

Giving food to elves was a waste?

Even comments made innocently by humans stung, because they just didn’t care that some things shouldn’t be said,

“Look at that elf! He’s so handsome! I’d let him tell me what to do! No wonder the Herald keeps him around!” One of the giggling cooks said as Thranduil and I exited the kitchen.

“Seen that Dalish girl? She only lingers around the other elves, what a waste! What I wouldn’t give for her to linger around me.” One of the soldiers laughed as he admired Ellana.

What would have been blatant disregard and disrespect to another human, was meant as a compliment to another race. How was I going to fight this behaviour when their belief of human superiority had already taken root in their psyche, in their society? 

It made my skin crawl.

I had no idea what to do.


 

Thranduil found me next to the healing tents, poring through Adan’s notes. I had been uncertain about the healing techniques that Adan used, but surprisingly, as an alchemist, he had little patience for traditional ‘pseudo’ healing. He kept a large cauldron of restoratives on hand, as well as known anaesthetics and recommended non-magical remedies. Adan kept a seamstress on hand for any serious injuries, but he wasn’t trained for this occupation as he repeatedly explained in his letters to the advisors. He routinely passed requests for mage healers that was ignored. The problem was that he did a commendable job, which made his requests look like complaints rather than the serious gaps in procedure that they were. This led to him having a terrible temper.

As a Spirit Healer I helped, but he needed a dedicated mage for the role, especially with the number of patients coming in.

“Taking your vows seriously, then?” Thranduil teased gently, his sorrowful eyes contradicting his tone.

“Is there another option?”

“I suppose not. Still, doesn’t hurt to bend the rules a little. Come with me, you haven’t mingled with the others in a while.”

“Three days, you mean.”

 Thranduil sighed. “Come, Erelani.” He was using that soft tone that I could never say no to.

I put the papers down with a huff, following him out the door, down the bank of snow and into the loud and warm bar. Valo-kas mercenaries were crowded at the back, huddled around a fire and laughing heartily as they spilt their drinks in their inebriation. Varric, Solas, Ellana and Eldric were near them, sitting at a table and I felt my stomach sink as Thranduil beelined straight for them.

“See, Hahren! It’s not so bad, is it? And as promised, more friends for when you get tired of me!” Ellana giggled, and I stared at her in incomprehension before following her gaze.

She was talking to Solas. Dread settled in as I took in her glowing green eyes and teasing smile, profiled perfectly by the fire, then Solas’ transfixed gaze.

Oh, no.

I knew the power of Ellana’s charms. It was a gravitational pull that even I was hard-pressed to resist, and this was despite her taking Thranduil from me.

Shit, Thranduil.

My gaze riveted, and I found him staring impassively at the wall, unmoved by the flirtations happening right next to him.

Not good.

I didn’t carry any delusions of him suddenly loving me now that Ellana had seemingly moved on. Thranduil was in love with Ellana, and a fight wasn’t going to change that. But when Thranduil got angry, he didn’t shout; he got quiet. His cold fury was direct, cutting down the culprit with cool rationalizations that could almost never be challenged.

But he was also very forgiving. Hell, he’d even forgiven Maxwell for his crimes against us, against me. This was nothing in comparison.

Still, right now, he was fuming.

“So someone else gets that Hahren mantle at last. You finally found sense, Ellana!” I teased as I settled between Solas and her, discreetly pushing her at Thranduil. My heart wouldn’t let me do more than this to help them, feeling it squeeze painfully as she collided against Thranduil’s shoulder. He caught her, straightening her gently and they shared an intense look.

Fuck, it’s okay. He needs to be happy.

“Hahren! Be more careful!”

“Hear that?” I raised my eyebrows at Solas, “She asked you to be more careful. Take your title more seriously,” I teased.

Solas blinked, “I believe she was talking to you.” I looked away, unwilling to share eye contact longer than necessary with him. I poked Eldric, “You heard it, didn’t you? She called another apostate Hahren! She’s replaced me! Oh, young-elder students these days, so fickle!”

Ellana gave me a not so light punch, “Stop being weird, I have many Hahrens.”

I nudged Solas, “You hear that? We’re a bronze a dozen to her,” I shook my head mockingly, taking perverse pleasure in the joke, “No respect these days!”

Ellana groaned, “You’re taking too much fun in this! It’s not funny, stop.”

Varric intervened, his charming smile on full display, “Glad to see you’re in good spirits, Herald. You alright?”

I blinked, a little surprised at his sincerity, “Alright? Well, as good as can be expected, I suppose.”

“Yeah, but one moment you’re their prisoner and the next, they’re calling you a Herald. It’s gotta be jarring.”

My smile dropped, “Jarring. Yes, that’s one word for it.”

“Fucking insane also works,” Eldric added, shaking his head disbelievingly, “Our dear Erelani, weird, eccentric Erelani, the Herald of Andraste. Can’t wrap my mind around it.”

“You know why, right?” I asked drily, “It’s because I’m not.”

“That’s not what the birds are singing,” Eldric smirked.

I rolled my eyes, sneaking Ellana’s food as she chatted with Varric. An elbow in my side had me laughing, and I dropped Ellana’s bread back on her plate after taking a bite.

“That’s disgusting, Hahren! Get your own!”

“It’ll happen every time you call me Hahren, Ellana,” I teased, trying to sneak Eldric’s food but received a warning tap in return.

There was a sigh, and a piece of bread was held out to me. I grinned at Thranduil as I took it, “Thranduil, my saviour, what would I do without you?” I mocked.

“You’d be ten feet under the ground,” He shook his head, a small smile on his face.

“Ain’t that the truth.” Ellana and Eldric chimed in together.

“I’m not that bad!” I protested, “Also, ungrateful shits, where would you be without me? Totally lost and completely stupid.”

“Well, we have another Fade expert now, you’re replaced. Bye bye, Hahren, you’re right. I replaced you,” Ellana started shoving me off the table, and I shoved back. A particularly hard shove had me crashing into Solas, upending his meal.

“Oh, Hahren, I’m so sorry!” Ellana stood up abruptly, profusely apologizing as Thranduil went to grab a rag.

Solas was frowning, “I trust your childishness has come to an end?”

Ellana nodded, contrite, and then his glare turned to me. Fear gripped me. I angered a god. I angered Fen’Harel. Fuck. Fuck. What do I do? He’s going to kill me. He’s going to kill me!

He must have seen my fear as his expression eased. His face turned unreadable and he looked away, starting to clean the mess.

Fuck, what am I doing?! Calm down. Calm down!

I couldn’t let my fear of him grow. It was too debilitating.

He’s not a god, just a man. Just an elf.

An immortal elf. Wasn’t that bad enough? I couldn’t wrap my head around immortality. It didn’t make sense. It was against the natural order. Things were born, lived then died. But immortal? It’s too confronting, too different. He might as well be a god, for all the sense he made to me.

Calm down.

The group started to split, Varric and Eldric heading off to talk in private, while Thranduil and Ellana sat close, whispering. Solas stood up, getting ready to leave.

I made a split-second decision.

“Uh, Solas, right? Wait a second? I mean, have a seat? Um, thought we could get to know each other?” I cringed at how awkward I sounded, regretting my decision to engage almost immediately.

He gave me a measuring look, before sitting back down next to me.

Great. Fucking great. Socializing with strangers wasn’t a new concept to me, in fact, it was a skill that got polished while working as a mercenary. If you couldn’t inspire goodwill from your clients, getting repeat jobs was almost impossible. And yet, there’s a thing called chemistry. If someone puts off vibes that tell you to ‘fuck off’, there’s not a thing you can do about it.

Solas was subtly telling me to ‘fuck off’.

“So, Ellana says you’re a Fade expert?” I asked tentatively, remembering faintly that he got off on talking about the Fade.

He finally turned his body towards me, his gaze calculating, “I’ve journeyed deep into the Fade in ancient ruins and battlefields to see the dreams of lost civilizations. I’ve watched as hosts of spirits clash to renact the bloody past in ancient wars both famous and forgotten. Every war has its heroes. I’m curious what kind you’ll be.”

There was an awkward silence, inspired mostly by me. Let me paint a picture. You approach a stranger to make polite conversation, and in response they start performing. I wasn’t unused to poetic speech; my Hahrens told their fairy tales in lilting poems. But that was for story time, not conversation. Even if nobles spoke poetically on a normal basis, I didn’t. It was pretentious.

“That’s nice.” I replied lamely, conscious of my speech. Did he expect me to reply poetically too? “Kinda hope I’ll be one that lives, you know. There’s high mortality for heroes.”

“The barest of ambitions, yet ultimately the strongest.” His gaze was piercing, “You’re a Fade expert too?”

I scratched my head sheepishly, “No, not really. Just a Dreamer. Thranduil is too! We’re not experts though. Certainly didn’t go into ruins and battlefields either. I only know the normal stuff, you know, spirits, magic…Fade stuff.” I cringed at my lack of eloquence, hands starting to sweat in nervousness.

“I see.”

“Glad you’re here! You helped with the Mark and the Breach and…stuff. Couldn’t have done it without you!” Shit, I need to stop talking!

“Then I’ll stay. Until the Breach is closed.”

I turned to him in surprise and then his words digested, “Thanks. I know it’s not easy, being here.” And he could’ve left. He could’ve left the world to its fate and then come back to pick up its pieces. I straightened, “Thank you for staying, and for deciding to help us. We’re lucky to have you.”

Solas blinked rapidly, his surprise transparent, “Thank you.”

I nodded, turning quiet in thought. Solas would be considered an active threat as an apostate. I also needed to keep him close because I didn’t trust him.

“Solas,” I began slowly, “Stay close to Thranduil or me.”

“Why?” He asked, bewildered.

I sighed, “We can only protect you from the others if you stay close. Elven apostates stick together remember?”

“I was unaware such a practise existed,” His face was uncertain, “I, thank you, Herald.”

A waitress dropped a plate of stew and bread in front of me, before bustling off to take another order. I passed it to him, “For before.”

Before he could protest, I got up, placing a hand on his shoulder, “We’re heading out to the Hinterlands tomorrow. Come with, if you want to.”

“Yes, Herald.”

I walked away, resolutely ignoring the eyes at the back of my head.

I did it. I lived through a conversation with Fen’Harel. I can do this. Relief swept through me, a smile blooming on my face.

I headed towards Ellana and Thranduil who had congregated around Varric and Eldric.

I smiled at them, “Where’s Kaari?”

“She’s gone ahead with the scouts to the Hinterlands.”

“What?” My smile dropped, my eyes going to Thranduil and then Eldric expectantly.

“What what?” Eldric explained as his eyes roved over the other patrons of the bar.

“She went without telling me?”

Eldric gave me an assessing gaze before replying, “There wasn’t cause for her to say no. And we thought you assigned the mission.”

Alarm and confusion had me sitting straight, “Why would you think that?”

“Orders came from Leliana, but we thought you’d discussed it with her.”

I turned to Thranduil, who only shook his head. He didn’t know either.

The advisors sent Kaari out without asking Thranduil, her Commander. They made decisions without consulting me.

Shit.

Even though I want to storm down for an explanation, I can’t. I’m incapable of counteracting this decision. Why? Because they didn’t trust me. They didn’t trust our motives. They were safeguarding the organisation. Which fell within the constraints of their oaths.

Fucking enchantment.

I need to gain their trust. Valo-kas needs to regain their trust.

I looked straight at Thranduil, “All of Valo-kas will journey to the Hinterlands with me. The Mage-Templar skirmishes there are bad, we’ll need the backup.”

Thranduil nodded.

“Ellana, Eldric?” They nodded. I turned to Varric, “And you?”

Varric sighed, “Yeah. Count me in.”

Chapter Text

AN: This chapter took so long because it was really hard to write. Also, I had two consecutive laptop crashes before I conceded defeat and got a new one. Most of the data was gone, but it’s still all in my head.

Please note that the trigger warnings are not light.


 

Pride and Prejudice

Prejudice is a burden that confuses the past, threatens the future and renders the present inaccessible. – Maya Angelou

 

Trigger Warnings: References to sexual assault, victim blaming, prejudice.

 

 

The trek down from Haven was steep, and the lack of horses was keenly felt. There were ten of us, each carrying our supply bag, while camping supplies were mounted on a single horse. The horse was heavily burdened, forcing us to take breaks every hour so that the horse wouldn’t collapse. Cassandra finally called a halt and camp was set up overlooking the road, allowing those on watch an easier time.

As responsibilities were assigned, I spotted Pulai crouched next to Maxwell, chattering continuously, indifferent to the fact the Maxwell was ignoring him.

Seeing him brought back the rage that had been simmering all day. That slimy treacherous human somehow won back Thranduil’s trust even though he'd sold us out to Cassandra. What I didn’t understand, was how? Thranduil had never been so forgiving of my mistakes, and I'd never done anything of this calibre. The worst I’d ever done was storm off when facing a difficult client, and Thranduil still hadn’t let that go.

Why did Thranduil let Maxwell’s crimes slide so easily?

I stewed in my anger quietly, unwilling to cause a scene in front of Cassandra. I need the advisors’ trust and Cassandra was the mouthpiece that would help me get it.

With a heavy sigh, I started setting up both detection and protection wards so that those on watch would still have time to react if things went wrong.

As I returned to the fire, I spotted Ellana leaning against Maxwell, laughing at something he said. Her too?! Why the hell was she cosying up to that traitor? Why the hell wasn’t she sitting with Thranduil?

I searched, and I found him conversing privately with Cassandra, getting appraised of the situation in the Hinterlands. Why am I not a part of that conversation?

I’ve done something wrong and I’ve missed it, and I don’t even know what ‘it’ is.

I moved closer to the fire, determined to get to the bottom of this. They were my team, my friends. If only Kaari were here, I wouldn’t be so clueless. She would have just told me what was going on.

As I sat down, I felt everyone’s eyes focus unerringly upon me. I stiffened. All the questions and accusations I wanted to throw out died in the back of my throat, self-consciousness creeping in. Attention wasn’t new to me, but this kind of focused regard, where I was the absolute centre of everyone’s attention? It was discomfiting, making me hyper aware of those around me.

The talk around the fire died, and I stared at the crackling fire, pretending I hadn’t noticed. A hand held out a bowl of stew and I took it, smiling at the person who made the offer.

Solas.

I flinched, caught off guard. I still haven’t gotten used to him; I’d hardly had time to process everything that had happened, let alone the fact that Fen’Harel, the Dalish boogeyman, was going to be a constant companion.

Solas’ expression shuttered, and he moved to the far side, sitting next to Ellana. Silence descended, and conversation did not resume.

I turned back to the fire, drinking the stew straight from the bowl. Once I finished, a quick water spell cleaned the bowl, and I contemplated heading straight to sleep. Questions could wait, right?

“Hey Erelani,” Eldric started, his voice carrying, and I jolted at the sudden volume.

“What?”

“You okay? It’s still us Valo-kas here, ‘cept plus a few others.”

“Yeah, why wouldn’t I be okay?”

“You’ve been jumpy all day. Somethin’ botherin’ you?”

Normally, I would have appreciated Eldric’s concern, but with every eye in the camp focused on me, analysing my every move, I could only feel defensive. “Nothing’s bothering me.”

“If you’re sure.”

I ignored the blatant scepticism in his voice and stood. I can’t stand this. It was like someone had suddenly shoved me onto a stage without giving me any lines, and the audience was staring, waiting for a performance.

But these were supposed to be my friends. Having a few new faces shouldn’t have changed that.

 “Erelani, you’re just standing there, you realize,” Thranduil joined us at the fire, Cassandra not far behind, “Sit down. Relax. You can dream when you’re sleeping, don’t do it standing up,” Thranduil snorted as he grabbed his meal and I heard sniggers around the fire.

Right, I’m overthinking it.

I sat back down, scooting closer to Thranduil so that I could pretend that the attention was for him and not me. Conversation picked up and I turned to Thranduil, unsurprised to find his gaze fixed on Ellana. As usual.

“So, what’s Trevelyan doing here?” I asked quietly, trying not to attract attention despite the agitation that sprung up.

“You know what,” I glared at him, and he stiffened, “He asked to come along. Cassandra thought it was a good idea and I didn’t refuse.”

“Why didn’t you refuse?” I asked, my voice hard, “He betrayed Valo-kas. He got himself out of jail by locking everyone else in. Did anyone else do that? No-,”

“That isn’t what happened, Erelani,” Thranduil cut in firmly, “He did his duty and reported anything suspicious when he was questioned by the guards.”

“So, you’re telling me that everyone in Valo-kas testified against me?” I couldn’t believe it; they wouldn’t have betrayed me. Not after healing all of them for free, no questions asked.

“No, Erelani. Only Maxwell was interrogated for his testimony as the son of House Trevelyan.”

How had I forgotten that terrible technicality? Of course, only Maxwell’s account mattered, the rest of us were considered unreliable illiterate peasants. “Still doesn’t change the fact that he condemned you and me for no reason. He left all of you behind in the dungeon to pursue his own ends.”

“That’s bullshit, and you know it. He was fighting against demons like everyone else.”

“So, what you’re trying to say, is that you place no blame on Maxwell for his actions?” My voice rose in incredulity.

“He did what any good soldier should. That it worked against us is just the will of the gods.”

“What the fuck are you saying Thranduil?!” I stood up, unable to contain my rage, “Maxwell,” And I took care to point at him, ignoring everyone’s rapt attention, “knew we couldn’t have done it! With what weapon? With what resources would we have planned this? He’s a fucking lieutenant, and I’m not, and somehow I planned the complete destruction of the Veil?” I faced Maxwell at last, “Tell me, Maxie, did you really think we brought down the Veil, or were you just trying to teach two elves their place?”

“Erelani, calm down,” Thranduil tried to pull me back down but I pushed him away, glaring fiercely at Maxwell.

“Maxwell, fucking answer me!” I clenched my fist as he stared back blankly.

“I didn’t think Thranduil had anything to do with it,” He began, and the omission of my name was glaringly obvious, “I never made any accusations either. The guards asked me about any associations that could have been suspicious, and I told them.”

“You framed me, because you thought I could do it?” I asked, feeling the strong urge to punch to him in the face, “Not because you had proof, or any suspicions, but because you thought I could?”

“You forget that I’ve witnessed the kind of magic you perform. You actively seek demons. A few of your spells…” He shuddered, “Some of your spells have hurt the fabric of the veil created by the Maker. It’s unnatural…evil.”

I stared at him, my anger petering out in the face of incomprehension, “What?”

“To make things worse, you even sacrificed your life for a Desire demon. I was there, Erelani, and I wasn’t surprised. You’ve been skirting the edge for a while.”

“The edge,” I repeated, hollow, trying to reawaken my anger but failing miserably, “Just because you want me to be guilty, doesn’t make me guilty.”

“And yet, that mark is on your hands,” Maxwell gestured to the others around me, “I’m not the only one who thinks this.”

This confrontation wasn’t going how I thought it would. Maxwell was a filthy manipulative liar. He was in the wrong, yet I was looking like the bad guy. I didn’t want to believe him, but the pieces fit together a bit too snugly. The distance that had appeared between the other Valo-kas members and I was telling; while they were willing to follow my orders, there was a wariness that hadn’t been there before.

 “You’ve lost your way. Let the Maker guide you back to the path of righteousness.”

And that condescension, his sheer audacity in calling me an amoral maleficarum, brought the simmering rage back.

I am misguided?!”

“We all lose our way sometimes. By following his Will, your path will become clear.”

Every fibre in my being wanted nothing more than to gut him, sprawl his innards around the fire, and dance around them like the tribal he imagined me to be. But the truth was, this degrading sermon wasn’t new, both from him and others.  The Chantry had undeniable power over Thedas: if the Chantry hated mages, Thedas hated mages. If the Chantry said elves were misguided subpar beings, Thedas believed it too.

“Do you want to know what I believe?” I tilted my head, ignoring Maxwell’s pitying shake of head, “You panicked when you found yourself associated with a mercenary group accused of killing everyone at the Conclave, so you pointed your finger as fast as you could. You didn’t care that you’d sentenced the rest of us to our deaths, as long as you kept your reputation. You have no loyalty. No sense of companionship. No compassion for those less fortunate than you. You may be a human noble, but there is nothing noble about you.”

Maxwell only shook his head, “Your words will not hurt me, for I see the light of the Maker.”

What bullshit.

But this was where I stopped. Attacking the Chantry was a slippery slope that only lead to death.

“Fen’Harel ma ghilana, dirthara-ma,” I turned to Thranduil, “When he stabs me in the back, again, I’m going to punch you in the face.”

I ignored the blank look Maxwell directed at me, retreating to my bed roll. My back faced the others, and the pit of loneliness grew as no one came after me.

Why was I the bad guy?


 

The next morning was subdued and I ignored the others as I went through my morning ablutions. Once we departed, I scouted ahead. I need time to clear my head.

There wasn’t much action ahead. Just trees, rocks and…more trees. I paused before an elfroot plant.

What the hell, I might as well collect them. Waste not, want not.

Fuck, I miss Kaari. She was always on my side, no matter what. Sometimes her loyalty was almost sycophantic, but with such fickle people around me, her loyalty grounded me in a way nothing else could. Her loyalty made me respond in kind, made me feel like I wasn’t alone.

Like I wasn’t an alien in this terrible world.

I wandered further, almost hoping I’d find trouble so that I could work off these emotions. But there was nothing. I sighed, before making my way back to the travelling group with my bag full of elfroot.

“She’s back. Told ya there’s nothing to worry about.” Eldric was reassuring Cassandra and I ignored her reproachful glance as I approached. I tossed my supply bag at Ellana, “Elfroot supplies. I’ll be supervising your brewing of regenerative potions once we reach the Crossroads, so I suggest you revise instead of gossiping.”

“But, Hahren, I’m supposed to-,” I shot her a look and Ellana promptly closed her mouth.

“Herald, everyone has been assigned duties already,” Cassandra stepped forward authoritatively, “You shouldn’t reassign them.”

Really, enough was enough. “I wasn’t apprised of their duties,” I replied, “Or mine.”

“Mother Giselle has asked to speak with you. The Chantry has denounced you and declared us heretics for harbouring you. Mother Giselle is familiar with the people behind this and can provide us aid,” Cassandra relaxed marginally, “The others will be looking for opportunities to expand the Inquisition’s influence and recruit agents.”

“Hmm,” I turned to the others, “Where have you been assigned?”

“Scout,” Pulai raised his hand, and Ellana raised hers, “Me too.”

Thranduil grit his teeth, “Bodyguard.” Solas and Varric echoed Thranduil when their turns came.

The others raised their hands, “Guard,” “Watch,” “Recruitment,” and on it went, until Eldric raised his hand last, “Contracts and recruitment from…the world down under.”

Slowly, I turned to Maxwell, almost dreading his assignment, “Adjutant and your Templar.”

No. Not going to happen. Not even over my dead body.

“Cassandra,” I said, firm, “These assignments are unacceptable.”

Cassandra only raised her eyebrows.

“Thranduil has a very good understanding of Valo-kas’ talents. He also has a decade worth experience leading large military organizations. Perhaps he should be the adjutant and reassign the others to jobs more suited with their talents.”

She studied me carefully before slowly nodding her head, “Thranduil, would you be interested in such a role?”

“I am honoured.”

Something inside me cringed at seeing him bow so low, but I understood why. What others rarely realized was the ‘grateful yes man’ façade was just that, a façade. It smoothened the way, it gave servants the gift of anonymity and safety while nobles felt important and needed. But it was important not get caught up in the façade. Sometimes, elves, even Thranduil, got carried away, and forgot that they weren’t actually ‘worthless’ servants.  

I watched as Thranduil reassigned everyone quickly; unfortunately, Maxwell remained my Templar. Thranduil tried to explain it away by saying that normal people would feel safer with him around, but I couldn’t help the bile that rose up.

How could I ever trust Maxwell to keep anyone safe?

Ellana sidled up to me, distracting me from my predicament, “Ellana, when we reach Dusklight camp, you’ll be the healer. Work with the scouts and set up a sick bay.”

“But Thranduil asked me to-” Ellana started, and I smacked my forehead in exasperation.

“If everyone fights who’s going to take care of the casualties?” I snapped, rolling my eyes when Ellana shrunk back.

“The situation at the Crossroads is too volatile, we won’t be able to set up a sick bay.” Cassandra drew closer, and with a jolt, I realised that everyone was watching me. Again.

“We can, and we will. Mother Giselle has already started and Ellana will help in the effort. Ellana, it’s your responsibility, get it done. You’ve handled such situations before.” And she had. As the First, she’d been trained to provide healing to clan members under any kind of situation.

Cassandra opened her mouth to refuse, but Thranduil placed a hand on her shoulder gently, “All right, Ellana, do you think you can handle that?”

Ellana grit her teeth, “Hahren is right, I am capable of setting up a healing camp.”

I ignored the intense stare that started between them. Whatever their issues were, it wasn’t my problem.

I moved back, walking with Varric instead.

“So, Herald,” he began, curiosity sparking his eyes, “There’s this gut feeling that tells me you don’t like humans.”

“I’ve had to work with them for a long time,” I drawled sarcastically.

“Don’t like Chuckles either?”

I stared at him, stumped, “Who’s Chuckles?”

“Skinny elf? Gave you your dinner last night?” At my blank look, Varric chuckled, “You might know him as Solas.”

And just like that, I froze. The worst part was that he was right next to Varric, so there was no way he missed any of this. For that reason alone, I forced my lips to move, “I-uh, it’s nothing like that,” this was such a horrible thing to do. Varric was a horrible person. Who went around asking people if they hated someone, when that someone was right next to them?! “He, he just reminds me of someone.”

I cringed, aware of how idiotic I sounded.

“Who? An ex-lover? A dead lover?” Varric didn’t seem to care that he was making me uncomfortable, “The way you’re reacting, it sounds like it’s great! Who? Who does he remind you of?”

Fen’Harel, because he’s Fen’Harel.

But I clamped my mouth shut, unable to ignore Solas’ gaze boring into me.

“Come on, Herald, share a little!” When Varric spotted my closed expression, he called out to Thranduil, “Hey, Charming, who does Solas remind you of?”

Thranduil turned back, puzzled, “Excuse me? Were you talking to me?”

“Yep,” Thranduil gave Varric a surprised look, “Who does Chuckles here remind you of? Someone from the Herald’s life?”

Thranduil looked perturbed before observing Solas closely, who stiffened, “I don’t think-,”

He cut off suddenly and my heart pounded. How did Thranduil figure it out? Had he gone looking for memories of the elven gods? Did he realize who Solas really was?

“Figures. He’s the most despicable person I’ve ever met,” Thranduil shook his head, his entire countenance suddenly angry.

No, you’re going to get us killed! I strode forward, desperate to cut him off, “Thranduil, you need to keep your mouth shut!”

Of course, you’re going to defend him,” Thranduil shrugged me off, “It’s all you’ve ever done. But you need to face it Erelani, he betrayed us, our people, our clan.”

“Huh,” I paused, “What are you talking about?”

“I’m talking about Keeper Zathrian!” Thranduil snapped, and I recoiled in shock, “Isn’t that who Solas reminds you of? Just because he’s bald, Erelani? Stop looking for pieces of him in others! He was the most horrible Keeper! He gambled with our lives Erelani!”

I can take any criticism about myself, but when Thranduil attacks Zathrian, I can’t take it. It’s the one thing I can never forgive Thranduil for.

“No, he wasn’t,” And I couldn’t help the coldness that crept into my voice, “He was the best. He loved you. He loved me. He did his duty by the clan.”

“No, he didn’t!” And something in Thranduil was anguished, furious, “He sacrificed so many people for revenge, even you.

“No, he didn’t. I volunteered.”

“Like that makes any difference! You were a spoilt little girl who didn’t know anything! And he, he took advantage of that. He took advantage of our love for him, and he just-” Thranduil gasped, losing his control over his anger as it spread to anguish and disappointment.

“No, you have no idea of the sacrifices he’s made!” This was a raw wound that would never close. It was almost worse then what had happened in Gwaren, because at least then, it hadn’t been my fault. But Zathrian’s death, that was all me, “He gave up his revenge, his life, his immortality! For you Thranduil! For the clan! Don’t you dare say he was a horrible Keeper!”

“Considering what he did, giving up his life was the least he could have done. Which he did.” Thranduil conceded, though his expression showed that exactly what he thought of his concession.

“Immortal?” Solas piped up, and I shuddered, unable to control my reaction to him, “Are you talking about the Keeper of clan Arwen from the Fifth Blight?”

“Yes,” Thranduil’s demeanour calmed as he addressed Solas, “Have you seen the Fifth Blight?”

“Only through memories of the Fade,” Solas hesitated, “He was an immortal elf? From the ancient times?”

“No,” Thranduil denied, his voice growing cold, and I placed a restraining arm on him. He couldn’t tell them, they wouldn’t understand!

“Thranduil, please don’t-”

“He created the werewolf curse,” Thranduil cut over me, “to avenge the death of his family. But once the ones responsible were dead, he never removed the curse. He was linked to the curse, and as long as it existed, he was immortal.”

Maxwell let out an incredulous laugh, “And he’s your hero? You’re defending the man who created the werewolf curse?”

“Shut it, Maxwell.”

But he ignored me, “What Colen did was nothing compared to-”

A black rage overwhelmed me and I punched Maxwell straight in the throat. He started choking, gasping for a breath.

The tension skyrocketed, and Maxwell drew his sword, his eyes flashing in anger. I palmed my staff, but as I moved to pull it out, a red tendril of magic wrapped around my frame, paralysing me.

I solemnly swear to protect, with all loyalty and conscience, the people of Thedas regardless of race, religion, station, birth, nationality, and magical ability.

Tremors started running through my frame until I unhanded my staff. Red filled my vision and I dropped to my knees, losing control of my body. I felt my mouth move but I had no idea what I was saying.

I slowly felt control return and found Thranduil crouched before me, his expression horrified, “How do you feel?”

“Fine,” A cold tremor of terror passed through me, “Fucking enchantment.”

Thranduil pulled me up, “Walk with me.”

Thranduil dragged me away, far ahead from the others and I ignored the glare Maxwell sent my way.

That enchantment allowed nonlethal moves, but lethal action was forbidden. How the fuck was I supposed to protect people from the shit storm heading our way if I couldn’t kill?

I was doomed.

“Erelani,” Thranduil waited for me to acknowledge him, “I thank every god that exists that you took that oath. What were you thinking?”

I stared back, stricken.

Thranduil’s face crumbled and he covered his face with his hands, “What am I going to do with you?”

“Maxwell should not have said that.”

“Of course, he shouldn’t have. But there’s something you need to hear,” Thranduil stiffened, “You’re not special. Do you think you’re the only one who’s suffered at the hands of humans? Do you think our people are faultless?”

It’s not okay! You can’t normalize this! You can’t normalize bad things!”

“Pick your goddamn battles Erelani!”Thranduil paused and took a heavy breath, “Tell me, Erelani. When you were stuck in that cell, why didn’t you escape?”

 “What do you mean, why didn’t I escape?”

Thranduil frowned, “Even at thirteen, you had impeccable control over your magic. You had the power to choose what should happen to you. Why didn’t you escape?”

I stood there, struck dumb as realization dawned: Thranduil wasn’t on my side. I’d never even considered that possibility.

He was blaming me for what happened to me. He thought it was my fault that a psychotic seventeen-year-old human abused his power and raped Kaari and me.

How does that make any sense?

The air escaped from my lungs, and I couldn’t respond, my mind refusing the reality before me. Never, not even the demons that tormented me had ever said something as heartless as this to me.

Nothing can be as cruel as reality.

“Why didn’t you escape, Erelani?” Thranduil persisted, an impenetrable coldness on his features, “You must have wanted it, on some level. You had the ability to escape, didn’t you?”

How could this be Thranduil? This has to be an illusion. It has to be.

I pulsed my aura, desperately hoping the vision would fade.

It didn’t.

“I couldn’t escape,” my voice was barely a whisper, feeling a suffocating pressure near my heart, “if I got out, he would have ordered a manhunt. And it would have worked, because I was Dalish.”

“Then why didn’t you kill him?”

“The entire guard would have been after us. And we needed protection from the Blight.”

“So you chose your own fate. You chose the lesser evil. Stop complaining, Erelani,” Thranduil sighed, “We all make sacrifices every day, just so we can live. What did you think the vallaslin was about? It’s not a badge of honour, Erelani, but one of sacrifice. Stop lashing out at Maxwell.”

As terrible as it was to hear, it made a horrible kind of sense. We are all suffering, so suffer silently. Misery loves company after all.

But it was so wrong, “That isn’t the kind of world I want to live in Thranduil. I am done enduring. If someone does something wrong, I’m going to hold them accountable for it, especially when they have a duty of care.”

Thranduil’s closed his eyes, “Don’t attack Maxwell.”

“Give me one reason why.”

“Because as much as you hate the world we live in, we still need to live in it! Because like it or not, Maxwell is a noble who has influence in Fereldon and beyond. His word can make or break us. And we are lucky that he is a better man than you think he is, or else he would have buried you ten feet under.”

I stared at him, struck dumb again.

“Why are you being so horrible to me?” I asked, anguish filling me, “Why do you treat me so differently? What have I ever done to deserve this?”

“Why?” Thranduil echoed, and he took a long moment, his reluctance apparent, “Because you are dangerous.”

It was like the light went out. The world lost its colour, and the fighting drained away.

“What?”

My worst nightmare was coming true.

“How am I dangerous? What did I do?”

“Everything you are, your ability, your mind, your magic, all of it is different. You want things you can’t have, and you’re willing to do anything to get it,” Thranduil grimaced, regretting his words but unable to stop, “Even the way you see the world, I don’t understand it. It’s different. It’s more than different, it’s, it’s,”

Alien.

My heart squeezed tightly in pain.

I knew what he meant. There were so many things that frustrated me in this world: the difficulty in attaining any knowledge, resources or even amenities because it ‘wasn’t done’, or because only nobles could have it. It was hoarding of knowledge, wellness and even health and I begrudged them for it. I hated Maxwell for many things, and this was one of them.

There was a reason Desire loved being around me.

“You think I’m dangerous because I want things.”

Thranduil flinched, “No, that’s not what I meant, actually, yes, a little. That Desire clings so strongly to you worries me. But some of the things you say, about nobility, about people,” he took a heavy breath, “they can be disconcerting.”

There are moments in your life when things that didn’t make sense before suddenly click together. When you realize what you perceive a situation isn’t necessarily how others perceive them. Being a Dreamer, it shouldn’t have shocked me as much as it did. Thranduil didn’t humour Maxwell because he had an ulterior motive, he did it because he believed in social hierarchy. To him, nobility could make mistakes but suffer no repercussions because it was their right.

And how could I blame him for internalizing this philosophy when it was all that he’d ever known? My words probably seemed like blasphemy to him.

Still, I am who I am and that won’t change, not even for Thranduil.

Somehow, my voice was gentle, “People are not a sum of their work, birth or their race. Every person has a sense of self and hence the freedom to choose their path. And with each choice, good or bad, come the consequences, both good and bad. It’s not wrong to hold people accountable to their actions. Human nobles do it every day. But they need to be held accountable too, Thranduil. They cannot do as they like.”

Thranduil held his head in his hands, anguished “You have to stop hating on humans, Erelani! Your first priority is to save the world. It’s not about you and your beliefs! You have to do what you can to get things done! If you continue on like this, you’re going to push everyone away!”

But I was too hurt by his words, by this entire conversation to listen to him.

But Thranduil must have seen the turmoil on my face, “Just answer me this. How will you create a home for elves if you antagonize every noble we meet? Even if you create one, all of them will be looking for the slightest excuse to attack us, and tragedy will occur again. Erelani, you are a role model. You have to hold yourself to a higher standard.”

He sighed, “Be a Hahren to the world, so we can build our own place in it.”

And he had me.

While everything else he’d said was suspect, in this, he had me. Because there was nothing I wanted more in this world then a place that elves could call home.

I nodded tersely and turned around, determined to leave his company.

Suddenly, I felt a hand on my head, and I jerked it aside.

“Erelani, I’m sorry, but I can’t take my words back,” What an apology! “You needed to know how the others think. How this world thinks.”

“Don’t be shy. Feel free to include yourself in this list.”

“I’m always going to be on your side, Erelani. But survival is important, and you can’t seem to see the consequences of your actions. We can’t afford to fail; the stakes are too high. Right now, you don’t matter. No one does.”

I walked away, refusing to reply. I wish I could say that this had destroyed all my love for him. But it hadn’t.

The heart is a horrible thing.

But I was done looking for his approval. I was done seeking his love.


 

When I returned, there was a sudden hush. I made my way to the front of the group, determined to fast track our way to the Hinterlands.

Maxwell pushed his way to the front and suddenly, he was blocking my way.

I sighed, feeling a headache build up, “What?”

He went on his knees and prostrated himself and I reeled back in shock.

“Herald of Andraste, I have sinned. You told me that the Maker would abandon me, and since that day I’ve felt his absence. I wronged you and I refused to see it. Let me serve you in penance! Forgive me, and I swear that I will defend every man, woman and child that we meet.”

What was happening? Why was he doing this? My eyes sought Thranduil who widened his eyes in warning.

Maxwell was a filthy manipulative liar. He was a noble who worked social situations to his favour.

And I was in no position to refuse him. But I’d make this as painful for him as it was for me.

“Very well. All I wanted was for you to realize that you’d made a mistake,” I saw him twitch, “That it was your duty to report your partner for his terrible misconduct. I am glad you realized your criminal negligence and the terrible violence you initiated afterwards, even if it took ten years to do so. Better late than never.”

I could see his fist whiten as he clenched them tightly, “Remember Maxwell, there is no nobility without people. You are their servant. Show me you can serve them well. Stand up.”

As he stood, I could see the rage that lined his face. If you assign blame, people, by their very nature, get defensive. Furthermore, Maxwell was a noble who believed it was his right to receive, and for others to give. No matter how true, likening his job to that of a servant was an insult.

“That’s a nice thought, isn’t it?” Varric intervened, walking between us, “Kind of true too. People serve their nobles, and nobles serve them in return. It’s the way of the world.”

“We need to get moving.” Cassandra gave a reproving glance at all of us before marching forward.

As the day came to an end, a green light shone on the horizon, and I had a sneaking suspicion that there was a rift nearby.

“Hahren, I feel something weird,” Ellana whispered as she sauntered close.

“It’s a rift.” I passed a warning glance to everyone around me and they got into formation.

“The rift is closer than it looks,” Solas warned.

A few of the soldiers guarded the supplies while the rest of us made our way to the rift. A shade dropped out of the tree, attacking me suddenly and I dodged.

As I moved to attack, a red light trapped me.

I solemnly swear to protect, with all loyalty and conscience, the people of Thedas regardless of race, religion, station, birth, nationality, and magical ability.

No, no, this can’t be happening!

A temporary paralysis came over me and luckily Ellana cast a Mind Blast to push it back.

“Hahren, this is not the time to be holding back! Fight!”

“I can’t fight! This fucking enchantment! I can’t fight!”

“What are you talking-” Ellana gasped as she saw the red light paralysing me. She gazed around frantically, “Why isn’t Cassandra having this problem?”

“I don’t know!”

Ellana cast a Fireball, making the Shade shriek in pain.

A wisp. It’s just a wisp.

And now, I can’t even kill a wisp.

 

 

Chapter Text


 

Good Hosts

“True hospitality is marked by an open response to the dignity of each and every person.”

― Kathleen Norris, Dakota: A Spiritual Geography

 


Bright green light lit the ground and a Pride demon emerged, swinging a chain of lightening in a wide arc. I dodged, finding purchase on a nearby tree branch.

Shades and wraiths joined the melee, gliding across the clearing below and clawing at the others while Eldric threw an Antivan grenade at the demons.

Frustration welled up as any attack I made was subverted by the red coils of the Oath. In the corner of my eyes, I caught sight of the paralysis spell Solas cast, accompanied by a blow from Cassandra that decimated a nearby wraith.

Paralysis. A glyph of paralysis combined with a binding circle would incapacitate everyone in its range long enough for me to propel the spirits back through the rift while also being non-lethal. The red coils of magic immobilizing me dissipated and I analysed the battlefield. Shades, despair demons and wraiths were assailing us while Pride cast lightening arcs that paralysed anything that came in contact with it.

To bind these many spirits for at least ten minutes, I needed to anchor ten spiritual pillars into a ten-point star. I quickly summoned a spirit blade, chanting a few seconds so that it would act as a temporary pillar until it faded, and drove it deep into the ground.

I fade-stepped across the battlefield and summoned another blade before chanting and driving another to the ground spaced thirty-six degrees away from the first.

“Erelani, pay attention!” Thranduil warned, “Barrier!””

A glance to the left revealed a despair demon attempting to freeze Pulai while Thranduil provided support. A debilitating cold spread deep into my bones as despair set in.

How am I going to do this? How will I save everyone?

Despair’s eyes met mine, and the aching chasm of emptiness grew, turning my insides cold.

What was the point of it all? Why even fight? Nothing was going to change. Nothing ever does.

I balled up my despair and buried it deep before throwing a fireball at the demon.

I solemnly swear-

Red chains constricted my frame and squeezed until the fireball dissipated, revealing a burned but living despair demon.

The red dissipated and I knew, instinctually, that any more spells directed at the despair demon would fail.

Fuck. Fuck!

I put the last spirit blade down and left the range of the binding circle. I pulled magic to myself, letting it build up before drawing the Glyph of Paralysis with a minor modification for binding. I built the mana like a tidal wave before crashing it against the glyph. With a reverberating bang that echoed even beyond the Veil, green lightening arced across everyone within the circle, rendering them immobile.

When the gong like sound receded, there was only silence.

I had ten minutes.

I grabbed the despair demon closest to me and dragged it to the edge of the binding circle before throwing it through the rift.

A shade stood close by. I picked it up and hurled it at the rift. The next through the rift was a wraith frozen in the middle of casting. Another, another and on it went.

I tried to rush, tearing pieces of spirits as I handled them roughly, until only the Pride demon left.

I had less than ten seconds to come up with a way to throw a demon that weighs more than a tonne through a rift…which was impossible. I have to think of something else. Even as I cast weakness spells to incapacitate Pride, it was breaking free of the binding.

“Agghhh, you dare!” Pride swung its lightning whip with deadly precision.

“Erelani! Watch out!”

I ignored Thranduil’s warning. As long as Pride was focused on me, the others were safe.

There was a sharp smell of ozone and I erected mage armour instinctively. The clanking of chains came first before they wrapped around me. The barrier deflected the lightening running through the chains until suddenly I was sailing through the air.

A dangerous cracking sounded near my back. Thundering feet snapped me out of my disorientation and I rolled, expecting more damage but a wall of ice appeared in front of me. My blood boiled in rage.

I’m going to kill-!

I solemnly swear-

Fuck.

I buried my anguished panic and stood, feeling something protruding from my side. I turned to inspect the damage and found pieces of bark imbedded into my rib cage.

Grumbling, I placed my right hand over the wounds, pulling the bark out before healing the wounds. As annoying as healing fatigue was, at least the mana replenishment made up for it. At least until I closed the rift.

I cast an assessing gaze over my companions fighting. While most of them were great fighters, the addition of strangers had thrown the team dynamic off. They were run ragged and hurt more from friendly fire than from their enemies. I stretched an arm out towards them.

Heal! Shield! Mage armour!

As my mana refilled instantaneously, I fade-stepped across the field and came to a stop near them.

I took another moment to analyse the battlefield. Ellana was holding the Pride demon immobile with Nature magic. Any lightening attacks were captured by large roots and nullified into the ground. A surge of pride rushed through me at seeing Ellana employ her Keeper magic in such a clever way.

Maxwell, Cassandra and Thranduil were hacking away at the trapped demon while the others stuck to range attacks.

I raised the anchor, hoping I could delay the inevitable as I disrupted the rift. I approached slowly, creating my own roots to trap the demon in place.

“Stop, that’s enough. I’ll handle the rest,” Cassandra glared but I shook my head, “The oath. I must do this.”

I extended my aura full force at Pride, “Pride, return through the rift. We will harm you no further if you return.”

Pride scowled, and I could feel its visceral hatred flowing into my aura, “As if I would yield to an elf.”

“You were brought into the Waking against your will. Nothing that happened today was on purpose; it was just the fight for survival. If you want to live, you must return.”

You dare to presume much, elf! How dare you tell me what I should do!” Pride thrashed against the roots, breaking a few in its struggle.

“What would it take for you to return?”

Pride glowered, its loathing apparent, “Prostate yourself before me! Beg for my forgiveness! And then I might consider.

Apprehension made me hesitate. Pride demons weren't like other spirits; they were among the most powerful demons around, because pride was universal. Self-respect, ego, humility, confidence, they were all aspects of pride. The extent of your pride determined your emotional reaction and hence your character, which made pride one of the most essential emotions of personhood. Yet pride was also one of the most corruptible emotions, both in its lack and in its excess. Therefore, pride demons held the knowledge of how to destroy you, and in that knowledge considered itself superior.

But my options were limited, “If I accept, you will return immediately through the rift and refrain from exiting any other rift. Do we have a deal?”

Pride sneered, “Yes, now bend your knee.”

I got on my knees and bowed my head until it touched the ground, “I apologize for attacking you. Please forgive me.”

Such insincerity! Is that anyway to ask for forgiveness? Mean it, elf, or the deal is off.

I struggled to pull forth genuine remorse, but it was difficult. We had been defending ourselves against their onslaught and there had been no casualties. Why would I feel remorse?

I tried to draw up memories of the ways humans had abused me. How they had chased me out of affluent districts in disgust. How there had been little remorse for elves after they had been executed by Empress Celene.

But spirits didn’t even have that, did they?

“I regret the damage this tragedy has caused you. I am sorry that you are not more welcome in the Waking. I am sorry that we can only attack each other. Please forgive me. Please let me save you, because it is the only thing I can do.”

“You are not forgiven!”

My body jerked as Pride flung me up, blood rushing away from head. I crossed the rift into the Fade, the edges of the Veil tearing at me as I passed through. Pride followed behind closely.

I saw the horizon for a brief second, the Black City towering menacingly from the distance, before Pride caught me, and wrapped its claws around my neck. Something in me quivered, and I felt as if I were leaving my body and having an out of body experience.

Now you are in my territory, abomination! You will be punished for your insubordination!” Pride squeezed hard, and I struggled to breathe.

This was the problem with spirits. Their word was their bond, but if the deal was flimsy, they exploited every little loophole. Because I hadn’t stated anything regarding my wellbeing, Pride was determined to finish what it had started.

I cast a Mind Blast, grateful that I was all the more powerful for being in the Fade. Pride was expelled back, crashing against a rock formation.

I summoned cold magic, determined to freeze Pride to death.

The oath did not stop me.

And now I know what your apology was worth.” Pride snarled as ice crawled up its torso, freezing it in place.

The oath still didn’t stop me, and I knew why. I’d given Pride every chance to concede but it had only proved to be a danger to others. Killing Pride now was not against the oath.

Yet, I stopped.

It was not because of a sudden rise in compassion. It wasn’t pity. It wasn’t any heroic impulse that made me stop. It was remorse because I had meant every word I said. I forgot that while elves had a hard time, spirits had it even worse.

“The spell will thaw soon. I did mean my apology. I regret that things between our people are like this. Despite your actions, the deal still stands.”

As I approached the rift, that thing in me quivered again, and it felt as if I was being electrocuted. It travelled through my torso and stopped at my left hand, and suddenly I was having double vision.

Vertigo assaulted me as I crossed the rift and I fell, landing in a heap on the ground.

Close the rift, just close the rift!

I lifted a trembling hand towards the rift and pulled as hard as I could. The rift sealed shut with a loud snap and a rushing sensation overwhelmed me.

I turned to the side and vomited, and kept heaving, unable to stop even as my stomach emptied and saliva trailed down.

There was a burning in my throat, and suddenly there was blood, and still I couldn’t stop heaving.

There was shouting and suddenly a pair of hands lifted me and started dragging me way. A cold sensation enveloped my throat before it travelled down to my stomach. It spread until it reached my left hand, and suddenly everything stopped spinning and blue-grey eyes came into focus, staring intently into my eyes as swathes of cold blue magic filled my vision. His mouth moved, seemingly forming words, but I heard nothing beyond the rushing in my ears.

My mind cleared, and the world came into view as a heavy fatigue set in. Solas was crouched before me, running intensive healing over my injuries. His eyes met mine again, and he sighed in relief before pulling back and collapsing to the ground.

I cast an eye around the clearing and found the others pacing restlessly, giving us a wide berth as Cassandra, Thranduil and Maxwell engaged in an argument. I turned to Solas, finding his sharp gaze evaluating me.

There was a terrible part to this entire situation I had forgotten, “The Mark is killing me, isn’t it?”

There was a long pause, “I have put certain safeguards in place, but yes, even if you save the world, the Mark will eventually kill you.”

It was like a slap across the face and it must have showed because his jaw tightened. I swallowed my turmoil, burying it deep before forcing a smile on my face.

“Thank you for your candidness, Solas,” I cast a quick look over his stiff expression before looking away, “It’s not like I expected anything different. The power to alter the veil lies in my hands; how can there be no side-effects?”

“Your pragmatism is commendable.”

I gave him a measuring look, “Is there a way to transfer this Mark to someone else?”

Solas’ face became expressionless, “When you were in the Chantry dungeon, attempts were made to acquire the Mark, even at the expense of your life,” His face was inscrutable, “The attempts were unsuccessful. It was deemed more important to have a functioning Mark then a malformed one that worked for none. It’s why your life was spared by the Hands of the Divine.”

I marvelled at the blatant omission in his words. If I hadn’t known better, I’d have thought it was the Chantry that attempted to steal the Mark rather than him. His skill in misdirection was frightening.

“I see.”

“Your…passenger also complicates matters.”

I stared at him, uncomprehending, “Passenger?”

His gaze was shrewd, “The being you carry with you at all times.”

“Huh?” My heart quickened, a cold dread settling in. What was he talking about? “You mean the Mark?”

“No.” Solas studied me intensely before taking a non-threatening stance, his hands held in front of him, “I am a somniari who has been studying the Fade for a very long time. I hold no judgements of those who hold such impeccable control over their companions. The melding is seamless, almost as if it was done at birth.”

My stomach rolled in anxiety as I opened my mouth then closed it, because I wasn’t stupid, I knew exactly what he was implying. But I’m not possessed. There wasn’t anything piggybacking on me, nothing that was extra-

Oh.

A tremble went through my body as bone-deep terror set in.

But, but, there was no one else inside. Just me. I was born. There had never been another spirit that close to me, only Desire.

Unbidden, a memory sprang forth,

“There’s too much inside already. What a pity. A somniari like you already filled up.”

But that had been years ago. Years! I’d been a babe, then.

I looked down at my hand, at the veilfire I’d created all those years ago to suppress the tide of otherworld memories that had threatened to crush me.

I had gotten through it. I had saved myself, however unwittingly it had been done. And those memories had never actually harmed me. The reminder eased some of my terror.

Where did she end? Where did I begin? Why did it feel like there was no difference at all? I was always just me, the sum of the before and the after. I was the amalgamation of all those experiences. The otherworld memories that had overwhelmed me at a young age, had gradually melded with my mind with repetitive viewing; it had become a part of me, a part of who I was.

“Did you not know? Did it occur at the Conclave?” Solas’ voice broke my thoughts and I stared back blankly at his curious face. His interest was sharp, but he maintained a sympathetic visage that I mistrusted.

However, the rawness of the realization had me replying with the truth, “No, it didn’t. You were right, it occurred when I was fairly young. I suppose I didn’t realize that it was possession.”

“You didn’t realize?” His bewilderment bordered on condescension, “The effects are unmistakeable, somebody must have noticed.”

And he was right, because somebody had noticed. Mamae had noticed. She had actively avoided me for years, leaving me in the care of the Keeper, perhaps hoping that he could deal with the damage and kill me if I turned into an uncontrolled abomination.

Suddenly the pieces clicked together.

They’d thought that Desire was possessing me for kicks and drawn a veilfire rune to that effect. Except that’s not what veilfire runes did, but they didn’t know that. I’d never told them or shared any of the memories buried within it.

As terrible as these realizations were, a swell of gratitude welled up in me for my mother. She hadn’t killed me and hadn’t let the clan kill me either. I remember the terrible activities I’d gotten up to as a child and how everyone in the clan had maintained a healthy distance from me.

It was humbling to realize that the woman I’d hated-loved-had done so much for me, because there was no mercy for abominations in this world. They were considered unnatural and evil, doomed to create destruction. Despite her fear and disgust, she’d loved me enough to do the right thing.

She’d given me a chance to live.

A shake of my hand broke my thoughts yet again, and I found Solas staring pityingly at my continued silence, and I could sense a healthy dose of superiority hidden behind the emotion.

“Regardless, you can be assured that I will speak of this to no one,” Solas placed a comforting hand over my own, his voice firm, “Your safety is paramount until the Breach is sealed and spreading this knowledge will only ensure your death. You promised me safety from humans, I extend the same promise in return.”

I evaluated his expression, gauging the sincerity of his promise. He was genuine; he had no reason not to be.

I nodded slowly, trusting that for now, he had no reason to betray me. I closed my eyes, feeling like the ground beneath my feet had slipped away. Valo-kas didn’t trust me, Thranduil had no faith in me, and now, I didn’t even know what I was anymore.

Everything that I was, everything that defined me, the people in my life, my memories, they were all ruined.

My days were numbered.

And yet, a fire was running through my blood, invigorating my body, my mind and spirit. My heart was pumping hard, a tingling spreading from within, strengthening every emotion until it fed this unquenchable flame.

If my stand-offish mother could find it in herself to save an abomination like me and give me a chance at life, then I was more than capable of saving this world.

 I won’t just endure through this hatred, mistrust and instability, I would succeed in spite of them.

I will succeed.


 

I was too injured spiritually and physically to move, so we made camp in that clearing. Solas stayed close to me, keeping others away with warnings about the Mark. His magic was entwined with the Mark, and I could feel his sporadic tugging on my hand, feeling as if a part of my spirit was being pulled too. And it was, for I had accidentally sealed a portion of my spirit away in the veilfire, and with the Mark fused onto it, I knew of no way to separate the two. The Mark was spreading too, crawling up my hand bit by bit as the hours passed by. I could feel Solas putting blockades in, nearly deadening the nerves in my left hand so that the pain wouldn’t register.

I ignored the argument between Cassandra and Thranduil happening mere feet from me, too overwhelmed with the day’s revelations to engage in meaningless conflict. A growing feeling of disconnection had me opening my mouth, and suddenly words were spewing forth,

“I don’t feel it, you know. The presence of another. There’s only me.”

Solas paused his ministrations, looking up at me for a second before continuing, “Yes, I gathered. Most don’t feel any different; they only have a heightened awareness of the Fade.”

“That’s not true. The force of another within the body is overwhelming, like your mind is being crushed, because there is too much in too small, and it’s not going to be contained,” I stared at him as he paused, his head tilted in curiosity, “That’s how abominations are created, because the body tries to expand to accommodate the additional spirit, but the mind is unstable and the body can’t just grow instantaneously, so it transforms,” I just watched him, “And tragedy occurs.”

“And yet, here you are,” Solas smiled, “If it is fully consensual then the soul melding is seamless. The line distinguishing one from another disappears, for they are one. Is that not the case for you?”

“It never felt like another.”

“I suppose it can feel like that, eventually.”

“It never felt like another. There was no additional voice, no helping hand, just a collection of memories…and me.”

“You must have been very young.”

I opened my mouth to contradict him, to explain that I’d lived another life, that I was a reincarnation, but I abruptly remembered who I was talking to.

“I suppose so.”

“I am surprised your clan failed to educate you in this. Did they not know?” His condescension was back, and it grated against my raw nerves.

“They did, and it is because of their compassion and understanding that I stand before you,” I replied, a warning clear in my voice.

“And somehow you were completely unaware that you were a host for a spirit,” Solas derided.

“Only my mother knew,” I defended, “And she’s long gone.”

I snapped my mouth shut, hating that I’d shared so much. I glanced at him and was irritated to find an analysing look on his face, as if I was nothing more than a puzzle to solve then a real person with feelings. The look wasn’t even unique. It was the look nobles gave commoners, like they were nothing more than witless animals that they had to care for.

So many insults raced through my mind at his look, but the reminder of who he was, forced them down.

“I admit, I thought your compassion towards spirits was a product of your situation,” he began, and I tensed warily, “The fact that this regard developed on its own says a lot about your inherent wisdom.”

I blinked rapidly, gobsmacked at the unexpected compliment, “Oh.”

“Your study of the Fade and grasp of magic is remarkable. You’ve trained your will so that magic is just an extension of it. Your indomitable focus and wisdom will be beneficial in the days to come.”

“Indomitable focus?” I whispered, slightly overwhelmed. Was he flirting with me? Why?

“Presumably. Your display earlier was impressive.”

“Umm,” I blinked rapidly before looking away awkwardly, “Thanks, Solas, that’s very kind of you.”

As disarming as his compliments were, they’d done nothing for me. I was Dalish through and through; actions carried more merit than flowery words designed to flatter. But he’d helped me a lot today, intentionally or not.

As he got up to leave, I caught the seams of his sweater, “Thank you, for saving my life and healing me. And for promising to keep my secrets. I will endeavour to live up to your expectations.”

I caught the disarmed look on his face and let go. I would rather be on his good side than his bad one and I couldn’t deny the thrill of satisfaction that ran through me when I surprised him so.

Feeling invigorated at this small victory, I found the patience to deal with the argument in full swing a few metres away.

“-cannot save demons! Who will help us? Who will believe this is the work of divinity?”

“She is oath bound, Seeker, and the terms of the oath were given by you.”

“That’s no excuse! This just proves that she is a maleficar!”

“Her method produced no casualties, Seeker Cassandra, that cannot be ignored.”

A trill of shock went through me at seeing Maxwell support me, but I brushed it away as I stumbled towards them.

“What’s the problem now?”

Cassandra glared at all of us, “We cannot save every spirit that tries to attack us! It’s not feasible, not when we are trying to close rifts and save people!”

I took a deep breath, before exhaling slowly, “What else can I do? I am oath-bound to protect every single person. It’s the oath you took as well.”

“But they are demons! They corrupt everything that they touch! They are intangible creatures of the Fade, how are they a people?!”

“Aren’t they?” I stared hard at Cassandra, “What is a person to you?”

Cassandra’s jaw tightened, “You know very well what people are. Those that are a part of this world, are people. Not spirits that mimic our behaviour and our world.”

“What about nugs? Druffaloes? Are those people to you too?”

No, because they are not capable of higher cognitive functions.”

“Have you ever interacted with a spirit?”

“I am a Seeker, I hunt demons.”

I eyed her uncompromising visage and knew that I wouldn’t be successful in changing her mind, not today. Any attempt at changing her beliefs would only be met with stern disapproval.

I sighed, “I am a Dreamer, and for me, spirits are just another race, another people. The truth doesn’t change, no matter how inconvenient it is.”

Cassandra scowled, “The facts are still the same. We cannot afford to take this long to close each rift.”

And she was right.

I dropped my gaze to the Mark. It was a boon for the people, yet the bane for my life, and all it could do was seal rifts….and open rifts?

A vague half memory from the Before had my mouth opening before I realized it, “Solas, is this Mark capable of reversing the polarity of the rift?”

“Excuse me?” Solas seemed uncomprehending as he stopped shuffling through his belongings. I refused to believe that he hadn’t been eavesdropping on the argument like everyone else in the camp.

“Rifts cause the Fade to leak into the world. The Mark can dispel and seal rifts. Is the Mark capable of changing rifts so that they suction things back into the Fade?”

He blinked, “I cannot say anything for sure without further research, but the Mark should, theoretically, be able to create rifts that pull things into the Fade.”

“And what about existing rifts? Can they be changed too?”

“Again, further research is necessary, but I do not believe that existing rifts can be altered so easily. It also takes substantially more power to create such suctioning rifts then to seal rifts.”

I cast a glance at Cassandra, Maxwell and Thranduil before looking back to Solas, “Power is not a problem. If we can pull the spirits back into the Fade, then our problem is solved.”

Solas hesitated for a second, “I must warn you, however, that if you open such a rift over any living organism, the expulsion of such powerful force will kill them.”

I nodded to Solas, “Noted,” I turned to Cassandra, “Shall we test this at the next rift?”

She closed her eyes for a moment and let out a long sigh, “If that is the Maker’s will.”

I relaxed marginally, relieved that she’d acquiesced despite the differences in our opinion. In spite of everything she had said, my respect for her grew. She was flexible enough to implement a solution that conflicted against her core beliefs. If I wanted to attain her trust and put an end to these difficulties, then I needed to befriend her.

I sighed internally before nodding to the others and retreating to my bed.

Chapter Text

 


The Hinterlands

"The first rule of management is delegation. Don't try and do everything yourself because you can't."

– Anthea Turner


The camp at the outskirts of the Hinterlands, the Outskirts Camp, was heavily guarded with sentries posted meters from each other. The camp was chaotic, orders were yelled, runners were bustling around, healers were exhausted and frazzled while wounded soldiers decorated what little space remained.

A red-haired dwarf rushed to greet us, "Your Worship! Scout Harding, at your service!"

Cassandra stepped forward, "What's the situation?"

"We haven't been able to reach Dennet, the horse master. He's said to have the best horses on this side of the Frostbacks, we-we don't even know if Dennet is still alive." Harding's voice cracked, "I-I grew up here. The fighting between the Mages and Templars has destroyed everything; farms, homes, there's nowhere left that's safe."

Cassandra placed a hand on Harding's shoulder, "We'll do what we can, that's why we are here."

Scout Harding cast an eye over our company before nodding, "We need more fighters. The fighting has turned intense at the Crossroads, they're almost impossible to contain. Mother Giselle has been helping the refugees and the wounded, but the war's reached them too."

"Our priority is Mother Giselle. We must assist them first."

"Yes, Seeker." She nodded and half-turned before pausing, running a quick eye over everyone before settling on me, "Herald, I-I" she stuttered, her face turning red, "I heard the stories! We heard what you did at the Breach. We-we're all a little nervous about mages, especially right now, but you won't hear any backtalk from us, promise!"

I blinked, bemused, "Thank you, Scout Harding."

"With you here, the Maker's blessings are with us." Scout Harding retreated at Cassandra's impatient expression, "I should get going."

We entered the camp and were besieged with requests for help. There weren't enough healers, scouts, runners, anybody, to get things done. Most of the manpower had been assigned to Corporal Vale to train up soldiers.

Before Cassandra could rush off, I held her back, "Have you given thought to how you'll stop the Templars and Mages without killing them?"

She grimaced, "I don't know. Even if we do incapacitate them, we have no way to actually stop them from hurting others later."

"I do have an idea," I offered, guarded, "How about a repeat of my paralysis glyph?"

She frowned in thought, "While it was effective, it left the rest of us defenceless. If there is a way for you to incapacitate them without affecting the soldiers, then we can do it."

I sighed in relief, "That's not a problem, as long as they stay out of the range of the spell at the initial moment of casting, they'll be fine. I was actually hoping they'd help me set up."

Cassandra blinked in surprise, "Yes, this may actually work. A show of such overwhelming force will also demoralize both the Mages and the Templars."

Cassandra and I debriefed the contingent of soldiers about the plan, leaving the spell work to our mages. As we prepared to depart, a voice spoke close into my ear, "It's like you don't even notice me."

Hearing that familiar throaty voice, I swerved, a smile blooming on my face, "Kaari!"

Her grin grew, "Well, I take that back. You're acting as though we haven't seen each other for years. It's only been a few days, 'Lani."

"Oh," I cringed in embarrassment and she wrapped one arm around my shoulder in comfort, "It felt like years."

She studied me for a moment before giving my shoulders a small squeeze, "I'm here, now."

I smiled widely as something in me eased, and while my problems weren't miraculously gone, I felt as if I could handle them.

"So, how's the Hinterlands?" I asked as we approached the large group of soldiers.

"Terrible. I don't even know where to begin or who to blame. The templars and mages are goin' mad, bandits are taking advantage, and the civvies are collateral. The snobs have locked themselves up to avoid the worst of it and are too suspicious of the refugees to help them out."

"The usual then?" Kaari nodded. "Wait, why're they suspicious of the refugees?"

"They caught a few apostates hiding among the normal folk."

I sighed, "So they turned everyone else out."

"Yep," Kaari rolled her eyes, "Gotta admire the tunnel vision rich bastards have. They don't save anyone's skin except their own, not even their peoples'."

"Humans." My tone conveyed exactly what I thought about them.

Someone nudged me, and I turned to find Thranduil gesturing subtly to the soldiers around us. The soldiers around us were fidgeting, looking extremely uncomfortable. They'd clearly heard what Kaari and I had been saying.

I would not apologise for talking trash about their human leaders, because they were trash. I wouldn't let them overlook the fact that it' was an elf saving them, not their useless human leaders.

A large part of this anger stemmed from the fact that despite their 'Herald' being an elf, elves and dwarfs were only allowed as scouts, courtesy of Leliana, or part of mercenary groups. All other combatants, except for mages, had to be human.

"Are all of you aware of your roles?" When they saluted, a tiny trickle of guilt made itself known. Fuck, however they were, they had chosen to follow me. They had chosen to venerate me, and that meant something. It meant Hahren. "Well, show me what you can do. Show me you're better than the nobles who locked themselves away to protect themselves from civilians, civilians who need help."

I locked eyes with each of them, trying not to be condescending, but failing miserably, "I promise, it won't take much."

I knew it was a terrible choice of words. I knew it. It would either destroy my credibility as a leader or start a form of the French Revolution.

I couldn't bring myself to care.


Bringing the Crossroads under control was almost too easy.

With six mages powering the glyph and the thinness of the Veil, the limitations of the spell were easily overcome. As I forced magic into the glyph a bright green wave rushed out, paralysing everyone in range. While the mages and the templars were paralysed, the soldiers confiscated their weapons and tied them up.

I caught Cassandra's bewildered gaze as it roved over the battlefield, "It was easy. How-?" She trailed off as she watched the mages putting out fires.

"Because they weren't expecting it," I turned at hearing Solas' voice, "The element of surprise is a powerful tool. Still, I don't think such a tactic will work again. As word of this success spreads, people will learn to counter it."

Corporal Vale approached us, "Seeker, Herald, they've been restrained. What are your orders?"

I gave a look to Solas who left after a quick nod. I turned to Cassandra, "What should we do?"

"Normally, they'd be executed. But with the oath-" she grimaced, "We also need mages and templars for sealing the breach."

"Want to try the recruitment speech then?"

"These people, they're not representative of true mages or templars. They're people taking advantage of the situation to vent their aggressions." Cassandra closed her eyes, "They've hurt so many people. How can we just take them in? They must be punished."

I couldn't help the frown on my face, "And yet, they are people too. We need to at least give them the opportunity to change. Evil isn't born, it's made. Desperation is a powerful motivator and while they may or may not be desperate, we are."

Cassandra sighed, resigned, "What will you tell them?"

"That if they join me, they will get food, shelter and a job that save the world."

"The Templars will not be won over with such a speech."

"I know. That's why I'll speak to the mages while you speak to the templars."

"But you are the Herald! They saw you overpower them. You must speak to both groups!"

I grit my teeth in irritation, "Fine, I will accompany you, but you must be the one to speak to them," A headache blossomed as a thought occurred to me, "It would help to have Maxwell along with us when we speak to the templars."

Cassandra nodded, "And you should take Thranduil with you when you see the mages."

With another nod to each other, she turned towards Maxwell while I made a beeline to Thranduil.

"I need your help with a recruitment speech."

"You're talking to me now?"

I grimaced, unwilling to relive our terrible conversation. The worst part of it was, I knew I would forgive him, despite the terrible way he'd treated me.

But if I could forgive Desire for its behaviour, how could I not forgive Thranduil?

"You said horrible things to me, yet I'm still standing here. Will you help me or not?"

Thranduil closed his eyes, and he seemed to age a decade, "Always, Erelani."

Fuck you, Thranduil. You don't get to look like that. You cannot make me feel guilty for being angry with you.

Dangerous. Alien. Endure and keep your mouth shut.

Fuck you.

"I never said any of that."

I stared, bewildered for a moment, before I realized I'd spoken the words out loud.

"Didn't you?"

Thranduil placed his hands on my shoulders and I resisted. He dragged me closer until he could wrap his arms around me, and just like that my anger evaporated.

"I'm sorry." He let out a deep breath, "I haven't been fair to you. I'm worried, Erelani. So, so worried."

"About?"

"You. Others. Everyone. Being a leader isn't easy, Erelani. It's about sacrifices and self-control. You must listen, no matter how unpleasant the words are and still be respectful."

"And if I can't hear criticism from you, then how will I bear it from others?" I mocked.

"No, the people we love will always have power over us. I just wanted you to remember that people don't care about the difficulties of an elf's life, not even other elves." His hands tightened around me, "I really am sorry, Erelani."

"So, I should grit my teeth and smile?" I could feel my anger blossoming again.

"Yes, Erelani. Until we acquire the Dales again, you and I don't matter." He dropped his head onto my shoulder, "And we have a real chance at that now. If that means smiling at sadistic nobles and civilians, then we need to do it." He lifted his head, rubbing his eyes, "I really am sorry, I thought you were going to die," I ignored the wet spot on my shoulder, "No matter what, you are mine; my sister, my family, my soul."

I froze in shock, before I let out a choked laugh, "You love me the most?"

"Yes," Thranduil let go abruptly, his face guarded, "Don't know if you know yet, but Ellana dumped me."

"Oh."

"I think I haven't been myself since then," His eyes became glazed, "I've been so…" he trailed off as his eyes focused on me, "I am sorry, Erelani."

I placed an arm on his shoulder in comfort. I couldn't, in full honesty, say that I hadn't noticed, but everything else was more important.

Still, "Thranduil, will you help me write a speech or not?" I teased, forcing my cheerful tone.

Thranduil smiled.


We presented them three options.

Join. Leave but live and let live. Or die.

No one chose the last one. A lot of them chose to leave, casting the other group vicious looks as they left, and I knew that we'd be seeing them again. But they'd been warned, and if we encountered them again, the oath wouldn't prevent us from killing them.

A handful of mages and two templars joined. They passed each other looks of deep distrust but their presence was so useful that I could only rejoice. With them here, we could approach the templar and mage camps and avoid conflict altogether.

Mother Giselle was over the moon with me. She didn't care that I was a Dalish elf, or that I denied the Maker. She was so impressed with our bloodless win, that she promised to help us with the Chantry and if necessary, accompany us to Val Royeaux.

The reconstruction of the Crossroads village began, and with it came the daily needs of the people. Regardless of refugees coming in, there wasn't enough skilled labour, so we had to hold training sessions. We needed Dennet and his horses to help with logistics. Rifts were opening almost every day. Hunters couldn't collect food because of demons spawning in the forest. Soldiers couldn't be spared because they were the protection detail against rogue templars, mages and bandits.

And that was just the Crossroads.

Yet, there was an obvious solution to my problems that I'd been avoiding because I was afraid of the consequences.

I could Apparate.

It wasn't really Apparition, just like Aguamenti wasn't really Aguamenti. It was more a sustained Fadestep than anything else, but the magic required for such a powerful Fadestep was immense and created a loud sound that was impossible to ignore.

It was my trump card, my last resort. It was why I should've escaped from the Conclave, no matter what. That I didn't, made no fucking sense.

But with the world falling apart and so many people to protect, I needed to use every skill in my arsenal.

Neither could I do everything by myself.

I needed to be a leader, which meant delegating.


I called for sixteen of the best fighters in the camp. Pulai, Maxwell, Kaari, Thranduil, Eldric, Ellana from Valo-kas, Cassandra, Varric, Solas, Lace Harding, and a few of the Inquision soldiers stood in front of me.

One of the Inquisition soldiers stepped forward first, "Herald, my name is Lysette. I am a Templar recruit, and I want to extend my gratitude for what you did at Haven."

I nodded, "Gratitude is not necessary, but I appreciate the sentiment." It was a rehearsed reply that had seen a lot of use.

"Herald! My name is Belette!" "Christopher, Herald!" "I'm Amy, Herald, it's a pleasure to meet you." "Logan, at your service." "Tony."

I smiled, waiting for the barrage of introductions to stop, "Hello. I'm Erelani Arwen, formerly of Valo-kas." I circled all of them, "There is a lot to be done. Our hunters cannot hunt, we have no horses, we need supplies, but we cannot get them because of the demons, mages and templars ravaging the land."

I stopped in front of them, "So I'll be breaking you all up into groups of four. At least one mage, rogue and warrior must be in each group. I will give you a minute to decide your groups."

There was fidgeting as everyone looked at each other.

I clapped my hands loudly together, "We've barely begun and there's much more to discuss. Quickly!"

Kaari, Eldric, Lace Harding and Pulai stood together while Maxwell and Thranduil teamed up with Belette and Amy. Ellana joined the group of humans, looking extremely uncomfortable. Lysette joined Cassandra, Varric and Solas.

"There are four major tasks. Kaari, find the mage camp. Take one of the new mages with you to help. Cassandra, find the Templar camp; take one of the templars with you. Thranduil, find Dennet. Ellana, supply run. Take the list from the officer in charge."

"We can't avoid the demons. There are rifts all over this region. We need you to seal them," Thranduil said with a serious expression.

"Yes, I am aware."

I sighed, before rotating my hands to create a seal that would suction magic rapidly from the Fade. I could see Cassandra's face paling rapidly, her expression contorting in anger.

"What are you-?!"

There was a loud reverberating bang, and I was at the other end of the camp. I cast the spell again, apparating back to them with another bang.

"Well, I'll be…" Varric was gobsmacked and everyone was mirroring his expression.

Except Solas. He was grimacing in disgust, as if he'd just stepped on a pile of shit.

I stared at him, unable to help my smile at his ridiculous expression, "Solas, what's the matter?"

His face turned blank, "Nothing, Herald."

I shook my head with a smile, before turning to the others, "If you come across a rift, don't engage. Summon me and I'll be there in an instant."

"And how are we supposed to summon you?" asked Ellana.

"Can I have a volunteer?"

No one stepped forward. I closed my eyes, my wariness growing. Even without my aura, the apprehension in the room was tangible.

"Ellana, if you would?"

She stepped forward uncertainly, casting me a measuring look. I tried to be reassuring, "It's nothing. Don't worry."

I drew a small tracking rune onto her hand. The rune had once been used to track slaves. The blood of the victim would be dropped onto the seal, allowing the controller to punish them from any distance. It was predominantly used by masters to control their slaves and assert that no matter where the slave went, they couldn't escape pain, not unless they submitted.

But I'd redesigned that exact rune to be a call for help. The recipient could call the person on the other end for help, and instead of torturing the other person, it let the other know exactly where they were.

An instant locator.

When I finished drawing, I dropped a drop of my blood onto it. It gleamed red, before dimming. Ellana stared at it uneasily.

"Do you trust me?"

She looked at me, and her expression firmed, "Absolutely."

I closed my eyes, "Stand away from me and don't tell me where you are. Press the rune when you are ready."

There was shuffling and then silence. An image of the house behind us popped into my head and I apparated.

I gave her an exhilarated grin as I appeared in front of her, "And now for the return," I grabbed her with one arm and cast a larger circle to suction more magic before apparating us back.

There was a loud screech as I landed, more than a few grimacing at the sound. I let Ellana go and she stumbled, dazed.

"So, there it is. I'll be there when you call for me."

Cassandra stormed forward, enraged, "If you could do this, why didn't you save the Divine?"

I stiffened. This was the reaction I'd been fearing, "I tried. What did you think I was doing in that memory, waving hello to the Divine?"

"Then what happened?!"

I drew back, cautious, "As I said before, I don't remember."

She glared at me and I could see her grief and helpless rage in the set of her shoulders.

Varric stepped forward, placating, "Cassandra, we've all been affected by the events at the Conclave. Let's not forget that we're all on the same team."

She covered her face for a long moment, before removing her hand, her expression stony, "Place that mark on me."

I nodded slowly, "I need two others."

Thranduil and Kaari stepped forward.


The next few days were a blur. All I remembered were rifts: opening rifts to pull the spirits back into Fade and then sealing rifts shut.

When I was done, I stayed with the group, travelling with them until the next call for help.

Dennet agreed to help as long as we provided protection. His farmhand, Bron, asked for watchtowers to be built. Dennet's wife wanted the wildlife population contained.

The rogue mages agreed to join if they could gain a writ that assured their protection and freedoms.

The rogue templars agreed to join if all mages detained were turned Tranquil.

Ellana was the only one who got results. She ran into an Andrastian cult worshipping rifts and demons at Winterwatch Tower. Once I closed the rift, they agreed to help the Inquisition and pass on any useful information.

With a steady stream of supplies flowing in, our caravans became a target for bandits. Except, according to Belette, they were too organized and too well-equipped to be regular bandits.

When an ailing woman's husband asked me to travel to Winterwatch Tower to acquire medicine, and I did within the hour, dozens of requests started flowing in from refugees. I lost my sense of priorities as I apparated from one corner of the Hinterlands to another to fulfil their requests.

Cassandra felt no need to correct this behaviour when she returned. Rather, she devoted her time to training the new recruits.

No one said a word, not until Maxwell and Thranduil returned.


"Erelani! Did you talk to Commander Cullen yet?" Thranduil asked as he approached with his team.

I blinked, struggling to remember what he was talking about, "About what exactly?"

Thranduil stopped, taken back, "What do you mean 'what'? Dennet won't send any more horses until the watchtowers are built."

I blinked, feeling stressed, how could I forget, "I really need to write all this down, I'm starting to lose track of things."

He softened, a small smile forming on his face "It's alright, I'll do it. What are you doing now? Do you need help?"

His words calmed me, "A widow asked me to find her husband's ring."

His eyes widened, "What?"

Maxwell sidled up to Thranduil, eyebrows raised, "Why are you looking for someone's ring?"

I clenched my fists, "Rogue templars killed an apostate and confiscated his wife's wedding ring."

Maxwell's lips curled, "Again, why are you looking for someone's ring? Get someone else to do it."

My jaw stiffened at his condescension, but Thranduil intervened, "Erelani, Cassandra's established a temporary truce with the rogue templars. Ask her to talk to them and get the ring back."

I rubbed my face, "I know! However, I can get there instantly, but if she goes, it'll take her hours."

Thranduil frowned, "Priorities, Erelani. As tragic as the incident is, this isn't an urgent task."

I slumped in defeat, "Yeah, you're right."

Thranduil studied me intensely for a moment, "Erelani, go grab an empty notebook. I'll gather the others and you can prioritize, write it all down."

I stared at him for a moment, my pride wounded at his help, before nodding reluctantly. Refusing Thranduil's expertise because of injured pride was foolish.

When I returned, Corporal Vale, Mother Giselle, Ellana, Varric, Solas, Cassandra, Kaari, Eldric, Maxwell, Thranduil and a few Inquisition officers were gathered.

I looked down at the notebook where I'd just written the most immediate tasks that needed to be done. I clenched my book tightly as Thranduil approached. He leaned down close to my ear, "You are doing a great job, Erelani, but you can't do everything alone. Delegate where possible. Don't only delegate tasks, delegate authority."

I nodded, and he drew back. I was annoyed, because I was delegating! But ever since I had revealed that I could teleport, it felt unfair asking the others to travel days to accomplish basic tasks. I squared my shoulders and took a deep breath.

Thranduil was right.

I gestured the others forward, "Form a circle please."

They gathered in a loose circle, "Everyone here will get a chance to speak. Please state your concerns when it's your turn. Varric. You start."

He blinked before gathering himself, "Right. I thought red lyrium was just at the Temple, but we found nodules growing near the rogue Templar camp. That shit's spreading everywhere. It does terrible things to people, makes them violent, insane. We need to destroy them and prevent from it spreading."

I nodded, noting it down, "Next."

"I've been researching the Fade for ways to strengthen the Veil," My eyes shot up immediately to Solas, "And I've discovered ancient artefacts nearby that can do so. I think we should activate them to prevent rifts from opening up again."

Cassandra smiled at Solas, relieved, "Thank the Maker! We're glad to have you Solas."

I couldn't help but watch his surprised expression before nodding, "Next."

"As I said before, the bandits are behaving unusually. They are organized and well-equipped. Scout Ritts discovered a mercenary fortress where they've been hiding. The situation bears investigating."

"Next."

And on it went. While my companions had several concerns, it was Corporal Vale that took the cake. When his turn came, he took the notebook from my hand and started scribbling pages worth of requests.

And this didn't even include any of the civilian requests I'd taken. When it was done, I took a deep breath, "Your assignments will be given out shortly."

"While your work is commendable, Herald," Maxwell interrupted, and annoyance rushed through me, "When are you heading back to Haven? Didn't you receive a missive asking you to return?"

"Soon, once the Hinterlands has stabilised," Unwilling to talk to him any further, I turned to the others, "Thank you for all your help."

Everyone but Thranduil left at the dismissal. He held out his hand and I placed my book in it. He flipped through the pages quickly, "Most of these issues can be resolved with manpower. There is nothing here that requires immediate attention. Resources are the most important, and that'll be resolved once we clear the bandits. Second priority is strengthening the Veil. Finally, we should destroy the Red Lyrium nodules. Corporal Vale can handle everything else, at least until we return from Haven."

"Split up the teams again?"

He smiled, "Yes."


This time, I told the others not to summon me unless there was a rift, or an urgency. While the bandits were a nuisance, it was the ancient artefact that caught my interest, so I set off with Cassandra, Solas and Varric into the East Road.

As we got closer, there was a light tingling on my skin, "I think there are wards in the area. Be careful."

"Herald," Solas reached out a hand to stop me, "These wards were designed by ancient elves," I nodded, "You cannot use your…trick here. These wards prevent anyone from materializing in the area. If you do, you'll be blown into pieces."

"Okay, Solas, thanks for letting me know," I was so busy with my duties that I'd barely paid anyone any attention, nonetheless, travelling through the forest with these people reminded me that I didn't know them. Not personally, at least.

As we resumed our journey, I cast a quick look at Solas, "I take it you don't like my 'trick'?" I teased lightly.

"This is not the first time I've witnessed instantaneous travel," Solas began, "In my exploration of the Fade, I found memories of ancient elves using it to get around. The teleportation was smooth, silent, and barely took any mana."

I stopped, a little shell-shocked. I've invented, reinvented and adapted many spells in my life, and while there were many who were uncomfortable with me using so much magic, I'd never been called clumsy.

"Not only are you cheerful, Chuckles," Varric retorted sarcastically, and I snapped out of my shock, "You have very low expectations of people."

And with that, I couldn't help the shocked laugh that came out of me.

Solas? Low expectations?

My laugh got away from me and I gasped, unable to stop. Varric, in his wit, had hit the nail on the head. By accident.

As I recovered, Varric shook his head with a smile, "As flattered as I am, Herald, even I don't think it was that funny."

I grinned, teasing, "You called him cheerful."

Solas sighed.

Varric grinned, encouraged, "You know what I like about you, Chuckles? Your boundless optimism."

"It's comforting that whatever qualities I lack, you'll invent for me, Varric."

Varric's eyebrow rose, a small smirk turning his lips, "No, really. Why else would an elven apostate help crazy Chantry folk close a hole in the sky?"

"When you put it like that, I must concede your point," Solas paused, "Varric, you joined the Inquisition when the Seeker questioned you?"

Cassandra intervened, "He was about to leave after the Herald returned from the Breach. I insisted that he help."

"Persistently."

"Interesting."

"What is?"

"That I was the only one who joined the Inquisition voluntarily."

"Like I said, Chuckles, boundless optimism."

A small smile remained on my face as they bantered.

Solas abruptly stopped, "I sense the artefact nearby."

He led us through a ruined stone archway to a door caved in by large boulders. To the side, a thin figure was drawing something on the ground, and we drew our weapons, just in case.

It was a Dalish elf, one that looked eerie familiar.

"Mihris?"

She jolted up, drawing her staff quickly, before she relaxed a little, "Andaran ati'shan. I did not expect to see another of the Dalish blood here."

I moved closer, a slow smile building on my face, "Andaran ati'shan. Mihris, it's me, Erelani, don't you recognize me?"

She blinked rapidly, nonplussed, "Da'len? Erelani, is that really you?" A wide smile decorated her face, "You've grown so much! How've you been?" She cast a cautious look to the others, "You keep eccentric company now."

I went over to her, encompassing her in a hug, "It's good to see you."

"You look battle ready. Fighting demons then?" She gave my hand an assessing look, her expression dry, "Or did you create the hole in the sky?"

"I didn't! It wasn't me, I'm just collateral." I said, exasperated, before sighing, "Why are you out here? Last I saw you, you were with Keeper Thelhen."

Mihris covered her face in anguish, "The clan was slaughtered by a demon my Keeper summoned," her voice cracked, "I am the only survivor. I was looking for another clan to join when the Breach opened. Now, I'm doing what I can to stop the madness."

My lips set in a grim line, "Can I help you?"

"There are artefacts in the area that can strengthen the Veil. I think they're through that door, but it's collapsed. Will you clear the way, dear sister?"

"Ma nuvenin. Since our paths are similar, want to come with me? Even we're searching for these artefacts."

"Definitely."

I cleared the doorway, stacking the boulders on top of each other, and it became clear exactly who had collapsed it. Wraiths and shades attacked relentlessly, and I opened a small rift to suck them back in.

"Look what I found, Erelani!" Mihris was giddy, "It's Veilfire!"

I closed my eyes, feeling worn out. If there was Veilfire, that meant there were memories here that it could access.

"What manner of fire is this, Solas?" Cassandra asked cautiously.

Solas explained the mechanics of veilfire as we descended, his voice echoing eerily down into the chamber.

"There! If we activate that crystal, it should start measuring the Veil," the excitement in Mihris' voice was tangible, and as I clicked the crystal into place, lighting up the device, she whooped, "There are runes decorating this left wall, Erelani! And it seems the ancestors left me a reward for all my hard work!"

In her hands lay a dark blue amulet, gleaming despite the dimness of the room. It was a storage amulet that let mages store extra mana in it, allowing them to do more complex or draining spells. Amulets like those were exceedingly rare and only mages with connections to royalty ever had them.

I could already see the ugly turn this conversation would take, "Mihris, may I have it?"

She froze, her face conflicted, "You are a Dreamer and you have impeccable control over the Veil. What use would you have for something like this?"

I placed my glowing hand over my heart, entreating, ignoring the pit in my stomach, "Mana. Ma halani. There are few I trust in this world without my own people turning against me. Aren't we family? That amulet may help me close the Breach."

She closed here eyes in defeat, "Right. Here. Take it. Mythal'enaste, da'len."

She made to leave but I stopped her, "Join me. Fight with me. Help me close the Breach. Please."

Her back faced me, and she was quiet for a long time, "You always defy my expectations, Erelani. I never imagined I'd find you with Chantry fanatics, fighting spirits and demons, and leading a human movement. As knowledgeable as you are, let me give you some heartfelt advice. Watch your back."

"At least let me help you-"

"There is no need. I'll find my way. Aneth ara, sister."

I watched her walk away, a heavy ball of homesickness settling in my stomach.

I want my people. The comfort of a Dalish cooked meal, the unconditional love of the clan, and the easy understanding between each other.

Why was I with the Inquisition? Why was I helping humans when elves were being slaughtered by human royalty?

What about my people -the ones who cared for me, gave me a home and a place to belong-? Who would help them?

Thranduil's words echoed in my head. Until we have the Dales, you and I don't matter. Be a Hahren to this world so that our people may make our own place in it.

Suddenly, I understood Thranduil.

Despite the oath I had taken, I had been reluctant to work for the Chantry and had taken every opportunity to belittle humans and their practices. But if I wanted to acquire the Dales for the elves, and keep it, I couldn't continue to behave like this. The only way I could win human faith was if I was a leader, a good one. And if that meant brown nosing to nobles, enduring human insensitivity and keeping silent when I shouldn't, then for the sake of the elves, I would.

A heavy feeling settled in my stomach as I stared down my veilfire inscription, marred by the Mark.

It felt like failure. It felt like I was sacrificing my principles.

I walked back with the others to the Crossroads, silent under the weight of my realization.

There was nothing I couldn't do for the Dalish.


I eyed the amulet, feeling a strong dislike for the trinket that had put me in conflict with Mihris.

I didn't have to use it, did I? Wasn't this supposed to go to Solas? He'd eyed the amulet intently when I received it, but otherwise remained silent.

Decision made, I strolled over to the fire where he sat in fierce debate with Varric, Ellana, Maxwell and many others. I caught bits of it as I drew closer,

"-Dwarves alone were lost to me, save scattered fragments of memory where some spirit cared to watch. Now I know why I see so little."

"And why is that?"

"Dwarves are the severed arm of a once mighty hero, lying in a pool of blood. Undirected. Whatever skill of arms it had, gone forever. Although it might twitch to give the appearance of life, it will never dream."

His words inspired an instinctive reaction, and I smacked him in the back of his head in reproach. The slap of my hand against his bald head was uncomfortably loud, and he stood up menacingly, turning to face the one who hit him.

What had I just done?

I stared in dismay as the anger in his face smoothened at seeing me, "Ir abelas Solas, I should not have hit you. It was a reaction born from being a Hahren," My expression firmed, even as I quailed inside, "However, I cannot condone your words to Varric."

"It's alright, Herald, we were just talking," Varric intervened, giving me a sheepish grin, "I'd avoid mentioning that to any Carta, Chuckles. They might not take it the right way."

I fidgeted, embarrassed at my overreaction.

"If there's nothing else, Herald, I'll be on my way." His expression was blank, but the coldness of his tone was undeniable.

"Wait!"

He paused, giving me an unfriendly look. I fiddled with my pockets, "There's something I wanted to give you."

His expression remained unmoved until his gaze fell on the amulet I withdrew. He blinked, thrown back.

"I feel weird keeping this after taking it from Mihris, and I don't really need it," I smiled, "Here, this is yours."

He stared at the amulet for a long time before looking up at me, "Herald, this is a powerful amulet that increases a caster's base mana."

"Yes, I'm aware. That's why I'm giving it to you."

He studied me intently, "Why not Thranduil? Or Ellana? Or Kaari?"

I blinked, surprised by his intense enquiry, until I caught Varric's equally intent gaze on me. Growing uncomfortable, I looked between them before settling on Solas, "If you don't want it, I'll give it to them I suppose."

He relaxed before reaching out to take the amulet, "Thank you, Herald."

I nodded and strolled away, trying my best to ignore the awkwardness I inspired. With distance came perspective, and I realized how weird it was to give an acquaintance such a rare and powerful gift instead of the others he'd suggested, and right after hitting him too.

Mortification flooded through me.

Why. Don't. I. Ever. Think. About. Such. Things.

The hair on the back of my neck rose as I felt someone's intent stare. I turned to find Maxwell sitting next to a bear of a man, the man's face nearly invisible beneath his beard. I was determined to ignore the pair until Maxwell caught my arm. His expression was stormy, and he seemed to be fighting for restraint.

I jerked my arm away, my voice cold, "What?"

Maxwell stared at his hand for a moment before replying, "We came across a Warden on our way back. He wanted to join us and help," Maxwell gestured to the man, "Blackwall, this is the Herald of Andraste. Herald, this is Warden Blackwall."

I passed Blackwall an assessing glance before giving a small smile, "Thank you for joining us. Your help is appreciated."

"I'm glad I can help. With the whole world gone mad, it's the least I can do," Blackwall gave me an intense look, "How do you fit into this?"

I smiled amiably, "Same as you. Doing what I can to help."

He relaxed, nodding.

"Good day, Warden."

I walked away, mind roiling with Blackwall and his true nature. But exposing him would yield nothing and would only make me a hypocrite: I'd willingly recruited rampaging templars and mages, what reason did I have to refuse him?

I opened my notebook, reviewing the tasks that had been done and the ones that were still pending.

It was time to return to the Haven.


Translations:

Andaran Ati'shan: I/We come in peace, Welcome, Formal usage

Mana. Ma halani: Help me, a strong entreaty. Begging.

Ir abelas: In sorrow. I am sorry. Accept my sorrow.

 

Chapter Text

Trigger Warnings: Self-blame and the turmoil of a rape victim.


Sympathy Pains

"The revelation of kindness hurts worse than cruelty. There is no way to equal it." - Idaho, Emily Ruskovich


I bid the others farewell as they travelled with Mother Giselle to Haven. I had asked Thranduil to summon me when he reached the gates of Haven; and with the pace they planned to set, that gave me two extra days in the Hinterlands.

I strolled back and summoned the nearest elf, "Assemble all of the elves together, and once you do, get me."

He trembled, his eyes wide "Herald, why? Have we done something? Please, forgive us! Please, find it in your gracious heart to forgive our mistake!" He prostrated himself, quaking, nearly incoherent as he begged.

I startled before flinching back in horror. This was what my people had been reduced to, fearing and distrusting their own people, twitching at every perceived threat. And who could blame them? When had people in power ever helped them? What reason did they have to trust me?

I clasped my hands together to contain my anguish before getting on my knees, "Stop, there is no need for this," I forced him up, "I only wanted to place a few protections on our people. It's nothing, harmless."

His lips curled, distrusting, before he bowed his head quickly to hide his expression, "Yes, yes, as the Herald commands."

I stood to the side and watched the elf flee into the distance. I waited, and as the hour mark passed, I became suspicious. Suddenly, I glimpsed Corporal Vale heading towards me, "Herald."

I tilted my head forward in greeting, "Corporal."

"You've done an amazing job, Herald. These refugees are safe, have a roof over their heads, warm food in their bellies because of you." His voice shook with heartfelt gratitude, "I cannot thank you enough."

"There's still quite a bit to be done, Corporal."

He leaned forward, "True, but you need not do it alone. The people here are willing to help you in any way they can, Herald. Some of them might even join the Inquisition. How would you like to employ them?"

I eyed the refugees passing us; a twinkle of hope brightened their otherwise downtrodden features, "If any of them wish to volunteer for the Inquisition, then they are welcome. Any help they can provide is appreciated."

"Alright, Herald, I'll go and set things up. Again, I cannot thank you enough." He paused mid-turn whilst leaving, "Herald, Eric told me you're having the elves assembled."

"Eric?" I tilted my head in a mimicry of confusion and tried to calm the frantic thudding of my heart.

"The elf you asked to do it." I nodded warily, and he fidgeted, "I don't want to presume anything, Herald, but the elves here are an alright sort. If they've done something to upset you, you can tell me, and I'll handle it. There's no need to gather them together."

My lips pursed, "Corporal, I'm an elf."

"Yes, of course, but if they've done something that offends your Dalish values, perhaps you can tell me, and I'll inform them? City elves aren't quite the same as the Dalish, Herald," He flapped his hands back and forth, anxious, "I mean no offense, to anyone," his eyes darted side to side, "Just, they like to be left alone."

I stood there, stunned, my jaw slightly opened. A human soldier was protecting elves with no ulterior motives. From me.

Just what?

"Herald?" He asked tentatively, wringing his hands "Are you alright?"

I snapped out of my shock, eyes wide, "Yes, yes of course," I ran a shaking hand over my face, trying to compose myself, "It's nothing to worry about, Corporal, it's just a protection spell."

He crossed his arms, "You're only using a protection spell for the elves?"

I nodded uncomfortably, red hot shame crawling through me at his silent question: What about the others? I took a deep breath, "It's an elf thing."

His eyebrows rose, and his lips twisted "Right."

Indignation burned through me, "Elves are more susceptible to the Fade than others and with the Breach so close, I'm trying to pre-empt any mishaps."

His tense form relaxed, "Yes, of course Herald. I'll gather them as soon as I can."

I watched as he scurried away, that numbing shock returning; it seemed humanity still had hope.

But that didn't mean I would tell him the truth. I wasn't going to divulge that Chancellor Roderick had been right with his accusations of an elven rebellion.

Because of course there was.

For Thranduil and I, it started with Fenris. I hadn't lied about that. He had nowhere to run; Magister Danarius dogged his heels at every turn. We aided Fenris until he reached Kirkwall where he found refuge with Marian Hawke. But his plight awakened a burgeoning fury in us. We began freeing elven slaves, smuggling them from Tevinter to the Free Marches using the Deep Roads. Not many non-elves were aware of the movement, only Eldric and those he trusted, for they were the ones who employed the freed elves. While it wasn't honest work, at least they weren't enslaved.

But as the number of escaped slaves grew, so did the people who wanted to join the movement. The operation broke into in splintered cells: different people in different regions who communicated through enchanted items I manufactured. The head of the splinter cells were marked with specialized runes that could help them contact either Thranduil and I through Dreaming. They had their own hidden safehouses designed to protect them in case of emergencies.

Eventually we were smuggling weaponry to the different cells in preparation of war to win back the Dales. The rebellion gained momentum and with momentum came hope.

And hope was a very dangerous thing.

When the nobles of Halamshiral abused the elves of their alienage, as they always did, rather than endure the mistreatment, they rebelled. What followed was one of the worst elven slaughters of the century.

The rebellion came to a grounding halt.

I would never regret giving my people hope but seeing the ruthlessness and cruelty of the Orlesian Empire destroyed any hope I had left. I saw the future ahead and only envisioned endless destruction and despair. I considered warning the nobility of the future to win back support for the elves, but who would believe me?

The resistance dwindled further with the outbreak of the mage-templar war. All hope seemed lost, until Briala contacted Thranduil under the guise of an escort mission. Planning began anew, slowly, and we took more precautions, tentatively sharing resources with each other.

Moreover, Briala's influence had an interesting side-benefit: the mercenary group captured the attention of the Orlesian nobility. Mission requests poured in until even Leliana reached out to us, requesting Valo-kas' help in maintaining order across southern Thedas on behalf of the Chantry. After multiple successful missions, Thranduil was summoned before Divine Justinia for help with the Conclave.

The end of the world dawned and while I dreaded the possibility of death, in the back of my mind, the beginnings of a plan began to shape itself.

I had all this irrelevant knowledge about people I barely knew due to a game, but if I played my cards right, that knowledge could reclaim the Dales. While becoming Inquisitor had thrown a wrench in some of those plans, it also made many things easier.

My reminiscing was cut short as someone coughed, "Herald," Eric wringed his hands, "They are ready."

"Good."

I followed Eric to a house where twenty elves stood, vibrating with anxiety, "Herald!"

They fidgeted in discomfort before an older man stepped forward, his face half-starved and shrunken with age, "Andaran ati'shan. Can we help you?"

I drew a sound suppression rune on the wall so that no one could hear us, "I am here to give you protection spells." Because that had been true.

"Herald," He looked confused for a second but straightened, "Thank you, though there are a few who might refuse. They are not comfortable with magic."

"It's a simple spell to protect you from the effects of the Breach," I lifted my chin, "Our people are more susceptible to the Fade and I must take necessary precautions." I looked away from him and scrutinized the others, "You must have felt it when you stared at the Breach for a bit too long."

"It's not normal!" A boy cried out from the back, "Makes me feel really weird. Like I'm dying but not."

I observed the older man, "I want to take the necessary precautions before humans decide to interfere."

He sighed, "Very well."

I stood up, shoulders back, "Choose a part of your body not easily visible and come to me."

As they lined up, I etched three runes onto them, Amasomniar, the Fade protection spell, the silencing Durlahn, which ensured they couldn't speak of the rebellion and Athlan, a harmless rune that twinged when the caster willed it, and then proceeded to dropped blood on each rune.

Once I finished I straightened, "I am not here just for the protection spells. I am a part of the Splinter Rebellion."

There was unrest in the room though most looked confused, "Splinter Rebellion?"

"We are trying to reclaim the Dales," as voices started to protest, I cut over them, "Enough!"

Quiet descended, "The runes I have etched onto you will burn when the Dales is about to be reclaimed. You can either choose to go or remain behind with the humans. But the last rune ensures you cannot speak about our plans to anyone who doesn't already know about it. If you find you suddenly cannot speak about this, it is because someone is listening in on you." I stared at the group, finding mixed responses to the declaration, "That said, are there any among you who'd like to join or help the rebellion?"

Four elves stepped forward, "We do, Herald!"

Three of them were barely out of their teens and the fourth was a disfigured middle-aged man. I gestured him forward, "You must locate a safehouse for keeping our people, in case anything goes wrong. Your protection must extend to all of our people, regardless of their involvement in the rebellion."

I etched the Halani rune, the one meant to be a call for help, onto him, "Once you succeed, press this rune. If you need any help, write to either Thranduil Arwen or Ellana Lavellan and state your location and the words Revas at the end."

I dismissed them and hoped with every fibre of my being that reigniting the rebellion wasn't a mistake.


When the image of the gates of Haven appeared in my mind, I apparated with a huge bang. Thranduil stood to the side, waving at me in greeting.

The sounds of a commotion distracted me, and I found Templars and Mages quarrelling in front of the Chantry. As Thranduil and I moved to intervene, Commander Rutherford stepped in, bringing the chaos to order. I watched as Roderick egged the Commander on before a reproving word from him sent the Chancellor away.

I rubbed my head to dispel the growing headache. After complimenting the Commander on a job well done, I left him with Thranduil and entered the Chantry, only to find a noble squabbling with Josephine. She, too, dealt with the noble capably before turning to me.

"I said it before, I'll say it again, you are a gifted diplomat, Ambassador."

"Thank you, Herald," She smiled, "Word of your exploits have started to spread."

I pointed at the War Room, "We have a lot to discuss. Would you please call the others?"

"Yes. I shall summon them immediately."


I walked out of the War Room, feeling drained. After hearing of my ability to apparate, they had grilled me for a profile of all my abilities. I had hesitated, unsure about giving a bunch of bloodthirsty humans a manual on how to kill me, but the fear on their faces, the fear of unknown magic and of me, made me reconsider. I gave them a brief outline of my major skills, largely as a warrior mage, an enchanter and a spirit healer.

What they didn't understand, was that magic was more than just the art of killing. In my desire to learn as much about magic as possible, I'd navigated and tested realms of magic far beyond the Chantry's knowledge, and I'd barely scratched the surface of magic.

I spotted Thranduil waiting outside the Chantry doors, chatting amiably with Threnn. As I walked by him, from the corner of my eye I noticed him bidding farewell to the Quartermaster before he rushed to me. "How did it go?" Thranduil wrapped an arm around my shoulder as he caught up, "Did you discuss the issues in the Hinterlands?"

I quickened my pace towards the house that Valo-kas were sharing, "Yes, it's all sorted. Commander Rutherford is sending soldiers to build watchtowers, Leliana and Josephine's agents are headed to renegotiate terms with rogue mages and templars." As he ruffled my hair in approval, I shook it off, "I'm tired, I've barely gotten any sleep, don't disturb me."

My heart sunk at my curt words to him. I didn't trust him, but what was worse was that this suspicion made me distrust myself, because if I couldn't trust him, then who could I trust?

But if there was one thing Desire had taught me, it was that loving someone didn't mean you could trust them. I had known Thranduil for years, and his behaviour since the Conclave had been abnormal. With such an abrupt change, there could only be an external influence. While his claims of heartache rang true, he was not the sort of man who went around dumping his issues onto others. Thranduil not only survived the Blight and lead a mercenary group to international recognition, he also made the elven rebellion possible.

How could I believe that a broken heart affected him enough to behave as he did?

Even more alarming was that Ellana had broken up with him. Why would she have done such a thing unless she disapproved greatly of his decisions? The only one Thranduil behaved differently around was me. Ellana idolized me.

The conclusion was obvious.

But I didn't know what or who the external influence was. I didn't know if he was coerced or if it was intentional. I couldn't just go and ask him either because there was no way I would receive the truth.

And the best part was, being a Dreamer, I didn't need to ask.


I dug through the memories of Haven until one in particular a memory drifted across my vision.

Thranduil was carrying my unconscious body with Kaari, Ellana and Eldric keeping a close guard. He placed me down before turning to Kaari, "Get the other elven mage, the one that was hanging around Varric Tethras. Don't trust anyone else."

Kaari rushed out the door as Ellana kneeled next to my prone body, running a diagnostic scan, "The only thing I can detect is high concentrations of black lotus and dawn lotus. That's a potent knockout powder designed to keep victims under for days."

Eldric looked from one to another, "Do you need me to call in my own mages? We can't have her compromised, not with the Breach still opened."

"No, if it comes down to it, I'll do what's needed," Thranduil looked grim.

Ellana shook in anger, "What a bunch of hypocrites! The very people who persecute blood mages were using blood magic!"

"Yeah, but you saw what Erelani did. She spared a Desire demon and turned against all of us. The demon then ensnared all of us in an illusion." Eldric slumped, "It's not that farfetched to believe that she's been ensnared or a maleficarum. We know better, but you can't really blame them, can you?"

They exchanged long glances.

Eldric voiced the question on their minds, "What the fuck are we going to do?"

Thranduil gave a heavy sigh, "I'll think of something."

There was a quick knock before Kaari wrenched the door open, pushing Solas in, "Check her, quickly!"

Solas' gaze swept the room before it landed on my unconscious body, "What's the damage?"

Thranduil gave him a piercing look, "You treated her after the explosion, right? Check if there are any compulsions on her."

"Compulsions?"

There was a stilted silence, before Kaari spoke up, "How's he gonna treat her without knowing?" Her jaw stiffened, "We caught the kidnappers performing blood magic on her. We don't know what they did, and we don't know if they succeeded."

Solas' eyes widened in alarm before returning to his examination, "Apart from her…carrier, there are no external influences."

"Her carrier?" Eldric jerked, disturbed but Thranduil intervened, "He means the Mark on her hand, Eldric, calm down."

Solas looked surprised, but otherwise remained silent. Ellana moved to him, "Thank you, Solas. Please don't tell-,"

The door suddenly clicked open and Leliana walked in, "The parties responsible have been dealt with. What is the situation with Erelani?" She surveyed everyone in the room quickly before turning to Solas, "Solas?"

His shoulders stiffened, "I don't see any effects of blood magic. However, her vitals are fluctuating. Her condition should be monitored."

Leliana's cold gaze turned to Thranduil, "Blood magic?"

Thranduil gritted his teeth, "The Chantry fanatics were performing blood magic when we intercepted them."

"With this, there is absolutely no way we can trust her," Her gaze pierced Thranduil, "I have tried to be understanding. I tried to trust your judgement. But now, she is a risk to every person in Thedas."

Thranduil opened and closed his mouth, unable to reply. Ellana stepped forward instead, "Please! We detected no traces of blood magic in her system! Solas has just confirmed it! You saw the evidence at the Temple, she had nothing to do with the Conclave!"

"Yes, I was at the Temple. And we all saw her fall prey to the Desire demon. She could still be under its spell, just as we all were."

"But Hahren isn't like us! She's-!"

Leliana cut over her interruption, "And would you bet the entire well-being of Thedas upon it? Can you guarantee that there is no risk? That I should take this leap of faith after what happened in the Temple?"

The room was silent.

"The necessary precautions must be taken," Leliana stressed, "The life of one person does not outweigh the lives of many. Thranduil, we will be proceeding with the binding ritual as planned."

"No." He seemed to recognize the forcefulness behind his tone, "There is no need for a binding ritual. She listens to me. I have a way of securing her loyalty without the ritual."

Everyone in the room stiffened, waiting expectantly, "Just leave it to me."

Ellana's eyes rounded in realization and her face twisted in hurt and disgust.

Leliana evaluated his determined expression, "And if you don't succeed?"

Kaari stood next to Thranduil, "Then you still need to give her a chance. Trust in her. Whatever else she may be, she is kind. I promise, she is unlike anything you've ever seen."

Leliana was unmoved, "That isn't good enough."

"I can ask her to swear fealty to me. She won't refuse. You trust my judgement, don't you?" Thranduil's face hardened, "But she won't accept a binding ritual, not to anyone."

"Because she listened to you at the Temple," Her tone was cutting.

Thranduil pinched the bridge of his nose, "Please, wait until she has a chance to explain herself," He straightened, "No matter how this turns out, Valo-kas mercenaries will lend their aid to the Inquisition."

Leliana nodded slowly, "You have until the day she wakes up."

Leliana left, followed by Solas, who gave an apologetic nod to the others. Once the door shut, Ellana turned furiously to Thranduil, "Secure her loyalty?! Tell me it's not what I think!"

The others shifted uncomfortably but Thranduil only glared, "Compared to the alternative, what other choice do I have?"

"Do you think Hahren will even believe you? How can you even think of doing this?"

"So, you'd rather she be enslaved to a group of fanatical humans?!"

"It won't work!" Her face crumpled, "Hahren respects and admires you above all others! You don't need to do this! If you do it, we-we are done!"

"Ellana-"

"No, Thranduil!" She scanned his face before her face twisted in rage, "We. Are. Done."

Thranduil's face turned cold, "That was a given if I was going to ask her to be my bondmate."

Disgust marred Ellana's face, "She'll say no. And when she does, know that I will not take you back."

Ellana stormed out. Kaari and Eldric exchanged looks before grimacing. Kaari moved to my unconscious body while Eldric moved to Thranduil.

"Thranduil, I don't think it's a good idea. Not only will she say no, she'll lose her faith in you," Eldric paused, "She loves you because of who you are. Don't let Leliana and the others pressure you into doing something you'll regret later. I know you're having a hard time. We all are. But Erelani will listen to you. Rather, she only listens to you." He patted Thranduil on the back, "Don't abuse her trust, not now."

Thranduil rubbed his face, "I'll think about it."

Kaari spoke up, "What she needs you for, is the humans. She hates ém too much to understand them."

His face crumpled, "Why do I think I suggested what I did? Who can even blame her?"

Eldric shook his head, "The humans won't see it that way. You see how Maxwell reacts to her. How she reacts to him."

They all exchanged troubled glances.

"What are we going to do?" Kaari asked despairingly.

Thranduil grimaced, "We need to get Maxwell back on our side. We're not going to survive this without his help."

I shook the rest of the memory away, hating that I understood their situation. They weren't like me; they weren't armed with knowledge of the possible future. They tried to do damage control in the best way that they could.

Thranduil hadn't betrayed me. If I recalled it correctly, he hadn't even dared to proposition me, losing heart mid-way. Later, he had only tried to guide me, teach me what human society was like so that I could be a better leader. It wasn't his fault that he didn't know that I had been human. I had been furious, expecting things from humanity that they weren't capable of giving, not in this primitive backwards society.

Thranduil was right. Appealing to humans for sympathy was useless. They wouldn't understand. They didn't want to understand.

My abuse would be swept under the rug as another unfortunate incident. They didn't want to confront that by all reason, it was wrong. That such violence was abhorrent, unjustifiable and preventable.

But no one wanted to hear it.

I should never have talked about it with the others. I should never have fought with Maxwell. I shouldn't have burdened Thranduil. 

I should have kept my mouth shut.


I drifted through the Fade, trying to access the memories of my life before to find something good. Something happy. But the memories were sealed, shut by the Anchor as it fed on it like a leech.

I made my way to my domain in the Fade and found Desire frolicking in the lake. The lake was the source of water I used when I didn't have any water sources nearby in the Waking. Using the lake utilized less mana then creating water, which was what most mages tried to do, and hence failed to create any significant body of water.

"That Dreamer didn't kill you."

"I made it work." Desire swept a hand full of water before spraying it at me, "Join me? You're already wet." Desire laughed wickedly.

I rolled my eyes at the double entendre. I gazed at it, wondering again why I trusted it, "I made an interesting discovery the other day."

"That you were an abomination?" Desire's eyes glinted with mirth, "I still replay that moment. It was so hilarious!"

"Hilarious," I repeated.

"You forget I knew you since you were a babe," Desire laughed uproariously, "Your delusions of godhood and to think, you were nothing more than an abomination!"

"You knew from the beginning."

"Of course, I did. That was the best part," Desire smirked, "I will give you this, though. You're not like any abomination I've ever seen."

"Why?" I held my aura tightly around me, desperate to hide my distrust from it, "What makes me different?"

Desire shrugged, "I don't know. Wouldn't tell you even if I did," Desire sneered, "It's more fun watching you flail around blindly."

"Right, I'm your daily dose of entertainment," I walked on top of the water, approaching Desire until I stood in front of it, "Don't blame me for your failures. I didn't have to save you."

Desire glared, "I didn't have to save you either."

I shrugged, "So, are we cool then?"

Desire stared hard at me before sighing, "Of course. You didn't have to ask."

"Okay." I stomped hard against the surface of the water, forcing large waves to crash against Desire. Desire spluttered, outraged.

I grinned, "What? I thought you wanted me to join you."

"Stupid brat!"

I laughed gaily, dodging the bullets of water Desire shot my way. We played around for awhile before collapsing against the bank.

"So, what's so great about this new Dreamer you're visiting? Planning on taking a body the old-fashioned way?" I prodded.

"Shame on you, Erelani. I don't ask about your exploits, do I?"

I rolled my eyes, "No, you spy on me instead."

Desire stayed silent. I placed my head on my hand, tilting sideways to look at it, "Isn't that what you're using the Dreamer for? Or are you spying on me for him?"

"You think too much, Erelani."

I yawned, "That's a yes. Don't know to which, though."

Desire scoffed.

"Could be both, I suppose. Why do you trust him though?"

It froze, and the reaction was telling. Desire supported Solas and his motives. Not surprising. This was actually predictable.

I still wanted to push my luck, "Will you at least spy on him for me in return?"

Desire rolled its eyes, "Why don't you just talk to him instead? Who knows, you might even find him tolerable."

"And that's a no. How mean. You say yes to others so easily," My tone turned serious, "What's he holding over your head?"

"Nothing." I hid the hurt this caused, "When I agree with someone's desires, I try not to stand in their way."

I stared, bewildered, "How did he win you over so easily?"

Desire grinned, "Like I said, talk to him. You might be surprised."

I scrutinized Desire's expression and aura closely. Wariness swept over me as I saw its confidence in him.

Talk to Fen'Harel. If the Dalish were here, they would tell me to blow my eardrums up so that I would never hear his poisonous words. And in a way, they would be right.

Still, the wolf had already sentenced me to death, what would one conversation do? I already knew him for what he was. What danger could there be?

"Yeah, sure. Why not?"

Desire smirked.


I left Thranduil in charge at Haven under the guise of easily contacting him through the Fade, but his true responsibilities were to the elven rebellion. News arrived of soldiers being abducted by an Avvar tribe who wanted to challenge the Herald of Andraste to combat. Another mercenary band, called the Bull's Chargers, were keen to offer their services to the Inquisition.

Kaari, Blackwall, and the rest of Valo-kas departed for the Fallow Mire, while Ellana, Eldric and a few soldiers were assigned to escort the main team until Storm's Coast, where Cassandra, Solas, Varric and I would catch a ship to Val Royeaux.

The day before we were set to leave, I made my rounds around the village, making sure all issues were being seen to by someone. I restocked my supplies and retrieved my weapons and armour from Harritt who'd been adamant that my equipment was subpar and insisted on an upgrade.

It turned out that he'd made standard Inquisition equipment for the elite fighters and asked that I remind the others to pick their gear up. With all my tasks done, I took it as an excuse to talk to the so-called Inner Circle.

Cassandra was venting her grief and rage on the training field and didn't want to talk to me. Varric was friendly, giving a rundown of the information he'd received from his contacts. He was trying to get more merchants to come up to Haven but was failing due to the Breach.

Cullen was borderline polite, and I could tell I made him extremely uncomfortable. But despite my misgivings, even I could tell Cullen was efficient. He was experienced, more than even Thranduil, and understood his soldiers and the needs of the common people.

Josephine was amiable. She was eager to emphasis the importance of diplomatic solutions over warfare. She kept prodding for details about my past so that she could pull a good public relations stunt. She was polite and respectful of our differences, even if she was uncomprehending in the face of them.

Leliana made no pretenses like the other two. When I walked in, she lashed out at me, clearly still grieving the loss of the Divine.

Faced with her incensed grief, I could only sneer, "Your God isn't responsible for your actions. Stop blaming others when the problem is you."

Leliana froze, "What have I done? Are you saying the Breach is my fault?"

"Isn't it?" I clenched my hand, "What happened at the Conclave, couldn't have happened without the knowledge of the nobility. Meanwhile, the Orlesian rulers would rather squabble over a chair than do their actual job. The Chantry would rather paint their temples gold from the labour of imprisoned mages and than help people. They have even brainwashed and abused their protectors, the Templars, so that they would reign supreme. And that's only their actions towards the human race." I took a deep breath to continue my rant, "Why should any god show you compassion, when you show none to others?"

"Justinia wanted to fix all of that," She crossed her arms in front of her, "You're not the only one who sees all this, who wants to fix all of this," She sighed, "Still, message received. I'm not so petty that I don't understand the spirit of your message."

An awkward silence descended, and I nodded quickly before stepping out of the tent. I hurried away, berating myself for my angry tirade. It wasn't Leliana's fault that the Breach happened. Even though she was a part of the problem, she hadn't intentionally blown the Conclave up.

I was heading towards one of the perpetrators of the Breach, and all he cared about was regaining the grandeur of lost empires.

That too, was its own kind of evil.

Yet Desire's quick approval of him spiked my curiosity. What did it find so enamouring about Solas? He certainly didn't look like someone to be desired, not in his haggard, half-starved state.

I approached his cabin and knocked, nervousness spiking as I waited for Solas. The curtains at the window shifted a little before the latch was pulled open quickly.

"Herald. Can I help you?"

He was marginally clothed, only wearing a light tunic and leggings to combat the wintry cold. His attire highlighted his wasted frame, his bones jutting out of his skin.

"You need to cover up. You'll catch your death dressed like that."

He blinked, confused, before recovering, "There are heating runes inside," He glanced around before moving aside, "Would you like to come in?"

I nodded and felt the room warm considerably as I entered, almost instantly feeling the need to take my coat off. Solas waited patiently to the side, hinting strongly that I get to the point of my visit.

"Just a reminder from Harritt that you need to pick up your gear."

He nodded slowly, "Yes, of course."

A stilted silence fell, and I wondered how I would question him. Should I lie? Pretend?

I was abysmal at both. The truth would have to suffice.

"Actually, that's not the only reason I'm here," A grin formed at the brazenness of what I was going to do, "Are you spying on me? Using Desire?"

Solas froze, his face going slack in shock before he stood straight, holding his arms at his back defensively, "Is that what Desire told you? Despite your trust in the spirit, I advise strong caution while dealing with it."

My eyebrows rose, a disbelieving smile spreading upon my face. He saw it too, as he quickly continued, "I will admit, however, that I did ask the spirit about you," He nodded at the Mark, "I meant to satiate my curiosity. I wanted to know what kind of…person you were, especially since the power you wield is…dangerous…in the wrong hands," His jaw clenched, "But you should know, Desire needed very little prompting to divulge your secrets. Whatever regard you hold for the spirit, I doubt it is returned."

I scrutinized his expression, trying to see past his blankness but failing miserably. Had I really thought I'd crack him with so little? I shook my head, a smile forming at the thought, "Desire was right, you really are fun."

His tenseness grew, "Fun?" His face cycled through emotions too quickly to recognize before becoming impassive, "What, exactly, did Desire tell you?"

"Don't worry," I waved my hands dismissively, and tried to keep my voice light through my anxiety, "Desire said nothing. Refused to say anything beyond recommending I talk to you," I rolled my eyes, "That spirit is so fickle! I admit, I was curious how you managed to win its loyalty so quickly," I forced a grin, "Also a little envious. Stupid spirit stabs me at the back at every opportunity."

"You were envious of me for winning Desire's loyalty," Solas said slowly, "Even though it betrays you regularly?"

"It's complicated," At his incredulous look, I shrugged, "We keep each other entertained. The Fade gets boring sometimes. Plus, it's my longest friend."

He stared, gobsmacked, "I suggest you find better friends," He paused, "I can even introduce you to kinder spirits."

"Who'll spy on me for you? Don't think I've forgotten," He tensed further, "Relax, Solas, I'm only joking. I would've done the same thing, if our roles had been reversed. It's not even the first time Desire's done something like this. It's why I guessed it as easily as I did."

He relaxed, just a bit, "Even so, I apologize if I've offended you. I only had the best of intentions."

My smile turned sardonic, "Don't we all?"

Solas looked away for a moment, consternation filling his face before looking back, "Yes, I suppose that is true. For some of us."

An uncomfortable silence fell, and I regretted the cavalier approach I'd taken to this situation. I had thought being indifferent during my accusation would comfort him, but it only seemed to put him on edge.

I decided to change track and leaned against the wall, settling in, "So, moving onto more important matters, you don't look good."

His face twisted in bewildered disbelief, "Excuse me?"

I roved my eyes up and down his figure in a telling way, "You need to eat," I looked back to his face, "Are you being served regular meals?"

He blinked once. Then twice.

"Herald, while I appreciate your concern, I'm quite capable of caring for myself."

"Still," I paused, because his malnutrition was the dangerous kind, the one where the intake of food needed to be monitored to ensure they didn't reject it, "You need to be careful with what you eat. If you don't eat a balanced, monitored diet, you could fall sick."

"Yes, I am aware. I have sufficient healing experience, Herald."

"Alright," I rolled my eyes, "You don't have to call me 'Herald' you know, it's just us. Just a regular mercenary here."

"As off-putting as it may be, posturing is necessary," His voice took a lecturing tone, "Only if the people call you their Herald, will they believe that you are. And that will give you authority, especially over humans."

I grimaced.

"You seem to hold deep disdain for humans," Solas observed, "And it's stronger than the general hatred the Dalish cultivate."

"I'm surprised Desire didn't tell you," I mocked, unable to keep the edge from my tone, "Are you telling me it didn't completely violate my trust and privacy?"

He took a step back, cautious, "You do not have to tell me if you do not want to. Again, I apologize for any offense I have caused you."

If it had been just a day ago, I wouldn't have hesitated to tell him; while it wasn't common knowledge, I had never hesitated to talk about it, especially to non-humans. But after seeing the memory last night, a rock had settled in my throat, my skin crawling with shame and self-blame. It made no sense. Logically, I knew my experience wasn't my fault. I knew I wasn't in the wrong. But the sheer indifference this world had given my traumatic experience, slowly chipped away at something inside me. While my friends had never been indifferent, the implication that I would never be a good leader because of my experience, was the straw that broke the camel's back.

The worst part was, it had an element of truth to it. Just this morning, I had accused Leliana for the Breach and all of humanity's problems, as though it was her fault that humans did terrible things.

Who ever wanted a leader that hated them?

And why would Fen'Harel, who fought for centuries against slavery, who had ruined all of the Evanuris, who planned to walk the Dinan'shiral, ever find my pain significant?

These thoughts urged me to respond dismissively, "It's nothing special, the usual story. I was running from the Blight and sought refuge in a human city. They thought I was a young uncontrolled apostate, so I got thrown in jail. A kid barely out of knight training then had his fun. Without consent," Because that needed to be said. Bile rose in the back of my throat at how trivial I'd portrayed the most traumatic experience of my life, "Just your typical violence against elves."

The silence that descended was tense. Solas looked repulsed, "Did this truly affect you so little?"

My head jerked towards him, stunned.

His expression twisted into pity, "There is a difference between necessary and unnecessary violence," My heart thudded loudly, "Rape is never necessary. It is the product of a sick, deluded mind that only wants power over someone. Violence of that nature is never necessary. What happened to you was a tragedy. Do you understand?"

Something inside me shattered. I desperately clutched my heart with one hand as agony ripped through every part of my body. I lost control of everything, my aura, my body, and my mind, only bringing my remaining hand to cover my face as I broke down, desperate to keep my sobs quiet even if the shaking of my body betrayed me.

It was amazing-terrifying- how much kindness could hurt you. The words I had desperately wanted to hear, that it hadn't been my fault, that my experience wasn't a fact of life, that it was unnecessary. Those words had been everything, the only words, I had wanted to hear. I had known everything he said, but no one else had ever voiced the same opinion. Even those closest to me, while they pitied me, accepted that it was a common occurrence and just an unfortunate fact of life.

But Solas. Fen'Harel. A man who had no reason, in any way, to find my pain significant, told me, in the most condescending manner possible, that what happened to me was wrong, as if it was obvious.

A fresh wave of agony ripped through me, and I shattered again.

I blinked the last of my tears away, noticing that I'd lowered myself into a foetal position against his wall, cradling one hand against my eyes and the other still clenched at my heart. As my torment faded, mortification followed at its heels.

I took a moment to withdraw my aura completely, aware that Solas had probably experienced my pain with me. As I lifted my head, I noticed his hand extended towards me, holding a scrap of cloth. I took it, and slowly wiped my face clean.

As I reached out to return it, he spoke, his tone gentle, "Keep it."

I forced myself to look at him, "Thank you."

An awkward silence fell before I decided to bail. I strode to the exit, eager to leave the emotionally charged atmosphere. I paused at the door, unwilling to speak but hesitant to leave without acknowledging him. I glanced at him and caught his intent gaze. I nodded my farewell before exiting quickly.

He unravelled me with nothing more than a kind word. I didn't think I'd ever look at Fen-…Solas the same way again.


Translations:

Andaran Ati'shan= Formal way to welcome someone, We come in peace, Peace be with you

Amasomniar= Protect sleep

Durlahn= Quiet

Athlan=Call

Halani=help

Revas=Freedom

Dinan'shiral= The path of death, the journey to the end

 

Chapter Text

Unsteady

The envious die not once, but as oft as the envied win applause. – Baltasar Gracian

 


 

I was ashamed to admit that for the next two days, rather than focusing on the looming disasters, I obsessed about Solas.

 

What did he think about my breakdown? Did he think me strange? Did he think about me at all?  Was he eating well?

 

While I was in the Fallow Mire, far away from him and his journey to Val Royeaux, there was little to distract me from my fixation. Breaking down the undead veilfire enchantments posed almost no difficulty with such a large party. The Avvar warriors weren’t any different. Solas had been wrong about the paralysis glyph as it ensured our victory yet again.

 

As I trudged back to camp with the rescued soldiers, Maxwell sidled up to me with a glare, “Why didn’t you kill the Avvar? They provoked us and were hostile every step of the way.”

 

“And yet, our soldiers are still alive.”

 

“Nonsense! They killed five of our soldiers!”

 

“They were killed in combat, not while they were imprisoned. Their leader, the Hand of Korth, was executed. Furthermore, there were no other casualties. There was no reason to kill them, not when we won so absolutely,” I noticed Maxwell’s pinched expression, “We warned them about red lyrium. Their Skywatcher agreed to keep an eye out in the region and report any abnormalities,” I kept my expression stoic, hiding my irritation, “I don’t see what your problem is.”

 

Maxwell flushed in anger, “They weren’t happy to surrender! You didn’t even ask for reparations! There was no deterrent, nothing to rein them in, or curb any future attacks! How do you know they won’t do this again?!”

 

“Because they have no chance of winning and they know it. They also know that we didn’t have to spare them,” I clenched my fists, trying to contain my growing anger at his proximity, “What’s really bothering you?”

 

Maxwell folded his arms, “What soldier would want to work for a leader who doesn’t even protect them? One who doesn’t recognize their sacrifices? The Avvar captured and killed your people and you let them go!

“What exactly is it that you wanted me to do?” I couldn’t stop my lips from curling from contempt; Maxwell dared to defy me when he would never have tolerated the same from me. He would have gone straight to Thranduil and tattled.

 

“You should have made an example of them!”

 

The real reason I spared them was because the fight had been too easy. They hadn’t been a threat and the thought of killing them felt excessive, especially when they conceded to all my terms. Those terms hadn’t been unreasonable; I only wanted a heads up if anything went sideways and if they caught sight of red lyrium, and if they were capable enough to deal with the threats that popped up, then that meant less work for me.

 

But none of this would stand with Maxwell, let alone the War Council, which meant I had to resort to grandiose moral posturing to defend my actions.

 

A pithy saying from another life came to mind, “If we kill everyone that stands in our way, then there will be nobody left.”

 

My careless words seem to strike something within Maxwell and he skidded to a halt, an unreadable expression crossing his face.

 

Good riddance.

 

I avoided him the rest of the way back to camp. I sought out Kaari after debriefing the Inquisition officers and she beamed, her smile stretching ear to ear, “Shit Erelani! That was fuckin’ amazing, you know tha’ right?”

 

I felt an answering smile blossom, “Which part exactly?”

 

“We got the Avvar helpin’ us! Damn, I thought you’d kill ‘em, no one’d blame ya, ya know. You’re being nice,” Her arm stretched out and she squeezed me in a tight hug, “About damn time!”

 

I expelled a deep breath, “I wasn’t trying to be nice-,”

 

“There was no point to it, I get it,” Her smile dimmed as she cut me off, “Still, you’re doin’ a good job. Don’ let anyone tell you otherwise,” She gazed at Maxwell pointedly, “Some people don’ understand that sometimes mercy ain’t conditional.”

 

My eyes crinkled in a real smile, “Live and let live, right?”

 

She nodded, her smile returning, “Ya should get to the Seeker and the others already. I’ll make sure the region is steady before I return.”

I hugged her again, “Summon me if you need anything.”

 

As I jogged to a deserted clearing to spare the others the noise of Apparition, my palms turned clammy. My blood started racing, and I double-checked my gear to expel my sudden restlessness.

 

There’s nothing to be nervous about! I effortlessly rescued our soldiers from the Avvar tribe, this should be easy in comparison right? The worst thing was, rather than the possible lynching awaiting me at Val Royeaux, it was Solas I was terrified of.

 

It was like I was an adolescent girl, desperate for approval, all over again.

 

No no, Solas was dependent on my protection, not the other way around. There’s no reason for me to be nervous! So what if we shared some morals? So what if he was a god? So what if I broke down in front of him and humiliated myself?

 

It didn’t matter! It didn’t!

 

To distract myself, I struggled to decide who I should teleport to: Cassandra or Ellana? Cassandra would be ideal considering she was leading the party to Val Royeaux... but she would also be with Solas.

 

Ellana it was!

 

I took a deep breath of the cold night air to calm myself but couldn’t ignore the thrill that raced through me at the prospect of seeing Solas again.

 

A loud gong sound reverberated through my ears as I Apparated, and a mischievous smile formed on my face at the thought of startling Ellana.

 

As the world focused around me, an image of two shadowed figures, barely an inch apart, came into view. With a loud yelp, Ellana jerked back, nearly tripping in her surprise. The other figure, hidden by a canopy, also retreated, quickly pulling out a magical staff.

 

A cold that had nothing to do with the pouring rain trickled down by back and my smile disappeared as my elven eyes adjusted to the darkness.

 

Tattered green jumper. Thin frame. Bald head.

 

And Ellana.

 

“Erelani, fuck! You can’t keep doing shit like this! Give a girl some warning before appearing!” My eyes turned to her outraged expression, but for some bizarre reason, my vocal chords didn’t work.

“Ah, my apologies, Herald,” Solas’ smooth voice cut through the silence, snapping me out of my shock, “There are bandits on the Coast. You startled us.”

 

Right. Us . And he calls me Herald .

 

Reality could be a bitch.

 

“No, I apologize for…interrupting,” I wasn’t blind. I intruded on their private moment, “Point me towards camp, and I’ll get out of your way.”

 

Once Ellana gave me directions, I scurried away, trying to ignore the burning heat pulsing in my chest.

 

I’m an idiot. A complete idiot. What had I been expecting?

 

Always fucking Ellana.

 

Ellana. Ellana. Ellana!

 

It’s like she fucking planned this! She conveniently broke up with Thranduil! Just in time to date Solas! As if they were meant to be!

 

The thought halted me in my tracks.

 

While every Inquisitor was capable of changing Solas’ worldview, it wasn’t any female elf Solas fell in love with; it was only Lavellan. It was only ever Lavellan. And seeing them together, it made sense .

 

And once again, I’m nothing more than a friend to someone who…I’m ugly, damaged and an abomination, why would anyone ever….

 

It was always going to be a terrible idea. This was good.

 

It was good.

 

My expectations were shattered before they even formed. Now, I’ll never have to worry about his well being or wonder if he’s flirting, because all those privileges belonged to someone else.

 

To Ellana.

 

And I get to be their well-wishing friend.

 

Fuck. My. Life.


 

When Cassandra debriefed me about the Blades of Hessarian and the Mercy’s Crest, I bristled in agitation. Apparently, Cassandra sparing the lives of the bandit group was justified because they believed in the Maker, but me showing the same mercy to the Avvar tribe was unacceptable . The cognitive dissonance in Cassandra’s lecture was maddening.

 

Yet as I trodded back from another battle too easily won, a restless itch rose within me. The Blades of Hessarian were only too happy to pledge their allegiance to me, and I couldn’t help the instinctual distrust that rose within me.

 

Why was everything so easy? Even with the Oath, it was only too easy to win against dogs and one bandit. I even refrained from the paralysis spell, which only made things easier.

 

Even worse, both the soldiers and common folk had an ardent, almost crazy look in their eyes when they looked at me. With each passing hour, I was becoming less of a person in the eyes of the people. In an attempt to fend off their interest, I spent most of my time with Eldric, trying to track down Grey Warden trails Leliana’s agents found. The Bull’s Chargers had already been recruited and sent back to Haven, which left little for me to do except close rifts along the Coast.

 

Through it all, I ignored Solas and Ellana with a vengeance. No matter how petty, I wasn’t ready to subject myself to this kind of torture again. While I didn’t imagine myself in love with Solas, my tolerance for romantic displays was officially over. I wasn’t a fool; I was aware that there was no one to blame for my predicament except me. Solas had never encouraged me. We’d barely interacted and the few times I did, I only left unfavourable impressions.

 

I was the one who read too much into a simple kindness.

 

If it hadn’t been for Desire, I would have let things lie as they were.


 

That night, I was lounging with Eldric, tired after a long day of reconnaissance. One of the Inquisition guards was keeping watch, and with Solas and Ellana huddled together under the tarp, right in my line of vision, I wanted nothing more than to disappear.

 

So, I closed my eyes and fell deep into the embrace of the Fade.

 

Desire awaited me, disgust and contempt rolling out in waves as I appeared in my domain.

 

Why are you so easy?! ” Desire burst out, “ All it took was a bit of sympathy? You’ve become infatuated with the Dreamer because he showed you a bit of sympathy ?” A pulse of anger shot out, “ It wasn’t even true sympathy! It was condescension and pity !”

 

“Easy?” I parroted, an ugly feeling building in the pits of my stomach.

 

I suppose I should be grateful to Ellana ,” Desire sneered, “ With the Dreamer caught in her clutches, you won’t have an opportunity to make a complete fool out of yourself .”

 

“A fool,” I repeated silently. Red hot fury fuelled by humiliation burned my veins and it took every bit of control to maintain a placid atmosphere, “And here I thought you liked him. Was I mistaken?”

 

I like him just fine. But I’d rather you fall in love with Maxwell than him,” Desire grimaced, “ You embarrass me .”

 

I stayed silent, wrestling with the hurt, anger and humiliation its words caused. As abhorrent as Desire’s words were, it was looking out for me in the only way it knew. Right?

 

Falling in love with Solas was an incredibly foolish idea, and that I had started to tread that path, knowing what awaited me at the end, showed how much of a fool I really was.

 

“And now you know how I feel on a daily basis,” My smile was sharp, unable to resist hurting Desire in return, “ Having you around me is humiliating.

 

Touche.” Desire’s smile was equally sharp, “ Well, now that Thranduil’s unattached, you can restart your pathetic attempts to get his attention. Enjoy Ellana’s seconds, Erelani.

 

With that Desire disappeared, depriving me of a chance to retaliate.

 

I gritted my teeth in frustration, releasing my bottled emotions now that I was alone. The Fade shivered before shifting through images of Ellana and Solas together, and I lashed out, tearing through the projections.

 

Neither Solas nor Thranduil would ever look at me that way; they were both ensnared by Ellana and her charms.

 

Pretty sheltered Ellana who got anything she wanted with a smile.

 

She wouldn’t get everything she wanted. Not anymore.

 

If I was going to die alone and unloved, by all that is holy, so was Ellana.


 

The next morning, I approached Ellana when she was alone.

 

“Hahren!” Her smile shined with happiness, crinkling her green eyes, “You’ve been so busy! Is there something I can help you with?”

 

My stomach tightened at the earnestness on her face and I looked away for a second before looking back, “I need to tell you something.”

 

Her smile faded at my sombre expression, “What is it?”

 

“Ellana,” a smooth voice called out, cutting into our conversation. I turned to find Solas holding out a scroll to Ellana, “A crow from the Nightingale came for you.”

 

His clear blue eyes met mine for a moment, and it was like the world came to a complete stop.

 

There was a smile on his face that reached his eyes, softening ice blue eyes into a baby blue that looked so gentle that it stole my breath away.

 

And all that gentleness was for the woman in front of me.

 

In all my selfishness, I had forgotten something very important.

 

Solas was a person.

 

He chose Ellana and Ellana chose him.

 

I had no business standing here.

 

I watched silently as Ellana beamed at Solas as she took the scroll. Solas nodded politely at me before departing.

 

It was like his presence wiped my mind clean of my inner turmoil and I could only watch his back as he sauntered away.

 

“Hahren?” Ellana’s voice pulled me back to her and I ignored her discomfited expression; I knew how transparent I was. Ellana had read me completely.

 

I still had no right to say anything.

 

Thranduil’s accusation echoed in my head,

 

You want things you can’t have, and you’re willing to do anything to get it.

 

He was right; I only ever wanted for myself and rarely for others. I could barely bring myself to care that Thranduil was heartbroken, and I claimed to love him beyond all others. Now that I couldn’t have Solas, I was willing to destroy Ellana’s life to get some measure of satisfaction.

 

Why was I such a terrible person? Why couldn’t I ever do something kind without ulterior motives?

 

“Hahren, are you alright?” Ellana shook me gently to snap me out of my thoughts.

 

I forced a smile on my face, “I’m happy you’re smiling again, Ellana,” While I couldn’t speak for myself, I owed it to Thranduil to clear his name to Ellana. What she did with that information was her prerogative, “I have no right to interfere or say anything, I only wanted you to know,” I paused at Ellana’s cautious expression, “I found out why you and Thranduil ended things. And I wanted you to know, that Thranduil never…he didn’t…” I hesitated, unable to finish the sentence, “He said he and I were family and that he would always support me.”

 

Ellana’s face closed off, “Oh.”

 

I patted her shoulder awkwardly before leaving her to her thoughts.

 

If I was fated to die, then I had to at least try to make the people I love happy.

 

I had no right to act so selfishly. Desire had been right; I was nothing more than an easy desperate fool.

 

Chapter Text

The Words of the Destitute

ஏழைபேச்சு அம்பலம் ஏறாது

The words of the destitute carry little weight -  An ancient Tamil proverb

 


 

The next morning, a ship arrived for Val Royeaux and I bid farewell to Ellana and Eldric before boarding the ship. The party reduced to Solas, Cassandra, Varric and Mother Giselle with plans to meet a couple of Inquisition agents at the port. I spent a large part of the voyage at the bow of the ship gazing out into the horizon.

Mother Giselle approached me, breaking my self-imposed isolation. Her hands were crossed in front of her, her posture exceedingly formal, nodding in greeting as she stopped, “You seem deep in thought, Herald. Is there anything I can do to help you?”

I gave her my practised smile as I tried to inch away, “It’s alright, my lady, you’re already doing so much, I couldn’t impose any further.”

Her smile dimmed, “The people of Haven and beyond have placed their faith in you as the Herald of Andraste. Such an imposition on you must be difficult,” she paused, cautious, “Yet I cannot help but feel that the Maker has done this not only to broaden the minds of Andrastians, but to show you that he loves you and your people.”

Oh no. Not this again, “I appreciate the thought,” I glanced around discreetly, trying to find a way to escape, “I have been up here for too long, I should join the others.”

She sighed in defeat, “Of course, Herald.”

As I retreated below deck, I mentally sighed in relief when she followed quietly. I reached our cabin where Cassandra, Varric and Solas were spread out as far from each other as possible. Solas was asleep on his hammock while Varric occupied the only chair, his hands writing furiously into his notebook. Cassandra was deep in prayer in her corner of the room, whispering quietly into the air.

My entrance into the room seemed to break Varric and Cassandra out of their trance, their body language turning hyper alert. Even Solas came awake as Mother Giselle locked the cabin, swiftly climbing out of his hammock and standing alert.

“Herald, is everything alright?” Cassandra asked warily.

And this was why I’d avoided going down into the cabin. Everyone’s attitude towards me was changing drastically, and walking into any room produced the same effect as a king or queen walking into it. It didn’t help that I only appeared during emergencies and disappeared right after, making little conversation with the party members.

I rubbed my forehead, feeling drained, “Everything’s fine. I’m going to lie down for a while,” I scanned the room and finally noticed a glaring problem; there were only four hammocks. I heard a bustling around me and ignored it, I wasn’t in the mood to deal with this. I was too tired to care about sleeping arrangements. I was more than happy to sleep on the floor.

I went to the far side of the room, grabbed my travel pack and used it as a pillow as I curled up on the floor towards the wall.

“Herald!” “Wait-,” “Please take-!”

“Quiet,” I ordered, my voice cutting through their protests, “Wake me when we reach the shore.”

I ignored the furious whispering that broke out and closed my eyes.


 

The captain had us debark a few kilometres away from Val Royeaux as he had no permit to sail into the city. As we set off on the Imperial Highway, a few of the Inquisition scouts joined us. A blonde human scout approached, looking worried, “Herald, they’ve been warned of your arrival. I don’t think it’s safe for you to go inside. A few Chantry Mothers are riling up a mob against you. Herald, you need to turn back.”

I shook my head and tilted my head forward, determined, “We must proceed.”

The squad of scouts looked troubled but formed a loose defensive formation as we approached the gates of Val Royeaux. The same scout approached the gate and exchanged terse words with the guard.

He returned, his expression anxious, “They’re warning us away. The Chantry Mothers await you, but so do a great number of Templars. The people believe that the Templars will save them from…from the Inquisition. How’d you like to proceed?”

Cassandra stepped forward, looking resolute, “There’s only one option.”

An image of an angry mob of humans getting ready to lynch me flashed through my mind, and I could feel the blood draining away from my face. I took a deep breath to calm myself, “It’s fine. We expected this.”

Cassandra moved closer to me, her voice dropping so that only those closest to us could hear, “I didn’t expect this. I didn’t think the Templars would gather here.”

Varric rubbed his chin, “The Order could have returned to the fold, maybe? To deal with us upstarts?”

Cassandra shook her head in denial, “I know Lord Seeker Lucius. I can’t imagine he would defend the Chantry, not after all that’s happened.”

The blonde scout spoke up, cautious, “It may just be the hope of the people. I haven’t heard anything that says that they intend to help.”

Cassandra’s expression turned unreadable, “Still, someone needs to return to Haven. Inform them if we are…delayed.”

The tension and fear in the group skyrocketed and I knew I had to say something to alleviate the tension, “Everything will be fine,” I said, projecting a confidence I didn’t feel. I held out an arm to Mother Giselle, “If you would accompany me, my lady?”

She nodded and gently grasped my elbow as we ventured to the guards. This was why I’d insisted on bringing her; she was a local legend in the eyes of the people. No matter how much the nobles resented her for having the love of the public, her compassion and humanitarian efforts gave her an authority that people couldn’t ignore.

And predictably, the guard at the gates recognized Mother Giselle instantly, blubbering in excitement and gratitude as she approached. The gates opened, and my escorts tightened around me as we walked through the market, shops boarded up due to the commotion.

A woman’s voice echoed through the streets and jeers followed her words. My breath hitched in trepidation as we neared the mob.

“There she is! The apostate elf that murdered the Divine!” The Chantry Mother on the podium gestured violently towards me, “Behold the so-called Herald of Andraste! Claiming to rise after killing our beloved Divine! As if the Maker would send an elven mage in our time of need!”

A wave of rage rose up from the mob and I shuddered. There was no way I would reach these people by appealing to their common sense. In a crowd like this, only grandiose posturing would work.

“I am not the enemy! I did not kill the Divine!” Shit, my fear was making me defensive, “I came here because I need your help! The Breach threatens us all; we must unite to stop it!”

Cassandra stepped in front of me, “It’s true! The Inquisition only seeks to stop the madness before it ends us all!”

Mother Giselle strode onto my other side, “The Herald has stabilised the Breach, but without your help, it cannot be closed. We know the Maker’s will, Mother Hevara; he would want us to work together. Please, help us before it’s too late!”

Whispers broke out amongst the crowd and the woman on the podium hissed, “It’s already too late!” She pointed wildly to her left and the sound of clunking metal reached us, “Templars have returned to the Chantry! Templars, face this Inquisition and protect the people once more!”

My party closed in protectively around me, blocking my view of the scuffle that broke out on the podium.

“Don’t help her! She’s beneath us!” The crowd parted to reveal a pale man decked in high quality armour, his black hair tied up in a ponytail, followed by a large contingent of Templars glaring down at the collapsed Chantry Mother.

Mother Giselle couldn’t contain herself, “What’s the meaning of this?!”

The man sneered, “Her claim to authority was an insult, much like yours.”

Cassandra darted towards him, “Lord Seeker Lucius! Please, you must listen!”

“You will not address me!” He snarled, “Creating a heretical movement, raising up a puppet of Andraste’s prophet. You should be ashamed!”

He turned from her, addressing the crowd, “You should all be ashamed! We failed no one when we left to purge the mages. We left to protect you, protect the world! The Chantry failed us! You leashed our honourable work with doubt and fear! The Chantry can do nothing, does nothing! If you came to appeal to them, you are too late! The only destiny that matters now, is mine!”

I couldn’t help but be transfixed by his heartfelt outrage, distracted from gauging whether it was really him, or the supposed Envy demon. Usually, a nearby spirit would help in such an endeavour, but the Veil felt distant in Val Royeaux; I could barely skim the Fade, let alone reach spirits, and I could hardly fall asleep now to reach the Fade.

But there was a spell that people used to check for presence of spirits and abominations. It highlighted all spiritual imprints on the subject of the spell, and if it was a spirit, its disguise would be broken. Surely, such an aggressive move towards the Lord Seeker would be forgiven once the truth was revealed.

I pulled magic from the veil, and it was almost like trying to thread leather; hard and difficult to manoeuvre. A templar nearby jerked, turning his head around frantically, and before he could open his mouth, I cast the spell on the Lord Seeker, who was still raging at the crowd and Cassandra.

A bright blue cloud encompassed the Seeker Lucius, cutting off his tirade. Alarmed screams rang out in the crowd and I got into a battle-ready stance while casting a barrier spell over the bystanders to mitigate any possible collateral damage.

A loud roar rose, “Who dared to attack me?! Templars surround the Market Square! Don’t allow anyone to escape!”

The spell set in, and every templar within the vicinity glowed a sharp crystal blue. In the centre stood Lucius, his insides glowing a bright red with a faint golden glow on his forehead.

My breath hitched, panic setting in.

What have I done? It was supposed to be the Envy demon!

Solas grabbed my shoulder tightly, whispering furiously, “Herald, why did you attack the Seeker? We’re the only mages in this Square!”

I couldn’t respond because the Seeker was approaching us menacingly, “This, this is why the Templars left! Do you see how treacherous mages are?! Such a blatant unprovoked attack!” He turned furiously to me, “Which of you was it? Confess, or else both of you will be punished!”

What do I do? What could I possibly do short of killing all the Templars here, which I could not do!

How do you even get yourself in these situations, Erelani? Desire suddenly intervened, its voice reverberating through the distant Veil with considerable force. Why would you ever attack someone like him for no reason?

Help me.

Fine. Desire sighed. Give me a moment to ask Nobility.

There was a momentary pause.

Tell the truth in a way that helps you. Change the nature of his truth to one that makes you look good.

With a sharper than usual tug, Desire’s voice disappeared, returning the full range of my focus to the Waking World. My heart pumped furiously even as I adopted my Hahren voice, “Tell me, Lord Seeker, do you know what spell was actually cast?”

“So, it was you. I’m not surprised. Like I’d expect anything else from a Dalish elf.”

“I did cast the spell. You were acting like a man possessed! You, leader of the Templars, punched a Chantry Mother unconscious when she asked for your help. Yes, it was my fault, for assuming a Seeker would never behave in such a way. Your actions were not the result of a demon or blood magic! They were your own! Even as the one wronged by her, I cannot condone such violence. And you wonder why the Chantry put a leash on you?”

“What would a Dalish savage know about anything? Your words reveal your ignorance, elf!”

“Funny, how expecting common decency from a man claiming to be protector of the people, makes me ignorant.”

“You dare speak down to me? You are nothing! Your people are less than nothing! Know your place, mage!” He unsheathed his blade and struck the ground where I stood hard, casting a perversion of my earlier spell.

There was a wrenching searing pain in my soul, and I lost all connection to the Fade. For a moment I couldn’t see, and it felt as if I’d been set adrift into nothingness. This feeling was disturbingly familiar.

I am Erelani. An alien. Once human and now a Dalish elf.

There was a snap and sharp impact instead of the oozing I expected.

I blinked my eyes open, finding arms holding me to prevent me from collapsing. My left hand was alight, a furious green sparking like fireworks.

I pushed the others off me and steadied myself. Loud voices penetrated my consciousness,

“Abomination! An abomination!”

“No, she is not an abomination! That is not what happens when a body is possessed by a foreign spirit!”

“She just woke up, like the Smite did nothing. Did you see that?”

“It’s a miracle, that’s what it is!”

“You heard what Seeker Cassandra said, didn’t you? The Herald of Andraste! She must truly be the Herald of Andraste!”

I snapped my eyes open, alarmed. Mother Giselle was standing next to me, looking like a stalwart protector, as she blocked the Templars from me.

“She is the only reason that the world didn’t collapse! She stopped the Breach! I believe, with all my heart, that the Maker has touched her. What more proof do we need?” She was very good at this, changing the nature of the truth until it was barely recognizable, “Just look at her! At her divine light!” I gazed down, dazed, and found my body radiating a silvery radiance, as though my body were so full, it was brimming over, “Help us, Templars! Never has the Maker’s will been so transparent! Help us save the world!”

The crowd quietened.

A low voice spoke up, “Lord Seeker, what if they’re saying is the truth? What if-?”

“Silence! Enough of this! You are called to a higher purpose, do not question! Templars, we march from Val Royeaux!”

Not like this. I couldn’t let him leave with an image of me weak and helpless like this, as if he’d won. After such a display, despite Mother Giselle’s efforts, there would be people who saw me as just another mage, powerless under the might of the Templars. No Templar would want to assist the Inquisition if they thought the leader could be easily defeated.

I had to get up.

“Lord Seeker!” He turned to me, looking murderous, “Whatever our quarrels may be, there are some evils that cannot be ignored,” I took a moment to imagine them as wilful children rather than the dangerous men that they were, “Be careful of red lyrium. If you come across it, run away as fast as you can. It’s evil,” I turned to the address rest of the templars, “If any of you change your mind, the Inquisition doors will be open.”

The Seeker had already started walking, ignoring my words, but that was alright because those words had never been for him. They’d been for the Templars under his command, those who could possibly prevent their fate. The faces of many in the squadron turned white at my words but they followed their leader, subdued.

With the spectacle over, the city guards finally acted, dispelling the crowd. A few civilians approached Mother Giselle and Cassandra, tentatively offering their help to the Inquisition. I only stood where I had, staring at the Chantry woman who had instigated all of this.

It’s hard to show compassion to a person who tried to get you hanged because of their religious beliefs. But this journey to Val Royeaux had a purpose; to break the voice of the Chantry and there was no better way to do it than rubbing moral superiority over their faces.

I stepped towards her slowly and quietly, my left hand still feeling as though it was on fire. She looked up at me blearily and sneered, “You must be pleased.”

“We came here to ask for help,” My voice remained unerringly polite, “This is not our doing, it’s yours.”

“And you had nothing to do with it? Don’t delude yourself!” She snapped, “We’ve been insulted by our own templars, in front of everyone. The clerics have fled, their convictions shattered. Tell me, after all this, do you really think you are the Herald of Andraste?”

I remained calm in the face of her skewed priorities, “No, I don’t think I am.”

“Then what are you?!”

“Someone who wants to close the Breach and needs help to do it. Tell me, why is the Chantry so against helping others?”

“Our Divine, Her Holiness, is dead because she tried to help, don’t you dare-” Her face contorted in anguished rage as she cut herself off, “For you to be standing here, a great number of things we believed must be false. If you are false, then a great number of things must have failed. There is only chaos awaiting us.”

Wasn’t that a surprise! She understood the limitations of the Chantry, the Order and the existing social systems, “I hear doubt,” Mother Hevara stiffened at my words, “That’s good. It means you will question what you do instead of blindly believing in orders. Tell me, will the Chantry continue to denounce me after everything that’s happened?”

“What’s the point? With this, the Chantry will be divided. Until a new Divine is elected, there is nothing we can do.”

I knelt next to her and placed a healing hand on her head, “Well then, will you help me save the world?”

“What do you want?” She looked weary, defeated, “Why would you even want my help after what happened here today? We abandoned our duties, we servants of the faith. And now we can only pray.”

“Believe it or not, shemlen,” A trickle of satisfaction ran through me at using that word instead of her title, “Not everything is about you and me. There are people who need help, and you have the resources to help,” I stood up, dusting my hands against my clothes in a show to demonstrate how disgusting I thought she was, “If you choose to, feel free to contact Seeker Cassandra or Mother Giselle.”

I gave her a gentle smile, “Fen’Harel ma halam.”

It was petty, disguising an insult as a form of farewell, but making nice with such a selfish woman had tested every patient bone in my body. As if she led a hard life. As if the Chantry wasn’t the problem. I practically had to beg for her help, even as she mourned the failures of the Chantry.

I walked away and ignored the intense stares that Solas and Varric gave me, aware that they’d watched the whole exchange. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. I’d barely entered Val Royeaux and there was still so much left to do.


 

After the spectacle in the morning, we recruited a large number of agents for the Inquisition. Cassandra spent most of the day making bulk requisitions for raw materials and managed to convince a few craftsmen to send their apprentices to the Inquisition. Mother Giselle went around recruiting non-humans to our cause. An invitation to Madame De Fer’s soiree was delivered to our inn.

 Yet there was no arrow.

I discreetly scoured the markets for red things, but being Val Royeaux, which was infested in a medley of colour, this turned out to be pointless endeavour. I dragged Solas and Varric from shop to shop, hoping I’d catch a glimpse of Sera, but everywhere we went, people stared, preventing any useful reconnaissance.

Still, there had been no arrow, which could only mean that Sera didn’t want to join me.

It’s difficult to explain why this hurt me as much as it did. Out of all my supposed companions, she had the least to contribute to the Inquisition. She wasn’t educated, didn’t have any meaningful connections or any unique knowledge. She hated magic.

By all reason, she would hate me.

Yet she was nonsensical. She was irreverent. She was blunt. She cared about the wellbeing of regular people. She was one of the few companions who was exactly what she said she was.

Most importantly, she had a power that few ever possessed.

Common sense.

I sat quietly at a café, lost in thought as I pondered my options.

“Hey, Herald, you alright?” Varric asked quietly, snapping me out of my thoughts.

I blinked, “Yes, of course.”

There was a long pause and he fidgeted before continuing, “So, that thing that happened earlier…is a spirit possessing you or is it the Mark?”

I stayed quiet, uncertainty robbing my voice. Was I just possessed? Was I really an abomination? Why did those words feel so wrong?

I glanced at Solas. He seemed detached, but my gut told me he was listening to every word being said. I glanced down at the fancy cake slices I’d bought from the cafe, “I don’t know.”

“That’s very…not good,” He whispered, “You ever seen something like this, Chuckles? In the Fade?”

“There have been many…abominations throughout history, Master Tethras,” Solas answered, as quiet as Varric, “But someone who acquired such a Mark accidentally? I’m afraid I haven’t found such memories in the Fade.”

At the reminder, I looked down at the Mark which was still pulsing furiously, though thankfully, it had stopped letting out sparks. I held it out to Solas, “The incident aggravated the Mark. Do you know what to do?”

Varric jerked back from the Mark, the pulsing somehow tangible beyond the confines of my skin. A sick fear enveloped me; just what was this? Nothing in my experience with the Fade shed any light.

It was a complete unknown to me.

As Solas ran his magic through the Mark, Varric placed a comforting hand on my shoulder. He must have seen fear on my face, “Sometimes I forget that you’re just as clueless as the rest of us.”

I gave a weak chuckle, “What, ever, made you think otherwise?”

He grinned, “All your flashy magic. You somehow convinced me that you had the answer to everything.”

“That’s called wishful thinking,” my smile turned real, “But then again, you are a writer. Sorry to disappoint, but I’m nothing more than an unlucky Dalish elf.”

“You’re a lot more than that. A whole lot more,” The stiffness in his body eased a little, “If you ever get the urge to blow innocent people up though, give me a heads up.”

Solas finally let my hand go, “With the binding in place, I doubt she could, even if she wanted to.”

The mood soured at the reminder and I tucked my hand away. I thought about Sera, about her beliefs, her work and what she represented.

And I made a decision.


 

We trudged through the back alleys of Val Royeaux, venturing deeper into the city, away from the main roads and into the slums.

I stopped next to a sign that read The Chamber Pot, bringing the others to a stop, “Remember, here, I’m not the Herald of Andraste. Call me Erelani.”

I pulled out my gloves, fastening them over my hands tightly as I waited for a nod from both Varric and Solas, “And unless the others ask specifically, don’t mention that we were here.”

“Would you rather we wait outside?” Solas surveyed the surroundings, his hand resting guardedly on his staff.

“That would just be more conspicuous. Just be yourselves and don’t get riled up.”

After a deep breath, I pushed the slab of wood masquerading as a door aside, ushering the other two in. There was a rustling as everyone in the bar looked to see who had entered and I lifted a hand in greeting.

“It’s just Erelani,” Hakdi, the barkeep announced. He waved his fingers, calling me over, “Who’re these two chaps?”

“This is Solas, just another apostate and this here is Varric Tethras, the author of Hard in Hightown and The Tale of The Champion.””

His face screwed up, “Makes no difference to me, don’ bother readin’ that stuff. Though I know one of the Merchant’s Guild when I see ‘em,” He held his hand out to Varric, “May the business grow and gold flow.”

“You too,” Varric shook his hand, smiling charmingly, “So how do you know Erelani?”

“Like everyone else,” Hakdi glanced at me and I shook my head discreetly, “Valo-kas helped out a dwarf in need.”

I placed a hand on the counter, “Is Henry in?”

“He’s drinking alone in the corner. You know how he gets sometimes.”

I placed one silver on the counter before moving to the corner of the dilapidated shack. There was a loud game of Diamondback two tables down, the revelry nearly hiding a drunken dwarf in the back, “Long time no see, Henry.”

Henry jerked his head up, blinking blearily at me, “Ditzy bitsy Erelani, is that you?”

Solas and Varric sat down on the empty chairs nearby, riveted with my interaction with Henry. I tried my best to ignore them.

 “You’re as pathetic as ever,” I shoved Henry to the side, taking a place on the floor next to him, “Ever heard of a bint named Sera?”

“Why, whaddya need done?” He rubbed his eyes furiously, “No, answer me first. Fair’s fair.”

“Ask away.”

“Where’s boss? Haven’t heard a word from since the Conclave. Did he even survive? What even happened?”

“Eldric’s in Ferelden, helping something called the Inquisition. Someone blew up the Conclave. Most of Valo-kas was butchered, and the rest of us joined the Inquisition.”

 “You work for the Chantry now?!” Henry started laughing, “Damn, that’s the funniest thing I’ve heard all month!”

“Eat shit, Henry,” I punched his shoulder in retaliation, “Things were really bad. Still are. Just doing what I can,” I sighed, “Some things are worse than the Chantry.”

“Not much, though.”

I grinned, “Yeah, not much.”

He yawned, his mouth stretching wide, “Sera’s a city elf. She’s the one under that table.”

I turned to where he indicated, finding a blonde elf chugging beer under the table of rowdy patrons, drooling over the shoes of everyone sitting at the table.

“Thanks,” I gripped his shoulders tightly to get his attention, “If someone tries to transport red lyrium, you need to let Eldric know. Also, avoid red lyrium. Some Vint tried to Blight lyrium and got red lyrium.”

Henry paled, “Shit! You serious?”

“Would I lie about this?” I frowned, “We don’t need to get caught up in that shit. Put the word out.”

“We’ve already-,” He stopped suddenly, his hands shaking, “I need to talk to Eldric. Thanks, ‘Lani.”

I nodded and as I stood up, he tugged on the back of my bag, “They say the Inquisition’s Herald is an elf…is it someone we know?”

I opened my mouth to lie and suddenly realized the sheer futility of it. Henry was part of the Carta, which meant that when he contacted Eldric, the ruse would be up. While I would benefit from lying now, later, I would lose his trust.

But announcing it in this bar would result in pandemonium.

So all I did was gaze at him silently. He must have understood because he gasped, “Holy nug shit!” And he was laughing all over again, except this time, he couldn’t seem to stop. I kicked him as he rolled around, “Keep your mouth shut, Henry. At least until I leave.”

Another wave of laughter rolled over him and I walked away, rolling my eyes in irritation. At least someone was happy from my misery.

I neared the table Sera was under, tapping her feet to get her attention.

“Wha’ is it?” She scuttled out, “Who are ya, and whaddya want?”

“Sera?”

“Yeah,” She drawled, and squinted hard, “Who the hell- aww, an elf! I ain’t got no business with an elfy elf. Go away.

Irritation washed over me at her derision, but I pushed it away. I had expected this, “I work for the Inquisition. I was-,”

“Eeeh?” Her eyes turned wide, “You work for the Inquisition?! Then you’re not too elfy then, eh? Go on then, what is it, tell me or stop botherin’ me!”

I blinked, trying to keep up with her fast-paced drunken rambling, “Would you help us? Would you join the Inquisition?”

Her eyes finally seemed to focus on the conversation, “Why ya only askin’ me? This room’s full of people.”

“The Friends of Red Jenny.”

She froze, “Who the fuckin’ hell told ya, tell me now!” She grabbed the nearest weapon, which turned out to be a table knife, and held it against my throat, “Tell me or I’ll slit your throat before you can say shit drippin’ shit stains.”

I remained still, “I work for Valo-kas.”

She eased up, “Right, right, the mercs that were alright.”

“If you don’t mind, could we talk outside? Privately?”

“So you can stab me and leave my parts outside? I ain’t stupid!”

Why was this so difficult? “Please.”

Her face scrunched up, but she followed me outside, down the alley into a dead end. Solas and Varric stood at the entrance to the alley, but had their bodies faced towards us, battle ready.

“Spit it out already!”

I held my hands out to her, to show I meant no harm, before slowly removing the gloves. She reared back in horror at the sight of the Mark, “What, in blazing hells, is that?!”

“I was the only survivor from the Conclave,” I began, wondering how I was going to convince her to help me, “My name is Erelani Arwen, but some people have taken to calling me the Herald of Andraste.”

Her eyes widened in shock, her mouth open as she stared at the Mark. I waited patiently for her to respond, “Wha-Why are you here?”

“Will you help me close the Breach? I think I could really use you. People everywhere are suffering, and you have the ability to reach them, find out what’s going on. Even how we can help.”

She stared at me, confused, “We’re not what you think. We’re just regular people. Little people who help each other out and stop the big bad people from doing terrible things. When rich tits yell blah blah blah, obey me, we stick it to them.”

“Alright. Could you use them to help the Inquisition? Or maybe the Inquisition can help you?”

“You’re a strange one,” She looked at me hard, before grinning slowly, “I was thinking about it anyway, but changed my mind. Sure, why not. I’ll join.”

I sighed in relief and felt a large grin form on my face. I held out a hand, “Welcome to the Inquisition.”

“Yeah! Good! Get in before you get too big for your breeches,” She shook my hand enthusiastically, “Ugh, all that glowy Fade shit though. Gotta keep that away from me.”

I let out a deep breath, trying to remember the reasons I recruited her, “Do you want to join me on my journey back to Haven?”

“Eh? A free ride? Hell yeah!” She snapped her fingers in sudden realization, “Wait, need a day to sort a few things out, yeah?”

I nodded, passing the details of our departure to Sera. Cassandra had booked a ticket for me out of courtesy, but I’d be passing it on to Sera instead.

As I left the alley, Solas finally spoke up, “Why her? You specifically recruited her.”

Varric answered instead, “She’s part of something called the Friends of Red Jenny. It’s just a group of normal people working together, but they’re surprisingly effective. They were pretty active in Kirkwall.”

Solas turned contemplative, “She seems averse to magic.”

“Her and most of Thedas,” Varric replied, “People fear what they don’t understand.”

“That is true.”

“So, Herald, correct me if I’m wrong,” Varric smirked knowingly, “You work for the Carta, don’t you?”

“I was a mercenary, not a saint,” I shrugged, “They’re very resourceful and don’t think twice about hiring elven apostates.”

“They also do some pretty evil shit.”

I rolled my eyes, “Name an organization that doesn’t.”

“Touche. I don’t think that will stand against Seeker Cassandra though. She might try to stab you in the book.”

Solas frowned, confused, “Don’t you mean the back?”

“No, the book, I definitely meant the book.”

I huffed, amused, “Which is why I hope you’ll show some discretion. I was out doing Inquisition work anyway. She doesn’t need to know the specifics.”

When they nodded, I gave them a smile, “And in return, the next frilly cake we have is on me.”

“Ah, the sweet taste of bribery,” Varric grinned roguishly, “How could I ever refuse?”


 

I wish I could say I enjoyed Madame De Fer’s soiree.

I hadn’t had the opportunity to change from my worn Dalish clothes, the Inquisition cape draped carelessly over the ensemble in a modicum of ceremony.

There hadn’t been any grand confrontation or drunken yelling, only sneering and mockery from the nobles attending the soiree. Most kept a large distance from the “Dalish savage” and stared at me as if I were a freakish curiosity.

When Madame Vivienne requested a private discussion in the parlour, I sighed in relief, grateful that this ordeal would soon be over.

What followed was the one of the most excruciating displays of grandstanding I’d ever seen. I’d thought Solas was bad, with his pretentious speech patterns, but she didn’t even bother to hide that she was manipulating me and had ulterior motives. Her cognitive dissonance was painful to witness. She was so extraordinarily brain washed, that she took pride in the accomplishments that she belittled other mages for.

Yet despite her posturing, I couldn’t deny that she made a few very valid points about mage politics.

“Mages need a place where their talents are protected and nurtured. Most in Thedas fear magic, rightly so. The devastation that mages cause when they lose control, is reason enough.”

I watched her quietly as she offered her connections and talent to the Inquisition.

“You’ve been very quiet, my dear. Shall I take your silence as agreement?”

There was no reason to refuse her. Like Sera, she was exactly what she presented herself to be.

“The Inquisition would be happy to have you, my lady.”

“Great things are beginning, Herald. I will see you in Haven.”

I left, trying to ignore the sick twist of emotions eating away at me. I was ashamed, because I’d stepped into such decadent luxury dressed in the most hideous attire I possessed. Even Keepers wore their best clothes when representing our people, and I had walked in wearing a decade old tunic and pant with blood stained Dalish armour. I couldn’t disdain the nobles who’d sneered at me, because presentation was important.

Forget representing the Inquisition, or even the elven people, my self-respect and dignity demanded better, and I had failed miserably.

But the worst part of it was, I wanted what she had.

Her high-quality dresses that radiated magic. Her beautiful Estate. The veridium staff. The luxurious scents. The decadent food.

I wanted it. She had it. And I hated her for it.

Yes, that’s right. That’s why I hated her. Not for her classism, racism, or power grabbing tendencies, but because I was jealous.

I could hear Desire laugh delightedly across the Veil.

 

Chapter Text

The Games People Play

“Oh the games people play now,

Every night and every day now,

Never meaning what they say now,

Never saying what they mean.” – Joe South, Games People Play

 


 

I waited for Sera at the port, evading Cassandra’s probing questions about how I’d met her. A large wave crested against the docks and there was a distinct plop before a huge ball of sea gunk came flying at us. I shifted to the side, watching as it hit the docks with a loud splat.

“Frig!” Sera wiped her hands over her plaid pants, “Didn’t think you’d move!”

Cassandra unsheathed her sword in warning, “Explain yourself! You just attacked the Herald with no provocation!”

Sera took a cautious step away from her before scoffing at me, “What, can’t take a joke now, Glowy?”

I pinched the bridge of my nose, “Cassandra, it’s alright. This is Sera, our new addition. Sera, this is Cassandra Pentaghast, the Right Hand of the Divine. This is Solas and Varric,” I indicated them, before motioning her over, “You’ll be taking my ticket to Fereldan.”

After I passed her my ticket, Cassandra took me aside, “Herald, her? Why her?”

“She wanted to help and she’s good with a bow and arrow,” I shrugged, “Saw no reason to say no.”

Cassandra’s face cycled through too many expressions to name before she nodded then boarded the ship.

“You gave me your ticket, not that I’m complaining mind, but how ya getting to Fereldan?” Sera arched an eyebrow, “Gonna run through the forest like a proper elf?”

I looked away for a moment, trying not to show how her snide remarks needled me. Solas and Sera were a special kind of terrible who took satisfaction in insulting other elves, and while I could ignore the insults of non-elves, hearing an elf disparage my people made by blood simmer.

 “Got it in one, Sera,” I forced a friendly smile onto my face, “Watch and learn how, lethallin.” I took care to pat her shoulder as I enunciated the word. When she grimaced and brushed me away, my irritation eased a little.

I waved at the others in farewell before focusing on Thranduil’s rune in Haven. I fade-stepped, my mana draining dangerously as I held the spell over five hundred kilometres. Once I reached, I struggled to catch my breath, panting heavily as mana exhaustion overwhelmed me. As my vision dimmed and my heart rate struggled to return to normal, there was a sudden rushing, like air filling a vacuum, and my mana was suddenly full.  I grabbed hold onto to a tree next to me, disoriented by the assault to my senses. My eyes wandered around before resting on the Breach.

The Breach. A smile spread slowly across my face as the full brunt of instantaneous travel with endless mana fell on me.

My smile remained as I spotted Thranduil with one of the ‘rehabilitated’ rebel mages from the Hinterlands. I approached Thranduil, slapping him across his back in good cheer, sniggering as he jerked forward from the force.

“That wasn’t very nice, Erelani,” Thranduil scolded quietly, before wrapping an arm around my shoulder, “But you do have good timing. You remember Marcus don’t you, from the Hinterlands?” He brought me close before leaning down to whisper, “He has a message from Grand Enchanter Fiona. She wants to meet you to discuss how she and the Mages can help close the Breach.”

I frowned thoughtfully, trying to ignore the discrepancies that I remembered. Life wasn’t a game, it had never made sense that she travelled all that way to Val Royeaux, especially since Redcliffe was a stone’s throw from Haven. “That’s wonderful. Where did she want to meet?”

Marcus moved closer, “She’s actually in a cabin at the foot of the mountains. She didn’t want to risk approaching Haven. When she heard an elven mage was the Herald of Andraste, she thought it would be best to approach you first.”

“Alright, let me restock and I’ll leave right after.”

Marcus returned to Haven and as I moved to follow him, Thranduil held me back, “Don’t go alone, take someone with you. We can’t trust them, not until we know for sure that they had nothing to do with the Breach. Ellana and I have to take care of Revas, otherwise we would come with you.”

I tried to ignore his use of we, trying to remind myself I had more things to take care of than indulge my curiosity about his love life. But that was the problem, wasn’t it? I was too self-absorbed to care about others.

“Noted. But since you brought it up,” I nudged him, “How are things between you and Ellana?”

 He smiled brilliantly, and I had my answer before he replied, “We’re back together. I understand I have you to thank for it.”

“Nah,” I waved my hand nonchalantly, “It was all her. I did nothing.”

His arms came around me completely, enveloping me in his warmth, “Thank you, really.”

I patted his back awkwardly before separating, “I need to find a few people to accompany me. I’ll see you when I get back.” I strolled away, waving a little before a large hand tapped my shoulder. I lurched, caught off-guard and swerved around to see a large hulking mass of grey. My gaze moved up, tracing the torso until it came across a one-eyed face, claw-like scars marring his forehead and even parts of his chest.

“Hey Boss!” He held up his hands in mock surrender, “Just thought I’d introduce myself. I’m The Iron Bull, part of the mercenary group that was hired at Storm’s Coast, The Bull’s Chargers? That’s me, uh, us, I mean.” He tilted his head to a group of mercenaries gathered around his tent.

I blinked, stunned for a second, before holding out a hand, “Welcome to the Inquisition. Thank you for joining us.”

He shook my hand amiably, “Well, I’m gonna be upfront like I was with your agents. Ben-Hassrath, heard of it?” When I nodded, he continued, “Well, I’m one and I’ve run the arrangement by Leliana. Any messages I send to the Qun will be run by her.”

I nodded again, still flabbergasted, “If it’s alright with her, it’s alright with me.”

Silence fell as he awaited further response, but I only stared back, unaware of what he expected from me. As the silence stretched and his expectant gaze remained, my brain recovered, “What can your team do? What do you specialize in? Retrieval? Capture? Protection?”

He smiled and winked, “Whatever you can think of, Boss. If you want, you can have just me and my skills at your disposal. Whatever you need.”

I blinked slowly, unsure if he meant the double entendre, “Alright. I’m heading out, so if you can, have your team and yourself ready to join me in an hour. Travel is only a day’s worth.”

“Sure thing, Boss,” His hands fell on his hips and he flexed. I couldn’t help but follow the movement of his muscles, impressed with his physique, “You’re nothing like what the rumours say about you.”

My snort was involuntary, “I don’t think I want to know what those rumours are.”

I nodded in farewell then strolled through the entrance, too mentally exhausted to think about the strangeness of our conversation. Up ahead, Blackwall and Eldric were deep in conversation and my feet moved automatically towards them, reminded of my conversation with Henry at The Chamber Pot.

My approach had Blackwall’s speech stutter to an abrupt halt and my eyebrow raised in curiosity as I addressed Eldric, “You’re badmouthing me already, Eldric?” I placed a hand over my chest in mock hurt, “I’m devastated. And here I thought you were madly in love with me.”

Eldric rolled his eyes, hard, “Careful, Erelani, your dreams are showing.”

I pulled him into a one-armed hug and whispered against his head, “You need to get in touch with your people again. Something’s up. Check Henry.”

Eldric stepped back, and shook his head mockingly, “And people think I’m the flirt.”

“You are.” I turned to Blackwall, including him in the charade, “Did you know? He once got caught with a married woman, and he invited her husband to join in,” Blackwall let out a disbelieving laugh, the tension in his form easing, “Really! Just ask him!”

“No, no need Herald, I believe you.”

“And here I thought we were friends, Blackwall.” Eldric shook his head before raising a hand in farewell, “Anyways, I’ve got business to see to. Erelani, I’ll be back in a few days.”

An awkward silence descended at his departure, and I weighed Blackwall’s usefulness as he fidgeted. I closed my eyes in defeat; I needed all the help I could get.

“Blackwall, right?”

“Yes, your Worship. Anything I can do to help?”

“I’m heading out in an hour to the base of the mountains. Can you join?”

“Definitely.” His gaze searched our surroundings before he sighed, “A girl was told to tell you to head to the Chantry if you were back. She’s not around, so…I mean, it sounded urgent.”

“Yeah, sure. Thanks for letting me know.” As I walked away, he suddenly came in front of me.

“I just wanted to say, what you’ve done, what you’re trying to do, in these terrible times,” his hands ran restlessly over his beard, “Thank you. And I want to help. I really do. Just lemme know. I don’t have any problems with the outdoors or elves -uh, shit, uh, look at me, rambling, I’d be glad to help, is what I mean. Your Worship.”

I stared, uneasy at his nervous demeanour. Why was he so intimidated by me? Wasn’t Blackwall supposed to be more-more-not this?

I tried to soften my countenance as I smiled, “I’m doing what I can, just like you. I’m glad you’re here.”

He froze, and looked comically shocked, “O-oh. Thanks.”

I smiled again, trying to put him at ease, before retreating quickly.

Why was everything so strange? What was going on?

Once I reached the Chantry, Cullen spotted me and rushed towards me, “You’re back!”

I took a step back, startled by his intensity, “Is everything alright, Commander?”

He didn’t reply and hailed an errand boy instead, “Summon Leliana and Josephine at once. Tell them that the Herald has returned.”

He started ushering me towards the War Room, “I apologize. While you must be tired, there are urgent matters that must be seen to at once.”

I took a deep breath, trying to stall my impending headache, “It’s alright Commander. Though I’d appreciate it if you’d send a meal into the room.”

A few minutes later, Josephine and Leliana barged into the room and Cullen grabbed a snack plate a servant was holding before locking the door shut.

The three then stared at me intensely, saying nothing.

“Alright, what is it?” I prompted when the silence stretched for too long.

Leliana dropped a piece of paper onto the table, “This morning, I received a very disturbing message from my agent in Val Royeaux. Is there anything you want to tell us?”

My stomach dropped to my feet and my mouth turned dry. I swallowed, “I don’t know what you want me to say.”

Cullen stomped towards me and I couldn’t help the way I recoiled, “How about the truth?! We trusted you, despite our better judgement, and this is what you have to show for it?”

“Cullen, wait!” Leliana restrained him by grabbing his elbow. She turned to me, menacing, “Tell the truth. Do not, for even one second, imagine I will not know.”

I opened my mouth, but no words came out. How could I tell them anything when I was just as ignorant? Even if I did know, how could I trust them?

“Was it the Desire demon?” Josephine asked, her tone cautious, “Did it possess you?”

That I could answer, “No, it wasn’t the Desire demon.” An idea blossomed; I could stick to facts as they had happened to me. Everything else, ultimately, was conjecture.

“Then what was it? Which demon was it?” Cullen snapped.

“I don’t know what’s happening.” Truth. “Something’s strange about the Mark. It-it terrifies me.” The tremble in my voice was real, “Solas told me, on the way to the Hinterlands, that I was showing signs of possession. He said the Mark was killing me.” All three of them stiffened and Josephine covered her mouth as she gasped, “Every time I seal a rift, it feels like, like, something is there, tugging at me, spreading inside of me. I don’t know what it is, only that it’s capable of sealing and opening rifts.”

Josephine and Cullen turned to look at Leliana, who merely nodded. Cullen swerved back to me, “And how does this make you immune to the Smite?”

“It doesn’t,” I closed my eyes, fighting my unease at revealing my vulnerabilities, “It was agonizing; I could barely stand afterwards. But something made me snap back, immediately. At a guess, I’d say it was the Mark.”

A tense silence fell over room, yet I persevered, “Will you punish me for being as clueless as you about the Mark?”

Josephine shook her head, “No, of course-,”

But I cut her off, unwilling to lose my leverage, “From the beginning, I’ve given everything I have, even binding myself to this organization. Yet you still treat me like a criminal, hounding me, not even allowing me a moment’s rest. Every decision I’ve made, all of you have had a problem with. If I spared someone, I wasn’t harsh enough. If I recruited someone, I wasn’t selective enough. If I punished someone, I wasn’t merciful enough. What do you want from me? Is my enslavement not enough? What more could you possibly want?”

Leliana’s eyebrows rose condescendingly at my tirade, “It’s simple, really. We want you to be upfront with us. How else will we lead? This isn’t about you, it’s about surviving and saving Thedas from this disaster, and to do that, we need information.”

My indignation fizzled out at her words. I closed my eyes for a moment before replying, “Only if you do the same. It’s hard for me to work in the field if I don’t have prior information.”

I watched Leliana’s weighted glance to Cullen and Josephine. Cullen covered his forehead with his left hand, “It’s only fair. It’s unreasonable to send her out without intel. It’s frankly miraculous that she’s done as well as she has with the little we’ve given her.”

“We can only succeed if we work together. We must cooperate, there must be give and take, I’ve said this repeatedly from the beginning.” Josephine crossed her arms, staring balefully at Leliana.

Leliana nodded, “Very well then, we have a deal.”

“Then you can start with telling me why everyone’s been treating me so oddly.” I turned to Leliana, “Surely, your spy network isn’t so leaky that the me being an abomination is already out?”

Leliana shook her head, “No, it isn’t, though we must prepare to deal with the fallout.”

Josephine smiled, “Though the rumours going around now will help with that.”

I waited patiently for them to get to the point, but it was Cullen who cracked first, “I can’t stand talking in circles! The rumours circulating about you are wild and contrary. One says that you abhor humans and mistreat them. Another says you are so merciful that you even spare bandits. You have the patience of a saint! But you strike without mercy! These kinds of rumours are normal, what’s unusual is that they are so contrary. It’s put people on their guard, that’s all.”

Unease crawled through me at the nature of these rumours, they were true, yet not. I forced myself to shrug it off, the rumours would only escalate from here on out and there were more important things to focus on, “Grand Enchanter Fiona is waiting at the foot of the mountain, she wants to join us and help seal the Breach.”

“What?” Cullen looked taken aback, “I thought you went to Val Royeaux. How did you meet Grand Enchanter Fiona?”

I settled in, grabbing the snacks on the table for myself. I was in for a long meeting.


 

I knocked on the cabin door, hoping this meeting with Fiona wasn’t a trap like Cullen had insisted in the War Room. I could hear the clank of metal that said Bull had partially drawn his weapons. As the wait stretched, the tension mounted until even I started to believe this was a trap.

A sudden click startled us and the door swung open to reveal an older elven woman dressed in very fine silk. The pride in the line of her back and determination in her eyes convinced me this was Fiona and not one of her apprentices at her door.

“You must be the Herald of Andraste,” a relieved smile blossomed on her face, “I am Grand Enchantress Fiona, leader of the Mages. Come in, please. I’m surprised you came here so quickly. I heard you departed for Val Royeaux only a week ago.”

I entered, nodding at her words as I surveyed her cabin. Inside, four apprentices were crowded around the back. Though they weren’t armed, their vigilance alerted me to their readiness for battle.

“Marcus here mentioned that you wanted to help us close the Breach,” I paused while I waited for Marcus to reach me, “Is this true?”

“Yes, it is. However, in return, I expect the Inquisition to fight for our cause. The mages have been mistreated for far too long.”

Surprisingly, Blackwall cut in, shaking his head, “You’re asking us to prolong this pointless war. You’re not thinking about the ordinary people caught in the crossfire. How many people died in the Hinterlands alone?”

“Even we want this war to end, so many people have died! But it isn’t wrong for us to fight for basic rights! The money gained from mage labour is given to everyone except us! How is that right? Children are struck Tranquil for minor offenses! Templars suffer no consequence for abusing us! Tell me, where do I take my apprentices? Where is safe for them?”

Bull raised his eyebrows, “You ever been to Seheron? Your lives are luxurious compared to the mages of the Qun. The South shows far too much compassion to its mages. Your powers are a danger to everyone, even yourselves.”

Fiona turned to me, her lips pursued, “And is this how you feel? You’re a mage, are you telling me you are satisfied with how people treat us?”

I took a deep breath before replying, “Before I answer, I must ask, what do you know of the Breach? Why weren’t you at the Conclave? Did you know what was going to happen?”

Fiona’s shoulders dropped, “I suspected that it could be a trap, so I sent intermediaries in my place. But I didn’t know that this was going to happen. These tears in the Veil, the kind of magic it takes, I understand why you’d think we had something to do with it. But I swear to you, we had nothing to do with this. We deal with the Fade every day, we know exactly what dangers can come from them,” The apprentices moved to Fiona and stood in support. She seemed to take courage from the gesture, “That’s why we want to help you. We want to protect Thedas against the evils of the Fade, for we are more familiar with them than anyone else. But after we do, we want our efforts acknowledged, we want to be trusted.”

While I believed her earnest words, something about the exchange felt off. Desperation coloured the entire exchange; the secretive meeting, the entreating yet defeated posture of the apprentices, the undeniable relief in Fiona’s expression.

Was I reading too much into this?

“Marcus came to me when you recruited the rogue mages from the Hinterlands. I wasn’t sure what to think, after hearing the rumours floating around, but everything you’ve done shows me that you’ve got a good heart. Believe me, we can help you. We want to help you.”

I looked at the others, gaging their reactions. Blackwall and Marcus looked sympathetic, but Bull was unreadable. The rest of the Chargers were standing guard outside the cabin.

“Sealing the Breach is the priority. If you help us with that, I’d be happy to help you. When can you depart for Haven?”

Fiona gasped, and tears filled her eyes, “Yes, of course, imme-,” she paused, her face paling, “I need to return to Redcliffe and prepare the people. If you would journey there and bring an armed escort, just to make it official, that would be beneficial. It would relieve many of us if we had something in writing, maybe a treaty we can iron out, so that we can trust your intentions.”

I sighed, ignoring her confusing body language, “Very well. I should return to Haven then, to prepare for Redcliffe.”

“Wait! Just to show we’re in good faith,” Fiona’s voice trembled a little, “I suspect the Templars have something to do with the Breach, they’ve been meeting up with oddly organized bandits who’ve been terrorizing the locals. We’ve even noticed Tevinter mages lurking in the area. You need to be careful.”

I froze, unable to ignore the information she dropped. My gaze sharpened as I evaluated everything she’d done and said so far. It was true that she wanted help and that she was willing to help, but she was hiding something.

“Thank you for your concern. Do you need protection on your way back? My men will be happy to accompany you.”

The offer seemed to snap her back straight and a light genuine laugh sprang forth from her mouth, “While I appreciate the offer, Herald, I’m more than capable of protecting myself. It’s my people that I worry about.”

I nodded and we said our farewells before leaving the cabin. As we climbed our way back up the mountain, Bull approached me, “Hey boss, don’t disappear on us just yet. Walk back with us, yeah? It’ll be nice to get to know you. Plus,” He turned his head back in the direction of the cabin, “Something about that was fishier than a fish market.”

“Her offer was genuine,” Blackwall frowned, “She was someone who genuinely cared about her people.”

“True.” Krem nodded, “She was also desperate and desperate people do stupid things.”

“Is what she said true?” I turned to the Chargers, “Have you guys spotted Vints in the area?”

Bull’s lips spread from ear to ear, “Well,” he dragged Krem forward, “Here’s one! Filthy Vint!”

Krem shook his head before throwing his arms off, “Godless savage, I don’t think she was talking about me.”

Dalish came up on the other end, “We did notice a few Vints in the area, but every time we tried to do recon, it led to dead ends.”

“Thank you, lethallin.” I became quiet, watching the others banter playfully in front of me. They seemed a bit cautious, perhaps conscious of me, but otherwise indulged in their camaraderie. As odd as it was looking at it from the outside rather than from within, it was a welcome break from the regular stresses.

I took a deep breath and promised myself that I’d find time to relax like this.


 

When I returned, the Val Royeaux company was back, along with Thranduil, Ellana and a large contingent of runaway Templars. An odd expression came over Solas’ face as he watched Thranduil and Ellana together and I forced myself to look away from him before he caught me staring.

After half a day’s rest, the War Council convened again, this time, with Cassandra and Thranduil included. The discussion in the War Room went nothing like expected.

All of them expected me to save both the Templars and the Mages. The choice didn’t exist; Thranduil volunteered to leave immediately with Valo-kas and the additional Templars to Therinfal Redoubt. The return journey would take at least two months; when Thranduil was close, he would summon me. Until then, the rest of us would attend to the mages in Redcliffe.

It should have relieved me. I should have been ecstatic that I’d be saving everyone.

I wasn’t.

A deep fear began to grow within me.

It was too much. I can’t do this. I can’t! Not while knowing exactly what’s awaiting me.

I didn’t say a word in that meeting.

Thranduil must have noticed because he pulled me aside at the end of the meeting, “Is everything alright?”

It’s funny, how of all the times to be frightened, it was now that I started trembling. My mind was rendered blank from terror; every interaction with that emotion and that demon had been in times of action or great adrenaline. What do you do when it’s the burden of expectations that terrifies you? How do you overcome that?

I was not a born leader. I had no natural leadership like Thranduil. I wasn’t charismatic like Ellana.

I only knew how to be a teacher. What would I do – educate others until they gave up?

Not in this world. And with the binding on me, I was destined to fail.

“Erelani, Erelani!

“I can’t do this. I can’t! You’re asking for the impossible!”

Thranduil blinked, startled, “What do you mean, exactly?”

“I can’t save everyone, Thranduil. It doesn’t work like that!”

“You’ve won every battle so far.”

His words made the fear escalate.

“What if I lose? Why am I winning so much? How does that even make sense? This didn’t happen when I was a mercenary. Why is it happening now?”

“Erelani, stop, you’re not making sense.” Thranduil shook me, “What do you mean, why am I winning so much? Isn’t it obvious? It’s the same reason I’ve been winning and the rest of Valo-kas continues to survive.”

I stared at him, gobsmacked. How? Why? And how had he figured it out before me? “Why?”

“You can’t be serious, you really don’t know?” Thranduil’s eyebrows rose high, “It’s true what they say. It’s the smart ones that are really dumb.”

“Thranduil!”

“Well, it’s because we’re mercenaries.”

I stared at him, uncomprehending.

“Really, you need me to spell it out for you? This is a refreshing role reversal,” He smiled wide, “We’re experienced fighters and it’s our trade. We outfit ourselves and train for it. Bandits and mages who almost never fight pose no threat. While Templars are harder to deal with, our team dynamics and roles are more versatile than theirs, allowing us an easy win. The only people we’d have true difficulty against are Chevaliers, Grey Wardens and soldiers of an army. Even then, because we fight more often than them, we’d be more experienced than most. Why do you think mercenaries are in high demand? We’re good at what we do.”

Oh. That did make sense.

“Is anything else bothering you?”

My mind spun through the myriad issues plaguing me until it rested on something he could help with.

“Haven isn’t fortified enough.”

I could see Thranduil’s mind working through all the possible problems and solutions to the issue I’d pointed out.

“I don’t think there’s much we can do, not with refugees coming in every day. Unless you want to cut them off?”

“No.”

“Do you remember the barrier of intention that Zathrian used to set up when we were close to human settlements? Would that work?”

The barrier didn’t do much more than alert the parties when someone hostile was approaching, and it was a spell I used frequently for its effectiveness. With such a large influx of people though, this information would be useless because the hostile person could easily lose themselves among the crowd. Maybe I could modify it so that the person in question was knocked unconscious and marked, allowing Leliana time to investigate. The trade-off was that barrier would have to be rejuvenated each time it went off, but the benefits would far outweigh the cons.

“No, but with a few modifications, it could work. Do you think you could grab Kaari and Ellana and meet me at the gates in an hour? We can set a perimeter.”

Thranduil smiled, “Alright, see you then.”


 

The hour passed quickly and with Desire and Valour’s help I managed to create the modified barrier spell. The only thing left to do was set up the anchor points for the barrier, and with the others’ help, the perimeter would be covered quickly.

I headed to the gates, unsurprised to find Kaari, Ellana and Thranduil already there, deep in discussion. I joined them and spent another hour teaching them how to setup this barrier.

“So, each of us takes a point and sets the anchor there. When you finish, meet me at the North point and I’ll trigger the spell.”

“By the way, you forgot to tell Leliana what you were doing,” Ellana rolled her eyes, “You can be so forgetful sometimes, Hahren.”

I shrugged, indifferent to her criticism. What was Leliana going to do, stop me from protecting the village? If she didn’t like the initiative, then Cullen could do it. And if even he was resistant, at least the guards at the gates would listen to reason and go the extra mile.

Perhaps I should have, at least, let Leliana know what her role would be, to ensure this barrier operated efficiently. I shook off the thought, “Did she say she would help?”

Thranduil nodded, “The mages we recruited will be responsible for reporting and maintenance.”

“Good. I’ll take North point, Ellana East, Kaari West and Thranduil South. Meet me at North when you’re done.”

They headed off with a mock salute, making me huff in amusement. I exited the gates and trudged through the heavy snow, returning the nods that people gave me as I passed. I crossed the frozen river and pulled myself onto the ledge.

As I trekked further away from Haven, a peculiar sound caught my attention. It was unlike any sound I’d ever heard before; an odd amalgamation of percussion and string, with almost drum like beats accompanying the smoothness of an almost violin.

Entranced, I moved towards the sound, and as I got nearer, a deep soulful melody took shape. It was…it was painful.

The notes spun a story of loss, of heartbreak, of desperation. And beneath it all, a hope that things would get better, of moving forward despite failure.

My heart…my heart was breaking.

Someone help me, I’m breaking.

The music changed, slowly, gradually. The beats increased and the string got aggressive. It turned defiant.

As I neared the music, my steps turned silent. I stopped behind a large tree trunk and peered out into a small clearing.

It was Solas.

He was sitting cross-legged, holding an instrument I’d never seen before on his shoulder, the drum-like flat surface resting between his legs while the strings stretched from the end of the drum to his shoulder.

His eyes were closed, lost in his melody as his hands tapped the drum and strummed the strings without thought.

I couldn’t move. I didn’t know if I breathed.

I only watched, my body turning warm despite the snow.

He played for a long time and I stood transfixed.

A loud crunch of snow seemed to snap him out of his trance and his playing stopped. His eyes swerved around the clearing and even then, I only watched him.

His eyes landed in the copse of trees I was standing in and my heart started pounding, “Ellana?”

The cold returned with a vengeance and a wave of disappointment crashed through me. As I opened my mouth to answer, another voice cut into the clearing, “That was beautiful, Solas.”

My heart crumbled as Ellana stepped forward from behind the trees, smiling, “You have an incredible talent, Solas. Why are you hiding this?”

At her words, Kaari stepped forward too, smiling, “That was some pretty incredible shit.”

A hand suddenly came to rest on my elbow and gripped it hard. Alarmed, I turned to find Thranduil standing behind me, his face cold. He bent down to me and whispered, “Step out.”

He must have seen something on my face because he squeezed harder, “You will not hide. Step out and let him know you heard.”

What was he saying? Why was he saying this? I shook my head furiously. Solas had a peculiar effect on me, he made me feel…I felt…vulnerable.

With Thranduil, there had always been comfort and familiarity. It was a love that was almost familial, because he would always be there for me. It was reassurance and partnership. Love in its best definition, unrequited though it may be.

But never had my heart trembled like this. There had never been this complete loss of reason. There had never been a crippling anxiety that he would be indifferent.

When I didn’t move, Thranduil’s grip eased and wrapped around my hand. He jolted me forward and pulled me along with him.

I resisted like a little girl throwing a tantrum until we crossed the tree line. Embarrassed, I composed myself and Thranduil let go of my hand.

“Maybe we should get him to play at the bar. I know, at least, that Erelani would enjoy it.”

Stop it, Thranduil! Don’t do this! Don’t humiliate me!     

Baby blue eyes, still widened in shock, crinkled into amusement, “I will consider it, for the Herald.”

Somehow, having his amused gaze upon me settled my anxiety. A real smile came forth, “Be careful of what you say, Solas, I might just take you up on your offer.”

He let out a genuine laugh and I was transfixed. His eyes swerved to Ellana and stayed there, “As flattered as I am by all this attention, I did come out here for some time alone. Why are you here? Is there any way I can assist?”

“Hahren wanted to set up a protective barrier for Haven.” His eyes still didn’t leave her.

Solas and Ellana continued to chat about the barrier, ignoring everyone else. Even the questions he should’ve addressed me, like the design of the barrier, he addressed to her. He made no attempt to converse with me.

My heart sunk as realization dawned on me. Any mage worth his salt could sense the Mark when it was nearby. He’d known I was there all along.

Now, he was avoiding me.

I clenched my fists.

So not only was Solas dangerous, he was completely disinterested in me.

He was forbidden. He was dangerous. He was a challenge. This was the worst kind of aphrodisiac.

I was in trouble.

Chapter Text


 

Redcliffe

“All of my words, if not well put or well taken, are well meant.”
― Woody Guthrie


 

The clatter of horses resounded through the valley as Thranduil and his forces climbed down the mountain to Therinfal Redoubt. Ellana stood next to me, staring wistfully at the departing company. “I know what you’re going to say. You still need me more.”

“Me? I need you?” I scoffed, “With so many others around, of course, I need you.”

“How many of them do you actually trust?”

My mouth clamped shut and her eyes glinted knowingly, “Like I said, you need me more.”

A strong impulse to snap at her rose yet I remained silent. While my concern for Thranduil was gut wrenching, it was impossible to ignore the truth of her words. I placed a hand on her shoulder in acknowledgement before letting out a deep sigh, “We need to get our preparations done too.”

Ellana’s lips trembled as she smiled, “I want to be here for you, more than anything else.”

I blinked, confused at her sudden display of emotion. Was I too harsh? I pulled her into a hug, “You are right.”

She squeezed me back hard before retreating, “I should be heading back to the Chantry; Leliana asked to see me.”

I nodded before heading into the village to do my routine rounds; checking the food supply, blacksmith and the general living conditions of the refugees. Haven had already reached full capacity yet with each passing day, the number of people entering the village continued to increase. Since the needs of the others outweighed mine by a large margin, and I didn’t want to spend time in an overcrowded human village, I handed my cabin over to Threnn.

Adan, however, continued to suffer from difficulties only healers could understand; he was short staffed no matter how many mages he was assigned. Even the few hundred potions he brewed every day fell short because of the huge demand. He needed all the help he could get.

I trudged over to Adan’s cabin and hours passed in the haze of treatment and brewing. I pocketed the best batches of healing potions for my team and as I turned to leave, Adan stopped me, “Herald, if you’re headed to Redcliffe, you need to recruit the herbalist who lives there. She’s famous for her potent restoratives and we can use all the help we can get.”

I nodded, “Very well, I’ll see what I can do.”

As I exited, I found Solas outside his cabin in the cover of night, deep in conversation with Minaeve. Palming his share of the restoratives, I approached them and caught the tail end of their conversation as Solas handed her a dead carcass, “I hope this helps.”

“Yes, it does, thank you Messer Solas!” Minaeve beamed at him, and a jolt of insecurity rushed through me. Her eyes fell on me, and her face paled, “Herald it’s not what it looks like! This is research that the Nightingale has commissioned! I’ll-I’ll just get out of your way!”

I blinked, thrown by her terror. As she rushed away, I grabbed a hold of her, “Wait, please!”

She startled, then stumbled, slipping on ice and I caught her in my arms to prevent her from falling. There was a moment of silence and Minaeve’s jaw opened then closed, speechless.

Embarrassed at my forcefulness, I set her down carefully. “Forgive me, Minaeve. I should have been more careful.”

She remained silent; her eyes wide. A small chuckle from behind snapped her out of her silence, “Yes, Herald! No! I mean, yes?!”

I fidgeted, embarrassed that I’d terrified someone so much. Damn, why was I so bad at things like this? I tried to gentle my demeanour, “If it’s not too much of an imposition, I’d like to request a favour.”

Thankfully, she nodded enthusiastically, “Of course, Herald!”

“Can you research ways that I can incapacitate my enemies rather than kill them? If you could highlight their weaknesses and suggest strategies, I’d be very grateful.”

“O-Oh.” Minaeve blinked rapidly for a second, “I’m already sending the Spymaster such reports. If you’d like, I can send you one too.”

“Right. Thank you. I really do appreciate this.”

She beamed, “I’ll get right to it!”

She rushed off to the Chantry and as I watched her, I tried to determine if Solas was still around with my peripheral vision.

A small glimpse of the tattered green jumper had my heart soaring and sinking all at once. I turned to find his blue eyes watching me, studying my every move. Despite this, I couldn’t help the smile that spread across my face, “Picking off bits from dead bodies, Solas? Looting from the dead is normal, but this is a lot, even for a hedge mage.”

His posture relaxed at the teasing, “I’ll keep that in mind, Dalish apostate.”

My lips tilted up, “Not abomination?”

“That wouldn’t be wise, given the current situation.” His lips tilted up a little in response, “Though with the way you carry on, one can hardly blame the villagers for calling you a vessel for Desire demons.”

My smile dropped. My mind blanked.

He couldn’t possibly mean what I thought. He couldn’t. Was I really that transparent?

The silence extended too long. His eyes ran over my expression before he continued, “I’m sure that girl is infatuated with you after your act of kindness. It’s nothing unusual and it will pass quickly. You need not worry.”

His smile faded at my continued silence and he retreated suddenly, “I should return, Herald. I have been tasked with a few things…”

I blinked rapidly, trying desperately to ignore the subtext he’d sent. “Of course, I’ll see you at the gates tomorrow.”

As he turned away, Ellana’s voice cut through the air, “Hahren!”

We both turned, and another stab of insecurity went through my heart as Solas abandoned his retreat.

“Hahren, you have to see this!” She spared Solas a glance before shoving a scroll into my hands. My eyes sped through it, a pit of dread settling into my stomach. Keeper Deshanna was begging Ellana to return, presumably, because she had refused. Bandits, ‘too armed and trained’ were attacking the clan and the Keeper was desperate enough to ask Ellana to reach out to the Inquisition for help.

I had forgotten, it was really that simple. In all the immediacy of the problems thrown at me, I had forgotten that there was so much more going on beyond Haven.

Blood drained from my face as the true scope of this descended on me. I couldn’t remember what series of actions would lead to the clan’s survival. All that stood out was that nine times out of ten, the clan got slaughtered. Even the city elves of Wycome would be dragged into this conflict.

What could I do? I had to remember; there had to be something!

I glared down at the accursed Mark, hating its existence.  

“Hahren, it’s okay. Don’t be so mad,” Ellana’s face had a sombre cast, though a small smile curled her lips, “If you need me this much, I’ll stay. The Keeper can handle a few bandits.” As she spoke, confidence straightened her shoulders and she reached out a hand, squeezing my shoulders.

I seriously considered her words; if Ellana stayed here, then her life would be spared. She’d feel guilty about abandoning her clan when it all went down, but ultimately, she’d be alive.

Yet…the mere idea of abandoning clan Lavellan in their time of need to such a fate was too repulsive to even contemplate. The Oath aside, the clan had been a home away from home, one that had welcomed me despite their reservations.

But what could I do?!

There were no forces of the Inquisition that I could spare, not even spies. The Duke couldn’t be contacted for help because he was the problem.

“Hahren!” Ellana shook me, frustrated at my lack of response.

I took a deep breath, “Ellana, you need to go to Wycome. Take whatever resources you can with you.”

“I’m not leaving you because of bandits!”

“These are not ordinary bandits,” I struggled to put my concern into words that would warn her of the upcoming danger. “I’ve been expecting something like this for a while. A Dalish elf being named the Herald of Andraste is a dangerous thing.”

Ellana’s face twisted in disbelief, “You think these attacks are deliberate.”

“If I may,” Solas interrupted as he stepped forward, “I know it’s not my place, but that seems a little presumptuous. They may just be bandits.”

Shit. I knew this was going to happen. No one would ever believe my words as anything more than paranoia and hatred of humans. Still, “Ellana, you should go and help your clan; it’s your duty. If it’s just bandits, then there’s no problem.”

Ellana’s expression soured, “You want me to leave you, to go help my clan fight bandits.” Her fists clenched, “Why don’t you just say it straight? You don’t want me here!”

I jerked back in shock, “What?”

“Isn’t that what’s going on? Is it because of-,” She cut off, glancing at Solas before her jaw tightened, “All the attention I get? Because I’m getting in the way of the men you want?”

My breath hitched, and I stared, stupefied by her words. What was happening? Why was she saying this?

“Hear me now, Erelani!” She grabbed both of my shoulders, resolve twisting her features, “I don’t want them! I don’t want any of them! Not if it means I’m not with you!” Her hands squeezed painfully, “Love, that kind of love, means nothing to me! You…you are…my teacher, my friend, my guide,” her expression crumbled, “How can I just leave you? You are the only Hahren worthy of that name. Please, please don’t hate me, don’t send me away.”

The pain and desperation in her voice had me reaching out and before I knew it, I was hugging her.

I wasn’t a good Hahren.

I had been selfish. Blind. As much as I tried to be a Hahren, I’d been swept away by my desire for…for…everything. I’d been swept away by hatred, by envy, by anger.

Ellana was giving me more credit than I deserved.

Yet…

Yet…

I wanted to be what she saw in me.

“Ellana,” I moved her away from me, “Ellana, there is no man-,” I cut off, unable to finish my sentence and say that no one could get in between us; Thranduil had stood between us for a long time whether she knew it or not. I remained speechless. In the aftermath of her sincerity, meaningless platitudes felt wrong.

I settled for the truth, “Ellana, I’m not sending you away because of-of-whatever it is you were suggesting-I,” I took a deep breath, desperate to tell her the weight of the situation, “I really think-,” Words failed me as the futility of the situation hit me. How could I get her to believe?

“I’m really frightened, Ellana.”

Ellana stared at me hard, “You’re not saying something.”

I opened my mouth and closed it again, “I have a terrible feeling about this. Please go and check on them, Ellana.”

Ellana closed her eyes in resignation, “Fine, I’ll go.”

As she turned away, I grabbed her arm, “Whatever is going on, try to resolve it as peacefully as possible. The safety of the People is paramount. More than thoughts of freedom,” I stared at her hard, hoping she’d picked up the hidden message. The sudden focus of her eyes as she turned to me, assured me that she did, “If you need me, I’ll come at once.”

As Ellana rushed off, Solas moved into my line of vision, his hands moving to his back, “Do you really suspect something? Did you dream?”

“Attacking clan Lavellan can be nothing but a message. The Dalish do not have much, so to most, they mean nothing. If they’re being targeted, it can only be because of me.”

He nodded slowly and as he opened his mouth to reply, I cut him off, remembering the way he’d been avoiding me, “These are your share of potions, Solas. I’ll see you at the gates tomorrow.”

I walked away, feeling as if my heart was bleeding. I felt as if someone had scraped me raw and revealed the most vulnerable parts of me. As well intentioned as Ellana had been, she’d exposed my vulnerabilities to the one man who’d take maximum advantage of them.

With her actions, Ellana had all but confirmed to Solas that I was obsessed with him.


 

A quick debriefing in the War Room revealed that Redcliffe had gone dark: there was no information coming in or out. The city was sealed shut; the spawning of rifts near the city prevented anyone from getting in or out of the city.

I tried to push for a pre-emptive strike on the city, but all three advisors staunchly refused; they saw no reason to antagonise the Arl of Redcliffe and in turn, the King of Ferelden with such an attack. With no information coming out of Redcliffe, any attempt to convince the Council was difficult.

All I got was Fiona’s requested honour guard.

The morning dawned and a small envoy marched down the valley into the Hinterlands.

The journey was difficult. The Mark was acting up; whatever measures Solas had put in place seemed to have weakened. It was growing aggressively; Solas had to renew his enchantments every hour to keep the Mark contained.

With each spell, pity grew in Solas’s eyes.

I hated it.

Madame Vivienne, however, took great pleasure in pointing out Solas’s supposed incompetence. Blackwall, in return, would defend Solas, stating at least he tried to help. Bull or Sera would jump in, and an argument would start, broken up by either Varric insulting everyone or Cassandra bringing them to order.

This group was a wretched messbut I didn’t want to do anything about it.

Why did these people even matter when compared to the disasters awaiting us? Why should I care that they didn’t like each other, when they didn’t like me?

There was no doubt about it either. Every time I approached them, there was a discernible flinch from nearly all of them. Only Solas, Cassandra and Varric showed some restraint, but their stiff body language betrayed them.

It hit me, how alone I really was without the others. When Valo-kas had been around, the sight of a friendly face had made it easier to ignore the suspicion. But with nearly all of them gone, it was impossible to ignore this behaviour. To make things worse, only Maxwell remained from Valo-kas. Only Maxwell approached me fearlessly. Only Maxwell spoke to me.

Not Cassandra. Not Solas. Not Varric.

Maxwell.

And the most terrifying bit: he was kind.

Every gut instinct I had was screaming in distrust.

Maxwell was responsible for this, he had to be. He was plotting. He wanted to take my credibility away, look important and trustworthy while I looked like a nutcase barely holding it together.

Worse still, his mask of kindness and amiability never broke. His absolute confidence in his sense of right was an aphrodisiac to Cassandra. He was the worst kind of person; one who insisted he was righteous and that every wrong he did was necessary while everyone else was evil.

I couldn’t stand him, couldn’t even bear to look him in the face. Treacherous. He was treacherous. I had to do something about him.


 

The rift at Redcliffe was…different. It was…heavy. Moving was difficult, until the weight suddenly disappeared, and everyone was thrown by the sudden weightlessness.

The heaviness came in pulses, nearly unpredictable in its intensity or duration, until a stroke of luck let me close the rift.

I checked on the Mark, expecting another failure on its enchantments after that rift, but surprisingly, it was inert and unaffected.

“Did anyone else find that rift odd? It wasn’t normal, was it?” Blackwall queried, uneasy.

“That was definitely abnormal,” Maxwell strode towards me, “Erelani, thoughts?”

Fucking asshole. How dare you act like the leader? I clenched my fists hard, trying to breathe through my rage. I remained quiet, determined to keep my silence and only speak when it was absolutely necessary.

But it was only to my detriment, “Solas, I think Erelani could use your help again. Do you mind-?”

“Of course.”

As Solas reached out, I moved my hand away and clenched it over my staff.

“There is no need.”

I could see the visceral reaction the others had at the sound of my voice, all of them freezing in place.

It didn’t matter. They didn’t matter. I just had to focus on the mission.

I flexed my fingers, trying desperately to think through this situation. I passed a glance at the others until it rested on Sera.

“Sera,” She jumped at being addressed, “What did that rift feel like to you?”

“Fuck if I know! It was fucking weird! Are they all like that?”

“Like what, Sera?”

“Dunno, like walking through water? Then like someone pushed you off a cliff and whoosh! You’re falling?”

“No, it isn’t. Master Tethras?”

“About the same, but it wasn’t that bad for me. Honestly, you guys looked funny, like one of those travelling performers that come to town.”

“Madame Vivienne?”

“These are just tricks of the Fade, darling, nothing to worry about.” I stared at her hard, expecting a real answer, “It was a spell, darling. It’s unfortunate that you didn’t receive a Circle education, it would have been… beneficial…for you.”

I ignored her jab, “Bull?”

“Stupid magical shit. Couldn’t move properly.”

“Lady Cassandra?”

“Madame Vivienne was right; it was a spell. But the cause is hard to ascertain.”

Maxwell spoke up suddenly, “I hate to say this, but if its magic and there are mages here, is the cause really that hard to guess?”

Blackwall shook his head, “They came to us for help. They were desperate. They could be victims.”

I turned to look at the one man who would know. He remained silent even as we made eye contact.

“Solas?”

“Something is wrong.”

“Ahh, yes, what helpful advice. A blatant statement of the obvious. Your knowledge is irreplaceable, Solas.”

“It’s nothing compared to your thorough education, Madame. How many here could have guessed that it was a spell?”

I ignored the argument that broke out behind me and watched the gates opening for us. One of our runners headed into the town, while the procession marched slowly into the town.

I followed close behind, unease crawling through me. I’ve travelled to Redcliffe many times for many jobs, and never was it like this. Once the Warden saved the Arl and his village, it became important. Trade flourished and the village expanded, giving a home to the hundred displaced by the Blight. Normally, an envoy like this would be welcomed with open arms; merchants yelling offers, children running behind the horses and cheers ringing through the crowd. Yet the town was quiet with hardly any people out, and the few who were, quickly retreated indoors once they caught sight of us.

The runner came back, looking thoroughly confused. “Herald, no one here was expecting you.”

“What?” Maxwell swerved to me, “I thought you said the Grand Enchanter summoned you?”

As unsurprising as this development was, the unease of the others was nearly tangible.

“She asked for our help, she was worried.” Blackwall repeated uneasily.

“Boss, I told you there was something fishy. This is a trap.”

“Grand Enchanter Fiona said she’s still happy to receive you, Herald. She’s waiting at the pub.”

The envoy remained on the outskirts of the village while my companions accompanied me to the pub. The pub was deserted with a handful of patrons in the back.

Fiona looked pale and sickly, her four apprentices standing close behind her. Once she caught sight of me, she stood abruptly, “Herald! It really is you! I apologise, I wasn’t expecting you, or else I would have made better arrangements.”

Something was off. More than her loss of memory. More than the supposed spell. More than Tevinter mages.

For some reason, the Grand Enchanter’s words rang false to me. While she had been desperate before, there had been air of sincerity. Now, she looked like a desperate woman at the edge of her tether who would do or say anything to escape her situation.

“Grand Enchanter Fiona, you met me in the Hinterlands recently. Do you recall asking me to come here?”

Her face paled even further, “I-I, what?” Her hands started shaking, “I apologize, and I do not mean any offense, but are you sure you met me? I recall nothing of the sort.”

A heavy silence descended.

“I must say, Fiona darling, while I have questioned your abilities as a leader for many years, never did I think your memory would fail you.”

Fiona’s face suddenly regained some colour as she frowned, “Madame Vivienne. What a…pleasure.”

“I’m afraid I don’t share the sentiment, my dear. You look positively dreadful.”

Fiona pursued her lips before facing me, “Whatever brought you here aside, Herald, the situation here has changed. The free mages have-,” she swallowed convulsively, “pledged themselves to the Tevinter Imperium.”

“Fiona, my dear, your dementia is showing.”

“As one indentured to a magister, I do not have the authority to negotiate with you. ”

Exclamations of disbelief filled the room, but Maxwell was the loudest of them all, “Tevinter? You sold the mages to Tevinter? Why-?!”

“Because we were losing the war! So many died and I had to save the people I could! Do you think I would have chosen Tevinter if I had another option? I did what-!” A door suddenly banged open, cutting off Fiona’s tirade.

A middle-aged man garbed in expensive sharp robes sauntered in, followed by a small contingent of armed mages. “Why did no one tell me that we had a guest? I would have come sooner had I known!”

Fiona scowled before nodding to the man, “Agents of the Inquisition, allow me to introduce Magister Gereon Alexius.”

“The Southern Mages are under my command,” His eyes roved over everyone present until they rested upon me, “You must be the survivor! The one who left the Fade? I’ve heard so many interesting things about you.”

If there was one thing I hated more than the Chantry, it was Tevinter. I hated everything about them; the slavery, their religion, even their culture. How did they use the intricate art of blood magic? To enslave others. What did they do after discovering the intelligence of spirits? Enslave them. What did they do after embracing the entirety of magic? Enslave others.

Neither did they try to better the lives of their own people. It was all about glory, power and greed.

But their worst offense; they ruined my people.

The ancient elves may have destroyed the Elvhen empire, but Tevinter ruined them.

“Silence? Are you mute? Is there another who can speak in her stead?”

Cassandra stepped forward, “Where is Arl Teagan and his men?”

“Away from the village for the moment.”

“The Arl didn’t abandon the village, not even during the Blight. He wouldn’t abandon it now!”

“There were tensions arising, and I didn’t want to create an incident. As it is, the Southern Mages are now working for the Imperium and have started departure.”

“And why would the Imperium need the Southern mages, my dear?”

“We don’t. They were a considerable expense. After the Breach, they were in need and I happened to be in the area. The only use I can discern for them is in the Legion.”

“No!” Fiona cried, “You said they wouldn’t all go to the military! There are children! Those incapable-!”

“And I spent a considerable amount to get you into Tevinter. They can do as they like, once their debt has been repaid.”

Fiona looked gutted.

“Be that as it may,” Maxwell had donned his polite noble mask, “We still need the mages to close the Breach. I’m sure we can come to an arrangement.”

“Why, of course! We must do what we can to help each other during these difficult times,” His face turned back to me, “Though I must confess to some disappointment. I’ve heard so many things about your survivor, but she is so quiet,” His voice became deliberate and slow, “Do-you-understand-me?”

I remained silent, keeping my stone-like visage. Everything here was a lie, a charade. While I was good at loopholes and tricking spirits, handling human nobility was a completely different skill. Not only was I a nobody to nobility, I was only good at manipulating and bending the truth. I could do nothing when confronted with such bald-faced lies. From what social position could I contradict them? Who would believe me?

What else could I do, except remain silent?

“Oh, poor thing. Her mind must be addled. Who knows what other effects the Breach must have had,” I caught Maxwell’s grimace from the corner of my eye at Alexius’s words, “Well, come along, please, have a seat.”

The door banged open again, “Father!” Two men barged in, garbed in expensive shiny mage robes, “Stop this! Look who I’ve found!”

“Felix! What are you doing out of bed?” He rushed frantically to the frail looking man attired in sunshine yellow robes, “I told you to stay out of this! I told you to rest!”

“Father, please listen to me. If you won’t listen to me, at least listen to Dorian! I don’t want this. I don’t want any of this!”

“Alexius.”

“Dorian. What a surprise. What are you doing so far away from home?”

“I could ask the same of you, Alexius. Felix has been telling me the strangest things.”

 “More Tevinter mages,” Bull grumbled, “This shit is just getting worse.”

“Father, let’s please just go home! Let the Inquisition take the Southern mages and close the Breach! Let’s return home.”

“No! Not when I’m so close! Not when I can save you! The Elder One promised me!”

I’d heard enough. I strode over to the quarrelling mages and came to a stop close behind Felix, “You are the Magister’s son?”

He startled before swivelling towards me, “I beg your pardon, that was so rude of me. Yes, I am and I’m trying to help you. We don’t need these mages, not as much as you.”

I placed a restraining arm on his shoulder, “Would you care to explain what’s going on, Felix?” I dragged him closer to me, “Don’t worry, you know about my Oath, don’t you? I won’t harm you, not unless you give me reason to.”

“Felix, get away from her!”

Alexius drew his weapon and as he did so, I drew mine, placing the blade of the staff on Felix’s neck, “A magister delving in dangerous magic. Tell me, why am I not surprised? Are you responsible for the Breach?”

“Unhand my son.”

“Father, you heard her, she cannot harm me. Please just tell her everything! Don’t make this any worse than it has to be.”

“That only means that she has no leverage,” His gaze travelled to every person who’d pulled out their weapons, “Still, I am a reasonable man. The Southern mages came to me. We made an arrangement. I’ve done nothing wrong.”

“Who is the Elder One?”

“A man who promised to heal my son.”

“In exchange for what?”

“That’s between the Elder One and me. None of your business, I’m afraid.”

I bristled in irritation at his evasive answers. “Are you responsible for the Breach?”

“No, of course not,” He drawled, his confidence returning with each verbal victory, “Though you are clawing at magic you barely understand. Word has it that you’re an abomination, yet somehow I’m the villain?”

Why were nobles so good at verbal warfare? I could pin nothing on him, nothing that wasn’t already obvious. It was Fiona’s fault for agreeing to his terms. It was my fault for drawing my weapon on Felix. Alexius had no reason to share his personal business with others.

I withdrew my weapon from Felix but kept a firm grip on him, “Felix, you were never in any danger from me. I ask again, is there anything you want to tell me?”

“Father, please. I don’t want to betray you, but I will if I have to.”

“Well, I suppose I can fill in some of the gaps,” Dorian bowed, “Dorian of House Pavus, most recently of Minrathous. There has been word of Tevinter supremacists getting together, call themselves the Venatori. I think they follow someone called the Elder One. Does that help?”

 I hesitated. I was terrible at confronting human nobility; I couldn’t play their games because I had no familiarity with them. The boiling hatred I harboured for them destroyed any chance of presenting a sympathetic visage.

A strong sense of self-loathing engulfed me as I glanced at Maxwell in a silent ask for help.

He strode forward immediately, “That sounds like a cult,” His head tilted, “Magister Alexius, affiliated with cultists. What has the world come to?”

“You have no idea what you’re saying.”

“They’re cultists, aren’t they? Did they promise you a miraculous cure in return for faith in their god? Were there disturbing rituals? Was there dancing?”

Alexius scowled, “And what about your people? A female elf, no, an abomination, the Herald of Andraste, going around performing unknown stolen magic to close rifts. You have no right to throw stones.”

Maxwell shrugged, “We’re doing what we can to help others. We’re trying to close the Breach. Can you say the same about the Venatori? What are they doing?”

“Father, please, tell them. You don’t even like the Venatori. Neither do our men! I would rather die than be a part of this. Please.”

Alexius sighed in defeat, “Very well. I’m done with this charade,” He eyed everyone in the room, “I’ll tell you everything you want to know.”

I froze, unable to believe what was happening. Something wasn’t right. It couldn’t be this easy.

Alexius looked me straight in the eye, “Please, unhand my son. While you have no intention of harming him, he is terribly ill.”

My grip tightened, “And the mages?”

His face hardened, “While I can loan their services to you, they will still come with me. A deal is a deal.”

This wasn’t what I wanted. I couldn’t accept this. His change of heart meant nothing. I could not let the Southern mages be sold to the Imperium.

Felix gasped in pain as my grip tightened further.

“Unhand my son. I will not repeat myself again.”

I let him go, and as I did, every instinct I had flared up. Something wasn’t right.

Something wasn’t right.

Felix passed me an apologetic glance before rushing to his father. Alexius whispered harsh reprimands as he ushered him to the far end of the bar.

“I admit, I’m relieved Felix managed to make Alexius see sense,” Dorian edged closer to me, “Still, I’d be remiss if I didn’t warn you. I suspect Alexius has been dabbling in time magic. He shouldn’t have been able to get here when he did.”

“Time magic?”

“Alexius was my mentor. We were researching it together, but we’d never managed it. But perhaps, the rifts…,” he trailed off in thought.

“Father, please, no!”

I jerked up to see Alexius holding an amulet up.

“Alexius, no!”

There was rapid movement, and a sudden crush of bodies before we were engulfed in darkness.

Chapter Text


 

The Trouble With Time Travel

“Nobody knows anything.” – William Goldman

 


 

I woke to mind numbing, searing pain in my left hand. I tried to stand, but my vision doubled, and a throbbing ache began in the back of my head. I barely took a step before my stomach twisted sharply and vomit was expelled violently. My knees doubled over, too weak to hold me up.

“Did you hear that? There’s someone down there!”

The fear of discovery had me moving blindly until my feet collided with something on the ground. I crashed hard onto something metallic, creating a bang that echoed.

“Hurry! I think they’re getting away!”

As the sound of thundering footsteps drew closer, I crawled away on my knees the metallic thing. I cast a quick camouflage spell, hoping desperately that I’d gathered enough mana for the spell.

My mana convulsed erratically, but thankfully, the spell took and settled over my form. I stayed still, not even daring to breathe.

“Where did these two come from? Did they knock each other over? How did they even get in?”

I tilted my head towards the conversation and tried my best to focus on the voices talking. My double vision persisted and to make matters worse, the Mark gave my vision a greenish tint.

Useless. This was fucking useless!

 “Should we tell someone about this? What if they’re intruders? We need to let someone know!”

“You heard the vomiting, didn’t you? Sounds like these two drank themselves into a stupor. Who can blame them?”

“You know the restrictions that have been put up. Everyone is a suspect.”

“You’re terrible. One day, you’ll find yourself on the other side and wish someone had showed you some compassion. And I’ll tell you, that won’t be me.”

The sounds of heavy breathing and a low metallic creaking filled the surrounding as the two voices dragged something away.

I remained in the same spot long after those two voices left, too afraid to remove my camouflage spell when I was this helpless. As time passed, my vision didn’t improve and the pain in my left hand only worsened. No healing spell made a difference, though my headache did lessen.

Slowly, I got used to the unbearable pain reverberating through my body and gave up my vision as a lost cause; not only had the green increased, everything was a near indiscernible blur.

Realisation of where I was slowly creeped in. Was this the dark future? Was I in Redcliffe castle? Or was I still in the pub?

No!

How could I assume that this was that dark future? What if this was just some random day in the future? Even a decade?! What guarantee did I even have of anything?!

It was impossible to move from my corner. It was safe here. I was half blind. I was crippled. I didn’t want to move.

The camouflage spell held even as small rays of light hit my corner, turning the greenish tint lighter. Hours passed and the light faded, then returned before I gathered the courage to move.

No matter when I was, I still had magic. The Breach should be open, which would explain why my spell still held when it should have faded out a long time ago. I still had my aura that I could use to receive sensory information.

I tried to extend my aura and experienced backlash from the Mark.

Fuck you, Anchor. Fuck you!

I persisted, pushing beyond the Mark only to feel a second backlash from something in the environment. I toppled to the floor, heaving desperately. It was one thing to work through the Mark; it was another to fight a war on two fronts.

Yet I couldn’t return to my corner. I had to do something. I had to find someone. Fuck, even Maxwell was better than this nothingness.

I refreshed my camouflage spell as I tracked through the room, trying desperately to make out shapes with my impaired vision. By some insane stroke of luck, I managed to exit the premises without being discovered. My sense of foreboding rose; it was midday, but I couldn’t spot any people in the area.

I moved quietly through Redcliffe, trying to find any signs of intelligent life, but found none. My feet scraped the edge of water and felt a heavy pressure settle on my shoulders. If I crossed the lake, I’d find the remnants of the Circle and, hopefully, someone who could explain what was going on. But Redcliffe Castle was the other way, on top of the hill. I’d heard voices my first day here, and by all reason, they would have gone there. That was where I’d find answers. Answers that I might already have.

Fear overwhelmed me and I stood frozen, unable to deal with what awaited me. Every step forward was difficult and filled with unbearable agony. My vision had been robbed by this accursed Mark and my aura sense couldn’t compensate. It was foolish to think that I could sneak into Redcliffe Castle unnoticed when I was like this. I’d be caught immediately.

I forced my feet forward, towards Redcliffe Castle. One step, two. One step, two.

The climb up to the castle took a long time. A large hulking rock in the distance assured me I found the right place.

I observed the castle, trying to come up with a plan. With a magister in charge, the castle would be rigged up with both magical and physical protections; I wouldn’t be able to sneak in.

I called out to my spirits for help, but there was only dead silence.

I had no idea how to get in. I didn’t know where the secret tunnels were. I was fucking blind.

I headed closer, hoping inspiration would hit me. The closer I got to the castle, the colder it got, until my feet hit a very cold stream of water. I followed the stream until I heard voices.

“Did you hear about the two that got picked up a few days ago?”

“Yeah. That bastard couldn’t keep his mouth shut. He ratted out the last two people left.”

“They’re not the last! You heard the magister, those townsfolk will serve a greater purpose! They’ll restore Tevinter’s glory!”

“Sure.”

Suddenly, an idea hit me. I slowly stripped my armour off, pinning it to my back before draping my travelling cloak over me to hide the bulge. I picked a handful of mud and spread it liberally over myself. I ripped my pant leg for a long strip of cloth before tying it over my eyes.

Sometimes, embracing a bad situation was exactly what you needed to help you.

I made my way forward, stomping on the ground routinely to make sure I was headed the right way. The raised voices suddenly quietened as I approached them.

“Hello, kind sirs,” I started quietly, “I heard you as I was making my way on the road. If it’s not too much trouble, would you please tell me where I am?”

A deep voice swore, “Shit.”

The lighter voice spoke over the deeper one, “This is Redcliffe castle, knife-ear.”

The deep voice suddenly turned aggressive, “You aren’t welcome here. Get out!”

I flinched and retreated.

“Hey, hey! No need to be so heartless!” The lighter voice was filled with hidden intentions, “Look at her, she’s been on the road for so long! Would you like to rest here?”

“You shithead! Leave her be-!”

“Forgive me, gentlemen, it seems I have caused you trouble. I’ll just be on my way,” As I turned to leave, heavy footsteps filled the air before they stopped in front of me.

“No, no, what kind of monsters would we be, letting a helpless girl wander alone in these forests? I’m sure we can find a place for you in this big castle.”

I made a big show of trembling, “Please, it’s not necessary. I wouldn’t want to inconvenience you. I’m looking for my friends, I’m sure I’ll find them.”

“Let her go. You need to let this one go.”

“Do your job. Don’t be such a coward.”

The sound of a sword unsheathing filled the air, “Get inside the castle, knife-ear.”

I made whimpering noises as I followed their footsteps.

“All these cells are full. Where were you going to put this girl?”

“Stop complaining and do your job! I’m sick of it! One more and I’m going to report you in!”

The tension in the air grew sharp.

“I’m going to give you one last chance. Lock this one up like the others. If she isn’t here when I get back, I’m going straight to the magister.” Footsteps retreated until it was just the man with the deep voice and me.

“Sorry. You ended up in the wrong place, and between my neck and yours, I’ll save mine.” His sword struck the wall, creating a screeching sound, “Follow this sound.”

We went through many winding staircases before stopping. The sound of a metal door opening filled the air, “Get in.”

As I moved, he grabbed my cloak, “No!”

“No belongings.”

“Please, it’s my last rations! I’m not a fool, you won’t be feeding me. Let me keep this, please! Please!”

He gave a deep sigh before letting go, “Very well.”

The door banged close and footsteps filled the air. I waited until the room quietened before pulling the blindfold out.

A large swath of red and green filled my vision.

Red lyrium. If I focused, I could hear a faint haunting melody in the background.

I backed away in fear and reached out for the door but it was locked shut. I felt around for the bolt and started the hottest fire spell I knew, one that I used to help my clan blacksmiths during their forging. I kept going until I heard heavy liquid oozing to the floor. Before it cooled, I used pieces of red lyrium to open the melting hot door.              

“Hello? Is anyone else in here?”

“You’re…alive. How? I…saw you…disappear into…a rift.”

“Who is it? Name yourself!”

“I am Grand Enchanter Fiona. I am in the cell in front of you.”

I moved closer to the sound of her voice, “I can’t see. Where am I? What’s the date?”

“It’s Harvestmere, 9.42 Dragon. This is Redcliffe Castle and it’s infested with red lyrium. It’s growing on me now, and once it consumes me, they come down to mine some more before repeating the cycles. Thousands have died. Thousands more will die.”

“Fiona-,”

“The Elder One, more terrible than the magister, more powerful than the Maker, Maker save us, forgive us, help us!”

She was rambling, delirious in her speech. I tried so hard to focus, to see, but I could make out nothing more than an amorphous form twitching in front of me, covered in red.

“I can help you, just tell me-,”

“No, you must find the others! It’s too late for me! But members of your Inquisition are still here. Look for them!”

I forced myself to walk away, knowing that she was right; it was too late for her. I restarted my camouflage spell and walked through the door, feeling around for passageways and praying to every god, both imagined and real, that I went undiscovered.

I found another cell, but no one replied when I called out and the stink of dead bodies permeated the room. I ventured deeper into the dungeons, until finally someone replied,

“Maker’s breath! Is it really you?”

“Name yourself!”

“Well, I’m a little disappointed you don’t remember me, but considering the circumstances, I’ll let this go,” the voice mocked, “Dorian Pavus, a Tevinter mage that is absolutely on your side and not Alexius’s.”

Intense relief overcame me, “Dorian?! Is it really you?”

“Wasn’t expecting that reaction, I must say, I’ve impressed myself.”

“I can’t see.” My voice cracked, “I can only see green and red, nothing else.”

“That might be a problem. Say, have you been here a year like everybody else?”

“No, I woke up in a bar a few days ago. You?”

“I woke up in a cell a few hours ago. This handsome fellow is still passed out.”

“Handsome fellow? There’s someone else with you?”

“Don’t know his name, but he definitely came with your party.”

Hope pushed me forward and I melted his cell door to reach him. As the door sprung open, I blinked hard, hoping desperately that I’d see something, and the darkness of the cell gave shape to two distinct forms.

I rubbed my eyes to be sure of what I was seeing. Dorian, in his expensive robes, was holding up Maxwell who was unconscious.

I could see them.

I rushed forward and ran diagnostics on Maxwell. It was no wonder that he hadn’t woken up; he had a severe concussion. I tried my best to heal him before turning to Dorian. He held up his hands in refusal, “I’m good, I did the basics and I’ve recovered from the fatigue.”

“Then we need to wait until he wakes up. We can’t carry him around.”

“That’s good, because we need to talk. I don’t think you understand what’s happened.”

“We’ve travelled a year into the future, where Alexius has decimated Redcliffe and red lyrium is feeding on everything. Have I missed anything?”

“He used the amulet to send us forward. The only chance we have to stop all this, is if we go back in time and stop it. To do that, we’ll need the amulet.”

“The Mark’s fucked up my vision. The only thing I can see is you and Maxwell. You’ll have to tell me what’s going on.”

“Alright, but only if you tell me how you managed to get from the bar into this castle, if you’re that blind.”

A little bit of the oppressive anxiety and dread eased as I slid down to the floor and started talking.

I wasn’t alone anymore. I could do this.


 

When Maxwell woke up and was informed of the situation, he broke down.

“Magic! It’s always magic!” He turned to me frantically, “Why are you blind?! Are you doing this on purpose? Do you want me to suffer? Is that it?! Isn’t all this enough for you?! Stop pretending!”

I stayed quiet in the face of his hysterics. As much as I hated him, I understood. This situation was too much. We were gambling on the possibility that we’d get back. Their best chance at survival, me, was blind and they would have to feed me every instruction.

Dorian, however, had had enough, “As terrible as you feel, let’s not forget that it’s her who’s blind. The best chance we have is by working together.”

Maxwell covered his face with his hands and shook for a few minutes more before pulling himself together, “We need to get as much information about this future as we can before we leave. We can’t let this happen.”

“On this, we’re all on the same page,” I straightened, “In the interests of full disclosure, I’m not completely blind. I can see you and Dorian, and indistinct blurry shapes in green. The red lyrium is also very prominent.”

Maxwell’s face twisted in confusion, “In green? Is your Mark acting up again?”

I held up my gloved arm where the sparking of the Anchor was clearly visible, “It’s worse than ever.”

He stared, repulsed by the repeated pulses and sparking of the Mark, “Maker, have mercy.”

“As much as I’d hate to interrupt this makeup session, we do have places we need to be.”

I recoiled from Maxwell at Dorian’s words, unable to hide my disgust at his implication.

“Shems.” I couldn’t help but grumble as they led me through multiple passages.

We found Blackwall, Sera, Iron Bull and Madame Vivienne, yet I could see none of them like I could Dorian and Maxwell. They remained indistinguishable blurs as we climbed the dungeons searching for the others.
Cassandra started weeping outright when she caught sight of me, broken from her prayers. “The Maker has acted, has shown mercy! I knew I was right about you! We must act, we must prevent this future from ever happening!”

More than anyone else, it was her words of faith that moved me. She was so distraught, yet so determined. Where did she get such strength? How could she retain such a strong strength of character? How could she remain so passionate?

She was inspiring.

In contrast, Varric dealt a healthy dose of reality to the situation. He spoke about the army that invaded, the assassination of Empress Celene and the ruination that followed.

I couldn’t find Solas.

Every companion I asked said the same thing, somehow Solas managed to escape. Soon after, Cullen and his forces invaded, but were unsuccessful in killing the magister. Leliana had been captured and was being tortured underground. They hadn’t heard from Solas since.

This deviation from what I had come to expect unsettled me. While nothing about this situation was easy, things had mostly gone as expected. This future was a year ahead, as expected. Most of my companions were still alive, as expected. Even the events that came to pass, was expected.

So why was this different?

I turned to look at Maxwell, who was walking next to three amorphous forms who were supposedly Vivienne, Cassandra and the Iron Bull.

He wasn’t supposed to be here either.

Was that it? Had his absence somehow led to Solas abandoning the Inquisition? Why did that even matter? How were those two things even connected?

I couldn’t help the stab of disappointment weighing me down. I had hoped reuniting with him would heal my vision. I had hoped, that perhaps, in these dire circumstances, I could have stolen a moment with him, one that he’d never remember. I had hoped, that if things went south, I could run away with him, fix the sky, find Valo-kas, just anything really, with him.

It was selfish, to be so devastated when Leliana was getting tortured by Tevinter scum.

Yet, Leliana found us before we found her. “The guards were talking about escaped prisoners. I expected them, but not you.

Maxwell’s breath hitched, “Leliana, you-you,”

“We don’t have time for dramatics. Erelani. What can you do?”

I shrank as I realized; she expected me to save them, not go back in time. I couldn’t speak, not with the weight of expectation directed at me.

Luckily, Dorian intervened, “We’re going to go back in time, stop all of this from ever happening.”

The acid in Leliana’s voice was impossible to ignore, “But it did happen. It is happening. Look around you! Don’t you dare say this isn’t real. Erelani, what are you going to do?

I tried to look in the direction of where I expected her eyes to be, “I can help you now Leliana, but if I have the chance to go back and save the others, how could I not? Remember the Oath, Leliana.”

Her voice filled with surprise, “Oath?”

I stared at her, befuddled, how could she forget? “You swore to protect the people of Thedas. We swore to protect them.”

“Ah, yes,” Her voice turned reflective, “Well, how am I to say no to such a bargain?”

Something wasn’t right.

The next hour passed by in a blur. Amorphous forms attacked amorphous forms, and I refrained from attacking because I couldn’t distinguish one from another. I only healed Dorian and Maxwell. I only cast protection spells on them.

We breached the Throne Room and found Alexius slumped defeatedly on the floor. Him, I could see.

As Dorian started talking, I couldn’t help but notice how the surroundings started to shake. A thundering roar filled the sky.

Alexius looked me in the eye, “The Elder One, he knows. He’s been warned. He’s coming for you.”

Dorian begged and pleaded with Alexius and kept pointing at another amorphous form, “Look at Felix! That isn’t alive! Give me the amulet! Help me stop this! We can reverse this! Please!”

A tussle broke out and I lost my patience. I could see Alexius, and he was going to pay for every agony that this world went through. It was his fault. His greed. He couldn’t bear to lose his son?! People died every day!

I fade-stepped, and it was so very easy, casting a mind blast that rammed him against a wall. I held him suspended, increasing the pressure with every second.

“Do you think you’re the only one who’s ever lost someone? Look around you! See what you’ve done! Are you satisfied?!”

The rage inside of me built. This entitled piece of human scum, who thought his pain was worse, as if his son being Blighted, was the worst thing that could happen!

He had to die slowly. Painfully. Physical pain wasn’t enough. It had to be emotional. He had to learn real pain.

He had to learn real abuse. Experience every pain he brought onto the others.

I rammed him repeatedly against the wall, until the jostling loosened the amulet on his person. “Dorian, get the amulet.”

No one came near.

I turned to find Dorian quaking in fear, the white of his eyes prominent on his face. Maxwell looked unmoved, even satisfied.

I dropped Alexius immediately. My rage receded enough to hear his desperate pleading, his ramblings that he would help, if only I stopped.

“Why did you stop?” Maxwell demanded, “He deserves it. After everything he’s done, he deserves it!”

I ignored him and looked at Dorian, forcing my voice to be gentle, “Dorian, grab the amulet. We need to get back.”

He nodded slowly, his shaking receding.

“I need an hour, even with his help.”

“You can’t trust him! Do you remember how we ended up here?!” Maxwell countered.

“I’ll be careful, but we need his help. Otherwise, I’ll be making shots in the dark.”

“You don’t have an hour,” Leliana’s voice intervened, “The Elder One’s forces are coming.”

“That’s what we’re here for,” Cassandra’s voice rang out, “We’ll buy you time.”

One by one, they all traipsed out the door, standing guard as I watched. It was in this moment I realised the sacrifice they were making for me, the amount of faith they had entrusted in me.

They were willing to die on the slim chance that I would save the world.

They were willing to die for me.

The door to the Throne room came crashing down, and suddenly I could see the horde of demons heading towards me.

I couldn’t stand by and watch this. That wasn’t me. I could not abandon those that entrusted their lives to me.

I zoomed forward and let my voice thunder into the sky, “RUN! This is my only warning! Run, or I will annihilate you!”

They paused for a moment, and I lifted my left hand into the air, letting the green light shine bright. A few ran away, but most pressed forward.

Finally, finally, the ever-present press of the Oath eased; I had to save the world and I’d warned them.

The frustrations that built up, long before travelling to this future, the rage, the fear, the sheer helplessness that I’d felt, I gathered them, and let them loose in torrent of fire.

The result was far worse than anything I expected. Maybe it was the Breach. Maybe it was my tumultuous mana. It may have been both.

A rain of fire began, hitting as hard as a meteor strike on the approaching army. It decimated many of them on the spot, while others fled in a desperate panic. The torrent continued, not discriminating between friend and foe.

It was a disaster.

The castle began to collapse, the towers crumbling to the ground. I turned around, desperate to see if I had harmed my companions, but they were all amorphous forms that I couldn’t distinguish between.

Maxwell stared at me in undisguised horror.

A terrible voice filled the air, “Come face me, imposter! Do you imagine that this paltry trick would intimidate me? Come and face your true god!”

A heavy weight settled in my stomach. I stared at Maxwell in silent communication. One of us needed to get back and warn the others. The only one with any chance of winning was me.

I could already see where the future would lead with this. Maxwell, seeing the extent of danger from magic, would imprison the mages, become Inquisitor and save the world.

I hated that it was him. I hated that he was the last person I would see. I hated that he understood how I felt.

Why did it have to be him?

He walked towards me, the horror on his face easing into something gentle, “Not you, me. The world needs you. You are the only one who can close the Breach.”

I stared at him, stunned.

“I hate you, Erelani. I hate the way you look. I hate the way you always yell at me. I hate how everything I do or say somehow triggers you. I hate how you always fight me. I hate how even when I try to help you, you spit at me. I hate that you’re so different from me. I hate how despite all of this, I-,” he stopped, his jaw locking shut, “I hate you. Remember that I hate you too.”

What was happening?

What the fuck was happening?

He started to walk towards the decimated door when a terrible black rage enveloped me.

How dare he?

Did he think he could ever occupy a moral ground? Did he think I wanted anything from him? Even his life?

How dare he imply-?!

His words had hinted at an emotion I found so repulsive from him, that I would rather die than accept anything from him.

The screech of a dragon filled the air just as Dorian’s voice rang out, “The rift’s open! Quick!”

Just as Maxwell started racing towards the dragon, I caught up to him and tripped him. As he tumbled to the floor, I cast a mind blast at him, throwing him straight at the rift. His body collided with Dorian and Alexius, pushing them in, and with a sudden snap, the rift closed shut.

A terrible sinking feeling descended as the sound of great heaving wings filled the air.

What have I done? What was I going to do?

How was I going to get back?

With a great thud that shook the very foundations of the castle, the dragon landed.

I was doomed.


 

A terrible gritty voice filled the air, “Imposter.”

Do not submit. Fight to the very end. Save what you can.

I forced myself to turn around.

Instead of Corypheus stood an enormous spider whose eight-eyed gaze was fixed on me.

“What.”

“The magic on your hand does not belong to you.”

“What.”

“Dreamer, this realm is my territory. You are trespassing.”

I stared, overwhelmed, unable to understand.

“Please, I do not understand. Where am I?”

“This is my territory, there is no way you came here unaware. I felt you and your ilk enter and tear apart the Veil.”

“I’m in the Fade?” I breathed, “I’m standing in your territory. In the Fade.”

The spider stared at me with a calculating glint, “You didn’t know. Where did you think you were?”

“In the future. Redcliffe was overrun by demons after a magister took control.”

The spider started laughing, “Is that so? No way you were mistaken then?”

“Who are you?”

“Nightmare.”

I paled as I realised who was in front of me. Even beyond the knowledge of the game, I had heard of this spirit. It was one of the oldest spirits alive and few dared to cross it. It rarely did more than harvest nightmares, but when it took interest in something, it rarely ended well.

Still, nothing made sense.

I cautiously dared to look around and found, to my amazement, that the blurriness from before had disappeared, and only the barrenness of the raw Fade remained.

There were no amorphous forms, only different spirits frolicking around the Fadescape.

“There was a castle here. A magister named Gereon Alexius ruined the world,” that was what happened. That was what was supposed to happen. That made sense.

“Ah, Gereon Alexius? He came looking for a way to travel through time, but really, he only wanted to travel long distances quickly. So, he and I struck a deal.”

“You taught him to Fadestep?!

“It’s amazing what people will believe.”

“But the amulet-!”

“Helped him accumulate enough power to fadestep long distances. Enough power to even create a small rift.”

“But the visions!”

The spider stared at me, “This is the Fade. You are a Dreamer, how did you not know? What vision did you see?”

I opened my mouth but froze. I had seen nothing, only green. I had only ever heard voices and sound effects, something spirits enjoyed creating. All this had been nothing more than spirits creating a vision, a dream. The Fade shaped itself around expectations, reflected what you wanted to see, smell and experience. A dream so carefully crafted, could only be designed for one person.

“Who was this dream for?”

“Alexius, of course. His deal was with me, so his dreams were filled with his worst nightmares. It’s amazing what a guilty conscious can dredge up.”

“Was any of it real?”

“That’s a matter up for debate.”

“But all the things that were said, the assassination attempts, the invading army, was that all fake?”

The spider rolled his eyes, “You’re a Dreamer, don’t you already know?”

“The knowledge came from him. It was everything he knew. What he believed would happen if they should come to pass.”

The spider was starting to lose interest.

“Why couldn’t I see? Why did that stop me from seeing the vision like my comrades did?”

“The entity on your hand.”

“One last question, why are you helping Corypheus?”

The spider’s laser focus was back on me, “Am I helping him?”

I stared back, unsure of what to believe. The Call that the wardens supposedly heard had been created by this spirit, right? “Are you?”

“I have gained a lot of power through the ages, mostly without even trying. I know more than you could ever imagine.”

“So, you are?”

The spider stared at me quietly, not responding.

“Why haven’t you killed me?”

“Do you want me to?”

“I don’t understand.”

“I’m not killing you, because I believe leaving you alive will make me more powerful.”

I paled at its words, “Why are you telling me this? Why are you helping me?”

The spider observed me for a long moment before responding, “Because even I am capable of pity. You are trespassing, get out. If you are too stupid to know how, look at your left hand.”

With that, the spirit disappeared.

I stared at the Mark, its furious sparks generating its own light.

I raised my arm and released the entity within, and the green light tore a hole through the Veil.

I stepped through the rift and sealed it shut before fainting dead to the ground.