Chapter 1: The Realm of Opposition
The Fade blooms green and sickly-bright around her as the flames die.
So this is death. It does not hurt as much as she expected.
The Citadel is above her, not around her, and it is black.
"Tevinter bastards," she huffs, and is pleased to find that with death has come her staff. Maferath gave it to her what seems like an eternity ago, before he betrayed her, and it has served her well, all this time.
She hefts her staff, plants the heavy steel butt firmly in the loamy soil of the Fade, and sets away.
Perhaps, if she reaches the Citadel, she can find out why it's so shadowed. Perhaps, if she reaches the Citadel, she can restore it.
Gold doesn't tarnish. It only muddies.
"I didn't teach ," she says to the first lost one who seeks her out, here in this end of the Fade. "I led. "
Being dead in the Fade means something very different to dreaming in the Fade, she finds, and so she gathers those who flock to this side of the Veil with her name on their lips, praising her as prophetess and Bride, and she would feel sick, had she the time.
Andraste, bride of Maferath, Bride of the Maker, has no time for anything. Or maybe she has too much time for everything. It is hard to know.
Perhaps she did teach. She certainly spoke plenty, and perhaps telling people things they don’t know is teaching. She’s sure that it is. She will have to work on remembering that, even if she remembers nothing else beyond her family.
"We ought to march on the Black City," someone insists, one of the many faces she has seen in her interminable time here. "March on it as we did on Minrathous!"
Did they march on Minrathous? She can hardly remember. It seems so long ago. Everything seems so far away that it seems unworthy of recollection, except the shades of Ebris and Vivial, of Alli, of Gillivhan's sons. Of Maferath she knows nothing, which hurts her heart, when she has the time to think of such hurts. It is hard not to love him still, even though she wants to break his long nose a third time for being so stupid as to send her to her death.
The Citadel, too. She always remembers the Citadel, looming dark and dirty above her.
"The elves marched with the Alamarri armies, you blighted bastards!" she howls, beating this Divine as hard as she can with Mafereth's staff. She resorts to her bare hands when Mafereth's staff snaps clean across the bitch's back, beating this woman who claims to speak in her name until her knuckles are bloodied and swollen, and only the deafening silence of the always-clamouring crowds drags her away.
"The Maker does not hate the Dalish!" she shouts, fury burning bright in her, casting her brighter even than usually she shines here - her magic continued into death more strongly than most, and so she seems more solid here than anyone else does. She would wonder why that was, if she could care. "The Maker hates only those who twist His teachings to foul and evil deeds!"
She levels one final kick at Divine Renata I, chief priestess of the Andrastian Chantry . The woman, garbed in silk and samite, pampered as Andraste never was in her whole life, heaves into the air for a brief moment when Andraste's boot catches her in the gut, and she vomits.
"This," Andraste says, Prophet once more, burning as she did while marching at Shartan's side. Her voice carries high and clear over the hoards of believers spreading across this strange corner of the Fade she has claimed for herself, the Citadel always above. "This is not what we sought, when we marched on Tevinter. We did not seek to make ourselves free by binding others in chains."
Divine Renata groans on the ground at Andraste's feet.
"The Chant teaches-" she tries, pushing herself to her knees. Andraste will not suffer her bleating any longer, though.
"Enough," she says, staff reformed from Fade-stuff and once more in her hand. She tips up this priestess' face with the head of her staff, not missing the way the bitch flinches from Andraste's magic. "The Chant does not teach. I do."
“It’s foul,” one of the innumerable Dalish who’ve come to her says to another. “They’ve built one of their cities on Halamshiral, all stone and cold and nothing living.”
Yes, her flock have spoken of how busy these Andrastians are with their building, and it makes her sick. Here she is, trying to find safety among the malignant spirits, trying to find allies among the benign, trying always to reach the Citadel.
The staff in her hand is no longer a gift from her husband, but something harsher and stronger, to better hold this space. Kind spirits have told her that the Citadel is eternal, unmoving, and unreachable. Cruel ones have taunted her with the impossibility of her task, with her own foolishness, her own weakness.
Andraste has been weak all her life, since Halliserre’s death, and it is not surprising that her weakness has continued into death. But she will be better. She will be more.
She will cleanse the Citadel. She cannot die in this attempt, as she did in the other, after all.
She wonders - this cathedral she has heard is being built in her name. If she could only step through the Veil, could she cleanse it? Could she bring it down, stone by stone, just as the Orlesians did Shartan’s people’s home at Halamshiral?
Divine Renata still avoids her, as do all others who have worn that stupid hat in life. They clamour for her attention, though, when one of their mothers comes through, weeping and wailing about a Black Divine, a male Divine.
A Tevinter Divine.
On the one hand, Andraste still wishes she could march all these believers of hers out of the Fade and on to Minrathous, to burn the bastard Vints as they burned her.
On the other, she wishes she could march her believers on Val Royeaux, and burn the Orlesian bastards who are so afraid of magic that they’ve erased hers and trapped everyone else’s in towers.
The Divines and their clucking mother hens love to talk about sin. If ever Andraste sets foot in the world again, there will be so very many sins to answer for, most of them committed in her name.
“Orlais dares,” she snarls, feeling the shades of all her clan and all her people rising up around her shoulders like an army born from her fury. “Orlais will burn.”
She has learned to flit through dreams without causing harm, and uses it well now - in Orlesian dreams, she is a spy, a rogue, a foul demon that haunts their fierce generals and makes them weak.
In Alamarri dreams, she is home. In Alamarri dreams, she is once more a Prophet, and she tells truths to her people that help repel the Orlesian bastards and their would-be conquest.
In Tevinter dreams, though it makes her sick, she shows herself as a Prophet, too. She hates the Vints, but at least they are not marching on her homeland. At least the Vints aren’t trapping and murdering every mage they can lay hands on.
She has no time to think, because yes, she is a Prophet, she is a Bride, she is a mage and a war-leader and a mother and a wife, but here, she is a solace.
So very many come to her for solace, when Orlais and Tevinter fail to grant aid in life, when the darkspawn come.
It all comes back to the Tevinters’ foul, false gods. Every time she hears the word Blight, Andraste casts her eyes skyward, to the Citadel which never grows any closer, or any brighter. What shape would the world take, if the Citadel were not the Black City? If the Maker still walked Golden halls?
She spies sometimes on the handsome young teyrn’s dreams, when she wanders away from her flock and toward Denerim. She misses her homeland, which for her still echoes with her mother’s laughter and her daughters gossiping. He is a brave one, young Theirin, shining almost as bright in his silver armour as she had in the glow of her staff.
The Alamarri have warred too long. The encroaching Orlesians have convinced them to consolidate, and there are worse banners under which to join than Calenhad the Silver’s. She hopes it is enough to protect them.
She hopes that they will not worship the shards of her that the Orlesians have forged into a holy woman.
“Is it wrong,” she says, to no one in particular, because they all listen too keenly when she turns her attention to anyone specific. “Is it wrong if I do not see any great difference between what these Qunari are doing, and what I did?”
This conquest is not so very different from her March, she thinks, but no one else will accept that.
Ferelden, her homeland now calls itself, and she is so proud. They are stronger together, the tribes of her history, and prove it when they force down the Warden, and force her people beyond their borders.
Maybe, someday, they will regret that. The Tevinters had more than four false gods, and only four have risen thus far. For now, though, Andraste is proud that these heirs to her, to Maferath, are proving themselves strong and fierce and fearless.
She has still not seen any hint of Maferath’s shade, which worries her. Why is it that he lingers apart from her, when their children did not? And thinking on that - where is Shartan? Why has Hessarian not come to offer his shame at her feet?
The gaps begin to worry her. Everything is so turbulent, and her memory becomes more so. Who else is she forgetting? What terrible things did she do in her quest to thrown down the bloody, blighted Vints? What is it that marks her apart from the Qunari?
She does not know. Has she ever known?
“ Fucking Orlais!” she screeches, staff blazing like a beacon in the fuzzy light of the Fade, and she welcomes it. Let the demons come, let them feel her wrath since the Orlesians cannot. How dare they! How dare they sully everything of her life, her legacy!
They stole away her truth, distorted her very image - she was never the delicate, golden-haired goddess in their stained glass windows, which she sometimes sees through thinned patches of the Veil, she never wore snowy-white robes and she certainly never smiled benevolently at Tevinter bastards while striking them down - and made her name into a symbol for everything she hates. Now, now the bastards have stolen her homeland!
Calenhad’s silver tarnished, as men always do, but his line have proven themselves good and strong, worthy heirs to the Alamarri - and these fucking Orlesians seek to grind the Theirins into nothing! How dare they!
She walks in dreams again, as much as she can without turning into one of the same demons she uses to excise her wrath. She guides the nobles of Ferelden to loyalty, such as it is - the Orlesian fucks name it treachery, and she delights in it.
She has never found Calenhad the Silver in the Fade, but she liked what she saw of him in his life. She will exert what little influence is hers to see his line kept alive, and strong.
The man who wins back his throne is fine and fierce, and he will do, she supposes. Maric Theirin reminds her somehow of Maferath, and the ache of his absence means she cannot like this liberator as much as she might wish. His oldest son is very like him, but untempered, too bright and too soft, and she weeps, to see him fall when blasted Urthemiel rises.
The boy who becomes King, who has so much of Calenhad’s face even if his skin is darker, his hair not so golden, has an echo of the elegant sharpness of Shartan’s ears - he does not even know it himself, but she sees it. She knows.
The girl at his side has more Alamarri in her than most, brought by her mother’s wild, seafaring blood, and Andraste delights in her. Together, they are fierce and strong and kind, and she thrills for them. They remind her of herself and Maferath, in their youth, when duty bloomed into love, before her childlessness hurt them, before her glory cast him in shadow.
The boy who becomes King stands alongside his Queen when she frees Maferath into the Fade.
“My love,” Andraste says, and her husband weeps. So does she, and when he apologises, she wonders - has it been love that burned in her breast all these too-many years, or regret?
Maferath goes to the boys.
Andraste stays with her people, until the Veil tears, violent and vicious even against the queasy shifting of the Fade.
She marches through armies of demons, thrilling when some of them know the golden-bright beacon of her staff well enough to simply step aside. She marches across endless, interminable landscape, and finds herself standing on the brink of life.
“I am no demon,” she says, watching as one of those blasted bloody Divines tries to resist-
“Fucking Vints!” she fumes, as the Divine breathes her last, and steps forward.
Burn her if another Tevinter bastard thinks to gain dominion. Burn her if another Tevinter bastard thinks to touch the Citadel. She’ll be damned if some other fucking Vint gets to the Citadel before she has a chance to cleanse it.
“I’ll show you, you twisted fucking bastard,” she snarls, and takes another step forward.
Through the tear in the Veil.
She burns, as bright as her beacon-staff, for just a moment.
And then she falls.
Chapter 2: With neither blade nor shield
With neither blade nor shield, Andraste gave herself up
To her enemies. And Maferath bound his wife's hands
And delivered her to the Archon to be put to death.
Ellana or Andraste - who can tell?
This has very much grown in the telling, so watch for parts 3 and 4 in the coming days :D
Her left hand burns. This is the first thing she realises.
The second thing Ellana realises is that she ought to be dead, and does not understand why she is not. She remembers the killing blow - wet, sticky, heaving as she drew her last breaths at the dying Divine’s feet - and nothing beyond it.
The third is that she’s in cuffs. Sweat breaks cold down her spine, and she wonders - have the Templars seen her healed just to bind her to a Circle?
Something in her rages at the idea, twisting and burning in her belly, and she nurtures the fury. Her magic feels dampened, her staff is missing, and there is a weight in her head that is… Nothing to do with her magic, she thinks. Perhaps an injury? She cannot be sure.
The weight in her head pulses, just for a moment, and the burning in her left hand flickers violently green. Her left hand is her weaker hand, but she is annoyed that whatever this injury is will stop her from wielding her staff left-handed.
Ellana has never in her life wielded her staff left-handed. Why-?
She has no more time to think of such things before two beautiful shemlen women accuse her of murder, and even as she’s horrified by the accusation, something in her rings with pleasure at the idea of being party to the Chantry’s ruin.
The whole of the Conclave, though? All those innocents, all those unarmed and unshielded, all those who will lie unmourned while she…
What is she, exactly? The weight in her head is certain, but Ellana is not. There is something, some claim she might make, but she knows not what it is, and fears it.
“What did happen?” she asks, and fears what the swordswoman will show her.
Something swoops sickeningly in her belly at the sight of all that Fade-green in life. Did I do that? she thinks, and wonders why she would even consider such a thing.
But she does. She fears that this is her fault, and isn’t sure why.
The general leading these poor fools fighting the endless stream of demons is from Ferelden. She says as much to the elf whose presence sits against her skin like a storm-cloud, heavy with lightning and dread, and he seems surprised.
“How can you tell?” he asks. “Have you spent so much time among the shems?”
“It’s obvious,” she says, because it is. “Just look at him. Pure Clayne.”
Solas the elf-who-is-something-else looks at her queerly, as if she has said something completely absurd.
“I did not realise they taught shemlen history in Clan Lavellan,” he says. “Few remember what names came before Calenhad’s victories.”
Ellana startles at that - of course the people of Ferelden were the Clayne before they were Fereldan, just as of course it is obvious that the blood of the Alamarri runs strong in this general of Lady Cassandra’s.
She calls him a commander, but Ellana can feel it in her bones. This man is a general, as Maferath of old, and-
The weight in her head throbs, and she feels just a little sick. She shouldn’t know any of these things. She knows nothing of generals and commanders, and nothing of Andraste’s husband and his long twice-broken nose and his tired eyes-
Her hand sparks and sputters, clenched tight around the shaft of the staff she has claimed as spoils of war. It must be the root of these strange thoughts. It must.
The storyteller watches her too closely, and it sits itchy against her skin.
“You walked out of the Fade,” he says, and she frowns.
“So I’m told.”
More silence. More scrutiny. Her head is still heavy, her magic still curdling around the shard of the Fade trapped in her left hand, her staff feeling stupidly heavy in her right hand. Why is her body rebelling? Is it all a part of this supposed fall from the Fade?
She doesn’t think she fell. Not when the soldiers found her, at least. She… Stepped. Tripped. Rose. Marched.
She shivers. After she marched, she fell. She’s nearly certain of it.
The terrible voice rings sharp against the fallen stone of the temple, and she draws to a halt when her voice rings sharper, high and panicked, and then-
Intruder, the terrible voice calls her, and then, bitch.
She feels almost indignant, under the confusion and the fear.
The rift is sickly Fade-green again, and she has a moment where she is incredibly amused to find that it seems even greener in life than it had on the other side of the Veil, and shakes it off. She has never stepped beyond the Veil except in dreams - what does she know of the Fade?
A pride demon roars, and she rolls her shoulders. The staff in her right hand is off not just because her balance is wrong, but because it is of poor make, weighted shoddily and focused weakly. She needs something fiercer, stronger - silverite, maybe, hard and light, a diamond focus would be ideal, and steel-faced lead in the base to give it some heft.
But Ellana has never had a metal staff. Has never wanted a metal staff. She has never wanted her staff to have heft, as though she is to use it as a crude club. She- what is wrong with her?!
The demon roars again, and she settles her weight on the balls of her feet, feeling strange for wearing boots, feeling strange for feeling strange. The weight in her head pulses, her left hand sparks, and she hurls the strongest fire she can manage with her uncertain staff-
Her talents have always been more for lightning, in shows of force, but the fire that pours forth burns with the same terrible fury that coiled in her belly earlier, and it scares her. It scares her so much.
Sister Nightingale reminds her of… Of who? Someone that makes her skin itch with that ever-coiling anger, stupid fucking hat, fury directed in too general a direction to be useful.
Ellana has been angry all her life - that, at least, is not coming from the weight in her head - but there is something sharp and cruel in the curl of Sister Nightingale’s beautiful mouth that makes that increasingly familiar cold sweat prickle at Ellana’s nape. Her own anger has always had a focus, the shems who spat at her clan, the shems who went so much further than just spitting, slavers who picked away the prettiest girls, dirty bastard Vints and fucking Orlesians-
Her head throbs so hard that she presses her hand to her temple without meaning to, without wanting too, because she’s afraid of showing weakness in front of these so very powerful shems. But she can’t help it - her left hand, heavy with that crackling scar, curls to her skull as if she can dig the weight out with her fingertips.
“Herald? Are you well?”
“Don’t call me that,” she grits out, feeling dizzy. Herald of Andraste, they’ve taken to calling her, and the soldiers who found her say that they saw a woman made of shining light in the Fade as she fell through the rift. “I’m not her herald.”
She doesn’t even believe in Andraste - oh, Creators, her head, her head-
“I don’t know what’s going on,” Ellana says, “I don’t understand why the Templars have become even worse than they were before, or why the mages are refusing to stand and fight-”
They ought to march on Val Royeaux! some wild, furious part of her insists, and she quiets it. Her head is aching, but it is always aching since she fell ( marched) out of the Beyond. She is used to it, even if Solas watches her sharply every time she presses her marked hand to her head, even if Cassandra has taken to pressing a firm, unwavering hand between her shoulder blades whenever she falters.
She prefers Cassandra’s scrutiny to Solas’, and wonders what that says of her. Should she not prefer an elven mage to a Chantry authority, particularly an authority of an order so close to the Templars? But Solas’ very presence still stings against her skin like an electrical storm, weighs on her temples like thunder, and she cannot find any comfort in his company.
Cassandra is steady. Cassandra is true. Cassandra stands stalwart and solid at her side, immovable in the currents that threaten to send her spiralling out to disaster.
She says as much - not in such florid language, of course - and the Seeker laughs, and clasps her shoulder.
“You do not need to worry,” Cassandra says, still laughing, and that is one of the most beautiful things Ellana has ever seen, because it is so rare (and familiar, the echo in her head whispers, but that worries her, so she pushes it aside). “I will stand by your side as long as I am needed.”
Were Cassandra any other woman, Ellana would wind her arms around her waist and name her friend, but there is an aloofness in Cassandra that she both admires and finds sad, so she refrains. Instead, she presses her own hand - so small and thin - over Cassandra’s, and they stay there, in the rain, looking out over the rough seas of the Storm Coast.
“The mages are refusing to stand and fight because they don’t know how, and don’t see that they should have to,” Cassandra says after a long moment of quiet. “And the Templars are not necessarily worse, so much as… Unleashed.”
“How do you mean?” Ellana asks, because she knows the Templars in theory, but she has been spared seeing them in action, in a Circle tower. “They’re murdering every mage they meet, even without provocation!”
“You should ask Commander Cullen,” Cassandra says, “just what the Templar Order is capable of, under a compassionless commander.”
She asks Varric instead, since he is always so ready with a story.
“Ah, well,” he says, looking uncomfortable. “I’m not sure I’m the best one to ask about this.”
“Cassandra said to ask Commander Cullen,” Ellana says, “but I think I’d rather eat glass.”
The Commander, with his strong Alamarri blood, with his sure, trembling hands, with his confident manner and his blushes, makes her nearly as unsure as Sister Nightingale. He reminds her of someone else, someone with a twice-broken nose and sad eyes and those same sure, trembling hands, a counterweight for when she ran wildest, burned hottest-
But Ellana is near twenty-eight, unbonded, without any such counterweight.
Sister Nightingale makes her think of someone else, too, someone who ran in shadows and bore shame for the good of someone they both loved. Ellana knows who it was, knows that she loved this woman as a sister, as her dearest friend, but… Who? When? None of it makes sense, and all of it seems to come from the echoing, ever-present weight in her head.
Lady Montilyet at least is free of burdensome memories, and so it is to her that Ellana goes when Varric refuses to help.
She is not a fool. She has heard stories of the Gallows of Kirkwall, tales of such horror that she cannot help but wonder, sometimes, if Solas is right to be so obviously disdainful of the shems. Surely the truth cannot be so bad as the tales?
Josephine hands her a thick sheaf of papers two days later, bright eyes dark, and Ellana swallows down her optimism.
The truth is so much worse, particularly when rendered by sure, trembling hands in which she has been so eager to place her trust.
The rage in her belly burns furiously, but in a different direction than the fury in her heart. She wants to tear away from the Commander for all his sins, but the rage wants to burn the Chantry for making a demon of a good man.
“How can he be a good man if he was party to so much evil?”
Even the best of us are capable of terrible deeds.
Ellana flinches, trying to escape the voice in her own head - it’s never been direct before. It’s never-
“What are you?” she demands, folding to her knees, head in her hands, swallowing against sobs lest someone overhear and find her like this, going mad. “Why are you here?”
Because I had no choice, the voice says, sounding like herself. And because without me, you would be gone.
Cassandra finds her, collapsed and unconscious on the floor the next morning. She says nothing, but now that Ellana knows her, she can see concern plain on Cassandra’s fierce face.
“I don’t know what’s wrong,” she says, “but I can cope, Cassandra. I promise.”
She has never before made a promise she is sure of breaking, but there is a first time for everything.
She settles into friendship, or the nearest thing to it, with Sister Nightingale - Leliana, the same Leliana who faced down the archdemon with the Hero of Ferelden! - even though there is still a sour taste of stupid fucking hat amidst the trust and respect, and into an easy, teasing camaraderie with Josie, who offers her tea and cakes and gossip after every meeting at the war table.
She has Cassandra, who teaches her how to wield her staff as a weapon even without magic - the woman in her head thrills at that, and guides her so much that Cassandra looks unnerved at how quickly she picks up the forms and movements, as if she knew it all along and simply forgot that she did. The woman in her head delights in it, and drives her to offer to spar with the Commander’s men.
Which she does. And when she’s fought her way through any of them who are willing, she turns her vicious joy on Bull’s men. And then on Bull. And on Cassandra.
Never on Solas, though, who nearly lands on his face when he happens across her leaping high, to give herself enough weight to break a recruit’s shield in two with a well-placed sweep. He watches her with something like horror on his face, and she wonders, for a moment, just what it is that makes her itch whenever he’s nearby.
She almost wishes it were attraction. If it were that, she could fuck him and have done with it, and this ghost of Shartan would no longer haunt her-
Enough, she thinks, and the woman in her head goes quiet. Ghost of Shartan? The same Shartan who marched at Andraste’s side? Why in Mythal’s name would she associate Solas with Shartan?
Because you knew him, the woman in her head says, when you were me.
“And who were you?” she asks, when she is alone again.
Need you really ask? the woman says, voice warm with amusement and almost-Fereldan, but not quite.
Ellana thinks of the soldiers’ stories, the woman of fire behind her in the Fade, and thinks of marching through the rift. She thinks of feeling left-handed, of wanting her staff to have heft, of hating Tevinter in the same bone-deep way that every elf in Thedas hates Orlais, of knowing that Cullen looks Clayne but Josephine has old Chasind blood, with that nose of hers. She thinks of seeing a child with bright brown hair and laughing eyes and feeling her soul ache with Ebris on her tongue, and she thinks of hearing an old woman hack and heave with a weak, watery chest, and feeling a twisted sort of sympathy, as though she knows what it is that the woman suffers.
“You can’t be,” she says. “Even if you were real, you were just a woman.”
I never claimed to be anything else, Andraste says in the heavy spaces of Ellana’s mind, and that is somehow worse than anything Ellana could have imagined.
Haven’s fall is…
Ellana falls with the village, and rises as not-quite-herself.
Is she Ellana, still? Or is she Andraste, now?
Somewhere in between, she tells herself, as Mother Giselle lifts her voice and guides the whole of the Inquisition to hope.
“You are not who you claim to be,” she says to Solas-who-is-not-just-an-elf. “But your aid is welcome all the same.”
All around her, people pray in her-name-not-her-name, and their needs and hopes and fears weigh on her wrists like shackles. Would they pray so hard in Andraste’s name if they knew Andraste walked among them, as a dirty knife-ear?
She does not think so. No matter. They need not know.
“I am not a holy being,” she whispers, out to collect elfroot and other supplies, with no one to hear her. “Just a woman. A mage. A wife and a mother. A warrior and a leader.”
Her head is no longer heavy, but it does ache. Everywhere she looks, the present is overlaid with the past - Maferath’s long stride in that former Templar who followed the Commander from Kirkwall, Ebris’ high, trilling laugh in Lady Josephine’s throat when Gillivhan-Divine Renata-Sister Leliana makes some ribald joke.
Shartan, stern and immovable in Cassandra’s ever-near warmth. Shartan, smiling and unknowable in Solas’ enigmatic quips.
None of them remind her of herself, or of the boys, or of Vivial or Alli. Her heart aches for the lack of her granddaughter’s smile in the tiny children carried on their parents’ shoulders, of her sons-in-bond in the gangs of strong young men who form the bulk of their armies. She doesn’t even see lovesick, foolish Vivial in the maids and would-be healers who throng their company, watching those same fine young lads.
“You are very quiet, Herald.”
Dorian. Fucking Vint, but good. Loyal. Warm, under the armour of charm he uses to keep everyone at arm’s length.
“I hate being called that,” she says easily, planting her staff in the snow and taking another step forward. “Are you not freezing?”
His arm and armpit and a swathe of his chest are bare, gooseflesh visible all over, but he only grins.
“A little cold is nothing,” he assures her, “when I have the chance to walk with the Prophet’s own Herald.”
“I’m not her Herald,” she snaps, hand flying to her temple out of habit. “I’m not.”
“Well,” Dorian says, “you’re something, else the soldiers wouldn’t be so overawed by the burning woman who stepped with you in the Fade.”
“I’m not her Herald,” Ellana says again, and thinks, I’m just her.
Chapter 3: For you, song-weaver, once more I will try
“Sometimes,” Cassandra says, sounding uncertain, “you say things that are… Not what I would expect.”
“Of an elf?” Ellana asks, the back of her neck suddenly cold and sweaty. She’s tried to hold down the parts of her that are Andraste of the Alamarri now, but she’s stopped feeling like two women in one body, and it is hard to remember that there are things she shouldn’t say or think or feel or know.
“Of anyone not actively engaged in dissent against the Chantry for the past twenty years,” Cassandra says, once more arch and severe - but Ellana has kept Cassandra at her side all the time since Haven, and can see the hint of amusement creasing Cassandra’s dark eyes. “You are… Better informed than I expected, I suppose, for someone who has never been a scholar of the Chantry.”
She slipped up, the other day, when some fool Orlesian in the hall had been spouting about Divine Renata I, about how the Chantry ought to take a leaf from her book and declare an Exalted March on Minrathous. She had… Said things that might have revealed more than was sensible, about her surprising depth of knowledge.
“I suppose,” she concedes. “Cassandra, I-”
“I do not pretend to understand,” Cassandra says, nudging her horse a little closer to Ellana’s and lowering her voice so her words do not carry to Dorian or Bull, riding behind them. “But you stepped from the Fade with knowledge of things no living woman knows, Inquisitor. Things about the Chantry that surprise even me. Even Leliana.”
“I could try to explain,” Ellana offers, “but I don’t even fully believe it, Cassandra.”
“The burning woman, who stood behind you at the rift from which you fell. She was not Justinia.”
“No, she wasn’t.”
“You know who she was.”
Me. “I do, yes.”
“Can you tell us?”
Us. Cassandra, presumably Leliana? Josie, perhaps? Cullen?
She can’t imagine how Leliana would react to Ellana claiming to be Andraste. Josephine… Well, if it could be somehow proved and then turned to diplomacy, she can’t imagine that Josie would mind, because while she does not doubt that Josephine believes in the Maker, believes in her, she doesn’t think Josie’s a zealot, the way Leliana seems to be. The way Cassandra can seem.
The way Cullen is.
If she claims to be the very woman they all pray to, what will they do? Declare her mad, shackle her and hobble her and hide her away except when they need a rift closed? Keep her from Dorian and Bull and Varric and Sera? Let Solas - oh yes, she’s pieced together enough to know for a surety that that isn’t his name, burn him - poke and prod at her until he’s satisfied the cold, angry fear that crosses his placid face whenever she slips up and knows too much?
“I do not wish to frighten you,” Cassandra says, and Ellana is startled to realise that Cassandra Pentaghast, last honest Seeker in Thedas, is trying to be gentle. “But if there is something we ought to know-”
“I’m not possessed, Cassandra,” she insists, terrified by the very suggestion of it. She’s not only herself anymore, true enough, but this isn’t possession. More like… Amalgamation. “You can have every mage and Templar in Skyhold test me, and none of them will find anything.”
Cassandra does not ask every mage and Templar in Skyhold to test her for possession upon their return.
Just Madame Vivienne and Commander Cullen.
Vivienne, so beautiful it makes Ellana ache, presses one elegant hand to Ellana’s face, fingertips resting on her temple, and closes her eyes. No surprise or curiosity or anything passes over her lovely face, and Ellana watches, rapt, as Vivienne remains gorgeous even in stillness.
“Well, my dear,” she says at last, “you are wholly and entirely without any demons or spirits, I assure you. But there is something. I’ve never seen the like of it.”
Ellana has heard, from the mages come from Redcliffe, who police themselves as carefully as though they were Templars, that it is exhausting to investigate accusations of possession. She will have to ask the Grand Enchanter, who is so wholly willing to discuss whatever Ellana wishes because she’s so grateful for their alliance.
Vivienne looks as though this is just another pleasant tea party on her balcony, even daring to smile just a little in the face of Cassandra’s disapproving watch.
“I shall have to have another look to discern just what that something is, if you permit it,” she says, settling back into her chair and looking so perfectly at ease that Ellana feels stupidly jealous. She’s still at war with herself, her own body reacting strangely to the conflicting instincts in her mind - she wields her staff left-handed more often than not now, but still writes right-handed, for one, and there are a million other small things that are irritating.
“I can’t imagine that the Commander will find anything I might have missed,” Vivienne says to Cassandra, who tenses very, very slightly. “He is not the man he once was, is he?”
Ellana watches Cassandra’s face closely, and is stunned by the searing fury that flashes in Cassandra’s eyes before she reins it in.
“Commander Cullen is exactly the man we knew him to be when we recruited him,” she says firmly. “Inquisitor, if you would?”
Commander Cullen takes off his gloves, and she marvels for a moment at how delicate his hands look without the leather.
His skin is hot when he takes her face in his hands, fingertips pressed gently to her temples and palms cupping her jawbones, and she realises that she has never been so close to a shemlen man before.
He is very big, and very warm, and smells of armour polish.
She watches the strain on his face, the way he sets his jaw and furrows his brow. She watches sweat bead on his brow, watches him catch the scarred corner of his lip between his sharp, white teeth. She waits for his grip on her head to become painful, but it remains gentle and intimate.
Eventually, he withdraws, sagging back against his desk - against Cassandra’s outstretched hand, which catches him between the shoulderblades. Odd.
“ As far as I can tell , “ he says pointedly, emphasising something that Ellana does not understand, “she is herself, utterly. But I agree that there is… Something. I suspect it may well be a manifestation of the Anchor, but I cannot be certain, Cassandra.”
Cass snorts, rolling her eyes, and holds out a hand to Ellana, to heave her up from Cullen’s chair.
“Come,” she says. “It is time for dinner.”
And that, it seems, is that.
“Humour us,” Dorian says, guiding her onto the bench furthest from the bar, making sure to tuck her into the corner so escape is as difficult as possible. “What is it about you that makes Solas so jumpy?”
Ellana can’t help the way her lip curls at the very mention of Solas Storm-cloud, who watches her like she’s a rabid Mabari and talks down to her about elvhen history like she’s a stupid child. Neither Ellana Lavellan nor Andraste of the Alamarri are stupid women, and neither of them is mad, either. But Solas Storm-cloud can sense the same wrongness in her that she can sense in him, no doubt, and it sets him all on edge.
Ellana prefers it that way. The more uncomfortable he is, the less likely he is to bloody well talk to her.
Varric is grinning, Sera is already hooting with laughter about something or other, and Bull is just… Watching her. The same way Cassandra watches her, when she says or does something unusual.
“I think he disapproves of a Keeper’s First leaving her clan,” Ellana says, which has Varric rolling his eyes - damn it, he has a Dalish friend in Kirkwall, doesn’t he? Damn it.
“Or,” Varric says, “he’s jealous that you’ve been physically in the Fade, and he hasn’t.”
Everyone keeps telling her that she’s been bodily in the Beyond, but something about that seems… Wrong. She isn’t wholly sure what happened between Andraste seeing the rift from the Fade and Ellana breathing her last, but at some point, the two became one. It feels lazy to say that she walked the Beyond and stepped through a rift, because she didn’t. Andraste walked the Fade in death, Ellana saw the Beyond from life, and they met somewhere in the middle, as Andraste’s fury burned brightest and Ellana’s flame flickered its last.
But she can’t say that. The others would think her mad if she tried to explain that she’s the woman they pray to, when they think to pray.
She’s never been Silenced before, neither as Ellana nor as Andraste, and she supposes it’s fitting, all things considered, that she experiences it for the first time at the hands of a Red Templar.
Vivienne is outraged, stroking her hair back from her face as she vomits into the thick grass. Cassandra is equally furious, striding up and down and cursing in Nevarran between orders to the gathering Inquisition soldiers.
Cole crouches beside her, his pale, cool hands settling on her shoulders, and sighs.
“Please don’t, Cole,” she begs, between retches. “Please. Not here. Not now. ”
Here, the Emerald Graves, where Ellana’s people were slaughtered by the descendants of Andraste’s daughter-in-law. Now, when she’s weaker than she’s been since she woke up after Haven.
“I’ve never seen anyone react this way to being Silenced,” Vivienne admits, when Ellana is still vomiting long after she’s emptied her stomach of anything but bile. Her skin feels like it’s trying to crawl off her flesh, her bones feel like they’re shattering and reforming all wrong, her head is aching as it hasn’t since she was two women at war instead of two women in tandem-
“What does that mean?” comes Cass’ sharp voice, startling Ellana out of her mire of pain. “Two women in tandem?”
Cole is watching her with huge, worried eyes, and Ellana sighs. Her stomach feels a little calmer now, the heaving subsiding a little, so she supposes now is as good a time as any other.
“Tell them, if you can,” she tells him, pushing herself up to sit on her heels. There’s blood all over Cassandra’s armour, and the knees of Vivienne’s white trousers are stained green, and they both look painfully concerned. “Tell them, Cole. It’ll sound less like madness coming from you, sweetling.”
Cole is something like Ellana is, like what she became when Andraste joined her - “neither here nor there, shouldn’t be here but couldn’t remain there, there’s neither end nor beginning anymore, it simply is -”
“What does he mean, Ellana?” Cassandra asks, crouching down on her hunkers and catching Ellana’s chin in her hand, forcing their eyes to meet. “Tell me. Speak plainly.”
“The woman of light the soldiers saw behind me, in the Beyond,” she says. “She wasn’t Divine Justinia.”
“Then who, my dear?” Vivienne asks, shifting to crouch by Cassandra’s side, the radiant sun to Cassandra’s watchful, hopeful moon. “Who was she?”
“Me,” Ellana says. “But also… Andraste.”
Both women blink at her, slowly and with a great weight of consideration.
“Well,” Cassandra says. “I did not expect that. ”
“You think you’re Andraste.”
Leliana’s voice is flat, and Ellana wonders why they are doing this here, in her rooms, instead of in the war room. She wonders also why neither Josephine nor Cullen are present, and why Cassandra and Vivienne and Cole have been sworn to secrecy in this matter, but in no others.
Cassandra, standing behind Ellana’s shoulder, huffs.
“I wasn’t born her,” she protests, gesturing to her vallaslin, to Sylaise’s mark over her eye. “I am Ellana of Clan Lavellan, but since I nearly died at the Conclave, I am also Andraste of the Alamarri.”
“A delusion born of the Fade,” Leliana says dismissively. “We will not speak of this again-”
“You’re one to talk of delusions!” Andraste snaps through Ellana’s mouth. “I might mention white roses blooming on dead bushes, had I a mind to speak of delusion!”
Leliana, for the first time since Ellana first met her, is visibly at a loss for words.
“How do you know of that?” she says, sounding faint, and much younger. “How can you possibly know-”
“Because you prayed to Andraste about it,” Ellana says bitterly. “I- she- Andraste in the Fade could do nothing to answer prayers, but she- that is, I- they were heard. You asked for meaning, for an explanation, for a hope that what you saw was not a fucking delusion.”
Leliana looks at her with shining eyes for a long moment, pale face flushed hopeful, beautiful pink.
“My lady,” she says at last, and bows her head. Ellana feels sick.
The gardens are a hiding place, and she stands there amidst the growth and the quiet and tries to still her racing heart.
The Commander is behind her, his delicate hands hidden within his gloves and his bright eyes dim with pain. Looking behind him at the twin moons, Ellana realises that she’s been standing in this one spot for a whole day. It must be near midnight, the Commander all edges and shades of silver and black.
“Hello, Commander,” she says, stepping close to him, revelling in the shapes of Maferath she so often tells herself she does not recognise in him. This close, she can smell that sharp armour polish, the warmth of his fur mantle, whatever herbal pomade he uses to tame his thick hair. She can feel the heat that radiates off him even through all his layers. She can see the way his throat bobs as she draws closer, the way a flush spreads dove-grey across the silver of his starlit face.
She reaches up and touches the tips of two fingers to his beautiful mouth, wondering if he kisses like her husband used. He has Maferath’s stern manner, his ferocity and his gentleness. He also has a wry humour that her husband never had, a kindness that was absent, a reserve that she finds fascinating, and is haunted and overhung with all his many sins in a way she finds familiar, and desperately attractive.
“Ellana,” he breathes against her fingertips, and it is the first time he has ever called her by name.
She slides her hand around his neck, draws him down, presses her brow to his.
“It is very lonely,” she says, “being held as a holy figure.”
“Ellana,” he says again, voice hoarse and lovely. “How can I help you?”
She doesn’t kiss him, but it’s a near thing.
Halamshiral burns her heart, fills her head with rage against the Orlesians and sorrow for all the lost Dalish souls who walked the Fade with her.
“I know that this must be difficult for you, my dear,” Vivienne says, “but for all our sakes, you must be a little more… Neutral.”
“You look as though the whole place smells foul,” Cass says, typically forthright. “School yourself, Inquisitor.”
“Oh, shall I take my lead from you, Lady Pentaghast?” Ellana asks, perfectly aware that she’s being snippy and unfair, but not caring. “Shall I instead look as though I want to stab every fool who watches us pass?”
“Aggression is a better stance than disgust,” Vivienne says, blatantly amused, and Ellana wants to scream. She hates this! Why must they choose between two bastard Orlesians, why can they not burn the whole place to the ground and start over, and do the same in Val Royeaux - put Leliana and Cass in charge of the Chantry, see what they make of it all! Vivienne and Fiona can fight over their Circles, Cullen and handsome Ser Barris over the Templars, and leave her alone -
Dorian’s hand catches her elbow when she sways in her saddle, and he is all concern - open concern, such as Josephine will dislike when she brings it up later - as he settles her again.
“Best not faint before we even arrive,” he advises, light tone belying his heavy eyes. “Unless, of course, it is in a fit of religious fervour - is Andraste shouting down to her Herald?”
Ellana’s head throbs, as it does when the side of her that is Andraste is angriest.
“Something like that,” she says, much to Dorian’s amusement, and so she rides into Halamshiral surrounded by laughter - and Cassandra’s groans of disgust.
Her head doesn’t stop hurting.
The uniforms Josephine chose for them are… Serviceable.
Part of her thinks of the heavy snow-bear pelt she wore over her shoulders when they marched on Tevinter, a foil for her dark russet-blonde hair, when she was human. Part of her thinks of those stupid hats the Divines wear, which she hates so much as both sides of herself.
Part of her thinks of the tooled wristguards her sisters wore, marking them as proud hunters of Clan Lavellan. Of her own ornate leatherwork, belts and braces and high boots, declaring her First to their Keeper. What news is there of her clan, she wonders? Are they proud of her, or ashamed?
Her hair now, now that she is an elf, now that she is Ellana and only a little Andraste, is black, her skin brown, her eyes hazel. Sometimes, when she is tired or angry, she catches her own reflection and is startled by it.
She spends an age adjusting the bright blue sash of her uniform in the mirror, so nervous she thinks she might be sick. A knock on the door of her overwhelming bedchamber startles her, almost as much as Cullen’s shy, sheepish appearance when she calls for her guest to enter.
“I thought a gentler touch might serve you well, before Josephine and Leliana descend,” he says quietly, crossing the room almost silently in his soft-soled boots. “Are you well, Ellana?”
She tries to say of course, she’s perfectly fine, but the words won’t come.
“I’ll tie your sash for you,” he says, still quiet and soft, startlingly intimate even considering the moments they’ve stolen over the chessboard and wandering the gardens since that first silver-edged midnight. She hasn’t touched his mouth since, and he hasn’t touched her at all, but there’s - there’s something.
Now, his big, delicate hands are unravelling the mess she’s made of her sash, and then carefully winding it back around her waist, cinching it just tight enough to emphasise her waist without constricting her breathing.
And now, his big, delicate hands are settled on her hips, searing through the fine wool of her uniform coat.
“Cullen,” she manages, and her fingertips are against his mouth again, index finger to his scar and longest finger to the bow of his lip. “Cullen, I-”
“You will win them over,” he says, breath warm against her fingers. “And then, once we’ve sorted out their mess, we’ll go home. ”
“Home,” she forces out. “Yes. Please.”
He bends forward slightly, and she feels something under her skin hum - he’s not so bold as Maferath, not so charismatic, but she thinks she might prefer the softness, tempered now by Ellana’s own softness as Andraste’s fire is.
And then they spring apart at Josie’s entrance, Leliana on her heels.
“I feel filthy just being here,” she admits to Sera, whispering so Bull and Cassandra won’t hear, and worry. “It’s - maybe it’s a Dalish thing.”
“Or a mage thing,” Sera offers, which Ellana thinks is terribly brave of her. She knows how much Sera fears magic, and can even understand it, given everything everyone says of mages.
She misses how things were, before. Before the Chantry. Before her name became a tool of cruelty.
“Let’s see if we can’t clean up a little,” she offers, nudging Sera with her elbow and grinning as best she can.
She’s too late.
She’s too fucking late.
It feels like Tevinter shackles locking around her wrists, it feels like seeing betrayal in Maferath’s eyes, like seeing the boys turn from their father, like pretending Vivial had never been born, like losing Ebris, like-
“I won’t allow that world to be ,” she snarls, running, running, bounding over bannisters and barrelling through bastards to hurl a fistful of fire at Florianne and collapse to her knees at Celene’s side.
The Empress is dead. Ellana is too fucking late.
But. Perhaps. Could it be?
Andraste lived Ages on the far side of the Veil and Ellana has always had an unholy talent for healing magic.
She swoons into Cullen’s waiting arms just as Celene Valmont, Lioness of Orlais and best hope for a free future for Thedas, breathes the first breath of her new life.
She wakes, hours later, in their borrowed chateau, and can hear the cries of Andraste! Andraste lives! echoing up from the streets.
Sera and Varric are playing cards on the foot of her bed, and look up when she groans in disgust.
“Idiots,” Sera says dismissively, and plays the Angel of Death.
Ellana takes Cullen to her bed on the anniversary of her death.
Well, no, that’s not quite right.
They reach Skyhold the day before All Soul’s Day, their soldiers watching her with hungry, hallowing eyes, believing in her now as they never did when only the Anchor sparking on her hand marked her as special. She feels every stare like sweat on her skin, sticky and cold, and is ashamed of how she cowers between Cullen and Bull as they ride through the gates.
Her other companions, well. Well. Leliana and Cassandra are open in their fervour now, and Vivienne has asked several times for a chance to examine her, which makes her itch. She cannot even begin to dream of the horrors that the Orlesians inflicted on their Dalish prisoners of war, and the shapes of those terrors are enough to make her flinch from the merest thought of any examination.
Sera and Varric treat her as they always have, teasing and joking and dealing her into a hand of cards as often as they can. Sera continues to spike her waterskin with as many non-toxic fruits as she can, and Varric continues to coax her into investing money into something the Merchants’ Guild are offering, always with a smile on his face.
Blackwall, meanwhile, cannot even look at her. The shame that hides in his heart makes this unsurprising, but it hurts even so. Cole hums to himself at her side, thrilled that her secret is no longer a secret.
Josephine is run ragged, trying to spin this as positively as possible, trying to ensure that no one thinks the Inquisitor is a blood mage or a madwoman. She has the hardest time of any of them, and Ellana wishes there was something she could do to help.
And then - Solas and Dorian.
Dorian avoids her, seeming sickened by what she did to draw Celene back from the Beyond. That stings more than she’d like, to swing from his concern and worry to his desertion, but she tolerates it, because she must.
Solas watches her, furious and cold, and she ignores him. She has him almost figured out, she thinks, and when she catches that last thread of thought, well, she’ll have him then, won’t she?
Which leaves her with Bull and Cullen.
Bull told her outright that he doesn’t see anything holy about her, which was a relief - she’d laughed herself to tears, and he’d let her lean against his chest and patted her hair until it passed. He’s been a solace, he really has, drinking and playing cards with Sera and Varric in the evenings, and scaring away anyone who looks at her crooked.
Cullen… Oh, Cullen. She wonders if it’s the same fizz she feels under her skin that’s making him so nonchalant at the prospect of his maybe-lover being the same woman he prays to twice a day. She wonders if it’s the tension coiling heavy and delicious between them that makes him so ready to dismiss her miracle as a masterful feat of healing.
She wonders what it would take to convince him that she really is Andraste. She wonders if he will ever forgive her for being Andraste, if she kisses him before convincing him.
Being back in Skyhold, especially on the eve of All Soul’s, is suffocating.
She escapes the crowds and hides in the shadows of the battlements, looking down across the valley, and tries to breathe. Tries anything, anything at all that might make the weight of all that expectation and pride and need run off her back instead of sitting on her shoulders.
Cullen’s hand is hovering an inch from the dip of her spine, and his face is limned in faint milky silver from the abundant stars above them.
“Please,” she begs, pushing upright, pushing into his touch. “Please, Cullen, not you as well.”
He sighs, draws her so-slightly closer, bends just a little so their faces are close.
“Ellana,” he says, and it is so sweet. “Tell me how I can help.”
Finally, after letting the tension coil for weeks now, she stretches up on her toes, hands to his breastplate, and kisses him. It’s hardly even a kiss, really, just a brush of her mouth against his, but it shatters him.
Cullen moans, pulls her against his chest, and kisses her properly. Kisses her like nothing has ever mattered so much, like nothing will ever matter so much. He kisses greedily, as though afraid she’ll stop him before he’s had his fill.
He does not kiss at all like Maferath, and she is near as overwhelmed with relief at that as she is with the sheer pleasure of kissing him. So much so that by the time they stop, she’s pinned between his warm body and the cold crenels, her foot hooked behind his knee and her hands twisted through his thick pomaded hair.
The bells of the Chantry in the garden ring midnight, and Cullen goes still for a moment, face still close to hers, breathing still ragged.
“Please,” she begs again, and he obliges.
Somehow, she gets him out of his surcoat and armour and shirt, and his skin is burning against hers, searing with the strain of a body learning to live without lyrium poisoning after so long relying on it.
He is so beautiful. So familiar, to the parts of her that ring with sorrow for the lost Alamarri, the parts of her that see familiar shapes in the long stretches of muscle in his arms and chest and back, in the dense curl of his ruddy-fair hair, in his bright brown eyes.
He kisses her like he’s found something lost in her, too, cupping her face in one hand and catching her behind the knee with the other, hiking her up against the door of his office and pinning her there, hip to hip.
“Look at you,” he says, drawing away just enough to look at her properly, just for a moment. She can’t see anything beyond his eyes, dark and fierce and hungering, and she wonders what he sees when he looks at her. “Look at you, you’re so- look at you.”
He kisses her again, starving and thrilled, and she tries to gather him closer, to feel more of that unbearable, delicious heat. He slides his hand up under her shirt when she winds her legs tight around him, long fingers fitting under her soft linen breastband and fitting over her breast, high and small, and she sobs into his mouth.
“Love?” he breathes, right there against her lips, and she can’t manage anything more than to pull him back into another kiss and arch her back, pressing herself into his touch again. He moans, another beautiful, torn sound, and surges against her, big body moulding against her.
His teeth skim down the side of her neck, the barest brush of sharpness, and it sparks right through her. She tugs on his hair, thick and slick with pomade between her fingers, draws him up to look at him again.
“You’re so beautiful,” she manages, and he laughs. Nuzzles under her chin and laughs, and she peppers kisses over his shoulder until he calms.
“Let’s get you to bed,” he says, “before you say anything else silly.”
He carries her up the ladder, and it’s her turn to laugh when she sees the hole in his roof - but she waves it off, when he asks, because she knows why he hasn’t had that hole fixed, and it’s important that she doesn’t mock him for it. He is important, not for the echoes of Maferath in him but for the way he works himself to the bone to try and balance the scales on his sins, for the way he is so reluctant to seek out any sort of joy because he thinks himself so unworthy.
He unlaces her boots slowly, carefully, the urgency bleeding from his hands as he strips her bare. Instead, he’s all reverence and fascination, tracing his hands up her calves to settle behind her knees for a moment after he’s peeled away her leggings, pressing kisses up her shins and nuzzling into her thigh while she lies, spread and startled in just her smalls and her rucked up shirt.
Her shirt disappears, and he surges up the bed to kiss her again, kicking off his trousers while she gets rid of her breastband. Then it’s just their smalls and the heat of him, those exquisite noises he makes and the touch of his big, careful hands.
He almost prays, a time or two, but she kisses away the words - mouth on his throat, on his pulse, on his tight nipple, on the cut of his hip, and then he’s laughing again and tugging her up to taste her mouth again.
His fingers are cautious, gentle and curious until she bucks against his hand with a cry, and then he’s determined, working her thoroughly, two fingers curling and thumb pressing firm to her pearl, and when she shatters apart, clutching at his broad shoulders and wailing her pleasure into his beautiful mouth, she feels more whole than she has since the Conclave.
“Please,” he says, hoarse and pleading, “please can I-”
“ Yes,” she gasps, winding her legs around his hips again to draw him close, slipping a hand between them to guide him in, and-
“Oh, Cullen,” she sighs, arching into him slowly as he eases into her, as he tucks his face against her shoulder and curses up a storm.
When his hips press flush to hers, she strokes her fingers over the sharp rise of his shoulderblades, just to touch him.
Then he begins to move, and it’s all she can do to hold on, hold on and try not to scream when he rolls his hips just right, when he bends to kiss her breasts, when he works a hand between them and coaxes another starburst peak out of her, leaving her trembling as he follows her over.
Somewhere, in the aftermath, when she’s curled under his arm, wearing his shirt, overwhelmed by him-
“Just imagine,” he says, voice low and rough and brimful with amusement. “If all this talk of your being Andraste were true, I’d have just led astray the Maker’s own bride.”
“I never met the Maker,” she says, without thinking. “And my husband is long dead.”
Perhaps it’s just the sex clouding her mind. Perhaps it’s just a hidden desire to get his rejection out of the way now, before she becomes any more attached to him. She can’t say for sure.
But Cullen goes rigid beside her all the same.
“My faith is… You know how important it is to me. Why would you mock it like that?”
When he sits up, the blankets fall away, and she notices that he pulled on soft sleep trousers at some point, presumably while she was still addled by that second orgasm. His face, though, is wounded, and angry. She has never seen him angry with her before, and it hurts her heart.
“I’m not mocking it, Cullen,” she says, following him when he begins to move away, tight with that terrible anger. “Please, Cullen, I’m not, surely you felt what I did at Halamshiral, felt that it wasn’t just healing- ”
“You expect me to believe that I’ve been praying to you twice a day,” he snarls, teeth gritted and so very white. “You expect me to believe that the Prophet walks among us, but has chosen only to show Her light to the Empress?”
“I expect you to believe that I acted to save the Empress in order to save the world, Cullen!” she snaps back, rising to meet his anger. “She was dead! And I brought her back!”
Cullen goes a very specific sort of pale when blood magic comes up, during meetings at the war table, and he goes that pale now.
“No, Cullen, no love, it wasn’t blood magic-”
“What else!” he hisses, and her own anger fades in the face of his terror. “I- I have to go, I can’t- I won’t-”
Kinloch Hold. Of course he’s still haunted - who wouldn’t be?
“I expect you to believe,” she says, making him pause at the top of his ladder, “that when you were nineteen and bleeding from that scar across your back, you prayed for the screaming to stop.”
She’s never seen him so pale.
“I expect you to believe,” she says, “that when you prayed for the screaming to stop, it wasn’t for the sake of your friends.”
“Please,” he says, head bowed, trembling all over. “Please, don’t-”
“I expect you to believe,” she says, “that you prayed for the screaming to stop, because you were afraid that it would drive you mad, even though the demons had failed.”
“Ellana, Maker , I can’t-”
“I expect you to believe,” she says, dropping to kneel in front of him, lifting her hands to cup his face - and dropping them, when he jerks away from her. “I expect you to believe that you have nothing to feel guilty for, Cullen Rutherford. Not in Kinloch Hold.”
He sobs, so hard she thinks she might have broken his heart, and slides down the ladder. The doors remain closed, and the sound of his crying echoes up to the loft, but Ellana doesn’t go down to him. She doesn’t think he’d welcome her, now.
Chapter 4: In blackest envy were the demons born
Slight change to the layout, because Haring is going to be... Long.
Ellana wakes when Cullen lifts her from the floor by the ladder, his skin somehow still warm, despite his having spent the night below in the chill of his office.
“Please,” she mumbles, half-asleep still, trying to find his face through barely opened eyes, with clumsy, Fade-heavy hands. “Please, Cullen-”
“I usually pray, when I am so troubled as this,” he says very quietly, settling her down onto his bed, settling alongside her and drawing her close. I have not lost him, thank the Creators, thank the Maker, thank anyone who might be keeping him by my side. “But if you are who you say you are, there is not much point in seeking solace before your image, is there?”
Fully awake now, she reaches up to touch his mouth, wishing she could make him understand.
“I didn’t want this,” she says. “When I woke up, after the Conclave, I had the most terrible headaches, and my body felt all… Sideways. I knew there was something wrong, but there was so much to do, and I was the only one who could do it.”
“And you didn’t think to bring it to any of us?”
“What would you have done?” she asks, feeling sick. “Cullen, think about it - what would you have said to an elven mage who’d just walked out of the Beyond with some unknown magic buried in her hand, if that same elven mage had told you that she had one of your gods in her head?”
“I- Well, I would have- I-”
“You would have declared me mad,” she says gently, “and locked me away, save when you needed me to close rifts. I am no fool, Cullen. Even before she made herself known to me, I knew Andraste was a danger.”
“So when you say you are Her,” he says, hesitant, watching for a reaction, so terrified that it makes her chest feel hollow with pain. She watches him in return, watches his throat bob and his jaw work, feels the hand in her hair tighten for a second and then carefully loosen.
“I’m not some… Divine being, love,” she whispers, curling a little closer to him. “I’m just me. I just remember things I shouldn’t know. Feel things I shouldn’t feel.”
“What do you remember that you shouldn’t?”
It’s out of her mouth before she can think better of it.
Cullen withdraws after that, sending her away with kisses so bittersweet they nearly make her sick and then refusing to meet her eyes for days.
Which leaves her to deal with the others.
She ambushes him in the library, hiding behind the shelves until he’s settled reading a book in his favourite chair.
“I know you’re there,” he says, looking over the top of the book and catching her out. “Come on, then, explain to me how you managed blood magic without a blade in hand.”
“I’m not a blood mage,” she says, curling up in her favourite chair, opposite his. “You know I would never, Dorian.”
“Well, I can’t think of any other way you might have reanimated the Empress’ corpse, my dear, unless it was a miracle.”
“If I said it was superior knowledge, would you believe me?”
“Superior knowledge of healing? You’re good, Ellana, but no one is that good.”
“Not of healing,” she corrects him. “Of death. How many healers do you know who’ve seen death from the other side?”
He sets aside his book, which for Dorian is as good as a declaration of war. She cringes back, drawing her legs up and hiding behind her knees as best she can.
“You can’t ask me to believe that you’re really Andraste,” he snaps. “I can believe a great many things-”
“Just as your father believed he could remake you as he wanted,” she blurts out, and hates herself for it. She almost thinks he hates her, too, for the way his face twists.
“How dare you-”
“I didn’t mean it, Dorian, I’m sorry-”
The trip to Redcliffe with Dorian had been… Harrowing. Worse than some of their bloody battles, for the way Dorian had become brittle and tender afterwards, like a barely-healed broken bone.
“It doesn’t matter that you’re sorry, Ellana!” he says. “You brought a woman back from the dead , and you expect me to believe that it wasn’t blood magic?!”
“Cullen believes it,” she says, without meaning to. It’s been three days since she spoke to Cullen, almost two weeks since she laughed at one of Cassandra’s appalling jokes, almost a week since she sat with Vivienne for tea without being asked for permission to examine her, four days since she managed to steal more than a moment of Josie’s time without feeling like an imposition, and two weeks since she and Dorian sat in their favourite chairs, reading and not talking and at ease.
She misses him more than she misses Cullen, truth be told, because whatever it is she’s built with Cullen is fragile and so new that losing it will only hurt a little. Her friendship with Dorian is bedrock, as solid a thing as there is in Skyhold, and if that foundation is shattered, she doesn’t know what she’ll do.
Please don’t let him be lost to me, she prays, hoping for Mythal’s mercy but wondering, suddenly and terribly, if hosting the Chantry’s holy woman in her own body has cut her away from her own gods. For the first time since Haven’s fall, Ellana stands apart from Andraste, and hates her.
Dorian laughs. It’s hollow, though, and full of sharp edges.
“Cullen has been in love with you for months,” Dorian says, something cruel there. “He’d believe anything that allowed him to keep on being in love with you.”
“What can I do to make you believe I didn’t use blood magic?” she asks, because that’s the crux of it here, she knows. Dorian has a non-believer’s relationship with the Chantry, but hasn’t the choice to not practice. He wouldn’t care either way if some dead woman crawled out of the Beyond and into her head, so long as it didn’t make her an abomination. He’s never prayed his soul into Andraste’s hands, has never found purpose in a dream he believed Maker-sent.
But he cares about blood magic. He hates blood magic. And he thinks she’s a blood mage.
“I have been your friend from the moment we fell through time together, Dorian,” she says quietly. “I have never lied to you. What makes you think I’m lying now?”
“Because what you did,” he says, “whatever you did to resurrect the Empress? I’ve never felt anything like it. That wasn’t healing magic, Ellana. It was more like-”
“A rift,” she cuts in. “I know, Dorian. I wouldn’t have been able to do it without this-”
He scowls at the flicker of green when she holds up her left hand.
“- and her. In my head. Remembering what the Beyond looks like, for the dead.”
“People don’t come back from the dead, Ellana.”
“She did, through me,” Ellana insists. “And through this magic trapped in my hand, so did Celene Valmont. I can’t offer any other explanation, Dorian.”
“Then we are at an impasse, my dear,” Dorian says, “because that is not an explanation I can accept.”
She throws herself into her work after that. She has Sera and Varric and Bull. She has Cass, sometimes, when Cassandra forgets that before her stands the Maker’s Bride - never mind how many times Ellana has insisted that no part of her has ever beheld the Maker’s face, and that she sometimes doubts that she ever even heard his voice.
She has Vivienne, who has stopped asking to study her, and Josie, who has calmed now that the storm of Ellana’s sudden emergence as something other than the Herald has quieted. She has Cole, who is so soft and so eager to simply sit in her company in the quiet.
She has Cole, who feels the same storm-cloud she does whenever Solas is nearby.
“But what does it mean, Cole?” she sighs, resting her head against his bony shoulder. They’re sitting on the battlements, nearer to Cullen’s office than seems wise, watching the moons rise. Ellana has a jug of hot spiced wine at her side, and while she’s making a good effort at emptying the jug, which is kept hot by the tiniest fire rune she’s ever seen, courtesy of Dagna, Cole seems quite happy to keep his hands wrapped around the hot clay cup and swing his long, skinny legs out into the drop beyond the walls. “Why does he feel all wrong?”
She’s drunk, and sad, and hurting, and furious at Cullen for being so fucking weak as to walk away and Dorian for being so stubborn as to refuse to listen to her. Cole shifts, distressed, and she focuses on a cleaner, easier anger - at Solas.
“I felt something similar, while I was in the Beyond,” she says, glad of Cole’s company when her balance shifts and she nearly tips forward, into that long drop. He gathers her close with an arm around her waist, and she’s shocked by how warm he is. He still feels more spirit than man, sometimes, but right now, he’s the realest, least spirity person in all of Skyhold.
Creators, she’s starting to sound like Sera. Maybe she’s more drunk than she thought.
“He’s a shadow,” Cole says, sounding just as troubled as Ellana feels. “A shadow of something long gone, and of something yet to come. He carries a terrible burden, and he hates everyone he thinks put that burden on his shoulders.”
Ellana’s fingers trace the bright green ink under her skin, around her eye, and she cannot abide to think on how Solas spoke of Sylaise, of Falon’din, of Mythal .
Maybe the Creators were slavers. Ellana doesn’t know, and she isn’t about to take Solas’ word for it, not when she distrusts him so and not when she has generations of learning in her heart, telling her that her gods are not evil.
“A shadow of something yet to come,” she says, tasting the dread of that on the tip of her tongue. “Oh, Cole. How are we to know?”
If they could figure out what that foreboding, lightning-in-the-air pressure against their skin around Solas meant, they might be able to come to a decision. If it’s simply his magic - the magic of the Veil, of the Beyond, wrought by his pale hands - then there is no need to do anything, but if it is something else…
“Whenever I act more as Andraste than as Ellana,” she says, “he tenses, as if he would attack me were we somewhere else. Some when else.”
“Sometimes,” Cole says, “I think he only just holds himself off.”
Ellana remembers the way he reacted, before she and Andraste were one, to seeing her fight Cullen’s soldiers with her staff and without magic. Sometimes, she tells a ribald joke that’s Andraste’s and still told in Ferelden, his face twists in what she first assumed to be distaste but which she now wonders at.
“How are we to know?” she asks again, and is so grateful for Cole, who understands, and who doesn’t have an answer either.
Wouldn’t it be kinder, after all, to give Solas a quiet death now, rather than slaughtering him in battle later on?
“You wish to share a tent with Madam Vivienne,” Cassandra says, looking just for a moment as though Ellana has slapped her. “Truly?”
Ellana sighs. Cass looks hurt, which is the very last thing she wants, but she’s hurt, too. She misses laughing over Cass’ terrible books, and sharing the marzipan Sera always tucks into her pack, and not having to explain away her nightmares, when they wake the two of them.
“No, Cass,” she admits. “I want to share with you, but I don’t think you even see me anymore. It’s all her. ”
Again, a moment passes when Cass’ face turns, and Ellana wants to scream from the pure, consuming frustration of it all.
“I know that you are still you,” Cassandra says, very quietly. “You are my friend before anything else, Ellana. I apologise if I have been overwhelming of late.”
“More overwhelmed than overwhelming, I think,” she says, rueful. “I understand, Cass. If some shem came to me and claimed to be Mythal, I’d be doubtful until she proved herself, and then I’d be just as overjoyed as you and Leliana have been.”
Cassandra puts her hands on Ellana’s shoulders, which for Cass is as much demonstrative physical affection as if she’d kissed her square on the mouth.
“You are my friend, ” she says fiercely. “And I have left you feeling as though I have forgotten that.”
Ellana lets herself smile. She has smiled so rarely since Halamshiral that it feels almost illicit.
“I’m sure Vivienne would rather have her tent to herself,” Ellana says, watching Cassandra’s answering smile bloom. “And Sera promised me some of that marzipan cake she likes so much, if you could spare me space for my bedroll in your tent, Cass.”
It’s not healing - there’s still a ways to go before she feels as easy in Cass’ company as she did before - but it’s something. It’s a start. It’s more than she thought to ask for.
Things are slowly, slowly, slowly returning to normal, at least among her friends - Dorian still won’t speak with her, Cullen still won’t meet her eye even over the war table, but the others are there, are present, are still with her. Even Blackwall, pardoned for living a lie she understands better than she might like, is as gruff and lacking in appropriate deference as he has ever been.
Then, while out on what should have been a silly little mission in the Emerald Graves, with her as their only healer, they’re ambushed. Cass burns the bastards until they’re screaming for their gods-forsaken mothers, Cole cuts through them like a ghost, and Sera picks them off from further than seems likely - but then, Ellana’s always amazed by Sera’s skill with a bow.
Ellana swings her staff, staves in one Red-shining bastard’s head through his helm, and just as she’s pausing to take a breath, as she’s pushing her hair back from her face and stepping into another swing, she’s Silenced.
Then it all goes tits up.
She doesn’t remember the journey home to Skyhold from the Emerald Graves, not really. She remembers a flash here or there, of bouncing against Cass’ breastplate as they ride together on her massive black destrier, or of Cole humming a lullaby plucked from her memories of her mother, or of Sera stroking back her hair and coaxing her to eat something, anything, even if it’s just a few pieces of marzipole, yeah?
She moans when they lower her from the saddle into Bull’s waiting arms, less because of pain and more confusion. Cole’s cool hands are in her hair, then, and he sounds frantic with the desire to help her - frantic, and far away. They all feel so far away.
Her bed is familiar, sort of, and while Cass and Vivienne strip her and bathe her and bundle her into a nightgown and settle her under the covers, she floats.
And when she finally hits the ground, soft as a whisper, she can hear again.
“She should be dead, Cassandra.”
Cullen. Cullen? In her room? Surely not. Maybe she’s dying. Creators, she misses him. She can’t find her arms to reach for him, though.
“She has survived this far,” Cassandra says, strident and broking no question, no doubt. In all things, Cassandra’s faith in her has been unwavering, even when Cass thought her simply Ellana, without Andraste’s weight. “She will survive whatever else comes of this.”
“Is she still dreaming, Cole?” Cullen asks, and maybe if she can just open her eyes, she’ll be able to find her hands. “Can you see?”
“Mostly she doesn’t,” Cole’s voice comes, soft and tight with fear, “but she can - the Beyond is still within her reach, it’s just hard to reach for anything now. She wants to reach for you, but she can’t.”
Between one heartbeat and the next, Cullen’s hand is around hers. Huge and warm and so delicate, his bones feeling fragile as a bird’s against hers.
He squeezes her fingers, and she tries to squeeze back. She doesn’t think she succeeds.
“Tell me again how many there were,” he says, sounding weary, as though he’s had this conversation a dozen times already. “Were the strikes simultaneous?”
“I don’t see how this will help-”
“She has better odds of surviving with her mind and her magic intact if they weren’t simultaneous,” Cullen snaps at Cass. “I understand that as a Seeker, you have a unique insight, but as a Templar, don’t you think my knowledge might be more pertinent?”
His hand tightens around hers, fierce and protective, or maybe possessive. She doesn’t know. She doesn’t care. She just wants him to stay close.
The door slams open. It slams closed.
“Oh, Maker’s arse, ” Dorian snarls. “How am I supposed to stay angry with her when she looks so small and pathetic?”
Vivienne laughs quietly with one cool, elegant hand pressed to Ellana’s brow. The gentle wash of Vivienne’s healing slides through the pains in Ellana’s head, and she twitches her fingers. Cullen and Cass snarl like a pair of lions, which amuses her no end.
The bed shifts, and she thinks Dorian might have sprawled himself out at her feet. How typically dramatic of him. She’ll be perfectly fine, just as soon as she remembers how to open her eyes.
The door opens and closes a little more gently, and the scent of Josie’s perfume hits Ellana’s nose.
“Oh,” Josie says, very, very softly. “Oh, Maker preserve us.”
She must look very bad, if Josie isn’t being cheerful and bracing. But then, Silencing by twelve Red Templars all at once will surely take its toll. She tries to speak, to make some silly joke about looking worse than she feels, but all she manages is a feeble whimper.
It’s enough to drive them all to insanity.
The others all talk over one another - oh, Varric and Sera are here, she wonders where Bull and Blackwall are, and if Leliana is here, but silent - but it’s only really Cullen that she hears, gathering her in against his armourless chest and whispering in her ear.
“Come back to me, love,” he pleads, “if only so I can tell you I’m sorry.”
She opens her eyes just as he leans his brow to her temple, and manages to lift her hand to touch his cheek.
“I never went away,” she promises, a croak, a tease, a promise. He laughs, though, pure, joyous laughter with tears on his cheeks, and the others all press in all at once.
She’s still weak, of course. Still ill. The healers - Vivienne, mostly - insist on her remaining abed for a whole month before they’ll even consider setting her back on the road.
The others take turns on missions while she’s convalescing, returning with intelligence reports for Leliana and a growing list of allies for Josephine, and an endless line of volunteers for Cullen.
Sera stays behind to keep her company. She’d go mad otherwise, stuck between bed and the Beyond.
At least in the Beyond, she can search. She can ask questions of spirits known to Andraste. She can try and understand just what it is that makes Solas sit like dread against her skin and Cole’s.
In bed, though, Sera brings her marzipan and Cassandra’s filthy novels and the best gossip. They lie there giggling until Ellana falls asleep against Sera’s shoulder, and she often wakes to find Sera curled around her.
Dorian stays behind sometimes, too.
“I was given a rather stern talking to by our resident Seeker, and another one by our favourite Templar,” he confides over chess and stupidly expensive brandy, which she probably shouldn’t be drinking. “Cassandra was very direct, but Cullen, I think, was much angrier. ”
Yes, she can imagine - Cullen had shooed everyone out of the room as soon as Vivienne was sure she was well, and then he’d more or less collapsed face-down against her belly, sobbing his relief with her hands in his hair.
“I thought I’d lost you,” he breathed against her mouth, right before kissing her as hard as he'd dared, given how fragile she had been. He’d been frantic, and Varric had told her how Cullen hadn’t slept, hadn’t stilled from the moment Cassandra’s note had arrived.
Inquisitor gravely injured. Returning immediately.
Ellana cannot say that she might not have reacted just as strongly, had their roles been reversed.
Leliana is the one to tell her.
“I hope you are well enough to ride,” she says, “for we have a great journey ahead of us.”
She has heard of Adamant Fortress, of course she has. She has been paying attention to all the missives coming and going, even before she was bed-bound.
Andraste’s interest surges when the Wardens come into focus once again, Wardens and magisters and blood magic making her blood boil, and Ellana wonders - when did they become two again, where for so long they have been one?
She has no time to think on it, though, because there is the long march to Adamant, and there is planning, and there is clinging to Cullen’s shoulders while he fucks her into the ground with desperation on his lips. There is hours of training with Dorian and Vivienne to ensure that the Silencing has not damaged her magic, of training with Cassandra to get her muscles back working so she can swing her staff with effect even when her mana is gone, and Sera and Cole laughing and giggling while they teach her to walk on her hands, because they think everyone else is being too serious.
By the time they reach Adamant, she thinks herself well prepared for anything the Wardens and the magisters are prepared to throw at her.
She never expected this.
The Fade blooms green and solid around them, and Ellana feels very far away.
Andraste heaves herself to her feet, though, and marches staunchly across too-familiar ground, leading the way across acres of the same vague horror toward what should be the real world.
Her staff still shines like a golden beacon, even as she walks step-for-step with the fucking Divine who comes to lead them - and it is Justinia, Andraste knows the difference between a demon and the dead, but it is better for Cassandra to remain unsure, and the Hawke girl is unlikely to believe either way.
The others - well, she just wants to get them out. That’s what’s important.
“How odd a creature you are,” the Nightmare croons. “Did you truly think to correct your mistakes by doing… This?”
Andraste feels heat flood her face, and hates it.
“A guiding hand is needed,” she says, “and who better to provide it than me?”
Aye, who indeed - she who led Alamarri and elves together, and slaves, and Vints who turned from their magister masters? She who walked more in the Maker’s light than any other devout before or since? She who is stronger, who is better, who has burned as a beacon even before they cast her into the flames?
That is not who you are, that little voice in the back of her mind insists. If ever you were that.
Andraste lifts her hands, her staff weighted in the butt and blazing in the crown, and strikes at -
At nothing. There is nothing.
The Nightmare is ahead. They march on, with her at the head of their column.
The Fade feels different, from what she’s used to. Perhaps it’s just that she’s still in Ellana’s body, or perhaps because she has a body at all. In death, she had been a soul, but here, she is a whole person. Here, she feels the air like a lead blanket against her skin. Here, she feels as if her head is being torn in two.
She can see the citadel, high above. It looks different here, now, from these dark hazel eyes instead of the storm-blue she still thinks to see in the mirror every day. It looks closer. It looks more tangible. It looks as if she could reach it.
She halts, just for a moment, on a rise. With the strength of her magic - real magic, mana coursing through her veins and stinging under her skin as it never did in death - she could do it. She could rise up and touch the citadel. She could cleanse the Black City and make it shine Golden once again.
We have to get out! Ellana howls, in the back of her head. We have to get home!
But… For Andraste, which is home? Here, or there?
She can feel Ellana clinging on, somewhere in the back of her head. In life, she herself sits coiled inside Ellana’s mind, but here, things are different. Here, she is stronger. Here, she walks with Ellana’s legs and fights with Ellana’s magic.
I could oust her, Andraste thinks, and hates herself for it.
She marches on, beside the behatted bitch.
Even the beacon of her staff cannot stand against the dark of the Nightmare, no matter how she tries.
“I have stood against worse than you!” she screams, and it laughs. None have dared laugh at her, at Andraste, in Ages and Ages.
But this thing. This Nightmare. It laughs as though she is nothing. As if she did not lead her people on Minrathous. As if in this new body she has not led the Inquisition-
My body! Ellana screams, in the back of her head. I am the Inquisitor, not you!
But… Is she not Ellana, too? She strode forth from the Fade and into Ellana Lavellan’s failing body. Did she not take it for her own, in doing so? Has she not been herself, particularly since the girl stopped fighitng her, since Haven’s fall?
Mine, Ellana snarls, when Cullen’s face and Dorian’s laugh and Sera’s pranks and Cole’s cool hands and the ache of Vivienne’s beauty and the thrill of Cassandra’s rare smiles fill her head. They are all mine, not yours. Never yours. Not like this.
They reach the rift, Andraste still fighting Ellana down within her head and fighting everything else without, and her staff flares and flares and-
“No,” she says, fearing as she has not feared since Maferath refused to meet her eyes, before the pyre. “No! No! No!”
She’s crying, as she has not cried since the slavers took her, when Hawke drags her from the Fade and Stroud salutes their passing. There are tears on her face while she closes the rift.
Mine, the elf-girl insists, and pushes Andraste away.
There are no tears on Ellana’s face when she turns to address the Wardens.
She staggers, when she’s done. Away from Hawke and Varric, away from the Wardens, away from Cassandra’s concern and the worry on Cole’s face and the sick, shaken shine of Bull’s skin. Andraste is once more a heavy weight burning inside her skull, and she forces herself to hold her staff in her right hand, where she has always held her staff until this fucking invader took up residence in her mind.
Cullen catches her, when she staggers. He somehow makes it look as if she isn’t falling apart inside her own skin, and is sure to get her to his tent before gathering her against his chest.
“I want her gone, ” she sobs, clutching at his furry shoulders and wishing she could be stronger. “She would have pushed me aside, and she wants-”
“I won’t let her,” he says, fierce and full of the sort of fiery devotion she would before have associated with his prayers. Now, it is all for her, for Ellana, and that gives her some strength. “I almost threw you away for her sake, and I won’t risk that loss again.”
She kisses him, frantic, grounding herself in him, in herself, in life, and he lets her. He lets her shove his clothes off, lets her strip him and strip herself and then, when she has them both mostly naked and she’s shaking so hard she can’t quite manage the laces on their breeches, he gathers her against the heat of his chest and lets her cry again.
Andraste sits heavy in the back of her mind, though, and their coexistence no longer feels peaceful. She throbs, just as the Anchor does, and Ellana wonders which she ought to fear more.
Skyhold is so cold it makes her teeth ache, and so she goes to Vivienne.
“I need you to look inside my head again,” she says over sweet tea and tiny cakes. “I- something has happened.”
“Something in the Fade, do you mean?” Vivienne asks, setting aside her elegant teacup and leaning forward to take Ellana’s, to set it aside, to take her hands. “With the Prophet?”
“I think the Silencing… Tore something. In my head. I don’t know, Vivienne.”
Vivienne squeezes her fingers tight, sympathy and concern bright on her beautiful face.
“If I may,” she says, “I would like to consult with Dorian, and perhaps with-”
“Not Solas,” Ellana says, before she can stop herself. “I- Not Solas, Vivienne. Please.”
Solas hates her, and she thinks that she hates him, too. She doesn’t want him anywhere near her, especially not now. Especially not when she thinks she might be shattering into his precious Fade. Especially not when she’s genuinely afraid that she may well be on the verge of becoming an abomination.
Not all demons begin as demons, after all.
Vivienne’s hands are warm against her temples, and Dorian’s arms are warm around her.
“Best keep this just between us,” Dorian teases, easing her to settle her back against his chest. “I can’t imagine your fierce commander would be too pleased if he found you lost in the embrace of a rival as handsome as me.”
“He’s too fond of you to thump you,” she assures him, which makes Vivienne laugh. “And besides, he would have more cause to be jealous of Vivienne than of you.”
“Flatterer,” Vivienne chides, smiling in absolute delight against Dorian’s outraged spluttering. “That will get you absolutely everywhere, if wielded correctly.”
“I do try,” Ellana sighs, letting Dorian gather her close and safe, letting Vivienne hold her face in elegant hands. She feels as safe here as she does with Sera and Cole, or with Cass or Cullen. She feels as safe here and now as she did with her Keeper, as she did with her sisters.
Ellana feels safe. Skyhold is not her home, it is too far from the fields and the forests she knows so well. But these people? This new family she has found? They are her home. They are almost as much a home as her clan, safe over by Wycome.
She and Vivienne speak of Wycome, sometimes. Vivienne was born there, and Ellana’s clan is there, has been there for some time. A happy place, if not a home.
Ellana feels at home with these people.
Andraste, always burning, does not.
And so she fights.
Ellana wakes as if from drowning with her face stinging.
“Thank the Maker!” Vivienne cries, heaving her up to sit, Dorian’s arm banded tight around her shoulders. “Oh, my dear, you started fitting-”
“We thought you were turning,” Dorian says, blunt as he only seems to be when he’s afraid. “You’re not a demon, are you?”
“I’d hardly admit it if I was,” she says, wondering why her throat is aching, along with her head. “What happened?”
“As I said,” Vivienne says, coaxing her a little more upright, taking Ellana’s face in her lovely hands, “you started fitting, shaking all over with your eyes rolling back-”
“Terribly unattractive,” Dorian offers, “be glad Cullen missed it.”
“- and then you started screaming,” Vivienne goes on, as though Dorian hasn’t said a word, “so we chose to end the examination.”
“We knocked you out,” Dorian says. “And then you wouldn’t wake up, so I slapped you. Sorry about that.”
“You’re not even slightly sorry,” Vivienne says, pressing a gentle wave of healing into Ellana’s throbbing head. “And I’m afraid we got nowhere, my dear. The Prophet is still there, and seems more distinct than She was before, but we don’t know what that means.”
“When we were in the Fade,” Ellana says, leaning back and letting Dorian take more of her weight, “she almost took over.”
They both still at that, their combined charm faltering in the face of her very real fear.
“When we were in the Fade,” Ellana says, “I wasn’t strong enough to stop her.”
Leliana and Cassandra sit her down between them one evening, before dinner.
“Is has been suggested,” Leliana says, “that you might next sit the Sunburst Throne.”
She laughs at that.
“I am an elf, Leliana,” she says, “and I do not offer my prayers to your Maker, even if his Bride sits in my head. And we must not forget that I am also a mage! No one will accept me. Even if they think I’m Andraste reborn, they won’t take me as their spiritual leader.”
“Then they will take your chosen as their leader,” Cass says, hand pressed firm between Ellana’s shoulder blades - does she look weak, that they all feel the need to touch her like this of late? Dorian, Vivienne, Cass, Sera, even Cole, and especially Cullen, they all seem to need to hold her up and keep her steady - and her face resolute.
“Cassandra is right,” Leliana agrees. “Even if you will not sit as Divine, they will want to know who you would see lead the Chantry.”
Andraste, searing in the back of her head, blazes with fury. Burn it all down, burn it to the ground!
“I think,” she says cautiously, “that the Chantry could be best served in your hands. Both of yours.”
“You would have us remain as the Hands of the Divine?” Cass asks, sounding surprised. “We would be honoured, but it is not for us to decide-”
“I would have one of you serve as Divine,” Ellana says, because she has considered this, and discussed it with Cullen and with Dorian. Cullen is more use to her, if only because he truly believes in the Maker, and has kept to the White Divine all his life. Dorian doesn’t believe in anything much, Ellana sometimes thinks, and always feels uncharitable after, but he knows politics of the bloodthirsty sport played in the Grand Cathedral. Between them, they can guide her right.
“And,” she says, “I would have the other remain at her Hand.”
Cassandra and Leliana look at one another across her head - Creators, Cass is absurdly tall, but Leliana is not, and Ellana never felt so tiny before she came to Haven - and slowly, so very slowly, they smile.
“That,” Leliana says, “we can manage.”
“You’re like me, aren’t you?”
Ellana looks up from her garden to find Morrigan’s son standing over her, with his mother’s bright golden eyes. He’s a lovely boy, sweet-natured and well-mannered, with a shadow looming within him that could eclipse the world, given a chance. Ellana likes Kieran enormously, and has been teaching him to play chess - not that she’s much good herself, of course.
Chess with Kieran has proved her best means of having normal conversations with Leliana, since their return from Halamshiral. She feels guiltier for using a child to try and reclaim a friendship than she does for teaching Kieran to cheat.
“Like me,” Kieran says, a basket of buns and sweets hanging from his skinny arm, his dark hair tangling over his bright eyes. “And like Master Cole, and Master Solas.”
“Solas,” she says to Cole, who will understand. “I know him, now. I can see him.”
“Do we have to fight him?” Cole asks, and Ellana knows that if she asked, Cole would sink one of his lethal blades into Solas’ back, no explanations needed. She loves him for it, and pities him.
“I don’t know,” she admits. “I don’t know if we can, Cole.”
The storm-cloud of dread that sits against Ellana’s skin, that makes Andraste itch in the back of her skull, it makes sense now.
But what is she to do, now that she sees him for the Dread Wolf?
She has no time to consider it, not really, and she needs him for now regardless of what terrors dog his steps - these eluvians are elvhen in make, and while Ellana has heard rumour of them and Morrigan claims to be an expert, she needs Dalish hands on the accursed mirrors. Solas isn’t even truly Dalish, but her options are limited.
Even Varric can’t place the blood mage of Clan Sabrae, who claims to have cleansed an eluvian of the Blight. Ellana was always the best of her own clan at magic, and the Keeper is too old now to make the journey to Skyhold as quickly as they need. She is stripped of choice, as she has been so many times since the Conclave, and so she must stay her hand.
“We need him for now,” she says, “but as soon as Corypheus is dealt with, we’ll turn to him. What do you say to that?”
Cole contemplates this for a long while, rolling ideas over in his head. He hums to himself when he’s thinking hard, and Ellana has come to find it soothing, over all the hours they’ve spent sitting on the walls and watching the sky.
“I will watch him,” Cole says. “I want to help.”
“Coryphepiss won’t stand a chance,” Sera says firmly, posture ahorse so awful that even Ellana, who doesn’t know much about these things, is amazed that she hasn’t fallen off yet. “Look at this!”
The splendour of their host is impressive, she has to admit, particularly bolstered by the Orlesians as it is. Steel and silk gleam in the fading sun, and the bright banners snap in the breeze, sharper than she feels it ought to be.
“You don’t look so sure, Freckles,” Varric says gently, voice low to avoid being overheard. “Doubting Curly?”
“Never,” Ellana says without thinking, because it’s true. In this, at least, she will never doubt Cullen. “But I do fear. ”
Varric looks pained, suddenly, and she wonders what strange echo of Marian Hawke she has stirred up for him. Doomed, both of them, and he at their sides - a difficult life indeed, for a man who so often claims to love leisure above all else.
“Fear is good,” he says. “Fear’s gonna keep you alive, Freckles.”
Vivienne and Dorian draw her aside, before they must engage.
“The staff you’ve been using is serviceable,” Vivienne says, tucking Ellana’s hair behind her ear and tugging her cowl over her head. “But it will not suffice, my dear.”
“The staff you had before Adamant never seemed to suit you, either,” Dorian says, mouth pursed in a terrible attempt at fighting off a smile. “So we put our heads together, and when that didn’t work, we sought out a few other heads.”
Dorian draws a long, thin package wrapped in brown paper and string from behind his back, and Ellana’s heart throbs in her chest.
She tugs the string, and the paper falls away. Somewhere in the back of her head, Andraste scoffs, but Ellana’s chest feels full to overflowing with love for these strange friends she has found since the Conclave.
The staff is a little shorter than her old one, better suited to her height, carved from a beautifully balanced length of polished oak finished with a blade of shining silverite the length of her forearm.
“That was Cassandra’s idea,” Vivienne says, sounding amused. “ These were Cullen’s.”
These turn out to be a series of delicately etched runes, shining bright lyrium blue in the head of the staff, and Ellana recognises none of them.
“According to Cullen,” Dorian says, “these are the same runes used on Templar blades, to make them immune to magic - he wanted them used on Bull’s axe, but, well.”
Well indeed. Bull doesn’t let anyone touch his axe, not even Dagna. Especially not Dagna.
“Will they not interfere with my casting?”
“Dagna insists not,” Vivienne promises. “And we have all surely learned to heed that girl’s madness, I think. She agreed with the Commander that they would instead make it impossible for any other magic to interfere with yours.”
There are other runes, ice and lightning and something that reminds Ellana of the curve of Vivienne’s long fingers when she sets to healing, but she does not question any of it. Instead, she reaches out and wraps her fingers around the staff, takes it from Dorian, and whirls it over her head and settles into her fighting stance.
“Oh, yes, ” she says, staff in her right hand and Anchor in her left. “Do we have time for me to test it?”
“Alas, no,” Dorian sighs dramatically. “But if all else fails, you can always stab Corypheus to death. Cassandra warned us to be sure and remind you of that.”
Ellana hesitates to set the staff over her back, a little afraid of that magnificent blade, and Vivienne leans over and presses one of the smallest runes - and the blade retracts into the staff.
“Oh, yes,” Ellana says again, thrilled. “Alright, let’s get going - these Red Templar bastards won’t kill themselves, will they?”
The eluvian spits them out, and Ellana goes to her knees.
“We need to get word to them,” she says, feeling sick with fear - the archdemon was there, Corypheus was there, Samson was there, and she is gone - and pushing herself to her feet. She clicks the blade back into her staff and leans on it, staggering for the doorway and ignoring the pain in her leg, the ache in her shoulder, the burn of her ribs.
“Ellana,” Dorian says, spitting a mouthful of blood on the floor before the mirror, “wait-”
“I have to tell them,” she snaps. “They have to know we’re not dead, Dorian!”
They’ll fight to the death, if they think hope is lost - and if she dies, hope is lost. Without her, they can’t close the rifts, and without closing the rifts, the war will never end. She cannot allow Blackwall and Bull and Varric and Cole and Vivienne and Cullen and all their hundreds of soldiers to die for a lost cause that is not lost at all.
Cassandra crouches, plants her shoulder in Ellana’s arm pit, and heaves her so far upright that she may as well be carrying her.
“To the rookery,” she says stoutly, and Sera hobbles on ahead - Dorian grumbles, but follows, and even Morrigan comes along.
The Witch is uncharacteristically quiet, after all her intolerably smug lecturing about elvehn history and religion. The weight of the Well of Sorrows is obviously heavier than she expected, and some cruel part of Ellana - the part that is Andraste, perhaps - is glad of it.
Sera somehow manages to get up to the rookery even with a sprained knee, and has a bird on her wrist when she returns to them. Cass has already set Ellana down on a crate, and Dorian is already kneeling in front of her, setting his uncertain healing to work on the deep, vicious gash Samson cut into the back of her thigh.
“Thank the Maker it missed the artery,” he says. “That would be beyond me, loathe though I am to admit it.”
Cass writes a note - probably brief to the point of rudeness, but the pain is becoming overwhelming now, so Ellana doesn’t even care, only cares that the others know that the end is not nigh - and sends it off, and then, together, they all stagger to the infirmary like a band of drunks, and collapse into the hands of the few healers remaining in Skyhold.
“Now we wait,” Cass says, and Ellana’s stomach weighs ten stone. Is this what it’s like for Cullen and Josie and Leliana, for what of her companions who aren’t travelling with her? It’s disgusting. She hates it.
“Now we wait,” she echoes, and lifts her hands so the healers can rub a foul-smelling salve into the heavy bruises rising over her broken ribs. There’s nothing else she can do, for now.
Cass organises the whole of Skyhold, shouts them into working order while Ellana struggles to speak for the thickness in her throat - what if some of them were hurt? What if the raven didn’t reach them? What if one of them died?
Dorian sits with her in the library, neither of them reading and neither of them speaking. Sera becomes twice as loud as usual, to make up the difference, and Cass prowls around them like a bear just waking from winter.
A raven arrives, and Ellana is overwhelmed - is it from the army? Is it from Vivienne? Josie? Some aid of the Empress’?
It is sharp, utilitarian - Leliana. It must be Leliana. Why not Josie? Was she hurt? Or why not Vivienne - did she fall in battle?
Dorian presses her down into her chair, hands heavy on her shoulders, and holds her there as she reads. Leliana, yes, all her friends are alive, yes, none of them are badly injured, no, the battle turned in their favour when the archdemon fled, yes, they are on their way back to Skyhold, yes.
She cries. Dorian keeps hold of her shoulders, and Sera and Cass stand nearby, within reach if she wants them. The relief crushes her, leaves her feeling weightless, and she sits there for a long time, weeping into Leliana’s precise handwriting and letting Dorian tether her to Skyhold.
Andraste feels scornful, and Ellana does not care. Not even a little.
The others ride through the gates in a flurry, Cullen in the lead with mud spattered bright brown against the black of his breeches.
She barely gives him a chance to dismount before she’s on him, kissing his breath away and touching as much of him as she can, just to be sure that he isn’t injured.
“Hello to you as well, Inquisitor,” Josie says, laughter bright in her lovely eyes, and Vivienne is there too, and Leliana and Varric and Cole and all the others. “Glad to see us?”
Chapter 5: Sweet song rising from the lips of the vanquishers
I really, REALLY did not realise how long it had been since I updated this. Tadah!
Ellana’s leg heals, but it leaves a scar - a deep, purple thing that shines against her skin. She has all kinds of scars, all over her body, but for some reason, this one annoys her more than any other.
Perhaps because it aches. She thinks that it may always ache, because of the weapon that dealt it. She’s taken wounds from horrors and behemoths along their long and winding path from Haven to here, and more than one sword has found its way through her armour. The combination of the two, though, that hellish blade in Samson’s hands, has bothered her more than she would like.
It might bother her less when this is done.
“I don’t think it wise that Cullen take your place for this, Josephine,” Ellana says, more to the war table than to her advisors. “It will make us look… Petty. Personal.”
“You’re learning,” Leliana says approvingly. “I agree. This judgement is no different than any other judgement, and will be treated as such.”
Cullen makes to protest - he’s been protesting this all week, since the arrival of the prisoners - but Ellana holds up a hand to stop him. She’s spoken with Josephine and Leliana, with Cassandra and Vivienne, with Dorian and Varric. All her different public-minded friends, with all their wildly differing perspectives, agree that to allow Cullen his way in this will make exactly the kind of splash they don’t want.
Varric and Dorian had been quite blunt in telling her that it would reflect badly on her, personally, because she and Cullen have not been discreet. To show undue favour to her lover would make her look weak, but try telling Cullen that.
“I know that you love him,” Vivienne says as they take tea on her balcony. “I even understand it, I suppose, if only because he’s so utterly devoted to you, but he’s so… Inelegant.”
Cullen is cutting through the crowd below in the hall like a flame, his shoulders hunched with his prevailing temper. Josephine dealt with Samson in her usual measured way while Cullen burned with fury just off the dais, restrained by Cassandra’s presence at his side. That fury has not abated, and so Ellana has been sleeping in her chambers and Cullen in his tower. She minds it less than she might have, for as she and Andraste split further and further apart within her mind, she has less patience to give to Cullen’s histrionics.
“I could put you in touch with all kinds of very lovely young men,” Vivienne goes on. “Fine young things who would give the world for a chance at your heart.”
“Or at the Inquisitor’s hand,” Ellana teases. “I know the sort of young men you know, Vivienne, and not one of them would be happy to take the hand of a Dalish girl if that same hand did not glow green.”
“Psh,” Vivienne says, smiling into her teacup. “Well, if you wish for me to look, I’m sure I can find a more… Modern man.”
“You were blessed in your Bastien, Vivienne, but there are few enough men who would be so accepting of any woman with magic in her blood.”
“And so you think you must settle for your Templar, simply because he has been good to you thus far?”
“It isn’t a question of settling for him,” Ellana scolds. “I do love him, Vivienne.”
Andraste certainly still loves Cullen, hungering for all the shades and slivers of her long-gone husband that she sees him in. She likes his temper, his ferocity, the whipcrack edge of him when he’s displeased. Ellana prefers the quietness of him in reflection, the gentleness of his not-so-often shaking hands, but this is not the first thing on which they have disagreed and it will certainly not be the last.
“You seem very certain,” Vivienne says, still tracking Cullen’s progress through the thronging crowds. “I only ask you to consider it all, my dear - there is a whole world before us, once Corypheus has fallen.”
Dorian doesn’t take to the main practice yard often, but when he does, a crowd always gathers. No one else is quite so given to showmanship, and while his staffwork discourages some from training with him, Ellana delights in it.
Andraste thinks he’s showing off, as if she does not do the same at every chance.
“Alright,” he says, bending backwards to avoid her swing, balancing on his staff so he can kick up a swirl of dust that blinds her for just long enough to allow him to regain his feet. “Tell me again what you plan on, after all of this.”
She spits into the sand, rolling her shoulders and settling low - he’s so much taller than her that her best bet is to get within the circle of his reach. He’s favouring his right arm a little, has been since the Temple, and she hopes he can’t see just how much she’s favouring her left leg. Knowing him, he’s already worked out a strategy that involves her landing flat on her back so he can stand over her like a conquering hero, but she’s going to make him work for it.
“I plan,” she says, rolling neatly to pop up behind him, “on finding all the rifts, and closing them.”
“You know that isn’t what I meant,” he says, catching her staff on his own and tossing her sideways. “Do you wish to return to your clan? Or stay here?”
She wants to bring her clan to Skyhold, at least for a short while - to see Mellian and Solara would be the sweetest thing in the world, and their mother as well. The clan would not remain at Skyhold, of course, such was not their way, but they could rest a while in safety, and be all the stronger for it when she does eventually go home.
“Someday,” she says, only barely avoiding Dorian’s elbow to the jaw and digging her staff into the back of his knee in retaliation. “Someday I will go home. I am meant to be Keeper, and my coming here, my becoming this - that doesn’t change my fate.”
“And you want to be Keeper?”
“It’s what I’ve always wanted,” she says, landing hard on her knees when he gets his staff between her ankles. She gets him in the stomach for that, and is on her feet again by the time he catches his wind. “My people are important to me, Dorian, no matter what everyone else thinks - you of all people can understand that, surely?”
Solas watches her closer than ever now, in the wake of Mythal’s sanctuary. His eyes are sharp and careful, and Andraste simmers under Ellana’s skin like a curse, just waiting to burn against him.
Ellana holds herself in check, though. She has seen, and so has Cole, but they cannot act yet. Solas knows too much of the queer old magic Corypheus wields, and too much of their networks and hidden ways - she cannot risk being rid of him just yet, for fear that he turns to the magister for protection.
She watches him in return. Just in case.
“Alright, Freckles,” Varric says, his boots on the edge of his table and his glasses on the end of his nose. “Talk me through this.”
“I was hoping you’d do most of the talking,” Ellana says, slinging her legs over the arm of her chair and groaning. Josephine had given her a sheaf of papers, neatly bound in a pale leather folder, and informed her that this was her prize - the wage Ellana had not even realised was her due as Inquisitor, carefully invested in ventures of Josephine’s shrew choosing. “I don’t know how any of this works, Varric! Josie said I’m a patron now, whatever that means!”
“Means your a nob,” Sera says, perching in Ellana’s lap. “But I’ll forgive you, I suppose.”
“Very gracious of you, Buttercup,” Varric says, slowly turning through all the pages. “Huh. Ruffles really is as good as her word. I didn’t think she’d invest in Rivaini, but look at that!”
“If you’re a nob now,” Sera says, taking Ellana’s cup and sipping at her wine, “will you start tawking like Madahm Vivy-enne?”
“Vivienne doesn’t sound like that,” Ellana says, even though she does. “And neither will I - I promise never to become annoying. Only rich.”
“Yeah, well, Ruffles has set you on a good path there,” Varric says, sitting forward and spreading some of the papers on the table. “She’s invested your money in things even I wouldn’t have considered, and I’m deshyr of the Merchants Guild!”
“She obviously likes me more than you do,” Ellana says, wrapping her arm around Sera’s waist so she can lean forward without displacing her. “Or else you’d have worked this hard for my benefit as well.”
Varric rolls his eyes even as he draws a sheet of ledger paper from somewhere, and they settle in to discuss Ellana’s apparent riches.
She’s never had money before. Never really needed it with the clan, and never really considered it here in Skyhold - anything she needed, she simply asked Josie and it was provided. The idea of having money for frivolities is obscene, but if she has as much money as Varric is saying…
Well, there are always hospitals and schools to be funded. Perhaps she could become that sort of patron too.
“No,” is all she says when Cole asks if she doesn’t want him to make her forget. She loves Cole, and she trusts him more than anyone else seems to, but she does not want him to dig into her head and disappear Andraste.
One slip and it will be Ellana lost to the Fade, after all.
When Haven flares and flickers bright Fade-green once more, when the sudden pain of Ellana’s mark drives her howling to her knees in the gardens, they are all around her. Her allies. Her friends. Andraste, golden-bright in the dark spaces behind her eyes.
Blackwall, Cassandra, Bull and his Chargers - they are already armoured and in the saddle by the time she scrambles into the stableyard, so fierce and proud she could kiss every one of them. Varric and Sera, Cole and Solas, Vivienne and Dorian, they all gather close in, ready for this final push.
“He is there,” Ellana says, Andraste squaring her shoulders and lifting her voice. “It will end where it began.”
“This is going to go down so well with the readers,” Varric says, and they’re away.
The ride to Haven - to what is left of the village Ellana could not save - is hard. The roads are steep and uneven, and the closer to the village they come, the denser packed the demons seem.
It’s like being back in the Fade, Andraste says, on the other side of the Rift.
Ellana has long since stopped fearing demons, but these waves of them are exhausting all the same. Not so very long ago she would have fallen simply with weariness, but she is stronger now than she has ever been, and - more importantly - she is not alone.
For every Despair she burns away, there is Rage quelled by the ice in Vivienne’s veins. Cassandra hacks a Pride demon to the ground while the rest of them are occupied with wraiths and fearlings, and Ellana is once more incalculably grateful that Cassandra is her friend.
They reach the peak. They reach the monster.
The world moves. Ellana, with her friends behind her, does not.
He must be pushed back, Andraste says. A sacrifice must be made to save us all from the madness of the Imperium.
The Anchor flares and flares and does not falter in Ellana’s hand, and Andraste gathers herself, all the shattered and spread out shards from all the hidden corners of Ellana’s mind. She burns like a beacon, brighter and brighter against the firmament of Ellana’s self, retreating from their union as she never has before.
You must remain, Andraste says, pulling her firey magic apart from Ellana’s, which always tended toward storm and speed before the Conclave. You must lead them, as I could not.
Andraste shone like a woman of pure light when she stepped from the Fade into Ellana’s failing body. She shines like the wrath of Heaven itself, as she steps forward and the Orb flies back.
Somewhere in the distance, everyone else is shouting. Ellana can only see the terror on Corypheus’ terrible face as Andraste consumes him - or, not consumes him. It is as if she is guiding him home, herding him into the pull of the Breach even as Ellana threads it closed and pulls it tight, and-
Quiet. Outside her head, and within. It has not been quiet in such a long time that the silence echoes.
Solas gathers the remains of the Orb, and he looks to her with searching, almost beseeching eyes. This is the end of their alliance, she knows, but she cannot linger on him for now - Cole will help her find him, in the quiet that will soon come to all of her life.
But then the ground starts to fall, and she doesn’t get to think on the quiet any longer.
At some point, just before she hits the ground, Bull leaps from his island in the sky and catches her off hers, rolling when they make landfall so that neither one of them is hurt. He’s laughing like a lunatic, and keeps on laughing even as she disentangles herself from him to check on the others.
They are all alive. They are all whole.
She cries. There’s nothing else she can do.
The ride back to Skyhold is a good deal more sedate than the ride out, with even Vivienne’s straight spine curving just a little. Tiredness, relief, it matters not - they are all at ease in a way they have not since this all began, and Ellana is glad of it.
Only Ellana. Her head feels as though it might float away, without Andraste weighing her down.
Skyhold is silent too, when they ride through the gates.
Then it booms.
Ellana ducks under the weight of it, but smiles and waves because that is what is expected of her. Without Andraste’s confidence and steel straightening her shoulders, she finds herself shy under the joyous scrutiny.
Leliana and Josephine and Cullen are waiting for her, away up the stairs. Without Andraste’s distrust, it is easier to love Leliana and Josie. Without Andraste’s hunger, it is harder to love Cullen.
The war room is loud, fuller than usual, and Ellana can hardly breathe for it.
Cassandra’s hand settles between her shoulder blades, warm through glove and leather armour and all the layers of cloth between them, and that helps her settle some. Vivienne is on her left, Dorian at her right, and Varric and Sera are grinning at her from their perch in the windowsill behind Josie.
A flutter of warmth kisses behind her temple, and she looks for Cole - there he is, tucked into Blackwall’s shadow, waving nervously. He’s more a boy than a thing now, but he can still calm her mind as no one else can, and she is grateful for him for that almost as much as for his friendship.
There is a feast, because of course there is. Josephine and Leliana have called in every favour in their considerable arsenals, and Vivienne and Varric have whispered in a choice few ears as well. Skyhold has never felt grander than it does in victory, even in the days before the celebration, and Ellana does not even protest when Dorian ushers her into Josephine’s room to meet with a dressmaker.
“Gold,” the tiny woman with the thin hands says, “and green as well, I think, and perhaps just a little copper - what do you think, Inquisitor?”
“I think she’s had enough green to last a lifetime,” Cassandra says, emerging from the war room. “Try her in blue and copper.”
The dressmaker reluctantly lays aside a bolt of marbled green silk, instead lifting a roll of rich night-sky blue velvet and pushing it into Dorian’s hands.
“Here,” she says, “hold this up while I look for…”
Dorian arranges a drape of velvet neatly over Ellana’s shoulder, and Vivienne’s brings her hair forward to lie against it.
“You seem lighter, my dear,” Vivienne comments, accepting a length of beaten silk in a warm reddish copper from the dressmaker. “Less… Weighed down.”
“More yourself,” Dorian agrees, guiding her arm up so that he and Vivienne can lay the velvet and silk together and investigate the play of light across them. “How do you feel?”
“Truly?” she asks. “Too big for my skin - I’d gotten used to crowding down to make room for her. It’s so strange, Dorian.”
“Perfect timing, though,” Vivienne says cheerfully. “What better a time to reinvent yourself than at the peak of your victory?”
Leliana, reading through a thick leather folder of papers stamped with the seal of the Divine, catches Ellana’s eye over Vivienne’s shoulder and winks. She is about to reinvent on a grand and very public scale, changing everything from her name up, and Ellana is grateful that she is allowed the dignity of keeping her own name, at least.
“Reinvention is all well and good,” Josephine says, waving Cassandra and Cullen on their way - Mythal keep her, she hadn’t even noticed him behind Cassandra. “Just make sure it is not inappropriate.”
She levels a look at Dorian and Vivienne, who return it pointedly without shame.
“That goes for the clothes, too,” she warns.
The feast is sumptuous, so much so that Ellana feels completely overwhelmed in her beautiful copper and midnight gown. She dances with Varric and with Dorian and with Blackwall and with Vivienne and with Cassandra, and even coaxes Josephine and Leliana onto the floor. Cole and Sera spin her into a giggling tangle, both of them looking very fine indeed in new breeches and tunics - someone has even convinced Sera to comb her hair, and Cole has a new hat with a smaller brim, which doesn’t hide as much of his sweet little smile.
Cullen appears, solemn-faced as if he feels cheated, but Bull heaves Ellana high over his shoulder before she has to deal with that. Dorian and Cassandra, both flushed with joy and wine, join them in their madness, and then Josephine clears the floor and calls for a stirring Antivan dance that pulses in time with the sharp stamp of her hard heels on the floor, a dance which Leliana steps into with a grace that surprises all of them, even though it shouldn’t.
“I think you’ve avoided him quite enough,” Vivienne says, leaning over Ellana’s shoulder to kiss her cheek. “Love him or leave him, my dear.”
Cullen’s still solemn, nearly sullen, when she crosses the room to speak with him.
“Upstairs?” she offers, which is received with a nod and a frown. He troops after her, heavy-footed in a way that annoys her, as if he is trying to delay whatever he thinks awaits them in her chambers.
Ellana is not sure what awaits them. She wishes she was.
“You don’t love me,” Cullen says, before the door is even closed. “Did you ever?”
“I don’t know. Andraste loved you, but me? I don’t know. We were too tangled up in one another to be sure.”
He sits on the end of her bed, elbows on his knees and head bowed, and she feels sorry for him. She does not feel much else, though. That is all the confirmation she needs.
“I’m sorry, Cullen,” she says. “But I… I’m sorry.”
He pushes past her on his way out, nearly knocking her asunder, and she almost cries. Instead, she checks her hair and her make-up in the mirror at her dressing table, and she returns to the party.
It is her victory, after all. She will not let Andraste’s lover darken this bright day for her.
Ellana has never sailed before - with her clan, they travelled overland, the long, long way around the Waking Sea, and when she came to the Conclave she returned along the same path, avoiding cities and big towns. She’s always been wary of the sea, of the danger under all that bright sparkling blue, but everyone is assuring her that it’s safe.
“Listen, Freckles,” he says, patting her hand. She’s clinging to the railing, the rope ladder under her feet swinging horribly in the stiff breeze, and she’s very much afraid that she’ll either vomit or die. Both seem likely.
“I’m listening,” she assures him. “Please keep speaking or I will die, Varric.”
“Okay, Freckles,” he says, and she knows that he’s laughing, even though she has her eyes screwed shut. “Listen, Rivaini is the best sailor I know - don’t let her know I said that. With her at the tiller and Buttercup keeping you on board, you’ll be safe as houses.”
“Freckles,” Varric says, obviously still laughing. “You won’t be safe unless you get on board.”
“I’m fine here!”
Hands - Varric’s, Sera’s someone else incredibly strong that Ellana doesn’t know - catch her by the arms and heave her over the railing. She lands in a tangle with Sera, Varric and the unknown somehow avoiding the tumble.
“Meet Broody,” Varric says of the newcomer, who is scowling down at Ellana in a not unfriendly manner. “That’s Rivaini, Daisy’s over there with Sunshine, and you know Waffles. Broody and Rivaini will be going all the way to Wycome with you, but the rest of us will be getting off at Kirkwall.”
“And then Fenris and I will be sailing on to Treviso, where there will be wine, women, and a great deal of coin,” their captain says cheerfully, catching Ellana by both hands and heaving her clean to her feet. “You’re welcome to come with us, if you like.”
This trip to Wycome is only to invite her clan to come home to Skyhold with her, and to bring her sisters on ahead of the others - she still has duties as Inquisitor, no matter how free she feels without Andraste’s presence heavy in her head and Cullen’s eyes heavy on her skin.
When all this is done, though. When she is no longer the Inquisitor. Maybe then she’ll sail the world with Captain Isabela and her stern, gentle-eyed lover.
“Alright, Freckles,” Varric says. “Let’s get you settled, and then you can start reading the first draft of This Shit Is Weird.”