Crushes are always a little awkward at the beginning.
She had dealt with elves before. Sometimes even elfy elves. As a Red Jenny, you had to be at least a little open about who you worked with: fuss only created problems when there were limited participants and no organisational structure, anyway - although she would have explained it more colourfully herself, if prompted. Still, they're weren't some mythical unknown to her. Sera was wary of them, obviously - everyone knew the stories - but she could just about deal with them in the confines of a brief prank. Or murder. Sometimes both. It was just easier to deal with them when they weren't around to be dealt with. Or something. Somewhere far, far away, rolling around in dark forests or twanging their ears like a ruddy lute or whatever they did for fun.
This was different. She was different. For one thing, she wasn't all in your face about it. Not like Solas. Eurggh. Don't want to think of him, all broody and moaning on about some daft shite from thousands of years ago. We're not thousands of years ago.
She was quiet a lot, too. Thinking, probably. Always thinking. Her head had about twenty different thoughts in it all at the same time, all do this, don't do that, remember all this too, but she was still focused somehow. Was it magic? She was a mage. Maybe some weird head stuff - nope. Nope. Not thinking about weird stuff that makes no sense.
Ultimately, Sera knew very little about the Herald. Nehna was always busy, for one thing, helping people. She always helped people, no matter how trivial the others thought it, and she helped everyone too: big people and little people alike. That was good. Sera loved that. Someone else might have forgotten the people underneath when they got big and powerful, but she didn't. She was special.
So she was a good person. That was good, obviously. There weren't many people who weren't selfish... not selfish... was unselfish a word? Eh, who cares. She had a big heart, even if all her advisors tried holding her back about it all the time. Screw them.
She listened, too, even if she didn't always agree. She had even spoken to Sera a couple of times, and she hadn't minded when she'd started babbling nervously to her. Most people would have said something. She's not most people. Instead, she'd listened politely to every word Sera had said without complaint. She'd even laughed a couple of times.
She had a great smile. It lights up her face, better than those weird tattoos anyway. She had a nice laugh. Even her voice lilted along like a river, or a song, some poetic metaphor or something. Sera wasn't big on that, not much anyway: words that meant things other words could say more easily were kind of pointless, if you thought about it, because you had to really think about what they meant, and if you had to think, it wasn't really enjoyable, was it, because it just got jumbled together after a while and stopped making sense and then you got annoyed because it was just frigging words that didn't make frigging sense and -
She was here.
Nehna moved quietly, just like a hunter. It only made it more impressive that she wasn't. She wasn't stalking prey or anything; she was just naturally really damn quiet, like a shadow. She moved like one, too, all graceful and slippery.
Sera wondered if she'd feel slippery if she held her in her arms, and dismissed the thought in a heartbeat.
Wait, what? Nehna was making a bee line straight for her. She was sitting at a table near the back of the Herald's Rest, not drawing any attention to herself (well, she'd burped once or twice and people had turned around to glare, but that was their problem, really), and still Nehna had found her. Must be magic. No.
"How are you, Sera?" she smiled. When she's not giving out orders, she sounds really sweet. Like honey? Does that work as a..a meta-thingy? She laughed, drawing the other elf out of her thoughts abruptly. "I hope I'm not disturbing you. You look like you're concentrating on something."
She made her feel a little nervous, truth be told. Not uncomfortable, just... nervous. Sera didn't know where she stood with her, or even if the other woman liked her. Hopefully, anyway. But maybe she was like one of the other nobles all along, all proud and high up. Does she really care? Is it a mask or something? "Ehh.. not really. I was thinking about... poetry."
Rats. Nehna was looking puzzled, now. "...Poetry?"
Eurghh. How could she explain it? "Words are so much easier when they're in your head," she thought aloud, frowning. "It's too confusing. I was thinking you were like a river or something, but I didn't know if that was the right one, and then it all got confusing."
Her companion looked confused now. "The right what?"
Sera groaned. "Does it matter? Leave all that weird stuff to bards and nobles. Makes no sense to the rest of us. Words are meant to make sense." She drummed a finger on the table to emphasise her point.
"That's true," Nehna laughed. Is she laughing at me? Best to play along. Sera tittered nervously, stopping the second the Herald did. "But I came here for a reason, and nice as it can sometimes be, poetry wasn't it, I'm afraid."
"Well, yeah. Saw you coming, anyway. Figured you were here for a drink, not to talk to me or whatever." She shrugged nonchalantly.
"Why not?" Nehna leaned forwards. "I want to get to know you, Sera."
Red flags dotted up all over her mind. This wasn't a good sign. "Why?" she asked cautiously, moving backwards on her stool away from Nehna's gaze.
"Well, you're on my team. You're an ally. I like to know the people I'm working with so I can trust them." She grinned widely. "Besides, I'm hoping we can be friends."
That made her pause. "Friends.... yeah?"
"Of course!" Nehna smiled at her. It made her feel a little... odd, if she had to admit it. At knife point. "If we're friends, then there's trust. If there's trust, we can work better together." She shrugged, mimicking Sera. "And if we're friends, it's an added bonus, really. It means we can get along on and off the battle field." She sighed, looking down at a groove in the table. "Creators know that's hard, sometimes. Everyone always wants something. It feels like I don't have any friends here. Just people who want things from me."
Sera squirmed in her seat. She wasn't good with words that made things better. Still, this was the time to try. "Well, you care about all that stuff, right? Maybe you shouldn't." Nehna looked up, and Sera resisted the urge to blush. She had a very direct gaze for someone with such gentle eyes. "Sure, maybe some people just want things from you. Piss on them. Other people want you for you. And the people who want things from you? Sometimes it's just about getting a little help to get back on their feet, so then they can respect and trust you too." She gulped. Long advice monologues were tricky. "I mean, the thing is you glow, right? You're the Herald of Andraste. People follow you because they believe in you, what you stand for, all that shite. You stand up for the little people, and you give them hope. Maybe not all of them can be your friends, but there are plenty of us around here who can."
She watched the other woman anxiously. Nehna wasn't saying anything, instead mulling it over in her head.
After a long moment, she finally spoke. "You're right. The most important thing is that I can help the people who need it. Any friends I make will be with the people I meet along the way. Maybe I haven't met them all yet, anyway." She laughed, and Sera giggled too.
"See, you get it! Besides, we can be friends too, I guess." She babbled on, suddenly aware of Nehna's gaze: "I mean, it's all good, yeah? I agree with the stuff you do. For now, anyway. You put people in their place and you help the little people stay safe and happy. You don't bother with politics shite. So... if you really want to be friends, I can handle that." She snorted. "Just don't start with that elfy shite, yeah? Shitting in woods and all that? Don't need to hear it, thanks."
Nehna looked hurt. "You mean... me being Dalish? It's a problem for you?"
"Ugh, not you. But if you start saying you're one of the 'true elves' and how you want to marry a halla, then yeah, I guess it might be." She gave a derisive bark of laughter. "They've all got their heads crammed up thousands of years ago, anyway, like Solas. You don't want to be like him, do you? Probably got cobwebs in his breeches. I bet it's dusty down there. The only sex he has is probably when he opens up a book and gets his -"
Nehna waved her hands and groaned. "I definitely don't want that mental image, Sera." Her companion hooted with laughter. "But being Dalish... it is important to me. I'm not saying our way is the right way -" she added quickly, seeing the other woman's face darken, "- or that it's the only way, either. But it is right for me. Right now, anyway."
"Right now?" This was a topic she didn't really enjoy, and Nehna was beginning to sound elfier each second. Not a good sign.
"Well...." She sighed and put her head in her hands. "It's hard to explain."
"What, because I'm stupid or something?" Nehna flinched and met her gaze, anxiety battling a stone-faced audience.
"No, no! I don't think that at all, Sera!" She breathed slowly and resumed. "It's just hard for me to explain because... I guess I haven't given it much thought. It's how I was raised, how I grew up, and, until just a few months ago, the only way of life I've ever known. I didn't ever think about 'ifs' or 'buts' because there was no need."
Sera eyed her warily. "And now?"
"And now I think maybe there are different paths in life. They're all equal, all valid, just different. Maybe I'd be just the same person if I believed in Andraste than if I believed in the Creators, or even nothing at all. Maybe I'd be the same person if I wasn't Dalish. I don't know. I don't think I'll ever know the answer. But I respect these different lifestyles and beliefs. There's so many cultures I barely understood until I came here, and I have so much to learn still." She laughed slightly. "I don't think I'll ever understand Orlesians, though."
Sera seized on the change of topic eagerly, barking laughter in response. "Yeah, tell me about it. They're so puffed up if you tried to make them sit down on a hard bench, their knobs would burst."
Nehna looked stunned for a second, then joined her in giggling. "They're certainly... different."
"Arrogant sods, more like. You know they bathe in perfume every day?"
"I... don't think all of them do, Sera."
"Well, they all stink badly enough with that daft shite they put on their skin, so I think they do."
The conversation devolved into a colourful critique of Orlesian customs. Skin lotions, perfume, makeup, hairstyles, fashion, shoes, houses, accents, dogs ("They're all tiny, aren't they? You could squash them up in your sleeve or something. Just a big ugly rat that bites worse.") - nothing was off the table.
One thing they both approved of, though, was the wine.
"Tastes good, yeah? Much better than this piss. Still, it's got poncy names, sounds all weird."
Nehna agreed. "I grew up in the Free Marches, so Orlesian wasn't that unfamiliar but... it's hard to pronounce."
"Yeah? Sounds like a parrot being strangled. Or treading on a cat's tail and it yelps at you." She launched into a hearty rendition of a famous Orlesian song, complete with mispronunciation so thorough it sounded almost more horrific than comical, all the while affecting the expression of a haughty noblewoman. To top it off, she gave her a mocking bow. "There, that's Orlesians for you."
Nehna was giggling thoroughly by the end of it. "Sera, you nearly split my sides!"
Sera laughed herself, just a little bit. "You know, maybe you're not so bad after all. You're one of us, not some puffed up noble who can't see the woods for the trees."
"Well, I grew up in the woods mostly," she teased.
"Yeah, probably talking to daisies or something," Sera snorted derisively.
"Only on Wednesdays."
"Nope. We do that on Fridays, actually. Wednesdays are for painting halla with rainbows."
Sera sighed. "Eurggh, you've having me on. All you elfy elves and your elf shite. Can't even make jokes that are funny."
Nehna shrugged. "Humour's not my strong point, I guess. At least I have other talents." She paused to remember them all. "Magic, I guess -" Sera flinched, "storytelling, but not like Varric.... hmm. I'm not actually that bad at hunting," she adding sheepishly, "but I'm nowhere near as good with a bow as you are."
Sera sat up straighter and puffed out her chest, looking proud. "Yeah? Well, most people aren't. They get all focused on stuff that doesn't matter. It just... comes to you, and if you get all fussed about what goes where and how to hold it and that then you don't get anywhere." She gestured to the rest of the tavern guests, waving her hand dismissively. "This lot couldn't aim at a board with a stream of their own piss."
Nehna nearly choked. "I... don't think I could, either."
"Never tried, have you?" Sera shrugged, fixing her with a lopsided grin. "Would be way more fun than those meetings and shite. All that talk. Just go and fire a few arrows, kill stuff, solve problems. Too much talking, not enough action."
"You know, I agree. I mean, diplomacy is key, but I'm not Josephine. Half the time I have no idea what she's actually talking about. I just nod and smile."
Sera hooted. "Knew it!"
Nehna gave her a teasing swat that she easily missed. "Well, you try and listen to Lord Such-and-such talking about how this land is technically his, but - and get this - he's 'tolerating' us because we act in the interests of the Divine."
Her companion snorted. "That's nobles for you. Quibbling over land when the sky has a bloody hole in it."
The pair laughed, and Sera felt decidedly more at ease with the other woman than she had up until now. Sure, maybe she was a bit elfy, but she definitely wasn't going on about elven glory every five seconds. Not like someone she could mention. And she was funny. She listened to everything Sera said, no mocking, just banter between friends.
Friends. It made her feel glad. Nehna was good. She was on the right side, doing the right thing. Plus, she looked pretty great doing it. She has great curves. I bet her arse sounds good when you slap it. Those tits were just meant to be squeezed.
With great effort, she drew her eyes up from Nehna's cleavage and laughed, hoping the other elf had just made a joke. She smiled back at her, but Sera noticed there was a rosy flush to her cheeks now. Thinking naughty thoughts, are we?
"It was really nice to see you, Sera," she said shyly. She looked so pretty when she blushed; it brought out her eyes. It brought out her everything. "We should definitely meet up together more often."
"Can't argue with that, can I?" She gave Nehna a roguish grin, smirking slightly when the elf's blush deepened. "You're good company."
"So are you." They sat there like that for a moment longer, each staring at the other.
"I probably have to go back soon," Nehna said sadly, breaking the silence.
"Yeah," Sera agreed, looking glum. "Herald stuff."
There was another brief silence until Nehna smiled at her and started speaking again. "I'll come back soon, I promise! Now I've got someone to come back to."
It was Sera's turn to blush a little, but she wouldn't be uncomfortable now. "Yeah, damn right you do." Her grin made Nehna feel weak. "I'll be waiting, won't I?"
"Maybe you could even come on journeys with me this time."
"Sure thing. Anything that needs arrows will get a face full of them."
"I'd like that." Nehna felt her face probably looked like a tomato at this point, but Sera didn't seem to care.
"It's all good, innit? You and me." She cleared her throat, gesturing to the door. "Best go then before Josie comes and drags you to a meeting."
"I think she actually would."
The two giggled. "I'll see you around, Sera," Nehna said, soft as a whisper.
"Go on." Sera prodded her. "Time to get back to work. Fun stuff later." She gave her a wink, and took no end of satisfaction in how Nehna squeaked and ran out the door.
Nehna allies with the mages. Sera Greatly Disapproves.
(Of course it ends happily. I'm not that bad.)
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
"You did what?"
She had waited to confront Nehna until they had reached her private quarters - apparently the argument was too much to be done in public, even within the confines of the Herald's Rest, where most were too drunk or incurious to care. Sera had sniped plenty about it up until then, though; ever since it had been formally announced, she had given the other elf disapproving stares or anxious glances at her staff, grumbling that Nehna was probably happier with others like her for company. "Safety in numbers," she muttered bitterly, "but your lot are never safe to be around." She had laughed afterwards, hooting in amusement at her own (apparent) joke, but Nehna had stewed over it to herself for hours afterwards.
Still, it hadn't really hit the other elf just how deeply her companion feared magic until she was forced to confront it openly. Though Sera's pranks were certainly not a rarity - nearly everyone had suffered from them at least once, though varying in degrees of severity (the worst usually reserved for Solas) - they seemed mainly targeted at the mages now. Supplies had been tampered with, filched or just upright burnt. Robes had had rude shapes cut into them with a jagged, uneven edge. Crude notes and drawings had been hastily scrawled on the pages of back-breaking tomes.
Ultimately, it was harmless - certainly, no lasting damage was done, and her newfound allies seemed largely resigned to it by now - but it still bothered Nehna, niggling away in the back of her head and causing her sleepless nights. She became irritable by one turn, paranoid the next, and a bundle of nerves all over.
"Go and talk it over with her," Varric urged after a few days. "She might swear at you a little, but that's nothing none of us aren't used to by now. Best do it in private though," he added hastily. "Fear always has its grounds, and hers probably have deep roots. Don't need it blurted out."
"How did you know?" Nehna gaped at him, causing the dwarf to chuckle.
"I've seen my fair share of lover's spats," he said, smiling roguishly. "They all tend to start with miscommunication and assumptions, but often they end with a happy reunion. Sometimes even talking."
"Wait, wait," she blurted out, gesturing for him to stop talking. "You said lover's... spats?"
He waved his hands breezily. "You know. Arguments. Disagreements. Quarrels. Fights. Disputes."
"I know what the word means, Varric," she hissed at him, trying to conceal her blushing. "I was more concerned that you think we're... that we -"
"You're a busy woman, Herald," he winked at her. "You deserve the chance to enjoy your time with another one." She swatted at his arm, so he took a step backwards. "Hey, hey, what you two get up to in your own time is your own business, but -"
"Varric." Her nostrils were flaring, but it was more from embarrassment than real anger.
He stopped playfully mocking her and gave her an apologetic look, shifting on his feet. "You mean you're not interested in her?" He glanced down at his toes. "I'm sorry, Nehna. I didn't mean to make you uncomfortable. I honestly thought -"
"It's alright, Varric." She cut him off with a gentle smile, though the blush remained stubbornly present. "I... well, about Sera..." Nehna coughed. "In truth? I, uh... well, that's to say maybe there would be, err, potential, you know, uhh - urughh!" She kicked a pile of snow in frustration. "I might do, actually," she admitted softly. "I mean, uhh, probably." The elf went into gushing mode, gladly listing all of Sera's good qualities at a breathless pace. "She's really funny, you know, when you talk to her. She always listens to me rant about how stressed out I am, and she has a rude joke to snap me out of it. She's lively, but it makes her fun to be around. She's never boring, Creators no, I think I'd faint. And when the light catches her hair, it's so golden, just like wheat or a ray of sunshine, and then her eyes light up and -"
"Alright, dreamer, I get it," Varric chuckled. "But good for you. You've found someone worthwhile in the middle of a war. That's more than most couples have got going for them." He shrugged nonchalantly. "If she makes you happy, go for it. Just tell her how you feel." He patted her shoulder encouragingly. "But first get that whole mage thing out of the way. Never a good idea to confess while fighting."
Nehna pulled him into a fierce hug, sweeping him in her arms and spinning around giddily. "Thank you! Thank you thank you thank you -"
"Alright, alright. You can put me down now." She squeaked in apology and hastily let him down where he staggered briefly, feigning dizziness. "Though some might say my head was in the clouds, I'd prefer the rest of me wasn't."
"I'm so sorry, Varric, I just -"
"Got excited, I know." He chuckled, shaking his head to show there were no hard feelings. "Now go and talk to her." He prodded her in the back, pointing to the tavern.
Nehna nodded and half ran, half skipped all the way to the door.
"I thought it would be a good idea," she responded, jutting out her jaw stubbornly. Nehna wasn't going to budge on this stance, not when it was so central to everything she held dear. "Mages deserve freedom."
"Yeah, of course they do! Nobody said otherwise!" Sera's arms were firmly crossed as she scowled back. "But have you seen what mages do when they're free? They blow up frigging Chantries!"
"That was one mage! He was clearly a terrorist, Sera. None of us would ever claim that his methods were right!"
"Oh, so it's us now, is it?" Sera snorted derisively. "I knew it. Bloody mage club here now, isn't it. All flames coming out of your eyes and lightning out your arse. Remind me to tread carefully so I don't frigging explode."
Nehna sighed, falling to the edge of her bed with her head in her hands. She hated arguments. She especially hated arguments with Sera, not only because it hurt her to see her so angry, but equally because they were both as stubborn as the other when it came to holding their own point of view. When those crossed, it often ended with angry words said, but it was generally resolved after half an hour's "cool down time." Or maybe even a few hours, depending on the strength of opinion.
Still, they'd never argued like this before. She guessed it was because mages weren't a frequent topic of conversation among the ordinary townsfolk of Haven, who were generally content to live and let live and avoid the war slowly and inevitably making its way to their doorstep. Mages and Templars fighting brought up old conflicts to the surface, which made the atmosphere very uncomfortable for those who didn't want the conflicts in the first place, so the subject was generally dropped.
Nehna wasn't going to let it drop with Sera, though. She deserved better than for her to withhold her opinions and true feelings from her. They were friends, weren't they, and had been for months now. Well, sometimes friends argued, and there was nothing you could do about it. Get it out in the open and get it over with. That had been her mother's sage advice to her when Nehna had briefly argued with another youngster in the clan, and it was her mother's voice that rang in her ears loudly now.
"Sera," she began, quieter this time. "I don't want to fight about it, but mage issues are very important to me. I've struggled all my life because of them. I don't want these people's lives to be blighted the same way." The other elf was looking at her quizzically, so she paused. "I want Haven to be a place that's safe and welcoming to all, but I especially want it to be safe for mages who have no Circles or elsewhere to go right now." She sighed. "Besides, is it really so wrong to want other people like me around?" Seeing Sera's eyes narrow, she continued: "There is no 'us', and there is no 'them'. Creators know I don't want this fight on my doorstep, either. But there is a dream of mine to make a safe haven here, yes, in Haven, for people like me, and those who support them."
Sera muttered something and scuffed the toe of her boot against Nehna's bedpost, but didn't say anything for a while. When she spoke again, the other woman listened carefully. "It's not you," she said finally. "It's not even people like you. I don't have a problem with mages. It's just... they can do bad things. Really big, really bad things. And yeah, I know that Templars do that stuff too," she added defensively. "I'm not that dumb that I won't see it. But Templars can't shoot fire. Templars can't summon demons that possess people. Templars can't do weird - creepy - stuff - that - makes - no - sense." Each individual word was punctuated by a hard kick.
Nehna decided to try a different approach. "Why does it make no sense, Sera?" she asked gently.
The elf stared at her for a moment. "Because it's... it's... it's scary, okay?" She swore under her breath. "Frig, I never thought I'd talk magic with a mage but here we bloody are." Sera scowled. "It's just scary, knowing you've got all that shit sealed inside you. Like, it can just pop out any moment, can't it? You can just set someone on fire without blinking, or summon blizzards, or make yourself into a spider or something, I don't bloody know, that's mage stuff, but it's scary, alright? It. Scares. Me. If you just lost control, just for a second or something, then... then..." A particularly violent kick to the bedpost was followed by a torrent of loud, strung together expletives as Sera hopped on one foot, yelping as she found her balance again.
"Are you alright, Sera?" Nehna rushed to her side and knelt down to peer at her foot.
Sera rolled her eyes and groaned. "Of course I'm alright, stupid. Just hurts a bit, that's all." She winced a little as she applied more pressure and gave her toes a death stare.
"I can heal you," Nehna said quietly, so quietly that Sera didn't register it for a second. After understanding dawned, she swore again and shuffled backwards slightly, swearing again as she moved her toes, and gave Nehna a wary glance. "Really. I mean it. I can heal you. I trained to do it."
"You?" Sera shot her a dubious glance, tinged with wariness. Had she been armed, Nehna sensed that an arrow would be aimed at her throat right now. She also sensed that Sera probably wanted the same thing right now.
"Me," she agreed unhappily. "I'm a healer."
Sera snorted. "But you kill stuff all the time!"
"Only from necessity. It's defensive magic I learnt from the Keeper. The leader of my clan," she added, ignoring Sera's mocking, dismissive sneer. "I primarily trained to heal the sick and wounded. The spells I use in battle are ones Deshanna said I should only use if either my life was threatened, or somebody in the clan. Or another ally, of course. I'm not a hunter like most of them, or a scout or warrior, so my spells aren't about injuring. At least, not mostly." She sighed. "My aim is to preserve life, not destroy it, but yes, when it comes to a battle, I'm able to wound and kill like the rest of you."
It was the wrong thing to say.
Sera narrowed her eyes even further to the point of them being like barely visible slits and moved further away, still wincing and stubbornly refusing aid. She pointed a wavering finger at Nehna as if to ward herself against her. "Knew it. You're a murderer like the rest. Just waiting to bloody kill us all, aren't you?"
Nehna sighed louder this time. "Sera, that's not what I said -"
"Oh, so now I'm not listening properly, am I? Are you going to electrocute me 'til I puff up like a roast frigging turkey?"
She waved her hands frantically. "No!" Nehna looked deep into her eyes, searching for a sign she was still trusted. It was there, flickering but present. "Sera, I think we've got off on the wrong foot here." She looked down at Sera's toes and winced, clapping a hand over her mouth. "Oh gods, Creators, Sera I'm so -"
Her companion hooted with laughter. Real laughter this time, not nervous or mocking. "That's a good one, that is! 'Wrong foot' and here I am all -" She broke off into a fit of giggles, her pain temporarily forgotten. Nehna joined in cautiously after a moment, laughing quietly, but when Sera didn't stop or glare at her she laughed freely, tilting her head backwards and feeling happier than she had since the whole conversation had begun.
The two women giggled together for a while, sharing a giddy, carefree moment. Sera wiped tears from her eyes and stared back down at her foot again before eyeing Nehna warily. "You can actually heal people, then?"
"Yes." She nodded before giggling a little again. "Sera, I've healed most people in our whole party once they've got back to camp. I've even healed Solas and Dorian, and they have magic of their own!"
Sera frowned. "Why not them?"
Nehna looked sheepish. "Well, they do have healing spells. Basic ones, at any rate. If pressed, they probably could heal people. Solas isn't actually that bad; he's pretty good for a hedge mage. Still, as a First I am trained in natural magic, including healing spells. I chose to focus on them because, as much as shooting lightning from my fingers looks impressive -" she playfully shot out a hand to Sera, who dodged an imaginary bolt before realising the joke and laughed nervously "-I wanted to send a message."
"What's that?" Sera tilted her head to the side, still eyeing her with caution that was now mixed with curiosity.
"I wanted to show that my people, or at least my clan, wanted to coexist peacefully. We didn't want the more destructive side of nature, but rather its peaceful, organic side. Growing, not overpowering." She sighed. "At least, that's the philosophical reason. The better reason is that healing just comes more naturally to me than fire and other stuff does, so the Keeper and I agreed that I would focus on that until everything else balanced out a bit more."
Sera seemed much less wary now, which was a good sign. Nehna carefully laid the palm of her hand against Sera's boot. "Do you trust me?" she asked gently, calmly gazing up at her with a soft smile.
"Yeah, of course."
"Do you feel a little safer around the mages now?"
Sera shrugged, prepared to become defensive again. "Well, yeah! Never had a problem with them before, did I?"
"So you support them being here as our free allies? Not conscripts, like the Templars would have been?"
She nodded, caution creeping back again. "Yeah," she repeated, slowly.
Nehna held her gaze for a moment, struggling not to blush. It was very difficult, being met full on with Sera's intense stare, not to react. She has such wonderful eyes. I could drown in them. She shuffled on her knees a little, fighting her reddening cheeks. "May I heal you?" Sera blinked at her. "Just your foot of course. Your toes. I just want to help," she added at the end.
Sera stared at her. She's a right loony, this one. "Well, get on with it," she said tersely, fidgeting as she clenched and unclenched her fist.
"So I can heal you, then?"
"Yes, you frigging - urgh, just get on with it, will you?" Sera squirmed, nervous and uncertain. She trusted Nehna, she really did. She knew the other elf would never hurt or harm her, magically or otherwise.
Still, knowing and accepting were two different things, and the two did not always happen simultaneously.
"Alright, Sera." She slowly took off Sera's boot, winding her sock down carefully to avoid putting pressure on the toes. Nehna looked up at her again as she rested Sera's foot against her thigh. "Thank you," she said quietly, smiling at her.
"You loony. Getting all mushy because I'm letting you zap me." Sera rolled her eyes, trying her hardest not to flinch as Nehna placed her hand against her bare skin. Her hand is cool. Like ice or snow or something.
It felt... soothing. It was like a warm bath at the end of the day, or the feel of a lover's hand entwined with yours, or a cool breeze on a summer's day. It felt like all the reassuring thoughts and feelings Sera could remember were cramming themselves into her broken toes, easing their way around and gently pulling them back into place. Her bruises faded and disappeared and the bones slowly shifted back into position, slow enough that she could barely sense it, but present and sharp enough that she knew it was happening. It was weird, definitely, obviously, but it was a good weird. An okay weird that you could shrug off and put aside to ignore.
All the while, there was this cool jet of... whatever it was seeping into her, lapping at her foot like a tiny wave, soaking into her skin. It was reassuring, calming and mild, almost enough to make her forget it was magic doing this to her.
Almost, but not quite. Sera was still apprehensive, cautious and on her guard, warily eyeing the procedure as the faint blue light flickered and pulsed from Nehna's hand onto her foot. She could trust Nehna, because she was good and alright like all the rest, but magic? Well, it would take a lot more getting used to. It wasn't wrong, no - Nehna was clearly a skilled healer, too good and experienced for this to feel wrong to her - but it certainly didn't gel quite right either.
Time, she thought to herself through clenched teeth, trying not to shake and tremble under the weight of this strange new feeling. It just takes time. A lot of frigging bloody time.
Eventually it was all done. Finished. There was nothing else left to do, save put on her sock and boot once more. She gazed down at her foot, expecting to see a sixth toe suddenly appear or her foot to shrink two sizes too small.
Instead, it was fine. Good as new. Maybe even better than new. Whatever Nehna had done - she eyed the mage's hand warily as the blue light faded away - she had healed her. No more bruises or broken bones, or even pain. It just felt normal again. The foot, at least. The magic...
She flexed her toes as she put the sock back on, sliding into her boot cautiously. Nehna noted with amusement the way the other elf seemed stunned in pure disbelief, unable to stop moving her foot. It was as if she simply had never even thought of magic as something that wouldn't hurt her before, let alone felt it.
Then Nehna felt guilt rise in her stomach. Of course she wouldn't have felt or known any better. The Chantry taught that magic was a threat, always capable of doing acts of great evil. It had to be controlled and enforced, not celebrated. Of course Sera would have grown up fearing it. Then again, she admitted bitterly to herself, perhaps the Dalish were no better.
"I'm sorry, Sera," she said, rising to her feet to look at her straight in the eyes. "About earlier, I mean. I didn't realise how strongly you felt about it."
Sera frowned slightly, but it wasn't as strong a reaction as earlier. "Yeah? Well, it's done now, 's all good. I trust you, you trust me. You trust them, so I can learn to trust them too." She shrugged. "Still, doesn't mean I'll like them overnight or anything. But if they work for us, they're good, and if they're good, then that's the important thing." She snorted at Nehna. "Still better than Orlesian noble crap."
They both giggled again, Sera stumbling closer as she laughed. Nehna flushed deeply. I could kiss her now. If I leant forwards, our lips would meet. I could actually kiss her. I want to kiss her.
She tried in vain to wipe those thoughts from her mind, but it was a great struggle. It was even harder not to squirm as she fought the urge to seize the other woman and push her against the wall.
"You good, Lady Herald?" Sera's voice broke her from her reverie. "You look a bit... well, you look like a squashed tomato, really." The other woman giggled. "What's with the red face?" She stopped laughing once Nehna didn't respond. "Are you alright?" she asked again, gentler this time.
Creators. It was all Nehna could do not to groan and run. "Y-yeah," she muttered. "I'm alright." There was an awkward pause. "Ah, I should probably go now," she said hastily, feeling a gut punch as Sera's face fell even further.
"You're a busy woman, huh? Should come and see me for longer next time. Always skidding off like I've got the plague or something."
"No, it's not like that at all!" Nehna's voice had grown shrill, but neither of them reacted. "It's not! I..." She trailed off, unable to voice her feelings. It's too early. I'm busy. I might die tomorrow. She's too good for me. She deserves better. Her thoughts were racing, sending her further down a spiral of guilt, but Sera couldn't know that.
"'s alright, I get it." She shrugged. "Doesn't matter for now, anyway. When you're free, maybe I'll unravel you or whatever." She snorted. "You're a loony, you know that?"
Nehna laughed with her, but she couldn't shake off her unease entirely. "I will," she promised earnestly. "I can never be away from you for too long, you know that."
It was the closest she'd get to a confession, for now. She wondered what Sera thought as she left the building, wandering in search of Varric to report her failure. She didn't get to see the way Sera's face lit up, or the modest blush she tried to hide as she ran off herself, cackling with glee.
Solas and Nehna have an argument, but it ends in Seravellan fluff. Aww.
Solas had agreed to meet her in the rotunda to discuss the shared history of their people, a chance that Nehna had seized eagerly. She was devoted to learning and preserving the fragments that remained, no matter how meagre the scraps, and at the one and only Arlathvhen she had been able to visit, her keen spirit and knowledge that she had accumulated at a relatively fast pace had earned her the respect and admiration of all the other clans in attendance at the Free Marches.
The chance to exchange knowledge, then, with Skyhold's so-called 'elvhen expert' was one she would not pass up easily, and she had made room in her schedule that grew ever more strained for him many times, simply to chat, read books, discuss magic and learn. The man was a walking treasure trove of ancient lore, discussing it so freely and confidently that a listener might be forgiven for thinking he had even lived in the days of Arlathan.
Still, that remained a fantasy, seeing as Solas himself had stated all his knowledge came from in-depth exploration of the Fade, and such a lifespan would be impossible. He was always sad, though, when the topic arose, and she immediately felt guilty. It was like discussing the death of a loved one, or at least it seemed that way to him. It always made her slightly regret talking to him about the distant past, knowing how much had been lost and the near-impossible lengths it would take to recover it, let alone preserve it from then on.
"So much was lost," he had told her once, shaking his head and looking on the verge of tears, "that now all that is remembered are the slimmest fragments of fragments. Someday even that may be lost, and Elvhenan will be no more." It had cut deeply, and she had felt the shared pain for a long time since. She felt like a child in the face of all he knew, ignorant and fumbling, yet he never berated her for the comparatively little knowledge she had to offer, or the mistakes she made in translating Elvhen (no matter how obvious they appeared to her); she could count all the allowances he had made her on all ten fingers and toes and it still wouldn't be enough. He just seemed so grateful to have someone who shared his interests that he practically clung to her with every conversation, desperate to see how genuinely she cared and wanted to learn. His loneliness was overwhelming and omnipresent, almost a physical entity in its own right, and she pitied him.
That was part of the reason she returned, even in the face of all she did not understand, or had never known before, and all the struggles that came with attempting to remember and preserve it. She knew what it was to feel alone, isolated and afraid, desperate for someone to reach out and understand as she had struggled to bear the weight of a lost history on her shoulders, knowing full well that on Keeper Deshanna's death there would be none left to teach her. She would be alone, truly, and the responsibility would be hers to train another in her footsteps, always worrying what she would accidentally forget to mention, and how much of an impact the potential loss would have. So much was lost.
"You are growing rather close to our resident prankster-in-chief, are you not?"
The question had not been one she had expected, and it jolted her from concentration. They had been reading a book on the life of the ancient elf Mahariel, whose descendants - including the Hero of Ferelden, she noted - had taken his name as an honour when their clan was formed. He seemed to have had an illustrious life, although it was hard to be exact about anything: the book was written in Elvhen, and the poetic vagueness of the language, with several different potential interpretations or allusions in every sentence, no matter how lovely the sound or the flow of the words, made her feel as if she was being denied something. The 'true meaning', if there was one, was deeply elusive, hiding behind several layers, and each layer gave her a headache.
"I... yes, she is a good friend of mine, Solas."
He made a moue of distaste, and she was sure that he would have actually tutted if he wasn't so damnably polite all the time. Although, when it came to the topic of Sera, he was deeply bitter and scathing, offering up criticisms so strong that there was barely any politeness about them at all. It was difficult to know whether he hated her, or simply what she stood for. Sometimes Nehna feared it was both, or something worse entirely: he hated her for all the things she wasn't.
"She has forgotten who she really is, da'len," he murmured, "but you? You strive to remember, even in the midst of the Dalish and their failings. They perform a pantomime of their ignorance, but you choose to learn, even what they will not." He gave her an approving smile, although it did little to recover from yet another anti-Dalish remark.
On a good day, she might even have ignored it, or at least rebuked him without any defensiveness or intent to argue. She could understand, to an extent, why he seemed to hate her people so much: they were set in their ways, clinging to traditions hastily formed over the years to preserve a sense of culture when the 'real' one was being lost to the ether, and any new 'discovery' was discussed so endlessly at an Arlathvhen (was it real? Was it worth anything? Should this knowledge, or whatever it was, be adopted and spread among the people? How would it be?) that its worth diminished anyway.
It was not their fault, though, she would always remind herself with pride, because surely the most important thing was that her people were trying? They wanted to protect their history, to educate the young and continue their legacy, and was that really such a crime if they were therefore a little hesitant to expand perhaps from what was already assured? From what had been 'guaranteed', as it were? Surely it was normal, a very human failing, to hold the stubbornness that had aided their history to be preserved just as it also hindered it from being expanded upon? Did she really have to defend her people (and not just her clan, she noted with irritation, because in these little chats she somehow magically stood for every single Dalish person, as if they held a hive mind on how they thought, felt and acted) every time he brought them up? It was just so exhausting.
But today, she was tired.
She was so very, very tired of having to defend her people all the time when the subject was brought up (not just with Solas, she admitted, but everyone), as if she was the mouthpiece of all the countless thousands of Dalish, most of whom she had and would never even meet, let alone know. And, just as much, she was tired of having to defend Sera each time her companion got onto a high horse about how superior the two of them were against her, and how she was little more in comparison than a contended fool paddling in the mud.
"Solas," she began in a warning tone that he seemed to miss entirely, "I'm not in the mood to hear this once again. I never like hearing this, hearing you berate my people for everything that we do wrong, but once again I just have to sit here politely and take it, don't I? Because, as you so kindly tell me all the time, I'm 'better' than my Dalish background." She was beginning to sound shrill, and sparks were starting to form in her palm, yet Solas sat there placidly. If he hadn't frequently told her how much she detested it, she could imagine him calmly sipping tea and arching an eyebrow at her loss of control.
"I'm not 'ignorant', or 'stubborn', or.. or half the awful things you say about my people, am I? Because you think I'm 'better' than them, so I can't possibly be one of them, and it embarrasses you that I am. You see my vallaslin, so you know immediately what I am, and you just can't stand it, can you?" Her voice would have positively radiated venom if it could. By now, his face had fallen, and Solas looked stunned. Good.
"But really, deep down, you hate me, don't you? Because I'm proud of who I am. I'm proud of what I am. Dalish. And all that means to you, at the end of the day, is that I'm performing a pantomime of my own ignorance." She spat out his words right back at him, fighting the urge to slap him.
"Oh dear," she heard Dorian whisper. "He's really in for it now."
"And Sera? Don't get me started on how rude you are to her. If you hate me because of how backwards I am, just some forest-dwelling creature barely more sentient than a bloody halla, then that's nothing compared to how you talk about her. You just can't stop seizing a moment to insult her, to show how intellectually superior you think you are to her, like you're a bloody god or something. Creators, who gave you the right to come here and judge her for who she is? Who gave you the right to come here and judge me?" He said nothing, his face a pale mask of barely restrained anger. "Answer me, Solas: WHO GAVE YOU THE RIGHT?"
"...I see," he said finally, his voice curdling like stale milk.
"Do you? Would you know what it's like to deal with this, this... this wave of constant, unending vitriol? Every single day?" She was no longer shouting at him: to her deep shame, Nehna was fighting back tears. "It's exhausting, Solas. I... I expected it from the shems. I knew that perhaps they'd see my face and I'd get called knife-ear, or maybe they'd hurt my halla, or they'd spit in my food or -" She shuddered. "I was just so afraid when I came here. I didn't ask to be Herald, and certainly not Inquisitor. I didn't ask to fall out of the sky. I didn't want any of this, and now my clan might be all dead for all I know, I always worry when their letters take too long because they're so far away and I'm here, and..."
She bit back a howl and carried on. "I knew I'd get bad reactions from some of the humans. I knew that the Orlesians who come to visit Skyhold would insult me for the world to hear. I don't want it, and I never did, but I expected it, so I was a little more prepared to deal with it emotionally." The tears were blurring her eyes now, and it was taking a considerable effort not to cry. "I didn't expect it from you, Solas."
Nehna couldn't hold it back any longer. The tears flowed freely, and her whole body shook as she sobbed. Her face was red from shouting, now made worse by her deepening embarrassment, but she just couldn't stop. "Do you think I don't hear what they say?" she wailed to him. "Do you think I don't feel anything? I am the only one of my clan here. The only Dalish here. I knew nothing about human customs and politics before I was forced to get involved. I knew barely anything. Yes, I was ignorant, wasn't I? Just like you always say." Once the dam had been broken, there was no pushing the flood back. All her hurt, her rage and loneliness were pouring out of her at that moment.
Solas just sat there, stunned into silence for a second time. "I really out to go down there," she could hear Dorian saying in a bristling tone, unaware that his whispering was still audible. He was clearly being physically restrained. "Let me go, you fools, just look at her! She needs support right now, not a statue. I swear if you don't let go of me, I'll burn your hand off!" He kicked a table over. "Vishante kaffas, I'll go and get her, then. Just you wait!" He stormed off, a swirl of righteously angry robes.
She wailed a little longer, a continuous stream of sobbing and shaking. All the while, Solas just sat there. He really was stunned. For a split second, she almost felt guilty for upsetting her friend.
Guilty? It was ridiculous.
She was the one he had been constantly mocking, day in, day out. She was the wounded party here.
It was certainly time for someone to bring him down a notch.
Finally, she spoke again. "I feel so alone, every single day, Solas. Every. Day. I just wanted a friend who could understand me, even if they weren't Dalish. I didn't want judgement." She moaned, rubbing at her eyes in an effort to stop crying, and sniffed loudly. "Sera helps me. She's always there. She's always so positive, cheerful and hopeful, even with all the doom. She's not afraid of anyone, and her jokes always make me feel better. She laughs at stupid things because the whole world is stupid right now, and Creators know I want someone to remind me of simpler things."
She laughed, although it came out more as a hiccup in the midst of a burst of tears. "She's brave enough to help the people that everyone else forgets. She's true, and she's more loyal than a mabari, and she'll bite worse than one if you hurt her friends. She's vulnerable. She's kind. She makes me feel happy. She's beautiful when she laughs and smiles. She's a good person, and we need more of them right now. She... I..."
"Alright, you mouldy, rotten, droopy-eared sack of piss! You get away from her or I'll put an arrow through your breeches!" It was a voice she knew, belonging to the person she loved.
Had she heard all that just now? How much did she -
Her anxiety was cut off by Sera slapping Solas squarely in the jaw. The woman was furious. Dorian had to pull her back before she could rip his tunic to shreds, and she kicked and struggled, scratching at his arms until he swore.
"Don't hit me, you idiot," he hissed. "We're here to help Nehna, remember?"
Sera spun around, and Nehna blushed from head to toe. The other woman had just stood up for her. Sera had stood up for her. She was doing all this because.... because...
"Are you alright?" she asked, crouching by Nehna's chair. "What did that frigging spitball say to you?"
"Really, this is ridiculous," Solas groaned, putting his head in his hands. "I can tell you, this has merely got out of -"
"Solas, my dear, it would be very inadvisable for you to continue right now," Dorian warned him. "Why don't we go and have a mage battle in the woods?"
"A mage -"
"Honestly, do you have cobwebs for brains? I'm trying to get you out of here before she slaps you into the next century."
"He'd deserve it, too!" Sera snapped as Dorian marched the other man from the room. Solas looked weary and defeated, but offered no comment or argument, allowing himself to be dragged from the rotunda.
She waited until the men had left until turning back to Nehna. "Did you mean all that, just there?" She was blushing herself now. "All that... about me being..."
"Yes." Nehna had never been more certain of anything in her life. "I do."
"Frig" was all Sera was able to say before Nehna crashed into her mouth. It was a hungry kiss, born of desperation, anxiety and confusion, and it ached to be returned.
Sera eagerly obliged. She wrapped her arms around Nehna's neck, pulling her closer as the other woman clung to her waist. She moaned as their tongues met, moving uncertainly at first, yet growing eager by the second. Sera fumbled as she pulled them both to a standing position and pushed Nehna up against the wall, kissing her deeply, scrambling over her body with a pair of excited hands. It was as if their bodies were saying all the words their mouths hadn't vocalised yet, or at least certainly no longer could.
Eventually, she had to pull away, gasping for breath. The two women stared at each other, blushing deeply but grinning from ear to ear.
"Never been with an elfy elf before," Sera murmured to herself, but she didn't sound dismissive, not like Solas. Instead she sounded wondering, like she was in awe of the possibility.
Nehna grabbed her hand and gave it a little squeeze. "Well, there's always a first for everything, isn't there?"
They grinned at each other, and Sera gave her new lover a clumsy kiss on the cheek. It was the best feeling in the world.
Still, there was one thing Nehna was anxious about. "So... about us now."
Sera giggled. "Yeah? We're a thing now, aren't we? Unstoppable and all that." She stroked Nehna's cheek, and it made her melt. "Nobody could drag me from this," she whispered, slowly tracing her hand down the other woman's body until it rested invitingly at the swell of her left breast. "Or this," she winked as she cupped it eagerly, giving it a mischievous squeeze.
"Sera." It was getting hard to breathe. Or think straight, for that matter. But she had to know. She wanted to be absolutely sure. "This isn't just a sex thing for you, right?"
The hand fell from her breast and Nehna mourned its loss, but Sera wasn't quite done yet. Flashing her a toothy smile, she laughed. "Who said anything about 'just'? What about 'and'? 'Aaaand.' We can talk and have fun. We're definitely going to do both." She winked again. "I've got plans."
Creators help me. "And we're definitely exclusive, then? ... Just me and you?"
"Of course! You know me, Inky. I don't share." Sera stuck her tongue out. "Unless you want to just talk your way through this the whole time. Then I might find a replacement." She giggled, and it took Nehna a second to realise her girlfriend was just teasing her.
Girlfriend. My girlfriend. She's my girlfriend. It made her want to skip around and sing with joy. Almost. Sera would mock her no end for it.
"I still want to get to know you a little more, before we do anything," she admitted slowly, before smiling. "But we will. Just... in a while, maybe."
Sera sighed in mock exasperation. "All this talking? Fine. You can have your words. I'll have you instead. 'In a while, maybe.'" Her hand drew out a teasing line, snaking across Nehna's stomach.
She drew the other woman into a fierce hug, holding her tightly. Sera was taken aback for a second, but only a second; she hugged her back happily, peppering her neck and cheek with feverish kisses until they reached her mouth. Nehna moaned as she was kissed deeply once more, feeling Sera wriggle against her, but she knew it was all teasing. She wouldn't go any further until Nehna agreed she was comfortable to, and it made her glad.
She didn't know how to bring up the fact that she hadn't been any further with anyone, not even in her own clan. She felt as untouched as Andraste before she had been well enough to bear children, all pure and holy.
At least her vagina didn't beam out holy light the way her hand inconveniently did. That was more for the Anchor, and even then it was more Fade-whatever than anything else. Then again, she didn't think Andraste could have, either. Certainly not before she died and became the Maker's bride, at any rate.
Creators, I'm thinking about Andraste's vagina.
She returned her focus to Sera's kiss, not wanting the other woman to get any hint of how confused she was becoming. At least the blushing could be excused by the situation.
No more thoughts. Mythal have mercy, just don't think anymore.
Luckily, Sera made it much more difficult.
"It's not... weird then, that I'm the Herald of Andraste? Or the leader of the Inquisition?" Nehna asked Sera as the two sat in Sera's small room in the tavern. They were sprawled across the windowseat, lazily enjoying the warmth and feeling of each other's arms.
Sera looked puzzled. "Did it do something to you down there?"
Nehna blushed furiously as she struggled to fight down the thoughts from earlier. Creators help me. "No, of course not!"
"So what's the problem, then? I'm not the one who'd lose their job messing around, Inky."
"I... well..." She struggled to find the right words. "Why do you call me Inky, anyway?"
Sera giggled. "Is this going to be a thing with you? Your name?" She hooted at Nehna until even she had to smile. "Well, you're the Inquisitor, aren't you? Inky Nehna? Nehna Inky?" The two women burst out laughing.
"I guess if you wanted to get really technical about it, you'd say Sulah'nehn'ara Inky," she teased.
Sera looked blank. "Sooly-wha?"
"Sulah'nehn'ara. That's my full name. Nehna is a nickname because... well, Sulah'nehn'ara is a bit of a mouthful to say each time," she laughed. "They called me that as a nickname in my clan, too."
"What does it mean?" Sera was beginning to frown, although whether it was from confusion or irritation Nehna wasn't sure.
"It means 'my song of joy.' Sulahn is song, nehn is joy, and ara is my." She smiled. "I suppose it was to symbolise how glad my parents were at my birth."
"Wow." Sera looked into her eyes and paused. "That's... that's quite a name, Inky. I don't know..." She looked sheepish. "I don't know if I'll ever pronounce it properly."
"That's okay," Nehna said gently. "You don't have to. Nehna is just fine. So's Inky."
Sera looked grateful, although she tried to cover it up almost immediately. "Yeah? Well, I knew you'd like that name. I may not have a honey tongue like you, but I'm alright with words sometimes. Words that make sense." She tried the name again. "Sooly... Sool...Sulahn...ennya?"
Nehna laughed, although she did it gently to make sure Sera didn't feel offended, and kissed her cheek for good measure. "I can teach you some other time, if you like," she teased, "but for now I don't think we need any more words."
Sera seized the idea immediately, pouncing onto her lover's stomach. "You talk too much anyway," she giggled as she pulled her in for a kiss, sighing with contentment as their lips met.
Shems - short for shemlen, a derogatory word for humans
Da'len - little one
Vishante kaffas - a Tevene phrase roughly meaning 'You shit on my tongue'
I'm just a sucker for fluff
(2 chapters in one day? Don't say I don't treat you all...)
Sera is nowhere to be found, so Solas and Nehna discuss the long-lost days of Elvhenan, and Solas comes close to accidentally letting something big slip...
She woke up to find a small scroll tucked discreetly to the side of her desk. Nehna walked over to it cautiously, half in the mind to cast a ward for protection, until she recognised the writing. She let out a sigh of relief, clutching her chest until her heart stopped beating too quickly, and sank to her chair with the parchment in hand.
It never paid to be too cautious, she had learnt; as the Inquisitor, head of the most powerful Andrastian organisation in Thedas bar only the Chantry, assassination was a very real risk. Even a simple note could be a distraction, intended to catch her attention as an assassin stabbed her in the back. Or at least, that was what Vivienne had warned her, being experienced with the dangerous intrigues of the Orlesian court. Even Leliana had taught her to take precautions, even with something as simple as eating, in case she was poisoned. Having dosed herself with antidotes for years, and being immune to practically every poison under the sun (as well as recognising their tastes immediately), her spymaster insisted on tasting a small amount of each portion Nehna intended to eat, just to be safe.
It scared her, knowing that she could just as easily die from the blade of an assassin as she could fighting in the field, but luckily the risk was fairly low. Skyhold's enviable location and altitude made it relatively impregnable, with excellent views for miles around: a would-be killer could be easily spotted and dealt with swiftly, and the magical wards Solas assisted the mages with casting each day made it safe from close attacks. She had tried helping him on occasions, but he had gently told her no; being such a long, demanding task, having to cover the entire perimeter of the building and its grounds, he had suggested her energies were better spent in the war room with her advisors, though he had smiled at her enthusiasm.
Their relationship had thawed slightly in the days following the fight. They were still professional, courteous and polite to one another as always, and she still came for further historical education from him, eagerly scouring hefty tomes and speaking her best Elvhen (which he had noted was rapidly improving). Still, their friendship had suffered somewhat after Nehna had made it clear just how insulted she felt constantly, and the air between them was always tense and awkward.
That was what this note was about, she assumed, half-smiling at his elegant, flowing script.
Ir abelas, Nehna.
I did not intend on making you feel ignorant, or lacking in any way. You are a wonderful student, but perhaps I neglected to make clear how much I value our friendship. Perhaps my misgivings on the Dalish came across too strongly; regardless, you are a separate entity to them, and I should not judge you among them all the time. You cannot help your origins, just as I cannot help my past experiences with them, but it is little excuse. I apologise.
I hope this will not affect our working relationship. In time, I hope we can see one another as friends again, and not merely colleagues, but I understand that this may take some time, and I will not fault you for it if it is not an overnight change either.
It was a nice letter, even if it did sound a little formal and restrained. Still, that was simply how he wrote letters; the intent was what mattered, and it was important that he had come to apologise, even if it had not been face to face. She could not really fault him for that, either - the last time she had spoken frankly to him, the argument had happened, and it had been a relatively public one. Dorian, Leliana and Sera had all seen it, and between the three of them, it was likely the whole of Skyhold had heard by now, too. It had never been her intent to humiliate him, but only to inform; if a written apology was the best she would currently get, she would accept it gracefully and thank him for his efforts, trying to find somewhere more private this time.
Skimming to the bottom of the page, she found Sera's name mentioned and moved her gaze further upwards, curious (and cautious) to read what the elf had to say.
Lethal'lan, you deserve to find love in these difficult times. I cannot fault you for that. Sera is a surprise, I admit, but if she makes you happy, and you make her happy, then I suppose that is all that matters. The rest belongs to your personal affairs. I can only hope that perhaps she will stop putting squashed eggs into my trousers now.
She laughed. It sounded like a very Sera thing to do. Her girlfriend - girlfriend! - had been extremely protective of her in the days following her argument, threatening to dice up anyone who even dared look at her the wrong way (which was apparently most of the Inquisition, in one way or another). Blackwall had merely smiled when she threatened to rip his tongue out, claiming she'd be taking the best part of him; Sera had made a crude joke in return, and the two friends both agreed to go to the tavern later for further mayhem.
Squashed eggs? It was probably because Solas was bald, she thought to herself, embarrassed - she had to remind herself to stop overthinking Sera's pranks, looking for a deeper meaning when there was none. That was the problem: trying to dig beneath the surface without appreciating the surface in its own right. It explained a lot of Sera's behaviour, she mused.
Where was she, anyway? Every morning now since they'd officially started dating (and it still made her smile each time she realised that, yes, this was real), Sera had fired at arrow with a little scroll tied on into a notch in the wall by her window. Most of the time it was little drawings of her and Nehna fighting dragons, or kissing, or kissing while fighting dragons. Little bees and hearts surrounded them, and she thought on occasions Sera had kissed the parchment before she wrapped it up. Sometimes, though, her girlfriend had written a sweetly earnest message:
"Your eyes are really pretty to look at, especially in the sunlight. They glow like your hand, only better, because it's not weird magic. Just love magic. (See what I did there!) (P.S. Your magic isn't weird, just sparkly. Kind of pretty sometimes. You're good.)"
"I bet you'd be good at cooking things, even if you only grew up with a little campfire or whatever Dalish use. You'd make the best dinner ever, then we'd eat it and throw the rest at nobles from the rooftop. Five points if it goes down their throat. (I'm not wasting any of your cooking though, I promise!)"
"You know how warm you feel when we cuddle? It's like you're a little ball of fire, always burning away. Just don't melt me, because then you'd just be burning by yourself. A bit lonely. Less bees and arrows, anyway."
"Bees are really, really great, but you're even better because you don't sting, but you're still cute as always. (Please don't say mages can sting people.)"
She had carefully collected them all, bound them with silk ribbons and placed them in a locked box. It had both a normal lock and a magical ward for good measure, so even a skilled lockpick would never be able to access her precious letters. Just to be safe. They weren't for anybody's eyes but hers. Nehna admitted she would never be as good with blades or a bow as her magic, but she would gladly stab anyone who dared to try and pry.
She wondered where Sera was. Did she forget the message? Maybe it didn't mean as much as her as it did to Nehna, and that was a scary thought. Am I making a big deal out of nothing? she wondered, shaking her head. It's nothing. It's just a little message. It doesn't matter.
The box under her bed said otherwise, but she ignored it, balling her fists and letting out a groan of pure frustration. I'm the Inquisitor, she reminded herself. I shouldn't be getting so anxious. I can't be getting so anxious.
She dressed quickly, picking out a cotton shirt and loose trousers and pulling a cloak about herself. It would be practical enough for just walking around Skyhold, but if she had to deal with any nobles in meetings or travel outside, she'd have to change later. That was okay. Today would be okay, or even better than okay: it would be fine.
Nehna was determined to stay positive, knowing there was probably a highly logical reason behind it all, and she wouldn't let it stand in the way of her enjoying herself. Knowing and actually accepting there was nothing wrong were two very different things, though. She found herself scanning each corridor for Sera and listening intently for the sound of her laughter, smiling and nodding absently to the servants and others who greeted her with bows. It wouldn't do for her to be distracted, but she couldn't help it. The fact she didn't want to be like this only made it worse.
"Lethal'lan, are you alright? You seem distracted." Solas's voice cut through her nerves and she blinked back into focus, feeling somewhat embarrassed. Unfortunately, he took her reaction the wrong way and immediately burst into an apology. "I must apologise for my actions. It was unseemly, and I was overly harsh to you. I cast judgement upon you as if you stood to represent thousands of your kind, and it was wrong of me." He offered her a low bow, seeming genuinely remorseful as he stood back up straight again. "Ir abelas."
"There is nothing to forgive, Solas," she said, smiling to reassure him. "I read your note too, and I understand. The clans you met before, the frosty reception they gave you... it can't have given you a good impression of my people, after all." Nehna laughed. It felt bad to be so relieved to have a different topic to distract her, especially at the expense of someone else, but in truth she felt a lot calmer and happier now. "Still, it would do you good to remember we are not a monolithic entity," she added teasingly.
They carried on walking as they talked, and Solas seemed to be listening intently to what she said. "My people are not united in most things, seeing as we are so separate in distance and custom that one of the few ties we share is our heritage more than anything else in the present. We all apply ourselves differently, but the goal is there: we aim to preserve and protect what we have, and uncover what was lost." Finding a bench in a quiet alcove, she sat down, sweeping her cloak about her and invited him to sit beside her, which he did so hesitantly. "Some of my people... may be a little more closed minded than others," she admitted slowly, "just as some have all but retired into the forests, refusing to treat with humans in any way other than violence. Still, from my experience, they are the exception, not the rule."
She sighed. "Then again, I grew up mostly in the Free Marches. The Dalish in Ferelden, in Orlais... they are as much a mystery to me as they are to anyone else. My people share more differences than unity now, with each clan interpreting the past differently, and that reflects how they react to the present as much as anything else." She laughed again, although the sound was now slightly bitter. "Sometimes the Arlathvhens are more arguments than an exchange of knowledge, or... well, whatever they were supposed to be, at any rate."
Nehna flushed, realising she hadn't stopped speaking for a second. Her companion was probably getting overwhelmed. "I'm sorry, Solas," she said, beginning to talk quickly. "I've been rambling, you're probably bored, I didn't mean to speak for so long, it was pretty rude of me, and I -"
Solas shook his head, gently cutting her off. "There is nothing to forgive, Nehna," he smiled, repeating her words from earlier. "In truth, it was interesting to learn more of the People from your perspective. I admit that much of what I know of the Dalish perhaps... perhaps was misinformed in places. Perhaps I was too hasty to judge them, or too reluctant to see their views as valid."
He shook his head again slowly, looking sad as he continued. "It frustrates me greatly, though, when I think of what I... what I saw in the Fade. The memories of ancient Elvhenan, where none of our kind lived in fear of humans, and our culture prospered greatly. Of course, we were as corrupt as the humans in some of our dealings, and I do not hold the People of the past to be perfect. No civilisation is, or can be." He sighed. "But when I see the glories of the past, and then when I compare them to the way the Dalish fumble over the meagre scraps that remain, which in turn will be likely lost in generations to come -"
Solas stopped. He looked so sad that Nehna regretted allowing the topic to continue. "It was such a beautiful time, when magic was as natural as breathing and freely celebrated. There was no censure of mages and their talents. It would have been so wonderful to live then, to see the wonders they could create first hand. Castles than never touched the ground. Spells that took a century to cast, yet were powerful enough to last a century more." He turned to her, looking at her face with such wonder that she blushed. "You would have shone there, lethal'lan," he whispered, voice tinged with regret.
For a moment, there was just silence as Nehna tried to imagine the past he described. It seemed so far away, so distant and lost that she almost wanted to cry, yet for a split second she could see it. She could imagine walking freely among the ancient elves, who in turn treated with spirits and were unashamed of their gifts. There was no Chantry casting a stern and disapproving eye, no Templars to fear, no distrust from anyone who learnt you were a mage. There were no humans to eventually lead her kind to near destruction.
It was a land and time of only Elvhen, who she imagined wore lavish and opulent robes created from magic and changed or dismissed with so much as a hand wave, who spoke to each other in a lilting, poetic language that she tried to desperately to immerse herself in. It was truly another world, and one that was slowly losing its place in this one. For a second, just a split second, she was there.
And then, looking back to Solas with his shoulders slumped in regret, she wasn't anymore. She was just a young elven woman imagining glories long gone, confused about what she wanted, thought and believed.
She wondered if Sera ever thought about their shared past and smiled. Sera was firmly grounded in the present, a firm believer in shrugging off the pain of the past and working towards the future. The lost days of Elvhenan were just that - lost. They didn't bear thinking about to her because they held little relevance in the present. She could see herself, as clearly as Nehna could, the way the Dalish struggled to preserve the little knowledge that remained, yet what had that truly got them?
Were Nehna's people really so superior to the city elves, the "flat ears" who had supposedly abandoned their kind as they embraced the world of the shems? It was a question she often found herself returning to when the topic arose. Her people had little by way of money, but at least the city elves had a permanent home in the alienages, or better quarters if they could afford it: her people were constantly shifting from place to place, migrating across lands and continents in the effort to protect themselves from a hostile world that threatened their heritage at every turn.
While the city elves had relatively little, and certainly lacked much by way of comfort and luxury, they were as proud as the Dalish, proud of their place and their ability to survive in a world that loved them not. They may have lost the old ways and embraced the new, but they had never lost their sense of self, their pride in their own identity.
Still, there were some who spoke wonderingly of the Dalish, near-worshipping her people with fanciful tales and legends of the forest-dwelling clans who had never submitted to the shemlen. There were always tales of city elves running to join her people, "embracing their heritage" as a Keeper had told her at the one and only Arlathvhen she had been old enough to attend. "They are merely returning to the ways their kind have laughingly spurned, returning like children to the loving arms of the Creators."
When she had asked why the elves would wish to make such a dangerous journey, not knowing if they would be accepted, he had laughed. "Who can deny a man his true purpose, or his destiny?" She had left the conversation with more questions than the Keeper could or would answer, feeling fully unsatisfied and kicking rocks in her frustration, feeling like an ignorant child.
As she haltingly voiced her thoughts to Solas, she saw the way he sat up straight again, dragged out of his melancholy, to give her an approving look. Once she had finished as best as she could, he nodded to her. "It is good that you question yourself, da'len. To follow mindlessly is not to follow at all, but merely to walk in chains. Still, it is important, at the end of the day, to have a belief to return to in some way or another."
He thought for a moment. "For the Dalish to have raised someone like you... have I misjudged them?" He spoke so quietly that she almost didn't catch his words.
"I don't hold the Dalish to be perfect," she began slowly, feeling nervous about where the conversation would turn next, "but we try, in our own way. We hold on to something worth remembering." She shook her head. "There are some of my people who live entirely in the past, unable to accept the millennia that have passed since our defeat. They wander, filling their hearts and minds with thoughts of revenge and bitterness against the shemlen, yet it is ultimately useless."
Nehna sighed. "Such a rebellion would destroy us. There are only mere thousands of my people remaining as it is. Against the combined might of Ferelden, Tevinter, even Orlais... we would be lost, and our knowledge with us." She looked at him full in the eye as she continued. "I don't know what to believe fully, not really. My mind is full of the glories of my people, but that glory was lost. To try and reclaim it through force and violence would remove us from Thedas entirely, and yet we try to remember all the same, knowing we can never restore what was."
"What if there was a way? A way to restore what was?" He spoke as quietly as ever, yet his words roared in Nehna's ears. She imagined all the possibilities at once, her head flooding and overwhelmed.
"That would be impossible, Solas," she said sadly. "I have already told you that if we tried to fight -"
"Not a fight. Magic."
"Magic?" It was inconceivable to her. "How could a spell bring back the past? You saw what happened when Alexius tried to play with time magic. Redcliffe was nearly destroyed, and so many people suffered." She felt angry now, though she couldn't say why: she knew such a thing was impossible, especially on the scale he was suggesting, yet for some reason she felt defensive. "If you really, truly think that that amount of suffering would be worth it, then -"
"Ir abelas, da'len." He spoke as calmly as ever, yet she could see regret in his eyes again. "I spoke only in abstract, imagining a possibility. Sadly, I do not think such a thing would come to pass. Even were such a spell possible, there would be no certainty of its outcome." He paused. "To act brings uncertainty and risk, yet surely..." He stopped, shaking his head with such finality that she felt the subject would not continue further.
"I suppose it doesn't matter, then," Nehna told him, laughing somewhat nervously. "If it's not possible, that is."
"Of course not. Such a spell, even the concept of a spell, would require immense power beyond either of our current means."
"I don't think I have that level of talent, Solas. Not to raise a whole world," she teased.
"No," he admitted, "yet you are certainly gifted. You show true promise, da'len."
There was that look in his eyes again. Whenever he praised her, or even just spoke positively about something to her, it appeared. She wasn't sure what it was, seeing as she only got brief flickers of it before he composed himself once more. It was almost like a hunger, something menacing and demanding, yet at the same time softer. It was a yearning, a deep want certainly, but what for?
For a second, she wondered if it was love, yet dismissed the possibility. He showed none of the signs. None that she could recognise, at any rate. He didn't blush or act nervously or clumsily the way she occasionally did in Sera's presence (and it got her endless teasing, too, for getting 'soft'), yet he did smile often, and it would linger on his face for quite a while, seeming calm and happy in her presence.
Still, that could mean anything. People smiled in front of friends and colleagues all the time with no hidden meaning, no ulterior motive, and she was certain past doubt that she and Solas could regard one another as friends. Her awkwardness in front of her girlfriend would pass in the future too as they began a more mature relationship, more certain in one another and where they stood. It would bring confidence, too, and so awkwardness would be unnecessary and (hopefully) impossible. Plus, she reminded herself, it was only occasional.
Solas was far too mature to fall in love with a nineteen-year-old girl. He was wise and self-possessed, certain in most of his beliefs from what she could see, and in all honesty she struggled to imagine a reason for any attraction, physical or otherwise.
No, she was imagining things. Feeling certain again, she found herself reassured. For him to be in love with her, or at least feeling a fleeting burst of attraction, would mean... well, it would mean an awkward conversation. It would mean her having to gently tell him she wasn't interested in him beyond a deep, strong friendship; that she wasn't sure if she actually could feel that way for any man, not just him, and that she hadn't yet so she wouldn't rule anything out but that it felt very unlikely, deep inside her; that she was happy with Sera, who she loved.
Loved? It had only been a week, so love was a little early. Still, the sentiment was there, and she did care for her girlfriend deeply. That was what mattered.
Afterwards, she couldn't remember what the two of them spoke about. It certainly wasn't anything as attention-grabbing as the Dalish, or her occasional grappling with her identity, questioning what she had been told to hold certain. It must have been relatively inconsequential, because after they parted with a friendly smile and a "Dareth shiral," she still couldn't remember, and felt vaguely guilty.
Now she was left to her thoughts again, and her thoughts wandered to a place they had often been wandering in the past seven days: Sera. She wondered where her girlfriend was, and what probable mischief she was getting up to Creators knew where. Walking aimlessly around the courtyard, she thought she heard a distant cackling somewhere and smiled. When she found Sera again, wherever she was hiding or holed up, she would take her in her arms and kiss her. She will never want to leave my side again, Nehna thought with a laugh.
Ir abelas - I'm sorry
Shemlen - human(s), literally 'quick children'
Lethal'lan - casual reference to a girl/woman the speaker is close to, eg. a clan member (male equivalent is lethal'lin, while neutral is lethal'len)
Da'len - little one
Where is Sera? She's fine, just a little busy preparing a surprise for Nehna somewhere...
Also, I don't think Solas is in love with Nehna, per se. He's just extremely lonely, desperate to find anyone who shares his ideals and potentially supports his goal that even he himself holds doubts over. I think, as Nehna imagines, it's probably fleeting in terms of physical or emotional attraction, but he's still very curious (and probably relieved) to find someone like her in his life, although they will ultimately only ever be good friends (and he doesn't expect anything more).
Sera returns from the ether, bearing gifts (well, one gift). She feels deeply insecure over herself and her relationship with Nehna, but luckily fluff ensues at the end.
This is inspired by this moment in the game where Sera tries making a sketch of you (as she also does here). I know it's from Trespasser (and after getting married!), but I thought it was so cute that I just wanted to include it in my story anyway.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Sera had been struggling with it for hours now. Hours - no exaggeration. She had to get it right, absolutely perfect, because that was no less than Nehna deserved. She was like sunshine, or rainbows, or something equally sweet and lovely tied up with a silk ribbon, all elegant and wonderful. Nehna was perfect, so any gift Sera gave her had to be too.
Pissballs. That was the trouble with gifts you made yourself; it had to be within the range of your talents and comfort zone, and Sera realised that her idea, however cute, was beginning to veer beyond either. She'd never really tried drawing things beyond crude little sketches here and there, always to amuse others, but this was different. This was a serious sketch, meant to show how beautiful-radiant-wonderful Nehna was, and it meant she had to be serious too.
Frigging useless quills. She was on the verge of ripping up the parchment into tiny pieces and starting all over again, but then her work would be ruined. She had made progress, however small it felt: there was an outline of Nehna's face, and the basic features had been planned. If she just carried on a little longer, no matter how many hours it took - hours! bloody frigging Maker-damned hours! - then it would be finished. She just had to keep that in mind each time the urge to set it on fire came into mind.
Nehna could have set it on fire with just her mind, she thought. Magey shite. It still felt a little... weird, she had to be honest, that her girlfriend was a mage. It didn't make her uncomfortable anymore, not really; now it was more a matter of getting used to something a little different, a little beyond what she was used to. Mages were fine, and she couldn't give a rat's arse about the mages-vs-Templars thing: it wasn't her conflict for one thing, and it wasn't really interesting either.
She only really cared about the lives of the little people it would inevitably hurt, all the servants and peasants and commoners who didn't have a noble to look out for them, or any claim to money and power to protect them. The nobles would probably abuse the situation too, she thought bitterly, in an attempt to gain more power for themselves. That was what they always did; kick each other to the dirt to pull themselves up higher, then guard their rung on the ladder with barbs and knives, no matter the cost of innocent lives.
It was worse in Orlais, where the petty struggles were actually celebrated as part of "the Game." Maker, did Sera hate that, the way the nobles celebrated their descent into corruption and in-fighting over... what, really? The throne? There was no way, for one thing, that some ordinary noble would just suddenly end up seated on it. She despised politics, and any mention of it made her deeply uncomfortable, but even she knew that a large and bloody coup would be needed, one that would likely tear Orlais to shreds as it was. The nobles knew it was useless, and their servants did too, but they still stabbed and poisoned each other for the thrill of it. The commoners who knew no better idolised the process because it was all they knew, clinging to the fervent yet misguided hope that someday they or their descendants would rise to power with a well-spoken word, or a simple gesture to the right person. It sickened her.
No. I'm not thinking of that shite. You can't make me. Breathing deeply, she tried returning her focus to Nehna and the portrait she was struggling to draw, but her thoughts scattered as they inevitably would. Stupid me. Can't think straight. She punched the table in her frustration, then swore at the pain lancing its way up her arm. Frigging pissball arse-face shitsack fuck.
It was her fault, as it always was. She struggled to concentrate for long on things because her mind danced and flitted from one subject to the other, shifting from thought to thought as if leap-frogging its way over a stream. It stung because nobody understood, not really. They just figured she was stupid, so she wondered if maybe she was. She didn't always understand the fancy words people used, sometimes not even Nehna when she was still in Inquisitor Mode by accident and babbling on about something while Sera listened intently, trying to puzzle it out. It was useless, because they'd always change subjects too early and she'd only half-understood it by the end.
Useless, brainless, like a frigging child. Lop-eared pus-buckets, the lot of them. They always said she was immature, but that was simply what made sense. The more complicated stuff was... well, complicated, and it always got difficult to think about. The simple things were easy. They didn't hurt, and they made more sense. Magic bad, mages scary, Templars protect, nobles evil. It had taken her a long time to work beyond that, a lot of hard-won progress after a lot of angry debates with herself and others, but nobody saw that, not really. They just saw her swearing and blustering and making jokes about genitals or sex or laughing at how stupid people could get because they forgot just how simple things could really be, and that was all she was.... to them.
To Nehna, she was more. Heaps more. Sera wasn't just a clumsy, bubbling mess of scattered thoughts and all the shite they laid on her. To Nehna, she was funny, even when her jokes were crude. Especially when her jokes were crude, because Nehna said it was a refreshing change from the people with trees up their arses. She didn't say it like that, of course: she was always polite even when talking about those she held in distaste or didn't care much for, but Sera knew what the real meaning was. She's just too good to say it, not wasting her words like wind on them, but I know.
To Nehna, Sera was someone who cared, and she cared deeply about causes many people forgot. She cared about the little people, as she called them; the nameless, faceless masses who moved and thought and lived and loved and died, and nobody would remember them or sing songs in their honour. They were the first to suffer, and the first to die needlessly. Nehna said Sera was good because she was a constant reminder to never forget them, and that was good because it meant Nehna cared, too. Sometimes she was busy with bigger things on her mind, but she always listened to every suggestion Sera made, and that was important because she remembered.
To Nehna, Sera was fun. Simple fun without consequences; giggles and laughter and sunshine and all that other poem shite. Nehna was so wonderful, so beautiful and smart and kind and funny, but it always made Sera marvel that the most free and relaxed she ever was, was when she was with her. She was always happy with the rest of her inner circle, but it was Sera who made her laugh and smile; Sera made her react without inhibition, without fear of judgement, just simple pleasure in enjoying her company.
It didn't make sense, really. Nehna loved her without expecting anything back, but people always expected something back, didn't they? That was what all the nobles had taught her. Nehna loved her for her humour, even though it made Solas and Vivienne look at her with scorn, but then they always did, and now they were wrong. So dead wrong, because Nehna was different, and they could just eat it, the pair of them.
But why? What did she see in her, really? It wasn't because they were both elves, because if that was really what Nehna wanted, she would've wanted a real elf. Someone like Solas who could talk about ancient history and probably got off thinking about it; at least that was what Sera assumed. It just didn't interest her; it was so long ago, so long that Sera couldn't even conceptualise how many thousands of years ago, and that was that. Things that mattered, mattered now. People were alive right now, and they did things right now. It made more sense that way, to her at least, and there was much less stress. If you stopped mourning for something that you could never experience, you could enjoy more what you actually could. Living in the present, free of the past, working towards the future. That was Sera all over.
Was it Nehna, though? She knew all that elfy shite mattered to her girlfriend. Nehna never said the Dalish were right or that the city elves like her were wrong, but she did go out of her way to research history and their language. With Solas, of all people. Eurggghh. The very thought of him with her girlfriend just made her squirm uncomfortably. Wrong, wrong, wrong. It was just something she was interested in.... Sera hoped.
If it wasn't, and she started saying that stuff like that mattered beyond it being a hobby - a weird one at that, but then most of Skyhold had a weird hobby... even Sera herself, if she really thought about it - then they'd have to talk. Sera really, really didn't want that talk. Nehna was too good, better than she deserved, and she couldn't bear the thought of losing her. Not to their past. Not to Solas and his weird words that confused the hell out of her and gave her a headache and feeling of dread that she could only shake off with three strong ales. Not to magic, although Nehna had constantly emphasised the fact it didn't make her superior or all-powerful and that she'd never use it around Sera without her permission. Not to anything or anyone.
She'd just have to learn too, then. Make it her own weird hobby. That's all it was, anyway. A hobby. Nothing deeper.
Sera repeated that thought like a mantra, slowly calming herself down as she approached the sketch again. She wasn't losing Nehna. Everything was alright. She was just worrying, and that was okay, but these worries were unfounded. Nehna cared for her. Maybe Nehna even loved her. She didn't think they were at that stage yet, but she mattered. Words were stupid, anyway, too easily twisted and manipulated like tiny blades into someone's chest. Words didn't matter. She and Nehna had their own thing, and it was a good thing, a very good thing. There was nothing else important outside it. The Inquisition could disband tomorrow for all she cared, so long as Nehna was safe and happy. Well, and that Thedas was too, she admitted reluctantly.
As she hummed tunelessly to herself, thinking happily of her lover's smiles and subtle little gestures - the way her eyes lit up with excitement, complete with a big, goofy grin that melted Sera's heart; or the way her head tilted to the side like a bird if she was deep in thought or curious about something; or the way her whole body danced when she cast a spell, moving to the beat of a soundless song as she whirled and rotated, spinning on her feet in a way that was by turns dizzying to look at and made Sera's heart swell with pride when she saw how graceful her lover looked, and magic be damned - she found the drawing began to progress much faster. Sera was no longer consciously thinking about it, instead letting the quill move where it willed, focusing more on not blotting the page.
Nehna's face was appearing on the parchment now, something real. It wasn't just an abstract outline anymore, where she puzzled over what it would finally look like and stressed over how good it would be, but instead it was taking on form and shape; something that would last, something that mattered. Her lover would be immortalised at her most beautiful, at least to Sera: the way she softly smiled, eyes filled with love, when she saw her lover approaching and realised just who it was. The expression would soon dissolve into sheer excitement as Nehna let out a squeal of pure joy and raced into Sera's arms, often surprising the other woman with just how strong she was for a mage. It hadn't been by any means a rare occurrence that Nehna had nearly bowled her over, or had scooped her up and spun her around, chanting her name wildly and peppering her cheeks with enthusiastic kisses.
The drawing mattered, Sera thought with a smile, because it would make such a fleeting expression last forever. Her little smile, softened in surprise at Sera's approach, would be there for all to see.
Not that they would, of course. This was just for her. No doubt Nehna would put some fancy protective spell on it that actually would make it last forever, though. She was like that, always trying to keep things safe and preserved. Sera wondered what Nehna had done with all the little doodles and notes she had made her and smiled as she imagined her lover carefully binding them in a locked box. Just like her, too. She's a loony.... but she's my loony.
Time passed much quicker when you were having fun, or so the proverb went, but Sera didn't realise just how fast it had passed until she suddenly found herself staring at the finished drawing, feeling dazed as it hit her that it was actually done. Her little masterpiece was finally complete, dried even with the coloured inks she had filched from... she forgot, but she had taken them to make the drawing really come to life.
The liquid gold of Nehna's eyes; the scarlet red of her vallaslin, dark against her pale skin; the flushed pink of her cheeks, and the subtler blushing rose of her lips; the black of her eyeshadow, in elegant contrast to her eyes; her ink-black hair and long, dark eyelashes; even the elegant shape of her eyebrows, which Nehna had half-joked was a magical art in itself to preserve...
All of it was there. All of it lovingly, painstakingly drawn from memory, right to the fluttering curves of her lips as they began to smile in earnest. It was the longest Sera had had to sit in one place and really focus, and the aching muscles of her hands wouldn't let her forget it.
It's real now, just like this is. It matters, just like she does. It's perfect, just like she is. She allowed herself a brief moment to simply bask in the glow of her accomplishment before getting up off her stool, swearing profusely as her body groaned itself back into motion, and carefully folded the parchment into a scroll. It couldn't be wound too tightly or the folds would be obvious once Nehna unravelled it, but too loose and Sera would drop it along the way. Figuring (and hoping) that the scroll was alright as it was, she zoomed off in the direction of Nehna's room, giggling eagerly as she ran up corridors and winding staircases in pursuit of her lover.
"Found you, Inky!" she sang, bursting through the door like a hurricane and pouncing onto Nehna's bed, pinning her girlfriend underneath her and applying sloppy kisses liberally to both cheeks.
She hadn't expected them to be wet, though. That meant... that meant she...
Nehna made a sound, half hiccup, half sob, as she sat up, gently pushing Sera off her chest as she drew breath in and laid her head against her lover's shoulder.
"What's wrong, Nehna?" This was bad. Nehna had been crying, and Nehna never cried. Nehna was stronger than steel and iron; nothing ever got to her, no matter how many battles they thought. She'd never seen Nehna cry before; never felt Nehna's body shake as she tried to rein in her sobs; never known her girlfriend to ever be sad before, let alone showing it.
"I was - so scared - you were - gone," Nehna said slowly, her speech punctuated by a gasp as she fought back any further tears and slowly composed herself, pausing until she could speak properly again. "I didn't see any note like you normally leave, and I didn't know where you were but neither did anyone else I asked, so I thought maybe you were ill. I found Solas, and we were talking -" Sera winced, wondering what weird stuff he'd told her this time, "- and it made me feel a little better, so then I looked for you again, but I really had no idea where you were, and I missed you so much so I came back up here to hide from everyone else, thinking you'd come eventually." She gave a half-hearted laugh. "I guess I was right, at least. You came back from... wherever you were."
"I'm sorry, Nehna," Sera whispered, gently cupping her lover's chin upwards until she was looking back at her with red, swollen eyes. "I really didn't mean to scare you. I honestly forgot about the note because.... well, I made you something!" She hopped off the bed, ferreting around her pockets in search of the scroll and praying to the Maker it hadn't been squashed until she found it, carefully removing it and enthusiastically brandishing it in front of Nehna's nose. "Ta-da!"
Nehna unravelled it slowly, and when the drawing was fully visible she took it in for a moment, silently gazing on her own face as a blush crept over her neck and cheeks, darkening all the while. After she looked back up at Sera with the biggest grin she'd ever seen in her life, Nehna was redder than her own dark vallaslin, but it didn't matter. It worked.
The elf flung her arms around her lover, giving her a warm and heartfelt kiss and giggled once they parted for air. "So this is why you were gone the whole day?"
Sera nodded and crossed her arms, affecting a mock-noble air. "The mighty Inquisitor, seducer of Thedas, stealer of dreams and breaker of hearts, painted in 9:41 by a lovable rogue who fired her arrow straight into Her Ladyship's heart, the lone woman whose affections were returned among thousands."
Nehna collapsed onto the mattress, clutching her heart and sighing in agony, writhing with an anguished expression for full effect. "Oh! You have wounded me! I think I might die!"
"And yet her roguish lover knew one simple trick with which to resuscitate her woman. A kiss of life, applied to the -"
Her sarcastic monologue was cut off by Nehna wrapping her arms around Sera's neck and yanking her downwards, crushing her mouth on top of her own. Sera yelped in surprise but enthusiastically joined in, making Nehna moan softly in appreciation as her lover's hand tangled in her hair. The other trailed down her abdomen, feather-light, and traced soft circles against her stomach until Nehna arched her back like a woman possessed. Sera broke off the kiss, laughing at Nehna's petulant reaction until the other woman smiled too, sticking her tongue out and giggling when Sera returned the gesture.
"Admit it, you were enjoying yourself thoroughly," Nehna purred, grinning when Sera nodded with no hint of embarrassment.
"Well, I'd be lying if I said I wasn't," she teased, "and it's probably a sin to lie to the Herald of Andraste."
Nehna squirmed slightly, but whether it was at the mention of a foreign religion or in pleasure from her lover's flirting, Sera couldn't tell. At any rate, she hadn't dropped her smile and merely squeezed her hand where it lay entwined in the inky tendrils of Nehna's hair. "Perhaps I am a benevolent Inquisitor who forgives lies," she said with a wolfish look that made Sera's blood run hot.
"Perhaps your appearance deceived me," she admitted, revelling in this side of her lover that she hadn't seen before.
"Perhaps." Nehna propped herself up on one arm, looking up at Sera with an expression that was anything but innocent. "Besides, just where was this illustrious rogue going to kiss me back to life?"
She got a kiss on the nose for her efforts, at least. "On your lips, of course," her lover replied, arching her brow and grinning as Nehna choked on her own laughter.
"You're a wicked, wicked woman, Sera," she gasped. Her breath hadn't quite returned yet.
Sera took the opportunity to kiss her lover back to life.
Also don't worry, this won't be the only chapter of gift-giving - Sera will be getting a little something of her own in the future too. Extra fluff included, because who doesn't like sweet fluff stronger than candyfloss?
I wrote this while sick with the flu and barely able to look at my laptop without headaches, so hopefully this chapter is still up to scratch!
After a long day, Nehna realises she suddenly has to get Sera a gift in return, yet a woman who wants for nothing makes for a difficult customer. Luckily, Nehna has her inner circle to help offer advice... sort of.
So.... basically, this chapter would have been a Clan Lavellan reunion, but my nefarious mind decided it would be more dramaticto establish their relationship before Nehna's family arrive, in part to eventually tease Josephine with a diplomatic crisis that luckily never unfolds, but also to see how everyone will also react to their First actually having her first relationship (ha ha)... with the least Dalish elf ever. So you've got that to look forward to at some point.
What can I say? (Apart from 'sorry it's
so longangsty...' )
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
It had begun as a day much like any other - grey, cold and quiet for the most part - and it would end much, much better than she could have dreamed of, but Nehna couldn't have known any of that as she woke up slowly, covering her eyes with a groan. She had walked out onto the balcony last night to gaze up at the moon and forgot to draw the curtains across the doors, so she had been rudely awoken by the dawn much earlier than she might have liked.
Still, she couldn't deny its beauty. The gentle beams of sunlight cascading and unfurling over Skyhold, lighting up the frost over the ground and making it sparkle like a layer of diamonds amidst the grass, and the snowy mountaintops in the distance, almost dizzyingly bright to look at even in gentle light, but still leaving her in awe and half-daring to climb them some day...
Most of all, she cherished the quiet. It was rare for her to wake so early, but when she did, she knew she was one of the few souls also blinking themselves awake at that same moment in time. The servants had long been awake to attend to their duties, and probably did not simply have the leisure time to appreciate it for as long as she did (if they could at all), but she still wondered if they ever stopped to stare at the world around them in the hazy dawn glow. Did they think it was as beautiful as she did? Could they bear to tear themselves away from it?
Shaking her head sadly, she made her way over to her bathroom where a servant eagerly awaited her to fill her bath with warm water. It didn't surprise her as much as it used to, but she still felt a pang that she had so many people at her beck and call at all times of the day. Humans and elves both, which was also strange. She felt extremely uncomfortable at the thought of ordering one of her people around, so she would always try to slip them a sovereign or otherwise try to brighten their day slightly in exchange for whatever task they did. Nine times out of ten though they would refuse the extra money, saying it was a matter of honour to serve the Inquisitor, but that just made it worse. She didn't want any servants if she could help it, but all her advisors (and Vivienne too) had explained it was a matter of course, seeing as she was in such a powerful position, and so long as she never mistreated her servants, why did it matter?
They wouldn't understand the twisting feeling in her gut, though. The pain it brought her to see her people bow and kneel to her, always kneeling, as if she was a goddess. It made her want to scream. I'm just normal, I'm just like you, she wanted to tell them, but of course it would just be laughed off as her modesty. It would make them worship her even more, she thought sadly, because they would like her lack of airs and graces. It was still strange to see humans treat her so reverently, when barely a few months ago they would have seen her as little more than a savage murderer, or a thief, or maybe something worse. It was always strange, and she would never get used to it. But while it was strange to see the humans worship her, it hurt to see the elves do the same.
The People are too quick to bend the knee, she thought as the servant undressed her and helped her into the bath before bowing and leaving. She wasn't sure who had told her that before, but it stuck in her mind now as the elven woman left.
"Wait," she called out. The servant turned and bent to one knee immediately, and Nehna schooled her face to not show the twinge of pain that flickered there. "I... thank you. What is your name?"
"Ava, my lady." The woman's face remained resolutely pinned to the floor, yet a small smile briefly twitched across her lips. "For the birds that sang at my birth, my father said."
"Thank you for your service, Ava." She hated how formal she sounded, but equally she knew that the woman - Ava, Ava, her name is Ava - would expect nothing less. If she tried to be overly friendly, her servants would likely feel insulted, but she hated it. I don't want servants, she wanted to cry out. I just want a friend, nothing more.
She would not find one in Ava, but it did not hurt to be kind all the same. "I admit, I am unused to having servants around me, even after all this time. I.... it might help me if I could learn what I have.... what I should do." The words tumbled from her mouth clumsily like heavy pebbles, but Ava did not react.
"It is an honour to serve you, my lady," she told her, as they had all told her before. "In Skyhold, I am well-paid for my work. I can send packages of coin and supplies back to my family in Denerim, and they always praise the Maker that I was lucky enough to end up here, working for the Inquisition. I cannot make a difference alone, but I can serve those who can. Like you, my lady." With great effort, Ava slowly rose to her feet, still looking modestly at the ground. "You help everyone, no matter their race or beliefs. You stand for all the good there is in this world, and I would serve no other." She crossed her arm over her chest, imitating the salute Nehna had been given so many times before.
"And you belong to the People, my lady," she added quietly, yet Nehna saw the subtle smile returning. "You show Thedas that elves care for the fate of this world, same as everyone else. All the elves in Skyhold have not heard a single 'knife-ear' since we joined here. Since you became Inquisitor." The woman trembled slightly, blushing as she spoke, yet Nehna saw the joy she was trying to restrain, trying desperately to remain professional in the face of her employer. "It means a great deal to us all, my lady." She bowed again, low and deep. "I must leave you to wash, else I trespass on your peace too long." Ava made to leave for the door again, but Nehna held out her hand for the woman to stop once more.
"Stay," she said gently, smiling at her. "You can help me wash, and I would gladly hear your story."
"My lady." Ava blushed, yet smiled back uncertainly. "I fear I - if you insist, my lady." She bowed once more and walked over, bringing with her a box filled with soaps and oils. "Which ones would my lady prefer?" She gestured to the box and read off the names of the fragrances in turn. "There is oatmeal and lily-of-the-valley, or jasmine, or -"
"I think I would like the rose soap best, followed by the lavender oils," Nehna said before blushing. "I apologise, I did not mean to interrupt you."
"I live to serve you, my lady." Ava did not complain, pouring water over Nehna's face and body and lathering the soap gently, gesturing when she wanted her to turn so she could apply it evenly. Wetting a flannel, she sluiced and rinsed it from her skin before fetching a pot of fresh water to wet Nehna's hair with in preparation for the shampoo, which she applied gently yet evenly across her entire head, lathering and rinsing once again.
Ava helped Nehna to rise and dried her before helping her out of the bathtub, where she dipped a second flannel in oil and rubbed it over her body, then did the same to her hair with a third flannel. She ventured into Nehna's bedroom, allowing her to dry before emerging with a dressing gown which she helped her mistress slide into before bowing and leaving once more.
"I didn't hear your story," Nehna whispered and the woman smiled.
"My story is the same as any other servant, my lady," Ava said. "Serving the Inquisition with honour, and bringing honour to my family in return." She gave a low curtsey. "May I leave to attend to my duties now, my lady?"
"You may," Nehna nodded, and Ava rose and left the room, shutting the door gently behind her as she made her way down the stairs.
Nehna walked over to the sink, thoughts abuzz as she searched for the cleaning paste. Among her clan, they had simply ground sage against a rock and cleaned their teeth with the paste that resulted, but among the Inquisition she had access to finer things. It was made from powdered rosemary stems and cloves, which she rubbed against her teeth with a cloth and rinsed before reaching for the mouth wash. The little liquid contained cinnamon steeped in vinegar with a touch of marjoram, and although it left her teeth white and clean, the aftertaste was not entirely pleasant.
She chewed mint for that, after all, which helped with her breath. It also helped that she did not eat the sweet things the Orlesians seemed addicted to, preferring the simpler meals she might have found among the Dalish. The trail mixes she prepared when they went on travels were largely inspired by the food of her childhood, which was always a strangely emotional experience: a mixture of nostalgia, sadness and a sort of hope for the better all in one.
Satisfied her teeth and breath were acceptable for the day ahead, she applied her cosmetics with a gentle touch: they needed to be acceptable should any potential dignitaries arrive unexpectedly (which had become much more prevalent as of late, with them simply turning up without word and still expecting to be received), yet she wanted it to be simple enough that she wouldn't feel like a prize turkey wandering around Skyhold otherwise. A touch of powdered blush to her cheeks, giving her a rosy glow; kohl to her eyelids and brow bone, accentuating her golden eyes; a soft pinky-red to her lips, followed by some moisturising ointment that Leliana promised would make them shine...
Nehna returned to her bedroom and dressed herself in a peach silk dress and found slippers to match, tipped with pearl drops and barely noticeable little bows on either side. She felt like a dainty porcelain doll, somewhat stifled by the elegance she was now forced to assume, yet even she could admit that the clothes were impeccably tailored, suiting the contours of her body as if they had been designed for her alone... which she realised they had, all of them. The cosmetics she was expected to apply did suit her, bringing out the best of her features, and she couldn't deny the slight smile she got when she saw how glamourous she looked in the mirror.
And yet it would never be something she was entirely used to. Still a part of her screamed slightly inside and longed for the simple practicality of her Dalish robes, her foot wrappings that never hindered her steps the way these heeled atrocities did, the way she had never had to apply powders and creams to her face before, and leave her room feeling like a fashionable noblewoman instead of a simple First-in-training...
She shook her head gently and made her way down the stairs, inhaling as she opened the door into the main hall. There was always a moment of fear as she wondered what strangers she would see next, what whispers they might bring (and in turn make about her), and whether those stares were in approval or awe or shock at the audacity of her dressing above her station, above her place, acting as if she was born and bred for a part she had never been intended for...
She stepped out with a smile, ready to let the throngs of nobles kiss her hand and bow and curtsey to her, edging forward like a flock of timid hens as they sought a glimpse, a touch, a word with their precious Inquisitor.
Nehna Lavellan was ready to face the day.
Finally, it was all over. It turned out that nobody made a surprise visit, and the only appointments she held were once that had been long established. Nehna was perfectly cordial and polite each time, listening carefully and making sure to respond as best as she could. On the one hand, only telling the people visiting her what they wanted to hear would make them think of her as little better than a sycophant, whereas simply telling the truth, especially when it was one they would rather not hear, would leave them sulky and irritable. Josephine had taught her to tread the fine balance of knowing how to respond, and Nehna felt better able to couch the truth in gentle, understanding speech, crafting her words from blades or bullets into silk and flowers. It was still there, after all, and she and every noble knew it, but it was how she said it that mattered.
Josephine murmured her approval once the final meeting was done, chuckling to herself as Nehna let out a sigh of relief. "You do much better in this role than you give yourself credit for, Inquisitor," she smiled. "You are a born diplomat, yet you don't even realise it."
"What I am is a born learner," Nehna replied. "I do not know if I have an aptitude for any one skill, besides obviously my magic and occasional hand-to-hand sparring. But I do have a talent for picking up things here and there." She shrugged modestly. "Perhaps wielding words is one of them."
"Perhaps," Josephine nodded, "yet you are good at it all the same. You should allow yourself praise when praise is due."
"I will try, as best as I can." The two women laughed before Nehna rose from her seat. "Are there any more meetings or... anything else I should be aware of?"
The ambassador shook her head, shuffling an impressive stack of papers in order. "Not currently, no. Should anything arise, I will send word to find you. For now though, you are free to do as you will. I must go over the notes for tomorrow's work, though." She gestured to the pile apologetically. "Unless of course you need anything else?"
"No thank you, Josephine." Nehna gave her a nod that the ambassador returned politely before leaving the room quietly.
Now she was free, there was only one place she wanted to be. Only one person she wanted to see. Unsuccessfully fighting the huge grin spreading over her face, she made her way over to the Herald's Rest, waving as she saw Bull and Krem.
"Hey boss," Bull said. "Fancy a drink or seven? Cabot's got a shipment of some really good stuff just in. Maraas-lok. Much better than the piss you lot call ale." Cabot fixed him an especially lethal glare as he rubbed a glass dry. "Hey, no hard feelings, right? The stuff you make is good, this is just better," Bull yelled over to him.
The dwarf gave him a gimlet stare. "You're the only one fool enough to drink that swill," he yelled back. "It's strong enough to take the varnish off Cullen's armour, you crazy ox."
Bull chuckled. "True enough."
"There won't be a problem, will there?" Nehna asked him nervously. Bar fights had been an entirely unfamiliar concept until she'd stepped through the door, and she was unwilling to see her first one just yet.
"With Cabot? Naah, just banter." Cabot shook his head, but Nehna could see there were clearly no hard feelings. It seemed to be a thing with Bull: he'd get himself into a lippy situation yet walk away with no damage done, in some cases better friends than before. It was... a talent, she figured. "He's got a point though. Dangerous in large quantities, but in small doses it puts a bit of chest on your chest."
Krem cleared his throat. "Don't let him talk you into drinking that thing," he muttered, shaking his head. "Damn near passed out after two mugs, and I'm no lightweight. That shit's strong."
"There you go," Bull nodded approvingly.
"Thanks Bull," Nehna smiled, trying not to laugh, "but I think I'll pass on that for now. Maybe some other time."
"Your loss, boss," he shrugged as he took a long sip, unconcerned. "Aaaah, hits the spot." He belched, and Nehna giggled when Krem pretended to look disapprovingly at him. "Anyway, see you around."
"Bye Bull, Krem." She struggled not to run up the stairs in excitement, knowing who she was going to find at the top. Walking into Sera's room, she was immediately ambushed. "Inky!"
Nehna yelped in surprise, turning around to hug her lover. I wouldn't have it any other way.
"Guess what?" Sera seemed proud of herself, itching to spill the news. Probably a prank of some kind. Her girlfriend thrived on the tiny little instances of chaos she brought about, yet ultimately no great harm was caused, either. It was a morale booster of sorts, she saw. Besides, throwing pies was quite fun. "Inky, here, silly." Sera clicked her fingers under Nehna's nose, bringing her attention back. "Better. Anyway, I got you a little something."
Nehna's stomach churned. She hadn't realised they'd got to the gift-giving stage. Were they that official already? They hadn't even... not yet, anyway. Soon.
"I got you a hat, but it was kind of ugly so I figured... well, I drew Coryphe-split's face on it, so now everyone's hitting it with sticks!" Sera giggled. Nehna blushed as her girlfriend gave her a clumsy kiss to the cheek. "Knew you'd like it. But I don't think the hat's fully there anymore. Bit split up and torn everywhere... just like him!" She ran off to Creators knew where, cackling with glee.
Oh. They were at the gift-giving stage. She couldn't think of a single thing Sera wanted or was interested in besides the things she had already. The amazing bow Nehna had had crafted for her (except that wasn't a gift, more of a practicality), her lute that she occasionally twanged, hideously out of tune... She couldn't even get her cheese, because Sera hoarded that all to herself as it was, and she figured getting more would only encourage her to keep stealing from the kitchens. She didn't need new armour (and that was hardly romantic), she hated sweet frilly cakes, she would probably tear up anything formal Nehna gave her on the spot...
Nope. Nehna was well and truly stuck. What did you get a woman who wants for nothing, anyway?
Apparently she gave you a headache instead.
Cole was little use, as she knew he'd be. He had simply warned her not to get her anything in the Fade, because it would be very, very bad. Aside from that, the young man had simply looked sheepish and admitted he had no idea what to say, so she thanked him anyway and left. Creators knew he'd tried, at least, and being a spirit probably didn't help when it came to mortal, romantic matters and their emotional entanglements. At least he hadn't passed judgement, and seemed genuinely pleased for her.
"You glow more," he whispered, "but she brings it out of you. She is afraid, confused, because if she's alright, then what are they? But you're different and special because you glow. She likes it when you laugh."
"Thank you, Cole. I like it when she makes me, too." Cole simply smiled at her as she left, wondering what the others would think.
She could predict the reactions of two of them, at least, and she wanted to leave those until last. Let them disapprove of me. I'm happy, she's happy, we're happy.
Moving downstairs, she found Bull and Krem. He must have somehow persuaded Krem to drink that foul-smelling liquid, because the younger man was collapsed in a heap beside him. Someone had helpfully dragged a bench over to him and deposited him on it unceremoniously, but it did little to disguise Krem's loud snores.
"He wanted to make a point," Bull sighed. "Anyway, what's up, boss? You look like your head has too many thoughts in it. I'd suggest a drink, but..." He gestured helplessly.
"I don't think I'd need to drink that exactly," Nehna pointed out, "but I'm here about Sera."
"You two are good? I know you shoot puppy eyes at each other but if you need help moving from the battlefield to the bedroom, then I can -"
"No, no!" She waved her hands for him to stop, fearing her lover would appear at any moment and overhear. "I need to get her a gift, but I'm stuck," she whispered.
Bull lowered his voice conspiratorially. "I see." He paused. "Nice one by the way, you and her. But yeah, I don't know anything she'd like either. She just takes things and gets bored a few days later." He shrugged. "I could offer positions, but I don't think they'd be quite her... thing." Nehna blushed. "Might be yours though," he chuckled.
"Thanks, Bull. I should probably be going."
"See you, Boss."
She left the tavern feeling confused. Iron Bull, who read people like an open book... even he was stumped? It didn't bode well for her, not that she was sure what to get in the first place. An elaborate declaration of love? Hmm, maybe not elaborate. That would shut Sera down faster than the word 'Elvhenan.' Still, it should be something passionate, something romantic...
Cassandra. The Lady Seeker's enjoyment of such matters was an ill-kept secret, especially from herself. She would know what to do, surely?
After a brief conversation, it turned out... apparently not. Her friend's eyes had gone wide with surprise after Nehna had asked for suggestions to show how serious she felt, and she had offered a blunt comment about how 'difficult' it would make things. Publicity wise, I can only hope. Cassandra had sighed, revealing she, too, would be of little help. She couldn't even think of a gift, instead coming up with suggestions for jobs that Nehna knew full well her lover would spit at.
Slightly crestfallen but unperturbed, she made her way to Blackwall. The man had chuckled, yet it was a laugh with warmth in it. He was close to Sera especially, so there would be no bitterness or judgement from him either. He had been similarly useless - his advice had ultimately boiled down to 'give her something she likes,' which was about as helpful as suggesting Sera get vallaslin - yet his intentions had been good, so she had not felt as disappointed when she left equally empty-handed. Empty-brained?
I'll ask our resident storyteller, then. He'll have some ideas about dashing romance, no doubt.
Varric's idea of a gift had been... to not get Sera a gift at all. "If she wants something, she'll make it clear," he had teased, which Nehna had to admit made sense. He had written down some of Nehna's more lovesick pleas as the conversation went on, teasing her until she left, only half-pretending to be wound up.
Dorian had been the most sensible, actually, talking about "the Lovers' Red"... until Nehna realised it was yet another joke at her expense. "Any material gift you attempt to give her will go down as well as nug dung," he said pleasantly, and Nehna had left it at that.
Vivienne was predictably scathing, telling her to shave something rude into her privates.
"It might actually work, you know," Nehna admitted, mentally noting down the idea for later. Vivienne merely sighed.
Next came the person she dreaded most to ask. Making her way to the rotunda, she steeled herself for the volley of insults she would no doubt receive. It would hurt, of course, the same way it always did... but she would be armoured this time, and perhaps she could offer a few barbs herself.
He'll listen. Mythal'enaste, I'll make him listen.
Sighing, she made her way over, already feeling dejected.
"Ir abelas, da'len, but I will not help you on this matter." Nehna was sitting on a sofa opposite his table. She fidgeted slightly, trying not to show her discomfort.
"Why is that, Solas?"
"She is as different to me as a horse is to you, Inquisitor. She is no elf." Since she'd got that title, he'd used it with her in nearly every conversation. It was as if he'd almost forgotten her name. He certainly disapproved of her 'dalliance', as he called it, yet she couldn't work out why. Was it really because he disliked Sera, the least 'elfy' of the elves to ever breathe? Was it really because he wasn't jealous himself... or even a little lonely? She wasn't sure she wanted answers.
"But she works alongside you in the Inquisition, Solas," Nehna said gently. "Surely if you can't be friends, you can at least be -"
"Co-workers towards a common goal?" He finished for her, arching his brow. "I believe the only reason for her to stop the Breach is so she can resume chaos elsewhere. Less world-ending, admittedly, but that is all."
Nehna sighed. "Do you really disapprove of my relationship with her that much? Because you dislike her... immaturity?"
"Her immaturity has little to do with it. She is sundered from herself."
Ah. There it was. 'Us' and 'them,' as Sera liked to say. "'Us' is the little people, the ones who get trodden under a big boot. 'Them' is the baddies: the nobles, the higher-ups, those who can't see the wood for the trees. 'I'll crush you, I'll crush you,' but they don't see anything beyond it. Just land and titles, butts for thrones and heads for crowns, all just scratchings on paper. That's all it is to them."
"Perhaps if she has wronged you so greatly, you could teach her. Be a hahren to her, like she might have found in an alienage. A guiding voice, one who listens and comforts."
"Perhaps I could... if what I taught was any interest to her. It would be like teaching a horse to fly - no matter how many words you say, how many hours you spend, it will never be a gryphon."
"I see." She sighed, trying to release the pent up frustration that was slowly building. Nehna respected Solas a great deal - he really was a true treasure trove of knowledge when it came to magic, the ancient days of the People, spirits, the Fade... just about anything and everything. If he didn't know it, he'd look it up and tell you about it tomorrow. Yes, she respected him a great deal, and counted him as a friend, albeit one she didn't always agree with, no matter how much she cared for him and valued his experience... and Sera was one of the greatest things they disagreed on.
"It is not your relationship I disapprove of, lethal'lan." He looked pained. "I only wish... I wish that she was more receptive. From you she might listen, perhaps, yet she would still discount it. She simply bears no interest in the past, and even the barest attempt to teach her brings up a volley of expletives." He shook his head. "She is sundered from herself."
"You said that already, Solas. What do you mean?"
"She is not as she should be. She is apart from herself. She is always screaming inside herself at what she doesn't know, at what she doesn't want to know. She is like a knife cutting through silk, easily tearing apart the things that do not fit into her narrow worldview."
"Perhaps you are the same, Solas." He scowled at her, so Nehna held up her hands in apology. "Ir abelas. I did not meant to offend. I merely meant... well, you are so certain in one way, and she the other. Is there perhaps a middle ground you could reach? Does it really have to be 'my way or the wrong way'?"
He pinched the bridge of his nose, staring at his desk. For a long time he was silent. Nehna wondered if she had truly angered him, and was prepared to move to comfort and apologise when he spoke suddenly. "I will not begrudge you any happiness you can find with her, nor any peace you may find on your path. You deserve that, at least." He sighed. "I will always be available to you, should you need any assistance with matters of the Fade, or spirits, or the ancient elves... but not Sera."
"I understand, Solas. I did not mean to upset you." The regret was evident in her tone. Nehna moved to his side, wondering if perhaps she should hug him. He looked close to tears, but she couldn't figure out why.
"There is nothing to forgive, da'len," he smiled softly, turning to face her. "You are my greatest pupil."
"Your only pupil," she teased.
He reached out to stroke her cheek, a gesture that made her fall silent. "You deserve so much better," he whispered gently. His eyes looked like that of a ghost.
"Better than Sera?" She could feel her stomach clenching, twisting in response.
"No." He shook his head, weighed down in sorrow. "No. I would not begrudge you her, not even that." He turned away, and the hand that had held her fell to his side. It had been a cool touch, she noted, gentle as a lover's... but there was more to it than that. It had felt like a goodbye, and she didn't understand. "You deserve so much better," he said simply, looking as if he was on the verge of breaking down into sobs.
She patted his back awkwardly, wondering what to say. "Ir abelas, Solas," she said softly. "Banal nadas, hahren. I do not wish to cause you pain."
"You could never hurt me, da'len," he responded, still looking resolutely at the table, yet his shoulders shook slightly. "The pain is old... and it is mine to bear alone." He left the room, yet not before murmuring a quick, regret-soaked, "Ir abelas."
"Dareth shiral," she murmured as she walked back into the main hall. Nehna left the rotunda feeling strangely sad, caught in a pain that was not her own, yet one that Solas remained resolute in keeping to himself. She could not help where help was unwanted, and yet to leave him alone in this state felt wrong.
I'll tell Cole, she thought. He'll know what to do. A Spirit of Compassion could heal the deepest of wounds, even ones cut deep within the mind. Entering the Herald's Rest, she called the man down and briefly explained, sending him on his way with a smile. He promised to soothe the pain as best he could, and then he was gone.
With nothing left to worry about, she walked up the stairs, heart pounding with guilt as she thought of the gift she had been unable to procure. I can only hope she'll forgive me, Nehna thought with a pang as she opened the door and found the room empty. Relief hit her, followed by a plague of guilt. She'll find me soon enough, and then she'll know I couldn't succeed.
Dejected once more, Nehna returned to her quarters, wanting nothing more than to kick off her slippers, sink into her pillows - cosmetics be damned - and forget the whole day.
Only her bed was already occupied.
Sera listened as Nehna carefully listed off everyone's reactions and suggestions, then crumpled with her head in her hands. "I just don't know what gift to get you," she groaned.
Sera could only giggle. "Wait, you told them all? About us? Me as your lover? Right under their noses?" Nehna looked up through her fingers, confused... and nodded. Her lover whooped for pure joy, hooting laughter.
Now this is not what I expected. Then again, when had anything that she'd expected of Sera turned out to be true? She had feared that Sera might be yet another elf who regarded the Dalish as a mystical entity, or (worse) almost royalty. Luckily, Sera did neither of those things. She had done none of the successive things Nehna had expected her to do since, either... and that was okay. Sera was Sera, tick boxes and categories be damned. And Nehna loved her for that.
She was doing an impression of Vivienne now, giggling away. Seeing Nehna watch her, she pounced, pinning the other woman beneath her as she smothered her with a passionate kiss, leaving them both breathless and gasping by the end of it. "Best. Gift. Ever," she sighed happily, before screwing her nose up.
"Did you actually do the thing Vivienne suggested, then? You know, all down there -" she gestured, looking very interested. Not in an innocent way, either.
"You'll find out," Nehna smirked. "Tomorrow."
Sera looked curious before raising an eyebrow, realising the implications of what Nehna had just said. "Really? Tomorrow? You're... you're ready?"
Nehna merely nodded, grinning from ear to ear. "Come here, you," Sera demanded, pulling her girlfriend by the tunic as they tumbled onto the mattress. "Best get in a little practice, then."
Ir abelas - I'm sorry
Hahren - elder, a title of respect
Banal nadas - nothing is inevitable
Dareth shiral - farewell, literally 'safe journey'
Mythal'enaste - literally 'Mythal's grace,' a prayer to Mythal (in thanks, begging for something, etc... depends on context); in this case something like 'Mythal have mercy'
Da'len - little one
Yay fluffy endings! Also, Solas isn't sad about his feelings for Nehna (although I wrote it so she would assume it that way at first), but more about his plans. Nehna 'deserves better' because he knows that she won't have enough time with Sera or the rest of her friends, but equally on another, smaller level that she doesdeserve better than Sera because she'll never fully respect 'elfy shit'
unlike him. So... fluffy endings?
Yay, smut next chapter. Smut smut smut smut smut smut smut smut
As loving and fluffy a smut chapter as I could make it. I wanted to make it slightly awkward to try and convey that kind of fumbling, uncertain feeling from your first time, not really knowing what goes where etc., but also to show the trust that the two of them share.
NSFW for obvious reasons.
So... I fear I may have got ahead of myself a little. 'Smut on only the seventh chapter?' Mythal'enaste, indeed.
I hope you still enjoy this chapter though! If not I can... I don't know... offer you Sera-approved cookies as an apology?
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
It's going to happen. It's finally going to happen.
Nehna was caught between nerves and excitement. It was something she was definitely looking forward to, of course - and Sera's teasing yesterday had only made her more flustered in that regard - but at the same time it was... new. Something she had hazy expectations of, but mostly something entirely new. Would Sera please her? Would she please Sera, or would it not work? Worse - would Nehna's efforts disappoint her?
Then came the question of magic. Did Sera like magic in bed? Had she ever tried it before? Would she try it? Would she run kicking and screaming if Nehna suggested it?
Honestly, it was a minefield. The more she tried to reassure herself, saying there was nothing to fear, the more worries spawned in her mind to prove herself wrong. She was so excited, yet the thought of sex still made her panic slightly. Not the act itself but all the trimmings around it. What would Sera want from her? Could she deliver it? Would it be an emotional experience or something quick, just a tumble with no weight attached? Did Nehna want that, if it was the case?
She kicked her bed in frustration then hobbled around jumping on one foot, swearing at the pain until the healing magic soothed it. "Frig," she murmured bitterly before stopping and smiling to herself. She really is rubbing off on me.
But first there were a few things that had to be arranged. A promise of sorts that had to be kept, even though Vivienne herself would be thoroughly uninterested and probably even less impressed if she found that Nehna had gone through with it. It had seemed like a daft and outlandish idea even at the time, yet it was something that would make Sera hoot out laughter.
It's for the best, Nehna thought. Just a little bit of fun. It will grow back, too... eventually. She hunted for her razor and washcloth, made her way to the bathroom and giggled to herself, imagining how amused her lover would be a few hours later.
Once she was done, she made her way to the mirror and admired her handiwork. Two kissing stick figures were lying intertwined, one atop the other, and both were rather... ridiculously endowed compared to either she or Sera, which made it even funnier. She was giggling herself now, imaging Sera pulling down her underwear to find a crudely shaven image staring back at her. Creators, she'll love this.
Figuring she might as well do her whole body while she was at it, she had resigned herself resolutely to the task, applying cooling waves of magic when patches got itchy and healing accidental little nicks that occurred. Then Nehna had had a long and luxurious bath, washing and soaking herself with all the most romantic scented things she could find, and her hair got the same treatment.
Towelling herself down with the help of a discreet heating ward, she couldn't help but admire her reflection, turning from side to side. Woof indeed, as Sera might have said. I can scrub up quite nicely, I think.
The preparations had helped soothe her mind somewhat, dulling down her nerves in favour of sheer anticipation. She played over the imaginary scenario in her mind: Nehna would assertively lead Sera over to her bed, helpfully rid her of all those unnecessary layers of clothing and then... and then...
The possibilities were endless, but they were very, very good possibilities, she admitted with a smirk. Perhaps it was normal to feel somewhat nervous approaching her first time, but that certainly didn't mean she couldn't enjoy herself. Not if I play my cards right.
Sera made her way over to the Inquisitor's chambers as if by instinct, following up the steps she knew so well. Of course, she'd never been up as a lover before, and that made the whole experience much more savoury, really.
She had felt somewhat nervous herself, anxiously brushing at her hair with a comb and fussing with washing herself until she was convinced she was fresher than Andraste's drawers, yet she was determined to present herself at her best. They can piss up a rope. Don't care if they laugh. She matters, so this matters, and anyone who wants to make me feel stupid can drink piss.
She had spent most of her day idly fletching arrows in an attempt to distract herself, yet her thoughts had still run to Nehna often. Most of the time, actually. On the rare moments she'd managed to concentrate, her mind would find a way to twist the situation until suddenly she was thinking about her lover yet again. The curves of her body, the softness of her skin, the sweet honeyed taste of her mouth, the plumpness of her lips and the way they quirked and smiled...
It was all too much, really. She'd never got jittery like this before, but they'd just been moments of little consequence. A finger or two here, tongue there, squeezy hands everywhere... More like a distraction, a diversion, than any passion. It hadn't been the romantic love affair that she imagined Nehna probably expected, all rose petals and harps and singing choirs and melting candles that dribbled wax everywhere (eurggh).
Sera hadn't given it much thought before. Sex was just something people did. You didn't think about going to bed with someone, hearing them moan beneath you or the way they could make your body melt like butter: you just did it, no questions asked. Questions made things heavy and awkward, anyway. You didn't want a life story from someone you were just tumbling with, anyway.
But this was different. This was love, or at least as close as she could get - she still felt anxious using that word, fearing it would bring down some demon jinx on the pair of them. When you loved someone, all your actions suddenly had weight to them. All the little things, like the way you moved, the way you laughed loudly, the little winks and smirks and covert glances... they mattered. It was heavy. It was awkward.
It was everything she'd feared. Love was for bards and novels. Love wasn't for Sera, the loud and foul-mouthed rogue who didn't fit in with elves or humans, who feared change yet knew it was inevitable. Love was... scary. It was new. It was different.
A bit like me, I suppose, she thought to herself as she threw an arrow against the wall, hearing it thunk in place and stay there. Sera knew that people felt uncomfortable around her sometimes, or that they didn't understand her beliefs and mannerisms. She knew that sometimes she thought too quickly, her mind flitting from one topic to the next quicker than most people coughed, but that was just the way it was. She had felt broken for far too long, back from when she was just a young girl with a plate of cookies and a heap of loneliness to match.
Nehna was accepting. She was kind, gentle, loving... she was good. Better than good - she was the best person on this burning, ripped-up demon shitpile of a world, Sera reckoned, and she'd still chosen her. Against all odds and reason, Nehna had fallen in love with her.
She wants me. She sees something in me, dunno what. She's a loony.
Her face softened as she thought of Nehna, smiling as she imagined her lover sitting right next to her. 'You're really good with those arrows, Sera,' she mimicked. 'I wish I had your talent with them! You make it look so effortless! '
"That's because it is, silly. You don't think, you just shoot."
'Usually I have to put more effort into my magic than 'just shooting' things, though. '
"Yeah, well... you're different, aren't you? Mind powers and all that. I've just got my two arms, two hands." She flexed them for Imaginary Nehna's approval, who giggled back at her.
' I love you, Sera. '
It made her heart stop. Even though she was imagining it, the simple thought of hearing those words made her feel all warm and soft inside.
"Love you too, loony." I'll say it too, some day. She'll swoon at my feet and say how romantic I am. Maybe I'll write a poem and say it. A good one, too - none of that sappy crap.
And now it was about to happen for real. She wasn't sitting in the Herald's Rest anymore, pretending to fletch arrows and daydreaming. She was about to walk right in there, and it was all coming true. Slowly, anyway. Take things one at a time.
Breathing in gently and trying to hide her nerves, she cleared her throat and opened the door.
Nehna heard Sera come in through the door and gasp a second later. She had arranged herself into what she hoped was a seductive position, wearing a soft silk robe that was tied in a bow between her breasts, hair artfully tousled on the pillow behind her, and the soft glow of the fire only added to the sentiment she tried to convey.
"Maker take me," Sera whispered. "You look like... so..."
"Good, I hope," Nehna laughed, although it came out somewhat nervously. "I mean, I didn't have much by way of... uh, lingerie, so I... ah..." She tried and failed to fight the developing blush.
"Is that what they call it? I thought it was called 'something I want to tear off,' yeah?" Sera coughed awkwardly, aware that she was still standing at the top of the stairs instead of making her way over to the bed. Shuffling slowly, she wandered over and sat at the foot of the bed, inches away from Nehna's feet, but made no further moves.
There was a strained, silent moment where the two women simply stared at each other, trying to figure out who would make the first move. Instead, Nehna blushed and made a few sounds that came across halfway between speech and a mewing cat, while Sera stared resolutely into her lap, arranging and rearranging her fingers one on top of the other constantly, tapping her foot against the floor.
"Should I -"
"Do you -"
They both spoke at once and immediately apologised to each other. Nehna giggled slightly, still feeling awkward yet trying to see the funny side of things. "I think we might start more easily if we were actually touching, you know," she said softly, mouth curving upwards in invitation.
Sera gulped, uncharacteristically speechless. "Yeah," she muttered, trying to avoid staring at Nehna's chest too much. Her lover had deliberately picked out a filmy silk thing that barely covered anything, only reaching to her hips, and it was difficult to focus if she looked too long.
Easing her way over Nehna's feet, she slid up the right side of the bed to lie next to her, offering her a goofy grin. "Hi, Inky," she whispered, reaching out to stroke her cheek. "You look really good, you know."
"I know," Nehna teased, which made Sera snort. "Well, you said it!" she added in her defence, before nudging her in return. "But you look good too. All clean, for once."
"Hey!" Sera pretended to be offended. "It's not like you can have a bath everywhere you camp, is it, 'specially with no water around some places. All dry and dusty, so there's no point worrying if you can't do anything." She crossed her arms over her chest. "Besides, I wanted to look good for you. Good impression and all that before we get all sweaty, you know?"
Nehna chuckled at that. "But you always look good to me," she smiled. Sera reddened and looked at her own pillow, feeling a little awkward. Praise wasn't something she was accustomed to yet, not even from her lover. Finest woman in Thedas, she is. "I appreciate the effort, though."
They lay side by side for a while longer, simply gazing into each other's eyes with adoring expressions until Sera coughed. "Right. Well, we should make a move on, right? Start warming up before I grow cobwebs."
"Sera! " Nehna snorted, shaking her head, yet allowed herself to be pulled closer until she and Sera were pressed together, arms wrapped around each other's backs.
"You're all warm."
"About to get warmer, believe me."
"I'll believe anything once you - oooh." Sera silenced her with a firm kiss, pulling away a moment later.
"Less talking, more -" She made a crude gesture to which Nehna only giggled.
"Really, Sera, this is meant to be a nice, sweet, romantic moment, and -"
"Loony. Just frigging kiss me already."
It started off gently, softer than before, expressing both their hesitance and nerves in a single gesture. Nehna smiled against her lover's mouth before gripping the back of her head, tightening her grasp on her hair as she gently pressed her tongue against Sera's mouth, uncertain if she should continue further. Sera moaned, deepening the kiss instantly and pulling herself on top.
Her hands explored eagerly, roaming from Nehna's collarbones to her hips and everywhere in between, alternating between simply sliding her fingers over her top to nudging and squeezing. She seemed especially taken with Nehna's breasts, stroking and jiggling them in the palm of each hand until Nehna laughed.
"Someone's excited," she murmured, sticking her tongue out.
"Well... yeah, obviously." Sera giggled. "Besides, that was just for play, really. Wanted to see if you were the type who still laughed when they got all hot and dirty, and guess you are."
Nehna arched an eyebrow in disbelief, an amused smile cracking across her face. "Really? "
"If you can't laugh together, even in bed, then you're not comfortable together, are you? It's philosophy... or something. They use bigger words but I made it make sense." She stuck out her chest proudly.
"I see." Nehna jiggled Sera's breast playfully in return until her lover swatted her hand away. "Well now you know."
"Now I know." Sera looked positively delighted, and her goofy grin was infectious. "Back to the fun stuff, though. Proper, this time." Lowering her lips to Nehna's neck, she gave her a gentle kiss, fluttering as lightly as a butterfly's wing, until she started sucking. Nehna gasped at the hint of teeth, groaning as her lover bit her, clutching her tighter each time her teeth sank into her flesh. By the time Sera was satisfied with her mark, Nehna's neck had a rich purple-red bite on the side, standing out in clear contrast to her pale skin. It was unmistakeable - she flushed red as she thought of having to face the rest of Skyhold in that state, feeling both proud and daring yet vaguely nervous, but none of that mattered right now.
Sera's hands slowly undid the ribbon as her mouth moved lower, peppering Nehna's chest with a trail of light kisses while she removed the robe, throwing it carelessly to the floor, instantly forgotten. Her hand lightly cupped one breast as her mouth gravitated towards the other, licking and swirling her tongue as she moved to the nipple, sucking it as gently as she could. Nehna sighed, arching her back as Sera's motions became more insistent on each side, but she was always tender, far gentler than Nehna had imagined. This felt soothing, just the right mixture of relaxing yet also erotic, and she couldn't help swooning slightly against her lover's body, moving towards the warmth as Sera laughed at her reaction.
Then she swapped places, gently squeezing and pulling at her left nipple as her lips latched onto the right one, tenderly unfurling her tongue and making good on mimicking the motions she had done before. Nehna stifled her moans into the pillow, trembling slightly as Sera's hand snaked its way to her stomach, tracing shapes and patterns that made her shiver and tighten her stomach as fingertips darted and skated about, always teasing yet still promising something more, something tantalising that made her feel desperate and unashamed to long for. All the while Sera smirked, watching Nehna try and fail to disguise her emotions and their inevitable reactions.
"Someone's happy," she whispered, laughing as Nehna nodded, eyes firmly squeezed shut and jaw clenched tight. "But not completely yet, are you?" Her fingers slowly slid further down, tauntingly resting against a thigh. "Perhaps... this?" She rested a single finger inches from Nehna's clit, idly stroking the skin as her lover made a strangled sound and jolted.
"You're... evil." The words came out hissed through gritted teeth. She couldn't help gasping as Sera's finger slowly inched its way closer, still remaining just that slight distance too far for comfort. The teasing had affected her far more than she was willing to admit, and the fact that it was still continuing without a resolution frustrated her to no end. Could Sera not see the way she was beginning to ache, or feel how flushed and heated she was becoming? This was torture.
"Am I?" The other elf purred. "Don't see any evil people doing this." Her finger finally where Nehna wanted it, she began a gentle, slow rubbing, moving rhythmically in a small circle. The loud groan that escaped Nehna's lips was just the icing on the cake; the poor woman's cheeks were so red and hot Sera figured she could fry something on them, and her hips thrust eagerly in encouragement against the heel of Sera's hand. Seeing the Inquisitor, the Herald of Andraste, reduced to such a wanton state was very satisfying.
"See? I'm good after all." She experimented with her movements, alternating between the little circles, then up and down, then side to side before circling again, shifting faster and slower with each change, always looking up at Nehna's face to gauge her response.
Or rather, hearing her response. Her lover was becoming increasingly vocal as her movements became harder and more intense, stuttering as she cried out. Some of what she said was in Elven, which made Sera tense up briefly, but she decided it didn't matter in the moment and she'd ask her Inky later what it all meant. By her tone, it was very dirty.
"Aman na'mis," Nehna rasped. "Isalan hima sa i'na!" At the last word her hips gave a particularly emphatic jerk, and she could feel her thighs trembling already. Just a little longer. She felt so close, but she wasn't ready yet. She didn't want to be finished that early, but Sera's motions were incredibly effective. "Sera, please stop, I want -" She groaned.
Sera gently stopped and lifted her hand away, looking over. "What do you want?" she murmured as Nehna slowly got her breath back.
"I want your tongue," her lover whimpered pleadingly. "I want your fingers. I want your mouth. I want... ah." She felt Sera's breath on her leg as the other woman slowly lowered herself in place, looking up wolfishly.
"You want this?" She wet her lips and licked. It was little more than a simple dart of the tongue, a swipe that was barely more than a second, yet Nehna's reaction was instant.
"Yes," she keened, tightening her thighs around Sera's head. "More." She felt more than heard Sera's laughter in response; the breath on her skin made her shiver with excitement.
"Is that an order, Lady Inquisitor?"
Nehna huffed her breath impatiently. "Sera, please." She was whining in an incredibly undignified way, one the Lady Inquisitor should never be caught doing, and they both knew it. Nehna wondered if Sera was becoming aroused by the fact alone.
"Alright, alright. Coming right up. You will, anyway." Moving closer, she flicked her tongue against it, trying to remember and mimic her finger movements, yet Nehna was reacting differently this time... and far more strongly. She was keening, rutting against Sera's mouth like a woman half-crazed, breathing raggedly and balling a fist around the sheets. Her other hand nervously dipped into Sera's hair, tangling itself cautiously as if acting on instinct, yet still afraid of causing her lover pain. When Sera didn't react, she tightened her grasp, pulling as gently as she could to convey her pleasure.
Sera hummed against her happily, knowing Nehna would feel the vibrations. Her tongue danced around her, licking and lapping enthusiastically as she placed brushed a finger against Nehna's lips. They were flushed pink already, and her lover felt so wet and eager that she was practically inviting her already. Still, she had to ask. "You want this too?"
Nehna nodded jerkily, moaning as Sera slide her finger inside. She inched her way in slowly, not moving until she sensed Nehna was entirely comfortable. Then she began a light thrusting, curling upwards as she moved in and out, going slightly deeper with each return. Eventually her middle finger entered slowly, gently matching the motions of her index until the two returned together, moving in unison. The stretching sensation was overwhelming; Nehna felt the fingers pulsing inside, re-entering her with a satisfyingly slick noise, and each thrust was better and stronger than the last.
Nehna was positively howling with each rock of the wrist, each flutter of the tongue, and the combination together was maddening. There was heat building deep inside her, splintering in waves against her abdomen, and her body moved fully with a mind of its own now. She felt nearly fit to burst, aching from the intensity of all she felt. Her thighs clenched around Sera like a vice as her legs began to shake. It was so close, rendering her delirious and incapable of speech or coherent thought. She could only think of Sera's tongue, Sera's fingers -
"Sera," she groaned, tensing up as her legs jerked uncontrollably. Her body felt taut as she crested the wave of pleasure, feeling it spread out like a tendril from her thighs to her chest, warmly unfurling and melting her entirely. Her legs slowly stilled as she collapsed into the bed, trembling slightly from the intensity of the aftershocks still pulsing through her, and there was little more she could do than sink into the pillow and pant, struggling to catch her breath as the hazy sensations ebbed away.
Sera gently pulled away, giving her one last lingering swipe as she gently slid her fingers out and wiped them on the sheets, crawling up to her lover's side. Nehna's arms enveloped her, pulling her against her in a vice-like grip, and Sera chuckled at how warm she felt, her body slick with sweat. It was like embracing a pool of pure lava, yet she didn't mind burning for a little bit. She didn't mind anything for this loony who made her feel so soppy inside.
Sighing happily, she embraced her lover, shifting her legs until they were all entangled together and just lay still against her chest, listening to Nehna's heart as it raced, beating as loud as a drum. Ba-dum, ba-dum, ba-dum. It made her smile. She may be a loony, but she's definitely my loony.
"Why are you still dressed?" Nehna murmured a few moments later, her voice still somewhat husky. Sera looked down in surprise, realising in her haste to demonstrate her abilities that she had failed to remove any of her own clothing. She laughed, beginning to slide out of her tunic before Nehna pushed herself upwards and kissed her. She pulled at Sera's clothes, carefully yet swiftly ridding her of the upper layers, pausing as she unravelled the breast band. Her eyes widened and lingered on the sight of her lover's breasts, firm and soft to the touch. Her fingers ghosted over them, teasing at each nipple until Sera bit her lip and giggled, half amused and half nervous.
"You know, it's okay if you just lie back and relax a little first," she said, voice shaking slightly as Nehna began to suck. Releasing her with an obscene popping sound, Nehna shook her head.
"It's your turn now, vhenan," she smiled lovingly, although her eyes were lit up with desire. "Isalan dera na aron tuelan," she murmured, peppering Sera's breasts with kisses. "Juveran na su tarasyl." Her lips traced a path upwards to her collarbone, lingering teasingly in reminiscence of Sera's fervent biting.
Sera groaned, but it was hard to tell whether it was in reaction to her or the language. "What does that even mean?"
"A promise I intend to keep." Nehna grinned. "Perhaps I should bite you, too. We could match." She pressed her lips to Sera's neck in demonstration, her breath light and hot as she felt Sera's pulse quicken beneath her. One of her hands slid around the back of Sera's head, holding her close. Her lover nodded jerkily, so Nehna kissed her. Gently, she applied more pressure, sucking and nibbling until Sera choked, clutching her other hand tightly as it lay idly on the mattress.
She moaned as Nehna lightly bit her, feeling the teasing flickers of her tongue pulsing between her teeth. "Ah," she groaned when Nehna stopped, looking satisfied with her work.
"That should... demonstrate my intentions clearly, I think." Where is this confidence coming from? She still felt deeply uncertain of what she was doing - every sensation was too new, too unfamiliar, too confusing - yet something inside was chuckling and taking control, asserting itself as she moved further and further from her own prior experience. Simple, curious fumblings were one thing, but sex was entirely different. What am I doing? She had no idea, yet Sera seemed to be enjoying herself all the same. Perhaps if she tried to mimic what she had done to her, the lack of experience wouldn't be glaringly obvious...
She felt too nervous to voice her emotions as Sera kicked her leggings off impatiently, guiding Nehna's hand to remove her underwear and rest against her curls, slick and damp. "Am I moving too fast?" she wanted to say as she hesitantly lowered her hand, kissing Sera in an effort to distract herself, trying to hide the way her hand shook slightly.
Sera grabbed her by the waist and pulled her until they were touching, yet in her enthusiasm she toppled over, making Nehna crouch over her as their bodies crashed together, legs clumsily intertwined. Maybe if I move my mouth, it will be better. My mouth can't shake and tremble.
Breathing in deeply as quietly as she could, Nehna lowered her mouth to Sera's stomach, leading a trail of kisses from above her navel to the juncture between her thighs, coming to a stop shakily as her tongue felt her clit. I can do this, she thought as Sera sighed, tugging her hair insistently. I can. I will.
Her tongue probed slowly, touching hesitantly with just the tip as Nehna acclimatised herself, noting the way Sera wrapped her legs around her back and yanked. "Come on, Nehna," she murmured, half impatient, half amused. "You act like you've never done this before."
Nehna winced, and Sera laid back still, fingers suddenly slack in her hair. "Oh.... Oh shit." Her girlfriend shuffled backwards from between her thighs and buried her face in the sheets. If the heat on her cheeks could set the bed on fire, the whole room would have been up in flames by now.
This wasn't how she'd planned it at all. Sera wasn't even supposed to notice; she was meant to be confident, not missing a beat, not fumbling and awkward, acting as experienced as she wished she could have been. Of course it didn't work, she thought angrily. You can't fake these things. It's not a romance novel.
There was a long silence that dragged on for what felt like an eternity until Sera coughed. Nehna looked up in a daze, still reeling, and her lover laughed. "Oh, you idiot!" She playfully mussed her hair. "Why didn't you just say? You could have told me, and I would have gone a bit slower or something." She looked a little awkward herself now. "If I'd known it was your... your first time, I would have... I dunno, made it all special or something. Silk sheets, candles..." She giggled. "You're not upset, are you? That I didn't do that? Honestly, Nehna, I didn't know -"
"It's okay, vhenan." Nehna grinned, and the sight of her made Sera's heart wobble. "I don't know if that would even be necessary, really." She leant on one elbow and gave her a long, unabashed look. "I think I'd only need two things anyway, for now. These - " she laid her hand on top of Sera's, lacing their fingers together and giving it a hearty squeeze, "and that." She pointed to Sera's lips. "Oh, and those as well." She squeezed Sera's breast gently, a teasing gesture, before moving to the other one with a giggle. "And definitely this." She slowly shuffled back into place, lips trailing up Sera's leg until they rested suggestively against her inner thigh, tongue darting out with a single swipe before pressing a tender kiss in its place.
Sera groaned. "You know, for someone on their first time, you're a real sweet talker. Honey tongue, you are." She rolled her eyes. "And a damn pain. You going to go back to the good stuff or you just going to make me wait centuries now? Our people aren't immortal anymore, you know. Frigging idiot."
"Alright, alright." She winked. "But a little teasing is okay, right?"
"But not anymore?"
"Because now you want -"
"I'm going to chuck a pillow at you if you don't -"
"Alright, got the message!" Now... how does this work again? Her bravado seeped away as Nehna was faced with the very real fact that she still had no idea what she was doing. There wasn't exactly an instruction manual for this (or none of good repute), and though she knew she was unlikely to hurt Sera, she still wanted it to feel good. As good as she could, at least. She looked up hesitantly. "If I... if I go a little slower, is that okay? I'm still not sure exactly what I... how this..."
Sera sighed, but this time good-naturedly. She smiled down at her lover and stroked her hair to drive the point home. "It's alright, Inky. If you'd rather not, then it's all good. We can just -"
"Ah, no no no no no," Nehna blurted out. "I do want to do this, I really do. A lot. Really. I just -" She breathed. "I'm a little nervous. I don't want to hurt you -"
"Alright, so I wouldn't, but I don't want... I want it to feel good, but I don't know how... umm..." She trailed off.
Sera patted her head. "'s all good, innit? The fact you're doing this is good, really good, and the fact you haven't even done it before? Even better. Just means it means more, maybe, but that doesn't make it bad if you're scared." She grinned. "You know, it's good of you, actually. Don't think most people would be thinking about their partner right afterwards. I mean, not that that's bad, but it's just, you know..." She blushed. "I mean, some people get caught up in how they feel because they feel so good, so they don't exactly want to, you know, do more. But you're different."
She is. She really is. She's better than I could have dreamed. "So it's really, really good. Point is, don't worry, you know, if it's not exactly perfect. The fact you tried is good enough." Sera winked. "Besides, even if I don't come right now, doesn't mean I won't. Just means it's like a thing to learn or whatever. And I've always got these to even it out." She wiggled her fingers and Nehna laughed.
"Okay." She breathed in, feeling a bit more reassured. "But I'm still going to try, okay?"
"Okay, honey tongue. I'll see if you've really got a honey tongue now."
"Bet I do."
"Bet you don't!" They both giggled.
Nehna tried very hard to remember what she'd done before, but in the end she found herself moving more on instinct than anything else. It's okay. It's all okay. Anything goes. When Sera rested her legs on Nehna's back and groaned, she repeated her motions with greater intensity, flicking and licking and just losing herself in it completely. Who knew that just a simple series of alternating tongue movements could make her girlfriend squeal and tremble like there was an earthquake beneath her? Or the way she gently moved her fingers, slow and hesitant, made Sera clamp her thighs on her wrist so tight that she could barely move, so she knew it was a good feeling? Or near the end, when Sera was groaning and cussing like the world was ending, that pleasure had a taste all of its own, and a series of rockling, helpless movements as Sera's body shook taut as a bowstring?
It was amazing. She felt utterly delighted seeing her lover squirm, feeling how tight her abdomen was clenched or the way her feet had kicked out just for a second. Then seeing Sera's hazy, flushed face with her hair splayed out in a messy golden halo, or the way her cheeks had reddened so much they were practically glowing... and then when Sera had reached out clumsily, yanking her up on top for a clumsy kiss, groaning as she tasted Nehna's tongue...
I wouldn't trade this for anything in the world. The two women lay side by side, hands grasping and pulling each other closer until their hearts were beating one against the other in a fevered rhythm. They remained like that for a long time, basking in the glow of their shared pleasure and the joy of the moment, simply listening to each other's breathing. All was still and quiet, and all was very, very good.
"Will you teach me?" Sera asked quietly, so suddenly it almost made Nehna jump. Seeing her lover's confusion, she explained: "Will you teach me what those words meant from earlier? I know it's elfy shite, but it sounded... it sounded interesting."
Nehna grinned wolfishly. "Of course. It's very dirty, though."
"Even better. Now I know what to tell Droopy-ears when he walks past all grumbly."
They both laughed. "Ugh, do you have to mention Solas though? In bed? Right after sex?"
"Good point. He's a mood kill and a half." They giggled together, teasing and insulting the poor apostate further until Sera groaned. "Inky, you still haven't said what it means yet."
"That's true." She paused. "I just... I said it in Elvhen because I felt a bit embarrassed saying it out loud properly," she admitted. "It described how I felt and... what I wanted to do to you."
They both blushed slightly, but Sera smiled even wider. "Alright. So whisper it in my ear. Dirty shite is better than 'elven glory' shite any day."
So she did, and Sera cackled, throwing her head back and laughing so loudly Nehna wondered if they could hear it on the rooftops. "Really? Maker, those old crumblies really knew their stuff, alright."
"I guess they did. At least with sex."
"Yeah! None of that superiority shite, though. They still got conquered in the end!" Sera giggled, but Nehna stayed quiet. We are the Dalish: keepers of the lost lore, walkers of the lonely path. Sera's laughter rang hollow in her ears. We are the last of the Elvhen, and never again shall we submit. She was the last hope of their long-dead ancestors, and to mock their struggles seemed disrespectful at best.
Still, politics is the death of the bedchamber, and she remained quiet, keeping her objections to herself. It was a discussion for another time, and one she never really wanted to have. Not with Sera, the least 'elfy' elf she could think of, who decried all Dalish as smelling like halla and shitting in the woods. She loved her, she really did, so much that she felt her heart might burst... but this...
"What's up, Inky? Your head's gone back a thousand years." Sera prodded her cheek playfully, though her tone didn't quite meet her eyes.
"Just thinking how good you look, that's all." It was true. "Naked, pressed against me... my saliva still on your thighs..."
"Eurggh, gross!" Sera made a nauseous expression while Nehna laughed. It was an obvious, clumsy change of subject, but it was back to a topic both of them were more comfortable with. "Wait, are you suggesting round two? Already?"
"No. I mean.... yes? Maybe?"
"Shh, just teasing you. I think I'd need a bit more rest first. Dunno 'bout you. You're like a bloody firework, you are, all raring to go."
"I love you, Sera," Nehna whispered, then stopped suddenly. Shit. You don't say that in bed, do you? A thousand thoughts whirled in her head: confusion, regret, anticipation, joy, pain...
Sera looked at her intently for a second before smiling herself. "Frigging loony," she murmured, fingers trailing down her neck. Nehna was hesitant, waiting for her girlfriend's reaction; the inevitable 'wrong moment' speech.
She was pleasantly surprised when Sera kissed her. "Love you too, Nehna. You really do have a honey tongue."
The two women curled up together, tightly entwined, and began dozing off to sleep in each other's arms. A passionate, lingering kiss, followed by a few more whispered declarations of love as their eyelids began drooping and yawns were exchanged... and then they were gone.
Translations: (from the wonderful FenxShiral!)
• Aman na'mis - I (sexual) need you
• Isalan hima sa i'na - I lust to become one with you
• Isalan dera na aron tuelan - I lust to touch you like a creator / I will touch you like a god/goddess
• Juveran na su tarasyl - I will take you to the sky.
Hopefully reading this wasn't as bad as I feared! I wrote this on a rainy day with nice music in the background so I hope that it has a nice cozy, loving feel to it, even though it's 50% smut. xD
I kind of wanted to make it quite relaxed and very giggly because I think Sera's the kind of person who can appreciate the funny side of sex - I mean, the body does strange stuff and makes weird noises and sometimes you can't really help it, so to be able to laugh off any awkwardness is a real sign of trust. Plus I think it really fits with her carefree nature, so I wanted to make this sort of a less serious 'losing virginity' chapter and more of a relaxed, happy moment where there's no real judgement and they're just pleased to be with each other. Fluffy smut = best smut.
Sera and Nehna enjoy each other's company, and Nehna learns that her life doesn't always have to be controlled and perfect all the time. Also, cookies.
Seeing Nehna lying next to her the following morning made Sera lurch slightly when she realised it wasn't a dream. It was real, and all this was real too. She had a lover, a woman who really loved her; Nehna wasn't in it for just sex - she'd made that clear enough, seeing how it had taken them a while to actually get there - and it certainly wasn't for money. Sera snorted at that; the Inquisitor, who had some of the richest coffers and supporters in southern Thedas, being in anything for the money was stupid enough, but she wondered if Nehna was even familiar with the concept. She wasn't sure just how sheltered the Dalish were from the politics and intrigues that spiderwebbed through Thedas's landscape, but she couldn't imagine Nehna being that kind of woman. That sort of shrewd selfishness was more for the likes of Vivienne, she reckoned.
Still, watching her lover sleep soundly was quite sweet. Nehna's hair billowed out from underneath her like a little cloud, the consequence of tossing from side to side and constantly shaking it out of the way, and Sera had the strong, irresistible urge to stroke it, to wind her fingers through the inky tendrils and smooth it out of the way.
As she was gently doing so, Nehna murmured something and turned to her side, rendering Sera's efforts moot as her hair moved with her. Still, she could only laugh - very quietly, of course - and watch her with a mixture of affection and amusement. She didn't think the Inquisitor, the Herald of Andraste in all her shining glory, had ever been watched this intimately before, and that only amused her further.
Eventually her elbows started creaking as she tried to move, her whole body stiff and aching, and Sera swore to herself as she tried to slide closer to Nehna and wrap her arms around the other woman. She could practically feel the heat radiating off her; was that a mage thing, or a blankets thing? Both is alright, I guess, she thought to herself, then stopped.
This growing complacency with Nehna's magic was... new. It wasn't weird anymore, not exactly - it was more of a 'still getting used to it' scenario, except she'd found herself actually getting used to it for quite some time now. It no longer made her hair stand on end when Nehna lit fires with a flick of her wrist, or the way that little wisps sometimes followed her around playfully until she distracted them with sparks, or half the other magic things she did. It wasn't scary anymore. Of course, the random apostates they sometimes still found lurking in wait were still scary, but that was different. They were dangerous, whereas Nehna was...
Well, she is dangerous, just to the right people, she reminded herself. Nehna was skilled with combat magic, no matter how much she liked to modestly say otherwise, and the conflicts happening around them all the time had only brought that into sharper focus and honed them even further. Her lover could really hold her own, she reckoned, and when Sera was shooting arrows and Nehna was busy exploding things and their hits combined.... Wow. Sometimes she even enchanted Sera's arrows midair to burst into flames that crackled across their enemies better than any of her Tempest potions could, and that was pretty awesome to watch, too.
She's one of the good ones. That wasn't doing her enough credit, though. Sera screwed up her face, trying to think of the strongest compliment she could give her lover, when suddenly Nehna was wide awake and looking at her, utterly amused.
"Try not to think too hard, love," she said, a grin cracking across her face. "I don't want you to get wrinkles too early."
"Haha, so you're the funny one, now?" Sera grinned back, seeing her lover snort in reply. "Good morning, Nehna," she whispered, suddenly overcome by emotion.
"Good morning, Sera," Nehna smiled, pulling her down with a giggle as their mouths clashed together a little, angling herself so she could kiss back properly. Her lover hummed appreciatively, but as they pulled apart she noticed Sera's cheeks were wet. "What's wrong?" She was alarmed at how suddenly the mood had changed, but Sera shook her head with a sad smile and rubbed her tears away with the back of her hand, hiccupping a little as she looked down at her with such an adoring expression it made Nehna's heart melt.
"You're not just one of the good ones," she murmured, caressing Nehna's cheek so softly she may as well have been silk. "You're the best. Too bloody good."
"Too good?" Sera said that often, and it always made her a little anxious. Still, she tried lighting the mood anyway. "Well, that's only because you make me that way. I've got all your goodness in me, too."
Her lover's face crinkled up, and for a second Nehna was afraid more tears might come. Then Sera grinned at her. "There's my honey tongue. All those words: you trying to make me melt or something?"
"Perhaps." They both giggled and the brief sadness passed as quickly as it had come. "You know, you could wake up here more often, too." Her tone was inviting and suggestive all at once, but Sera merely laughed.
"What? Me? All of Skyhold would talk about it." Her jaw jutted out stubbornly. "Still, they can't stop me. I'll come when I can." Sera giggled. "Oh, that wasn't even intended, but I'm not taking it back, oh no."
Nehna shook her head in amusement. "So, are we going to actually wake up now the sun's up and shining, or..."
Sera kissed her cheek. "We could," she admitted. "Or we could go sideways for a bit longer and then get up."
"You assume there'll only be one round, then?"
"Oh Maker, I've found a diamond here! Hush, you. Don't give me ideas."
Thoroughly sated and then thoroughly washed afterwards, Sera and Nehna were ready to meet the day. Nehna had applied a light scattering of makeup to her face while Sera opted to go with none at all, but both dressed simply - Sera just wore what she had from yesterday ('s not like it will kill me just a day longer, is it?'), while Nehna picked out a cotton blouse and red leggings with black boots that Sera eagerly laced up, pressing kisses to her knees and ankles every so often.
Nehna lifted her hands up above her head and yawned, smiling appreciatively. "It's not often I get a chance to just relax. There's always a meeting here, a mission there, and then all the endless letters." Clicking her tongue, she turned to face Sera and wiped all thoughts of work from her mind. "But I'm going to enjoy this day while I can for once. The weather's nice, too."
"And the company?" her lover offered hopefully, to which Nehna just chuckled and squeezed her hand.
"That's the cherry on the cake, Sera." I don't think I'll ever get tired of her saying my name like that. Never.
Walking through the courtyards hand in hand, they were met with respectful nods and salutes, but nobody came to bother her. Josephine had decreed that she could have this day off, at least, in light of all the pressures she'd faced recently, although the other woman had warned that these kind of one day breaks wouldn't be frequent, either.
Still, the temporary nature of it all didn't faze her. Nehna was so happy and calm that she could have sworn there were lutes being plucked each step she took; she felt as light as a breeze with Sera by her side, just taking in the scenery and ambience that normally she was denied the chance to.
Eventually they ended up in the tavern on the balcony by Sera's little room, kicking their feet off the side of the roof and smiling at one another. Sera rested her head in Nehna's shoulder and placed a hand on her thigh, but other than that the two women were content to just be still and quiet together, simply enjoying the moment.
It was rare, Sera noted, that she herself was this quiet either. She was always doing something: the brief, meagre attempts at what passed for 'work', yes, but a lot of pranks and messing around, too, until she was chucked out of the kitchen or wherever else she was by an angry team of servants who then welcomed her back with open arms a few days later. It wasn't often that she just sat still, doing nothing. The little sketches here and there, or even her clumsy, half-hearted efforts at plucking the lute that had somehow made its way to her room... even that was something, she acknowledged.
This? This was nothing, but a good nothing. A little oasis of calm, something you could dip your toes in every so often, but it never lasted that long. There was always something more.
She shook her head. I'm not thinking of that on a day like this. Sadly, Nehna felt the little motion against her collarbone, and any attempts Sera might have made at subtlety were gone when her lover looked down at her with an amused half-smile.
"What's up, wrigglebug?"
Sera giggled. "Wrigglebug? Really?"
"Well, you're all wriggly and antsy right now, so I figured -"
"Ah, you can't tell a good joke. That's the problem." She collapsed into a fit of laughter, covering her face with her hands and shaking her head. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry! It was really cute! But it just sounds so... so..." She laughed even harder this time until even Nehna joined in a little, still bemused.
"So if you get so many nicknames to call me, why don't I get any for you?" she asked, and Sera stuck her tongue out.
"You do, obviously. They just have to be good. Like... like not that for starters." She shook her head, still smiling widely.
"I'll think of something," Nehna promised earnestly.
"You loony." They stayed like that for a little longer, twining their legs together and enjoying the sunshine until Sera tapped her on the back. Nehna turned around with a quizzical expression, slightly amused by her lover's sudden excitement.
"You know what we need to make this day extra good, Inky?"
"Cookies," Sera breathed, then giggled. She leapt up and scampered away in the direction of the tavern's kitchen. Nehna sighed and rolled her eyes. This wouldn't bode well for Cabot and the cook. Sera's attempts at baking, or cooking anything really, often turned out more disastrous than even the bloodiest fights they'd been in - it would be safer being around a dragon than letting her have free range around an oven. Or fire in general. Or just food.
Oh you, she thought as she creakily got to her feet - why do I sound like an old woman? - and walked after her.
It turned out that Sera hadn't burnt anything by the time Nehna reached the kitchen after all, but Cabot was shaking his head grimly. "You know she's a customer, right? I know she lives upstairs and all, but..." The dwarf just sighed and went back to polishing tankards, muttering something about nugs and stubbornness.
Sera had predictably made a mess of the table. The cutters had been dumped in a pile as the elf got to work making dough. Nehna noted that she was trying to evenly measure out the ingredients, but she remembered the last batch had been quite salty. Maybe I should help. Just in the background, so she doesn't think I'm insulting her.
"How's it all going, then?" she asked.
Sera turned around with a gleam in her eye. "They're going to be really good. Can't you just smell that?" She sniffed the air dramatically. "I mean... you can't right now, I guess, because the dough's not ready, but... eurgh, you know what I mean!" She patted the worktable space next to her. "Want to help? You can make the dough while I do the icing, yeah?"
Icing? "Sure thing." Nehna rolled her sleeves up and went over to look at the ingredients. As she'd suspected, Sera had gone a little heavy on the savoury and sparingly with the sweet. When her lover wasn't looking, she put half of the salt back in its jar and added an extra pinch of sugar for good measure, just to make sure. After a bit more preparation, the sugar cookie dough was ready.
"Okay, we'll make a clean batch of about three first, just to make sure it doesn't get burnt or anything like that, right? So I'll just make a little more dough to the side, start on that properly and then -"
Sera swatted her arm with a ladle. It wasn't a hard tap, but the message was clear. "Come on, Nehna. These are fun cookies, not serious cookies. If you want everything to go perfectly, you ask a baker. But if you want to just mess around a little where nothing matters much -" she came closer and tapped her cheek "- then you bake with me. Then it's all good." Sera went back to her bowl of icing, humming as she poured in dyes without a care for any measurements. Seeing Nehna watch her, she rolled her eyes mock-dramatically but spoke in a much gentler tone this time.
"Just relax. Let it happen. It's alright, Inky. You don't have to be the mighty Inquisitor all the time, perfect at everything. Mistakes happen, but it's okay."
Nehna stopped to think for a while. She'd thought they'd been going for perfection, trying to make the best cookies they could to iron out the bad taste, so to speak, that Lady Emmald had left behind. She'd thought that making everything work properly would erase any bad memories so that they could make new ones. Better ones.
But that didn't matter. Sera didn't want rigid measurements or rules, not just for a little fun. That's what this was, after all, she realised. No ulterior motive, no trying to compensate for childhood trauma, although she suspected that was there, too, subconsciously at least. This was just how it appeared - messing around in the kitchen, throwing things at each other and giggling - and to overthink it would mean it wasn't fun anymore. Worse, it wouldn't be the light-hearted little moment Sera had planned... even if it wasn't planned, technically.
"Okay, Sera," Nehna smiled. "Fun cookies it is." Her lover gave her a grateful, reassuring smile before the two women went back to their respective tasks. Nehna even added a little more salt, just because.
Eventually the cookies were all done and shaped, ready to be iced. There had been enough dough for four, so they agreed they'd both ice two each. Sera drew bees and hearts, along with "Nehna and Sera forever." Nehna tried something a little more intricate, going for elven style murals with flowing vines and leaves, and even tried writing "Ar lath ma, vhenan" in the Elvish script. She hadn't written in it much, admittedly, beyond sessions with Solas, so she felt nervous after she put the icing away and finished.
Sera, on the other hand, was very impressed. "Even if it is elfy shite," she said with a slightly dismissive gesture, "you make it look pretty." She put the cookies on a tray and slid them into the oven.
"So it's alright, then?"
"Of course! Anything and everything is alright in Sera's kitchen." Or rather, the kitchen she'd taken over from the servants, who were politely occupying themselves at the other end of the room and pretending not to notice anything.
Still, the intention was sweet, so Nehna kissed her cheek. "You know, I could give you vallaslin with the icing," she suggested teasingly. "I think you'd make a great Andruil, what with your bow and all."
Sera shuddered slightly, although pretended she hadn't. "Yeah. I guess. If it's just for fun, then..." She screwed up her face for a few seconds before giggling. "It's better that it's icing. Makes it less serious, more funny, because you know those loonies would just lose it completely seeing something like that -" she pointed to Nehna's own vallaslin "- with something like this!" She laughed heartily. "You can't take anything seriously if it's icing, so it's good. Gives you something to do while they're baking anyway, yeah? Besides, I think someone would die if they tried tattooing elfy dealies on me. They'd lose an eyeball. Or their actual balls."
Nehna laughed at that. Andruil was famously stubborn too, daring anyone to challenge her as she hunted. Well, right now Sera was daring anyone to take her seriously as she happily stripped the vallaslin of any significance while Nehna carefully applied streaks of red to her face. It both made her happy and hurt a little, and she wasn't sure why.
By the time she'd finished, the cookies smelt about ready too, and Sera's half-joking mocking tirade against the Creators was interrupted by her excitement.
"They're done! Oooh, you smell that? Smells like heaven." She sighed happily as she opened the oven, sliding on gloves impatiently as she firmly grasped the tray and nearly dropped it in her haste to reach the sugary goodness. "Ah, they look amazing. Smell amazing. Bet you they'll taste amazing." She picked up one - Nehna realised with a jolt it was one of hers - and nibbled at the edges before reluctantly putting it down. "Guess it needs a bit of time to cool down, though."
Sera screwed up her face, irritated at this flaw interrupting her plan, before lightening up again. "Ah, we can just put them on a plate and take them back upstairs with us! Plus then we'll be out of their hair." She shot the servants an apologetic glance, which they acknowledged politely. She placed the cookies down gently on the nearest empty plate, put her gloves near the washbowl and ran off with the plate, giggling like a child at Wintersend.
Nehna followed behind, amused as ever at her lover's antics. Sera was carefree, easy to please and even happier to please others. In both senses, she noted with a blush. Sure, maybe she was a little stubborn sometimes, or even immature. Yes, she definitely had a thing about the Dalish, and that wasn't something easy to gloss over.
But Sera was a joy to be around. There was always something going on around her, often even because of her; never a dull moment, then. Others often struggled to see behind her flaws, although Nehna hated to call anything about her lover a 'flaw.' Instead, it was just aspects of her personality and nature - the building blocks that made Sera, Sera - and to try to suppress one side in favour of the other, or to criticise and condemn, was to cherry-pick her right down to her very core.
She really did love Nehna, deeply and earnestly, and Nehna loved her back just as strongly, and certainly not in spite of anything, as some claimed. Nehna loved Sera for the sum of her being, 'flaws' and all. Besides, she wasn't perfect herself: wasn't she the one who, initially uncomfortable taking charge and giving out orders, now struggled to act in situations where she didn't feel in control? Or the one who had struggled to read for longer than she was willing to admit, having barely learnt the rudiments while on the road?
Not all of us are heaven-sent, she mused, or so faultless that the Maker himself takes us as his goddess and bride. But as Varric might say, it's the trying that counts.
Besides, it was difficult to be sad or contemplative when Sera was licking off her vallaslin, saying how tasty it was. "If all elfy stuff tasted this good or whatever, I think I could get into it more," she said, happily eating half of one of Nehna's cookies and winking. "Or maybe I'm just biased now. Don't think all the halla-humpers could taste half as good as you, anyway."
"Sera!" Despite her embarrassment and Sera's giggling (and follow-up filth), Nehna smiled. Her clan would probably be horrified to hear Andruil's arrows being likened to Sera's fingers as they 'hunted' - or if they weren't, Sera's hand gestures would certainly get the intended response - but she wouldn't have traded her lover for anything else. Or anyone else.
Even if she did succeed in somehow finding innuendo for each one of her gods. She was barely able to start talking about the Dread Wolf's fur before Nehna stuffed the other half of the cookie in Sera's mouth and smiled.
Hopefully you all had a good Valentine's Day! I had planned for this chapter to be up in time but my work spiralled out of control a little so I decided to lengthen it to make amends. Enjoy some fluffy cookie goodness!
Also, thank you so much for reading this! Seeing all the comments, hits and kudos and knowing that people enjoy reading my work just makes me feel so happy. Nuvas ema ir’enastela.
Thedas's most daring/dynamic/delinquent/delightful duo return! Nehna reassures Sera about their relationship, and tooth-rotting fluff ensues.
Did you think I'd abandoned this story? Oh no, my friends,
I'm not that mean.
I've been really busy lately with exam preparation and revision because uni is an absolute chore, but my first year is basically finished so I kind of have a little more free time than I did before, so I can get back to updating more frequently again! (Idealistic Author is Idealistic and Deluded.)
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
When Sera and Nehna were both called to see Josephine in her office at the same time, neither of them really understood why or what was happening. 'Trouble' of some kind, presumably, and Sera was full of ideas.
"I bet you some noble prick saw us kissing and is all offended because Her Ladybits wants to tumble with a commoner," she explained, chucking an arrow with a thunk. It landed as a bull's eye on the target board on her door, but she didn't seem especially interested or excited. Nehna saw the expression in her lover's eyes, and it alarmed her: Sera was unhappy. Perhaps she was worried about how it might affect Nehna's reputation in the complicated cat-and-mouse dance of politics. Perhaps she thought their relationship wasn't stable enough. Perhaps she didn't love her anymore.
No. Don't be ridiculous. Even a blind nug could see how much Sera loved Nehna, and she didn't need any convincing on that account. She loved her daft rogue back with her whole heart, and seeing her lover in such a state made her unhappy too.
Humour generally helped smooth things over with Sera, so Nehna tried lightening the situation. "You know, I'm a commoner too," she said gently. "I couldn't even read that well before I joined the Inquisition, anyway."
Sera wasn't convinced; she made a face like a squashed grapefruit and twanged at her bow irritably. "Yeah, you're a commoner or whatever, but you've still got a title. That puts you a step above the rest of us, you know. Nobody cares who crushes us."
"Nobody's going to crush you, Sera. You'd just shoot arrows into their gut before they could even get within ten paces of you." Nehna waggled her eyebrows. "Besides, isn't crushing you my job? You never complained before."
"Ugh. Not helping, loony." Sera's mouth twitched slightly, but she was too miserable to really rise to the jokey, playful banter they normally had, so Nehna dropped it. She moved closer, resting her head on Sera's shoulder, and gave her hand a gentle, comforting squeeze. I'm here for you, it said, and the gesture seemed to calm Sera. Her previously tensed shoulders relaxed, and there was the ghost of a smile playing on her lips as she wrapped an arm around Nehna. The two women sat there in comfortable silence for a while.
"I'm sorry, vhenan," Nehna whispered, breaking the silence. "I just wanted to help by lightening the mood, but I wasn't paying attention to how you were feeling or what you might need."
"Maker, that's a wieldy sentence and a half," Sera chuckled. "You always end up spouting essays whenever you talk, Inky. It's kind of cute." She pressed a kiss to Nehna's cheek. "Besides, it's not really your fault, anyway. I just... I feel.... ugh!" She kicked her heel back against the wall in frustration, swearing moments later from the pain.
A swirl of healing magic moved from Nehna's fingertips to Sera's heel, glowing a faint blue-green as it trickled and pulsed its way over her skin. Cooling enough to relax her lover and ease the physical pain, but also a tacit sign of comfort and affection; the magical equivalent of a hug, perhaps.
"Why do the noble pricks have to ruin everything?" she sighed. "Pissheads, the lot of them."
"Why do you assume it's nobles, Sera? Or even that it's a problem?" Nehna turned to face her lover, offering her a gentle smile. "Maybe we're being summoned as a reward for good behaviour. A nice holiday on a warm island somewhere in thanks for all our hard service."
"Oh, you're insufferable, you are! Besides, wouldn't it make sense to reward us after Coryphysplash kicks it, not before?"
"True," she admitted, "but you can't deny it's a nice thought."
"Anything can be a nice thought, though. Your efforts to teach me elfy shite are nice thoughts. The way you're always so patient and Maker-damned good is a nice thought." Sera groaned. "That doesn't make any of the bigger stuff into little stuff, though. It just grows."
"I... think I understand." Nehna paused. "Are you worrying about the letter because of what you think it implies about us?" Seeing her lover's expression, she continued: "You're scared that just by virtue of sharing my bed, you're going to cause some kind of scandal?"
"You're big now. Really big. Even if maybe there's a few who don't know who Nehna Lavellan is, everyone knows who the Inquisitor is. And I'm..." Her throat tightened. "I'm little. I'm just going to get in the way. Maybe not now, but eventually. That's how it always goes." Her eyes looked so sad that Nehna could hear her heart breaking in half.
"Not true for us," she said firmly. "We went against everybody's expectations, didn't we? I'm Dalish, you're a city elf. I'm a mage, you're a rogue. I like to be in control and make things perfect, you go with the flow and change when everything else does. I'm the serious, boring one, and you're the fun little firework."
"Pfft, you're not the boring one. You know how to use words like a weapon, and I..." Sera let the sentence trail off, but her sense of inadequacy was obvious.
"You're better than me in loads of different ways, vhenan. You're a people person, and you're good at putting folk at ease and connecting with others. You can get rid of tension with jokes, no matter how dirty, and you're always having a good time. You can even outdrink Bull... almost," Nehna added with a teasing grin.
"I mean, that's the trick, right? If you get distracted by the nitty-gritty, you kind of forget all the little things around you. You lose track of things that matter because you're thinking of other stuff that matters, and you need to think what matters more... maybe?" Her lover shrugged. "Besides, I'm not always having a good time. This hole in the sky? Fucking terrifying. Magic? Kind of weird, but there's you to make it better. Weird creepy demon Fade crap? You explain it so it makes sense. People who should have died ages ago walking around ruining everyone's day? Totally not what I signed up for."
Sera shivered slightly. "But then you need someone to be happy anyway, right? Someone to lighten it up like... like a firework. You need a distraction, and I'm really good at knocking people's focus. I'm so good, I do it to myself half the time. Maybe. Anyway, point is that you need someone to make other people happy, and mostly I'm fine as can be, but then some stuff? Yeah, could do without it."
"You know what I couldn't do without?" Nehna whispered, leaning in conspiratorially. When her lover shook her head, she lit up with a crooked grin, pulled Sera closer by the ear and whispered, "You."
Sera giggled. "Loony! Isn't Her Ladybits meant to be all grim and scary? And then you're here all goofier than a five-year-old."
"Only for you, vhenan. You bring out the best in me."
"The worst, more like." The two women embraced and kissed, smiling into each other as they relaxed together for a long, easy moment.
"As the Inquisitor, of course I have to worry about scandal," Nehna began a little more solemnly, and Sera's face fell. "I have to think about the right connections and maintaining them, and all the weird diplomacy things Josephine makes me get up to. I'm the public face of one of the biggest groups in Thedas, or at least I sort of represent them, and so there's a lot riding on these shoulders."
She sighed. "It's pretty tiring. I can't really get a break from it because who would fill my shoes? And who would want to, more like? I wouldn't wish this job on Corypheus, and that's saying something."
Nehna paused. "But there's one thing that makes it better. One little respite, one calming touch, one grin and cackle that lights my heart up and makes me all warm and fuzzy inside. You're the one person I have to help me feel like Nehna, not the Inquisitor, and I treasure that. I love you, Sera, and I'm not going to let any 'noble prick' take that away from me." She grinned. "So no matter the scandal, the outcry, the buildings falling apart as our lovemaking tears apart the fabric of the universe while the Divine screams condemnation at us? I'll take it all on, because you're worth all that and more." She formed a fist and punched an imaginary villain.
"Maker, you make everything into poetry. My honey tongue." Sera was practically melting.
"Only because it's true. Ar lath ma, vhenan."
The kiss was longer this time, slightly more passionate than the last one had been. Sera's embrace grew tighter and more insistent, her hands wandering to very inappropriate places after a brief attempt at a civil façade; they clutched and grasped as if she worried Nehna would be rent away from her otherwise. She just couldn't get enough of her lover's smooth skin that was practically made for squeezing, and the indecent sounds escaping from her lips as Nehna swooned under her touch only made it better.
By the end of the kiss, Nehna was gasping and redder than embrium, but she shook her head shyly. "We shouldn't keep Josie waiting," she said bashfully, coughing as she tried to restore decorum and clear her mind of the dirty thoughts that had cropped up while Sera was handling her breasts.
"Sweet talker you might be, but you can't resist a kiss either." Sera waggled her eyebrows, ignoring her lover's playful swat. "But you're right. Plenty of time for fun after we get all the dull stuff out of the way." With great reluctance, the two women hopped down from Nehna's desk and made their way slowly to the stairs, although not before Sera squeezed her buttocks playfully, winking to Nehna's answering yelp.
"I wonder what she wants, anyway?"
"Maybe you're right after all, and we've earned ourselves a nice long holiday somewhere warm and tropical. No Breach, no Inquisition... no underpants?"
"You love me for it, Inky."
"You're right," Nehna admitted. The door to her quarters was getting closer now, and then they'd have only a few steps through the hall until they got to Josephine's office. She was in no hurry to make her way there, and by the looks of things, neither was Sera, but business had to be attended to. Whatever it was.
"Did you mean it when you said you couldn't read before you came here?" Sera asked, and Nehna stopped in her tracks, fingers laced round the handle.
"Why did you remember that now, of all things?" She asked it teasingly enough, but it was a direct, disarming question. Straight to the point, just like an arrow flying to its target. Fitting for Sera, then, she supposed.
"Dunno. Just did. And that's not an answer, Inky."
Nehna drooped slightly. "I did," she admitted, and Sera hooted.
"Really? You couldn't read? I grew up on the streets of Denerim in the Blight and I thought I had it rough, but... Wow." She shook her head in disbelief.
"Well, I could, but not much," Nehna said quickly, feeling slightly defensive now. "I only learnt as much as necessary to get by with shem - human signs in marketplaces and things if I was ever called to go in to trade things."
Sera didn't seem to notice the slip up that she'd quickly corrected, so Nehna carried on: "Aside from when we had to trade with local settlements, and the smaller the better (for our safety and theirs), there wasn't really a need to read anything. All our knowledge is passed down orally, because only the Keeper and their First learn to read and write in Elvhen, so there's no need for written scripts and so on. We learn what we need to get by outside of our clans, but nothing beyond what we need to survive. So, to answer your question.... no, technically I couldn't read."
"So who taught you?" Sera blurted out, seemingly oblivious.
"Josephine," Nehna said through gritted teeth. "Josephine did, and Josephine is the one we're going to see soon enough, so if we could all stop talking about how stupid I was and how I'm some barely educated apostate drifter, I'd really appreciate that." All the tension seeped out of her in one venomous instant - Nehna simply sagged, turning her face away in shame.
There was a long pause.
"I'm sorry, Nehna," Sera said quietly. "I wasn't thinking. I don't think you're stupid, either." She reached out, and when Nehna didn't flinch away, she laced her arms around her and brought her lover close in a gentle, apologetic hug. "I'm sorry," she whispered into her ear. "It doesn't matter, and I don't think any less of you. It just surprised me, that's all." Pulling away to give her a quick peck on the cheek, Sera added: "I still think you're perfect, you know."
Nehna tittered. "It's okay, Sera. I understand, and perhaps... perhaps I got a little more defensive than was strictly necessary. I just felt... I feel..." She exhaled. "It was something I was very aware of when I became the Herald of Andraste, and I felt like I didn't belong in this brand new world. I wasn't used to life outside of my clan, and all of a sudden I had to constantly learn and adapt to something I don't even fully understand."
"So, when she found out I couldn't read, Josephine was... well, as shocked as you were just now. Then she arranged daily sessions for me, teaching me to read and write with the patience of a saint until we both agreed I would be able to get by, even if scrutinised by... I don't know, Empress Celene, maybe?" She shrugged. "It was tough, and so many times I wanted to just give up and hide. But if I'd thought like that when I was struggling with Elvhen, then... then so much would have been lost for the next generation. Just as in the Inquisition, in the clan I am more than just myself. I'm a part of something bigger, to educate, protect and inspire. That's what kept me going, and that's why I can read just as well as any king today," she added, sticking her tongue out.
Sera was momentarily speechless, but recovered quickly. "You're smarter than anyone, you know," she grinned. "Don't know many who'd be willing to learn something not for their sakes but someone else's. But you're way better than most people anyway, so it doesn't surprise me. Just shows you've got a mind sharper than a knife. One extra reason to be proud of my Inky, then. I'll add it to the list," she teased.
"Thank you, Sera," Nehna smiled. "It means a lot to hear you say that. Just one extra reason why you're my vhenan, so I'll add it to the list."
"Ar lath ma... Sulahn’nehn’ara...” Sera whispered hesitantly. It felt strange, not quite fitting on her tongue, but she wanted to try. Nehna had tried so hard to fit into the human world, forcing herself to integrate into a whole way of life that was entirely alien, and it wasn't fair if she didn't do the same for her.
Elfy shite was still weird, definitely, and she didn't think it would ever stop being slightly uncomfortable for her, if she was being brutally honest. But Nehna meant something to her, and this meant something, so even if she didn't entirely understand the Dalish world and her lover's upbringing, culture and religion, then she'd be damned if she didn't at least shake hands with it.
"Did I even say that right?" she murmured to herself, belatedly noticing Nehna's eyes watering. "Hey, hey, what's wrong?" Tears were bad. Very, very bad. Sera had probably ended up cursing Nehna's whole family or something. Shit, shit, shit. This is why you don't mess with elfy shit. She'll hate me forever.
"Nothing's wrong," Nehna sniffed, drying her eyes on the back of her hand. "It was beautiful. You said it perfectly. You sounded just like any other Dalish elf. Nuvas ema ir’enastela, vhenan. Andruil'enaste."
For the third and final time, the two lovers kissed. It was quick, as both were mindful now that Josephine was waiting for them, but it was gentle and loving. When they parted finally, their smiles were both warmer than any sunrise.
"Ar lath ma, vhenan," Nehna whispered, giving Sera's cheek a final kiss before grabbing her hand. "Now, let's see what Josie wants, hmm?" Giggling, the two women left Nehna's quarters and walked down the hall, not caring who saw them or what any visitors might think. Even the noblest of noble pricks can just eat it.
As ever, thank you to FenxShiral for all the Elvhen in this story:
Nuvas ema ir’enastela, vhenan. - Thank you so much, my love. More literally, 'May you have great blessings.'
Andruil'enaste. - literally, 'Andruil's blessing,' but in this context it means something more akin to 'May Andruil bless you' or something similar. I felt that would be an apt offering towards everyone's favourite archer minx.
Sulah'nehn'ara - 'my song of joy.' Nehna's full name.
Thank you for sticking with this story and patiently waiting so long for updates! It really makes me so happy that people love my two favourite girls so much, and that people actually enjoy reading the things I write. Thank you all.
Also, the summons from Josephine? It's about the Winter Palace, so next chapter will address that and all the ramifications that Seravellan will bring. Sera's not entirely wrong to worry about scandal(s) - and this is Orlais we're talking about, after all - but everything will work out in the end, I promise.
The Inquisition responds to the summons for the Winter Palace, and Nehna and crew begin preparing - some more happily than others... Until somebody else requests their time, that is...
Fingers laced tightly together, the two women walked to Josephine's office. Nehna knocked for politeness's sake, but it was clear she and Sera were expected from the way they were both quickly hurried inside. Josephine looked flustered as she walked back to her desk, moving mountains of paperwork aside in search of a particular scroll. Nehna and Sera stood close nearby, waiting patiently for whatever was coming. Or tried to, at least; Sera had begun to fidget, muttering something as she tried to stay calm, so Nehna gave her hand a reassuring squeeze.
"Nehna, you have been summoned to attend a ball at the Winter Palace in Halamshiral by the Empress Celene of Orlais personally," Josephine said once she found the relevant scroll, reading out the letter in the Empress's succinct, tidy hand; it was neither too florid or plain, getting the message across clearly while seeming to neither beg or require their attendance too greatly.
"The Empress wants me to go to Orlais? To... a ball?" Nehna was bewildered. As the Inquisitor, she had attended more human gatherings and talks than she could possibly remember, always staying polite and civil and never rising to the bait when issues around elves or magic were raised. Still, those had been fairly simple to deal with, and had required nothing more than sharp focus and a healthy dose of wit; she had never been required to dance. Certainly not dancing in public before the eyes of a nation so famous for their brutal Grand Game, which could make or break a noble's reputation through something so simple as coughing... or so she had heard, though she wondered if people were exaggerating for her benefit.
"It is a great honour. She requests the company of the Inquisition, which shows that she and the people of Orlais now recognise our importance as an organisation, even if her letter appears to say otherwise," Josephine told her. "It would be prudent in the time leading up to this event to invest in relevant lessons for everyone, lest we make a social faux pas in their eyes. The court would pick us to shreds if that happened."
She shuddered slightly before recollecting herself. "Dancing lessons, of course, though I admit I am... not sure of the likelihood of the Empress dancing with you herself. Still, it is important to be familiar and comfortable." She stacked the scroll elsewhere, found a scrap of parchment and began writing notes. "You will need to learn how to play the Game, too. The court will be judging you as much from appearances as your actions."
Nehna nodded. She was vaguely familiar with how it worked. "Leliana described it to me as a dance herself, once," she said. "Intrigue and seduction, ambition and scandal, always trying to make your opponents falter and fail while never being directly linked to anything, but always appearing involved. It was... confusing," she admitted.
"Pointless, more like," Sera grumbled. She scuffed her boots irritably. "Nobody says anything that means anything, and when they do, it's dangerous. They just prance around in masks all day sniping at each other and gasping like they're above it all. They play with words, thinking they're so smart and brave, and nobody actually does anything."
Privately, Nehna agreed, but said nothing.
Josephine shook her head firmly. "It is of the utmost importance that we do not ruffle any feathers in Orlais." The ambassador shook her head, sighing. "Our fame has grown drastically within these past few months, and the fact we are granted an audience with the Empress is of no small significance. We may be more powerful than ever, but in the eyes of Orlais, we are still a fledgling organisation. This appearance could make or break our reputation throughout Thedas."
She put her head in her hands and groaned. "My wrist is aching just trying to draft a reply that will meet the Empress's standards, and now my head is swimming with all possible thoughts of how this could end disastrously."
Sera grinned. "Don't worry, Josie. You can use words here better than anyone else when it comes to keeping people humble, right? Just make sure they don't get ahead of themselves and we'll all be good."
"That would be easy if they weren't one of the most powerful nations in Thedas," Nehna teased.
"Ugh. Don't remind me, please."
"I will need to arrange a fitting for the Inquisition's outfits," Josephine continued at a hurried pace. "We will need to look immaculate, utterly beyond reproach. Oh, and suitable cosmetics. I will need to send birds to Orlais to see what is in the latest fashion there. I am not as familiar as perhaps I should be," she admitted, "although it changes so frequently that... ah, no matter. Leliana will be beyond thrilled to assist in this, I'm sure."
Josephine looked quite excited herself; she clapped her hands and gave a little squeal. "Oh, I haven't been to Orlais in so long! It will be so interesting to see if anything's changed since the last time I was there!"
Sera shrugged and gave her a nonchalant look before counting off on her fingers. "There's a pretty butt on the throne, lots of unhappy servants getting unhappier, ridiculous fancy crap that just gets fancier, poncy noble pricks who can't see past their noses,... oh, and have I mentioned how boring it is?" She groaned. "I'd rather drink my guts out in a tavern somewhere than go to a ball."
Josephine sighed. "Perhaps if you feel so strongly, Sera, then may I suggest that you don't -"
Sera's neck practically snapped as she turned to glare at her, and the ambassador instantly fell silent.
"Don't go?" Sera yelled. "You must be joking. I'm not letting her -" she pointed at Nehna "- go there without me. She has no choice in this whole thing, but I do, and I'm sticking with her. I don't want her going into some... some hornet's nest without a few bees at her back." She grinned. "That was like poetry, wasn't it? I practiced a couple of times, you know."
"Poetry for the soul, vhenan," Nehna assured her with a smile, kissing her on the cheek. Sera beamed, proud of herself.
Josephine cleared her throat. "Then if you have no objections, I'll add you to the rota so I know who to prepare for." She smiled. "It's going to give me a massive headache sorting this out, but I couldn't be happier. Oh, the little frilly cakes! I hope the Empress Celene serves them at the dinner!"
She shook her head, growing serious once again. "Perhaps if you are coming after all, Sera, then..." She coughed, embarrassed for a moment. "Perhaps we might schedule in a few extra etiquette classes for you?"
Sera rolled her eyes. "I know what this is about. You're going to say I don't use enough fancy words, or I don't bow everytime someone breaks a sweat, or I don't do this and that so some noble lady doesn't have a fainting attack looking at me. Then you're going to say I need to go to a hairdresser's so I don't walk around looking like something died on my head, and you're going to say I need to work on my smile so some rich prick doesn't shit himself looking at me."
She looked exasperated. "Then you're going to say, 'Don't say shit or fuck or pissballs or anything else like that,' and then I'll say, 'Great, you've just taking all my words away, aren't you?' Then you'll tell me not to be sarcastic or rude or offensive to anybody, don't even think of doing any pranks, don't mention Red Jenny, and whatever you do, don't look at Empress Celene." Sera glared. "That about sums it up, yeah? Got it out of the way for you. I just know you're going to list all the thousand ways I'm no good at any of this shite, so I just did your job for you."
Josephine sighed. "Sera, that's not what I meant. You can be a little coarse at times, that's true enough, but I wouldn't say it's impossible for you to attend at all. There just need to be... well, certain considerations."
"Certain considerations can kiss my hairy arse."
"Such as... well, not telling anybody to kiss your arse, perhaps. Or the word 'arse' at all, under any circumstances."
Sera groaned. "Look what you've got me into!" she said, turning to Nehna. "Going to this poncy place just for your benefit, you know. No doubt I can't even drink there because their wine tastes like horse piss, and they'll say ladies don't drink beer or ale or some daft shite like that. Then I'll have to talk to all these stuck up prats about when Divine Galatea took a shit or how many caprice coins you need before someone thinks you're smart enough to tell your own joke without laughing at it."
"I'm not sure if the history books ever recorded when Divine Galatea took a shit, actually. Maybe you could ask a servant if there's a relevant book in the Empress's library," Nehna suggested.
"Oh, shove off it. Don't tease me when I'm serious, Inky. Even from you, it's... uggh!" She kicked the corner of Josephine's desk then yelped, breaking out into a torrent of curses.
"Didn't you learn the last time, vhenan? Besides, I don't think the Empress would be able to cope with such language," Nehna teased, directing a stream of healing magic to Sera's toes.
The other elf gave a sigh of relief before glaring again. "Hey, I said no teasing, right, and that means no teasing. Not even to cheer me up or anything," she grumbled.
Nehna gave her shoulder an affectionate squeeze in apology. "You know, you really don't have to go if it upsets you so much," she said gently. "I promise I won't be offended, you know. I wouldn't want you bored out of your skull just for my benefit, or uncomfortable, or... well, any of the negative ones, really."
Sera gave her a crooked grin. "I won't be bored, you know," she told her, adding, "because I'll have you to stare at all night. Certain parts especially," she winked, and Nehna flushed a deep shade of crimson. Sera made an obscene gesture and leant over to whisper in her ear before she was interrupted.
Josephine coughed. "Yes, well.... that's that then, yes? Everybody's happy, so now I just need to send the right birds to the right people. It will take weeks to get all this arranged as it is, and the ball itself isn't for a while at least. There's no rush, I suppose, but still..." She turned back to her parchment, fiercely scribbling down a few more notes.
"May we leave now, Josephine? Unless there was something else you wished to discuss?" Nehna asked.
"Oh, nothing more for now. I'll arrange the lessons and fittings when I can, but you'll get a note about them soon enough. For now, just keep your eyes peeled. Oh, and do try not to put on any weight between now and the ball," she added with a mischievous look.
"I'll do my best," Nehna assured her with mock seriousness before turning to walk away. She noticed Sera had already scampered off without waiting, so she turned back to the desk. "Oh, and Josephine?"
"Yes, Inquisitor?" The ambassador looked up from her notes, quill still in hand.
"I'd appreciate it if you went a little more gently with Sera on this," Nehna said, lowering her voice. "It's not something either of us are used to, I know, but it's more stressful for her than it is for me, I think. She just needs a little more time to get used to the idea, so please just -"
"Hey, Inquisitits!" Sera peeped through the doorway with a roguish grin. "You coming or what?" She giggled. "Well, all in good time I suppose, but still."
Nehna flashed her a smile. "Be there in a sec!"
Josephine nodded. "I promise I will take that into account next time. I apologise, Inquisitor." She offered her a little bow. "And of course, I forgot you had never been to one of these events either. I will do my best to ease you into this environment as smoothly as possible. Both of you," she added.
"Thank you, Josie."
The ambassador gave her a wave before turning back to her work, so Nehna left the room and shut the door behind her.
Within seconds, Sera wrestled her to the wall and peppered kisses around her throat. "You took too long," she murmured against her collarbone. "At least you don't take so long in -"
Nehna coughed, reddening quickly. "Perhaps we could continue this discussion elsewhere?" She gently pushed Sera away but gave her an eager smile. "There's a better place for it, anyway."
She looked around, making sure nobody had seen or overheard them, but there were only servants in the hall currently. They were all occupied, discreetly ignoring the couple, but Nehna still felt slightly uncomfortable giving them such an uninhibited display in public.
Sera grinned. "Right you are, love. You always are."
"Not always," Nehna teased, swatting her arm as the two made their way to the Inquisitor's quarters, hand in hand.
"Oh, you are about the stuff that counts. Like this..." She kissed her cheek as she opened the door wide enough for them both to slip through. "And this." Sera gave Nehna's backside a hearty slap.
The Inquisitor's half-embarrassed groan and her lover's giggling rang out into the hall as Sera closed the door behind them. She locked the door, just to be on the safe side... and for the servants' sakes.
When they were finished, Nehna rolled over onto her side and kissed Sera, who was still lying on her back. It was a short kiss, but sweet and gentle; the two women were still sweaty and panting, and they were too tired for anything more passionate than a brief peck. Their hands laced together again as Nehna leant on her other one, looking adoringly into her lover's eyes.
Sera was still slightly flushed from their lovemaking, but now embarrassment made her even redder. "What are you getting all moon-eyed for, love?" she whispered, hoarse.
"Just you," her lover replied, beaming at her.
Sera felt as if her heart was going to burst out of her chest, but she tried to act nonchalant as if she'd heard it all before. "Oh yeah? What about me?" she teased.
"Hmm." Nehna pretended to think. "How good you look all sweaty?" she suggested with a wink.
Sera giggled. "You loony. You're meant to say I'm glowing, or something."
"I thought I was the one who glowed. It's kind of my job, you know."
The two women laughed. Sera turned on her side, shuffling closer until their foreheads touched. "Daft, you are," she whispered. "Still love you, though."
"I love you too."
They lay like that for a while, legs lazily intertwined, listening to each other breathe and waiting until their heartbeats slowly returned to normal.
"Reckon you want another round?" Sera teased, ghosting her fingertips across Nehna's belly.
Her lover shivered. "It's tempting," she admitted, "but I think I want to go for a walk. Get some fresh air, you know?"
"I know what you mean." Sera sighed. "Tumbling is really fun and all, but the room gets hotter than a forge afterwards."
"This might help while we get dressed." Nehna sat up and held out her hand, concentrating as she cast a glyph of ice onto the floor. A cool, refreshing breeze instantly picked up and wafted around the room.
"I don't know if I'll ever get used to your magic dealies," Sera admitted, "but it's damn useful, that's for sure."
"Truer words were never spoken."
The two women got out of bed, groaning as their joints creaked while they bent over in search of their hastily scattered clothing. Nehna slid into her smalls and was just tying her breastband when Sera had an idea.
"Hey, you know how you can do lightning and all that shite?" she asked. When her lover nodded absently, fixing her clothing in place, Sera continued, "Well, can you use that in bed or what?"
Nehna looked up, startled, and Sera giggled. "What, you never thought of that? You're the mighty Inquisitor. You think of everything."
"I don't think of sex most of the time, Sera," Nehna said, fighting her blush. When the other elf looked at her expectantly, she sighed. "I... suppose you could," she said hesitantly. "It's combat magic, and I don't really know, but in theory... Honestly, I've never even thought of that before, let alone tried it."
The last part was a lie. One night, she had sneaked out of her family aravel, wandered a safe enough distance away from the clan so that nobody would hear, but not too far that she couldn't run back to safety if need be. Kneeling in a patch of dense grass, she had tested her newfound lightning spells on herself, hesitantly at first before gradually growing more confident. Once she had been able to control the current more easily, the gentle electric pulses had been very effective, and she had been grateful that the distance and a thoughtfully applied ward muffled her cries. After she had hastily made her way back to her cot, mindful of the squeaking floorboards and her parents close by, Nehna excitedly thought about the other potential ways she could use the spell, wondering to herself if any other mage had put it to similarly lewd practice before.
Her thoughts must have showed more clearly on her face than she had intended, because Sera laughed heartily. "You're lying, I bet you are! I bet you tried it on yourself at least once! Ooh, you're blushing! It's true? You dirty old -"
"You brought the subject up," Nehna reminded her. "And..." She sighed, shoulders sagging slightly. "Yes, I did. Once," she added, hastily.
Sera's head tilted. "So, if it's safe for you, you could... you could use it on me, right?"
"I could," Nehna said slowly. "Though it might take a while to work out certain things, like how strongly you'd like it, or for how long, or -"
"Hey, don't strain your brain, Inky!" Her lover teased. "This is fun stuff, remember? It doesn't have to be perfect." Sera giggled. "Besides, I wasn't asking like I was expecting you to drop your pants and demonstrate now or something. I don't even know if I'd want that right now, anyway. Just curious for now, you know."
"Curious about... sex magic?"
Sera threw her hands in the air. "Well, what else is it good for?"
"I don't know. Healing, combat, nature, spirits..."
She groaned. "Sometimes you're insufferable, you know. All literal and that. Can't take a joke."
Nehna gave her a wolfish grin. "Yet you suffer me all the same."
"You have me there."
Once the two women were dressed again and Nehna had removed the ward, they made their way out of the Inquisitor's quarters and wandered along the battlements. The air was cool and crisp, and Nehna tilted her head back to let it playfully move her hair along her shoulders. Sera watched her with a soft expression and was about to murmur something loving when Thedas's best-known dwarf turned up out of nowhere.
"Enjoying the view?" Varric called out with an impish grin.
Sera rolled her eyes. "Should've known you'd turn up and ruin the fun. You probably crawl up towers and shit so you can eavesdrop for inspiration on your next big story."
The dwarf staggered from an imaginary dagger. "Oh Buttercup, you wound me with your acid tongue. And here I thought we were getting along famously." He shook his head, turning to Nehna with a twinkle in his eye. "I know it's not professional to mix business with pleasure, but I hope you'll forgive me this once, Nehna."
"Certainly," Nehna teased, "though it depends on the favour."
"Smart woman." Varric beamed. "Turns out there's another smart woman you might be interested in meeting. Aside from you, of course, Buttercup," he added, offering Sera an apologetic bow.
"Don't care," the elf shrugged. "I know she's mine. No competition, anyway."
"I love your humility, and I suspect there's a grain of truth in that statement hidden away somewhere. Either that or a thinly veiled threat, but my companion won't make any attempts on your blossoming relationship, I assure you. Now, if it was another friend of mine, I suppose she might tease you a little and -"
Sera groaned. "I thought you came to invite Her Ladybits off to meet someone. Your friend will have died of boredom before you finish rambling, you know."
He chuckled. "True enough. I never did learn to hold my tongue, I suppose." He gestured further along the battlements. "Nehna, if you wouldn't mind?"
"Of course." Nehna turned to Sera with a questioning expression, who merely sighed.
"I get it," she said. "Inquisition business or whatever. Just find me afterwards, alright? I'll be in the tavern. Don't take too long or I might drain Cabot's barrels."
"And where would we be then?" Varric smiled. "Skyhold would fall apart without an unquenchable supply of alcohol. That's the secret to any good organisation, of course. Not discipline or structure - ale."
"Yeah. What he said." Sera kissed her, breaking away with an anxious look that she tried to hide. "You will find me, right?"
"I promise," Nehna told her solemnly, before adding teasingly, "I won't be gone that long!"
Her lover looked disbelieving for a second before perking up again. "Bull's horns!" she blurted out, giggling. "That's it! Right, bye love. I've just got an amazing plan. Ooh, Cabot would kill me." Sera ran away cackling.
Nehna turned to Varric. "What do you think that was all about?"
The dwarf shrugged. "Beats me. I thought you were the one in Buttercup's head."
The elf rolled her eyes, half-exasperated. "And I thought you were the storyteller who could imagine all possible scenarios."
"What is this, 'Insult the Dwarf Day'?"
"Maybe. I have the power to decree that, you know. I could make it tomorrow," she teased.
"Ah, come now, Nehna. I thought we were friends."
The pair walked on in silence for a while until Nehna couldn't bear it any longer.
"Alright, what's this favour you want from me and who am I meeting?" she demanded.
Varric sighed. "And I thought Sera was blunt. Can't we have a bit of dramatic suspense along the way?" When she arched her brow at him, he crumpled a little. "Look, I want to tell you, but..." He looked around. "There might be spies about. I don't want to blurt it out, just in case... well, you know."
"Just in case Leliana turns up with a bow at your throat?" she giggled.
"I was thinking more Cassandra," he said glumly. She looked at him questioningly, but he didn't elaborate.
Nehna looked ahead. She could see a figure in the distance standing at ease, gazing out over the mountain range. They seemed vaguely familiar, although still too far away to really make out any features.
"That's them, right?" she asked.
"The one and only," he grinned. "Someone I've wanted to introduce you to for a while. Getting her here was... a logistics nightmare, to say the least."
Nehna was about to offer a quip when she stopped. They were a few feet away now, and she could recognise the stranger as a woman. A mage, too, judging by the staff strapped to her back. But what really took her breath away was the stranger's face as the woman turned to face her, offering a jovial smile, and then she realised exactly who she was talking to.
"Hello, Nehna," the woman said. "That is the right name, right? It would be just like Varric to tell it wrong to me."
"I swear, nobody in Skyhold has any faith in me," Varric chuckled.
"I've got faith in your abilities to smuggle people in without anyone else noticing," the woman laughed. "But where are my manners? I'm pleased to meet you, Inquisitor Lavellan. My name is - "
"I know you are," Nehna blurted out. "You're Hawke. You're the Champion of Kirkwall."
"Oh, please don't worship me," Hawke teased. "I'm not really the worshipping sort."
"Our up-and-coming Breach destroyer here has an enemy in common with you, now. I figured it would be a good idea for one darkspawn slayer to meet another," Varric said.
Hawke raised an eyebrow. "Corypheus? But we killed him years ago. You were there, Varric."
He shrugged. "We thought we did. We thought a lot of things about him. Turns out they're more false than... well, Hard in Hightown 3, for starters."
The Champion of Kirkwall groaned. "So there's more chaos to deal with?"
"Just like the good old days, Hawke."
The other woman looked at her feet in silence. Nehna tried her hardest not to stare, but it was fairly difficult. Here was a fellow Free Marcher, a hero whose name was known across all of Thedas... It was hard not to feel small in comparison, either.
"I'll leave you two alone, then. Talk it through. It won't make any more sense to you than it does to me, but it's a good place to start." Varric wandered off, leaving the two women with an even more awkward silence between them.
What do I say? Nehna had no idea. Fabled heroes didn't just wander into Skyhold as a regular event, and she had barely met anybody more powerful than a Keeper before becoming the Inquisitor.
She was still struggling to form a coherent sentence in her mind when Hawke sighed, facing her with a weary grin. "I think I'll need a drink before I talk about it all over again, don't you? Actually, make that a flagon." She began to wander in the direction of the tavern before turning back. "You're coming too, aren't you, Nehna?"
She nodded and hurried along, hoping she wouldn't trip over her toes as well as her tongue.
Yup, I'll get the whole ISYB scenario out of the way then turn back to the really pressing issue gripping Thedas right now - will there be frilly cakes served at the Winter Palace?
Hawke bonds with the inner circle, and Nehna notices a few sparks flying in very unexpected directions...
So yes, this is a slight break away from Varric's secret plan and the Crestwood situation and instead just a friendly tavern conversation between newly made friends. Oh, and an excuse to throw in the first few seeds of background!Adoribull, so there you go.
Also there's a brief discussion around homophobia. It's nothing in depth, but if it makes you uncomfortable to read and you'd prefer to skip ahead to the next chapter, you aren't missing any major plot points here either.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
As it turned out, Hawke was almost as good a storyteller than Varric. Maybe even better, Nehna mused, although the dwarf would be unlikely to ever admit it. Too proud, she thought with amusement.
Still, Hawke had the entire tavern enthralled as she sat, tankard in hand, and regaled them with tales of her adventures, ranging from dragon-hunting to more mundane anecdotes on Kirkwall life. Then again, Kirkwall's 'mundane' was still thrilling in comparison to anywhere else.
The entire inner circle had gathered around a long table, and even the Chargers had piled in on stools at the side. There were even people sitting on the stairs and peering from the landing; the whole of Skyhold had turned out, it seemed, just to see the Champion. There was little question of them all being able to hear her, at any rate, but her audience seemed content enough just to hang on her every (half-heard) word, watching her mime gestures for their benefit.
"Oooh, tell us about Isabela again," Sera breathed, still dizzy from a hastily gulped down flagon of ale. Her head was resting squarely in Nehna's lap now, and she had drooped sideways until half of her lurched off the bench in an S shape, but Nehna was hardly complaining.
"Where do you want to start?" Hawke asked with a mischievous glint in her eye. "'Bela gave me enough stories to last a lifetime, and I'm not sure if even half of them were true. Shows what you get for trusting a pirate," she chuckled, sipping her mead slowly.
"Is it true you two fucked or something, then?"
Nehna nearly choked. "Vhenan, I don't think we can just ask that -" she began to rebuke when Hawke shook her head.
"No harm done. Can do with a bit of bluntness every so often. And to use your turn of phrase, yes, it's true we fucked. Once," she added, her eyes settling on somewhere in the distance. "We were both slightly drunk, though still sober enough to know what we wanted and what we were doing. She's a good friend of mine, still." Hawke chuckled. "I think Isabela sleeps with all her friends at some point or another. Feelings make things messy, or so she tells me, so who better to get it on with than someone you're close to but who doesn't think of you that way?" She shrugged. "I don't know. It made sense at the time, anyway."
Sera snorted in amusement but said nothing more, preferring to burble into Nehna's abdomen as she turned her head away.
"I suspect your experience of being in the Fade was interesting," Solas said politely, changing the subject. "How much lyrium did it take again?"
"More than I could count," Hawke admitted, "but enough to carry four people. Well, technically five if you count Feynriel, I suppose, but he was already there, so..." She shrugged. "Magic." She wiggled her fingers with a smirk.
"Yes, very astute observation," Dorian laughed. "Just wiggle your fingers and... boom."
"You mean you have to think about casting spells? Are you sure it's not too advanced for you, oh mighty Magister?" she teased him.
"I know you're just joking, my dear, but I'm certainly no Magister. I am an Altus, though." He puffed out his chest without thinking, revelling in pride for all of about five seconds.
"Oh, sit still, Dorian. You're worse than a peacock strutting around," Bull tutted.
"I'm better dressed, for starters."
"Possibly." Vivienne arched her brow. "A peacock might be a bit humbler, actually."
"You wound me, madame."
"I thought all mages were called Magister in Tevinter, though." Hawke's face was the very picture of confusion.
Dorian sighed. "Really, I know the south is a veritable backwater compared to the Imperium, without exaggerating, of course, but... Look, a Magister is someone on the Magisterium. That's like..." He waved his hands, irritably searching for a comparison. "The upper house of the Senate, whatever that is here. It's split between the Chantry, the Circle, and then Altus families like mine, who are all mages. So no, not every mage is a Magister and not every Magister is a mage, either. Does that clear things up a little bit?"
"...Only a little, I'm afraid."
He wrung his hands in half-hearted frustration. "Maker, the ignorance of some people. Truly shocking, I tell you. It's all going to the dogs."
"Was that a deliberate jibe at the Champion's ancestry, Dorian?" Bull teased.
"Oh, beyond a doubt. She's a woman who can take a good joke as well as tell one." Dorian looked over at Nehna. "Apologies."
"Does everyone think I can't tell jokes? Or take them?" It would have hurt more if she hadn't been bemused in the first place. She'd thought the Champion was a Free Marcher like herself, not Ferelden. It explained a few things she hadn't understood before about Varric's story, she admitted.
"They're right, you know," Sera murmured into Nehna's shirt, stirring to turn until she lay face-up once more and gazed into Nehna's eyes. "There's other stuff you can take though." She gave Nehna a wink and giggled as her lover blushed, trying to hide a smile.
Dorian groaned. "How wonderful. We're not going to be subject to some romantic display for the whole evening, are we?"
"Not a romantic soul, Dorian?" Nehna teased.
"Oh, I can be soppier than Cassandra if you get the right man involved. Sorry, Cassandra," he added, getting only a huff in return, although the corner of her mouth twitched slightly. "There just isn't anyone involved... currently, at any rate."
"No strapping young Charger caught your fancy?" Krem tried to flex for his benefit, but he had miscalculated how much he had to drink and lurched forward off his stool. He grabbed the sides quickly, settled himself and gave the other Tevinter a winsome grin.
"More like I need to catch you from falling over," the mage quipped, and Krem led the round of laughter.
"More drinks, perhaps?" Hawke suggested. Cabot perked up immediately. "Maybe not for you though, sweetheart," she told Krem gently, who seemed to agree.
Bull nodded in approval. "See, most people can't even keep up with me," he mused.
"Drinking, on the battlefield, or in the bedroom?" Hawke teased. "I can imagine you'd probably need a crowbar or something."
"More like flexible ropes. And all three." The Qunari flashed his teeth at her, roaring with mirth. "Oh, I like you, Champion."
"How about you buy me dinner, first?"
"I could always buy you a drink, at least. It's the right place for it."
"Truer than a Chanter."
As Hawke and Bull continued to trade light-hearted remarks, Nehna noticed a certain somebody looking less than amused. Dorian's face had been slightly petulant before, even though he had been fairly amused by Hawke's misunderstanding, and his jibes had all been meant with good humour; now he just looked positively sour. She decided to swap places with Varric, who had been avidly writing down some of the more amusing lines, and scooted over. Sera peered up, unhappy at the sudden loss of warmth, but went back to dozing after a few seconds.
"You look like you just sucked a whole crate of lemons," she told him cheerfully. Humour generally worked to help put others at ease, even if it didn't always necessarily fix the situation, so she hoped it would work.
Mercifully, Dorian cracked a half-smile. "Perhaps I did. Either that, or drank too much, but that's more likely." He sighed. "He can be so insufferable, sometimes."
"Sera says the same thing to me, frequently."
Dorian laughed. "How are you getting along with our little resident minx over there? When you're not making Skyhold's teeth rot with how sweet you both are together, at any rate."
"I love her a lot," Nehna admitted. She couldn't hold back her grin. Even just thinking those words instantly put her in a sunny mood.
"Love, hmm? Do all Dalish leap into the L word after a few nights together, I wonder?"
"Not exactly," she told him. "Our courtship works a little differently, I suppose. We don't hold sex as being some kind of sacred thing that you can only do when you're married or whatever, so it's not unusual to see couples trying to discreetly sneak off every so often. They get a bit of good-natured teasing when they come back, but that's the worst of it, really."
Nehna sighed. "Truth is, we can't really afford to be squeamish about it, even if we wanted to. There are so few Dalish in the world that loving relationships are more important to us than any treasure, especially if the couple brings new life into the clan together."
"I see." He paused. "What about... well..." He coughed. "You and Sera can't have any children of your own, of course. Perhaps you might adopt, of course. And, I mean, maybe there's some kind of spell for that? Not exactly my field of expertise in more ways than one, but..." He moved closer, lowering his voice to a conspiratorial whisper. "Your clan accepts you?" he asked softly.
"Of course they do," Nehna answered gently. "We're not exactly in a great hurry to have a fourth mage, as it is. There's a little boy who came into his magic recently, and I suppose when I become the Keeper he'll be my First. They might even be relieved about me and Sera. It solves the mage problem," she teased.
"The mage problem?" Her companion looked confused.
"In our clans, we try not to have too many mages at once," she explained. "They don't just attract the attention of Templars, of course, but the more mages in one location, the higher the chance one might fall to possession or... something like that, I suppose."
"And what happens if you do have 'too many mages,' as you say?"
"They get sent away to other clans," she said quietly. "Depends on who needs mages and who has a surplus. The child in question generally has little say in the matter because it's out of necessity really." She paused. "I was so afraid of being sent away, but then there's only been Aenor since, and he's only four. I'm already the First so I'm safe. For now," she added, with a smile that didn't entirely reach her eyes.
"That's barbaric," Dorian gasped. "You mean the other Dalish elves grow up afraid and ashamed of their magic?"
"Not at all," she corrected him firmly. "We treasure our magic as a gift from the Creators, and we find our mages are generally more attuned to natural magic in comparison to those from.... say, the Circle."
"Would make sense. You spend all your lives traipsing around the wilderness, so it would be quite natural for you to make flowers bloom with your songs, after all. Do you dance under the moonlight with flowers in your hair?"
"You ass!" She elbowed him, trying not to giggle herself as he laughed.
Still, he grew serious again within seconds. "They accept you without question or demands," Dorian mused quietly.
"I cannot speak for other clans," Nehna began, "but I know that within my own at least, we see no difference between the love of two men and two women as between a man and a woman. My Keeper has bonded many couples over the years, and my clansmen have never complained."
She lay his hand on top of his for comfort, giving it a gentle squeeze. "Love is one of the greatest gifts the Creators gave us, or so my Keeper says." Nehna launched into her best rendition of Deshanna's voice: 'If our gods gave us the capacity to love, and they do not cast judgement on who we love, then why should the rest of us?'
Dorian gave her a faint smile. "Your Keeper seems like a wise woman. Perhaps if I was not... if was an elf, then maybe..." He faltered.
"If you were an elf, you could come to us as a brother and join the clan," Nehna told him, adding with a smile, "but as a human, and a member of my Inquisition, you are nothing less than an honoured ally. You will be welcome in our camps, at our fires, in our aravels and at our gatherings, and there will always be meat and mead for you in plenty. You have my word as the First of Clan Lavellan."
She gave him a solemn bow.... or at least tried to. Nehna was not sitting far from the table, so her stomach ended up uncomfortably squished, and she felt stupid even as she rose up to meet his eyes once more, straightening her back.
Dorian looked oddly touched, even if he was amused by Nehna's display. "Is that a Dalish vow? How poetic. I feel like you're about to propose marriage to me or something." His mirth hid the tears of emotion that pricked at the corners of his eyes, a bittersweet mix of joy and wistfully wanting what might have been, and Nehna pretended not to notice when he dabbed at them with his sleeve.
"See, if I wanted to marry you, I think you'd know," she teased. "Plus I would be reciting actual marriage vows to you, as opposed to... well, a welcome speech."
He seized on the change of topic eagerly. "How do the Dalish marry, anyway?"
"We all gather outside in our finest clothes, and the Keeper introduces the couple, asking if any in the clan object to their union. When nobody does, they bind the couple's left and right hands one atop the other with a cloth, and the two of them exchange vows, circling each other. Then the Keeper unbinds their hands and the two exchange rings as a sign of their union and a reminder that they are now bonded. They sip from a cup of wine together, to show they will always share themselves and their belongings with each other. Then they kiss to show that they are now one as a couple, both in body, mind and spirit."
Nehna grinned. "And after that comes the wildest, most drunken celebrations you'll ever see. It gets bawdier as the night gets later and the children are in bed, and everyone playfully teases the couple as they go off to their new aravel together. After that, it's a case of who can finish off the drinks quickest, and spotting any other couples trying to quietly disappear. A wedding is a perfect time to find a spouse, after all... or just someone to tumble with, too."
"I think I like the sound of a Dalish wedding. All that raucous energy in one small, cramped camp. I'm sure nothing has ever gone wrong," Dorian teased, arching his brow. "It does sound lovely, though. Perhaps you might bond with Sera someday too... or an Andrastian wedding, I suppose. Or nothing at all," he added quickly. "That's perfectly fine too. I just wish..." He sighed.
"I understand," she said gently. "As a friend of mine, though, I could ask the Keeper if she would be willing to make an exception and bond you with... well, who do you want to be bonded with?"
Dorian choked. "I think it's a bit early to be talking about marriage," he spluttered out, trying to regain his breath. "Besides, we haven't even kissed. I don't think the daft oaf even knows that I... well, how I feel."
"I think I do, though," Nehna said quietly. "It's Bull, isn't it?"
"How did you guess?" he spluttered out. "And hush, you! He might hear!"
"I think he's a little, ah... occupied, currently." The moment Dorian turned around to look at what she was referring to, Nehna instantly regretted it.
Hawke was quite happily straddled across Bull's lap, engaging in a fierce battle of tongues with her new Qunari conquest. His hands were enthusiastically exploring her upper body, and she had wrapped one arm around his neck while clinging to a horn with the other, rocking her hips into him as she murmured and giggled into his mouth.
"Maker, she's trying to examine his tonsils by the looks of things," Dorian snorted, but his heart wasn't entirely in it.
"He'll never know how you feel until you tell him." Nehna gave Dorian's hand a gentle squeeze for comfort.
"I don't think I can right now. Even if I did, he'd be too busy inspecting our lady friend's oral hygiene to notice."
"Don't leave it too late, though. You'll just keep hurting yourself, and -"
"I'm perfectly fine! I don't need you fussing over me like a mother hen!" He slammed his hand down on the table.
The tavern quickly fell silent as everyone turned to stare at the outburst. Dorian was bright red, and his jaw was clenched tight as he glared daggers at her.
Nehna shuffled backwards a little, suddenly afraid. "I'm sorry, Dorian," she whispered. "I was only trying to -"
"I need to leave." He kicked the bench backwards, swearing as he staggered to his feet. "Had too much to drink." He turned back to Hawke, who was now gaping at him. "It was lovely meeting you, Champion." Dorian offered her a mocking bow. "Do feel free to come again the next time the sky falls apart." Then he stormed out of the tavern, leaving dissipating residue of fire spells in his wake.
There was a long, uncomfortable silence.
"Perhaps we should go elsewhere," Hawke whispered in Bull's ear, moving to kiss him again, but the Qunari simply shook his head and gently disengaged himself, setting her down on the stool next to him as easily as if he was simply lifting a ragdoll.
"Maybe tomorrow," he said gently. "I mean, you have great tits and all, but..." He pointed to the door, which was still hanging half-open. "I'm going to check up on him if you don't mind." The Qunari lumbered after him, surprisingly quiet and fast on his feet, and shut the door firmly this time. Hawke looked at the ground as she readjusted her clothing, and Nehna looked wistfully towards the distance.
Sera looked up from the bench, groggily peering about her as she tried to make her wobbly way to her feet. "So, what did I miss?" she asked, and promptly fell flat on her back.
*Unexpected to Nehna, at least. Anyone who's put Dorian and Bull in a party together will know exactly what I'm talking about. They're adorable, pun intended.
Seeing as we don't really have much concrete information about Dalish marriage customs in the games and all we get in Cullen's wedding with a female Lavellan is a few spoken vows, I slightly based this off of handfasting. Emphasis on the 'slightly' here, because I wanted to put my own spin on it.
Handfasting is a very interesting way of getting married though and there are lots of sources that give different information about it (I suspect some are less accurate than others), so if you want to learn more about it then definitely give it a Google!
Also in my playthrough, Hawke romanced Anders and then killed him, horrified by what he became. DA2 ended in ~9:37 and this meeting takes place in 9:41, so she can be justified for trying to move on, although she... struggles with that a bit. Things have become a series of quick rebound encounters (such as with Bull) rather than any serious relationship, because she was absolutely shattered and can't find it in herself to try anything more just yet. So while Dorian doesn't technically need to feel so jealous right now, Hawke is a lot less happy than she's trying to appear, either.
Cassandra is predictably unhappy with the Champion's presence, so Sera and Hawke try to smooth over some seriously ruffled feathers and save Skyhold from the falling out.
Also as a side note I don't know if I'll put in as many explicit references to Dorian/Bull in the story after this, because this is definitely Sera/Nehna-focused. I might put in a bonus chapter resolving the tavern scene after the main story is complete, but those two are going to be much more of a background couple from now on. ;P
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
"I cannot believe he didn't tell me about this." Cassandra paced up and down, irritably balling up her fists.
It took a moment for Nehna to realise she was talking about Hawke's presence and not the brief fallout in the tavern. "I'm sure he was only doing what he thought was right," she began when Cassandra turned back to her, eyes blazing.
"That dwarf never does what he thinks is right," she snapped. "He must think life goes as simply as one of his stupid books. He never thinks at all, and he just assumes his glib tongue will coast him through any problems that arise. Not anymore." She stormed off, aggressively clasping her sword, and Nehna shook her head and sighed.
When did it come to this? Cassandra and Varric had never exactly been best friends before joining the Inquisition, from what she could tell, and being held as a more or less of a Chantry prisoner to recite his story at the Conclave probably hadn't helped matters much. They had always edged somewhere uneasily between bickering and banter, complete with Cassandra's sighs of frustration that the other woman now assumed were theatrically exaggerated for the benefit of their audience... but this was different. Nehna had seen the look in the Seeker's eyes, and if looks could kill...
She gulped and went in search of Sera. Her lover would know what to do, Nehna hoped, and she would be able to find a good distraction that made everyone laugh, even if only briefly. If anyone's good at smoothing ruffled feathers, it's her... Then again, maybe I'm a little biased.
Only a little, though.
"Sounds like they just need to talk it out, you know. Varric's good with words. I'm sure they'll figure it all out without taking half of Skyhold with them, so just relax, you idiot." Those were Sera's words as she gave her lover's back reassuring strokes. "Maker, you wind yourself up over everyone's business enough. You're the Inquisitor. You're saving the bloody world, but you don't need to solve every argument that crops up either."
She shook her head, chuckling. "You're too good for your own good. That's the problem. You want to make everything perfect without thinking how it might affect you. Or them, actually, now I come to think of it. You can't fix everyone's shite for them."
"You're sure, vhenan?" Nehna wasn't convinced. Cassandra's eyes had been blazing, and she had wondered for a second if the other woman was going to start a violent crusade against Skyhold's favourite storyteller. He may have been able to weave words together the way a chirurgeon could knit wounds like magic, but it would seem words alone wouldn't solve this, and without his best weapon at hand, she feared the situation might get very bad, very quickly.
Cassandra would never hurt Varric, she knew... or at least hoped. She couldn't safely assume anything anymore; Nehna hadn't known Varric would smuggle in one of the most famous people in Thedas to Skyhold, either, which made a mockery of their security in hindsight, she realised glumly.
"More than sure. More certain that you making Coryphyshit kick the bucket with a big splash, because you're going to paint the ground with him. I know that much, and I know this will all blow over soon, too." Sera rolled her eyes. "You're no good at relaxing, are you, love? Just taking things easy for once. You're hopeless at it." She gave her a grin. "Well, that's what I'm here for. Massage out the tough kinks and maybe teach you to laugh every so often. I think I've got pretty good at making you relax, haven't I?"
"Oh, certainly. And in more ways than one," Nehna winked before letting out a big sigh. "I just... I can't have this kind of fighting in the Inquisition. We can't function if people are at each other's throats, and normally you can resolve it all with a cool down time or smoothing things over with free drinks. You know, relatively civil, and then everything is right as rain again."
She shook her head. "Creators, I'm trying to save the world and I can't even get my own people to be honest with me? Would it have killed him to tell me Hawke was coming instead of this cloak-and-dagger bullshit because he wanted a dramatic surprise? And now Cassandra might actually kill him? Fuck."
Sera knew that look. Her lover was dangerously close to losing it and sobbing. She never usually swore much either, which just showed how much it was getting to her. I swear to bloody Andraste if the two of them haven't sorted it out by sunset, I'll knock their heads together until they have to, Sera thought bitterly. Nobody made her honey tongue this upset without risking their breeches... or worse. She'd gut the lot of them if it made Nehna happier again, because the sight of such a sunny and loving face reduced to tears made her world come crashing down to ash about her ankles, and by the Maker wherever He'd fucked off to, she'd make them all pay for it.
"Hey, Inky," she said gently. "Nehna." At the sound of her name, the other woman turned around to look back at her. Sera noticed her mouth wobbling, but so far no tears had fallen yet. That was a good sign, at least, even if she was worryingly near the brink. "I'm still here, aren't I? We'll make this all better, I promise." She gently took her lover's hand and gave it a kiss before squeezing it. "It's going to be alright. No dwarves murdered on my watch."
Nehna laughed. It wasn't exactly a laugh full of laughter yet, more of a hesitant and nervous sound, but it was a start. "I'd prefer if no dwarves were murdered on anybody's watch, to be frank, but I trust you." The returning squeeze was softer, but Sera knew she was getting through to her.
"See? No bloodshed, no bruises, no cataclysmic arguments. Maybe a bit of 'How could yous' peppered in with a bit of 'fuck' and 'shite' and 'Maker take you,' and then we'll all be on our merry way back to 'I'm sorry, let's forget this ever happened,' right? Actually, I don't think Cassandra would ever say 'shite,' but... well, you get the idea." She laughed. "You're the wordy one here, not me, but I can try sometimes, yeah?"
The two women exchanged loving smiles.
"You're right." Nehna exhaled, smile growing wider. "I'm lucky I have you to take the weight off my shoulders once it all starts growing. They don't even have that."
"Right? They're unlucky bastards. Serves them right for picking a fight, anyway." Sera giggled. "I've got you, and you've got me. We'll be some kind of power couple, a force to be reckoned with. They'll all be on their knees and worshipping the ground we shit on."
"A power couple? Really?" Nehna raised an eyebrow.
"Well, you're no empress or whatever, but you're the Inquisitor. Everyone who matters wants to have your ear to bore your teeth out, but you matter, too. And as for me... well, I know how to stick arrows where they count." Sera mimed shooting an arrow, aiming it into Nehna's heart.
"My heart, is it? I thought your preferred target was 'up their arse'." Nehna did her best rendition of her lover's voice, and Sera dissolved into laughter.
"That the best you can do? Oh, Inky. You're a loony, you are." She gave her a grin that made Nehna's heart wobble. "My loony. The best kind there is."
"And you're the reddest of the Red Jennies, the most fearsome archer this side of the Dales."
"The Dales, huh? They've got nothing on me. I'll match them arrow for arrow, and I'll win every time."
"I know you would. And you will." Nehna rested her head on Sera's shoulder, and the other woman gave it a gentle stroke. "Besides, you didn't miss your mark with me, did you?"
"Hush, you. You're soppier than a ruddy Orlesian." She kissed Nehna's forehead, and the two of them sat together with their fingers intertwined, gazing out from the rooftop.
The reverie didn't last for long. As happy as Nehna was to be with Sera, she couldn't wipe the argument from her mind, tossing and turning. Sera shook her head half in frustration as Nehna groaned into her shoulder, patting her as she stood up and offered her hand to help her lover to her feet.
"Alright. Come along then, Inky. We'll use your honey tongue to put it all right again."
Nehna stared at her, dazed for a moment. Then she broke out into a grin and whooped, giving Sera a crushing hug that she returned with a chuckle.
"What's all the excitement for, eh? I saw how worked up you are, and it wasn't even the fun kind of worked up." She shrugged. "So if it makes you feel better to watch them scream and curse at each other and try and stop them splitting their skulls open, be my guest. But I'll come with you, because I know this is just a small dose of the loony shite I signed up for, and I can help ease your mind later on if it all goes to shit."
"You're the best woman in all of Thedas, Sera," Nehna told her, peppering her cheek with kisses. "Thank you," she whispered.
Her lover blushed slightly. "Maker, you're that relieved about it? Guess you were more wound up that I realised." She sighed. "Well, let's go and find them, then. We'll just follow the sound of explosions."
Hand in hand, they went back to Sera's tavern room and went downstairs into the courtyard, pausing to listen.
Nehna shook her head. "I don't hear anything," she began to say, until the sound of curses rang out from the armory.
"Found them," Sera giggled, half forgetting the seriousness of the situation, and the two of them scampered through the door, looking around to see where Cassandra and Varric had got to. They found them upstairs.
"Fucking hell," Sera whistled, but neither of them seemed to notice.
Cassandra had Varric by the collar of his shirt, and she was clawing at him with her free hand. By the looks of things, she'd managed a few decent punches before they'd got there; Varric looked winded and was trying desperately to move out of her reach, but Nehna knew how strong the warrior was. She had hands like iron, and right now they were dead set on tearing him to pieces.
"You liar!" Cassandra yelled. Her fist was getting dangerously close to Varric's face. "You knew where Hawke was all along!"
The dwarf scrambled free, wincing. "Damned right I did! Maker, Cassandra, did you have to be so rough -"
"Enough." Nehna was using her Inquisitor Voice, loud and authoritative; nobody argued back when they heard that tone. Even Sera was half-afraid of her lover when she used it. It was almost like the gentle, caring Nehna became an entirely different person, transforming into someone stern, firm and fiercer than a battering ram, and nobody dared to stand in her way.
Varric looked like he was on the verge of saying something back when she surged forwards, eyes flashing. "I said enough." He backed down, walking backwards with his hands up in a placating gesture. "Cassandra, back down." The other woman edged backwards, face falling.
Nehna cursed, shaking her head.
"You know, interrogation and kidnapping aren't always the most effective ways of getting the information you want," Varric grumbled.
"Leliana and I searched and searched for the Hero of Ferelden, wanting her to lead the Inquisition, but she was busy on her quest to end the Calling. We searched for Hawke too, but she had straight up vanished. We thought perhaps there was a connection there, but no." Cassandra shook her head. "It was you all along." Her voice was laced with venom as she cast her eyes on the dwarf.
"She's been through enough, hasn't she? Maker, I just wanted to give her a break."
"We needed her to lead the Inquisition. If Hawke had been at the Conclave, she could have saved the Most Holy. We could have stopped this disaster before it gained traction."
"The Inquisition has a leader, Cassandra!" Varric feebly gestured to Nehna, and Sera nodded enthusiastically.
"Not the one either of you wanted, clearly," Nehna said quietly. "And it's not Varric's fault. Even Hawke couldn't have stopped Corypheus at the temple."
"Varric is a liar, Inquisitor. He always has been, and always will." Cassandra scowled. "And we all know he will never be on the side of the Inquisition."
Varric bristled. "Hey, that's hardly fair -"
She cut him off with a withering glance. "After the Breach appeared, even when he knew damn well how much we needed Hawke... he refused. He said he had no idea about the Champion's whereabouts." Cassandra groaned. "Was that just one of how many lies you've been telling us, dwarf? To protect yourself? To betray us?"
"Cassandra." Nehna's voice was quiet but firm, and the other woman stopped immediately. "It won't help us now for you to keep attacking Varric, verbally or otherwise."
"Thank you," the dwarf sighed, but Nehna held her hand up for silence.
"And goading her like this won't help either, Varric," she reminded him icily. "Is there anything else you've been keeping from us, now I come to think of it? Critical information? Enemy locations? Maybe even the Hero of Ferelden's new hideout?" Nehna raised her brow.
Varric groaned. "I understand, alright? Don't need to keep rubbing salt in an old wound." She gave him an apologetic smile.
There was a long, tense silence. Sera scuffed her foot along the floor, muttering something to herself until Nehna caught her arm, shaking her head.
Cassandra turned away from Varric and Nehna and let out a heavy sigh. Her face looked ashen, more lined than usual. "I cannot," she began, before breaking off and starting again. Her throat sounded tight. "I cannot afford to think of... what might have been. There's too much at stake for me to even..." She shook her head glumly. "Just go, Varric. Now." It was the saddest Nehna had ever heard her sound since they'd discussed Anthony's death.
Without another word, the dwarf made his way to the stairs before turning back, throwing one final barb. "You know what?" Varric asked testily. "If Hawke had been at the Conclave, she'd be dead with all the rest of them. It wouldn't have been any better, and you're lying to yourself if you think otherwise."
His voice dropped. "I just wanted to help her, you know," he said, almost gently. "She's been through enough." Then he turned on his heel and left.
Cassandra shook her head in response.
"It's my fault," she whispered. "If I had explained it better, tried to convince him of the urgency... the risk..." Cassandra broke off. "I just swallowed his words, all his lies, and I didn't even try. I didn't give him any explanation, because it was obvious to me, and I didn't think..." The warrior looked close to tears. "I am such a fool."
Nehna led her over to a chair and sat her down. "It's alright, Cassandra," she murmured soothingly.
"Yeah, we're all fools, aren't we?" Sera added brightly. "We can't get everything right all the time, and we can't predict the future. No use getting strung up by the past, either." She patted her shoulder. "The way I see it is you're both in the wrong, but you're both in the right."
Cassandra blinked up at her, puzzled, and Sera only laughed. "Weird, isn't it? I know. But that's the way things are, sometimes, and trying to needle your way to the cure-all fix doesn't always work. Just got to shrug your shoulders, say, 'Piss down their throats,' and move on, you know? Works for me every time."
"Thank you," the other woman said. Her voice was slightly less wobbly now, although she was clearly still upset. Sera's words had put a half-smile on her face, though.
"Besides, even if you hadn't believed him and found Hawke, it might have just got messier," Nehna said gently. "She might have even refused."
"She's been through a lot," Cassandra agreed. "Anders wounded her greatly, and she went through in ten years the kind of things nobody should in even one. And she supported the mage rebellion, too. Do you really think Hawke would have willingly become a Chantry puppet?" She sighed. "She wouldn't have trusted me at all... but she was the only person I thought... we thought..."
Nehna gave her a gentle smile. "This isn't just about Varric, is it?" she asked softly.
Cassandra shook her head. "No, not really. Or Hawke, for that matter. It's about... me." The words sounded hesitant and unfamiliar on her tongue, but she couldn't stop. "It was my fault. I should have thought more and acted smarter. I should have been more careful. I don't deserve my place here." She threw her head into her hands and crumbled. Her back was soon shaking, wracked by tears that she had been barely holding back.
"There, there." Sera moved closer, wrapping an arm around Cassandra's shoulders. "We're here for you, Cassandra. No big, scary dwarves coming on my watch."
Cassandra tittered. "Scary?"
"Eh." Sera shrugged. "He's scary to all the idiots he points Bianca to, at least. They quiver like a leaf and start begging for mercy once she's at their throats."
"You know, you do belong in the Inquisition, Cassandra," Nehna grinned. "You're a perfect fit." When the other woman looked dazed, her grin grew even wider. "We're all fools here, stumbling through life. We wouldn't have a clue what to do if it wasn't for people like you who act like you do, so everyone else just follows along."
"You really believe so?" A hesitant smile was growing on Cassandra's face.
"I know so, on Dirthamen's honour." At her bewildered reaction, Nehna hastened to explain: "He's the god of secrets and knowledge, so if anybody would know where you belong, it's him. And I may not be the mouthpiece of the Creators, but I think he'd agree with me."
Sera rolled her eyes at that, as she always did when Nehna made reference to her Dalish roots, but it was less exasperated or aggressive than it had been months ago. Now, it was just the same mocking look she gave nearly everyone, and it soon disappeared as she nodded in agreement. "She's right, more or less. Stick the elfy shite, but you do belong with us."
"Is that supposed to make me feel better?" Cassandra exhaled deeply, but there was definitely a smile on her face now. "I suppose you're right, the two of you. Maybe if we'd found the Hero of Ferelden, or even Hawke, then Nehna would never have became Inquisitor. You're not what I pictured," she admitted bashfully, turning to face her, "but I've learnt now the things I assume seldom come to pass the way I expect them to."
"I think that's the same for us all," Nehna teased her.
"I have no regrets in serving an elf, or even an apostate. I have no regrets being here in the Inquisition either." Cassandra's smile grew larger. "I belong here."
"Sounds more like it," Sera agreed. "Now, who wants a drink or six?"
And that was how the two women found Varric later, having left Cassandra to relieve her remaining embarrassment and frustration on the courtyard training dummies.
"We managed to calm her down after you left," Nehna smiled, offering him a mug of ale that he drank gladly. Sera sat next to her, sliding an arm around her waist. "You probably don't need the crossbow anymore. Plus it might scare the rest of the patrons."
"Bah," Varric grunted, draining the mug and plopping it on the table. "Bianca won't hurt any of them, and they know it. She may have a hair-trigger temper, but she's loyal." He sighed. "But I didn't lie to the Inquisition, or keep secrets. I said what I thought was important at the time." He waved his hands helplessly.
"I know." She patted his hand comfortingly before teasing, "I'd have known by now, anyway. Your face is too expressive; you'd make a terrible liar."
"You're not wrong," he agreed. "I never did get the hang of hiding my tells in diamondback. Now, Solas on the other hand -"
"Eurggh, do we have to talk about Droopy now? Not when we're having fun, Varric," Sera groaned.
"Not a big fan of Chuckles, are you?" Varric laughed.
"Pfft, no. That's like thinking a nug makes a good supper."
"According to Paragon Varen, they do. You know, after he discovered they were edible, they made him a Paragon because he reshaped dwarven cuisine from the ground up. Literally."
"Nope. Definitely don't want to think about roast nugs." Sera wrinkled her face up in disgust. "That's just gross."
Varric sighed. "You know, I just keep hoping all of this will just... disappear. That it'll all turn out to be Fade bullshit, and we can just get on with our lives and go back to normal."
"Sadly, I don't think Alexius had a hand in this," Nehna joked.
He shook his head. "No, no, Cassandra was right. I know I need to do better, and I..." Varric swallowed. "I'm sorry. I really am."
"I know," Nehna said gently. "You're doing the best you can, same as everyone else. That's all we can do."
"And you're doing a better job than most," Sera added. "At least your stories cheer people up and make them laugh. You're just what Skyhold needs after a long, dreary day, so don't you go forgetting that, yeah?"
Varric perked up at their words. "Maybe there's some truth in that." He tilted his head. "Or maybe it's just the ale talking," he mused. "Speaking of ale, do you think we could get another tankard?"
"He's got the right idea," Sera agreed, nudging Nehna, who sighed and went off in search of more.
She hoped none of them saw the way her face fell as she thought about the day's events. Varric had lied to the Inquisition, even if it had only been by omission... and then Cassandra had nearly tried to kill him. Perhaps the two of them had had good intentions, and done what they thought was best, but they had both made a pig's ear of it.
Nehna sighed, desperately trying to keep it together. This is not how organisations are supposed to work. They don't just falter and crumble from little arguments. She wondered how long it would be before those two were on speaking terms again.
The Inquisition was supposed to be better than this, she thought glumly.
"Hey, miseryguts. You going to order or just stand there like a thundercloud?" Cabot called out to her, disrupting her thoughts. "Oh, and don't try spilling it to me. I don't get paid enough to be a therapist."
"Sorry, Cabot." Nehna shook her head, giving him an apologetic smile. Don't let them see your hurt, the Keeper had told her before she'd left for the Conclave. The shem world will only use it against you. "Could I have two tankards of ale?" She popped a few sovereigns on the counter.
"Two?" The dwarf looked surprised.
"Two," she confirmed. "One for my companions and... I need to forget a few things."
"Well, you've come to the right place," he grunted. "Just wait along there and I'll pour it for you. One of the girls can bring it over." He filled one before beginning to pour in the other.
"No need. I can carry them myself."
He raised an eyebrow at that. "Just be careful. They're heavy, and I don't have new clay coming out my ears to replace them."
"I'll be careful," Nehna promised him, holding them tightly and gingerly making her way back to the table.
Varric and Sera looked up in surprise.
"Two?" her lover gasped.
"Think of it as a little gift to smooth out some Inquisitorial bumps," Nehna suggested, sitting down and pouring three mugs for them.
Varric grinned. "Have I ever told you you're the best Inquisitor in Thedas?"
"Not in as many words. You could buy me a few more rounds more often, though."
"That's the spirit."
"Honey tongue!" Sera gave her cheek a sloppy kiss, leaving Nehna slightly flustered but smiling.
Varric winked and raised his mug. "To love," he teased. "May it never be the death of us all."
"To love," Nehna smiled, clinking her mug with his and stroking Sera's cheek in return. Maybe I'm not so bad at this, after all.
So in the game you can resolve the whole situation with a couple of conversations and then it all blows over, but I wanted to be able to show it has an actual effect on the Inquisitor. Nehna is a natural worrier as it is, but learning that someone she trusted a great deal has been lying to her and acting behind her back would definitely sting and shake her up a little, even if Varric's actions were well-intentioned and help in the long term (though neither of them would know that).
And then seeing how livid Cassandra is in the game wouldn't help smooth things over either, so poor Nehna really has her work cut out for her...
Sera and Nehna decide to relax a little from all their recent stress in the way they know (and love) the best, and things get a little... charged.
This chapter is NSFW for sexual content.
Why not start the month the fun way? ;)
So there's no plot here if you want to skip reading by the way, just fluffy smutty goodness with a healthy dose of humour. Chapter 14 will be up at some point later this week, so see this chapter as a little interlude and then we'll be back to scheduled programming!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
The two women left the tavern a few hours later, purses slightly lighter for wear and heads swimming from the ale, giggling away like children. For a moment, they simply leant against the wall, gazing at the warm amber sunset in awe, before Nehna felt a hand snake its way around her back.
"Hey, Inky," Sera breathed against her neck. "There's nobody around, really." Her hand dipped lower, leaving tantalising strokes around Nehna's belly button, while the other wrapped around her waist.
"And what are you suggesting?" Nehna gave her lover a crooked smile that only widened as the other woman leant forward to suck at her earlobe. A few groans escaped her barely parted lips before she realised and clapped a hand over her lips, but Sera only smirked.
"Seems like you're thinking something similar." Her voice was low, a husky whisper for only Nehna to hear as she pressed her lips to her neck, pausing a moment before beginning to suck in earnest.
"Sera, we should..." Nehna staggered slightly, and her lover took the opportunity to sling her arm fully around her back and press her further into the wall, sliding a knee between her thighs.
"Mhmm?" Sera continued sucking on Nehna's neck, revelling in the way her lover's soft, milky skin turned purple from her ministrations. Then she gently widened her mouth, letting Nehna feel the points of her teeth before she bit her.
Her lover desperately tried to maintain composure, but it was becoming increasingly difficult. Nehna was panting in earnest now, face warm and flushed. She wondered absently if anyone nearby could see or hear the pair of them, but all thoughts were banished from her head as Sera raised her head and kissed her. She groaned as their lips met, feeling the warm flutter of Sera's lips tease her as she slid her tongue between her own. Nehna clung to Sera tightly, moaning as Sera slowly rocked her hips against Nehna's thigh, and decided in retaliation to slide a hand round to give her lover's buttocks a firm, unmistakeable squeeze.
Sera laughed as the two of them parted for air, but Nehna could see she was equally flushed and beginning to pant herself. "Someone's not so shy now, hmm?"
"We should go inside," Nehna murmured, reddening as a guard on patrol hastily averted his eyes. "It's a little more private." She flashed her lover a wolfish grin. "Besides, I've been thinking of something you might enjoy."
"More than the sight of you falling apart on my tongue?" Sera gave her ear a teasing stroke as she whispered into it.
"Perhaps. You'll just have to wait and see." Nehna kissed her cheek. It was a gentle, loving motion, but no less passionate than anything they had done previously. She let her lips linger a little longer than normal before asking, "Should we go back to your bed or mine?"
"Mine's closest, right? Unless Her Ladybits really wants to be a woman of the people and give them a good display."
"Sera." Nehna gave her arm a swat as they both giggled.
"Right." Sera swept her arms around Nehna's back and scooped her up, smiling as Nehna laughed and tucked her legs around her waist. "Up we go, then." Nehna slid her arms around Sera's neck and kissed her, smiling as her lover moaned.
"You're cruel, you are," Sera tutted, but she was grinning as she met Nehna's gaze. "I might lose my balance and drop you."
"Wanting to give them a good display, then?" Nehna teased.
"You wish. This lot would turn redder than Cullen."
The two women giggled as Sera staggered her way through the tavern door, trying her best to walk in a straight line. Nehna wasn't helping matters much, exploring her lover's body with enthusiastic and nimble hands, and more than one patron turned their eyes away as Sera made a half-hearted attempt to get her to stay still. She noticed Varric slumped over the table where they had left him (ostensibly in search of 'fresh air'), and she was about to call out to him when Nehna shook her head, laughing.
"He'll be alright, vhenan. Cabot's there to look after him, and he'll carry him up to a room to sleep it off later. Varric's got more than enough coin to pay for it."
"Less fun carrying him than you. You're like a firecracker, all raring to go. I might not reach my bed before you start yanking my trousers down at this rate," Sera teased.
"What can I say? You're very distracting," Nehna admitted freely without any hint of her earlier embarassment. "And I love being distracted," she added with a smirk.
"That makes two of us, honey tongue. So long as you use it right. Oh, but you always do," Sera cooed against her neck, leaning against the rail as she slowly made her way up the stairs, and the two women giggled together. "Love you, Nehna." She gave Nehna's collarbone a light kiss, and her lover squeezed her waist in response.
"Love you too, Sera. All of you." Nehna ran her hands all the way up and down Sera's back in emphasis before settling them around her neck with a wink.
Nehna thought she heard someone grumble that the pair of them should get a bloody room, but seeing how Sera was slowly making her way to her quarters, she felt they didn't have much left to complain about. I'll be in a room soon with the door locked and wards set. Then that'll be that.
"Maker, love, did you put a few pounds on or something? You're heavier than a ton of bricks, I swear," Sera teased as she fumbled with the door handle.
"Hey!" Nehna protested, feeling Sera's rumbling chuckle against her chest. "Plus you could always put me down first before you try opening the door, you know."
"Ah, but where's the fun in that, Inky?" Sera opened the door and slid through, still proudly carrying Nehna around her hips, then bolted it firmly. "More fun where that came from, trust me."
"You're going to inquisit the Inquisitor?"
"Oh, hush, you." Sera tickled her stomach until Nehna squirmed, giggling, and joined in the laughter herself as she pressed Nehna more firmly against the door.
"Or what?" Nehna smirked.
In response, Sera slid her hand over the crotch of Nehna's breeches and stroked. "Or I make you," she murmured, diving for Nehna's collarbone with her teeth.
She howls worse than a demon, Sera thought with amusement, hearing her lover's cries as she gently nibbled at her. "Maker," she chuckled to herself, and the vibrations against her neck only made Nehna rock against her with a deep moan, trying to nudge Sera's fingers along.
"Sera, please... I need... Ahh."
Her arms were buckling under the strain of trying to keep her lover upright, and while Sera was reluctant to let go of her, she was equally reluctant to drop Nehna either. Unceremoniously, she gently disengaged Nehna's legs from around her waist and set her down, steadying her as the other woman wobbled against her. "Couldn't hold you up much longer," she explained apologetically, adding with a wink, "but that just makes this so much easier."
Sera began eagerly unbuttoning Nehna's shirt, feeling her lover's hands tangle themselves in her hair as Nehna tried to pull her closer. "Told you so," she smirked, slipping a hand underneath the now open shirt and letting it flutter to the ground, quickly forgotten. "Worse than a firework, you are."
"Sera," Nehna whined, and her lover grinned in response. Hearing the Inquisitor so needy and desperate was... gratifying.
"Alright, alright. Hold your horses. You'll have your rider soon enough," Sera teased.
Nehna rolled her eyes as her lover undid her breastband, letting it tumble away. "Really? Horse metaphors? Because -" She was quickly cut off as Sera cupped her breast and began to lazily roll her fingers around the nipple. Nehna's eyes rolled back as Sera lowered her head, fluttering her lips before beginning to suck gently, exploring with her tongue until she felt it stiffen. Her lover gasped as Sera removed her mouth, looking insufferably pleased with herself as she did so.
"You were saying?" She beckoned with her hand, gesturing to the bed. "Come on. Sideways."
Nehna all but pounced on her, sending the two of them flying into the mattress as she kissed her earnestly, tugging at Sera's shirt and nearly tearing it in her haste to remove the wretched garment. Pulling her into a seated position, Nehna slid into Sera's lap and eagerly pulled her shirt over her head, letting it fall beside her as she untied the breastband with murmured curses. Then she flung them both behind her carelessly, turning back to her lover with a smirk.
"Don't give me ideas," she cooed, pushing Sera beneath her. "Actually, you don't need to. I've got plenty already. Some you might even enjoy." Her grin was positively wolfish, and Sera gulped before grinning even wider.
"We'll see if you can keep up with me, then," she teased, and Nehna seized the opportunity to dive in for another kiss, deepening it with her tongue as her lover moaned. She cupped Sera's breast with her left hand, teasing her in a similar fashion to the way her lover had moments earlier, while her other hand idly loosened the drawstrings of her breeches.
Sera hissed as Nehna's fingers skirted across her abdomen, tracing patterns and shapes that sent shivers through her and pooled in a warm glow in her stomach. It was only fair for her to retaliate now, so she broke the kiss to return to showering kisses over Nehna's cheek, moving slowly along with her tongue to the tip of her lover's ear and gently licking and sucking exactly the way Sera knew she loved it.
It always drove Nehna wild, and now was no exception; the mage bucked her hips against her and moaned at a scandalous volume. "Fuck me," she begged, grabbing Sera's hand and shoving it inside her pants.
Her lover eagerly obliged, beginning a gentle rocking motion with one hand while pulling Nehna's breeches lower with the other. "Somebody's very eager," she cooed against her throat as Nehna raised her hips, allowing her to slide the breeches off and chuck them to the floor. "Might be a little easier without these, though." Sera gave her lover's pants a glance, noticing how surprisingly lacy and elegant they were. She almost felt guilty for eagerly sliding them off throwing them to the floor, too, but when Nehna bucked her hips and dug her fingers into Sera's back with she put her hand back in its place, all thoughts subsided.
Absently, Sera tried to remove her own breeches, but trying to do so one-handed was surprisingly difficult. Not as easy as other one-handed activities, and not as fun either; seeing her lover squirm and swear as Sera nudged her folds aside and gently slipped a finger inside her was much more entertaining. Still, Sera wriggled and struggled, and eventually her breeches slid to her knees, where she pulled them off with her feet, returning her full focus back to Nehna.
"Think you might help me, love?" Sera patted at Nehna's side. Nehna raised her hips from where she had been straddling her, pulling off Sera's pants and tossing them aside.
Sera took full advantage of the moment to roll Nehna onto her side and pin her beneath her, sliding her finger back inside with a satisfying sound. Nehna stifled her groan against a pillow as Sera slowly added another finger, rocking her hand and thrusting.
"Vhenan," she gasped as Sera teasingly stroked her entrance with a third, dipping her fingertip against her. "I... I feel... fuck." Nehna wrapped her legs tightly around Sera's waist and yanked, rocking her hips against her lover's and groaning with abandon as Sera's fingers nudged closer and closer to the sweet spot. "Fuck," she cried as her lover's fingers curled and stroked her. "Feels amazing."
"Good to know." Sera kissed her gently one last time as she moved her lips lower, kissing her way to Nehna's breast. "Do you want this as well?" she asked before giving her nipple a teasing swipe.
Her lover's legs squeezed tight around her. "Lower," she hissed. "More."
"Can do. I thought you had the honey tongue, though," Sera giggled as she traced her way over Nehna's stomach, leaving a teasing trail of butterfly kisses in her wake. She gently slid a third finger inside as she kissed Nehna's thigh.
"Sera," Nehna croaked as she felt tongue rock against her swollen nub. "Sera."
She keened as Sera rolled her tongue and hummed, thrusting her fingers as deep as she could. They were beginning to ache now, but it was worth it. It always was, especially knowing her lover was on the brink of orgasm, feeling her clench tight around her fingers.
"Sera - oh Creators - Maker - shit - fuck me - fuck." Nehna's thighs shook as she arched her back and screamed profanities to the heavens, trembling from the pleasure. She felt it shoot upwards from her stomach, basking her in a warm glow as she sank deep into the mattress with a hazy grin, sated and exhausted.
"I love you, Sera," she whispered, voice low and husky.
"I love you too, Nehna." Sera slid off her to the side and pulled her over for a kiss. It was gentle and soft this time, and as Nehna still panted and got her breath back, her lover rested her forehead against hers and nuzzled softly. "My loony."
"Hey, you're not done here," Nehna protested with a smirk. "Just give me a moment to get my breath back." She waited for a moment before wrapping her lover's leg over her thigh, sliding her hand teasingly between her thighs. "You did say you wanted to try a little magic, right?"
Sera's eyes widened slightly, but she nodded. "I... suppose. Just don't... you know, don't torch my bits off or anything, yeah? I'm kind of fond of having all my limbs attached, too."
"I promise I won't hurt you, vhenan," Nehna murmured, giving her cheek a loving kiss, "and we can stop any time you want to. Now relax." She gave her a teasing wink, trying and struggling to concentrate as she gazed over her lover's naked body. "I think you're going to love this."
Nehna closed her eyes, trying to focus. She needed to make sure she could control the pulse, the strength and intensity of the lightning; as her lover had so carefully reminded her, she was in no mood to burn Sera's bits off. Or any other part of her, for that matter.
She dipped her hand lower, feeling her fingers begin to throb with lightning. "This might tickle a little at first," she said soothingly as Nehna rolled a finger around her lover's nub. "Well, not tickle exactly, but it might feel... odd. It doesn't hurt, does it?" she added quickly.
"No," Sera reassured her. "Doesn't hurt." It felt nice, if she was going to admit it to herself, but the fact that this was magic would take a little longer getting used to. Still, she couldn't help a moan escaping her lips, and Nehna chuckled, rocking her hand a little more steadily.
"Want to try something a little more? Don't worry, I'll go easy on you, I swear."
"Easy?" Sera rolled her eyes. Magic or no magic, she wasn't going to just make do with easy. "Come on, Nehna." She buckled her hips into her lover's hand, showing her how it was done. "If I wanted easy, I'd go and fuck myself, thank you very much."
"Alright, alright," Nehna giggled. "Just tell me if it feels weird or painful or anything, okay? I'll stop immediately."
"You said that already, loony."
Nehna felt the lightning arc over her fingertips and tried her best to focus its direction over her lover. It was hard to focus, she admitted, when Sera was naked and squirming before her, beginning to moan as she increased the intensity. I'll make it worth your while, vhenan. Seeing the way her lover enthusiastically responded, and how she was already beginning to tremble, Nehna imagined a single, strong pulse spreading in waves over her lover's nub.
"Oh," her lover gasped. "Oh, do more of that! Maker, just there, right there - oh frig, yes - fuck - Nehna." Sera groaned as her climax hit her while Nehna continued rocking her fingers against her, gently easing off the magic as her lover crested the wave of her pleasure, thighs still shaking. Nehna wrapped her arms around Sera and pulled her in for a clumsy kiss, moaning against her mouth as her lover panted for breath.
"Wow," was all Sera could say, panting for breath. "That was... wow."
"Never felt the fun kind of magic before, then?" Nehna teased as Sera collapsed against her onto her back, panting as she rested her head against Nehna's stomach.
"Not until now. Frig, I was missing out on a lot. Why didn't you tell me magic could do shite like that? If I'd known..." Sera raised her head slightly, looking Nehna in the eyes with a mischievous expression. "Is that what you do all the time when you're not around me, then? Zappy zappy fuck ohh?" She mimed a crude gesture while moaning exaggeratedly for comedic effect, and Nehna shook beneath her with laughter.
"No," Nehna assured her, still giggling. "No, that's not all I do when I'm not with you. Although that's a fun thought." She smirked. "Perhaps if I find a nice, quiet moment somewhere..."
"You're terrible, you are!" The two women laughed, hands clasped gently together.
"Think it will cause a terrible scandal if the mighty Inquisitor dares to stay the night?" Nehna asked.
Sera giggled. "I've slept in your bed more nights than I can count. It's only fair you sleep in mine." She shrugged. "It's not all fancy-schmancy like yours, but it'll do. Besides, you make it so much better. You also do it way much better now, too."
"What do they say? Practise makes perfect?" Nehna teased. "Well, I intend on getting a lot more practise out of the way, so buckle up."
"Tonight?" Sera chuckled. "You really are a little firework, aren't you, Inky?"
"You weren't complaining about your fireworks," Nehna teased, wiggling her fingers as her lover smiled.
"Always have to have the last word, don't you?" Sera murmured. "But yours are always good. Even the elfy shite sometimes, even if it is elfy. And shite." Nehna rolled her eyes while Sera clambered on top of her, giving her breasts a friendly squeeze. "Oh, but I think 'Sera - oh Creators - Maker - shit - fuck me - fuck ' is the best thing that's come out from here." She tapped Nehna's lips as her lover blushed.
"Sera!" Nehna groaned.
Sera only laughed in response, shaking her head. "I'm just teasing, Inky. They're just words, nothing to be ashamed of. Besides, do you know what my favourite thing you've ever said is?" she added, voice growing softer.
Nehna giggled. "Sera, if you're going to count every time I ever said fuck, then -"
Sera looked startled. "What?" Then she laughed. "No, you loony! You rarely even swear as it is, so where would I be? No," she said, leaning closer until she was inches from Nehna's mouth. "What I was going to say," she murmured, "was every time you've ever said 'I love you, Sera." She gave Nehna a gentle kiss. "Makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside."
"Sera," was all Nehna could say before she wrapped her arms around Sera's neck and pulled her down for a long kiss, moaning as Sera cupped her face and dipped her tongue into her mouth, delving deeper and circling around her tongue, playfully swiping and darting about until the two women were panting, breathless once more.
"I love you, Sera," Nehna murmured.
Her lover's face crinkled into a lopsided grin. "I love you too, Nehna. So so much." Sera was about to lean in for a second kiss before Nehna tensed, eyes widening. "What's wrong, love?" Sera asked, suddenly alarmed.
Nehna blushed a deep shade of crimson, shaking her head. "I forgot to set a soundproofing ward," she sighed.
So, somebody mentioned they wanted to see sex magic, so Nehna and Sera are easing their way into it together with a little more practise. So this is, uh, practise
for writing smut.
Also, how much smut do you need to go from M to E I wonder... Huh.
Nehna and co. travel to Crestwood, where a particularly unpleasant truth awaits her...
Firstly, sorry about not posting this sooner - I've had a lot happening recently that I can briefly talk about at the end that's basically put everything on hold a bit, but I tried to get back to this as quick as I could. Hopefully it makes up for my absence!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
It had been decided that since they were travelling with the Champion of Kirkwall (who, by all accounts and public knowledge, was still in Kirkwall), it would be best for the party to travel on horseback, staggering themselves to not draw attention to either Hawke or the size of their party. Sera had refused to go without Nehna nearby, so the pair of them had gone along ahead. Hawke was too recognisable, so she was squarely in the middle, flanked by Blackwall and Solas. Dorian was riding slightly behind Nehna and Sera, but Iron Bull had come along too beside him.
When Nehna had explained to them about the party restrictions, Iron Bull had simply shaken his head. “He’s with me,” the Qunari told them in his low, rumbling voice that carried a wave of authority more easily than Nehna could, even in Inquisitor Mode. “We’re a package deal, boss. Where he goes, I go.”
“Besides, if you get to take your lovely lady along, I’ll be bringing him along too,” Dorian teased her. “It’s only fair, isn’t it, amatus?”
Nehna groaned. Josephine would not like this one bit. Her plan had been absolutely airtight, right down to only four people accompanying Hawke, including Nehna… but then would it really hurt to have one extra person with them?
It balanced out the dynamics a little more, Nehna admitted: now they had four mages, two warriors and one rogue. Presumably the Warden they were meeting would be either a rogue or a warrior as well, although she had heard of mages joining their ranks before. Circle mages, that is. Apostates like her were a no go… but then that went for Hawke as well, she supposed.
Besides, Dorian had her there. She couldn’t really tell him that Bull couldn’t come if her lover was accompanying her already, and Nehna had a soft spot for the pair of them anyway. Close friends of hers as it was, even a blind dog could tell how well they complimented each other as lovers too… although maybe it would have been better to be a deaf dog sometimes, the way they carried on at camp. Nehna wondered if she should teach Dorian how to cast a ward some time, if he kept her up three nights in a row this time around...
“Alright, alright. You’re both coming. But I can’t add anyone else, you understand? Josephine would kill me.” She wrung her hands in the air.
“I think she already might, Nehna.” Dorian laughed. “But thank you. Now I won’t be bored out of my mind in this wasteland. Less bored, really. You southerners are duller than ditch water sometimes.” He shrugged.
“How sweet of you to let me know.” Balling up her hands at her sides, she walked off in search of Dennet. Nehna could give the horses a final check, make sure that everything was all set and packed... Anything to get rid of the mounting feelings inside her. Her stomach clenched, but whether it was from irritation or dread, she could no longer say.
Creators, just let this go smoothly. We meet him, talk things through, then we all go home. Nothing more. Let there be nothing more.
Nehna sighed and shook her head sadly.
Slowly, they made their way over the grass. The journey had been slower than Nehna would have liked, but they’d been forced to stick to barely-visible dirt tracks and narrow passages between trees.
More secure, Leliana has assured her, especially with Hawke in their midst... but their esteemed spymaster wasn’t suffering through the journey herself. More’s the pity, Nehna thought irritably.
Now as they got closer to Crestwood, it seemed like the weather had decided to ramp up her discomfort to eleven. There was heavy rain that beat against their faces thanks to the wind and soaked through the cloaks on their backs, leaving them all shivering in the cold, and they couldn’t even gallop anymore for fear of tripping the horses up in the mud.
Typical, Nehna thought unhappily. Bad weather when we need it least. These Fereldens seem to live off rain, it happens so often. Her lover was barely bothered, Ferelden born and bred, but the strange weather was yet another sign of how little Nehna belonged there. It made her almost want to pack up and head home to Skyhold already, but then the Warden - and what was his name again? She couldn’t remember - would be left standing in the rain alone.
I refuse to let bad weather get the best of me, Nehna thought stubbornly... and so they all rode on, squinting to avoid rain falling into their eyes. She wondered if Solas knew some kind of rain deflecting spell, and if he did, why wasn’t he bloody well using it? I’ll wring him by the ears if I find out he could have this whole time, Elgar’nan guide my hand.
Gamely, Sera tried to rally her lover, sensing her flagging spirits. “See, love?” she whispered. “Looks like you don’t even need me with you for a good soaking, huh? The weather does my job for me now.”
Nehna gave her a half-hearted laugh. She felt worn out, drenched and not in the mood for her lover’s playful innuendo. She wanted nothing more than to ride to Crestwood in a coach, sleeping in her lover’s arms, but they would have been far too visible for that, so horseback it was.
Nehna wasn’t exactly a keen rider. At least, not with horses. The most riding she’d ever done before was on her much loved halla, Da’fen, who had such a fiery spirit and passion for sprinting off ahead of her clanmates that she had said he was more like a little wolf than his brothers and sisters. And even with Da’fen ready to tear off ahead with her clinging on for dear life, she hadn’t ever ridden too much, either walking on foot or riding in the family aravel.
Horseback riding was very different, it seemed. There was no intuitive bond between rider and steed the same way there was between a Dalish elf and their halla, more of a bond between friends than that of a serving mount like the horse beneath her. She had to lead a lot more with the reins and her legs, gently applying pressure and showing with her body what she wanted; Da’fen had known instantly what she wanted and where she wanted to go, and so there hadn’t been as great a need for this kind of thing.
Learning to ride a horse was almost as difficult as learning to walk all over again, she reckoned... particularly a shem horse. Nehna had ridden harts before, great and mighty looking beasts that made the ground shake beneath their fierce hooves, but even that paled in comparison to trying to ride a horse. It felt so foreign, so unfamiliar and strange to her, that she wasn’t sure if her waves of nausea and discomfort were in response to the cold, soaking rain that made her teeth chatter, or the odd feeling of a horse between her legs.
Her lover gave her a sympathetic look. “Horses are weird, aren’t they?” Sera called out to her, rolling her eyes in exaggerated frustration, hoping to pantomime her way into making Nehna feel better. “Maybe you lot with your fancy wagons have the right idea, after all.”
“You seem far more comfortable with this than I am, vhenan,” Nehna murmured. “Did you ride before you met me?”
Sera looked guilty. “Once or twice,” she admitted, looking uncomfortable. “Not much, though. Nothing proper. Just found some noble’s horse tied up somewhere and ran through the street with it. I put it back safe and all, cleaned it up until its bloody coat shone, but the rich tit didn't even notice it had ever left.”
Nehna chuckled. That sounded like Sera, alright. At least it made two of them who were uncomfortable in the saddle. She couldn’t look back comfortably to see if the others were similarly affected, so she just hoped for their sakes they weren’t suffering as much as she was. Creators, she thought, if only it was Sera and not the horse...
Sera and not the horse? Now there was an idea to get her through the rest of the ride.
“I see it!” Hawke called out from their midst. “Crestwood ahead!” Nehna could have kissed her with relief, but Sera wasn’t the sharing sort; still, she couldn’t help a little whoop of joy escape her lips. The ride had been so hard, so unpleasant and uncomfortable, that a little rest in the town’s inn would be very welcome.
From the sound of things, her companions agreed.
“A pause would do wonders for the horses if we find an inn,” Solas said. “They need a rest as much as we do.”
“Oh, bleed that. A pause would do wonders for my legs. I think they’re on the verge of falling off,” Dorian grumbled.
“You don’t trust your amatus to make it all better?” Bull rumbled beside him. “I could do that little massage you love.” Even with only one eye, you knew the difference when he winked and blinked.
Blackwall cleared his throat audibly. “We could all do with a rest, it seems,” he announced to nobody in particular. “This Warden won’t mind if we meet him tomorrow, I’m sure.”
“There’s a hole in the frigging sky. If he gets his knickers in a twist over not meeting us soon enough, then his priorities are seriously fucked,” Sera sniggered.
“Couldn’t have put it better myself, Sera,” he chuckled back. Blackwall had struck up quite a rapport with her lover as of late, and it made Nehna smile to see their friendship blossom... Even if it was over coarse jokes that made Solas sigh his way back into his skull and four-letter words she could never put down on their reports to Leliana.
"I suppose we'll just have to find the mayor and tell him we're staying the night," Nehna called out. Hawke urged her steed closer until she was by Nehna's side. "What did you say his name was?"
"Maker, I can't even remember now." Hawke chuckled, shaking her head in amusement. "He did say it began with a D, though. Now, what was it... Ded-something? Deddon? Deddick? Maybe it was Derrick, actually, now I come to think of it."
"Maybe he'll introduce himself to us."
It looked unlikely, though. The town of Crestwood seemed oddly quiet. Too quiet. Deserted. Nehna felt a wave of unease wash over her, sending chills down her spine.
"Do you think anyone will introduce themselves to us?" She wondered aloud. "Is anyone actually there?"
"Maybe they're all too shy. They might have seen two of the most famous women in Thedas and had an attack of the vapours," Dorian suggested helpfully.
"Something's wrong," Solas murmured, reaching reflexively to grab his staff strapped to his back.
Bull nodded. "It's very suspicious. Be on your guard, everyone. Shields up, and don't let go of your weapons until we know for a certainty what's happened here."
Grimly, the party dismounted, leading the horses over to be tied down before they made their way further. Solas and Nehna cast barriers over the party to be extra safe, exchanging glances and words about how best to deflect any potential incoming attacks. Blackwall gripped his shield tight enough to turn his knuckles white, and Bull scanned the horizon, keeping a wary eye out.
Suddenly, the Qunari gasped and turned back to face the party. "It's flooded," he said. His eye was wide open with fear, snapping over to rest on Dorian's face, although the other man was just as troubled as he was.
There was a long, uncomfortable silence while everyone absorbed his words.
"Ah. So that's why nobody came," Dorian muttered. "They all wanted to go for a nice, long swim a few seasons too early. How convenient."
"We'll need to find a way to get through there. There has to be some way to drain the water, right?" Nehna sighed.
Solas looked over to her. "It appears the lake has flooded its banks," he said quietly. "Perhaps if we find a control for the dam somewhere, we might be able to drain the water back and pass safely."
"The mayor would know where that is, wouldn't he? We just have to find him, then." Hawke peered down at the lake with alarm, shaking her head. "He seemed like such a dependable sort, too. I don't know why he's not here right now, but I'm sure we'll come across him sooner or later."
"He may be tending to his people," Solas murmured. "If the lake suddenly flooded, they will be frightened."
A voice spoke up beside them. "Frightened, shaking, 'What's going on, Mother? The water is so cold.' They wait for him, knowing he will come back, because he always does. And then he doesn't. They sit, afraid, knowing and not wanting to, and the water is so cold."
Nehna nearly jumped out of her skin, aiming her staff and readying a barrage of flames in the intruder's direction, when Solas tapped her arm urgently, eyes wide.
"Inquisitor, no! It's only Cole." He shook his head and pointed.
"The boy must have tagged along behind our backs," Blackwall muttered. "I never even heard him. Maker, you're like a ghost sometimes, Cole."
"Our weird squirrelly lad," Bull said with something like fondness in his tone.
"You've got a spirit with you?" Hawke looked uneasy. Her face was steadily turning white. "Maker... oh Maker..."
"It wasn't your fault," Cole told her with surprising firmness. "Anders was troubled, and then he was possessed. I am bound to no one save myself. And Solas made a promise to me. You are safe." He gave her a lop-sided smile.
"Cole is not a danger to anybody here," Solas added. "He is a Spirit of Compassion."
"A rare thing these days, and much needed." Hawke looked slightly more reassured as she gave the spirit a shaky nod. "Just don't end up like Justice, please? I've had enough Vengeance to last me a lifetime."
"I promise. I wouldn't like Vengeance much. Or Justice. Too cold, serious, frightening. I just want to help people."
He looked so earnest and solemn that Hawke laughed as she said, "Already you're leagues ahead of either of them, Cole." It was a laugh without much laughter in it, but there was a half-smile on her face at least. "Now, let's find the mayor and get this situation sorted out. Failing that, a nice cozy inn to sleep in. I'm going to fall asleep on my feet, otherwise, mud be damned."
As the party moved on hesitantly, Nehna fought the urge to groan once more. One extra person, on top of another extra person.
Josephine would explode. Perhaps she'd give Corpyheus a run for his money if it ever came to verbal sparring. Nehna couldn't help but smile at the thought of a centuries old darkspawn magister with a dragon on his side being harrassed by a young woman aggressively brandishing a quill that barely covered the size of his forearm. She'd give him hell, I bet.
It was those thoughts Nehna kept in her head as they advanced down into Crestwood, desperately trying to stay calm. Every nerve in her body was screaming, begging her to flee, to run away and rid herself of this foul place. It stank of despair, fear and death. It was wrong, all wrong, and she wanted to cry.
Taking Sera's hand for comfort and clasping her staff tightly in the other, Nehna calmly strode on, ready to meet the mayor of Crestwood and whatever sights might be in store for them. Or whatever else is waiting to meet us. She gulped and shook her head, trembling.
Thanks for being patient everyone! Basically, until last Saturday I was on holiday with really patchy wifi and no way to write or update, and then on Tuesday my grandfather had a massive stroke and is in hospital in a really poor state, so I just wasn't really motivated to write much but I wanted to at least get 1 chapter up for you guys so hopefully this isn't bad and I'll try to get into a more regular schedule soon once everything hopefully settles down and gets a little better. I've got a few one-shots drafted and planned in the meantime so if you'd like to see that in the meantime at least then I can post that too.
I'm just really sorry for the delay with everything but it's just been so stressful and hectic lately but I really wanted to get this up at least.
So who likes a bit of nightmare fuel? Nehna and co. battle walking corpses as they make their way to Crestwood. It's only going to get more angsty from here onwards.
This chapter is also going to be more violent than the others, by the way. I don't know if this counts as 'graphic' violence per se, but I'll put a tag up just to be safe.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
"Maker preserve me."
Blackwall's stuttered prayer almost made Nehna jump out of her skin.
"What's wrong?" she asked him, but the man had gone white as a sheet. He looked almost on the verge of throwing up, and his whole body was trembling; it was all the warrior could do to point to the village gates with a trembling finger and choked sound that might have been a plea for help.
Nehna had been too distracted to look ahead of her as they approached the little village - or rather, too fearful. As they had entered the region, she had felt a distinct feeling of unease sweep over her, something that made her feel worse than any amount of uncomfortable horse-riding ever could. She had done her best to ignore it, but Blackwall's breathy groans did nothing to make her feel any better, and her fear returned at full strength.
Her entire body was begging her not to look, but she couldn't resist. Don't look, don't look, don't look -
That was all Nehna could manage before a nervous burst of laughter escaped her. "They're walking," she murmured to herself, almost as if in wonder.
For a moment, she could imagine the villagers as simply being drunk. Very drunk. They lurched and swayed, unsteady on their feet, and for a time she thought they resembled some of the more inebriated patrons back at Skyhold's tavern. The reeling motions were certainly unfamiliar, as if they were being pulled along by strings that suddenly jerked this way and that, and the villagers were helpless but to follow along in their strange little dance.
For a moment, with their arms outstretched as they ran towards her, she imagined they were simply very enthusiastic. They wanted to hug her. They were reaching out with grasping hands, and Nehna wanted to hug them back, to fold them into her arms and reassure them. They were groaning and gasping; maybe they were frightened, or in pain. She had her healing spells - she could fix them. She could fix this.
For a moment, Nehna simply froze, unable to move or think.
The dead lurched forward as they sensed the party grow closer. Somehow, they saw, even with long-rotten eyes; some had even fallen out of their skulls, but they were far less disconcerting. It was the ones with the dead eyes who frightened her the most, because for a split second, they almost looked human.
Who knew a dead body could move so fast, she wondered, as one of them looked up and ran, bolting towards them as if Fen'Harel himself was snapping at its heels.
"Vashtoh! Nehna! Run!" She heard Bull's panicked shout as the Qunari ran towards her, and then all of a sudden the thing was knocked to the ground. It got back up almost immediately, and it made sounds no person, living or dead, should ever make: horrible groans, stuttering gasps, the sounds of a long-dead creature trying to croak out words on rotting vocal cords.
When Bull sliced into its stomach with one fell swoop, it let out a high, keening wail that chilled Nehna to the bone, even more so than the sight and stench of its rotting innards falling to its ankles with a horrible plop. The creature staggered to the ground, collapsing in on itself with jerky motions, and in its dying moments, she saw it reach out to her one last time.
Does it know who I am? Does it feel anything anymore? Does it know fear, or pain?
The brief thought that perhaps, somewhere deep down, was a line of sentient thought left in its body made her shiver.
Its head went flying as the Qunari's axe sliced it clean off from its shoulders, covering his armour with a spray of foul, black ooze.
Blood, she thought to herself. It has blood like I do.
He gave her a firm jerk, snapping her out of her hysteria. "Boss, I really need you to focus," he said, his voice cutting through the haze. Nehna saw with a stab in her gut the way his eye looked as he scanned the horizon, counting more and more of them emerge. It was perilously close to fear. "There are more of these things, and we need all the spells we're going to get to make them stay dead. We need you here, alive."
"Nehna!" The sound of her lover's panicked scream in the distance nearly brought her to tears. "Don't you die on me, or I'll kill you!"
Nehna shook her head, half smiling. "I promise, vhenan," she yelled in response, slowly staggering to her feet with the Qunari's help. She felt ashamed of herself.
Noticing her expression change, he shook his head, giving her arm a tight squeeze until Nehna looked him in the eye. "It's not the time," Bull said firmly. "Focus."
Filled with new resolve, Nehna nodded, grabbed her staff and raced over to where Sera and Solas stood. The mage looked pale yet intently focused as he cast wave after wave of barrier spells over the party, and there was a thin sheen of sweat at his brow as he clenched his jaw tight.
Sera clutched her tight, almost dropping her bow. "I thought I'd lost you," she murmured, her voice catching. "You went so still, and that - that thing was so close, and I... I... Shit."
Gently removing herself from her lover's arms, Nehna gave her a kiss. "I promise it won't happen again," she replied. "I'm here, and we're going to win."
With a half-sob, Sera nodded, clutching her bow tight as she readied herself. With a loud shriek, she fired a volley of arrows into the swarms of the dead, and Nehna watched all of them stumble to the ground without so much as a grunt.
Cole raced about the field, daggers twinkling as he moved, but there was nothing pleasant about the way he stabbed the dead. The spirit had a dark, furious expression, carried along by the waves of frenzied battle-fury that had infected the whole party, and the sight of such pure hate on his face was unnerving, entirely at odds with his gentle, calm demeanor. He sank his daggers into the nearest corpse and cut jagged lines from its shoulder to its hip, and as it shrieked as it fell, guts and ooze leaking out from underneath its flailing body as it hit the ground.
Solas had told Nehna once that demons were just corrupted spirits, beings corrupted from their true, original purpose. Cole was a Spirit of Compassion, and she had followed through with his ritual, ensuring he was no longer at risk... but it still felt wrong to see him this way.
Was it compassion that bade him strike, and compassion that moved his daggers deep into their hearts? Was it compassion that made him kill them all, turning walking corpses into still and lifeless bodies... or something else entirely?
She did not want to know the answer, and shook her head, looking away from him.
"How are the barriers holding up?" Nehna asked Solas, who gave her a distracted nod in response. "Keep them as strong as you can then, please. There's going to be a lot of fire in a few seconds."
"As you wish, Inquisitor." He gritted his teeth and raised his palm towards the party, bathing them in a soft green glow that hovered around them for a few seconds.
"Dorian, Hawke!" The two mages looked up as she yelled over to them. "We're going to be using all the fire we can! It's the only thing that works right now!"
They nodded, gripping their staves tighter as they readied their spells.
Nehna looked over to Sera, who was firing her arrows deep into the corpses' guts with a flinty, cold gaze. "Stand back, vhenan," she murmured gently. "I don't want to hit you by accident."
"I'd be more worried about you setting me on fire, thanks." Still, Sera took a few steps backwards, keeping out of arm's reach.
Nehna took in a deep breath, readying herself, and stretched out her hand. There was heat inside her whole body now, spreading itself out in waves from her stomach to her shoulder and winding its way down her arm into her hand. Feel the energy inside you, she remembered Keeper Deshanna saying. Call it forth, but stay focused where you direct it.
She sensed the flames in the palm of her hand and pushed.
Almost instantly, the ground beneath the corpses caught fire, causing them to stumble and scream. The flames licked at their heels, towering over them and rising until they rivaled Bull in height, wreathing the dead in a cage of unrelenting heat.
She felt the fire Hawke and Dorian had cast as it overlapped with her own flames, and she saw Bull and Blackwall hastily back away, moving closer to the gate and fighting the oncoming corpses instead. Nehna had never seen Bull look so alarmed before as he took in the sight of the dead running to greet them, but Blackwall was the very picture of grim determination as he clutched his shield before him and charged.
The four walls of flame became even tighter and closer together, forcing the corpses back until they stumbled together, falling to the ground with terrible, high-pitched screams. All around them, the ground turned black from the mages' combined efforts to set them afire, and billowing clouds of dark smoke danced in thick, overpowering columns as the dead writhed in agony.
Their screaming was the worst sound Nehna had ever heard. It pulled at her heart, sending shivers down her spine, and it took every last ounce of willpower to stop her body trembling. She saw the way they thrashed and shook, rotting limbs leaking out droplets of black filth as long-dead bodies succumbed to the fire. The scent of rotten, charred flesh almost made her fall to her knees and empty her stomach, but she forced herself to focus.
I am the Inquisitor, and I will not yield. I am the First of my clan, and I will not break.
Still, she could take no joy in witnessing them die. They are already dead, Nehna reminded herself... and yet they were filled with such pain that it was hard for her to watch at times.
With one last swoop of fire, one last sword-thrust into rotting flesh, one last, grim push of pure will... it was done. The last throngs of the dead fell to the floor and did not rise again.
Blackwall gave the nearest corpse a wary prod with the tip of his sword, checking to make sure that it would not seize him with its hands if he walked past. Then he turned away, ashen-faced, and heaved into the ground.
Even Solas looked shaken. "I had heard of such a thing before, but I never..." He stopped suddenly. "Corpses are at risk of possession if they are not cremated, and even a body buried with full and proper rites is at risk. Any demon possessing a corpse is trapped, unable to return to the Fade, as corpses lack any lifeforce... and so the demons turn insane, twisted by such fury and hate that they kill indiscriminately on sight."
His voice was tight and hoarse, and he looked so unsettled that Nehna placed a reassuring arm around his shoulders. The two of them stood like that for a moment before he shook his head, wandering away to contemplate his surroundings in private.
Demons, she noticed. Not spirits. Then again, any spirit tempted to cross the Veil likely renounced its right to stay a spirit the moment it defiled the dead. She gripped her staff tight as she cast an ice glyph over the field, cooling down the grass.
"They were dead," Sera murmured beside her. The other woman looked blank. "They were dead, but they were moving. They were fucking moving." She shivered and buried her head into her lover's chest, wrapping her arms around her tight as she choked back sobs. "Maker, don't make me see anything like that again, I beg you. No more spirits, no more weird shit. Just... don't. I can't, Inky."
"I promise, vhenan." Nehna let her chin rest on top of Sera's head as the other woman drooped slightly, hiding away from the horrors in front of them.
For a long moment, the rest of the party stood in silence, struggling to process all that they had just witnessed and experienced. There was a bird calling in the distance, perhaps warning its kin to stay far away from Crestwood. The thought would have made Nehna smile if she hadn't been blinking furiously. Her eyes were brimming over.
Gently detaching herself from her lover's arms, Nehna approached the dead warily and knelt beside them. "Nuva Falon’Din ghi’l ma ove i’ve’an, i sule uth’then’era," she said, hoping her voice didn't sound as shaky as she feared. "Nuva Falon’Din ghi’l nar shosaan i ladar nar sal."
She had heard the Keeper say the words before, each time with a wistful tone in her voice, and now it was Nehna's turn. When she became the Keeper in earnest, she would have to bury her clanmates with the same words... at least, if Corypheus didn't cleave the world apart first.
It was a sobering thought.
"They would thank you, if they could," Cole murmured. "They died in fear and pain, but your words reach out to guide and heal."
"Just now?" Nehna was startled. "Oh. I..." There were no words she could say as the guilt returned.
"No." He shook his head firmly, and his tone was emphatic. "That was not them, and that was not when they died." He looked over to the village gates, and his eyes narrowed sharply. He had suddenly grown cold, and his gaze was both suspicious and disapproving.
Nehna looked over, curious as to what had made the spirit grow so cold so suddenly. She saw a figure approach hurriedly, hands raised in surrender, and stood to greet them.
"Halt," she said, her voice carrying like the crack of a whip. "Who goes there?"
"Dedrick, ma'am," the man said, nervously scurrying closer and offering a hurried bow as he recognised her. "Gregory Dedrick, mayor of Crestwood."
"Why weren't you here earlier?" Hawke asked as she raised an eyebrow, hand on hip. "You could have helped with this whole situation." She spread her arms wide, indicating the carnage around them.
Dedrick blanched. "I'm not the fighting sort," he murmured, hastily averting his eyes from the charred bodies, "and I... They're my people, no matter what might have become of them now. I couldn't." He pressed a hand to his brow. "Maker preserve their souls."
"Is there anywhere we might be able to stay the night? Perhaps an inn of sorts?" Nehna asked him, softening her tone somewhat. The poor man was clearly shaken, and it wouldn't do them any favours to make him an enemy of theirs. He seemed amenable enough as it was.
"There's a tavern near Caer Bronach. The Rusted Horn. I don't know what sort of shape it would be in though. It won't be fancy or plush." Dedrick gave her an apologetic look. "We haven't really been thinking of visitors much, what with... well... the situation."
"I understand." She put a hand on his shoulder to stop him trembling, and sent a soft pulse of magic through him.
The mayor became calmer almost instantly, even offering her a smile. "I don't know what you just did there, but I feel like thirty years've just left my shoulders. Haven't had much by way of joy or luck as of late." Nehna gestured for him to carry on, and he sighed. "I suppose you've fought them, then. You know what they look like. What they are."
"They came charging at us as soon as we approached the gates," Blackwall explained solemnly. "If there had been any way to avoid this, I swear to you we would have taken it."
"They were possessed," Solas added. "In places of great turmoil and unrest, spirits cross the Veil far more frequently, being attracted by the strong emotions they sense in our world. Some of them are drawn to the dead, yet once one of them enters a non-living body, it cannot leave. They go mad with fury." He cast his gaze downwards. "I am sorry."
Dedrick nodded, taking it all in. "There's a rift that opened up in the lake, near the caves. They flooded years ago during the Blight, so nobody could reach it, and then when the dead started walking there was no way to stop them. We couldn't fight them, so my people fled up here." His voice caught. "Old Crestwood is flooded and overrun with the dead now, but they're still my people. If there's no way to soothe them, to prevent this happening again..." He closed his eyes. "Just make it quick, Inquisitor. That's all I ask. They deserve that, if nothing else."
"I give you my word," Nehna promised him. "Is there any way to get across the lake?"
"The dam controls. They were wrecked by darkspawn ten years ago with the Blight, so Maker only knows if they still work. You'll need to head to the keep though, and there's bandits about." Dedrick shivered. "None of us here are fighting sorts. We just want a quiet life."
"Oh, but we are," Sera smiled. "We'll get this all the right way up again faster than you can say, 'Hey, it's not flooded anymore!'"
A half-smile flickered its way across the mayor's face. "A stroke of luck brought you here to us. Perhaps the Maker's hand guided you, or... Forgive me, Inquisitor, but I do not know the names of your gods. If they brought you here though, or - or whatever made you come in the first place, we are all incredibly grateful to the Inquisition." Dedrick offered Nehna a bow again.
"Right. That's enough goodwill to last us all the way back to Skyhold," Dorian smirked. "We'd best get on our way there before your bandits get a little too comfortable with their new castle." He chuckled. "Can't blame them, really. After living in one for a few months myself, I'd be reluctant to give it up."
"That would be impossible, kadan. You'd be crying without your oils and drapes and fancy little silk things," Bull teased him, laughing as the other man shook his head and scowled.
"Let's leave before I want to die of embarrassment," Hawke sighed. Beside her, Solas nodded in agreement.
"I'll get the horses set up again," Blackwall announced, and Cole hurried off to help him. The spirit seemed to have the uncanny ability to soothe any animal the Inquisition came into contact with, and whenever he travelled with them as a party, his assistance with the horses was always invaluable.
"We'll be leaving you for now, then," Nehna told the mayor. "Is there anything else you might need assistance with?"
"Oh, no! I couldn't possibly ask for more from you!" Dedrick chuckled. "I have no way to thank you for your help as it is, but perhaps if it does work after all, and after we get ourselves back on our feet a little... Well, I could always send some coin along the way."
"You are in no way obliged to do so, but it would be much appreciated." Nehna smiled at him. "Take care. I'd advise you and your people stay in your houses for now, then. Just in case."
"Of course, Inquisitor."
They both nodded to each other as Blackwall and Cole arrived, horses in tow, and the party saddled themselves back up again. Sera gave Nehna a long, lingering squeeze from behind.
"You were so brave out there," she whispered. "So... so fiery. Literally. It was... wow." Sera kissed the back of her lover's neck. "No more creepy stuff though, you hear me? Next time, take me somewhere nice," she teased.
"I'll take you to Empress Celene's palace myself. We'll move in there, claim Inquisitor's privileges, and then she can't turn us out," Nehna chuckled.
Sera made a rude noise. "Pah! Don't go mixing titles in with fun stuff, you loony. Too nobley. Too arsey."
"I thought you liked my arse?"
After the two women had finished laughing together and were safely seated on their own horses, Nehna gave the party a final glance over, checking that everyone was comfortable and ready. Then, with a last look towards Crestwood, they were off.
Translations: (as always, thank you to FenxShiral and his wonderful Project Elvhen!)
Nuva Falon’Din ghi’l ma ove i’ve’an, i sule uth’then’era - may Falon’Din guide you through the beyond and into uthenera
Nuva Falon’din ghi’l nar shosaan i ladar nar sal - may Falon’Din guide your feet and guard your soul
Let's be real, seeing actual walking corpses is going to be a pretty terrifying sight. Robert Kirkman doesn't exist in Thedas, so our party is seeing more or less the fantasy equivalent of zombies for the very first time. That's going to feel like a punch to the gut for anybody, so I wanted to kind of emphasise how unsettling and downright weird they would find it. Even someone like Bull isn't immune to fear, especially when it's things like the undead that scare the pants off him.
The group relax together in the tavern, and Nehna, Sera and Cole help Hawke come to terms with her grief and past.
Clearing out Caer Bronach was surprisingly easy; then again, the party had the advantage of numbers, skill, and determination on their side. The bandits they cut down had little more going for them than sheer desperation to guard their stolen property, and they collapsed under the combined might of swords, arrows and spells like a worn, rickety bridge.
After they took a moment to get their breath back, Hawke let out a laugh and gestured round to them all.
"So, he said there was a tavern nearby, right?" Already leading the way out, she turned around in surprise when none of them followed her. "Why don't we go and rest there? It beats hulking around dank caves, that's for sure."
"She's got you there, love." Sera gave Nehna a little prod. "We can rest our feet up for a bit, yeah? The world won't come to an end because you decide you want a proper night's sleep or whatever."
"It might," Dorian shrugged, "but I'd rather die in a comfy bed with a belly full of wine, at any rate."
Nehna sighed, turning round to look at Solas. He was usually the most mature member of the party, and could generally be relied upon to help settle things. "What do you think, Solas?"
To her surprise, the apostate shook his head. "I'm sorry, Inquisitor, but I have to agree with them," he murmured, strapping his staff to his back. "We should seize the opportunity to rest and recover while we can. It is rare enough that we get to do so comfortably, after all." He gave her an apologetic look but otherwise seemed set in his opinion.
"What a sensible man," Hawke grinned, gesturing to Nehna. "So, you coming?"
"It does sound safer than camping outside," Nehna admitted before shrugging. "We can always set up wards around the building, then."
Sera was beaming as she gave her lover a proud glance. "See? Woman of the people. She knows what we want." Moving closer, she whispered into her lover's ear, "And I'm sure she knows what I want."
"All in good time, vhenan," Nehna assured her, although she couldn't help but smile. Giving the keep a final glance to make sure they hadn't forgotten anything vital, she set off hand in hand with Sera, hearing her friends eagerly follow behind them.
The Rusted Horn could have been in better shape, Nehna supposed, but all things considered, it seemed to be doing well enough. It had clearly only been abandoned relatively recently; the menu was still clear to read, and though there was a visible layer of dust everywhere, that was nothing a little spot of focused cleaning (or ignorance) couldn't handle.
"Cole, perhaps you could help settle the horses nearby," she told the spirit as everyone lead their respective horses over. He nodded and walked away, and the horses followed him happily.
"I don't have a nice brush for you all," he murmured apologetically, "but there are some oats in my bag." As Cole rummaged around, the horses whinnied to one another.
"He really does have a way with animals," Hawke said wonderingly.
"That he does," Bull smiled proudly. He had taken the boy under his wing, a little good-natured teasing and the last vestiges of his fear of demons notwithstanding, and any onlooker might think of the pair as closer to father and son than a Qunari mercenary and a Spirit of Compassion. It was strange and unusual, perhaps, but then Cole probably wouldn't have been out of place among the Chargers for that reason, and a bond of sorts had recently formed between the two men.
"Solas, Hawke, Dorian?" Nehna gestured. "We'll set up wards around the entrance, then at the doors to wherever we're all sleeping for the night." The mages nodded, and Solas began casting around the entrance. The green light flickered against his skin for a moment before he lowered his hand, satisfied.
"Is anyone actually here?" Sera peered through the doorway. "Ooh, it's dark and gloomy. That's never a good sign." She shivered, shaking her head.
A crackle of flames appeared in Dorian's palm. "If I find a torch somewhere, I could light things up a little more," he mused, walking on ahead.
Sera yelped, moving closer to Nehna. "That stuff's never going to stop being weird," she hissed. "Flames and shite all of a sudden, just like that out of nowhere? Eurrgh." She shivered, shaking her head.
"I know exactly what you mean," Bull rumbled from behind. "Weird magic crap? Not for me, thanks."
"He gets it!"
"He's not a mage, vhenan," Nehna smiled, before lowering her voice. "Besides, you don't complain with my magic, do you?" she added conspiratorially.
"You've got me there." Sera gave her a wink. "That stuff's the only good magic, though."
"What, so all the barriers, the healing magic... All of that can just go?"
The two women laughed as they followed Dorian's flames further into the tavern. As the mage looked around the room, sending little streams of flame into the nearby torches on the walls and the fireplace, something became painfully clear very quickly.
They were not alone.
The two lovers yelped as they were suddenly made visible, shifting apart from each other as if they had been struck by lightning.
"I guess the abandoned tavern wasn't quite as abandoned as Dedrick told us," Hawke chuckled.
"Please, we don't want any trouble. We were just going, I swear!" The girl squealed, and her lover moved in front of her protectively.
"We didn't know you were here, my lady," he said, trying to sound brave but betrayed by the quaver in his voice. "P-please don't tell anyone we were here!"
"Sneaking out, hmm?" Nehna couldn't help but smile. "How did you even end up here, anyway? The keep was overrun with bandits until we cleared it out just now."
"We..." The girl blushed. "We came up here to get away from his parents - "
"And yours!" The boy added, sounding somewhat defensive.
"And we didn't really notice what was happening until it was too late." She clutched at her lover's hand and shifted about awkwardly. The pair of them were practically scarlet, and neither of them would meet Nehna's eyes, or anybody else's.
Nehna couldn't help but laugh. She didn't feel like being the stern Inquisitor, and at any rate the pair of them looked close enough to her in age that it would have felt a little strange anyway. "Well, I can promise I won't tell Dedrick or anyone else about this," she chuckled before gesturing to the door. "But it's probably best if the pair of you get back to your families as quickly as you can. We cleared out the keep, but there are other dangers lurking about." She was smiling, not using the Inquisitor Voice that filled Sera with dread, but her voice still brook no argument.
Thanking her, and practically tripping over their tongues while doing so, the two red-faced lovers fled the scene.
Nehna laughed again, and everybody except Solas joined in this time around. Even her grim-faced apostate friend couldn't resist a brief twinge at the corner of his mouth, though, before shaking his head and sighing.
"Oh, beat it, Droopy." Sera rolled her eyes. "At least there's someone else out there having fun, yeah? You're just jealous because you're growing cobwebs in your breeches." She lowered her voice and slouched, doing her best Solas impression. "I only talk about magic and Fade shite and I'm bitter because nobody wants to hear me talk about elven glory."
Dorian snorted, and Solas bristled.
"Some of us have more important things to concern ourselves with, Sera," he retorted. "The state of Thedas and saving the world, for one thing. We do not have time for your childish antics."
"Vhenan, maybe we should drop the subject," Nehna whispered. When it became apparent she, too, was biting back laughter, Solas scowled at her in return and shook his head.
"Right," Bull agreed. "We can start agreeing who's sleeping where, and maybe see if the inn has enough good drinks left." He sauntered off in the direction of the bar, Dorian trailing behind him.
An inspection of the inn revealed there were enough guest rooms for the whole party to hypothetically have their own, but both Sera and Dorian refused to be parted from their respective lovers. The rooms were all roughly the same size, so Nehna just pointed at each one and called out a name at random until everyone was all sorted.
"Let's all have a moment to ourselves to unpack and relax a bit before we regroup," she suggested, and the party agreed, all going their own seperate ways.
When they reached their room, Sera dumped her pack on the floor and leaped into the bed, giving a little moan of pleasure. "Maker, this thing is softer than your tits," she called out, gleefully rolling around.
Nehna chuckled, placing her pack down and sitting next to the other woman, sliding her legs across her lap. "Are you going to leave me for a mattress, vhenan?" she teased.
Her lover shook her head, pulling Nehna down until she crashed on top of her with a little oof, moving until she lay on top of her more comfortably. "Oh, never," Sera chuckled, sliding her hands over Nehna's back. "Not when I've got the real thing right here. Maybe a pillow, though. You never know."
"I'll just have to show you why I'm the better option, then," Nehna purred, rocking her hips as she kissed Sera's neck, giving it a gentle suck. She moved in a fluttering trail from her neck to her collarbone, then all the way back up to her mouth, kissing her long and hard.
When they parted for breath, the two women were gasping, and Nehna gave her lover a wolfish grin. "Convinced yet, vhenan?"
Sera shook her head, wrapping her legs around her lover's waist and pulling her closer, grinding against her thigh until Nehna sighed. "Not yet. Why don't you show me a little more, love?"
Nehna chuckled. "Oh, I will. Just you wait and see."
When Sera was adequately convinced, the two women lay together naked in a tumble of arms and legs, covered in a sheen of light sweat and breathing heavily. It had been a while since they'd had the freedom and privacy to make love quite as passionately without worrying about being easily overheard, and the aching limbs that creaked when they moved were proof enough.
Sera pulled her in for a kiss, gentle and tender this time, still panting slightly. "Maker," she breathed. It was all she could say; after fondly looking into Nehna's eyes for a moment longer, she collapsed against her chest with a wide grin.
Nehna kissed her forehead. "I agree," she said softly. "Ar lath ma, vhenan."
"I love you too."
They lay together for a moment longer, basking in the hazy afterglow and listening to their hearts beating in unison, slowly returning to a more gentle pace.
"Reckon we should go and find the others?" Sera asked, propping herself up.
"I suppose," Nehna said reluctantly. It was such a tempting thought to abandon the Inquisition altogether and stay in bed, wrapped up in the touch and scent of Sera all around her... but she couldn't. Sighing, she rolled out of bed and hunted for her clothes, beginning to dress herself.
Sera padded over to join her, flashing her a teasing grin. "Aww Inky, don't be so sad," she laughed, pulling her lips until they drooped into an exaggerated unhappy expression. "We can still go sideways later, yeah? I'm not going anywhere. Promise." She pressed a kiss to Nehna's cheek and gave her hand a squeeze, and the other woman smiled.
"Of course, vhenan." Nehna ruffled her hair, and then the two women dressed together, each helping lace and fasten the other back into their respective clothing, smoothing down rumples and creases until - if you were unobservant enough - an onlooker might not realise they had spent the past one and a half hours flung to the floor.
"There we go." Sera beamed at her. "You look the part enough. Ready to face them?"
"With you by my side? Always, vhenan." Nehna took her hand in hers.
"There you go again, getting all mushy, you." Sera gave her a teasing swat, but looked pleased enough.
The two women wandered back down to the common room, hand in hand, and saw the rest of the party had already regrouped. Someone had pulled the tables and benches closer together, and Bull had clearly found the alcohol he was looking for: the Qunari was half slumped in his chair, loudly laughing at everything, and Dorian looked both exasperated and amused.
When he saw them emerge, Bull called them over and waved so exuberantly Dorian had to duck to avoid being hit. "You finished unpacking, then?" he yelled.
"Is that what they call it these days?" Nehna smiled, which only made Bull break out into loud gales of laughter once more.
"Kaffas, you idiot," Dorian murmured, half-smiling. "No more ale for you."
"What, this stuff?" Bull shook his tankard and chuckled, slightly less loudly this time. "This is nothing, kadan. This swill wouldn't even make a tamassran cry."
"I pray I never have to see if you're lying, then."
"Nehna! Sera! You've come to join the world of the living!" Varric gestured to a free table on the opposite side. "We thought maybe you were hit by unforeseen circumstances, but I assured the rest of them you hadn't scuttled off to the Fade somewhere."
"Oh, I was elbow deep in circumstances alright," Sera grinned as they sat down and Nehna ducked her head, blushing behind a curtain of dark hair. Hawke chuckled, and Solas only rolled his eyes in disdain.
"So, you reckon we should stay here until tomorrow, or maybe a little longer?" Hawke asked, looking around at all of them. "It seems safe and comfortable enough up here. We've got our wards, the bandits are dead, and we'd be out of the villagers' hair. They've got enough to deal with, it seems." She shivered slightly.
"Seems sensible enough to me," Dorian agreed, and everyone else nodded.
"I don't think we'll be here too much longer anyway," Nehna said. "We just have to meet Hawke's Warden friend, maybe try and solve this corpse nightmare for these people, and then be on our way back to Skyhold."
"Who is it we're seeing again, anyway?" Varric asked, pouring himself a mug of ale from Bull's rejected tankard.
"Stroud," Hawke answered. "He's a dependable man, and he sent us his location to meet once we're ready. I guess once we've found a way to drain the caves the mayor talked about, it might be a good idea to talk to him and send a raven ahead to Leliana about whatever he reports to us. I don't know how long we'll be here for." She shook her head. "Something about this place feels... off."
"Yeah," Sera agreed, scowling. "It's... it's well weird. I kind of just want to head back already." She shot Nehna a pleading look.
"Once we've drained the caves and spoken to Stroud, we'll see if there's an easy solution to this Crestwood problem," Nehna replied. "If it's something that won't require us going out of our way to fix it, we'll think about it."
"These people deserve our help," Cole added. "They cry out in the night, fearing who will stumble up from the lake. A sister, a mother, a friend. Dead, but walking. They are all afraid."
"And if we can find a way to get them back on their feet, they might have useful supplies or information," Blackwall said.
"Or people," Solas agreed. "Never underestimate the worth of a good agent."
"But of course we'll be doing all this tomorrow, right?" Bull asked, giving a theatrical yawn. "Some of us want to get some rest soon. Actual rest this time." He shot Dorian an amused glance which the other man pretended not to see.
"Of course, Bull," Nehna reassured him with a smile. "Tonight we can relax a little and recover from everything."
They certainly needed it. Scanning the tables, all she saw were wan, tired faces looking back at her, trying their hardest to smile, but their flagging spirits were palpable.
"How can a spirit be flagging?" Cole asked her, confused.
"Don't worry, kid. Nobody means actual flags or spirits," Bull explained. Cole seemed intrigued, and likely would have asked more about the topic if Varric hadn't seized the chance to change it.
"Alright. Here's something that might make everyone happy," he smiled, putting a stack of cards on the table. "How about a game of Wicked Grace?"
"It's been a while since I've played it," Nehna said bashfully. "You might have to explain the rules to me again."
"Don't trust a word he says, though, Nehna," Hawke told her. "That dwarf cheats his way through the game like a Lowtown merchant."
"Ah, Hawke, you wound me. And here I thought we were friends."
"Well, you can both explain it to me, then," Nehna laughed.
"Everyone in? Sera? Bull?" Varric looked around. "You can even join in if you want to, Cole."
Cole nodded as Varric dealt to him. "The cards have faces." He picked one up and peered at it. "They have faces but they're not talking. They won't say anything to me."
"Uhh... don't talk to the cards, Cole. You'll just creep everybody out."
"I'm in," Dorian said.
"Me too." Bull slammed his tankard down, nearly knocking Dorian to the floor.
"Of course I'm playing," Sera sighed, rolling her eyes when Varric turned to her. "Inky's doing it, so why can't I?"
"Nobody said you couldn't, Buttercup. Now, Solas? Are you - "
"I suppose so," the apostate replied stiffly. "Really, though, I don't - "
"Nobody asked you, pisshead," Sera sneered at him.
"Now, now. Don't break out into a fight over this," Varric said quickly, dealing a little more hurriedly now. "We're not going to lose our lives over a bit of fun now, are we? Hawke, you can go ahead and explain the rules to Nehna then. Oh, and Cole too, of course. I'll just listen in to see if you're getting it right."
"You smug little bastard," Hawke chuckled. "You listening too, Cole?" He nodded. "Okay, so what you need to know is there are five suits - serpents, songs, angels, knights and daggers. We all start with five cards each, and you have to draw and discard and play cards to make your hand stronger. A bad hand is few or no matching suits, a middling hand is two sets of matching suits, and a good hand is about four. How am I holding up so far, Varric?"
"So as I said, we draw, discard and play cards until the Angel of Death appears, because that's the end of the game. Then you all have to show whatever your hand is. Does that make sense to both of you?" The pair of them nodded. "Now, remember there's no cheating in this game," Hawke added, although she winked as she said it.
"Cheating is kind of expected in this game," Varric explained to Cole, who looked aghast.
"But that's against the rules! That doesn't make any sense!" the spirit cried.
Hawke soothed him. "It's alright, Cole. You don't have to cheat. Maybe a few less scrupulous people - " she gave Varric a piercing stare " - might cheat, but you can win the game playing by the rules too. You can be our moral compass!"
Cole beamed at her before looking at his cards, flipping them over to look at the other side. Everyone else turned away to avoid seeing his hand as Varric gently explained about not revealing his cards to everybody, and then the spirit nodded, seeming to finally half-understand.
"So, we ready then?" Bull perked up, suddenly a lot soberer. Nehna wondered if he'd been playing up the drunk act to put them at ease, or even just for his own amusement.
"As ready as we'll ever be, Tiny," Varric chuckled. "Now, dealer starts. How about a silver?"
The game quickly devolved into reminiscing until it was difficult to even follow the game any longer. Hawke had some interesting memories from the Hanged Man and her alcoholic misadventures there.
"They would cheer my name as I walked through the door, and I'd feel like a lion for a moment until I realised I owed half of them ten silvers each, and the rest I owed twice as much," she sighed, shaking her head in amusement. "Ah, Kirkwall."
Solas spoke about grand dances he'd viewed from dreams in the Fade, all fluttering silks and satin with elaborate movements that flowed from one step to the other as easily as drawing breath. From his descriptions, Nehna imagined Josephine squealing in delight and begging for more - this was exactly the ambassador's cup of tea, she thought with a smile.
"Boring," Sera called out, barely stifling a belch. "How about I tell you all the time I nicked a teyrn's underpants?"
"Which one?" Varric offered helpfully. "I think you've robbed several." She swore at him, scowling until Nehna had to soothe her lover once more.
Blackwall regaled them all with tales from his youth, each one growing wilder the more ale he drank until even Varric was looking at him wide-eyed before jotting the details down surreptitiously.
"Although I don't think that's what she thought I was doing at the time," he finished, adding a wink.
"I dare say!" Dorian laughed. "You saucy little minx!" Nehna wondered if anyone had ever called him that before; the poor Wardenblushed heavily but seemed amused nonetheless.
Then Dorian began to tell them all a bawdy story, ostensibly one that had happened to a friend of his, although Sera sniffed out his ruse and called him out on it almost immediately.
"I knew it!" she said, smiling triumphantly as the Tevinter crumbled under the weight of her incessant questioning. "You don't have enough imagination in you to make up something like that. That's his job, anyway," she added with a jerk towards Varric, who gave a low, mocking bow.
"I'll take that as a compliment, Buttercup," the dwarf grinned, while Dorian only glared at him even harder.
"My turn!" Bull cheered. "Alright, Boss, hold onto your chair tight. This is a story about the Dalish." He spoke the last word as if summoning ghouls and bogeymen to the table, and Nehna couldn't help laughing.
"I wonder how my kinsmen would feel, being turned into a monster story," she chuckled.
Bull shook his head. "Oh no, no, it wasn't them. Krem's fault, anyway. The lad wasn't thinking straight, and they helped us - but you haven't let me tell it yet!"
And so the Qunari began to tell them all the riveting story of how he and the Chargers were sent to the Brecilian Forest by a distressed noble to settle with a local clan.... and ended up being attacked by squirrels. The clan had driven the pesky rodents away, and the Chargers had managed to come to a peaceful agreement between all parties concerned. Nobody had ended up offended or even wounded... except Krem's pride.
"It wasn't even those weird tree things," Bull mused. "Krem just had lots of hazelnuts in his pack that day. Told me he wanted to grind them into some kind of paste or something, I don't remember. There was some Orlesian girl he was sweet on, said she'd make him nougat if he gave her hazelnuts, so he packed a few thousand. You could hear them rattling away like a sack of bones the entire time before they swooped down on us." He shook his head, smiling fondly. "What a fool."
"I guess you're the last one for stories then, Cole," Varric smiled. "Do you have anything interesting to tell us, then?"
"She sits alone most of the time, too many thoughts, not enough words to make them go away. It hurts to think of them, but it hurts even more to be without him. Why did he do it? Why didn't he trust me more? I could have saved him, and it's my fault they're dead, but I want him - "
"Cole," Hawke said in a strained tone. "That's not really a story, is it? That's just reading my mind."
There was a long, awkward silence.
"I want to help," the spirit said, seeming confused. "I thought if they all knew, they could help you too. And it's not your fault," he added, more sharply than any of them had ever heard him sound before. "He lied to you, and he manipulated your trust in him. It's not your fault."
Hawke breathed. "I think I'd rather discuss that later in private. Or maybe never. I don't know. But not now, okay Cole?"
"I'm sorry," he whispered, abashed.
"Those kind of thoughts are ... best left unspoken, Cole," Varric told him gently before turning to Hawke. "He really didn't mean any harm though. He's just a kid; that's just how he is."
"It's so creepy though," Sera murmured, shaking her head and shivering in disgust. "Eurrggh."
"Sera," Solas said sternly.
"Ugh. Fine. He's so creepy. Happy now?"
"You know, I've honestly forgotten who's winning in this game," Dorian laughed, trying to banish the ugly silence and tension.
"Can you win this game?" Bull asked, looking puzzled. "I thought this was one of those games where everyone plays and nobody really wins."
"Of course you can win in this game, you great oaf. You just need to have a good hand," Dorian sighed, but he gave his amatus a squeeze on the shoulder to soften the sting from his teasing.
"Alright, then." Varric gestured to everyone. "On the count of three, everyone reveal your hand. One, two, three."
Everyone looked around, scanning their neighbours' cards and exclaiming with dismay or delight as they recognised each suit, until they got to Nehna.
"You've won, love!" Sera squeezed her so tightly that the other woman nearly choked. "Maker, I knew I fell in love with the right one. You're just perfect."
Nehna looked at her cards, stunned. "I... I kind of forgot what they all meant halfway through the game," she said sheepishly.
Dorian chuckled. "Well, understanding it all kind of takes most of the fun away, doesn't it? Besides, you've won!" He raised a tankard of ale. "To our glorious Inquisitor, lady of the people and goddess of the cards!"
"To my Inky-vhenan," Sera beamed, kissing her lover deeply on the mouth and nearly spilling her tankard over their thighs in the process.
After everyone had similarly toasted the blushing elf and drained their tankards (except for Cole, who had not touched a sip of alcohol the entire time and looked utterly bemused by the whole thing), Bull gave his fourth loud yawn of the day.
"I think I'm going to sleep now," he said, shuffling the bench backwards as he staggered into a standing position, swaying like an elephant on a tightrope. "It's been a long day, and I need my rest." He winked at Dorian, who had nearly lost his seating in the process and now stood up to join him. The mage offered a bow to the party as he waved goodbye and followed his lover upstairs, a dramatic flourish that was only slightly ruined by a loud string of hiccups.
Solas followed suit shortly afterwards. He was slightly flushed from the ale and his ears were noticeably pinker than usual, but he managed to at least return to his room with minimal embarrassment.
Blackwall bid everyone goodnight with a string of saucy jokes that made Sera hoot with laughter, each trying to outdo the other until Nehna put a stop to it and all but manhandled the warrior out of his seat. He grinned at her as he climbed upstairs, humming a tuneless tune under his breath as he went away.
"You alright, Hawke?" Varric murmured once their group had shrunk down to five.
"I'm good," she said, shuddering slightly. "I mean, I'll... be good, at any rate. I didn't intend on thinking about Anders tonight. It tends to ruin the mood. Mine, at least." Her laugh was somewhat nervous and uncomfortable.
"Do you want me to stay a little longer?" The dwarf seemed a little worse for wear, half-asleep as it was, but was admirably rallying behind his best friend.
Hawke shook her head. "I might need a little more ale to clear my head, but I'll be good, I promise." She laughed weakly.
"Are you sure?" Varric gave her a helpless look before sighing. "If you insist, then." He turned to the rest of them. "Goodnight, then. I'll see you all tomorrow." He looked stricken as he walked away, but he didn't turn back.
Sera sighed. "Great. Now we've got a Chantry-shaped cloud looming over our heads. A Chantry-shaped cloud yelling about frigging mages." She shot Nehna an apologetic glace. "Not you, though, love."
"I am very sorry, Hawke," Cole whispered. He seemed distraught. "I only wanted to help. I thought it would make things better."
"And it does, sometimes," she told him. "Sometimes talking about him comes as a relief - Maker knows I bottle it up too much anyway. But sometimes it hurts a little too much, and sometimes it's a little too raw." Hawke sighed. "I know you mean well, Cole, but better doesn't always make things easier."
The spirit nodded, absorbing her words like a sponge.
"The important thing to remember with grief and pain is everyone deals with it in different ways," Nehna added. "What works for some people might not for others. Not everyone is ready to discuss things, even if you can sense they want to. Does that make sense?"
Cole nodded. "I think so, yes."
Sera huffed. "It's like talking to a frigging baby or something. A frigging mind-reading Fade-creep baby."
"Vhenan," Nehna warned, and her lover glared at her sulkily for a moment longer before turning away, arms stubbornly folded over her chest.
"I... I appreciate your intentions, Cole," Hawke said shakily, offering the spirit a genuine smile. "The fact you care so much is very sweet of you, and I think maybe I'll talk to you more about it some other time. But if I don't bring it up to you first, I'd appreciate you not bringing it up to me, or anyone else."
He nodded. "I'll remember."
She sighed. "Andraste's tits. Is there any ale left?" Nehna poured her a tankard. "A little more, please. Fill it to the brim." When the Inquisitor raised an eyebrow, she rolled her eyes in return. "I wasn't joking about needing ale, you know."
She sipped her drink, and the group sat in silence. Cole was staring into his lap, Sera was still half-sulking to herself, but Nehna was watching Hawke out of the corner of her eye, still concerned.
"Aaaahh." Hawke wiped her mouth with her sleeve after she drained the tankard, landing it on the table again with a muffled thud. "That hits the spot." She saw Nehna looking at her and sighed. "I know what you're thinking. You want to ask, don't you? Well go on, then. Ask away."
"You shouldn't keep blaming yourself, Hawke," Nehna said firmly. "It wasn't your fault. He was a madman."
"He was my boyfriend!" Hawke's voice shook. "I loved him! He told me he was trying to find a fix, trying to separate himself from Justice. Did you know that? Yep, my lover was fucking possessed. How's that for an extra sob story, huh? And he lied to me. He killed innocent people, and all for what? He started a war."
Her voice had grown quieter, but now it trembled with the telltale sounds of someone on the verge of crying. "Do you want to know the worst thing?" she whispered. "I still love him. If he was still alive today, I'd forgive him. And I killed him myself. What does that make me? I'm no better than him, but I miss him."
With a moan, Hawke began to shake as she sobbed in earnest, covering her face with her hands as she cried.
Nehna and Sera exchanged worried glances. This was not going the way either of them had planned, and everything was growing more awkward uncomfortable by the second.
"Hawke?" Sera asked. "Are you - are you alright?" Then she made a groan of frustration. "Frig, that's a stupid question, isn't it?"
Hawke made a half-laughing, half-sobbing sound from where she sat at the opposite side of the table. The two women got up from their chairs, preparing to move to her side and comfort her, when the air moved. There was a strange blur for a moment, but then they understood.
Cole had teleported to be by Hawke's side and wrapped his arm around her shoulders. "It's okay to cry, Marian," he whispered. "I know you feel like you can't, and that you have to hide it away. I know you always tell yourself you're not allowed to mourn for him, but you are." She wept into his chest for a moment before dabbing at her eyes with a sleeve.
"Thank you, Cole," she said quietly. Hawke looked almost close to smiling. "I.... I think I needed to hear that."
"Maybe we should leave the two of them alone together," Nehna murmured to Sera, who nodded. "We'll be upstairs if you need us, Hawke," she called out a little louder to the Champion as Sera's hand found its way to hers again.
For a moment, Hawke looked puzzled before nodding. "Goodnight then, you two," she smiled. "Try and get some sleep - we don't know what we'll be getting up to tomorrow, anyway."
Sera snorted. "She's not really the sleeping kind," she grinned, pointing to her lover.
Nehna was on the verge of making a defensive reply when Hawke chuckled. It's good for her to laugh, at least, she thought to herself, and settled for a lovingly exasperated look in Sera's direction instead.
As the two women walked up the stairs together, Nehna turned her head back to see Hawke and Cole one last time. She was talking to the spirit in hushed tones, too quiet for the Inquisitor to pick up on, but she seemed visibly relieved, as if a huge weight had suddenly been taken off her shoulders. Cole still had an arm wrapped around her, and when she had finished speaking he pulled her in for a gentle hug.
Nehna smiled to herself as Sera impatiently pulled her along, leaving the two alone together.
*crawls out from under a pile of dust* I promise I haven't forgotten about this story!
I'm really sorry that it took so long to post this chapter, and I made it extra long to make up for it (nearly 6000 words :_:). I've been having a lot of personal problems to do with my grandfather being seriously sick and entering palliative care, and then also issues with money and finding a place to live, and so I just needed to take a little time off from writing to try and get my affairs in order and relax from what's been an especially tough month. I'm starting up at university again very soon so I don't know how regularly I'll be able to update anyway, but I'll try my best.
I want to thank everyone who's sent me messages of support, because I really appreciate it, and I'm so glad that so many people have been enjoying this little story so far. It's been the first proper fic I've worked on and shared in a long time, so it made me really happy to see how many people enjoyed reading it. I'm determined to give you all the happiest ending possible! (But all in good time, of course. xD)
Nehna and Sera face party dynamic hiccups and an interesting discovery that will lead them to eventually uncover a horrific truth...
Nehna awoke earlier than her lover for a change, feeling better than she had in a long time. Sleeping in an actual bed had probably helped considerably, but waking up next to Sera as often as she could would always be her favourite way to start the day.
She loved the way Sera would rest her head against her chest, breathing softly as she wrapped her arms and legs around Nehna’s body, looking for all the world like a splayed octopus. Nehna could have spent the whole day quietly watching her beloved slumber on, blissfully unaware of the waking world around her, but she had to do something. Lying still, or even simply being still, had never been one of her strong points, or so the Keeper had claimed.
“Busy hands for a busy mind,” the older woman had teased. She had said that Nehna’s endless quest for perfection would only make her restless, but it was not a fault exactly. “Only something to master and grow with, da’len, unless you want to race your mind into the ground.”
It was those early lessons that she still grappled with sometimes; trying to accept that she didn’t have to always do something would likely remain a permanent noose around her neck, fuelling her to worry even further. The fact that her Inquisitorial duties necessitated a certain flurry of activity only made things worse.
Nehna realised with a start that her thoughts were beginning to swarm and sighed. She tried the breathing exercises the Keeper had recommended – breathe in for fifteen seconds, hold for ten, breathe out for fifteen – but she couldn’t focus. Her thoughts kept tumbling further as she imagined the villagers of Crestwood locked in their own homes, or Josephine armed with an intimidating stack of papers, or even what she would have to write in her official summary report for Leliana to peer over.
She was beginning to tremble slightly before Sera tapped her on the cheek, slowly drawing her out again. “Easy, love. It’s a little early to carry the weight of the world on your shoulders, yeah?”
Pulling herself up on her elbows with a huff of effort, her groggy lover kissed her gently on the lips, cradling her head until she was sure Nehna had calmed down properly. “What’s happening up there?” Sera asked her, tapping the middle of her forehead.
Her lover gave a shaky laugh. “Stupid thoughts.”
“Well, we don’t want any of them, do we? Stupid thoughts can go and eat it.” Sera rolled onto her side, beckoning Nehna over lazily. “C’mere, you. Someone wants a hug, and I know it’s not just me.”
Nehna slipped into her arms gratefully, burying herself in Sera’s shoulder. “I’m sorry, Sera,” she whispered. “I don’t know what came over me.”
“I do.” Sera kissed her forehead, planting a sloppier offering on her cheek before pulling her into a tighter embrace. “You let the Inquisitor business get to you again. And I know you’re my Inky, but sometimes it’s okay to just be Nehna for a little, hmm?”
“I… don’t always know how to.” Admitting it made Nehna sigh in relief, and Sera stroked the back of her head in a soothing motion as her lover slowly moved out of her hiding position, looking up into her eyes with something like awe.
“I know, love. You’ve practically got it painted up there.” She tapped Nehna’s forehead and the two women laughed. “But you don’t need to worry with me. Or about me, even. Maybe for me, I guess? I know Josie ties herself in knots whenever I breathe.”
“But Josie loves you, vhenan.” It wasn’t quite a lie, either; Nehna had noticed the approving smiles she had given Sera when the other woman had managed to half-remember something she’d mentioned about court etiquette or the like. The Inquisition as a whole seemed to approve of their relationship, and even Solas seemed to have defrosted slightly in the passing months.
“She makes you happy, and that is good for morale,” he had managed to spit out once at the tail end of one of their Ancient Elvehn lessons, even giving her something approaching a smile before moving onto polite criticism of her stress on a certain syllable. Nehna knew not to push it further, but this quiet little victory of hers had left her happy for days on end.
To know that their coworkers were happy because they were happy helped keep the stuffy bureaucracy of the organisation swept away with a flourish: it made them feel more like a family, or like the clan she had left behind.
When it had become obvious to all that this relationship was serious, Nehna had written to inform the Keeper in a nervous, shaky hand that her First had found a mate, eventually tracking Clan Lavellan down to a town without note near Wycome. The older woman’s main complaint had been more that Sera was a city elf who was proudly disdainful of her Dalish kinsmen than that she was a woman, which had been a point of veiled barbs among some of the less cordial emissaries and visitors Nehna had been forced to entertain; Josephine had discreetly informed her that they would not be welcome at Skyhold again.
She is growing more at ease with my culture and beliefs, though I do not believe she will reconcile herself with it so strongly as to join the clan. Keeper Deshanna had been particularly hurt over that line in particular, and no words Nehna could write in return would probably soothe that disappointment. For her First to seemingly abandon the clan to live among the shemlen, and then to race into the arms of a crude ‘flat-ear,’ was likely an insult too far to bear happily; Nehna realised she would have to tread carefully around that wound, should her duties allow her and the clan to actually physically cross paths once more.
“Nehna? You’re miles away now.” Her lover’s teasing voice helped ground her, and Nehna tickled Sera in return until they were both giggling.
“Am I miles away now, vhenan?”
“You could always come closer.” Sera wrapped her legs around Nehna’s hips, pulling her down against her and smoothing her hands down her back until Nehna gasped, which only made the other woman smirk.
“I love you,” Nehna whispered, inches from her lover’s mouth.
Sera smiled back at her, stroking her cheek tenderly. “I love you too, idiot. Now come here.”
Before Nehna could offer a cheeky response, Sera had pushed them into a kiss. Her movements had been a little rougher than she intended, making them clash teeth together in an uncomfortable bump, but Nehna laughed against her lips as the other woman made a face of complaint before kissing her more softly.
This was what she needed, Nehna thought to herself as Sera’s hands began to travel the lengths of her body, caressing and exploring in equal measure. Sera would always be there to pull her back together, to soothe and save and make everything better again. Without her lover, she feared she might drown under the weight of it all.
“Ah!” she gasped in surprise as Sera thrust her hand between her legs and gave her an admonishing but gentle tap.
“You were thinking too much,” her lover said with a roguish smirk as she pushed Nehna into the mattress, clambering up her to straddle her hips with a defiant look. The hand returned to its place more gently this time as Sera moved to circle her breast almost lazily with a finger. “I don’t want you to think at all,” she whispered, peppering her chest with wet kisses as Sera began to suck her nipple gently, which made Nehna groan.
As her eyelids fluttered shut and she clutched Sera to her as eagerly as she could, all Nehna could register was her lover’s movements and their shared breathy sounds of pleasure.
She couldn’t think of a better distraction if she tried.
Once they were finished, and then properly finished after playing around for a moment longer, Sera and Nehna reluctantly moved to dress and wash. For Nehna, it felt as if her body had become permanently moulded and fused into the mattress; the creak of protest from her limbs as she tried to free herself summed up her feelings.
“We don’t have to go and help them, you know,” Sera teased as she waved her smallclothes above her head with her tongue sticking out, following Nehna after they had finished washing themselves and dried with a small towel. “We could just stay here forever.”
“I’d love to, vhenan, but I think they need me.”
Sera sighed. “You could at least play along, yeah? Spoilsport.” She shimmied into her smallclothes with a moue of disappointment.
Nehna placed an apologetic hand on her shoulder while hobbling into her trousers with another. “I’m sorry, Sera.” She kissed her cheek before swaying off balance, releasing her hold to steady herself.
“Looks like you need to think a little, I guess,” Sera teased once more. “You can’t walk out there and make it obvious we were tumbling, you know.”
“I think they’d still know we had sex,” Nehna said, coyly pointing to the purple mark at the side of her neck. “You know what that means?”
“…You don’t know how to cover it properly?”
“That you need one too!” Nehna chased her lover around the bedroom as both of them laughed, running and playing until they were too breathless to move, sinking to the floor in soundless waves of giggling.
"We should probably go downstairs at some point," she reminded Sera once she had got her breath back, staggering upwards to stand on unsteady legs.
Sera stuck her tongue out at her. "They're not going to send someone up after us, you know. We're not babies."
"Well, I think we should -"
A rapping at the door made Nehna fall silent. Instinctively, she gripped her staff tighter and inched closer to the door slowly. Sera backed away to where she could crawl under the bed if necessary; she was far less dressed than her lover, having been all too eager to fool around once more.
"It's only me," Dorian called out, making them both instantly relax. She could hear the amusement in his smile as he spoke. "You can put the bow down, Sera, I know you're probably aiming it at my nether regions." She gigged raucously, miming shooting an arrow before stifling her laughter with a pillow. "We wanted to know if the Lady Herald might make an appearance within the turn of the age?"
"An appearance, you say? How much is this going to pay me exactly?"
"A few badly cut slices of bread and a rabbit's leg to gnaw on, I'm afraid. Cole cooked it himself." Dorian's tone suggested he was worried about whether it was safely edible. He added with a titter, "we would have brought out the cakes and champagne, but... well."
"We'll be down in a sec!" Sera called out. "Just getting dressed. Or dressed again, at least."
"...I see." He sounded seconds away from collapsing into a fit of laughter but was admirably restraining himself. Still, he couldn't resist adding with an almost audible smirk, "I hear the entertainment's better downstairs, anyway."
"I'll be the judge of that," Nehna said casually, rearranging her clothing as Dorian caved outside.
"Ah, the romantic couple finally makes an appearance," Varric called out cheerfully. "We ate everything in Crestwood, I'm afraid. You'll have to eat grass now."
"I'm Dalish," Nehna chuckled as she took a seat near the end, opposite Solas. Sera eagerly sat next to her, linking their feet together under the table. "Do you think that would really bother me?"
"Now, Daisy never mentioned that, did she, Hawke?" he smiled. "Still, nothing would surprise me."
"I thought you danced around in moonlit meadows wearing only a wreath of flowers," Dorian quipped, making Sera turn to her lover with a suggestive grin.
"Ah, we save that for Fridays. Everyone gets a little drunk, so it's best to sleep it off over the weekend."
"Sounds like my kind of thing," Hawke winked. "Shame the Dalish don't really do the whole human thing, really."
"You'd be welcome as a guest at least, I assure you. The Champion of Kirkwall herself? Just don't let your quill get dry; they'll want autographs by the dozen."
"See, Hawke? Your legend precedes you," Varric said, nudging her.
"My legend? You wrote the book," she answered as they both laughed, lost in shared memories.
"So, boss, how are you finding the beds here? They're really comfortable, huh?" For a man never seen without his eyepatch, it was surprisingly easy to tell when the Iron Bull was winking or blinking; this time around, it was dose of the former so painfully suggestive that Nehna blushed before she could even answer.
"Oh, don't get her flustered so early in the day, amatus. For shame," Dorian tutted, though he smiled teasingly at her all the same.
"They do leave you very well rested, don't they? Though my companion wasn't very helpful," Nehna replied, giving him her best wink in return, which made the Qunari burst into a round of barking laughter.
"You weren't feeling restful at the time," Sera reminded her, hooting as she slapped a hand on her lover's shoulder.
Solas sighed. "Are you quite finished?"
"My apologies," Nehna began in earnest, before Sera interrupted.
"Oh, lighten up, Grumpy. Maybe you should have a bit of a tumble yourself. It would help get rid of that stick up your arse."
"Do the Fade spirits do that sort of thing?" Bull joked. "I think I've been having the wrong dreams."
The bald elf groaned, his face crumbling into a look of sheer annoyance. "Inquisitor - "
"Be careful of the desire demons if you try," Dorian added. "Though I'm sure you'd have no trouble on that account, Solas."
Her companion was growing more and more irritated as the table erupted into laughter, and Nehna could see that the barbs were beginning to cross the line from harmless teasing to words that stung. "Alright, alright, let's settle down a little." She was using the Inquisitor Voice now, Sera noticed. "I think we've had enough jokes at other people's expense. How about we have breakfast without any bloodshed?"
"I don't know. I think it's a little late for our rabbit friend," Hawke said, gesturing at the hunk of rabbit's leg that Nehna and Sera had both nibbled nearly to the bone.
As the table laughed once more, Nehna shot a glance over in Solas's direction. His lips were pursed tightly together, and his brows were furrowed as he stared down at the table, quietly furious. "I'm sorry," she whispered. He looked up at her, lips parting in surprise for a moment before turning back to the table again, glaring once more. Then he stood up from the bench, pushing it away from him with a loud creak, and left the room without another word, Cole swiftly trailing after him to murmur words of comfort in the uncomfortable silence that developed.
An ugly pause broke apart the playful atmosphere.
"Well, shit," Varric sighed.
As the party saddled up their horses and prepared to leave the inn, Nehna sensed the tension from earlier had not quite dissipated. Everyone was talking to each other as civilly as ever, with Varric and Hawke trading quips between one another, but things weren't as relaxed as they could have been. Solas had returned and was talking to Cole... to the exclusion of anyone else, it seemed. She sighed, shaking her head as she turned back to look at the inn one last time.
"I'm just going to check we haven't left anything behind," she announced to nobody in particular, though in reality seizing the opportunity to escape the unpleasant atmosphere that had settled over them, unrelenting, like a black thundercloud.
Creators, don't let them argue the whole time we're here, she prayed, feeling miserable herself now. It had all been going so fine until it hadn't - why couldn't it have just stayed that way?
"It's not your fault, love," Sera called out after her, walking to catch up by her side. She took Nehna's hand in hers and gave it a gentle squeeze. "Stuff them. Let them bicker amongst themselves if they have to, but it's not your fault."
"...Thank you, Sera." The other elf always had the perfect words to say, and it made her smile.
As she said as much, Sera tilted her head back to giggle loudly. "Pbbth, me? You're losing it, loony. Now, let's go and look for imaginary shite."
The two women walked along hand in hand, making a great show of searching for things before Nehna slumped down on a bench, covering her head in her hands and sighing.
"It's not going to always be like this, is it? We're not going to bicker and fight over stupid things and... just tear everything apart?"
"No, no, of course not!" Sera sat down beside her, resting a hand cautiously on her lover's shoulder. "They're just... dunno, figuring stuff out. Things get messy in groups. People need space to... well, do people stuff together without going mad or something."
"We never had these kind of problems in the clan." She collapsed into the table, arms stretching out limply ahead of her as Nehna surveyed the oak surface impassively. "If arguments brewed, the Keeper brought people together to talk it over with her. Sure, they'd swear or say the worst things you can imagine, but they spoke. They worked it out. This is just waiting for a storm to come along and sting everyone in the heels."
"Dunno what kind of storms you Dalish get up in elfy land or whatever, but I think it'll pass soon. I'd swear on Andraste's holy smallclothes, but that wouldn't mean much to you, yeah? I'd have to do it over a bunch of twigs or something." She nudged Nehna playfully, who managed a weak laugh in response. "Hey, hey," she murmured, seeing her lover's face fall again. "It's going to be alright, you know. I won't let them get to you. They'll have to get through me first, and I'm armed to the balls. I'd probably kick theirs too, but then - "
Nehna giggled in earnest, shaking her head as she sat upright once more. "I don't think that would help, somehow."
"Maybe not, but ehh... it's the thought that counts, yeah? I'd do it for you in a heartbeat."
"And they say romance is dead."
The two women smiled at each other, squeezing each other's hands as they sat together for a moment longer. It was a moment Nehna never wanted to end, but if the Inquisitor herself couldn't resist temptation and focus for a little longer, then the rest of Thedas could easily just paint targets over their hearts for Corypheus to stab them in.
"Alright, vhenan. Let's actually look for things now. I wasn't just coming in here to escape out there, you know."
"Oh? Could've fooled me, love. I could read you like a book. You were busy doing your 'doom-is-all-around-me-and-I-must-run' routine." Sera punctuated her words by waving her hands frenetically, making her lover laugh.
"So I have a routine, now? Good to know. Maybe I'll take up clowning and make Corypheus laugh himself into surrendering."
"Naah. You'd have to actually be funny for that to work, love."
"I'll pretend I didn't hear that."
"Hey, denial is a weapon, too! You could fight him with a sword they make from it or something. Some weird magic bullshit. Probably could, you know."
Shaking her head with a rueful smile, Nehna scanned the room, giving it a further once over. "The others were here earlier. I think they'd have mentioned anything unusual if they'd seen something interesting."
Sera shrugged. "Maybe.... or maybe they didn't because they weren't looking for weird shit at the time. Not exactly fun for breakfast."
"True. I just... I can't shake the sense I'm missing something, you know? Like it's right under my nose or -"
"Oh, you," Sera said with a rueful smile, shaking her head. "You know, Inky, I think you'd worry your head off your shoulders if your neck didn't keep it in place."
Nehna had frozen in place, eyes squinting as she focused. Sera looked at her in alarm. "What are you - why've you gone all weird, love? Please stop, you're -"
"Look." Her lover pointed, walking forwards to investigate as she did so. Sera followed nervously, realising Nehna was pointing to a room that none of the party had visited before.
"How did we miss that?" she whispered, hesitantly scuttling after Nehna, who gripped her staff in one hand and conjured up a fireball in the other.
The Inquisitor counted to three under her breath before kicking the door down, palm outstretched to obliterate anything that so much as moved in her direction. Eerily enough, perhaps even worse than the alternative, there was nothing - just the smell of rot and decay and the sounds of their own hushed breathing as the two women gradually calmed down.
"Something reeks, alright," Sera hissed, cupping a hand over her nose and wincing. "Can you light up the rest of it a bit better, love?"
The other woman nodded, and the flame grew bright enough to illuminate the rest of the room.
"It's the dam controls," Nehna murmured. "Funny, when the mayor was talking about that keep, I thought they'd be there. When they weren't, I got this uneasy feeling. I didn't share it with you or the others because I thought I was being paranoid," she added, offering her lover an apologetic smile, "but... I guess not. I thought he said they were damaged in the Blight, too."
"But they look fine to me. Who'd come up to repair them when you have dead folks wandering the place?" Sera shuddered. "Not me, that's for sure. I'd get a horse and bolt for it."
"So he lied to us." Nehna's sense of unease only grew. "Why would he lie about this? You don't think one of the villagers came up here and tried to fix it themselves without telling him, do you? That way he wouldn't know."
"This is fishier than a seafood pie. Stinks as much as one, too." Sera gestured to the door urgently. "Can we get out of here, Inky? I think I might throw up."
"Just wait out there with the others, then. I'll turn the wheel." Her lover shot her a sideways glance before scarpering, her relief evident on her face.
With a sigh, Nehna walked over to the wheel and turned it. It was heavy but not stiff - someone had definitely come to repair it, then, if the thing was still fully functional. After a few more slow turns, it was done: she let go with a wheeze, feeling her arms ache as they dropped, and walked out of the inn.
"I told them all," Sera explained as she rejoined the group, clutching her hand urgently when the other woman came within reach. Her companions all had similarly grim faces.
"There is something suspicious afoot, clearly," Solas murmured. "We must all be on our guard."
"Right," Bull agreed. "Could be a trap, for one thing. Or weird magic crap." He winced. "Neither's a good option."
"Are the horses ready, Cole?" Nehna called out, and the spirit nodded.
"They can feel your nerves and it makes them nervous," the boy whispered.
"It can't be helped, I'm afraid. We'll ride down and meet this mayor again. He needs to know about this."
As they moved towards the horses, a huge dragon flew across the sky with a roar, settling to the ground in a ruined building further into the fens.
"Right. We need to get out of here before that thing sees us as breakfast," Bull hissed.
Resolute, the party saddled up and rode back to Crestwood, nursing and mulling over their confusion and doubt like a cup of fine wine. Nehna felt a cold sliver of fear creep up her spine, tendrils unfurling over her flesh, and shook her head; the Inquisitor of all people had to remain calm and in focus, even if the rest were more frightened than they cared to admit.
Still, she couldn't help dread pooling in her stomach, or the feeling that something was very, very wrong. It clenched inside her like a fist, and she blamed her trembling on the cold.
"We found the dam controls and activated them," Nehna tersely explained to the mayor after giving him a brief summary of their activities up to that point. "Did you know they had been fully repaired?"
"No," Dedrick said, adamantly shaking his head. The man looked aghast. "I'd never go up there myself, not with the village in such a state. It must have been Robert."
"The wheelwright. It was his specialty, this sort of thing. The poor man must have been desperate, trying to help however he could."
"I found him hanging from a tree afterwards." The mayor sighed unhappily. "Poor man. None of them deserved this mess. You'll help, won't you, Inquisitor?" he added in a pleading tone, all but falling to his knees and outright begging her. "You'll make it better again?"
His palpable desperation left her feeling unnerved, but Nehna nodded. "I said I'd do what I could, and I meant it. If that means getting to the bottom of this and fixing this corpse problem once and for all, then so be it." Dedrick shuddered at the word 'corpse' but nodded glumly.
"You'll be going to Old Crestwood, then," he said quietly, looking past her shoulder. He stayed quiet for a moment longer, growing visibly sadder. "Take care, Inquisitor," he said finally, walking away slowly. He appeared to have aged in the few moments he had spoken with her; where he had been seemingly fueled and inspired by her presence before, now it weighed him down, causing his movements to grow unsteady and almost as lurching as the dead they had just dispatched. It was hard to watch, so Nehna turned away, shaking her head.
"Onwards," was all she could say, and the party followed after her in near silence.
As they passed through Crestwood and into the remains of the former village, the houses grew rapidly more ramshackle, some barely standing at all and with just a few planks of rotten wood to mark their old foundations. Flickering wraiths moved about, glowing a strange orange light as they glided along.
"We shouldn't get too close," Nehna whispered, gesturing to the spirits. "They may be harmless... but I don't want to find out."
They dismounted from the horses, hitching them to the nearly-toppled remains of a nearby fence before slowly walking onwards. Nehna moved furthest along, leaving a gap between herself and the rest of the group and gesturing for them to pause or follow on slowly behind; through their stop-and-start shuffling, awkward as it looked (and felt), the party were able to escape unscathed for the most part, attracting uninterested stares from the spirits that quickly ignored them. Their caution made them much less of a threat, at least.
Moving through the village, they found a cave. Careful exploration revealed little other than a pervasive damp smell, but Cole tapped Nehna on the shoulder urgently.
"Can you feel it?" he said. "Can you hear it?"
"Hear what, Cole?"
"Something weird, no doubt," Sera whispered, shuddering.
"The Fade calls out, growing and moaning. It writhes beneath us, green and pale."
"We could seal the rift if we find a way down to it," Solas elaborated, walking onwards with the spirit to search the cave once more; when they could not find a route, they returned solemnly. "There must be another way," Solas said, seemingly thinking aloud as they left the cave and returned back in the direction of new Crestwood and the mayor.
"Look," Bull murmured, pointing ahead. A ruined house lay before them with a plaque in front of it, unlike the others; the Qunari crept forwards, moving surprisingly quietly for a man of his size, and read out the inscription: "Mayor's House."
"Dedrick used to live here," Hawke said, following Bull as, one by one, the party moved inside, keeping their weapons within reach.
Nehna scanned the room, seeing little of interest. "Old books, furniture... nothing of use to us."
"Inquisitor." Solas motioned to a chest that she had not noticed before. "If I may?" When she nodded, he opened the chest, seemingly surprised at how the lid moved without resistance given the fragile state of their surroundings, and pulled out a scrap of paper. He read aloud in a clear voice:
The work you ordered is done. Do what you want. I'll be in the hills trying to forget it.
He put the damp sheet into his pocket without another word, and Nehna noticed the way his hand shook slightly.
"The wheelwright," Dorian said quietly.
"We'd best go back to the mayor," Hawke murmured, patting the elf on the shoulder by way of comfort. He nodded absently, and the rest of them followed her out. They moved back to the horses as carefully and slowly as before, and Nehna led the ride back feeling even gloomier than she had before. Each new scrap of information that fell into their laps seemed to get worse and worse; she was afraid, now, of trying to solve the growing mystery, wanting nothing more than to flee back to the safety and warmth of Skyhold and put the eeriness of Crestwood six flagons of ale behind her.
"I was cleaning the place up when the floods came," the mayor explained after Nehna mentioned visiting his old house; he didn't seem all too happy that they had visited. "I... I didn't want to think about that place again. It was a bad, bad time." He pursed his lips shut, and she knew she would get nothing more out of him.
"We'll have to go back there," she said, turning to the rest of the group. "Back to the flooded caves. If there's a rift down there, I can't leave it and risk the people of Crestwood any more danger or trouble than they've already had."
"It never ends," Sera mused sadly, but she reluctantly agreed after Nehna gave her a look.
"We'll sort it out quick enough, and then we'll be back at Skyhold in time for tea," Dovian said jovially. His tone didn't quite match his expression, and it was clear he didn't even believe it himself.
"Well?" Nehna walked forwards, sighing. "Let's be about it, then."
With that, they continued back to Old Crestwood once more. She felt the dread grip her again: it was becoming harder and harder to simply ignore, now. Nehna offered a prayer to the Creators to guide her steps, but it brought her little comfort. Her gods had not listened for centuries; perhaps they would continue to stay silent for centuries more.
No. I cannot afford to think this way. I am the First of Clan Lavellan and I will not falter.
Nehna carried onwards until they reached the entrance of the flooded caves, where she turned back to the party as if hoping one of them would find a good reason for them to all fled the village and obliterate it from their maps for good; when no response came other than shared nerves, she was forced to turn around and lead the way.
Her mark was glowing a sickly green colour, warming her hand rapidly; it was reacting to the rift in sympathy, no doubt, Fade magic sensing Fade magic and wanting to unite.
With a sigh, Nehna walked deeper into the cave, faltering.
*crawls out of the woodwork to show signs of life* This update was a long time coming, I know, and I hope you'll all still enjoy it. Things got a little too busy for me with work and other problems to keep up a regular update schedule, and I still can't promise anything exact - I haven't had time to write properly in a while and I've only published things from my drafts backlog to stop them expiring. Basically, things have been up and down a lot but I still wanted to write as much as I could when I can, and so this chapter came creaking along bit by bit.
I'll keep on writing as much as I'm able to and update when I can because I absolutely love this story
and I can't wait to show you all the angst laterand the fact people still reach out and tell me how much they're enjoying it means way more to me than I can put into words. You're the people who help me keep going when it all gets tough and make me write mushy thank you essaysparagraphs. Thank you for enjoying it all and sticking around, and I hope you enjoy what comes next ~♡