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Perennial Dues

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"You can't ask that of me!"

"It's the only way."

It is. Why can't he just accept it?

"After all we've been through! You've seen what kind of madness these things lead to. You want to repeat this disaster, all over again? Have you lost your mind?"

"It's different this time!"

"That's what people always say before fucking up big time!" Dorian mentions bitterly. "Like Alexius! Or Solas!"

She steps forward, invading his space. "Corypheus is dead, Solas is not! It's too late now. Everything is in shambles," she gestures to a nearby window and the pandemonium unfurling behind it. "I'm the only one who could have stopped him, and he has complete control over me! The sky is torn open, we're ass-deep in demons and everything is dying! The Anchor is gone, what other solutions do we have?"

A trembling sigh escapes the man as he glances at the door. "I need to go."

"No!" She grabs his collar and holds him there, lower lip shaking.

"Evelyn, release me," he orders softly, almost pleading. "I need to leave before you start to make sense."

Her head wildly sways left and right. "Just listen..."

"I can't. You'll get into my head, and I'll simply give in to your crazy demands, as always."

"I need you." She sobs. "Please. I can't do this alone, I don't know how... You have to teach me."

"Why? To save us, or to save him?"

"...Both."

His scowl deepens. "Why can't you save yourself for once? He wanted you safe. He said Skyhold would be safe, he told you to stay there. Why can't you do as you're told?"

A caustic chuckle finds its way out of her cringing mouth. "To what end? It's over. You said it yourself, I am but a shell of my former self."

She almost regrets the reminder when she catches the heartbroken gleam within his hard stare.

"Don't use my words against me, it's not fair." He still takes care to wipe off her tears, however peeved he is at the moment.

"Dorian." Her throat constricts painfully.

Somehow, the tight grip she has on him loosens, and he recedes toward the entrance of the small cottage in which they'd found refuge.

He halts at the doorway, irresolute, and looks at her over his shoulder. "I will not be part of this. I won't partake in your suicidal whims. How selfish of you to even ask..."

The door closes behind him, the sound of finality echoing through the walls.


---------


Two hours later, Dorian returns.

The two friends have considerably regained their composure by now.

"Traveling back in time, two times in a row? I always knew you were ambitious." His usual sarcasm has returned with him, and everything is back to normal.

"It's risky, but what choice do I have? I doubt the elves I'll encounter will give me a very warm welcome. Not all of them, at least. I'll need my arm, and the Anchor. And I can't afford to stay under the influence of the Well. If Mythal is still alive when I go back, she would have complete control over me. What chance does a puppet have against an elven pantheon?"

If she can get her companion to agree to her scheme, she knows exactly which period of time to return to, first. The brief interlude in which her beloved had disappeared after the death of his spirit friend is the perfect option here.

She can't risk crossing paths with Solas again.

She just can't.

Not before the execution of her plan.

"Good thinking. I keep forgetting that you're possessed by... whatever they are." His voice drops near the end, as if they could be invoked just by speaking about them.

"Well, I don't. Imagine having an army of condescending Solas in your head. Permanently." She pictures sourly.

Dorian shudders, his body visibly offended by the very idea. "Dreadful."

The Tevinter caves in, as he had predicted, spending the next hours teaching the spell he had crafted in Minrathous—and all its clever and various subtleties—to his former Inquisitor with a tranquil resignation.

That's how it's always been for them. They'll quarrel, sometimes for hours, sometimes for a minute. Eventually their respective arguments will begin to run in circles, until any hope of reaching an agreement perishes. Both will pout and brood in their own corner. Then comes the blessed truce everyone in the vicinity of the feud—or anyone with ears, really—has been waiting for. Or in other words, the moment poor magister Pavus finally capitulates.

"Assuming that the Eluvians are still unlocked when I arrive, travel shouldn't pose too much of a problem." Evelyn says, the magic portal she's just learned to conjure with the help of Alexius' amulet expanding gradually in the background. "I'll just have to find the Crossroads, without Morrigan's help this time..." she mutters, deep in thought.

"Using the mark to open a rift there might work."

"The rifts I used to open led to the Fade. The Crossroads are in between."

"Who knows? It was just a suggestion. I'm sure you'll figure something out."

"I hope so."

"If this works, you'll need to find information on your whereabouts and the political climate," he says. "Which part of history has already happened, and which hasn't."

"Then the Shattered Library might be my best bet."

The Archivist had told her he once knew everything, after all.

"Depending on what time frame you stumble into, it might not even be shattered at all." He implies in a savvy tone.

"That would be most helpful, yes."

"It would also mean that the Veil has yet to be created. And that our dear Solas—"

"Isn't busy snoring peacefully in some unknown location, waiting for me to swoop in to deliver the killing blow." She concludes for him.

"Would you?" The light twitch of his mustache tells her he's not very convinced.

"If I don't have any other alternative... Which I don't, at the moment."

She could either take on this particular path, or try to stop Solas from creating the Veil and banishing the evanuris altogether, by saving Mythal from her brethren's greed.

But then... What of them? Her friends... What of all the good people who had fought tooth and nail to bring the Inquisition to what it was prior to its dismantlement? With no record of human life predating the creation of Fen'Harel's impromptu barrier, she couldn't be sure she wouldn't be condemning her own people in the process.

He said this world had to die for the elves to return to their former glory. Why?

"Even having your back against the wall has never allowed you to choose the most fatalistic options before." Disclaims her confidant, wrenching her back to the present. "Especially in regards of the people you love. I don't see why it would now."

"Solas hasn't always been the man we know. He used to be cocky and hot-blooded."

"Ah, the exuberance of youth..." the Tevinter mage sighs dreamily.

"If he's anything close to the pompous ancient elves we've heard so much about, he might be easier to loathe. Easier to..."

She can't bring herself to say it.

"Murder?"

But she can always count on Dorian for a reality check.

"Don't say that."

His eyebrows rise in fake mockery. "Why not? It's a word. And it describes your intent perfectly."

"Dorian."

"Don't fool yourself, my friend." He admonishes tenderly, a hand on her shoulder. "You couldn't end his life even if he held a dagger to your throat."

Evelyn scoffs. "Thanks for the vote of confidence. I'm trying over here."

"Don't mistake my honesty for a lack of credence. You can do this. I have faith in you, Inquisitor."

"Don't use that title, not anymore." Her eyes drift close for a short moment.

"Come now," he tilts his head, like he's trying to be cute, "you'll always be the Inquisitor to us. Disbanded or not."

Beside them, the greenish portal dilates significantly, a sign the spell is nearing completion, magic crackling louder by the minute. A raw panic surges through her at the prospect of being dragged inside it without being able to say goodbye in time. She couldn't bid a proper farewell to the love of her life when he'd vanished without a word. She's not going to squander this rare opportunity by making the same mistake with Dorian.

At this thought, she practically hurls herself into his arms, her own locking snugly around his neck.

"I'm gonna miss you," she whispers into his neck.

"So will I," his tone pours the sentiment into the admission.

She draws back, a worried frown wrinkling her smooth and youthful face. "What if we never see each other again? What if... you don't even come to exist? Any of you?"

His grip on her tightens feebly, his azure gaze plunged into hers. "Then I'll have to stop existing knowing I did what I could to save this world, and my friends. And had a mighty great time doing it, by the bye." He appends with a light voice.

"It wasn't always rainbows and lilies."

"Meeting you was worth it. I'd do it a thousand times over, if necessary."

She's tired of crying, but her eyes aren't too concerned about her opinions apparently. "Stop it."

Once again, his thumbs find her moist cheeks. "Go. I can't afford to weep like a damsel on our last moments together. Tears ruin my good looks, and I have a reputation to uphold."

That rips a laugh out of her. "And I don't?"

"Darling, you look fabulous in any circumstances."

"You sound like Vivienne."

"See? I'm already turning into a woman." He winces. "Out with you."

A small push to her back sends her reeling closer to the magical gateway.

She rotates, unwilling to waste her last chance of commiting his complacent mien to memory. "I'll see you around, Dorian."

"I'll hold you to it. Goodbye, Evelyn."

His words and image progressively distort before she gets absorbed by the portal.


---------


She gets to work immediately.

Luckily, the spell had brought her back in a secluded area of Skyhold—that abandoned underground study full of spiderwebs—with no one around to witness their so-called herald materializing out of nowhere.

Her restored left arm feels more like a dead weight than a second chance.

No matter. She can concentrate on that detail later.

Evelyn briskly sets off, sneaking upstairs to the living quarters with a determined gait. Checking left and right to ensure the corridor is truly vacant, she then picks the lock of Dorian's bedroom door to retrieve the amulet he secretly keeps among his possessions.

A grounding reminder of the nightmare that could have been, he'd said.

Passing through Solas' study to get to the library is a tribulation in itself. How many hours had she spent contemplating his murals, in search of the tiniest clue about his reasons for absconding out of the blue? She didn't get the comfort of parting words, so she'd had to find it elsewhere.

Two horrid years of waiting... What did it get her in the end? Some answers, sure. And the crappiest reunion she could have imagined. Severing her forearm hadn't been enough, the selfish bastard had to kiss her while doing it.

Give her one last taste of what she'd never get to experience again.

His second desertion had proved more hurtful than the last. More painful than the loss of her hand. And all their ensuing meetings had resulted in failed attempts to deter his deluded plans. Her lover was set in his ways. Inflexible, even when faced with her distress. Oh, he'd looked torn alright. Miserable for being the sole cause of her anguish. But it had changed nothing.

She had changed nothing.

And now, all because of his folly, she's stuck in the past trying to play it cool while she ransacks the library just to fetch a fucking map. The tranquil researcher doesn't seem fazed by her frantic behavior. Merely disapproving. And by some kind of miracle, she's the only one around to witness it.

Found it! Finally!

Evelyn grabs the cursed map, a very old thing she'd came upon while scouring an ancient elvhen ruin during one of her excursions in the Dales. It's awfully similar to the usual map of Thedas people normally use, but with some variations here and there. And it's supposed to depict Elvhenan as it was before the kingdom's self-annihilation.

Might come in handy.

Deliberately overlooking the reverent glances some of the servants throw her way as she crosses path with them, she retreats to her quarters, ready to prepare for the journey to come.

In a rush, she slides her daggers inside the sheaths hooked to her belts and pulls her hair up in a messy bun before throwing a black cloak over her shoulders. She then loads her pack with a bedroll, some clothes, her precious map, a bit of food, a towel and some other useful stuff, and once ultimately satisfied with the contents of her ample knapsack, casts her spell.

Please, let this work.

Restless, Evelyn continuously paces back and forth as Dorian's trinket hovers above her rugs, right in the center of the room.

She needs to focus.

It's too early to decide what to do. To dwell on her options, when she still hasn't even got to the time-travel part. She's not even sure the spell is going to work as intended. Going back to Skyhold as the Inquisitor is child's play compared to what she's trying to accomplish here. She exists in that time, remembers it like it was yesterday, knows all there is to know about it. So of course, painting a picture of it in her mind so that the amulet can conjure it up and give her the opportunity to come back is simple.

But it's not like she knows anything about Arlathan, or what to expect from that period. Nothing concrete, in any case. Yes, she can reconstruct a mental image of what she thinks ancient Arlathan is supposed to be, but it doesn't garantee she's doing it right. What if the few facts she's come to learn about the old days are not enough? What if some of them aren't even accurate?

It would defeat the purpose. Could make things dangerous, perhaps.

There's also the matter of blending in with the elves.

She 'd have no problem understanding them, at least. Throughout her childhood, her old Dalish nanny had started her erudition in the old tongue, giving away precious bits and pieces of what once was at Evelyn's own request. Solas had enthusiastically strenghtened that knowledge during their time in Skyhold, and ultimately, the voices of the Well of Sorrow had brought the final touch to her linguistic education by revealing the plethora of nuances that elvhen language used to hold.

And yet, there's so much she still ignores...

Despite her best efforts, she already suspects she would stick out like a sore thumb among them, what with her ears, the freakish mark in her hand and all her very human... characteristics. Particularly her lack of knowledge on anything related to the Fade.

Quite a dead giveaway for people who were used to live in a world without veil.

Eventually, the magic operates. A vivid blur of green and blue appear on the other side of the portal. After a bit of squinting, she manages to make out a large pond, surrounded by trees. Everything seems exorbitantly colorful. The vision reminds her of the Emerald Graves, which might be a good omen.

There's no way to be certain unless she tries, anyway.

Fuck it.

With her bag equipped, she surges through the portal in a glare of light as violent as she remembers it from so many years ago, after Alexius' defeat. She doesn't recall brutally blundering into a hard body at the time, however.

Whoever she has crashed into groans, their fall cushioned by lush blades of grass. Recovering from the collision, the Inquisitor looks down to see to whom the ragged breaths she's hearing belong. An elvhen woman with barely any flesh on her bones, and dressed in what could only be labelled as rags, cowers before her. Falon'din's vallaslin adorns her face, cruel vines stretching across her forehead and halting right below her hairline. Her exhausted and dishevelled state makes it clear she has been running from something for a long while.

Bits of fluent elvhen pour out of trembling, dry lips in quick succession.

To say that the lass seems terrified would be an euphemism. Her wide eyes kept traveling between the now fading portal behind Trevelyan and the human's gaze, not knowing what to make of them.

The latter leans forward, invading the wench's space very slowly and carefully until they are almost nose to nose.

"Did Master send you? Please—"

"Shhh..." Evelyn hushes, so softly that she'd think the girl had missed it, if not for the anxious twitch of her ears. "You are a slave," she realizes with a frown. "Poor thing."

She does her best to convey her peaceful intentions through her gaze, giving the escapee time to compose herself once she finally perceives that the stranger facing her means no harm.

"Were you seeking shelter from your pursuers?" She wonders out loud.

The elf stares at her mouth, shaking her head. "I don't understand..."

Assembling memories of a spell Solas had taught her in the past to the forefront of her mind, Evelyn lifts her extremities until they hover above the elf's marred features, who flinches back in alarm. After an instant, turquoise light spreads across her hands. The lass ceases all movement, temporarily hypnotized by the magic currently hindering her view.

Soon, no traces of the disgraceful tattoos are left. The rogue-mage leans back, admiring her handiwork.

"Ar lasa mala revas..." she announces with a warm smile.

The elf blinks in surprise at the recognition of her tongue, before leaping toward the lake behind her, using the water as an ersatz mirror to track down any change performed to her face. A sharp gasp escapes her at the sight of her reflection, dainty fingers tracing her now bare cheeks in a mix of shock and wonder.

She turns back to the Inquisitor, still smiling down at her.

"What are you?" She whispers, finally standing up.

Their attention divert from each other as voices rise from beyond the trees.

Someone who needs to get a move on.

The ex-slave doesn't seem frightened by their impending company, which drives her to think she might have been looking for someone prior to Evelyn's arrival.

Still, she has to make sure the girl would be safe before moving on.

"Lethallen?" She questions, a finger pointing in the strangers' direction.

The elf nods, confirming her suspicions. Relieved, she starts to swiftly walk away, flipping the hood of her cloak over her head.

"Wait!"

She ignores the plea, aware that drawing too much attention to herself before she had even reached the ancient library would be a terrible idea.

Something in the air feels... different. Like an unvarying vibration against her skin. No. Not her skin.

My magic.

Her power is somewhat... untethered, compared to what she's been accustomed to. It's strangely refreshing. The sensation of burden attached to it since her birth is utterly gone.

Maybe the Fade is interfering with it.

Which must mean the Veil does not exist yet. And by extension, that the false gods are still around.

Nice! I'm just on time for the next catastrophe. Punctuality's always been my forte.

Disoriented, she walks for what feels like an eternity. Or totters more like.

No path in sight for miles.

Then again, this actual empire didn't have a need for those, from what she had learned of their culture.

Nature is unforgiving here, and every new step requires more effort than the last. Having magic mirrors to travel around is great and all, but the fact that a race as complex and magically advanced as the People had never even considered the concept of roads bewilders her.

In their place, thick roots and vines hide under large and treacherously flat leaves that give the ground a falsely plane and solid aspect. Until someone puts their foot on it, that is.

For all its beauty, elvhen wilderness turns out to be... unpractical.

Extremely unpractical.

How does anyone navigate through these woods? Even a snake wouldn't find its way past these plants.

Meanwhile, dusk is starting to settle across the sky.

Of course. Why would fate teleport me back during daytime? It's way more amusing if I can't see shit!

Minutes later, she miraculously manages to reach a clearing.

Now far from prying eyes, she crouches down to the forest floor and retrieves her map of ancient Elvhenan from her pack, along with an enchanted pendant hanging from a silver chain. Evelyn lays the paper down and dangles the necklace over it. Pale eyelids slip close as she concentrates on her desire to determine her current whereabouts. Her gadget instantly start spinning in a wide circle.

The crystal twirls more and more, faster and faster, and suddenly, darts harshly onto the scroll. As she attempts to take a closer look at her revealed location, the acute sensation of being watched stills her.

Her eyes inch up by degrees to rest on her ghostly intruder.

A pale, grey silhouette stands before her. No... floats. The form of it reminds her of the green phantoms she had met in the Fade while trying to reclaim her stolen souvenirs.

"Are you lost?" An ethereal, masculine voice inquires in elvhen.

Ignore it.

Her focus returns to the map.

The Arbor Wilds? Huh, interesting. Way more interesting than that thing in front of you, don't look at it.

She does, fool that she is.

"How do you withstand it?" it proceeds, spurred on by the renewed attention.

"Withstand what?"

Shut. Up.

It waits a while to reply, taken aback by her unfamiliar speech.

"The pain."

Good question. How does she?

"I take a breath, and move on," she sums up, shoving her stuff back inside her pack before slinging it over her shoulder.

Its translucent head tilts to one side. "But its weight... You should be crumbling under it."

"I can endure much more than my small stature lets on," she says, knowing the thing is probably used to only seeing elves.

Tall, broad-shouldered elves.

An image of Mythal's Sentinels pops in her mind at the thought.

"Clearly."

Deciding to push on, she sinks deeper into the forest, and ends up realizing that the newcomer has no intention to leave when she espies the faded figure wafting at her side from the corner of her eyes.

"Do you intent to follow me wherever I go?"

"For now," it replies honestly.

Awkwardly, she keeps thumbing the straps of her bag. "Well then, you could at least give me your name. You are a spirit, right?"

Please, don't be a demon.

She sincerely doubts it, but knowing her luck...

"Obviously. My name is Grief."

She snorts. "Of course."

Of course the first thing she'd attract would be rather depressing than encouraging. How fitting.

"You intrigue me," it asserts.

"How so?"

"You are strange. Unusual. Incomplete...?" It seems unsure about its choice of word.

"Ah, it's called being dead inside, where I come from." She quips, half-serious.

"That's impossible. Dead things can't feel, and you're full of it," it protests, its voice perpetually dreary.

"Feelings?"

"Sorrow."

Her tight-lipped mouth jerks in vexation. "Figures."

"Which ones?" it questions, scanning their surroundings.

A small smile forms on her lips at the spirit's confusion. "It's an expression. It means I should have expected that answer."

"Your words are unfamiliar. I've never heard anyone of the People speak them. I'm glad I can still understand you."

She stops, glancing around helplessly. Time to face the truth, she's lost. She has no idea where to go from here and her map is certainly not going to show her where to find an Eluvian on its own.

"What do you seek?" asks the spirit, sensing her concern.

"I'm not sure I should tell you..." it almost sounds like she's sulking.

"Your fear is unnecessary. I would never harm you."

"Would you be willing to keep my destination a secret?" She tries, feeling oddly contrite for refusing to satisfy its curiosity.

"From whom?

"Would you?" she persists.

"If you wish, yes."

"The Crossroads."

"It's an in-between, not an end to one's journey. The only reason for you to be there is to reach some other place. You don't want me to know where you're really going," it guesses.

"It's safer that way."

"How? I mean you no harm."

She sighs, folding her arms. "What if someone sees you with me? What if they ask you to reveal where I'm going? What if they have the means to force answers from you, even if you wish to stay quiet?"

"I understand. You are like no other. You fear the People's reaction to your presence here. To your existence."

She nods. "I heard some of them can be quite the bigots."

"Wherever you go, there will be people."

Evelyn shrugs. "I can deal with curious stares from a confused crowd. But should anyone dangerous start looking for me, I don't want to provide them with ways to hunt me down."

The spirit stays quiet.

"I need the location of the closest Eluvian that could lead me there, if you know of it." She offers, ready to lay down her arms.

"I could guide you," it proposes.

She blinks, surprised by its thoughtfulness. "Thank you."

"Follow me."

They progress quietly through the woods for approximatively half an hour. Night falls in the meantime, with the moon bright enough for her to be able to walk without crashing into every obstacle hindering the way. Albeit the peaceful hush between them is welcome, a detail keeps nagging Trevelyan and pressures her into breaking the ambient silence.

"Why help me?" She can't help but wonder.

"Compassion has been hounding me for hours before I found you. I'd rather keep you company," it admits."You're much more calm. Collected. And..."

"Miserable?"

"Yes."

"...Ouch."

The forest behind them, Grief leads her to the outskirts of a modest town encompassed by wooden ramparts. Up ahead, three elvhen men with the poise of soldiers are lurking in front of the open gates. The tallest of them is busy harassing what resembles a low-ranking citizen while his associates inspect the environs with intense scrutiny.

"Don't worry," reassures the ghost, "we don't need to get inside. There's a shrine on the left side of the stockade. There's an Eluvian there."

Sadly, the duo isn't fortunate enough to pass by unnoticed.

"You. Stop." The woman obeys, turning to face the pair who had just beckoned her. "Who are you?"

Their leather armors seem remarkably intricate, to the point where she wonders how they even managed to put it on in the first place. Falon'Din's sigil glimmers on the cuirass.

"A simple traveler," answers Grief.

Evelyn glances at her spectral companion, who leans closer.

"They are wardens of the noble that resides in these parts," it clarifies in her ear.

"We're looking for someone," the bald one of the two discloses. "A slave used the cover of the night to escape the grasp of our Master. She has been missing for twenty-four hours."

"A young girl, frail and skittish, marked with Falon'Din's vallaslin." Details the other one, a blond braid tossed over his shoulder.

"That sounds like the average female slave, vallaslin apart. Don't you have more information?" She presses innocently.

"No. We've never seen the slave ourselves. Her markings should be enough to go by."

You might have just saved the poor girl, Evelyn. Maybe you're not that useless.

Her shoulders rise and fall in quick succession. "Well, I haven't seen anyone that looked like a fugitive."

She tries to slip away, but a warm hand grips her wrist.

"Who said you could go? We're not finished," says the towhead.

The third guard rejoins their little group, gear similar to his comrades', if not a little more lavish. Probably the leader. Loose raven strands frame his angular face as he slants toward her.

"What sort of abomination is that?" His dark eyes sweep over her in a way that nearly makes her squirm.

"No idea. It has our magic, but its connexion is severed." Answers the bald man.

"Its bust is larger than most." The leader's attention is glued onto her cleavage.

Evelyn wraps her cloak a little tighter around her.

"A peculiar sort of demon, maybe? Here to tempt some poor souls with the call of the flesh?"

"Should we offer it to the Master as a new toy? Perhaps it would compensate for the loss of the previous one."

Great. She barely got here and the locals are already starting to piss her off.

"What is your name, creature? Desire? Lust?" The blond queries.

"She is no spirit." Informs Grief solemnly.

"Yes, you would know," mumbles the dark-haired elf. "Come here, let us take a look at you."

She backs away before his grasping fingers can graze her hood. Letting them see her ears would certainly make things worse.

"I'd keep my hands to myself, if I were you."

"Or what?" The grin he flashes her is absolutely deviant.

"Or you won't be keeping them for long."

The firmness of her tone leaves no room for misunderstanding.

Unfortunately for him, the fool does not heed the threat, pushing his luck by touching her anew.

Fast as lightning, she knocks out his two companions before leaping through the shadows to flank him from behind, a dagger at his throat. She feels him swallow against the blade.

"Can't say I didn't warn you."

Merciful, she pushes him away and the man casts a downward glance at his listless colleagues.

"You'll pay for this, little... thing."  He sneers. "The Master will see to that. No one insults the humble warriors serving a follower of Falon'Din and walks away unpunished."

"You're no warrior. You're a joke." She boldly states as she retreats from the half-unconscious group.

"What did it say?"

"Nothing," lies the spirit, falling into step with her a second later. "We'll be on our way."

Grief and Evelyn make their way to the shrine at a leisurely pace, loftily unbothered by the outraged mercenaries left behind.

"You're more pugnacious than I thought," confesses her new friend.

"Those who treat people like property tend to get on my nerves rather quickly."

"Thankfully, we shouldn't run into further trouble. There shouldn't be too much people around. No one that holds any sort of infuence, anyway."

"Why's that?"

"Festivities have been undergoing for weeks in Arlathan. It is conventional for anyone of the slightest significance to attend."

She frowns. "What's the occasion?"

"The evanuris don't need a reason to celebrate."

She'd recognize that tone anywhere. "You disapprove?"

"I do not care for frivolity. Sad souls usually avoid gatherings such as these, so I have no reason to be present."

One of Evelyn's dark eyebrows skeptically arches. "Ah, not enough despair to pique your interest?"

"None like yours."

"How flattering..." she huffs wryly.

The path to the sacred sanctum concludes in a dead end. And here, just as Grief had professed, a magical mirror stands between a running waterfall and what the Inquisitor fathoms to be a statue of Falon'din. She'd seen so many of them during her trips through the Emerald Graves, she'd recognize the pointing hooded man anywhere. Flowers sprout all over the arch which hangs above the altar, an owl made of limestone perched at its center. Azure flames flicker from the holes where the bird's eyes should be.

It gives the effigy a sentient countenance. Makes her want to hide from it.

The two of them cross the Eluvian, her ghostly friend taking the lead, and resurface amid crisp, snowy lands. Pines surround the area and snow has dried in some spaces, patches of dirt peeking from underneath the white expanses. Curious, the human halts a moment to repeat her previous ritual with the map. Her enchanted crystal points to the Frostback Mountains. She must look pretty addled since the spirit instantly enlightens her.

"There is another, not far from here."

With weariness grounding her, arising from her crouching stance proves difficult. Her energy had been drooping drastically in the last hour or so.

"Why would they put an Eluvian in the middle of nowhere?"

Ignoring her frustrating lethargy, she continues to walk, the ashen spectre following suit.

"These mountains are brimming with caverns. They are not as deserted as they seem. Also, there are rumors of a meaningful amount of lyrium being present underground."

"I see."

Bet that attracts the vultures. Oh sorry, evanuris.

They find the next mirror in record time, barely hidden between the powdery trees. Grief blocks the way forward before she can even move.

"I sense a form of depletion emanating from within you."

"I'm tired."

Don't tell me fatigue is also a strange occurrence for ancient elves... Isn't it enough to be immortal?

"Your presence at the Crossroads might draw attention. If you must rest, it would be wiser to do so ahead of crossing the Eluvian," reasons Grief.

"...You're right," she exhales.

She can't chance another random confrontation without regaining her strength first.

Scouting the environs, Evelyn takes advantage of a rock shelter present along the mountainside, installing her bedroll beneath its stony roof and proceeding to make camp for the night.

Fire is her only ally against the mountains' freezing heights and the constant gusting wind penetrating obstinately through her clothes. In spite of the incommodious temperatures, the situation could be worse. Precious years spent in both Haven and Skyhold had taught her body how to adequately withstand the cold.

Actually, what if every ordeal she had braved had just been a way to prepare her for this?

"You don't complain much, for someone so damaged," remarks the spirit.

"Nobody likes a whiner," she shrugs.

"The People tend to make a fuss over the pettiest matters."

She snorts silently. "Do they? Sounds accurate."

"Things not going your way is reason enough to feel offended in Arlathan."

"That probably only applies to nobility. I can't imagine slaves and servants are given much room to whinge about their condition."

"Indeed."

Quietude submerges the makeshift camp, and her eyes are drawn to her marked hand.

It looks incredibly wrong. Out of place. As if someone had inelegantly fixed a stranger's arm to her stump. Yet it is hers. So why can't her head wrap itself around the idea? She'd have a few years ahead of her before the Anchor would start killing her again.

Then it will just be another race against time.

Solas had done what he could to make the rending of her limb as painless as possible, but there was nothing he could do about the delayed side effects. The phantom pains would sometimes wake her from her slumber in the middle of the night, and have her clutching her sheets for hours. Not that it was that bothersome, considering that insomnia was already doing a good job at fucking up her rest all by itself.

The only reason she even tried to go to sleep was because she'd see her former lover in her dreams, ever since his grand revelations. That grey wolf with sad glowing eyes... Like a ghost, forever haunting her.

Perhaps she'd be the one to haunt him this time.

Presently however, her lost companions are the ones hounding her thoughts.

What she wouldn't give to catch a glimpse of Dorian's mustache again. Or hear Bull's boisterous laughter at his witty comebacks. She should have gone to Kirkwall to visit Varric, maybe bring Cassandra along. The dwarf would have loved to see what newly disgusted expressions she could pull.

I'm so stupid.

Evelyn could have gotten a tour of that estate he had promised her. Not that she'd ever live in it. It would remind her too much of her dire childhood, spent in that prison her family called a mansion. She wouldn't miss them at least.

They can rot for all I care.

But she's only deluding herself. She'd never have found the time to do all these things, not with Solas tearing down the Veil and unleashing chaos upon the world.

Instead, she has to fix this mess. His mess.

All that's left now that she's stuck in the past, are fond memories to wallow in.

"Who did you lose?" demands Grief randomly.

Ah, the good old sixth sense of beings originating from the Fade will never cease to amaze her. What an incredibly convenient gift.

After a few seconds of internal deliberation, she settles for the truth.

"Everyone."

"Were they killed?"

"In a way."

"Who did it?"

A god? A liar? A betrayer? No.

"A lonely man overcome with guilt," she says, flames casting shadows over her grim face. "I finished the rest by trying to fix his mess. Guess we make quite the pair, him and I." The smile she feigns does not reach her eyes.

Made... Made quite the pair.

"Do you think the hurt will fade one day?"

"I don't know... You're the embodiment of grief, you tell me."

"From what I have witnessed over the centuries, things never seem to get better."

Of course. What kind of comfort was I expecting to get from a gloomy entity?

Wild wolves howl as she lays in her cot, too distant and too close all at once for her to relax. Their desperate cries to the moon plague the first hours of her night, only to lull her to sleep down the line.


---------


She has absolutely no idea what to expect from her dreams tonight, but she gets the intuition she isn't going to like it.

Turns out, she has cause to be worried.

The place she lands in appears dreadfully familiar to the mountains where she's currently sleeping. Hearing soft noises coming from behind her, she turns around and notices a weird silhouette approaching a slightly younger version of herself. The outline of its head reminds her of the Chantry Sisters' uniform. When she finally notices the tents and crates encircling the fire, she realizes it's no one else than the sympathetic Mother Giselle. The campsite looks exactly as it did years ago. Evelyn is the only person clearly recognizable among the crowd, what with the others being depicted by blurry, undefined shapes.

Then the singing starts.

Really? Really?

How can the Fade reenact a piece of history that hasn't come to pass yet?

It's using your memories, dummy.

Completely absorbed by their faithful chant, elves, dwarves and humans alike come to kneel at her feet.

Well, the other Inquisitor's feet, more precisely.

Exasperated, the real Trevelyan shakes her head and sits cross-legged in the snow. Of all the souvenirs to choose from, it had to pick that one.

A minute flows by, and then...

"These people revere you," a female voice rises, close to her right ear.

Evelyn's viridian stare darts in its direction, where a disembodied elvhen woman clad in a dress seats beside her, mimicking her position. Yet it seems too fixated on the offhand performance to pay attention to her. To the human, the spirit's emerald hue immediately evokes the Fade.

"They think me an herald of their god," she answers truthfully.

"Are you?"

"Gods don't exist."

It finally turns to her, tilting its face. "How can you be sure?"

She shrugs. "I met countless. All pretenders. They all die, in the end. We all do."

A discreet smile forms on its lips. "You sound like a friend of mine."

"Another spirit?"

"No. A great mind and a good heart crammed in a body of flesh. Different than yours. Which leaves me with a question... What are you?"

What is she? According to Corypheus and Alexius, nothing but a mistake. According to Solas, a rare and marvelous spirit. According to the rest...

It doesn't matter anymore.

"Depends," she finally responds. "For now, I am an attempt. In the future... perhaps a solution?"

Her companion reflects on her reply for a few seconds before carrying on. "Do you have a name?"

"I'm... not sure I should share it."

The cloak-and-dagger attitude doesn't bother it, as far as she can tell. "A secret, then. I am Wisdom. This memory unnerves you," it observes.

"I don't like it. The kneeling, especially, is distasteful."

"Why not change it?"

"I can't alter the Fade. I'm no somniari."

Wisdom glances back at the frozen scenery. With a dismissive wave of its hand, the unmoving crowd disappears, leaving the snowy landscape for sole survivor.

Hm... Useful.

"Why are you here?" Evelyn questions.

"I simply am. I like this place. I have not strayed from it in a while. My friend and I are supposed to meet here. I noticed you nearby while waiting for him, and was drawn to your reminiscence."

She simpers, pondering out loud. "There's no wisdom without curiosity, I suppose."

"Correct," it nods.

Wait.

A spirit of wisdom embodying a female. Waiting to meet with a friend in the Fade. A man, most certainly an elf.

Fuck.

Abruptly, the human springs to her feet as if she had been zapped by a thunderbolt. "I should go."

She's not entirely sure, but the risk is too high. She's not taking any chances.

"So soon?" Her fortuitous visitor seems startled by her shifting demeanor.

"I wouldn't want to intrude on your meeting."

Wisdom gives her a kind smirk. "Considerate, but my friend is also of a curious nature. I'm certain he would not mind making your acquaintance. We are both fond of enigmas."

Well, I got a shitload of them for you.

"That's very nice of you, but I'd rather decline," she insists, knees jerking in anticipation.

The perceptive spirit frowns. "You suddenly shy away from company, yet you accepted mine. Why?"

"Spirits are another matter," she says. "They're less intrusive than people."

"You must not have met a lot of us, if you really think so."

Evelyn chuckles, amused both by the jab and her recollection of a very inquisitive Grief, earlier today. And also of Cole's propensity for untimely mind-reading. "Some of you like to pry, but unless invited, you don't overstep your bounds. Can't say the same thing of us fleshy creatures..." she adds wryly.

"I see." Its head hangs low, making her feel bad in return. "Too bad. I was hoping he could answer some questions on your mysterious origins."

"Sorry to disappoint. Have a nice... time." She bids it politely while tensely eyeing their surroundings.

"Should you like to discuss further in the future, you can find me here," appeals the ghostly woman.

"Thanks. I'll keep that in mind."

As quickly as she got here, Trevelyan retreats to another part of the Fade, wholly unaware of the massive wolf that emerges out of thin air promptly after her departure. The beast slinks over to the spirit, its huge paws leaving prints in the snow.

"You look excited," it remarks, voice resonating around them despite its unmoving maw.

"I made a new friend today. You missed her by a hair."

"Oh?"

"It was very interesting. And confusing."

"You're rarely confused."

"Indeed. What about you? How did you find the celebrations?"

"As gaudy and eventful as ever."

"...You look worried, my friend. I thought you adored these events..."

The animal seems suddenly hesitant. "The evanuris..." the rest of its sentence evaporates in the wintery breeze.

Wisdom pats the empty space next to its womanly form, its voice gentle.

"Sit."