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Banal Nadas

Chapter Text

You slide in and out of consciousness, barely aware. A thick haze fills your thoughts and you blunder though half-formed dreams. The usual nightmares lurk at the back of your mind, festering; but each time they reach to ensnare you, you twist away; the same confusion that blinds you proving too unpredictable for the clever snares your mind had built for itself over the years.
A dark shape looms, laughing...
You squint and try to focus, preferring even dreams of horror to this listless fog. But the memory slides away, slippery, laughter echoing.
Drums beat rhythmically, one two three, tap tap tap...
A hand reaches up, dripping blood.
The cat is small, green eyes in a wise black face.
You are blind, you need to see, but your lids are too heavy. The world is jarring and painful, like staring at the sun, and no matter how you struggle you cannot not force your eyes to open. Just a glimpse. Of fields. Of trees. You are running and you can’t see.
A cool hand on your brow moves carefully over your skin as you wake fitfully into semi-consciousness. One of the other slaves had moved to help, brave but futile. You try to whisper this, convey that the girl should not help, but your voice is broken and hoarse and your are hushed. With a deep breath that catches painfully in your chest, you jerk herself upright, pushing the concerned hands away. You are back in the cart, and it is jerking slowly forward through the Hinterlands to the repetitive thudding of horses hooves against dry dirt. A number of Venatori walked alongside, but paid the slaves no heed, gazes fixed on the horizon. Where was he?
“He rode ahead a few minutes ago,” the slave who had risked more than she knew whispers. “Your Master, I mean.” Nervous hands twist flaxen, soft brown hair; and concerned light blue eyes trace their way down the lacerations on your skin, pausing where they disappear beneath your sleeves, your collar. The Master had been in a creative mood this time, you are fortunate.
Tentatively, the girl moved her hand back towards your forehead, and you fix her with the fiercest glare you can summon. Your past practice must have paid off because she actually blanches and withdraws, her eyebrows drawn together. You only feel a little guilty, it is for her own good that she learns to stay away from you.
“Unless you have a death wish, you don’t want to interact with me,” you say, enunciating yourself very clearly. “My master is very particular that I remain undisturbed.”
There is fear in her eyes when she wisely withdraws, and you sag with relief. You must be getting better at this, persuading people to give up on you. Maybe it’s because you’ve given up on yourself. How long has it been since you dreamed of returning to your hall of leather bound tomes, dusty shelves and scented ink? You used to lie awake, dreaming of finding your way back there – where you were still a slave – but you had... No. You turn your thoughts away. Now the memory only aches with pain, and you bury it. That hidden happiness burned a long time ago.
You drift again into semi-sleep. Ants marching on your skin. You dive to the riverbed, counting stones. Cheese plates are hidden in the woods. Nonsense. In and out of consciousness and in and out of sanity perhaps. Every time you open your eyes you see nothing but the rolling green of this strange land. Eventually you slide into a dark and true unconsciousness, the emptiness and lack of dreams a sweet relief.

Chapter Text

The Master returned, as you knew he would. His quiet chuckle was mild, but still it had you careening into wakefulness, body jerking in a spasm of fright and then freezing still; frantic heart pumping ice through her veins as you turned your head to face him. It was always better to be still when he was watching, it seemed to give him fewer ideas. You curse internally, knowing your fear had been clear for all to see; you prayed that he didn’t give chase. Lord Dravonin was a hunter, a fact that was plain as day as he smiled down at you from his horse; the expression sharp and hungry, teeth bared in cold victory.

I don’t have to hunt you, those pale slate eyes told her, you are mine, you will do as I please.

Good, he was not chasing. He was gloating, still fat with the pleasure of whatever hunt had stained his coat with blood. And yet you still found yourself shaking, despite everything, still afraid, still terrified. Nothing was ever simple, nothing was ever safe, not with The Master.

“Dear Rattas, dear girl, you look positively wretched,” he exclaimed, with mock surprise. His voice was a warm baritone, no hint of anger. “You are no use to me in such a state.”

You lower your eyes, and focus on breathing. The pain on your skin is raw and ugly, but you know better than to ask for help. He could heal you if he desired, and if he desired, he would have done so. He will, eventually, pouring that strange sticky heat over your skin and forcing his aura inside you to shove your wounds closed; sometimes he took the pain too, other times he let it linger.

Sometimes you wonder if you should hope he would leave you to bleed and die. You don’t know anymore. You are afraid of death. You have seen the corpses of the slaves that don’t survive your Masters rituals, hollow, gone; you don’t know where they go.

Pain, at least, you know.

You hear The Master calling a halt. How he came to lead this group is beyond you, but the other so called ‘Venatori’ defer to him without hesitation. That they were here seeking power, just as your Master was, was beyond doubt.  Their beady eyes watch you at every turn, probing, wondering why The Master keeps his little Rattas so close, guessing at the sources of his power.

You checked on the Thing, sitting heavy in your belly, running invisible fingers over the minutiae folds of your mana. Not even The Master had found it, your precious secret. You had learned to hide it long before he had invaded your sanctum, ranting demands in Ancient Tevene; and you had never revealed it to him. Not even back in the days when you had trusted him. After that, you had feared he would read the secret in your blood, send you to the circle to be drained, with your mind broken into pieces and his secrets torn out of you. If you had been born human, the magic could have been a blessing; but a Rattas in Tevinter was only ever there to serve.

It had taken you years before you could hide your Mana so completely, years of digging through the records at night, always sure you would be found. The only thing that saved you was the fact that you worked out of sight in the archives, and the fact you had discovered you could drag your mana under your skin if you were desperate. It used to leave you shaking and sick, still better than discovery, but you have become accustomed to its absence and the leaden pain in your gut. It used to feel like a torn limb, broken and bleeding; these days it has slowly become a dull pain, something you could shut from your mind.

Slowly, making sure that the Venatori were occupied with setting up camp, you eke out a single microscopic strand of… whatever Mana really was. As a scribe, you had translated and printed almost every rudimentary magical tomb circulating Tevinter a hundred times, for apprentices, for personal collections. Of course, you had never practiced most of what you read, but you remembered. There had been other tomes, treatises on the nature of the fade, observations of its denizens, those were your favourites. Of course, most of the more interesting volumes were hidden in the private collections of the Magisters, transcribed by loyal servants who more often than not met with ‘accidents’ when their works were complete.

From what you knew, a mages ‘aura’ was somehow tied to their connection to the Fade. The fade was defined by expectation, experience, and memory; and so somehow the aura connected to the Fade and used it to reshape reality on this side just enough to add something, most often in a raw form of energy. The more specific you needed to add, the more difficult it was to draw, like trying to pull mud through a straw. It frustrated you no end how it made no actual logical sense, but you figured that learning from books for little magister toddlers and newly ‘freed’ slaves wasn’t doing you any favors. Your curiosity had already landed you in enough trouble, and you weren’t keen on making your life any worse than it was already.

You pause in your slow unspooling of your Mana thread and laugh silently at yourself; as if that wasn’t what you were in the process of doing. But you were good at subtlety, and this wasn’t really magic, more just allowing enough of yourself out that you could see. When you have enough of the glowy thread, you tug and pull at it until it is spiderweb thin; a process harder than it sounds. When you finish, you nearly pass out again, but you doggedly continue. Grasping your expectations firmly (you aren’t sure if that actually helps, but it seems to) you release the thread and let it drift slowly away tasting testing. While it was technically possible for one of the Mages to detect, it was a minor fluctuation of energy, barely there, drifting without purpose or meaning. Even the simplest of spells had a purpose like a sign announcing ‘I am here’, though what that purpose was could be hidden. This thread had nothing, no meaning, no goal, besides to simply drift and observe; blending in with most else in the Fade.

Even this microscopic freeing of power made your blood sing, made you giddy. The Thing inside you thrashed once, and shuddered. Pain. You barely contained the moan that threatened to escape your lips. At least you were lying here bleeding, pain was to be expected from those who watched you, but even so, you cursed yourself. You were out of practice, and it had caught you by surprise.

You closed your eyes and drifted with your thread, sensing nothing from the other Mages. You moved with a light breeze, spun through the grass, encountered a little nervous spark of life.

Hello

It tenses at your impression of greeting, wary but unafraid. Always, the lack of surprise stands out to you. Perhaps such tiny animals simply lack the forethought to actually consider something unexpected. It hesitates, and you feel its indecision.

Intruder? Thief? Female?

Out of yourself, like this, it is easy to reassure him. I am me. I take nothing. I mean no harm.

You see him, a tiny rat-like vole. You twist through his fur, so soft. He is relaxed, and curious. You feel the fluttering of his hummingbird heart.

I like you, he thinks firmly. Do you want to know where to find beetles? I can show you.

You smile to yourself. A friend, however brief, however fast this will be forgotten. These moments warm you, keep you going.

No you think, I do not eat beetles. But I like to find interesting things.

He hops and twitches and starts, little black eyes gleaming.

Interesting is the good scary that does not bite? He says this kindly, like you are a little one who does no understand. But it is still dangerous.

You reassure him that you are safe, and point out that there is nothing of you to be bitten. At this he pauses, greatly impressed.

I will show you then, he announces. Come with me to the Big Thing.

You do not ask what the Big Thing is, mostly because you doubt he could answer. You nestle around him and allow yourself to be pulled as he darts away through the undergrowth.

Chapter Text

The mole-creature was surprisingly fast, darting through the undergrowth in a blur of hot earth and overhanging leaves. It isn’t long before your connection begins to stretch, although you almost forget to notice.
The ground is hot under clawed toes, perfect for hunting. Your nose twitches and sorts through a hundred scents; bitter braken makes you snort and the older musky scent of wolf makes you snort and twitch, even with the scent days old. A wolf would probably know better than to eat you, a tiny creature of bones and brittle, but times were strange.
Ones limits cannot be simply be ignored however, and the sudden pain jerks you into self-awareness. You shiver suddenly, with the realisation that it is becoming steadily easier to lose yourself. For a moment, your link feels alien, all sharp claws and scent - but before you can become truly afraid the experience fades, and you are yourself again.
Stop.
The mere hint of wariness in your tone is enough to send your momentary friend sparking, skittering, pressed low into the foliage.
I can't go much further from myself, can you see?
You ask without thinking, and are more than surprised when the creature cocks its head and looks away along her thread.
Yes, it agrees, sounding surprisingly disapproving, You are far away.
Will we make it?
Yes
They move forwards, carefully, up a small slope; they are peering over an edge then, and down a dark passageway of stone burrowing down into the hill. At the end towers a massive gilt structure, shimmering. A doorway holding rainbows and soap bubbles in a waterfall of light that made her head spin. Belatedly you realise you have urged your friend closer, closer even. He is happy in the dark of the passageway.
The light is.. familiar. You want to reach out…
In some strange twist of fate, you are not sure if it is a curse or a blessing, a dark shape appears before you. A boot appears, a dark leg following; and the figure is stepping out from that glittering membrane as you jerk at invisible threads commanding HIDE!
The two of you cower in the dark, pressed against the wall, as the figure steps the rest of the way through and pauses, eyes assessing the surroundings.
It is an elf, you realise belatedly; but unlike any elf you have ever seen. She is dressed in fine leathers and dark armour, a bow slung over her shoulder; certainly no slave. Dark hair surrounds a striking face and piercing eyes that dare anything to threaten her. She moves like a dancer, twirling suddenly to face the doorway that goes suddenly dark as she whispers, “Fen'Harel, enansal”.
Where there was iridescent colour, there was now only a smooth reflective surface, a mirror?
Wait, what.
But before you can wrap your mind around what has happened, your thread stretches, tenses, and you are falling back into yourself with a gasp; a rough hand is dragging you up by your hair.
“You dare shut me out?” That voice is dangerous, you are hanging from The Master's hand, your head is on fire.
“No!” She gasps, “No, no,” Instinct saves her, has her hanging limp.
A cold finger traces her jaw, and The Master hums his gratification, the sound no less dangerous than his anger. You are afraid. You are so afraid. No, no, no. You had lost touch on the present, and now you were going to pay the price. Only moments of freedom, and not even that would be let pass.
You close your eyes and pray. If he hadn’t given chase before, he had now. You had been found somewhere he could not reach you. That was beyond forgiveness.
He steps in front of you. For a moment you see someone you recognise, there is hurt like a wound in those eyes, warring with the hatred.
“You said you would never leave me,” He growls, lifting you higher. You feel blood running down your chin.
You cling to the hurt in those eyes, reaching out for it. “Thomas, please,” feelings you fought to bury lodged themselves in your throat like knives. You wonder if you are being toyed with. Probably. But the hurt before you is real. One more reason to stay alive. “I promised. I didn’t. I won’t. please.”
The Master considers killing you, you see it in the ice that freezes over the betrayal inside him. You know too much. He isn’t sure where you were. You are a weakness. He turns the thoughts over before you, wielding them like a knife. He knows you can see it. Knows you fear it. The knowledge hangs between you, frost and terror meeting like a bargain.
He relaxes minutely. The pain in his eyes is gone, and he is The Master again.
The agony, when it begins, is expected. The worst pain imaginable, as always, moves through you like blood; and you are less than a person, just a vessel for the horror that moves you. You cannot endure, you no longer try.
You break and shred into ashes in the wind, disappearing in the pain. It doesn’t help. Nothing does. He knows how to make you beg for death.
You don’t. He knows already. You are too tired even to scream.
But inside you die a little more. You watch lights in the fade stutter and blink out. No.
No.
No.
No.

Chapter Text

You know The Master has healed you when you find yourself dreaming. You aren’t quite in the fade, you never are, the old locks that bind your mana don’t allow it; but you can feel it along the edges of your consciousness, an invitation. Darkness stalks that place, you feel it shifting, drawn to the echoes of your pain; and you are glad it will not reach you. Fear, no doubt, or Despair; neither of them visitors she would enjoy entertaining.

Two young adults sit among the dusty tombs of the Minrathous archives. One is a scrawny young elf, her eyes a slightly alarming combination of yellows and greens that bulged unnaturally large in a thin and undernourished face. Her ears were long and pointed through short and dirty brown hair, less like those of the rats they named them for and more like those of… a rabbit perhaps, stretched and pointed, angular. Not rabbit-like at all really. A rabbit came to mind because that was what the cook had used to call you in a familiar sort of way; a name you liked better than the more common Rattas.

Suddenly you are inside yourself, fumbling nervously as the young Altus talks to you happily about his studies. You are unhappy as he looks at you with increasing awe, despite your mumbled and stumbling answers. The stammer you can’t control when you are afraid.

You don’t like to be noticed. It is dangerous to be noticed. Did your mother tell you that? It has the sound of something repeated, a taste of warmth and comfort behond the memory.

“My name is Thomas,” he tells you shyly, suddenly looking at you with keen blue eyes like you are a person. You fight the urge to simply flee, and force yourself to stay, for you had seen fleeing slaves struck down by fire and lightning and the scent of burning sparking flesh is seared into your memory. The young man laughs awkwardly after a while, tucking soft dark curls behind his ear, and hands you a small paper card as though you were one of the stack workers.

“You hold on to this.” He tells you, “You can bring me these books when I come here again tomorrow afternoon.”

Your frustration can’t have shown on your face, but he laughs at you again anyway. He seems to find you infinitely amusing. His master calls him away and you are left trying to understand how to obey his order without falling behind on your latest binding. You will have to give up your reading time, you suppose, or think of some way to hide from him without being punished; probably a much better idea.

He was very polite, for an Altus, you supposed. Perhaps he did just mean to be kind, as unlikely as that seemed.

It is dangerous to be noticed.

“It is dangerous to be noticed.” The voice is a clock chiming in the high hour. It is the tide that drowns you because it must be obeyed. It is the command that beats in your heart like a brand.

You look up and Thomas is taller, cold cruelty in his violet eyes, weren’t they blue? Blue behind Red. Thomas is trapped and screaming in those eyes, and The Master smiles.

“Did you forget?” he whispers, a cold finger tracing your jaw.

You wake up.

You wake up to smoke and flames and pain that makes you shriek with fright but this is nothing like before, so it’s okay. But there is screaming and you aren’t asleep anymore and the pain makes you pull away from the burning heat that is pressed against your skin.

You yelp again, because that is all that your sleep befuddled mind seems able to volunteer as a solution. As a vital afterthought, you shove yourself away from the heat, tangling with the heavy drapes that cover the wagon.

I’ve got you, stay still,” the feminine voice is unfamiliar, but commanding, and strange hands grab you firmly. You freeze without thinking, the tone of command a bigger threat than the pain. You hear a sharp slice and a rip and you are tumbling free of the wagon in a hopeless jumble of limbs and fabric. You gasp smoke and choke and writhe free of the fabric; it is dark so the flames are blinding. Hands shove you forwards through the cold air to a huddle of bodies nearby where they shove you into the grass. There are thuds and exclamations in the dark, a blood curdling shriek following them that jerks you the rest of the way to consciousness.

The other slaves are huddled around you, one, two, three of them but not the new girl who had tried to help her. With cold sinking in your gut you look back to the wagon where there is no screaming any more. It is engulfed with flame. The stench of burning flesh is almost lost in the acrid smoke that has them coughing, and pulling up their clothes to cover their noses. A dark shape is dancing in the night. Ice and fire and lightning are blazing in the night air, but none find their target. You see the Venatori that remain, furious, chanting, pulling together.

You see them falling, arrows in their hearts; there aren’t so many of them after all.

One moment there is chaos, but then it seems that in the next the dark shape is standing before them. It raises its hands in what might be a peace offering and speaks in a low voice,”My name is Briala, we only want to help you, we mean you no harm”.

You recognise her now, the woman from the mirror. Fen’Harel enansal, Fen’Harel enansal, had you missed something vital? The dread wolf's blessing, could this woman be part of some Dalish splinter group? You are still sluggish and disoriented, from the pain, from the healing, you must have spoken aloud because her gaze fixes on you sharply, and she takes a step forwards.

You drag your wandering thoughts to the present, your mind throbbing as you try to focus. You are surprised when the other slaves cluster around you defensively.

“She’s not right in the head,” one of them says, with more force than you would have thought possible. “She’s… different. And The Master does things to her. She means no harm. Please leave her be.”

You blink sluggishly, beyond surprised. You had not thought the man in question had even looked at you directly before. As was wise, of course. Your bewilderment seemed to be the appropriate response, however, because the dark woman that called herself Briala checked herself and stepped back.

“Where is he?” the older woman who cooked and looked after the camp was speaking. “The Master, we can’t be here when…”

A pale ghost swooped from the shadows, a silver haired man that was glowing appeared as if from nowhere. “Run,” he panted in a low voice, blood streaking in his silvery hair, “Not long now.”

And then suddenly they were running and you were floating and you realised you hadn’t escaped unharmed after all because your skin screamed where the arms of the ghost-man clamped down carrying you.

It took an embarrassing amount of time to figure all this out, and then a truly unreasonable amount of time for the woman's words to sink in. Where is he, we can’t be here when…

Where is he.

Where.

You start screaming, and thrash as hard as you can, which was apparently not very . The man swears at you but otherwise all you achieve is a tighter grip, bands of steel around you.

“Leave me behind,” you demand. “ Leave me behind or he will find you and kill you and this will all be for nothing.”

The last part of this was a wail that you had very little conscious control over. All you knew was that this was very very bad and that Thomas was alive and chasing them and believing she had abandoned him. And The Master would lock you in a personal hell for all time for breaking his heart.

You spared fleeting little thought for the bewildered pain beating at the core of yourself. That place was torn to splinters, curled around the tight pain that was the Thing at her center.

You screamed, and screamed, and screamed; if only to tell him that she wasn’t leaving she was screaming and fighting to get free. She would give him blood freely, she would serve, she would never run. Didn’t he want the library in her head, didn’t he need it. Please forgive me, please forgive me.

There was a sharp stinging blow that resonated through your blood like silver.

Everything went dark.






Chapter Text

Somewhere, there is an ocean. Over the sharp, dark, knives of stone; a great swell inhales, and you soar up, up… up.

A keening cry moves up through your bones. You vibrate with the heartbeat of the sky.

The Thing rolls, undulates, and you are the tissue around it; all your existence straining and hollow.

Did you bring me here? You wonder, flying through the dark. Am I dreaming?

You reach out, but don’t find the veil lying outside your consciousness. But… this can’t be the fade… you don’t fit through.

The thing shudders again, and for a moment it is all you are. For a moment…

There is movement in the dark, and you are suddenly massive, “more than you have ever been. Just reach out to me. Join me my…” The noise the creature makes is a thousand moons beating in your chest, flooding you with silver. It pools around The Thing, working at the knots you have carefully put in place.

No! Moonlight spills from your mouth in an arc like blood, darkness brushes you like a caress.

You are maimed my little one . ” You are falling in the silver and the darkness waits outstretched to hold you. “ You called out in fear. I can help you…”

No, no, no. If it frees you, you will die. You tear at the silver, but your hands pass through it, becoming silver too. Help, help me…

You are singing in the dark. Not now please. You are singing in the silver rain and it is changing around you. You have never felt so alive. The darkness is confused, pausing…

Not now, please, I am so close. And you have nearly found the words to the verse, they are on your tongue, you could just reach out… NOT NOW!

But you are falling now, because they didn’t listen and they saved you. The moon has no grasp on you. You are alone in the blackness and you are falling and falling and falling for the eternity it takes to find yourself and there you are. You are breathing and the lights sparkle like a rainbow over your eyelids.

 

Ow. Your face hurts.

“I think you went a little overboard, Fenris,” the woman's voice is dry, “Is she even alive?”

You hear a masculine grunt of disapproval, and you open your eyes. A man is peering at your face, frowning; as you blink awake, the sharp angles of his mouth soften. Strange silver lines trace over his face, reminding you of… something. For a moment your head swims.

“Would you rather i’d let her call her master down upon us?” He has a unique voice, dark and gravelly. You hear the less than subtle sneer in it, as the man looks up and away from you, mouth twisting. “I had no idea you were so experienced at fighting powerful magisters. Perhaps we should go back and seek him out.”

Slowly, you are aware of hands behind your back, firm and steady. Your mind latches onto the one word the man had said that had some meaning to you.

“Master?” Your voice speaks on its own, remarkably loud, making you flinch. The hands… you peer around expecting to see The Master behind you. No, just the man holding you upright.

Something doesn’t seem right, but you’re not sure what. You don’t recognise these people. You pull yourself upright, ignoring the pain in your chest, the way The Thing shudders strangely inside you. There is light, and The Master must be somewhere. He will have more for you to memorise, you are sure. He will certainly need you to recite the…

“No,” the man interrupts sternly. “Your master isn’t here. My name is Fenris.”

You ignore him, as he clearly doesn’t understand. You stare at the woman, who sounds like she’s in charge. Something about her is familiar.

“Where is Lord Dravonin?” Your voice sounds strange in your ears. Tinny. You shake your head, trying to shake loose the grain of strangeness that bounces inside you. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.

There are lights in the air. A prism of colour like a rainbow.

The woman laughs, and pain flares through you, your heart aches. You bend over, clutching in at yourself. You are angry. This woman doesn’t care if you find your master in time, nobody does. You don’t recognise this place. What is the time? No more pain, please. You can still feel it, the ache of losing some of yourself. You must find him.

You grab a thread from The Thing, ignoring how it thrashes, biting you, gnawing through your heart. You throw it at the pain, “ where is he.”

Your heart stutters, falters, you are gasping for air.

You are stretched. You are breaking.

 

The next time you wake, consciousness comes slowly, like your mind is afraid of giving you too much of yourself. Too bad, you think, grabbing the careful prodding of wakefulness and shoving yourself in headfirst.

Turns out, your mind doesn’t work like that.

 

Probably a lot of time passes. You aren’t sure.

 

You wonder briefly if you are dead. Wouldn’t that mean something. Wouldn’t you know?

 

There hasn’t been any pain in a long time, your mind tries to tell you, what if…?

 

You laugh at it. What rubbish. Look at all this pain, right here!

 

Things move in waves, sounds, rhythms. It’s obvious, once you notice. The Thing is waving in the sunlight, moving in time with the patterns.

 

See. It tells you, sounding amused. Isn’t it obvious?

 

It was obvious. That didn’t mean you had to like it.

 

The Thing didn’t care. It was just A Thing.

 

So are you, you say to yourself accusingly.

 

Chapter Text

It feels like an age has passed. You are swaying… you are vaguely aware of this. You… ache. Drifting had left you ill prepared for suddenly feeling heavy and broken. You are limp, kelp stranded on solid land, swaying with the tug and pull of the waves.

Your mouth opens, rasping, suddenly parched. You struggle to moisten your lips. Your head is swimming, spinning… it would be easier to roll over into the ocean again.

“You have to wake up,” the gravelly voice tells her. “I’m not going to keep carrying you everywhere.”

Gravelly Voice was right, you thought to yourself, you had to… get up. It will be worse if you don’t get up. You know that. You have to work, prepare breakfast for The Master…

You try to say this, but all you really manage is a moan. Abruptly you are deposited rather ungracefully onto a warm hard surface. It helps you figure out where here is, you blink groggily into the strange prisms of light that surround you.

It was pathetic, really. All that time of torture and labour and lists burned into your brain. All the pain of The Thing. And you came undone just because… because… You fumble in the numb and unhelpful space that is your mind.

Atalum, quenaricus ab mercin?” You query. You were sure you had that translation right. You were sure of it. Perhaps ‘Atalum’ wasn’t supposed to be interpreted literally, but how would that make any sense? It contradicted every resource you had to…

There is an awkward cough. “Drink,” they command. Gravelly Voice again. At least this is easy for you, you are parched and dry; twisted and wrung out in a strange way that leaves you slumping and blurred. You grab the canteen passed to you and gulp the water down desperately; neatly though, carefully, just in case of dry parchment.

When you are sated and gasping, they withdraw it. You follow it with your eyes, and see piercing green-grey eyes observing you. The woman… elven… dressed in armor stained with blood, bow at her back. Memory stirs…

“Fen’Harel en…”

You are hushed, and the eyes sparkle. “Careful,” she says, her voice lilting and sliding in an unfamiliar accent. “That’s not something you should be repeating. Not many look favourably on the Dread Wolf.”

The woman has dark golden skin, cinnamon curls loose around her shoulders, pointed ears peeking free. You’ve never seen an elf like this, except…

Standing before the mirror. Dancing in the night. Smell of smoke and fire.

Speaking in riddles to her, as well?” Gravelly Voice demanded sourly. “I assure you, it will be even less successful with her.

You stare up, and see a figure that looks like it belongs in some bizarre children's story. A lean male figure, dressed up in leather armour that is pointed like thorns and about as welcoming; his face is narrow, pointed and sharp beneath strange pale hair matching the eery lines that trace over his skin. His mouth was sharply downturned, profoundly disapproving.

“Fenris,” the woman’s light voice is cordial, but it sounds tired. “What do you want?”

The glower increased, if it was possible, the face darkening and turning stormy. “If you deign to dispense your understanding of elven history at times such as this, far be it from me to stop you, Briala.”

The woman, Briala, ignored him. “Can you walk,” she asks you gently, “these paths are smooth for elven feet. We have a moment, while we wait for your friends.”

You blink at her, waiting for the words to mean something to you. Your friends? What friends?

You glance around, and your breath catches. The place is strange and pale, a long path fading through a grey and deserted landscape. Far behind you, you see three figures trudging through the mists along the path, blurry in the scintillating light. The other slaves, you realise.

“I… where is Dravonin? The Venatori?” Your voice is pathetically shaky and small. You wish you could just shrink down until everyone was gone. The woman, the man, they both look at you like you are a person. That was never good.

“The Venatori are dead,” Briala says softly, quietly reassuring, as though this fact should calm you.

No…

“The other one, we avoided him, but he can’t follow us here.” She continues, unaware. “We…”

“No!” You are breathing in gasps. “I need to find him, quickly, please.

How does this woman not understand? How does she not know what The Master will do, when he finds his followers dead, finds you gone. You remember screaming, that was good, if you can get back to him fast enough…

Fenris interrupts, sharply. “Get up, now. You can walk, and you will do so.”

The words, spoken like an order, snap you out of your confusion. You drag yourself to your feet, holding back a whimper of pain as you realise your side stings and throbs. You remember the heat pressed against your side. You don’t look.

Briala is giving Fenris a dirty look, which he pointedly ignores. He simply turns and strides away, clearly expecting you to follow. And you do, because doing as this strange man says is the only sane action you can think of in a world gone mad.

He does glance back though, once, all trace of glower gone and eyebrows pulled together. His eyes flick over you, once, and he turns back, satisfied. Perhaps he thought you would simply refuse to follow. You shiver, and pull closer to him. He seems to know what you are, at least.

They walk a long while through quiet shining spaces. After a small aside, Briala seems content to let you follow Fenris, which you are glad of. The woman scares you, makes you think of the ones you knew in Minrathous. The ones who burned.

Fenris though, he is quiet and collected, he gives her food as they walk with the quiet detachment of one who simply expected her to comply with his gesture. She swallowed the bread and cheese, and stayed close. He knew. He was an elf who knew what that meant. He looked at you and saw what you were.

Briala though, she was dangerous. She approached with sympathy in her eyes and words of freedom. You had stood fast against far worse temptations than her, and you ignored her. She was not worth dying for.

Through every interaction, Fenris watched them, his pale green eyes inscrutable. Eventually he sent you back, to check on the other slaves.

The three of them look up as you approach, each of them pale and miserable. “How can you stand it?” Asks the man who had stood up for her, the night of the fire. “It’s awful here, like walking through mud. Something must be wrong.

You shrug, watching them struggle along the path. One step, two, you barely move and you are moving ahead of them. Your steps are… light. Buoyed. You almost laugh when you realise what is happening. It is obvious, really. This was elven magic, a piece of the empire, long lost. Where it welcomed you, Briala and Fenris, it hindered the humans.

That was, perhaps, your first real taste of freedom; watching the shemlen struggle as they trod through the forgotten halls of The People. You didn’t hope, or dream, or think of fighting. You didn’t grow larger, or braver, or find something worth dying for. What you did find, was a small, quiet, smile; a secret treasure, a quiet joy. It was a spark in the void. A little thing.

When The Master came, you would keep it hidden. You would let all you were burn to ashes before he would take it from you.

Fenris watches you return, and for a moment it seems a cheek is lifted, the beginnings of what might be a smile. You worry he has seen your prize, and bow your head, moving forwards. After half a breath, where your heart thuds inside you like a drum, he turns, and all is as it was. You feel your little smile, burning in your gut; it gives you the strength to breathe at least a little while longer.

Chapter Text

They step out of the mirror-door, passing through the shining, glittering, rainbows with the ease of passing through a soap bubble; a soft membrane that wraps about you for a moment in a light caress. As you step into the soft golden light of the room beyond, there are several loud exclamations of relief from the other slaves. You glance behind you, and see the colours go dark, fading to a mirror surface once more.

Your heart beats hard, once, painfully; your throat tightens. But before you have time to think, a hand grasps your shoulder, firmly, and walks you forwards. Glancing up you see the jagged outline of Fenris, cast into shadow by the soft golden light of lamps against the wall. He barely acknowledges you, and you relax, allowing him to walk you forwards. You barely have a moment to register the room, thick rug over a stone floor, bare walls flickering in the soft light, before you are walking down a hallway and up some stares.

Left, right, left… a maze of doors and passageways. Dark stone and clean air, gentle with scents of clean linen and soap; a well kept place, a home? You pass through a wide space, benches and wooden tables, a group of elven children staring wide-eyed as you pass. You are beginning to stumble as you continue, despite your effort to do otherwise, the pain in your side refusing to be forgotten.

Old stone. Old is familiar. You are leaning down against the stone of the floor, listening to the whispers, breathing in the scent of old Minrathous. The air from below is different somehow. You imagine finding your ways into the catacombs, losing yourself in the dark.

Your thoughts are a blur, barely coherent.

You curl up in the dark, imagining what it would have been like, finding your way into the bowels of the ancient city. You could almost hear words in the murmurs from those old tunnels. You could see something, buried, dark. You knew what it was like, to be lost in the void.

There are firm arms around you, making you ache in a way you are unfamiliar with. It is a very old feeling. Crying out in the dark. For a moment you are a child again, afraid in the emptiness, strong arms holding you close.

You hear a soft murmuring, a warm hand is at your brow. You shudder at the touch, holding still, you try to open your eyes, to tell him you are here. You never left. You would never leave him.

“Of course, Dove,” the voice says, agreeing with you. Your eyes flutter open in surprise, prepared to see the fear in those slate-grey eyes, prepared to… But there are only the wooden beams of a solid roof, a stern figure standing above you. Something is hurting, tugging, tickling at your side; warmth like a bath, like the sun, like a kiss.

Moaning, you try to sit up, but Fenris fixes you with a look that sends you cringing back down. The soft weave of fabric is beneath your fingers, are you on a bed? You twist your head and spot the source of the strange sensation. Firm, callused hands pressing down against your side, and what could only be healing magic flowing between you. It feels nothing like The Masters healing. It feels…

You shake your head, and focus on the man bending over you. Soft brown hair to his shoulders; startlingly green eyes, a gentle smile. Your throat throbs with some unfamiliar feeling. You look sharply away. You are glad he is healing you, that is all. You are being preserved, so you can return to The Master. You focus on the old stone, the familiarity of it; there was strength in old stone, memories and feelings. You could feel something singing behind the veil, come to me, share the secrets of this place.

“She’ll be fine, Fenris. The burns were minor. She’s in shock more than anything.” You hear the man talking as if from a distance. “Thank you for bringing her.”

You close your eyes, open them. In shock, was that what this was? That didn’t seem right.

“I’m not in shock,” you tell them.

Fenris doesn’t react, just stares at you with those pale green eyes.

The emerald-eyed man looks down at you, surprise and sympathy in his guileless gaze. “Can you tell me your name?” he asks with a careful voice, as though you are a halla that might startle.

You stare at him, what a stupid question, all things considered. “I am Altus Dravonin’s slave.”

Fenris makes a dissatisfied noise. “Altus? Well, that is less exciting. Hawke will be disappointed.” You thought he would stalk out there and then, so you dragged yourself upright, ready to follow.

The emerald-eyed man looked downright alarmed. He took hold of your shoulders, but when you flinched at the contact, he dropped his hold like you had burned him. “What are you doing?” he questioned, brows raised. He stepped between you and the door in a slow motion.

Fenris had frozen, mid-stride, an unreadable expression on his face. He did not look pleased. You shrink back, expecting to be struck.

“Do you think I need some elven girl trailing me about?” he demanded, sounding truly angry. You flinch, curling in on yourself. It is dangerous to be noticed.

“I’m sorry, my lord.” you whisper. “I’m sorry.”

He actually snarled then, a vicious sound that had you crouching even lower. Hands on the floor, lower your head. Show them you are nothing. Rough hands grab your arms, pull you to your feet, pin you firmly against the wall. “I am not one of them,” he growls. “You will not call me lord. You WILL NOT bow to me.” He shakes you. “Do you understand?”

You don’t know what he’s saying. It doesn’t matter, he is angry, you did something wrong. “I’m sorry,” you whisper, “Please, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to.”

Fenris lets go of you with a curse, and stalks from the room. You lean into the stone, staring. It is a small room. A few beds tucked into the corners, blankets heaped on a small table; shelves pressed against the far wall. As you breathe, you catch the scent of vandal aria, a light, green, scent that is redolent of honey and cut grass. It is… familiar, comforting. You breathe, in, and out, and in.

You see the leaves, fickle and glowing, tumbling against the sun. “Vandal aria,” she says, “It grows everywhere, untamed; it has its own beauty, and is more useful than a rose.” There is a smile, rising above you, brighter than the sun, stealing your breath. “It is sweeter, too. Dangerous to creatures that think it no more than a pretty scent. It is just like us.” Her voice is a thing of silk and sunbeams. You could listen to it forever.

You are breathing quietly now. There is a window, you hadn’t noticed. The dried flowers lay together, pressed on the windowsill. Outside you see the green of deep woods. Something alien beats in you.

Shock? You suppose it makes sense. Nothing quite fits together, spaces where there should be time, pieces where they didn’t fit. It’s like a dream, but the pinpoint of existence is firm behind your eyes, the fulcrum of this spinning world. You orbit a focal point, outward looking in. Occasionally pieces of the world find their way to you; like the hazel eyes peering close at yours, fingers on your skin. Vandal aria on the windowsill.

There is a soft purr. You look down, at the feline settled in your lap. Warm charcoal fur and softness on your skin. The cat is small, green eyes in a wise black face. You run your hands over her, she is happy, warm, loved. You smell different, she says, but I am glad you can hear me. She yawns, stretching on your lap, I need you to scratch my chin. You comply without giving the request much thought. She squirms and the purring thrums loudly, rumbling contentedly through your skin. Good, she says. Now Regalyan will love you, too.

You look up into smiling green eyes, a hand on your arm.

“Easy,” the man says quietly. He has a rich, warm voice; it reaches inside you, soothing and careful. It takes you too long to realise it was more than that, and it is nearly too late when you jerk The Thing down to the base of your belly, away from the probing magic, hissing between your teeth at the pain of it. Mistaking the sound for one of fear, the man moves back, though not as far as you would have liked. “Easy,” he repeats carefully, “I won’t hurt you.” He holds his hands out, spread, moves them slowly away from you.

You are afraid. Was he a blood mage? Touching your mind? Dark eyes, blood everywhere, “Don’t touch me!”

“M… mage,” you spit between numb lips.

He just nods happily, like all you’ve done is note the weather. “Yes,” he says easily. “My name is Regalyan D’Marcall,” the name rolls from his tongue with a foreign flair. “My friends call me Galyan, please feel free to do the same.”

You blink at him, trying to dredge some response to this. “I.. I d.. d.. don’t u.. understand.” You rage at the stutter you can’t control. You drown your heart in venom. What about this made you loathe yourself, detest yourself to your very core in a way that torture never did? You were ignorant, nothing, flailing in the darkness before the certainty of a pain you were not ready for.

The man… Regalyan? The gentleness in his eyes made you want to curl up and die. What was he doing to you? He tells you that you are safe, that nobody is going to touch you, that all he wants to do is help.

Regalyan is good, adds the cat. He won’t hurt you.

You want to scream. Scream and die and wake from this nightmare. You want The Master to walk in and drag you through the halls and the corridors of light, back to the wagon and the dirt. You want pain and not fear-of-pain. You want control. You want to understand.

You didn’t think you were screaming, but suddenly hands are on you and you are being held down and blood is running on your arms where you have slammed them against the stone. It is easy to obey them. You live for orders and they tell you, ‘lie still’. On instinct you tuck The Thing low and hidden, wrapping it away, crushing it to nothing.

That beautiful voice whispers of kindness and safety, and tells you to sleep.

You do so.





Chapter Text

You hear whispering at your bedside. You can’t open your eyes, you can’t move, floating in the empty spaces between thought and action, action and reaction.

“Will you stay?” Someone is asking. “Others need you. I need you. The mages…”

There is a long and weary sigh. “There are others among the Aequitarians, other mages that may be reasoned with. Rhys…” You recognise this voice. The flaxen lion with hazel green eyes is sad.

“The White Spire is not stable, Galyan. Already there have been murders…” the concern in this feminine voice is palpable.

“Murders?”

“Deaths in the cells that cannot be explained. Surely you cannot believe this to be coincidence. They have sent Lord Seeker Lambert…”

“You are the Right Hand of the Divine, you can truly do nothing?”

“Justinia is trying Galyan, why do you think I…”

Her voice is cut off with a squeak. A hum of pleasant surprise. A moment of quiet. “You do not fight fairly, Galyan.” The feminine voice is reproaching.

The green-eyed lion replies, “I am a healer, only an Enchanter. This is my place. But I am always here for you.”

“You say that but…”

“You don’t need me,” there is laughter in that golden voice. “Cassandra, bravest and most beautiful. You will do just fine without me, I know it.” A moment of breathless quiet, of soft things in unseen places. Now, let us go somewhere private. I want to make sure you remember me when you leave.”

Laughter, fading in the stone. The quiet of light and leaves. You slip away into the dark and dreamless spaces once more.

 

There are fingers on your forehead, you hear Fenris talking above you. Without really understanding why, you fumble through the dark spaces towards his voice.

“I know what it is to live as a slave among the magisters, mage. Do not suppose you can enlighten me.”

“I was rather hoping you would enlighten me ,” a mild voice answers. Regalyan?

“Of course you were,” Fenris replied, voice bitter. “I have nothing for you. A slave does not think of freedom, only of their master’s desires; if you offer it to her, then you are a fool.”

“And yet you escaped.”

“An act of madness that I did not understand.” Fenris’ voice was harsh and ragged. “I apologise for my actions earlier. It will not happen again.”

“No apology necessary Fenris. This was hard on you both. Only a fool would ignore that.” Regalyan’s voice was still soft, “But you can help her, and maybe even learn to help yourself.”

You expect Fenris to get angry, but instead he simply sounds wry and curious. “You think so? I am not often known to be nurturing.” His rough chuckle, though sharp, is amused.

Regalyan answers with a smile in his voice. “And yet, you will still be infinitely more considerate than her master, I imagine. You understand to some degree what she needs.”

“There is truth to what you say. I will think on it.”

“Of course. I would ask no more.”

You struggle to open your eyes and this time you succeed. Fenris is leaning over you, eyebrows drawn together, and eyes dark. When he sees you wake, he frowns, the expression slow and deliberate.

“You are awake,” he seems caught off guard.

You want to ask him, why. Why did you come? Why did you take us? You try to sit up, but everything spins.

He reaches down and pushes you back into the pillows behind you with a firm grasp. “Your master,” he says, “what was his name?” His eyes pin you in place, piercing, making you squirm.

“Thomasi Dravonin,” you tell him, wondering if this could be seen as another small betrayal if your Master ever finds out. You doubt it. He would be hunting them now, and he would want them to know his name.

Fenris surprises you by humming a note of recognition. “Ah yes, Dravonin. I imagine I made the acquaintance of his father, a proud man overly fond of using demons to do his dirty work. I heard that backfired quite spectacularly.”

You freeze, feeling the blood draining from your face. Did he know? Nobody had figured out that secret in over ten years, The Master had killed anyone who could.

You feel Fenris’ curious gaze noting your fear, and you shrink back. If he knows, then maybe he has a chance, maybe… you shudder, crushing the thoughts. Of course he doesn’t know, he’d only heard the rumors.

You clench your fists. “I am not an idiot, nor a child. You want me to give you what you want, and cheer for the chance at freedom.”

Idiotic words, you can hear the fire in them. You should say nothing, but a strange madness has overtaken you. No punishment Fenris could offer would compare to the pain of betraying The Master.

You look around for Regalyan and are surprised to see he has left the room. When you return your eyes to Fenris, he is smirking, almost smiling. A cold pit of dread forms in your stomach.

“I do not offer you freedom. If you find it, however, I will be pleased.” He chuckled to himself, clearly amused.

He was mad. They were all mad. Insane. The Master would kill them all, you could already hear their screams…

Blood, pooling on the floor.

“You are mine.”

Their eyes are empty, faces still twisted in their final agonized cries of horror. Horror. You are screaming inside, and it never ends.

You can’t breathe, there is no air. You can already see it, the children lying twisted on the floor. They didn’t understand. There is cold stone biting into your shoulder and you belatedly understand that you have fallen, are curled on the floor. Rolling over, shaking, you see Fenris crouched next to you.

“I am sorry,” he says simply and there is a weight of understanding in that gaze.

“Kill me,” you whisper, still driven by that same madness. If he understands, maybe he will free you from all of this. Your stomach clenches as you look at him, still afraid, still so afraid.

Those cold eyes pierce your soul and you flinch away. Maybe he will grant your request. Strike you down as he had struck the magisters. You have no doubt he could do it.

He hesitates.

“No,” he says.

Relief and nausea roll through you in equal measure, you retch silently in an involuntary dry heave. You are ashamed of your fear. Ashamed of yourself. A wretched, useless creature clinging to life. Less than nothing. Worse than death perhaps but alive nonetheless.

“Do you have a name?” he asks.

“The cook calls me Rabbit,” you whisper. That is a private thing, but somehow the question drags it from you.

“Was she kind you you?”

“... sometimes she gave me the old bread. Instead of throwing it away.” A secret. Drawn from you by those eyes. By the madness.

Fenris just nods. And then he does something nobody had ever done for you before.

“I have a name for you. And you will earn it.” He states it simply, as if doing no more than stating the colour of the sky.

“A name?”

“Revas.”

You can only stare, wondering what was happening.

He hesitates, for the first time appearing a little unsure. “May I? Call you by it.”

You just nod. You have never had a name. Revas . You like the sound of it. You clutch it to your heart like gold, next to your smile. A smile and a name. More than you have ever had.

He smiles, a real smile this time. He seems pleased.

“Follow me, Revas.”

 

You follow him out through the halls, moving through a surreal world. You step out into a courtyard, large, beautiful. The lawn is a perfect green, soft and inviting.

Fenris stalks off and returns with what appear to be sticks of heavy wood, with cloth wound roughly at one end. He tosses one to you and sighs when you fumble and drop it.

“You have never fought?” he scowls.

The Thing pulses inside you, along with the swirl of emotion that rises in your belly. You fought it, The Thing, always. You tied it down, swallowed the pain, ripped your soul in half. If you set it free here, then maybe you could escape.

But that is foolish thinking. You know what they do to apostates here in the south. Dead eyes and the brand of a sunburst eating their forehead. Worse than death.

Even more likely, The Thing would turn on you, burn you alive for what you had done to it.

“Never,” you spit the word.

You bend down and lift the stave because he clearly expects you to. Does he intend to have you serve him? The Master would torture him for that, put him in the room where things were not-quite-dead, the room you hated most.

“I am no use to you!” You try to make him understand. “I cannot tell you where he gets his power from! I cannot fight!”

“Cannot fight?” He laughs, a harsh sound. “Or will not?”

Fenris swings his stave and cracks it across yours, jarring it from your hands, leaving them numb and stinging. He watches you dutifully retrieve it, something strange in his eyes.

“I am only a scribe!”

“Oh? I thought you were an elf?” His lips pinch together and he steps into another swing, rapping the stave firmly on mine.

He is insane, you think to yourself, as you struggle to hold on to the long piece of wood.

“Now strike back,” he gestures, stepping sideways, waiting.

“I… what?” You stare, then carefully lower your eyes. “Please, I didn’t mean to- I would never…”

“I am teaching you,” his voice is slightly softer, or is that your imagination. “Will you allow me?”

That startles you into staring. “I… of course but-”

“Then strike,” he insists. He comes forward, wraps a firm and warm hand around my grip, lifts it up. “Magister Danarius, he was my master.”

You start in shock, and he smiles a grim smile.

“There is no freedom while a master hunts you. I was too valuable to part with,” Fenris sneered the words. “For some reason I have no interest in, Altus Dravonin hunts you as well, does he not?”

You only nod. Those cold blue eyes bore into yours, and Fenris’ face is deadly serious.

“I killed him,” he says, “With the help of friends I had no right to meet.”

You can only shake your head, no. You are shaking, you know he can feel it. He doesn’t understand. No, no, no… not again. Never again.

“You should be interested,” you whisper, “he’s killed magisters, he-”

The words die in your throat, as close as you can get to the truth, knowing that nothing could make you say more than that, make you reveal his true nature. “He needs me.”

“Everything dies.” Fenris didn’t sound particularly concerned. “This Altus faster than most.”

You had noted the strange pale markings on his skin, but suddenly they began to glow, then shine, his arm lighting up in an unworldly display. “I was Danarius’ favourite pet because of these. I was designed to be a weapon, a creature used to destroy his enemies. Now, I tear apart the things I despise most,” his voice curled with disgust, “those who take slaves and think their lives somehow lesser than their own.”

You shove the stave away, dropping it. “ I can’t ,” you nearly shout. You try to wrench free of his grasp and for a moment it is futile, then he releases you, frowning at you.

“You can’t make me fight for freedom. ” Your voice twists the word into the horror it is. “ I am a slave. Do whatever you have to, then give me back to him when he comes. Please.”

You don’t want to watch them die. So briefly here and you could see this place was good. Some people, somewhere in this universe, had found peace. Impossible, but true. It could never be true for you.

You crouch low and wrap your hands around your body, unable to stop yourself from rocking in place. “I can translate ancient Tevene, some Elvhen, Orlesian, Rivainese, Qunlat…” You know you are rambling, begging. “I don’t eat much”.

He sighs and frowns down at you, a strange expression on his face like you are a scared animal. “Revas…”

“I can translave ancient Tevene, some Elvhen, Orlesian, Rivainese, Qunlat…” You chant the words like a shield, the familiar litany from the archives .

“Venhedis!” Fenris exclaims, and the unexpected curse in Tevene catches you off-guard and startles you out of your chant. “A trade, then. You hit the stick three times, and I have a book you can translate for me.”

You look up, glad he has dropped the topic of fighting back. Translate a tome somewhere in peace? Your hopes rise and you slowly stand, warily picking up your piece of wood. Reaching out with it, you tap his stave carefully, not entirely sure where he was going with this.

Fenris half-smiles, and then laughs openly. “I said hit, not lovingly caress!”

You flush bright red and deliver a ringing slap to his stick, enjoying a rare smile that appears on his face. You lift your stave again and deliver a second blow, finding some strange satisfaction in venting your frustration through the solid blow. When you go to deliver the third swing however, he dances away, moving out of reach.

Only minutes later, out of breath, do you succeed in delivering the third and final strike.

“Happy?” you gasp, bending over your knees to catch your breath.

“Not quite,” he grumbles, “but it is enough.”

Chapter Text

The book was a discourse on Shartan, written in Trade. You peer at Fenris, unsure if he was messing with you.

“This book doesn’t need to be translated…” you trail off, hoping he will clarify.

Fenris coughs uncomfortably, and avoids your gaze. “I was hoping you would… read it.”

“Read it? Why?”

When no answer is immediately forthcoming, you shove the book back towards him, barely managing not to scowl. Fenris was steadily seeming less and less like a master, and more like… something a fellow slave might have been to you, a particularly bratty one at that, one you would worry for.

“I’m not interested in rhetoric on slave rebellion,” you bite out. “I thought I made that clear. Besides, I’ve read it already.” You sigh, and intone the familiar passage, one you had read privately many times, although you would never admit it to him.

 

“A great hymn rose over Valarian Fields gladly proclaiming:
Those who had been slaves were now free.”

 

You look up to see that Fenris is still studiously avoiding eye-contact.

“It was a gift from a friend,” he mutters, “I hoped… thought perhaps you could… read it aloud. I have always wanted to know more of Shartan.”

You blink in sudden understanding. “Oh!”

He had been a slave once, and most slaves in Tevinter were never taught to read or write. As a scribe, things had been different for you.

Looking at the book, you are suddenly aware of how carefully it had been kept. You see Fenris’ posture, how he seems ready to snatch it back from you. This book is a precious thing. You lay the book out on the table, carefully, opening the cover and leaning in to breathe the familiar scent of the parchment. It has been a long time now, since you have read anything other than carvings and monoliths, records of ancient things, a tool in The Masters hunts.

 

It seems we don't wish to speak of elven heroes, or the role they played in Andraste's war, any more than we wish to speak of the bloody death toll that accompanied it. With each passing age, heroes like Shartan become more of a fable, but some of us will always know the truth…”

 

It is easier than you would ever have expected, slipping into the old habits, intoning the book to your curious listener. Fenris stills as you read, his eyes distant, and you are glad; too often those in the archives would hang over your shoulders, demanding to see everything for themselves, whether they could read it or not.

You read for hours, caught up in the familiar text. Shartan was a tragic figure, you have always thought; a visionary who helped build a world he would never see. You wondered at his final sacrifice; a hundred elves slaughtered by their own arrows, one last, desperate, doomed attempt to save Andraste from the flames. What if Shartan had lived and been free to see the Dales and the rise of Halamshiral; would the course of history be different without his pointless sacrifice?

In the end, the elves were left to survive The Long Walk to the Dales without provisions, many perished before ever reaching the promised homeland; and Tevinter had simply bought more slaves, as if anyone had expected any differently.

You know how the Southerners treat elves, shutting them in alienages like animals, using them as slaves because of their strange fascination with elven dexterity and appearance; yet insisting their servants are ‘free’ for no reason other than chantry rhetoric. In the end, it was all the same.

A hand comes between you and the pages, and it is like waking from a deep sleep. You blink owlishly, disoriented by a sputtering candle and sudden darkness.

“Wha-”

Fenris’ voice is wryly amused, “that is perhaps enough for tonight, parvulus .”

The last word snags at you, parvulus, he was calling you little one . Your heart aches with some deep pain that you cannot identify, and you jerk from the chair.

Non me puer, ” you step stiffly away from him. “I am not a child.”

He simply raises his eyebrows, frowning just slightly. “I did not say you were.”

“Nor am I little, ” you look away from him, not wanting him to see whatever strange expression is on your face. Your throat hurts. This entire exchange was ridiculous, confusing… painful.

“What is this place,” you blurt. “Why am I here. What do you want from me.”

He just shrugs, “It isn’t my place to say what this place is. That is Brialas business. But we sought to free slaves from Tevinter, so long as any of their kind were foolish enough to come south.”

“And instead you were foolish enough to steal from The Master. You don’t understand the danger.”

Fenris places a careful hand on your shoulder, tries to catch your eyes. “Then tell me.”

Blood and blank faces.

You are silent. You clamp your mouth shut. You will not answer.

“We will all die, you say? You know I am a warrior. You know we are defended here.”

You shut your eyes. You had heard it before. You had heard it all. But if you tell them, that is worse. What can you do?

You can feel the clock ticking down in your head. Wherever it is that they have taken you, he is coming for you, he has always been able to find you.

“There is a reason an Altus had magisters living in fear of him, even in Tevinter, at the seat of their power. Even Aurelian Titus knew not to overstep-” You stop, knowing that topic is edging too close to danger. Your mouth is dry, your breath is leaving you.

You needn’t have worried at letting slip too much, Fenris’ mouth pinches downwards and his eyebrows gather in puzzlement.

You look away from him, fighting the urge to run. Running footsteps. Flames. You are frozen. You know better than that, than running, even if you seek to run back to him; you are still a coward that way.

“Revas.”

It takes you a long moment to hear him, longer still to recognise it was the name he had given you. You still don’t understand what he wants, what The Master wants, what you want… it’s all a blur. None of it has ever had to make sense before.

The reading had helped, had let you forget, pretend everything was normal. But nothing was normal. You remember walking through the halls. You remember the children.

Blank faces.

You are struggling to control the bile burning in your throat.

Blood, so much blood.

There were children here. Elves. People seeking freedom. People seeking your freedom, impossibly.

They didn’t realise that for you, freedom wasn’t bound in chains, in the past. They didn’t see the red over blue. The screams. The fact that there was nothing left of you.

And there were children.

You are scared, but there is a choice; not even a choice really, because the people here are people and not whatever it is The Master has made you.

You run.

Chapter Text

You are running, and that is all that matters. Feet pounding on the stone. Corners and archways and darkness. You hear shouts behind you and know that you now are the quarry.

They want you to stay with them, help them, watch them burn. And Briala had looked at you with gleaming and dangerous eyes, ‘ Fen Harel Enansal’. You know her secret.

Safety was foolish. People were foolish. Elves were tools, everywhere you go, there is no changing that.

There is familiar darkness in your mind, blotting, taking pieces of you into itself; a kind of madness that has you laughing as you run, a mad kind of breathless laughter that comes from your fear, confusion and anger.

‘Kill me’, you want to shout to your pursuers. You had seen the ones who ran, burning, screaming . But of course they were not mages here, and so you run left and right and down through the darkness in a mad scramble of limbs.

The Thing is leaking out, taking advantage of your desperation, splashing on the floor in silver footprints and propelling you forwards faster than you have ever run before. Owl Against the Moon. Memories of Sharp Water. You are rising, tumbling, falling. Pooling and coiling, tight in your chest, fluid in your limbs; you are darting like a hare through the dark and knowing they can’t catch you, because you are quiet and fast and they are lost in the dark.

You are following the thing that calls to you, The Thing is shivering and pulling you on a path, and without thinking you have followed it. Where are you going? Away.

I can take you away, the thread says, because the silver is everywhere and the threads are everywhere; in their radiance you see the mirror, the one you had arrived through.

It is a promise, a door, a path away from death and confusion.

Fen’Harel Enansal,” and it is open for you, a doorway back to the shining spaces that called you home.

You slip through into darkness.

Utter darkness.

Perhaps it should surprise you, but instead it simply feels inevitable.

The blackness wraps around you, caresses you, gathers the silver and ties it carefully inside your chest with all the tenderness of a lover.

You returned to me, Revas. There is joy in the quiet spaces, he takes your jaw and smiles. He is hunting.

I promised I would. 

There is terror in his eyes. You relax into the familiar. They aren’t your choices any more.

You did. He nods, once. There is power in a promise kept.

Chapter Text

 

“I have been waiting here for some time, Revas .” The Master smiles at you fondly as the darkness recedes and his eyes gleam crimson, “As always, you were delicious - I’d forgotten how good you taste when I let your leash slip.”

He is still holding your jaw in his grip, and you feel his fingers tracing on your skin. Familiar. Familiar. He does what he wants because you belong to him. There was never another way. Had running saved the lives of those people?

“Everyone forgets,” The Master whispers against your ear, “Offer power, and they forget the price. But that’s the most important part.” He slips his hand down seizes you by the throat, nails digging into your skin, still smiling. “ Choice can be such a difficult thing.”

“Leave her be,” Briala's voice is firm, “What do you care for a slave?”

You can’t help it, you glance her way, see her standing not ten feet away; she is calm and collected, unmoved, as though you had stumbled upon nothing more than a casual chat between friends.

The Master doesn’t react, except to glance her way in a lazy movement. “What do I care? Oh, and I had such hopes for you,” He wags his spare hand with a tsking motion, “To think our poor Arrow saw so much potential in you. It’s tragic really.”

Briala simply raises an eyebrow, “And yet you shed no tears, Demon.”

No.

How could she possibly…

The grip on your throat tightens. “ Choice. Spirit.

Briala nods, “You’ve said. Yet you leave a trail of blood wherever you go..”

The Master laughs, the sound delighted, and he lets go of your neck. He glances down at you with a fond expression that puts terror in your veins. “ Revas, dear thing, you know better than most; aren’t elves at ease with murder?”

You freeze as you feel him in your mind. The Master takes your thoughts and brings you with him, walking through halls of stone.

“She remembers, as you do not,” he kneels with you beside a woman's corpse, the cook. “What the People will do, if offered a choice. Are you any better I wonder?”

Briala is silent.

“I didn’t think so. All the same trivial excuses, the walls you mortals build in your minds. But if it makes choosing easier, by all means, keep believing Demons are the source of the darkness in your hearts.”

You look at the body, stuck to the floor.

Cold and saggy, when you touch her you fall into a dark place where cold pale leather presses on your skin. Even when you are bruised and broken, far away, the screams of that withered emptiness are utterly silent, like pieces of glass.

“Enough,” a thaw, a snap, you are flat on your back and shivering. The Master's voice is more familiar now. “You have been warned. You understand, or you do not. I am particularly reluctant to harm you, Briala dear; you make beautiful choices, even as they rip you apart. You change, and unlike most of your kind, you do not simply attempt to generally pontificate me to death.”

“I just want the girl, Imshael.”

“Oh no, no, that isn’t how this works at all!”

Chapter Text

The Master smiles, a flat, thin twist of the lips. A strange dark mist briefly seems to coalesce about him, and his eyes gleam with scarlet. “I was so generous too, last time we met. Because I was offered something better than fire and blood. Do you remember?”

For half a moment, there was a flicker of something less than certainty over Briala’s face, her fingers catching, twisting at a ring on her index finger. “Mihris chose against revenge, and you had no purchase on her any longer.”

“Is that so?” the Master laughs, and it is a strange broken sound like knives splintering over you, shattered under your skin. It’s hard to breathe. “When you recognized me in those old pathways, I was surprised. I confess, I entertained the hope that crossing paths with you would be more entertaining.”

Briala simply crosses her arms, ignoring the jab, and you see her eyes on you again. “What would a creature like you want with a slave?”

The Master waves the question away, “Not I, this host has requirements you see. He feeds me, and I let him choose. They both choose. Not very creative, as entertainment goes, but it sustains me.”

You are hollow, broken, breaking. He never chose this. Thomasi never chose this. You open your mouth, but no sound leaves you. You are cold on the floor, and you have no voice.

Briala blinks slowly, once, “But you’re here for something more.”

“Clever girl,” the Master is pleased, his voice purring, the scarlet fading. “Do you know what you have, little Bri-bri? These paths were never meant for sheltering starving brats, and sneaking through shadows,” his gaze when he glances your way is blue and red poison. “Felassan may have shielded you for now, but you will not have them for long.”

Where is he? ” For the first time, Briala’s calm facade slips entirely.

“Fallen on the blade of his good intentions, no doubt,” the Master sounds bored, “You can blame the chevalier, I imagine.”

“Why tell me this?” Briala’s face is pale, her fingers twists her ring, once, twice, “Why should I believe a word you say?”

The shadowy figure simply shrugs, “Why do anything? It entertains me, more than the sweaty lusting after power in Minrathous does at any rate.”

Briala nods, impassive once again, “A deal, then. I do as you have suggested, and you let the girl free.”

You shudder at hearing that word again, freedom. You haven’t moved from the floor, and you clutch at the cold stone, shaking. You can hear the screams already, as though Briala and Fenris and Regalyan are nothing but pain and ashes.

Never, ” Thomasi Dravonin snarls, and you close your eyes as your heart implodes inside your chest, splintering and freezing.

“Is that you? Or Dravonin?” Briala’s voice is disgusted.

The Master… Thomasi, he turns, blue eyes wide; he looks at you with the eyes of a drowning man. “Come with me,” he pleads, voice soft, the dark miasma pulling and swirling around him to some terrible unknown rhythm.

You kneel on the shards of yourself, and the Thing bleeds through the cracks.

“Yes,” your voice cracks, and you pull yourself up on puppet strings of inevitability. The steps to his side are easy as lying.