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The Circle Breaker

Chapter Text

 

The first thing that Cassandra became aware of was the splitting pain in her hand.  

It felt as though it was being bathed in flame - that, and that her knuckles were being crushed, her fingernails pulled out, her bones broken, all at the same time.  Cassandra bit down on her lip to stifle the instinctive cry of pain, blinking her eyes open and taking in her surroundings.

It was easy enough to recognize that she was in the cell of some Chantry - though which Chantry it was, she could not say.  She was chained, arms and legs, to the floor, and that fact alone was like ice in her gut. She began counting her breaths in a concerted effort to stay calm, and she lined up the facts in her head.

Fact: she was imprisoned in a Chantry.  Whether it was because it was an abandoned Chantry that had been appropriated by renegades, or because she was being held for legitimate reasons, was a mystery to her.  Her cell seemed to be isolated. Rather than being surrounded by other cells, she was surrounded by stone walls, and the door had no hints apart from a small grate set into it near the top.  

Fact: her hand hurt like nothing she had ever felt before - and it was glowing.

That part had escaped her at first.  Now she stared as a green light pulsated through her skin and glove.  Each pulse, she realized, matched up with a pulse of pain through it. She was well and truly mystified by this development; she’d never seen anything like it, in all her years as a Seeker.  

Fact: she was dressed like... well, like a hooligan.  Gray trousers and a green shirt, the kind that was usually worn by outcasts and mercenaries.  What had happened to her armor? Who had changed her out of it? Those questions, she realized, meant that she was getting ahead of herself.  Cassandra took a deep breath, and returned to the facts.

Fact: she could not remember anything past her initial arrival at the conclave.  

That part was more frightening than anything else.  Cassandra remembered walking in the doors, greeting Divine Justinia, apologizing for not being able to bring Varric Tethras herself, but that he was at the Haven Chantry and would be following in a few days time.  Then she’d gone to find her sleeping quarters and... nothing. As though someone had ripped a hole in her head.

Listing out the facts, as it turned out, did nothing to stop questions from clamoring around in her head.  What had happened at the conclave? Why couldn’t she remember it? Why did she have this thing on her hand (in her hand, which was almost worse)?  Why was she chained up in the cells, like a common criminal?

No, not common - common criminals weren’t placed in isolation.  Whatever had happened, it was likely bad, and it was more than likely she was a suspect.

It was only then that the rest of what her body was feeling caught up with her.  The initial alarm and accompanying adrenaline had kept most of it at bay, but now exhaustion and a more familiar ache encompassed her.  Her muscles were fatigued, and her stomach rumbled, though she did not think she could keep any food down in her current state. Her head started to throb, though not on the same level as her hand.  She let her head loll, feeling almost too tired to even keep it upright.

That, of course, was the moment that the door opened.  

Cassandra straightened herself as far as her chains would allow, raising her head high in order to meet the gaze of whoever had entered.  She nearly sagged in relief at the sight of Leliana, but the impassive expression on her friend’s face gave her pause. Leliana was often the type to hide her emotions, but she had rarely done so around Cassandra, and her presence here confirmed that Cassandra was being held by legitimate Chantry officials.  

She knew what this was going to be, then: an interrogation.  That didn’t mean that she had to be the only one being interrogated, if she was careful.

“Leliana,” she greeted.  “What has happened? Why am I chained up, and why does my hand feel like someone shoved it in a fireplace?”

Leliana didn’t answer for a long moment, and her expression didn’t change.  Cassandra almost fidgeted, both eager for and dreading the answer.

“You don’t remember?” Leliana finally said.

“No.”

Leliana snorted.  “Convenient. Of course you don’t.”

Cassandra leaned back a bit, appalled.  “What? You - you don’t believe me? Leliana, what is going on?  Tell me!”

“Justinia is dead.”

Cassandra could face down bears without so much as breaking a fingernail, yet those three words were enough to knock the wind out of her.  The air simply left her lungs, and for a long few seconds she could not speak, or even breathe. Her thoughts went to the Divine, and how optimistic and hopeful Justinia had seemed when the two of them last spoke to one another.  How it had seemed that, if Justinia was confident the conclave could bring an end to the Mage-Templar war, then perhaps things were finally beginning to change for the better. Only now - dead?

Cassandra swallowed.  “How?” she managed to croak out, voice hoarse.

“I was hoping you could tell me,” Leliana answered, watching Cassandra with sharp eyes.

In spite of knowing that it was foolish, Cassandra wracked her brains, hoping that even the smallest inkling of what had occurred would slip back into her brain.  But where there should have been something, anything , there was still only a mass of emptiness.  She shook her head wordlessly, mercilessly choking down the lump in her own throat.  If Justinia was dead, then there could only be one reason why she was chained in a Chantry dungeon.  

“I am a suspect, aren’t I?” she asked, hearing the hollowness in her heart echo through her voice.

“Yes,” Leliana said.  “The conclave was completely destroyed as well.  Everyone who was attending is dead. Except, well...”

“Except me?”

“Yes.”

“And I have a strange mark on my hand, and seemingly no memory of what occurred,” Cassandra said.  “I can hardly fault you for being suspicious. But I swear to you, Leliana - my amnesia is not a lie.  I do not remember what happened after I arrived at the Conclave, which was - how many days has it been?”

Leliana paused, folding her hands behind her back.  “We’re not sure when you would have arrived. But it has been three days since it officially begun.  You’ve been unconscious for nearly all of that time.”

If Leliana was willing to give her this much information, it meant that she had doubts about Cassandra’s guilt.  Cassandra wanted to latch onto that, but was held back by doubts of her own.

If she could not remember - if she had no idea what had happened that destroyed the conclave, or killed Justinia, then it may very well have been caused by her.  Whether on purpose or inadvertently, she could have been guilty. That thought alone made her gut twist, and for a moment Cassandra wanted to wretch, even knowing that there was likely no food in her stomach anyway.

Leliana looked as pained as she felt.  “I believe you when you say you don’t remember, Cassandra,” she said.  “You’re not the type to lie about something this important. But... please understand - I can probably let you out of the chains at least, but at this point you being locked up is for your own safety.”

Cassandra nodded, feeling numb.  “I assume that the people at Haven have already decided my guilt for me?  We are at Haven’s Chantry, yes?”

“I’m afraid, so, and yes.”  Leliana’s expression softened into one that Cassandra was more familiar with.  This was the face of Leliana-her-friend, not Leliana-the-left-hand-of-the-Divine.  “I’ll have some food brought down here for you. It won’t be the most delicious thing you’ve ever eaten, but you ought to be able to stomach some broth and bread, at the very least.  If I’m going to be interrogating you in more detail about what you do remember, then I think we can afford to do it over a proper meal.”

Cassandra nodded again, then watched as Leliana left the cell.  Leliana wasn’t quite quick enough to mask the way her face crumpled as she turned away from her.  Of course, Leliana had probably been hoping that Cassandra could give her answers about what had happened to Justinia, and now even Cassandra - the only person to emerge from the conclave alive - had failed to provide those answers.

A guard - someone that Cassandra did not know - entered a moment later and removed her wrists and ankles from the chains.  She winced as she stood, taking a moment to stretch and take stock of what parts of her body were badly hurt, and what parts were merely bruised.  To her surprise, there was very little damage apart from a few scrapes. The part of her that hurt the most was her hand. She glared at the offending appendage, flinching when it crackled with green light.

No longer distracted by Leliana’s presence, the full weight of Cassandra’s situation began to bear down on her.  She sat down again, cross-legged, back straight, and began to go through breathing exercises. She was adept at shielding herself from her own emotions, and she had the sense that she was going to need to do so for much of the day.  

The agony in her hand was difficult to ignore, so Cassandra instead focused on it, using it to shut everything else out.  It was a temporary solution at best, and a dangerous one at worst; she could not afford to rely on pain forever. At some point, her emotions were going to catch up with her, and she would either need to let them or find some other outlet.

Leliana finally returned, pausing in the doorway as she took in Cassandra’s posture.  “Am I interrupting?”

“No.”

“Good.”  Leliana bore a tray in her arms, upon which was a bowl of broth and a hunk of bread.  “I know it likely hasn’t been too long, but eat carefully - we don’t yet know if the mark has affected your appetite.”

It was not the mark that was the problem, but Cassandra said nothing, instead grabbing the bowl and spooning broth into her mouth.  It was thin, which she had expected, but the small sips brought some relief to her stomach, and she felt somewhat more clear-headed once she had finished the bowl.  Leliana had been polite enough to wait until Cassandra finished, but it was clear that she wasn’t going to wait for her to finish the bread as well.

“Tell me everything you can remember in the three days leading up to where you memory loss begins,” Leliana ordered.  “Don’t leave out any details. Even the smallest thing, something that might seem insignificant, could mean something.”

“I am not unfamiliar with the art of piecing together mysteries and interrogation, Leliana,” Cassandra said dryly.  But she obliged, beginning with her morning arrival in Haven with Varric Tethras, followed by two days of preparation, and then her short hike to the conclave.  Greeting Divine Justinia, being shown to her rooms, and then...

“And nothing,” she said, unable to keep her frustration from her voice.  As though sensing her agitation, her mark flared up again, and she held back a grimace.  Leliana’s eyes flickered to it briefly before she looked back at Cassandra.

“Nothing?”

“Nothing,” Cassandra confirmed.  “Even the next moment after I placed my things in my temporary quarters is a mystery to me.  For all I know, I could have jumped out the window. There is simply nothing there.”

“Describe everyone you saw after arriving at the conclave.  Again - “

“Leave out no details,” Cassandra finished.  She hadn’t seen many people - a few servants of the Divine, several Revered Mothers, someone who had looked like a representative of the mages, but who Cassandra suspected had died in the destruction.  She even described Justinia, giving her own evaluation of the Divine’s mood. She hadn’t seemed off at the time, and even now Cassandra could find nothing out of the ordinary.

Leliana was silent for a long moment after Cassandra had finished with her descriptions.  Then: “This is frustrating.”

Cassandra snorted.  “Perhaps it would give you comfort to know that this is frustrating for the both of us, Leliana.”

Leliana smiled sheepishly.  “Yes, I imagine it would be.  For what it’s worth, Cassandra, I don’t believe you to be guilty, even if we don’t know for sure.  I just... there were few people more devoted to Justinia than you, Cassandra, and that devotion has always been sincere on your part.”

That belief did little to stem Cassandra’s own uncertainty, but it was enough that she felt like she was able to breathe again.  The lump in her throat was back again, but she restrained herself from throwing her arms around Leliana. She did not, after all, know what effect touching someone else would have on the mark.

Which reminded her - “Do you have any explanation for this?” she asked, gesturing to her hand.  “It is - this pain is not - “

Leliana hesitated for a moment, but it was long enough to confirm that she did, indeed know something.  “That part is a bit more complicated,” she said.

Cassandra narrowed her eyes.  “Complicated how?”

Leliana paused again, then stood up, gesturing for Cassandra to get up as well.  “It will be easier if I show you. Just... brace yourself.”

Cassandra followed Leliana out of her cell, staring at her back in disbelief.  How could this mess possibly get any worse?

They went through the Chantry dungeon, passing more of the isolated cells.  Cassandra was surprised when Leliana stopped outside one of them, staring at the door with apprehension, as though there was a mountain lion on the other side of it.  She muttered something to herself that Cassandra couldn’t hear, before sighing and turning to face her.

“Remember when I said everyone who was at the conclave is dead?”

“Yes,” Cassandra answered cautiously.

“I lied.”

Cassandra lifted her eyebrows.  “You mean there is another?”

“Yes.”  Leliana paused.  “I hid your existence from one another for interrogation purposes; I was uncertain as to whether or not you were in league with one another.  But, seeing as how she is in a... similar situation to you, then she should probably be brought with us.”

“She?”

Leliana shook her head.  “Just... tread carefully.”

She produced a keyring from what appeared to be thin air, and quickly unlocked the cell door.  Cassandra did not follow her inside, in spite of her curiosity. There was the sound of chains clinking against the ground, and she knew that whoever this person was, their own bindings were being removed.  She wondered why this woman had not yet been given that freedom.

The woman who emerged from the cell had a stiff back, and her eyes darted around the dungeon until they landed on Cassandra.  Immediately they narrowed into slits, and Cassandra was barely able to make out that they were grey, almost silver. Her dark hair was about as short as Cassandra’s, but messier, bangs framing her face.  Identical tattoos stretched out beneath her eyes.

“Cassandra,” Leliana said, “This is Senior Enchanter Wynn Trevelyan, from the Ostwick Circle - or so she claims.  Enchanter Trevelyan, this is Seeker Cassandra Pentaghast. I suppose Trevelyan’s title is somewhat outdated, seeing as how she is now an apostate mage.”

“I don’t know whether you’ve heard, Interrogator,” Wynn said, “but the only alternative to becoming an apostate was death.”

Leliana sighed.  “I know what the situation for mages was, Trevelyan.”

Wynn sneered.  “You only think you know.”  She eyed Cassandra. “This almost seems like a joke.  You’re telling me that the other suspect in the murder of Divine Justinia is her Right Hand?  Well,” she added, “ former Right Hand, I suppose.”

Cassandra felt a flash of anger at that remark, but she reigned it in - after all, it wasn’t as though Wynn was wrong.  Instead, she inclined her head, taking in what information she could about the other woman. She was taller than most women, but the top of her head still only came up to Cassandra’s eyeline.  She wore the same clothes as Cassandra, and -

And her left hand burned green.

At the same moment, both their left hands crackled with energy.  The pain shot up Cassandra’s arm, but she held herself still. Wynn, on the other hand, grimaced and doubled over, having not received the same training at Cassandra.  

“Well,” she panted, after regaining her composure.  “There is some poetic justice in the idea of a Seeker suffering along with me.  Now then, Leliana - what was it you were dying to show us?”

Leliana rolled her eyes, but gestured for the two of them to follow her.  Cassandra and Wynn walked on either side of her and just behind her, each trying to put as much space between them as they could.  Cassandra was still trying to wrap her mind around the idea that there was another who had survived the conclave - and a mage at that, though she looked rather young to be a Senior Enchanter.  

A mage who, she had no doubt, had been happy with the rebellion, if her contempt for them was anything to go by.  If that was the case, then why had she been sent to the peace talks?

They exited the dungeon.  The Chantry was deserted, absent of both clergymen and pilgrims.  That was of no surprise to Cassandra; she doubted that Leliana would be comfortable letting just anyone into the Chantry when the two prime suspects in the Divine’s murder were there.  Leliana stopped before the large, oak doors of the Chantry and turned around to face the two of them.

“I said it before, and I’ll say it again.  Brace yourselves.”

With that, she pivoted and pushed the doors open.

When confronted with the sight before her - of the hole tinged with green in the sky (looking at it too long made Cassandra feel nauseated), of the fearful people milling around Haven, and of the way the marks on her and Wynn’s hands seemed to react to the massive breach - Cassandra was forced to admit that yes, things could indeed get worse.