Another day, a new case, a fresh cup of coffee. This is how Ren describes her life, should anyone ask. She sighs as she takes the cup from her desk, thumbing through the new case her superior left in her cubicle. She's sure he hates her. He knows she avoids dogs, let alone their ancestors. She sighs again, brushing unruly chestnut hair out of her face. The case's name makes her frown, and she searches for information on this "initiative". It's a rescue shelter for dogs with a charity fund for wolves, no surprises there.
Possible leads to the Dread Wolf: one.
The lead: the initiative's name.
Her department has been chasing after a man that calls himself the Dread Wolf for a time now, but the leads always turn up dead. Now, the search surpasses desperation and turns into idiocy.
Fools, the voices in her mind whisper. They whisper many things. She pays them no heed, most of the times. She listens in when something intrigues her.
They think he is behind the recent massacres. Satanic rituals, her superiors and colleagues whisper in hallways, around the water cooler, even during board meetings. The higher ups gave her this case out of pure desperation because her father once cracked a similar case. It ended in his death. He was the only officer to infiltrate and gain access to the inner-circle.
She didn't know the details. His body had never been found, which didn't keep them from declaring him dead. Off record, of course. The man who said this introduced himself as Brad, and he offered his condolences. He gave her his handkerchief, as a true gentleman should. Later, he gathered his courage and asked her on a date.
She didn't have the heart to tell him that her entire life was a crafted facade. Buried words and memories wanted out. She bit her lip hard enough to draw blood, and forced them down. Attachments meant bonding, and the last person she'd let into her heart...
She refuses to think of him now.
Brad was disappointed, asked her if this was because he unlawfully declared her father a dead man. Ren shook her head, not enough courage in her to let the secrets out. Would he believe her, if she told him that the man had never been her father at all? Would he believe her, when she told him that she'd kidnapped two kind people? Twisted their minds with forbidden blood magic, made them believe that she and her daughter were their family?
Would he believe her, when she told him that she'd sacrificed a kind man to shape her soul from shattered remains?
A brutal act committed in the dark of night. A sacrifice made out of necessity. Twisting the knife deeper in a beating heart. Candles snuffed out by an unseen force.
"In death, sacrifice." she mutters to herself, while she turns the pages.
She remembers how the candles burst to life with green flames. How the orb laid in her hand, colorless and silent against her skin. Last words spoken, a ritual brought to its end.
Join us, brothers and sisters. Join us in the shadows where we stand vigilant. Join us as we carry the duty that can not be forsworn. And should you perish, know that your sacrifice will not be forgotten. And that one day we shall join you. In war, victory. In peace, vigilance. In death, sacrifice.
Her lips twist into a grimace. She doubts the Order knew the original purpose of the words they used. She has her suspicions about who gave it to the first Reavers. The Well of Sorrows gave her the ritual and the Grey Wardens gave her the words. One thing she could thank Alistair for in earnest.
The Orb of Destruction was the only thing left, and Solas had dropped it right into her lap like the good wolf he was. When the ritual is done and the words are spoken, one of the People ascends to the rank of General. Even through the void of time between now and then, she hears his voice clear in her mind.
After the war ended, generals became respected elders, then kings, then finally gods. The Evanuris.'
A wall splattered with blood, a young boy cowering in the corner with his hands against his ears. She reaches out her hand like she'd approach a rabid dog - if she were suicidal, that is. This is where her most recent lead takes her. The boy looks up at her with bright, clear eyes. Eyes that look straight through her. No, not through her. They look inside her. They burn through to her core and she shivers in the cold breeze that pushes against them.
"Death and despair." the boy whispers, looking at her with an expression of sorrow that shouldn't be on a boy his age. Half his face is hidden behind his hood. Her instincts scream at her to yank him up and march him out of here, but she can't. She doesn't call for back-up, she knows they won't help her here. She tucks her gun into the holster on her hip and crouches down in front of him.
He whimpers again, his eyelids flutter like he is struggling to stay awake.
"It's all wrong." he whispers urgently.
"The world is wrong. The Veil is wrong. Everything's broken. It's all broken. I'm not real, nothing is. And she's gone. She's gone!" The world seems to pause at the last word, and she holds her breath, not sure what she expects. An outburst of energy? For magic to finally stir beneath her skin like it did all those years ago?
She grabs him by the shoulders and gives him a little shake, looking intently into his eyes.
"Cole," she says. "Cole, get yourself together. Focus on me. Focus on what you feel when you look at me."
The words come out of her mouth like an order, sharp like a snapping whip, and he jerks in her tight grip. His eyes meet hers and become distant. He slumps and she holds him upright, gritting her teeth.
"Betrayal." he says, the words steadily spilling from his mouth. A dam breaking, words tumbling. Ancient, forgotten. He looks ratty, his hoodie stained and his jeans torn. His knees are scraped, his hands calloused. Cheekbones prominent beneath skin that looks stretched and pale.
"Pain. The world pauses, the wind stills. Birds hold their breath and keep their song within. The Veil snaps like worn rope, and magic floods in. Everyone will be just like they were."
A cold finger brushes over her spine, raising hairs on her arms. Sandal's words sound clear in her mind, flooding her senses with memories from decades before. More follows in its wake. A warm afternoon beneath the sun, stolen kisses beneath the tree of the people. Her people no longer.
With a start, she realizes that Cole isn't talking about her. She's known who lead the Dread Wolf Initiative since she first heard about them.
"What went wrong, Cole? The world isn't meant to be like this, is it?" she asks gently, tracing soothing circles on his back. He trembles and squeezes his eyes shut, shaking his head.
"Not real not real not real she's not real she's gone shattered like me but I can't bring her back gone gone gone what have I done I can't do anything to make this right there's no third chance nothing I can do to fix this someone please end me-" he blabbers, tremors wrecking his body. Ren's fingers dig into his shoulder and she forces herself to relax, coaching herself into taking deep, long breaths through her nose and expelling them through her mouth.
She waits in silence, screaming and pulling out her hair in her mind, scratching at her ears. They were pointed once, but she docked them. It broke her heart, but it was necessary. When she woke, the elves were gone. The world reduced to ashes. Red Lyrium grew everywhere. The memory is clear as daylight, and she closes her eyes and shivers.
"I do nothing to save the world. Titans will rise. Magic is lost. Lyrium twists us into their pawns. The pillars of the earth rise and stomp on us like we were never more than crawling ants."
Ren keeps her eyes closed, picturing a black mirror, its surface undisturbed. It has kept her sane while she hunted, all those years ago. It will keep her together now. Cole calms, his voice taking on a familiar lyrical rhythm. A cadence that she recalls when sleep slips out of her grasp at night. It happens often, in part because of her own fear. She fears to slip back into the long sleep, to be cradled by the fabric of the world. There's no saying when she will wake if she slips under again.
"The world burns. Red Lyrium grows. And finally I find her, and I realize that I am too late. A price I alone must pay. She was right, I was a fool. I always believed that I would be the one to pay the price, but once again I slipped from fate. She was the price. Cruel. Magic is cruel to the end. Perhaps the world is better off this way."
She sighs, and places a cold hand on her neck to keep herself calm and composed. The worry always lingered, in the back of her mind. Curiosity, too. The first time she woke, she walked through the ruins of her world and mourned. And when she realized there was nothing left for her, nothing to sustain herself with, she slipped back into her chamber in Skyhold. She pulled the covers up to her shoulders, hugging her furs close for comfort. When she ran out of tears and her eyes had dried again, she surrendered to the long sleep and wandered through the Fade for years.
"A spark is all that remains. Remnants of the world she fought for. What did she seek when she closed her eyes? Did she find it, after she slipped into the darkness? The room reeks of the Fade. I leave the orb with her. The apology that I can never give to her in person."
Ren shakes her head and suppresses a whimper of her own. Cole keeps speaking in that torturing cadence, each word tugging on her heart.
"Broken. Her soul is broken. A sharp tug on the Fade, and it slips out of my grasp once more. Another tug, and nothing happens."
"I do what I swore I would never do. They linger like she does. The chance to shape her soul by harvesting theirs is too tempting."
She gasps, remembering what Hawke once told her about harvesters. Now she knows where they came from, and it hurts.
"Andruil and Ghilan'nain are the first to rise, wicked eyes and wicked hearts filled with madness. Arrows, more than I can count. A floor stained with blood. Broken arrows. A shattered vase. Pieces, remnants, shards. They twist and turn and tumble in still air, unbound by gravity. Andruil throws them, and the Wolf crushes them between his jaws. A determined tug, and the bow falls. Arrows clatter and roll away. Lovers embrace, the sun sets in the distance."
"Titans rise and the world jars. The impacts throws us around like we are nothing."
"Sylaise on her knees. She cries and begs. She tries to bargain. Her words hang suspended in the air. We will put her back together, make her whole. Sylaise is a fool. Nothing but sacrifice can fix what pride has wrought this time. A sharp dagger, held steady. A red droplet rolls over its smooth surface."
"Andruil stirs, lungs rattling as she drowns in her own blood-"
"Cole! Stop! Stop!" Ren says, her hands over her own ears now. Imagines assault her mind, battering at her defenses. They spill over into her consciousness, stirring long forgotten memories. Memories that are not her own. Memories that bind them together. The Anchor flares, and she convulses. Fen'Harels power is not the only thing that lingers. The others are there, too. All of their power and she was foolish enough to claim it for her own.
She punches the wall until her knuckles are a tattered mess, blood flowing freely. The Anchor stills, and she pants in relief. He isn't here to fix this. He wasn't back then, either. Her advisers begged her, but she refused to cut it off. No matter what they said, she wouldn't lose her last tie to him. She wouldn't lose the last chance to save the world if his plan succeeded. In the end it had been for nothing. She'd slept peacefully through the end of the world.
“Fenedhis.” she growls at herself, punching the wall one last time for good measure.
Lady Morrigan was the one who came to her. Mythal's grimoire heavy in her hands. The Witch of the Wilds explained the concept of Uthenera to her, as if she hadn't heard it all before. Ren let the witch talk and tuned it all out. The required rituals, the sacrifices to sustain her body as she slept. How she would dream and float through the Fade, like a spirit.
"Spirits are elves." Cole's baffled voice breaks through her memories. She lifts her head from her chest to look at him.
"Not people. Spirits are elves." he repeats again, voice unsure. She meets his gaze and nods, forcing herself to remain steady.
"Spirits are elves." she confirms for him, and he sways. She barely manages to still him before he can knock his head against the wall on accident His eyes become distant. He tilts his head to the side and his brows furrow together in concentration.
"Red Lyrium sings." he murmers, and she stiffens.
"The orb sang, too. And the Anchor." he goes on, and Ren holds her breath. A few more seconds and he will figure it out, she feels it in her heart. She wishes she could save him from the heartbreak. Realization dawns on his face, and he pulls away from her at once, like an arrow shooting from a taut string.
"Cole-" she says, reaching for him, and he throws himself away from her. Understanding floods her when she sees that she reached out with the hand that holds the Anchor.
"Green Titan." Cole says, his eyes wide, staring at the glow that seeps between her fingers. Her eyes follow his, and he grasps her moment of distraction to scurry away, running like the Dread Wolf himself chases him. He will find Cole, or Cole will find him. She knows this. If anything, he will have felt the Anchor burst back to life. He will come for her, intent on putting down the person that looted her self-chosen tomb. He will wonder how they broke the spells he wove to keep trespassers from finding Skyhold.
He will demand answers. She will find him first.
The world spins another round, the stars align. The birds pick up their song and soar through the air. The Titans are gone, their new world unable to sustain them. They rise and fall, like the tides of the sea. With the destruction the Titans wrought, the three remaining Archdemons burst from the ground and wreak havoc in their wake. They rise and fall as well.
Red Lyrium is tainted. Ren knows this now. Lyrium is alive, it's the blood that flows through Titans. Red Titans rose, and forced the Old Gods to bend to their wills. Armies marched and clashed. Ren shudders in her sleep, unseen hands dragging her deeper into the Fade. She fights the spirits that coax her under, that push her toward half-remembered horrors that she wants to forget. They are buried for a reason, and should remain so. There is nothing to be found in ancient memories but loss.
Mages are the first to fall. They cling to their Lyrium like it is their last hope. It burns through their veins and finds their hearts and takes their will away. An elf covered in lyrium tattoos pushes a dagger into the hands of his protesting lover, snapping at her to put him down before they take him. His eyes glint with fear when she drives the dagger home in his chest, begging his forgiveness.
A thump, and Ren wakes up. Twisted in her blankets, she carefully sets about freeing herself. They pool around her feet. She fell out of bed in her struggle, not for the first time. The name of the elf's lover is just out of reach, carried away on the wings of a soaring hawk. His name lies on the tip of her tongue, mixing with the memory of lyrium's taste. It does not come to her. In her mind's eye, a wolf rears its head. She thinks of Fen'harel and closes her eyes in anguish.
Once again she experiences visions while awake. The Anchor flares and her skin breaks on impact with the bedpost. The ritual didn't put an end to this. Voices in her mind told her why. A blessing given and received in hushed whispers, between huntress and prey. She needs his blessing and soon.
Ren picks up the blankets around her feet. She drops them on the bed and brushes her fingers over the fabric. It's soft and warm, and only thing that has kept all those years. His doing. Another apology that he could not put into words.
Softly whispered apologies, softly whispered promises to seek her out if he finds another way. Promises of her own, to search for a solution. Against his lips, she whispers that her world doesn't need to die. He holds her, trailing patterns over her bare skin, and tells her that he hopes she is right. He cherishes the thought to be wrong once again, he mutters against her neck.
She can never forget. Fingers digging into the soft furs in her tent. The last time she saw him. The first time they made love outside the Fade.
The door creaks, and her five-year old daughter sticks her head through the crack, giving her a toothy smile. All that remains from the shattered world she lived in.
The door creaks, and bells chime cheerfully. Ren steps into the store in silence, taking in the room with her solemn green eyes. Her daughter pads in behind her, shrieking in delight when she sees portraits of wolves on the walls. Puppies bark on their giant cushions, and Ren can't help but smirk.
"There's never a wrong time for luxury." she mutters to herself, giving her daughter a small push toward the nearest nest of pups.
"Agreed." he says, stepping from a back room and giving her a friendly smile. If his eyes didn't give him away, it would've been the way he held himself. Or the way he looked at her, secretly assessing if this visitor is worthy of joining his cause.
"THE DREAD WOLF INITIATIVE" says the portrait that spills out, covering the wall behind the counter. A howling wolf sits next to the words.
"HELP THE INITIATIVE CRAFT A NEW WORLD. HELP ME RECLAIM THE FORESTS THAT WERE MY HOME. HELP ME BRING BACK THE PLACE I LOVED."
She snorts, and he draws up an eyebrow in a silent question. She doesn't answer, instead brushing her hand over one of the furs on a rocking chair. The hand that bears the Anchor. Beneath half-closed eyes, she sees him stumble backward, nearly tripping over his own feet. The Anchor chooses this moment to flare up angrily, to lash out at the world and the being it is bound to. She cannot hold back the scream it rips from her throat, and she sways. Bones jar from impact when she loses her footing and smacks against the ground. Copper spills over her tongue from biting down too hard.
She writhes around, trashing and screaming in search of relief. So close to its master, the Anchor is determined to put down the thief that dared to claim it for their own. Silence descends around them. A brief struggle to open her eyes, and she sees he has whisked her daughter out of the room. Gratitude warms her heart and she smiles.
He approaches, steps silent with elven grace. He looks down at her, lips taut in disapproval. A cold finger brushes over her spine, igniting dormant memories within her mind. Pain breaks through the surface, different from the Anchor. It tears at the fabric of her being, it tries to tear her soul to pieces. The voices whisper of danger and the need to flee, but she fights to keep herself still underneath his steady gaze.
He crouches down, looming over her, anger burning in his eyes.
"You disturbed her resting place." he says in the elven tongue.
"You took what I left for her and tried to claim it as your own. It was a token of my sorrow."
His hands clench into fists where they rest on his knees. Green light spills through. The pain intensifies and she grits her teeth.
"Vhenan." she grinds out, and he jerks as if she struck him. In quick movements, he grabs her by the shoulders and drags her up, lips pulled into a sneer.
"Ar lath ma, vhenan." she says, desperation clawing at her heart. His eyes darken. He doesn't understand. How can she make him understand? She searches her mind for an answer, even screams at the voices in her mind. The Anchor spreads steadily from her fingers to the back of her hand, the sight makes her tremble.
"And now you pretend to be her, thief. Dirthara-ma." he says with narrowed eyes, pushing her against a wall. The impact pushes the air from her lungs and makes her gasp.
"I don't know what you thought to find here. Perhaps you came to rub salt into my wounds. No matter. You will face your own sorrow soon enough." his voice is low and dangerous. His eyes are cold and make her shiver. Her mind scrambles, grasping for anything that will make him stop. Sorrow. He spoke of sorrow. Sorrow will be the weapon she wields to make him see.
"Atish'all Vir Abelasan." she gasps out, writhing in his grasp. The pain receeds slightly. Relief makes her slump and she sucks in air with eagerness. His eyes seem to melt just a little, confusion passing over his face for just a second.
"'Ar-melana dirthavaren. Revas vir-anaris.' It was your gift to me before we parted ways." she says. "'Ir abelas, ma vhenan. Ma melava halani, mala suledin nadas lathbora viran. Ar suledin nadas halam'shivanas.' were your parting words."
I am filled with sorrow for your loss, my heart. You helped me. Now you must endure the path to a place of lost love. Now I must endure the sweet sacrifice of duty.
Hope spreads its wings in her heart, and she forges on in haste.
"See into my mind, vhenan. See for yourself what dwells within." her voice is steadier than she feels, albeit breathless from pain. He tilts his head to the side as he did before, and cold fingers brush against her spine again. She shivers. They ignite pathways that laid dormant before. She hears him whisper underneath his breath, sees the spark of hope in his eyes.
The voices reach for him eagerly, to show him they are there. His hold on her changes at once. He no longer holds her in place with force, instead he steadies her, careful not to hurt. She sighs in relief and rests her cheek against his chest, closing her eyes and listening to his heartbeat. It beats fast, mirroring his quickened breathing. His arms shift, pulling her into a soft embrace. He rests his chin on the crown of her head, taking in a deep breath.
"Ar lasa mala revas." he mutters, sounding almost ashamed of himself. She understands and rubs circles over his back to let him know, and to soothe him.
"Ma nuvenin. Ma serannas." she answers, as the voices of sorrow guide her to do. Something subtle shifts and she feels the Anchor sink into her skin. The sensation makes her shudder. He gives her a reassuring squeeze and presses a kiss against her hair.
"Fenedhis." she mutters against his chest after a few minutes have passed. A chuckle reverberates through her, and she realizes that he is laughing at her.
"Your curse of choice." he says drily.
"Even after I told you what it meant in Common."
She winces when she remembers.
"Can't believe I thought it meant wolf-droppings."
He laughs again and she rolls her eyes. She frees herself from his embrace carefully, to show that she is not retreating. The need to flee and put distance between them faded with the pain.
"I can't explain this to her. She has asked for a father for so long... but to put this on her..." she mutters, and Solas's expression becomes serious. He studies her in silence and she waits, watching emotions pass over his face. Jealousy is first and sends a pang through her heart. Hurt and grief are followed by reluctance and acceptance.
"Something happened to him?" he asks finally, his voice soft. She nods, unsure how he will take what she has to say. Unsure if she has read him right.
"Yes. He left me before I found out that I was with child."
Part of her wants him to hurt, and she leaves a deliberate pause. His hands clench into fists and he curses the man selfish enough to abandon her. Solas can be quite creative when he wants to, and some words make her lips curl up in amusement. She will drop the truth on him without being gentle. He wouldn't ask for that.
“I slept in uthenera while you walked your path.” Anguish passes over his face, but he remains silent and nods.
“When I first woke I was... incomplete. Had I not drank from the Well, I would have slept until my body turned to dust.”
He closes his eyes and looks away. She knows why. He tried to dissuade her, that day. Had he succeeded, they would have destroyed the Well of Sorrows. Or had she allowed Morrigan to drink instead, she would not be here today.
“Your gift let me find the knowledge I needed. I slept again, holding the orb in my hands. The Anchor made it whole again.” His brow furrowed and she shrugged.
“I don't know how. The Well doesn't know either.” she remains silent until she realizes that he must know what she has seen and done.
“You left them for me.” she mutters, looking down at her feet.
“I claimed their power for my own and walked into the world we know today.”
He nods in encouragement and she sighs.
“I found out nine months later. She came into this world five years ago-"
He holds up a hand to stop her, eyes filled with disbelief.
"You bore the Anchor for five years?" he asks, eyes wide. She nods.
"I did. And I survived, as you can see. I brought a daughter into this strange new world and named her Fenlin, after her father.”
She watches his eyes widen, sees comprehension dawn on him. For once, he is utterly speechless, and she laughs.
“You wished horrible endings on yourself. It was amusing.”
His lips force the smirk off hers, and they stumble backwards, knocking things over in their path. Thankfully, none of them are fragile.
He whispers apologies, promises to find another way against her lips. Promises of her own, to search for a solution. Against his lips, she whispers that this world doesn't need to die. He holds her, tracing patterns over the fabric of her shirt. He tells her he hopes she is right.
“I'd cherish the thought to be wrong once again.” he mutters against her neck, as they hold each other. She rests her head against his chest and smiles.
“I can't believe you docked your ears.” she whispers, the loss stirring in her heart. He blows out a breath through his nose and kisses her hair.
“Nothing more than a simple illusion.” he breathes. She can't hold back the whimper that escapes her throat. The realization that she sacrificed her heritage for nothing hurts deeply. Fingers brush over her ears, following their round shape. It tingles and she squirms under his touch.
“Much better.” he whispers, tracing a pointed ear, sounding self-satisfied. She rolls her eyes and smacks him in the chest with a hand.
“Smug arrogant son of a hphff-” she says, his lips silencing her.
He pulls back with a smirk, lifting an eyebrow.
“You were saying, vhenan?”
“Fenedhis, Solas! Fenedhis lasa!”
Go suck a wolf’s dick!
It only makes him laugh harder.