It had taken the better part of a fortnight trekking through the unyielding snows and bitter winds of the Frostback Mountains, but they had finally found it. Not that Cassandra knew what it was of course, Solas had been keeping the exact details to himself. The Inquisitor had assured her that all would be explained in due time, but she had a sneaking suspicion that Ellana was making excuses for the elf. And far more concerning, Cassandra wasn’t entirely convinced that Solas even knew exactly what he sought. It was an artifact, a magical artifact. As if there seemed to be any other kind these days. Whatever it was had led them here, at the edge of the Dales, to yet another aged and decrepit building. One of many in their journeys such far. Its purpose and structure yet another casualty to the passage of time.
The overgrowth among the ruins ran thick like a green fur, sprouting between broken slabs across an uneven floor. It coated piles of rubble, fallen walls and empty windows in spongy layers and wound its way posessively around cracked pillars, erasing hard and unnatural manmade edges. Nature had reasserted its claim upon the area in what had surely been a slow and steady creep that held as a stark reminder that all that they fought for would one day be lost to time as well. It was a sobering thought. Strong enough that Cassandra silently chastised herself for letting her own misgivings pull her from their purpose. For all she knew, this artifact could make the difference in the end. Whatever it was however, she could not see it or sense it, not like Solas claimed he could. No, all she could see was a wash of lush vegetation and all she could sense was a sneeze coming on.
The artifact was supposedly something ancient, something lost to history. In her experience if an object disappeared from record there was usually a good reason as to why. But Solas was convinced that he had located it, and that it would be of use to the Inquisition. And as she was more and more frequently reminding herself, they were really in no position to be dismissing any possible avenues that could help them defeat Corypheus. Even if this mission was beginning to feel like a fool’s errand, with nothing but stone and dirt to show for it. However, from the change in Solas’s demeanor, as subtle as that was, they had to be close. Thankfully so, she admitted to herself, as she was not the only one with growing doubts and frustrations. She just happened to be more subtle about it than some people.
“Oh look, another rock pile. And another! You sure this isn’t what you’re looking for Chuckles?” Varric remarked glibly as he experimentally toed an already precarious looking stack of stones. They wavered under the pressure of his touch before thankfully stilling once again. He was acting the child, petulant and seeking attention. It should have annoyed her more than it currently was, but she was secretly glad to have another as seemingly frustrated as her. Varric poked at the stone tower again with the toe of his boot, for what purpose she could not tell lest he was courting a certain level of chaos and destruction in his boredom. Whatever outcome he had been expecting he seemed neither pleased nor surprised when the tower of stones collapsed in front of him, tumbling across the uneven ground with an echoing clatter. A cloud of dirt and dust kicked up in its wake, adding to the already musty air that clung to all of them like a second skin. Cassandra turned her head away from the sudden influx of debris and scrunched her nose tightly against the itch that was ever increasing within her. She would not let her allergies get the better of her.
The jarring sound of stone against stone caused the Inquisitor to stop her own exploration ahead of them. She turned towards the pair with an annoyed look on her face and Cassandra sidestepped the rocks that had rolled in front of her feet trying to put some distance between herself and the dwarf. She wasn’t about to get roped into Varric’s antics.
“You could always wait outside if you wanted, we shouldn’t be here long,” said Ellana with the tone of a tired mother reprimanding her children, not quite angry but resigned. Cassandra felt a pang of shame and shot Varric a scalding look, disapproving and accusatory for getting her involved. He returned her glare without a hint of apology, his usual grin plastered across his face. Something in his eyes toyed with her as if he knew that she had been silently...regrettably, appreciative of his path of defiance and her body tensed slightly. He could not know she assured herself, but it did not stop her from quickly shifting her gaze away from him regardless.
“And miss all this fun?” replied Varric belatedly to Ellana’s offer, his voice dripping with unchecked sarcasm as he spread his arms wide, gesturing theatrically to the dead space around them. His hand hovered dangerously, and purposefully she could only assume, close to her face and she resisted the urge to smack it away. Choosing instead to roll her eyes up to where the ceiling should have hung above them with a poorly suppressed sigh. The dull afternoon sky looked back at her, so pale as to be almost colourless. Indistinct and unassuming, it suited her mood well.
Ellana sighed heavily as well and Cassandra’s attention shifted back to her in time to watch as she turned from them with a slight drop of her shoulders and moved further down the long, narrow chamber towards Solas. She stopped at his side and stood awkwardly, apprehension written across her person and cleared her throat. “Uh...Solas?” asked Ellana, with a tentativeness in her voice that only seemed to manifest itself around the man in question. He acknowledged her with a sidelong glance before returning to his standard process of examination, silent and exacting. “Varric does have point, this would be a bit easier if we knew more about what to look for. Size? Shape?...anything really,” she muttered quietly to herself, though not quietly enough. Her words carried across the open air and Cassandra couldn’t help but feel that slightest bit vindicated. Her assumptions had been right, Ellana knew just as much as they did. Nothing.
Solas remained silent just long enough that the Inquisitor began to shift uncomfortably, looking torn between asking her question again and moving on altogether. Eventually, after a drawn out silence, he spoke. “It has gone by many names,” he began, as deadpan and serious as ever. “Has been used for many things, though it can truly only do one.”
There was a soft scoff at Cassandra’s side.
“And people say I’m overly dramatic,” commented Varric lowly. Had she not been standing next to him, closer than may have been necessary in the vastness of the space that surrounded them, she would not have been privy to Varric’s commentary. He caught her eye, and the knowing look they shared confirmed to her that her inclusion in his snide mutterings had been very much deliberate. With a slow blink, Varric’s pointed stare fell back into an easy grin and her concentration slipped from the matter at hand. Solas’s words buzzed unintelligibly in her ear as she was taken in by the softening of Varric’s eyes and the slight pull of his lips. How quickly had her recent ire for the man been extinguished, had she not been silently cursing his very being moments before?
“—it has been most commonly referred to as a wishing stone.”
Cassandra’s attention swivelled back to Solas abruptly. Turning her head towards him she stood a little straighter. Had she heard him correctly? A wishing stone? Varric and Ellana had both come to attention as well, between them all pretense of searching stopped.
“It grants wishes?” asked Ellana with unconcealed awe in her voice. Cassandra was glad that at least one of them had been paying attention, close enough at least to question without betraying their stunning ignorance of Solas’s explanation.
“Oh this will end well,” grumbled Varric, this time with no care for his volume. If Solas heard Varric’s criticism however he made no attempt to rebut it. Seemingly unperturbed he moved away from Ellana towards the end of the chamber and began an examination of the only still standing doorway in the room, a stone archway half collapsed in on itself. Three sets of eyes and ears remained trained on him, now waiting in rapt attention for the rest of his explanation.
A silence bloomed between them as they continued to wait and Cassandra began to feel the flutterings of the lamentably pervasive frustration that had clung to her throughout the entirety of the journey rise within her once again. Her patience was running thin and would not withstand much more in the way of the pageantry or spectacle that Solas seemed so keen on maintaining.
“No. It does not grant wishes exactly,” continued Solas eventually, when enough timed had passed for even Ellana’s eyes to darken slightly in annoyance. Oblivious to the tension that was rising around him he ran his fingers along the edge of the arch and looked speculatively at the grime that had collected there. Words of urgency, harsh and demanding were forming on her lips, the last thread of her patience now lost when Solas turned from them and continued on through the passageway without a word or a backwards glance.
Ellana looked taken aback, and glanced uncertainly between them and Solas’s retreating form that was already being swallowed by the shadows of the partially collapsed passageway. There was a moment’s hesitation, a flicker of questioning across her face before she took off in pursuit of the elf nearly tripping over herself in an effort to catch up to him. Cassandra’s teeth ground together effectively silencing the admonitions that had rested on her lips. Had the expectation been to follow? To obediently trail after him and hang on his every word should he deign to speak?
She should not have felt bolstered by the fact that Varric remained still as well. Knowing that a sudden alliance with him said nothing good about her chosen course of action. Remaining where Ellana had not was an act of passive aggression which was beneath them. Well, her at least. Yet still she remained unmoving, her sudden turn to rapt attention digressing just as quickly as it had come. She was admittedly interested in what Solas had to say, though she held her own reservations about trying to find something that may have been forgotten with intent. And wishes? She was in agreeance with Varric in that regard, there was great caution to be had in dealing with something so uncontrollable, so intangible. Cassandra stared worriedly at the once again empty archway and contemplated what lay ahead of them.
Varric began to fidget next to her as if waiting for her to do something, say anything. She felt her momentary foray into opposition slip away from her almost reluctantly as the steady creep of duty, a sense of propriety wormed its way back into her psyche.
“Shall we?” she queried Varric halfheartedly. He responded with a look that matched much of what she felt, a sense of grudging resignation. “Unless?” She looked wistfully at the woods that lay beyond the ruins, imagined the cool, crisp air that resided there. “That is...Ellana did offer,” she continued. It was a weak excuse she knew, and one she would not have taken on her own, but should the suggestion come from Varric…
He raised an eyebrow and looked at her skeptically, as if judging her level of conviction before shrugging casually and shaking his head. “Nah, you know I’d never pass up an opportunity to complain,” he replied with a self-aware wink that settled into another easy smile on his face. As his lips curved up Cassandra began to feel the strain of their circumstances ebb just a little. With the ease of his voice and demeanour she found herself matching his smile in turn. Somewhere along the way, along the path that was their tumultuous relationship, it had become an almost instinctual reaction to his presence. Replacing the snarl that had so often marred her features at the very thought of him. Not that it did not still have its time and place, only that she found use for it far less than she had before.
With effort she drew her gaze away from Varric’s and towards the archway at the end of the chamber.
“Then I suppose we should follow.”
Ellana easily caught up to Solas’s purposeful stride, her heavy steps momentarily drowning out the end of his sentence.
“Sorry, say that again it does or does not grant wishes?”
“The name is a misnomer, it does not grant one anything except knowledge.” The pair came to the end of the partially collapsed passageway, stepping into what had once been a cavernous hall, but was now a shell of its former self.
“Then why the name?” Ellana tried to take in the scope of the room, impressive even in its current state, but Solas was already moving on across the flagstone and towards two more archways on the other side of the room. The artifact must have been close for him to forgo his generally strict assessment of their surroundings. Not that she minded. A swift breeze would probably topple what meager supports were left of this place.
“It creates a reality in one’s mind, as real as our own to the user. A reality in which what you seek is true.” Ellana followed behind Solas as they crossed the room. Keeping pace a little closer than necessary in an attempt to ease him through it more quickly.
“So if I wanted to know what Cullen would look like in a dress, it could show me that?” she said brightly, images of pink silks, and ribbons and bows in an assortment of colours forming in her mind.
“Do think bigger picture,” Solas drawled.
“A world without bees?” she tried again, and was met with a face that somehow managed to express not just one but multiple lifetimes worth of disappointment. And she had thought facing her advisors after a liquor fueled night of poor decision making with the Chargers had been bad.
“Theoretically...yes,” he said, sounding tired and less than impressed. “The problem lies in the asking of the question, it decides for you what you are to know. Though many had thought they had conquered it.”
“It chooses?” she asked skeptically, her sudden enthusiasm waning.
“It looks into your very being, if we are to name it and divines a person’s truth, their desire.” Solas was eyeing the archways now, his head swivelling between the two. The lay next to each other, almost identical in nature, though in the passageways beyond one sloped up and the other down.
“That doesn’t seem very useful, I mean not in a way that we could use it at least.” An artifact that answered its own questions? If this trip turned out to be a waste of time she would never hear the end of it.
“Wars have been waged over it. Societies built around its use.” Solas sounded distracted as he stared at the leftmost passageway, brows furrowing ever so slightly before turning and heading through the right-hand path instead.
“It doesn’t seem all that powerful,” Ellana said before following after him, a fraction more slowly than before, readjusting to a more socially acceptable personal distance.
“Ask the right question and it could tell you the future. Ask the right question and it could tell you how to defeat Corypheus.” The severity, the sense of purpose had returned to his voice.
“And how many tries do I get?” He seemed so sure, so confident in this artifact’s power, she was not as convinced, not just yet.
“Yeah, that seems about right,” she muttered to herself. This was why she had not let herself get her hopes up, there was always a catch.
“Is it not worth trying?”
“Is it dangerous in any way? Are there side effects? Downsides?” The questions were quick off her lips as the passageway began to narrow, the steady slope upwards becoming steeper and steeper.
“There have been those who when faced with a reality unlike their own have been unable to disengage from it, those that have not returned. Whether they were unable to or they chose to stay we will never know.”
“Unable to?” she said with a pointedness she hoped he would catch as he could not see her eyebrows raise with his back to her. He said it with such a casualness, as if the possibility of being trapped in a different reality was not of great concern or worry. Her step faltered slightly as her mind swam with visions clouded in red, a not so distant, not so unlikely future. She had been down this path before and she was in no rush to repeat it.
“One cannot be brought back to our reality from the physical world. To return one has to break the connection, physically break the artifact within their reality. And of course it must be found first,” he added as almost an aside.
“And if it isn’t? Found that is, what happens to the wielder?”
“The artifact cannot sustain a person forever. They simply...waste away.”
The slight hesitation in his answer made her question what exactly he had been going to say. Was it more than that? Would a user face a fate worse than the life slipping from them, or had he realized that what he was saying, that the possible effects of use were in fact slightly more disturbing than he had considered?
“It has been theorized that it does in itself drain the lifeforce from a person, its toll for their use,” he added nonchalantly.
Sometimes she wondered if he even listened to the words coming out of his own mouth, and an aggravated sigh rolled through hers.
“Theorized? You mean you don’t know?” She tried to keep her tone from darkening as her patience dwindled.
“There is much of it that I am unaware of. But rest assured I do intend to thoroughly examine and test it before anyone touches it.”
Well, wasn’t that a relief.
Varric wistfully eyed the doorway, well really it was a hole in the wall, that they had entered through, before sweeping a hand out and gesturing Cassandra on in front of him. Of course they were going to follow the Inquisitor and Solas, they hadn’t come this far just to wait it out while the others got all the glory. Not that he really believed there was any glory to be had, nor did he want it but, a wishing stone? What a load of hock. Though he wouldn’t mind seeing Solas just a little disappointed after all this effort. Payback, for dragging him along on yet another seemingly endless journey filled with hard grounds, and cold nights. And he suspected he wasn’t the only one who would enjoy seeing the elf taken down a peg or two. Cassandra tried to sniff discretely next to him, like he hadn’t noticed the redness around her eyes or that they had begun to steadily weep at the corners. She had been suffering in silence even though her discomfort was plain for everyone to see. If he had been complaining a bit more frequently and openly than normal well he only hoped she took some solace in knowing she was not the only one having difficulties.
Cassandra had to duck in order to pass under the crumbling archway that Solas and the Inquisitor had moved on through. He placed his hand on the small of her back, guiding her until she was clear of the rubble that hung above their heads. If his hand lingered a touch longer than necessary she had the decency not to question it. He was enjoying this new game they were playing. The touches, the glances, the quips that held less venom but just as much bite. He was fairly certain that she did as well. They still had their bad days of course, days where they couldn’t even stand to look at each other for the very real fear of tearing one another apart. But there were good days as well, great days if he wasn’t lying to himself. Days when banter led to actual conversation, conversation peppered with joking and flirting if all a bit understated. He did still have this weird obsession about keeping all his limbs intact after all. But she seemed to be receptive, even when he tried his best to be rational about the whole thing.
Finding out that she read his books, his romance serial no less had been a real eye opener. It had made him question everything he thought he knew about her, which it turned out had not been a lot. It was a secret enjoyment of his now to delve away beyond the facade she had perfected over so many years. Slowly, steadily, never overreaching. Admittedly a new tactic for him. But one that seemed to be working if her response was anything to go by. He wasn’t about to take credit for it, but she did seem to be smiling more often than usual, which was to say at all.
On the other side of the passageway the ceilings rose, vaulting into what may have once been a spectacular feat of architecture. Now there were more holes than ceiling, and pillars waned unnervingly as if willing to be toppled, eased from their burden of hefting intricately cut heavy stone. Shallow pools of water from a recent rainfall had collected in cracks and dips on the floor leaving the air even heavier despite the more open space than the last chamber. Cassandra’s mouth was tightly shut, her normally full lips pressed into a thin line. He understood why, this would not be the place to lose out to her allergies now. It didn’t feel like an exaggeration to think that an errant breath could bring the entire room down around them, a sneeze or a cough? Well, he didn’t really want to think about it. Neither did she apparently as they made their way silently and hastily across the room.
There were only two archways on the other side of the room, but that was one too many for what they needed.
“Left or right?” he all but whispered, and Cassandra looked between the two passageways. He couldn’t see any tracks on the ground that would tell them which way the others had gone. The rain had washed away any dirt or dust that would have shown them.
“Maybe we should wait for them?”
She had a point, but he really didn’t want to stay in this room any longer than necessary, and he was beginning to regret letting the pair get out of their sights altogether now.
“Look, the longer we wait Seeker the longer we have to stay in here. If we find them, we find them. If we don’t, then we’ve crossed off another area. So, left or right?” he pressed. She was considering it, her eyes narrowing as she weighed out their options. She took another look at both passageways.
“...Left.” There was hesitation in her voice, and he understood where she was coming from but he had never been one to think much of plans. Best laid and all. Setting a faster pace, he took off down the passage that Cassandra had chosen.
As with the rest of the complex that they had been in the hallway showed nothing more than signs of neglect and decay. Heavy brush dampened their footsteps down cracked stone floors. He tried to step a little more gently than normal, the extra foliage was not helping Cassandra’s condition but there was only so much he could do even with his rogue abilities. The walls were thick with grime, broken only by shallow alcoves cut away from the stone that housed statues, or what remained of them. Those that might have had discernible features were covered in dense layers of cobwebs, obscuring anything that might have given them a hint of what they were stepping into. The passageway began to narrow and slope downwards. They walked on until the tunnel could only accommodate one person at a time, and even then his broad shoulders and her armoured ones skidded across the walls leaving tracks in the dirt. There had been no need for a torch or a lantern before, windows and half fallen walls had provided enough light, but now the darkness was creeping in. It was a good thing he had taken the lead, he doubted Cassandra could see much of anything anymore. He’d have to be her eyes for the time being. But the darkness did not last for long.
“It brightens up just ahead. Gets wider too I think,” he called over his shoulder.
“I shall just have to trust your word.”
It was a loaded statement if any coming from her.
“I’m going to pretend you weren’t being sarcastic there Seeker. Wouldn’t want you to get lost down here in the dark.” He was joking, mostly. But he had to stifle a laugh when he felt her hand grip at his shoulder.
Just as he had thought, the tunnel began to open up and soon the two of them stood in a small circular room lit only by a smaller circular opening in the ceiling. A domed window might have stood there once though now it was empty except for streamers of vines falling down through. A single door lay on the other side of the room. In between them and it was a raised dais, large enough for the one chair that stood atop it and nothing more. The chair, or what was left of it, looked plain and delicate. Though it must have been of a superior construction, that anything of it remained at all. Had someone been sitting in it they would have been facing the passageway that they had just exited. The layout of the room suggested that whoever had once sat in the chair had possibly stood watch or guard over whatever lay beyond, controlling the flow of people into the far room. The two of them stepped around the chair and came together again in front of the small door. The door held a sturdy iron lock, intricate and complex in design. But ultimately worthless now as the wood around it had rotted away, leaving gaping holes in the barrier. Cassandra gave him an expectant look.
“Well?” she said with a raise of her eyebrow.
Varric stepped back and gave what was left of the door a swift kick. The worn planks fell away, clattering against the floor and leaving the lock standing firm against the outer frame.
“Not quite what I had in mind.” An all too familiar exasperation settled into her tone.
“I promise you can have the next one,” he said before eagerly moving to peer into the now uncovered room.
The light behind him barely illuminated the room beyond. From the doorway he could see that it was octagonal in shape, with long benches against each wall. In the centre of the room stood a metal stand unto itself, its ironwork detailed and elaborate. Whatever the stand held, if anything, was too shrouded in darkness to be seen from his current vantage point.
Varric stepped into the room.
Cassandra nearly reached out to stop Varric as he passed her. If they had in fact found what they were looking for, and it did seem that they had found something, it seemed prudent to have Solas here. Now she was torn between turning back for the others and not wanting to leave Varric on his own. With a low huff and one final look back at the passageway they had entered through she followed Varric into the room.
Having stepped further into the shadow of the room she could tell now that the stand in the centre of it did in fact hold something. Well, gripped may have been a more accurate description. The iron of the stand was worked around a disc, no larger than her palm with thin, needle like claws holding it aloft. The disc itself was smooth, made of stone possibly, and had a small diamond shape portion missing from the middle. Its most striking feature however was its colour. Black, but unlike any shade of it she had ever seen. It seemed to suck in the light around it. Staring at it was like staring into nothing at all. Even against the shadows, the darkness that pervaded the room it stood out like a trick of the eye a sudden blind spot in one’s vision both there and not.
“Well uh, I think we found it,” Varric stated unnecessarily.
“We should go back, get Solas.” She didn’t like being near to it, whatever it was. It felt, alive? No that was not the right word for it. It was difficult to describe, to attribute words to it but there was a presence around her now, now that she was aware of it. Varric nodded slowly, eyeing the disc with a wary look.
The sound of boots clattering on stone echoed in from behind her. Ellana’s voice followed it, “Cassandra? Varric?”
“Down here!” Varric shouted back, his voice ricocheting off the close walls around them.
“Don’t touch anything!” Was Solas’s fast reply. Cassandra eyed the remnants of the door scattered across the floor with a grim twist of the mouth, almost missing the sudden downturn in Varric’s features. She recognized that look, and it was not a good sign. Varric had never been one to be told what to do.
“Wouldn’t dream of it!” Varric called back and took a defiant step closer to the stand in the middle of the room.
“Varric,” she hissed. A warning. Now was not the time to play games.
“What? I’m not touching anything.” He was trying and failing to look innocent, his usual smirk twitching at his mouth. “Not touching anything,” he repeated, his eyes focusing on the stand in the middle of the room. Varric clasped his hands behind his back and shuffled around the room coming closer and closer to the centre of it. Puffs of dust scattered into the already heavy air at his movements and Cassandra felt her nose twitch. The sneeze that she had been holding back rearing its head once again. With an exaggerated sweep of his leg Varric took one final step before stopping just at the stand, a head above the disc it held.
It was too much. Dust filled air stuttered in through her mouth and nose and the itching, the pressure that she had been trying to suppress was suddenly beyond her ability. She sneezed, violently. Buckling with the force and catching herself on her knee. It caught her off guard, and Varric as well, startling him from what may not have been the sturdiest of stances to begin with. He lurched to the side on instinct, an automatic impulse that sent him careening into the stand in the process.
It was like watching time slow, almost stop altogether. Cassandra stared wide-eyed as the disc was flung from the pedestal. As it toppled, without thinking she lunged for it. Varric did too. He was closer, but her arms were longer and they reached it at the same time.
It was cold in her hands even through the thick hide of her gloves, and the material which she had thought was stone was not something she could name just by touch. It was hard, harder than it looked with its rounded edges, and a sharp contrast to the soft flesh of Varric’s fingers that lay squarely beside her own. It was the wrong thing to do, catch the disc. She knew it almost instantly, even before she could see the outline of Solas’s form in the doorway, before she could make out the shock in his face. He was saying something, yelling perhaps but it barely registered. She hit the ground hard, the blow softened only by Varric’s form beneath her, and then there was nothing.
A sharp pain shot up her shoulder, and Cassandra rolled onto her back to lessen the ache. Something thick and long, like a rope, pressed into her back. She ignored it in favour of rubbing at her shoulder in a sore attempt to lessen the pain.
“Stop being such a baby, I didn’t hit you that hard,” a voice called from above her. She knew that voice. Or at least she thought she did, it sounded familiar but like a distant memory, one though that she should remember.
Cassandra cracked open her eyes, a blurry form stood above her, haloed by bright sunlight. Sunlight? It had been nearly pitch black in the room they were in and the day had been dreary at best.
Cassandra pushed through the pain and tried to prop herself up onto her elbows. Her hand caught on whatever she had been laying on, causing her head to snap back. She lifted her hand from the ground, which released her head and looked under her arm. A long thick length of hair, in a colour most familiar to her lay coiled against the grass. As she rose it too lifted and swung against her back. She grabbed at it and ran her hands up the length until sure enough, they met at the top of her scalp. It was hers, her own hair as she had worn it in her youth. But how?
“Don’t you think it’s about time you cut that thing off? I mean seriously Cassie, it’s not even the slightest bit practical.” Cassandra felt her stomach clench. Only one person in all her life had called her Cassie. Cassandra looked about again at the form towering over her, bringing a hand to her eyes to ward off the sun she let the figure’s face come into focus. Her breath cut off in her throat, as if all the air in the world had suddenly dispersed, faded into the ether. The man above her was tall and lean, he had a youthful and bright smile that stood out against the hard planes of his face. The only thing which hinted at his age were the wisps of grey at his temples in an otherwise shockingly black head of hair. He may have been older, nearly 30 years older. But she would have known him anywhere.