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Fractured, Broken, Lost

Chapter Text

The first of the Maker's children

watched across the Veil,

and grew jealous of the life

they could not feel,

could not touch.

In blackest envy,

were the demons born.

 

Dirthara’ma

 

Skyhold (one week after the destruction of Haven)

She came to him long before morning.

She entered his study cautiously, moving soundlessly, floating through his chambers like a shade; the only sound was her soft, silken robe brushing against her bare skin. Yet this faint sound was enough to wake Solas – or perhaps it merely tore him from the half-slumber that was his nightly sojourn into the Fade, walking the bulwarks of Skyhold amongst spirits and powers as his body rested in the physical world. He felt no displeasure; after all, this is what he desired. It’s what they both wanted.

He did not move, did not stir. Riannon fluttered closer, shrugging off her robe and slowly, diffidently, rested her knee on the side of the soft couch he had set up as a bed. Solas simply listened to her movements with quick ears, not betraying his hyper-attentiveness. She carefully climbed onto the couch and then onto him, sliding under his thick blanket and wrapping her thighs around him. She felt cool, like a stream on a hot summer’s day. Leaning forward on straining arms, she brushed his face with hair that smelled of sandalwood. He breathed in the scent, sinking into a sea of delight. As if impatient, she leaned over and touched his eyelids, cheeks, and nose with the slightest brush of her lips. He smiled and, very slowly, delicately, grasped her by the shoulders. She straightened, escaping his fingers.

He reached out to cup her breast, opening his eyes, and she was gone. All that was left was darkness and a feeling of overwhelming, immeasurable sadness. Before he had time to properly chastise himself, he turned instinctively towards the door, sensing a presence.

She was there. Naked, robe at her feet, she stared at him, her lovely expression contorted by pain. Her face was like the moon, pale and somehow wavering. One could spend a long time looking at her features, but none stuck in his mind beyond an impression of astonishing beauty spoiled only by a long-healed scar that stretched from her neck to just under her left eye. Her long, thick hair was reminiscent of a scintillating river of gold touched by starlight, dampened with sweat and marred by dirt and ash. Her eyes, large and green, started at him as if she were seeing him for the first time.

That’s when he noticed the Mark and his heart sunk even lower. His wards had failed. The corruption had spread. Tendrils of ugly, rotted blue and green streaked up her arm, past her shoulder, and across her breast. It would reach her heart within an hour. “Ma vhenan?” she whispered in a voice so quiet, it threatened to get lost in the faintest breeze.

He began to get up and she recoiled as if she were expecting to be attacked. “No!” she cried. “Ma harel lasa! Why did you lie to me? Ma vhenan…”

She collapsed to the ground, her body shaking with seizures, and he found himself paralyzed. He wanted to go to her, he had to, but something –

Da’len!”

 

-/-

 

He awoke in a sweat. Sitting upright quickly, he looked over at the doorway and found it empty save for a faint blush of reddish light as the sun began to rise in the east. He was shaking.

It took him a long time to regain control of his emotions. He knew the dream for what it was and yet he could not crush the vast dread that enveloped his entire being like a thick cloak. He wiped tears – trivial, weak tears – off of his face in frustration. He rose from the couch quickly, as if by leaving he would be able to escape the nightmare, and dressed quickly.

And then he did the only thing that made sense for him in that situation: he went straight into the kitchens and brewed himself a pot of tea.

Chapter Text

Hahren na melana sahlin.

Emma ir abelas.

 

Pain unto Purpose

 

Haven (less than an hour after the destruction of the Temple of Sacred Ashes)

He descended the mountainside as quickly as he could, cautious and quiet.

Cautious, because a blizzard had soon picked up after the wicked scar appeared in the sky, whipped up by the cataclysmic reaction the Breach wrecked in the physical world, and it was nearly impossible to see more than six feet in front of him. The air smelled of electricity and something else, something other, and the Veil threatened to tear all about him at any second. Each minute Solas was not confronted with a tear was a blessing. The path down would have been treacherous when the weather was fair – now, it was simply a death trap.

Quiet because, on top of all of that, things wanted to kill him.

Not him, particularly, but he doubted he’d be able to convince them otherwise.

Down he went, prodding the ground in front of him with one hand and gripping the rocky mountainside with the other for support. He dared not use magic to illuminate a path for fear of encouraging another tear in the Veil. No, nothing had gone to plan in the slightest. He should have been concentrating more on simply making it to Haven in one piece, but the wheels in his mind were spinning. He knew there had been a survivor, he watched them pull a body out of the center of the wreckage – but who? How? If it was who he feared it was – how do you kill such a monster? Too many questions and little answers.

One foot in front of the other, inch by deadly inch.

Soon the path widened and he rounded a corner that blocked most of the wind. A feeling not dissimilar to relief partially released the anxious grip on his heart. Miraculously, he had travelled through the most difficult part. Now able to walk in a straight line with a clear line of sight, he stuck close to the wall in a frivolous attempt to blend in with his surroundings. The last thing he needed was to run into a jumpy patrol; he could defend himself well enough, even in his weakened state, but wanted to avoid using magic as all possible. It would be like lighting a beacon in a dark ocean, and he dreaded was kind of attention that may bring.

No, he had to go in with a plan.

Eventually, he did run into patrols. Judging by their colors, they were the soldiers Divine Justinia had brought to ensure the peace was kept. And, just as he feared, they were jumpy. Some, even, were crying. He found himself seeking cover more than once as they passed. It would do no good to turn himself over here – for that was what he was going to do, he had decided – because he felt they were more likely to attempt to kill him first than listen to reason. He had to get closer.

It was a chore, long and laborious. A young boy wearing armor a size too big for him almost saw him once, but was quickly distracted by a quick-footed nug fleeing into the bushes. In all honesty, his trek down the mountain was less disruptive than he would have originally thought. He knew it would not remain that way, though. He could feel the rip in the Veil twisting, thrashing, seething… and growing. The very sky rippled and writhed like an angry ocean in a storm – and this was only the beginning of its wrath.

Haven was close, but it was becoming more and more difficult to remain hidden. Soldiers patrolled every divot, every small ravine, white-knuckled hands gripping weapons already out of their sheath. He could feel the spirits of the Fade being pulled into the physical world as if through a funnel, angry, murderous. The battle was only just beginning.

He could hear skirmishes, distant and far away.

He paused outside closed gates that led to a bridge, out of sight of the guards nervously stationed there. The bridge, once reserved exclusively to penitent worshippers and their shepherds, had been turned into a forward post. The guards’ faces were turned towards the pulsating Breach, silent dread evident in their stance.

He glanced down at his hand; it was trembling. His mouth twisted into an annoyed scowl. He was cold, dismally so. He longed to summon a werelight and regain some semblance of control over his body temperature. Even though he had been on the move for the better part of two hours now, he was shivering. Later on, looking back, he would realize it was out of fear and adrenaline, and the cold had nothing to do with it.

Taking a long, steadying breath, Solas stepped out of the shadows and into the light.

 

-/-

 

“Absolutely not.” Cassandra Pentaghast, famed Seeker and Right Hand of the Divine, could have stared down a dragon. If he was remembering the stories correctly, she actually had. “You’re lucky we do not kill you where you stand, apostate.”

“The least you can do is hear out my plea,” said Solas firmly, bristling. His arms, bound tightly behind him by both the wrists and the elbows, ached. “You find yourselves in the precarious position of not knowing what to do. The time for blame will come later. I come to you, freely, of my own volition, to offer any aid I can against the Breach. But we haven’t the time for squabbles. Seeker, look.

He gestured towards the Breach with a nod of his head. They stood outside of Haven’s Chantry, which offered the clearest view of the maelstrom in the skies. She stared at it, her face taut and angry. Underneath her anger, he felt fear.

“I am not a part of any affiliation save my own,” he pressed, taking advantage of her silence. “However, I have extensive knowledge of the Fade and those who inhabit it. Permit me to examine the individual you pulled from the wreckage – if he is the sole survivor, perhaps he holds some key to closing the Breach.”

Cassandra turned her gaze back to him, vibrant and demanding. He stared back, calmly. Another woman -- younger, piercing blue eyes, long, vibrant red hair -- paced slowly behind him, her hands clasped at her back. Solas stiffened, feeling her gaze upon him. If Cassandra was the human equivalent of a battering ram between the eyes, this one felt more akin to a dagger slipped between the ribs. 

He did not like that he could not see her.

“How can you expect us to trust you?” Cassandra asked brusquely.

“I am not asking for trust,” he countered. “Though the idea of asking you to take what I say on faith just as preposterous. If you do not trust me, if you do not have faith in me, know this: I am a hedge mage surrounded by Chantry forces. And I am here solely because the Breach is an aberration on this world and must be sealed. This concern precludes all others to me, including my own physical safety. Does that satisfy?”

Cassandra glanced at the woman behind him. He did not see her reaction, but suddenly he felt movement. He forced himself to relax as the woman took a dagger out of her pocket and cut through his bonds. He brought his arms forward and rubbed his wrists, staring at the Seeker pointedly. She stepped back, sheathing her sword, and pursed her lips in displeasure.

“Come,” said the woman, walking away from him without so much as a glance behind her. She brought her cowl up over the back of her head as she moved; he hurried to follow her. Cassandra stepped into place behind him, watchful and silent.

It seemed, as though, his offer had been accepted. Tentatively, like pulling teeth – but accepted, nonetheless. They were desperate, and rightly so.

He fell into step behind the woman, pulling his cloak tighter about him as a crisp wind threatened to pierce his bare skin.

Above them all, the Breach pulsed. It was growing.

They came upon a small cabin close to the main gates. The Veil felt thin here; very similar to how it felt during his descent from the mountainside. The hairs on the nape of his neck stood on end. Danger, his body warned. He pushed aside the concerns and followed the woman into the room.

It was a small hut; perhaps a little less than five hundred square feet. Solas could smell a mixture of tonics and herbs, and one look at the man bent over the mortar and pestle confirmed his suspicions. An apothecary. They didn’t even have a mage to look at the prisoner. He filed that away in his mind for later.

The apothecary looked up in surprise, then stood. “Sister Leliana,” he said reverently, bowing his head.

The redheaded woman placed a hand on his shoulder in acknowledgement and nodded towards a bed behind him. “Adan. How is she doing?”

She?

“Dying,” the apothecary said grimly, turning to let them see.

A small, lithe elven body lied as if in repose on the human bed. He felt his heart drop as he looked at her. Even in the dampened light of the apothecary’s hovel, Solas could make out the vallaslin on her face, delicately applied and long since healed over. She favored Mythal. Her eyes, lids half-shut, glanced about wildly, unseeing, pained. Perfect lips, rosy and full, cracked open intermittently with short, distressed gasps of air. And on her left hand, glowing like a bright green fire, the Mark burnt ominously.

It was nothing like he had ever seen, but everything he had expected. He felt himself reeling internally, white hot rage and despair. Who was she to have survived the blast? To have gained the Mark? And if she had survived, then where was –

He was aware of Sister Leliana studying his face and forced the thoughts out of his head. He knelt quickly at the elven woman’s side, taking her hand in his own. Perhaps he could salvage the situation. Despite himself, he felt troubled. “What happened?”

“After the explosion, my men and I rushed the Temple to look for survivors,” said Sister Leliana. She had a thick Orlesian accent. “What we found – it was indescribable.”

“And this one,” Cassandra said, pointing at the woman. “We arrived just as she fell out of the Breach. The only living person in that chaos.”

“There was a woman,” Leliana interjected. “Wreathed in light, reaching down to her. But as we approached, she vanished.”

“And this one has been unconscious since,” finished Cassandra.

“I see.” Solas examined the Mark more closely. As he spread her fingers, he noticed a ring. He pulled it off and examined it. “Sylvanwood.”

“And what is the significance of that?” asked Cassandra.

Solas turned to show her, holding the intricate carvings up into the light. “This ring is a universal symbol amongst Dalish clans all over Thedas. It does not explain her role in her clan, but she holds a leadership position at the very least. If she dies tonight, we should make the effort to inform them when prudent.” He placed it in his pocket for safekeeping. It would only interfere with his work, and he would rather make sure it did not find its way into the hands of the humans, regardless of his feelings towards the Dalish clans of these parts.

“Lady Seeker, Sister Nightingale,” said a deep, gravelly voice from the door in acknowledgment. Solas glanced over briefly to find a dwarf, beardless, hefting a crossbow of considerable craftsmanship. The dwarf raised one genial eyebrow at the scene – and the elf – before him. “The Grand Chancellor humbly requests your presence, blah blah blah, please meet him at the Chantry ‘urgently’ to discuss the transition of power, politics, politics, politics, and so forth.”

“Thank you, Varric,” Cassandra said waspishly. “That will be all.” She glanced at Leliana with a grim look on her face.

“It was inevitable,” Leliana said, walking briskly towards the door. “I will placate him. In the meantime, you are needed on the rearguard. Commander Cullen is attempting to hold the line; if they break, we must not let the horde reach the village.”

“Understood.” Cassandra turned towards Solas, disgust evident on her face. “Apostate. My associate, Varric, will remain with you as you work. He and Adan will assist you to the best of their abilities.”

“Fantastic,” muttered the dwarf, rolling his eyes.

“If the apostate tries to run,” she continued, turning to Varric, “kill him.

“Lady Seeker,” he said, tilting his head reverently. She turned on her heel and left, her hand already resting on the hilt of her sword.

Solas looked at him, and the dwarf winked conspiratorially. “Don’t worry, Chuckles,” Varric said, holstering his crossbow. “She’s just perturbed. Now –“ He cracked his knuckles. “How can I help?”

 

Chapter Text

“He who intends to walk the valley of darkness ought to bring a lantern with him. For he who sprains his ankle in the darkness will not walk far.”

The Teachings of Lebioda

 

Lilac and Honeysuckle

 

Val Royeaux Marketplace (three weeks after the destruction of The Temple of Sacred Ashes)

Lilac. Rose. Lavender. Fresh pastry and honeysuckle. These were only a few of the myriad of scents that permeated the Orlesian marketplace. Yet, somehow, it all seemed balanced – there was never too much of one scent or too little of the other. It seemed, even here, each detail was methodically thought out and cultivated.

Riannon found herself equally parts fascinated and disgusted with Val Royeaux. It was, without a doubt, one of the most beautiful areas of the world she had ever had the privilege of visiting; its loveliness was but a thin veil, however, and the pedantic narcissism that infused each and every social interaction soured whatever beauty she may have seen.

Theirs was not a group that would be typically seen around the Orlais nobles. The Iron Bull (and it was The Iron Bull, always) was definitely a sight – towering at over seven feet tall and hefting a large, two-handed great sword over his shoulder like a bag of afternoon groceries, the qunari caused several people to cow and run off simply by staring at them. Beside him, all brash Tevinter arrogance and pragmatism, Dorian strode proudly, grinning at those who stared openly. Cassandra was bristling at their displays and was making an extra effort to concentrate on a merchant’s wares as if she were actually going to buy something. The former Seeker of Truth and Right Hand of the Divine carried her sword and shield openly, the crest of the Inquisition gleaming proudly upon her chest. But even a hulking qunari, a haughty Tevinter mage (“I’m not a Magister, please do not ever call me a Magister,” Dorian quipped earlier), and the veritable co-founder of the Inquisition and former could direct the crowd’s gaze away from her. And she hated it.

The ‘Herald of Andraste,’ champion of a heretical order disavowed by the Chantry, the Templars, and the mages – a rare feat, considering the political climate.

And what concerned them the most?

“By the Maker, is that a damnable elf?” muttered a man

“What is this world coming to?” whispered another heavily-accented voice.

“An elf as the Herald of Andraste?” scoffed another. “Oh, now that just won’t do.”

La mère aurait dû avaler.” She didn’t pick up the meaning, but the Iron Bull let out a loud guffaw that sent the offending noble scurrying away as if he had suddenly remembered an important appointment.

“I don’t know, Boss, I think they really like us,” the Iron Bull said, still laughing.

“Shall I tell them their mother was a hamster and their father smelt of elderberries?” chimed Dorian helpfully. The Iron Bull snorted.

“I don’t understand the reference,” Riannon said with an inquisitive look.

Until she met Dorian, Riannon wasn’t sure anybody could explain something with a swagger. Oh, but he could. “Oh, we have these street performers that travel all over Minrathous. Much like beggars, but classier – somewhat reminiscent of our good old Orlesian friends, no? Anyway, the bit’s really old – these two gentlemen just standing in the street slinging insults at each other, each more ridiculous than the last. And finally one man goes: ‘Good Ser, I no longer wish to partake of any more civilized banter with you, you empty-headed qunari-nan ass-wiper. I fart in your general direction. Your mother was a hamster, and your father smelt of elderberries.’ My reenacting may be passable for some, but I do hope you one day get the chance to see them in person.”

Riannon chuckled. “They certainly sound… outlandish.”

“I’ve heard of them,” the Iron Bull said. “We’ll have to remember to spare them when we conquer your country, Tevine. We like funny things, too, you know. We just enjoy them in stoic silence – it’s more moving that way.”

Dorian made a disgusted noise. “We may be a society of blacklisted, slave-owning blood mages, but it’s still culturally miles above whatever the qunari could bring. And besides, it’s no fun to have rules that are actually enforced.

“Eh – you probably wouldn’t make it,” the Iron Bull mused. “You make a lot of noise. We also enjoy noise, but only when it’s silenced. You know how it is.”

Riannon laughed. “Careful, now, Bull, you’re making it sound so tempting.”

Cassandra scoffed in frustration, holding up a pair of delicate silk slippers. “I just need a new pair of boots,” she complained. “Good boots, armored boots. Not these frilly… things.” The word was wreathed in disgust.

“Relax, Cass, we’ll get you something good,” Bull said amicably “We’re just in the wrong section.” He took the silk shoes from her hands and found their owner, a merchant with an impressively-coiffed unibrow. “Hey man – no, don’t start screaming, I just want to buy something – do you know where they sell the armored stuff? And don’t point me to a place that sells hiking boots, or I will probably have to come back here and kill you.”

“Bull!” Cassandra admonished in a forced whisper.

“Probably,” Bull mouthed to her, his eyes wide in feigned hurt.

“The o-other side of the plaza, inside the building on the c-corner,” the merchant said, his voice trembling in fright. He could not seem to look away from the qunari.

“Fantastic! And you have a pleasant day.” Bull strode back to them with a pleased smile on his face. “You heard him, Boss, let’s move. Let’s get the lady a new pair of boots!”

Riannon found herself laughing. Cassandra was understandably flustered, but Riannon found Bull’s levity uplifting. They had been in Orlais almost three days now, and nothing had gone according to plan. The Templars had all but abandoned the city, led away by Lord Seeker Lucius in a worrying display of aggression. They found dubious supporters in a city elf named Sera and a disconcerting woman named Vivienne, the Empress’s magical advisor and First Enchanter of Montsimmard, though she trusted both of them as far as she could throw them. On top of it all, she was now recognizable as the Inquisition’s Herald, and was now subject to the jests and ridicule that came with the name.

Sometimes, she found herself wishing the Breach would force a Fade Rift to open right in the middle of the Val Royeaux marketplace. It had been almost three weeks now since she’d woken up in Haven’s dungeon, Cassandra’s sword in the face. Three weeks since Solas and Varric helped her stabilize the Breach as they fought alongside the Inquisition’s forces against demons and spirits alike. Three weeks since everything changed.

Keeper Dashanna was worried, that much was clear. She had sent the Inquisition a missive soon after word spread of its’ formation, demanding to know the status of her First. Initially, Josephine wanted to handle it. Riannon liked and appreciated her, but it was something she had to send herself. So she spent an evening crafting a carefully composed letter to the Keeper, explaining what, exactly, had happened at the Conclave and her role in the newest developments in Thedas. She had asked the Keeper for advice, and for her clan to pray to the gods on her behalf.

Leliana had burned it.

You can’t communicate so openly, the spymaster chided. Put nothing on paper you are not comfortable with the whole world seeing. And thus, Riannon had sent a much smaller, impersonal letter instead. It would not satisfy her, she knew, but she hoped the Keeper wouldn’t attempt a diplomatic incident over it.

It also left to question her role in the clan. She had been sent by Keeper Dashanna to spy on the Conclave and report back – that was all. She was not supposed to have been gone longer than a month – at most, two. And now it was looking like this effort was turning into something much bigger than she ever could have expected. In any other context, she would have slipped out at the first available opportunity and been halfway across Ferelden by now. She would have attempted to convince the clan to travel to Haven and bolster its forces against the Breach – the Keeper would have objected at first, but Riannon was certain she would have seen reason eventually.

“Hey, Boss,” said Bull genially, “you ever accidentally light the curtains on fire as a kid?”

Riannon snorted, jolted from her train of thought. “No, not that I recall,” she said. “Why?”

Iron Bull shrugged. “Just wondering.” She noticed he was glancing over at a tapestry hanging up underneath a small tent. It was a fine piece of work, she admitted to herself, easily the product of hundreds of hours of labor. Each thread was meticulously woven into the next, depicting a grandiose scene--

Oh.

Hundreds of elves, monstrous and gleaming, knelt in supplication, prostrating themselves before the Orlesian nobility. Amongst them, scattered but still there, qunari slaves and dwarves offering gold. She felt a chill at her core. Cassandra and Dorian continued along, seemingly oblivious to the flagrant display of xenophobia at its finest.

And that tapestry, she decided, in all of its gilded glory, was everything she hated about Orlais.

“Must everything be a mage lighting things on fire with you?” Dorian interjected from the front.

Bull snorted but gave no answer. Perhaps the tapestry had bothered him just as much as it bothered her.

They eventually found the merchants they were looking for, and Cassandra wasted no time in making conversation with an older man with salt-and-pepper hair who seemed to know exactly what he was talking about. Bull poked around a bit but seemed generally happy with his current state of affairs, and Dorian wandered off to purchase a fresh drink of lemonade from a street vendor. Riannon attempted to shadow Cassandra a bit, but after a few minutes it became obvious the merchant seemed uncomfortable with her presence so she excused herself to look at items on the other side of the small store.

Something tugged on the bottom of her jacket. Riannon glanced down to see a large pair of brown eyes staring up at her.

“Hello there,” she said with a smile. The first genuine one she’d given in days – outside of her companions, at least. “May I help you?”

He smiled a big toothy grin, all friendliness and grins. “I have a question.”

She leaned down to get on his eye level. “What’s your question, darling?”

He reached out and touched her right cheek with her hand. It was warm and somewhat wet. “Do you have to draw those on every morning?”

Ah. The vallaslin. She smiled. “I would certainly hope not.”

“Are they tattoos?”

“Yes, sweetie, they are. My clan elders gave them to me when they felt I was ready.”

“Oh.” A pause. “They’re pretty. But I wouldn’t want to wear them every day.”

She smiled wryly.

“Are you from the Alienage?”

“No, sweetie, I’m not. I’m from far away.”

“My mom said you’re a knife-ear. But your ears don’t look that sharp. Can I touch them?”

“You can touch them.”

The young boy reached out and felt the tips of her ears with his hand. He laughed shrilly in delight. Riannon found herself smiling with him – this was the first pure, honest interaction she’d had with an Orlesian since she’d arrived at Val Royeaux.

How dare you touch my son?!”

A woman who resembled a ridiculous porcelain doll made a beeline for them and tore the child away. A feathered, lace mask the color of grass adorned a not-so-beautiful face contorted with scorn.

Riannon stood up, her face hardening. “He was just asking me some questions, ma’am –“

Ferme ta gueule! You elven skank.” Her shrill shriek was catching the attention of passersby, who began stopping in the middle of the street, staring. “You wanted to steal him for yourself? You monster.

Riannon could feel her cheeks turning an impressive shade of red. “Excuse you!” she replied haughtily.

“Where is the guard when you need them?” the woman complained bitterly. “Oh, honey, mon amour, comment vas-tu?” She began to wipe off his clothes, as if by simply touching Riannon he had become dirty.

Maman,” the boy complained, staring, embarrassed, at all the inquisitive eyes. His mother had drawn quite a crowd.

“Is there a problem here?” Cassandra was at her shoulder, watching the mother with cold, dispassionate eyes.

“Yes, this elven putain was attempting to steal my son! March her to the gallows, Seeker, I beg of you!”

Cassandra’s lips pursed into a thin line, disgust evident on her face. “I can assure you, the Herald of Andraste did not travel to Val Royeaux simply to steal your son.” She gripped the pommel of her sword threateningly. “But she is also not here to accept any foul remarks from such a filthy animal as yourself. Away with you. I will not repeat myself.”

The woman, obviously expecting Cassandra to comply with her demands immediately, was speechless with rage. Her son stared at the floor, tears on his cheeks. “The Empress will hear of this!” the woman cried, turning on her heel and leaving in a huff. She jerked her child forcibly by the arm. He whimpered in pain.

Riannon felt the crowd’s eyes on her, staring and whispering amongst themselves. Cassandra stepped forward, glaring at them all, until they dispersed into an uneasy reticence.

They finished Cassandra’s transaction in silence. Riannon’s companions covered both doors silently. The Iron Bull, who had ambled off earlier, now stood casually by the door the crowd had gathered around, arms crossed, making uncomfortable eye contact with all who passed them. Dorian had wordlessly sat by the other door, a stern look on his face.

They left, and began walking briskly through the market square. Feeling the wrath of the crowd, they closed ranks around her. Iron Bull placed himself behind the group, and no smiles or laughter came from him. Cassandra walked ahead. And beside Riannon, Dorian sauntered.

A woman spit in their direction and ran off immediately.

“She’s just a typical Orlesian pissant,” Dorian whispered into her ear. “Pay no attention to her. I bet you all the lyrium in Minrathous that she’s pulled that stunt before.”

“Thank you, Dorian.” He was only trying to make her feel better, but Riannon knew in her heart that displays such as that were only scraping the tip of the iceberg.

They passed the tapestry that had so bothered her on their way out. She did not even look at it, but felt a sudden, vicious anger.

And why shouldn’t I?

The tapestry began to smolder.

“Fire – fire!” someone eventually shouted.

Riannon feigned a look of concern, glancing behind her. Bull caught her eye and smirked, tipping his horns in acknowledgement.

Lilac. Rose. Lavender. Fresh pastry and honeysuckle. And now – smoke.

Chapter Text

There once was a chicken

and there was once a hawk

the hawk would talk

non-stop

about his ability of flight

his speed his force

he'd talk so long

the chicken would bash

his head against the door

-Tark Wain

 

The Lady meets the Hawk

 

Skyhold, Herald’s Rest Tavern (one month after the destruction of Haven)

Cassandra’s expression reminded Varric of a dog who had finally caught its tail and didn’t know what to do with it.

“So… you’ve just been… where, exactly?” Cassandra sputtered.

She and Hawke sat across from each other; the former couldn’t seem to wipe the aforementioned expression off of her face. The latter simply beamed at her, eyes crinkling in mirth as he sipped from a large pint Varric had purchased for him earlier. The Bull’s Chargers had graciously given up their corner table at the tavern to facilitate one of the most enthusing introductions Varric had ever had the pleasure of making in his entire life, and he could feel them watching and laughing from the second story.

“Here and there,” Hawke said, smacking his lips in satisfaction. He winked at Varric. “Now that’s a decent beer. Much better than the swill they served at the Hanged Man, anyway.”

“Hey, I’ll drink to that.”

And they did.

Cassandra, bless her, managed to hide her glower of disapproval.

“I suppose we have Varric to thank for bringing us together,” she said. “Though you’ll be happy to know he swore on his dead grandmother’s grave that he didn’t know where you were.”

“How is your old nan doing anyway, buddy?” Hawke asked him amiably.

“She actually just moved in with my uncle,” Varric said, feigning an air of disbelief. “I know – I’m surprised, too. Or, better to say my uncle just moved in with her. He’s been having a rough go of it, she’s just being helpful.”

If looks could kill, Cassandra’s glare would have wiped House Tethras from all history books.

Hawke just kept smiling. He reached out and briefly gripped the Seeker’s hand in comfort. She stared at him with an air of suspicion, as if the only reaction she knew to that was to smack him with the pommel of her sword. “If it’s any consolation, dear Seeker, I am here now. And I would not have agreed to your proposition anyway. Things have worked out amazingly well thus far considering, wouldn’t you agree?”

“No. I would not.”

“Ouch,” Varric said. “I’m sure the Inquisitor would be sad to hear that from you, Lady Seeker.”

“That is not what I meant and you know it, dwarf.” Cassandra sighed heavily and took a long draught of red wine. “But regardless – I am happy you are here now. It makes me believe that we are on the right track.”

“I never would have doubted yourself,” said Hawke. “And for the most part, Varric was telling the truth. After the mess at Kirkwall, all of us – Bethany, Fenris, Isabella, the others – we were technically all on the run. It was only a matter of time before the Chantry declared an Exalted March on the city. We had to lead them away.”

“And Kirkwall is still recovering,” said Varric grimly. “After the fighting – nothing is the same, absolutely nothing.”

“Eventually, we split up,” Hawke said. “But I have to admit, Varric, when I heard you were in the custody of the Seekers of Truth I was this close to launching a rescue mission. It was all I could do to stop Merrill from storming out the door with nothing but her staff and a ball of yarn, of all things.”

Varric’s body shook with laughter. “That would have quite been the sight,” he agreed. “Tell Daisy the thought was appreciated and, honestly, probably warranted.”

Cassandra stared at him in disdain, but she was beginning to crack. He could see it. “You’re both terrible.”

“Your Inquisitor looks good, though,” Hawke said conversationally. “I’ve had a few run-ins with the Lavellan clan while I was traipsing through Wycome. I’m positive I’ve seen her before.”

“Did she recognize you?” Cassandra asked curiously. “She did not mention so, if she did.”

Hawke snorted. “I was wearing a pirate hat and a fake mustache, Seeker. I’ll let you be the judge of that, thank-you-very-much.”

Cassandra chuckled despite herself because it was funny. Varric laughed because he knew it was true.

Damn, he’d missed Hawke.

“And what of the others?” she pressed. “Fenris, Anders, the rest?”

“Oh, you know, fulfilling their intrinsic purposes in life,” Hawke said conversationally. “Fenris, for example, is probably murdering swathes Tevinter slavers right now at the moment.” And, to Varric’s knowledge, he was.

“What about Merrill?” she questioned.

“She and Bethany are helping elven refugees displaced by the war. She wanted to come, but…” His smile seemed to flicker for a moment. “I’d rather deal with this myself, truth be told. I try to clean up my own messes when I can.”

“I see. And Anders?”

“Don’t know. Don’t care,” he said flatly. There was no hint of a lie in Hawke’s voice.

Varric nodded in agreement. “Blondie’s lucky he didn’t die that day,” he said. “And he knows it. We probably won’t be seeing him for a while.”

“Some may say he was too lucky,” Cassandra replied coolly.

“You weren’t there. But I wouldn’t sentence him to death,” Hawke explained, though Varric personally felt he didn’t need to. “He helped us in the final fight, but the trust was broken. He murdered people. Good people.”

“And yet, you let him live,” Cassandra said.

“Yes. I did.” The talk was edging into stuff-Varric-and-Hawke-didn’t-want-to-talk-about territory. “Until then, he had been a good friend.”

“He betrayed your trust.”

“I knew he was lying to me. I helped anyway. I share the blame, though he would have done it anyway.”

“Still.”

“He has a difficult path ahead of him, Seeker. But, I feel in my heart he has some bigger role to play in all of this.”

And suddenly, a new voice, soft and shy, coming from seemingly nowhere: “Varric.”

Cassandra started in surprise and Varric found himself choking on his beer. Neither had noticed Cole creep up behind them, silent and still. He looked down at him with a concerned expression on his face. He was still wearing his hat.

Varric coughed loudly into his arm to clear his throat, tears in his eyes. He glanced up at Hawke in between coughs to see his shoulders imperceptibly tense, not aggressive but cautious. Varric winked to let him know it was okay and turned to the spirit. “Cole, what did we say about sneaking up on people like that?” Varric said, wiping spilled beer off of his chest in distaste. Great – now he smelled like a drunk.

“I am sorry,” the spirit said, drooping a little. “I announced myself, like you taught me.”

Yeah, they were definitely going to have to work on that more. “It’s okay, kid. You just gave us a scare is all. What can we do for you?”

Cole focused his gaze on Hawke, who met it calmly. “Sorrows sing sadly, but warmth remains. Heart hurts and hardens but hears. Bright and sad, tall and small. The hawk flies away but still drowns. Sunshine and daisies. She grips my hand and I struggle to remember the details. Is this the last time?”

Hawke gave Varric the side-eye. “Right… Varric – why is this scarecrow talking and how do I make it stop?”

“Uh, yeah, he’s helping, just let him get it out of his system.”

“The ribbon smells like love. The scent of you on the bed. She buries her face in it at night. Hurt inside, death and dread and anger bubbling, billowing, balefully. She misses you.” Cole bowed his head a little.

“Inappropriate, Cole,” Cassandra said, exasperated. “Not everybody is used to you doing… that.

“But it is helping,” Cole interjected. “The pain constricts and loosens. Breathing now, slightly lighter, pictures of laughter, life.”

Hawke raised an eyebrow. “Well, congratulations, you’re officially creepy as hell. Great job finding this one, Varric.”

“He means well, honest. We’ll talk about it later.” Varric took another swig of beer and cleared his throat.

And then Cole was staring at him. “You understood. You wanted to help, too. Bitter and resolute. They’ve done enough to him, give him peace. I saved his life, damn it. Stop – bothering – him.”

And then, to Cassandra: “Hurting, harmful, hasting. You hate yourself for trusting him and wonder if the Left did, too. Some loves are stronger than duty. You know this. You wonder if you would have done the same. You would have died to protect your secret.”

“All these things, they hurt,” Cole continued. “But they don’t have to. Things are… difficult. War hurts, hoarding, horrible. But – good things, too. Friends, family, faith. You are here now. You made choices because you thought they would help. That’s why you are here. That’s why I am here. We want to help.”

Varric took a risk and stared back at the spirit, smiling calmly, a question on his mind.

Cole cocked his head slightly to the side and turned his gaze on Varric once more. “You were almost right. She loves him, too, but she prefers the elf with the brooding eyes.”

Jackpot.

Varric slapped his hand down on the table in triumph, howling with laughter. He was the only one laughing but he didn’t care. Hawke gave him a quizzical look. “Care to share?” he asked.

“Perhaps another time,” Cassandra said sourly, taking another deep sip of red wine. She was almost out – Varric waved for a refill, wiping tears from his eyes.

They sat in awkward silence as the barkeep came over to top them off; Cassandra stared angrily into the table while Varric chortled, watching Hawke slowly catch on to Cole’s comment, a smile spreading on to his face slowly but surely. Cole just stood there, unmoving.

“Would you like to sit down?” Hawke asked him politely, gesturing to the open seat next to him.

“No,” the spirit replied calmly.

Varric rolled his eyes a bit. Hawke seemed as though he were about to insist, thought better of it, and simply began working on his next beer. “So, Hawke, you bring Misfit with you, or did you leave her with the girls?” he asked conversationally.

“No, Misfit’s here,” Hawke replied. “Somewhere, anyway. Soon as we snuck in she ran off somewhere.”

“You said that the mabari’s name was Shadowfang,” Cassandra complained, narrowing her eyes.

Varric held up his hands in surrender. “It sounded better, I swear! And it’s not like the dog’s name would’ve changed the outcome of anything, anyway!”

“The dog’s name was literally the key to a Vigenère cipher that could have led us right to him, dwarf!” Cassandra cried in exasperation and began rubbing her temples furiously.

“Lady Seeker.” Hawke stood up suddenly and came around to the other side of the table. He knelt in front of her with a wry smile on his face. “Let. It. Go.” And he hugged her tight. “It’s all gonna be okay.”

“You smell nicer than she thought you would,” Cole said helpfully.

Cassandra groaned and pushed him away forcibly. “Beautiful,” she complained. “I must confess, Hawke, this is not how I imagined meeting you at all. Somehow, I expected… less embarrassment from me, perhaps.”

“It’s fine, Cassandra,” Hawke replied. And it was. “Stop beating yourself up over it.”

He went back to his seat. “So, I’ve been on the road for a month but I’ve also got a lot of energy, strangely enough. Why don’t we finish our drinks and you give me a tour of Skyhold? I’d like to see Commander Cullen again, at the very least – I never did get the chance to properly thank him for saving our asses back in Kirkwall.”

Cassandra smiled at him – a small, albeit genuine one. “Okay,” she agreed. “The past cannot be changed, but I look forward to making new memories with you in the future.”

“I could drink to that,” he agreed. They all clinked their mugs together. If he closed his eyes, Varric could almost imagine they were back at the Hanged Man, sharing a pitcher with one another after another rough day in the city of Kirkwall.

“I cannot drink,” Cole commented dryly. “My body always leaks when I do.”

Varric chuckled. “We’ll work on that, kid.”

If only he had known back then that he was living ‘the good old days.’ In a world that seemed to promise only more and more wanton death and destruction, Varric took his small moments of contentment wherever he could find them.

Chapter Text

I met a traveller from an antique land, who said—

 

“Two vast and trunkless legs of stone stand in the desert. . . .

Near them, on the sand,

Half sunk a shattered visage lies,

whose frown, and wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,

Tell that its sculptor well those passions read

Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,

The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;

 

And on the pedestal, these words appear:

‘My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;

Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!’

 

Nothing beside remains. Round the decay

Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare

The lone and level sands stretch far away.”

-Percy Bysshe Shelley

 

Dirthara’ma (II)

 

Skyhold (one week after the destruction of Haven)

Solas strolled along the eastern-most wall, which stretched clear across from the kitchens to the stables. It was not in the best of shape, but Skyhold was strong, and its foundations refused to be troubled by something as inconsequential as passing time. In his hands he held a steaming cup of strong, black tea sweetened with a large spoon of crystalized honey – the only way he could suffer to drink it, apparently. He stared far off into the horizon, over the mountains, and tried to blink the sleep from his eyes. The sharp winds and piercing cold, though bracing, were not entirely unwelcome.

In the early hours of the day, when the sun had not quite tipped over the edge of the horizon, Skyhold rustled sleepily. Servants clad in working garments were toiling away, weeding the overgrown gardens and feeding what horses they had been able to save in the stables. Many were very young, those who had lost family in the destruction of chaos of the Temple of Sacred Ashes or, afterwards, in the ill-fated battle for Haven. Some looked up at him as he passed, clad in heavy furs, but otherwise they ignored him as they went about their morning, finding solace in the new normal that would be their lives at Skyhold.

Skyhold. Tarasyl'an Te'las, ‘the place where the sky was held back.’ Memories, distant and heavy, threatened to engulf him.

It was difficult for him to be here, walking the ramparts of a fortress where he had made the most trying and long-reaching decision of his life. He breathed in deeply and felt the air chill his lungs, then exhaled slowly, watching the light fog of breath appear in front of him and slowly collapse. The crack of dawn set the stone aglow in dusky rose. The sky, clear and crisp, trembled imperceptibly, resonating from echoes of magic long since passed.

It was all the same. Only the people were different.

A door shut on his right and he turned to see the dark outline of Commander Cullen, papers in hand, walking towards him. Solas straightened a bit and moved politely out of his way, nursing his tea. The Commander didn’t seem to see him, intently reading the reports in his hand with a Tranquil-like focus. Eventually he looked up as he neared him and smiled courteously.

“Solas,” he said with a nod. Solas expected him to keep going, but the Commander actually stopped and stood next to him. He radiated joy. “I feel I owe you my thanks yet again, it seems.” He gestured to the papers in his hands. “It just keeps getting bigger.”

Solas bowed his head slightly in acknowledgment. “There are many abandoned fortresses in this world,” he said. “We are lucky we weren’t too far from this one. What did you find?” 

“A whole labyrinth of tunnels,” he responded, showing him the papers. Someone, probably one of his soldiers, had sketched out a small map of areas they’d explored under the fortress. “Most are caved in, of course, but Josephine can probably broker some kind of deal with the miners in the Merchant’s Guild.” He sighed, an air of triumph in his voice. “It’s really coming together. If Corypheus attacks us here, we’ll be ready.”

Solas remembered those tunnels. They were long and meandering, often leading to dead ends or large rooms, meant to confuse any who strayed in, either accidentally or otherwise. There was only one secret path, small and claustrophobic, that would allow a single person or small group of people to sneak into the fortress unannounced. He had used it once, ages ago.

“Skyhold is built upon a site of rituals carried out by the ancient elves during the height of civilization,” Solas explained. “After their fall, the land was leveled and subsequently rebuilt by Fereldens, and changed hands many times over until it was eventually abandoned. However, the magic from the original site permeated its’ foundations, protecting it from evil. Corypheus will not pursue us here, not unless the rest of Thedas were to fall.”

Cullen crossed his arms thoughtfully. “And you know all of this from your walks in the Fade?”

Solas smiled faintly. “This place holds a lot of memories. If one listens, they could hear the story in the sky itself. In ten years, perhaps we could comprehend a quarter of it.”

Cullen snorted and eyed him carefully. “I am tempted to make fun but, in all honesty, we wouldn’t be here without you. Thank you for leading us here, Solas.”

“There is nothing to thank me for,” he said, though he inclined his head slightly in acknowledgment. “If there is anyone to recognize, it should be you and our Inquisitor. Without your direction, we surely would have lost more soldiers than we did. Escaping alive from an archdemon and ancient Tevinter magister is no easy feat. 

“Unfortunately – or perhaps fortunately, I’m not sure anymore – I’ve had a lot of experience with things exploding into chaos with no prior warning. But… each time is more difficult than the last, it seems.”

“Kirkwall being the most notable example, of course.”

“Kirkwall, certainly. And before that, the Ferelden Circle. Though I was unquestionably more… useless, in that role. 

Solas chuckled. He had heard the story, and that brought up an interesting question he had been unsure how to broach. “Tell me something, Commander.”

“I will, if I can.”

“What was the Hero of Ferelden like? You met him during that time.”

“There wasn’t really much of a chance to sit and chat,” Cullen mused, shaking his head. “There was a fair amount of ‘Pull yourself together, man!’ and a lot of angry yelling on my part. I was… not in my right mind. If I had it my way, we would have performed the Rite of Annulment right there. Thankfully… I didn’t have my way. It may have only encouraged the rebellion to start sooner than it did.”

“Fear pushes people to do the unthinkable,” Solas commented. “For what it’s worth, you appear stronger for it.”

“I’m regretful I did not spend more time with Warden Cousland,” he mused. “He left soon after securing the mage’s alliance against the darkspawn. He returned at least once or twice to discuss developments with the First Enchanter, but I had already left. I ended up in Denereim for a bit to spend time with family and help rebuild, and then I was sent to Kirkwall to bolster their forces. And, as you can imagine, I made few friends there.”

“And what of his companions?” he pried gently. “They became legends in their own right, did they not?”

“Are you asking about anyone in particular, or is this just a general question?” he asked, arching an eyebrow.

“My apologies, Commander, I had hoped to be more discrete.” He sipped the tea thoughtfully. “I’ve always been fascinated by the other mages he travelled with.”

“I can see why,” he mused. “Though unfortunately, I’m afraid I don’t have much of an answer for you. I knew Wynne for a time – she was a kind woman. She saw the good in others when they couldn’t see it in themselves. She rallied the surviving mages and convinced the Cousland to save the Circle. As for the other: I know nothing of her, other than I didn’t trust her as far as I could throw her. I’m assuming she is the one you were most ‘fascinated’ about.”

“I wanted to dream in the ruins of Ostagar,” he said, inclining his head in agreement. “As I travelled, I stumbled upon a small hut in the depths of the Korcari Wilds. It had been long-abandoned and picked clean by looters. My natural instinct was to avoid it; I could sense a strong power there that chilled my very core. So, naturally… I investigated.”

“Oh, naturally.”

Solas let the glib slide. “As I dreamed, I searched. I felt… called, in a way. Whatever power that had resided there was long gone, though the surrounding area was completely vacant. There was just darkness. Emptiness.” His words wandered off into silence.

The same feeling, he realized, he felt as he had reached towards Riannon in the dream. The inescapable loneliness of love lost.

“Solas, have you read Varric’s book?” Cullen asked suddenly.

He snorted. “Which one? I have seen some of his work – respectfully, it’s not exactly my genre, Commander.”

“You might want to read his Tale of the Champion some time,” he said. “You might find some parts it just as ‘fascinating.’ I’ve never read it, of course; I’m just going based off of Leliana’s recount of it. But she travelled with the witch for a while and knew of her mother.”

Solas glanced over at the Commander, relatively surprised. “My interest is purely academic. But, thank you, Cullen. I may do as you suggest.”

The Commander gave him a friendly pat on the shoulder, nearly spilling his tea, and walked away, leaving Solas to his thoughts.

He stood there for a long time, watching the sun creep slowly over the horizon, and cinched his furs tighter around himself. He was not much of a caffeine drinker, but the tea appeared to be doing its job. The feelings that had hung over him like a storm cloud were beginning to fade, though he knew they would continue to disturb him for weeks on end. As the sun peaked, the ambient noise began to rise as well. An appetizing smell was wafting in from the kitchens. The people of Skyhold were beginning to wake up.

He turned around abruptly and looked up towards the highest tower. A female figure stood at the balcony, wrapped in a heavy cloak, hood drawn closely over her head. He felt she was looking at him. His heart lifted a little bit – no, he would never be able to forget that dream – and he raised one hand slightly in greetings. A small, delicate hand raised back in reply.

He turned back around and breathed in the cold, sharp air. Then, he began walking across the wall and towards the kitchens. Even he had to eat, after all. And as he ate, he would think, for thinking was one of his favorite pleasures. And, after that – he would pay Varric a visit.

 

-/-

 

To say Solas was a choosy reader would be the understatement of the century. He preferred texts from the days of Arlathan, written in ancient Elvhen which he could read easily, but favored walking amongst the spirits most of all and learning firsthand. But even he had to agree Varric’s tale, in writing, was… captivating, to say the least.

The dwarf had been more than happy to part with a spare copy of his book, even though he did not have many on him. Solas was loath to admit that reading in the predominant human tongue was difficult for him, and progress through the novel was slow. The set-up was excellent, however, and Solas found it surprisingly easy to pick apart the truth within the twists of fiction.

The shape-shifting dragon that called herself Flemeth made her appearance very early, spiriting a young Hawke and their companions towards Kirkwall in exchange for a small favor. Solas recognized that the narration of this fateful meeting was relayed third-hand through Hawke’s description of the events, but even so he felt absorbed in how deftly the dwarf had described the woman. He knew, in his heart, that the dwarf had not embellished a single word. The humor was not lost on his: most probably assumed this was the portion of the book that dripped with fiction.

Well, well, well… What have we here?

Solas sighed, an emotion reminiscent of triumph lifting his heart. “What have we here, indeed?” he muttered to himself.

There was a light knock on his open door. He looked up, wiping the shock off of his face, to see Riannon standing there, a wry smile on her face. He stood unconsciously, closing the book. “Inquisitor,” he said, bowing slightly at the waist.

“Don’t do that, you know I don’t like it when people do that,” she said, walking over to him. 

“With respect, it does not matter if you like it or not.” She came right up to him, and he found himself smiling despite himself. “You are the Inquisitor now. You will be treated with the love – and hatred – that comes with that title.”

“When I talk to you, Solas, it is because we are friends,” she chided gently. “I would rather be treated as one when we are alone.”

“As you wish, lethallan.” Alone. He did like that idea, much more than he wished he did.

She gestured to the book in his hand. “Good reading?” she asked.

“The dwarf has a masterful way with his vocabulary. If Hawke is to be staying here, I would rather know more of him and his travels.”

“You could just ask him,” she pointed out.

“As I said, the dwarf has a masterful way with words. And I’m sure Hawke is long since tired of reciting the story.”

“You’re such an antisocial recluse, Solas. 

“And my being so led you here,” he said pointedly.

She laughed. “Point taken. May I sit?”

“Certainly.”

She sat next to him, right on the soft couch he had been sleeping on earlier. She shed her dark cloak, revealing a soft, green cotton shirt and dark pants. The last time he had seen her in those, she had been writhing around in pain as her body rejected the Anchor. He realized his gaze was lingering, and he instead focused on the cover of the book. It was sparsely decorated, bearing only the symbol of the city of Kirkwall on the cover. “Varric tells me he is working with a designer on another cover for the anniversary edition,” he commented. “Something bright and shiny, inlaid with gold leaf.”

Riannon reached over delicately and took the book from his hands. “I’ve read this,” she admitted, flipping through the pages. “He has a way with describing Hawke’s companions. I cannot even describe my own friends in simple conversation, yet he can write paragraphs about Fenris’s ‘angry eyes’ and Anders’s ‘gloomy demeanor.’ You should hear Cole talk to him when he’s in the middle of brainstorming – it’s something else.”

“Speaking of Cole,” he said, changing tracks suddenly, “I am thankful you made the decision to keep him. He will be an asset to Skyhold, I feel.”

“Vivienne is simply afraid of what she cannot define,” Riannon said carefully. His ears pricked. It was the first time he had heard her speak ill of the Empress’s magical advisor – she kept her opinions of their companions close to her chest, and treated each one with kindness and compassion. “Though she has reason to feel distrust. But I was not about to send him away.”

“That is good to hear,” he said. “I’m sure you didn’t just drop by to discuss my choice of reading material, though.”

She smiled. “I did not,” she admitted. “I saw you this morning on the battlements. I just wanted to see you. Is everything okay?”

He covered the sudden feeling of anxiety in his stomach with a smile. “Why would they not be? We are here, are we not? We have escaped tragedy. All due to you.”

“Is there anything you need at all?”

“Why do you ask, Inquisitor?”

“Drop the title. I just want to make sure everybody is comfortable. If this is to be our home, I would have you feel at home, too. So, if you need something – you let me know, and I will make sure you get it.”

“I can assure you I am fine,” he said carefully. He remembered a time when, ages ago, he had gone around asking the same questions of his advisors. “I am content with what I have, though if that changes I will let you know.”

“Please do.” She gripped his hand briefly and smiled at him, her emerald green eyes crinkling. “And don’t be shy.”

He found himself looking away, an uncharacteristic feeling of embarrassment coming over him. “There is one thing,” he said.

“What is it?”

“Paint. For the walls.” He gestured at the stone façade of the walls around them. It was dull and gray. “I would like to paint murals.”

“You are an artist?” she asked inquisitively. She did that little tilt of her head that he liked.

“I would not call myself one,” he said. “But it is a hobby I enjoy.”

She nodded and patted his leg in acknowledgement. “Then consider it done, lethallin.

“I appreciate this,” he said. And he really did. She had a way of lifting his soul that many others simply couldn’t.

“Have you had many adventures here since we arrived?” she asked interestedly. “I would love to hear of the spirits that walk this fortress.”

He stood, offering his hand. “This discussion is better left for somewhere more private,” he said with a small smile.

She chuckled, but accepted the offer tentatively. She stood, and he released it. “And why is that, Solas?”

“I would rather show you.”

“And where do you propose?”

“Your quarters,” he said. “We’re more likely to be disturbed here than up there, wouldn’t you agree?” Leliana’s ravens cawed loudly from the uppermost spire as if in agreement. 

“Okay,” she said simply. They left through the open door where she had come from, leaving The Tale of the Champion lying, unread, on his desk.

Chapter Text

I tremble at the thought of

falling in love with a

tiny part of someone

and mistaking it

for the whole

 

-           Rupi Kaur

 

Dirthara’ma (III)

 

The village of Haven was small and unassuming, a ramshackle collection of hovels and small houses laid out haphazardly within a valley overlooking a frozen lake. The valley was a long, narrow swale between two mountain ranges, and a river, frozen over with a thick layer of ice, twisted up the center. A soft blanket of snow peppered the landscape, which was eerily silent and still.

Riannon remembered the names of the grasses and flowers she’d discovered during her stay there, where small toads lived, and what time the birds awakened. She remembered the smell of the trees, strong and resilient, and the thick veins of iron that dotted the rock walls like acne.

She remembered that the mountains to the east of the valley were light and gray, full of crystal loveliness. The mountains to the west were dark and brooding – unfriendly and dangerous. For that mountain range was where the Temple of Sacred Ashes once stood. Above its’ shattered remains, a mile high in the sky, the Breach loomed, ominous and foreboding. It pulsed slowly, angrily, like a wild animal ready to wreck mayhem and destruction at any moment. Even looking at it filled her with the type of existential dread one usually felt maybe once in their life. She flexed her left hand, the one with the Anchor, reflexively.

On both sides of the valley, little streams slipped out of the canyons and fell into the bed of the river. Those were silent, too, long frozen over and still. Leliana had told her stories of how the river once raged and boiled in the height of summer, bank full. It would tear down through the mountain range and create some of the most beautiful waterfalls this side of Thedas. Though that was long ago, she had said, back when she was in service to the Warden Aedan Cousland, and the summers had not been quite as strong in Haven since.

It was unseasonably bright, she noticed, finding she had to squint her eyes as she looked around. The sun’s light bounced off the surface of freshly fallen snow, creating small swathes of areas simply too painful to look at directly.

It was completely and utterly quiet outside save for their footsteps as they advanced towards the main gates. There was not even a breeze in the air to disturb the grasses or tents. It was as if they had stepped into a painting – only, it was real.

Solas walked in front of her, relaxed and quiet.

“Why are we here?” she asked him curiously.

“Haven is familiar,” he answered calmly. They walked up the small set of stairs in front of the makeshift town, snow crunching beneath their bare feet. It didn’t feel cold. “It will always be important to you.”

As they entered the town, Solas took an immediate left. She found that odd – she had expected him to walk straight to the Chantry, where they had spent so much time – but fell in step behind him anyway. He led her to a small hovel on the end; she felt her stomach churn slightly as they approached. She knew she had spent a lot of time there, but did not remember any of it. Apothecary Adan had tended to her there, she knew, as had Solas. And after she had stabilized the Breach, she had woken up there – fresh new clothes, brushed hair and, apparently, a new title.

The Herald of Andraste. 

She disliked the name, though she was forced to embrace it – if only for pomp and circumstance. It was strange, so many people putting faith in events she could not even recall. When she had woken up, completely alone and utterly exhausted, she had been expecting the worst.

A crowd of worshipping, reverent humans? That was the last thing she would have guessed. They would have happily drawn and quartered her earlier, and it was difficult to trust such a band of fickle beings.

But they had turned out all right. Everybody had, for the most part. The Inquisition seemed strong, poised to make a positive change upon the world.

She still avoided that damnable hovel like the plague, though. Where she didn’t remember, her body did. Her palms felt sweaty, and her heart seemed to beat harder in her chest.

Solas led her forward, opening the door with confidence and stepping to the side so she could follow. She did, tentatively, forcing herself to take deep, steady breaths to combat the feeling of panic that was writhing within her.

“I sat beside you as you slept, studying the Anchor,” he revealed, gesturing to the small bed she only had the faintest memories of. Only, everything seemed off, somehow. The sheets, though familiar, were soaked in perspiration. A smell of vomit and sweat permeated the air, and she spied a bucket and washcloths close at hand.

Solas straightened slightly and waved his hand. A semi-translucent projection appeared before them, shimmering to life in wisps of smoke. Riannon saw herself lying on the bed, thrashing about in agony. Apothecary Adan and Varric held her down as an apparition of Solas, brow furrowed and beaded with sweat, gripped her left arm tightly, deep in the throes of a healing trance. Her face was dark red and tear-streaked, cries of pain escaping her lips.

As Riannon watched, her apparition’s eyes rolled to the back of her head and her body went limp, only to be overtaken just as suddenly by seizures. Varric cursed loudly. “Adan, turn her head!” he snapped. Adan barely had time to do what the dwarf insisted when she vomited dark green bile over the side of the bed.

“You were dying,” Solas said quietly, a sad look on his face. “Your body was rejecting the Anchor, and it was all we could do to keep you breathing.”

As Adan worked furiously to clear her airway, the apparition of Solas drew upon the energy of the Fade. A bright green, blinding light overtook them.

And, suddenly, Varric and Adan were gone. Riannon could tell time had passed because she was dressed in finer clothes now, her long hair brushed out carefully over her shoulders. Her apparition slept soundly, hands on her stomach, chest rising and falling with deep, even breaths. Solas sat at her bedside – now clean, thank the Creators – and had her affected arm in his lap. He was observing it carefully, passing his hand back and forth over it as he performed some spell or ritual. Her apparition stirred fretfully as whatever he did affected her. Solas turned to stare at her face, concerned. As Riannon watched, the apparition reached forward and stroked the side of her face gently. She passed quickly back into peaceful slumber.

“This was after we stabilized the Breach,” she said, looking at the real Solas beside her.

“Yes,” he said simply. “I was anxious the Anchor would kill you as you slept. I stayed until I felt safe enough to leave you be.”

Riannon turned to stare at their two apparitions. Feelings of horror juxtaposed with happiness and embarrassment rose within her, and she wasn’t quite sure how to deal with them. She was incredibly moved by their efforts to save her, and had to take a deep breath to compose herself. The apparition of Solas slipped her sylvanwood ring back on to her finger, and she smiled through a veil of tears. “Thank you,” she said quietly. Her voice trembled slightly.

“I ran every test I could imagine on you and the rifts, searched the Fade, and yet found nothing,” he continued gently, placing a comforting hand on her shoulder. “Cassandra suspected duplicity. She threatened to execute me as an apostate if I did not produce results.”

She chuckled, wiping her eyes with her sleeve. “Cassandra’s like that with everyone.”

“Indeed she is,” he confirmed. He took her by the hand and gently led her out of the small hovel, leaving their apparitions – and memories – behind.

They followed the path up the second set of stairs, flanked on either side by traditional Ferelden mabari statues. She looked at the one of the left and smiled – somebody, she didn’t know who, had nailed a copy of Andraste’s Mabari to the side of it. She was never one for the Chant of Light or any of its Canticles, but Andraste’s Mabari was sad, heartfelt, and moving in a way only a chant about a faithful animal companion could be.

They continued on until they reached the Chantry. They didn’t go inside but merely stood, looking towards the sky and the Breach within it. “You were never going to wake up,” he said. “And how could you? A mortal, sent physically through the Fade?”

He shook his head in disbelief. “I was… frustrated. Frightened. The spirits I might have consulted were driven away by the Breach. And… although I wished to help, I had no faith in Cassandra, nor she in me.”

He turned to face her, his eyes downcast in shame. “I was ready to flee,” he admitted.

“Yet the Breach threatened the whole world,” she pointed out, squeezing his hand. “Where did you plan on going, exactly?”

“Someplace,” he said vaguely. “Someplace very far, where I might research a way to repair it before it affected me.” She raised one quizzical eyebrow, and he chuckled in embarrassment. “I never said it was a good plan,” he admitted. “It was a plan borne of simple desperation.”

He released her hand abruptly and turned towards the sky, gesturing at the pulsating Breach above them. “I told myself: one more attempt to seal the rifts. I tried and I failed. It was clear to me then that no ordinary magic would affect them. And so I sat, hopeless, watching them expand and grow. And then…”

A sound like thunder reverberated deeply through the valley. The Breach trembled and recoiled as if struck.

“It seemed, at that very moment, that you held the key to our salvation,” he said, echoing the first words she’d ever heard him say to her. He came close to her, his eyes fierce and wild, a far cry from his typical reservation. “You sealed it with a single gesture! And right then… I felt the whole world change.”

“You… felt the whole world change?” she questioned.

He smiled a small, wolfish grin. “A figure of speech,” he said. He reached forward and brushed her hair out of her eyes, tucking it behind her ear. His touch lingered on her skin long after he removed it. “You change… everything,” he whispered, staring deeply into her eyes.

She blinked up at him, a smile on her face. He stared at her inquisitively, searching. It was gratifying to see him so comfortable in his surroundings; he always seemed so reserved, even when travelling together for days at a time. Here, alone, he exuded a fierceness she hadn’t seen before.

She liked that fierceness very much.

She could see it starting to fade. He broke eye contact, looking down, and then away as if he were embarrassed with his sudden familiarity. He began to pull away, but she merely reached up towards his face and turned it back towards hers. “Sweet talker,” she whispered, and kissed him aggressively on the mouth 

She pulled away when he did not return her passion, feeling instantly ashamed. But he was simply surprised, and responded just as she hoped he would. He smiled wolfishly at her and pulled her close, planting his lips firmly on hers. She returned the kiss enthusiastically, heart beating fast, and wrapped her arms close around his body.

He leaned his forehead against hers, breathing exhilaratingly. His hand cupped the small of her back and searched even lower. “We shouldn’t do this here,” he whispered in her ear, and pulled away suddenly.

“Why not?” she asked, frustrated that he had stopped. She stepped towards him, but he merely backed up.

Then, it hit her.

“This isn’t real?” she asked.

“That’s a matter of debate,” he said with a smile, clasping his hands behind his back. “One probably best discussed after you –

 

-/-

 

“ – wake up.”

Riannon sat up with a gasp, instinctively holding out a defensive arm.

The pale morning sun cast pastel shadows over the inside of her room. She was in her bed at Skyhold, lying on top of the covers as though she had only sat down for a small nap. She collapsed backwards and sighed loudly, covering her face with her hands in embarrassment. “Oh, Creators, what the hell kind of dream was that?” she whispered to herself. She could feel her face turning a bright crimson.

“A good one, I hope,” a voice said next to her. She yelped, scrambling away so hard that she fell off of the bed, taking the sheets and covers with her.

She glared at Solas from her position on the stone floor. He was lying on the bed, staring down at her with a concerned look on his face that only barely hid a mirthful smirk. “If you scare me like that again, I will drop-kick you off of this balcony,” she sputtered.

He cocked his head playfully to one side. “Would you really?”

“Yes. I don’t know. Probably! By Fen’Harel’s left ass cheek, Solas, you frightened me!”

He lost it. She’d never seen him laugh that much in the short time they’d known each other, and she couldn’t tell if it was good or bad. He rolled to the other side of the bed and then joined her on the floor, chaotic sheets and pillows and all. “I haven’t heard that one before,” he said.

“Well, stick around a bit, you’ll probably hear a few more,” she muttered. She blinked the sleep out of her eyes and turned to him questioningly. “Solas? Was all of that – ?”

She never got the chance to finish her sentence.

He kissed her strongly, passionately, and it was a million times better than it had been in the dream. She kissed him back hungrily, pulling him closer. His hands roamed all over her, taking her in one curve at a time, and hers did the same. His hands began to crawl up her shirt, carefully grasping her bare breast and squeezing hard. She groaned in delight and lay back down on the ground, pulling him on top of her.

He undid her shirt, raising it above her head and then tossing it on to the bed they’d vacated. His hands were all over her, feeling her, searching her.

And, just as suddenly, he ripped himself away.

“Solas?” she asked, concerned and reaching towards him.

He had a terrible, pained expression on his face. He stood and backed away. “Riannon… lethallan. I’m… so sorry. This isn’t right. This isn’t how we should do this.”

“This is exactly how we should do this,” she said, standing in one quick motion. His eyes searched her face and then travelled lower to her bare chest. She could feel him wavering.

She walked up to him and kissed his lips softly. He responded only slightly at first, and then with marginally more passion. She guided him to the bed carefully, anxious he might run off suddenly – but by the time they arrived, all six steps later, all thoughts of doubt had vanished from his posture and he was returning her passion with an animal fire.

“You condemn yourself with this,” he whispered in her ear.

She interrupted him with a kiss, an embrace, a touch, caresses and then with everything, her whole being, her every thought, her only thought, everything, everything, everything. They broke the silence with sighs and the rustle of clothing strewn on the floor. They broke the silence very gently, lazily, and they were considerate and very thorough. They were caring and tender, and they were in no hurry whatsoever. The whole world ceased to exist for that brief moment – but to them, it felt like an eternity.

And then the world seemed to exist again; but it existed very differently.

“Solas?”

“Mmm?”

“What now?”

“I haven’t the faintest idea.”

“You are my moment of peace amidst this chaos.” Her hands traced patterns on his bare skin. “If that means condemning myself to you, then I do so. Willingly.”

“Riannon… Ma vhenan.

Ma vhenan,” she repeated, giving into him again, completely. “Nobody has ever called me that. Say it again.”

Ma vhenan.”

“Solas.”

Chapter Text

Sky was not enough—

Bird flew into my window,

Broke neck hitting glass.

 

- Ormond

 

Swords and Staffs

 

The Hinterlands (one week after the destruction of the Temple of Sacred Ashes)

Riannon had decided that Blackwall was a man after her own heart.

“Can’t think straight on an empty stomach.” The grizzled Grey Warden veteran was getting the fire going. The sun was coming up – they’d lost a night’s sleep, chasing apostate raiders out of the Witchwood – and their scouts were hustling back and forth in neat lines ferrying the equipment the mages had squirreled away in their cavernous stronghold. “Got some stew left over from last night – don’t ask what’s in it, ‘cos I didn’t.”

Riannon, Cassandra, Solas, Blackwall, and Varric sat cross-legged around the fire, all sweat and dried blood. Cassandra’s armor plates had been taken off and stacked to one side to air out, and Riannon was thankful she was upwind of the aroma. Varric held Bianca in his lap and was making some minor adjustment with a pair of blunt-nosed grips one of the local soldiers had loaned him. Solas watched him curiously, hands folded serenely in his lap. “Did your crossbow get hit?” he asked questioningly.

“Nah. She just needs some loving from time to time. You know how it is with women.” His tone was neutral and his expression blank; it wasn’t his usual demeanor, either, because Riannon could see the white lines in the tanned skin around his mouth and eyes. Varric usually smiled a lot, but he wasn’t smiling now. The sky was turning a lovely blue color as the sun began to poke Her head over the horizon; birds were beginning to stir, chirping, in the background. “So, before we get full to burst – had a woman come up to me a bit ago. Sad girl. Just buried her husband, of all things.”

“That is a shame, but many people are burying their loved ones,” said Cassandra pointedly.

“Yeah, well, this one’s really messed up, Seeker.”

“Really? And how is that?”

“Templars wandering by her homestead saw her husband working the land.” His mouth was a thin, hard line. Riannon sensed the anger boiling about him, barely contained, but he seemed perfectly impersonal on the surface. “Slaughtered him. Said they thought the shovel was a staff, assumed he was an apostate, better to ‘attack first, ask questions later.’ Well – they looted the body and the house, and knocked around the widow a bit as she tried to dig his grave. Pelted rocks at her and shit.”

Cassandra sighed heavily, her head in her hands. “Those bastards,” she whispered, shaking her head. “How many other stories like this are out there? Dozens? Hundreds? By the Maker.”

 “How long ago?” Blackwall built the fire with meticulous care, stacking branches and dry grasses on the ground and watching the flames grow.

 “Maura came in and spoke to the soldiers before sunset yesterday; so, a while ago, but she said she knew where they were hiding out. There’s at least five of them.”

 Riannon peered into the pot of stew, her stomach grumbling. The last fight had really taken it out of her. “Sounds like we need to pay them a visit then,” she said conversationally.

 “I was hoping sooner rather than later,” Varric admitted. “I don’t want them to move on too fast and we lose the lead.”

 “It’s been a busy week,” Riannon said. “But I’m sure we can fit another thing into our schedule today, if we must.” She winked at him to soften her words; she was entirely on board with the idea of taking out some errant Templars.

 “They’re a small hike away, holed up in a cave due south from here,” he said. “If we can get a few hours’ sleep and get moving, I’d appreciate it.”

 “And the woman?” Blackwall asked, slopping the thick, meaty stew into their waiting bowls. Riannon began eating hungrily – when she was this famished, she’d lick the salt off a rock. “Where is she now?”

 “I had one of the men set her up with that enchanter, Ellendra. She gave her something to help her sleep.” He tasted his soup experimentally. “I’d like to have good news for her when she wakes up.”

“Hopefully, we’ll have more than just good news for her,” Cassandra said.

They lapsed into silence and ate the stew, which was actually remarkably tasty. The Inquisition scouts had started separating the loot from the apostates, placing the perishables in one wagon and weapons in the other. The way a group of them clustered around the loot and handled the materials gave Riannon the impression that they swarmed over their enemies. There was something about the rapid, coordinated movements of a well-trained militia that gave her chills. 

Everything was still so foreign, so alien, to her. She found herself, yet again, missing the comfort of her clan.

“So, Blackwall,” Cassandra said, eating ravenously, “I hope this is as exciting as we advertised it to be.”

“You’re doing bloody fine work in the Hinterlands alone,” he said, spooning the last of the stew into his own bowl. He was quite the gentleman, Riannon noted; he had waited until everyone was satisfied before feeding himself. “You’ve been here but four days and you’ve already brought the apostates to their knees and ensured security for almost everyone in the Crossroads.”

That was true.

Riannon was content – thrilled, even – at their progress since her world had exploded in a flash of green, violent light. It really had been a productive week for the Inquisition, much to the chagrin of apostates, Templars, and naughty demons everywhere.

They had moved in almost right away to support their troops at the Crossroads, claiming their new territory with impunity. Refugees flocked to the Inquisition for aid, be it food, medicine, or otherwise, and Cassandra was loathe to let them disappoint. They found themselves working tirelessly to improve supply lines, recruit agents, and deal with the looming threat the civil war held over the Crossroads.

They were exhausted and often bloody – but they were winning, and it showed in their steps and their voices. And the blood, thankfully, was rarely theirs. 

Despite her initial concerns, Riannon found herself growing to like her band of unexpected companions. Now that she wasn’t the prime suspect in Divine Justinia’s murder, Cassandra was almost even pleasant to be around (or so she would have teased, were she not still expecting a sword in the belly). The Seeker was harsh and unforgiving – stubborn enough to ram a man armored to the teeth in a full set of plate armor, but tempered with a wisdom Riannon hadn’t been expecting from her early experiences with her.

She also liked Varric a lot. He seemed friendly enough, always quick with a smile or a well-placed bolt. She’d heard of him before, even read his Tale of the Champion, but she had to admit that he was much more pleasant – and capable – in person than she thought he would be. He was conversational, polite, and liked to poke fun at the Seeker when the opportunity presented itself. The antagonistic banter between Cassandra and Varric would have been worrying if Riannon hadn’t seen the way they covered each other in battle.

Apparently, a few months before the conclave, Cassandra had been tasked by the Divine to find Garrett Hawke, the titular character of Varric’s best-selling novel, to lead the Inquisition. That, of course, led her straight to Varric at Kirkwall. Riannon honestly didn’t know much more than that, and didn’t think it appropriate to ask. Varric, to his credit, didn’t seem much worse for wear, though he teased her about his captivity at any chance he got. At first, Cassandra would fume – now she just remained silent, as if by ignoring his jabs he would miraculously stop. Her experiment was proving to be a failure.

Solas was rather quiet, courteous, and reserved. As both an elf and a mage, she found a kinship with him she simply didn’t feel with the others. She would have described him as ‘bookish,’ though that was far from his true nature. He was a free elf – though by his bare face, he didn’t belong to a Dalish clan – who enjoyed roaming the lands and finding new areas to dream of in the Fade. He was always willing to answer questions and contribute to the party in some way, though he divulged little of his personal life save a desire to close the Breach once and for all. From what she understood, he had played a role in saving her life – and had done so at least once or twice in the week since.

Blackwall was something of a new addition. After securing the Crossroads from both Templar and apostate forces, Cassandra had turned their attention southwest. The disappearance of the Grey Wardens from Ferelden was a cause of concern for both her and Leliana, as it overlapped somewhat coincidentally with the events at the Temple of Sacred Ashes. Leliana would question Blackwall later upon their return to Haven but, unfortunately, he appeared to have no idea. He had, however, pledged his full support to their cause. If the Wardens had something to do with the death of Justinia, he had told them, he would help them bring his brethren to justice. 

“What do you think will come next?” Riannon asked Cassandra. “It seems we’ve stabilized the area well enough. We’ve secured Master Dennet’s support, bolstered the supply chains...”

Cassandra was busily scarfing down the stew. “We need to take out the Templar encampment off of the river." 

“Same deal as last time?” Varric asked.

Cassandra nodded, swallowing loudly. They had given the apostates in the Witchwood a choice before initiating combat – turn themselves in, or fight. Only one ran, a small human girl, and she was engulfed in flames before she made it to the line in the sand. They then rushed the encampment with the forces of the Inquisition at their back. Riannon still felt a twinge of sadness over the fate of the girl, and knew she would have to find time to process that later. It had been a disturbing sight, but served to highlight how far the apostates would go to fight for their freedom, even if their reasons were misguided at best.

“Well, it’s nice we don’t show favoritism,” Varric said, cocking Bianca experimentally. He seemed satisfied with his repairs and collapsed the crossbow, digging into his food.

“Everybody should be given a choice,” Riannon said. “We can’t condone unconditional slaughter – otherwise, we’re no better than them." 

Varric snorted. “Sounds almost too reasonable to be true.”

“We could spout our morals until we’re blue in the face,” she said, scraping the bottom of the bowl for broth. “It means absolutely nothing if we don’t live and breathe them. We’ll be better than them because we are better than them. We have to be, if we’re to make a difference in this world, or the next.”

Solas inclined his head in agreement. “Well said.”

Riannon stood, having finished her meal. Weariness was beginning to set in; her bones felt heavy and her eyes stung. “If we’re to be off soon, I’m going to find a bed and rest my head,” she said. “I’ll have one of the scouts wake us in a few hours. I suggest you all do the same soon. We have another long day ahead of us, starting with Varric’s lead.”

“As you say, Herald,” said Cassandra.

 

-/-

 

Riannon was starting to think she’d never get a full night’s worth of rest again.

In what seemed like a blink of an eye, it was nearly noon, and while their troops changed rotations, they broke their fast with some light fruit and departed. After sleeping a mere six hours, they were back on the path. 

Her clan, though Dalish, didn’t relocate as often as others; while she was technically in shape, she was unused to long hikes through the wilderness that tested her endurance and her patience. She felt honor-bound to exhibit endless displays of the latter, lest she lose her coveted position as the humans’ ‘Herald of Andraste’ and get thrown off a cliff side or fed to a dragon – or whatever humans did, she was unwilling to imagine any further.

As they walked, she found herself trying to count the number of miles she had travelled in the past month alone. Things had been smooth sailing during her journey from Wycome to the foothills of the Frostback Mountains, but then turned more perilous as she ascended the ice-covered rocks. Then, the explosion, of course. And less than a day afterwards, Cassandra had them set a grueling pace to reach the Hinterlands in record time. And since then?

Walking. Fighting. More walking, some more fighting. But, mostly, walking.

Always walking.

She sighed to herself and soldiered on.

 

-/-

 

Varric’s information turned out to be reliable. The widow, Maura, did not lead them astray. They came upon the Templars’ hideout within a mile of the woman’s homestead. They had holed up in a small outcropping of rock by the hillside, finding shelter in the cave. From appearances, it did not look very deep. A lone man wearing familiar Templar heraldry stood guard outside.

“Remember: she told me there were five,” Varric reiterated, cocking his crossbow.

Cassandra and Blackwall moved forward silently, shields and swords at the ready, and abruptly split up, marking a soundless, wide circle around the cave entrance. Cassandra came from the left – Blackwall, the right. Riannon fell into step about fifteen feet behind Cassandra, staff out, ready to attack and defend as the situation required. Solas and Varric flanked right. 

They remained hidden behind the tall grasses, poised to strike. Cassandra looked behind her and locked eyes with Riannon, then nodded wordlessly.

Riannon looked into the dark cave and narrowed her eyes in concentration. 

They could smell the smoke from inside long before the Templars reacted. A group of them emerged from the cave, some armored and some not, helms in hand, and began to dig with them furiously. She counted four of them. She watched them curiously. 

Ah. They didn’t have any water to put out the small brush fire she’d started, so they were going to suffocate it with dirt.

She had to give them points for ingenuity. As she watched them, the surface of her skin began to tingle with warm, otherworldly energy – Solas had cast a barrier about them.

Their assault was signaled with a shout from Cassandra as she threw herself forward into the group. The Templars yelped in surprise and fell back, reaching for their weapons. Blackwall came at them from the other side as Varric laid down a salvo of covering fire.

Solas and Riannon were hardly needed from then on; with surprise on their side, Blackwall, Cassandra, and Varric made short work of them. In less than a minute, their corpses piled upon each other. 

Blackwall and Cassandra checked the small cave, but the fifth Templar the widow Maura had mentioned was nowhere in sight. “Probably out gathering wood or something,” Varric said, nudging a corpse over experimentally with one heavy boot. “Aha, yep, here it is!” He bent down and pulled a single gold ring off the dead man’s hand. It was inlaid with a single diamond. “The engagement ring. She’ll be happy to get this back.”

“Pricks,” Blackwall said dispassionately. He began searching through their supplies and, within a few minutes, found more items the widow had counted as lost.

Riannon, leaning against the rock face, smiled at their accomplishment. It was the beginning of another triumphant day, she thought. She was looking down at the encampment, feeling bemused at their quick success, when she noticed something rather peculiar – heavy footsteps outlined in the dirt around the mouth of the cave.

That was a given, she thought, trying to dismiss it. The Templars had probably set up camp there a few nights ago, and all their walking around was sure to leave impressions. But as she looked at the footsteps closer, she realized they seemed fresher than the others, and separate from ground a few meters away where the majority of fighting had taken place.

She looked at them curiously, tracing their path with her eyes into the wooded area a short walk away.

“We’ll set a fire so the soldiers can find this spot,” Cassandra was saying. Riannon began following the footprints, moving further away from the main group, but she could still hear the Seeker talking in the distance. “They can make use of what supplies are left over, and distribute amongst the refugees as necessary.”

The footsteps became less clear at the dirt faded away to tall grasses – Riannon found herself observing bent blades and small, cracked branches to find the trail. They led her to a shaded area of trees and bushes; she gripped her staff reassuringly, straining her ears for any sound out of the ordinary. She had wandered far from their camp, now, and Cassandra’s dialogue was but a faint voice on the air.

He was here, somewhere. But where?

She came upon a shaded glade. Somebody – the Templar, she guessed – had been setting small traps. A small hare mewled sadly from underneath a heavy box. She bent down in one smooth motion and lifted it, and it sped off in a rush of haste and confusion. 

As she stood, the side of a cold, thin knife pressed threateningly into her throat. She yelped instinctively in surprise, but found her cry muffled by a thick-gloved hand pressing aggressively into her mouth. “Now, now,” a low, gravelly voice drawled. “None of that, you elf-mage bitch." 

Her heart felt as though it would burst through her heaving chest at any moment. How had she not heard him? How could she have been so stupid?

“So, you’re here,” the man said conversationally. He removed his hand from her mouth and jerked on the back of her hair hard enough to pull her off balance. “Which means my guys are probably dead now, is that right?” When she refused to answer, he pulled on her hair harder, causing her to grunt in pain. “Where. Are. My. Men?”

“Dead,” she whispered through clenched teeth. She drew her foot backwards and stomped down with all the strength she could. It didn’t count for much – her assailant was armored from head to toe.

“Don’t be feisty,” he growled, pressing the knife harder against her throat. She felt it cut a long, thin line, drawing blood. “I don’t do feisty.”

He removed the knife and shoved her face-first to the ground. She heard a blade slide out of its sheath and turned over to face him, defiant.

He was definitely their missing Templar. He had a long, angry looking face that seemed at though it spent too much time glaring into the sun, framed by a shock of mouse-brown hair and thick stubble. He circled her like an animal, his sword pushing – hard – into her sternum.

His face suddenly contorted with rage and he kicked her in the ribs with an armored boot. She doubled over in pain but refused to scream, even when he hit her again, again, and again.

He took a break and stood over her in a huff, red faced and shaking with fury. It hurt to breathe – each inhale felt like shards of glass digging deep into her ribcage. She closed her eyes, tear-streaked from the pain, and attempted to concentrate, reaching out in the ether to direct her will, her fury, towards the man above her in a burst of righteous lightning and fire. 

Nothing happened. She felt a presence bearing down on her very mind in a way she had never felt before. It was large, domineering, and frightening. She was completely cut off from the Fade and any and all power she might have called down to smite him.

In her eagerness to find him, she had underestimated what defined a Templar itself. What made these men and women so capable safeguards against the mages the world so feared.

He cut off her connection to the Fade.

Not completely. It was still there – small, tenuous, wavering – but she would have been lucky to conjure a wisp of smoke at that point.

She wondered if he was going to kill her right there, driving his sword straight through her heart. He was certainly poised to do so. She was shaking, wholly and utterly powerless. She could only hope he made it quick.

But instead of killing her, he continued to circle, breathing heavily. His sword dug into her sternum and under the leather straps of her shoulder armor. He began working on them, completely silent, and she came to the sudden realization what he intended to do with her.

He must have seen the understanding flash before her eyes. He smirked. “What? You’re pretty enough for an elven whore, aren’t you?” His eyes narrowed. “You’re lucky I don’t skin you alive first.”

She was beginning to hyperventilate, though each inhale caused her pain. Her heart seemed ready to fly out of her chest at any moment. She looked around wildly for anything – anything – she could use. She suddenly wanted to scream for Cassandra, for Blackwall, for anyone, but one look at his face and she knew he would run her through for even trying.

He gasped suddenly and stumbled forward, a bright red spray of liquid erupting from his throat. He stumbled and fell in a cacophony of metal upon metal, and she only just managed to roll out of the way. He clutched at his neck, eyes wide, but he could not stifle the choking, panicked gurgles of a dying man.

Riannon looked up to see Varric standing about ten feet behind him, Bianca in hand. He nodded in acknowledgment to her, a wry grin on his face. He collapsed the crossbow and jogged over to her, extending his hand. She took it, standing up. She was shaking.

She looked down at the Templar’s body in revulsion, and he at her. The domineering presence that had hung above her like a cloud was lifted in its entirety. His hands could not stop the bubbling brook of blood from pooling on the hollow spots of his armor and dripping steadily on to the soft green blades of grass. Something changed in his eyes – he knew then that he was dying. His fingers strayed from his throat.

She felt a white hot anger rise within her. “What?” she snapped at him. “Why are you looking at me? You have something to say, shem?”

His fingers were pulling at something on his belt. She grit her teeth and began walking towards him, feeling the fury of the Fade rising within her. He was probably reaching for a dagger to end his life. “I said, do you have something to s—“

“Riannon, stop – stop, no!

She heard running, and a small, muscular body shoved into her like a battering ram, knocking the breath and the anger out of her in one solid blow.

The Templar’s body exploded in fire and flame, the force of which propelled her and Varric through the brush. She hit something – hard – and found herself falling. Total darkness enveloped her before her body hit the ground.

 

 

Chapter Text

A/N – I am so sorry for the delay but I GRADUATED! Ya girl has a Bachelor of Science in Information Systems and I’ll be interning at PlayStation this summer. Exciting stuff coming up, folks! Thanks for joining me on the ride. :)

 

Young love

like drugs

left

us

chasing

first

highs.

 

- Atticus

 

Forgotten Shadows

 

Skyhold (two months after the destruction of Haven)

Evenings in Skyhold were cold and still, save for the raucous cheer that wafted upwards from The Herald’s Rest at all hours of the night. The stables were silent save for the occasional snort and snore of a horse, and the sounds of soldiers training in the courtyard were replaced by the soft patter of armored boots as the night’s watch walked about, fulfilling their duties with harrowed precision. And up in the Commander’s tower, a quill scratched harshly on a rolled out sheet of yellowed parchment as though its bearer were attempting to engrave its missive into the very table itself.

 

Dear Madam,

Thank you for your letter. It was nice.

 

A sigh, and then the sound of the same quill striking through the previous sentences.

 

Madam,

I have received your letter and it was nice to read.

 

A groan. The quill was irate again, striking out the sentences with impunity.

 

Madam Amell,

I received your letter last week and found the contents nice.

 

“Ugh!” The quill slapped the top of the desk, defeated for the moment.

“Am I interrupting something?” a demure Antivan voice questioned. Commander Cullen looked up to see the face of Josephine observing him, one graceful hand propping open the side door and the other holding a clipboard of numerous memos, communiqués, and miscellaneous - though critical – letters from trite dignitaries scurrying around Skyhold as though it were an Orlesian salon. Her perfectly painted lips turned downward in a pout. “My apologies, my dear Commander, I did not intend to startle you.”

He didn’t realize it, but he was glaring at her. He quickly stood at her arrival and beckoned her inside. He came around the side of his desk – a large, oaken structure – to meet her. “No, I was just… caught up in something. It’s fine. How can I help?” 

Josephine, bless her, only passed the barest of glances over his pish-posh attempt at friendly conversation, and focused intently on the board in front of her. “Leliana received a raven from our Inquisitor earlier,” she reported, tilting her head slightly to the side in minor annoyance.

He groaned internally and braced himself. Whenever she said ‘our Inquisitor,’ it was typically bad.

She pulled it off of the board and handed it to him. “It appears as though we will be expecting guests.”

He read it, raising an eyebrow in disbelief as his eyes travelled further down the brief note. “Really?" 

Josephine cleared her throat politely. “That was my reaction as well,” she said carefully. “Leliana was hoping that you may be able to lend your advice on the matter? The individual in question appears to be from the Ferelden Circle.”

Cullen blinked and read the letter again. The contents itself were a scramble of letters, numbers, and random symbols meant to confuse and distract any who happened to intercept it. A translation was painstakingly written to the right of it in Leliana’s small, neat hand.

 

All,

Please expect a convoy of about seventeen refugees. Have M. Giselle give them comfort and duties once recovered.

A Healer from Kinloch Hold is amongst them. Assign him to Commander Cullen and deploy where most useful. He calls himself Levyn.

Warmest Regards,

Riannon

 

He didn’t even know when he started shaking his head. “Is this a joke?” he asked her in disbelief. “By the Maker – no. The answer is no, right?”

“There is a concern, which I share, that perhaps this sudden influx of guests may make the rest of the mages rather… anxious.

“And they would be correct to feel that way,” Cullen said, handing the letter back to her. He put his hands on his hips and contemplated the floor. “We’ve barely gotten them situated and now we’ll have to move them around again. And what do we even know about this caravan? She took it upon herself to invite them into our walls but fails to mention why they are refugees in the first place. Are they refugees from Crestwood? Or Tevinter? Why not shove a few Antivan Crows in there for good measure, to truly round it out?”

Josephine inclined her head slightly to hide a small smile. “Do you know this man she mentions?” she asked.

He shook his head, handing the letter back to her. “No idea, but it’s possible he came through or transferred after my departure. I’ve not been back to the Ferelden Circle in several years.” 

“I see. Well, I suppose I will assist the Mother with accommodations.” Josephine sighed. “This can only help grow our reputation, after all. But… it is as you said. I worry that we’re simply too pressed for space.”

Cullen sighed and sat back down. It was well known that he and Inquisitor Riannon had clashed the past – never publically, however – over her broad-minded interpretation of the Inquisition’s purpose and the numerous ways to fulfill it. They would argue, fierce and red-faced, until either Josephine or Leliana would have to step in and diffuse the situation. A compromise was usually found, though Riannon was technically empowered to make the final decision in any case. But despite their frequent spats, Cullen was never angry with her; she simply frustrated him to no end.

Inquisitor Riannon Lavellan was an objectively good person. And in a perfect world, they would be able to accommodate each and every decision she wanted to make with ease. But it wasn’t a perfect world, and noble deeds often came at the expense of other things – namely, the safety and security of those they swore to help in the first place. Even Leliana was working overtime; she was forced to prematurely expand her contingent of spies amongst the staff and refugees just to accommodate her requests. Cullen would never assume to speak for the Nightingale herself, but managing the additional resources had to be straining.

Riannon, for better or worse, wanted to open their doors to the world. And the world – good and bad – wanted in.

He wanted to protect her, damn it – protect all of them – but she was making it increasingly difficult. 

Oh, well. He resigned himself to arguing with her about it later. At least something good had come out of it; a Healer would be an immense benefit to their soldiers fighting the Venatori in the Hissing Wastes.

“May I pry?” Josephine asked, nodding towards his feeble attempt at a letter on the desk. Even from a few feet away, he could see her eyes focusing on the numerous rough starts and scratches.

“Maker knows you will even if I disallow it,” he muttered under his breath. He exhaled and winced at her apologetically, internally checking himself. He was getting into a mood, now, and he had to exercise restraint; he could feel the tips of his fingers trembling ever so slightly, a sign of lyrium withdrawal. He reigned in his frustration. It was getting more and more difficult as the days wore on, but it would do no good to anger Josephine, even accidentally, even if she understood. He slid the letter across the desk and flipped it around so she could view it.

She leaned down and scanned the parchment intently. To her credit, she didn’t make fun of his attempts at all. He felt a slight tinge of relief. “What are you trying to convey with this letter?” she asked curiously. “Are you simply catching up or are you attempting to ask her for a favor?” 

“Catching up, I suppose,” he admitted. “I can’t tell her everything, obviously. She was the one who reached out, too, so it’s not like I’m actually trying. She sent me this box of chocolates and a very nice letter. And I can’t seem to say a simple ‘thank you’ without sounding like an imbecile.” 

The box of chocolates sat on the corner of his desk; the half-eaten contents were swathed in a lovely purple ribbon.

“And your nature with this woman? Romantic?”

He shook his head decisively. “The short answer is no.” Josephine raised one carefully painted eyebrow and he felt he had to explain himself. “Solona was an apprentice at Ferelden’s Circle when I was there. We had a thing – and it never would have worked out anyway – and I haven’t seen her since I left. It’s been a decade now. 

“May I read her original letter?” she asked.

Cullen handed it to her obediently and she read it carefully, the slight smile never leaving her face. She handed it back to him with an approving look. “She seems like an intelligent woman who has overcome great difficulty in her life,” she said. Her voice turned coy. “Could it be, perhaps, that our Commander has an admirer?”

“That is what it sounds like, doesn’t it?” He frowned. “Maker knows I have too much to worry about at the moment. But I don’t believe that. I think she just… wanted to let me know she was alive.” He trailed off, embarrassed. He had been too fixated on the war to wonder about those at the Circles he had guarded. He had tried very hard not to recall the memories – good and bad – of the Circle at Kinloch Hold. But he had gotten along well with Knight-Commander Greagoir and First Enchanter Irving during his tenure there, and he felt a sudden shame that only now was he wondering what had become of them. The oversight made him feel ashamed of himself.

“If you do not reciprocate the feelings, that is fine,” Josephine said, breezing through his discomfort. “Though it does not sound as though she’s expecting you to, either. You’ve both admitted the dalliance was such a long time ago – and you both have surely changed since then. Though I do treasure the thought of getting involved – ”

He narrowed his eyes. “Don’t.”

“— I see this letter as something quite friendly and sincere. No more, no less. Two old friends reconnecting after a decade of struggles, no?”

“She remembered I like dark chocolate,” he said thoughtfully.

“Drop the ‘Madame,’ it doesn’t fit,” Josephine suggested. “Just write her name. ‘Dear Solona.’ Then, simply thank her for the letter and the chocolates. But organically, if you can. Oh, I don’t know, something along the lines of, ‘Dear Solona, it gives me great joy to hear you are still alive and thriving. I was thrilled to receive your letter and remember you fondly. Thank you for remembering the chocolates, they were delicious,’ et cetera, et cetera.”

Cullen’s ears pricked and he leaned forward and started writing down her words as fast as he could. The quill scraped excitedly over the thick parchment paper. “Wait – can you repeat that?”

She did. “And then, of course, you want to tell her a bit about yourself. But not too much, that may seem an invitation. You don’t have to be specific – she already knows you’re commanding the Inquisitor’s armies, after all. Tell her you’re doing well, that you are under some stress, but you are hopeful for a quick resolution to this whole affair. Her letter mentioned that she is in Denereim – tell her that you hope she has found safety and peace there, for the time being.” She frowned. “The letter did not mention why she was not a part of Grand Enchanter Fiona’s mages. Do you have any insight to that?" 

“Solona would have been against the rebellion,” Cullen replied, dutifully outlining the letter as Josephine dictated to him. “She was close to the First Enchanter there, an Aequitarian.”

“If you like, you could invite her to Skyhold to see the Inquisition and to meet with you. Perhaps we could even find some way to help each other. Other Aequitarians have joined with us, after all.” Cullen could see the gears in her head already working. He found himself perturbed and fascinated with the way her mind worked – even now, she was ruminating over how to best make this situation, however small and insignificant, work to the Inquisition’s advantage. It was part of what made her such a brilliant ambassador; she found opportunities everywhere and worked hard to use them to their fullest potential. He didn’t know why he was even surprised. “Of course, it is up to you, Commander,” she added, perhaps sensing his uneasiness.

He sighed, but he couldn’t fault her logic. They needed all the help they could get. “That’s fine,” he said. “I’ll put something in there.”

“Excellent!” Josephine beamed. “I would love to stay and help further, Commander, but I must attend to Mother Giselle. Do let me know if you require my services any further before you send it. 

“No, Madame Ambassador, though I do appreciate it.” He smiled a bit and inclined his head politely.

She poked the tip of his nose with the end of her long, feathered quill. “See! You are already learning. There is a gentleman hiding underneath that gruff exterior after all.”

He snorted. “Good night, Josephine.”

“And you as well, Commander.”

The Ambassador disappeared through the same door from whence she came, and Cullen found himself sitting there longer than he had anticipated, thoughtful and quiet. He felt uneasy, and for the first time in the last twelve hours it wasn’t the lyrium withdrawal. It had really been some time since he had thought about the events at Kinloch Hold; whenever he found himself thinking of it, he had typically stomped it into submission before they started to affect him.

He knew Solona and the Healer from the Circle would only act as a trigger for the memories, thick with fear and desperation, that threatened to engulf him. He had taught himself coping mechanisms just so he could function, if not content then at least somewhat clear-headed. He distracted his waking mind with games of chess, both against others and himself. He threw himself physically into his work with an energy that rivaled the most drug-addled street peddler. On the surface, he knew he appeared to be an earnest, hard-working man who commanded mighty armies, but he knew the truth. Each action he took throughout the day was carefully designed to exhaust him to the furthest limits of his tolerance so he could fall into the blissful nothingness that was sleep. If he didn’t, the nightmares would have him. And for many years, they did.

He pinched the bridge of his nose hard enough to leave a mark. He took a deep breath to steady himself, and began writing.

Dear Solona,

Your letter, and the accompanying gift, came as a most welcome surprise. The world needs more of those.  

Whatever you have heard of Kirkwall's rebellion, the truth is far worse; I would spare you that. What remains of Kirkwall's Templars were under my command for the past few years. We did what we could to assist with the city's recovery—to restore some semblance of order—but my time there was done.

I was thankful when Seeker Pentaghast approached me, though I did not know at the time just how large a role I would play in Divine Justinia’s Inquisition. But I do know that this is work worth doing, and we are making a difference in the lives of every man, woman, and child affected by this war. I have hope again.  

You can make a difference here, too. Please consider it. If I do not see you, I will write to you once the war is over. We have much to catch up on.

Regards,

Commander Cullen Rutherford