The false Calling came upon me, a thunderstorm that had roiled in the distance until I suddenly became drenched in it. The Divine’s Conclave was yet weeks away when I first realized what was happening, and it was with a tense-yet-triumphant heart that I acknowledged it. I had already warned my friends; they were as prepared as I could make them.
I had expected, in some small place, that the Calling would be… stronger. A torrential downpour, impossible to ignore, something to be fought through and braced against, the sort of phenomenon that wipes anything lesser away.
It was not.
Years ago, in the ancient thaig where the red lyrium had first been found, I had heard a song whispered within the tainted stuff. It had entranced me, and in my sleep, it had nearly brought me to the edge of—of something. A precipice over which I dared not look, past which lay only destruction.
This false Calling… did nothing of the sort. It was less. It was a mere drizzle. It was just a poor imitation, a song in the background. It was less than Corypheus’ mere presence in the Warden prison; it was less even than the anxiety I had learned to bear.
It was a joke, but not a funny one. I knew it was causing panic already, and I knew it would continue to. With hope, fewer lives would be lost for my interference. With luck, none.
But I knew—of course I knew—that this could hardly be all there was to it. Corypheus had controlled some Grey Wardens, hadn’t he? I knew he’d managed control of Blighted dwarves, and did not doubt that some in the prison had fallen to his schemes. The false Calling was the least of my worries. I needed to be prepared. I needed to be ready.
I had Master Ilen add a lock to my aravel that could only be opened from the outside.
“You are Keeper Vir’era, I presume? You match Varric’s description.”
I smiled. Cassandra Pentaghast looked much as I had expected, and was just as direct. With how circuitous some could be—especially when attempting to hide their distaste for elves—I appreciated it. “I am. And you must be Seeker Cassandra Pentaghast.”
“I am,” she repeated with a nod. She did not smile, but her features were smooth rather than sharp. I took that to mean she was not angry with my presence, even if she did not yet know what to make of it. “We’ve been expecting you. We have prepared space for your clan. Follow me.”
We did; she made no effort for conversation, though she did inform us where things of note were in Haven, such as the horse-pen, chantry, and tavern. The space we were given was not large, but it was adequate. Our aravels would be more clustered than usual, but unlike when we camped in forests or near roads, we had no need to attempt to hide. Everyone knew we were here.
“If you would be so kind, Keeper,” Cassandra began, “when you’re ready, I would like to speak with you—as would Leliana, I’m sure.” She didn’t mention Varric or Cullen. I tried not to let the omission worry me, though my hand did reach for Cullen’s coin.
I pulled my aravel to one side, nearest the footpath that led up to the clearing. Normally, I stayed in the center of camp, but here… It was important that I act as a buffer. I knew how to interact with non-Dalish far better than most of my clan did. And, this way, if anyone wished to reach me, they did not need to enter our camp. It was for the benefit of all, truly.
Cassandra waited to the side, watching idly as my people set themselves to rights. Hahren Linara and Master Ilen directed most of it, sending one aravel here and another there as they deemed most appropriate. The aravel where our guests had taken residence came to rest near my own, and the Adaars soon stood outside it, watching passers-by carefully. Knowing all would be well, I bid a brief adieu before following Cassandra towards the chantry.
“I have heard about you,” Cassandra said as we walked (I had to take two steps for each of hers; she slowed enough that it was no great issue), “though you will forgive me if I am unsure how much is trustworthy. I believe what Leliana and Commander Cullen have said, but Varric has proven an adept liar.”
“He’s a storyteller,” I said, hoping she would take my tone as amiably as I intended it. “It’s what he does. I’d be happy to answer questions, if that would assuage your worries.”
She hummed. “Thank you. Perhaps I will take you up on that offer in depth later. For now, I want to know only one thing: do you know where the Champions of Kirkwall are?”
I looked at her, and we locked gazes for just a moment even as we walked. It was important that she feel my sincerity. “No. I know where they were two years ago, but I urged them to keep on the move. It was not safe for any to know where they were.”
“Unfortunately, I believe you.” She sighed. “If they cannot help, perhaps you can.”
I paused, and she turned to look at me. With my limited knowledge of what was to come, I had a sinking suspicion… “You mean to ask of me what you would have asked of them.”
“I am thinking of it, yes,” she said, standing still on the stairs and staring down at me. “But I do not know you, and it would seem that you are in part to thank for that. Varric claims you asked to be omitted from his book.”
“I did. I… There are—were—things I had to do. Some that I yet need to. If I was as well-known as Malia and Garrett…” I let my gaze veer south, in the direction of the Temple of Sacred Ashes. I could not see it from here, but I knew it still stood. “Well, suffice to say it has proven better for my clan that I’m not a household name.”
Cassandra hummed, and when I turned to look at her again, her eyes were narrowed. “Would you refuse, then? You don’t even know what I would ask.”
“I know enough.” A flash of green light played out in my mind. “I don’t think I’m the one you need.”
She hummed again. “Come. Leliana is waiting in the Chantry—and I believe Her Holiness would like to meet you, too.”
“Keeper Vir’era of Clan Sabrae, Your Holiness: a former Grey Warden,” Leliana announced, “and one of the Heroes of the Fifth Blight.”
I had expected Justinia to have a face with more wrinkles than crumpled paper, hair and eyes colorless from age, perhaps barely able to stand at the proud height a Divine should—but she had none of these things, and I could not help but stare in awe.
She smiled at me. I remembered one of the Sisters from Kirkwall’s chantry, who had smiled every time I entered, who had thanked me when I brought potions. Justinia’s smile held the same grace and welcome. Though I had imagined her to be perhaps nearing her deathbed in age as much as in fate, she was so very hale that my diaphragm stilled. She was old enough to be my mother, but not my grandmother. For a Divine, she was yet young—and nevertheless, her bell would soon toll.
I did not bow, but I had never intended to. I was not Andrastian. She held no rule over me. Still, out of a measure of respect, I did incline my head. She did the same, though she remained seated. It was appropriate enough; even if she was not of my religion, my own rank in Dalish society did not put me so high as hers in Andrastian, if such things could even be compared.
To Justinia’s right, Cassandra frowned at me, but did not speak. On her left, Leliana simply observed, though when I met her eyes, she gave me a little smile. I returned it. There were no others in the hall. I had requested privacy, and it had been granted.
“Welcome, Keeper,” Justinia said. Like Leliana, she had a distinctly Orlesian accent. “It has been a very long time since I have had opportunity to speak with one of the Dalish. I am pleased that you sought audience with me.”
“Thank you for agreeing to see me,” I answered. Perhaps I should have used one of her honorifics, but I didn’t care to. I was entirely unaccustomed to speaking so formally with anyone. “Has Leliana informed you of my gift?”
“She has said some on the matter, yes.” A slightly crooked smile lifted the side of Justinia’s mouth higher, and she gave a short, acknowledging look to Leliana. “However, she has left much of it a mystery. ‘It is not relevant,’ she told me. I would be delighted to hear more.”
I gave Leliana a grateful smile of my own, which she returned with a nod. “She is wonderfully loyal. My people believe my gift comes from our gods, for however little they are still able to affect the mortal world. Once, I knew many things about the present and the many possible futures.”
“It waned to nothingness years ago.” I shrugged. “Such is the way of things. Before it was gone, I wrote all I could remember into a book. Very little is left on those pages that could yet be of any use, but there is one thing I thought prudent for you to know.”
Justinia’s eyes lingered on my vallaslin. I watched her watch me; I saw her eyes catalogue what few of my scars could be seen, felt them hold on the notch in my ear, the slice on my jaw, the lines crossing my fingers. “Somehow, Keeper, I do not think it is news of a successful peace.”
I waited for her eyes to meet mine again. Then, with quiet words, I admitted, “I wish that it were.”
She sighed, eyebrows creasing together, and as the air left her lungs, it took the pride that had held her strong. She diminished with its parting. “Then… I would first hear if your story corroborates that of Ser Tethras. Tell me of what happened in Kirkwall.
I did, albeit more abbreviated than she had likely heard from Varric, and when I was done, I did not have the heart to warn her of her death. “The Inquisition will be necessary, and there will be upheaval, but it—it will succeed. I can promise you that much.”
“You will not say more?”
“No. There are tales of the folly in trying to avoid fate entirely, and the destruction such causes.” Ir abelas, Marethari. Ir abelas, Justice. Ir abelas, Justinia. I could not save them. I cannot save you. “I will stay. I will help guide to the best outcomes, if I am welcomed, help to mitigate what losses fate demands. But I do not dare attempt thwarting it entirely again.” Even saving Leandra had nearly cost me my life.
“I understand.” She heaved a great sigh, and this time, as the breath came in, so too did some dignity, pulling her shoulders back and her head high. “If what you say is true, and the Inquisition is called to bear as I have hoped could be avoided… I would offer you a place within it.”
What answer should I give? She had not asked me to be Inquisitor, and even if she did—that was not my place. It was the Herald’s, whoever fate may choose to give the role.
My silence went on too long. “Do you refuse?” Justinia asked. “I am aware that your people have an unfortunate history with the Chantry. If such is reason for your hesitance, look to this as a place to begin anew. The Inquisition is meant to be a force for peace to all peoples of Thedas; the Dalish would not be excluded in this.”
It was a clumsy effort, I thought, but that she made the offer at all, when most within the Chantry would deny its wrongdoings against my people outright… It was a start. A step in the right direction. “What would you ask of me?”
“No more than you would give.” She peered at me, blue eyes striking enough to hold me in place. “I would offer you the title of Dalish Liaison; you would act as an advisor in such a role.”
I had to keep myself in check to ensure my jaw did not visibly drop. Certainly, Cassandra had even thought to nominate me for a higher role, but Cassandra was quick to act, and did not often care for the repercussions of any choices she deemed vital. But Justinia was the Divine, and far more measured in her decisions. For her to offer me a role of such import was—
Leliana nodded at me, even smiled. I think she meant to encourage me to take it. I could feel my heart beating rapidly, but I had trained my body enough to keep any shaking near-invisible. Leliana would know enough to look for it, though; Leliana would know how deep my anxiety ran, and how I was no natural leader.
But I was not the same overly-anxious boy of ten years ago, and I had been made into something resembling a capable leader in the last few years. I still had my clan, after all, and they trusted me enough to continue to follow. I had grown larger than my anxiety. It was still there, a specter haunting the shadows of my mind, yes, but I knew I was capable. After all, I was Hanal’ghilan. It was my destiny.
I inclined my head again, deeper than when I had been introduced. “I accept. It will be my pleasure to help our peoples begin the path to healing our ancient feud.”
Her smile was radiant. “Thank you, Keeper Vir’era. When the Inquisition is called, you shall be our Dalish Liaison, to advise us in the ways we might help each other. I look forward to your contributions.”
Leliana took me aside after that, pulling me into a room that held three beds. Cassandra went on ahead to find Josephine, as it was now paramount that I meet the Ambassador in person, but Leliana…
“There’s more, isn’t there?” she asked, pausing to stand at the end of one of the beds. “Something you didn’t tell us in there. Something you don’t want Justinia to know.”
“Yes,” I said.
She turned around, arms crossed. “Will you not tell me? I need to know everything I can if we are to have the advantage.”
I shook my head. “Some things will always happen. To know what I know—it would help nothing. It would bring you only pain. We cannot stop it.”
“It’s not just a continuation of the violence, is it? It’s something bigger. Worse.” I didn’t reply, but I didn’t need to. Her eyes peeled apart every action I took and all those I didn’t, measuring it to my words, to the things I had said and done in the past. She squinted at me, narrowing her focus. “What else has been inevitable? You always knew of danger. The Circle. Connor. The Broodmother. You even knew about the werewolves and the Lady of the Forest. I know you’ve kept in touch with Mia Rutherford, and you had to have a reason for going to Kirkwall.”
I listened silently. She began to pace, listing with each step something else I had predicted or warnings I had made. “One of my agents even traced a letter from you to the Empress of Orlais, as well as letters to the Grand Enchanter, at least one magister, and Warden-Commander Clarel, none of whom are people I was aware you knew.”
“I’ve only met Fiona,” I admitted. This just served to make Leliana huff.
“And what of the people you collected? The two Vashoth mercenaries, the Cadash twins, whatever business you could possibly have with the Trevelyan brothers… Only the Lavellans might make sense, if I did not know their clan to wander the Free Marches.”
I didn’t bother asking how or why Leliana knew all this. I knew she’d been looking for me, after all, and she was a very good spymaster. She might have trusted that I would come when needed, but that did not mean she did not want to know where I was, just in case.
“Leliana, I can’t tell you,” I said.
She pursed her lips, pressing them so hard together that even the rouge she’d applied did not give them color. She looked me in the eye, locking me in place like that. The years of holding my tongue pulled, dragging me lower, and I knew the burden would be lighter if only I told her what she wanted to know, knew she might hate me later if I did not warn her now, but there was nothing she could do. It would only cause her distress.
It would be news for her, while I had long ago made my peace with what was to come. I had failed to keep Corypheus from escaping his prison, after all. (I hadn’t even tried.)
“You can do nothing to change what will happen,” I told her. “It was set in motion years ago, and nothing we do now will stop it.”
“Could you have stopped it then?”
“I tried.” A white lie. But I hadn’t known how, not without killing my friends, and I had been unwilling to do that. “I couldn’t. There are some things, no matter how horrible, that the universe will see through.”
She snarled, turning her back on me. “How can you know this is unavoidable?”
“Because I know only that it happens, not how or when.” I sighed. “Only one time have I been able to change something I thought unavoidable, and even then, it was only because I knew what to look for beforehand. With this? I have nothing. I would not hurt you prematurely.”
“Then it will hurt.”
“Tell me instead: is this conclave a waste of time? Should we have let the mages and Templars wage war all over Thedas? Would that have been better?”
I wanted to reach out, but didn’t think it would be appreciated, so instead, I pulled out the coin, pressing its impression into my fingers. “It’s not about them. Or, it is, but barely. There’s something bigger, and it…” I rubbed my thumb over Andraste’s headdress, remembered the facsimile of it that Meredith had worn. “It’s worse. The Inquisition will be necessary. The leader you were searching for will be there when needed. It’s the start of a different war, but hopefully one that will not last.”
“People will die,” she said, turning around to face me again. She glanced at the coin, but said nothing. “Important people.”
“You’re so certain we cannot save them.”
“I couldn’t save King Cailan, Viscount Dumar, or Keeper Marethari.” I did not say that I had only really tried to save the last one. “Sometimes, we cannot do anything.”
She took a deep breath and gave one slow nod. “There is little I would not give to have the information you know, but… you may have a point. It doesn’t matter if I don’t like it. I pray it pays off.”
Mythal, let the secrecy be worth the price.
Leliana led me to the office where Josephine had set herself up, and I pondered the irony: I would attempt still to keep secrets from a spymaster, though I had promised truthfulness to a commander. But this secret… It would only hurt people to know. I could do little but hope that Cullen would not ask of it until its weight had passed.
“Josie, this is Vir’era Sabrae, the Keeper I told you about,” Leliana said. “The one who sent you that letter. Vee, this is Ambassador Josephine Montilyet.”
Josephine curtsied. “Andaran atish’an. It is an honor, Keeper.”
“You don’t need to bow or curtsy to me,” I said, putting a hand briefly against her arm. “I appreciate the thought, but it’s—it’s not necessary, really.”
“Truly?” she asked, eyes wide for a moment before she regained her composure. “But aren’t Keepers the Dalish equivalent of kings?”
Shemlen knowledge of Dalish custom was unbearably lacking. I didn’t hide my wince as well as I had hoped to; Josephine began to apologize, and I quickly stopped her. “Don’t fret overmuch; shemlen know little of our culture. No, Keepers aren’t like kings. Dalish don’t have kings or queens. A Keeper is more like a—a mayor. We are of the People, no better or worse than any other.”
“I… see.” Josephine drew herself to her full height. She was taller than me (of course), and even taller than Leliana, but didn’t reach Cassandra’s height. “Cassandra told me that you’ll be our Dalish Liaison. It’s my pleasure to welcome you. I look forward to working with you, though you’ll forgive me if I hope it does not turn out to be necessary for long, circumstances being what they are.”
I chuckled. “No, I think that makes perfect sense. I feel much the same.” Torchlight danced; in the room stood all but one of the advisors of the Inquisition, to whoever the Herald might be. My fingers rubbed the coin, and I tried to figure out if it was a good thing or a bad one that Cullen had yet to show his face. “I’m glad to make your acquaintance.”
“And I, yours.” Her smile was warm, glowing embers in a small fire. “I hope the space we prepared for your aravels is enough. Is there anything else you or your clan might need? If you need more privacy or find yourselves subject to harassment, do not hesitate to tell me. We won’t suffer that. And there is game in the forests, if you wish to hunt. It’s mostly nugs and small beasts now, but I heard mention of a herd of wild druffalo somewhere nearby in the west. We don’t have a proper horse master at the moment, but if there is anything you need for your halla, our stable hands should be able to procure it for you. Seggrit is selling…”
Josephine continued to rattle off all manner of this; any possible concern she could foresee for my clan, she had a solution for. It was kind, if occasionally ill-informed. I took it for its intent, speaking to correct only when the assumptions could cause offense.
As I exited the chantry, I caught sight of blonde and red meandering in the direction of the aravels. I didn’t run. My heart yearned to; I had missed Cullen so desperately these past years, though I had buried it and quashed it and kept it quiet. (It would help no one, after all, and the clan needed their Keeper.) However much I wanted to see him again, however much my heart sent warmth through my body at the thought…
My brain disagreed. He knew I’d lied, and though the single letter I’d managed to receive had claimed forgiveness, the shadows of my anxiety whispered doubts. In all else, I might ignore them, but in this?
I had never been good at this.
So I walked at a more leisurely pace behind Cullen, neither slow nor speedy. He was making a rather circuitous path of his own, and even with my much shorter legs, I reached him before he had quite neared the aravels.
“Cullen,” I called.
He turned so quickly that I nearly jumped in surprise, his eyes scanning behind him until he found me. What thoughts went through his head when he saw me—what emotions he felt—were beyond me. His face was a complex piece, and I…
My heart pounded the breath from my lungs. My feet stuttered forward, one hand lifting to reach for him before I remembered myself and drew it back to my side. I let my feet carry me on, staring up at his golden eyes, ignorant of the world around me.
“Vir’era,” he said. He fidgeted, hand lifting from his sword, then back down, securing the grip within his fist, the pommel in the other, holding it there. Though his back was straight, his shoulders in perfect form, his head dipped forward, further than he would need to just meet my gaze. I wondered what that meant.
“I—it’s good to see you, ma falon,” I said. My voice was so tremulous that it was a wonder he could hear the words at all.
“It is,” he agreed. “I mean, to see you. Obviously. Not—to see me.” The frosty air of the mountains had teased pink into his ears and face. I wanted to reach out, to hold on until they warmed again.
He looked—healthy. Healthier than he had in Kirkwall. His face wasn’t so gaunt, and the circles under his eyes were negligible. Plus, he looked clean in a way that he never managed in Kirkwall. In a way that suggested he’d finally started taking time for himself, specifically. His hair looked so soft that I could almost feel it.
I held myself very still. “I… I believe I owe you an explanation.”
His mouth opened and closed without sound. He nodded. “I would—appreciate that. You—I’ve wondered, and you did… You did promise.”
I moved my hand in the direction of my aravel. “Come with me, then. It is…” Words tumbled and fumbled through my mind, and none felt adequate. “It’ll take time. If you’re free, I mean.”
His eyes followed my gesture, and he looked over the clan’s encampment. Kumbukani and Adegoke lingered near the entry point, unsubtly doing their weapons’ maintenance and staring down any who passed too near. The statues of Fen’Harel had already been placed, a protection as much as the mercenaries. After a moment, Cullen spoke. “I have time.”
Something in the way he said it made me wonder, but I did not press the issue. I led the way, nodding at the Adaars as I drew near. There would be time for introductions later. “I’ll prepare some tea. I’m afraid I don’t have any food appropriate for hosting guests, as we have been traveling for a long while, but you are welcome to share in a rusk or two. There is also jerky, but it won’t complement the tea well.”
“I’ve never had a rusk before.” Cullen followed closely and did not do more than look in the direction of central camp. “I would be willing to try one.”
“They’re made because they keep for long, which is ideal when one is on the move as often as Dalish are. I’ve always enjoyed them.” Subtly sweet, with light flavor, a perfect complement to almost any tea—and inedible without being thoroughly soaked. Difficult to eat while moving, but easy to keep for months without worry of rot.
There were no chairs in my aravel—there was no space for any—so I sat Cullen down near the low shelf that served as table and desk. We spoke of inconsequential matters as I prepared the tea and brought out a few rusks. I talked him through how to eat them as I poured the tea. Then, and only then, I joined him at the shelf-turned-table.
“Where should I start?” I asked, dipping a rusk in my cup.
He pulled out some parchment—my eyes went wide as I recognized my own handwriting. It was the letter I’d written him. There were folds worn into it now, and the edges had been worried into a soft fuzz, but there was no mistaking it. He had kept it, had read and reread it, and had brought it with him here. Had he gone to fetch it when he realized I had finally arrived, or had he kept it on his person?
He smoothed it carefully onto the table and refused to look at me. I couldn’t help but stare at his profile as he pressed the pages into obedience. The candlelight was warmer than the sunlight outside, but I could tell his face was still flushed. The tea would warm him soon enough, I hoped, though admittedly, I felt warm already.
“You said…” He cleared his throat and glanced up at me at last. “In your letter, you… you said that Anders was an abomination.”
“How?” His confusion felt genuine. “An abomination doesn’t—an abomination is a corruption of the very stuff that makes a person a person. A demon and a mage cannot merge without turning to destruction, according to all the books I’ve read and every Chantry scholar. I—I tried to ask about the possibility, but I’m—I was a Templar. My questions never got me very far.”
I pulled the rusk from my tea and nibbled on the softened, soaked end, considering my reply. “They’re not entirely wrong,” I said, and explained what I knew of the theory of spirits, of demons, and of abominations. For his part, he listened. I pulled out the books I had studied for my circle, and he—he followed along. Not without questions or frowns, but he… He responded to it in a way I had not anticipated.
He seemed to accept it as plausible, if not palatable. “It’s dangerous and foolish, and barely better than allowing a demon in,” he said, and then his eyes went distant and his jaw unclenched, “but I can’t claim I don’t know why it would happen. I know why.”
I said nothing, instead eating more of my rusk. He traced his fingers down the letter. “You wrote about a ritual to separate them. Something you had been working on since you met them, if my math is right.” His eyes cut up to mine, and I put my rusk down. “Did it work?”
Ma vir’suledin. Ar din’an him, enasal. A glowing sword. The emotional slurry that was the Fade. My voice faded to a whisper. “Yes and no.” I swallowed; he waited for the full answer. “Justice is no longer part of Anders, but I… To separate them, to free them from their course, I—I had to…” The room was blurry. I blinked, tears stinging back but not falling. “Justice could not deal with the mortal world. It made him into Vengeance, and if he had returned—if I hadn’t… I killed Justice.”
Cullen was silent at this.
“He was my friend, but if I had… if he had returned…” I wrapped my hands around my cooling cup. “Vengeance was no friend to anyone. Not to me, not to the mages, and least of all to Anders.”
“Did he—they—did Anders tell you what he intended to do to the Chantry?”
My grip grew so tight that my fingers paled, and I forced them to relax. “I—ir abelas, that is a difficult question.” Cullen frowned, and I quickly continued to speak. “I-I told you, didn’t I? That there’s… more. Reasons for my secrets beyond—it was not only that Anders is my friend, that Justice was.”
He looked at the letter again, finding the place where I’d mentioned my secrecy so easily that I knew he had studied the words. “Tell me you didn’t help him, Vir’era. Please. So many lives—you can’t have…”
“I knew what he was doing.” Just as damning, I thought. “I knew even before he did. I didn’t know how to stop him, a-and I didn’t try very hard. This war was always going to come. Meredith…” Eleven mages made Tranquil within the first year in Kirkwall, blood magic culled even where it had not existed, blackmail to train Templars in fighting mages who had no chance. “…Meredith made it personal. Elthina ignored every evidence. I let it happen.”
Pulling another letter out, nearly as worn as the first, Cullen said, “You knew before he did. You knew this war was coming. You knew I would be here, that Josephine would. You even knew to look for me in Kirkwall, so many years ago, and you… you brought me a letter. From my sister.”
It wasn’t a question. None of it was. “Yes.”
He pushed a hand through his hair, the brown leather of the glove making the blonde even more inviting. It fell out of place at the movement, a curl dropping down onto his forehead, and I wanted to tuck it back. (I didn’t dare move. This was hardly the time for such thoughts, and even less so for such actions.)
“When—when you came to Ferelden’s Circle,” he started, and the non-sequitur jarred me back to awareness, “you said something similar. About Redcliffe, and the troubles there. I-I… I had almost forgotten. I wasn’t—in my right mind then, and I thought perhaps it was nothing more than the lingering effects of the maleficarum. But it was true.”
As he stared at me from halfway into the shadows of the corner, I could feel my web of lies tremble. His words put pressure on the oldest of them, and soon…
I was nowhere as prepared for this as I had hoped. My bones trembled in my body as I pushed to break the secrecy. “Yes. I knew.”
My jaw flapped open and closed a few times, but I didn’t know how to explain this. I hadn’t tried in—in over a decade. I settled for simplicity: “I don’t know. I’ve never known how, not—not really. It’s just…” I took a deep breath. “And I don’t know much anymore. Whatever strange power allowed such knowledge also took it away, but I-I… I wrote what I could.”
I moved to the cabinet with the false back and carefully took out my journal. Cullen remained utterly silent, doing nothing more than watching. I stared down at the plain, entirely unassuming cover. This journal held—everything. Every key to who I was or wasn’t, every miniscule clue.
I had never shared it with anyone. Not even Theron.
By some miracle, my hands didn’t tremble as I passed it over. “It’s… strange. And I know it must all be true, even if I don’t know how or why. Everything it has—everything that I once predicted… So far, it has all proven true.”
His hand ghosted over the cover. He didn’t undo the tie. “That’s…” He was frowning, but I couldn’t find it in me to be upset. “Vir’era, you know how it sounds.”
“Implausible at best. Demons at worst.” I sighed and stared down at my tea. “I know. You—you can read it. I said no more secrets, and I meant it. All that I know, all that book has to offer, it’s yours. Just—don’t destroy it, please. There is no magic in the book itself. I don’t even know what kind of magic brought me to this.”
“This is… thick.”
“I knew a lot, once.” I wished I knew more still. “I-I know this isn’t easy. It’s, um. It’s a lot to take in.” What was I supposed to say? “But i-if you read it… you might understand.”
He stared at it a while longer. “I will,” he said, then nothing.
When his silence dragged, I pulled out his coin, offering it with a slightly unsteady hand. “I-I said I’d return it to you, when next we met. It… has been a source of great comfort. I have appreciated it.”
The candlelight flickered, and I could not discern his thoughts as his gaze moved from book to coin. Eventually, he reached into his pocket, taking out in turn the geode I had lent him. “I—I’ve felt the same. About this. I, ah, looked into the runes. Some of the Tranquil who stayed behind at the Gallows—they helped me. They said it’s unlike any work they’d seen before. Magnificently done. Delicate balance, but… sturdy.”
I half-smiled. That sounded like Sandal in just about everything. “It is. I—I don’t need it anymore, not as I once did. I think you might get better use from it, and…” It had been in his pocket, on his person. And it was clean—it looked cared-for in a way even I hadn’t done. “It should be where it will be of use.”
He put it back in his pocket, then closed my hand around the coin. “The same can be said of this. I don’t need luck for what I do here. You—whatever your reasons for being here—I think you could use it.”
I could’ve cried. “Ma serannas.”