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Tarasyl'an Te'las

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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.”

“Once?”

“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—

Well. Unexpected.

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.”

“Yes.”

“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.”

“Yes.”

“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.”

“He was.”

“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.”

“How?”

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.”

Chapter Text

After Cullen left, I called for a clan meeting. Such things were infrequent—on the road, it is dangerous to call everyone to gather at once, leaving no one to stand guard. Though basic rules were innately understood by most within my clan, and were the same as they had ever been when interacting with shemlen (keep children out of their sight, go nowhere with a shem, never allow a shem to enter unchaperoned), things were different this time.

Never before had our encampment been in the middle of a shemlen town, after all. Outside it, even within view, yes. After all, I was a Champion and a friend to Ferelden’s monarchy. But never within. It was unheard-of.

I even called our visitors to meet with us. Certainly, the Trevelyans and Cadashes had little reason to listen to my words, but since they were our guests, it only made sense.

“Andaran atish’an,” I said when all had gathered. The phrase was echoed to me. “I know this is a strange circumstance to be in, and I ask your patience. My friend, Sister Leliana, assures me we are here with the Divine’s blessing and protection. Ambassador Josephine Montilyet provided this space specifically for us, and Seeker Cassandra Pentaghast has said that it has been made clear to those already in Haven that we are welcome additions, not interlopers.

“Still, I need not tell you this does not mean we are safe. As always, we must remain wary of shemlen whose intentions we are not absolutely certain of. The normal guidelines will still apply, and there will be no fewer shifts for watching.” A small sigh left the people gathered, as though this were entirely reassuring rather than a disappointment.

“I encourage you to walk around Haven. Hunters, I have been told there is some game in the forests that we are welcome to. Master Ilen, there is a smith who would be more than willing to share knowledge, if you so wish. There is also a tavern, for those who might wish to visit such an establishment. I would warn all to be wary of the chantry, of course. If you have any issues, come to me. I am known to these shemlen.

“Perhaps most importantly, I must insist that no one go anywhere alone. I do not think we need to fear for our lives here, but please, there is always more safety in numbers. Stay in groups, and if you cannot, then go in pairs.” This got mild murmuring, but it sounded like approval. “For our guests, I would ask the same, but I leave the decision in your hands. The issues are different when you are not Dalish.”

I could not enforce this with any but the Adaars, as they were still acting as hired bodyguards for our clan, but I hoped they would follow my suggestions nonetheless. (I doubted Driscoll would.)

“Two more things,” I said. “The first: Please do not wander far from Haven, and please be respectful here. I do not need to impress upon you why, but I will remind you that many shemlen consider this a holy place. You do not need to consider it holy, but I ask that you treat it with the respect we so rarely see them give to our holy places. The most holy point here is further south, at the Temple of Sacred Ashes.”

Green light. Demons. The Temple in ruins. “Do not linger there. Divine Justinia will be conducting the peace talks between the mages and Templars there; none here have any outstanding reason to attend. I cannot stop you from going there altogether, but I will ask that you do not spend any significant length of time there. I would prefer that none go at all, but that is not my choice to make.”

This time, there was shifting. Not much. Only from a select few: those more adventurous in my clan, and my guests. It was a bit strange, after all, that I might so specifically ask them to avoid a place. I could only hope they would heed my advice. (Yet, if all went as foretold, one would not. But who?)

“Finally,” and I pulled myself to stand as tall as I could, smiling at my people, “you should know that I have been appointed Dalish Liaison. This means a few things. Most importantly, it means we will stay here for some time, and I do not know how long. I have an obligation to them, now, to act as an advisor and provide a Dalish opinion. Any concerns you express to me of what is happening will be considered through this, and if they cannot be resolved, they will be brought to my fellow advisors. While I hold this position, I will do all I can to ensure we are safe, and that our troubles are taken seriously.”

“Will there be more shems walking in the camp, then?” asked Hahren Linara, arms folded over her chest.

I faced her. “If all goes well, no. This is our space; I see no reason to have all manner of person tromping through uninvited. If you find too many attempting to come through, let me know. I will do what I can.”

She nodded once. More questions came, and I did what I could to assuage the fears, but there were fewer than I had expected. Perhaps they were used to outsiders now. Perhaps they didn’t mind it so much.

 

Varric found me not long after that, as I was leaving the encampment. He grinned and pulled me into a hug immediately; apparently, he’d been waiting for me. “Mittens! Andraste’s ass, it’s good to see you. Not that I’ve been treated too badly here, but it’s hard to feel welcome when the invitation was mandatory.”

I couldn’t help the laugh. “And I’m sure you’ve been a pleasure. Have you—did you follow my advice?”

His expression didn’t change in the slightest, and I knew, even though I’d told him not to… He had kept track of the Hawkes. “’Course I did,” he lied, patting my arm.

I didn’t contradict him. It wasn’t worth an argument, especially not where someone might hear. “Mm, I see. And… have you heard, then?”

“Depends. What is it I’m supposed to have heard?” he asked. He gestured and began walking, leading me in the direction of the tavern.

“I’ve been made Dalish Liaison. I’ll be here for… however long is needed. For whatever shape this all takes on.” I did feel some pride in my new title. It felt—good. It felt almost right, even, though Keeper… For all that I regretted how I’d inherited the role, it was the role I felt most comfortable in. (I had never made a good Grey Warden.)

“No shit!” He clapped his hand against my back. “We should celebrate, then! It’s about time for dinner, anyway. We can drink to that and talk about what’s happened since—well. Since.”

Melancholy wrapped around my mind, silky and familiar. “I think I like the sound of that. If what I’ve heard is to be believed, you have quite a lot to tell me.”

We entered the tavern; I found us a place to sit, and he fetched food and drink. “I’ve been meeting quite a few of your old friends,” Varric said as he sat, grin glinting in the golden glow of the fire. “I have to say, that Nightingale isn’t exactly what I expected. Your stories made it seem like she was more puppies-and-rainbows than knives-and-murder.”

“It’s been over a decade,” I answered, half-shrugging. “Plus, she’s a spymaster now. It’s not exactly a position one can remain continuously positive in, however much I might wish she would relax.”

“Maybe she just needs some help. You said once she has a lover, right? One of the Grey Wardens, if I remember correctly.”

“When don’t you?” I quipped. He winked. “You remember correctly. Warden-Constable Neria Surana, to be specific, but Neria…” I couldn’t tell him I’d sent her away. Leliana would understand, but Leliana knew. “I visited Vigil’s Keep some months ago—on my way here, in a manner of speaking—and she was preparing for a long mission. I don’t think we’ll be seeing her anytime soon.”

He hummed. “Guess we’ll need to find some other way. Maybe we can get Ruffles in on it—have you met her yet? The ambassador?”

“Of course,” I said. “After I spoke with Divine Justinia, Leliana made sure to introduce us.”

Spluttering, he rolled a hand like he was winding something. “Hold on, let’s back up a bit. You already spoke with the Divine?”

I blinked and frowned. “I—yes?”

“Didn’t you only arrive here today?”

“Sometime in the late morning, yes. Why?”

“Figures.” He groaned. “It took over a week for the Seeker to finally bring me in to tell the Divine what I knew, and even then, she’d apparently already heard most of it from the Seeker, anyway, so it was more like a test. It’s never fun to tell a story if your audience is looking for holes, let me tell you.”

I thought about my long-lived lies and nodded. To his credit, Varric didn’t comment on my apparent understanding. He took a long swig, then waved his cup through the air, ushering the conversation in a new direction. “So, if you’ve been made Dalish Liaison, and you’ve met the Seeker, Spymaster, and Ambassador, I’m guessing you know who the Commander is.”

Mid-bite, I had to be careful not to let my instinctive reaction cause me to choke. I swallowed slowly; Varric waited. “I do.”

He waited more. I took another bite. “‘I do’?” he echoed. “That’s all I’m getting? C’mon, Mittens. You gotta give me more than that.”

“Well,” I allowed, “I don’t… I’m not sure what more you’re expecting.”

His eyes were as dexterous as his hands, and I could swear they were stripping down every word I said down to its bare truth. “I can’t say I know exactly what your relationship was in Kirkwall, but I was under the impression that you were at least something like friends.”

In Kirkwall, what would I have called Cullen? A friend? It had been years since that time, and trying to remember what thoughts I’d had on such things was like trying to read a book from across the room. I knew that he’d been important, and perhaps he’d been more important than I’d been ready to admit to myself. A little sigh slipped past my lips.

Varric’s eyebrows raised. His jaw dropped. His hand, which had been holding a fork, lowered back to the table. In that moment, I had let my hand show, and now he knew that I—that I was in love. “You never do make things easy for yourself, do you?” he asked, a downturned chuckle following the words. “Shit, Mittens. I did not expect that.”

“Tell no one,” I insisted. He raised an eyebrow at me, and honestly, I could understand why. It was such an adolescent urge, and I was—how old, exactly? Born in the spring, that I knew, but what year? 9:10? 9:11? Creators curse my failed memory—surely too old for that sort of thing. I brought up a hand and pushed my pinky out at him. “Please, Varric.”

The other eyebrow went up, and he started to say something, but no words came forth. A moment later, he wrapped his pinky around mine. “I won’t tell anyone.”

“Ma serannas, ma falon.” Cullen didn’t need my feelings for him to affect whatever he might think of my journal, of me. He was kind (so very much kinder than the world had been to him), but all that I was and all that I knew would be no easy thing to acknowledge. To have my heart in his hands at the same time would be…

Perhaps it wasn’t only that he didn’t need it. Perhaps I also feared what might happen. I itched to touch his coin, but Varric’s eyes were heavy on my skin. He would know, somehow. I kept my hands within view.

 

The Temple of Sacred Ashes had been restored in the years since its rediscovery. It was magnificent. No longer the frost-riddled, forgotten place of my memories, the Temple had been shown such care and careful refurbishment that it gleamed. I stood at the base of its steps, uncertain whether I could gather the courage to enter.

I had told my people not to come here, after all. Even though, supposedly, one of them was destined to… I had told them to stay away. If I mounted these steps, I would be a hypocrite.

But I burned with the need to know how it had changed inside. The Guardian who had stood watch for centuries was gone—not a single pilgrim had made mention of him since the others from the Fifth Blight and I had come here in search of the Urn of Sacred Ashes. And the Urn, too, had disappeared; what that meant, I didn’t know, but everything about Haven was so drastically different that nothing was surprising.

I climbed the steps slowly, letting Littlefoot’s blade touch the ground audibly as I went. We were returning together, even if most of the others were far out of reach.

Leliana slipped to my side when I made it through the doors. Perhaps she’d been watching me. We walked silently through the entry hall, pausing only momentarily at the Holy Brazier.

“Do you remember when we found this place?” Leliana asked, trailing a hand along the pedestal that the Brazier sat upon. “Castor and Capella found the riddle above the door.”

“But you lit the Brazier before they could figure it out,” I said, and she smiled at me. “You beat them to the punch, which almost never happens.”

“It’s a good trait in a leader. They were surprised, but not upset; an even better trait.” We walked through the doorway. “You know, we’ve barely even seen signs of the cultists since we came here. It’s almost like they were never here, if you can ignore the bloodstains in some of the buildings.”

Was she trying to get more information about them? I didn’t know anything. “That’s good, I think. They were dangerous. We may have had little trouble with them, but we were all fighters. The people you have here now… Most of them are not.”

“They are pilgrims,” she agreed. “A few have made this their home, but most do not stay long. Especially now—we have kept the mages and Templars from violence so far, but it will only last so long. The Divine wishes to wait until we have counted representatives from every Circle, but it is hard to find any mage who is willing to claim to represent Dairsmuid.”

I suppressed a wince. Dairsmuid was Annulled too recently for that to feel like anything other than a trap, regardless of how pure Justinia’s motive might be. I could not blame the mages here for distancing themselves from it, whether they were from that Circle originally or not.

We passed through the mountaintop pass to the Gauntlet, which now was empty. No Guardian, no Ashes, no wraiths, no spirits—the statues and architecture and rooms all remained, but the entirety of the Gauntlet was otherwise simply… empty.

“Where do you think he is?” Leliana asked me, gesturing at the place the Guardian had once stood.

“I don’t know.” I considered the spot, which seemed too small now to have possibly held such a presence. (“Do you regret not speaking earlier?” he had asked me. I had said no. Mostly, that remained true.) “Perhaps he is with the Ashes still, wherever they are now.”

She hummed. “That would make sense.”

We continued on. The room which once did not have a solid bridge now did, with no evidence of the magic that had been there before. In the hall where once we had been confronted by spirits of our past, I tried to remember what mine had looked like. It had been me, hadn’t it? Me from Before. But I couldn’t remember beyond that. “Did you receive a pendant here?” I asked her. I still had mine. It was with me, always, hanging on the same chain that held my Warden’s Oath.

“Yes.” She didn’t say more than that, and it didn’t take long to reach the altar with the statue of Andraste.

There was no pedestal, now, no fire to walk through. “It is strange. So few people believe what I’ve told them about how this temple was before. Even Cassandra has expressed her doubts.”

I gazed at Andraste’s stone face. “It’s a fantastical story, even when you allow for magic and benevolent spirits. You know as well as I how little the Chantry cares to incorporate magic into anything that surrounds Andraste.”

She chuckled. “You’re right. You know, there are those who believe Andraste herself was a mage. Mostly these stories come from Tevinter, to discredit the Chantry and the Divine, but there are even those in the south who believe it.”

“Do you?”

“I do not know.” She began to mount the steps to the statue’s base, where the Urn had once rested. “It makes as much sense as it does not. It would explain many of her more miraculous feats, of course. But it would not explain how the Chantry has come to such fear of magic. And what of her words? ‘Magic is meant to serve man, and never to rule over him.’ If she was a mage, that would mean something entirely different. It would change everything the Chantry preaches.”

“Change is coming regardless.” I stayed at the bottom of the stairs, as I had before. This was not my religion. Andraste was not my prophet.

Leliana looked down at me from the top. “I suppose you’re right. That which does not change has always been doomed to fail. I can only hope we are not too late.”

 

I grew increasingly distracted as the days wore on with no sign of Corypheus and no explosion. My clan settled in as well as could be expected—I heard tell of a few disputes, but nothing that required intervention. The Adaars posted at our entrance was enough to ward off most, regardless of their intentions.

And it was not only the wait for the Breach that weighed on my mind; I had not spoken to Cullen, either. I had seen him in passing, but never for long, and never close enough to do so much as greet him. We were all busy enough that I couldn’t conclusively say he was avoiding me (he had the responsibility of ensuring the safety of all who arrived and I was becoming more deeply involved with even the non-Dalish elves in attendance), but it still did not sit well.

The False Calling waxed and waned, apparently at random. Usually, it was hardly anything, but there were nights when it left me sleepless and antsy. (Those were the worst nights.)

After one such night, tired and anxious though I was, I agreed to speak with Cassandra in greater detail about my experiences in Kirkwall. “You had more interaction with Meredith than Varric, and did not work under her like Cullen. Though I would not call yours an objective viewpoint, it is the closest that is available to me,” she said as we sat at the table in the back of the chantry. “I would know what you thought of her.”

“You may not like it,” I warned.

“I do not need to like it to know it.” Outside, the early autumn winds keened quietly. “If I am to understand what happened there, to help the Divine in the decisions she must make about your friend’s actions, I need to know more about what happened from someone who was not involved on either side.” Apparently realizing what she’d said, she backtracked, “Or, rather, from someone who was less involved. It is my understanding that you are against the Circles, are you not?”

“I am. I didn’t proclaim such from every tower in Kirkwall, but I’m Dalish, and at the time, I was a Grey Warden harboring an apostate.” I shrugged. “Only someone truly daft would have thought I found the Circles as they stood to be a good idea.”

“‘As they stood?’” she echoed, eyebrows lifting high. “So you are not entirely against them, then?”

I tilted my head noncommittally. “A school for magic is a good idea; it would benefit all. It’s true that mages must learn control over their abilities so that they will not cause unintended harm. But the Circles have long been tools for promoting fear of magic rather than respect for it, and fear does not lead to the kind of control one needs.”

Cassandra crossed her arms. “Not all the Circles were as cruel as the one in Kirkwall. Ostwick Circle was well-known for having content, if bored, mages.”

“One example is not a pattern.” She opened her mouth to argue some more, so I shook my head. “No, you’re right; they were not all as cruel as Kirkwall. It was the worst of the lot in its method for controlling those who lived within its walls. That does not mean mages did not suffer needlessly elsewhere.”

“Then tell me about Kirkwall,” she told me, leaning forward a bit. “That is what we are here to discuss; I am certain you have put much thought into this all, but it is not the time to air out every problem with the Circles.”

I disagreed (if we did not mention them now, when would we?), but acquiesced. Kirkwall’s problems, after all, were common among most circles, but had simply been amplified. “It is important, then, that you know that Kirkwall’s problems—and Meredith’s madness—began even before she ever got ahold of red lyrium. The red lyrium only intensified what was already festering.”

She pursed her lips and gave me a tight nod. “I have heard as much, and what few records we could salvage do not paint a pretty picture.”

“Within the first year that I spent in that city, more than ten mages were made Tranquil.” She didn’t say anything, but I could see the muscles in her jaw work. “Some, as I understand it, went through the proper channels and had a long history of trouble to back up the decision, regardless of whether or not it is one which should ever be used—but most didn’t. Karl Thekla, for example, was a good man made Tranquil because he was in contact with apostates. Maddox was made Tranquil for writing letters to his beloved. Their crimes were not collusion or blood magic, just letters.”

Cassandra took a deep breath. “And these were before the red lyrium?”

“Yes,” I said. “You could ask Cullen of them. He may not remember Karl, but he should remember Maddox. A Templar, Samson, was discharged for aiding Maddox.”

“I see.” She folded her hands and stared at them for a moment. The wind battered forcefully against the chantry’s walls. “What was your impression of Meredith then?”

The winds stilled for a moment, all the world seeming to wait on my answer. “She faked being sound of mind very well, but her actions betrayed her paranoia. No well-balanced person would see blood magic at every corner. Not like she did. If I weren’t a Grey Warden—she didn’t like me. She didn’t like that I could shapeshift. I think she would have made me Tranquil if she could have.”

With rage like Meredith confirming my words, wind crashed against the Chantry once more, loud enough to startle. Cassandra and I both jumped. “It’s as though a dragon is trying to take flight just outside,” she noted lightly, and I laughed a bit, trying to shake the jitters from speaking of Meredith and receiving such an answer from the universe.

But before we could re-center ourselves, a blast of incredible magical energy tore through the room, leaving both of us gasping in its wake. It left no evidence of its passing in the physical realm, but I could feel the aftershocks through my connection to the Fade, and Cassandra’s Seeker abilities seemed to allow her something similar.

My mind scrambled by the force of it, it took me a moment to realize what had happened, and when I did, I felt there was no time to explain.

“The Temple,” I wheezed at Cassandra. I stumbled to the door and pushed myself out of the room, out of the Chantry, out into Haven. People were shouting, rushing in every direction. Soldiers ran for the gates, to the south, swords raised. Children were swept up and carried away.

The sky was green and sundered.

“What is that?” Cassandra asked. “It—it’s coming from the Temple, but—how did you know?”

I shook my head, still staring in the direction of the Temple. Who had it been? Who was it? I couldn’t—I hadn’t even felt Corypheus—was I out of his range? (The False Calling was so strong; was his nearness to blame?) Cassandra growled and grabbed my shoulder, forcing me to face her. “Do you know what has happened?”

“The Breach,” I said. “It’s the Fade. There are—demons!” I could see them now. Not many, not yet, but enough—a despair demon sped above us. Cassandra’s head whipped to follow it.

“Is this what you meant?” she demanded. “You said something was going to happen. Is this it?” She didn’t wait for an answer. “We must find Leliana.”

“Cassandra!” Leliana found us instead, running up the path to the chantry. “Vir’era! Good, you’re both here. Vir’era, what is this?”

“The Breach,” I said again. “It’s more than a tear. It pierced the Veil.” As I spoke, spirals of green light continued to burst from the Breach, traveling all over. Some went beyond our field of vision without landing. When would the Herald reappear from the Fade? “I need to figure out who it is.”

“Who what is?” Cassandra asked, her grip still ironclad on my shoulder. Her fingers pressed into the old scar from Fort Drakon, reminding the skin there of how it should ache.

There were demons pouring out. “Fight the demons!” I said. “I need—” I gestured at my clan. “I need to know who! I will find you near the bridge.”

“I will go with him,” Leliana said. “Cassandra, find Cullen and figure out what has happened at the Temple.” She frowned, opened her mouth, then nodded and left. Leliana turned to me, and we hurried to the aravels. “The Divine is at the Temple. You said something would happen.”

“It’s gone,” I told her. “The Temple. There’s nothing we could have done. I need to know who the Herald will be.”

Perhaps I should have either tried to explain or tried to hide my knowledge better, but Leliana had always known that I knew things, and my thoughts were not in enough order to manage much else. I think she suspected as much, because she was silent, then, simply running at my side.

Both Adaars were at their stations. “Keeper!” Adegoke shouted as I drew near. “That surge—what’s happening?”

“An explosion,” I told him. “Magic of some sort. Where is everyone? Have they stayed in the camp?”

He and Kumbukani exchanged a glance. “We weren’t keeping track,” he said, “but most of Clan Sabrae’s stayed put. I saw some hunters head north—think it was Mheganni and Fenarel. Don’t know about your guests. I haven’t seen Driscoll since yesterday. Think I saw Clifford earlier, so Emily and Elizabeth should be around, though.”

I nodded and patted his arm. “Ma serannas.” Sweeping past him into camp with Leliana on my heel, I did catch sight of Clifford myself, his mistresses standing on either side of him and staring up at the demons. “Emily! Elizabeth! Adegoke told me some of my hunters went north. I need to know they are safe; please, find them for me. Bring them back here.”

“Shouldn’t we go see what all that’s about?” Emily asked, gesturing to the Breach.

I shook my head. “No. I will be going there soon enough, but I need to know my people are safe.” One of the green lights struck the woods to the north, trailing demons in its wake. “Please!”

With a glance, they rushed off. Others in the clan were gathering now, asking questions over each other and exclaiming at the sky’s shade. “Listen closely!” I called to them. “Those who are able to fight, I ask you to begin patrols of the camp and of Haven. Help any in need and slaughter any demons you come across. Everyone else: we will endure. Dirthavara. Keep yourselves safe; do not venture beyond Haven’s walls until we know it is no longer dangerous. Prepare elfroot and bandages. I must go to the source of the trouble.”

They split up easily enough—direct orders and shock would do that—but Jewel and Dima came to me. “Our brothers are missing,” Dima said.

“I don’t know where Driscoll has got to,” Jewel added, “but I intend to find him. He had been spending time with the soldiers near the south. If you’re headed there, let me come with.”

Creators, I thought to myself, let it not be Driscoll. He was a good enough man, but so fickle and wishy-washy. “Of course,” I told Jewel. “I would be glad for your help.”

“Let me come too, please,” Dima said. “Amir—he said he was just going for a walk, so I thought it would be harmless to let him walk Haven on his own, but that was hours ago. I think he got distracted, Keeper. I think he left Haven.”

Amir was still so young. Not a child, not quite, but barely more. How old was he? Eighteen? Twenty? Mythal, protect that boy. “Can you fight?”

Dima glanced over my shoulder. Her knuckles turned white as she gripped her staff, but she nodded. “For Amir, I can.”

I glanced at Leliana, who had remained silent, and she nodded at me. “Then come. We’ll find your brothers.”

Chapter Text

We ran into demons every step of the long path to the Temple, it seemed. As our journey grew yet longer, pulses of incomparable magical energy passed over us and the green tear in the sky grew larger. I could feel the chaos in the Fade; spirits pressing every which way in confusion, demons scrabbling to come nearer, magic pulled in enough directions that the Veil was straining.

Dima was not well-versed in fighting. She was capable enough, and electricity seemed to come naturally, but the sheer number of demons was clearly overwhelming. I made sure to stand by her at all times.

Jewel, on the other hand, had obviously been trained by skilled swordmasters. He had no difficulties with keeping pace against those demons on the ground. With Leliana’s expert shots keeping the flying ones at bay, he was easily capable of cutting a path forward.

We’d barely reached the first of the arches leading to the Temple when a flash of color came rushing at us. “Jewel! Maker’s holy balls, I have never been so glad to see you!”

“Driscoll!” Jewel exclaimed, catching his brother. Driscoll looked half-dressed, with wild hair and no coat to be seen—and, certainly, he rarely looked fully dressed, but this was a new level, even for him. He didn’t even have a staff. “What’s happened? Are you hurt?”

Driscoll pushed away, shaking his head. “No, I’m fine—I was visiting the soldiers, you know, they get so lonely down there, and it’s always more intense when someone’s been lonely—”

“Not relevant, Drisc. The Temple. What happened there?” Jewel asked.

“I have no idea,” Driscoll said, glancing over his shoulder at the Breach. His eyes caught sight of myself, Dima, and Leliana. “I suppose you’re on your way to find out, aren’t you.”

It wasn’t a question, but I nodded. “Jewel can take you back to the camp, but we can’t linger.” No demons were attacking at that second, but I could see some not far ahead; it wouldn’t be long until they zeroed in on us.

Driscoll shook his head and started tying up some of the loose pieces of his robes. “No, I’ll come with you. You’ll need all the help you can get, and I don’t think you can really afford to send Jewel back just to make sure I arrive safely.”

He wasn’t wrong. “Come on, then,” I said. “You aren’t the only one who was missing. We need to find Amir, too.”

“Amir? No! I hope he’s not hurt; he’s such a darling.” No one knew how to respond to that, but we began our trek again. I tugged Driscoll to walk behind me, next to Dima; he didn’t protest, perhaps because he had no physical weapon. (Magic could only do so much, after all.)

I didn’t let myself think about Amir and his new destiny. There would be time enough later to wonder. For now, I only let myself be relieved that Driscoll was alive, and that this meant Amir would be, too.

More and more soldiers made themselves known as we kept walking, fighting alongside Templars or mages. Very rarely were all three fighting side-by-side. Many were injured and dying. I couldn’t pass by without doing something, though I knew we could ill afford to dally long. Those whose injuries were in most need, who would die without attention, I spared spells for.

They weren’t the best spells. Most were little more than battlefield dressings, sent over a distance and able to fix little beyond bleeding. But it was enough to soothe my conscience, and hopefully enough to save at least a few lives.

No one protested my actions. (Not loud enough for me to hear, anyway.)

I don’t know how long, exactly, it took for us to reach the bridge before the Temple of Sacred Ashes. Not more than two hours since finding Driscoll, surely, but it couldn’t have been less than one. We were growing weary; Dima and Driscoll panted audibly.

Driscoll slumped against the bridge’s stone railing, making a dramatic whine. “I’ll just stay here, how’s that? There’s enough soldiers for it to be safe, surely, and I know I haven’t been enough help to be worth dragging around. Jewel, let…”

I tuned out his soliloquy as Cassandra stalked up to us, Varric at her heel. “Leliana, Keeper, come with me. The rest of you, stay here.” She barely paused, and though Leliana fell into step with practiced ease, I scrambled after her, waving away words from Dima and Jewel. Unlike before, she did not slow or shorten her pace for me as she led us to a stone tower on the other side. Varric and I shared a glance, and his worry was too visible for comfort.

“The Temple is destroyed,” she said, voice flat. “All who were inside have perished—except one.” She stopped and spun on her heel at the door, eyes sinking deep into me and holding me there with their steel. “The soldiers who found him said he came out of the Fade. The markings on his face say he is Dalish, but the one on his hand…”

She pursed her lips and glanced over her shoulder at the door, like it might add to the conversation or tell her what she longed to know. “An apostate is with him now. Whatever it is that is on his hand, it’s connected to that thing in the sky. The Breach, as you called it, Keeper. I believe it means he created it, though I do not know how or why; if he did, he is responsible for the deaths of many people.”

“It wasn’t him,” I said.

“Are you so sure?” She raked her eyes over me, tearing me to my most basic pieces as easily as Varric. “Perhaps you were involved. It would not be the first time a chantry has been destroyed while you were nearby.”

“Seeker, I’ve told you, he didn’t do it,” Varric muttered.

“You don’t believe that, Cassandra,” Leliana said, far more confident.

“Don’t I?” But she sighed, and her shoulders fell every so slightly. “Perhaps I don’t. But that does not mean others do not.”

It would look like a damning coincidence to most. I hated it. I hoped Cullen would not think so. Maybe my journal would help there. (Maybe the evidence that I knew beforehand would be just as damning.) “I can’t blame them for that,” I said, “and I will do whatever you think is appropriate to prove my innocence, but right now, I need to see him. Please. I can help—or, at least, I can try.”

The door opened. “Ah, Seeker,” said a smooth voice, amazingly unperturbed by the chaos and the tension in the air. “Good. I was going to find you.”

Fen’Harel was so much more unassuming than I had even anticipated. He was tall, for an elf, nearly reaching the same height as Cassandra, but his clothes almost buried him, leaving him looking half-shapeless. Cassandra turned to him. “Solas. Has something changed?”

“No,” he said. “I have done all that I can; if he’s to live, it’s up to him. I’d rather aid elsewhere, if I may, though I do still think that mark will hold the secret to these rifts…”

“Fine. I will stay until he awakens.” She cast her eyes over us again. “Varric will accompany you. There is a rift not far from here; see if you can do something about it for now. We will join you when our… guest is ready.”

“Hey, now, don’t I get a say?” Varric protested.

Cassandra raised her eyebrows at him. “Should I arrest you again? The Keeper is not the only one who has been in proximity of exploding chantries.”

He sighed. “Fine, fine. I’ll go with the mysterious apostate to investigate a source of the demons. You sure you don’t want to try arresting a demon?”

“Now is not the time for jokes, Varric.”

He winced and nodded. “You’re probably right. Okay, mystery man, let’s go. We’ll see if we can’t wrangle up any extra protection along the way. I don’t like our chances alone.”

“Indeed,” Solas said. He gave a half-smile and nod to the rest of us before following Varric’s lead. His eyes seemed to linger on me, but it could have been my imagination. (But he was a god—did he know? Could he tell that I wasn’t supposed to be here?)

“Keeper.” Cassandra waited for me to look at her again before continuing to speak. “As you are the Dalish Liaison, and our suspect is Dalish, it is appropriate that you join us. For the sake of your people, I hope he is as innocent as you claim.”

She wasn’t threatening the Dalish, however ominous her words, and I knew it. If it were learned that a Dalish elf had destroyed the Temple of Sacred Ashes and killed not only the Divine but all in attendance at the Divine’s Conclave? There would be nothing short of unmitigated violence against my people in retaliation.

It was good that I knew he was innocent. I needed only to wait for everyone else to realize it, too.

Inside the tiny stone room we went: first Cassandra, then Leliana, and finally, me. Kneeling slumped on the ground was Amir. He wasn’t even awake, but he had been placed into a sturdy enough position that he didn’t need to be. (Was that Solas’ doing?) His pale head lolled forward against his chest, hair slipping from his ponytail enough to partially hide his face from view.

A ripple of magical energy passed through, making me shudder. Amir curled further in on himself, the bar on his hands scraping against the ground. Green light brightened the room for a moment, waving along the walls like sunlight through water, and he made the most pitiful, distressed sound.

I dropped to his side as though pulled there, sending small healing pulses through to search for any damage. Relief suffused my veins when I realized he had no more than superficial scrapes. I pushed his hair from his face.

“You know him?” Cassandra asked. Her voice was flat, and when I looked at her, she had a hand on her sword.

“Yes. His name is Amir Lavellan,” I answered. “He came with my clan to the Conclave. His sister, Dima—she’s standing outside. I should—I need to tell her he’s alright.”

Cassandra shook her head. “No. I am still unconvinced that he was not involved.” Another wave of magic caused the mark on his hand to bathe the room in green again.

He gasped into wakefulness, and Cassandra stalked forward. I did not stand up, but I did wrap an arm around his shoulders. My allegiance needed to be clear; she needed to know I was certain, and everyone else needed to know I would not stand by as the Dalish were used for scapegoats once more.

As Amir looked around the room, he didn’t speak, but he did take note of the soldiers. Cassandra leaned forward. “Tell me why we shouldn’t kill you now,” she said, completely ignoring my glare at the words. “The Conclave is destroyed. Everyone who attended is dead—except for you.”

“Dead?” Amir whispered. “I—I don’t understand…”

Cassandra grabbed his marked hand and shoved it at his face. “Explain this.”

“Cassandra,” I admonished, but she just continued to glare.

“I—what?” He stared at his hand as though seeing it for the first time. “I—I can’t!”

“What do you mean you can’t?” she demanded.

“I don’t know what it is!” His eyes reflected the green light that spilled from his open palm. As Cassandra moved, he took note of me for the first time. “I don’t—Keeper, what’s happening?”

“Something terrible happened, da’len,” I said. I squeezed his shoulders. “I will help you. They have questions, though.”

Cassandra sneered. Leliana pulled her back. “We need him, Cassandra.”

Silence for a beat. Amir continued to stare at his hand. “I… I can’t believe it,” he murmured, his eyes wide and shiny. “All those people, dead? Keeper, is this real?”

“I’m afraid it is.” How could Cassandra not believe he had no part in the destruction? It seemed so clear to me; he was so terrified, so confused. It was writ clearly on his face.

“Do you remember what happened?” Leliana asked.

Amir’s face screwed up in concentration. “I remember running. There were—things, chasing me—spiders? And then… a shem woman?”

“A woman?”

“She—she reached out to me, but then…” He shook his head. “I-ir abelas. I can’t remember anything else.” He glanced at me, and I rubbed his shoulders. It did little to ease the concern on his face, but I could feel tension drain infinitesimally from his posture.

Leliana frowned, and Cassandra ushered her from the room. “Go to the forward camp, Leliana. The Keeper and I will take him to the rift.” Leliana nodded and left.

Cassandra knelt in front of us, then, and undid the metal shackles on Amir’s hands, but left them tied together. “Please,” he said, “what happened?”

She looked at me, then sighed. “It… will be easier to show you.”

I helped him to stand, and we followed her from the windowless room into the green-tinged mountain air. For a moment, Amir didn’t seem to understand—then, he caught sight of the Breach, in all its huge and terrible green glory, and I felt his whole body hitch. His jaw was slack.

“We call it the Breach,” Cassandra explained, and she told him what it was. I watched his face carefully. His horror was clear to me, clear in how little color reached his already-pale face, clear in how wide his eyes remained, clear in the stumbling steps he took to follow the Seeker.

The Breach groaned and grew again, and Amir shouted, falling to his knees, pulling his marked hand close to his body as though he might be able to shield it from something so intangible as magic.

I fell with him, silent and uncertain what to say, what to do. “Each time the Breach expands, your mark spreads,” Cassandra told him, kneeling to point from one to the other, “and it is killing you.”

Over her shoulder, Dima appeared. “Amir!” She rushed to her brother’s side, but Cassandra blocked her.

“Stay back. He is a prisoner. You may not approach him.”

“A prisoner?” she said, her voice loud and incredulous. “Fenedhis! He is my brother, and he is innocent of whatever crimes your shem soldiers have accused him of!”

“Then how do you explain this mark, girl?” Cassandra gripped Amir’s hand and shook it at Dima, making both Lavellans flinch. “If he is innocent, we will learn soon.”

“He is,” I interrupted, moving to stand between them. Dima’s breath was coming unevenly, and I was certain she suffered from anxiety as I did. This situation was not good for her, and she would not be able to handle coming along to see the conclusion. I turned to her and put my hands on her shoulders. She was taller than me, but so hunched in on herself that it made little difference. “Dima, listen to me, please. I will help to prove your brother’s innocence, and I will ensure he is able to return to you. Dirthavara. But I need you to stay here, where it is safe.”

She started to shake her head. “N-no, Keeper, please, don’t let them—not Amir, please…”

“Amir ar dareth. Dirthavara.” Not far from us, I could see Driscoll leaning against the stone walls. He met my eyes and slipped over. “Dima, please, lethallan. Stay with Driscoll. Keep each other safe until I can return.”

“Come, now, Dima darling,” Driscoll said when she didn’t respond. Tears had begun trailing down her face. “Let Vir’era take care of this. He’s the Dalish Liaison, remember? He has it well in hand. We would only be in his way.”

I don’t think she believed him, but she let him drape an arm around her shoulders and pull her to the side. He chattered away with his reassurances, and I returned to Amir’s side. They were talking quietly.

“It is our only chance—and yours,” she said.

“It will work,” I told them. I met Amir’s eyes first, then Cassandra’s. When she wrinkled her brows, I nodded. “I know it will.” She pursed her lips at that, but said nothing.

“Do you truly believe I did this?” Amir asked, his words quiet.

She sighed. “I do not know, but you are our only suspect. Whatever happened—it clearly went wrong. Until we know who is responsible… You wish to prove your innocence? This is the only way.”

I put my hand on Amir’s arm, hoping he understood the intent of solidarity. With a deep breath, he nodded. “I understand.”

Cassandra tried not to look surprised. “Then—?”

“I’ll do what I can,” he said. “Whatever it takes.”

She smiled at him and began to lead us once more. People glared from all sides; Cassandra remained tall and purposeful, sloughing their distaste with practiced ease. I fought to keep my shoulders straight and my head up, unwilling to let them bother me, even when I heard mutters about ‘knife-ears’ or other hateful words. Amir pulled in on himself, pressing into Cassandra’s shadow.

“They have decided your guilt,” she told him, her words impassioned. I think she meant to reassure him. “They need it…”

Though her attempts at reassurance were clumsy and relied heavily on Andrastian knowledge, I felt Amir unfold himself little by little. We walked through gates that thudded heavily behind us, and Cassandra took a knife to the rope holding Amir’s hands together. “There will be a trial. I can promise no more.”

She started to walk across the bridge, then, not waiting for comment. “Come. It is not far.”

Amir glanced at me, and I nodded, walking after Cassandra. I took Littlefoot from my back, ready for danger, and wished I had a bow to give to Amir. With hope, Cassandra would allow him something soon. At least a sword—Dalish hunters trained in melee combat, of course, even if most did not favor it.

“Where are you taking me?” he asked.

“Your mark must be tested on something smaller than the Breach.” She glanced back at us. “We do not have much time.”

She was right, of course. It had not been so terribly long since the Breach first rent the sky, but it had grown immeasurably in that time. At first, it had been but a tear—now it was a gaping hole, a split seam that grew wider as we dawdled, spewing demons and smaller rifts everywhere we could see and even beyond.

We could not wait. I gently ushered Amir forward. He looked over his shoulder; I followed his gaze to his sister, who did not stop us. He smiled for her, but she didn’t smile back. I don’t think she could.

As we walked, I stayed close to Amir’s side. There was so much destruction… In such a short span of time, a matter of mere hours, already there were bodies strewn everywhere, already there were destroyed carts and felled trees—it seemed an almost impossibly high toll for so little time.

The further we walked, the fewer survivors we encountered. What few we met were always running in the direction we’d come from. They paid us no mind when they saw Cassandra’s grim expression and drawn sword.

As we crossed a bridge, the Breach expanded once more, and a semitangible burst of magic from it collided with the stones under our feet. We tumbled down to the frozen river below; though the ice was hard, it was thick enough to bear our weight. I had never been so grateful for simple bruising.

Attracted by the noise, demons attacked us. Cassandra ran to meet them, and I cast a shield over her, then another over myself and Amir. He had no weapon, so I stood in front of him and drew attention away with a quick blast of Winter’s Grasp. The nearby shade, who had ignored Cassandra, focused on me easily, and began to move forward.

I cast a paralyzing glyph in its path, but an arrow pushed it back before it could reach the trap. As it stumbled, I spared a glance over my shoulder—Amir had found a bow in the wreckage of the bridge, as well as a quiver of arrows. A few shields and daggers were littered behind him, as well; some merchant’s weapons stock, abandoned and now half-destroyed.

Well, it was good for us. Amir shot again, and I whirled back to the shade with a white-hot fireball. It dissipated in the heat, and as the smoke cleared, Cassandra stalked to us. “Drop your weapon!” she shouted, gesturing at Amir.

He bent to do so, but I stood in front of him. “Seeker, he will need that bow if he is to help us.”

“He is still a prisoner, Keeper. We do not arm prisoners!”

“It’s alright, Keeper,” Amir said. “I don’t want to cause trouble.”

“Banal dareth!” I said to him. He ignored me, putting the bow on the ground.

Cassandra sighed. “No, take it up. The Keeper is right. You will need to fight, and we cannot protect you.”

His hand hovered over the grip. “Are you certain?”

She raised an eyebrow at him. “I am not prone to instructing when I am not. Pick up the bow.”

“Ma serannas,” he said. Then, remembering himself, he translated, “Thank you.”

She just nodded. “It is not much farther. I hope our… friends have not had great trouble.”

“Friends?” Amir looked to me.

“They are helping,” she said, and I inclined my head in agreement. “For now, that makes them friends. We shall see if it remains true later.”

I didn’t add any comments. Varric would always be my friend, of course. Solas… That was too intimidating a subject to think deeply on. He was the Dread Wolf, after all. Surely it would be better to be his friend than his enemy, but he seemed to think so little of the Dalish—what would he make of me? I could only hope that respect and etiquette would keep me in his good graces. I did not want to know what would happen if I upset him.

(I did not know if I would ever tell him what I knew. But how does one keep secrets from a god?)

We crested a hill to the old ruins of a stone tower. It had already been in pieces even before the Breach; it hardly looked any different, except for the green tear hanging suspended in the middle of what had once been a room.

As we drew near, a beam of green energy shot from its center, then coalesced into a floating wisp. More lights coalesced into other creatures of the Fade, and soon spells and arrows and swords were in motion. I saw Varric to one side, and I flung a shield over him. He didn’t pause, but I saw him smirk. A few soldiers were present, too, and when they drew near enough, I extended the same courtesy to them.

I wouldn’t be able to maintain the shields when we left them, but it was enough for this short battle. Skirting around an advancing shade, I found myself next to Varric. “Bout time you showed up!” he said. “Bianca was starting to get worried!”

“You know me better than that,” I chided. “I always arrive in time.”

“Sure, sure. ‘In time’ doesn’t mean you’re not late, though!” With one more bolt from Bianca, the last shade was destroyed. He started to make a witty one-liner, but Solas’ shout interrupted.

“Now!” Solas grabbed Amir’s hand, and though Amir went along with it, there was no small amount of confusion on his face as the mark on his hand reacted to the tear in front of us. They reached for each other, throwing light back and forth in a constant stream that grew brighter and brighter—then, with near-blinding sparks, and the echo of a sound, the rift disappeared, the hole in the Veil patched seamlessly back together.

My ears felt like they were ringing, and in the moments after, I recognized the distant but distinct call of red lyrium. For a moment, I looked further south, where the Temple once stood, where the Breach was still spitting demons and rifts, and wished that Varric had listened to me when I asked him to tell no one of the ancient thaig’s location.

I wished he had listened to me about anything beyond keeping me out of his books. It was not his fault, and I did not blame him—but I still wished he had listened. (If it was anyone’s fault, it was mine. I had not stopped Corypheus’ release.)

“Keeper?” Amir’s voice brought me back, and I turned my attention back to the scene at hand. Cassandra, Varric, and Solas had already begun to move onwards, though now they looked at me.

“Ir abelas,” I said. “It has been a trying day, and we are far from finished.”

As I caught up to the others, I saw Solas stare at me again. I shied away from his unashamed curiosity, moving to keep Amir between us. Thankfully (for some measure of the word), there were enough demons and distractions to keep him from saying anything, if not to keep my skittishness from being apparent.

We approached the forward camp soon enough, Chancellor Roderick’s loud denouncement’s greeting us long before we saw him. He did not hide his distaste for Amir, sneering and snarling. I paid him no mind. He wasn’t worth it. Instead, I concentrated on the feeling of the red lyrium and its mirror within the False Calling. Was Corypheus still near? Would I even know if he was?

No answers were forthcoming.

“Mittens?” Varric called, one hand on my elbow. “You don’t look so good.”

I didn’t know what to say. “Can you hear it, Varric?” I asked, instead. He’d been around red lyrium before. Once, he’d even mentioned hearing voices—or something. Maybe I was wrong, though.

His eyebrows knitted together as he frowned. “Hear what? You’re gonna have to be more specific. There’s a lot to hear right now.”

Perhaps he couldn’t, then. It was still a small distance away, after all. I heard it because I was listening for it, because it was as tainted as I. I met his eyes and held them with a steady look. “There’s red lyrium here.”

His face went slack for a moment. He glanced around. “Here? Like, here-here?”

I shook my head. “At the Temple. I can hear it. It’s quieter than the Breach, but… It’s there.”

His hand tightened on my elbow. I couldn’t read his expression, but I knew he was not pleased. “Shit. Hey, Seeker, you’re gonna want to hear this.”

“Hear what?” Cassandra asked, coming over. When Varric looked at me, so did she.

It was harder to hold her gaze than Varric’s. She was unfamiliar and stiffer, sterner. Still, I forced myself to. “I can sense red lyrium at the Temple. A lot, if I’m not mistaken. It’d have to be, if I can hear it even here, even with the Breach.”

She sucked in a breath through her teeth. “You’re certain?” I nodded. “That is not good. We will need to ensure it is not touched. There are soldiers making a path—Leliana!”

“I heard.” Leliana, bow in hand, glanced at me, but didn’t question my words. “Go with the young man, Cassandra. I will spread the word. Vir’era, if you would help me, I would appreciate it. Cassandra and the others can help—Amir, was it?”

Amir made a vague nod with his head. “Yes, that’s my name—what’s red lyrium? Why is it important not to touch it? Why can the Keeper sense it but no one else?”

For a beat, no one seemed to know what to say. “I will answer all your questions in depth later, da’len,” I said, when it seemed they might be waiting for me to speak. “What is important for now is that it is corrupted, and even brief contact can cause… It can make you into someone you are not, or who you do not want to be. It is evil. Do not touch it.”

I could tell by his pursed lips that he still very much wanted an answer for why I could sense it when the others could not, but we didn’t have time for all his questions now. “Go, da’len. I will tell you everything I can later, dirthavara. Right now, it is not so important.”

“Alright,” he huffed. Readjusting his bow and quiver, he nodded to Cassandra. “We’ll take the mountain pass. Those scouts may know something.”

And they set off, Varric and Solas not far behind. I wished them luck silently, but didn’t think they would need it; I knew they would come out fine. In all likelihood, I would, too; I turned to Leliana. “How shall I spread the word?”

 

At the perimeter of the Temple, with soldiers surrounding me and waves of demons falling upon us, there was enough pandemonium that the red lyrium was barely a concern. Of course, the fact that none was visible helped for them. Still, I wove through the throngs, aiding as I went, calling out my warning.

“Soldiers! If you see red lyrium, do not touch it! Steer clear of the red lyrium!” Few answered my words. An officer or two shouted back affirmatives, and any whose eyes I managed to catch would at least nod, but most simply kept fighting.

My energy was flagging. I didn’t have enough to make shields for those I passed, but I managed to stop a few wounds from reaching fatal levels with some battlefield healing. It was hardly more than a moment’s patch, though, so I sent them to the camp after, ushering them physically away when necessary.

Slowly, I worked my way forward. The density of soldiers began to thin, and the number of demons increased; I had to pause to slice Littlefoot’s bladed end through more than one shade and set the ground to entangle the movement of Terrors. It couldn’t hold them long, but it was enough to let me pass.

I headed for Cullen. My path was not direct, but everyone needed to be aware of the red lyrium and the danger it posed; still, the end point was Cullen, who stood at the forefront, personally leading the amassed army. His courage was admirable, even if the positioning was somewhat foolhardy; we needed him. He wasn’t just a small piece of this. He was important to the future of the Inquisition—and, I could admit to myself, he was important to me.

When he was in view, I cast a shield over him. He didn’t need it, not really—he was, after all, very good at fighting—but it made me feel better, knowing I was doing something to help him. As a pause in the onslaught came, he looked around. He’d probably noticed the shield.

He saw me soon. I didn’t pause as I continued in his direction, even if his lack of acknowledgement made my blood run cold. (If he hated me… If he hated me, I would be distraught. I wouldn’t, couldn’t blame him. But, gods, I hoped he didn’t.)

“What are you doing here?” he asked me when I was close enough that he would not need to shout. He glanced behind me, but didn’t find what he was searching for.

“I…” In that moment, I realized how silly my words would be. He’d had time to read my journal. He knew what was happening. “There’s red lyrium in the Temple,” I said, anyway. “I came to tell you and all the soldiers. Leliana is spreading word elsewhere.”

“I—I… I know it’s there,” he said, quietly, eying our surroundings shiftily. “It was… you wrote it.”

He hadn’t told anyone else. He was trying to ensure no one else knew. Whatever he thought of it all, whatever he might think of me now, knowing he cared enough to do that tempered the fear brewing deep in my soul. “I can feel it,” I told him. It was peaceful, for the moment, and I looked at the ruined Temple. From where I stood, the Breach seemed to have simply become the sky. “It… sings.”

I kept my eyes on the broken walls and scarred remnants. “Where is… who… You wrote about… a Herald.”

“His name is Amir.” Had he really read everything? And paid attention to each detail? Did he really believe it? “He took the mountain pass. Cassandra, Varric, and Solas are with him; they’ll be here soon.”

“Solas…” I looked over as Cullen repeated the name and found him frowning. “He’s… the god.”

Did he believe that? He was Andrastian, so to know my gods were real… “Fen’Harel. That’s… what I wrote, yes.”

He narrowed his eyes at that, but shouts broke the growing tension. Amir had arrived, and he was preparing to do what he could with the Breach.

I murmured an apology and made my way to Amir's side. He would need healing when this was done, and I was an expert.

Chapter Text

It took five days for Amir to awaken again. I was introduced to the apothecary in Haven—a man named Adan—so that we could work together to bring him back to health, but it was not easy. Dima helped as much as she could, too. She nearly refused to leave his bedside at all. It was eerie to watch him lying so still and colorless in the first moments. He was already so pale even with a healthy flush to his cheeks; without it, he looked like an unfinished painting.

I sang to him while I worked. “Wandering child of the earth, do you know just how much you’re worth?” Though I sang a few songs, I kept coming back to that one. Dima learned it quickly, and sang with me. She didn’t know just how well-suited the song was. “You have walked this path since your birth—you are destined for more…”

I couldn’t spend all my time with him, even if I wanted to. I had duties. I knew he would be safe—I knew Adan and Dima would ensure it. Instead, I was flung deep into work with Josephine as she spread the word of what Amir had done for everyone, fueling the rumors that Andraste herself had delivered him from the Fade.

The Chantry, of course, denounced us. Chancellor Roderick continued to advocate for Amir’s imprisonment. The people of Haven, however…

Though my clan had not received the worst welcome, we had not been greeted warmly when we first arrived. Most chose to ignore us, some whispered slurs and hearsay behind hands and walls, and a few brave souls made their distaste clear. It was what I had expected.

Not now.

Now, we were almost venerated. Still kept at a distance, still distrusted on the whole—but Amir had come with us. Amir was one of us. This was enough that the distaste was hidden better. (Not gone. Just veiled behind brighter smiles.)

Though my title was ‘Dalish Liaison,’ several people had caught on to how my clan and those who came with us called me Keeper. Perhaps because ‘Keeper’ is less of a mouthful than ‘Dalish Liaison,’ more people used that to refer to me, to call to me. Even Josephine was not immune.

“Good morning, Keeper,” she said as I entered Haven’s chantry on the fifth day since the Breach. “Any news on our Herald?”

I wondered how Amir would feel about that title. It hadn’t been entirely Josephine’s idea, but she did encourage it. I told her, “He’s still not awake, but he’s as healthy as we can make him. It’s only a matter of time, now, and I don’t think it will take long.”

“Wonderful!” She smiled at me, pretty as amber. “We’ve been in touch with Redcliffe. There are actually some letters for you. I believe one is from Arl Teagan and another from Grand Enchanter Fiona, among others. After they heard you were working with us, they seemed to be more receptive to our efforts.”

“I’m glad,” I said. It was good to be of service, especially when what would happen would be so all-encompassing. If I could leverage the connections I had made, I saw no reason not to. Though, now that the Breach had been created, I needed to do what I could to fix… well. There was a lot. “By chance, was one of the letters from Mia?”

She hummed. “I don’t think so. There was one from a Varania, however. It seems to have come very far. The parchment looked Tevinter.”

“It would be.”

Varania was with Alexius now. If she was sending a letter here—if she somehow knew I was here—it was important. That letter I could not ignore.

“She is a magister’s apprentice,” I said.

Josephine’s eyebrows raised. “A magister’s apprentice? Whose? I didn’t know you had contacts in Tevinter—I didn’t expect… I mean, you’re Dalish.”

I smiled. “I have exactly two friends in Tevinter: Feynriel and Varania. Both are only apprentices, though Feynriel is likely nearly finished. Varania is a friend’s sister who I helped in the past. We have kept correspondence since. She studies under Magister Alexius, and Feynriel studies under Magister Ahriman.”

“Varric was not exaggerating about you,” she murmured. “Of course, he did say you were hardly a spymaster, but you are certainly better-connected than any might suspect.”

She wasn’t wrong. Some of that was simply because I was Dalish; I was not expected to know anyone outside of the Dalish. Most, though, was of course because I had managed to make good impressions with no small number of powerful people. It was due to circumstance and my foreknowledge, of course, rather than any great capabilities on my own part, but it was still true: I knew people with great power. From that, I had power.

It was a staggering realization for those who noticed only my ears and my vallaslin and saw nothing but a target. I was beginning to take immense joy in the shock when such people realized I was not so easily trifled with.

I grinned at Josephine. “I do what I can to help. That’s all.”

With the power I had, I could protect others. I damn well intended to.

 

Keeper Vir’era,

Thank you for sending word of what happened at the Temple of Sacred Ashes. Though I had never expected such a terrible thing to happen, I am saddened to say it is something I feared. The Templars will never accept mages as citizens and people, as deserving of freedom and rights as any other. I wish only that it had not resulted in such a tragedy.

I do believe it was the Templars’ doing. We mages have nothing to gain from such a disaster, as you know; Divine Justinia’s Conclave was our hope. She was a kind woman, sympathetic to our plight, and she died for daring to treat us as equal to the Templars.

Arl Teagan has kindly allowed those of us associated with the rebellion to remain in Redcliffe. If you have need to speak with us, send word.

Be well,

Fiona

 

Champion Vir’era Sabrae,

I am pleased to know you survived the disaster at the Temple of Sacred Ashes. Connor sends his relief and wishes you continued good health. The former Grand Enchanter and the mages of the Rebellion are here, and so long as they remain as peaceful a people as they have yet proven to be, they are welcome to remain.

I would ask your aid, though—or that of the Inquisition you now work for. Some of the mages, who claim no place in the Rebellion, have begun to terrorize farms in the Hinterlands, and I have heard of rogue Templars doing little better. I do not have enough knights or people to continue to protect both our city and our lands. We would be grateful if you could help us.

With gratitude,

Arl Teagan Guerrin

 

Vir’era,

Alexius is planning something. He won’t tell me of it, but I know it is something immense. He has grown more and more frantic since Felix was tainted. He tried the Grey Wardens—as you suggested—but whatever they told him, he didn’t like it. He didn’t accept it.

I don’t know the details, but I know we will soon be heading south.

Be ready.

Varania

 

Not long after I read the letters, I was brought along to the back office to help the other advisors. Cullen and I still hadn’t talked—but we’d had no time. It made things strained, sometimes, and even Josephine gave curious looks at the stiffness, but it was enough to deal with Chancellor Roderick’s newest batch of complaints. Honestly, they were hardly new. The man was a master of reiterating the same things in different ways each day, as though that might change how we responded. (It didn’t.)

I spent most of the meeting ignoring his words, thinking instead on how I might help the mages and Redcliffe. Varania’s letter was disappointing, but not unexpected—I would need to warn Fiona again not to deal with any magisters, but short of that, there was little I could do on that front…

The door opened, and Amir walked in.

“Chain him!” Roderick ordered the guards.

“Disregard that order and leave us,” Cassandra countered. They bowed and listened to her.

I skirted the table, taking care not to bump into anyone or jostle the markers upon the map lain there, and pulled Amir into a hug. “It’s good to see you awake, Amir,” I said. He returned the hug, and then I peered up at his face and checked his temperature. “Any lingering aches? Fever? You’ll need to eat soon.”

“I’m fine, Keeper,” he said, smiling lightly. “A bit confused, but I feel fine.”

“Good, good.” I stepped back, not wanting to monopolize, but didn’t leave his side.

“I am glad to see you have recovered,” Cassandra said. She even smiled at him.

Roderick began to interrupt, but Cassandra slammed a tome upon the wooden table hard enough to make its legs creak. “Do you know what this is, chancellor? A writ from the Divine, granting us the authority to act. We will close the Breach, we will find those responsible, and we will restore order—with or without your approval.”

With each promise, Cassandra advanced on the chancellor, and he, as any with a healthy sense of self-preservation would, scrambled back. She had no weapon even visible, let alone drawn, but she was an imposing woman nevertheless. Even Amir skittered sideways to ensure he was not in her path.

Soon, Roderick, attempting to pull himself together, was leaving. He made some parting remark of little consequence, and we all faced each other once again. Amir’s gaze was solidly upon the tome resting so unremarkably at the edge of the table, just covering the map’s furthest western reaches of Orlais.

I was, by now, familiar with the book. It said much more than just that. It laid out, in detail, how Divine Justinia wanted the Inquisition to be structured. Many positions even had names associated with them already, and most had accepted the honor. My addition as Dalish Liaison had added some things, but not much. To be specific, Justinia had written that we, the Inquisition, were to make contact with Dalish clans when possible, to spread a message of peace and tolerance.

She had written of wishing to right past wrongs. She said nothing of returning the Dales to us, nothing of giving us land at all, but she mentioned forbidding Templars to interfere with Dalish clans. I believe she thought it a generous offer, but I knew it would do little more than make official that which was already true. In only rare cases would it make any difference.

“Perhaps it is time for more formal introductions,” Cassandra said, drawing my eyes and Amir’s to her. “I am Seeker Cassandra Pentaghast. Before you are the advisors we have assembled for the Inquisition: Sister Leliana, our spymaster, who you met briefly.”

Amir nodded, as did Leliana. “Tactfully put. I manage our information and contacts.”

“Josephine Montilyet, our Ambassador.”

“Andaran atish’an,” Josephine greeted, smiling again.

“You speak Elven?” Amir seemed pleasantly surprised, but with how rare it was to hear the words from any mouth except another Dalish, it made sense.

“You’ve just heard the extent of it, I’m afraid.” To her credit, Josephine did seem to regret that. Perhaps I could teach her a few other useful phrases—an Ambassador should always at least attempt to know the language of a people they were interacting with.

“You already know Vir’era Sabrae, of course,” Cassandra continued, gesturing to me. “He is our Dalish Liaison, which has only become more important a role with what happened at the Temple, and your actions there.” Amir flashed me a grin, and she moved on. “And here is Cullen Rutherford, our Commander.”

“It’s a pleasure to meet you,” Cullen said.

“And you,” Amir answered. He glanced around. “But—why am I here? I’m not exactly a Keeper or an Ambassador or anything. I’m not even a Master hunter.”

Josephine shifted. Leliana moved forward. “Word has spread of what your mark can do—what you can do. There are rifts all over southern Thedas, and the people have heard of the woman who delivered you from the Fade.”

“They believe that woman was Andraste,” Josephine said. “They’re calling you the Herald of Andraste.”

“I—what?” Amir blinked a few times, looking at each of us in turn. “But I’m… Dalish. I don’t even—I mean, I know Andraste was a real woman, but I don’t believe in the Maker. Why—why…?”

“You said a woman delivered you out of the Fade,” Leliana reminded him. “The soldiers who found you corroborated this, though they seemed less certain of the shape. The story has spread.”

“Not,” Josephine added, “that we have done much to stop them. You are their Herald. It’s a good thing. It will make our job easier—and yours.”

“My job? Wh—oh.” He lifted his hand. The glowing scar didn’t add much light to the room compared to the torches, but it still attracted attention. “This. There are—you said there are rifts all over Thedas. You want me to fix them.”

“I’m afraid you’re the only one who can, da’len.” I put my hand upon his arm. “If you have no wish to join us, to help the Inquisition, we cannot force you. But you are the only one who can seal the rifts. We need you.”

Amir shook his head. “No, of course I’ll help! That was never in question! Even if I didn’t have this mark, I would want to help, however I could. I just—I’m not a Herald of anyone, and especially not Andraste. Keeper, you’re the closest to a Herald there is.”

He didn’t know how right he was. Both Cullen and Leliana looked between the two of us with furrowed brows. Cassandra was impassive. Josephine, the only advisor unaware that I knew things I should not, tilted her head. “What makes you say that?”

“He’s Hanal’ghilan,” Amir said, simply. “A blessing from Ghilan’nain—the golden halla, who comes to our people when we are most in need of guidance.”

“It’s true that I can shapeshift into a golden halla,” I said. It had to be important, somehow, had to mean something. Maybe it meant nothing more than an indication to all of what I knew, but maybe it meant I really was here by the gods’ will. I’d never know for certain. “We believe that the golden halla is a gift, and the People have seen fit to include me in that.”

Josephine took notes. “We can use that to our advantage—it might not endear us to the Chantry any more, but if we phrase it right, it should spark interest in others. Perhaps there are more Dalish clans who would be willing to aid us.”

I couldn’t stop her, I knew. Whether the People would respond would be seen in time, though I had my doubts. Hanal’ghilan or not, official approval or not, the Inquisition was ultimately a Chantry-aligned organization. That was no small hurdle to conquer for their sympathy.

“Can you get them to stop calling me the Herald of Andraste?” Amir asked.

Josephine half-winced. “I’m afraid not. The story is out of our hands now. I can’t force you to accept the title, but it is something you should expect to hear others call you. Since it’s working in our favor, it’s best to make use of it. We will, of course, also use your name, but we can’t drop the title of Herald now.”

Amir sighed and looked down at his hands. He made a fist of the Marked one, then looked up. “What should I do first, then?”

“I’m glad you asked. In the Fereldan Hinterlands…”

 

Amir was assigned the mission of finding and retrieving Mother Giselle in the Hinterlands near Redcliffe, leaving the next morning. Cassandra, Varric, and Solas were tasked to accompany him—I wanted to join them, but my clan and the other advisors needed me in Haven. In my stead, I wrote letters to Teagan and Fiona, asking that Amir see they were delivered at least to Redcliffe’s gates.

“And while you’re there,” I told him, “please see what you can do for the fighting. Stop the Templars and the mages who refuse to let up however you must.”

“I will,” he promised. Then, atop mounts borrowed from one of Haven’s residents, his group set off. I watched them go for a few minutes, hoping I was doing the right thing in not accompanying them. Only time would tell.

Cullen found me as I made my way back towards the aravels, making my heart skip a beat. “If you have time… I’d like to talk with you. About the—everything.”

He was able to hold my gaze, but not without shifting. I noticed he wasn’t wearing his armor, though, and hoped that was a good sign. Perhaps he was upset, but if he wasn’t wearing armor, he was—not afraid. It was all I could ask. Perhaps more, considering what he had been through.

“Of course, ma falon,” I said. “Shall we go to my aravel?”

He shook his head, and one hand floundered at his hip where his sword normally hung, then went up to the back of his neck. “I… left the journal with my things. We can speak there, if—if you don’t mind.”

I couldn’t help how my blood rushed, and I wondered briefly if it might be better to refuse, to never speak of it all, to avoid Cullen forever—but I knew I couldn’t. It was an urge of anxiety, and I couldn’t give in to that. Still, my mouth and throat were dry, clamped shut. I wasn’t sure I could speak, so I nodded and gestured for him to lead the way.

He stared for a moment, saying nothing. I did my best to hold his gaze, just as he held mine. I knew he was at least as nervous as me. I only hoped I could soothe his nerves, prove I was no danger. I hoped I had not betrayed him, had not lost his trust.

Soon, he moved, and I kept pace a half-step behind him. He walked slowly enough that I didn’t need to struggle to keep up, but it was still a brisk movement. Though I caught no stares, I swore I could feel people watching us. Nevertheless, we reached the chantry without issue, and from there, the route to his room was empty.

It wasn’t his room alone. There were three beds in the small space, and though there were no obvious signs, I concluded that he must be sharing with Leliana and Josephine. (I knew Cassandra slept elsewhere—and who else would he share with?)

He sat on one of the beds and gestured for me to take the chair nearby. As I did so, he pulled my journal from a box hidden beneath his bed, and held it in his lap. I waited for him to speak, but he simply stared at the cover.

At last, he said, “I’m sorry. I don’t know where to start.”

“It’s a lot. I know.” I sighed, brushing my hands down my robes. A good place to start… “Let’s start at the very beginning. Interrupt me as much as you need to, and I’ll answer any questions you have as well as I can.” When he nodded, I began to talk. “My journal mentions that I’m not from Thedas, but my first memory is waking up in Marethari’s aravel, almost eleven years ago, at the beginning of the Fifth Blight.”

He seemed surprised at those words. “You—don’t remember anything before that?”

I floundered for a moment, mouth opening and closing without sound. “I—have flashes. But it’s like—like remembering a painting. I can’t even tell what…” I huffed lightly. It was frustrating to explain, nerve-wracking with him waiting. “I think… I had a brother, and I remember some cats. I know I was born in the spring, and I remember being certain I was about twenty when I first arrived, but…” I flopped a hand up and down. “I don’t even know if Vir’era has always been my name.”

Cullen shifted. He, too, looked unsure what to say, but it made sense that he wouldn’t know. For him, this was all new. I had lived with it for eleven years. One would think I’d have learned how to explain by now—but so few people knew any of it; I had so rarely even referenced it.

“Ir abelas, Cullen,” I murmured. “I have… I haven’t told anyone so much in so, so long… The only other person in the world who knows half this much is Theron. I’m afraid the words don’t come easily.”

“No one?” His eyebrows furrowed. “In your journal, you addressed a letter to Varric.”

“Yes.” I shrugged. “I never told him—not yet, anyway, but I knew he would be around for a great deal of what was to come. Other people would come and go. And Varric—he’s a writer. He… he’s more open to strange things because he knows how strange life can be, on and off the page. I knew, even before I met him, that he would give it a fair chance.”

He nodded, then stared down at the book again. “How… do I know this is real? It’s just a journal. It—you… you could have written it as you left Kirkwall.”

“Perhaps.” I wrapped my arms around myself. I wanted to hold his coin, but with him so near, I didn’t dare so much as reach for it. I didn’t know how he would take it if I did. “But even if that is true… you’ve read it all, now, haven’t you? And I haven’t been able to add anything since I gave it to you. Even if it was all written recently… you have proof, now, that at least some of what was written is true.”

“The Breach.”

I watched him close his eyes tightly. The leather cover bent slightly in his grip. Though he was wearing gloves, I knew his fingers must have been white from the pressure.

“The Divine’s death. The red lyrium. Even the scouts on the mountain… it’s all here. I looked again, after. I know it’s there. I still don’t—” He made a growling, frustrated sound and stood, walking to the side, not looking at me. “I don’t understand.”

My heart ached to help him, pressing up against my ribs, drawn to him. “Ir abelas. I-I don’t… I don’t know. I don’t know how I got here. I don’t know why. I don’t…”

“Was it the—I don’t know how to say the word. The ancient elven artifact. Is that what brought you here?”

“I don’t know,” I said again, wishing I had a better answer. I could hear him huff at it. “I know that I was found with Theron outside the ruins where he and Tamlen found the eluvian. I know it was Blighted. I know Merrill took it and—and purified it. I think I came through it, but I don’t… I don’t know how.”

Words started to spill faster now. “I—it’s not good, how Merrill un-Blighted it, because she used blood magic and she spoke with a demon far more dangerous than she even believed, but I know it was purified. I know it was no longer tainted. I’m—part of the Order or not, I’m forever a Grey Warden. I can feel the Blight, and it had been cleansed from the eluvian. But even then, even Blightless, it was…

“I tried to use it.” Twice. Once with desperation, once out of simple need to know.

“They’re like doorways, eluvians. It’s how the ancient elves got around. But the eluvian that brought me here doesn’t work, even now. Not even with our combined power could Merrill and I fix it. Maybe—maybe with lyrium, or with an entire group of mages, but we didn’t have that. We didn’t have the time, and it was—she was an apostate, then, and living in a shem city. We could neither go to a Circle nor to other Dalish.

“And I don’t… I don’t know what would have happened. If I’d used it. If it had worked. I don’t—a decade ago, I wouldn’t have cared.” Bloodied hands grasping at shattered glass, begging, praying. “I wanted to go home, wherever that was. I had nothing here except the Blight, and when that was done, even the friends I’d made then all went separate ways, going home or adventuring or starting a new life, and I just—all I had was that journal. No home, no family, no history.

“I wanted the eluvian to return me. It didn’t. I-I was stuck here, for better or worse, so I decided to do what I could.” I held my arms tighter, pressing them into my torso. “I have all this knowledge, all these prophecies. The least I can do… is help.”

Cullen didn’t move. He still wasn’t looking at me. That made it easier at first, I think, to keep talking, but now it only let the silence cling and drag, pulling ever inwards. I started to fret, trying to figure out how to explain, what to say next, but my mind wouldn’t cooperate.

Eventually, he turned around. “You… helped stop the Blight. You came to Kirkwall. You came here. I don’t—I don’t know what all you changed. So much is just as your writings predicted. Kirkwall’s chantry was destroyed. The conclave was destroyed. Grand Cleric Elthina and Divine Justinia both died—and so many others, too.”

I closed my eyes and nodded. It was true. I—I didn’t regret Elthina’s death. In some ways, I was almost even glad for it, but that was not… It wasn’t the appropriate time to explain that, if Cullen even wanted to know. But Justinia? I wished I could have saved her. How, I had no idea, but she was a good woman. Occasionally misguided, perhaps, but who wasn’t? She had tried, genuinely tried, and that was enough for me.

“But you… were there.” Cullen huffed and began to pace. “You were in the Chantry before it exploded. Knight Hugh told me—told everyone—how you tried to warn them, how you were rushing people out, how Elthina refused to leave. And you—I spoke with Leliana. She was with you at Kinloch, so I knew she knew something, and she… She said you warned her. Warned Justinia. But she said you told her you could do nothing, and she—she didn’t know why, but…”

After he trailed off, I tried to explain. My voice was barely more than a whisper. “I had warning for Kirkwall’s chantry. Anders is my friend, even now, and he… even when Vengeance made it hard for him to think, he promised he would let me try. I knew Elthina wouldn’t listen, but—the others… they needed to know. I had to try, and I only wish I had done better.

“But—here. Oh, Cullen, ir abelas… You have read about Corypheus. I knew he was coming, but I didn’t know when, and I—I couldn’t…” I took a shuddering breath. “He can control the Blight, somehow, and through it, he can control Grey Wardens. I couldn’t let myself be where he might take advantage of that. I couldn’t… I couldn’t save Justinia.

“Even now, I’m a danger. When he comes back—and he will come back—I don’t know if it will be safe for me to be here. I don’t know what will happen to me. I had Master Ilen put a lock on my aravel. When I hear him again, I will go into it, and I… I can’t be let out until he is gone. Until we know it is safe.”

“You wrote about where he came from,” Cullen said. “A Grey Warden prison. Couldn’t—couldn’t you have made sure he wasn’t released?”

It was a question I had asked myself more than once. “I don’t know,” I admitted. “Ir abelas, I don’t know. I was never clear on how… the only way I knew would stop him was a path I was unwilling to take.”

“Why?”

I tried to meet his eyes. He was looking at me again. I had to look at his forehead instead, and felt a coward for it. “I would have had to kill the Hawkes. Malia, Garrett, and Carver would have had to die—and even then, I couldn’t guarantee that Corypheus wouldn’t find some other way out, that he wouldn’t cause some greater catastrophe doing so. It’s selfish, maybe, but I… I couldn’t kill them. At least this way I know what will happen. Without the Hawkes—I don’t know what would have happened to Kirkwall, let alone the rest of the world.”

Cullen sighed, shrinking ever so slightly. “A gamble, then. To release a terror you knew instead of facing an uncertain future, because you knew how to help.”

“Yes.”

“I thought you were terrible at chess.” There was a strange quality to his voice. I had no idea what it meant, but it brought everything up a half-step.

“I’ve never been good at predicting things that aren’t laid out for me.” So much and so little had changed. I let my arms droop some. “I didn’t… you were supposed to hate mages. Hate magic. I don’t… I don’t know what changed, but I’m glad for it. I only hope I haven’t… that my secrets haven’t turned you to that path once more.”

He sat back down across from me. “They haven’t,” he said. “I can’t say I know what to make of it all—especially… if what you’ve written is true—if it’s all true, then your gods are real, and… I don’t know where that leaves me. I don’t know where that leaves the Maker. Is He not real, then? Has the Chantry always been wrong?”

I didn’t expect that—but perhaps I should have. He was a devout Andrastian, after all. How could confirmation of the existence of the elven gods not shake his faith? “I don’t know. I don’t have the answers for that, but… for what it’s worth, I see no reason that they cannot coexist. I’ve never seen anything to definitively say the Maker does not exist, though I have never been given such proof of His existence as my own gods’. I know it’s little comfort, but it’s all I have.”

He nodded. “I suppose it was too much to hope that you wouldn’t have written it down if you did know.”

We sat in silence. It was still heavy, still pressing, but it wasn’t as intense as before. It was almost comfortable. He was thinking, I knew, and he had much to think about. I waited, running my fingers over the embroidery in my clothing.

When the mood shifted, he lifted his head to meet my eyes again, leaning forward, his elbows resting on his knees. “Tell me what you’ve changed. Other than—me. Tell me what else you’ve made better, please. I-I need to know.”

I obliged. “In some ways, it feels like it is not much, and maybe the changes I’ve managed are small, but they’re important to me. The first notable change I made was Loghain’s fate…”

I recounted each change I knew had been directly my doing. The list was strange, beginning with Loghain, and routing through Connor, Leandra, Fiona, Varania, Feynriel… Anders and Justice were the most painful, but no less important. And my discovery, my ritual, was important, too. Maybe it could help others, someday.

When I had told him all I could remember, all I knew I had changed, we sat a moment in silence.

“Thank you,” he said. “For telling me. I… I need to think about it. It changes…” He huffed and rubbed a hand on the back of his neck. “I don’t know. Something.”

“Take all the time you need, ma falon,” I said. “It’s enough, for me, that you don’t think me possessed.”

He half-smiled. “I’ve always known you weren’t an abomination. Sometimes, it seemed like it was the only thing I could be sure of.”

Those words wrapped around me and pressed themselves into my mind, replaying over and over even hours later. “Ma serannas,” I said. I didn’t know if it was something that was truly appropriate to thank someone for, but… “To hear those words means a great deal.”

The shadow of a smile graced his lips, stretching his scar ever so slightly. We sat in silence a while more, and when it became clear that neither of us had more to say at the time, we finally bade each other farewell.

We weren’t fixed. It wasn’t that easy—but we were okay, and that was enough.

Chapter Text

“We need to talk,” Leliana said to me, arms crossed. She stood half in shadow, and with her hood up, I could hardly see her eyes. “You knew.”

I was still drained from the conversation with Cullen, and couldn’t bear the idea of having another confrontation so soon after, even if the first had ultimately gone well. “Yes,” I said, agreeing with both of her statements. “But I…”

Was I ready to commit to the promise I had made myself? As Leliana stepped closer, I knew I had to be. The time for secrets was over.

I took a deep breath. “When Amir returns, I will tell you all everything I can. There are a few secrets that aren’t mine to share, but… Everything else. You, Amir, Josephine, and Cassandra. Varric, too. You all deserve to know.”

She paused in front of me. “Will you let us see your journal, too?”

She knew, of course, that Cullen had read it. That I had let him. “No,” I said, and she raised an eyebrow at that. “Some things should remain secret as long as possible. There are events that must unfold before everyone can know and understand.”

“Like making Loghain a Warden.”

“Very much like that.” I held her gaze steadily, and we stared for a long, tense moment.

“And you’ll explain why you did not try to stop the Divine’s death.”

It was a demand. A condition, for her to agree. I nodded. “Yes.”

She stared at me, unwavering. I had disappointed her, I knew, by letting Justinia die. Maybe worse than disappointed her. Still, she did not show her feelings to me so clearly. Intense sadness welled up in me as I realized that, and I missed my friend from the Fifth Blight. She had become so jaded, so closed-off. She was almost unrecognizable.

Then again, perhaps I was, too.

“Fine,” she said. “When Amir returns.”

“Ma serannas, lethallan,” I said. She nodded and left. For a moment, I wanted to call her back, to apologize, to beg her forgiveness… but the words would be little more than platitudes. I didn’t regret my inaction. She would not appreciate empty words.

 

Haven was mostly uneventful in the days that followed. I gave Cullen space to think and tried to ignore how Leliana was careful not to be alone in a room with me. (It was easier when I stayed outside.) Mheganni and the other hunters managed to take down a druffalo, which provided more than enough for our clan to eat and prepare winter clothing.

I hadn’t managed to formally introduce myself to Solas yet. I wasn’t sure how to. We had met in passing, and he was certainly aware of who I was by now, but we hadn’t held a conversation. Since he had left with Amir, it would have to wait. I tried to envision how best to introduce myself—but nothing seemed right, or good enough. He was a god! How was I meant to ignore that, to pretend I did not know? I abandoned every idea as it formed.

Though perhaps it was to be expected, Emily and Elizabeth set about making connections much faster than I had anticipated. They left my clan’s encampment to pitch a tent among Leliana’s scouts. They didn’t abandon us completely, but it was clear that they felt they’d finished their end of things.

Jewel and Driscoll, on the other hand, continued to make camp with us. Well, mostly Jewel. Driscoll certainly helped when he was around, and he could be seen at meal times, but he seemed to spend most of his time flirting his way through Haven. If he did anything else when he was not with my clan, I didn’t see it.

That said, he was much smarter than he let on. He knew enough to help with Tamlen. With my duties as Dalish Liaison atop my duties as Keeper, I didn’t have enough time to devote to teaching Tamlen as much about magical theory and control. I could still teach him other things, but I had to prioritize, and with Driscoll around, I could focus on the elven magic and history.

(Dima helped, too, of course, but she was a First, and that seemed a given. Kumbukani would surely have helped teach Tamlen if she had ever been formally taught herself, but her magical education was severely lacking. Almost all she knew was self-taught, and she didn’t have the language to explain it.)

The Adaar siblings were happy to stay with us. As Dalish Liaison, I was actually to receive a salary for my efforts, and since I didn’t need the money, I chose instead to increase the pay I had been giving the Adaars. It felt better to be able to give them what they deserved, as opposed to merely what my clan could afford.

The rest of the money was used to purchase the materials my clan could not gather. Aravel maintenance was a continuous thing, and though we had most of what was needed, we did not always have enough wood or varnish. And it was nice to purchase herbs and spices we could not gather, or a large ream of well-made wool, or a proper saddle for the harts we had.

So the days until Amir returned passed with little of note.

 

And when he returned, the talk took place as soon as Mother Giselle was shown to a room. He and Cassandra barely finished giving a report of what they’d encountered in the Hinterlands before Leliana turned to me.

“The Keeper has something to share with us, as well,” she said.

Solas, thankfully, wasn’t present. He hadn’t even had to be ushered from the room, as he had chosen to rest. Varric had tried the same, but I had insisted on his attendance, and he had caved. From the look he was giving me now, and the way he took in how both Leliana and Cullen were staring, he had to know something was up.

“What I am about to tell you,” I said slowly, “is something that I would appreciate not being made a spectacle of. It need not be a secret any longer, but it is… It has been a secret of mine for so long, that I don’t know how to deal with it otherwise.”

“What do you mean?” Amir asked. “It’s not something bad, is it?”

A difficult question. I shrugged one shoulder, a half-hearted motion. “I don’t think it is, but some may disagree with how I’ve handled it thus far. Some might think it should not have been a secret.”

“Mittens… is this what I think it is?” Varric asked. His brow was furrowed, and he wasn’t smiling.

I couldn’t stand it, so I took the plunge, using the same words I had told Irving so many years ago. “I have a gift, of sorts. Or, rather, I had one—years ago, it told me of the future, and of the possibilities to come, but I haven’t learned anything new in over a decade.”

“That’s—when the Fifth Blight was happening,” Amir said. “When you were a Grey Warden, fighting the Blight.”

“Yes.”

“Uh, are we really taking this at face-value?” Varric added. “You saw the future? That’s not supposed to be possible outside of stories. Mittens, I know you’ve said and done some weird shit, but… seeing the future…”

I sighed and tried to remember something that would prove to him I was telling the truth. There wasn’t much. I’d done better, in Kirkwall, at hiding it. I hadn’t needed to say anything at all, most of the time, because the Hawkes—they were good, in every sense of the word. They hadn’t needed my help or guidance. “The white lilies,” I said. “And that madman in the sewers.”

He huffed. “Sure, you were suspicious of them, but that made sense. We all were.”

“The Deep Roads Expedition. The doors only opened one way.”

“Yeah, but the red lyrium—”

“Marethari.”

“That… I wasn’t there for that.”

“I know Malia told you about it.” I stared him down.

He shifted. “You’re undoing all my hard work, you know. I had been trying to convince myself you were normal, just like you said.” He paused. “Well, as normal as a shapeshifting ex-Grey Warden can be, anyway.”

I smiled. “Ma serannas. But it’s true. I knew what would happen, every time. I knew we would find red lyrium in the Deep Roads, and I knew it would be here. That’s why I told you never to let anyone know where the thaig was.”

He didn’t speak.

“I know,” I said, and he looked away. “You were never going to listen to that. It’s not your fault.”

He still didn’t reply, and there was silence for a moment.

“Why bring this up now?” Amir asked. It had the air of innocence to it. It was a true question, not a hidden accusation.

I looked down at the map of Orlais and Ferelden that was spread upon the table. “I haven’t learned anything since I wrote my journal eleven years ago, but I-I know what is happening now. What will happen still.”

“You know… and you always knew,” he concluded, eyes heavy on me. “About the Breach.”

I forced myself to meet his eyes. They were a pale violet, as devoid of melanin as the rest of him, and surrounded by Mythal’s vallaslin in a bright green that almost perfectly matched the color of the Breach. Taking a deep breath, I steeled myself and answered, “Yes.”

Josephine gasped loudly. Varric’s eyes squeezed shut. Cassandra took a step towards me, her hands balled into fists. “You knew?” she demanded. “You knew that the Breach would come?”

“Yes,” I repeated. Then, not wanting to make her ask the question, I said, “And I-I knew—I knew Divine Justinia would die.”

I didn’t look at Cullen or Leliana, who were already aware of this. Cassandra took another step forward, becoming almost all I could see, anyway. “And you did nothing?” I didn’t have time to answer, but it didn’t matter. “She was our Most Holy! You might not be Andrastian, but you know her importance! How could you let her die?”

“I couldn’t save her,” I said. “There is nothing I could have done!” (I could have tried harder, looked for a workaround. I didn’t. I had accepted Justinia’s death as necessary, but to tell Cassandra this would be cruel.) “I’ve tried thwarting fate before, but there are fixed events that I have never been able to change.”

“You should have tried harder! You should have told us! We could have done something—anything!”

She didn’t hit me. She didn’t even make motions to. But she was nearly an entire foot taller than me, and her anger was thick enough to feel pressing against my skin, and this made her intimidating. I kept myself as still as possible, even as I made my case. “You’d have died!”

“I was her Right Hand! I would gladly have given my life to save hers.”

“She would still be dead, Cassandra!” I cast through my memories of what happened at the Temple. “Do you remember the voice? ‘Keep the sacrifice still.’ It was Corypheus, an evil greater than you can know, and he would always have ensured that Justinia was the one to die, no matter how many he had to slaughter first.”

“What gives you the right to make that choice?” she said, punctuating the words with a finger jabbed into my chest. “You are not even Andrastian!”

An arrogant part of me, small but nevertheless there, wanted to say that surely the simple fact that I was the one who had been given the knowledge should be the proof that it had been my choice to make. It said that I had been given the knowledge because I would make the best choices with it.

The humbler part of me remembered my failures with Marethari and Justice.

I deflated. “If I had known when it would happen, I would have said something. We could have done… something. I don’t know what. But I didn’t know when. I never did. I knew it would happen during the conclave, and I knew that it would happen at the Temple of Sacred Ashes.”

“So we could have kept her in Haven,” Cassandra insisted.

“He would have hunted her down. It is no coincidence that she was his sacrifice.” I still didn’t understand why her, of all people, but it didn’t matter. Corypheus was hardly logical. “Keeping her in Haven would only have endangered more people—more innocent lives lost. I… I am sorry, Cassandra. There was nothing anyone could do.”

The sound that left her throat was incoherent and angry. She lifted her hands, and I flinched back a step.

“Cassandra,” Amir said, his voice quiet. She spun away from me, moving to stand as far as the room would allow. He watched, then continued, “We can’t change what happened now. It’s done. But maybe we can do something about what’s to come. What else do you know, Keeper?”

I had to take a moment to gather myself before I could answer. He needed to know. They all did. When I had coaxed my courage back, I told them what to expect from Corypheus—about Alexius and his time magic, about the envy demon at Therinfal Redoubt, about the red lyrium, the Grey Wardens, the plot against the Empress…

I did not tell them what—who—Solas was. I did not tell them about Thom Rainier, about Flemeth-Mythal, about the details of the Vir’abelasan. Not everything was mine to say, and some would simply make things a mess to know of now. They could learn later. I would offer what I knew freely as it became relevant, and I made sure they knew as much.

Still, I was exhausted by the time we finished. As I made to retreat to my aravel, Cullen took me aside with a gentle hand on my shoulder.

“The things you didn’t say,” he began, eyebrows pulled close together, “what do you want me to—since I know them…”

I wanted him to trust me on those few things, to keep them quiet as I did until their truth came to light naturally. But, at the same time, I knew that to ask such a thing of him was presumptuous and remarkably arrogant. Instead, feeling very small and wrung-out, I gazed up at him and made a vague gesture. “I can’t—I won’t stop you, if you think something needs to be said, to be known. You’re a good man, Cullen, and smarter than most people think. I’m choosing to keep quiet, but I won’t force that on you. I just… I feel that some things should be learned naturally.”

“Even Blackwall?” he asked. “I don’t know if I can keep that quiet.”

“Do what you think is right,” I said, daring to press a hand on his armor, over his heart. “I trust you, Cullen. You know in your heart what is good. Just because I am choosing to be quiet does not mean you must. I’m as mortal as anyone. I’ve made mistakes before, and I’m sure I’ll make more in the time I have left.”

If he noticed anything odd in my wording, he didn’t bring it up. Instead, he covered my hand with his own, still frowning. “Why are you keeping quiet about him, then?”

I didn’t dare draw my hand back now, too busy memorizing how it felt to have him hold it in any way. “He made a mistake,” I said. “A terrible mistake, yes. Unforgiveable, perhaps. I doubt I will ever know how to speak naturally with him. But I have a friend who made a similar mistake, and who holds no less of my affection for it. And Rainier… he is trying to atone. By keeping quiet, he may come to the Inquisition and attempt to atone here. I would let him, and later, I would let Amir decide his fate.

“I have decided too many already.”

Then, because I couldn’t stand to continue the conversation, I drew my hand back, already missing the warmth of his. “Ir abelas. I’m tired. I-I should go.”

I didn’t wait for Cullen to say anything. I fled to my aravel.

 

Solas approached me while I was on my way to gather herbs. I nearly dropped my basket when I realized it was me he was walking towards. “If you have a moment now, Keeper,” he said, ignoring my discombobulation, “I’d like to speak with you.”

I righted my basket and smiled at him, hopefully looking far less anxious than I felt. “I was just about to get some more elfroot for Adan’s stores; how about you come with me? I can speak and gather.”

“Certainly.” He fell into step next to me. I noticed with a strange sense of disconnect just how much taller he was than most elves; perhaps it would hardly be of note to anyone else, as he wasn’t of an utterly ridiculous height, but he was still easily over a head taller than me. Of course, I was short. “I don’t believe we’ve been properly introduced. My name is Solas.”

“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Solas,” I said, managing a polite smile. “I’m Vir’era Sabrae.”

“You have quite the unusual name,” he said. I think it was meant to be a light tone, but I found myself suspicious of any sound to pass his lips. “Have you always had it?”

I hummed. I didn’t want to tell him the whole truth. He was sure to know something eventually, though, so a lie would be out of place. Plus, god. How could I know what he knew? “As long as I can remember, yes, though that’s not as long as most might expect. I’m afraid I had some sort of accident at the start of the Fifth Blight. I can’t remember anything significant about my life before then.”

“I see.” He looked at me, but I kept my own eyes on the path before us, returning any smiles passersby sent my way. “You’re aware, of course, of its meaning.”

This time, I did look at him to raise an eyebrow. “I know we Dalish have lost much of our history and language, but we do tend to know the meaning of our names. ‘Vir’era’ is ‘the story’s path,’ or perhaps ‘the way of the story,’ if you prefer.”

“I meant no offense, Keeper,” he said, lifting a hand. I didn’t entirely believe him. “Though it may not seem obvious to you now, I do want for us to get along. The Herald speaks highly of you.”

“Amir is a sweet young man,” I answered. The patch of elfroot was just outside the gates, and I knelt to examine it before harvesting. “I agree, for what it’s worth. I’ll admit I can be defensive of my people, sometimes to the detriment of polite conversation.” I flashed a quick smile at him, and he half-smirked back. “I hope you can understand. Life has not been easy for us, and too many would brush aside as backwards or unworthy.”

He knelt beside me, but did not join me in checking the plants for disease or pests. “You feel very strongly about this.”

“I do. I’m a Keeper, so in some part it is my job—but more than that, it’s how I’ve always felt.” I saw no evidence of pestilence or plague on the plants, so I began to harvest. The leaves were most important, for now. “Even when I wasn’t living among them, I never forgot how poorly the world treated us. I have done what I can to make it better, but I’m only one person.”

“I see,” he said.

Unsure how to interpret that, I looked up at him. This proved fruitless, as his face was as impassive as his voice. “Is there something you wanted to say? I’ve heard you spend much of your time in the Fade, learning of the past in ways most can hardly even imagine.”

“I do.” He didn’t elaborate. “Why?”

I sat back on my heels, momentarily abandoning the elfroot. “Pardon the phrase, but I can only dream of knowing the thing you do. Part of my role is to remember what we have recovered, to relearn what we have lost, but I’m limited to physical items, to conjecture and poor translations of half-missing texts. What you can do, how you can learn… It could change everything, or it could change nothing. Either way, I admit I’m envious.”

His eyebrows lifted. “Truly? I have attempted to tell other clans before—to correct them on things the Fade has shown, but rarely have they even been willing to listen.”

I shrugged. “You’re not Dalish, are you?” He kept his gaze even. “For centuries, people have tried to tell us who we are, what we’re worth, why we’re wrong. Even now, if one Keeper discovers that a reestablished tradition has been misinterpreted, it takes years upon years for any real change to be enacted. And the Fade is notoriously inaccurate—why should we trust you, an outsider, who cannot show us physical proof to back the claims you make?”

“Whether you choose to believe me or not does not change the facts,” he stated. His voice was flat. I had offended him, surely.

“No,” I agreed, “it does not. That doesn’t make them any easier to accept.”

I don’t think he was pleased with my words. For a long moment, there was silence. I went back to picking leaves for Adan, and, to break the tension, I asked, “You’re Somniari, aren’t you? Or something like it.”

“Once, many elvhen were,” he said. “Now, the gift has become so rare that few even hear the word. I am surprised you know of it.”

I smiled again. “A friend of mine is Somniari. Feynriel. He stayed with my clan a while, but we didn’t have enough to teach him what he needed to know. He went to Tevinter to study. Sometimes he visits my dreams. From what he’s told me, his gift sounds very similar to yours. Learning from the Fade, exploring it in dreams.”

“I suppose going to Tevinter is a better alternative than ending up Tranquil in a southern Circle.” Solas looked northwards, as though he might be able to see Tevinter. For all I knew, he could. He might have knelt in the dirt with me, but he was still Fen’Harel; I didn’t know the true extent of his power. “Why?”

“Oh, mostly to change the subject.” No need to bother lying. “I didn’t mean to upset you. I would like to hear what you know, if you’re willing to share. Perhaps with less focus on what the Dalish have gotten wrong, though. I mean no offense, but I have enough to take care of at the moment without trying to change my clan’s traditions.”

“But you would try to change them, if you learned you were wrong?” he pressed.

I shrugged. “Those things that I can reasonably change, yes. Some aspects have become too entrenched in modern Dalish culture—they may not be true to what happened in Arlathan, but that does not make the new interpretation any less important. Sometimes, it’s just as important to change as it is to remember.”

“An interesting take.” I couldn’t help but get the feeling he disagreed, but it seemed he at least did not disapprove. “I am always happy to share with someone willing to listen. Facts are of no use if only one person knows them.”

“And I love to learn. Tell me, what have you seen of…”

 

Mother Giselle was interesting. She stared at me when she thought I wouldn’t notice, though she did not hide it when I caught her eye. Instead, she would smile at me, then move her gaze. I didn’t know what to make of her, and it seemed the feeling was mutual.

“I am glad the young Herald is not here alone,” she said to me. “It is hard to go where no one else shares the same culture as you.”

I tilted my head up at her. Where could she be going with this? “Amir has a good head on his shoulders. Even without my presence, I am certain he would make good decisions.”

(Sure, he’d gone directly against my wishes by visiting the Temple of Sacred Ashes, but it had resulted as perhaps it always would have: he was the Herald of Andraste. For such to happen, he would always have had to go to the Temple.)

“It is still easier for the presence of other Dalish.” She smiled. For all that I didn’t understand just how she felt, it was a comforting smile, and I let it sooth me. “To be surrounded by those who do not understand, and perhaps will not try to—it wears on a person.”

“Wise words.” I knew that feeling intimately, so many times over.

“It is good to know you are familiar with our ways,” she continued, “even if we are not familiar with yours. When I heard the Herald was Dalish, I worried that there would be more difficulty. I am glad to know these worries were unfounded.”

She meant well, by the smile that was still on her face, but the words scraped at me nevertheless. I suppressed a wince. “We are not so different as stories would make us seem, Mother Giselle.”

“Of course not.” She inclined her head. “I am certain you will continue to prove that. It is controversial, for the Herald to be Dalish, as is your appointment among the Inquisition’s highest ranks. After all, you are not Andrastian, are you?”

“I am not,” I confirmed. “I only hope Amir and I can help to dispel the worst rumors about our people. Such things are dangerous.”

“Indeed. The Chantry would use them to insist on the Inquisition’s heresy.”

“Ir abelas, but that is not my primary concern.” When Mother Giselle raised an eyebrow, I wondered how she could not know. She was Orlesian, after all. “Whatever the Chantry may do, the Inquisition is legitimate. My concern is the shemlen who use the unfounded rumors of Dalish depravity to justify hunting and murdering us.”

She balked, pressing a hand to her chest. “Such things do not happen in polite society.”

I couldn’t help digging in. “I suppose you’re right. Grand Duke Gaspard can hardly be counted as polite now that he is actively engaged in war with Empress Celene, and any claim he had previously was dubious at best.”

“I am certain the Grand Duke would never…” But even she trailed off.

“He has,” I said. “Ir abelas, Mother Giselle, but I find I’m not well-suited to this topic at the moment. Perhaps we can continue the discussion at a later date.” Before she could disagree, I left. I wanted to work well with her; for all her misinformation, she was ultimately good-hearted, and that was always commendable. Ignorance can be fixed, after all.

Still, it was difficult to speak with someone who would attempt to deny the systematic genocide of my people to my face mere breaths after implying we were less civilized. I could take only so much, and with all that was happening, my limit was smaller than normal. I retreated to Clan Sabrae’s camp to prepare elfroot potions.