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Sanctificatio

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They’d been told there would be a full diplomatic commission.  The Black Divine and four Grand Clerics, all with their High Clerics and respective entourages in toe.  After all, the Breech is a menace to everyone, and has even begun to affect the magisters in Tevinter.  The Imperial Chantry had been the one to reach out in the end, looking for cooperation with the Inquisition.  Strength in numbers, or something along those lines…

However, Ellana feels it is a poor omen when only one carriage pulls though the Skyhold gates that morning.

“I thought we were expecting a larger group than this?” she asks Cassandra, standing at the ramparts overlooking the gates.  Cassandra frowns beside her.

“That was my understanding as well,” she answers, squinting to get a better look. 

Ellana nods, watching as the carriage slows to a halt once inside the fortress’s walls.  It’s a beautiful apparatus, pitch black and gleaming in the morning sunlight, its silver points polished and shining.  The driver steps down from his perch once the two white stallions settle in their harnesses, and looks to the Inquisition’s welcoming party.  Josephine extends her hand to welcome him, while Cullen hovers close behind, laying a hand on one of the horses’ necks.  He seems equally as confused as she is by the lack of envoys, but judging by Josephine’s response, she’s covering up her own bewilderment with her usual diplomatic grace...

The door to the carriage opens, and Ellana watches as a man steps down from the cabin.  She cannot see him well as far away as she is on the battlements, but she can see enough…  Black leather armor from head to toe, and a silver mask.  She can remember Josephine’s brief from days earlier.

The High Clerics wear a silver mask at all times while in public to symbolize their selfless devotion to the Maker.  The Imperial Chantry considers it a breach of their sacrament, and a cardinal sin, to remove their mask in the presence of any who are not family…

So one High Cleric then.  She watches him smooth down his leathers and secure his mask more firmly in place, before turning back to the open carriage door.  He extends a gloved hand and escorts another High Cleric, the leathers and mask identical, down from the cabin.  This one is a woman, though, her feminine frame and hourglass figure a giveaway. 

“I thought only men served in the Imperial Chantry,” Cassandra notes, while the woman dusts herself off and adjusts her mask.

“I don’t know,” Ellana says.  “Obviously not.”

Cassandra opens her mouth as though to reply, but ends up dropping the subject as one last individual climbs down from the carriage.  He is obviously other—dressed in battlemage armaments, all black leather and polished steel guards, an embellished staff held in his right hand.  Once down the steps, he adjusts his armor and smooths his hair back, then pauses. 

And it’s as though he knows she is watching, though there’s no way he can.  They are a ways up the battlements, too far away to draw attention, but his eyes still meet hers from the ground by the carriage.  Ellana can see the rings of black around his abnormal eyes—she’s too far away to recognize what is wrong, but there is something wrong.  Aside from the tattoos…

The Grand Clerics receive a tattooed ring of black around each eye during their initiation sacrament, Josephine had explained during her brief. The Imperial Chantry believes the Maker watches over his flock through the eyes of the Grand Clerics.  The tattoos symbolize the eyes of the Maker.

Blasphemy, Lelliana had said, looking contemptuous. 

So a Grand Cleric and two High Clerics.  And a driver.  She sighs, looking down at tattooed eyes as the man seems to scrutinize her.  Then after several moments, he gives her a half-bow, then turns to walk up alongside his driver and greet Josephine.  The High Clerics follow behind him, while the driver bows to the Grand Cleric, the High Clerics, and then Josephine in turn.  He leaves with Cullen, leading the horses to the stables. 

“I don’t like this,” Cassandra says quietly from beside her.

“Let’s see how it goes.  Everything may still work out fine,” Ellana says, trying to quell her own doubts.  “Don’t worry.”

~*~

She meets with them the next day in the Great Hall after she has finished presiding over court. 

They make an impressive procession up to the throne, even if they are only three.  They move militaristically, the Grand Cleric taking the lead while the High Clerics flank him on each side, one step behind.  They are all dressed as they were upon arriving—leathers and masks and armaments—and the Grand Clerics still carries his staff in one gloved hand.  He uses it as though one would use a walking stick, and it thuds upon the floor with every other step. 

The Great Hall is packed with onlookers.  Her own companions stand off to the side as she expected—she can see Varric, Dorian, Vivienne, Iron Bull…  But the rest are probably there are well, mixed in amongst the crowd of soldiers and civilians alike.  It’s not often one sees members of the Black Chantry outside of Tevinter.  Ellana can’t blame them for wanting to see for themselves.  Still, it makes what is supposed to be a simple assembly feel like a spectacle.

“Inquisitor Lavellan, may I present,” Josephine begins, as the three come to a halt in front of the throne.  “Grand Cleric Calixto Abaroa, High Cleric Aria Roche, and High Cleric Ignatius Otho.”

I’m never going to remember all of that, she thinks.  Grand Cleric Calixto dips at the middle into a half-bow, then rights himself.  He’s a sight up close, perfectly dressed and immaculately groomed, all refined leather and shining silver, slicked back hair and trimmed moustache.  Dorian had said that, for all their flaws, the Imperial Chantry put on a good show.  Now, Ellana understands what he’d meant.

The two High Clerics’ sets of eyes shine back at her in the firelight of the hall, the man’s a deep brown and the woman’s a bright blue.  The rest of their features are obscured by their contoured masks, creating an eerie image.  Still, nothing is as unnerving as the Grand Cleric’s abnormal gaze…  Mismatched eyes, one hazel and one white, the dark spot of his pupil the only color in the anomalous eye.  It’s piercing, clearly unnatural, and she has to hide the shiver that runs down her spine. 

“Greetings, my Lady,” the Grand Cleric says, and Ellana is shocked at his accent.  Antivan, not at all Imperial.  “Or your Grace?  I’m afraid I’ve never met an Inquisitor before.  I do not know the proper protocol.”

“’My Lady’ is fine, Grand Cleric,” she answers, at the same time that both Josephine and Cullen answer, “We address her as ‘your Worship’.”

There is an odd silence as those strange eyes flick first to Josephine, then to Cullen, then back to meet her gaze.  “Alright, my Lady,” he answers pointedly.  Then, “I believe we are scheduled to meet tomorrow?  To speak of the technicalities of cooperation between my people and yours?”

Wow, right to it…  “That was the initial plan, I believe,” she agrees.  “But I have to ask—where are the rest of your people?  We were told there would be a full commission.”

“Mmm,” he hums, frowning.  “I’m afraid that the rest of those designated have backed out.  We are the full commission.”

And of course she knows this—she’d been updated by Josephine last night after the three Imperials had arrived.  But still, she frowns, feigning ignorance.  “Backed out?” she asks.  “Were they delayed in their travel?  Has some unforeseen incident occurred?”

The Grand Cleric smiles, though it is without pleasure.  “Not so much ‘unforeseen’,” he says.  Then explains, “The Divine chose not to leave Minrathos, at which point none of the other Grand Clerics were obligated to leave their cathedrals.  And none did.”

“Except you still stand before me,” she notes.

“Yes,” he says, cocking his head to the side.  “I feel alliances are most important in times like these.  There are greater evils at hand than the political squabbles and religious disagreements between our two countries, I hope you would agree…  Regardless, I pledged to attend this meeting to discuss amity, and I prefer not to go back on my word.”

“An honorable sentiment,” she says.  If it’s true…  He nods in appreciative acknowledgement, while Ellana’s eyes are drawn to the two High Clerics behind him.  They’re both standing at attention, silent, their shoulders back and chins up, hands folded behind their backs.  They haven’t made a sound since they’ve stepped up in front of her, almost as though they are simply figureheads.  “Do the High Clerics speak?” she asks, the words out of her mouth before she realizes they could be construed as offensive.  She goes to backtrack, but the Grand Cleric speaks up before she can…

“They will if there is something for them to say,” he answers.  Then, gesturing idly, he introduces them once again.  “High Cleric Ignatius, my second, and High Cleric Aria, my third.”

And while Ellana has no idea what he means by ‘his second’ or ‘his third’, she still greets, “Welcome, High Clerics.”  They both dip at the waist in half-bows, though still say nothing.  So Ellana tries, “It’s my understanding you were both placed in the same room upon your arrival.  If you would prefer more privacy, I will be happy to arrange…”

However, both of the High Clerics are shaking their heads before she can finish, and so she trails off.  Then, to her surprise, Ignatius speaks up.  “I thank you for your offer,” he says, Imperial accent reminding her of Dorian.  “But we prefer to room together.”

A couple? she wonders.  Or perhaps simply subservient to the Grand Cleric.  Ellana feels that if he had told them to room together, they would do so unquestioningly.  In fact, his commanding behavior and their obedience is only raising more questions for her, but now is not the time or place.  She simply nods, and answers, “Very well.”  Then, to the Grand Cleric, “We meet tomorrow in the War Room.  After breakfast, at ten.”

He nods, and replies, “We look forward to it.”

There are a few more words exchanged, stiff banter and false pleasantries, before Ellana dismisses them.  The Grand Cleric gives her another half-bow before taking a step back and turning away, his High Clerics following dutifully, and Ellana watches as they process back down the Great Hall.  And it’s once the three reach the outer doors, and once Ellana stands, that the Hall breaks into movement and chatter. 

Josephine halfheartedly announces an end to the audience, though no one is listening.  The guards push open the large double doors, allowing the three Imperials to exit the Great Hall, and Ellana watches as the Grand Cleric pauses.  He looks back over his shoulders, glancing first at his two High Clerics as though to ensure their safety—or possibly conformity, subservience?  Ellana can’t decide.  Then, his eyes trail back to the front of the room, and he nods as his gaze meets hers.  “At least he’s quite civil,” Josephine comments, as the three turn and exit the Hall.

Ellana turns to her.  “Were we expecting him not to be?” she asks.

Cassandra makes an irritated grunt, while Josephine tells them, “I met the Black Divine once.  He was…  Less than friendly, to say the least.”

“Well, considering they are the only ones out of the Imperial Chantry who chose to visit us…” Ellana begins.

“Yes, very suspicious.  I know,” Leliana pipes up.  Ellana frowns.  Am I just too optimistic? she wonders. 

“Did no one else notice his eye?” Cassandra asks, scandalized.

“Yes,” Cullen agrees, sounding equally as indignant.  “That is the result of twisted, perverted magic…”

“You can’t possibly know that,” Ellana argues, indignant. 

Cullen scowls at her.  “You would not believe what I’ve seen,” he says.  “Between the Ferelden Circle and the Kirkwall Circle, I’ve witnessed the unimaginable.”

“I’m sure,” Cassandra responds.  Ellana sighs.

“I’m afraid that perhaps…” Josephine begins, before echoing Ellana’s sigh.  Then she continues, “There are rumors about him—the Grand Cleric—that circulate in the Imperium.  Many are contradictory, granted, but they are disturbing as well.”  She pauses, gaze straying to Cullen’s concerned stare before once again meeting Ellana’s eyes.  “I did not brief you on these rumors because—well, they are exactly that, rumors.  There is no evidence or proof that any of what is said has actually occurred.  And he does more good in his cathedral than the rest of the Grand Clerics combined…”

Cullen scoffs, interrupting.  “No good comes out of the Black Chantry.”

“He harbors escaped slaves seeking sanctuary in his Cathedral,” Ellana says, repeating what Josephine had told her the night before.

Josephine nods.  “He is very progressive in his thinking compared to the rest of the Imperial Chantry.  He is not actually from Tevinter, I’m sure you noticed,” she says.  “He doesn’t preach on the usual Imperial message; he preaches on compassion and understanding…”

“He’s Antivan.  He probably wasn’t raised in the Imperial Chantry,” Leliana points out.  “But that doesn’t undo any ‘disturbing’ actions in his past.”

“The people in Marothius love him,” Josephine says, though her defense is becoming weak.

Ellana shakes her head.  They could stand here and argue about this the rest of the evening and well into the night.  “There’s nothing else to say right now,” she decides.  “Like you said, Josephine, he was civil.  And I believe the fact that he came here despite all was very brave.”

“I’d like to brief you on those rumors,” Josephine puts in, but Ellana shakes her head.

“If there’s no proof as to their truth, then I’m not interested.  I know rumors circulate about me that are nowhere near true, and I’d hope visiting diplomats don’t make judgments about me based off lies,” she answers.  Josephine looks unhappy, but nods.  And so Ellana decides, “I believe we all have other things to be attending to, work to be done.  I will see you tomorrow morning in the War Room, if I don’t speak to you again this evening.”

She means to leave them when she walks forward to leave the Hall, but she can hear them following her, can hear the telltale clanking of Cullen and Cassandra’s armor close behind.  She sighs, making her way through the double doors and onto the stone dais, only to find the three Imperials haven’t made it very far…

The two High Clerics are on the grass at the base of the stairway.  Aria is speaking to a few mothers from the chantry, their pale hallowed robes standing in stark contrast to her black leathers.  Meanwhile, Dorian is regaling Ignatius with some tale or another, his hands busy in a flourish.  It’s difficult to gauge Ignatius’ reaction through the mask, though his body language seems relaxed, even pleased. 

However, the Grand Cleric hasn’t even made it off the dais.  He is surrounded by an audience—warriors and civilians alike—and Ellana can hear them speaking, both her people and the Grand Cleric.  She steps up just in time for someone to shout, “Is it true, your Grace?  Is it true that there are orgies in Imperial cathedrals on Feast Days?”

And while this is a rumor even she has heard before, as removed as she was in the Dalish forests, she still can’t believe one of her own people would accuse him of such to his face.  She can feel herself flushing in a mix of anger and embarrassment, and cries, “This is not a public forum, people!  Please, move on!”

His abnormal eyes skate over the heads of the others, eventually finding where she stands at the back of the crowd.  His lips curl into a smile, the first true smile she’s seen on him.  It’s smooth, charismatic, and utterly dangerous.  “Oh, Inquisitor, I do not mind talking and answering questions,” he tells her.  “After all, ignorance only fuels fear and mistrust.”

“Differences can also fuel fear and mistrust,” Josephine speaks up from over her shoulder.

“As can malevolence,” Cullen adds, quiet.  Ellana isn’t sure The Grand Cleric even hears it, though he does chuckle.

“Indeed,” he agrees.  “But alas…”  His gaze turns back to the onlookers.  “…I’ve unfortunately never been privy to an orgy within my cathedral.  I believe that is simply a Southern misconception of our practices.”

“But what about…?” someone else in the crowd begins. 

“Move along!  Move along!” Ellana shouts before they can fall further down this rabbit hole.  The crowd reluctantly begins to disperse, while the Grand Cleric shoots her an amused smirk. 

He sidles over, using his staff to softly part the waters through the crowd.  She’s surprised once he stops in front of her—she finds herself eye-level with him, as opposed to looking up to meet his gaze as she does with almost all other men.  She is short of height and small of frame, typically elven, but the Grand Cleric stands only an inch or two taller than her.  It’s odd—he had seemed so regal standing before her in front of the throne, something about the way he held himself.

“I apologize,” she tells him.  “I was not expecting our people to be so forward.”

“It is quite alright,” he replies, his gloved hand idly playing with the grip on his staff.  “I know we are an oddity here.”

“Thank you for your understanding,” Josephine pipes up, and the Grand Cleric nods.

“Though I must say, I’m not sure where that particular rumor came from,” he says, giving her a theatrical frown.  “Perhaps…?  Perhaps you Southerners consider threesomes and foursomes to be orgies?  I know Antivans do not, but then all countries seem to have differing views regarding pleasures of the flesh.”

The smirk he shoots first her, then Josephine over her shoulder, is absolutely filthy.  He turns away from them without waiting for a response and smoothly descends the steps off the dais onto the ground.  When Ellana looks back at Josephine, the woman’s face is flushed in embarrassment, the color deep enough to be seen even through her olive-toned skin.  “Dear me,” she mutters, brown eyes wide.

Leliana laughs cheerlessly, elbowing Ellana as she walks past, and says, “Imperial and Antivan—what a combo, huh?”

“I suppose,” she answers, remaining on the dais as both Cassandra and Cullen follow Leliana down the steps.  Josephine quietly bids her farewell and disappears back into the keep.  Ellana lets her go—after all, her duties here are finished.  So Ellana just sighs and follows after her other advisors, at a loss of what else to do. 

She’s not sure what exactly she expected the Imperium to send her, but this is not it.

~*~

“Here you are again.  Hiding away amongst the books.”

Ellana looks up from the pages of her novel to find Dorian leaning against the nearest bookshelf, peering down at her with interest.  She sighs, setting the book face down on her lap, and answers, “Yes, again.”

Dorian nods, lowering himself to sit on the floor next to her, back leaned up against a bookcase.  “Oh, I do understand.  Why do you think I linger here so often?” he says.  “It’s quiet and relaxing.  Private.”

“Private?” she asks, raising an eyebrow.

“Well…” he says, then laughs.  “Private, most of the time.”

“So it would seem,” she says, returning his laugh.  She uncrosses her legs, then re-crosses them, before asking the question suddenly turning in the back of her mind.  “So, what did you think of the High Cleric?  I saw you two talking.”

“What?” Dorian asks, brows furrowing for a moment.  But then, “Oh, you mean Nate?”

“Uh…  What?” Ellana replies, confused.

“Ignatius Otho?” Dorian clarifies, continuing once Ellana nods.  “Yes, yes, yes.  Pardon me, I forget he’s an actual somebody nowadays.  I suppose I’ll just always see him as that kid running around with me, getting in trouble with our parents, you know how it is…”

“Wait, you…?” Ellana starts, mind spinning.  “You know him?  Or knew him already?”

“Somewhat,” Dorian answers with a shrug.  “I hadn’t spoken with him since he left Qarinus, but we grew up together.  The Otho family was close to ours.  Or is still close, I suppose.”

“So he’s Tevinter nobility,” she mumbles, wondering how Josephine had missed that tidbit.

Was,” Dorian corrects.  “Once a man joins the Chantry, he forsakes his titles and holdings.  Not that Nate had much to begin with.  He’s the fifth child—by the time everything rolled downhill, he wouldn’t have ended up with much of an inheritance anyway.  His best bet was to marry well.  Or just become a chantryman.”

“So he only joined the Chantry for status?” she tries to understand, suddenly wondering if everything in the Imperium is about status.  But Dorian shakes his head.

“No, no…  At least, I don’t think so.  He was looking for some sort of purpose at the time—he was nineteen, kind of in that ‘lost and brooding’ phase of life, you know?”  Ellana nods, so he continues.  “Anyway, he took his Initiate’s Oath in Qarinus and ended up being moved to Marothius just a few months after.  And I don’t know exactly what happened in the go-between, but it’s my understanding he received his High Clericship during that whole shakeup a few years ago, back when that Calixto fellow got the Grand Clericship.”

“A shakeup?” she prompts, curious.

“Yes.  After the previous Grand Cleric, and his second and third, all died—very scandalous business, you know,” he says.  “But anyway, now we have Grand Cleric Calixto.”

“Second and third,” Ellana muses, drawing her own conclusions.  “So those are the people in line to be Grand Cleric when the current one passes away?”

“Yes…” Dorian drawls, frowning.  “Why do I feel like I’m consulting you on these people?  Is that not our dear Josephine’s job?”

“I’m starting to feel like she missed a few details,” she says with a sigh.  “And please don’t tell her I said that.  I don’t want to hurt her feelings.  She’s always done a wonderful job.”

“Mmm…  Well, the Imperium isn’t big on diplomacy,” he replies, then chuckles.  “I’m not surprised she’s not all that well-versed in our ways.”

She shakes her head, then says after a moment’s pause, “So, your friend will be Grand Cleric someday, huh?”

Dorian tips his head back, laughing long and uproariously.  Someone in the row over shushes him, which makes Ellana have to stifle her own giggles.  Eventually, Dorian manages, “I know, right?  I can’t even…  The kid used to have a thing for fire—got in a bind with the Templars once, spent the night in lock-up for setting the neighbor’s yard on fire.  But oh, it was a spectacle, flames everywhere!”  He pauses to laugh once again before continuing.  “Now look at him, one step away from the black armaments…  I don’t even know.”

“Ignatius…  Fitting,” Ellana says, smiling.

“I know.  His parents set him up,” Dorian says, grinning in return. 

“So, did you two…?” she asks, hedging around the actual question.  He rolls his eyes at her, though, scoffing.

“Insulting.  You know something?  I haven’t slept with every man I’ve ever met,” he says.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean…” she starts, trying to backpedal, but he just shakes his head, smirking.

“Oh, stop.”  He rolls his eyes, then answers, “Nah.  He’s straight, as far as I know.  I kind of got the distinct vibe he’s shacking up with that other High Cleric—what was her name?  Amelia?  Ariel?”

“Aria.  And yes, I got that feeling as well,” she tells him.  Then, unable to help herself, she asks, “Did he mention anything about the Grand Cleric?”

“Still trying to pick my brain, huh?” he asks, shooting her a silly smile.  She just shrugs sheepishly.  He clears his throat, smoothing down his already tidy moustache, and continues, “Nate introduced me to him, and honestly?  The man’s slick as a wet seal.  He knows how to play the game, and he’s winning.  And not only that, he knows he’s winning.”

“And you got all of that just from being introduced?” she counters, smirking.

“It’s the attitude.  The mannerisms,” Dorian says with a shrug.  “He’s got the Grand Clericship—it’s said and done.  The Magisterium and rest of the Chantry can gnash their teeth over it, but there’s not a damn thing they can do about it.  You can’t remove a Grand Cleric from his seat—unless you kill him.  But he’s survived the assassination attempts so far…”

“Assassination attempts?” she cries, earning her another ‘shush’ from the row over.

Dorian chuckles.  “It’s not that uncommon.  Though he’s earned himself enough enemies to be a nice, juicy target.”

“If the Magisterium and Chantry don’t like him, how in the Void is he where he is now?” she asks, confused.

“Mmm…  According to doctrine, when there is no clear successor to the Grand Clericship, the decision is left to the clergymen within the cathedral.  And he’s the bright star of Marothius.  He does no wrong in their eyes.”

“You seem to know a lot about him,” she comments.

“Oh, you know me.  I love a good scandal,” he replies, leaning farther back against the bookshelf with a grin.  “And that one?  He’s always part of some scandal or another.  You should hear some of the things they say about him back home.”

“Josephine said there were a lot of rumors that circulate,” Ellana supplies.  “I told her I wasn’t interested.  I mean, if they aren’t even true…”

“Oh, but those are the best kind!” Dorian says with a laugh.  “You know…  ‘He summons demons during his rituals.’  ‘The clergy dances naked on the roof during full moons.’  ‘They serve human hearts on Feast Days.’  The best!

“And they—they aren’t true, right?” she asks, dreading the answer.

“Please,” he answers, rolling his eyes.  “If they were eating human body parts in there, it wouldn’t be something whispered about behind closed doors.  People would be standing outside the cathedral doors protesting.  We Imperials aren’t that monstrous, I promise.”

“Okay,” Ellana replies, heaving a sigh.  She somehow only feels somewhat reassured. 

“Don’t worry about them,” Dorian says.  “You want my opinion?  He’s just here to stir the pot—they are probably having apoplexy in Minrathros over this right now.  Like I said, he knows how to play the game.  He’ll meet with you and your people, not come to any conclusion, then go home.  His people will cheer for his boldness, for the fact that he stood against the rest of the Chantry.  Meanwhile, everyone else will have one more thing to hold against him.”

“So that’s all this is?  Just a political move?” she asks, scowling.

“I mean, I’m no mind reader, but…” he answers with a shrug.  “Yes.  I’d say 100% political.  Like I said, he’s slick as a wet seal.”

“For fuck’s sake,” she bemoans, closing her eyes and letting her head fall against the back of her chair.

“I’m sorry,” he says, sounding empathetic enough.  “Just ride it out.  They’ll be gone soon enough.”

“I hope you’re right,” she replies.

“Then I’ll be the only Imperial you have to deal with.”

“Oh, wonderful…”

~*~

They are already gathered outside the War Room when Ellana and her advisors arrive the next morning.

It’s odd catching them unawares.  Aria and Ignatius both are leaning back against the wall, while the Grand Cleric stands in front of them, staff still firmly in hand.  They’re speaking in quiet, hushed voices, but the echo in the hallway amplifies their words.  Ellana catches the tail end of their conversation as she approaches. 

“…just be glad when we can go home,” Aria says.  Her voice is soft, melodious, not at all what Ellana was expecting.  Ignatius nods in agreement, while Calixto shakes his head, giving the toe of his second’s shoe an affectionate tap with his staff. 

Amici, please, do have faith.  If not in me, then at least our Maker,” he murmurs, before his eyes turn to the side to regard her advance.  “Ah, the Inquisitor!  And her people!” he greets loudly, throwing his free hand out in an animated flourish. 

“Grand Cleric,” Ellana returns, while her companions mutter various greetings from behind her.  Josephine is at least tactful, as is Leliana.  Meanwhile, Cullen’s and Cassandra’s greetings sound more like grunted acknowledgements than anything else. 

Aria steps away from the wall first, followed second by Ignatius, and they fall in line behind the Grand Cleric in rigid, military fashion.  Calixto gives them both reassuring smiles, then flashes Ellana a suggestive smirk, before turning and leading the way toward the War Room.  Ellana tamps down her disapproving responses, and trails silently after them. 

Then there is the zing! of an arrow being loosed, and Ignatius staggers back and collapses onto the wooden floor.

The hallway devolves into chaos around her immediately.  Calixto’s head spins back around, eyes catching the moment his second’s body hits the floor, before he turns fluidly, hands flying out to the sides.  His magic comes from within—thrown out from his chest down his arms and through his hands, not funneled through his staff.  The barrier he casts around himself and Aria is so powerful, the force of its deployment throws Ellana and her advisors back and to the floor. 

There is yelling from all sides as she struggles back to her feet, reaching for the dagger at her hip.  It’s only when her hand meets fabric that she remembers she isn’t armed, and she curses.  She thinks to scan the rafters for the sniper, but there is no one in sight.  They’ve obviously fled the scene already.  She can hear Cullen begins shouting commands from behind her, the clanging of his armor echoed by the clanking of Cassandra’s.  The two both have their swords and shields drawn by the time they are on their feet.

But High Cleric Aria’s desolate cries drown out the rest of the commotion.  “Nate?  Nate?!  No, no…  Nate!!” she screams, dropping to her knees by Ignatius’ side.  She takes hold of the man’s shoulders, turning him so that he is lying flat on his back, and shakes him gently.  His head lolls to the side, his silver mask obscuring his features, though he’s obviously unconscious, blood pooling under his body.  Aria sobs, “He’s—he’s dead.  Cal, he’s dead.  Cal…”  Then, seeming to realize her slip-up, she whirls back to look up at Calixto over her shoulder with wide blue eyes.  “Grand Cleric, I—I’m sorry.  Grand Cleric.”

He doesn’t comment on her informality, though Ellana thinks the fact she even knows to call him ‘Cal’ is very telling.  Instead, without looking down at Aria or Ignatius, he says, “He’s not dead yet.  Calm your storm, child.”  Aria only cries in response.  Then, with the forceful tone of a man well accustomed to leading, he orders, “Get me your best healer.  Now!”

Blessedly, Josephine has enough sense to turn away from them instantly, snapping her fingers as soon as she makes it into the hall.  Cullen, however, barks, “You do not give commands in this holding, Grand Cleric.”

Ellana winces, while Leliana shushes him.  Stupid, stupid man…  With Josephine gone, she tries to play diplomat.  “I do not know who fired that arrow,” she says, hands held out before her in a pacifying gesture, “but it was not any of our soldiers.  I assure you.”

Pacifying or not, it appears not to undo the damage Cullen’s statement has done.  The Grand Cleric slams the end of his staff onto the floor, a wave of focused energy pouring out around them.  Ellana closes her eyes as her hair blows back from her face and her clothes rustle around her body.  “I will give orders when it is my second on the floor at my feet,” Calixto snarls.  “Regardless of who it was that put him there.”

“We are three outsiders amongst your Andrastian cult!” Aria shrieks hysterically.  “Who else would unleash an arrow…?”

“Be silent, child!” the Grand Cleric snaps, appearing at the end of his rope.  And Ellana doesn’t like the thought of what might happen when that rope does run out…

…then she watches it unravel.

“Where is my healer?” he shouts in frustration, then shakes his head, turning away from them.  His shield shimmers and falls as he drops to his knees by the High Cleric’s side, staff forgotten about, and pushes Aria out of the way.  “To the Void with this,” he hisses, pulling one leather glove off.  The horizontal scars across his palm, thick and red, are visible even from where Ellana is standing.

“Cal, non potes facere,” Aria says, scrambling back to his side, though her eyes are fixated on Ellana.  “Non hic, in conspectu eorum.”

“Quid vis ut faciam mihi?” he asks her, voice harsh.  He unlatches the metal bracer on his ungloved hand and lets it fall, revealing more horizontal scars left from deep slashes.  And it’s obvious…

Maleficar.

Cullen takes a step forward, sword still drawn, and though Ellana cannot believe that he would dare cut down a Grand Cleric of the Imperial Chantry in the middle of Skyhold, she still throws an arm out in front of his chest to halt his approach.  Meanwhile, Leliana murmurs, “For the sake of honesty—I speak your language, Grand Cleric.”

He grunts in acknowledgement at her, and says, “Very well.  Turn away if you do not wish to witness this.”

No one turns away.

Ellana stares in a mix of wonder and horror as the Grand Cleric first yanks the arrow from the High Cleric’s chest, then uses the edge of the arrowhead to slice open one of the scars across his wrist.  The blood unfurls from the wound in a plume like smoke, snaking into the air in a red mist.  It mixes with the blood pooling under Ignatius’ body and rises, twisting and turning, alive with a powerful wraithlike force.  Then, it cascades over Ignatius’ body, predominantly coiling into the bloody wound in his chest, though also splashing across his front.  While it blends into the black leather, several dashes of deep crimson stand out in horrible contrast to the polished silver of his mask. 

Ignatius takes a deep, startled breath, his brown eyes flying open wide before once again sliding closed.  Meanwhile, the Grand Cleric closes his hand into a fist, his blood flowing back to him and congealing against his skin.  His knees give out from underneath him, and he falls back on his rump, legs splayed out by his side.  The arrow clatters to the floor as it falls from his hand, the noise breaking the stunned silence than has fallen amongst them. 

Ellana rushes forward on instinct, afraid they now have two men mortally injured in their hallway—but the Grand Cleric turns toward her, holding a hand up.  Blood drips down from his wrist.  “I am fine, child,” he says, addressing her.  “I still need a healer for…”

“What has happened here?!” Josephine cries, terrified.  “Was there another attack?”

“No,” Ellana answers.  Healer Tanelia delays behind Josephine, her bright eyes wide and shocked at the scene before her.  So Ellana motions her forward, “Tanelia, this man needs your expertise.  He was almost killed.”

“Y-yes, y-yes,” she stutters, nervous.  She hurries forward, restoration staff in one hand and basket of herbs and potions in the other.  She drops to her knees by the Grand Cleric’s side, leaning over Ignatius, though her eyes quite obviously catch the wound and the scars on Calixto’s wrist.  Ellana knows she’s drawn her own conclusions.

“I did what I could.  He was close to death,” Calixto explains.  “But I’m no healer.”

Tanelia nods, though says nothing at first.  She drops her supplies to the floor, then lays her hands on Ignatius’ chest, healing magic flaring bright.  Her frown is immediate.  “He should be dead,” she says, looking up at the Grand Cleric.  “This wound should have killed him.”

“The Maker does not forsake his children,” the Grand Cleric replies simply.  Then, “Nor do I.”

It’s an odd, cryptic response.  It makes Ellana wonder.  What are you capable of?  “He’s a Maleficar,” Cullen says needlessly.  And Ellana honestly wants to slap him.

The Grand Cleric has the gal to chuckle. 

“I presumed,” Talenia replies, eyes falling to the blood on Calixto’s wrist once again.  Ellana thinks it’s funny how there’s no need to clarify which ‘he’ Cullen was referring to.  “You’ve kept this man alive, I can’t judge you for your means,” Talenia continues.  Then, turning to reach into her basket, “I have herbs for your wrist, to speed healing and ease pain.”

Calixto shakes his head, holding up his uninjured, gloved hand to preempt her.  “I will be fine, but I thank you,” he says.  “Please, help him.”

Talenia looks down to Ignatius, elfroot held limply in her hand.  “There’s little I can do for him at this point, Ser,” she says.  Ellana winces—not only at the improper title, but Maker, there has to be something she can do…  He isn’t going to be happy about nonaction.   

However, the Grand Cleric lets it all go without comment. 

Talenia continues, “I can take him back to the clinic, and ensure we keep him comfortable.  And if you wish to visit him and continue to employ your means of healing…”  She pauses, turning to glance at Ellana first, then each of her advisors in turn.  “Then we will turn a blind eye.”

“We cannot allow…” Cassandra begins.

But Ellana has already made up her mind.  “We will turn a blind eye,” she agrees with Talenia.

Everyone around her seems scandalized, save for the Grand and High Clerics, and Talenia herself.  Ellana swallows down her doubts.  Calixto looks to her, face unusually pale save for the pitch-black rings around his eyes, and nods once.  “Thank you, Inquisitor.”

Ellana returns his nod, and decides, “You and yours are welcome here for as long as you need, as our friends and allies.”

Aria chokes out an offended sob at that, still kneeling inconsolably next to Ignatius’ unconscious body.  However, Calixto gathers his staff and stands, leaning on the manicured grip.  He replies with a nod, “Thank you.  I do not wish to travel with him in this condition.”

“No, I do not recommend travel,” Talenia puts in. 

“I’ll send for a stretcher to have the High Cleric brought to the clinic,” Josephine puts in before turning away quickly, as though glad for an excuse to leave. 

“High—High Cleric?” Talenia asks, shocked.  She turns wide eyes first on Aria, on the silver mask, then on the Maker’s eyes adorning the left side of her coat and carved into her leather gloves.  Then, she takes in the Grand Cleric, the tattooed rings around his eyes, the Maker’s face emblazoned across his breastplate, the same symbol carved into his leather gloves…

A small, sad smile spreads across the Grand Cleric’s face, and he reaches over as though to lay his gloved hand on top of the healer’s head.  He aborts the gesture, though, perhaps remembering the blood on his hands, and says, “May the Maker bless you, child, for all the good you do.  Healers are such unsung heroes, especially in the Imperium.”

Talenia looks utterly shocked, though Ellana can’t say she was particularly anticipating those words, either.  “Thank you, Your Grace,” Talenia says, inclining her head slightly.  “We’ll take good care of…?”

“High Cleric Ignatius,” Calixto supplies.  “He is a good man.  A devout servant of our Maker.”

“He didn’t deserve this,” Aria sobs quietly.  The Grand Cleric hums quietly in agreement, reaching his gloved hand down for her.  He catches her under her armpit and pulls her to her feet, away from her fallen comrade.  She allows herself to be pulled up from the floor with only a fleeting struggle, before latching onto Calixto’s arm instead.  He winces briefly as her gloves dig into the flesh he’d sliced open moments prior, but he says nothing, and doesn’t pull away. 

Talenia frowns at Ignatius, one hand on his leatherclad chest, before sighing and reaching for his mask.  She slowly turns his head to the side, fingers moving for the latches at the back of the mask…

“No, you can’t!” Aria cries, trying to pull away from the Grand Cleric, though he catches her with a firm hand around her bicep.  “You can’t remove that,” she continues, desperate.  “You can’t!”

Talenia pauses, uncertain.  “We will need to give him potions, fluids,” she says.

“I know,” Calixto replies.  “Remove it.”

Talenia nods, working to undo the first latch at the back of his skull, them moving to the second.  Aria moans in despair, pulling miserably at Calixto’s arm, and says, “Cal, no…”

“What do you care more for, child?” he asks her irritably.  “His health or doctrine?  For I believe the Maker cares more for our well-being than empty shows of faith.”

“Well said,” Leliana puts in, much to Ellana’s surprise. 

The Grand Cleric gives her a melancholy smile, and says, “See?  Even the Southerner agrees with me.”

And then Ignatius’ mask comes off, and Ellana finds herself looking down at a young man.  Too young to be lying bloody on the floor.  His face is free of wrinkles or lines or marks, his skin a dusky tan, his hair short and neat.  He’s traditionally attractive; tall, dark, and handsome.  An absolute waste.

She stays even as the others begins to depart.  Cullen leaves for the guard tower to put extra men on duty and ensure the fortress is secure, while Leliana leaves to speak to her spies and gather intel.  Josephine does not return, but the stretcher eventually comes accompanied by more healers.  Ellana stays and watches as they carefully move the wounded High Cleric onto the gurney, and watches as they carry him away to the infirmary.  Calixto and Aria follow behind, such a wretched march compared to their procession from the day before.  Ellana closes her eyes, and prays that when she opens them, she will find herself in bed, waking from a nightmare.

She opens her eyes, and stares dejectedly at the doors to the War Room.

~*~

She gets lectures from everyone that night.

First from Josephine, on diplomacy and politics.  This is an extremely delicate situation, and Ellana must be careful how she approaches it.  This looks from the outside as if their own people have tried to kill visitors from the Imperial Chantry—this is grounds for a war, for an Exalted March by the Imperial Chantry.  They cannot afford a war or an Exalted March, not with the Breach and refugees pouring in and their resources what they are.  This is already disastrous, and has the potential to become catastrophic…

But what is she supposed to do now?  What’s done is done, and can’t be undone.  She can’t go back and block that arrow.  She doesn’t even know where it came from, or who fired it.  Maker help her…

Next from Cassandra, a lecture on portrayal and representation.  How will it look if the Inquisition knowingly houses a practicing Maleficar?  How will it look if we allow him to practice within our walls?  We house hundreds of mages here: battlemages, healers, alchemists, enchanters…  We expect them to follow certain rules, to uphold a certain standard of dignity and ethics even in this chaotic world.  How can we welcome a Maleficar—who is also an Imperial Grand Cleric, no less—into our halls, and still hold our heads high in front of the rest of Thedas?

But he was not summoning demons.  He did no harm.  He used his blood to save his companion’s life…

Then there is Cullen, a lecture on morality and principles.  To practice blood magic is to despoil the gift the Maker has bestowed upon him.  And for him to do so as a Grand Cleric of the Chantry?  What a dishonor, a disgrace!  And to have the nerve to practice his magic in front of Inquisition leaders, in front of the actual Herald of Andraste!  And to overtly threaten the Commander of the Guard?  This man is bold, powerful, and dangerous, and Ellana must tread carefully.

Except Ellana would expect him to be bold, or at least commanding—he is a Grand Cleric.  And while his power is undeniable, so is Vivienne’s, and Dorian’s, and Solas’.  And he had not turned dangerous until the situation turned dangerous.  And on that note, you had your sword out, too…

And lastly, horrible information from Leliana.  Her people had tracked two Crows to the outskirts the keep several days ago, before they somehow lost track of their progress.  Leliana is certain the assassination attempt was executed by the Crows, all things considered, and Ellana fumes over not being told of this breach in security until after a disaster has occurred.

She looks for comfort afterward, visiting Solas in his study, though only gets an odd warning for her trouble.  “Do not trust them, the ones from the Imperium.  They are not what they appear,” he says, bent over his desk still pouring over ancient tomes. 

“I’m not even sure what they appear to be, at this point,” Ellana says with a long sigh.  “I am just so tired…”

Solas doesn’t comment on this, only offers, “He is not, most specifically.  He is a web of lies, and will only spin more to keep himself afloat.”

“What is that supposed to mean?” she asks, frustrated by his ambiguity.

But he doesn’t answer, only shakes his head and comments, “You should go to your quarters and rest.  It’s been a long day.  And I still have research to do.”

She’s left afterward walking the battlements, the night sky twinkling with stars overhead, too preoccupied to lie down.  She tries to quiet her mind, though thoughts swirl unbidden.  Has she failed the Inquisition?  She had done what she thought was right, the only choice she thought she had to keep the peace.  She’d never asked for this job—she’d never wanted this responsibility, never wanted this obligation.  It’s been so long now, but she still feels as though she is floundering in the dark.  She went from being a huntress in a small Dalish tribe to being a politician, an agent, and a commander all at once, and all in one night.  She was not prepared then, and she is still not prepared now…

She comes back to herself suddenly at the flare of firelight in front of her, appearing some ways down the battlements.  She stops, watching in surprise as two figures are briefly illuminated, leaning against the ramparts overlooking the practice rings.  Ellana can only think ‘Crows’ in dread, and she pulls the dagger she’d brought with her from her belt, ducking down and creeping forward to investigate.

Soft humming reaches her ears as she gets closer—it’s a gentle, lulling melody in a men’s range.  Ellana stays ducked down against the ramparts, confused.  She listens as the melody comes to a close, and then a soft, sad female voice…  “Don’t stop.  Please.”

She doesn’t recognize the woman’s voice at first, but she immediately recognizes the man’s accent when he responds.  “Trade you the smoke for another song,” Calixto says. 

The woman—Aria—laughs softly, and the moonlight catches their movements, just darkened shapes in the gleam, as Aria turns to pass the rolled smoke over her shoulder.  Calixto accepts it, and the bud flares red in the night when he places the blunt between his lips and inhales. 

Knowing she’s safe now, she stands and tucks her dagger away, preparing to head the opposite way down the battlements and leave them be.  However, her movement catches their attention.  Aria startles away from the ramparts in shock, while Calixto just casually looks over in her direction.  It’s almost as if he’d known…

“Have you decided to join us instead of lurking in the shadows?” he calls to her.  Then, holding up the smoke in his hand, “We have plenty, if you’d like to partake.”

“I…” Ellana begins, caught.  She meanders over to them, and tries to explain herself, “I was walking, and saw you.  Or not you, just people—at least I didn’t know it was you…”

“You were concerned for your safety, and the safety of your people,” he finishes for her, interrupting.  “Quite understandable, considering today’s events.  You do not need to explain yourself.”

She nods, moving to lean on the ramparts next to them.  They are close, very close, enough so to make Ellana wonder about their relationship.  Aria is leaned against the ramparts as Ellana is, while Calixto embraces her intimately from behind.  The hand not holding the smoke is grasping her hip, keeping their bodies close—his chest and stomach against her back, and his hips against her rump.  However, it is not being caught in such an amorous embrace that upsets Aria, but rather…

“My face,” she murmurs, turning away from Ellana and trying to pull out of Calixto’s arms.  She is not dressed as she has been, her mask and leathers switched instead for a flowing black gown and bare feet.  The garment is sheer enough for the shadow of her figure to show through in the moonlight, though it is still her exposed face that she frets over.  “I don’t have my mask,” she clarifies, still trying to wiggle away.

Calixto follows her movements, though, snaking his arm around her stomach to keep her from fleeing.  He also has traded in his armor for a tunic and leggings, though the color black seems to be the Imperial standard for everything.  His rolled-up sleeves reveal the myriad of scars across his forearms crisscrossing in different directions, some thick and raised, some thin and white. 

“Shh…  It is alright, my child,” he murmurs to the High Cleric.  “This is an entirely different state of affairs than at home…  Extenuating circumstances.  The Maker understands.”

The woman quiets, allowing herself to be turned back and pressed up against the ramparts, though she keeps her head down, her long blond hair obscuring her face.  Calixto, however, takes his free hand and pulls the veil of hair away from her face, tucking it behind her ear.  Her face, strangely beautiful, is flushed a deep red. 

Granted, Ellana herself is blushing at the display before her.  This sort of public affection was not common amongst her tribe, and is mostly frowned upon by the Chantry-folk she’s surrounded by now.  And by the gods, she hasn’t felt a tender caress in so long.  Her strange trysts in the Fade with Solas only leave her feeling depressed, unfulfilled and unsatisfied.  Watching these two together is making her feel empty… and leaving her wanting.

And also wondering about Aria’s relationship with Ignatius.  She had just assumed the two were an item, but now?

Calixto sighs, gently rocking the woman side-to-side, before he turns his attention back to Ellana.  He once again offers the smoldering blunt, and says, “Enjoy, yes?”  Then, laughing at Ellana’s look of uncertainty, “Ah, child, it’s just Elfroot.  Legal here, there, everywhere.”

“Oh,” Ellana says, gingerly accepting.  It’s been some time since she’s smoked—it was a common practice amongst the Dalish, though she hasn’t been offered anything other than some strong alcohol since she’s been Inquisitor.  She inhales, trying to hold it in her lungs, but ends up coughing it out in a puff of smoke.  Both Calixto and Aria laugh lightly.

“I didn’t know the Imperial Chantry promoted drug use,” she comments, passing it back to Calixto.  He takes it with his still injured hand, the appendage wrapped in a stained cloth bandage, then hands it on to Aria.

Calixto chuckles.  “Your Chantry, so intolerant,” he remarks with a roll of his eyes.  His white iris seems almost ethereal in the dark of night.  He continues, “Did the Maker not provide this herb?  It is natural healing, found on His green lands.  Why would the Maker be angry that we use His gift?”

And well, when put like that, Ellana doesn’t really have an answer.  She shrugs, watching as Aria takes another drag, the smoke slowly unfurling from her nose as she exhales. 

“Indeed,” he replies at her silence, a melancholy grin spreading across his lips.  “Tonight, I feel pain, in both body and soul.”  He pauses, holding up his injured hand for effect.  “And so I partake.”

“You’re very eloquent for being intoxicated,” she notes, already beginning to feel the lull of the root in her own blood.

“Mmm, not as intoxicated as I would like to be,” he says, grin falling.  “My mind is still… troubled.”

Aria heaves a sigh, leaning back against his chest, and passes the smoke back to him without prompting.  And Ellana finds the words tumbling past her lips unbidden, politics forgotten about and left behind… “I’m sorry,” she tells him.  “I’m sorry for your pain.  For both of you.  I don’t know how this happened but—I’m sorry.”

They are both silent at first—and for too long, Ellana thinks.  But then Calixto says, “You have nothing to apologize for, child.  You did not fire the arrow… nor do I believe it was fired at your behest.”

“Truly?” she asks despite herself, before shaking her head.  Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth, Ellana…

Calixto laughs, while Aria glances over at her with raised brows.  “Your people’s confusion was too genuine.  No, if it was ordered by your commanding officers, then you are all master actors.  Congrats,” he says, then pauses to take a drag on the blunt.  He continues after a slow exhale.  “No.  I was most likely followed here, and simply did not realize it.”

Ellana thinks of Leliana’s information, about the Crow sightings, and almost says something.  Almost.  Instead, she says, “I thank you for your faith in us, Grand Cleric.”

“We are nothing without faith,” he answers her, then offers her the blunt again.  She shakes her head, holding up her hand to refuse, and so he shrugs, holding it away from himself with his pointer and middle finger, as one would hold tobacco. 

Silence settles then, perhaps only comfortable because of the Elfroot running through her veins, but the quiet feels calm nonetheless.  She closes her eyes for a moment, letting the cool night air blow away her fears, and just breathes.

“Tell me, Inquisitor,” the Grand Cleric speaks up eventually.  “Why exactly are you here?”

She opens her eyes, blinking.  “I told you,” she says.  “I saw you, and I thought…”

“No, child.  Why are you—here?” he interrupts, motioning grandiose around them all. 

“I don’t understand,” she tells him, confused.  “I’m the Inquisitor, I’m supposed to be here.”

“Indeed,” he says, eyeing her speculatively.  “When I was told in Tevinter that the Inquisitor was a Dalish elf, I thought it was joke, I laughed.  Yet here you are, here we are.”

“Indeed,” she echoes, feeling her hackles beginning to rise.  “And your point?”

“My point?” he asks, seeming surprised that he should even have to explain himself.  He pauses, repositioning the arm curled around Aria’s middle, before saying, “The Dalish normally worship their own gods, if I am not horribly mistaken.  Yet they name you the Herald of Andraste?  Do you even believe in Andraste?”

Her stomach turns under his piercing gaze, under Aria’s curious stare.  “That’s quite the question,” she returns.

“Not really,” he says.  “I would assume the answer to be ‘no’, but then I have seen many strange things in my years…”

“By ‘quite the question’, I meant, ‘quite the inappropriate question’,” she snaps, unable to help herself.  And perhaps it is, perhaps it’s not.  After all, she’s speaking to two people who obviously don’t believe—the Imperial Chantry does not believe in Andraste’s holiness.  It’s simply difficult to face such interrogation when she, herself, is unsure how she feels.  She knows how she is supposed to feel, what she is supposed to believe, but…

“Ah, I understand,” the Grand Cleric answers, bowing his head in something resembling deference, though it somehow falls short.  He pauses to take a drag off the smoke before continuing.  “Do not fret over it, child,” he says, quiet.  “We all must play our roles in this life.  It’s a truth for everyone—but especially for those of us who lead.  We must have a persona to show the rest of the world, or we will fall under the pressure.  Do not feel distraught.  You’re doing what is essential.”

“Are you preaching to me?” she asks, not meeting his gaze.

He chuckles, then answers, “No, child.  Just counseling.  I often do so without thinking nowadays.  I apologize if you found offense.”

“No, I—no…” she says, sighing.  She shakes her head, looking over at the smoldering blunt still held between his fingers, burnt almost to the end.  “I think, maybe—I think maybe that smoke is affecting me more than I realized.”

Aria giggles, and Ellana wonders if it is perhaps affecting her a bit as well.  Meanwhile, Calixto just grins, still far too collected given the situation, and says, “Ah, I’ve become accustomed to the feeling over the years…  Do you not partake often?”

“No, especially not anymore,” she answers.  “I mean, I have wine at dinner most every night, but that’s all.”

“You Southerners, so boring,” Aria comments, smiling at her for the first time Ellana can remember.  She’s quite the stunning woman—not traditionally beautiful like Vivienne or Josephine, but strikingly eye-catching.  All long, white-blond hair and baby-blue eyes, cheekbones sharp enough to cut glass, and freckles across pale porcelain skin.  Ellana can easily see how both Ignatius and Calixto would want her…

“Just a different culture, dear,” Calixto tells her.  “They drink wine with dinner…  We drink absinthe after.”

“Wow,” Ellana mumbles, shaking her head.  Calixto offers her the smoke one last time, then when she refuses, crushes it in his fist.  When he opens his hand, a small black and red butterfly flutters up from his palm and away into the night.  Ellana smiles at the gesture. 

“Well, I believe we’ll be retiring for the night,” the Grand Cleric announces, releasing Aria as he steps away from the barrier.  “I hope you find some peace tonight, Inquisitor.  And I hope sleep finds you, as well.”

And Ellana doesn’t remember ever telling them that she wasn’t at peace, or that she couldn’t sleep, though she’s been told before that she wears her heart on her sleeve.  She sighs and murmurs a ‘thank you’, just as Aria turns away from the barrier and drapes herself across Calixto’s side.  Ellana watches in surprise as the woman wraps her arms around the Grand Cleric’s neck, her lips against his ear, and says clearly, “Tolle lectum me.  Amorem erga me.”

Ellana doesn’t understand the language, but it’s hard to misunderstand her tone of voice.  It’s also hard to misunderstand the look on Calixto’s face—something between shock and arousal.  He glances down at Aria, who has started kissing his jaw, before looking back to gauge Ellana’s reaction.  And Ellana doesn’t know what to do except nod, and say, “I bid you goodnight.”  And it appears as though it will be a very good night for you…

His lips curl into a smirk as he peels Aria from his side, gently spinning her away in the direction of their rooms.  “And goodnight to you as well, Inquisitor,” he says, before turning away and herding Aria down the ramparts.  The sounds of Aria’s murmured Arcanum follow Ellana as she makes her way back toward her own rooms.  And while she’s sorely tempted to look back over her shoulder, she refrains—at least, until Calixto’s voice floats back to her once again…  “Quia ego sum pauper substituit Nate.  Sed nocte tenebo: puer.  Promitto.”

The tone of his voice is so convoluted; loving and seductive, yet also somehow heartbroken.  She wishes she could understand his words, and ends up stopping to look back.  He has Aria crowded up against the door to his rooms, their lips a hairsbreadth apart, her hands threaded through his hair…  She stares for a second longer, long enough to see Aria tighten her grip in his hair and surge forward to meet his lips, before she turns away and leaves them in privacy.

The Grand Cleric’s words—both the ones she understood and the ones she didn’t—seem to haunt her all the way back to her rooms.