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See Fire and Go Towards Light

Chapter Text

The Light shall lead her safely
Through the paths of this world, and into the next.
For she who trusts in the Maker, fire is her water.
As the moth sees light and goes toward flame,
She should see fire and go towards Light.
The Veil holds no uncertainty for her,
And she will know no fear of death, for the Maker
Shall be her beacon and her shield, her foundation and her sword.

—Transfigurations 10:1

Despite years of specialized training in combat against demons, Lysette had never seen one in the flesh before today.

She seemed to be making up for lost time.

Her blade dripped ichor as she crouched, panting, in the forest clearing. Lysette exchanged a wide-eyed glance with the other surviving templars. They were losing ground rapidly. If they had to face another wave of those monsters—

And here it was. Three despair demons floating towards them through the drifting ash and snow. Worse, the heavy footsteps of a pride demon tramping along the path behind them. This was it, then. In the eerie green light that bathed the clearing, it felt a bit like their souls had crossed into the Fade already. Mattrin muttered a curse. Lysette recited a hoarse prayer to the Maker.  

She held her sword high, but her arms were beginning to shake. She'd lost track of how long they’d been defending themselves here. There was nowhere to retreat to; for all any of them knew, the whole world could be under attack. It seemed more likely than not. And within moments, she would be in range of the despair demons’ icy blasts.

Some remnant of instinct had her looking back over her shoulder just as an unmistakably human voice called out, “Hold! Allies!”

A series of shadowy figures rushed past the exhausted templars. Lysette thought she heard an answering murmur of, "Close enough, anyway." Could demons have Starkhaven accents? The subject had never come up in templar training.

Not demons. People, at least a dozen of them rushing past the decimated patrol, brandishing swords—pikes—at least one staff. It was a measure of how desperate Lysette and her companions were, not to have heard the arrival of such a force to their rear.  

The bulk of their reinforcements advanced to faced down the despair demons. Lysette saw two men—one in the robes of a Circle mage, one in the armor of a senior templar—take on the pride demon.

A wall of flame set the massive demon roaring. Lightning arced between the despair demons, and Lysette shut her eyes against the searing brilliance. When she opened them, it was already over. Where a handful of exhausted templars had been critically outmatched, a dozen fresh soldiers had had no trouble. 

The clearing fell quiet aside from the warriors' heavy breathing and shuffling. Lysette scanned the gathering. Who was left? Mattrin, Tomas, Erriala... that meant they’d lost Orin, too. Knight-Corporal Arielle had already fallen with a demon’s claw in her throat.

The senior templar who had faced the pride demon turned and called back to Lysette’s patrol. “Knights! Which is your commander?”

With a tired tilt of her chin, Lysette indicated Arielle’s body. The crumpled shape that half-covered the corpse dissolved into a puddle of sparks even as she did so.

“Maker give her rest.” The senior templar looked down, then back at his own men and women. “You know what to do. Pennath, take charge while I talk to these templars.” He pulled off his helm and gauntlets and wiped a hand across his dirty, sweaty forehead. “Knight-Captain Rylen. None of you were attending the Conclave, I take it?”

“No, ser,” said Lysette. Mattrin, who had slumped to a half-seated position on the ground, shook his head wordlessly. Tomas was kneeling on the ground, looking sick; Erriala was bent at the waist, too winded to speak.

“Well”—Rylen almost laughed—“you’re not the only ones a bit short of leadership at the moment. We’re with the Chantry, ourselves, but I’m not sure—”

Ser Rylen was interrupted by another flash of green light from the path ahead. “Everybody retreat!” called the mage.

Lysette was the only templar still on her feet, so Rylen turned to address her directly. “Let’s skip the formalities. Are your people in shape to move?”

“I think so, ser. Tomas, can you help Erriala?” Lysette moved towards Mattrin, but he pushed her helping arm away and stood on his own wobbly feet.

She shrugged, only beginning to realize that she herself had taken injury. A burning sensation began to spread down the side of her neck. Acid? Lysette had a new appreciation for her trainers' insistence on proper equipment. However impractical it might look to the untrained eye, every facet of a templar’s armor was designed to repel magical attacks. The burn was probably minimal.

“Come on, then. Our camp is just down the way. No guarantees how long we’ll hold out, but you’ve better odds there than alone up here. Afraid you’ll have to leave your corporal.”

Lysette nodded. Ser Rylen waved off her salute and moved away to direct his own people, who were hastily wiping their swords and adjusting the buckles on their armor. Maker be praised, their new allies didn’t seem to have taken any casualties of their own.

Before they left, Lysette murmured a last prayer for Arielle and Orin.

The forward camp was silent when Lysette and her companions arrived. Sentries at the gate recognized their leader and waved them through distractedly. When the tired group finally trudged through the ruined gate, Lysette barely noticed that most of the people in the camp had their necks craned up to stare at the sky. She collapsed onto an empty crate and dropped her head into her gloved hands. Mattrin flopped onto the ground at her feet, while an elf in plate armor hurried to escort Tomas and Erriala to a pair of cots on the other side of the camp.

“Cullen!” she heard Rylen call, breaking the uncanny quiet. “Got most of those templars. Buy your scout a drink on me. Looked to be a rift about forty feet ahead, but not to worry, we didn’t bring back any uninvited guests.”

“Much obliged. I’ll send a fresh party to check the rift once we’re done here.”

“So there’s an end to this madness in sight? Andraste’s ashes!” Despite her exhaustion, Lysette lifted her head at that.

“Quite.” Cullen turned and squinted in the direction of the Breach. “Wherever those ashes might be now…”

Rylen grunted. “Apologies, ser.”

“No need. Who are your templars?”

“Orlesian. Knight-recruits. No officers.”

“Will they be joining us?”

“I think so.”

Lysette lost track of the conversation as the men walked out of her earshot, and she let out a quiet breath. At her side, Mattrin muttered something uncomplimentary, then spoke louder when Lysette didn’t respond. “Bloody heretics. You know who these people are, don’t you?”

“No.”

“A bunch of outcasts and rebels. This whole thing is some pet project of the Divine’s. Convenient that they weren’t at the Conclave.” He turned his head and spat.

Lysette looked away, disgusted. “If the Divine was involved, I doubt these people had anything to do with the explosion. And it’s not as if they were any happier to see those demons than we were.”

“Maybe something went wrong. Justinia is—was—a radical, everybody knows that.”

“Radical enough to sacrifice herself?” Lysette fell silent for a moment. “Perhaps. I saw her speak once. But I don’t believe she would have taken all those people with her.”

Both their heads shot up as a brilliant light filled the sky, followed by a massive cracking noise that echoed through the mountains like thunder. All over the camp, startled voices cried out and hands flew to cover ears. It went on and on—and then it was over.

One of the scouts groaned in relief. “They've stopped it growing. Maker be praised.”

As the makeshift camp packed up, Lysette spotted an opportunity. She stepped up to Knight-Captain Rylen and saluted, waiting for permission to speak.

“Go on, then," he said. "No need for the formalities. Not yet, anyway.”

“I must thank you for your intervention. We are in your debt.”

“No trouble. Maker knows how many we lost at the Temple.” He grimaced. “Most of the Order above Knight-Lieutenant will have been there, save those of us who’ve already left.”

Once again, Lysette’s stomach dropped at the thought. For all she'd come to despise about the Templar Order, that was unthinkable. And the mages as well... what in Andraste’s name had happened? “Maker give them all rest,” she whispered.

Rylen nodded in grim agreement.

“If not the Order, what organization do you represent?”

“The new Inquisition—well, we’re not supposed to call it that yet, but any fool can see which way the wind is blowing. And we’re recruiting, as it happens.”

“Inquisition?”

“By order of the Divine herself. She wanted to bring an end to this war... but given recent events, I imagine our mission has shifted a bit.”

Lysette shook her head in disbelief. The day was beginning to catch up with her.

“It’s not the Order,” Rylen warned. “As you can see”—he nodded at Pennath, who now stood talking to another man with a staff—“we’ve got mages in our ranks, and rather less structure than you’ll be used to. I imagine our commander will sort these things out in time, but as you’ve no doubt gleaned, the world is a bit… unsettled at the moment.”

“If your organization is trying to fix… that…”

They both looked up at the sky. The destruction had ceased, but the Breach still hovered above the Frostbacks, an unearthly storm of slowly swirling debris.

“We are," he said.

“Then it’ll do.”

Chapter Text

 

Elfroot was first used by the elves of Arlathan, hence the name. The root gave their medicines particular efficacy, so when the Imperium conquered the elves, the magisters adopted its use and its popularity spread to all corners of the empire.

—An excerpt from The Botanical Compendium by Ines Arancia, botanist

“That's the prisoner!”

“She walked out of the Fade. Did you see?”

“They said it was Andraste. I don’t believe it.”

Would these fools ever shut their mouths?

"Quiet!" barked Adan. "Unless you want to kill her with your hovering, you'll get out of this bleeding cabin and keep any other busybodies as far away as you can get them."

The door to the makeshift infirmary clicked shut, busybodies thankfully on the other side of it.

"Thank you," Solas said absently, his attention fixed on the elven woman lying unconscious on the cot before them.

Adan felt a twinge of discomfort looking at the magical glow that consumed her arm. "What d'you need from me?"

"At the moment, a watchful eye on that door. And perhaps a cooling poultice, if you have such a thing."

"I've got snow," Adan muttered. 

Solas lifted a hand in resigned acquiescence. 

Condescending bastard. I'd like to see you make a cooling poultice out of gunnysacks and elfroot. 

Adan opened the door of the cabin, squinting at the green light radiating from the magical storm rotating slowly above the mountaintops. The last scout had said breathlessly that casualties would be incoming, but aside from the small party escorting the unconscious elf—including this apostate, Solas, and the Seeker who was now pacing anxiously at the gates of Haven—he hadn't seen a one. Nobody had any idea what that… tear in the sky was, but it couldn't be anything good. He felt slightly ill, thinking about the hundreds— thousands?—of people who'd been in the temple below. And the bloody Divine!

The unpleasant thought struck him that there might, in fact, not be too many people to heal after all.

Adan snatched a scrap of oilcloth from a basket and bent down to scoop up a ball of fresh snow. That should do. Wrapping the bundle securely, he stepped back inside just in time to see Solas jump back from the survivor, whose arm was flaring up a fresh green light. Adan nearly turned and ran right back outside, but the flash of light faded as quickly as it had sprung up. Spots spun in front of his eyes as he looked accusingly at Solas. "What in the Lady's name did you do?"

"Stabilized the Mark." Solas had already regained his composure, and he wiped his hands calmly on the front of his tunic. "I believe she will live through the night. If you would be so kind as to tend our patient until morning, I have tests of my own to prepare."

"I'm not a damned nurse," said Adan. Maker, but he wished Master Taigen hadn't gone to the Conclave.

"From what the Seeker told me, you are the best qualified to keep this woman alive besides myself. Ethical considerations aside, I am sure you would not wish to compromise our investigation into the Breach." He smiled politely at Adan's silent glower. "I shall be in the unoccupied cabin next to your workshop. Do not hesitate to wake me if her condition changes."

Maker's teeth.

The sun hadn't even set, Adan realized as the cabin door closed behind Solas. He leaned back in his chair and tapped an impatient foot against the ground as he studied his patient. This was going to be a long night. Watching closely as the light turned golden and the shadows lengthened over her clammy face, he wondered again what she had to do with this Breach business. A small elven woman, definitely Dalish with those tattoos. He'd never known the Dalish to take part in Chantry affairs. It was hard enough getting them to talk to other elves, let alone a bunch of self-righteous humans.

Still, he rather wished there were a templar here to keep an eye on this… situation. And maybe a second eye on that apostate. What was the man up to? Adan knew a fair bit about magic, what with one thing and another, and Solas didn't talk like any of the mages he'd ever met. He wasn't sure exactly what a Seeker did, but she hadn't seemed to know much more than he did about the mage.

No matter. That question was definitely above his pay grade. Besides, he hadn't even had supper. Adan stood up and leaned over the cot to check the unconscious woman's pulse—fast—and gauge her temperature—high. Not encouraging, but she'd been like this for some hours already and he'd have to eat sooner or later. Lady Montilyet had promised him assistants at some unspecified future time. Until then, he was on his own.

Adan stood up to stick his head out the door, hopeful that some of those nosy Haven residents might still be lingering, but the commons were empty. He strode up the path towards the tavern and shouted "Flissa!" as soon as he was within earshot.

After a moment, the tavern door flew open. "Sweet Maker, Adan, what's the matter?"

"Can you spare someone to bring a tray over to Master Taigen's cabin? Add it to my tab, if you'd be so kind. I've got to get back to my patient."

Flissa threw up her hands in delight. "Oh, but you have to tell me about her! People are saying the most—"

With a growl, he turned and jogged back to the cabin. "You're welcome!" she called coquettishly at his retreating back.

It was, of course, Flissa herself who brought the tray. He shooed the nosy bartender back outside before she got more than a glimpse of the patient, but she squeaked in excitement. "She's an elf!"

"Out! And get someone to bring some elfroot, would you?" At her look of puzzlement, he muttered, "Never mind. Forget I asked," and stalked around the back of the cabin to hunt for a fresh plant. He'd already stripped most of the plants in the village, but maybe he'd missed one back here. It was difficult to see through the lengthening shadows. Maybe there, by the fence...

Just as he crouched to take a cutting with his belt knife, he heard the creak of the cabin door behind him.

"Hey! Hey!" Adan raced around the corner of the building in time to see a slim figure slip into the cabin. A dwarf putting up a tent nearby looked up and dropped his stakes with a loud clatter, but Adan's attention was on the cabin. Horrified, he recognized a long, vicious dagger illuminated in the last gleam of the setting sun. His belt knife wouldn't be much of a match for that, but the instinct to protect his patient kicked in before his logical mind caught up. Shouting nonsensically and profanely, he stretched out a hand and caught the door before it shut.

Adan chased the intruder into the cabin and flung himself on the smaller person's back, desperately trying to pin their arms to their sides. He wasn't any more a fighter than he was a healer, but he had the advantages of size—this was an elf, he realized—and desperation. Where was the dagger?

Oh. There it was, stabbing backwards under his left elbow and slicing his flank. He hissed in pain, but held his grip and managed to immobilize the attacker, pivoting her away from the bed and towards the door. Someone had better come soon, though, because he had no idea what to do next.

"Help?" he croaked.

The dwarf was there a second later, charging a crossbow, and was followed almost immediately by the pounding footsteps of the Seeker, sword in hand. "What's going on here?"

"Bloody… knife…" Adan panted. "Would you please stop pointing that crossbow at me?"

Despite his incoherence, the Seeker quickly sized up the situation, and stepped forward to collect Adan's prisoner. The smaller woman struggled to hold her grip on the knife, but Lady Pentaghast easily knocked it from her hand and kicked it across the floor of the cabin.

Adan noticed the splatter of his own blood with mild interest. All in all, it could have been worse. At least his patient hadn't been touched—if she felt like dying, she could do so in peace.  

The dwarf was still pointing the crossbow at him, though. Adan flung his hands up with a plaintive, "Seeker!"

She turned to look. "Varric, stand down. That's the healer. If you want to help, accompany me while I get this one to the chantry. No, actually, see if you can find the commander and tell him what happened here. Did you see anyone else outside?"

"What am I supposed to do?" Adan demanded. And I'm not a damned healer, he thought inanely.

"You stay with the Herald."

"The what?"

"Her." The Seeker tilted her head at the cot, and then they were all gone. The sound of the Seeker and the dwarf's bickering receded, and he was alone in the dark with the unconscious woman.

Ten minutes later, a pair of sentries were posted outside the cabin in case of further attack. Adan wished someone had thought of that in the first place, but what was done was done. He'd grudgingly asked Flissa for information, on a promise to give her the full story later, and had been informed that his patient was—depending on whom you asked—responsible either for the destruction of the Conclave or for halting the spread of the Breach. Or possibly both.

The tale was not reassuring, but without Master Taigen or any proper healers, it was Adan's duty to care for the woman whether or not she was sent by Andraste.

He fell back into his chair, holding a hand to the cut in his side, and let out a long sigh.

Chapter Text

When next I had my senses, there was much camaraderie and rejoicing, but also knowing looks. Each day, I felt a hunger deeper than I had ever known, and woe be me if it went unfed. I cannot imagine bearing it without the support of the Order and my certain purpose.

—A treatise on lyrium

It was well after dark by the time the remnants of Lysette's patrol trailed into Haven behind a pack of Inquisition soldiers. Mattrin was disgusted by her intent to join the fledgling organization, and wasted no time in telling her so. "And you'd better see a healer for that thing on your neck. It looks like it's spreading."

"Maker." Lysette tried not to scratch at it. "I'd almost forgotten. What do you suppose that demon was spraying?"

"I didn't see. I was too busy trying not to get my guts torn out."

"You're such a sweetheart, Mattrin."

"Now, Lysette, that was almost rude," Tomas chimed in, then yawned widely. "Andraste's tits, I'm tired. And some demon or other is probably enjoying my bedroll."

"Chantry-supplied bedrolls are no better than they deserve. I hope Erriala's all right." Their companion had taken worse injury than anyone had first realized, and she'd been carried ahead on horseback while the other templars trailed on foot.

Tomas nodded at Lysette's comment, and while Mattrin only shrugged, they all knew they'd lost too many people today.

A human woman marched up to them, one hand resting on the hilt of her sword, and all three of the templars stopped in their tracks and saluted when they saw the symbol engraved on her cuirass.

"Templars," she said. "Welcome to Haven. I'm Seeker Pentaghast. I understand you escaped today's incident."

"Only thanks to the aid of your forces, Lady Seeker," said Lysette with a formal bow.

"Don't thank me for that." She sighed. "This organization was the Divine's project. I served as her Right Hand. You will find that there are a number of former templars here, but we are not affiliated with the Order or with the Seekers. Accordingly, I have no authority to command you. Whether or not you choose to stay with us, I hope we can count on your assistance in the short term. There is much to be done."

Mattrin interjected, "What, exactly, did you have in mind?"

"Patrolling Haven. Training new recruits. There are also a number of mages here. As I said before, we are not the Order and this is not a Circle, but it may prove useful to have templars who can provide… oversight… as needed."

"Apostates," Tomas said flatly.

"All mages are now apostates, templar. What are your names?"

Once they'd introduced themselves, Lysette asked, "If you have templars staying here, do you have... adequate supplies?"

"Lyrium? Yes. We will supply you with standard rations—no more," she added sternly. Both Tomas and Mattrin looked relieved, and both like they were trying not to show it. "If you choose to stay with us, you will be provided with room and board as well as a stipend for personal effects, as I assume yours were lost at the Conclave?" Lysette nodded. Their camp had been just south of the temple. "I'm afraid that is all we can offer at present."

The three templars exchanged glances.

"We will stay," said Lysette.

Once Lysette, Mattrin, and Tomas were settled on the floor of Haven's chantry—their abode for the night—Lysette began to strip off her armor. She hissed in discomfort as the air brushed against the skin of her neck and stood, wrapping her arming jacket over her woolen undertunic and sliding her boots back onto her stockinged feet. "I'd best see the healer. I'll ask after Erriala while I'm there. Did Seeker Pentaghast say where the infirmary was?"

Mattrin, helpful as ever, didn't even look up from where he struggled with the buckles of his greaves in the dark. Tomas shrugged. Lysette barely suppressed a roll of her eyes—they were, after all, in a chantry—and buckled her sword belt back on. She might be willing to go without her armor, but after a day like the one they'd had, she wasn't letting that out of her sight. She slid a hand briefly over the grip of her weapon, a standard-issue longsword, and thought vaguely of how proud she'd once been to wield it for the Order. Had it really only been a year since her vigil?

There was a door open across the hall, emanating the familiar light of a glowstone. Lysette walked over and ducked her head inside. The ambassador's desk was empty for the night, but an elven woman in the robes of a Circle apprentice was bent over a small workbench in the corner of the room.

"Hello?" said Lysette. The mage looked up in alarm. "I didn't mean to startle you. Could you direct me to a healer?"

"Yes, ser. The apothecary—well, he won't be there now, I suppose." After a brief hesitation, the mage was able to give her directions to a cabin near the gate. "Is there anything else you need?"

"No, thank you. Good evening."

Maker, but it was unsettling to see an apprentice outside the Circles.

Both moons were up tonight, Lysette saw as she closed the heavy doors of the chantry behind her and paused to get her bearings. Between the moonlight and the Breach, it was almost as bright as day, but an eerier day she couldn't imagine.

In training, she'd heard lesson after lesson about the dangers of magic. Later, she'd seen mages wield flame and lightning, but even after what she'd heard about the events in Kirkwall, she'd never imagined that magical power might be capable of anything on this scale. Despite her warm clothing, Lysette suppressed a shiver.

The village of Haven was too quiet. Its population had probably been significantly reduced today, given the number of residents who'd attended the Conclave in one capacity or another. Lysette stepped softly down the slope to the gates. It always felt odd to move freely after a full day in armor. Her exhaustion and the lightness made her feel almost as if she were moving through a dream. Part of her hoped she was.

When Lysette located the cabin she sought, she was disturbed to find it guarded, the moonlight flooding the tired faces of the armored sentries. Still, there was a strip of light visible under the front door, so she approached one of the sentries and asked, "The healer?" They glanced at her sword, but clearly recognized her as a templar and allowed her to approach. Lysette nodded politely and the sentries returned her salute.

Her crisp knock was answered by the creak of wooden floorboards and a man's audible sigh. "One moment."

A bearded human stuck his head outside, looked at Lysette, and turned a critical eye on the sentries. "You let someone with a sword knock on my door, just like that?"

"Serah, she—"

"Never mind. I can see why she's here. Come in." The last was addressed to Lysette, tossed over his shoulder as he turned to light another lamp. Not one for social pleasantries, clearly; in her current mood, Lysette rather appreciated that.

"Haven't seen you before. I'm Adan."

"Lysette." She folded her arms and looked further into the cabin. "I hope I'm not disturbing you. I didn't realize you had a patient here." When she saw an unpleasantly familiar green glow, her heart lurched and one hand leapt to the hilt of her sword. "Is that a mage?"

"Down, templar! That's my patient and she's here on Seeker's orders. And I've had quite enough bare steel in this room for one day, thanks."

Reluctantly, Lysette released her grip on the weapon, then passed a hand over her eyes. "I apologize. It's been a bad day for us all."

"You're telling me." Adan let out a short laugh that didn't convey much amusement. "I assume you're here for that burn." He gestured at her neck. "Demon?"

"How did you guess?"

"I'm no healer, but—" At the expression on her face, he clarified, "I'm the closest thing you'll find tonight, unless you want to wake up the apostate." Adan glanced at the Chantry sunburst adorning her belt. "And that sort of healing might not work so well on you, anyhow. May I see?"

Lysette loosened the clasps of her tunic and tugged down the collar to expose her neck and left shoulder. Years of shared quarters and limited privacy had given her little regard for modesty, but she felt uncomfortably exposed while she waited for him to finish examining the burn.

"Right," he said eventually. "You'll want something stronger than elfroot for that, I think. Come on up to my workshop. I needed to get some more supplies, anyway."

"I did not intend to take you from your patient. Will she be all right here?" Lysette looked cautiously at the cot.

"I think so."

While Lysette rearranged her clothing, Adan grabbed a lantern and stepped outside. She could hear his muffled instructions to the sentry. "Any change and you come at once, do you hear? And if you can't find me, wake up that elf in the house next to my workshop. Yes, the bald one. Yes, really."

Lysette followed Adan across the village, past the tavern, and up the hill to a small cluster of cabins. The whirlwind of events hadn't left her any time to explore the village, but it didn't seem there was much to it. "If you're acting as the healer here, could you also tell me the condition of my colleague Erriala?"

"Fair woman, ruptured spleen? Had to wake up the mage for that. Gave her a sleeping draught and settled her in the infirmary, oh, a couple of hours ago. She should live."

Lysette let out a long breath that she hadn't realized she'd been holding. "That's good to hear. Thank you."

Adan cocked his head at her, but didn't say anything else. He unlocked the workshop door and shoved it open with one shoulder, setting his lantern on a workbench. The surface of the bench was cluttered with a variety of arcane implements, crafting materials, and at least one dead fish. Lysette wrinkled her nose. Wouldn't last long in the barracks, this one.

"Sorry about the mess. It's not usually quite so... ah, there we are." He unearthed a small ceramic jar, opened it, and sniffed the contents. "Vile. Perfect. Here you go. Twice a day until the burn stops stinging."

Lysette took the jar dubiously. "Are you sure this won't make it worse?"

"Thank you for the vote of confidence," he said dryly. "Yes. I assure you I'm a fully qualified member of the College of Herbalists."

"I've never heard of it."

He snorted. "So much for that vaunted Chantry education."

She turned the jar over in her bare hands. It was slippery in the cold. "How much do I owe you for this, messere herbalist?"

"Alchemist. And nothing, assuming you're with the Inquisition. I'm paid by Lady Montilyet." Adan gathered up what looked to be some writing supplies, along with a few bottles and implements Lysette didn't recognize, and arranged them in a plenitude of belt pouches.

"That's good. I just realized I don't have any money."

"A woman after my own heart. If that's all, I need to lock up." At the blunt dismissal, Lysette saluted—if she was honest, it was a slightly sarcastic salute—and left the cabin.


The following morning, Lysette was ready to get to work. Mattrin and Tomas were still yawning over their porridge when she strode down the steps to where Minaeve had told her there was a sparring ring, tying up her hair into a bun as she walked. Maker, I'll have to buy a comb. She'd never thought herself to be particularly attached to any of her Chantry-issued possessions, but now that they were gone, there was a twinge of regret above and beyond the inconvenience of having to replace them.

That was a problem for later, however. Right now, she needed to find out where she fit into this new Inquisition.

Chapter Text

It is an old country saying that spindleweed grows best for the sorrowful. Verdant spindleweed in a household's garden has often brought neighbors offering consolation, usually without even asking what might be wrong.

A person who grows much of it is likely caring for the fatally ill.

—An excerpt from The Botanical Compendium by Ines Arancia, botanist

As much as Adan normally enjoyed some peace and quiet, it was unsettling how few people he saw on his way to wake Solas for a change of shifts in the infirmary. Just yesterday, Haven had been bustling with activity at this hour, but today there were only a handful of people in sight.

He came to a halt as he recognized one of them. It was the templar he'd met last night, her dark hair gleaming in the morning sun. She looked different by day—or maybe the difference was in the armor that adorned her lean frame. A beautiful woman, but stern, he thought. Imposing. At the moment, she was standing in front of a merchant's cart with her arms folded, staring in disgust at a fair-skinned man with yellow hair who was laying out his wares for sale.

"Sorry," the man said, sounding not a whit apologetic. "Nothing I can do."

"It's five bloody coppers, I'm in Haven at the Seeker's behest, and I have the surety of—"

"No coin, no deal. But if you've something of value, I might think about a trade. Got any lyrium?"

Lysette threw up her hands in what Adan suspected was a rare display of impatience. When she abandoned her attempt at bargaining and turned away from the merchant's table, Adan walked over to greet her. "Good morning. Bit of an arsehole, isn't he?"

She snorted. "I can't disagree."

"I tried dealing with him yesterday. He had the nerve to quote me three gold for a sprig of wilted spindleweed."

"Three gold for spindleweed? I saw some down at the lake earlier. If you hurry, you can harvest it all and buy a nice villa in the Dales before the week is out."

"The lake, eh? That's probably where he got it. How's your neck?"

"Better, thank you. I'm sorry if I was a bit of a pill last night."

Adan raised his brows. "Not at all. I'd say you're shockingly polite for a templar." He wasn't sure how they'd slipped so easily into familiar conversation, but he was happy to run with it.

"Don't you think the right of carrying a sword comes with the responsibility to treat others with respect?"

"I do. I'm not sure all your comrades would agree," he muttered. He jerked his head to direct her attention to the pair of armed men approaching her. She turned and lifted her chin at them in recognition.

"I must go. Adan, was it?"

"Good memory."

"Perhaps that Chantry education was good for something after all. I haven't been assigned quarters yet, but I'll be at the practice yard for the rest of the day. If anything should change in Erriala's situation, I would appreciate it if you could find a way to let me know."

"Ah, don't worry. Consider it done. Happy mage-hunting, or... whatever it is you do."

She said nothing in response, but shot him a half-smile that he found more intriguing than he'd expected. Intriguing, and dangerous: the last thing he needed was that sort of distraction.

A few hours later, Adan woke to the sun's merciless battering at his eyelids. He swore and rolled over, trying to fall back asleep, but it was no use; he was accustomed to regular hours these days, and sleeping while the sun was up wasn't on the schedule. Besides, he had letters to write.

Elan,

If you heard about the Conclave, you can rest easy knowing that your old mentor is still alive and kicking. Or, more likely, you can postpone your celebrations. Whichever.

In any case, I'm still in Haven. After what's happened, it looks certain that the Inquisition will be declared any day now. I'm more in the middle of it than I expected to be, since no one's left here who can heal worth a damn, except this apostate calling himself Solas. An elf, bald, sounds a bit Dalish but claims otherwise. Can't pin down where he's from or anything else about him. Would appreciate it if you could work your magic. Metaphorically speaking, of course.

Also, send rashvine if you have any. No supplies here to speak of.

Adan

He tossed down the pen, heedless of splattering ink, and tapped his fingers in an uncertain rhythm on the writing desk. There were more things he had to do, but Adan's mind was restless, darting from thought to thought and never quite catching one, like an unruly pup chasing butterflies. His robes needed mending. He should probably write to his mother.

Thankfully, a knock on the apothecary door interrupted the fruitless cycle. He stood hastily to receive his caller. "Lady Seeker. What can I do for you? I trust no one has successfully assassinated my patient?"

"Not yet. We did halt a second attempt, although that is not the matter I wished to discuss. May I enter?"

"Maker's breath. Yes, as long as you don't bring a dwarf aiming a bolt at my chest." Adan offered the Seeker his stool and moved to perch on the end of his cot. Sooner or later I'll have to find proper lodgings. I probably shouldn't be breathing deathroot fumes in my sleep.

"I was not planning to." The Seeker accepted the seat and leaned forward to look Adan in the eye. "In fact, I would like to apologize for yesterday. I should have foreseen the danger and the possibility of attack on the Herald, and it was inexcusable of me to put you at risk."

Adan looked away uncomfortably. "Ah, it's nothing. Don't worry yourself."

"I have made many such mistakes in recent days." She shook her head and sighed.

"Recent days have been slightly unusual. I assure you, I'm none the worse for wear. Nor is your prisoner—though I did find myself wishing for one of your new templar recruits to keep an eye on her."

"Do you think that's truly necessary? The apostate said…" The Seeker looked alarmed, and turned her gaze in the direction of Solas's cabin as if she could see through the wall.

"No. A poor jest. But I've never seen anything like that mark on her hand."

"It appears to be unique." Relieved, she settled back on the stool and explained, "While I myself initially believed it to be evidence of her guilt in yesterday's explosion, Solas assures me that even the most exceptional mage could not have caused such a thing single-handedly. We do not yet know the reasons for the event, but if anything, it would seem that our Herald is…"

When she didn't continue, Adan asked, "Why do you call her that?"

"The Herald? It is what the people are saying. I am surprised you have not yet heard. The story goes that she was led out of the fade by Andraste herself—the Herald of Andraste."

Adan's face must have reflected his astonishment. The Seeker said, "I know. I don't know what to believe." She ran a hand through her short hair.

"Thank you for telling me, I suppose." Adan studied the scars on the woman's cheeks, but his thoughts were elsewhere. "Suppose my patient's elevated status won't make a difference when I ask the quartermaster for a new bedpan."

The Seeker looked mildly bemused. Evidently she hadn't spent much time with Threnn. "I also wished to ask if there was anything I could do for you. As we are currently without an official healer, you may have this role for some time, and I would like to know of any potential problems before we encounter them."

"At the moment, labor and supplies are the biggest concern. I've got eight patients spread across three different buildings, not counting this one. They were all stable as of this morning, but that's down to luck more than anything else." And the fact that the worst-injured never made it down from the temple. "Even having someone to run errands would let me concentrate on patching your people up."

"I see. Lady Montilyet mentioned the possibility of assistants, but that you had told her you preferred to work with your own staff."

"Yes, ideally, but I told her that before the holy temple blew up and I was left responsible for keeping an entire village alive." Adan shook his head. "Andraste preserve us all."

"We may gain some additional volunteers in the coming days. Unskilled, most likely, but if it would be beneficial to you I will assign some laborers to your workshop."

"That would help, Lady Cassandra. Thank you." He walked her to the door.

"Not at all. If there is anything else you require, please inform Lady Montilyet or myself. Good day to you."

"Lady Seeker." Adan's nod was rather curt, but it seemed to satisfy her.


Seated on her favorite bench in the Queen of Rivain's private garden, Elan Ve'mal opened a letter and read it with a frown on her face. She was relieved to see Adan's handwriting, of course, but his inquiry about the apostate disturbed her. If he was asking her this, that meant he didn't know anything, and Elan certainly wasn't going to be the one to tell him. She hoped he'd keep his nose out of this business.

It looked like Elan had some letters of her own to write.

Chapter Text

"World-making Glory," I cried out in sorrow,
"How shall your children apology make?
We have forgotten, in ignorance stumbling,
Only a Light in this darken'd time breaks.
Call to Your children, teach us Your greatness.
What has been forgotten has not yet been lost."

—Andraste 1:13

Forward step, strike, passing step, block. Breathe. Lysette moved her body through the familiar steps the same way she recited the Chant each morning, gaining a sense of peace from the exercise that she rarely found anywhere else. Some things did not come easily to her, and contentment was one of them. Strike, parry, feint and lunge—

"That's enough." Her opponent, a young man from the Fereldan Hinterlands, stepped back and pulled off his helm, breathing heavily. "I'm exhausted."

"Are you planning to tell that to a demon?" The sarcastic comment came from behind Lysette. She saluted even as she spun to face Commander Cullen, who was approaching at a clip from across the practice yard. He moved directly to her sparring partner and adjusted his stance, then said, "Go. Again. You must develop adequate stamina." With a short nod in Lysette's direction, he stepped back and folded his arms. Under Cullen's critical gaze, the recruit looked to be regretting his decision to join the Inquisition.

The bout continued until the commander was satisfied. As the recruit stumbled away, Cullen beckoned to Lysette. She saluted again and walked over to where he stood.

"Thank you for your patience with these recruits. I imagine you expected something different from this stage of your career."

"If there's one thing my training and career so far have taught me, it is to expect nothing. I took my vigil the week before we received news of the annulment at Dairsmuid."

"Maker forgive us all." Cullen sighed even as he continued to scan the practice yard. "After Kirkwall, I'd hoped…"

They were interrupted by a scout, who saluted crisply to his commander and then, less confidently, to Lysette. Evidently she wasn't the only one uncertain about the Inquisition hierarchy. Cullen read the message and dismissed the scout without a response.

"Ser, if you need to—"

"No, no, it's fine. A request from Lady Montilyet that I find a way to integrate our soldiers with the people of Haven." He snorted. "She thinks the townsfolk are alarmed by the presence of so many people with swords. After the Conclave, I'd think they'd welcome the sight."

"Perhaps they are thinking more of Dairsmuid or Kirkwall."

For a fraction of a second, Cullen looked stricken, but then he nodded brusquely and returned to their previous line of conversation. Lysette winced: tact had never been her strong point. It wasn't the reason she hadn't taken her vigil until the age of twenty-three, though; political unrest in the Circles had been the deciding factor. Probably.

Cullen continued, "Regardless of her reasoning, she asks me to find volunteers to help the townsfolk with their relief efforts. I'm not sure it will ingratiate us much to provide farmhands without the wit to hold a shield properly, but it will give the recruits something to do. Excuse me." Cullen stepped forward to yank the arming sword and shield from a hapless young woman, to her obvious terror, but he replaced them only a moment later with a two-handed sword for her to try instead.

Lysette left him to it. She'd been at the yard for several hours already, and the sun was high. She had no formal duties until evening patrol, and as yet had no one to report to other than the commander himself, so she thought she might head back into the village and see about lunch. And Cullen's words had given her an idea that might help her address a small concern of her own.

She passed through the gates and climbed the stairs into Haven, turning her head momentarily to look at the cabin where she'd met the alchemist—and first laid eyes on the Herald of Andraste. For the last two days, everyone in the village had been talking about the Dalish mage with the blessed mark, sent by Andraste herself to save them from the demons falling from the sky. The tales grew wilder with every passing hour.

Lysette mostly ignored them. She didn't consider herself an imaginative woman, but it was easy enough to picture the Breach as some sort of magical experiment gone wrong—she'd seen it happen plenty of times in the Circle, albeit on a smaller scale. Who knew what the mages had planned for the Conclave?

Still, she doubted a single person, let alone an elven apostate, could be responsible for such destruction. It was far more likely this "Herald" had been a bystander caught up in the chaos, like Lysette herself. If Andraste wanted Lysette to believe this woman was her messenger, she'd have to send a clearer sign.

Lysette had planned to continue on up the hill, but the sound of raised voices nearby caught her attention. Bon sang! It was the Maker-cursed merchant again. Lysette hastened over, ready to intervene if the argument became too heated.

"I told you, we need the bloody blankets to keep people from freezing to death! And all you've got are these sad rags—I don't know how you sleep at night, charging what you do."

"None of that sounds like my problem. My price is my price. Find another merchant if you don't like it."

"If there were anyone else in Haven with wares to sell, you'd already have been run out of town on a rail." The man speaking had his fists balled at his side, teeth clenched, and Lysette caught the glimmer of tears in his eyes. "I swear to the holy Bride, if it weren't for…"  

"Is there a problem here?" Lysette kept her voice measured and her left hand resting on the pommel of her sword.

Seggrit shrugged. "Not unless he starts one."

"I'm not doing anything wrong!" The man turned and spat at Lysette. "Keep your bloody hands off me, templar. I'm going. You go on and make your bed with this… this grifter."

Lysette felt her cheeks starting to burn, though she kept her features stony as she stepped aside to let the man pass. Was this how templars were seen, now?

Or was this how it had always been?


Two nights of sitting up with the Herald had taken a toll on Adan's mood. A knock on the apothecary door disturbed him from his slumped half-slumber over the writing desk. He knew he should sleep properly—he'd moved his cot into the abandoned house next door and everything—but there was still so much to do.

It was Lysette, her long face austere and the Orlesian lion on her breastplate bright as a mirror in the sun. Adan wondered briefly if her armor was new, or if she was really that scrupulous about polishing it despite the confusion of the world around her. Or maybe because of it.  His gaze skimmed thoughtfully over the disarray of his workshop: scattered plant matter, tangled heaps of alchemical tools, vials of nefarious substances with the lids left off….

"What can I do for you?" His voice came out more brusquely than he intended, but Maker, he was tired.

"I am told that many of the townsfolk are in need of additional labor, and I remembered that you were short of assistance. I have come to volunteer in whatever capacity you might require."

Maker's breath. Adan mumbled, “Now they send me a templar."

Lysette met his eyes directly, but didn't speak further.

“Do you know anything about potions?" he demanded. Aside from lyrium draughts. Bloody templars.

“No.”

“Herbs?”

“I can tell elfroot from spindleweed.”  

Remembering Flissa's puzzlement when he'd asked her for elfroot, he said, “Better than nothing." How does someone reach adulthood in Thedas without being able to identify elfroot, anyway? "I’ll set you to gathering, then. You can probably do a bit while you’re out on patrol—if it wouldn’t offend your holy dignity, of course.”

"I suppose picking weeds might have been frowned upon in the courtyard of the Circle of Magi, but templars don't always stay in the Circle, you know.”

“Ah yes, of course. I didn't mean to insult you. I'm sure you've spent months in the woods hunting apostates." With Tranquil to tend her every need, no doubt.

"Are you sure you didn't mean to insult me? You're doing rather well."

"Ah, don't mind him, he's just a cranky old man." His new assistant, a young elven woman, slipped delicately past Lysette into the apothecary. "Adan, Seggrit says he can't let the herbs go for less than eight.”

 “Fine, we’ll gather our own. Tell Seggrit he better hope he doesn’t need a salve any time soon. Ser Lysette, are you familiar with felandaris?"

"I don't believe I know it."

"Ah, well, it's rare. Only grows where the Veil is thin—although I suppose that's everywhere nowadays." Resigned, he waved her inside. "Don't just stand in the doorway, come in." Without hesitation, Lysette stepped inside and shut the door behind her.

Adan rummaged around his papers for a moment, and then opened a well-worn volume to show her an illustration. "Here. Don't harvest if it looks like this"— he pointed—"only if it's mature. Got it?" Over her shoulder, his assistant rolled her eyes heavenwards.

Lysette tilted her head in concentration. "I think so."

"Well, we'll find out. Let me write you a list of all the things we'll need, just in case."

While he scribbled, Lysette shifted from foot to foot. He would have thought it awkward, but all of the woman's movements exuded a sort of graceful deliberation. "I would also like to thank you for what you did with Erriala. None of us realized the danger she was in, and while you say you are not a healer…"

"The apostate saved her life, not me. Perhaps you should volunteer for him instead."

Lysette gave Adan a flat look. From over her shoulder, he could see his assistant dramatically clutching at her chest as if to absorb a blow.

"Pella, if you've nowhere better to be, get out there and find whatever frozen bits of elfroot you can," he snapped. She held up her hands in a mocking gesture of submission and left the cabin as daintily as she'd slipped in.

Adan's mood was not improving.

Lysette was still watching him. "If I am imposing, I can volunteer elsewhere," she said. "There is much to be done in Haven. I simply wished to repay a debt."

"No. We need the help. Just… no nattering on about the Chant or anything, do you hear?"

"I'm not much of a natterer, I assure you." She gave a polite smile that didn't reach her eyes and picked up the list Adan handed her. "I will, as you suggest, look for these on my patrols. If there is anything else I can do in the meantime, you may find me at the tavern."

"Bit early for a tipple, isn't it?" Adan was really not putting his best foot forward today.

"I thought perhaps I might help Flissa wash some dishes."

Was she… joking? From her dour expression, he honestly couldn't tell. As Lysette walked outside and shut the door behind her, he stared vacantly after her, trying desperately to piece together what was left of his mind.

Adan shook his head, scratched at his beard, and got back to work.

That afternoon, the Herald finally woke up.

Adan heard about it third-hand from a breathless Pella. Her cheeks were flushed pink with excitement and her words only confused his tired mind further. "Seeker Pentaghast said what?"

"They've acknowledged her as the Herald, all of them—I saw her go into the chantry—"

"What does this mean?"

"They're declaring the Inquisition. It's really happening!"

Adan felt… he wasn't sure what he felt. Sleep-deprived, mostly. "Then I won't be needed to tend her any longer?"

"I don't think so," said Pella, looking disappointed at his reaction.

"Then I'm going to bed. Wake me… no, I take that back. Don't wake me. If I don't come out of that cabin in twenty-four hours, you may assume I'm dead and send for a new apothecary."

Within five minutes, Adan was asleep.

Chapter Text

 

Though I am flesh, Your Light is ever present,
And those I have called, they remember,
And they shall endure.

—Trials 15:1

Lysette let out a long sigh before she even opened her eyes. It seemed to strike the hardest while she was half-awake, the realization that Arielle and Orin were gone. Not to mention everyone who'd been at the temple, many of the mages whose names and faces she'd worked so hard to learn—Maker, what's happened to the children?—and probably half the people she'd trained with in Denerim.

It had been a full week since the Conclave. Aside from the grief and horror that clenched in her chest at unpredictable intervals, Lysette was relieved to find life settling into a structured pattern once again. And where the Inquisition didn't provide her routine, she created it herself.

Lysette rose and tidied her bedroll. Moving carefully so as not to wake Erriala, she lifted the heavy canvas tent flap and slipped outside. She'd gotten into the habit of rising early and visiting the Chantry before the rest of Haven awoke, and then taking her breakfast alone by the lake.

She found that some long-suppressed part of her enjoyed the freedom and solitude, something Lysette had never had much of an opportunity to experience in the metropoles of Val Royeaux or Denerim, and had never expected to find in the close quarters of a Circle.

She walked back and forth along the shore, warming her muscles as she waited for the others to rise. Commander Cullen was already up; when he caught her looking his way, she saluted from across the practice yard. One or two other people milled around, setting up armor stands and laying out practice weapons. Lysette walked over to help.

The morning passed quickly as she moved through her drills and helped train the newest recruits in basic combat. True competency with a sword took years, and mastery even longer; so far, Lysette and her companions had been useful to the Inquisition more due to their extensive combat training than their templar abilities.

After lunch, she sparred for an hour or two with Seeker Pentaghast and the other templars. She and Erriala had both expressed a preference for evening patrols, which gave them the afternoon hours off. Erriala was still recovering from her injury, and appreciated having the time to return to their shared tent for more rest.

Lysette did not join her. Unless she had something productive to do, her thoughts would return to Arielle and the others. The Knight-Corporal had been, not a friend exactly—that would have been inappropriate—but a mentor. When Lysette had first come back to Orlais...

No, she wasn't going to dwell on it. What Lysette needed was a distraction. She had come to look forward to her daily visits to the apothecary, and had been surprised to find that she enjoyed the work more than she'd expected.

Well, most of the time. At the moment she was listening to Adan argue with Pella about the best way to prepare an elfroot extract.

"If you don't distill it, it won't make—"

"If the elfroot is bad to begin with, it doesn't matter what you do to it. This is the way my mother taught me, and—"

"Your mother is an expert on the subject, I assume."

"She is, as it happens. Her name is Senna Lassin."

Adan let out an impressed grunt. "I take it back. Your mother does know what she's talking about."

Lysette raised her head. "Who's Senna Lassin?"

"She's the royal alchemist in Antiva. That'll teach you to make assumptions, Adan." Pella sniffed.

"You've been working here a week and you didn't think to mention that before? I've known Senna half my life."

The squabbling continued until Adan sent Pella to deliver a fresh batch of potions to the infirmary, but Lysette had long since stopped listening in favor of focusing on the task before her. The preparation of herbs for potions was a surprisingly soothing activity. It reminded her of polishing her armor, or counting the apprentices in their quarters—there were many such repetitive tasks in the life of a templar. She said as much to Adan, who looked at her thoughtfully for a few moments.

“Why did you become a templar?” he asked.

She looked back at him steadily. “Why did you become an alchemist?”

He chuckled. “Fair enough. I suppose it’s not a question that can be answered so readily.”

Lysette lifted one shoulder in an almost-shrug. “I believed it was a worthy cause. I still do, even as I’ve watched the Order crumble. But why did you become an alchemist? It’s not a common trade. Were you apprenticed?”

“Not exactly.” He paused, appearing to choose his words carefully. "I grew up in Denerim, but my family was not well off. My father took injury in the war with Orlais, and while he survived the initial wound, he only lived a few years longer. I hardly remember him."

"I'm sorry."

"Not your fault—and don't worry, I hold nothing against you for your nationality." He smiled faintly. "No more than any Fereldan would, at least."

"I'm half-Fereldan, you know. And I trained in Denerim." She calmly stripped the stems from another stalk of spindleweed with, she thought, admirable precision.

"Then I have even less to hold against you. Hand me that knife, would you? You're taking too much off—here." Adan demonstrated the correct technique, and Lysette watched carefully.

"I see. Thank you."

"No, thank you. You don't have to do any of this, you know."

"I don't mind," she said simply.

They fell into a companionable silence, the only sounds the clanking of stoneware and the tearing of leaves. After a while, Lysette looked over at Adan and said, "You didn't finish your story."

"My life story? Ha. It's long and dull, I assure you. Tell me about yourself instead. How does a half-Fereldan Orlesian come to be a renegade templar?”

“I'm not sure that's the description I would choose. I was only knighted last year.”

He raised his bristly eyebrows. “Good timing.”

“Not terribly.”

Adan snorted in amusement at her cool response. “Truly, I was sorry to hear about what happened in the Circles. So what d’you make of all this?” He gestured vaguely upwards, but Lysette knew what he meant.

“I thought you didn’t want me to natter on about the Chant.”

His mouth actually fell open for a moment, and then he slammed it shut with a snap and went back to the stems with renewed vigor. A look of regret spread across his features. Lysette smiled slightly to herself: that’d teach him to make assumptions, indeed.

The cabin door creaked open. Visibly relieved by the interruption, Adan turned and greeted Pella with unusual cheer. Pella looked startled, but she only said, "Minaeve says the demon essence isn't ready yet, and she'll let us know when it is."

"You mean she said to stop bothering her. That mage isn't half so diplomatic."

"I rather like her," said Pella. "Did you know she rescued half a dozen Tranquil when her Circle fell?"

"No, I didn't, actually. Good for her."

Lysette wondered what had happened to the rest of them. Adan glanced her way and caught the change in her expression. "There a problem, Ser Lysette?"

"What? No. I'm glad to hear the Tranquil were saved, of course. I simply haven't spoken to Minaeve much."

"Ah, well, I wouldn't have expected otherwise." Adan turned back to continue talking with Pella.

Lysette felt the innocuous remark like a blow. She said stiffly, "We're all part of the Inquisition now. There's no reason I shouldn't be as friendly with a mage as anyone else."

"You don't seem terribly friendly with anyone, Lysette," Pella said cheerfully. She was a cheeky thing, that one. Lysette snorted and wiped the spindleweed juice from her knife, then stood. "What time is it? I should probably get something to eat before my patrol."

Erriala walked a few steps ahead of Lysette, both templars' boots crunching on the thin crust of snow that covered the ground outside Haven's gates. The moon just rising over the horizon suggested it would be another bright night in the village, even with the clouds gathering for what looked to be another snowstorm. It was nearly Wintersend, but that meant little here in the Frostbacks.

Lysette turned her gaze to Erriala and watched her closely. She moved a bit stiffly, but Lysette was impressed to see how quickly she'd recovered from a near-fatal injury. Given the limited resources of the Inquisition in the immediate aftermath of the conclave, it was gratifying that they'd bothered to rescue rank-and-file templars like Lysette and her companions.

"Are you really going to stay here, Lysette?" Erriala asked quietly.

"Yes. Aren't you?"

"I—don't know yet. How did you decide so quickly? You've never been one for rash decisions." Erriala shook her head disbelievingly.

"They saved our lives, Erriala. Besides, where else would we go? I never wanted to abandon the Chantry. At least these people have faith in the Maker."

"Do they? They seem like a bunch of heretics to me. The Herald of Andraste, a Dalish elf? More than that, a Dalish mage? I tell you, it makes me queasy."

Lysette sighed. She'd been having the same argument with Mattrin for days. "I don't know if she's truly the Herald of Andraste. But I can see what this organization is trying to do, and I support it. So should you."

"Don't you think the Lord Seeker knows what he's doing?"

"Who are these Seekers? We never saw them in training. We barely hear about them. For all I know, they're just as bad as—as anyone else." Lysette fell silent for a moment. "I've come to trust Seeker Pentaghast, and she's here with us."

Erriala looked back at Lysette over her shoulder. It was difficult to make out her expression in the dark. "Us. You're such an idealist. Shouldn't the priority now be that thing in the sky? What makes you think these people can do anything about it?"

"I saw the Herald's hand. There was something there, Erriala, whether you want to believe it or not. It looked like no magic I'd ever seen outside of these rifts—and I sensed nothing from it." She shook her head. "If it were magic like we know, I would have. You know that."

"Maybe you were tired. Did you take your lyrium on schedule?"

"Of course."

Their conversation drifted to a halt as Lysette and Erriala turned their attention back to their patrol.

"Oh, look at that." Lysette stepped off the path and bent down, waving a hand to calm Erriala, who had started to draw her sword in alarm. "Sorry."

Erriala sheathed her sword with somewhat more force than was strictly necessary. "What in Andraste's name are you doing?"

"Picking elfroot. Or trying to." Lysette struggled to reach the plant's roots without shredding the delicate leaves on her vambraces. Finally, she ripped one of her gloves off and held it between her teeth.

"If you start indulging on patrol, don't blame me if you confuse those rams over there for abominations. And I am not plucking your intoxicated body out of a half-frozen lake."

"Emmerdeuse." Lysette's voice was muffled over the glove.

"I mean it. Seriously, what are you doing?" Erriala peered over Lysette's shoulder, curling her upper lip as elegantly as if she were still the pampered daughter of an Amaranthine merchant and not the battle-hardened warrior she was.

"I thought I'd take up a new hobby."

"Did you finally finish reading the Chant and realize there's nothing good in there?"

Lysette straightened, shaking bits of dirt and snow off the elfroot before pulling her glove back on. "You've been spending too much time with Mattrin."

"We've all been spending too much time with Mattrin."

"I agree. Of all the people to survive the war and the Conclave, how was it I'm left with that pair of fools and with you?"

"Ah, poor Lys." Erriala stepped over and slapped her affectionately on the arm.

Lysette shrugged off the gesture. "It's been ten years. Are you ever going to stop calling me that?"

"Not as long as it still gets a rise out of you.... Maker, I don't know. Maybe there is something to this Herald business, maybe there's not. I just wish we could go home."

Lysette laughed bitterly. "I wish I knew where that was. The Circles have fallen. The Seeker said there was no one left in the White Spire but a few Tranquil and a lot of spiders."

"Now that, I believe. There are always spiders in a Circle." Lysette and Erriala exchanged a knowing look, and then they were giggling like girls again as they reminisced about their youth—"Do you remember Delrin's scream?"—but it didn't last long before they fell quiet again. They had both changed, and the world had changed around them.


Eight days after the Conclave, Adan walked up the hill towards his workshop while feeling equal parts dissatisfied and annoyed with himself. He'd stolen a few minutes to check Master Taigen's cabin again for the man's notes, but hadn't had any luck. It wasn't a priority, but he hated to leave something so promising unfinished.

Solas was taking the air, he saw. He'd claimed the cabin next door to the apothecary as his own, and once again Adan wondered what such an unabashed apostate was doing with a Chantry startup like the Inquisition. Andraste's arse, there were templars everywhere. Then again, the Herald herself was an apostate, so perhaps it didn't matter anymore.

He found it hard to credit. For centuries, templars and mages had been two sides in a precarious but seemingly permanent state of balance. Now the world was collapsing, the mages had declared independence, and the templars had left the Chantry—well, not all of them had, it was true. For example, that woman Lysette and her companions. From what he'd heard around Haven, the templars who'd come with her would already have left to hunt mages in the Hinterlands had Lysette not insisted on remaining with the Inquisition.

Adan wondered why Lysette was so firm in her decision. He knew why he was with the Inquisition, although his reasons for joining had rapidly been overshadowed by an enormous demon-spitting hole in the sky. Well, in any case, he was glad to have an extra pair of hands in the apothecary. And that's all, a tiny voice chided in the back of his mind. Sweet Andraste, you're probably fifteen years older than she is.

He nodded briefly to Solas, who didn't exactly return the gesture but didn't look away, either. Disconcerting. Adan opened the door to his workshop, and was surprised to see that there was someone already there, browsing over his stock of potions. He was even more surprised to recognize her as the Herald of Andraste. He let out a startled laugh. "Look who's back from the dead. Again."

The elven woman looked up curiously. "Hello. I don't recall meeting you before," she said. Her voice was low and she spoke with that lilting Dalish accent.

"Name's Adan. And I'd be surprised if you did—you weren't particularly coherent. Someone had to patch you up after you stumbled out of Maker-knows-where, though, so… you're welcome." Adan sighed. He'd been at this for a week already. How long before Haven had a sodding healer?

"I didn't realize. Thank you." She tilted her head. Adan had spent his life around elves, but he always felt slightly awkward when talking to one of the Dalish; their customs and demeanor were so different from the city elves or humans that he knew.

"Clan Lavellan, right?" He pointed at her tattoos. Rudely, probably. He could almost hear his mother's admonition.

"That's right. You know of us?" She seemed surprised.

"I met your Keeper once, years back. Near Markham, I think it was."

"Are you from the Free Marches, then? Were you a healer there?"

"I'm not a healer. I'm an alchemist who's forced to play mother hen. Not that Seeker Pentaghast seems to care; she sends me more patients every day. I'm in charge of keeping our little band here stocked with potions and elixirs." Or that was the original idea, anyway. "Let me know if there's anything you want mixed up. It'd be nice to mix something that doesn't require elfroot for a change."

"I might take you up on that. I'll be heading into the Hinterlands soon to, among other things, see about recruiting a healer for all the refugees we're getting in."

"Thank the Maker," he said fervently, and paused. "Or ah, you. I suppose."

The Herald's eyes glinted with what might have been amusement, but it was always hard to tell with the Dalish. Cultural differences. They had a reputation among the city elves for being humorless, but he'd seen an entire clan howl with laughter at jokes that made him scratch his head.

"What kind of potions can you make?" She picked up a fire resistance tonic and examined the glass bottle with interest.

"Well, if you've got the supplies, any of the recipes you see over there." He indicated a bench on the far wall. "But I've got the skills and equipment to prepare just about any recipe you can bring me. I only wish I'd been able to find Master Taigen's notes. Old bastard was working on something special. He died at the Conclave, and his notes weren't here."

"Perhaps I can keep an eye out."

"Ah, you've got better things to do than tend to me. But I'd appreciate the help, all the same." The Herald nodded politely and moved to go. As she shut the door quietly behind her, Adan caught a glimpse of the mark on her hand and shook his head.

What a strange business this was.

Adan wondered vaguely whether Lysette would be coming to assist again this afternoon. She'd dropped off another batch of herbs that morning, so perhaps she considered her obligations met for the day. Maybe the sense of indebtedness that had driven her to volunteer in the first place was coming to an end. Surely she wouldn't be able to assist him indefinitely, after all.

And why are you so concerned about it, anyway, you old goat?

In an effort to distract himself, Adan assembled the materials to mix a regeneration potion and laid them out on the workbench by the window. As he picked up the pestle, he glanced idly outside and his hands halted in midair. Pella and Lysette were walking up the hill, the former clutching a mug of tea that was larger than her head and the latter looking as serenely dangerous as ever. She should have looked stiff as a board in all that armor, he thought, but she didn't. She moved like… like a lion stalking its prey.

Adan turned his back to the window and began mixing furiously. Distraction, that was the ticket.

Chapter Text

9:41 Dragon, Wintersend I think? Have lost track. Possibly that was yesterday. Would explain the noise.

Lady Montilyet tells me the Inquisition has sent for a surgeon from Denerim. Not a day too soon, honestly; was only a matter of time before I killed someone by mistake.

Or on purpose, come to that. One more sly remark from Seggrit about "rabbit stew" and I'll let Pella loose on him. The girl's a terror. I think Flissa has taken her under her wing, and a good thing too, as I'm certainly no role model. Hard to believe Senna has a daughter that age.

Not a whit of progress on research lately. Every time we discharge someone from infirmary, two more come in from Hinterlands nursing minor wounds like "impaled on templar halberd" or "blasted by blood mage". Will be amazed if anyone is left standing at the end of this war.

Have still not heard back from Elan, so asked Bel to spread word of recent events to the usual suspects. Hope they're all right in this world gone mad. Staff in apothecary currently just Pella and a volunteer templar, oddly enough, but more people on the way.

I can't see past tomorrow most days, but if we'll be staying here past winter, will need to find seeds and start planting soon. Seems foolish to grow elfroot on purpose, but Inquisition has depleted the supply around Haven. Have prepared list of rarer items to give Herald; expect a Dalish First will know her herbs.

Given the number of people squeezed into this village, will need ready supply of fresh witherstalk to keep population down. Refuse to add "midwife" to list of unwanted responsibilities.

—Excerpt from the notebooks of Adan Surana

Adan's eyes fell on the branch of felandaris that had been carefully laid out to dry on the apothecary windowsill.

Lysette had brought it by that morning, looking as pleased as he'd ever seen her. There had definitely been a smile lurking behind that grim templar mask as she nonchalantly presented him with the rare herb.

"Hmph," he'd grunted, looking it over. Of course the felandaris met the precise specifications he'd given her. She did have a good memory. Lysette had smirked, bade him to walk in the Maker's light, and gone off to fetch her breakfast. He wondered if she knew the effect she was having on him.

He rather hoped not. It was ridiculous, this infatuation. Adan could list off any number of reasons why he should demand she spend her time and energies elsewhere, but… it had been surprisingly helpful to have her assistance in the apothecary. He hadn't been out in the woods with her, himself, but Pella had told him that Lysette had a good eye for spotting the shape of a frozen root under the snow. And Lysette was meticulous (which Pella was not) and dedicated (which, to be fair, Pella was). Just yesterday, the two of them had rolled a week's supply of bandages and saved him hours of irksome labor.

No, the only reason to get rid of Lysette would be his own attraction to her, and that kind of decision-making could not be borne.

How much of a problem could it pose, really? Even if there was any indication she considered him a romantic prospect—and there wasn't—he'd never act on it. He barely knew her, for one thing; it had been less than a month since the Conclave. And she was a templar, with… everything that entailed. But mostly, a voice in the back of his mind whispered, isn't it that she's a shem?

Adan's hand slid up absently to trace the deep scars that marked his face. Those wounds had taken a long time to heal, and still longer to fade. Much to his frustration as a younger man, they'd kept him from growing the full beard he'd wanted so badly after leaving the alienage. Looking back now, he thought it both ironic and entirely typical that even such a simple effort to separate himself from his past had only partially succeeded.

He harbored no particular resentment for humans these days. After all, for all practical purposes, Adan was one of them. But he had to admit that his adult life had been marked by a certain hesitancy to become involved with them emotionally. There were only a few he'd been truly close to—Maric, Duncan, one or two others. Most long dead now.

And none of them had been a solemn-faced Orlesian templar with a military bearing and a dry wit that Adan found unexpectedly appealing.

Maker, what was that commotion in the square? One day the people of Haven were cheering, the next they were shouting. At this point, Adan didn’t want to know. He pulled the shutters closed with a snap, lit a lamp, and returned to his writing. If anyone needed him, they damned well knew where to find him.


Maker's breath, it's Tomas, realized Lysette as she hurried into the square, the skirted panels of her armor catching the breeze behind her. Snow was falling lightly over Haven, dusting the rooftops with a peaceful air and an impression of quiet that was belied by the scene before her eyes. Her fellow templar stood on the threshold of the chantry, pointing his finger at a white-haired mage in unmarked Circle robes. A small crowd had gathered.

"Your kind killed the Most Holy!" Tomas shouted.

A cluster of mages stood huddled together and moved a few steps closer to the chantry, as if they sought protection from its very walls. The apparent leader of the group stood firm, however. "Lies. Your kind let her die."

"Shut your mouth, mage!" Mattrin and Erriala were closer to Tomas than she was, but they both stood with their arms folded and showed no signs of intervening. Lysette pushed through the crowd to grab Tomas, but Commander Cullen beat her to it.

"Enough!"

"Knight-Captain—" Tomas stepped forward, hands extended in supplication.

"That is not my title," snapped Cullen. "We are not templars any longer. We are all part of the Inquisition!"

Lysette let out a breath of relief as the tension slowly, mercifully began to dissipate. When the commander ordered everyone back to work, Lysette thought she saw a pale elf—the Herald?—catch his arm. She craned her neck trying to catch another glimpse, but Chancellor Roderick stormed up to block her view. Tomas and the other templars had been among the first to depart, but presumably Roderick thought Lysette would be similarly receptive to his commentary.

"Can you believe this?" Roderick fumed.

Lysette said, "Commander Cullen has been very clear that—"

"'Commander', my left foot!" snapped Roderick. "That young man is a disgrace to the Order."

And what do you know about the Order? thought Lysette, but she settled for a chilly, "I have no complaints about my superior officer, nor would I share them with a Chantry Brother if I did."

"Is he your superior officer? Is there any kind of formal reporting structure in this place? You've got apostates walking around openly, calling themselves Andraste's messenger, elves running around arm-in-arm with human servants..." At that, Lysette saw Pella's sleek brown head pop up like that of an otter taking the air.

Lysette shook her head and replied, "I have little sympathy for apostates, but if you seek templar support to subvert this organization from within, you will not find it from me. Good day, Chancellor."

Leaving Roderick sputtering to himself in the square, Lysette turned and began walking down the path to the training grounds. Pella fell into step beside her.

"Well done," Pella said blithely. "He'll never talk to you again."

"One can only hope."

"Dinner? Ah… of course, Lady Seeker." Lysette was startled and more than a little alarmed by the Seeker's unexpected invitation. Was this about the incident at the chantry?

Seeker Pentaghast, however, looked satisfied when Lysette saluted. The two of them walked side by side from the training grounds up the path towards the tavern. Dusk was beginning to fall in Haven, and the scents of food and wood smoke rising from the village's many campfires and chimneys appealed to Lysette after a long day of exercise outdoors in the chilly air. The Inquisition had received a fresh caravan of people from the Hinterlands the day before, so Lysette had foregone her afternoon hours at the apothecary in favor of additional time with the new recruits.

In fact, people were arriving in Haven at an impressive rate. Even though so many lives had been lost at the Conclave, the Inquisition was already beginning to run out of places to put the new arrivals. Even tents were in short supply.

Lysette gave the Seeker a sidelong glance, but the other woman's scarred face was placid. It didn't seem she had a particular reason for inviting Lysette specifically. Perhaps she'd simply wanted the company. Noticing Lysette's gaze, the Seeker turned her head.

"Have you dined at the tavern before?"

"I've been by for bread and cheese. Never for supper. I usually just take dry rations before patrol."

"Ah, then you're in for a treat. The woman does remarkable things with what mismatched ingredients we're able to get her. The other day she had eighty pounds of turnips and little else, but they were seasoned quite well. Tonight, I understand that the hunters have been able to obtain some lamb."

Lysette was intrigued despite herself, and Seeker Pentaghast smiled at the eagerness she hadn't quite been able to hide. "You're working hard, Ser Lysette. Don't forget to look after yourself."

"I didn't expect a Seeker to reprimand a templar for that," said Lysette, with some caution. Her tongue had gotten her into trouble with superiors before.

"Not a reprimand. Merely a reminder. To tell you the truth, I've been impressed by your dedication to our cause. When you arrived, I wasn't sure if you and your companions would remain with the Inquisition."

Lysette didn't have to think of a response for that, fortunately; just as they arrived at the tavern, the door swung open to reveal a redheaded dwarf carrying a bowl of stew. Judging from his attire, he didn't appear to be especially bothered by the cold weather. "Seeker," he grunted.

"Varric. I trust you're prepared for the journey to Val Royeaux? The Herald has requested us at the gates an hour before dawn."

"Bright and early. Or just make that 'early', I guess." He looked up at Lysette, gave her a grudging nod and a "Templar," before heading off into the darkening evening, slurping his soup directly from the bowl as he walked.

"That dwarf will be the death of me," muttered the Seeker as they entered the tavern and claimed a table for two near the door.

"He's certainly well armed," said Lysette, thinking of the crossbow he'd had strapped to his back.

"Don't I know it. Ugh. Would you mind fetching our meals?" The Seeker took a chair with a heavy sigh and proceeded to remove her gauntlets and loosen the buckles of her cuirass.

"Not at all, Seeker." Lysette removed her own gloves and laid them on the table. As she turned around, she saw the door swing open again. An elven woman stepped quietly into the tavern, and Lysette stared.

She's so… tiny, was her first, foolish thought. Well, the Herald was an elf, and they ran small. Her leather coat—what passed for armor if you were an apostate mage, Lysette supposed—made her look rather like a child in too-large clothes. Except that no child in Thedas would have been permitted to carry a gleaming, deadly-looking staff like the one on the Herald's back.

The Herald was not unaware of her audience, although it was still early enough that the tavern wasn't especially crowded aside from a small line of people waiting for bowls of stew to take back to their lodgings. Of course, it was natural that an apostate would take notice of the stare of a templar who towered over her. But despite the Herald's diminutive stature, she met Lysette's eye without the appearance of either fear or distaste—either of which Lysette would have expected from a mage—and walked towards her.

"Hello," she said. "I don't believe we've met. My name's Ellana."

"I know. You're the one they're calling the Herald."

"Rather rolls off the tongue, doesn't it?" said the elf dryly.

"No," Lysette said blunty. "And you'll find many of the templars here agree. We're a distrustful lot by nature."

"The Dalish aren't known for our trusting natures either, I fear."

Distrust, it seemed, did not preclude inquisitiveness. The Herald of Andraste peppered Lysette with questions while she waited at the bar, and she found herself speaking about the Conclave, her role in the Inquisition, and what it was like to be a templar. "If you seek to learn more of the templars, perhaps you should speak with Commander Cullen or Seeker Pentaghast," Lysette said finally. "I'm only a year out of my training. Belief and faith don't get you closer to the important meetings… though that distance did save my life."

"Thank you for your time, Ser Lysette," Ellana said, more diplomatically than Lysette would have managed in her shoes. The elf probably wasn't even wearing shoes, come to think of it. "I will speak with you later, if you don't mind."

"Of course. Walk in the Maker's grace," Lysette replied. Does she even believe in the Maker? I doubt it.

Lysette's own faith in the Maker had led her to pledge her life to the Chantry, and later to shift her allegiance to this new Inquisition. But whatever title this strange elf bore, Lysette hesitated to put her faith in another individual—let alone a mage. Still, she appreciated the Herald's forthright manner. At least a Dalish apostate was no slippery politician like some of the mages she'd met in Montsimmard.

The Herald had moved on to interrogating Flissa, who was answering her questions with wide eyes. And, Lysette noticed irritably, wringing her hands instead of ladling stew. "Oh! And I nearly forgot why I came," said Ellana. "I was looking for the apothecary, but he wasn't in his workshop. Have you seen him, Flissa?"

"Ah—no, your… your Heraldship, I'm afraid I haven't." Flissa's normal brash confidence had certainly wilted in the presence of the Lady's Chosen, Lysette thought sourly.

"Was Pella there?" asked Lysette. "They might be in the infirmary. That caravan yesterday had several wounded." She felt a pang of guilt for missing her afternoon at the apothecary, however prudent it had been in light of her primary duties to the Inquisition.

"You know Adan, then?" asked Flissa, curiosity apparently overcoming her uncharacteristic bout of shyness. "I thought I saw you with Pella the other day."

Lysette wanted to ask, Do you keep track of the movements of everyone in Haven? but refrained. In any case, the answer was obvious. Everyone in Haven was interested in everyone else's business."I've been assisting in the apothecary for some time now," she said instead.

The Herald took her leave with a nod, but Flissa was still eyeing Lysette curiously.  "What are you doing that for, then? Do you have training as a herbalist? I hope Adan's not been too much of a prat."

Lysette was getting rather tired of answering questions. "No. There's quite a lot of work to be done, and not enough willing hands." She looked pointedly at the bowl of stew that was growing cold on the counter, and Flissa blinked. Handing the cooling stew to Lysette, she hastily prepared a second and passed it over the counter as well.

The tavern continued to fill up, and a minstrel plucked lazily at her lute in one corner. Lysette vaguely recognized the tune, but couldn't put her finger on it. Perhaps one her mother had sung? Yes, that was it. "Impératrice, qu'importent les saisons... nous te défendrons..." Lysette stared contemplatively across the now-crowded tavern, but quickly shifted her focus when the Seeker addressed her.

"Excellent stew, isn't it?"

Hastily lifting her spoon to her own portion, Lysette nodded politely. In fact, the ram meat was tough, and the seasonings bland at best. Nevarran cuisine had to be terrible, if the Lady Seeker considered this an improvement. And wasn't she some sort of noble? Maker.

"As you've heard, I'll be leaving tomorrow to accompany the Herald to Val Royeaux. Ser Rylen will assist with the recruits in my absence. Are you still volunteering in the apothecary?"

"Yes, most days."

"Hm. That's good. Although I wonder if a staff rotation isn't in order—I heard that one of the quartermaster's assistants has been complaining about his treatment. I don't think Threnn is being cruel to him, but she's certainly not a tactful woman. You might be better able to stand up to her, don't you think?" Cassandra tapped her finger thoughtfully on the side of her empty bowl.

"If that's what you think is best, Seeker." Lysette felt an odd jolt in her stomach at the thought. She hadn't realized how much she'd come to rely on those hours of quiet in the apothecary. It was true that Adan had no patience with fools, but she enjoyed their conversations. And for all his irritable remarks, she'd never heard him say anything truly hurtful, even in response to Pella's deliberate needling.

But it wasn't as if she could continue volunteering her time forever. The Herald had recruited a healer to help the Hinterlands refugees and Cullen had sent for a proper surgeon for the soldiers, so soon Adan would go back to mixing whatever dangerous concoctions he'd been hired to prepare. Lysette would continue helping to train the Inquisition's soldiers, and one day—if it was the Maker's will—she'd be back standing watch in a Circle, with peace and order restored to Thedas.

That dream just felt a bit distant, right now.

Chapter Text

In heart's drumming I heard footsteps thund'ring
Shield-brothers and spear-sisters distant raised
Blade to shackle-bearer, valiant of spirit
Blazing like star-shine, to battle they charged.
None to return to the lands of their mothers
By cruel magic taken, ice, lightning, and flame.

—Andraste 1:5

"Right. Thank you. My best to the Revered Mother. Yes, that's right. Until next time, then."

Adan shut the door firmly and muttered a curse as he returned to his work. He'd been awake barely two hours, but the morning had been one interruption after another. That particular Chantry sister had a way of saying the same thing over and over again, and each time seemed lengthier than the last. Leave it to an Orlesian to treat the delivery of a poultice as a social call. If Pella hadn't still been at breakfast, he'd have sent her to personally escort the sister back to the infirmary and let them talk each other's ears off.

The Herald and her companions were still in Val Royeaux. Mother Giselle had been joined in Haven by a small army of helpers to tend the wounded, much to Adan's relief. Although the surgeon from Denerim would be some time yet, and supplies were still a problem. Adan intended to address the latter complaint with Seeker Pentaghast upon her return from Orlais. When he'd talked to Threnn, she'd only given him a morose shrug. Lady Montilyet had been sweetly apologetic but explained that there was no way to accelerate the shipments of herbs the Inquisition had already ordered.

Therefore, Adan was startled but pleased to find that the next interruption was the Seeker herself.

"Lady Cassandra. I wasn't expecting you back so soon." He searched for a towel to scrub the fish oil off his hands.

"The Herald was quite anxious to return as soon as possible, so we rode ahead. It was quite an… eventful journey."

"What can I do for you, then?"

"A few things. First, a fresh supply of health potions for a party of four. And lyrium potions for Solas and the Herald." Adan nodded; this had become the usual order. But this time, Cassandra added, "When can you have them ready? We'll be heading out again as soon as possible."

Adan whistled. "So it was an eventful journey. Do I want to know where you're going?"

"We've a meeting with the Inquisition advisors shortly. I can't say more until then." She glanced out the window. "Blast it, the time passes before you know it... in fact, I meant to ask before we left if you would mind swapping volunteers with Threnn. There's been a bit of a personality conflict with our soldier who had been assisting her, I understand, and she desperately needs reliable aid."

Any gratification Adan might have felt to see the Seeker evaporated as if it had never been. "Maferath's balls. First Mother Giselle's ninnies won't stop pestering me for health potions, even though I haven't enough elfroot left to heal a nug's ear, and now you're taking away my assistants?"

"I will remind you that Ser Lysette has been assisting on a volunteer basis, of her own accord—”

"How is it of her own accord if you're assigning her? Bloody templars." He threw up his hands and spun around to begin portioning the fresh potions into bottles. He suspected that he was more annoyed than he ought to be by the Seeker's perfectly reasonable request, and that realization only served to irritate him further. "I had hoped you would be able to suggest a solution for the shortage of herbs—"

"Ah, now there I can help you." The Seeker lowered the sack she was carrying, and Adan nearly leapt across the room with delight when he realized its contents.

"And royal elfroot as well? Bless you, Seeker."

"Consider it a bonus for your, ah, gracious acceptance of the staffing change. I'll let Threnn know, and you can meet your new helper tomorrow. Speaking of Threnn, I'd better head over there next in any case— I've got a sack of breeches to drop off for the recruits."

Adan blinked and opened his mouth.

"No. Don't ask."

The rest of the morning passed quickly. The herbs the Seeker had dropped off needed processing, and when Pella walked in nursing a mug of tea, Adan greeted her with a curt, "There you are. We've got elfroot."

"Thank the Maker, and good morning to you too." Her usual theatricality was somewhat diminished by her bleary eyes and unkempt hair. "You know, you've never told me what happened to your face. Accidental explosion? Or did one of your previous assistants attack you?"

"Are you sure you're Senna's daughter? I seem to remember Senna possessing the qualities of tact and discretion."

"Well, my father's Merran Telina. He's not known for either, I don't think."

"Merran! Well, I'll never." Adan laughed to himself as he turned to the workbench. "Ah, no offense, of course. Now that you mention it, I can see the resemblance. How in the Maker's name did Senna and Merran's daughter come to join the Inquisition?"

"You're only asking me that now? Better late than never, I suppose."

"I've been busy." He paused to assess the cleanliness of a small obsidian bowl. "And you talk too much already."

"Maker's breath, Adan. Are you always such a—"

"You'd best not finish that sentence unless you want to find yourself reporting to Threnn as well."

"What's this?" She looked confused. "Who's reporting to Threnn?"

"Lysette. Seeker stopped by this morning. They're shuffling around the volunteers."

"I see." Pella set down her mug of tea on his workbench and stroked one of her long ears thoughtfully. "That's too bad."

"We'll be getting someone else. No tea on the workbench."

"But I like Lysette. Who are we getting instead?" She removed the tea and placed it on his writing desk instead, which made Adan slightly nervous for his notes. At least she wouldn't poison herself by accidentally drinking from a flask of undiluted lyrium.

"It makes little difference."

"Hmm." Pella watched Adan's face for a moment, which made him rather uncomfortable. He turned away. He suspected that she was more astute than she let on—especially given who her parents were. Both Senna and Merran were members of the College of Herbalists alongside Adan, and both were unsettlingly intelligent elves.

As if to provide further support for Adan's suspicions, Pella changed the subject.


Lysette's eyes narrowed ferociously as she sized up her opponent. She held the hilt of her sword loosely as she began to swing the gleaming blade, and at the last second, she gripped with her full strength to deliver a resounding blow to the side of her opponent's torso.

"Andraste's nurturing bosom, Lysette, you've got it in for that pell." Erriala stood back to watch Lysette's assault on the training dummy, looking impressed.

"It's either the pell or Threnn." Her voice came out a bit hoarsely. She'd strained it from overuse, having spent most of the previous day issuing corrections to the latest batch of novice soldiers. The Herald was establishing Inquisition outposts wherever she went, and Lysette wondered again at how a nondescript Dalish mage could inspire such loyalty from hundreds of Andrastians. Lysette was both skeptical and drawn in despite herself.

"Not enjoying your time as a quartermaster's apprentice, then?"

"She had me digging latrines. Maker, I'm a knight." Even if she was a cobbler's daughter, she had her pride. Though part of her felt she deserved the onerous work as punishment—she'd enjoyed her time in the apothecary when the world was in chaos. She should have known better.

"Now I know the world is falling apart. I've never heard you complain about chores before. We used to mutter about you making the rest of us look bad."

"Explains why you were so horrible to me my first year."

"No, that was because Barris had such a crush on you." She chuckled. "Poor Delrin."

"From what I hear, he's done perfectly well for himself. Better than you or me." If he's even still alive. “Where are you volunteering, anyway?”

“Smithy. Spent yesterday afternoon hauling fuel for the forge. My father would be thrilled to see me now.”

Lysette grinned in spite of herself. Her relationship with Erriala had been tumultuous at best during their training, but strangely Lysette felt closer to her now than she had before the Breach. How many people were left now who remembered those years? The Order had given Lysette sisters and brothers at a time in her life when she had desperately needed them. While they'd known they'd all be sent to different Circles one day, she'd never imagined just how far and how permanently they would be scattered.

Lysette set her practice sword back on the weapons rack and wiped at her face. "I'd better get back to the quartermaster. Damn it all."

On her way through the village, Lysette stopped at the tavern to pick up a lunch of bread and cold meat. She gave a sidelong glance at a pair of mages who stood gossiping near the tavern door, but didn't linger. If she was quick about it, there might be time to stop at the apothecary, just to see what was going on. Certainly not to delay going to see Threnn. If she'd wanted to delay, she could have eaten at the tavern.

As she reached the top of the stairs, she realized that Pella and Adan were outside. They’d made an elevated fire pit in the small courtyard, she saw, and now they both stood looking down at a large cauldron hanging from a tripod over the coals.

Although the Herald and her companions were still in Haven, Lysette noticed that Solas was nowhere to be seen. Presumably he'd taken himself elsewhere for practical reasons: the contents of the cauldron were steaming and emitting a horrific scent. Lysette hastily swallowed the last bite of her lunch and strongly considered following the apostate's example.

Instead, she walked over to Adan and peered past his shoulder into the cauldron. At the sight of its contents, she pulled back hastily. "What in the Maker's name are you doing?"

"My job." Adan turned to glare at her from under lowered brows. "The Herald wants pitch grenades to take to her meeting with the Lord Seeker. That's diplomacy for you."

Pella poked the concoction with a long rod, holding a scrap of cloth to her face with the other hand. "Maker's breeches, Adan, isn't it done yet?"

"No. Keep at it, I've got to go see Minaeve."

"I'm headed that direction myself," said Lysette. "I just stopped by to, ah, see how things were going in my absence."

"Terribly," Pella muttered, wiping the cloth across her sweaty forehead.

Adan tucked a notebook under his arm and tipped his head southwards. Lysette accompanied him down towards the tavern. To her slight surprise, he stopped at the bottom of the stairs and said gruffly, "It's good to see you." Then he added, "Pella's all right, but that boy they sent to replace you is worse than useless. I see why Threnn wanted to get rid of him."

Lysette's brows drew together, but he shook his head dismissively before she could express concern. "Don't worry yourself. We're fine. How's the training going?"

"It is not especially enjoyable. But I'd rather shout myself hoarse at recruits than"—she gestured up the stairs behind them—"whatever that was."

"Boiling down deathroot sap. Could be worse. One of the Herald's new companions, that elf girl, came to ask if I had any recipes with bees." Despite his exasperated expression, Lysette thought she caught a note of interest in Adan's voice.

"I'm becoming increasingly grateful for my reassignment. Where do you get bees in this weather?" She nudged the snow with the toe of one boot.

"We don't. Not for a bit, anyhow. Decided to call in expert consultation on that one. But by the summer, our Herald should have some lovely stinging swarms at her disposal."

"It's hard to think that far ahead." Lysette stared at the melted snow dripping from the edge of the tavern roof. Smoke rose from the chimney, but it was clear that spring was on its way. It wouldn’t be long before they heard the results of the Herald’s visit to Therinfal. She still hoped against hope for aid from the templars—perhaps even an alliance, but... well, there was no point in worrying about it. She just had to be patient. Maker preserve her.

Adan turned up the path to the chantry, and Lysette fell into step beside him. They walked in companionable silence. When they reached the chantry doors, Adan ducked inside with a quick nod of farewell, and Lysette began to steel herself to face another afternoon with Threnn.

"Knight-Templar Lysette! That's the name, isn't it, my dear? How lovely to see a familiar face."

Lysette started. A statuesque woman in incredibly expensive Orlesian attire swept up to greet her. Lysette felt suddenly sweaty under her heavy layers of armor and barely kept herself from running a self-conscious hand over her hair to straighten it.

"First Enchanter Vivienne. I didn't expect to see you at Haven."

"I've joined... well, let's say rather that I've allied with this Inquisition. I wouldn't have expected to see you here either, darling. These are certainly strange times we find ourselves in."

"Yes." Lysette didn't know what else to say to the woman. She was reasonably certain they'd never exchanged as much as a word before; Vivienne didn't even reside in the Montsimmard Circle full-time. Luckily, the Imperial Enchanter seemed to take her taciturnity as indicative of proper respect.

"It's a delight to see the Order so well represented, especially under the circumstances. Have you met our dear Herald?"

Lysette nodded.

"Remarkable, isn't she?"

"Very." Lysette glanced behind Vivienne, where the Herald in question was just emerging from the chantry. She seemed to be deep in conversation with Commander Cullen. "If you'll excuse me, First Enchanter, I came to see the quartermas—"

Vivienne had already abandoned their conversation. With an absent wave in Lysette's direction, she pursued the Herald with an effortless air but at an impressive speed. Lysette blinked and shook her head in mild disbelief. Some days, she wasn't sure if she'd imagined everything that had happened since the day she'd taken her first draught of lyrium.

Or maybe before that. She remembered a sunny afternoon in Denerim, years before, when a Tranquil servant had come out to the training yard with a message for Knight-Lieutenant Bennett. After speaking with the Tranquil briefly in an undertone, Bennett's face had gone dead white and he'd sprinted from the yard, leaving a dozen confused recruits to continue their exercises without direction. Kirkwall had fallen, they learned that evening, and no one knew what would happen next.

In fact, not much had changed in their day-to-day lives. Not at first. In the weeks and months that passed, they heard rumors and whispers of rebellion spreading to other Circles. The Starkhaven Circle had been the next to fall. Fears of an uprising waxed and waned among the recruits. Their tutors encouraged them to keep the faith and bear their blades for righteousness and Andraste’s glory.

Under normal circumstances, Lysette might have expected to take her vigil at least two years earlier than she actually had. Some of the others in her year had advanced at an accelerated pace; Lysette, however, had stalled. She suspected it was in part because, if they'd all been promoted to full templars, there would have been very few recruits left in Ferelden, and the Chantry was insistent on maintaining at least the appearance of business as usual. Even the most militantly pious would-be templars were hesitant to pledge their lives to the Chantry—or their families were hesitant to allow it— in the years after Kirkwall.

Perhaps it would have been better to be a cobbler, after all.

Chapter Text

 

The laurel will always be symbolic of Andraste's sacrifice. Its glossy dark leaves represent the Sword of Mercy; the red berries, the drops of her blood upon it.

—An excerpt from The Botanical Compendium by Ines Arancia, botanist

 

A.—

All celebrations of your demise postponed, per instructions.

How long do you intend to remain with Inq.? I expect to be in Rivain past Summerday at least, but could join you when negotiations here have concluded. Rashvine enclosed.

—E.

 

Elan,

Inquisition seeking aid from templars, so I expect this all to be over soon one way or another. Regardless, I agree you should make plans to come here next. Were you able to obtain any information on that elven apostate?

Also, your rashvine was moldy.

Adan

 

A.—

Yes. No need for concern. Will advise further on my arrival.

Also, you're welcome.

—E.

 


 

Mattrin, Adan decided, was a bloody fool.

Templars may have been well-educated as a rule, but education was no substitute for sense. And the man sitting sullenly on a bench in his workshop had all the common sense of a gnat with the personality to match.

Pella was similarly unimpressed with their new volunteer. It seemed that the feeling was returned with interest, because the two of them had been sniping at one another since sunup. By the time Mattrin made a snide remark under his breath about the indignity of working alongside a knife-eared bitch, Adan had had enough.

"That's it. Out of my workshop, boy. Your services are more trouble than they're worth.”

Mattrin tossed down the elfroot he'd been chopping and stormed out of the apothecary. “And tell your superiors to teach you some bloody respect,” Adan snapped. The door slammed shut behind Adan’s erstwhile assistant.

Pella looked at Adan, and the disbelieving gratitude on her young face made his heart ache. He didn't deserve it, of course, but Pella didn't know that. Gruffly, he gestured at the elfroot Mattrin had abandoned. "Better get back to it, now we're shorthanded."

She didn’t move. "Thank you," she said sincerely. "I didn't expect that from a shem."

I'm not a shem, he thought, but didn't say it. "Needed an excuse to get rid of him. Anyway, we'll be getting new staff any day now. With Mother Giselle's people to tide us over, we'll make do until then."

Pella looked down and bent to pick up the plant Mattrin had dropped, the red flush that stained her cheeks beginning to spread to her ears.

Adan stepped past her to stoke the fire. "I hope you haven't been having too much trouble of that sort in Haven."

"No more than you'd expect from a bunch of Chantry folk. I'm better off than most of the elves here, anyway. You should hear the things they say to Minaeve."

Adan sighed. Everything had changed, but some things seemed destined to remain the same—no matter who their Herald was.

It was pleasant to observe that the days were growing longer. The sun was high in the sky when Lysette appeared later that afternoon. Pella gave the templar a curt nod as she pushed past on her way out of the workshop to deliver a message to Mother Giselle.

Lysette looked concerned as she turned to watch Pella dart around the corner of Adan’s cabin. Adan said, “She’s had a rough morning.”

“Oh?”

“That templar the Seeker sent to replace you wasn’t worth a damn.”

"Which templar? Not Mattrin?”

“The very same.”

Lysette’s face was implacable, but Adan thought he detected a wince. “Oh, Maker.”

His lips twitched.

“I didn’t say that,” she muttered.

"Ah, well, I’m sure the Seeker has plenty of other untrained, overbearing templars she can send to insult my permanent staff."

There was an awkward pause before Lysette spoke.

"Well, as it happens, Threnn’s given me the afternoon off. I came by to see if you’d like a hand, but...”

Maker take my tongue.

“...only if you’re finished with the deathroot.” She shot him a wry glance. “And, of course, if I’m not too incompetent to be permitted entry.”

Adan snorted, half in amusement and half in relief. “An afternoon off? I didn’t expect our quartermaster to be such a lenient taskmistress. Or that you’d consider potions work a relaxing alternative, deathroot or no.”

“Lenient isn’t quite the word—but to tell you the truth, she’s not so bad.”

“Keeps this place running, that’s for sure.” Adan glanced out the window at the newly delivered vats of ingredients from Val Royeaux. Pella was skittering back up the steps, looking much more cheerful than when she’d left.

It was the warmest day of the year so far. With Pella back, the three of them went outside to prepare the latest batch of elfroot. The plants needed to be washed and dried, and then the leaves needed to be stripped from the long stems and laid out to dry, and finally the roots themselves needed to be finely chopped.

Adan stood at the work table. Lysette sat next to Pella on the stoop of the cabin. He'd never seen her look so relaxed, he thought, and felt a sudden need to fill the silence.

“So you say Threnn’s not so bad. But did I hear something about latrines?”

“You may have.” She looked up at him, smiling, and he was fascinated to discover she had freckles—a faint dusting spread across her pronounced cheekbones and long nose, barely visible against the gold of her skin.

“My sympathies,” he managed through the sudden constriction of his throat.

“Needs must.”

"I suppose between myself and Threnn, there's not much difference."

"You're not so bad either." She watched him for a moment.

"Lysette—hey, Lysette—"

"Hm? What's that?" Lysette turned her eyes from Adan to Pella, which was good, because he thought his own cheeks might be starting to flush. Maker, this was embarrassing.

The two women talked idly as they worked together to grind spindleweed seeds to a fine powder. It was easy enough to tune out Lysette's low voice, but Adan winced as Pella's rose in a piercing crescendo. "You're impossible to tease."

Despite his intention to ignore their conversation, his pen stilled.

"Not at all. It's just that I'm prepared for your questions. You're worse than the Herald."

"Nothing wrong with a little curiosity." Pella sat on the floor and looked up at Lysette from under her lashes, rubbing one of her ears. "But no one could be worse than the Herald. I overheard her asking the commander if he'd taken vows of celibacy."

Lysette let out a startled laugh. "Cullen? I wish I'd seen his face."

"He looked like he wanted to die," said Pella happily. "But you're too good at keeping your thoughts to yourself."

Adan was reasonably certain he was making the same face the commander had, but fortunately neither Pella nor Lysette was paying him any attention.

"A learned skill. You've clearly never spent time in a barracks."

"I wonder if he has?"

"Spent time in a barracks? Yes. Pledged chastity? I doubt it."

"The Herald will be relieved."

"Oh?" Lysette looked surprised, and not entirely pleased. "Interesting. He certainly has left the Order." She tucked a loose lock of dark hair behind her ear.

"He's an attractive man, even you must think so."

"Even I? Pella, I'm a templar, not a Chantry Sister." Lysette’s face remained impassive, but there was an amused glint in her eye that Adan found he didn’t care for.

Pella smirked. "So what’s the problem, then? Don't like the idea of your handsome commander with an elf?"

"Please stop talking," Adan interjected with as much sincerity as he could muster. "I don’t want to hear any more of this."

Pella and Lysette both looked at him, Pella's eyes narrowing suddenly. Lysette's gaze was as cool and shuttered as ever. Maker save him.

"Is there a problem, Adan?" Pella asked, too sweetly. Little minx.

Adan grunted. "If you don't behave, I'll write your mother."

"Oh, Ser Lysette, speaking of the commander—he asked where you were."

"Andraste preserve me!” Lysette rose hastily, pulling on her gloves and strapping on her vambraces. "Why didn't you say so before? Did he say why?"

"Nope. Sorry." Pella stepped back to stand clear of Lysette's rush to the door, giving the templar a sidelong look as she jogged down the hill without so much of a word of farewell.

"Train them well, don't they? Like bloody dogs."

Even though Adan mostly agreed with her assessment, he felt a flicker of annoyance. Then, as he recognized his own reaction and the probable reasons for it, the annoyance flared up into full-blown irritation.

"If you’re done with the spindleweed, go bother Flissa. I'm working."

"Oh! That reminds me.” Pella leaned over the bench and produced a sack that bulged with tangled roots. She showed it to Adan expectantly.

He accepted the sack and peered inside. "I don't think I know any potion recipes that call for wild carrots."

"They're not for potions, you fool. Flissa wanted to know if they were safe to serve."

"They'll be fine. No one will take sick if she boils them first. Smart woman for asking, though." He sealed the sack of carrots and handed it back to Pella.

"I'll tell her you said so," Pella chirped.

"Don't you dare."

"I think Flissa likes you."

"Flissa likes everyone."

"Oh, I know." She chuckled slyly.

"Maker's breath, Pella, how old are you?"

"Old enough to appreciate a womanly figure. But I suppose you're too taken with your templar, hmm?"

"That's enough. Back to the tavern with you." Adan opened the door and looked pointedly at Pella.

"What do you suppose templars wear under those skir— "

"Out." He slammed the door behind her.

After a moment, he opened it again. "Pella!"

Hearing his shout, she paused on her way down to the tavern and looked back up at him. Even from a distance, he could see that her eyes were bright with glee.

"Not a word to Flissa," he snarled.

She laughed and gave a stiff, formal salute in an exaggerated imitation of Lysette.

Well, this was going nowhere good.

 


 

The practice yard was crowded, but Lysette easily recognized the commander’s distinctive armor. She strode forward to meet him with a crisp salute. "Ser?"

"Oh, Lysette. Thank you for coming down. I'd hoped to speak privately for a moment."

"Of course, ser." She tried not to let her face register any concern as Cullen led her to a quiet spot along the lake’s edge, near a pair of skeletal fishing boats. The commander crossed his arms and studied the ice-encrusted water in silence for a long moment before he spoke.

“You know the Herald went to Therinfal Redoubt to speak with the Lord Seeker.”

“We had heard, yes.”

“Leliana has passed me word of what was found there.” Cullen pressed gloved fingertips against his closed eyelids. “It’s not good.”

Lysette braced herself for the worst.

It had been six weeks since the Conclave, and today was the first time she’d taken so much as an hour to herself. Lysette was rarely short of stamina, but even she had to admit she was beginning to flag. Disconnected phrases and stray words echoed through her head as she slid into her bedroll.

Red lyrium. Demonic possession.

Disbanded.

It was no use. With a glance at Erriala’s snoring form, Lysette rose and crept to the door of the tent. She needed a walk.

But as she reached the threshold of the chantry, she paused. Even at this hour, there were likely to be others around. In the Circle, there had been a private chapel; Haven offered no such refuge. But…

The instinct to escape, to avoid scrutiny, was too strong. Lysette turned her feet in the direction of the apothecary. She took the shortcut behind Adan’s cabin, blindly following the wall in the dark, and pushed wearily at the workshop door. It occurred to her that it was probably locked, just at she flung her weight against it and it opened. Thank the Maker. If she hadn't been able to get in, she'd have had to find a snowbank to cry behind instead.

Just as she wanted to believe in the Inquisition now, she had wanted to believe in the Order. She wanted, desperately, to believe in something larger than herself—something to trust, something to tell her the Maker's will. Her own belief, her own faith, wasn't enough to guarantee that she would do the right thing. Once, the Templar Order had been that something for her to trust, and she had tried—for so long—to believe it was in the right. But she knew better.

She always had.

In the long hours of the night, when hope has abandoned me, I will see the stars and know your Light remains.

Holy Andraste, was there anything left of the Order she'd tried so hard to believe in? Had there ever been any good there, or had she been deluded all along?

Standing in the center of the moonlit cabin, her face twisted in anguish. And just at that moment, someone burst through the door with a loud, "Hey! Who's there?"

It was Adan, eyes wide, with his robes rumpled and beard ruffled. He looked as horrified to see Lysette as she felt to be discovered in this state. Adan looked down to the hands that held her sword—she didn't remember drawing it—and his face changed. To Lysette's immediate and abiding shame, his eyes moved unswervingly to the loft where the raw lyrium supply was stored before flicking back to her face.

Lysette immediately released her grip on her weapon, and the longsword clattered to the stone floor with a whine and a dull clang. She pressed both hands to her face and put her back against the wall, then slid slowly down until she was sitting on the cold floor, knees bent before her and her head bowed.

It seemed to take Adan some time to find his voice again. "What… in the Maker's name…?"

"I'm sorry," whispered Lysette. Her voice came out low and hoarse. She didn't know what else to say.

"Are you all right?" He crouched down beside her, his expression inscrutable in the dim light.

"Yes! Maker. I'm so embarrassed. It was just… there were people in the chantry, and…"

"I see." He sat back on his heels, then asked gruffly but quietly, "Would you like me to leave?"

"No. I shouldn't even be here. I just.. needed a moment." Lysette wiped at her eyes with the back of one hand, hoping it was too dark for Adan to see the tears on her cheeks.

"Let me light the fire."

Lysette started to protest, but thought better of it as Adan extracted a firestarter and flint from a tinderbox on the hearth. Despite the relative warmth of the preceding day, the night was cold, and she didn't want to return to camp just yet. The fire had already been laid for the morning, so before long, it was crackling to life. Lysette sighed through her teeth when heated air began to fill the small cabin.

"Thank you."

"No trouble. In fact, I'm glad you woke me. I'd fallen asleep in my chair. Might have set the whole bloody place on fire if I'd knocked a candle over."

"What were you working on?"

"Just writing some notes."

"You seem to do a lot of that."

"Writing notes? Ah, well, I've a bad memory. Not like you." He raised his brows.

She snorted and flapped a hand halfheartedly in his direction.

He smiled and continued. "Mostly, I just like to have a record. Observations for my research. New ideas. And later, I can look back and see what the weather was like this time last year, or what have you. Good for the garden."

"You have a garden?"

"Not in Haven—at least not yet. I wonder how long we'll stay here. Suppose it depends what our Herald can do with that hole in the sky, doesn't it?"

"Everything depends on that."

Adan bent to pick up her sword from the hearth rug and laid it gently at her side. "You'll be wanting this, I think."

"Very likely. I'm lucky I didn't damage it. Though I should probably have Harritt check it over regardless. Thank you, yet again; I seem destined to remain in your debt."

His forehead crinkled, and he looked at her more intently. "You don't owe me anything."

"I know I'm in your way—"

"That's not what I meant." He shook his head, but let it go. "Truly, it's a good thing you didn't come for solace. I've been told I'm not the most... nurturing."

"Thank the Maker for that, at least."

Their eyes met. Her emphatic tone seemed to amuse Adan, and she felt the corner of her mouth turn up in response.

"I'm not a model templar, Adan. Far from it."

"You should be."

"I… did try. I still try." She looked down at her hands, resting on her knees.

"No, blast it. Maker take my tongue. That's not what I meant." He waved a hand in a frustrated gesture. "I meant, you're everything that a templar should be."

She felt a tingle of shock at his declaration.

Adan coughed and changed course. “Better than that fool Mattrin, at least.”

A knot of emotions she couldn't untangle seemed to be taking her breath from her. Lysette stared at Adan for a moment longer, and then dropped her head into her hands and laughed helplessly.

 


 

“How did you get in here, anyway?” asked Adan. The two of them sat side by side on the hearth rug, as close to the fire as safety allowed. He hoped she was comfortable; his back was starting to ache.

“You left the door unlocked again.”

“You mean Pella left the door unlocked again. I’m going to take that key away from her.” He grunted in dissatisfaction.

Lysette let out a long sigh, stretching her hands out as if to catch the warmth of the flames between her hands. In the glow of the firelight, he could see the signs of fatigue around her eyes, and reprimanded himself for allowing her to spend her afternoon off working for him.

She said, “And now I’ve made you waste your firewood. How long has it been?”

“No idea. Maybe an hour?” Adan rolled his neck.

“I should probably get back to camp. I can’t keep you up all night.”

“Don’t worry about it. If…” He hesitated, but made the offer. “You know, I sleep next door. So you can stay here, if you like. Wouldn’t want to waste the firewood.”

“Erriala will wonder where I am.”

“Let her. I think you need the rest.” Gathering himself to stand, Adan went so far as to rest a hand briefly on Lysette’s shoulder, and then he left the cabin.

Chapter Text

 

My hearth is yours, my bread is yours, my life is yours.
For all who walk in the sight of the Maker are one.

—Verse recited by a Lothering Chanter

Adan rose later than usual the next morning. It was a cold day, and since nobody was waiting outside the apothecary, he left a note on the door and brought a book down to the tavern to settle in for some reading.

He tried not to scowl at Flissa's curious stare as he ate his porridge in silence. He’d avoided going into his workshop, just in case Lysette was still there. Adan didn’t want to disturb her—and, to tell the truth, he felt sheepish about how little help he’d offered her in her obvious distress.

"All right there, Adan?" Flissa inquired as she wiped down the table next to his.

"Mm." He turned a page in his book. Aligning Modern Herbalism with the Principles of Empirical Alchemy, by Ines Arancia. He wondered briefly if Ines was safe. He hadn't seen her since before the Blight, and she’d be an elderly woman now. Of course, if any mage had it in them to survive the collapse of the Circles, it was Ines Arancia. She was probably living in a cave somewhere and picking her teeth with the bones of her enemies.

Flissa was determined to make conversation, however. "Where's your cheerful assistant today?"

"Damned if I know." Adan closed his book and gave in to the scowl. "Running around somewhere, most likely. These bloody youngsters have more energy than they know what to do with."

"Maker's breath, man, why do you talk like you've one foot in the grave? I'm probably older than you are."

He looked over at her with disdain. "You are not."

"Prove it. How old are you?"

"Thirty-eight." In Harvestmere, but Flissa didn't need to know that.

She crowed with delight. "Thirty-nine. Take that, youngster."

Adan snorted and went back to his porridge.

When he finally made his way up to the apothecary, he knocked lightly before entering, but wasn’t surprised to see that the cabin was empty. The coals from the night before had been swept up and the makings of a fresh fire left in their place. If not for the fact that the firewood was laid much more tidily than he or Pella would have done, and if not for the persistent ache in his back from sitting on a stone floor for too long, he might have thought he’d imagined his midnight visitor.

He leaned back against the door and closed his eyes. Some help he'd been able to offer her. He hadn't even asked what was wrong, for Andraste's sake.

Still, he had an inkling. From what he'd heard at breakfast, news was spreading rapidly that the Herald of Andraste had found something terrible at the Seeker fortress, although the details of the horror were vague and conflicting. But everyone agreed that the Herald had had the Templar Order disbanded in disgrace, and that the surviving templars would be conscripted to serve the Inquisition. No wonder Lysette had been upset.

It was fortunate he had a meeting with Lady Montilyet this morning.

The ambassador folded her hands tidily on her desk. "Thank you for coming to see me, Apothecary Adan."

"Yes, well. What can I do for you?" Adan leaned back in his chair and folded his arms.

"A few things. First of all, we haven't had the chance to speak properly since you joined us."

"Little surprise there. We've all been busy."

"Quite so. Still, I'm glad to have the opportunity to formally—if belatedly—welcome you to the Inquisition. More importantly, I would like to thank you for your efforts these past weeks. I realize you weren't hired as a healer, but your tireless work has saved the lives of many of our people."

He shifted uncomfortably in his chair. "Not like there was much choice, my lady. I'm still no healer. I thank the Maker every day we've finally got Mother Giselle and her helpers on board, but let me tell you, that surgeon from Denerim can't come soon enough."

"I believe she's due any day now. Which is timely, and brings me to my second point. You may have heard—since I understand that rumors are flying throughout the village—that we are expecting the arrival of a number of templars in Haven."

Adan rubbed his neck. "I heard. How many, when, and what will they need from me?"

“I do not have details at this time. Nonetheless, I would like to assure you that we are doing everything we can to accelerate the shipment of more supplies.”

“Good. Thank the quartermaster for all that blood lotus, would you?”

"Certainly. There is also one final thing; a minor matter on which I wished to obtain your opinion. You are... elf-blooded, correct?"

"I am." Damn, what now. "Is it relevant?"

"Oh, no, I was just thinking—that is, no, not as such.” She met his eyes for a moment before her gaze fluttered back to the papers on the desk before her. “I have merely heard some concerns about your elven assistant and wished to ascertain—"

"What, about Pella? I hope it wasn't that bloody templar."

"I do not wish to reveal the source, but if there are questions of impropriety—"

He laughed shortly. "Impropriety? Maker's breath, I'm old enough to be her father. For that matter, I know her father."

"I do not believe that was the nature of the complaint," Lady Montilyet said dryly, looking up again. "In fact, I assigned her to your workshop as a favor to her mother, with whom I am acquainted."

"Of course you did. Not sure why nobody felt the need to tell me that, but it is what it is." Adan sighed. "No, Lady Montilyet, I've been perfectly satisfied with Pella, and if you reassign her I’ll quit the bloody Inquisition." For all she's a rambunctious creature who keeps misplacing my notes. "If the source of this complaint was a blockheaded boy too big for his breeches, then I can assure you, Pella is not the problem."

"That is as I assumed, but I am glad to hear it from you. I assure you that your resignation will not be required and would, in fact, be much regretted."

He grunted.

"Still, if you hear of any further complaints about the elves in Haven, I would appreciate it if you came directly to me. We're dealing with enough tension between the mages and the templars as it is."

"Ah—thank you, my lady." He appreciated the sentiment, but wasn't sure that sending the townsfolk one by one for a talking-to would do much to mend centuries of bigotry. Anyway, he had his own connections if deeper problems arose.

On his way out of the office, he gave a brusque nod to Minaeve, who returned the gesture coolly before returning to her work.

"You're back! And in one piece."

All considerations about her importance to the Inquisition notwithstanding, Adan was indeed relieved to see Ellana Lavellan standing in his apothecary, looking hale and hearty with elaborately plaited hair and more than a touch of sunburn on her tattooed face. She'd grown on him, he thought. Despite the unease he still felt about the mark on her hand, he felt a certain attachment to her as his former patient. And someone for whom he'd taken a minor knife wound, besides.

“I am!" She gave Adan a friendly smile. "Thanks in no small part to your last batch of lyrium potions. That new recipe really did the job when we were taking the redoubt. Templars, you know. It's difficult fighting someone who's trained to counter your attacks point by point, however corrupted they might be.”

Adan was somewhat unnerved at the thought of this tiny woman wielding Maker-knew-what dangerous spells in combat, but he was nonetheless pleased at the praise. “Ah, that’s mostly Master Taigen’s work. And yours, for bringing me those notes.”

“Not at all. In fact, I’ve got some more recipes I’d like your opinion on. If you think they could be useful…” She placed a pair of scrolls on his desk. He picked one up and broke the seal to skim the contents.

“Hmm. With a distillate of… interesting, definitely interesting. I’ll want to discuss this one”—he tapped the first recipe—”with our resident creature researcher, I think. Give me half a day to look these over and I’ll let you know what we can do for you.”

“Of course. I expect to be in Haven for some time yet. The first templars from Therinfal should only be a few days behind us, but once they arrive we’ll still need a few days to prepare for the assault on the Breach. Which means more lyrium potions, actually. Do you happen to know…” She paused, and he thought her pointed ears took on an uncertain angle. A subtle movement, but he was accustomed enough with elven mannerisms to notice it, even if she was Dalish. “I’m not sure exactly how it works for templars. I’ve only used the lyrium you make for mages. Do templars mix their own draughts, or…?”

“Ah. Yes, but they use a special preparation rather than raw lyrium. I mix it here myself for the Inquisition templars. Higher concentration than what you'd want to ingest yourself, of course. From that, they can choose from a few different ways to mix it up. Poor bastards. It’s a dangerous business, to tell you the truth.”

She nodded. “I see. Thank you. Now, I’ve spoken with the advisors about the lyrium stores, and we should be fine as far as raw lyrium goes—but do you have the time and ingredients to prepare the concentrate you mentioned for, oh, three dozen people? In addition to those already at Haven, of course. We'll want all our templars at full strength to seal the Breach.”

He blinked. It hadn’t occurred to him that…

Get it together, fool.

“Let’s see. About two score, then? I suppose it depends how much leeway you want to allow.” Adan stroked his beard thoughtfully. “Worst case scenario—well, worst case scenario, lyrium stores won’t make a difference, will they. Hmm.” He turned to scribble out a few scenarios on a scrap of nug parchment, which he waved briefly in the air to dry and then handed to Ellana. "You might run this by your commander. I'm no expert on lyrium. Wouldn't want to risk any overdoses."

She glanced briefly at the calculations and gave a noncommittal murmur. “Thank you, Apothecary Adan. I’ll look forward to your thoughts on those new recipes.” Gracious as ever, she moved to depart.

“Thank you, Herald. The sooner you can get that thing dealt with, the better off we'll be."

"You won't hear any arguments from me." The Herald left the cabin just as Pella darted around her to come inside.

"Lazybones," Adan said without looking up.

"Codger." She strolled to where Adan stood in front of the window and perched on the edge of his workbench. "What's on today?"

"Hey, you! Careful of my seedlings." Adan moved just in time to rescue a small tray of barely sprouted elfroot from the threat of Pella's posterior.

"Sorry! Sorry. I still can't believe you're planting elfroot."

"Nor can I. They’ll want it in the infirmary, though."

"You don't have to tell me that."


Lysette woke the next morning to find the tent empty and the sun already illuminating the heavy canvas with a gentle glow. She sat up with a start just as Erriala pulled the tent flap back and ducked inside.

"She’s awake! You all right, Lys?"

"Maker, I don't even know. What time is it?"

"Midmorning." She laughed at Lysette's involuntary groan. "Don't worry. No drills today. Commander's given the recruits a morning off, so we're all taking one too. I decided to let you sleep—looks like you needed it."

Erriala's words brought back the memory of Adan's similar statement the night before, and Lysette felt a flush of embarrassment creep up her cheeks. Erriala looked intrigued, but she only gave Lysette a wicked grin before bending over to tighten the laces of her boots.

"That's unusually thoughtful of you."

"I'm in a good mood. Managed to sweet-talk the horsemaster into letting me go for a ride in a few minutes. Doing him a favor, really. Horses need exercising. Did you see the new ones in from the Hinterlands?"

"Not yet. Can I come?"

"You haven't even had breakfast. Or washed. Where did you go last night, dare I ask?"

Lysette ignored the question and turned her back on Erriala as she began straightening her bedroll.

Fortunately, Erriala refrained from making a lewd joke. "Cullen told me what happened at the redoubt." There was a pause. "I think we're all a bit uneasy. Don't feel like you've got to handle it alone, you know?"

"I know. Thanks." Lysette stretched her arms over her shoulders and rolled her neck. She had to admit she was becoming tired of sleeping on the ground.

"Anyway, I'm going to ride with Tomas. You and I can go another time." There was a series of rustling noises, followed by, "Just promise you won't spend all day at the chantry."

Lysette looked back over her shoulder to make a face at Erriala, but the tent flap was already dropping closed in her wake.

Threnn, for once, had nothing for Lysette to do. There were new supplies on order for the templars coming from the Seeker fortress, but until the first shipments arrived, there was little that Lysette could assist her with. So she wound up going to the chantry after all.

Lysette squinted as she stepped inside and her eyes adjusted to the torchlight. Despite the torches, it wasn’t much warmer in here than outside; she could still see her breath against the smoky darkness. She rubbed her gloved hands together surreptitiously.

The Chantry Mother stood near the back of the nave, talking with the ambassador in a soft voice. When the ambassador nodded a farewell and returned to her office, Lysette walked forward to speak with the Mother.

"Ah, Lysette! Qu'est-ce que je peux faire pour toi?"

"Good morning, Mother Giselle. In fact, I was hoping there was something I could do to help you. I’ve the day off and find myself at loose ends. How are things going in the infirmary?"

"In fact, things are much better than they have been before now. The Maker has blessed us with many willing hands and, thanks to our esteemed apothecary's potions, we've not lost anyone to the fever in a fortnight."

"That's good to hear. I know it was hard for you to lose Sister Felicia."

"Ah, yes, that was a sad thing. But truly, you needn't concern yourself. If you find yourself with time to rest, you should do so. I imagine there will be much work to do in the coming days in preparation for the other templars' arrival."

Lysette let out a breath. "Revered Mother, I'm not sure I know how to rest in these circumstances."

"I understand, my dear. Hard work is often the best medicine. But you must take care. You haven't had any trouble obtaining your lyrium draughts, I hope?"

"No, no." 

"Very good. I believe there were some concerns about supply, but the Inquisition seems to have connections in the right places. I have also heard that rations will be increased before the attempt on the Breach is made, as well."

“My thanks, Revered Mother. Bonne journée."

"May the Maker guide your path." With a kindly smile, Mother Giselle moved away to talk with one of the novices. Lysette hesitated for a moment, and then stepped into the ambassador's office with a polite nod for Lady Montilyet. Minaeve was not present, but her Tranquil assistant was there, stacking what looked to be demon claws into neat piles.

"Hello, Avexis. Is Researcher Minaeve in need of any assistance at the moment?" Surely someone… someone other than Adan… could use her help today. Lysette didn't think she'd ever been so embarrassed in her life as when Adan had found her weeping in the darkness. And he'd been nothing but kind about her thoughtless intrusion of his space, which made it all the worse. She would have preferred it if he’d thrown her out on her backside.

"I am not certain, Ser Lysette,” answered the Tranquil in her expressionless voice. “She is presently conferring with Apothecary Adan."

Maker's breath.

No, Lysette wasn’t going back to that workshop, duty or not.

Chapter Text

The lustrous, white-blue silverite has long been prized by the dwarves for use in jewelry, rune making, and weapon smithing, but on the surface, it is more commonly used by apothecaries and healers. Since the metal does not rust, many traditions believe it to be proof against poison.

—An excerpt from An Alchemical Primer of Metallurgy: Volume One

Pella sang to herself as she bustled around the workshop. It was an old elven song, though the words and melody were slightly different than the version Adan knew. She must have learned it from her mother, who—if Adan recalled correctly— had come from Highever.

"You have a nice voice," he said gruffly.

"Andraste preserve me! Was that compliment?"

"Statement of fact. Don't let it go to your head."

She looked pleased, though, and went back to sweeping discarded elfroot bits from the flagstone. It was good to see her feeling content. He’d been concerned that she might feel threatened by the arrival of his second full-time assistant.

Rachelle was a human woman, not one of his own people. Actually, he rather suspected she was one of Sister Nightingale's, but who in Haven wasn't a spy of one sort or another? Rachelle claimed to have been an herbalist’s apprentice before the war. Anyway, she was competent and professional, and he felt comfortable leaving the apothecary in her hands while he went about his other business. Pella had common sense enough, but she wasn’t interested in becoming a herbalist, not really. Whenever Elan finally came to the Frostbacks, he might actually be able to get back to his own work.

“Are you nervous?” Pella asked abruptly, pausing in her singing.

“About what?”

“Whether they’ll be able to close the Breach.” She looked unusually apprehensive as she spoke.

“Not much point worrying. Hand me the spider essence. No, the other jar. Don’t make that face at me, you ungrateful whelp.”

 


 

The new camp was half an hour's hike from the village, but the wide expanse of level ground was such an improvement that Lysette thought it was well worth a walk around the lake. Their trips back and forth to the village had already trodden a path smooth enough for Threnn's carts to deliver supplies for the templars who were on their way to Haven. Preparations were nearly complete.

Still, Lysette was in a foul mood. Her boots were soaked through from the wet snow that lingered stubbornly into Cloudreach. And the Breach was closer up here at the north camp. This afternoon it was almost entirely concealed by the overcast sky, which should have made Lysette feel grateful for the miserable weather. Instead, she resented it. If that horror was still there, looming above them behind the heavy fog, she wanted to see it. Though the temporary reprieve seemed to have had he opposite effect on Lysette's companions.

"Maker, I forgot what a bunch of fool children you act with no one to watch you! Tomas, stop mucking around with that polearm. Mattrin, stop ogling Erriala."

Erriala halted in the middle of a push-up and looked back indignantly at Mattrin. He made a rude gesture in response.

With some surprise, Lysette realized that this was one of the only times that the four of them had been in the same place since the ill-fated conclave. Between training schedules, volunteer shifts, and patrol rotations, all of the templars from Montsimmard had been kept busy. They'd gathered briefly for a quiet remembrance of their fallen comrades, but given the magnitude of the disaster at the temple, none of them had felt it appropriate to ask Mother Giselle to lead a dedicated chantry service. Lysette felt an sudden, unexpected burst of affection for them all.

"That mage Minaeve reminds me a bit of Apprentice Ferren," said Tomas. He stuck his polearm point up in a snowbank and turned to face Lysette.

Lysette recoiled, her warm feelings dissipating in an instant. "Maker. Don't say that."

"It's true, isn't it?" His lip curled ever so slightly.

"What makes you—no, don't tell me." Lysette shook her head. Realizing that her hands had clenched into fists so tight that they strained the leather of her gloves, she flexed her fingers carefully and took a deep breath as she turned away to survey the camp. Tomas muttered under his breath, but let her be.

Tomas, out of all of them, had always felt most strongly that the Order had never received its due—although Erriala was more sympathetic to his views than one might have thought from her flippant air. For her part, Lysette felt that it didn't matter much whether their efforts were appreciated or not: they were accountable to the mages as much as they were to the people they protected from the dangers of magic.

Apprentice Ferren had failed his Harrowing. It was Lysette's bad luck that the first one she'd attended had ended in tragedy. Ferren had been offered the choice of Tranquility over a Harrowing. He'd refused. At the time, Lysette had thought him a fool; these days, she was less sure.

She wasn’t going to dwell on it now, though. They'd received an estimate of the number of people who would be arriving in the first wave. If the commander had the names of the survivors and casualties, he hadn't yet shared it with the Montsimmard templars. But whoever was coming would need somewhere to sleep.

"I want to finish this before the weather gets any worse."

"Good plan." Tomas stepped over to nudge the sodden fire pit with a booted toe. "Won't be able to get this started without a mage handy."

"Even if we could get it started, there'll be no keeping it going if this weather turns to rain. Move your arse, Mattrin."

"Yes, ser. Who died and made you Knight-Captain?"

"Apart from the entire Order? Never mind. I'm getting this last tent set up and then"—she hauled one of the heavy rolls of canvas over her shoulder—"having a nice meal in a warm tavern. You may stay here and freeze if you prefer."

Grudgingly, Mattrin stood up to help Lysette while Tomas and Erriala began covering up the supply crates. The job went quickly enough, which was fortunate, because the sleet began just as they finished.

"Onze, douze…” Lysette kicked in the final stake and swore. “That's the lot."

As Lysette walked back to Haven, trying not to shiver, her thoughts wandered to Adan.

She'd gone back to see him, of course. Cowardice aside, she'd known she'd have had to face the man sooner or later. Better to do it on her own terms.

Her guard was up as she nudged the apothecary door open and peered inside.

Adan was alone, mercifully, bending over one of the workbenches with his back to the door. At the creak of the hinges, he snapped, "Took you long enough, girl."

Lysette's back went rigid, but as Adan turned and recognized her, he put out an apologetic hand. "Damn! Sorry. I thought you were Pella."

"Poor Pella," she murmured.

"I don't know where she's gotten to. I sent her with a message for Minaeve two full hours ago. Glad it was you standing there and not Mother Giselle, though."

"Oh, Mother Giselle's understanding enough. It could have been worse."

"Sister Nightingale, then. Or Threnn."

Lysette's cheek muscles twitched and she smiled in spite of herself.  "I came to apologize, but now I'm not sure I should."

"You bloody well should not." He shook his head to stop her. "No, don't. Please. It's forgotten.”

"Still, I must—"

"Not another word. Here, you want to pay me back? Try this." He ladled a small portion of some dark, steaming liquid into a mug and placed it in Lysette's hands, his fingertips brushing hers lightly.

She looked down at the mug. “Will it kill me?”

“Unlikely. New stamina potion. Mostly Antivan coffee with some extras. I’m conducting taste tests.” Cautiously, Lysette took a sip.

“It’s... not terrible, actually.”

Adan grinned. “Best reaction I’ve gotten so far. You should have seen Pella’s face when she tried the first batch.”

Lysette had spent all of her adult life in the insular world of the Chantry and the Circles. Looking back now, she wasn't sure she'd had a friend outside the templars since before she joined the Order. But she liked Adan. Her instincts had been correct; he was a kind man despite his brusque manner. And she respected his dedication. For all his protestations about not being a healer, he'd put in as many long hours as anyone in the weeks after the Conclave. The shadows under his eyes hadn't escaped her, and neither had the way he occasionally shuffled in discomfort—his back, she guessed.

As a trained warrior, Lysette was attuned to any signs of weakness or injury in a potential opponent. Templar recruits quickly learned the importance of hiding their aches and pains so as not to make targets of themselves in the training yard. With practice, that self-control extended to the suppression of emotional discomfort. Lyrium helped. In a Circle, one's attention must always be on one's charges. A templar might spend years patrolling the same sleepy Circle library, watching mages doze in the sunbeams, but with only a moment's warning…

“What’s with the brown study, Lys?” Erriala’s cheeks were flushed and damp. The sleet had turned to rain, then to snow, and back to sleet again.

“My stockings are wet.” Lysette scowled.

“Mine too. And these are my good boots. Our armor will rust if we’re not careful.”

“Think we can get the Inquisition to give us silverite?”

“Maybe if you seduce the quartermaster.”

“No, thank you.”

“Actually, for a bit there I wondered about you and that apothecary.”

Lysette’s head snapped back in surprise. “I beg your pardon?”

“Well, what was I supposed to think? Sneaking out to go see him in the middle of the night—”

“I beg your pardon.”

Erriala held up a placating hand. "Spare me your scorn. I wondered, that's all."

Lysette snorted and fell silent again. She determinedly dragged her thoughts away from the unsettling idea Erriala had planted in her mind—absurd; Erriala was always looking for gossip—and focused on keeping her footing on the path that was rapidly icing over as the temperature dropped.

 


 

“Oi! You two had better not be making anything poisonous over there.”

“Just research, Flissa.”

The tavern was a good place to work at this time of day—not least because it was the only place with enough table space for Adan and Minaeve to work comfortably. Haven residents filed in and out, but it would be some time yet until the evening rush. The heat from the fire made it a little too warm for comfort, though, and condensation fogged the windows and made Adan’s papers curl.

Minaeve handed him another of the books she'd purchased from Seggrit. When Adan saw the title, he grimaced. “This one was a waste of your coin."

"Maybe for you. You're not a demon researcher." Minaeve looked morosely at the volume in Adan’s hands.

"I am not, but I know enough about—"

He was interrupted by the creak of the tavern door and the stomping of boots as a number of heavily armored templars filed inside, shaking the rain off themselves like as many wet dogs. Adan absently scanned for familiar faces in their number, but paused—these weren’t the templars who had survived the Breach.

These were the templars from Therinfal Redoubt.

The handful of other patrons in the tavern quickly came to the same realization Adan had. Flissa dropped a spoon. Minaeve’s eyes went wide at the sudden clamor of loud voices and the scrape of wooden benches across the floor, but she sat back in relief when she recognized the arriving warriors as templars. “They’re here.”

“Evidently.” So much for their quiet afternoon of research. Adan started to gather up the papers and scrolls spread out across the table, then glanced at the windows. They were still fogged over—the day didn’t seem to know whether it wanted to rain or snow. “I’d say we should take these back to the chantry, but I’m not going out in that until I have to. Stay for dinner?”

“Sure.”

Adan waved fruitlessly at Flissa, who was still gawking at the half a dozen templars who were busily stripping off helms and gloves as they settled around the large table in front of the fireplace.

“What can I get you, sers?”

“What have you got for wine?” inquired a tired-looking woman with a northern Orlesian accent.

Orlesians. Adan rolled his eyes.

Of course, now Flissa noticed him. She glared at Adan as she responded, “Not much, to be sure. But if you’re coming in from the weather, I’ve got a nice red mulled with Rivaini spices, already warm.” There was a murmur of appreciative noises from the templars, and Flissa bustled back behind the counter.

One of the other templars, a Starkhavener, called out, “So what else can we find in this little village?”

“Are you all staying in Haven, then?” Flissa reappeared with the round.

“Only for tonight. Our people are setting up in the chantry.”

“Oh! You’re the officers, then?”

“Calm down, Flissa,” Adan said under his breath.

There were a few sighs. “Closest thing to it, at least,” said one of them. “But we all report to Commander Cullen now, same as the rest of the Inquisition forces.”

“Where are our—that is, the other templars?”

“Other templars?”

“Yes, the ones in Haven, who survived the Conclave.”

There were a few murmurs of surprise.

“Maker, I’m glad to hear there were survivors,” said the Orlesian woman. “We thought we were nearly the only ones left. How many?”

“Oh, just a few, I'm afraid. Let’s see, there’s that boy Mattrin. And the older one, Tomas. Adan, there’s your friend, what’s her name—”

“Lysette?”

“Lysette!” exclaimed one of the templars, a young Fereldan man. “Lysette from Montsimmard? She’s here?”

“Not sure of her Circle, but she’s Orlesian,” said Adan. “Dark hair, blunt tongue, painfully religious?”

“That’s her. Thank the Maker.” The stranger let out a long breath and ran a hand over his short hair. “I thought she’d died at the Conclave. It’s a relief to have some good news for once.”

“There were several templars who survived. I’m surprised you didn’t meet them on the way into Haven.”

“We haven't been down to the training camp yet. We arrived not an hour since.”

“Ah.” Adan fell silent. He was reconsidering his plans for dinner. “Minaeve, what say we—”

At that timely moment, the door creaked open again and the Haven templars filed in. Cries of recognition rang out from members of both groups, and a flurry of back-thumping and saluting enused. Adan tried not to notice as the young Fereldan made a beeline for Lysette, who put a hand to her mouth in shock. He had the distinct and unwelcome impression that, if not for an overabundance of pauldrons on both sides, the two would have embraced.

Adan pushed back his chair and looked at Minaeve. “No hope of a quiet meal in all this commotion. To the chantry, then?”

 


 

On her way down to the tavern for dinner, Pella heard raised voices and paused at the bottom of the steps. She peered through the jumping shadows of the torchlight and realized that one of the speakers was Lysette. The other was a male templar Pella didn’t recognize. Her heart jolted. Were the new templars already in Haven?

Before Pella could dwell on the thought, however, her attention was drawn to Lysette. Her voice was low and harsh as she confronted the strange templar. “Why, in the Maker’s name, did you go with him?”

“I thought it was the right thing to do,” the man said helplessly.

“Everyone in the Inquisition knows what happened in Val Royeaux. You should have left that day. That minute.”

“I wish I had. Damn it, Lysette! Your Circle didn’t fall. You don’t know what it was like.”

“No?” Her laugh came out sharp, bitter. “I suppose not. I was only here.” She gestured up at the Breach, whose dim light was making a reappearance as the evening sky cleared.

“If I’d known you were, I—”

“Why should that have made any difference? If your oaths to the Chantry and the Maker weren’t enough—”

“That’s enough. Please! I’m sorry.

Lysette turned away from the man and only then saw Pella, who was trying to make herself invisible against the palisade. She nodded a brief acknowledgement but stalked away down the hill without a word. The templar with whom she’d been arguing stood paralyzed next to the tavern door. He looked down and avoided making eye contact with Pella.

Pella wavered only a moment before sprinting down the path after Lysette. “Wait!”

Lysette stopped in her tracks and spun to look down at Pella, her face hard. “Yes?”

Maker, but she was an intimidating woman when she wanted to be. “I wanted to speak with you, actually. I realize it’s… probably not a good time… but it’s important.”

“Of course. I apologize, Pella.” In the fading light, Pella saw Lysette’s eyes close and her shoulders relax in a deliberate movement, like that of someone setting down a heavy crate. “How can I help?”

They sat across from one another on the floor of Lysette’s tent. It was warmer than Pella expected, and a glowstone hanging from the ridgepole cast the interior in softly pulsating light. Lysette had removed some of her armor, and was currently occupied in wiping mud off of her soft leather boots. “My father would not approve of this,” she mumbled.

“Your father?” asked Pella, curious. She’d never heard Lysette speak of her family.

“He’s a cobbler. No matter. You wanted to talk to me, yes?”

Pella hesitated. She wasn’t normally a shy woman, but Lysette was a human and a templar, and it proved difficult to find the words. Still, she needed to ask. For Minaeve’s sake.

“I came to you because... well. I was hoping you could explain to me more of—of possession.”

Lysette didn’t blink. Pella felt rather like a field mouse in the sights of a hawk.

“Do you have reason to believe someone in Haven is under the control of a demon?”

“No! No, please don’t think that. She would never allow a demon into her mind. But… she worries about it, I can tell. At night—”

Lysette’s brows lifted slightly, but she didn’t speak and merely waited for Pella to continue.

“She has nightmares,” Pella said dully. “Terrifying ones. I hear her talking to the demons, telling them to go to the Void—but when she wakes I know she’s frightened. Frightened of herself. I...”

“Are you speaking of Minaeve?

“I don’t want to get her in trouble. Please. I came to you because the other templars are coming and… you’re the only one I trust.” At least, I trust you more than I do them.

“You put a heavy burden on me, girl.”

“I just—I need to know how it works.”

Lysette sat back and exhaled slowly. “I’m not a mage. You might do better to speak with someone who is, but… from what I understand, it’s primarily a question of willpower. Maker’s breath, I wish you hadn’t told me about this.” She combed her fingers through the damp hair that fell over the shoulders of her robe. “Has she shown any other odd behavior? When did this start?”

“As long as I’ve known her. I think… I think it’s because of the Breach that she’s afraid she’ll succumb. But I can’t imagine that she actually would. She would never want to hurt anyone. She talks as if… well, if the Circles hadn’t fallen, and the way she speaks about the Tranquil…”

“That is no longer an option.”

“I know. That’s what Mother Giselle said.”

Lysette’s eyes widened in surprise and, Pella thought, relief. “You’ve spoken to Mother Giselle?”

“A bit. Not in so many words.”

“Can you tell her everything you’ve told me tonight?”

“I…” Pella put a hand to her face, baring her teeth in an involuntary grimace.

“If Minaeve needs help, Mother Giselle will know who can give it to her. I won’t tell anyone what you’ve said, as long as you promise you’ll speak to the Revered Mother again.”

“Very well.” Pella fought back against the lump in her throat. “Thank you, Lysette.”

“Walk in the Maker's grace, Pella.”

Chapter Text

Alchemists have known for centuries that an extract of dragonthorn leaves will enhance and stabilize other, more volatile magical compounds.

—An excerpt from The Botanical Compendium by Ines Arancia, botanist

The previous day’s rain had frozen overnight, and cold sunlight glinted off the glassy layer of ice that coated the landscape outside the gates of Haven. The loudest sound was the birdlike chirping of a few nugs that scampered on the shore of the frozen lake, oblivious to the dozens of armored soldiers standing at attention only a few yards away. The only other sign of life was the white puff of breath before each somber helm.

Lysette and her companions from Montsimmard stood to one side, neither with the other templars nor with the small party that finally walked out through the open gates. The Seeker, the commander, and the Herald of Andraste had come to deliver a formal address to all the Inquisition's templars.

There were three dozen newcomers in total, mostly low-ranking knights. Some Lysette knew—Delrin Barris, for one—but the bulk were strangers. It was with some incredulity that she realized these were the most senior surviving members of the Order. And the Order itself was no more. Her mind continued to struggle with the idea as Commander Cullen began to explain the templars' new role and duties in the Inquisition.

"Your ranks and titles will be retained. Each of the Knights-Lieutenant will become a lieutenant of the Inquisition. Those templars who joined us of their own volition"—here he gestured at Lysette and her companions—"will continue to report directly to me. In all other respects, there will be no differentiation between you.” Cullen walked a few steps down the ranks, surveying the armored men and women who stood motionless before him.

“The templars will operate as a specialized arm of the Inquisition. Your duties will be chiefly military, but I expect you all to take part in activities outside your camp. I prefer to maintain a templar presence in the village at all times: your superior officer will advise you of the rotations. Requests for leave must be approved by your superior officer as well as by myself or Seeker Pentaghast. Nonetheless, we will not treat you as prisoners unless you give us reason to do so.” He stopped pacing.

“I will say this once and once only. Regardless of any hostility or provocation you may encounter in Haven, the Inquisition will tolerate no mistreatment of its members or of civilians. If I receive a report of templar abuses from any member of the Inquisition, however lowly, consequences will be immediate and severe. I will not have discord in the Inquisition ranks. If you have a complaint of your own, you may address it to your commanding officer or the Lady Seeker, at your discretion.

"That is all. Seeker Pentaghast, if you would." Cullen stepped back and Cassandra took his place at the front of the ranks.

"Templars. Welcome to Haven." There was the faintest whisper of rustling armor as one or two of the templars shifted their weight. Though the ranks otherwise remained at perfect attention, Lysette thought they all looked rather ill at ease. Her own welcome to Haven had been much more straightforward.

No one would have called the Seeker soft. Still, her tone was more conciliatory than Cullen's had been. "These are challenging times, and we have all had to make difficult decisions about where our loyalties lie. I do not hold any of you responsible for the actions of your superiors. However, I cannot say that the people of Haven will feel the same.

“No one knows what the future may hold. If you conduct yourselves honorably and do your best to aid our cause, it may be that we will one day see the Circles restored. Behave as if the fate of the world depends on your actions here in Haven, because it very well may.

"We have set up permanent tents for you at the training grounds north of the lake. Ser Tomas will direct you.” At her nod, Tomas saluted sharply. “You may store your traveling gear and tents in the basement of the chantry if you do not wish to carry them to the camp."

Cassandra continued speaking for some time about the details of patrol rotations and lyrium rations, much of which Lysette had already heard. At last there was a sharp, “Dismissed,” and a babble of hushed voices broke out as the templars began organizing themselves into groups.

At Lysette’s side, Mattrin let out a groan. “If that lecture wasn’t a dash of cold water, I don’t know what would be.”

“I imagine some of us needed a bit of sobering up,” Lysette said dryly. Mattrin was the youngest of the Montsimmard templars and still felt he had something to prove; she suspected his complexion owed its sickly tint to a late night in the tavern. He grimaced and strode away without another word to Lysette. On Lysette’s other side, Erriala emitted a soft expletive as she pulled off her helm. She ran a hand through her tousled hair and turned away to speak with Tomas.

Lysette shook her head at the lot of them and turned in the direction of the village. As she navigated the muddy path, a large and familiar shape drew up alongside her. She came to a stop and tilted her chin in greeting. “Hello.”

“Good morning. Peace offering?” Barris held out an unsightly sprig of… something. Lysette let out a snort of laughter.

“Is that elfroot?

“It's blossoming! Almost. Best I could do under the circumstances.” He tossed it aside with a sheepish grin. “Am I back in your good graces, at least?”

“You never left them. You know that. I shouldn't have been so hard on you.” Lysette looked down at the discarded leaves with a vague sense of regret. Elfroot wasn’t in as short supply as it had been, but it still seemed a shame to waste it.

“You were right.” Barris reached out an arm as if to pull her to his side, but pulled it back at the last moment. “Sorry. Habit.”

“It's all right. I'm glad you're well, Delrin.”

“As well as I can be under the circumstances. Reia told me I was up for promotion soon. Narrow escape.”

“I know the feeling.” Lysette looked up at the Breach, then over at Barris. “But at least I didn’t have to face my superior officers in combat.”

“Do you know, I didn’t even recognize most of them at the time. Some of them were hardly… well. Let’s not get into it now. Where are you headed?”

“I thought I might stop in at the chantry. You can come, if you like, but don't you have work to do?”

"I’m due back to the chantry myself to move our rubbish into the basement. As the most junior 'veteran' present, this honor falls to me."

“Need a hand?”

“I won’t say no. Some of those crates are bloody heavy. But I’ve got to run an order over to the apothecary first. Can you give me directions?”

“It’s on the way. I’ll show you.” She tipped her head and he fell into step beside her.

He surveyed their surroundings as they walked. “I’ve hardly seen any of Haven yet. I should take some time to explore the village.”

“It won't take you long. What do you think of it so far?”

“Honestly, not much.” Barris gestured at the stone walls as they passed through the main gates. “These are all right, but—wooden palisades? For Andraste’s sake, we're not in the Towers Age. Those won't do much in a modern defensive situation.”

“If it comes to an attack, we'll have bigger things to worry about than Haven's archaic fortifications. What makes you think of that?”

“Oh, I don't know. Just that military habit, I suppose.”

“It's served you well. Aren't you in a book?” Lysette found herself smiling. They still got on well, even after everything. It was good to see him again, even if it was… odd.

“Don't remind me. I met this dwarf last night who wouldn't drop the subject. One thing I'll say about the Inquisition—you're a nosy lot.”

“As if the templars aren't!”

Barris winced. “If anything, we should probably have been nosier.”

“Too true.”

The silence between them grew a bit strained.

Neither Adan nor Pella were present when they arrived at the apothecary. Instead, a young woman Lysette didn't know was stacking empty potion bottles onto a tray. She looked up when the templars entered. "Can I help you?"

Lysette, feeling suddenly out of place, gestured for Barris to proceed.

"Yes, hello. I've got an order to be delivered to the templar camp." He handed the woman a roll of parchment. She flicked open the seal and skimmed the requisition with raised brows. "This'll keep us busy."

"Could you tell me how long it will take?"

"I'll have to ask the apothecary. I know for a fact we're out of embrium. And this one needs a few days to steep… we're good for lyrium, though." She looked up at Barris curiously. "You're with the new arrivals, then?"

"I am, although Lysette’s been in Haven for some time."

The woman turned her gaze to Lysette. "Ah, so you'd be the templar Pella keeps comparing me to," she said. "Unfavorably, I'm afraid. I'm Rachelle."

Lysette shook her head slightly. "I'm sure you're much better qualified for this line of work."

"The apothecary should be here in a few minutes, if you don't mind waiting."

Barris said, “We’re due at the chantry. Just send a messenger to our camp, would you? Thanks.”

With an inexplicable feeling of disappointment, Lysette followed him out the door.


The day after the templar conscripts arrived in Haven, Adan woke with a miserable headache. Matters weren’t helped by the blinding sunlight that streamed cruelly through the narrow windows of his cabin. Someone in the next room let out a loud snore and rolled over, and their cot produced a hideous creaking noise that shot through Adan's skull like a lance. Maker’s breath. He tossed his blankets aside and hobbled painfully to the washbasin to splash his face with icy water, feeling approximately twice his actual age.

At least he had a proper bed now. He suspected it was Lady Montilyet’s attempt to compensate him for the inconvenience of taking on houseguests. Haven was full to bursting, she'd explained, and they couldn't build new housing fast enough for all the new arrivals. His new housemates were some sort of mercenary company or the like; aside from confirming that the arrangement was to be temporary, he hadn't really bothered to learn more.

It wasn't as if he'd been using the space for anything more than an untidy jumble of papers and equipment overflowing from his workshop. On his way out of the house, Adan observed that this had been joined by an equally untidy jumble of discarded armor, a sticky puddle of spilled ale, and an unconscious Qunari. At least he hoped the fellow was only unconscious.

Breakfast seemed unappealing, so he went straight to his workshop. He was surprised to see that both Rachelle and Pella were already there.

"Well, this is unprecedented," he said to the latter. He walked over to his tray of seedlings and plucked a few leaves of fresh elfroot from one of the larger plants.

"I woke up early and couldn't sleep," said Pella, fussing with her hair. "Too nervous."

"Understandable. But don’t think that’ll get you off the hook if I find your hair in any of these potions."

Rachelle handed him a bit of parchment. "Got an order from the new templars. For delivery to Ser Rylen."

Adan examined the requisition and snorted. "Don't half ask much, do they? This'll take… three days at least. And I'll need to get embrium from that weasel of a merchant."

Pella came over to see the order and glanced up at Adan. "You're nervous, too."

"Of course I'm bloody nervous. Do you realize what's liable to happen if they fail?"

"That's not the only reason."

He gestured upwards. "Remember what it was like before the Herald sealed it the first time? Demons raining from the sky like… what is it, Rachelle?”

“Sorry to interrupt, but I’ve got that order for Harritt ready. Can you have a look, Adan?”

He inspected the bottles she showed him and approved them with a nod. "It’s fine. Someone bring this down to the smithy. I don't care who. Draw lots."

Rachelle took the potions. When the door shut behind her, Pella jumped to her feet and glared at Adan.

"You," she informed him, "are an arsehole.”

He blinked.

Pella produced a roll of parchment and waved it dramatically in the air before her. "I've had a letter from my family in Antiva."

"And?"

"Why didn't you tell me your mother was an elf?"

"It didn't come up." He ducked, but unnecessarily, because she had only pretended to fling the letter at his head.

"Overgrown lummox. All this time I've been tiptoeing around my shemlen boss--"

"What could be more elven than that?" he murmured. "You're right. I should have told you. Sorry."

She paused in the midst of her tirade and stared at him. "What, really? You're apologizing already?"

"Why shouldn’t I?" He walked to the fireplace, where a small iron kettle was already heating water.

"I had such a nice long list of rude names for you that I hadn't gotten to yet." She flopped backwards onto the wobbly chair in front of his writing desk.

"Save them up. I'll sure you'll want to use them again before long."

She rested her chin on the back of the chair and peered up at him. "You're not ashamed of being elf-blooded, are you?"

"Of course not. Please don’t break my chair."

"Hah. If you haven't broken it yet--"

"Oh, Maker, is this going to continue indefinitely?" He poured hot water into the mug of elfroot leaves, without bothering to measure them out as carefully as he would his regular potions, and leaned against the mantel while it steeped.

"Do you go back to the alienage much?"

"Not much, no. Would you?"

"Nope. But I'm lucky; I didn’t have to grow up in one of those places."

"I'm glad of that," he said, and meant it. He took a sip of the elfroot tea and felt his headache start to recede almost immediately. That’d help.

Pella wasn’t done, however. "Is this why you won't talk to Lysette?"

Nettled, he replied, "Got nothing to talk to her about. Shut it, girl, we've work to do."

“Arsehole.”

"I don't know what you mean. I'm universally lauded for my sweet temper." He scowled at her over his tea.


To Lysette's relief, the following days passed quickly, but the sun was already high by the time the Herald’s party and the templars gathered on the morning of their final attempt to seal the Breach. The sky was clear and a warm spring breeze—at least, warm for spring in the Frostbacks—cracked the black and red Inquisition pennants around Haven into life.

A number of the villagers had gathered to watch the procession depart. Mother Giselle had issued a blessing before retreating to the chantry. Now, the Herald paced back and forth at the front of the templar ranks. Only the razor-sharp point of her staff was visible over their helms.

A mage leading templars. Lysette should have found it a strange sight, but the Herald exuded a natural authority that put her at ease. Most of the other templars present were far senior to Lysette. Still, she knew that Erriala stood in front of her, and Barris was two places to her right.

"Templars!" called the Herald, and they saluted in near unison.

"Today we march on the Breach. You know what this means. You may not have come here of your own accord, but thus far you have shown courage and a willingness to serve the greater good. This is your chance to make amends. "

Adan glanced up to meet Pella's enormous, beseeching eyes. She was practically hopping from foot to foot. "Don't you want to go outside and watch?"

"Oh, go on, then. Find your girlfriend and stop pestering me."

"Thank you," she mouthed, and ran from the cabin at lightning speed, miraculously not knocking over the array of sealed potion bottles that Rachelle was labeling with studious concentration.

Adan went back to the elfroot seedlings—it wasn't as if they would tend themselves—and measured out the distance between plants with a higher degree of accuracy than was strictly called for. As he worked, he tapped his toe on the rug. He rolled his neck. Finally, when he couldn't take it any longer, he looked over at his remaining assistant. "Rachelle?"

"Yes, ser?" Despite her calm tone, he thought there was a certain eagerness to her expression.

"Want to go outside and watch?"

The Seeker swung open the heavy gate and led the procession across the bridge leading to the temple.

Lysette was dismayed to see that the bridge still bore the marks of battle. All the bodies had been burned, of course, but many of the stones were marked with dark stains that the icy spring rains hadn't yet washed away. Mangled weapons, smashed crates, and spoiled provisions littered its surface. She stepped gingerly over a broken phylactery.

A reverent hush fell over the ranks as they drew near the ruined temple. Even Lysette, who had seen it before, was awestruck at the scale of the devastation. It was as if a giant had carved out the side of the mountain with a single brutal slice.

Her heart beat faster as their surroundings began to take on a familiar green tinge, so she practiced the breathing exercises she'd been taught. Calm was essential in the heat of combat. This wasn't a battle, but it could become one if they failed.

Adan and Rachelle drew up to the fire pit outside the chantry. Adan found a seat next to an elven man who was adjusting the buckles of his scout's armor and trying not to look as if he cared about the goings-on. Rachelle sat on an empty crate and folded her hands in her lap as she gazed unflinchingly up at the Breach.

In a sharp contrast to the morning's commotion, the village of Haven now seemed to be holding its collective breath. He found himself caught up in the anticipatory mood. The Herald would be reaching the temple any time now; the procession had long since passed out of sight behind the curving road around the mountain.

"Templars," cried Seeker Pentaghast.

The elven apostate advanced from his place in the Herald’s party, his staff held at the ready. "Focus past the Herald. Let her will draw from you," he shouted. Finally, Ellana herself stepped forward to stand beneath the Breach.

At the signal, the first rank of templars dropped to their knees. The light of the Breach grew brighter.

The second rank knelt with equal fervor. The light grew brighter still. Any moment now it would be their turn.

Lysette took a deep breath. When the signal came, she fell into position and shut her eyes tightly. Maker guide her.

The villagers gasped as the Breach flared, and then flared again. It grew brighter and brighter until there was a flash of white light that left sparks dancing inside Adan’s eyelids. A moment later, there was a crack like the loudest bolt of thunder he'd ever heard. It echoed and rippled through the mountains as he stood, stunned.

From where she’d been knocked to the ground, Lysette rose to her knees. She hardly registered a winded Erriala doing the same thing before her, or the cheers of the other templars surrounding them.

It could have been the fall that kept her from catching her breath, or it could have been the awe she felt when she saw the elven mage standing with her back to the templars. The Herald was uninjured, silhouetted against a clear sky.

Even if Lysette could have risen to her feet, kneeling seemed more appropriate.

In the uproar of cheering that followed, Adan found himself clasping hands with Seggrit and exchanging grins with Threnn. They'd done it. She'd done it, that little woman with the terrifying mark. Perhaps Andraste had sent her after all. He saw no compelling reason to think otherwise.


The tavern was already crowded with villagers eager to celebrate the Inquisition’s victory. Adan tapped his foot as he waited for his dinner at a table near the bar and tried not to eavesdrop on Flissa's discussion with one of the new recruits.

"That commander's really something, isn't he?"

"Devastating. I tell you, though, he's only got eyes for the Herald."

"Too bad. Even with that new batch in from Ferelden, there aren't enough pretty templars in this town."

"Oh, there are a few. What do you think, Adan?" Flissa grinned at him maliciously, and the other woman swiveled around curiously.

"I can't say I've taken particular note of the commander's charms, myself, but I'll take your word for it." He glared at Flissa, who only giggled before resuming her conversation. If he weren't so damned hungry, he'd have gotten up and left.

“How about that Barris?”

“I heard a rumor about him and that templar Lysette.”

“Maybe it's not exclusive?”

Maker take him, did these people have nothing better to do with their time?

Naturally, Lysette chose that moment to enter the Singing Maiden. Adan rolled his eyes to the ceiling, and Flissa—who had observed both actions—called out, "Ser Lysette! Come over here, have a drink on the house. Have you met my new friend?"

Lysette, to Adan's faint amusement, looked alarmed at the invitation. She nodded at Adan as she passed his table, and he admired the precise grace of her walk. Even off duty, her posture was as unyielding as ever. He wondered…

No. No, he should leave it alone. He'd already gotten too attached. Even if she were interested, she was so much younger. And a templar. And… his reservations could go to the Void. They'd sealed the Breach today. Adan stood up and sidled over to where Lysette was warily eyeing the dark ale Flissa slid towards her.

"I probably shouldn't. I'll be on patrol in an hour."

"I can help with that, if you're abstaining." Adan rested his forearms on the bar and looked over at Lysette. She pushed the mug towards him without hesitation.

"Thanks. They've still got you patrolling after this morning?"

"Someone’s got to," she said with a shrug. "Besides, I like the exercise. How are you?"

"Relieved." He picked up the mug and took a sip. Decent stuff. 

"As are we all. Flissa, something to eat?"

"Of course, of course." The bartender passed a plate each to Lysette and Adan. "Now, if you're not drinking, there are a lot of people in Haven looking to celebrate tonight, and I need the room at my bar. You lovebirds take these outside and send Pella back with the dishes when you're done."

Lysette started at Flissa's choice of words, but took the plate without comment. Adan entertained an unchivalrous fantasy of feeding Flissa to a demon, abandoned his ale, and followed Lysette out of the tavern before he could convince himself to run in the other direction.

On second thought, he pivoted back to pick up the ale.

The evening air was cool, but there was a merry bonfire burning not far from the tavern doors and a number of people were already milling around. The minstrel’s music floated out the open tavern door, and Pella was trying to gather people for dancing. She waved and tried to catch Adan’s eye, but he ignored her beseeching look and settled himself precariously on a pile of firewood with his back to a stone wall.

Lysette dragged over an abandoned crate and joined him. They ate their dinner—lamb pies and roasted vegetables—in a companionable quiet. 

"All right, then?" Adan asked when they'd both finished. "Things went well today?"

"They did, actually." Lysette turned towards him. She was just opening her mouth to continue when they were interrupted by a smattering of applause from the other side of the fire. Evidently the dancers had finished their tune.

Pella made her way over, ignoring Adan’s black look. “Come and dance with us, Lysette!”

“Templars don’t dance."

“What do you do for fun, then?”

“Pray,” said Lysette with a straight face.

Adan snorted into his ale.

Lysette’s lips twitched, but she only said, “How’s work, Pella?”

Pella sneered. It was a rather respectable sneer, too. “The old git’s got me itemizing shipments of pyrophoric substances and… I don’t even know what else. It’s dull as rocks.”

“It is rocks,” Adan said, amused. “Drakestone’s handy in my line of work. Lyrium, too.”

“Boring. Dull. Intolerable. Anyway, Maryden’s starting another song, so I’m going back. If you two want to sit here and be tiresome together, it’s no skin off my nose.” She waved at Lysette and ran to the other side of the fire circle.

Night had fallen, but the moons and the glowing clouds flooded everything in cool light. Adan caught himself staring at the shadows that played over the angles of Lysette's face and deliberately turned away to watch the dancers. 

The silence between them lengthened, but it was a comfortable silence, with the crackling of the fire and the familiar tunes drifting from the open tavern door. Adan leaned back and tapped his foot in time with the music. Lysette gathered their empty dishes and set them aside in a neat stack.

“Why did you join the Inquisition?” she asked abruptly.

Adan glanced at her. “Needed the work, mostly. I met Lady Montilyet in Val Royeaux and she brought me on board.”

“Oh? I’m from Val Royeaux. What were you doing there?”

“Finishing up a residency at the university. Never again.” He grimaced. “The politics in that place were worse than a Circle. I’ve worked for those in high society before, but it’s more than my life’s worth to go that near to the Orlesian court.”

“I don’t blame you. Not that I’ve ever moved in elevated circles myself—my father is a cobbler—but that didn’t keep my mother from envisioning my future as some gilded ornament of society.”

“That's… very imaginative.”

“She married rather well herself, eventually, and I went to Ferelden to live with my father.”

“Your parents weren’t married to one another?”

“Don’t look so scandalized.” She gave him a sidelong look. “Orlesians don't put such an emphasis on the formalities. At least in not in Val Royeaux—I think it’s different in the provinces. It turned out for the best that they didn’t marry, anyhow. They weren’t well suited.”

A woman with ambitions to the courtly life probably wouldn’t be satisfied with a cobbler, no. “Did you always want to be a templar?”

“No.” There was a faint smirk on her full lips. “I wanted to be a city guard. My mother was horrified.”

“I could imagine you as a city guard.”

“She thought I should be a courtesan instead.”

“Sweet Maker."

“Well, that or marry. Or both. But by the time I was fourteen, it was clear that I didn’t have the looks to pull off any of her plans.”

Adan blinked. “No?”

She snorted and gestured at her utilitarian armor and bare face. “I’m sure the elite of Val Royeaux would be stunned by my ladylike refinement.”

He had an acerbic response forming on the tip of his tongue, but suppressed it at the last moment. The ale was rather strong and he didn’t want to make more of a fool of himself than he already had.

“Anyway, she sent me to live with my father in the hopes he’d find a Fereldan for me to marry. An uncouth dog lord who wouldn’t be scandalized by my vulgar ways, you know. And if all else failed, I could have become a cobbler like my father.”

“Are you sure she’s your mother?”

“I’m afraid so.” Lysette looked over at the dancers and said, "Pella and Minaeve seem to be enjoying themselves."

"Hmph. Of course they are. Bloody inseparable, I tell you."

"I'm glad."

"Ah, so am I, really. And I can spare Pella more often now with Rachelle and that surgeon here. I've got one or two more people on the way. With that number of staff, we should be set to supply the Inquisition through conquering Thedas, if it comes to that."

"Let's hope it doesn't."

"I'll drink to that." He did so.

"Come and dance instead."

Adan raised his eyebrows, but Lysette was looking back at him with her own brows raised. Maker take him, was she serious?

He eyed her warily. "Not with those pauldrons, my girl."

She snorted but called his bluff, unbuckling the plate armor on her arms and shoulders with impressive speed and laying the spiky objects in a tidy pile on the crate at her side. The remaining armor she left on, somewhat to his disappointment, but it was enough. She stood, folded her robed arms, and looked down at him expectantly.

Maker's breath. "All right then, you pushy wench."

They joined the number at the fire. Pella whirled and clapped her hands in delight. "Two more! That makes six. We can do ‘Once We Were’, if you know it?"

"Of course," said Lysette. Adan nodded. These old familiar dances had been as common in the alienage as in the rest of Denerim.

Pella darted through the open tavern door, presumably to consult with the minstrel, and the dancers took their places. After a moment, Pella returned and took her place beside Minaeve.

“Fereldan or Orlesian steps?” someone called to her.

“Fereldan—sorry, Lysette—I don't want anyone falling into the fire. Except you, Seggrit."

"Bite me." 

The tune began to play. It a wasn't a fast one, but it was cheerful. Adan offered Lysette his hand with sarcastic gallantry, and she laughed outright but took it nevertheless. Her ungloved hand was cool in his.

They bowed to one another, Lysette rather more elegantly than he, and stepped forward in time with the other couples. Back and around—he traded partners with Seggrit and found himself face to face with Threnn. They exchanged bows and the dance continued.

It was a familiar melody, although the minstrel in Haven had put new words to it. Her version had already spread like wildfire: "Once we were in our peace with our lives assured; once we were not afraid of the dark." Well, after today, they would be in their peace again. Surely that was worth celebrating.

He found himself back with Lysette on the refrain. Most of his mind was occupied in preventing him from making an ass of himself, but couldn't help but admire her dancing. He wasn't surprised by the technical precision of her movements, but he was surprised by the grace and expressiveness of her booted feet as they moved from step to step. And she wasn’t even breathing hard.

"You're good at this," he said.

"Thank you." Lysette released his hand and they faced one another for a bow.

"Aren't you going to return the compliment?"

Adan suspected she was biting back a grin. "No." She spun away and he mirrored the gesture, finding himself palm to palm with Minaeve. The elven mage wasn’t as graceful a dancer as Lysette had been, although Adan had to admit she was still better than he was. Left, right—wrong direction—he corrected course hastily.

From across the fire, he caught Lysette's eyes on him and saw that she’d given up on fighting back her grin. When she circled back to him on the next refrain, she said, "Andraste’s ashes, Adan. You're a terrible dancer."

"I'll remind you that this was your idea," he muttered. He wasn't that bad, was he? "And I'll have you know I once danced with the Queen of Ferelden." One and two and three...

"I don’t believe you."

“Maker’s truth. At Cailan’s coronation ball.”

Forward, forward, turn and bow.

A smattering of spontaneous applause rose from the dancers, and Lysette retreated back to their spot by the wall. Adan followed her, only half hearing Pella’s pleas for them to stay and dance longer.

“You’re competitive," he said, smiling in spite of himself.

"But of course. You should see me at cards.” They settled back onto their seats.

“You've got a face for Wicked Grace, I'll give you that.”

That lock of hair over her forehead had come loose again. Adan's fingers itched to brush it back to better see her face. Andraste's flaming knickers, when had he fallen so hard for this woman?

“What were you doing at a royal ball?”

“I was royal alchemist for a few years.” He picked up his ale, as much to keep his hands occupied as anything else. 

“I didn’t know that. Under King Cailan?”

“No, Maric. I left not long after he died.”

“I remember when that happened.” Lysette contemplated the fire. “My mother wept. She wasn’t even Fereldan, but she used to say she always admired a fine king even if he was king of the dogs.”

“He was a good man, king or no. It’s thanks to him I was able to get training and connections. Not as if I had any prospects otherwise.”

“I didn’t have many myself.” She leaned back and crossed one leg over her knee. 

“Ah, but at least you come from tradesfolk. I didn’t even have that much.”

“Royal alchemist is an impressive post for a man from a poor family." 

“Yes. I was lucky to get it.” 

Adan fell silent, bu t Lysette looked over at him and asked, “How did that happen?”

“A Grey Warden thought I had potential.” When her brows rose a fraction, he grunted and added, “Not as a Warden, obviously.”

She was looking at him more closely now. With her face turned up to the moonlight, he could see her gaze shift to the left side of his skull. She was looking at the worst of his scars, the long one that ran around his temple and into his hairline. Adan shifted in his seat. 

“I was lucky," he said. "The Warden noticed that I could read ancient Tevene—” at that, Lysette’s brows rose even higher than before— “and chatted with me for a bit. Then he said that he happened to know the current alchemist was getting on in years, and if I wanted to get proper training, he'd put in a good word for me with the king.” It hadn’t been quite as simple as that, but it was all true.  “Anyhow, I think he did it as much out of pity as anything else. I was a rather sorry lad.”

“The world is full of sorry lads. You must have impressed him.”

Adan cleared his throat. “Yeah, well. Duncan—that was his name—he was a good man. Lost in the Blight, sad to say.”

“I've heard that name. Wasn't he the Warden who recruited the Hero of Ferelden?”

“Wouldn't surprise me.”

“He must have had an eye for potential, indeed.”

Adan looked at Lysette with some uncertainty, but she was already back to watching the dancers. 

“You wouldn’t have been more than a girl when Maric went, would you?” he asked. 

“No. I would have been... eight or nine, I suppose. I was still living in Val Royeaux then.”

“Thank you for making me feel old. When did you move to Ferelden?”

“A few months before the Blight began.” She shook her head. “Good timing, as usual.”

The dancers had finished another song, which they followed with a round of applause. Lysette clapped politely, and Adan stared down into his ale.

In the hush that followed, the minstrel changed keys and began a new song. A few words about a templar igniting fire inside… Adan cleared his throat and, with some desperation, changed the subject. "What do you think of all these magical goings-on?”

“I’m not sure what it all means, to tell you the truth. I don’t know very many mages.”

“I would think you’d know a great number.”

“I knew their names and the location of their quarters. I knew who was engaged in dangerous research and which mages should be kept away from one another to prevent conflict. That’s not the same thing as knowing them.”

“A valuable insight,” Adan said dryly. “From what I understand, one that many templars never reach.”

“Am I even a templar anymore? What’s a templar, without the Order?” She uncrossed her legs and leaned forward on her elbows.

“You’ve got the training. And I assume…”

“Yes. The lyrium.” Lysette released a barely audible sigh. “We’re not supposed to talk about it outside the Chantry, but what does it even matter now? So much I accepted without question." She continued in a low voice. "I thought I knew better, that I would be able to see if things weren't right. I feel like a fool. Like I was tricked."

"Do you regret becoming a templar?"

"No. But I regret the Order I joined. I mourn what it was and what it could have been. We should never have allowed any of this to happen. Do you know what they found at Therinfal Redoubt?"

"I've heard a few things."

"They'd been turned into monsters. Atrocities. They were given some sort of corrupted lyrium."

His blood ran a bit cold. Maker, wasn't regular lyrium bad enough? The thought of this brave, intelligent young woman slowly poisoning herself with that filth had already begun to haunt his dreams.

"How much do you know about lyrium?" he asked with some trepidation.

She looked back at him with lowered eyebrows. "What do you mean?"

"Specifically, its long-term effects."

Lysette closed her eyes and let out a long breath. "I've put a few things together over the years. Let's not talk about it now. We’re supposed to be celebrating, yes?"

"Would you have rejoined the Order, if it hadn't been disbanded?"

"No. My place is with the Inquisition now."

"What will you do when this is all over?"

"If I live to see it?" She looked up to where the Breach had been, her brow furrowed. "I don’t know.”

“Never too late to be a cobbler,” he said, only half-joking.

She turned her gaze back to Adan and smiled reluctantly. “It probably is. And it’s certainly too late for my mother’s other plans.”

"Load of rubbish. You're lovely."

She gave him a strange look and let out a faint huff of surprised laughter. "Thank you."

Maybe it was the jubilant atmosphere, or maybe it was the ale, but he found himself reaching out to tuck that stray strand of hair, the one thing always escaping her relentless control, behind her ear.

To Adan's utter astonishment, Lysette caught his hand and pressed his open palm against her cheek. She held it there for a moment, and then her eyes opened wide with horror. She dropped his hand abruptly back into the cold night air.

He felt unspeakably dismayed until Lysette said, "Shit. I'm late for my patrol." She leapt to her feet and spun around to begin strapping on her armor.

Despite his confusion, Adan was nonetheless impressed to note the speed with which she pulled on all the various components and tightened the dozen buckles. He supposed that if you wore it daily, it became second nature.

"Shirking your duties, ser knight? Didn't expect it of you." He found that his voice came out rather hoarsely. The ale, no doubt.

She looked up at him from tightening her greaves, or whatever those things on her shins were called, and shot him a knowing grin that made him want to grab her and kiss her senseless. He refrained from doing so, but Maker... his heart was in his throat all the same.


Lysette hurried up the east hill and away from the lights of the village. Thank the Maker she was on solo patrol tonight. Erriala would never have let Lysette live it down, showing up late after dallying with the apothecary.

Her steps slowed as the thought struck her fully. That was what she'd been doing, wasn't it? Maker above, what was she thinking?

Remembering the end of their conversation, she felt a bit breathless, and her heart raced. She pressed a gloved hand to her hot cheek. It’s not as if—

It was then that the bells of Haven's chantry began to ring.

Chapter Text

In your heart shall burn
An unquenchable flame
All-consuming, and never satisfied.

—Threnodies 5:7

No one seemed alarmed by Lysette’s dash for the stairs, although Varric raised a brow when she sidestepped him. He ambled over to where Adan still sat against the wall. “Somebody spot a nervous mage?”

Adan gave a wordless grunt and finished his ale.

“Or maybe talking to you scared her off.” Varric took Lysette’s vacated seat and settled himself comfortably.

“You’re a bit glib for someone who goes through healing mist like cheap cologne. Attracts the ladies, does it?”

“No wonder that stuff hardly works! I’ve been using it all wrong.” Varric topped up his glass from a dusty bottle of something-or-other and held the bottle out to Adan in invitation. Adan considered for a moment. Then he held out his own empty mug. Why not.

The evening began to grow a bit bleary after that. Adan didn’t overindulge often, but after the worries of the last days—weeks—months… well, it was a relief to put it all aside for a time and enjoy the revels.

He wouldn’t soon forget the sight of Threnn and Seggrit dancing together—nor the look of mutual disgust they exchanged when they stepped apart. Flissa made regular appearances, but the crowd in the tavern kept pulling her back inside. Meanwhile, a flushed Minaeve was leaning against the wall a few feet away, watching the goings-on with a faint smile. Adan wasn’t sure where Pella had gotten to. Couldn’t be far; probably inside for another round of drinks.

Adan took another swig of… whatever it was. Something fizzy. Not bad—he tipped his head at Varric and received a smug look in acknowledgement. He felt a warmth in his chest that wasn’t entirely explained by the drink. But just as he relaxed back into his seat, a cacophony of shouts and clanks rang out. Somewhere nearby. Was that the chantry bell?

A sudden cry from just behind them made Adan start. “Varric! With me!”

Adan looked dizzily over his shoulder just in time to see a figure leap down from the wall. It took him a moment to recognize the Herald, but the lightning crackling from her staff was unmistakable. Varric’s face changed. He reached for his crossbow and followed the Herald down the stairs without a word—the same stairs Lysette had run down only a few minutes before. What in Andraste’s name is going on?

Adan looked up to find Minaeve tugging at his sleeve. Her face had gone from flushed to deathly pale. “They’re telling civilians to get to the chantry. I just told Rachelle and Avexis to go straight there. We’re under attack.”

What? From who?”

“I don’t know.”

“Where’s Pella?”

“I don’t know!” Minaeve pressed a hand to her forehead in agitation.

That problem, at least, was easily resolved. Pella ran out the tavern door and headed straight for them. Minaeve turned to her in relief, but Pella looked to Adan first. “Adan! Soldiers are coming. People are already hurt. Are there any supplies in the chantry? Healing potions?”

He shook his head, as much in an attempt to clear it as in an answer to Pella’s question. “No. Some in the infirmary, the rest in my workshop.”

“Shit, shit, shit!” Pella’s face contorted.

“Infirmary’s too far,” said Minaeve, collecting herself and laying a soothing hand on Pella’s arm. “Workshop it is. Let’s go.”

There were dozens of people blocking the path outside the tavern, some looking frightened but most simply confused. From every direction, soldiers rushed past them to the stairs. Adan gave up trying to follow the elven women in the chaos and resorted to elbowing his way through the crowd. “Come on, come on,” he snapped as he nearly tripped over a dwarven scout with her arms full of blankets. She gave him a panicked look and he muttered an apology, then broke into a run.

Adan caught up with Pella and Minaeve at the top of the stairs leading to his workshop. No one had come by to light the lamps, but the full moons illuminated the courtyard and glinted off the latest shipment of potion ingredients. Still, the apothecary cabin was dark when Pella flung open the door.

Before Adan had a chance to reach for the tinderbox, Minaeve stamped her foot and every lamp in the cabin burst into flame at once. Pella jumped and Adan inhaled sharply. Minaeve only glowered at them. “Useful trick,” said Adan dryly. If terrifying. “Could you do the same thing next door? I’ve got stuff there too.”

She gave a quick nod and left the workshop, leaving Pella and Adan to gather what they could. Healing potions were the priority, of course. And they’d want ointment, bandages.... His brain was starting to work again, though he still wished he’d been rather less liberal with the ale earlier. “If this turns bad, I can’t imagine we’ll stay at the chantry,” he told Pella. "Assume we’ve got to run for it and pack accordingly.”

“Where will we even go?” whispered Pella as she emptied a barrel of dried elfroot into a canvas sack.

Adan glanced at his bookshelf with regret, then turned his back on it and shook open a knapsack. He packed as many jars and vials as he could, wrapping them with whatever scraps of cloth were closest to hand. Bandages, he should use the bandages.

“I don’t know. But even if our people can fend them off—” Adan was interrupted by an earsplitting boom. It was so loud that the cabin itself seemed to shake. In the silence that followed, a faint cheer rose from the soldiers below. Adan and Pella looked at one another with wide eyes.

They turned in unison when Minaeve reappeared in the doorway. “That was the trebuchet,” she said, her voice matter-of-fact and betraying only the slightest tension. “Looks like the Herald’s out there."

“Help Pella, would you? I want to see.” He hurried outside before she could respond.

This courtyard was one of the highest points inside the walls of Haven. From the edge of the courtyard, Adan could see tiny specks of distant torches descending from the mountain pass above. They’re still coming? Andraste preserve us, how many of them are there? He could already hear the sounds of fighting outside the walls below. Adan lifted a hand to shield his eyes from the glare and saw that the descending forces were bearing more than torches: sparks of lightning alternated with the tongues of flame. Mages, then.

Minaeve came up behind him. She’d seen the same thing he had, he realized. Their eyes met.

“Good thing we’ve templars here,” she said quietly.

“Yes.” Adan took a breath, then shook his head briskly. “Back to work, eh? We need to get this stuff to the chantry. Where’s Pella?”


As she ran back down the path to the village, Lysette calculated the distance and considered her options. Too far to get her shield. That was all right; she preferred fighting without one anyhow. No helm—that was more of a problem, but there was nothing to be done about it now.

Lysette’s steps slowed as she drew nearer to the gate. She couldn’t see any Inquisition forces from where she stood. There was a trebuchet up this way, not to mention that side gate to the village. If any of the invaders got through those palisades… Barris’s words about Haven’s defenses came back to her. Everything she’d learned in training told her to continue on for orders, but every instinct screamed at her to stay where she was.

And if their attackers were mages…

Lysette reached for the small pouch at her belt. She’d already taken a double lyrium ration this morning, but she’d burned through most of that in the assault on the Breach. And this was an emergency.

There was a sudden outcry of agitated voices on the other side of the gate. To her relief, Lysette heard Ellana Lavellan’s low voice cut through the discussion. “I know, but we can’t leave this spot undefended. One of you will have to stay.”

Lysette approached, and the Herald looked up. Her large eyes reflected the torchlight oddly.

“I’ll help here. You get to Cullen," Lysette told her. "He’ll know what we can do, Maker willing.”

“Right. Stay here—but Creators, I pray your help isn’t needed.” Ellana turned away, gesturing to her companions. Her leather coat flapped in the sharp wind.

“I pray the same.” Lysette hesitated, then added, “Good luck, Herald.”

Everything seemed sharper. More in focus. Lysette felt more awake with the lyrium singing in her veins. More alive. The words of her trainers echoed through her mind as she paced back and forth, alert to every detail of her surroundings, readying herself for attack.

Don’t look at a mage’s staff. Always watch their eyes.

She could hear the unmistakable sounds of battle from below. The creaking of the trebuchets and the echoes of distant impacts. Shouts, screams, grunts. And then covering it all, overwhelming sound such as she’d never heard. It reminded her of a rushing river, or the sea in a storm. The ground beneath her seemed to shake. It went on and on, and then it was over. Her ears rang.

The first thing to break the silence was a flurry of frantic whinnies. Lysette realized she was only a few yards above the stables. Someone should have let the animals loose, she thought with a strange calm. A tentative cry went up, and Lysette clenched her teeth.

If you see signs of demonic possession, strike instantly for the neck.

But—no, it was good news; the soldiers outside the wall were cheering, and the people of Haven were responding from her other side. Lysette’s heart was beating fast, but her breathing remained steady.

But the celebrations only lasted a moment. The whinnies of the horses below turned to screams. Lysette took a few steps backwards before she felt a wave of heat such as she’d never imagined. She leapt away from the palisade and stared in disbelief as the wall of sharpened logs began to fold inwards.

The moonlight was eclipsed by an enormous shadow that took to the sky. That shape.… For an instant, for the space between two breaths, Lysette forgot when and where she was. She felt as detached from herself as if she were floating in the Void.

Then there was a crash and a shout from her left, and the palisade gave way in a burst of red flame. One, two— in the darkness she couldn’t tell how many dagger-wielding figures leapt through the gap and over the rubble.

Honor is for chevaliers. Templars have a duty to survive at all costs, lest the Circle be overrun.

She raised her sword.

“I defy you!" she snarled.


When the rush of sound had passed, Adan leapt to his feet and lifted a hand to shield his eyes, straining to see over the palisades. “Avalanche," he said hoarsely, turning back to where Minaeve crouched over the pots outside the workshop. “Looks like it took out most of the—”

Minaeve’s gaze shifted suddenly from Adan’s face to something behind his shoulder. The look in her eyes made his stomach drop, but before he could turn to look, she whispered, “Get down.”

“What—?”

“Get down!”


Pella had always taken pride in being a fast runner, but so heavily laden and with fire surrounding her on every side—if not for the fear of the Maker that dragon had put into her, she wouldn’t have been able to do it. But these supplies needed to go to the chantry.

The heavy knapsack jostled as she ran. The neck of her blouse was too wide; the rough canvas straps dug into her bare skin. Pella tried not to look at the flames that rose into the night from the tavern below. Maker, she hoped Flissa was safe. She hoped everyone was safe.

They weren’t, though. The moonlight and the burning buildings made it easy to find her way—and all too easy to see the horrors of the village. She passed one crumpled, broken body after another and tried not to look at them.

The chantry wasn’t even far from the cabin. No more than a hundred yards. But Pella had never felt so exposed as she did there in the moonlight, with the screams and cries of the wounded mingling with the sounds of battle and the screeching of that… what had it been? A fucking archdemon?

Half the roof of the chantry was already a charred wreck, but a Chantry brother—the rude one, Roderick—stood in the doorway ushering people inside. Pella skidded to a halt and swung off her knapsack. She thrust it at the brother, gasping, “Supplies for the wounded.”

He took the bundle automatically, looking startled. “Girl, you’ve got to get in the—”

“No! I’ve got to go back for more. They’re still there.” She turned away before he could protest further. But now she saw the flames were spreading around the back of the apothecary—she didn’t spare time for a curse, just turned and set off to take the longer route past the tavern.

Pella made it a few yards down the path before she was set upon. An armored figure with a sharp blade in each hand lunged for her.

She leapt away with a scream. “Help! Oh, Maker, help!” The figure circled her with an easy confidence. No, it wouldn’t be threatened by her.

And it was right. Pella was no fighter. Her teeth were starting to chatter. She was only yards from the chantry, but if she turned her back on the attacker, she’d be completely helpless.

“Please, holy Andraste—”

“Back!” cried a voice.


Lysette’s sword snagged on her enemy’s ribs and she hissed. She could force it back, but—instinct told her not to. Instead, she released her grip and the weapon fell to the ground with the corpse. Lysette dropped into a crouch. Instinct proved sound: she looked up to see a Venatori dagger plunge fruitlessly into the empty air where her back had been a moment before.

It should have been a killing blow. The rogue took a moment to recover his balance. Lysette took advantage of the opportunity to lunge back and recover her weapon, gripping tightly as she yanked it from the corpse. She retreated a few steps up the slope and focused most of her attention on her new opponent. This one wouldn’t be much of a challenge, but there could be more she hadn’t seen. The crackle of flame that spread down the palisade made it difficult to hear as much as the blood pumping in her ears.

She didn’t think there were more, though. Not yet. Lysette used her free arm for balance as she leapt forward to strike at her opponent’s unprotected face. Fighting humans was different than fighting demons, she’d found. For one thing, she was better at it.

The rogue tried to counter her attack, but she was faster, stronger, and better trained. Flesh split as her blow hit home. Lysette’s arm vibrated from the impact of blade against bone. She was already covered in blood but, Maker forgive her, she felt nothing but a faint satisfaction as the rogue collapsed into a twisted pile. She drew her sword cleanly from the shattered skull.

This was what she had practiced for all those years. This cause, this village, these people—she’d dedicated her life to them, and she would defend them to the death. The cold certainty of that fact gave her strength.

But another part of her mind was worried. The Venatori kept coming. She’d taken down four already. And if she fell here—there were no reinforcements. One templar couldn’t hold out indefinitely. Even a poorly trained cultist could strike a lucky blow. If there were more of them… and where were the mages?

“Lysette! To your left!”

Lysette spun just in time to avoid a fireball to the face.

His sword rippling with lyrium-induced power, Tomas called down a smite that knocked the Venatori mage flat. But the mage retaliated after only a moment with a wall of even greater force that knocked Tomas into the palisade. Swearing, he struggled to his feet while Lysette approached the mage herself.

Her ears went dead as she pushed out a wave of magic-dampening force and ran the man through. She withdrew her blade and turned, ready to help her fellow templar. But she was too slow.

Tomas had been focused on the mage, but it wasn’t a mage that took him down. It was an ordinary rogue with two ordinary-looking daggers who caught him from behind. The rogue’s first dagger swept up at a deliberate angle and caught the gap under Tomas’s breastplate, spearing him like a fish on a hook. With her other arm, she knocked off his helm and slit his throat.

Tomas’s entire body gave a horrible jerk as dark blood flooded the path. He slumped to his knees, his eyes rolling up to meet Lysette’s—was it deliberate? She wasn’t sure—before he jerked again, fell forward onto the ground, and died in the pool of his own blood.

Lysette stepped forward in numb horror, but there was nothing she could do.

No. There was still one thing she could do. Lysette swung her sword heavily at the Venatori rogue. The rogue dodged easily and said something to Lysette with a mocking grin on her face. It didn’t matter what she said. Lysette couldn’t hear over the rushing in her ears.

Her next blow didn’t miss.

Chapter Text

And so we burned.
We raised nations, we waged wars,
We dreamed up false gods, great demons
Who could cross the Veil into the waking world,
Turned our devotion upon them, and forgot you.

—Canticle of Threnodies 1:8

Dust motes floated in the sunlight that managed to stream through the high, barred windows of the classroom where Knight-Captain Sorel paced back and forth.

“Is there anyone here who cannot swim?”

Lysette nodded. So did most of the other recruits, whether city- or country-bred. Water was dangerous, and there was no point getting any closer to it than need be. The Knight-Captain shook his head as if he’d been expecting no better from this sorry lot of children.

Swimming was an essential skill, he told them, and their ignorance was unacceptable. A vulnerability that couldn’t be borne in a warrior. If mages knew a templar might not be able to swim, what was to stop them summoning elemental magic to drown them in a flood?

It sounded improbable to Lysette, but Knight-Lieutenant Briony led them to the dungeons for a demonstration. Standing just out of harm’s way, Lysette and her fellow recruits watched in astonishment as a gawky-looking apprentice performed just that: summoned a flood of water in an empty cell. If any of them had been inside, it would have drowned them where they stood.

And so the lessons began.

Some weeks later, a Chantry sister took that same group of nervous recruits to a rocky beach of the Amaranthine Ocean.

Years afterwards, Lysette remembered her first sight of the waves that rose above her head. She remembered a flicker of doubt that perhaps her tutors had deemed her unworthy of being a templar; that perhaps this was their way of getting rid of her. She remembered the rush of the sea over her body and the sense of being pulled along by forces greater than herself. Forces she didn’t understand and never would.

And she remembered, more clearly than anything else, the feeling of swimming against the current. The breathless panic when her own body didn’t respond to her demands. The gradual realization that the harder she fought, the less she was able to control her course.

But how could she not fight?

 


 

Of all people, it was Chancellor Roderick who came to Pella’s rescue. He didn’t hold out long, but it was enough. A wall of violet light stunned the Venatori rogue as he struck at Roderick’s unarmored thigh. More lights crackled until the rogue twitched on the ground and fell still.

Pella felt frozen in place, rooted to the stone of the Frostbacks. A mage she didn’t recognize stepped into her field of view and whirled his staff in one hand as he examined the fallen Chantry brother. Glancing at Pella, he said, “Must apologize for my compatriots. Terrible guests. Incidentally, if I were you, I’d get inside.” He tilted his head to the carved chantry door.

This time, she took the advice.

Where are they, where are they?

Everyone in the chantry seemed to know what to do except Pella. Soldiers and civilians ran back and forth, hauling supplies to the basement or helping the wounded to make their way downstairs. No one asked her to do anything. No one even seemed to notice her. So she settled into a dusty corner of the nave and fixed her eyes on the door.

The retreat had been called. Everyone in Haven had been told to shelter in the chantry. A white-faced Seggrit had burst in not long after Pella, muttering with wild eyes about mages and archdemons. Threnn had followed. Finally, the Herald and her friends. None of them reported seeing any other survivors—not Minaeve, nor Flissa, nor Adan. I can’t take this. Even Lysette wasn’t back yet, although there had been other templars...

Pella looked away from the door for a moment and found herself in the proximity of a private argument. The Herald’s fair hair was plastered with sweat, and a sword cut swelled and bruised half her face. She was confronting the commander, whose rigid back was all Pella could see from her corner.

“How dare you. I will not leave our prisoners helpless, Commander!”

“And if it’s a choice between our prisoners or our people burning?” he snapped. “Take care, Herald. You won’t want to live with that on your conscience.”

“Cullen, I’m not going to live through the night anyway.”

He froze completely, blocking Pella’s view of the chantry door. She stepped to one side, trying not to call attention to herself, but the Herald’s eyes fell upon her before darting back up to look at the commander. Pella felt a moment of relief that she didn’t seem upset to be overheard.

That relief doubled when the door swung open again with a rush of cold air. But her stomach dropped, shamefully, when she saw a panting Inquisition scout. There was still no sign of the faces she was waiting for. 

 


 

It felt like hours before Cullen called the retreat. Lysette fought the whole time.

The Herald’s party rushed past her up the stairs. Lysette called out, but no one heard her. She even caught a glimpse of what she thought was Erriala, carrying an unconscious elven woman in her arms—but it wasn’t the Herald. The Herald was at the rear. Her staff crackled with an unnatural flame that was brighter than any of the burning buildings of Haven.

Lysette looked briefly to where Tomas lay face down on the path. But there was no time to waste. He was dead, and she had to leave him. She sprinted after the Herald, feeling as if she were in a dream. The smoke made her eyes and throat burn, and her blood-soaked robes slapped against her legs as she climbed the stairs. By the time she reached the top, the Herald was already out of sight, and Lysette paused to catch her breath. Lyrium or no, she was tiring.

The sense of unreality persisted as she bent to wipe her sword on the skirt of her robes—they were ruined anyway—and caught a glimpse of an extinguished fire pit. The one thing in Haven not burning. She raised her head and realized she was standing in the same spot where she’d danced with Adan and the others earlier that evening. How long had it been? She had no idea. Snow was beginning to fall.

Just as she prepared to ask her muscles for one last dash to the chantry, she caught something in the corner of her eye. Something that had Lysette springing back into motion.

The tavern had gone up in a towering spire of flame. A few yards from the door, an armored templar stood over a small, huddled form on the ground. The white light of his sword pulsed as he raised it high for a final blow.

Lysette ran as fast as she could. “Mattrin!” she shouted. “Stand down!”

He whirled to face her, his face twisted with anger and astonishment. “What in the Void—”

She flung herself bodily at him. There was no time for anything else. “She’s one of ours, you—”

“I saw her casting—”

"She’s Inquisition!"

“Are you sure? They said to look out for an elven mage!”

“Not this one! Are you planning to attack every elven mage in Haven to be sure? The Herald, perhaps?” The sarcasm tasted sour on Lysette’s tongue. She knelt at Minaeve’s side and pulled off a glove to take the woman’s pulse. Thank the Maker, she was still alive. Her eyes fluttered open when Lysette rested two fingertips against her clammy throat.

“What? Pella?”

“No. Lysette.”

“Oh.” Minaeve's head lolled back, and then her eyes opened wide and she looked directly up at her. “Lysette. Did you get Adan out?”

What? Where is he?” Lysette didn’t mean to sound so sharp. Part of her regretted it, but that part was nowhere near the surface of her consciousness.

“There was a dragon,” Minaeve said slowly. With the roar of the fires around them, it took Lysette a moment to understand the woman's unfamiliar accent. “We were trapped. I used force magic but I couldn’t... I ran for help but then I heard… there was a templar.” Minaeve was slipping from consciousness again. Her prominent ears looked bloodless in the moonlight.

Lysette looked up at Mattrin, whose expression had shifted from rage to horror. “Take her to the chantry,” she spat.

Mattrin shook his head in a speechless apology. Lysette stood and lifted Minaeve in her arms. She stirred and murmured slightly when Lysette passed her to Mattrin. “Quickly.”

“What about you?”

“I’ll follow shortly. I need to check for more survivo—”

As she spoke, a pleading cry rose from the tavern behind them. Had Lysette been able to feel anything other than a stark, bitter rage, her heart might have sank. As it was, she only said, “That’ll be Flissa," just as the tavern roof collapsed. 

The cry turned to a bloodcurdling scream. A spray of embers flew in every direction. Lysette covered her face with her arm. By the time she removed it, there was no more screaming to be heard.

Mattrin looked as if he might be sick.

“To the chantry, I said!”

He ran, sword in hand, cradling Minaeve’s body with his free arm. Lysette stalked up the hill towards the apothecary in a cold fury.

Somewhere in the back of her mind, she registered the horror of the sights around her—burning trees, crumpled bodies—but she stopped only long enough to verify that none of them were the person she sought. Lysette reached the base of the stairs and… Maker... a pair of pointed ears and a tumble of brown hair. The body lying on its side. She crouched and turned the body onto its back—but it wasn’t Pella. It was someone she didn’t know. His eyes were empty as they stared into the falling snow. Lysette began to straighten.

A terrible screech filled her ears and the sky above her head went black. Lysette let out a string of what was half profanity and half desperate prayer. “Sainté Andrasté, épouse du Créateur…” The archdemon looped and snarled. It aimed a blast of that hideous singing flame, twisting its neck to reach all of the buildings around the apothecary, as if it knew. As if it knew what she wanted to do and was determined to prevent it.

And then it was gone. It hadn’t seen her.

Lysette climbed the stairs. There was no sign of any Venatori now. They’d won. Why linger in a burning village?

He wouldn’t be alive, she was sure of that now. But she wanted to see for herself. She wouldn’t go to the chantry until she knew for sure.

And finally, there he was, a miserable figure crumpled on the ground behind the pallets. The grief Lysette had so ruthlessly submerged drew nearer to the surface. And then she saw the figure shift and heard it groan and in a moment she was there, dropping to an armored knee beside him. He was curled half under the pallet. She shook his arm. “Adan.” 

He whimpered.

Lysette stood up and scanned the courtyard. Adan was injured, clearly, and in the smoke and advancing heat she couldn’t tell how badly. But there was a half-smashed crate of healing potions within her reach. She turned away and scrounged, feeling around frantically for an intact bottle—nothing.

From behind her, there was a cough followed by an incoherent string of syllables. She spun back around to see Adan, semi-conscious and struggling to move away from the pallets. His eyes rolled up to meet hers in vague recognition—she could see the whites around his irises—and he gasped, “The pots—it’s too hot—!”

He was right, she saw with mounting horror. She knew what was in those pots. Half of them were filled with explosives. If they went up—

There was no time for hesitation or caution. It didn’t matter whether it was safe to move him: if he stayed where he was, he’d die anyway. Lysette bent, dropped her sword, and threw her arms around Adan's shoulders to yank him away from the pallets. He cried out and Lysette felt an unexpected resistance. When it gave way, Adan went limp in her arms, and she swore under her breath. But she only had to get him far enough away that—

She managed it. Barely. 

There was a long silence after the explosion. The only thing Lysette could hear was the crackling and hissing of the growing flames—and then the roar of the wind—and then a series of smaller explosions from the apothecary itself. The smell of sulfur rose around them. They needed to get out of this courtyard and into the chantry.

Kneeling on the ground just out of reach of the fire, Lysette looked down at the unconscious man and shook him with increasing force. He twitched and muttered something unintelligible, and Lysette lost what remained of her temper.

“What were you doing?” she hissed in his face. Noticing an ember burning in his mustache, she snuffed it out with her thumb.

He glared up at her with one half-open eye. “Are we dead?” Even half-conscious, Adan sounded annoyed by the possibility.

Lysette found it suddenly difficult to breathe. The smoke was getting worse, it seemed. “We will be if we don't make it to the chantry. Get up.”

“With what feet? I’ve lost my feet.” Adan tilted his chin to look down.

“You have not.” She followed his gaze. “They’re messy, but they’ll do.” She eased him to the ground and stood to pick up her sword. When she returned to Adan's side, his eyes were more focused. He took the hand she offered him with a grunt. 

Once he was upright, Adan seemed to regain some alertness, though he was coughing heavily. “Aren’t I just slowing you down?” he muttered.

“Yes.” Lysette wrapped her arm around his waist for support. There was a way out, she saw; the fire in the bushes behind the cabins had burned down. They could cut around and go directly to the chantry. It would leave them exposed to the archdemon, but only for a moment. Lysette tilted her head to look Adan in the eye.

“We’ve got to run. Ready?”

“Fuck, no.”

They ran.

Chapter Text

Adan made it as far as the chantry before his legs gave out from under him. He hardly noticed the Herald and her companions rushing in the opposite direction with their weapons at the ready.

As soon as the heavy doors closed behind him and Lysette, he stumbled. If not for her painful grip on his arm, he’d have fallen to the bare stone of the chantry floor. Lysette muttered something Orlesian and led him a few steps away from the door. She pushed him back against a wall, pressing her hands flat against his shoulders to hold him upright.

"Adan. Are you all right?” Her dark eyes narrowed as they darted between his own, only inches away.

"No," he said. He wasn’t. His legs weren’t numb anymore; they were on fire where the pallet had crushed them. And the world was growing fuzzy around the edges.

"Maker, I don’t have time for this! Where’s Cullen?" Lysette loosened her grip on his shoulders as she turned away, and Adan slid a little closer to the ground. There was a ringing in his ears. The hubbub of the chantry seemed more distant.

It all became more confused, then. He struggled to process the disjointed images that crossed his vision. The archdemon perched over the thatched rooftops of the alienage, setting the vhenadahl aflame. But he’d been in Rivain during the Blight. His mind confused the alienage and Haven, the crashing avalanche with a storm at sea, and cold—hot and cold together—and burning, tingling like a thousand needles that crept up his arms—his skin was aflame, he realized. He’d never made it out from under the pallet. He was burning to death.

But he wasn’t. It was only the sensation returning all at once to his extremities, numbed from the biting winds of the blizzard. Voices he couldn’t understand, speaking a language he didn’t know. Or was it only Common after all?

A desperate itch at the tip of his nose and the disturbing sensation of being unable to lift his arms to scratch it. Flickering glowlamps, too dim to work by but all too bright when you were lying on your back looking up at them, swinging in the wind. A bitter aftertaste that he sluggishly recognized as one of his own restorative potions. It made him thirsty, and he wanted to beg the strange voices for water, but exhaustion overtook him all at once.

He woke in darkness.

No, not darkness. Shadow.

He was in the shelter of a tent, alone, piled under blankets against a cold draught. It took some time to piece together who he was, let alone where he was or how he’d gotten there.

Memory returned, but it was like remembering someone else’s telling of a dream. The bells of Haven. The pain of being pinned under the pallet. The realization that he was going to die there, roasted like a nug on a spit.

And then a series of even more confused memories. He couldn’t piece together which were real and which were hallucination. A strange, sickening red flame. The sharp edges of Lysette’s armor digging into his back. A streak of grime along her jaw.

Pella, white-faced and terrified, staring at him from over Minaeve’s shoulder. The flood of relief he’d felt to see them both alive. The unmistakable sensation of healing magic. Just enough that he could walk for what seemed like hours through the worsening snow. Rachelle walking next to him and reaching an occasional hand out for support when he stumbled. Shivering—shock. He’d been in shock, and someone had given him one of his own healing potions. He’d resisted. There hadn’t been enough to spare, but...

There had been roaring—another avalanche. Wailing of the wind and the wailing of the refugees. The moans of the wounded—including himself. Brontos heavily laden with a hodgepodge of canvas-wrapped shapes. Had they always had brontos?

And above it all, an overpowering sense of loss that he was afraid to tease apart. What had he forgotten?

Pyres. There had been pyres along the way, too.

Adan raised himself on his elbows and pulled his legs out from under the pile of blankets to examine them. His robes were bloody and torn, but his skin was not. So he had been healed. At least the bones of his shins weren't visible anymore. That was another sight he could have done without.

He pulled the blankets back over himself, fell back on the thin canvas of the cot, and stared up at the ceiling of the tent. He wondered who’d set it up and how long he’d been unconscious. He wondered what in the world they were going to do now.

 


 

The refugees set up their tents according to their place in the Inquisition: templars, soldiers, civilians. Leadership and infirmary tents near the center. But when the work was done and the camp was still, the people themselves drifted out of their factions and clustered together without regard for rank or role.

Everyone except the templars.

Lysette sat before the fire, oiling her armor with aggressive jerks of her arm. Dents and scratches she couldn’t deal with right now, but the blood would make an unholy mess if she didn’t get it out before it dried.

Erriala sat down beside her with a heavy sigh. "The wind’s even stronger now. Where did this storm come from? The Void?"

"Maybe closing the Breach affected the weather." Lysette examined the rag in her hand. In the firelight, it was difficult to tell whether she was getting the narrow crevices of her breastplate clean. There were so many of them.

“Can that happen?"

From the corner of her eye, Lysette saw Erriala look up at the sky. She kept her own eyes on the breastplate and said, "How should I know?”

“You seem to know a lot of things.”

The acid in Erriala’s voice startled her. “What are you talking about?” Lysette dropped the rag and stared at the other woman.

"But your mage friend’s all right. I guess that’s what counts."

It took Lysette’s mind a moment to catch up. "You’re not talking about Minaeve?”

"Mattrin told me what happened. At least you were able to save someone, right?" Erriala looked away with a short, bitter laugh. "Tomas, though, no effort there."

Maker’s breath. “Tomas was already dead by the time I reached Mattrin," Lysette said flatly. "It wasn’t a choice, Erriala. And even if it had been—"

Erriala had been snapping a piece of kindling between her hands. Now she stood up and flung it into the fire. "No? What if that mage had been an abomination? I’ve heard rumors about her, and so have you. Consorting with demons—how could you know? What if Mattrin had fallen too? What if she’d overwhelmed you as well?"

It was a fair question. For all her worries, Lysette had never questioned that Minaeve was the innocent party. "She was a civilian," Lysette said slowly, setting down the breastplate and rising to her feet. "I didn’t trust Mattrin to—"

"You should have trusted a templar, any templar, over some mage! Maker, what’s happened to you?"

Lysette’s temper flared. She didn't bother to keep the contempt from her tone. "I should have let him kill a defenseless woman?"

"If it came to it—yes!" Despite the muffling snow, Erriala’s shout echoed off the valley walls. The surrounding tents rustled faintly as their occupants stirred.

Lysette took a half step back. "No."

"Fuck." Erriala’s face contorted. "They told us being a templar would be hard. I didn’t know what they meant."

"Neither did I."

They stared at one another for a long moment. Aside from the two of them, the fire circle was empty now. Some of the templars had gone to drink with the soldiers. Others had retired. Some were still in Haven, buried under twenty feet of snow.

Lysette turned away with a low, “Excuse me.”

Erriala didn’t say anything as she walked away.

Lysette paced the perimeter of the camp. Even after the heat of the battle and the exertion of their retreat into the mountains, she felt alert. But the camp was quiet, and there was nothing to see beyond the shelter of the pass but billowing white. The moonlight reflected the snow and illuminated the clouds like glowlamps.

She felt grounded in the midst of chaos. In a crisis, she kept a clear head and knew what to do. It was times like these, when no more action was possible, that she dreaded.

Erriala had been right. That was the worst of it. Lysette had trained half her life to reshape her own instincts, but when the time had come, she’d made a judgment call that went against everything she’d been taught. And—this was the crux of the matter, really—she didn’t regret it. Not a whit.

There were at least two hundred survivors in the camp, although that number was shrinking slightly. From where she walked at the southern end of the camp, Lysette could see a handful of soldiers building a pyre for those wounded who hadn’t lasted the night. She should go and see the wounded, but… not right now. Later.

It wasn’t a warm night by anyone’s standards, but compared to the conditions on the hike up from Haven, this sheltered pass felt a paradise. Spring—some spring they had, here in the Frostbacks. Lysette turned her face up to examine the sky, blinking through the icy pellets that bit into her skin. Erriala had been right; no one had expected a blizzard. The sealed Breach seemed as plausible an explanation as any other.

Had it only been that morning they’d closed it? It felt like a different world. Lysette felt like a different person. She resumed her walking, staying as far from the warmth of the torches and fires as she could. There were too many people and not enough for her to do. Everything that could be done before dawn had been done. Animals groomed. Inventories taken. Watches set. Knight-Lieutenant Abrahas had told her there was nothing to do now but rest.

And rest was out of the question.

She needed to eat, though. Hunger came on her all at once. Lysette made her way to the center of the camp, where a tired-looking Chantry sister was taking a careful inventory of the food stores. Apparently Lysette wasn’t the only one feeling the need to do something productive.

“No meals for civilians yet,” the woman told her, glancing briefly at Lysette’s Chantry robes and then back down at her ledger. “Priority for the wounded and those who’ve been fighting. Everyone else has to wait until morning. Don’t want anyone taking more than their share.”

Lysette said, “I’ve been fighting. And I haven’t eaten yet.”

The woman looked up again. This time, her eyes took in the templar insignia on Lysette’s belt. “Ah. Sorry. Name?”

“Ser Lysette.”

The honorific sounded strange on her tongue. How often had she used it out loud? Half a dozen times over the course of a year, perhaps.

The sister directed her to a nearby crate, from which Lysette collected some dry rations. She filled a tankard of water and made her way back to the templar camp. To her relief, Erriala was nowhere in sight. In fact, the camp was nearly deserted. Lysette crouched to feed the dwindling fire, then settled in to feed herself.

It wasn’t an appetizing meal, and she wasn’t sure she felt any better for having eaten it, but it was something to do. She was wiping the crumbs from her robes when she heard the crunch of approaching footsteps and a pair of familiar booted feet came into her field of view.

Lysette rose to her own feet and looked up at Barris.

Neither of them spoke. What would be the point? His face was grim and composed in the flickering shadows, but she knew him well enough to read the devastation in his eyes and the anguish in the controlled set of his mouth. He looked older than the image of him she carried in her head.

He said nothing, just opened his arms. She fell into his embrace and he kissed her with an air of desperation that she echoed without hesitation. His lips were warm; his taste was achingly familiar. After a moment, he pulled back slightly, with an nod to the tents and an expressive lift of his brows.

At that, she did hesitate. Her heart was racing, but she wasn’t sure if it was with passion or agitation. "I... shit. I’m sorry," she said, after a pause.

He dropped his arms and stepped back, his face a bit blank. "Right."

Lysette shielded her face with one hand, avoiding his gaze. "I don’t know what I’m doing." Seeking comfort, perhaps. They were all seeking comfort, wherever they could find it.

Barris took a deep breath, and then reached out a gentle hand and wiped a tear from her cheek. When had that gotten there? "You’re crying."

"What will we do without the Herald?" she whispered.

"We go on. We get these people to safety the way she wanted." His voice broke on the last word, and Lysette reached for him again—but this time he pulled back.

"You know I’m always here for you, but don’t—don’t toy with me, Lysette."

"I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to."

"Back then you said it was only because of the Order," he muttered. "That we couldn’t be together because of the work. That’s not a problem now. So it wasn’t true?"

"It was. I might have felt differently before... Delrin, I don’t know what’s wrong with me." Until tonight, she'd never even considered the possibility of picking up where they’d left off. Evidently he had. "But everything's changed."

He shook his head briefly. "Ah, well. Not to worry, eh? Excuse me." He gave her an affectionate but distant smile and walked back to his tent, ducking through the flap without a backward glance.

Lysette sat back down and stared into the fire, feeling like the worst person in Thedas.

 


 

Someone was shouting. Andraste's arse. Adan wasn't a light sleeper, but under the circumstances—

Adan up and immediately regretted doing so. His head felt as if it'd been stomped on by a druffalo, and the rest of him wasn't much better. He leaned forward, covered his face with his hands, and let out a soft groan. The air tore painfully at his dry throat. If they'd gotten so far as to set up recovery tents, surely someone had left water...

They had, as it happened. Adan discovered this when his shaky hand, fumbling in the darkness, knocked the pitcher over onto the floor where his already-sodden boots sat. Bloody water pooled on the floor of the tent. He swore, voice raspy in his own ears, and settled the empty pitcher back on the crate that was serving as a nightstand. Chantry gear, by the looks of it. They must have been able to get a lot of stuff out of Haven after all.

He dried his boots as best he could before he pulled them on, but emitted a string of profanity at the icy dampness of the leather as he ducked outside. There was no indication of what time it was; with the sky so clouded, it could have been anywhere after midnight or nearly dawn. Somewhat to his surprise, his legs still worked, and he stumbled in the direction of greatest activity. There was snow everywhere, so there had to be water somewhere.

As he walked, his thoughts drifted to his workshop. He'd only just gotten satisfied with the setup; it was a pity to lose it all now. Adan couldn't quite let himself dwell on the thought of his lost research, just yet, so he occupied himself by taking a mental inventory of everything else. If there was an opportunity to rebuild, he'd need to order some equipment from that metalsmith in Rivain—Maker, had Elan left yet? He'd have to send word. And to Ferelden as well.

A cluster of tents to one side caught his attention. It was the templars, he realized as he drew nearer to the glow of a fire circle and a stack of familiar helmets came into sight. He was about to turn and continue to the central camp—he wasn't about to beg a glass of water from a templar—when a familiar figure caught his attention.

It was Lysette, of course. The first thing he noticed was the wave of dark hair hanging over her shoulder. He wasn't sure he'd ever seen her with her hair down before: it was lovely, glinting in the firelight like that. Unfortunately, the second thing he noticed was the fact that she was enthusiastically kissing another man.

Adan averted his eyes, wishing desperately he'd done so two moments sooner, and tried to think of something—anything—but what he’d stumbled across. He felt as if… no, damn it, he wasn’t going to feel anything. He was going to go back to bed, and if he felt a little ill, well, that was only to be expected. He turned back to his own tent. His dry throat could wait.

That was that, then. Whatever fantasies he'd entertained in spite of his better judgement would certainly be put to rest now. There was no justification for the unpleasant physical sensations he was currently experiencing. None. He had as much companionship as he needed; he had friends, family, and anything else... well, he'd done without it just fine for so long, hadn't he?

Anyway, what did it matter? Even after the losses at Haven, the Inquisition was three times the size it had been when he'd first met Lysette after the Conclave. It seemed likely that, wherever the Inquisition settled, they'd be unlikely to cross paths often in the future. He needed to remember why he was with the Inquisition. Of all the things they’d lost tonight, the loss of his foolish fancies should have registered lower on the list of priorities.

But Maker, his heart hurt as much as anything else. His grief at the loss of Haven, his work, poor damn Flissa—it all mingled with the sick feeling that crept down his spine when he remembered the sight of Lysette in the arms of that templar.

If anything, he should be happy for Lysette. He was happy for her, truly. That young templar was closer to her equal than... whatever Adan was.

A middle-aged, elf-blooded scholar with a prickly temperament and the combat skills of a juvenile snoufleur, a voice in the back of his mind helpfully contributed. Splendid.

Adan pushed aside the flap of his tent. He settled himself back onto the flimsy cot. He tried not to remember the softness of Lysette’s cheek under his hand.

Naturally, she came to see him. Why wouldn’t she? The person he last wanted to see in the world at that moment in time.

But her movements were unmistakable, even in the dim light. "Lysette?" His voice sounded hoarse and unfamiliar in his own ears. "That you?"

"Who else?" She crouched down at his side.

"Demons. Venatori. Pella. You look different out of your armor."

"You’ve seen me out of my armor before. I hope I didn't wake you."

He didn’t answer, just sighed and put an arm over his face. "How long has it been?"

"I’m not sure. A few hours."

"What of the Herald?"

She didn’t answer, and he lowered his arm to stare at her. Lysette didn’t meet his eyes. “She went out to distract that… thing. It worked. We got out. Most of us.”

Adan didn’t know what to say. He struggled to sit up, and she put an arm out to help him. He flinched away from her touch, and she drew her hand back as if she’d been burned. "Sorry, I didn’t—"

"No, damn it, I’m fine." He wasn’t fine, he certainly wasn’t, but he wasn’t going to say as much. "Why does the Chantry bother giving you all swords? I swear you bruised my ribs just with that armor of yours."

"You’re welcome." Lysette sat back on her heels and rubbed her eyes. She must have been exhausted.

He cleared his throat. “Fair enough. I was never so glad to have a friend in the templars, I’ll tell you that.”

“Am I?” she asked abruptly, dropping her hand from her eyes. He looked at her in confusion.

“Am I your friend,” she clarified, more quietly.

“I…” Maker, what am I supposed to say to that? “Yeah. If you like," he said, like the ungrateful bastard he was.

She let out a breath. "You must think I'm a wreck."

"Not particularly, no." He didn't say anything else. He hoped she'd leave. He hoped she wouldn't.

She didn't move, and his heart ached all the more for it. Curse it, he'd really come to care for her, hadn't he? And here he was being an insufferable arsehole. She probably thought he resented her for saving his life, and to dispel the thought, he let his tongue run away from him.

"Whose good side did I get on to merit the luxury of private quarters? Or am I just so unpopular that no one wanted to share with me?"

She snorted. "I think you can thank Mother Giselle for that either way. But we're actually better supplied than you might think. The templar camp was out of the path of the avalanche, and we brought up as many supplies from the chantry as we could. We'll have plenty of fresh water once the mages recover enough to help to melt the snow. Food is more of a problem. We can't go back to Haven, we can't move quickly, and we can't feed two hundred people on soldier's rations and the occasional nug. Not indefinitely, anyhow. But I imagine ravens and runners will be sent for aid once the storm passes."

"Where are we moving to? That's the real question." Adan shifted in discomfort. 

"I’m sure our leaders have a plan. And if they don't, the Maker does.”

What would it be like to have the kind of unquestioning faith he saw in Lysette? It made him uneasy. He didn’t disbelieve, exactly, but his conviction in the Maker’s involvement in worldly matters was... variable. And he knew full well that the Chantry was motivated by politics as much as piety.

Still, he couldn’t help but admire her tenacity. At least she had something to hold on to like a raft in this roiling sea of a world. Something she could rely on when all else failed. For his part, Adan felt rather as if he were adrift at that same sea. They’d made it out of Haven, but what would happen now? Without the Herald, there was nothing to bind the disparate elements of the Inquisition together.

She gave him a quick, guileless smile, teeth flashing in the darkness. It transformed her face, and the unexpected sight had his brows shooting up. His chest tightened as he stared back at her and the smile faltered. “I’d better get back to the others,” she said, her voice still low. “But I’m glad you’re feeling better.”

He stayed where he was, but his attention was all on Lysette as she rose to her feet and stretched. She was exactly what she seemed to be, he thought. Was that what drew him to her? An honest, dedicated woman whose natural reserve concealed a deep sincerity. Sincerity—that was the word. If she saw him as a friend, then he’d be her friend. And keep his tenderer sentiments to himself if it killed him.

"Thank you,” he muttered. “You shouldn't have come back for me.”

She shook her head. "Don't be ridiculous."

"You really believe she was Andraste’s chosen, don’t you?"

"I wasn’t sure before. I am now." She stopped speaking and turned her head to the door.

“What is it?” The camp had fallen silent. A total hush. He sat up and craned his neck, but there was nothing to see but snow. Then he heard the strains of a familiar hymn.

“It’s the Herald,” whispered Lysette. “The Herald’s come back to us.” Adan looked up at her. At the expression on her face, the words he’d been about to say died on his tongue. He felt as if he were intruding on a private moment, but he couldn’t look away. She was transfixed, transfigured—Maker, she really did believe.

And in that moment, at least, so did he.

Chapter Text

Arbor blessing is a useful vine that is notoriously difficult to cultivate, as if it had a mind of its own. The wind often carries its miniscule seeds for great distances from the parent plant.

See arbor blessing in spring, and you shall not grow hungry in winter.

—An excerpt from The Botanical Compendium by Ines Arancia, botanist

"Did you sleep at all?"

Lysette took the steaming kettle off the embers without answering Mattrin's question. In contrast to Erriala's cold shoulder, Mattrin had begun treating Lysette with unwonted respect. His blue eyes were swollen and bloodshot in the dawn light.

"No," she said finally. "Not really."

Mattrin looked down at the dwindling fire. They'd made it out of Haven with enough fuel and food for a few nights in the wilderness, but not much more. Whether the wounded were ready to move or not, the Inquisition would break camp in two hours and begin a slow northward march.

But as much as Lysette knew she needed to save her energy, she'd only spent a few hours in her tent after the Herald returned. She hadn't even been able to lie down. Her hands wouldn’t stop shaking. So she'd only sat  upright, there in the darkness, listening to the howling wind without.

Kettle in hand, Lysette ducked into the designated bathing tent. She'd already cleaned and oiled her armor, but she was still wearing her filthy robes and undergarments. She hadn't realized how gruesome a sight it was until the sky had lightened.

She washed as best she could with the melted snow. Dirty water streamed with a hiss onto the ground at her feet. Andraste preserve her, it was cold. Her body was beginning to ache, although she'd hardly felt anything last night. She'd pulled a few muscles, by the feel of it. But she was alive, she realized with some surprise as she used the last of the hot water to rinse the grime of battle from her hair. She was alive.

Lysette dried herself and donned a fresh Chantry robe, courtesy of the Therinfal templars' supplies. It was similar to the ones she was accustomed to, although the color was different and there was a warm hood attached. This high up in the mountains, she could hardly complain about that. She pulled on her padded cuisses, appreciating them for their warmth as much as their protection, and then the remainder of her armor. It still smelled of polish. Her thin leather gloves were in a sorry state after the battle, but she'd cleaned them as best she could.

She gathered her things and returned to the nearly extinguished fire, trying not to shiver despite her damp hair. The mountains to the west had taken on a soft pink glow. If she hadn't been calculating the risks of frostbite and exposure, Lysette might have thought it a beautiful sight.

And if it hadn't reminded her quite so much of the image, fresh in her mind, of bloody water staining the snow.

 


 

Adan sat on an upturned crate just outside the center of camp. The smell of roasting meat from the cookfires wafted in his direction, but he ignored it. He was busy. He’d laid claim to a small trestle table, the kind the soldiers took on campaign, and was using it as a makeshift potions bench.

Rachelle had carefully doled out their scanty supply of potions the night before, but even so, there was hardly anything left. A handful of restorative potions, some raw elfroot, and a few odds and ends from his belt pouches—a sad showing, compared to the fully stocked apothecary they'd had in Haven. Adan tapped a finger on the edge of the table and frowned.

He yelped, more in irritation than surprise, when a pair of slim arms flung themselves around his neck from behind. “Damn it. You’d better not try that with anyone else, girl. Most of these people are armed."

Pella released him and sat on the crate at his side. "Hopeless man. Breakfast?"

"This box isn’t big enough for two. Get your own. How's Minaeve?"

"It’s fine; I won’t be here long. She’s sleeping." Pella handed him a plate.

He raised a brow at it. “Eggs?”

“Chickens survived Haven. Threnn’s about to wring their necks, I think. Best enjoy the eggs while they last.” She held up a hand as Adan opened his mouth to speak. "Don't bloody say it—I know you don't eat over your work. Make an exception."

Adan narrowed his eyes at her, but made short work of his breakfast while he continued to examine the motley array of supplies laid out before them. He was, after all, only taking inventory.

Meanwhile, Pella was saying something about Flissa. Adan put his plate down hastily when he saw that there were tears on her cheeks. Shit.

"She was going to join the Chantry. Did you know that? I feel so selfish. I—when I first got to Haven, I was all by myself. She was the only one who cared until..." Pella buried her face in her hands. Her shoulders shook, making her ears quiver in turn. "I should have checked the tavern. I should have helped her."

"Hey. Pella." Adan rubbed at his aching forehead. “You got those supplies to the chantry. That alone saved a dozen people last night.” Including me, probably. He cleared his throat. "I think Flissa would be proud of you."

At that, Pella looked up, a glint of amusement in her damp eyes. "Are you proud of me, Adan?"

He winced. "I’ve been injured. Have mercy."

"Never."

"Yes, I'm very proud. Tell your mother."

Pella laughed out loud, but her eyes widened as realization struck her. "Oh, Maker. She'll kill me when she hears about Haven."

"No, she'll kill me."

Pella looked down, fussing with the cuffs of her wrinkled blouse. Then she burst into tears.

Adan looked at her despairingly for a moment and then held out his arms. "All right, let's have it." Pella grabbed him tightly and sobbed into his robes.

"You tit,” she said, voice muffled. “Don't scare me like that again."

She pulled away before he could compose a suitable response, glancing past his shoulder to—“Lysette! Maker’s breath. Minaeve told me what happened.” Adan turned, nonplussed.

Lysette seemed taken aback by Pella’s sudden embrace, but tolerated it with better grace than Adan had. And then Pella was gone, bounding back to the crowd of people standing around the cookfires, leaving Lysette and Adan to stare at one another as if in the wake of a very small tornado.

He was the first to break the embarrassed silence. “She’s, ah… enthusiastic.”

The corner of Lysette’s mouth turned up slightly. “She's holding up well, all things considered. I apologize for interrupting your conversation.”

“I cannot thank you enough for interrupting that conversation.”

“I hadn't realized she was so close to Flissa.” Lysette walked over and bent her neck curiously over the potions Adan had spread out. She looked different, and it took him a moment to realize she was wearing her armor over a strange robe. It looked like the ones the Therinfal templars wore.

“I knew, and yet I didn't even consider how Pella would feel about it until now.” Adan shook his head.

“Don't blame yourself for that. I'm surprised you're even awake. You had a rough night.”

“Not as rough as you. All I did was hide. Badly.” He ran a hand over his scruffy face and peered up at her. “Do you need to loom over me like that? Have a seat.”

She complied. “Are you working already?"

"Hard to sleep in these conditions."

"Yes. It's too bad about the workshop. How much did you lose?”

He glanced away and jerked one shoulder in a hopeless gesture. It was all he could manage.

“I'm so sorry.”

He didn't meet her eyes. “Lives are more important.”

“You're right. And I just overheard you tell Pella how many lives you both saved by getting those potions to the chantry.”

“Fair enough," he said more lightly. "I wasn't just trying to reassure her, you know. She’s a brave little thing.”

“I know.”

“So are you.”

“A brave little thing?" She gave him a look, and he rolled his eyes back at her.

“Brave, I meant. How are you feeling after your—well, it wasn't your first battle, was it?"

“No. But it's true that last night was the first time I...” Lysette trailed off, staring down at the table. He thought he understood.

“It wasn't demons this time."

Her eyes remained fixed on the table. "No. They were human.”

“I know,” Adan said grimly. “Human and attacking us.”

“It didn’t bother me last night. But some of those Venatori wore shackles. Did you notice?"

“Maker.” He let out a white puff of breath in the chilly air. “No, I didn't. But it doesn't change anything. You did what you had to do—admirably, by the sound of it.”

"You don't look down on me for it?"

"Look down on you? I'd be a blasted hypocrite if I did. I'm… grateful that there are people like you who can do what needs to be done. Even more so that there are people like you who remember that those you oppose are people, too.” It was hard to choose his words when she was staring at him like that.

“Have you ever killed anyone?” she asked.

“Directly? No. Indirectly?” He shook his head, but it wasn't a denial. “You know my specialty, Ser Lysette. Just since Wintersend I've made the Herald a dozen batches of explosive grenades. I harbor no illusions that they go into the world only to fight demons and darkspawn.”

He picked up one of the small glass bottles and rolled it between his fingers, feeling the warmth of the tonic within. “But we do what we must. No doubt it’s naïve of me, but I’ve always believed one person could make a difference. And even if one person can’t, they have the moral obligation to try.”

“That’s exactly what I’ve always thought,” Lysette said with rising passion. “Exactly. I’m nothing, nobody, but I want to help. I want to make things better. I wish… I wish…” She shut her eyes and drew in a breath. She was close enough that he could see the slight spasm of her lips.

“I understand. I—” He hesitated. But his secrets weren’t only his to tell, no matter how much he wanted to.

“You don’t have any regrets?” Lysette opened her eyes and locked an unblinking gaze on his.

"Not about that. Plenty of others, though.”

“Tell me some.”

“I regret not bringing a second set of clothes out of Haven."

"I meant—"

"I know what you meant. Of course I have regrets.” She smiled suddenly and he groaned. "And you still want me to tell you about them. All right. I regret..." He trailed off, trying to think. "For one thing, I was a bit insufferable in my younger days."

"Only in your younger days?"

"Maker, woman, do you sharpen that tongue along with your sword?"

She propped her chin on one gloved hand and grinned at him. "Only on special occasions."

"And here I am baring my soul to you. No, but really, I was a bit of an ass when I left Denerim. Thought I knew better than everyone else." He reflected a moment longer. "Didn't."

She lifted a brow, but let him continue.

"Hurt a few people along the way. Nothing terrible, but… you know. Just your typical cocky youngster." He noticed Lysette's gaze sliding towards where Mattrin stood in line for his breakfast and snorted. "Not that bad, Maker be praised. Now tell me. What’s all this about Minaeve?”

Lysette explained, a bit haltingly, what had happened when she found Mattrin outside the burning tavern. Adan whistled. “Maker's balls, I'm glad you were there," he said.

But Lysette looked suddenly troubled, her jaw tightening.

"What's the matter?"

"Erriala took me to task over it last night. I'm still a bit on edge."

"What? Why?" He leaned forward, focusing intently on her face. She looked weary, the shadows under her eyes giving her a haunted air. She was too young to be so unhappy, he thought dismally, though he knew well enough that youth was no defense against heartache. "Don't tell me she thinks the unarmed apprentice was the threat in that situation."

"Of course she does.”

“Templars!” Adan was disgusted. "You should trust your own instincts more."

She laughed shortly. “I don't think they’re sound.”

“I do,” he said.

Those dark eyes were so sad it made his heart ache. “She was right to be upset. We lost Tomas, you know. And several others."

"Damn. Sorry to hear it."

“It could have been any of us. Or all of us, if the Herald hadn't done what she did.”

“I'm glad it wasn't you.” He paused. “Not least because I'd never have made it out myself.”

Her eyes were still fixed on his, and he looked away uncomfortably. He needed to change the subject. “You never did tell me the tale of how you became a templar.” There was no reason he couldn't ask her that. They were friends, weren’t they?

“It’s not much of a tale,” she said. “I wanted to serve. I still do.”

“But why the templars? Why not the Chantry proper, if it was a question of faith? Or the Wardens, if you wanted to defend people?”

“I suppose because it was both of those things.” She gave him a sidelong glance. "And I don’t like darkspawn. Why do you ask, Adan?”

“I’m a hopeless busybody. Ask anyone.”

Lysette lifted a brow in mild derision—which was, frankly, deserved—and he sighed through his teeth. “Honest curiosity. You've led an interesting life.” Eloquent flattery indeed.

But her eyes softened. “No one begins templar training thinking it'll be exciting. Well, maybe some people do, but it's made clear early on that you should hope it won't be exciting.” She straightened the edge of the blanket he'd spread out as a tablecloth. “I wonder sometimes if I'm cursed. Wherever I go, whenever I make a decision, trouble seems to follow.” At his murmur of dissent, she shook her head. “I know. It's self-indulgent to think such things.”

“Hardly. I'll tell you truly, I feel the same way half the time. When I was a boy I wished I were a mage, so I’d be taken to a Circle and stop bringing bad luck to my family."

"You wanted to be a mage?" She blinked. To be fair, it probably wasn’t something she’d heard anyone say before. Not in her line of work.

"Yeah. Might be why I got into alchemy—seemed the next best thing."

Her brows drew together in puzzlement, and she looked about to ask another question before the crunch of footsteps broke the snow behind Adan. It was, of course, that templar—Ser Barris, he amended; he really should start thinking of the fellow by his name—who gave a polite nod to them both. “Hope you've breakfasted,” he said to Lysette. "We're due back in ten minutes. Walk with me?”

"I’ll have to leave you,” said Lysette, glancing back at Adan. "Time to break camp."

Adan shrugged. “I've my own work to see to," he said. 

“Maker go with you, then.”

Adan didn’t look up to watch them walk away. There was no reason to torment himself any more than he already was.

 


 

They didn't make it far that first day, but it was a start. The Herald's return had given the Inquisition a spark of hope that it had sorely needed. That hope grew as the days passed, but there was no denying that the journey was a sorrowful and exhausting one. Still, it could have been worse. The blizzard the night they'd withdrawn from Haven had been the last gasp of winter. Each day the sun dawned warmer, and by noon on the third day Lysette was almost uncomfortable in the thick woolen robes under her armor.

And she had finally gotten some rest. Both lyrium and the excitement of the battle had receded, and the long days had her nodding off as soon as she settled into her bedroll each night. She took guard shifts on the mage prisoners, helped carry the wounded, lashed bundles of weapons and provisions to the smelly brontos. For every mile the civilians walked in those first few days, she suspected the combatants had walked three.

Matters improved further a week into their progress. Runners had been sent to the Inquisition’s allies, and those allies had moved with remarkable speed to provision the battered organization. And it had become a strangely companionable migration. People mingled as they walked. The slow pace meant that they could gossip about their comrades, complain about their burdens, or speculate about their destination. The scouts had found a location where they could regroup and resettle. No one knew much about it yet, but the collective mood grew more optimistic as they made their way through the winding passes of the Frostbacks.

Despite the constant presence of other people, Lysette was lonely. Erriala and Barris both kept their distance. Pella kept her company, sometimes; Lysette was relieved by the girl’s continued good spirits and her reports of Minaeve’s improved health.

But Adan was avoiding her.

There was no escaping that conclusion when, every time she caught his eye, he seemed to fall into a suddenly urgent conversation with Rachelle about whether Rivaini or Antivan dragonthorn was the better all-purpose plant. They’d exchanged a few words here and there, but the closeness they'd shared before and after the battle seemed to have dissolved into the thin mountain air.

Lysette hated it. She felt... she must have offended him with her behavior, and that worry nagged at her even as she went about her work. Falling all over him like a fool girl—it wasn't enough he'd seen her a weepy mess that night in his cabin, was it? No, she'd had to go and flirt and make eyes at him, without a thought for what he would think or what she even wanted.

What did she want from him, anyway? Erriala's words of weeks ago had come back to her more than once over the last few days. Her embarrassment was at odds with her desire to restore the odd friendship they'd established. She wanted to hear his thoughts on recent events. She wanted to make sure he was all right.

Right now he was walking alongside Pella, only a few yards in front of her, but Lysette wasn't about to pester a man who wouldn’t even come say hello. Still, her eyes traced the back of his head with worry. And then her face went hot when he glanced back and met her eyes.

She looked away. What did it matter what he thought of her? One of these days she needed to examine the reactions she was having around that man and what they implied, but when the future of the world depended on the Inquisition making it to safety, Lysette had to focus.

She gave it more than a week. Ten days, in fact. A perfectly reasonable length of time.

He'd agreed they were friends, after all. If he hadn't meant it, or had only agreed to placate her, well—then he should be an adult and tell her so. If he wasn't going to come to her, she'd go to him.

So one afternoon, with the sun glinting brightly off the snow that still dusted the rocky slopes, Lysette steeled her back and scanned the crowd for Adan. He was walking by himself near the front of the caravan. The Inquisition leaders weren’t far ahead of them, but there was no one else nearby; as good conditions for a private conversation as she was likely to find, these days.

Adan looked at her inquiringly when she drew up alongside him.

"Are you avoiding me?" she asked bluntly.

He blinked. "Well. Not exactly."

"You are." Her heart sank. "I thought—" She stumbled over her words, but continued doggedly on. "I don't have many friends these days. And if I’ve done something to offend you—"

"Maker. Of course not." He looked horrified, and the tightness in her chest loosened a fraction. "That's the last thing I wanted you to—oh, sod it. Don't mind me. I've just been rather lost in my thoughts since Haven. You’re fine." She fell into step beside him, relief making her heart beat faster.

“You always know how to make me feel better,” she murmured.

“That,” he said, “is not a sentiment I hear often.” The sunlight slanted across his face, which was somewhat less well-groomed than usual. He was hardly alone in that; shaving equipment hadn’t been anyone’s priority in the desperate flight from Haven. His mustache hid his mouth and she couldn't interpret the expression in his eyes, but she was intrigued by the fact that they were a warm brown, lighter than her own. She hadn't really noticed before.

She had noticed his scars, though. After a Blight and a half dozen wars in this Age, it wasn't unusual to see a scarred face, but the pattern that marked his features looked almost deliberate. But she wasn't about to ask, not now when the balance of their friendship had just been restored.

As they walked, they fell back into the familiar rhythm of comfortable conversation. It was just like all those quiet afternoons in the apothecary after the Conclave. Lysette was more relieved than she wanted to acknowledge to find herself back on the old footing with him. 

“You’re limping,” she observed with some concern. “Weren’t your legs healed after Haven?”

“Oh, I’m fine.” Adan glanced down at his feet. “Just all over blisters. There’s not much life left in these boots.”

“Nor mine. None of us were equipped for this kind of trekking.”

He grunted. "I've gone soft. Spent the first half my life barefoot, or near enough."

Lysette lifted a brow at that. "You did grow up poor."

"Still am," he said amiably. "Though not like that any longer, thankfully."

"Heads of state don't pay well?"

"Well enough for the likes of me, but I've got responsibilities. Family and all."

She nearly lost her footing. "Family? You mean—what, children?"

He looked at her in equal surprise, then barked a laugh. "No, not that kind of responsibility, Maker be praised. My mother, actually. I've got the old woman set up well enough now, but for a time there after the Blight..." He grimaced. “A few years back I bought out her house from the landlord scum who’d been extorting her for years, so that’s something.”

“That was good of you. What part of Denerim are you from?”

There was the slightest of pauses before he replied. “We lived a few places. Near the market, for a while. Nowhere worth visiting. What about your family?”

“We lived in the market district too. But I wasn’t there long before I left for templar training.” The sun was growing warmer, and she appreciated the breeze against her forehead as they topped a ridge behind the Herald. “It’s just your mother, then? No other relations?”

“A few cousins here and there.” He lifted a shoulder. “Had a cousin in one of your Circles, actually. Neria. Made Tranquil a long time ago, and no idea what’s become of her since. Probably just a skull on a stick now.”

Lysette swallowed and waited for the wave of nausea to pass. The air up here was thin and it took more than it should have to fill her lungs.

“I could ask around,” she offered quietly. “What’s your family name?"

“Surana.”

A few steps ahead of them, Lysette saw Commander Cullen stop dead in his tracks. The Herald turned to look at him with evident concern, but Lysette’s attention was elsewhere.

“Surana? Isn’t that an elven name?”

“It is,” he said.

“Oh.” She swallowed again. Her mouth was suddenly dry.

“You can ask. It’s not a secret.” Adan gave her a sidelong look. “Yes, my mother is an elf. She still lives in the Denerim alienage—probably to spite me.” He snorted. “If an Orlesian occupation and a Blight weren’t enough to convince her to leave, why would she listen to her son?”

“She could come to the Inquisition, once we're settled.”

“She could, but she won’t. Stubborn old woman.”

Lysette covered her mouth to hide an involuntary smile. Adan, correctly interpreting her thoughts, barked a laugh. “Don’t say it. You’re not exactly malleable, my girl.”

She held up her hands in mocking acquiescence. Adan stared back at her with an expression she couldn't read. Lysette wondered again if she’d offended him, but he only cleared his throat and continued. “Anyway, it was my mother’s stubbornness kept us both alive after she lost my father. She had to go back to the alienage, of course. It wasn't easy for her. So you see how—” his tone shifted, turned biting in a way that made Lysette's blood run cold—”someone like me might think a Circle a promising prospect, even at the risk of ending up like my little cousin.”

Lysette's thoughts were in a whirl. They walked several paces more before she could manage a low, “I'm sorry.”

“No, blast it, I didn't mean—” Adan lowered his brows. “The Circle appealed because it would have given me a set path for the future. It sounded fantastical when I was young—to spend all your time in study, living in comfort, never having to question your place in the world? I could hardly imagine anything better.” He shook his head. “I was always an outsider in the alienage. It was made abundantly clear to me that I was there on sufferance, and my mother put up with a lot after coming home with her tail between her legs.

“For all that, it wasn't as tragic as you're probably imagining. I was looked after. I was cared for. It wasn't easy, but how many people have it easy?" Adan shrugged. “People in the alienage look out for one another. And it wasn’t like I was the only shem kid there, either; there were always one or two of us about. But most of us don't stay.

“And no, I never married. Most of my cousins had arranged matches, but there was never a question I'd be among them. Meanwhile, my mother did—well, a bit of everything, really. Watched people's children. Cleaned their homes. Full-time service wasn't an option for an elven widow with a child, but she found clients and went to them. I used to go along. Sometimes to help. Sometimes just to sit with her and the kids while I read. Wish I’d helped more, though.”

“It sounds like you've done all you can,” said Lysette cautiously. "Giving her a home and all.”

“I've been lucky. Need to put that luck to good use. Doesn't make me a good person to do the bare minimum." He scratched his face. "And it's not as if I'm good for much else. I don't visit near as often as I should. You may not have noticed, Ser Lysette—” the mocking tone was back, but gentler than before —“but I'm not what you'd call a demonstrative person.”

“Pella is demonstrative enough for both of us, I think.”

“Too true. Speaking of—where’s that girl gotten to? She and Rachelle were making noises about taking a detour in search of elfroot. Hope they haven’t been eaten by a bear. Else I’ll be needing your services in the apothecary again.”

“Maker forbid.” Her heart was beating entirely too fast for comfort. Adan rubbed his lower back, scowling, as he took leave of her and turned to set off for the rear of the caravan.

Lysette watched him go, trying not to stare at his retreating form like a lovesick girl. Her mind was a jumble of thoughts and emotions, but one thing was clear as day.

Maker, she needed to think.

Chapter Text

9:18 DRAGON

It wasn't Duncan's first time through these gates, but he was always a stranger here. A pair of sour-looking men leaned against the wall and spoke to one another in an undertone, shooting his Warden-Commander's armor unimpressed looks. Duncan couldn't blame them for that. The armor was brand new and hadn't seen battle, although he himself had seen more than a few.

He addressed his guide, a heavily pregnant young woman with blonde hair tucked behind her pointed ears. “Is he an honorable one?”

She scratched her elbow and considered. “Meris's boy? Doubt he's Grey Warden material. And if you're looking for honor, you've come to the wrong place.”

“I don't mean a bit of petty crime here or there. Don't let the fancy armor fool you. I know what it's like in places like this. No, I mean—is he trustworthy? Loyal?”

“Dunno.” She eyed him dubiously. They continued on into the alienage.

The boy Duncan had come to meet was perched on the front steps of a dilapidated row house, reading a book and tapping the end of an ink-stained quill against the step.

Duncan stood and watched him for a moment. The lad was fully absorbed in his reading. He perused the pages in silence, but every so often, he dipped his quill to scribble a few words in a battered notebook at his side.

He was a scrawny one. Underfed, no doubt. Still, tall enough to mark him as human—or rather, half-elven—and just about the age where that'd start to cause problems for him. Or, Duncan thought as the boy looked up, already past it.

A criss-crossed pattern of what looked like sword cuts—if Duncan was any judge, and he was—covered his face. The wounds were recent: they’d scabbed over, but some were still inflamed. One eye was nearly shut with bruising.

Duncan walked over to introduce himself.

The boy, Adan, looked suspicious. “What d’you want with me, shem?”

“I’m a shem, eh? What does that make you?”

“Damned if I know.” The boy turned his head away with a grimace. “Sorry. I don’t want any trouble.”

“Good thing. Neither do I. Actually, I’ve come to you for help."

Over the next hour, Duncan laid out the details of his offer. Full training, room and board, with the understanding that Adan would enter Maric’s service in due course. There was a long list of duties that he'd be expected to fulfill, but otherwise he'd be free to do as he liked.

Adan watched him warily, but Duncan had no trouble recognizing the eagerness the boy tried to hide. “I’d have to ask my mother,” he said.

“Of course. How old are you, lad?”

“Fifteen.”

“Right. Go on then. Hey, wait.”

Adan turned, scrubbing a hand over his scruffy dark hair, and looked at Duncan expectantly.

“What happened?” Duncan gestured at his face, but it wasn't necessary. Adan knew what Duncan was asking.

“Shems.”

Duncan nodded a brief apology. No surprises there. The boy gave him a sardonic grin and scampered up the rickety staircase of the tenement.

 


 

9:41 DRAGON

Skyhold, Adan had to admit, had been an impressive sight.

From a distance.

He stood ankle-deep in mud, scowling at the collapsed roof of the stone cottage earmarked for a new apothecary. It was a ruin, really, but there was good stone buried beneath that layer of decaying wood and bird droppings.

It almost brought back memories of the alienage to see things in such poor repair. Of course, no one in the alienage would have left such a pile of valuable building materials lying around.

Adan had long since accepted the contradictions of his existence. By the time he'd joined the Inquisition, he'd spent as much of his life rubbing shoulders with royalty as he had going hungry in that walled slum.

Looking back on it now, Adan hadn't given Maric enough credit for his savvy. It was true that the king had wanted to train up a trustworthy alchemist. No ruler with a lick of self-preservation wanted an incompetent or disloyal person in that job. A single accident could spark a succession crisis—not to mention considerable personal inconvenience.

But Adan had been chosen for more than one reason. Maric had an interest in the condition of the alienage. “Spy” wasn't exactly the word for what Adan had been; “liaison” was the term Maric had used, and as a young man Adan had enjoyed the sense of importance it gave him. He'd maintained his ties to the elven community and advised Maric at the first whispers of unrest or discontent. And in return...

Well, there was only so much that even a king could do. And for all that Maric was a decent sort, his priorities lay elsewhere. There was little hope of fundamental change in the alienage system. But the king’s attention was valuable, and for years Adan was in a position to direct it. When famine nipped at elven heels, a merchant might appear with an unexpected shipment of wheat. When an elven youngster found themselves in trouble, a discreet transfer to Highever might be arranged.

But then Maric had disappeared.

If Cailan had been less of a callow fool, Adan might have considered remaining in his service. Instead, he left Ferelden altogether. It was the first time he'd had the freedom and the means to do as he liked, and he’d had plans.

Nowadays, as far as Adan was concerned, he was a researcher and an apothecary in the employ of the Inquisition.

Anything else was just… repaying a debt.

Adan turned at the sound of crunching gravel. Pella made a face at him as she picked her way through the wreckage. “This place is a mess,” she said. “I can't even get to half of it for all the rubble.”

“Perfect. No one else will want it.”

I don't want it.”

“When you're in charge of potions for an entire bloody garrison, you can decide where to put your own bloody workshop.” Adan folded his arms and stepped back to admire the site.

He’d been wrong. Someone else did want the cottage, and she confronted him with all the subtlety of a hungry mabari. She also wasted no time criticizing his education, demeanor, and scientific philosophy.

“No medical training?”

"No." Adan scowled. He'd done his best, damn it. He hadn't asked for any of this.

“Hm.” The surgeon glanced over the temporary potions table he’d set up in the great hall. “A bit messy, isn’t it?”

"Untidy, not messy. It's an important distinction." He was becoming annoyed.

“A common justification of the slovenly,” she said cheerfully. “Now if—”

“If you have a complaint about my hygeine standards, take it up with the Herald. I’ve claimed that cottage. This place is enormous. Build your infirmary in the dungeons for all I care.” He stood up and headed for the closest door. “If there’s nothing else, I really need to get to work.”

Adan strode away, hardly noticing where his steps took him. It was probably unwise to antagonize the surgeon, but Maferath's balls, she'd started it. And her opinion on the humours was just—

He stopped when he rounded a corner and found himself in an open courtyard.

Now this

This was something.

 


 

If Lysette thought the journey to Skyhold had kept her busy, she was soon looking back fondly on those long days when she'd had nothing to do but put one foot in front of the other, however heavy her load or how bitter the breeze.

The templars hardly sat foot in Skyhold before setting out again. The same day the Herald took up the mantle of Inquisitor—a memory Lysette thought she would carry to her dying breath, unless lyrium took it from her first—Cullen organized them into patrols to sweep the area around the fortress for threats. At least this time they had horses.

Lysette was ashamed of her relief not to be sent with any of her old companions. Instead, she found herself with a group of templars from the Free Marches under the command of Knight-Captain Rylen. They'd all been in the Hinterlands during the attack on Haven, but had joined the caravan to Skyhold a few days into the journey.

One of the patrol was a young woman from Starkhaven, Ser Belinda Darrow. Lysette hadn't spoken to her much before, but over the days in the wilderness, they formed an easy friendship. Belinda was only a year or two younger than Lysette and had taken her vows around the same time. Her temperament was cheerful to the point of absurdity, but oddly enough Lysette found it a breath of fresh air.

The women rode side by side, chatting idly, until the steep approach to Skyhold required them to dismount. As they led their horses up the incline, Belinda mused, “Funny to think the future of the Order is people like us. I feel like a bloody fraud.”

“Not just the future. I heard Barris is getting his own command.”

Belinda squeaked and clapped her hands together. Her courser turned his head with a snort and she hastily loosened the reins, giving the animal an apologetic pat. “Oh, Barris! Good for him. You know, everyone thinks you and he are together?”

“Maker, do they still?” Lysette shook her head and stroked a hand along her own horse’s neck. “We're not. So if you're asking if he's available, it's really not for me to say.”

“Oh, he's a handsome one for sure, although I tend to prefer the ladies myself.” Belinda grinned back at Lysette. “You're not on the market, are you?”

“No. Sorry. Watch your footing.”

“Ah, well, never hurts to ask.” Belinda guided her courser neatly around the jagged rock. “So who's the lucky person, then?”

“I'm not with anyone right now,” Lysette said, struggling with the sensation that it was only a half-truth. It was a simple statement of fact, and yet it felt dishonest when she could hardly pass an hour without thinking of… well, of a man who’d responded to her slightest overtures by avoiding her for a week. Lysette wasn't about to chase after someone who'd made his feelings clear. It was only fair to him that she get her own feelings under control.

“So sorry for prying. I'm such a busybody.” As if to prove Lysette's anxieties well-founded, Belinda's remark reminded her of the time Adan had uttered similar words. Of course, his inflection had been entirely different. Lysette's lips twitched upward in spite of herself. No, it wasn’t Barris who occupied her thoughts these days.

Fortunately, Belinda didn't inquire further, and her chatter drifted to other topics. She pointed out a blossoming apple tree, and a passing cloud that reminded her of a kneeling Andraste statue she'd once seen in Starkhaven, and a number of other frivolities that had Lysette blinking. But it was a relief not to have to sustain the conversation.

Finally, they reached the tip of the incline and the shoes of a dozen horses clattered on the narrow bridge that led to Skyhold’s gates. The last time they’d approached, Lysette had been astonished by the view. This time, she hardly noticed it. She had a destination in mind.

Although draughty, the chapel smelled strongly of mildew. Someone had laid a carpet at Andraste's feet, and the wool was already sodden from the rain that slanted through the open windows at just the wrong angle. But it was the first place since leaving the Order that Lysette had felt at home. The tension left her body as she knelt before the altar; the clank of her greaves was muffled by the damp rug, and she slipped gratefully into a familiar reverie.

Dawn broke at different times across the mountain fortress. From the battlements, you could stand and watch the sun make its full progress across the sky. In the lower levels, the sun made only a brief appearance when at its highest point. And here in the presence of the Maker's Bride, the light was always present but never overpowering, waxing and waning so gradually you hardly noticed the change. There were precious few candles to be had at Skyhold. Even so, several had already found their way here. The scent of embrium and wax clung to the damp air and filled her lungs as she took one long, slow breath after another.

The flicker of the holy candles against the gilded fragments of their holders brought Lysette back to her childhood in Orlais. Incense and close-packed bodies in the chantry. Dim, shifting shadows and draped fabric. And laced through it all, the words of the Chant—words that danced and echoed in her mind, words she'd sing softly to herself in the darkness of her mother's house while the watchman's hobnailed boots clattered on the cobblestones outside.

Not unlike the clattering she heard on the roof of the chapel now, in fact. Lysette rose to her feet with a last lingering glance at the broken statue. Peace and quiet would be hard to come by during Skyhold’s renovations. At least she'd had one brief moment of respite. All her troubles remained, but now she felt as if she might be able to face them.

She gave no more than a passing glance to the person rustling around in the dirt outside, but when the figure straightened and called her name, she spun around.

And then she cocked her head. “What in the world are you doing?”

For once, Adan gave her a broad grin and not a sarcastic retort. “Gardening.”

“I see. Where's the garden?”

“You pain me. This here is a right beauty. Old courtyard garden, Tevinter style. Look at that old cistern—you'd have beds radiating out from the center…” He went on to describe the numerous features that—apparently—made this location so interesting and unique.

It looked like a pile of rubbish. Still, Adan’s enthusiasm was infectious, and Lysette found herself smiling as he walked her through his plans with more genuine delight than she’d ever heard him express.

"You seem relieved to be off infirmary duty."

"Honestly, you've no idea." He let out a faint snort. "Although I already had a run-in with the new surgeon. I think she hates me."

“How could anyone hate you? You're so polite and gracious.”

“And you, my girl, are lying.”

“I don't lie. It's against my moral code.” She crossed her arms.

“Oh, of course. What else is on the list of forbidden pleasures?”

“Only what you’d expect. Frivolity, frippery. You may have had a run-in with the surgeon, but I had a run-in with Madame de Fer. She said I looked like something the cat dragged in and that I was a disgrace to my Orlesian heritage.”

Adan's gaze flicked down her body briefly before returning to her face. “You look the same as always to me.”

She shot him a wry glance and wiped a spot of mud off her left vambrace. “How are you going to make time for these grand plans with all your other duties?”

“I'm stepping back from potions work for a bit. Or I will be, once my friend gets here from Rivain—Elan, you'll like her—and we can divide the work between us. The Inquisition's big enough now and we've enough staff that we can specialize.” He contemplated a half-rotted barrel and bent down to examine it more closely. Behind the barrel was a patch of wild spindleweed, and he let out a satisfied grunt. “It's true I lost a good bit of my research in Haven, but this place has potential that Haven didn't.” He cleared his throat and glanced up at where she stood over him. “Beg pardon. I'm sure you're not interested in all this.”

“It is interesting. I just don't know much about it.”

“No more than I know about whatever your comrades were up to in the sparring ring this morning. All that clashing and yelping. Don't know how you stand it day in and day out.” The grumbling was half-hearted; Adan was clearly still in a good mood.

“Is the Herald—I should say, the Inquisitor—inclined to let you take charge of her garden?”

“As a matter of fact, yes. And not only was she fascinated by my plans—” he lifted a brow at Lysette, to her chagrin—“she's offered to bring back seeds and cuttings from her travels. Since we've got the Inquisitor playing errand girl all over Thedas, might as well get something useful out of it.”

“Closing the rifts isn’t useful enough for you? I can’t imagine you want demons in the garden.”

“Hmph. Demons couldn't be worse than the nugs. Do you know how much these things eat?”

“No.”

“Too much. Bloody pests.” He shooed one away from the spindleweed. “Away with you, serah.”

“I like them,” she said, surprising herself with the admission.

“Do you?” He glanced up again and laughed. “If I’m honest… I like them too. Don’t tell Pella.”

Lysette watched the nug scamper away, its tail twitching. “I never saw one until after the Blight. I wonder why they decided to come out of the Deep Roads?”

“That... is a somewhat disturbing thought. One crisis at a time, please. We’ll send Her Worship after the nug plague once she’s dealt with the darkspawn magister.”

It wasn’t raining now, but the fog blanketing Skyhold wasn’t much better. It was as if a cloud clung to the mountain—in fact, that was probably exactly the case. With a thoughtful look at the gray sky, Lysette retreated under the colonnade and folded her arms.

“Afraid you’ll rust?” Adan called over the shrubbery.

She found herself grinning at him again and hastily schooled her features. She didn’t want to make him uncomfortable. But Maker forgive her, it was good to see him.

He straightened with a grunt and followed her under the colonnade, taking a seat on the ancient wrought-iron bench next to her. “You could sit, you know,” he offered with a glance up at her, and slid to the other side of the bench. “Many people find it more relaxing than standing around like a statue.”

“Those people haven’t spent the last week on the back of a horse.” But she unfolded her arms and accepted the seat, trying to keep her breathing even at his sudden proximity. Maker’s breath, where had this come from?

He'd found new robes, she saw. But he’d kept the same belt pouches, one of which he flipped open to extract a quill, inkwell, and notebook. The leather cover of the book looked stiff and unused, but he balanced the unwieldy objects with the ease of long practice.

She reached out a hand to tap the spine gently. “New?”

“Had to be, didn't it?” He didn't look up as he carefully recorded whatever thought had come to his mind. The pen moved in quick, jagged strokes to sketch what looked like a diagram of possible garden plots. “Lady Montilyet was kind enough to share her writing supplies.”

“Oh. Of course.”

Lysette examined the back of his neck as he bent his head over the notebook, then let her gaze fall to his hands. He was intelligent, she'd always known that, but it was astonishing to see the speed at which he worked out his ideas on paper. It gave her a pang to remember that, on top of everything else they’d lost at Haven, he’d lost his work. She was no scholar, but it wasn’t difficult to imagine that he must mourn the loss.

Lysette stayed under the roof of the colonnade as she made her way back into the main hall, where she was greeted by a loud exclamation from Erriala. Her fellow templar had been pacing the faded carpets. “There you are! Where in the Void did you get to?”

“What? It’s not time to report in, is it?”

“Not that. Commander wants to see you. Down the main yard.” Erriala looked away. Matters wouldn’t be improving there, it seemed.

When Lysette made her way to the foot of the enormous staircase, Commander Cullen was leaning forward over his papers. His arms were braced on the edge of the makeshift desk and he looked like he'd aged a decade in the past fortnight. Nevertheless, he looked up at Lysette's approach and answered her salute with a brisk nod. "Lysette. Good. I have an assignment for you."

"Of course, ser." The unexpected summons was a surprise, but she was careful to maintain professional composure. The wind picked up and caught the edge of her regalia, making it flap in the breeze, and for a moment she envied Cullen his Inquisition armor.

"We're sending that mercenary band the Herald picked up, the Bull's Chargers, back to Haven on a recovery mission. I'd like you to accompany them. Possibly Darrow as well, but certainly you."

Lysette blinked, and Cullen let out a short laugh. "I want a templar presence on this mission. Leliana tells me there may be rogue mages in the area. But." He met Lysette's eyes directly. "I'll be blunt. There's an apostate in that mercenary band, too. I don't want to rub that fact in the faces of the templar conscripts, so I need people whose loyalty to the Inquisition isn't in question."

It took all of Lysette's training not to let her surprise show on her face any more than she already had. The breeze was a helpful distraction; it lifted and ruffled the papers on the desk into disarray, so she stepped forward to help straighten them as the commander continued.

"I'm sure I can rely on your discretion. Frankly, it's a terribly kept secret—" he let out a breath that was very nearly a sigh—"but it's one thing for me to look the other way, and another thing to provide official sanction."

"Understood. When should I be ready?"

“Talk to the Iron Bull. You'll report to him for the duration.” Cullen's face was inscrutable. “I believe you'll find him near the tavern.”

"Thank you, ser."

"Good luck—and send Lavellan over my way, would you?" He nodded to the other side of the courtyard, where the Herald of Andraste appeared to be deeply interested in a mud puddle.

Lysette didn't know that either of them had the authority to send the Inquisitor anywhere, but an order was an order.

 


 

The days that followed were strange ones for Adan. He had plenty of things to keep him busy, even while the new apothecary was under construction. The quarters he’d chosen were in even worse shape than the apothecary cottage, and the garden itself—well. It was already Bloomingtide, and if they were to see any results by autumn, the work had to begin immediately.

This was the reason, he mendaciously assured himself, that he found himself trudging down the stairs to the garden before dawn most days. Nothing to do with the fact that Lysette had a habit of stopping by the chapel around the same time. It wasn’t as if either of them sought out the other. If they happened to find themselves in same spot with a few minutes to spare, it was only natural to sit and talk a bit while the mist cleared and the sun rose.

And if it was a pleasure, so be it.

It was eye-opening to hear her perspective on the Inquisition and its future. Lysette was as stubborn as she was idealistic, but far from a closed-minded fanatic. If her loyalty to the Inquisition hadn't proven that, the thoughtfulness with which she approached the world would have done so. Every new idea was examined carefully from all sides before being set in its proper place. If anything, she was more open-minded than he was.

He thought she had some affection for him. No, that was unfair. He knew she did. But that wasn’t the same as… Maker, it hadn’t even been half a year since the Conclave, and yet he could hardly remember a time when he hadn't wanted her. Despite his determination to maintain what was left of his dignity, whenever she looked up to meet Adan's eyes, his pulse pounded in his ears. But if she was with that templar, there was nothing for it. Adan had been down the path of jealousy before and had no inclination to repeat history.

None of that meant he couldn’t enjoy her friendship. And it was a friendship, for all they seemed on the surface to have little in common with one another. Neither of them were the type to open up easily, and yet he found himself telling her truths he'd never intended. Perhaps it was the very differences in their backgrounds that made it easier to speak freely about matters big or small.

She'd always felt she was too tall and ungainly, until she entered templar training and found herself dwarfed by nearly everyone there. Adan had chuckled and told her he'd felt the same way growing up in the alienage; the only difference was he'd never gotten over it. And since he'd smacked his forehead once on the doorframe of the apothecary, Pella would never tire of taking gleeful digs at his height.

He told her more about what it was like being elf-blooded in Thedas; how differently people treated him if they knew, and how freely he could move through the world if they didn’t. How he felt part of neither elven nor human society. How much worse it had been in Orlais, where people just like him were enclosed in the alienages with their elven brethren—and his guilt that he'd found this so horrifying, when it wasn't as if the elves themselves were any better off in Ferelden.

He even found himself describing how different things had been in Rivain, and how near he'd once come to settling there permanently before his research had led him elsewhere. So she told him of her shame over what had happened at the Circle in Dairsmuid, even though she herself had never so much as crossed the Waking Sea.

In return, he told her of his own shame: how he'd tried to leave the alienage behind and live his life as if he'd never heard of the place. How he'd gone years without visiting home and how his mother, whom he'd never seen shed a single tear, had sobbed when he finally did.

Lysette talked about what it had been like growing up in the shadow of the Blight. She'd been in Denerim during the final battle; he hadn't realized, but of course she would have been. She spoke of it only briefly, but the sad tilt to her brows… well, he began to wonder just how far back that pain went.

And she talked about the people in her life. Her commanding officer Arielle, whom she'd looked up to, and others she’d known who’d been lost at the Conclave or in the war. The people you trained with were closer than family, she said. After all, they’d known each other since they were children. She didn't mention Barris, and he didn't ask.

Against all the odds, they carried on meeting, and each day he was more grateful for those brief moments of companionship.

One morning, a week after Lysette came back to Skyhold, she mentioned that she’d be leaving soon on another journey. He interrupted his own string of complaints—trouble with glassware shipments and the new quartermaster, Morris—to look at her in some dismay. “Where to?”

“Back to Haven, of all places.”

It was the brightest day of the past week, and Adan squinted in the sunlight. Perhaps they were finally moving past the dampest part of spring. That'd be good for the rashvine, although he'd have to take a care with the spindleweed. “When do you leave?”

“Tomorrow. We’ll be riding, so it’ll be a quicker trip than the last time.” She shifted in her seat on the gazebo steps with a faint grimace.

“Is that bad? I’d think it’d be better than walking.”

“Just sore.” She ran a hand over her hip, somewhat to his discomfiture. “I’m out of shape.”

“Out of shape? I’d hate to imagine what you’re like in shape.” As if he hadn't spent too long imagining her out of that armor already. 

“For riding, I meant.” She chuckled and stretched her arms over her head. “I’ll have to get used to it again. Too much time lazing around in the garden. Sometimes I think I should have left templar training when I had the chance and done something easy like druffalo herding.”

"Do templar recruits ever leave before taking their vows?"

"Of course. The king, for one."

“I forgot about that.” Baffling to think that man was Maric's son, but he’d heard the resemblance was uncanny.

“It’s true it doesn’t happen often. If someone does leave, it’s usually in the first year of training. Recruits from noble families are the likeliest to go, but even then… most stay within the Chantry anyway." She shrugged. “It is—or was—an elite order. I imagine the Chantry wasn’t enthusiastic about putting in so much time and expense only to benefit some mercenary company in the end.”

“What about leaving once you become a full templar?

“You mean like I did?” Her brows drew together, and he regretted the thoughtless remark. “Until recently it would be nearly unheard of for a templar to leave after taking vows, unless they were sent away.” She grunted thoughtfully. “The officers here were the first of any rank I knew of to do so. Although I heard something about a Knight-Captain at the Spire. But everything’s different now; even if the Order hadn’t been disbanded, there are hardly any officers left.”

“No one could have been promoted?”

“Oh, probably. I can think of a few. There's Delrin Barris.”

“Ah.”

“It's still odd to think of him as part of the Inquisition. I never thought I’d see him again after he was called for his vigil.”

Past the lump in his throat, Adan said, “Oh?”

“We were—well, it feels like a lifetime ago now. It’s strange. You know I nearly left the templars for him?”

He just stared at her. It was all he could manage.

“He asked me to marry him. It's not often permitted, and one of us would have had to leave training. It was only when he offered to give up the Order himself that I realized how absurd it was." She shook her head and turned to look over her shoulder at the empty gazebo. “I’ve always wanted to help people. For a time I nearly convinced myself that the best way to serve was to… I don’t know. Marry and settle down. Tend to one good man instead of guarding a dozen.”

“I can’t imagine you making a decision like that just to please someone else.”

“You don’t know me very well, then.” She was still looking away, so Adan’s mortification went unnoticed. “I did care for him. I still do, in some way. But sometimes I wonder… it’s an ugly thought, but I’ve told you how my mother wanted me to marry well. She thought I was selfish for wanting to join the templars. I’d never give her grandchildren, never have a home for her to join me in one day.”

Lysette turned back to face him, her expression unreadable. “Delrin’s noble. A younger son of a minor family, and as a templar he couldn’t have inherited anyway, but still a catch from my mother’s point of view. I’m disgusted the idea even entered my head. I knew he liked me, and I liked him well enough. And we had many things in common.

“But under it all I must have thought perhaps—perhaps it would be possible to please everyone at once, and I could support the cause I believed in another way.” She shook her head. “I was young.”

“You still are.”

“Younger, anyhow. We still get on all right, but... I don't think I would ever have been with him if not for how everyone seemed to expect it.”

“What, fraternization in the ranks?”

The corner of her mouth turned up slightly. “The Chantry doesn’t worry about that as much as you might think. Serious relationships are discouraged, as I said, but it’s expected that people will—” she waved her hand in a slight gesture— “well, fraternize.”

“Especially recruits, I’d imagine.”

“Especially recruits.” She glanced at him out of the corner of her eye, the faint curve still on her lips. “Was it really so different in the places where you studied?”

Unexpectedly, he found himself laughing. “I suppose not. Get enough young people together in one place, eh?”

“Not just young people.” Lysette grinned back at him, her nose wrinkling in that endearing way she had that made an appearance so rarely. “I saw the Herald outside the commander’s new office yesterday blushing like a piece of polished dawnstone.”

“Maker’s breath. Don’t they know there’s a war on?”

“Better than the rest of us, I should hope.” Her face fell back into its usual serious lines.

They sat in silence for a moment. Adan watched the unfurling leaves of the maple trees sway in the breeze and filled his lungs with the bright air of spring. Finally, he asked, “Would you really have left?”

“Not for that.” Lysette laughed shortly and looked down at her hands. “Just as well. I’d have made a terrible wife.”

He didn’t really have an answer for that. Furthermore, he didn’t entirely trust himself to speak on the subject. “When do you set out?”

“First light.”

He regretted it the moment he arrived. There was really no way he could pretend to be here for any other reason, at this spot on the battlements at this hour. He could only thank the Maker he’d caught her in the company of merely a single other templar and not a whole troop.

“You came to see me off?” Lysette sounded stunned. As well she might, he thought sourly. Her eyes were wide and dark in the first rays of dawn. Adan swallowed and cursed his traitorous heart for its racing.

“Yes, well,” he muttered gruffly. “Wanted to make sure you—” The redheaded templar at Lysette's side looked at him curiously. Andraste preserve me.

Adan handed Lysette a jar of liniment, trying not to drop it in his perturbation. She took it automatically but with evident confusion.

“For your trip,” he muttered. “Since you're out of shape for riding. It'll help the soreness.”

“Thank you,” she said. She didn't look at the jar. Her eyes were fixed on his face.

Adan gave both templars a curt nod and hurried away, resolving not to turn around. But he only made it as far as the top of the stairs before he weakened and looked back over his shoulder.

She was still there, turning the jar over in her hands, watching him go.

Chapter Text

Here, I decree
Opposition in all things:
For earth, sky
For winter, summer
For darkness, Light.
By My Will alone is
Balance sundered
And the world given new life.

—Threnodies 5:5

"So," Belinda said cheerfully. "The fellow who came to see you off. Was that the lucky person you're not seeing?"

Lysette narrowed her eyes at her. They were only just past the training camps below Skyhold; the fortress was still visible to the north. She rode one of Dennet’s horses, a dark bay gelding by the name of Hector. Belinda rode—and chattered—at her side. "I did not see a thing. I will not say a thing. I'm learning to keep a leash on my tongue, you see. Is it working?"

"It seems to be a long leash."

"The apothecary, eh? Hm. You could do worse."

"Belinda..."

"I'm sorry. I'm only teasing. I know you'd never really be interested in the—" Belinda collapsed into giggles and then straightened in her saddle. "Oh, but you should see your face. You can't decide what you're more outraged by. Bit of a grumpy bloke, isn’t he?”

“Usually. But he means well.”

“You're a perfect pair then, aren't you?”

“I'm not grumpy,” said Lysette, faintly insulted.

“You certainly aren't a ray of sunshine.” Belinda reached out and patted her arm. Her horse's ears twitched, but the animal was accustomed to its rider’s antics. “It’s all right. Between the two of us, we average out to one normal templar.”

"Oh, yes, good thing we've got you fine ladies here to protect us," called Rocky from the path behind.

"Fine ladies, my arse," said Belinda cheerfully. "Well, I can't speak for Lysette—she seems quite ladylike—"

Lysette snorted. "You're closer to a lady than I am, Ser Darrow."

"You've got a vicious tongue, haven't you?"

Their banter seemed to put the other Chargers at ease. They were a professional company, and it showed, but more than one of the people they rode with had given their templar regalia a skeptical look.

“It’s too bad we’re missing Summerday,” said Belinda, flitting between ideas as she was wont to do.

“We’re not missing it. It’s Summerday here just the same as anywhere else.”

“Oh, don’t be so literal. You know what I mean. I thought it even bigger than Satinalia where you’re from.”

“You mean Orlais? I suppose so. I lived in Ferelden for a long time.”

“I forgot.” She turned her head briefly to squint back at Skyhold. “You’ve still got the accent.”

Lysette shrugged. “My mother thinks I sound shockingly Fereldan. Or she did, last time I saw her. It’s been a few years.”

“Not close to your family?”

“Are any of us?”

Belinda laughed. “That's fair. I’m not very close to mine. I've got a brother I keep in touch with; that's about it. How about you? Any siblings?”

“A half-sister I haven't met. And a half-brother who died in the Battle of Denerim.”

“Oh, no. I'm so sorry.”

“My family came through better than most. Some parts of the city were nearly wiped out.” The alienage had been one of them. Lysette thought briefly of Adan. For all it had taken her breath away to learn he'd grown up there, it… fit with what she knew of him.

“People think I’m naïve, and maybe I am,” said Belinda. “But I've seen a lot. Blood magic and things. I was only a recruit, but I went to Kirkwall to help the recovery. They needed as many hands as they could get.”

“Is that why you joined the Inquisition? What you saw in Kirkwall?”

“Part of the reason, maybe.”

They might both have said more, but there were already too many ears listening.

Lysette should have been more suspicious when a Qunari, a Tevinter, and a Dalish apostate ranked among the more respectable members of the company, but there was no denying that the Bull’s Chargers knew their business. They traveled easily and efficiently through the Frostbacks.

She'd had her concerns about accompanying such an odd assortment of mercenaries, but the Iron Bull took the time to reassure Lysette. If that was what you'd call it.

“We’ve got all sorts in our company. Templars, ex-templars, whatever you are— that’s a novelty.” One of the Chargers snorted faintly, but the Iron Bull ignored it. "And you’ve got discipline. I like that. Carry your own weight, and you’ll have no problem with me. Can’t speak for all my people… but I’m sure Krem will keep an eye on you.” He gave Lysette a friendly slap on the arm. It was the same gesture templars often exchanged, keeping clear of the angular pauldrons. A deliberate act to put her at ease—or to remind her of her place, perhaps.

She struggled to understand the way the Qunari wielded his authority. Certainly, templars could be casual or crude with one another, but that behavior was almost entirely limited to those who shared a rank. There was no teasing one’s Knight-Captain the way Krem did the Iron Bull, and no Knight-Captain would have allowed their men half the liberty the Iron Bull seemed to.

Yet she'd heard the Chargers maintained cohesion on the battlefield and worked as a seamless unit off of it. And it seemed the mercenaries were trusted to work out any interpersonal conflicts themselves—or perhaps the Iron Bull simply trusted Krem to handle those matters.

Indeed, the Bull’s trust in his lieutenant was the current topic of discussion from up the path. The men rode several yards ahead; the Qunari had a massive draft horse of his own that made the other mounts look like ponies. Despite the distance, Lysette could hear them clearly. Shouting seemed to be their normal mode of conversation.

“I’d think you’d trust us to handle a little mission like this one on our own, chief.”

“’Course I do. But I’m not about to pass up the opportunity to kill something. Besides, boss won’t need me for a bit. She’s taking Blackwall to Crestwood.”

“Yeah? Heard there was a dragon in Crestwood.”

“Don’t rub it in, Krem.”

“You make me nervous sometimes, you know that?” Krem turned his head and caught Lysette's eye. “Hey, templars! We'll split up to sweep the next few miles. Want to make sure there's nothing nasty lurking in these caves. You, Orlais, with me. Starkhaven, with the Bull.”

By the time they made camp on the second evening, the riding was catching up with her. Lysette settled her horse for the night, had a bite to eat, and made her way to the fire. She winced as she sat on the bare ground.

An elven man pulled out an instrument, a small bowed lyre with twined carvings. It looked Dalish, although there were no markings on the man’s lined face. He left the bow aside and plucked idly at the strings. The notes were in an unfamiliar scale, or perhaps the lyre was simply out of tune, but they shaped a haunting, meandering air that drifted through the crackling of the fire and the laughter and conversation as the mercenaries relaxed for the evening.

Lysette’s head began to droop, and Belinda noticed. "Tired?"

"No."

"Yes, you are. Silly ass. Get some rest. You can take my watch shift tomorrow."

In the tent, Lysette stripped to her shift and gingerly lowered herself to her bedroll. Aches and pains were nothing new. She'd spent half her life in a sparring ring. She covered the lantern, leaving a gleam of light, and settled back. Maker, she was sore.

Her gaze shifted to her pack, and she eyed it without moving. A long minute passed, then two. Finally, she sat up with a groan. No point in making a martyr of herself. They'd be on the road for days yet.

Adan did know his potions, she had to give him that. The jar was warmer than she'd have believed possible without magic had she not caught a strong whiff of embrium. The liniment itself tingled and danced pleasantly on her skin as she dipped a hand into the jar. She rubbed the stuff into her own sore muscles and sighed, fingertips pressing deep into the back of her thighs. For just a flash she imagined his hands instead, large and clever and surprisingly gentle—and Andraste's sweet mercy, she was in trouble.

She dropped her head back onto the blankets and let out a faint expletive.

He'd come to see her off. The thought rattled in her mind like a loose marble in a chest.

Adan had never given her reason to believe he felt anything more than friendly affection for her. He'd called her "lovely", once. But that hardly meant anything when she'd heard him use the same word to describe a particularly potent phial of demon essence. Even if it were true, he wasn’t the kind of man to be swayed by beauty alone… and what else did she have to offer him? She wasn’t brilliant or witty or charming. She had a sword. She had her faith. And she had vowed that they would be her life. She had thought they’d be enough.

Adan was a closed book to her in so many ways. He wasn't like... she didn't know anyone else like him, really. And simple attraction wasn't the same as whatever she was feeling now. Even if he did feel something for her in return—as her eyelids grew heavy, she admitted the possibility—that didn't mean he wanted to act on it. Or that they were looking for the same things.

But as slumber took over, her thoughts slipped out of her control and drifted back to a mountaintop garden, to the sun rising over the eastern peaks and to the man who watched it at her side.

She woke with a gasp, hand fumbling for her philter. Créateur, Andrasté—

It took a few more breaths to realize she was still alone in the tent. The camp was quiet aside from the low flicker of the fires. Belinda must be taking her turn on the watch.

She swallowed and pressed shaking hands to her face. Maker. She'd dreamed of Tomas. He'd stood only feet away, his eyes wide and pleading and meeting hers with growing desperation. But she was frozen in place, helpless—and then she could move—and she did, she lunged forward, but not fast enough to save him. He collapsed in her arms and it wasn't Tomas, after all.

She stood and pulled on her robe to go back outside. She wouldn’t be getting back to sleep for a while.

 


 

Skyhold felt big enough to breathe in. Haven had been cramped closer than a Circle, with the Breach an omnipresent reminder of all that could go wrong at a moment's notice. It had never felt safe to Minaeve.

This was different. This was better. She'd made it here, and Pella had made it here, and for all she might have doubted the divinity of the Herald, Minaeve thought they had a better chance now than at any time since the Circles had fallen.

And the library was nice, too.

It was with this unfamiliar giddy feeling giving a spring to her step that she pushed open the door leading to the garden. Adan was working at a potting bench along the far wall. He didn't see her, and she would have preferred not to have to interrupt him, but there was no sign of Pella. She'd have to ask.

At her greeting, Adan looked back over his shoulder. "Eh? Oh, hello. Just a moment."

Minaeve crossed her arms and waited for him to finish whatever he was doing to the embrium. It only took a moment before he stood, brushing damp soil against already-grubby robes, and lifted a bushy brow at her. "Looking for Pella? Haven't seen her either. She was supposed to be sterilizing jars, but—"

"I'm here, I'm here!" Pella hurried down the stairs. Her brown hair was piled on top of her head, more than a few strands coming loose and clinging to her sweaty cheeks, and the neck of her blouse was lopsided. As usual. And as usual, Minaeve’s stomach jolted at the sight of her. But she only said, "You're late."

"I know I'm late. I'm always bloody late. Adan, letter for you—Minaeve, can we stop at my quarters on the way?"

Adan examined the letter but then looked up with a start. "What? Where are you going?"

"It's Summerday. A holiday. You said I could leave early."

"Oh, for the love of—"

"See you later, Adan." Pella caught Minaeve's arm and steered her away with an exaggerated air of subterfuge.

"Did he really say you could leave early?" Minaeve asked once they were safely out of earshot of the glowering apothecary.

"Probably. I don't remember. But neither does he."

"You should have asked him along."

"I adore your sense of humor. Among other things."

"I'm just glad you're not my assistant,” said Minaeve. They turned into Pella's quarters. She had a small room off the upper level of the great hall, hardly more than a storage closet, but it was private and comfortable. Minaeve settled onto the bench by the window while Pella fussed with her hair in a tarnished looking glass over the dresser.

"So am I. How are the Tranquil settling in, by the way?"

"Well enough. Helisma appreciates being able to work directly with the Inquisitor."

"How can you tell?"

"I ask, Pella."

Pella turned to face her, looking hurt. "I know that." She came back to join Minaeve, pulling her feet up and sitting cross-legged on the well-worn upholstery.

"Sorry. I didn't mean to be sharp. I just meant—they're still people. They don't want to be uncomfortable any more than you or I do.”

"No, I'm sorry. I know you respect them. And I should, too."

Minaeve turned sideways and lay down, settling her head in Pella's lap and looking up at her face from below. The afternoon sun streamed through the leaded window and set the curve of her cheek aglow, downy hairs catching the light like so many sunbeams.

Meeting Pella had been so... unexpected. She was witty, empathetic, bold—everything Minaeve wasn’t, in short, and she had been astonished the day Pella had cheerfully proposed a walk around the grounds of Haven’s chantry. One thing had led to another, and somehow, Pella’s frequent visits to her office had led back to her quarters and then to a fragile, unspoken sort of commitment that was the last thing either of them had thought to find under the eerie, wounded sky.

"You seem happy," Pella whispered as Minaeve's eyes drifted shut. Her warm breath tickled Minaeve's eyelids.

"I am. After Haven, and everything that's happened... it feels wrong to be so happy, but I am."

"It's not wrong." A gentle finger stroked Minaeve's cheek. "Don't ever apologize for that. I'm so glad you're feeling hopeful. I worried—"

Pella's voice caught, and Minaeve opened her eyes to look up at her.

She sat up hastily when she saw the moisture on Pella's lashes.

"Oh, Maker, Pella, don't—"

"I'll cry if I want to," Pella said with a hint of her usual humor. "You were ill for so long, and I know you have bad dreams, and I've been worried sick about you for—"

Minaeve couldn’t help it; she leaned in and kissed her. Pella's arms came up to twine around her neck. “Are you sure you want to go downstairs?” Pella whispered.

"We'll be late for the feast."

"Haven't you heard? I'm always bloody late."

It was some time later that Pella murmured, “I’m glad you survived Haven.” The room had darkened with the setting sun, but neither of them had yet bothered to light a lamp.

"You can thank Ser Lysette for that.”

“I wouldn’t have to if that prat of a templar hadn’t taken you for an enemy. I don't know how you could stand those people watching you all the time.”

"The templars? I grew up with them. They were there to keep us safe. And to keep other people safe from us."

"That's nonsense. You wouldn't hurt anyone." Minaeve tensed slightly, and Pella didn’t miss it. "I'm sorry, I’m running my foolish mouth again. You don't have to talk about it if you don’t want to."

"I know." Minaeve fell silent as she considered what to say, absently threading her fingers through Pella's hair.

Pella sighed. "That feels nice."

"Hm? Oh. Good. I was just thinking. It must sound strange to you. And maybe I should be more angry. But most of the templars were fine. Decent, like Lysette. And I know if…”

“If?” Now there was an edge to Pella’s voice.

“If I became an abomination, she wouldn't hesitate. And that's a—Pella, I tell you, it's a relief. I don't want to hurt anyone. That's what I fear, not death or Tranquility or anything else.” Pella had gone rigid in her arms, but Minaeve had to explain. “And someone like Lysette… well, I don't think she'd do it unless she had to. I hope not, anyway.”

"That's sick. It makes me sick to hear you talk this way. You're not a danger to anyone, Minaeve.”

“But I am," she said, desperate for her to understand. "I'm not even a powerful mage, but I could kill you. Kill a dozen people without even trying. Without the templars here, I might take out a quarter of Skyhold before anyone took me down. Is it right that I spent my life confined and under guard? I don't care. At least everyone was safe that way.” As safe as they could be.

Pella eased herself out of Minaeve’s grasp and sat up, swinging her legs over the edge of the cot to rest her feet on the faded carpet. “It doesn’t make sense. I’ve heard stories, and of course I remember Haven, but… look how many mages there are in the Inquisition. Not one of them has been possessed, or done blood magic, or any of the other things. Not even the mage captives.”

“There's a tower full of templars just around the corner.”

“What about the mages who aren’t here?” Pella didn’t look at Minaeve. Her fingers fidgeted with the edge of the coverlet. “I don't mean—I can't know what it's like for you. But the Circles can't feel like that for everyone. They can't be the only way.”

“Well, they're not.” Minaeve sat up and reached for her shift. “You know I was born to a Dalish clan. People will tell you they send spare mages away to avoid drawing the templars’ attention, but do you suppose the Chantry doesn’t know the Dalish have mages? Or that they look the other way because they think it's safe? Or is it just that no one gives a fig if some knife-eared apostate wipes out the whole of their own clan?”

“Some of them would care.” Pella still didn’t look up. Her back was hunched slightly.

“Who? Ser Lysette? She'll tell you herself. She believes in doing the right thing, but that's not how you get to be the person issuing the orders.”

“You're not making a very compelling argument for the integrity of the templars.” Pella wasn’t usually sarcastic. Not like this.

“Maker's breath, Pella, I'm not a fool. I've seen things, I've experienced things myself at the hands of the templars. Maybe it is different for other mages. But for me, I’ve always been walking on the edge of a knife—one slip and I could destroy everything and everyone I've ever loved."

Now it was her voice that shook, and she hated her own lack of self-control. Pella finally turned back to look, and in an instant she’d melted against Minaeve, pressing her face into her neck.

"Oh, Minaeve—is the temptation really so strong? I thought you said it was better with the Breach closed." The question ‘Will it ever be better?’ went unspoken, but Minaeve heard it anyway. “You’ve told me that people fear what they don’t understand. I'm trying to understand. I even talked to Mother Giselle. But I wonder sometimes if you’re only… if you’re afraid of yourself because you've been told you're a danger your whole life.”

"I know my own mind, Pella!" Minaeve covered her eyes with one hand, pinching her temples. "I'm sorry—I'm sorry. My damned temper… I wish I could trust myself the way you think I should. I just don't believe it's possible. Maybe for some mages—but not for me."

"I'm an ass. It's none of my business.”

"Of course it's your business.”

Pella's hazel eyes reflected the fading light. They were the brightest thing in the dim room. "If the Circles were restored, would you go back?" she asked quietly.

Minaeve lowered her head. “I don’t know.”

It was the most honest answer she could give.

 


 

Adan looked up from his work at the burst of raucous laughter from the Herald's Rest. The cottage wasn't what he'd call a quiet spot, nestled as it was between the tavern, the sparring ring, and the armory. But even so, it was hardly past sunset. Something must be—Summerday. Right.

He stretched his back in discomfort as he straightened from the shelves. He should have had Rachelle do the labeling, but he’d sent her to Morris to check on the glassware shipment and she hadn’t returned. That didn’t bode well. Is anyone doing their bloody job today?

From somewhere behind Adan came a pitiful groan. He flinched. Yes, at least one other person was doing their job.

The surgeon had disregarded Adan’s callous suggestion and had not, in fact, placed her infirmary in the dungeons. Instead, she'd marched straight to the Herald and demanded the apothecary be relocated. There had followed a certain amount of back and forth on the issue.

In the end, a grudging compromise had been reached. The surgeon would have her infirmary, but Adan's staff would share the space for standard potions work and dispensary functions. It would be more convenient for everyone, Lady Montilyet said with a deliberate smile, offering ready access to remedies for the wounded—the surgeon scoffed at that—and allowing Adan the luxury of a private workspace for his more esoteric research. He'd thanked them both, albeit grudgingly. It wasn't the worst idea.

Inconvenient as a three-legged bronto, but not the worst idea.

Until they were up and running, though, he was here sharing space with the wounded. Again. At least he didn’t have to look after them himself any longer.

"There you go. You can sleep it off now,” the surgeon said briskly to the groaning man. “Now, Master Surana,” she said to Adan, evidently inclined to continue their debate. He’d hoped it had ended ten minutes before. “It's not as if everyone has the luxury of magical healing.”

"You think I don't know that? I spent how many months trying to keep the wounded breathing long enough for the Inquisition to get someone who knew what they were doing—"

"How fortunate I'm here, then."

"Right. Yes. Great," he muttered. They had proved to have certain fundamental disagreements on the role of magic and herbs in scientific progress, and the woman seemed to have made it her mission to convert Adan to her way of thinking. Adan glanced around and picked up his leather cowl from where he’d tossed it on the windowsill. “I’m going to call it an evening, Doctor. Tell Rachelle to do the same if you see her. Good night to you.”

“We’ll continue our conversation on the morrow, then. Good night.”

She turned her back on him, and he made his escape. The potions bench was nearly ready for Rachelle to take over; if Adan had his way, he’d be able to avoid further conversation with the surgeon entirely. Not that he minded a solid debate with someone who knew what they were talking about, but that woman was a bloody quack. Humors, indeed.

In fact, Adan was spared from potions duty sooner than he expected. A runner came to the garden the next day to tell him there was someone at the gatehouse who’d asked for him by name.

She was looking the other direction as he made his way down the battlement steps. A slim figure, elven. Russet hair neatly tucked behind pointed ears. A pleasant round face that betrayed only the mildest distaste as she surveyed the battered fortress.

At his approach, the woman turned, and he made haste to reach her. When he did, he reached out and clasped her slim hand in both of his. "Maker's breath, it's good to see you!"

"And you.” Elan tilted her head. ”Although the enthusiasm of your greeting makes me wonder if I should inquire after your health."

"It's nice to see a friendly face. What's wrong with that?" He dropped her hand and folded his arms.

She looked up at him with the unflappable decorum he well remembered. "Whether I qualify as a friendly face is open to debate, but I assure you the sentiment is returned.”

“You’re earlier than I expected. It’s only just past Summerday.”

“I was able to wrap up my business in Rivain and saw no point in further delay. News of Haven reached me at Jader, however, so I cannot in honesty wish I'd arrived sooner."

He grimaced. "You're not wrong there. Haven was a cock-up. We lost a lot of good people."

"A pity." Elan looked around the courtyard. "Skyhold certainly seems a defensible location, but I can see why the place was abandoned."

"Might look a bit rubbish at the moment, but it's got potential. You should see the garden."

"I look forward to it. But first I believe I need to speak with someone about lodgings."

"Come on, I'll take you to the quartermaster.”

Adan pointed out the infirmary cottage on the way. Elan admired the fresh masonry and lifted a brow when he explained the situation with the surgeon, but all she said was, "Hm. How many are we?"

"You'll make four, including me. Rachelle was a herbalist's apprentice before the Conclave. Should be journeyman by now, but that's war for you. And Pella's our—"

The door flew open just as they passed it, and Pella skidded out with her arms full of empty crockery.

"—our all-round assistant, when she's not too busy being a pain in my arse.”

"Oops! Sorry, Adan! I was just taking these back up to the scullery. Oh, hello," she added politely, if belatedly, as she noticed Elan.

"Elan, Pella. Pella, Elan.” He waved a hand vaguely between the two of them. “I'll take that stuff. Show her to the quartermaster, would you? And anywhere else she wants to go."

Pella lifted a brow, but handed over the mugs and plates without complaint. Adan took his leave of them and climbed the rear stairs to the kitchen, dropping off the dishes with the cook’s beleaguered assistant and then ducking through the lower passages of the keep.

He made his way to the ambassador’s office, and had only begun to rummage through the ambassador’s desk when someone called his name. An Orlesian accent—Maker’s blood.

Adan turned to face Sister Leliana, who was standing a few feet away with a polite smile on her face.

"Looking for something, Apothecary Adan?"

"Ah, not exactly. That is, Lady Montilyet kindly made me the offer of—"

"If you're planning to send a letter to your contact in Redcliffe, I've already done so."

At his outraged stare, she only smiled benignly. "I've also sent word of your good health to Hahren Shianni in Denerim. There's a letter for you in your quarters, by the way. "

Adan flung his hands in the air and turned his back on her as he made his way to the staircase.

In his quarters, he leaned against the wall and unrolled the parchment. There was no salutation.

 

No need to write. We heard about Haven. You've got a knack for survival. Keep it up.

Meris passes along a similar sentiment. Also, she'd like to know more about the garden.

No other news here.

Adan rolled his eyes and tucked the letter, such as it was, in a belt pouch with the rest of his unanswered correspondence. His cousin Belaeth could be a touchy one. They’d gotten on well enough in their youth, with similar interests and aptitudes, but while Adan had gone to study alchemy for the king of Ferelden, Bel had stayed behind to become the alienage healer.

But he was a good enough fellow, for all he was a bit of an arse. He kept Adan appraised of goings-on at home, and the fact was, any resentment Bel harbored was probably justified. No doubt he'd have made more of himself than Adan had if he'd been given the same opportunities.

Bel's sister had been taken to a Circle and wound up with her emotions and who knew what else taken away. What would he make of Lysette?

An uncomfortable thought. Adan tightened the buckle on his belt pouch and went back to work.

 


 

It wasn't as late as Lysette had thought. She couldn't have slept for long. Most of the company was still awake, and someone was cooking at one of the fires. The scent carried spices Lysette couldn’t identify.

“Fancy cooking, Rocky?” someone called. “Smells good. Just make sure it doesn’t blow up.”

“Don't have to worry about that. I'm not the one sharing a tent with Krem."

“Oi,” called the lieutenant, amidst muffled laughter.

Lysette stepped over the rocks to her previous spot by the other fire, as much for heat as for light. The moons weren't up tonight, and at this altitude the nights were cool year-round. Stitches the healer and Grim the swordsman—whatever their real names were—played cards nearby. On Lysette's other side sat the Iron Bull, nursing a tankard of ale, while the women he'd introduced as Skinner and Dalish spoke to one another. Lysette turned her head when she realized what they were discussing.

"It wouldn't do in my clan, I tell you that. Wonder what her Keeper thinks.”

"Hey, Cullen's a good warrior. Thought your people respected that, Dalish." The Iron Bull leaned back with a provocative half-grin.

“Bad enough a shem," muttered Skinner. "For it to be un putain de templier de merde—"

"Mages, templars, what's the difference. All bleed the same," said Stitches matter-of-factly. Skinner bared her teeth in what might have been a smile, and Grim let out an unexpected chuckle that was somehow even more unsettling.

Finding herself caught in the middle of the discussion, Lysette folded her arms. “As you say, we are not so different. Templars are not perfect, but they’re people just like the mages."

"One is not born a templar. You can, as you yourself demonstrate, stop being one any time you like." Skinner’s eyes glittered as she leaned forward and the firelight shifted over her face. "Can you say the same for the mages?"

"Being a templar isn't so revocable as you say. It’s not even a choice for some of us." For any of us, after a point. "I may have left the Order, but I'm still a templar."

"Yes, you are, aren't you? But it's not the same thing, ser knight. Do you deny there's a difference?"

Lysette paused, thinking her words through carefully. "No. But it does not change the fact that a mage is a danger to themselves and others. We become templars to counter that danger."

"Hmm. Who do you support in the civil war, Ser Lysette?"

"Empress Celene, of course. She is the rightful ruler."

"Hah." Skinner pulled a dagger from her belt and examined the edge. "I wasn't sure if you'd support the divine right of kings over the right of the sword. So you're a deluded fool rather than a power-hungry sadist."

"I beg your pardon?"

"Skinner," murmured Dalish.

The woman turned on her. "You, of all people, disagree with me?”

"You know I don’t. But it’s neither the time nor the place."

"Good luck getting her to back off now," muttered Stitches and stood to move to the other side of the fire. Grim stayed where he was, watching with as much eagerness as if he were at a wrestling contest.

Lysette stayed where she was, too, but she wasn't inclined to wrestle. “I don’t see how my opinion on the Empire is relevant,” she said coldly.

“I do. It tells me that you think of yourself as one of the good ones.” Skinner shook her head. “Can you truly say that being a templar has made anyone a better person? Or are they, like you—I'll be generous—good people who find themselves trying not to doubt their officers’ orders as they carry out atrocities in good faith?"

Lysette sighed through her teeth. “I know that power can corrupt. But we do not become templars for ourselves. If it does not make us better people, at least it gives us a chance to change the world for the better. To maintain the Maker's vision.” The weariness was settling back over her. “I did not come here to debate with you. Think as little of me as you like.”

“I don’t think anything of you. I pity you. Because somebody told you when you were young—vulnerable, I’ve no doubt; they usually go for the weak ones—like lions hunting..."

Now Lysette was truly riled, but determined not to let it show. "I assure you that no one weak takes vows as a templar. We train physically and mentally to achieve total control."

“But emotionally—you must have been susceptible. Either a neglected child or an unwanted one. Discipline, rigor, all that nonsense—it shapes you so you don’t think for yourselves. No different from the Bull’s Qun. You’re not a hero, not a protector. You’re just another soldier, no matter how high-minded your vows or how pretty the gilding on your robes.”

Speechless, Lysette looked to the mercenary leader, but he only held up a massive hand in an unconcerned shrug and took a swig from his tankard.

Skinner said, “They don’t recruit you only for the strength of your faith. Don’t tell me all your templar friends are as pious and dutiful as you profess to be. No, they take the ones without ties to the world—and if you have ties, they break them for you. You go in children, indoctrinated and manipulated, and you come out monsters.”

“How dare you speak to me this way? To anyone?”

“By the time you realize what’s happened to you, it’s too late. They have the lyrium, and you need the lyrium.” She shook her head. “One dose and you’re slaves for life. How’s that for mental fortitude?”

One dose. That was, indeed, all it took to ensure a lifetime of service. Even the memory brought the taste, the hunger to her tongue. It had been awful. It had been horrid. And she’d known even then that she’d try to capture that feeling again until the day she died.

And still the insolent woman went on. "Most mages never succumb to these temptations you say are always but a breath away. Tell me, which mages are more likely to fall? Is it the troublemakers, the rabblerousers, or is it the ones you’d mistake for a Tranquil—the little mice who fear their own shadows.”

Finally, Lysette's tongue caught up with her mind long enough to let her compose a response. “Most mages never succumb. And that—” she lifted a hand to forestall the woman’s next words—”is because we put our own lives at risk to ensure it. I have seen my colleagues give their lives in defense of innocents."

"Pah. You'll get no praise for that. Nor a reward for not slaughtering your charges in cold blood. You're a tool of the Chantry, and what the Chantry truly fears is neither blood magic nor possession. It is Tevinter." The wind shifted, blowing sparks and smoke into her face, but the woman didn't move. "You're young, but you've seen what the templars became. Do you still believe it's a holy calling? That it's an honor to throw away your life and health—give up everything that made you an individual—Maker, no wonder you can make people Tranquil without blinking. It’s no different than what you do to yourselves. What you let your superiors do to you." She ignored Lysette's look of disgust and went on. "Tell me. Do you feel anything, Chantry girl?”

“Do I—of course I feel. And it’s none of your damned business.”

“Even after you take a draught of lyrium? Or does it numb the horror, the knowledge that grows year by year—the uncomfortable truth that what you are is no more than a weapon, and a weapon is only as moral as the one who wields it."

"That’s enough, Skinner," said Dalish in a low voice.

Lysette unclenched her jaw. "Not all templars want to make mages into prisoners or villains. Some of us just want to keep a balance and let you practice your craft in safety," she said to Dalish. "The Templar Order is a shadow of what it was. They should never have abandoned the Chantry.”

Skinner snorted. “Oh, you think it was better before? When?”

Grim turned his head and spat.

“It was better,” said Lysette steadily, “before one rogue mage with an irrational vendetta—”

“One mage? You think it was one lone mage whose actions took down your fine Order and half of Thedas with this war? That’s not how the world works, Chantry girl. If it hadn’t been Anders, it would have been someone else. The Circles have been a disaster waiting to happen since long before the Blight. Since before you were even born.” Her short laugh grated on Lysette's ears.

“I am not so pigheaded to deny that there is truth to what you say. I remind you that I joined the Inquisition of my own will."

"Inquisition's no different. Everything starts out high-minded and well-meaning, but it's all bloodshed in the end. Your Order itself came out of the first Inquisition—don't you know your history? Or do they only teach you the Chant?"

"Do you now wish to talk me out of my faith as well?”

“No, of course not. We wouldn't want any new ideas to spoil a lifetime of careful indoctrination.”

“You don't know anything about me.”

“I know what you are, and that's enough. Ah, and there’s the other one.”

Belinda had come over to stand at Lysette’s side, looking troubled. Skinner addressed her directly. “How old were you when you began your training?”

Belinda frowned. “Me? Twelve.”

“Twelve. And did you know what you were signing up for?”

“No one knows everything they’re signing up for. You have to take some things on faith. And what of you, elf? You couldn’t have learned to fight in an alienage.”

“No?” Skinner laughed almost wildly. “You know much of the alienages, then, a noblewoman like yourself.”

“I know they can be rough places. Most of the elves I know were glad to come to the Circle.”

“Oh, yes, glad. Good little rabbits, lining up for praise and patting. Eager to serve. Act like a Tranquil so the templars won’t put the brand on them—elves always know they’re first in line. Magic is only dangerous until it’s a templar who does it. Hypocrite shems, all of you.”

“Enough!” hollered Krem from across the fire. “I refuse to listen to any more of this. What’s done is done. Skinner, these templars are here to help us, so I’d appreciate it if you didn’t slit their throats in the night.”

She examined her blade pointedly. “If I did, it’d be doing the world a serv—”

“Qui-et.”

Dalish stood abruptly. “Let's turn in, hm?” She avoided looking at either of the templars.

Skinner glared, but stood up to follow the other woman to the tents. As they walked away, Lysette heard her mutter, "I just hate Orlesians with swords."

"I know, lethallan."

"Don't call me that."

Lysette sat silently, cold fury coursing through her veins, but she said nothing. She didn't want to dignify the woman's words with any further response. How dare she. Lysette was—well, she was a representative of the Chantry. She was proud—had been proud—to be a weapon for wiser minds to wield.

And lyrium or no, she felt. She felt too bloody much.

Lysette looked up to meet Belinda's eyes and saw her own unease reflected there. It would have been easier to mount a defense if the woman’s words had been less reminiscent of their own unspoken fears.

Chapter Text

The fragrance of the vandal aria is lighter and greener than that of her rare cousin, and redolent of honey and cut grass.

—An excerpt from The Botanical Compendium by Ines Arancia, botanist

Elan folded her hands neatly before her as she studied the garden. Not a bad space, despite its neglected state; an old Tevinter-style courtyard garden. Adan must like that. She could see where he’d already begun staking out plots.

She was skeptical about the irrigation, and the soil would certainly need work—this high up in the mountains, the natural earth was likely to be poor at best. Perhaps they could bring some up from the Hinterlands. Elan smiled faintly at the thought of asking the fine Lady Montilyet for a cartload of druffalo manure.

Her eyes fell on that irritating girl, Pella, who sat idly on a bench with her nose in—was that a novel? Yes, the latest Tethras trash. Typical. 

Elan cleared her throat briskly. “I believe you have duties to attend to.”

Pella looked up from her book in apparent confusion. “Do I?”

Elan lifted her eyebrows at the crate of unsterilized potion jars resting on the muddy ground at the girl’s feet.

“Oh, that. Adan said it wasn’t a rush.”

“That doesn’t sound like Adan.”

“Well, that’s what he meant, anyway.” Pella returned to her book. Elan cleared her throat a second time, more pointedly, until the girl looked up again. “Maker’s breath, are you going to stand there until I leave?”

“If it proves necessary. I do hope it won’t.”

“Maker’s breath.” Pella gave Elan a look of baffled dislike, but tossed the book into the potions crate and hopped to her feet. That was better.

Once the girl was gone, Elan took advantage of the solitude to remove a certain stone from the rear wall of the garden and extract a tiny roll of parchment. She read the letter over to herself, then tucked it tidily into her sleeve and carried on inspecting the garden.


Belinda didn’t look any better rested than Lysette felt. Her plait was tousled and her eyes shadowed. "Quite the scene last night," she murmured with a glance in Skinner's direction. The elf saw her looking and glared back at the two of them where they stood readying their horses for the day's ride.

"It was." Lysette adjusted her saddlebags. 

"About as subtle as a poleaxe to the skull, that one. I don’t like this kind of tension. Not with a crew this heavily armed.”

"I'm just glad it wasn't Mattrin she chose to antagonize. Or Erriala." Lysette tightened the girth and swung into her saddle. Hector was eager to get back on the road, and so was she. She'd lain awake entirely too long imagining all the things she should have said in response to Skinner's deliberate provocation. At least she hadn't had any more dreams.

She couldn't even be angry, not really. Once she might have been. Now she just felt… tired. The elf was a stranger. They were already nearly to Haven. Whatever the woman's motives for picking an argument, it wouldn't be long before Lysette was back at Skyhold—and that was something else for her mind to worry like a dog with a bone.

Belinda grunted and mounted her own horse. They typically rode single-file through the winding mountain passes. A warm breeze lifted Lysette’s hair as she pulled aside to let the others pass, taking up the rear. The Iron Bull winked at her as he rode ahead, and Lysette’s cheeks burned. It wasn’t just that she didn’t want Skinner to ride behind her. Not entirely.

Despite her best intentions, she couldn't stop dwelling on the woman's bitter words. Were elves truly more likely to undergo the Rite? Adan had told her of his cousin. And there had been Apprentice Farren—she hadn't wielded the brand that day, but she might have done. He'd been an elf, too. Thinking back, she thought about half the Tranquil she'd met had been elven. But most of the mages in any Circle were human. How had she never made the connection? 

Lysette’s confusion was only augmented a few hours later, when Skinner pulled her mount up alongside Hector and said shortly, "I won't bother you any more." She glared in Krem's direction; he smiled and waved back at them. "But I still don't like you." 

"You don't have to," Lysette said. 

Skinner turned and rode ahead without another word. 

From behind Lysette, there was a loud snort. She looked over her shoulder to see Rocky watching the exchange. “Don’t take it personally. Skinner’s from Halamshiral,” he said, as if that explained everything. “Originally, I mean.”

“I see.” She didn’t, not really. Hadn’t there been something—she struggled to remember. Something about the alienage? 

Lysette suspected it would only make matters worse if she asked. 

Regardless of her disquiet, the company made good time. The weather warmed still further, and on the following day they reached the pass where the Inquisition had regrouped after the evacuation of Haven. There were a few crude witticisms from the rowdier mercenaries, but most of the Chargers fell silent as their horses traipsed through the pass and down the winding slope to what remained of Haven. It seemed a much shorter distance than Lysette remembered.

They left a small party at the treeline to watch the horses. They didn’t know what they’d find in the ruins—they expected anything from squatters to Venatori—so the bulk of the Chargers would follow the forward scouts closely. 

A few short weeks had transformed the landscape. The ice on the lake had broken and nearly all the snow had melted. Shards of debris floated on the water’s surface, which now covered the training grounds and stable, lapping softly against the stone of Haven’s crumbled walls and the arch that was all that remained of the gate. Above, green shoots lined the flooded foundations where buildings had once stood. 

Still, though the buildings themselves had been flattened, there more rubble and less char than they’d expected. It seemed the avalanche had hit before most of the buildings had burned to the ground. In the higher parts of Haven, many of the trees still stood. The chantry itself hadn’t taken the full force of the blow, but it was chilling to imagine what would have happened had any of them remained behind. It was a miracle that the Herald had survived—but then, Lysette had already known that.

Cullen had called off excavation of the village once it was clear that no survivors would be found. Any exposed remains had either been carried off by scavengers or left for the Chargers to find.

Or for other things to find. 

The dappled sunlight provided a jarring backdrop to the two dozen wraiths that floated in the battered shell of the chantry. They would find no living squatters here.

“Not just wraiths,” said Belinda quietly, pointing. “Shades. Two, three… a whole cluster down in the cellar there.”

The Iron Bull swore. “Good thing we brought you two along.”

It was good they were there. Most warriors could handle a shade or two, especially with support from a mage, but in these numbers… templar abilities would be useful.

Especially when an arcane horror rose to float above the rubble, shackles dangling from its bony wrists. A demon possessing the body of a Venatori mage. Belinda shouted to draw the creature’s attention and planted her feet. Without a word, Lysette moved to the side. The other templar’s plan was clear. If Lysette could flank the creature, they’d be able to prevent it from—

A blast of spirit energy slammed into Belinda’s shield, and Lysette advanced.

It was easier than fighting a pride demon proper, but the hovering shades seemed delighted by the prospect of a battle and sped in their direction. Lysette felt a swell of energy behind her—Dalish—and snarled, “Out of my way, mage!” Skinner hissed, but Dalish didn’t hesitate. With lyrium in her veins, Lysette could feel the waves of power shift and snap as the elven woman stepped clear. The Chargers might not have fought alongside templars as a matter of course, but any mage knew to give a templar wide berth in combat.

While Belinda held off the horror, Lysette dropped to one knee and slammed her sword into the soft earth to call down a holy smite that disintegrated the Venatori corpse on the spot. It might have been overkill, but they’d needed that creature out of the way—Krem and the others were taking on the shades. Lysette breathed through her nose and released her grasp on her powers for a moment—it felt rather like taking a shot of hard liquor, burning that much lyrium at once. She made eye contact with Belinda and tilted her head to the wraiths that still hovered across the nave.

There were a lot of them, but they were slow and weak. No one quite knew whether a wraith was a soul of the departed, or a demon that leached through where the Veil was weakened by death. It didn’t matter—Lysette and Belinda worked methodically through them while the others made short work of the shades—but it was unpleasant to think that the filmy creatures she struck into oblivion with her sword might be the souls of her dead friends.

It wasn’t long before the fighters stood alone in the sunlight, catching their breath.

Lysette was angry. She wasn't sure at whom. Everyone, herself, it didn't matter. It made her sick to see what had happened to this village.

There was little need for a pyre at this point, but they built one anyway, bringing what remains they could to the clear space in front of the chantry. It was grim work. Krem recited the names of everyone who had been lost at Haven. Belinda sang a passage from the Chant—"cross the Veil and the Fade and all the stars in the sky"—for the Andrastian dead. The apostate even spoke a few words in her strange elven tongue. The Iron Bull stood in silence with his arms folded and brows lowered. And they all watched the pyre burn down.

It would go on for some time. Gradually the company broke up and Lysette turned away, blindly walking up the hill to where the apothecary had stood. She'd avoided it thus far, but it was time to face it now.

She stared at the desolate shell of a building and felt a matching hollowness in her chest. She’d found a strange sort of sanctuary in this place. And with him. If she was honest, wasn't that what half her agitation was about?

Lysette crossed over the threshold, trying not to remember that first warm afternoon when they'd all worked outside. 

She was careful where she stepped. Even after being exposed to the elements and a flood of melting snow, something like wyvern venom would probably remain potent. She wasn't sure. But she'd seen how much care Adan took with some of the ingredients that now lay in shattered bottles across the ground, and had no interest in damaging herself unduly.

She didn't look up at the sound of someone approaching. Belinda's step was familiar.

"What's this, then?" She came to peer over Lysette's shoulder. "What a mess."

"Indeed." Lysette gingerly lifted a scrap of parchment from a puddle. The water hadn't damaged it much; the letters were only slightly blurred, but their shapes were unfamiliar. She wondered vaguely what they said. Presumably Adan could read them.

"Oh, is this for your apothecary?" Belinda crouched and examined the rubble alongside Lysette.

"I suppose. I wanted to see if there was anything left." Lysette shook her head, setting the parchment aside. "Not much."

She had duties. She had a calling. Even if the organization had crumbled around her, she still felt the pull of it in her soul. How would it work, to tie herself to another person, to divide her loyalties like that? She'd thought, after Barris, she was done with any but the most casual of relationships. She'd intended to dedicate herself to the Order—she'd made her decision when Barris left. Hadn't she?

She knew she was getting ahead of herself, but the possible outcomes of pursuing such a relationship—any relationship—well, now that the thought had surfaced, it was her responsibility to think it through. Even if he were attracted to her, even if he were interested in... what was she was imagining, exactly? Commitment?

Her heart clenched at the thought. She could hardly ask that of him. Even if the Inquisition was successful in its mission, the odds were against her survival. And then there was the lyrium. With her vows, she'd turned her back on a permanent relationship with anything but the Order.

And what of him? What future did he want or imagine? He seemed to live perpetually in the present. It was only recently he'd spoken to her of the past. He'd never told her his plans for the future. 

So that only left the now. She didn't give a fig for what Erriala and the others thought. It was possible. For good or ill, the Inquisition had no rules against fraternization. What was the worst that could happen?

Unfortunately, her mind provided no shortage of possibilities. It would be a risk. Less of a risk than it would have been before the Inquisition, perhaps. Less of a risk than becoming involved with another templar, certainty.

Maybe a casual relationship would be easiest after all. The odds were against anything lasting—wouldn't it be less awkward running into him at Skyhold if that was all they exchanged?

But it wouldn't be. That wasn’t what she wanted. She already cared for him, and it had happened without her realizing she was doing so. Yet again, her emotions had gotten the better of her conscious mind.

And it wasn’t as if she couldn’t find someone else if a fling was all she was after. She wasn’t unattractive by most people’s standards. Still, there would always be a voice in the back of her mind, a voice that sounded like her mother. It reprimanded her for being too strong, too serious; did she think she was the empress? If she was determined to act so haughty, it was a pity she’d grown so tall, with such masculine features—a pity her hair was so dark, blonde was in fashion these days—no, to make up for those flaws, she’d have to learn to be soft, to tease and flirt and show prospective suitors that she knew what they wanted.

Lysette had never had the slightest inclination towards any of that. The whole business made her more than uncomfortable. She wanted to serve, but she wanted to serve the Maker and the Chantry and the people of Thedas, not some man who flattered her mother’s social aspirations.

Andraste’s ashes, things were awkward enough with Delrin these days. She shouldn't have let him kiss her. She shouldn't have kissed him back. But she'd been—Maker, she'd been lonely and distraught. They'd lost so much that night—she'd lost Tomas and Flissa and then she’d nearly lost Adan, and the full horror of it all hadn't struck her until after the battle was over and they'd reached safety.

What if the Circles were one day restored, as she hoped?

And what if they weren’t—what use was she, a former knight of a broken order?

Belinda watched quietly while Lysette picked through the rubble. It seemed there was nothing here worth saving. A few sodden pages, perhaps. She'd hoped for more—for something she could offer him.

Because she cared for him, so much. It wasn’t until that morning she'd left Skyhold that she wondered if it were possible he might feel something in return. It felt as if something had changed, that last day in the garden. They’d spoken of… Lysette froze as she reached for another bit of rubbish. Her eyes fell on Belinda and she remembered the woman's teasing. Maker, had he thought she was still with Barris?

Since leaving training Lysette had spent nearly all her time in the company of others, and yet she’d never felt more removed and isolated. 

She didn't want to feel that way any longer.


After all the fuss over the infirmary, it was with considerable satisfaction that Adan left Rachelle and Elan to man the potions bench and retreated to his own spot in one of the battered corner towers. The room had good light and a proper fireplace. The gaping holes in the far wall provided decent enough ventilation. And if he wanted to test a grenade or two, no one would care.

Or notice, frankly. Place was a sodding ruin.

Adan leaned back on a wobbly stool and smacked a trowel against his knee, one he'd absentmindedly carried up from the garden, as he looked over his new equipment. Iron brazier, old but serviceable. Copper alembic, Antivan make. Insufficient glassware—he still needed to have a word with young Morris. A small array of herbs already drying from the rafters above. Not bad, all in all.

At the creak of the door behind him, he turned to see Elan pushing the door open with her hip. Her arms were full of bundles. She gave him a crisp nod. "I checked on the elfroot. It's coming in well."

"Good. We go through a lot of it in the Inquisition."

"So I hear. I brought up your order from Orlais."

"Thanks." He waved her at the rickety stool in the far corner, which she pulled up alongside his workbench. She gave him an update on the progress in the apothecary, to which he only half paid attention as he checked his distillation. Dawn lotus was notoriously tricky... and now she was saying something about Pella. Adan looked up from the alembic. "Hm? What's wrong with Pella? She's Senna's girl, you know."

"And Merran Telina's. I'm afraid it shows."

Adan turned back to the workbench with a snort of laughter that came closer to a snicker than he intended. "It certainly does. I'd no idea that was why he followed Senna to Antiva all those years back."

"How in the world did you not know that? Everyone knew that."

"Wasn't that right after I took over from Malory? I was hardly keeping up with gossip at the time. Or any other time, if I could help it."

"You should keep up with gossip. You're living with one eye shut if you don't. Which I know you know, because I've told you before." She shook her head as if in despair, but he'd known Elan long enough to recognize the affection behind the gesture.

"Why listen to the gossip myself when I have you to do it for me?" He lifted a brow. "It's good to see you too, Elan."

"Such an expression of sentiment. I'm overcome. What are you working on these days?”

“Oh, any number of things, as usual." He ran a hand along the freshly planed surface of the workbench. Smooth, unmarked by spills or burns. It wouldn’t remain so for long. “You remember my work with Antivan Fire? Before the Breach I was experimenting with a way to add a secondary stunning effect. Essence of felandaris to augment the Fade connection—don’t mention that to my templar friend—but I still need a catalyst that won't interfere with the rashvine reaction.” He propped his elbows on the edge of the bench as he mused. “Thinking of vandal aria, though it’ll get into the garden if I let it.”

“You always did have unorthodox views on magical integration.” She tilted her head, considering. “Felicidus aria would be better.”

“Good luck finding any. And don’t give me that ‘unorthodox’ line. The surgeon here is bad enough—faux-intellectual claptrap about humours over magic and herbs. Just because the Circles keep their scholars neutered doesn’t mean—"

“If you really need it, I’ll reach out to my contacts. Isn’t the Inquisitor heading to the Western Approach soon?”

“She’s still in Crestwood, last I heard.”

She wasn’t in Crestwood, actually. She came to see him that afternoon.

“Your... Worship, I suppose. Come in.” Adan stepped back from the door to let the Inquisitor pass.

“Thank you.” Inquisitor Lavellan looked up at him consideringly. She wasn't in armor today, just a simple dress in a common elven style that made him think of home. 

"It's Elan who handles potion orders now, you know."

"I know, but it was you I wanted to talk to about this." Her expression changed, became sadder. "I was wondering if you knew anything about... well, about lyrium withdrawal. Or anything to alleviate the symptoms."

"'Lyrium' comes to mind."

Her tattooed forehead crumpled. “I suggested it, of course. But he'd prefer...”

“No, no. Apologies, Your Worship. Let me think. How long a withdrawal?” Adan stood up and reached over the table for his notebook.

“I—at least a few months. Six months.”

“Six months?” He sat back down. “There’s a story here.”

As the Inquisitor explained, Adan couldn't restrain his eyebrows from creeping upwards. “I've never heard of a templar going off lyrium on purpose. Still not sure why you’re coming to me in particular.”

She reddened slightly, but her gaze didn't falter. “I thought—well, never mind. Cassandra’s explained the symptoms to me. I was hoping for something that could help. Pain relief, or perhaps a sleeping aid.”

“Right.” He scratched his ear. “I’ll have to do some research. It’s a good thing you’ve been bringing me all those herbs. Does the commander know you've been to see me, by the way?” He turned to light a lamp. It might have been past Summerday, but the sun set earlier over the mountains.

"Not... as such. Will you want to talk to him?"

"At some point. Doesn't have to be now. Like I said, I'll have to do some research first."

The Inquisitor thanked him quietly and slipped back out onto the battlements.

Adan worked late into the evening, tending the distillation and catching up on his correspondence. It was satisfying to start each day in the garden and end each night in his workshop. The stretches of solitude suited both his work and his temperament—when he concentrated, hours passed in the blink of an eye. Normally. Tonight, his thoughts were elsewhere.

Lysette would be back soon. They’d had word from their Fereldan allies that the Haven recovery mission was complete and the Chargers were returning to Skyhold. And Adan had given up any pretense of keeping his mind on his work and simply sat, chewing on the end of his pen, and stared vacantly out the narrow window that looked over the western mountains.

He'd thought it through. He would speak to her. It would be dishonest to do anything else, however strange it seemed.

Not only a shem, but a templar. An Orlesian templar. 

It sounded more than strange: it sounded absurd. Bel would say he was idealizing her, making her something she wasn't... 

Well, maybe a bit. But he knew she had her flaws. She could be harsh and slow to forgive. Her unshakable faith was unsettling in its intensity. But she meant well, and she wanted to help. Not to flatter her own ego like so many a Chantry Sister, not out of misguided guilt over her own actions as a templar. She was a cynic and an idealist both, but beneath that armor he knew she was sincere and loyal. She was smart, she was observant, she was...

He'd thought there was no danger in allowing himself to grow fond of her. He'd assured himself that there was no chance of anything besides friendship between them. He'd thought she was with someone else. And then, at the revelation that she wasn't, it was as if someone had yanked the ground out from beneath him. It seemed beyond improbable that she... what? Enjoyed his company? If she didn't, she had an odd way of showing it. She had no obligation to come and see him, yet she did, again and again. 

But what would a woman like that see in Adan? She was a warrior, but her world was as much metaphysical as physical. His domain was the practical and the applied. He didn't think much of gods or moral certainties. But he thought highly of her. She'd chained herself to the Chantry with noble intentions and found it warped and twisted. Did she find herself warped and twisted, too? 

Adan checked the dawn lotus again. Not done yet. The sky had darkened fully; through the gaps in the walls, he could see the stars coming out. They seemed brighter now that the Breach was closed.

He was no romantic. He'd decided, years, before, to dedicate himself to his work. All his work. It wasn't that there was no room for personal ties. He'd had close relationships, several kinds, but none had... none had offered him anything worth the effort, in the end.

Why was this—why was she different? He nearly had spoken, that last night in Haven. She'd asked him to dance, and smiled at him, and pressed his hand to her face. And he'd been captivated. For Lysette of all people... she was reserved, but she wasn't shy. If she wanted anything from him, wouldn't she have said so? And then after the battle, seeing her with the other templar, he hadn't known what to think. Perhaps he'd misread friendly interest; perhaps she'd only wanted a companion for the night, and Adan was a convenient but easily supplanted prospect.

But that was unjust to Lysette. Even if her interest was fleeting, she'd never take advantage of his feelings like that. And she must know by now how he felt about her. She would always put the needs of others before her own—even if her assessment of those needs was faulty. She wouldn't hurt him, in short. Not on purpose.

Just the memory of her low, accented voice had his breath coming faster. Her body, lithe and deadly under layers of mail and plate but equally dangerous without a scrap of armor. Her long, graceful neck that arched into muscular shoulders, a contradiction he wanted to explore with—

He shut his eyes and rested his face in his hands. Maker's blood, he was in deep.

But mostly, he was annoyed with himself for allowing this nonsense to go on so long. If there really was no chance of anything more, so be it. He'd have to bloody well ask.

In the meantime, there was work to do.

Chapter Text

One need only stroll through the Denerim market to appreciate Ferelden's resilience. You would be hard-pressed to believe that darkspawn ravaged the city within our lifetime. Scars remain for the people who lived through it, but life moves forward.

—From a letter by Sister Kira of the Denerim chantry

It was after dark when the Chargers reached the gates of Skyhold. Their return had been delayed by the discovery of a nest of bandits preying on unwary travelers. They'd dealt with the bandits, but it had set them back half a day. Stitches had suggested spending another night on the road, but everyone else was eager to get back. 

And Krem, at least, was eager to celebrate the success of their mission at the tavern. He asked Belinda, "You ladies joining us?"

"I'm game. Lysette?"

"All right," Lysette said, rather wearily. So much for taking some time for herself—but she had to eat, after all. And she was growing tired of soldier's rations. "I'll report in for the both of us and then join you."

The Herald's Rest was already crowded when Lysette stepped inside a half hour later, still covered with the dirt of travel. She'd given Cullen her report and made a quick stop at the armory, but that was all.

On the other side of the large room, the Bull's horns stood above the heads of the Chargers and a number of apparent admirers. She spotted Belinda's red hair in the melee. Someone toasted something, a cheer went up, and Lysette immediately developed the first pang of a headache. She'd just grab a plate from Cabot and take it back to her quarters... no, that was too far.

Upstairs, then. It looked quieter there. She collected a trencher of—was that stewed nug? Better not to ask—and made her way to the stairs.  Just as she reached the top, a high-pitched and distinctively accented voice cried, "Lysette! I can't believe it!"

Lysette shut her eyes briefly before she turned. "Hello, Pella."

The girl was sitting by herself, but there were several empty mugs strewn across the table. She'd risen half out of her seat at the sight of Lysette. “You're not wearing your armor. I hardly recognize you."

“Perhaps that's the point.” Lysette sat on the bench across from her and set down her plate. There was another muffled cheer from downstairs. Yes, it was better up here, all right.

“It’s not a very good disguise. You look like a Chantry Sister. Why not one of those Orlesian gowns—you know, with the bodice—"

"No. Are you drunk, Pella?”

“There was cider. I've had a bit. You're so judgmental, Lysette.”

“I have said nothing.”

“You don't have to say anything. You're terrifying. Stare at someone like that and they'll do anything you want.” She mumbled something else of which Lysette caught only a word or two. A key word or two.

Lysette wasn't blushing. No, it was simply warm in the tavern. And more to the point, it was growing rowdier. Neither Minaeve nor anyone else she knew was here, and she wasn't about to leave Pella to her own devices in a den of drunken soldiers, Inquisition or no.

Pella folded her arms carefully on the table and immediately removed them. “Where is your armor, anyway?”

Lysette picked up her spoon. "In for repairs. I can’t wear it all the time."

"You do wear it all the time."

"Well, that’s because it's important. A templar can't protect their charges while vulnerable to attack."

"Keep their charges intimidated, more like," she muttered.

Lysette set her spoon back down and gave Pella a hard look.

"Sorry." Pella covered her face. "You're all right for a templar. I've just had a rotten few days. And Mistress Ve'mal dragged me over the coals all afternoon."

"Mistress who?" Lysette reached over the table and took charge of Pella's drink before one of the girl's gesticulating hands could knock it to the floor. The table was sticky, but not that sticky.

"You haven't met her. I forgot. She's Adan's old... apprentice? Assistant? Something." Pella wrinkled her nose. "Just got here from Rivain. I wish she'd go back."

Lysette took an experimental sip of Pella's drink and blinked. Well, that explained a few things. At least it wasn't that Qunari brew of the Bull's.

"She's horrid, Lysette," Pella said pathetically. "It's like being in a bloody palace. She's so fussy. 'Precision is essential for a herbalist, young lady.' As if I ever wanted to be a herbalist. Can't spill a drop of water without a lecture."

"I'd think you'd be used to that by now."

"Adan's not half so haughty. And at least he has a sense of humor. Sometimes."

"How is he?" Lysette was impressed with her own ability to keep her tone neutral as she set down Pella's drink and went back to her own meal.

Pella looked up and gave Lysette a sloppy grin. "Happy as a pig in shit. Spends half his time in the garden. You should see what he's done with the beehives.”

"I'd rather not. Wasn’t there talk of importing some deadly northern species?"

“Blimey. Too smart for him, you are.”

Lysette lifted a brow.

“Maker's breath, I need to go find Minaeve to keep my mouth occupied.” Pella groaned. “But she’s peeved with me, too.”

“Pella, I’m too tired to deal with this. Tell me more about the bees. I need to know which part of Skyhold to avoid."

"Oh, they're down in the Undercroft. He and—what's her name, that blond elf—Maker's pants. I can't keep all these people straight. But let me tell you, if Mistress Fancypants thinks I'm bad... sorry, I'm complaining again. I just can't stand that woman."

"She can't be so terrible if Adan sent for her all the way from Rivain."

"Oh, she's competent enough.” Pella reached across the table and reclaimed her cider. “But there's something... well. I don’t know. Adan's a grumpy bastard, but he's not half as cynical as he lets on. I don't trust her, that's all." She waved the tankard in emphasis and took another drink.

"Hmm. Have you had anything to eat, Pella?"

"Not lately." A bleary eye rolled in Lysette’s direction. "Why do you ask?"

"I'll get you something. Don't go anywhere." Lysette stifled a yawn and moved to the staircase.

As she descended, a familiar set of robes moving the other way caught her attention. Her heart jumped. Before she could think better of it, she reached out to tap his arm.

"What—oh!" Adan turned around to face her, blocking the stairs. He didn't seem to notice. "You're back. And here."

"Hello. Your young assistant is in her cups. I was just going to get something for her to eat."

"Oh, wonderful." He rubbed his bearded chin. "Is she upstairs?"

“Yes.”

“I'd better take stock of the damage.” Adan turned up the stairs and Lysette continued on down, feeling slightly dazed.

 


 

 

"Yes, I know it's boring," Adan said irritably. "That's why it’s your job. I’ve spent enough of my life scouring jars already, thank you.”

Pella was definitely not at her finest. The girl grimaced as Lysette reappeared and set a bowl of stew on the table in front of her.

Lysette herself settled into the seat next to Adan and picked up her own spoon. “I can’t imagine you doing something you found dull for any length of time," she said to him. "You were champing at the bit in Haven.”

"Was it that obvious?"

She gave him a sidelong look. "Yes."

"Never mind," he muttered and lifted his own drink.

"You're not the best at concealing your feelings."

He hastily lowered his tankard and looked at her in alarm. But Lysette didn't seem to have meant anything else by the remark and had already turned away to resume her meal.

Pella, of course, had witnessed the whole exchange. Adan sent an evil look across the table while she muffled a snort of laughter into her sleeve. "Actually, he's been in a sickeningly good mood since you left,” she told Lysette.

“How flattering.”

Adan was indignant. "First of all, I have not. Second of all—well, I haven't, that's all. Shut it, Pella. How much have you had to drink?"

"Too much," said Lysette. “I don't know where she got that cider, but—”

“You're right. I talk too much. I'd better drink the rest to shut myself up.” Pella picked up the tankard and buried her face in it. Loose strands of hair fell every which way.

“Bad plan,” said Adan. “Eat your dinner.”

Pella slumped sideways on one elbow and examined the stew thoughtfully.

Lysette sighed. "She needs to go back to her quarters. Do you know where they are?"

"I forget," said Pella.

Lysette looked at Adan. 

He swallowed. "Yeah. Roughly. I'll take her."

“Mind if I join you?”

“Of course not. You can carry her.”

— 

The fresh air was a relief. Pella was upright, mostly. Despite her mumbled complaints that she was perfectly able to walk by herself, Lysette wrapped an arm around her shoulders. "Just in case, then. Come on. Where are we going?" she asked Adan in an undertone.

“Off the great hall. I'll show you."

They made their way to the first staircase before Lysette paused. "Stay with her a moment, please? I should tell Belinda where I am. I'll be right back." She darted to the tavern door while Adan kept an eye on Pella, who was leaning against the stone wall. Lysette reappeared after a moment and jogged past a cluster of drunken men in heavy armor.

“Oi, sister, nice legs," one of them shouted after her. “No need to run. I'd like to see them—”

"That's no sister, you idiot, it's a bloody templar!"

"Even better. I like a woman who knows how to handle a sword.”

There was an eruption of laughs and whistles. Adan's lip curled, but he stayed where he was, keeping a close eye on Pella. It had certainly been a good idea to accompany the girl back to her lodgings. The Inquisition was recruiting faster than ever; whoever those louts were, they were no one he recognized.

Lysette gave no outward sign that she'd heard the soldiers' comments, but her eyes were narrow and her expression forbidding when she reached the stairs and took Pella's arm.

"I can't believe you just ignored that," he muttered.

"What, a few drunken sots? Not worth the time it'd take to set them straight. I promise you I've heard worse."

"I wish I didn't believe you." He'd heard worse, too.

She let out an unexpected breath of tired laughter. "Pella did say I looked like a Chantry Sister. I suppose she was right. Shall we go?"

Between the two of them, they made good time. Pella let out a few uncomfortable groans, but mercifully managed to hold her stomach together. Although it might have been better if she hadn't.

Lysette was clearly thinking along similar lines. "She's in for a rough night," Lysette said, her brows furrowed. "I hope Minaeve is there. We can't leave her alone in this state.”

"No. Why in the Maker's name did she get so soused? It's not like her.”

“I don't know. I had only just gotten to the tavern when you arrived. She did mention she'd had a difficult week.”

“Should I be worried?”

"I don't think so. But how should I—Maker, Adan, I'm not any good at this sort of thing.”

“You're better at it than I am.” He rubbed his eyes as they reached the narrow staircase that led to Pella's quarters. Lysette helped the girl up the stairs while Adan trailed behind, feeling somewhat useless. Maker help him, he hated to agree with that insolent soldier, but she did have nice legs.

The Maker evidently took pity on him. Minaeve was indeed already there and waiting. Adan and Lysette were able to deposit a limp Pella into her somewhat baffled but not unwilling care.

When the door shut behind the two elves, Lysette asked, “Where are you headed now?"

"My room. Above the garden. You?"

"Temporary quarters in the north tower, for now. Although we'll be moving into our own tower any day if Ser Briony has her way. The builders have been busy."

Adan fell into step beside her. They were headed the same direction. “So that's why I can't find anyone to fix the hole in my roof. How was your mission?”

“Strange. Sad.” She released a quiet sigh. “But a success, all in all.”

He looked at her closely. “Are you all right?”

“Tired, that's all.” Lysette hesitated and then admitted, as if confessing to a deep and shameful secret, “I've got a headache.”

“Hm. You should turn in.” He pulled open the door that led to the garden and took a deep breath. The air here had a fresh, earthy smell, a pleasant change from the stale and dusty air of the stone passageways.

“I will, soon. It's nearly curfew. How’s the garden?”

“Coming along just like we hoped. I've planted some of the Inquisitor's seeds. Be interesting to see what comes of them.”

They walked on, steps slowing as they reached the point where their paths diverged. One moon was up over the garden, its cool light casting long shadows across raised beds and stone footpaths. Lysette raised a hand to brush the hair out of her eyes, and Adan's breath caught. He hadn’t seen it in the dim light of the tavern, but the left side of her face was swollen and discolored with fresh bruising.

“Maker, Lysette. What's happened to you?” He found himself reaching out, taking her unarmored shoulders and turning her to the moonlight to see her face.

She looked surprised but didn’t protest. “Nothing much. We ran into some bandits on the road this morning, and I caught the edge of a shield.”

“Hard to imagine bandits messing with that mercenary band,” he said, peering at her cheek. “Didn't they see the Qunari?”

"They weren’t messing with us. They were messing with the refugees from the Hinterlands."

"I take it they’re not doing so any longer."

"They are not."

Adan still couldn't tear his eyes away from her face. No wonder she had a headache. “Don’t you wear armor for this kind of thing?”

“Bruises? No.” She laughed quietly and shook her head, her eyes crinkling. “The armor keeps us alive. The rest I can live with. But I appreciate your concern.”

Adan hadn’t moved his hands, and her gaze flicked down to where they rested on her arms. He released her and took a step back, clearing his throat. “Good. Well. Let me know if you, ah, need anything. A salve, or… or anything.” Oh, well spoken.

She tilted her head and smiled at him. For the second time in as many minutes, his breath caught. “I will. Thank you."

There was a long pause before she said, "I'm too tired to think straight just now, but we should… catch up properly. Will you be in the garden tomorrow? In the morning?"

He said something vaguely affirmative and took his leave. When he reached his quarters, he stood in front of his door for an embarrassingly long time before remembering to open it.

Chapter Text

At last did the Maker
From the living world
Make men. Immutable, as the substance of the earth,
With souls made of dream and idea, hope and fear,
Endless possibilities.

—Threnodies 5:8

She hadn't come.

And she didn't intend to, apparently. That reality became more and more certain as the morning wore on, the sun's heat beating down to dry the dew while Adan worked. He'd even glanced casually in the chapel to find the candles unlit and the room empty. No sign anyone had been there at all today.

Things didn't get any better as Skyhold awoke and the garden became a livelier place. Masons shouted back and forth as they worked on the templar tower. Noble visitors from Orlais fanned themselves under the colonnade. A chanter with a particularly piercing voice placed herself directly in Adan's path every time he moved. When Pella stumbled down the stairs even later than usual, bearing a mug of tea in one hand and a tin pail in the other, he snapped at her. "It’s nearly noon. Feeling a bit under the weather, are we? Queasy?"

She looked almost ashamed of herself as she held out the pail. It appeared to contain a quantity of kitchen scraps. "I brought breakfast for your pets. Am I forgiven?"

Adan harrumphed, just on principle, but he accepted the pail and carried it to the worm bin on the far side of the garden. Pella followed and stood over his shoulder as he knelt to feed the wriggling creatures.

"They seem to like the blackberry leaves," she observed.

"At least someone's enjoying their morning." He poked crossly at the worms. They were burrowing cheerfully. Good.

"You're in a bloody vile mood. I'd have thought you'd be pleased. The Qunari band and all."

"A band of rampaging Qunari? Should I be glad about that?"

"Ha, ha. You know who I'm talking about." Pella perched on the gazebo steps and set the mug of tea next to her.

“Here we go again." He sat back on his heels and stretched his neck. The wind was picking up. Might be rain that afternoon: they could use it, but he wasn't optimistic.

"At least I can tease you without fearing for my life. I’m not so sure about Mistress Ve’mal.”

"I'll pretend I didn't hear that."

"I'm serious. I'm afraid she'll slip poison into my tea when I'm not looking. How do you know her, again?"

"Old student of mine. So I assure you that any poison-making she knows, I taught her myself."

“Thank you. When you find my lifeless body in the garden, it'll be a comfort to know it was your own recipe that did me in." Pella sipped her tea with a look of pained resignation.

“Don't be ridiculous.” Adan replaced the lid of the worm bucket and rose to his feet. "She'd never leave your body in the garden."

Pella made a rude gesture as he went up the stairs to the great hall.

He climbed the stairs to the library. He was being a knob, and he knew it, but knowing did little to improve matters.

"The manuscripts you requested, Apothecary. Though I'm not sure why you needed—"

"Yes, thank you, very good." Adan made his escape by catching Minaeve's eye and hastening to the sunny alcove where she sat working, books and scrolls spread out across the table before her.

"Why do you need those?" Minaeve asked with a glance at the parchment in his hands. “Didn't think that was your area of interest.”

"Special project for Her Worship." The title still felt ridiculous on his tongue, but part of him secretly delighted in the absurdity. Never in a thousand years would he have imagined a heretic Dalish apostate venerated by the masses and leading the armies of the faithful.

"That archivist is nosy, but he knows his business. I had to fight off the Tevinter mage to get my hands on this one." She nodded triumphantly at the top book in her stack and Adan reached over the table to examine it.

"'Smoldering Shadows: Demonological Perspectives on the Nevarran Necromantic Tradition'?" He dropped the cover back in place. “That's cheerful."

"It's damned useful, is what it is. There's hardly anything on the Mortalitasi in the Circle libraries."

"Far be it from me to question your research interests. Just don't experiment on Pella."

Minaeve's face went a little blank. "I won't."

“If she doesn't hurry up with that book, I shall,” came an irritable voice from the alcove next door. Adan rolled his eyes. He was in no mood.

Meanwhile, Minaeve had already gone back to her book. “I don't know many Nevarrans,” she said thoughtfully. “I should speak to Seeker Pentaghast.”

Adan had known one, once.

It had been a long time since he'd thought of her. Toni—Antonietta. A Nevarran bard whom he'd met on his travels. Brilliant, charismatic, deadly with a pair of blades. Being a young cuckoo, of course Adan had been immediately enraptured. She’d found him about as interesting as the wallpaper at first, but finally—for reasons unknown but probably unflattering—she'd settled with him in Rivain. And he'd settled for the occasional affection she directed his way and told himself it didn't bother him they never spoke of exclusivity or commitment.

It had, of course. Things soured between them over the years. She was away from home more and more often, and he grew more and more distant when she was there, ever less willing to settle for the casual affection that was all she'd ever promised him and ever more bitter about the risks she took. Eventually and inevitably, it had ended. He'd stayed in Rivain while she went off Maker-knew-where, both of them slightly the worse for the whole experience. He hadn't heard from her in years.

This business with Lysette, now... even if nothing ever came of it, it was already something entirely different. She'd fallen into his life as surely as the Herald had fallen from the sky. He hadn't pursued her; they didn't spar over politics and philosophy in the tavern before stumbling home in the wee hours; she was a bloody templar. The farthest thing from an allegiance-free bard he could imagine.

She'd spoken of repaying her debt to him—laughable enough before, but after she'd saved his sorry arse at Haven, any lingering obligations were firmly on his side.

But then she hadn’t come. She’d said she would, but she hadn’t. For all his fretting over her intentions—fretting of which he had done an embarrassing amount since the previous evening—that was one possible outcome he hadn't considered. Lysette was as punctual as she was honest. It didn't bode well for his hopes if she'd changed her mind about something so simple as a chat in the garden.

He bade Minaeve farewell and set off to spend the last of the afternoon in his workshop. Blinking in the sun that reflected off the light stone, he made his way across the battlements and nodded at the Herald as he passed her on the stairs. When he reached his workshop, he pulled the door open and stopped in his tracks.

Lysette spun away from his workbench and stared at him.

She was back in armor. The rays of the setting sun caught the deadly angles and made them gleam. With the bruises that still marked her long face, she looked every bit the grim, unsmiling templar. She looked impossibly beautiful.

So Adan folded his arms and took a step backwards. “Yes?”


Lysette took a deep breath before lifting her fist for a crisp knock. There was no answer, and the breath she'd been holding hissed out through her teeth. Maker guide her.

She glanced around. There was little activity in this corner of the battlements. The only person nearby was a woman leaning against the parapet, casually trimming her nails. One of Skyhold’s innumerable visitors, or a mercenary, perhaps. She was tall, with a greatsword strapped impractically but imposingly to her back; the sandy skin of her face was marked by tattoos—not twining lattices like the Herald's, but broad swaths of violet.

Noticing Lysette's attention on her, the woman glanced up. Her eyes flicked over Lysette's Chantry robes with disinterest and faint disdain before returning to her task. Who in the Maker's name is that?

No one Lysette wanted to ask for help, that much was certain. Pella’s directions had been clear. This was the right tower. She knocked on the door again, and when there was still no response, she gave the handle a try and was rewarded by the smooth glide of freshly oiled hinges.

Adan’s new workshop wasn't at all what she'd expected. It was more sparsely furnished than the apothecary in Haven had been. A long workbench and a pair of tall stools occupied a quarter of the room. One of the walls had half crumbled, and the gaps in the stone provided a picturesque but unsettling view of the mountains. Skyhold certainly lived up to its name. A hawk circled in the distance far below.

Despite the meagre amenities, the general air of disarray was the same as ever. A number of weedy plants had been hung to dry on strings stretched between the rafters, lending a herbal smell to the draughty air. A pile of empty crates sat by the cold fireplace in one corner; a rake and a broom stood precariously in another. But looks were deceiving. When it came to his work, she knew Adan was painstakingly orderly. Lysette walked over to the workbench to see what he was working on now.

The work surface held little of the standard potion-making equipment she remembered from Haven. There was a brass scale, and a small serpentstone ladle that served to weigh down a pile of manuscripts. They looked to be reference charts of some sort, where crossed-out numbers and symbols intermingled with strange writing. Elvhen or Tevene or some other script Lysette didn’t know. But she recognized the handwriting. She ran an idle finger over the letters just as the door behind her clicked open.

She dropped her hand with a jolt and spun to see Adan watching her, his eyebrows raised.

And here they were again. Once again she'd intruded on his space, and he'd caught her at it. She felt awkward as she stood there before him, unexpectedly unmoored, strangely conscious of all her limbs and uncertain what to do with any of them.

"Your door was open," she said finally.

Adan said, “I know. I've been meaning to speak with Morris about a lock. It's been a right pain having to keep all the valuable ingredients in my quarters."

“I see.” She took a short breath. "I meant to come sooner. But I had to spend the morning in the dungeon.”

“The dungeon? Let no one say that templar discipline is lenient.”

Lysette might have laughed, but she was too nervous. It was probably blasphemous to think that she'd rather face a demon in combat than have a conversation with one unarmored man, but it was true. “Standing guard in the dungeon, I meant. I had to change shifts with Mattrin—we’re still waiting for the last group of templars from the Seeker fortress, and I was needed.”

“Don't worry about it. We’ll blame Mattrin.” He paused and added, somewhat abruptly, “I'm glad you came, though.”

“Do you have a few minutes?”

Adan nodded and stepped inside, turning to close the door behind him. “What's on your mind, my girl?”

“I'll be joining another mission shortly. Before I go—”

“What, again? Where are they sending you this time?”

“Ferelden. We’re leaving tomorrow.”

He blinked. “So soon?” At the obvious dismay in his voice, some of her tension eased. 

“The commander was pleased with my contribution to the Haven mission.”

“Ah, the reward for doing good work. More work.” Adan leaned against the workbench and crossed his arms. The sun streamed through the gaps in the wall behind him, throwing his face into shadow and making it even harder for her to read. But she couldn’t seem to stop looking at him.

“It's more that templars are thin on the ground just now. Most are in Orlais or on the Free Marches expedition.” Lysette reached into her satchel and pulled out a cloth-wrapped bundle. “I brought you something. From Haven."

"What?"

He looked blankly down as she handed him the bundle. When he began to untie it and realized what lay within, he paused, then turned away and set it deliberately on the workbench. He extracted the contents and laid them out one at a time: a few pieces of loose parchment, one half-scorched scroll. A pair of silverite shears. All the scraps she’d recovered from the apothecary cabin in Haven. As Adan reached the bottom of the bundle, he froze.

Lysette struggled to keep her breathing even. She hoped she’d done the right thing, bringing this to him; it was so little as to be almost worse than nothing, but… when she’d found the last items, the ones he’d just seen, there had been no question of doing otherwise.

Uncharacteristically, she began to babble. “I’m sorry I couldn’t bring more. This was the best of it. Those journals were in a little chest in the corner. I’d have brought that as well, but there was rot underneath and I didn’t have the room in my saddlebags. I hope—”

Adan still hadn’t moved. She could see the tension in his back and in the muscles of his neck. After several seconds of silence, she couldn’t restrain herself any longer; she stepped forward and rested a hand on his leather-covered shoulder. “Adan? Is everything all right?"

He barely glanced at her. He was still staring down at the workbench. “There are years' worth of notes here,” he said in a muted voice. “Some from before I ever left Ferelden."

“I know. I read some of them. I didn’t mean to pry, but—”

He shook his head as if brushing away a fly and picked up one of the leather-bound notebooks. He turned through the pages: crossed-out formulas, alchemical diagrams, sketches of plants and strange buildings such as Lysette had never seen. Tevinter, maybe.

And words—page after page of words. She’d thought at first that they must be in another language, like some of the notes she’d found. But no, he’d just written at cross-angles, using every scrap of what must have been precious paper for a boy from the alienage.

Adan closed the notebook carefully and set it back alongside its fellows. At last, he turned his gaze to Lysette. His eyes were damp. "How can I thank you for this?"

"It was no trouble," she said. His face didn’t seem made for a look like the one he was giving her. Maker. She fought to keep her voice level as she added, "I'm glad I was able to help. To repay you."

They were standing close enough together that he had to bend his neck to catch her gaze. “Repay me? You don't owe me a damn thing."

"But of course I do. You've been so kind."

His eyes widened and he let out a disbelieving laugh. "I've been a crotchety bastard, as usual. And you've put up with my sour tongue, helped me when you didn't have to, saved my bloody life—Maker's breath, woman, how could you possibly owe me more than I do you?"

She shook her head, frustrated with her own inability to put it into words. How could she make him understand? She was grateful to him, for everything he'd become to her. Even if there was never anything but friendship between them, she already trusted him like she could no one else.

"I can't tell you how much this means to me," he said. “I can't believe you even thought to look.” He sounded more annoyed than anything, but he wiped at his eyes with the back of one hand. She swallowed.

Then she reached out to lay her hand on his chest.

He dropped his arm and stared at her.

She meant to speak, she did. But the words stalled in her coward’s throat. "I..."

Slowly, so slowly, Adan lifted his hand to cover hers. "Yes?"

She met his gaze squarely, then. There was no point in further equivocation. "I'm very fond of you," she said simply. "I thought you ought to know."

"Maker preserve me, Lysette, it can't be half what I feel for you." His hand tightened, warm against her fingers. "Are you saying what I think you are? Because I’m about two seconds from kissing you, so if—”

She lifted her face and pressed her lips to his. Adan inhaled sharply, but then his arms came around her and he was kissing her back, and Maker, she'd been waiting for this. She cupped the back of his head to pull his face down to hers—desperate to bring him closer, to make it last as long as she could before one or both of them came to their senses.

It was Adan who broke away first, but only a fraction, catching his breath.

Her own breath was too short to speak. Lysette rested her head on his shoulder, breathing him in, feeling as if she ought to say something but unable to find the words. She leaned into him and his arms tightened, one hand stroking up her back. It made her shiver even through the layers of cloth and chainmail. She could feel him swallow. "I don't know what to say," he muttered.

Lysette lifted her head to meet his gaze. Somehow her hand rose to his face, exploring its contours with gentle touches. Her fingertips traced the line of his jaw, brushed across brow bone and temple; her thumb stroked his cheek. "Just tell me... tell me if this is what you want."

His eyelids had drifted nearly shut. But at her words, they flicked open. "If this—are you serious? Maker's blood, woman, of course it is."

She found herself smiling foolishly.

"I didn't think you'd come," he said hoarsely. "I was afraid you'd changed your mind—or that you knew how I felt and you only wanted to tell me to sod off—"

"No," she said. "I only want you."

He shook his head and then he was kissing her again: harder, open-mouthed. She made an involuntary noise in the back of her throat as one of his hands dug into her hair, the other sliding down to pull her closer—his fingers slipped under the tassets on her hips, searching for a point of contact with something other than hard metal. She shuddered against him and he responded by stepping them both closer to the workbench, pushing her back against the edge—

And then he let out a muffled yelp.

"Sweet Maker, Lysette, this armor is ridiculous."

"I know," she gasped. "I don't care. Just kiss me."

Adan complied, pressing his mouth to hers as she wrapped her arms around his neck. He let out a breathless laugh. "Your pauldrons are a health hazard."

"I can take them off."

"Please do. I’d like to register a complaint about that breastplate, too." He pulled away for a moment, but not enough for her to actually remove her armor, just enough for him to meet her eyes. “Lysette, you should know I bloody well adore you. I don't know what you want with me, but..." His breath was warm on her face; his hands still gripped her hips. "I'm yours, regardless," he murmured, and she melted.

“I just want to stay here with you," she said truthfully. “But I have to go.” He let out a wordless grumble of protest as she extracted herself from his embrace, sliding away along the edge of the workbench. "I've got to get ready for tomorrow. I'll be gone for some weeks, I'm afraid."

"Tomorrow. Maker's breath. I've only just got you here and they're sending you off again already. We've hardly had a chance to… there's so much we haven't…" He stumbled, but she thought she knew what he meant.

"I'll come see you in the morning before I leave. Even if I have to murder Mattrin to do it.”

Adan looked equal parts disgruntled and delighted. Yes, he was the one for her. She pressed her lips briefly to his stubbled cheek and darted for the door.


The sun had yet to hint at its intention to rise, but Adan was already up and about, engaged in an argument with himself about how early was too early to go down to the garden. A knock at the door of his quarters made the question moot.

If he was dreaming, at least it was a bloody good dream. He rose to his feet and opened the door, stepping back to let Lysette enter.

“How long can you stay?” he asked.

"Half an hour."

"Is that all?"

She didn't answer, but her lips curved. Adan grimaced and reached for her. She went willingly into his embrace, but he pulled back after a moment just to look at her. Her face was glowing. He shook his head. "I still can't believe..."

“What can’t you believe?”

“Any number of things. Not least of which is that you're leaving already. What's your itinerary?”

"Redcliffe first. Then further south." She glanced out the window. “You’ve got a nice view of the garden.”

He didn't look. "Write to me," he said.

She hesitated. "I'm not much of a correspondent."

"Humor me." Adan turned to the battered writing desk under the window, opening a drawer to pull out a sheaf of paper. "Please?"

Lysette took the paper with a crooked smile. "You can look forward to exciting reports about patrols. Maybe even some commentary on the weather, if I'm feeling adventurous."

"As long as I know you're alive," he muttered, then cleared his throat. "Right. That's that."

Half an hour.

He scratched his beard and looked her up and down. “How exactly am I supposed to kiss you when you're fitted out like a scaly varghest?"

"Were you planning to?"

"I was thinking about it.”

She stepped closer. “Consider it a challenge.”

His hands found their way to her hips and drew her nearer still. "Hm.”

She smiled again, and that was enough.

Chapter Text

To Apothecary Adan at Skyhold 20 Bloomingtide

Dear Adan,

You requested that I write, and so I write.

The weather has been good. We've encountered no hostilities thus far. It's been hardly a week since I was here last, but it feels like longer. There are more trees than just the evergreens here, and they've all sprung out in leaves. I don't know what kind they are. I'm sure you would.

My preferred horse is still resting from his most recent journey. In his place I have been provided a Taslin Strider by the name of Guillaume. I have taken to calling him Guimauve, much to Mattrin's disgust. I confess that this encourages me to use the foolish nickname rather more often.

I don't know what else to write, Adan. My education did not prepare me for letters to a lover. If you would like me to record passages of the Chant from memory, I am at your service; if you seek any other sort of poetry, I am at a loss.

When we're together I feel as if I know you so well, but there are many things I've never asked. Do you know your father's family? Where did you learn to read Ancient Tevene? What are your plans for the future?

You needn't tell me any of this if you don't care to. But know that these are the questions that occupy my mind as we travel.

Maker keep you,

L. Rendall

Postscript: I hadn't thought to have the chance to post this until we reached Redcliffe, but we met a party outside Haven who offered to carry messages back to Skyhold for us. If you address a letter to the tavern in Redcliffe Village, it will reach me there in due course.

 

 

To Templar Lysette at the Gull & Lantern, Redcliffe27 Bloomingtide

Mademoiselle Rendall—

I didn't know you had a surname. And such a Fereldan one! I'm charmed.

But you already knew that.

Thanks for writing. Your letter was too short, but I won't turn up my nose. I've always appreciated your forthright manner.

I'll answer your questions as best I can.

No, I don't know my father's family. Not even sure if any of them are still alive. I figure if they'd been anyone worth knowing, they'd have taken us in when my father died. But there you have it. Being elf-blooded's worse than being a bastard, most places.

I learned Tevene from books lent to me by a Chantry scholar whose home my mother cleaned when I was a boy. I didn't learn it very well, though, as I found out when I finally made it to Tevinter. Lucky for me, no one there knows it very well either.

It's harder to tell you about my plans for the future. What plans I did have were thrown into disarray by the sudden end of the world—you probably remember that. If we manage to avoid that catastrophe, though, I imagine it'll be much the same as I've been doing till now. (Possibly with less travel. After that trek through the Frostbacks, I'm beginning to think I might be too old for it. I'm just glad you're the one galloping across the Hinterlands and not me.)

In return, please tell me more about your own family. Do you ever visit them?

I should thank you again for the recovery of my journals. I'd felt sick about losing them at Haven, to tell you the truth, but it hardly felt right to harp on it what with everything else. Pella's still heartbroken over Flissa, and it's not as if I can blame the girl.

I do wish you hadn't had to leave again so soon. The last time we spoke I hardly had a chance to impress you with my eloquence. In fact, looking back, I'm not sure I was able to string together a single coherent sentence. Must confess a worry that you'll come back to Skyhold and sternly inform me that you've changed your mind about pursuing... whatever this is... now that you truly understand how much of a gibbering fool I am.

I'll have to make it up in writing. The truth is that I've admired you since I met you, or near enough that it makes no difference. You're a lovely woman, honest and brave and all that, and if you were here now I'd ask again what you want with a disagreeable blighter like me.

I never expected you to come back after that first day in Haven. Even though I'll never be one for the Maker the way you are, He has my thanks for it. Or Andraste, or whoever. I don't know.

Lysette, it’s disgraceful that this is the best I can manage even after proper time to think. Little wonder I'm absolute rubbish at saying such things out loud.

Travel safely. My regards to Guimauve.

A.S.

P.S. If you didn't believe I cared for you before, I'll prove it now and take you up on your offer to write me a verse from the Chant of Light. Got a favorite?

 

 

To Apothecary Adan at Skyhold3 Justinian

Dear Adan,

That's a foolish question. The Chant is very long. I have many favorites, none of which are appropriate for what ought to be an affectionate letter. But I'll indulge you: "Let the blade pass through the flesh / Let my blood touch the ground / Let my cries touch their hearts / Let mine be the last sacrifice." (Andraste 7:12)

You see? I told you I'm not much for poetry.

We reached the village of Redcliffe at midday and have set up residence in the local tavern as planned. I was pleased to find your letter waiting for me. Less so to find that I'm sharing a room with an apostate. These are strange times.

I have more questions for you. For example, I know you have a bad back. (Don't tell me otherwise—I've watched you and I know.) Were you injured? And how did you get the scars on your face? They're very distinguished, in any case.

I've never been to this part of Ferelden before, let alone Tevinter. Compared to you I've hardly been anywhere at all. The only time I've traveled by sea was when I first left Val Royeaux for Denerim. I am finding it quite pleasant in the Hinterlands, however. There are more trees than I'm used to seeing, and the rolling hills aren't as harsh as higher up in the Frostbacks. Of course, given the purpose of our expedition—seeking out a rumored pass through the southern valleys—I imagine we will see harsher conditions before long.

My father, as you know, is a cobbler in Denerim. His name is Tieran and my stepmother is named Dera. My mother is named Alene. When I was young, she worked as a dressmaker; she is now married to a cloth merchant who claims a distant connection to nobility. I retain my doubts, but keep silent on the matter. No, I don't visit any of them often.

Speaking of my mother, she told me never to write to a man without first scenting the paper with my usual eau de parfum. I have not done so: to achieve the desired effect, you need only read this letter in the stables. Or perhaps the barracks on a warm day.

Then again, I write to a man who seems entirely capable of tolerating deathroot fumes, rotting fish, and Maker knows what other horrors. Perhaps that's why I've developed such a fondness for you: who else might be willing to put up with a warrior's armor at the end of the day?

I hope you will, anyway. It would be a pity for this revelation to end our romance before I've even made it back to Skyhold.

Yours, if you'll have me,

Lysette Rendall

 

 

To Templar Lysette at the Gull & Lantern, Redcliffe12 Justinian

Dear Lysette,

Ah, at last I understand. I've attracted you with my presumably low standards for personal hygiene. Well, whatever gets the job done, I suppose.

I will happily help you defy your mother's strictures. My heart, the rank odor of your sweaty garments is more alluring than that of any rose. The only thing more fearsome than your blade in battle is the mildew wafting from your saddlebags. May your enemies cower and your admirers (other than me) stay far away.

How's that? You said you couldn't write poetry. Now you see that I can't, either.

Maker's teeth, I haven't felt this much of a fool since I was Pella's age. I'll have you know I'm a grown man and a respected expert in my field.

Oh, and on the subject of Pella: she knows all. I don't know how. I swear by my spindleweed I didn't tell the girl a thing. My attention to the runners may have given us away, but there may be a simpler explanation: she knows when I'm happy. I am.

You are correct about my back. (You are an alarmingly observant woman at times. I wonder what else you've noticed while I carried on oblivious?) It's gotten worse in the last few years. Likely just age creeping up on me. But I did have an old injury that may have predisposed me to that particular delight—fell from a balcony as a boy. No better story than that I was sitting on the railing, reading, and the blasted thing gave out from under me. I was bedridden for weeks, but at least I could finish my book. (Wasn't worth it. I read anything I could get my hands on, but that was a piece of rubbish.)

My distinguished scars are the result of a run-in with some human nobles shortly before I left home. Not a pleasant story. I'd rather spare you the details of that one. Why didn't I learn to fight? A number of reasons. Including, ironically, self-preservation. One draws enough attention as a shem kid in the alienage as it is. Also, and more honestly, I never had an interest in it.

But what of you? You didn't have to fight any more than I had to read insipid literature. Were you a combative child?

Yours, determinedly,

—Adan

 

 

To Apothecary Adan, Skyhold22 Justinian

Dear Adan,

I don't know if “combative” is the word. I was outspoken, certainly; perhaps more so than was wise. I was infuriated by every small injustice. Once in Val Royeaux I saw a pair of boys tormenting a squirrel, intending to put her to the pyre like Andraste. I bit the chief aggressor on the arm and wasn't allowed to go out unaccompanied for weeks.

I don't mind about Pella. Please send her my best.

I should have picked up more of that healing salve when I was at Skyhold. I've gotten back in shape for all this long-distance riding, but we put in some sparring today, and now everything else is sore again.

I missed your last letter in Redcliffe, but the Inquisition runner brought it along after we left. Please send your next to the arl's estate in West Hills. I haven’t got long to write; we’ll be heading out shortly. But I look forward to hearing from you again. Even your bad poetry has a certain appeal. As you do, to me.

Maker bless you,

Lysette

 

 

To Templar Lysette of the Inquisition, Arl's Estate, West Hills2 Solace

Lysette—

My darling, all is discovered. The delights of our last passionate rendezvous in the gazebo—

There we are, she's left. Pardon my detour into fantasy. Pella's a nosy child and was looking over my shoulder. That scared her off.

Although if I'm honest, Lysette, I could go for a passionate rendezvous in the gazebo right about now. When are you coming back? You may excel at patience, but I do not. I had hardly an hour with you before you left.

Like any proper lover, I've enclosed a flower for my sweetheart. If you drop a leaf or two in your tea, it'll help with the aches and pains. Tastes awful, but some things are beyond even my skills.

Maker bless us both. I may not be able to look you in the eye upon your return.

Yours, as ever,

Adan

Chapter Text

First sign of the plague is coughing and going pale, like blood's run out of your skin. Elfroot soothes the cough, but doesn't cool the next day's fever. That's where the spindleweed helps.

—From the diary of Ira Gardner

Mattrin Gallifort, third son of the Bann of White River, had never wanted to join the Inquisition. He hadn’t wanted to join the Templar Order, either. Although at least that had been partially his own decision: promised to the Chantry at birth, his only other real option had been to take vows as a Brother. But luckily he'd proven good with a sword—as well he might after years of weapons training, tedious lectures, and daily sparring.

It had been, in fact, a lot of bloody work. Mattrin didn't much appreciate that all it had gotten him was a lyrium addiction and a trip to the coldest, wettest part of Ferelden with a bunch of fucking apostates and Lysette fucking Rendall. Not that Lysette was such a bad sort, as it went, but she would have been somewhere near the bottom of his list of people to keep him company for weeks on end. Stubborn as a druffalo, and no sense of humor at all.

Mattrin shifted in his saddle. It was a struggle to maintain proper knightly dignity when riding through yet another cloud of vicious little biting insects. Lysette saw him fidgeting and turned in her own saddle to send him a flat look. Andraste's tits. The woman wasn't bad-looking, he supposed, but he'd as soon have bedded his sister. Did she ever smile? Erriala was more to his taste, but she was in Orlais and still hung up on old Tomas, besides.

The only other candidate for female companionship was no better: a necromancer who was a blood mage if he'd ever seen one. Nevarran, he thought, and that was hardly different from being Tevinter as far as Mattrin was concerned. No, there was little chance of a girl to keep him warm on this journey. Unless he found one in the bog.

Probably just as well. He'd be up all night scratching these bloody bites anyway.

"Any sign of the road?" called the elf at the head of the party. And wasn’t that another insult. Not only was the leader of their expedition no warrior, he was a knife-ear with a bow who nonetheless outranked any of them. Fucking Inquisition.

"To the left, Lieutenant," came a good-natured voice from behind Mattrin.

It was starting to rain again. Mattrin cursed under his breath as he tightened his reins and directed his horse to the left. They were two days out from the arl’s estate, and the roads just got worse as the elevation increased. The whole point of this blasted expedition was to find a secret route that’d make travel across the Frostbacks easier, but the terrain they'd found since leaving the Imperial Highway—well, Mattrin would almost have preferred the rocky pass north of Skyhold. And he hated the cold.

Almost as much as he hated babysitting apostates. The man riding behind Mattrin was another one, a Dalish git with ugly tattoos all over his bony face. It made Mattrin uneasy to have his back to a mage, but his attempts to take up the rear of the party had been thwarted by Lysette's insistence that both templars ride alongside. She'd begun to feel something odd a while back, she said, and wanted Mattrin to tell her if he felt the same.

Probably just scared of the woods. Lysette was a city girl. He shook his head but then—he felt it too. A humming, just outside the edge of hearing. Not the insects. Something magical. His head shot up and his hand went to the hilt of his sword at the same time as Lysette's.

But then it was gone, as quickly as it had come.

The rest of the party had noticed the templars’ momentary agitation, and Lieutenant Farrow held up his hand to signal a halt. He turned to look inquiringly at Lysette—why did everyone always look to her when Mattrin was the same sodding rank?—and she held up a finger in response. Wait. She was listening to the forest around them. Reluctantly, Mattrin did the same. For a long minute, all he heard was the buzzing of flies and the impatient stomp of his horse’s hooves on the mucky ground. A distant rumble of thunder that made him eager to reach the next town before the weather became truly intolerable and they had to set up camp in an actual swamp. Finally, Lysette turned to Mattrin with her eyebrows raised.

He shrugged and admitted, “It's gone, but I felt it too. A triggered enchantment, or something. What about the mages?”

The elf mage furrowed his brows but shook his head. The Nevarran shrugged disinterestedly.

Lysette looked to Lieutenant Farrow. “We'd best ride alongside them. Unless you object?”

“No, go on.”

In short order, Mattrin found himself escorting a necromancer through the woods by moonlight. A high point of his career, this was. Lysette rode behind with the Dalish mage, Cillian, who called himself an arcane warrior—as if a mage's tricks were anything like real combat. Skill and strength made a warrior, not borrowed power from the realm of spirits. That power wasn't yours. It could turn on you in an instant.

Mattrin kept his charge firmly in his peripheral vision. She glared back at him with equal dislike. “I did not join the Inquisition to be placed under the thumb of a templar, Farrow.”

“You're not under his thumb,” said the lieutenant sharply. “We've got a job to do, and I'll hear no more from you, Sidony. Move out.”

The party picked up again. They were six in total. Few enough to move quickly and without attracting undue attention, but numbers enough to defend themselves against any chance encounters.

The Inquisition was different than the Order—well, Mattrin had been told it would be. As a templar, there was always the possibility of transfer once you were assigned to a Circle, but more often than not, you'd be living and working alongside the same people for your entire career. Here, you could find yourself fighting alongside anyone at all, expected to behave as if you'd been comrades in arms for years. He'd rubbed shoulders with mages as often as he'd guarded them.

And lately he'd been avoiding the latter. He told himself that he had better things to do than babysit the leader of the rebel mages in Skyhold's dungeons. But the truth was that he was more than a little ashamed of himself. He'd nearly killed that girl at Haven, and while it wasn't as if he'd have regretted doing his duty... he was still grudgingly grateful to Lysette for intervening. In some ways, this Inquisition was as freeing as it was irritating. He might not have been at his best these days, but the Inquisition would take anyone willing to fight for its cause.

Truly anyone, Mattrin thought as the final member of the party whistled between his teeth and turned to Farrow. "Did you see that?" There was a quaver in the boy's voice. Hall was older than Mattrin, but he didn't much act it.

"That light?" asked the lieutenant.

"You did see it! Yeah—something flickering, isn't it? Looks... magical."

Mattrin was inclined to agree.

Farrow glanced back at the rest of the company. "On your guard." He nodded at Hall, who nocked an arrow loosely, ready to draw. The boy might be inexperienced, but damn if he wasn't good with a bow from horseback. Mattrin swung his shield off his back and onto his left arm. At his side, Sidony loosened the straps that held her staff, ready to spin it out at a moment's notice. Mattrin looked back to see Lysette holding her reins loosely in her left hand, sword at the ready in her right, and Cillian—shit, he'd gone and dropped a barrier spell over the whole party. Lysette hadn't even flinched, damn her.

"Just in case," the elf said amiably.

Lysette turned to look behind her and then addressed Cillian directly. "Swap sides with me. You'll be safer on my left." Whatever mystical threats lay ahead, that seemed an unnecessary precaution. This area was too remote—and damp—to appeal to bandits or others who might lay traps for unwary travelers. Better to keep the mage on your sword side.

Cillian smiled and asked Lysette, "Do you truly believe I need to be protected, da'len?"

From a Circle mage, the statement would have been a threat. From Cillian... Mattrin wasn't entirely certain. But Lysette only waited. After a moment, the elven man sighed and complied with her request, guiding his horse with an air of diffidence that was belied by the wink he gave Mattrin as he changed places with Lysette. Maker’s breath.

Mattrin shook his head in disgust and turned back to the road. However unlikely attack from the rear might be, they had to be on the alert going forward; that light could be anything from an apostate's den to a rift in the Veil.

But it didn't seem to be either of those things.

They'd reached the edge of the woods and come out in a marsh. The waters were still and dark, dense with long grasses and bulrushes; dry patches here and there looked vaguely like a flooded road. Before the Inquisition party, a small hill rose a few feet above the water level. It bore a circle of standing stones, some with carvings that looked old and Fereldan, others lit by tiny lamps bearing an unnatural bluish flame. Magical, certainly. A summoning circle? Mattrin looked back at Lysette, whose eyes were narrow and fixed on the tall center stone. Clearly she was thinking along the same lines.

"It's veilfire," said Sidony, sounding more curious than alarmed. She moved to dismount, but Mattrin turned his horse and held out his sword arm to block her. She hissed at him, but remained where she was.

"So it is," said Cillian. "Why do you suppose there are veilfire torches in these marshlands?" With a glance at Farrow and then Lysette, he dismounted and dropped his reins over the branch of a dead tree. That wouldn't hold a beast that wanted to get away, but Cillian's sturdy little horse evidently didn't; she dropped her head and began munching on the razor-edged marsh grasses.

Still holding out his sword to block Sidony, Mattrin swallowed nervously as the man approached the stone in the center of the ring.

"Cillian," said Sidony. "Not that I wouldn’t enjoy seeing you summon something that would take out this young idiot of a templar, but—"

"No, I won't. But there's something here." The mage bent and picked something up from the soggy ground. A book, or journal—Mattrin tensed as he gingerly separated the pages. "Creators. Listen to this. 'Did someone follow me from the Circle? ...These demons are clever. The concoctions I can make with the plants here will open my mind to vistas past the Fade. The demons hint it is beyond me...'" Cillian looked up at the rest of the party, his expression betraying curiosity as well as concern. "Dated two days ago."

"Andraste have mercy," murmured Lysette. "An apostate on the run?"

"An abomination by now, sounds like." Mattrin swore and didn't bother to keep his voice down. "We can't bloody well just ignore it."

"Why not?" muttered Sidony.

"No, Mattrin's right." Lysette turned to Farrow. Hall was no use; his eyes were wide as saucers. "Ser, we should investigate. You have two templars here. We're trained and equipped to deal with this."

"Could it be a trap?" he asked.

"I don't think so," Sidony said grudgingly. "Not if the writing's as mad as the elf says, anyhow."

"I'll leave it to Cillian to decide," said the lieutenant.

Everyone looked at the elven mage.

Cillian waved a hand and green flame crackled to life in the empty sconce. Mattrin tried not to jump.

And then he did jump, as bodies began to rise from the water all around them.


Skyhold's garden was verdant and the sun was high. The shouting masons and the chattering Orlesians were as distracting as ever, the chanter still preached in his ear, but still Adan whistled through his teeth as he weeded the potted embrium.

"That is incredibly annoying," Pella said with a world-weary sigh.

He grinned over at her. She was occupied in the same task he was, but appeared to be finding it rather less enjoyable. "Turnabout is fair play. Sooner you finish up here, sooner you can run off and do—whatever it is you do."

"I was thinking I might catch up on my reading. There's a new Tethras out." She yawned. "I'm not sure it's authentic, though. It's even worse than the last."

"I do not give a single damn, Pella." Adan went back to the embrium.

"No, I see how it is. You're too busy daydreaming about your girlfriend. When is Lysette coming back, anyway?"

"Not sure. A week or two, I think." He looked up from the plants as another elven woman came down the garden path. Pella went back to her own weeding with some haste. "Hallo, Elan. All well in the infirmary?"

"More or less." Elan folded her arms. "You want to do something about that surgeon, though. She's pestering Rachelle over the elfroot salves."

"What—Maker's breath, not again. I'll go down and have a word." Or put the fear of Andraste into her, if necessary. He really didn't want to bother the Inquisitor with staff disputes, but if this carried on, he might have to.

Pella looked mournfully at Adan as he rose, and he frowned back at her. "You're not done. Stay here, listen to Elan, and I'll write a favorable report to your mama."

She threw a weed at him. He headed for the stairs, the sound of Elan scolding the girl about seed dispersal fading behind him as he climbed to the battlements. He would go down and see the surgeon, but he wanted to stop off in his quarters first and see if the runners had left him any messages. He was waiting for one or two—and not just from Lysette, either.

Although that was certainly part of his motivation.

But there were no messages under his door or anywhere else. The sun shone through the gaps in his roof: it had been covered with canvas to keep the worst of the weather out, but that was all. It worked well enough for the summer. He'd want it repaired by the time snows came again, of course, but it made for a pleasant addition to the lighting in the meantime.

Even if there were no new messages to read, he still had one to reply to. Adan sat down at his writing desk, pulled a rather crumpled letter out of his belt pouch, and settled in to write a response.

 

Judgments this morning. Verdict: red templar handed over to his fellows and the rebel leader conscripted to serve the Inquisition. Rather be in her shoes than his.

All else as expected. I'll leave you to get in touch with the others.

A.S.

He'd pass it off to Elan to deliver. There was little point in the precaution, or in subterfuge in general, but old habits died hard. And he was reasonably certain that the Inquisition spymaster read everything that passed in and out of Skyhold through the legitimate channels, and she knew enough about his network of contacts already.

Anyhow, it wasn't as if he was engaged in anything illicit. Ordinary communications to friends and colleagues, by and large. Elan's branch of the College of Herbalists called for a bit more discretion, but she'd always had her own methods of getting in touch with people. Sneaky, but useful. Probably one or two of those Orlesians milling around in his garden was a bard—and the Red Jenny down in the tavern probably had her own ways, too.

The truth was that the cloak-and-dagger stuff had never been his forte, even when he'd been in Maric's employ. He hadn't been in the game—or the Game—properly for a long time now. Hardly at all since he'd come back to the south. Now and then he could lend a hand as needed, and he held a fair number of favors in reserve. But what little taste he had for intrigue and struggles of power between heads of state had been diminished even more by the appearance of the Breach. It was all just so bloody pointless.

And he was so bloody selfish. Afraid of a little risk when a woman like Lysette was out there risking life and limb to bring peace back to Thedas.

He didn't like the responsibility. He'd had enough of other people's lives in his hand; he wanted to focus on his real work, the satisfaction of discovery and proofs. But the guilt nipped at his heels. He knew, he'd known too many people who didn't have his option of escape. Didn't he owe it to them to help where he could?

He wasn't like Lysette, someone whose mission in life was to help. Hers wasn't just the idealism of a naive young woman, either; it permeated her to the bone, that drive to make the world a better place, whatever the cost to herself. She knew it might cost her her life—she knew it would cost her her mind.

That thought didn’t get any easier. But they’d agreed to take their relationship one day at a time. In these days of ancient darkspawn and archdemons tearing open the sky, there was little alternative.

He'd looked into the lyrium issue a bit. It wasn't encouraging, either for the Inquisitor's problem or—or his own. Not that Lysette's lyrium usage was any of his business. But if she ever did choose another path…

Adan could hardly ask that of her.

He stood up. A walk would do him good, and he should take it before the day got too warm. The sun reflecting off the battlements made the stones hot to the touch, and the breezes from the south only helped so much.


What in the Maker's name—

The rain stung in her eyes as Lysette circled Guillaume to face the water. But he was no warhorse, and even a warhorse might have lost its nerve at the sight of half a dozen ragged corpses rising through the mist. He wailed and reared. Lysette cursed and half-jumped, half-slid off his back. She hoped the creature had sense enough to flee rather than trample her under his hooves.

She moved backwards, not turning her back on the water, and swore again as an arrow flew past her face to strike the mud fifteen feet behind. They shouldn’t pose a challenge, being no stronger than the bodies they possessed, but if there were archers among them—how were they—

Her shield had been strapped to Guillaume’s saddle. There hadn’t been time to grab it. Lysette retreated and ducked behind the stone pillar in the center of the clearing just as Mattrin thundered past on his own horse, who seemed to be the only member of the party unafraid of the corpses.

At least, he seemed unafraid until his hooves struck the water and even more shadowy figures rose up out of the darkness.

“Idiot boy,” snapped Sidony, her staff waving in an intricate movement before a blast of purple light struck the corpses and knocked the lot of them flat.

Mattrin's horse backed up, gingerly, hooves splashing faintly in the shallow water. Hall and Farrow both dismounted, took cover, and nocked arrows; Cillian was glowing with uncanny light and held a long dagger at the ready.

Two more bodies rose. One of them was on Lysette’s side of the pillar—she advanced, lunging and thrusting her blade through the skeletal face. The corpse let out an unholy screech. Lysette withdrew her sword and lifted it again. She struck down and to the side, cleaving the writhing body nearly in half from neck to waist. It came apart with a sickening crunch. The body splashed back into the water and sank slowly beneath the dark surface.

There was a long silence before anyone spoke.

“Well, then.” Cillian was the first to break the stillness. “I certainly wasn’t expecting that.”

“I’m glad to hear it,” said Lieutenant Farrow, rather dryly.

“These runes are gibberish,” said Sidony. “I’ve no love for the elf, but I wouldn’t have expected it either.” She dismounted and examined the runestone carefully, brows lowered. "Whoever set this up wasn't in their right mind. I think the corpses were already here."

Farrow looked out over the water. It seemed still, for now. “Ser Lysette, your horse is about fifty yards that way, out of breath and looking scared out of his wits. Sidony, any suggestions for how we can reach him without awakening any more of those monsters?”

“Blast it, how should I know?”

“You’re the necromancer.”

“This is no magic I know.”

“Bollocks it’s not," said Mattrin curtly. "What about those torches?”

Cillian shook his head, frowning. “She's telling the truth. These runes shouldn’t have done anything. What drew the spirits, to make them rise all at once?”

“The light attracted them, I think,” said Hall hesitantly. “When the big torch flared up. And when the horse advanced... Ser Mattrin, your sword was glowing.”

He was right. Merde.

"Better not to risk more than one of us,” said Farrow to Lysette.

“So the only way for me to recover my horse is to wade through corpse-infested waters in the dark? Alone?”

Farrow gave her a reluctant grin. “You could take Sidony, if you like.”

Lysette sighed and reached down to unfasten her belt pouch. After a moment’s hesitation, she handed it to Mattrin. “I don’t know how deep that water is. Hold on to this for me, would you?”

For once, he didn’t argue, only nodded solemnly and buckled the pouch to his own belt. The bluish-green light flickered over his face as he looked down at her from atop his horse. “Good luck, Lysette.”

The first step was the worst. But the young archer’s hypothesis proved correct. Without the light from her sword or any other source, not so much as a barrier spell, no more corpses rose out of the water around her. The water itself was only knee-deep, for the moment.

And at least she didn’t have to go unarmed. She gripped the hilt of her sword as she walked cautiously through the fetid water. She might not have been able to use templar abilities without the light waking more corpses, but the lyrium still flowed in her blood to give her speed and stamina.

The clouds shifted and for a moment, moonlight through brightly. She froze, heart pounding and breath bated. There was no sign of activity from under the water. Still, she didn’t move until the clouds softened the light of the moons once more. And she kept on, more slowly, the rancid stench of the water filling her nostrils and the cold slime seeping between her toes.

This would be a ridiculous way to die. She should have written to Adan again before they left the arl’s estate. No one else was likely to miss her. Maker guide her, that was a morbid thought. But there hadn’t been time to write, and they ought to have reached another village by now...

Glimpsing a shadowy cottage along the far edge of the marsh, Lysette wondered if this was the village. That was an even grimmer thought. She’d heard of no battles this far to the south, but something terrible must have happened here for so many fresh bodies to be in one place, waiting for possession… and no one left or willing to burn them. Plague?

She swallowed and kept wading, drawing nearer to where Guillaume's pale shape stood, still shaking. And yes, there in the mist ahead—the dark silhouettes of more buildings in a jagged row. Lining a road, perhaps. These must indeed be the outskirts of the village.

It was with relief that Lysette finally stepped onto dry land—relatively dry—to greet her horse. He was wide-eyed but uninjured. Moving slowly so as not to startle him further, she scooped up the reins that dragged in the muck. But he was in no condition to ride... Maker, she’d have to walk him back. Well, her boots were ruined anyway.

She soothed the animal, murmuring Orlesian nonsense, terms of endearment her mother had called her as a child, anything that might work. It was only a few minutes before he breathed more slowly, although though his nostrils still flared and he flinched when Lysette gently adjusted his bridle. “Come on, Guimauve. We’ve got to get back to the others. All right?”

The rest of the party still stood on the bare hillock, weapons drawn and on the alert. Their own horses stood in a cluster behind. Someone had extinguished the unnatural flame on the central pillar. Good.

Lysette was twenty yards from the others when a very alive, very human shout from behind her had the hair on the back of her neck standing up. Some small, sour corner of her mind noticed that her marshmallow of a horse seemed entirely unfazed by that disturbance. She dropped to a crouch and turned to look over her shoulder just as the impact came. A shock of pain in the side of her skull that set her reeling and darkened her vision.

At least that won't wake any more corpses, was her last thought before the world went black.

Chapter Text

No more did he hear any voice in his dreams
But his own, and the mutterings of jealous spirits,
And he knew that this silence boded ill.

—Silence 3:10

The heat wave that had blanketed Skyhold for most of Solace ended abruptly in the first of what would prove to be many late-summer thunderstorms. Low rumbles echoed through the mountains nearly every day that week. The soldiers at the training grounds below kept practicing, but when lightning struck the Inquisitor's tower itself, Adan began to reconsider his roof situation. Even here in his workshop, the rain blew through the gaps in the walls.

He hadn't heard from Lysette in nearly a month now. Letters went astray, of course; the greater the distance, the higher the chance of mishap or delay.

But he missed her appallingly. He'd read and reread the letters she sent. He hadn't expected her to write at all, although he ought to have done; that woman would never go back on her word. And her letters were full of that dry humor he adored, peeking through the dutiful exterior. Proof that they'd truly shared those precious, hurried moments. Evidence that she felt the same way he did.

But he worried, still, that it would all fall to pieces. That she'd change her mind, or that daring to care for her would come back to bite him in some unforeseen way.

And he worried for her. He'd been shaken by those bruises on her cheek. After seeing her in action at Haven he'd developed a reassuring idea of her as untouchable, invulnerable to harm.

But Lysette would never hesitate to throw herself into the path of danger if it meant helping an innocent. She'd done it for Minaeve; Andraste's arse, she'd done it for him. It wasn't out of a lack of regard for her own safety as much as it was… it was an immutable law of nature.

Thankfully, work made the time pass more quickly. Adan was absorbed in preparing an embrium distillation when Elan walked into his workshop without so much as a knock.

"Good afternoon," she said.

"What's on your mind?" he asked a bit shortly, looking up from the alembic. He wanted to get this set up before the weather changed again. At these altitudes, he already had to adjust for a lower boiling point, and embrium was sensitive to even a small shift in weather conditions.

Elan took no notice of his tone. She pulled off her light cloak and perched on the high stool next to the workbench. "I was hoping for a private word."

"I'm busy."

"You're busy because you want to be busy, not because you're needed. You know as well as I do that we’re groaning with resources.”

“Resources, yes; research output, no. I’ve only just been able to get back into—”

She ignored him. “You've heard the news from Orlais?"

"About the countess? Yes."

"And?"

"I've written."

"Do you intend any further ac—" Elan broke off impatiently as the door swung wide before Pella.

"Oh, come in," Adan said irritably. "If no one's going to leave me in peace today, we might as well make a party of it. Are you finished with the pots, girl?"

Elan stood and brushed out of the workshop without another word. Adan stayed bent over his task until Pella spoke. There was an unusual tremor in her voice.

"Adan?"

He turned. She was still standing by the open door, dripping wet from the rain but making no move to dry off. She only looked at him, twisting her hands. Her eyes were enormous.

And he knew. He’d known the second he'd heard her speak.

"The Inquisitor would like to see you," she said.

Adan stared at Pella blankly as the world began to tilt on its foundations.

"Would you like me to... to come with you?"

He found his voice. "No. Those pots won't scour themselves. Get back to work."

"Adan…"

“I said get back to work.”

He stepped around her and strode out the door.


The world was hazy and painfully bright. However hard Lysette squinted, the blurry shapes that loomed in the flickering torchlight stubbornly refused to resolve into figures she recognized.

"Qu'est-ce qui se passe?" she asked groggily.

Someone was supporting her head. No one answered her question, exactly, but a voice asked, "Do you know where you are?" A strange accent, only vaguely familiar, but soothing.

"Non, mais—Maker, I'm going to—"

Someone else, the person supporting her head, cursed as Lysette struggled to sit up. Gauntleted hands gripped her shoulders to support her as she retched over the side of the bunk. "Shit, Cillian, are you sure you can't cast a healing spell?"

"No, I am sorry. Later, perhaps."

"You might at least look for a bucket," came a third voice from somewhere above Lysette's head. "I could use one too, after watching that."

Mattrin snarled, “Unless you have something useful to contribute, mage—”

“I kill people, templar. I don't heal them.”

Now she remembered. These were the people she'd been traveling with. Inquisition agents. And Mattrin, of course. She groaned pathetically and someone thrust a waterskin at her.

She fell back. It wasn't a bunk, after all, just a hard bench shoved against a cold stone wall. They were in a large chamber, without windows and with only one door—but even so, it looked more like an unused root cellar than a dungeon. No fire, but it was warm, and the flickering torches were almost hypnotic...

Her eyelids began to drift shut again and someone—the elf—tsked. "No, child, you'll need to stay awake for a moment longer. Look at me." He placed gentle fingers on her forehead, forcing her eyes open as he stared into them. His own eyes were luminous as a cat’s in the dim chamber. "Is your vision clear?"

"No," she answered honestly.

"Stay with us just a bit longer, eh? You've had quite the blow to the head."

"I was in the water," she said, her words sounding blurred even to herself. She could hear her own accent, stronger than usual, and was frustrated—but it was difficult to shape the sounds.

"Yes, you were. Not for long, luckily."

"Everyone else?"

"All here. All alive. You got the worst of it after Farrow—he had an arrow to the neck, but we had enough potions and mana between us to heal him on the spot. He's out now with a sedative. Hall's got a nasty gash on his foot, and we're a bit anxious about what he might have picked up in the swamp. We're all right otherwise."

"I've got a broken arm," Sidony snapped.

"As I said, we're all right otherwise." He smiled. "Even the horses, as far as I know."

"But what happened? Where are we?"

"Ah. Well. That's..."

"Avvar," spat Mattrin. "We're sodding hostages, Lysette. This bastard had to go and surrender—"

"We were badly outnumbered," Cillian said mildly. "And neither Farrow nor Lysette would have lasted much longer had I not done so."

"What gave you the right to take command?"

"Expediency."

"I don't understand," said Lysette carefully. The words weren't coming any more easily, to her frustration. "H—hostages?"

"We don't know much more than that, I'm afraid."

"We can guess," interjected Sidony sourly. "Some nonsense about honor. It was a planned ambush. Fast, efficient. Seems there's a swamp lord who wants to prove his mettle against our Inquisitor. All we've got to do is wait."

"And try not to die," murmured Cillian.

"I'll try," said Lysette. "Andraste—"

Sidony groaned pitifully. "No, no, no. I refuse. Bad enough to be locked up in this hole for who knows how long. If the templar brats mean to start preaching, just kill me now."

Mattrin replied with a comment that was certainly not... Well, it wasn't preaching. Lysette coughed and struggled to swallow.

"I don't like this," came a timid voice from behind Cillian's shoulder. "There's truly no way you can heal her yet? Honestly, Cillian, it’s been at least an hour and she still looks..."

Cillian frowned. "You're not wrong, lad. Templar Mattrin—you're sure you've no more lyrium on you?”

“What, you think I'm lying? After all that?”

It wouldn't be the first time a templar was less than honest about his lyrium stores, but Lysette thought the indignation in Mattrin's voice was genuine. He must have given up his own lyrium supply to help the mages heal Farrow. It was an inefficient use of the stuff; templar preparations were more concentrated than what mages could absorb at once. Using it for magic was like burning peat when dry leaves would do.

“I have mine,” she said. “My belt pouch, Mattrin.”

“Not anymore, you don't. We had to use that too.”

At her look of dismay, he added, “I left your blasted love letters alone, don't worry.” And then he sighed as her face changed again. “I didn't read them, Lysette. I've got one or two standards of decency left… which is more than I do lyrium doses. You know we’re buggered, don't you?”

It certainly wasn't good news. They were nearly two weeks from Skyhold. Even if the Inquisition bothered to mount a rescue for a handful of oddball agents and junior templars, it'd be weeks before they could expect aid.

It was difficult to calculate through the throbbing of her head, but this was important. Lysette hadn't relied on her templar abilities when fighting the corpses—two weeks, perhaps, before she'd start to truly feel the absence of lyrium. Another few weeks before it became unbearable…

“I've got a month, perhaps longer,” she said at length. “And you?”

“Less,” he said briefly.

“How much less?”

“I don't know. How should I? It's not as if I've been in this position before.” This would be a problem, indeed, unless their captors were more generous than they had any reason to expect.

But just then, Lysette had more immediate concerns. She needed to use the privy. And she was beginning to realize she wasn't warm at all but, in fact, rather cold. She wasn't even wearing her robe, only her damp chemise and drawers, which might as well have been nothing at all. Lysette might not have been a modest woman, but being naked in the soldier’s sense was bad enough. “Do we have any of our gear?” she asked Cillian.

“Believe it or not, we do. Our captors have been… I don't know if ‘gracious’ is quite the word. ‘Reasonable’, perhaps. They took our weapons and anything they thought might be enchanted, but we've got our own provisions and bedrolls.”

Sidony contributed to the discussion again, this time with a loud snort. “The girl wants her clothes, Cillian.”

“Was that a hint of consideration for another living being? I'm astonished.”

They continued squabbling while Lysette moved shakily for her saddlebags. She located a dry robe and pulled it over her damp underclothes. She'd have to hang those up to dry at some point, but without a fire, she wasn't sure they would dry. The air here was so clammy.

Not the worst prison she could imagine, but less luxurious even than camping in the wilderness. It was with some uneasiness that she asked about the privy situation. But thank the Maker, the guard at the door called to a woman building a fire in the open courtyard beyond, who led Lysette to a spot in the battlements evidently used for the purpose. There was even a washbasin. The dead flies floating on the surface were only to be expected in this marshy climate.

By the time Lysette was escorted back to the makeshift cell, Cillian and Sidony—despite the latter's protestations—had recovered enough mana to treat Lysette's head injury. As Mattrin watched, the tightness around his mouth lessened a bit. She must have looked even worse than she felt if Mattrin, of all people, was relieved to see magic used on a fellow templar.

“I'm no healer,” Cillian told her with a note of apology in his voice. “You'll probably have a headache for a few days, but I think we've prevented any lasting damage.”

Sidony returned to her bench in sullen silence, still holding her arm ostentatiously. Cillian rolled his eyes and explained, “Bones are difficult. A botched attempt at healing a minor fracture could make things worse for her in the long run, and she knows it. She'll be all right.”

Farrow was still sleeping, or unconscious, and Hall was shivering alarmingly. If he'd picked up whatever illness that had wiped out those villagers—well, Lysette could only hope that plague was easier to treat than broken bones.

There were enough benches for them each to claim one. Lysette sat on the one she’d woken up on earlier, spreading the horsey-smelling blanket over her lap. Their weapons and much of their armor had been taken, of course, but as Cillian had said, they'd been left their saddlebags and provisions. Most of their provisions.

"Are you well, da'len?"

Lysette looked up as Cillian sat down beside her. "Well enough," she said.

"You look to be thinking dark thoughts."

Could he read her face so easily? Could everyone?

"I don't know that I'm thinking clearly at all,” she said.

“I recommend meditation. Empty your mind.”

She shook her head. He was right, of course, but the emptiness wouldn't come. “We used to watch candles burn down, in training. As an exercise.”

“We’re short on those, I’m afraid. I’d offer a flame, but my mana is still low. And I’m not sure our hosts would appreciate it.”

“I’m not sure I would, either.” Lysette watched him warily. "I've never seen magic like you use on the field."

He smiled. "I'm not surprised. It's a rare area of study and not one that your Chantry endorses—although they've borrow some of its teachings. The Herald of Andraste herself uses them."

"I've haven't seen her in combat. Not up close, anyhow."

"Mm. I recommend it, just for the spectacle."

“She’s a remarkable woman.”

He chuckled. "You remind me of Ser Darrow."

"Belinda?" The fact that Cillian knew her cheerful friend was nearly as surprising as the fact that Lysette reminded him of her. "Why?"

"Another true believer." He examined her a moment and added, "Or perhaps it's just the armor."

It was growing late. It had been fully dark when they were ambushed; Lysette had no sense of how much time had passed, but they were all tired. The excitement of battle could only keep a person going for so long… and for a templar, their stamina was directly tied to the lyrium in their blood.

“Do we need someone to take watch?” asked Hall uncertainly.

Mattrin snorted. “Why bother? We’re already prisoners.” He moved to the corner of the room he’d evidently chosen and began to lay out his bedroll. After a minute of shuffling about, he straightened to toss Lysette her belt pouch.

She snatched it with alacrity. "Thank you."

Mattrin jerked a shoulder and went back to ignoring her.

Lysette lay down on her own bedroll, still holding the pouch. But she didn’t open it. She didn't want to look at Adan's letters in this crowded room, not in front of the others. Astonishingly sentimental, but she’d only read them over a few times. Not more than once an evening.

Andraste preserve her, she was completely besotted.

But Adan cared for her, too. He'd told her so, and everything on his face had told her the truth of his words. What would he think when she didn't answer his last letter? Would word ever reach Skyhold, or would they disappear here, never to be heard from again?

And what in the Maker's name was wrong with her? She hadn't known Adan a year, the world was collapsing around her, and yet... she'd never felt so strongly. Not about Barris, not about anyone before or since. The thought that she might never see him again was intolerable.

She shut her eyes and pictured his face, the shape of his back and shoulders as he bent to some fiddly bit of potions work, concentration in every line of his body. Her… what? Her lover? The word was accurate only in the broadest sense. They'd hardly had time to do more than exchange a handful of words and kisses before she'd had to leave.

Her chest tightened at the thought. Maker, but if there had been time... despite the deliberate sarcasm of Adan's last letter, she'd read there an echo of the same desperate desire she felt for him. She'd felt it in his arms at Skyhold, despite the metal and leather that separated them; tasted it on his lips, in the stroke of his tongue. She shifted and rolled onto her back, staring at the wood-planked ceiling above.

Sex was straightforward enough. An easy sort of intimacy to understand. The intimacy of two minds was more alarming to contemplate. Other than her half-hearted past attempt at a romantic relationship, she'd never been with anyone for reasons more complex than that basic physical drive. Friendly affection was one thing, but what would it be like to lie with someone she cared for the way she did Adan? Her mind told her it made little difference. Her heart suspected otherwise.

The stone floor was less comfortable than dirt ground. Lysette let out a tight breath and rolled over again. She shouldn't be thinking of such things under these circumstances—but Maker, she positively burned for that man. Still, she was leaps and bounds ahead of herself. Just because she was as eager as a fennec in the springtime didn't mean Adan was as impatient as she.

From across the room, Sidony let out a loud snore. Lysette sighed. No matter what the situation, one thing she knew: she didn’t want to be thinking of these things here and now.

So she fell back on older comforts.

“Maker, though the darkness comes upon me,” she whispered. “I shall embrace the Light.”

She heard Mattrin shift on his own bedroll and braced herself for an obnoxious comment. But his voice only joined hers in the familiar recitation. “I shall weather the storm. I shall endure. What you have created, no one can tear asunder.”

“If you say so, da'len,” murmured Cillian.

Chapter Text

 

I have faced armies
With You as my shield,
And though I bear scars beyond counting, nothing
Can break me except Your absence.

–Trials 1:6

Adan brushed the rain from his cowl and climbed the stairs to the Inquisitor’s quarters feeling rather as if he marched to the gallows. He might rather have done that.

Inquisitor Lavellan sat behind the desk and leaned forward on her elbows. Rain lashed the Serault glass windows and the fire crackled.

"Apothecary Adan." Her clear grey eyes were wide and unblinking.

"Inquisitor." He folded his arms. "You sent for me?"

"Yes. I have news which I believe you may wish to hear. And a question."

He must have shown something of his agitation on his face, because she added hastily, "Not the worst news. Not the best, but... please, have a seat."

Adan dragged over one of the ornately carved tapestry chairs, wincing a bit when he noticed the design in the fabric. Lady Montilyet must have meant to make their Dalish Inquisitor feel at home, but that Orlesian caricature of elven aesthetics was... oblivious, at best. Damned insulting, at worst.

It was strange, how one's mind latched on to trivial details in times of crisis. When he was seated, she said, "You may have heard rumors of the Inquisition scouting party that we lost track of recently, somewhere in southern Ferelden."

He shut his eyes, bracing himself.

"We've located them."

Adan's eyes snapped open. "And?"

"Alive, as far as we know. It's a bit of a puzzling story, but it seems the local Avvar leader has a son who wants to prove his mettle. By capturing my people and dragging me down there to face him in single combat." She snorted. "I don't know if he realizes... well. I do not expect this to pose a challenge. Because I assure you, Apothecary, I will not allow any of our people to be used against me in such a way." Her gaze was level and sympathetic. "Do you understand?"

"Even templars, I take it?" He wasn’t sure how she knew of his personal stake in the situation, but at that moment, he hardly cared.

"Even templars. Although they've also got a fellow Dalish—not my clan, but shemlen don't realize..." She shook her head. "I don't have to tell you about shemlen, do I?"

"I'm no elf," he said. "I'm certainly not Dalish."

"No, you’re not. But I know that you use your skills and connections to improve the lot of our people, for which you have my gratitude. And my blessing. You probably don’t want to hear about the conversation I had with Leliana on the subject, but please tell me if you require additional resources for those activities." She lifted a hand to rub her slim neck. "I hate to ask, since I'm certain you'd have mentioned it, but… you've made no progress on the matter I brought to your attention some weeks ago? For Cullen?"

"Nothing encouraging. Is he worse?"

"In some ways." Her sparse brows furrowed. "Creators, it's a terrible thing to see. But I also worry for our templars in Avvar custody. I've consulted with Seeker Cassandra. It depends how much they take, of course, but for... for a number of reasons, none of our traveling templars have sufficient spare lyrium to last more than a week or two."

Adan looked up sharply. "That's madness," he said. "I can imagine a dozen ways in which a troop could be delayed. Inquisitor—"

"I know that," she said. "I know. So does Cassandra. But she also knows the very real risks of templars—addicts—increasing their own intake or selling their extra supply on the black market..."

"Let them!" He was out of order, he knew it, but his agitation was too strong to keep his mouth shut. "Maker's mercy. To keep them on that leash only to yank it tighter when they’re most in need? There’d hardly be a black market if the Chantry didn’t create a demand. Thoughtless cruelty, Inquisitor."

"I believe you're right." The Inquisitor frowned. "I didn't realize the risk we were running. It will take my party approximately two weeks to reach the Avvar stronghold. Perhaps less, if we can swap mounts at our outposts in the Hinterlands.”

“And they’ve been there how long?” His head ached. But she wasn’t dead. That was something.

“Nearly four weeks already.”

Well. She wasn’t dead yet.

“We’ll be departing at first light. I’ve already placed a requisition for potions and grenades with your assistant. And Cassandra will handle the lyrium supply. But if you can think of anything else that might help—or if there’s anything else you’d like to send. A letter?”

“Right,” he said, in some surprise. Sister Nightingale really did know everything, it seemed. A disconcerting thought, but he filed it away for later. “That’s… very thoughtful, Herald. Thank you.”

“Not at all. I’m grateful for your assistance in my own personal matters.”

“I’m only sorry I don’t have more to show for it. Your personal matters affect the whole of the Inquisition.” He snorted. “Can hardly say the same about mine.”

She shook her head back at him with a half-smile. Adan took that to mean he was dismissed. He liked the woman well enough, but Maker, the Dalish were odd at times.

He paused at the top of the stairs, ready to descend back into the shadowy passages of Skyhold, and looked over at her. "Your Worship," he said, not entirely meaning to. "Please... take care."

 


 

All things considered, the Avvar made surprisingly gracious captors. There was no chance of escape, of course. The Inquisition party was six; they'd been ambushed by at least two dozen—although Farrow and Cillian argued over the precise number. Presumably there were yet more occupying the old Fereldan keep.

But their captors didn't seem to expect any trouble, and none of the rotating guards appeared to hold a particular grudge against them. The Inquisition captives were treated with a tolerant sort of indulgence, like naive youths who'd wandered too far from home and who kept foolishly insisting on Andraste's divinity.

Several of the party, particularly the mages, lifted their brows at that. But it wasn't the Chantry sun on the templars' regalia that gave the Avvar that impression, only their continued allegiance to the Inquisition and its Herald.

Lysette didn't even know if the Herald believed in Andraste. But there seemed little point in disturbing the status quo when they were fed, sheltered, and met with no abuses other than restraint.

One Avvar in particular, Amund, appeared to be a good-natured fellow. He found their habits hilarious, and got on particularly well with Cillian. When it was Amund's turn on guard, the men chatted, asking one another questions about their respective cultures and exchanging cheerful insults during the long, humid afternoon hours.

Farrow was still weak, and Hall wasn't much better. Sidony spent her days sulking in her corner, reading by torchlight; Cillian commented in a slightly-too-loud whisper to Amund that it was a mercy to them all she'd been allowed her books.

Lysette's headache did improve, although her temper didn't. She and Mattrin did as best they could to stay in shape and even worked on their grappling, much to the entertainment of their captors.

Still, Lysette chafed at the closed quarters. She wasn’t used to the lack of exercise. The barracks were confining, but that was different. This felt more stifling. But a snide comment from Sidony speculating about conditions in the Circles had Lysette's mouth clamping shut on any complaint.

Mattrin was less reserved, and he and the mage tore into one another with gusto. "Bullshit," he said to her. "I didn't even want to join the Inquisition. We just happened to be at Haven."

"Yes," agreed Sidony. "Bullshit. Imagine being dragged somewhere and locked up against your will for something you had no say in."

Lysette held her tongue. This made her think of Skinner, the angry elven woman in the Bull’s Chargers. She still didn’t know what she’d done, other than to be an Orlesian and a templar, to set that woman off.

The argument showed no signs of abating. As it continued, Lysette moved to the far wall near where Cillian sat cross-legged on his own horsey-smelling blanket. He looked up at her with his calm face and moved to the side, letting her join him.

And then there was the other complication.

Mattrin began to feel it first, as he'd predicted. At first, it only made him even more insufferable than usual.

"Did you know the Champion of Kirkwall was at Skyhold?" he asked one evening.

"What? No, I didn't. How do you?" Lysette's grasp on her own temper was fraying, but whether it was the first sign of withdrawal or the frustration of confinement was impossible to say.

"I'm not the idiot you think I am, Lysette. I know a lot about what's going on." He laughed suddenly, though his teeth were starting to chatter. "For example, I know about you and that apothecary git. Don't try to stare me down, I'm used to it. You know he’s elf-blooded, don't you?”

Her face grew hot and her throat was dry as she swallowed. “What about it? What’s it to you, Mattrin?”

“How old is he, exactly? So tell me, do you like it when he—”

"Cochon! What in the Maker's name is wrong with you?"

"Too bad we'll die here, no one to keep us warm." His eyes were glazed and he shuddered. "Maybe that mage bitch will give me a go. Better than some son of a knife-eared—"

Lysette leapt to her feet and hauled her arm back, but Cillian caught it before she could land a blow on her fellow templar.

"Da'len, he's not himself."

"He sounds exactly like himself,” she snarled, turning on the mage in turn, her hand reaching for the hilt of a sword that wasn't there.

“That's enough,” said Farrow weakly but sharply. He was across the room, lying half-upright on his saddlebags.

“As if you're in any shape to tell me what to do, elf,” Lysette snapped. “Merde, you're a pitiable excuse for a leader.” She turned back to Mattrin. “And you're a pitiable excuse for a templar.”

“At least I'm not a starry-eyed idealist,” he retorted. “At least I know my duty.”

“Oh, fuck you, Mattrin!” Tears were beginning to blur her vision. This had to be more than the stress of confinement. Maker help me.

The guard, a woman whose name Lysette didn't know, began to draw her sword from its sheath. “Settle down, lowlanders.”

They settled.

 


 

There were so many blasted stairs at Skyhold. Adan was descending what seemed like the twelfth staircase when one of the shadows shifted. He didn't take any notice of it until the shadow spoke.

"It's not your fault," it whispered. "She's worried, woeful. Will you wait?"

He whirled. "What?"

“It's dark and she's afraid, singing in her head. His voice soothes the shrillness.” Pale eyes looked up at Adan from under a wide-brimmed hat. "It's not her fault, either. She didn't want to go. Hurts hurt even if you don't hope."

“I don't know what you're talking about,” he said brusquely and thumped past the mad boy down the stairs. What in the Lady's name had that been about?

Well, it didn't much matter. He had things to prepare.

He didn’t know what to write.

He didn’t know if she’d ever read it, or who else would. It was one thing to send a fond letter through the politely anonymous Inquisition messengers, but another to ask the Herald to hand-deliver such a letter for him. And he didn’t want to place any demands on Lysette, either. Who knew what she’d been through?

So in the end, Adan only scribbled a few instructions for the tinctures and tucked it in the crate.

And he hesitated again.

If that was too terse—if she was lonely…

Her family sounded bloody rotten, from what he’d heard. Who else was there to comfort her? Her prick of a comrade?

His insecurities could be damned. He had no reason to think she didn’t care as much as she said she did. As much as he did. And if he’d been the one locked up for a month, he’d have wanted a proper letter.

Adan sat back down at his desk and pulled out another sheet of paper.

Chapter Text

Though all others may forget You,
Your name is etched into my every step.
I will not forsake You, even if I forget myself.

—Trials 1:9

It started with the thirst.

Mattrin had been complaining of it for a week before Lysette began to understand why. Their captors kept them with clean enough water—“Probably keep all the ale for themselves,” mumbled Sidony—but it didn’t seem to matter. It wasn’t water her body wanted. She couldn't keep herself from drinking, but every mouthful tasted bitter and wrong on her tongue.

A few days later, the dreams began.

She hadn't had dreams like these since the months after the Blight. She was still there in that room with the other five, but they weren't the Inquisition agents she knew. Farrow rose from his bedroll but those elven ears weren't angled right, his eyes were red and his hands formed claws—she held the lyrium brand in her shaking hand, unsure if it was demon or darkspawn she faced. It was her duty to stop it, she knew, but at what cost?

And then Haven, that moment when she'd seen Adan's limp shape on the ground outside the apothecary. This time he didn’t stir, didn’t respond when she tried to drag him away. Minaeve was there too, both of them were pinned, and Lysette couldn’t move—they screamed as the explosion went up, and when she opened her eyes, nothing but charred corpses remained.

She fell to her knees and sobbed as the red dragon hissed its singing flames, an unholy canticle that went straight to her soul. Let it touch her with its fire if it would bring her closer to that song. She let her lover's body fall from her arms and welcomed the flames, and she was so thirsty—

Lysette sat up and coughed. Maker, watch over me.

The torch above her bedroll was sputtering its last. From his spot on the opposite wall, Mattrin was retching. The others either slept or looked away in disgust, tired of bearing witness to the templars’ suffering.

Lysette, herself, was shaking. There weren't enough blankets. She'd had more lyrium in her blood than Mattrin; she should have more time before she began truly feeling the effects... but she was cold, so bloody cold.

Mattrin was in worse shape still. She rose to her feet, her grasp on reality slowly settling back into place, and walked over to crouch at his side.

"It’s my birthday soon,” he rasped morosely between spasms. “If I make it that long. It’d be rubbish to die before I even turn twenty. Lysette, if I die—”

“You won't.” She had no reason to say so, but it seemed polite. Everyone knew lyrium withdrawal could be fatal. And without any prospects of restoring their supply…

“I feel like I’m dying. If I do...” He was begging. It was horrid. “My family will want to know. My mother, sisters... Don’t—don’t tell them it was like this. Don’t tell them what a shit I was.” His teeth were chattering; tears streamed from his eyes.

"You're not going to die," she said again, but she didn't believe it any more than he did.

“Can't wait until he does,” whispered Sidony. Cillian let out a disapproving grunt.

As leader of their group, Farrow had already asked the Avvar for help. But they either didn't use lyrium themselves or weren't inclined to share such a valuable substance with their prisoners. Every plea was met with a shrug and a disdainful comment about the templars’ weakness that had Lysette's blood boiling with whatever remnants of lyrium it still held.

Mattrin began convulsing the next night. His neck strained as he twitched and gagged, rasping breaths coming in fits and starts. They all watched him in silence. There was nothing to be done.

“Might need to restrain him if he gets violent,” said Farrow to the company in a low voice. “More violent.”

“I think he's too weak,” murmured Cillian.

“Maker, I’m dying,” gasped Mattrin. “Fuck, I don’t want to die!”

His fever grew and he stopped talking to them, then. Instead he began talking to people who weren’t there. Spirits, demons, hallucinations? There was no way to tell. It didn't matter. He wept, wailed, hissed strings of profanity that alternated with pleading cries for his mother.

And finally, awfully, Mattrin fell silent. For hours, he was unmoving except for the rise and fall of his chest. His face remained flushed, but his eyes were only half-open and his head lolled to one side.

“Comatose, or something like it,” said Sidony with grim satisfaction. “When he finally dies, I might be able to get some use out of—”

“For the love of all that’s holy, Sidony!” snapped Hall. It was the most annoyance the mild-mannered lad had shown in the whole long span of their captivity.

There was a clamor of noise from outside their cell. What in the name of—

“Quiet,” barked Farrow.

They fell quiet. Waiting.

 


 

The sun shone, but the first hint of autumn was in the air when Adan crossed the battlements and reluctantly knocked on the door of the gatehouse tower.

“Enter,” called the commander.

Adan pushed open the door and stepped inside as Cullen looked up from his desk. “Oh.” He blinked. “I was expecting Briony. You're the apothecary, yes?"

“Yeah.”

"What do you need?"

"So Her Worship didn't tell you. Well, this is bloody awkward." Adan sighed. "Commander, if you've got a moment…”

 


 

Sounds of battle. Cries, shrieks, clashing metal and screams of the dying. The air in their cell was stale, but Lysette felt the hair on the back of her neck prickle and a sharp tang entered her nose. She couldn’t sense the presence of magic any longer, not the way a templar should be able to, but she could feel that.

A murmur of voices and the jostle of the doorknob. A metallic scratching, a tiny snick, and the door swung open to reveal a fair-skinned elf with a lock pick in each hand, blood splattered across her yellow hair. Behind her stood the Herald herself. Her normally pleasant face was twisted with anger, deadly as the staff that still sparked with fragments of lightning. On her left, Enchanter Vivienne wielded a terrifying spectral sword; on her right, Seeker Pentaghast wielded a steel one. They were all covered in blood, too.

Lysette took an involuntary step back, fighting the wild paranoia that she knew, she knew wasn’t called for… but for a templar who found herself unexpectedly powerless, it was an imposing sight.

And then the Herald met her gaze, and Lysette saluted for the first time in weeks.

“Your Worship.”

 


 

 

Lysette—

Just received word of your company's capture from the Herald herself. Not as bad as what I'd feared, but can't imagine you're having a pleasant time of it.

In your shoes, I'd want a letter. But if you don't, feel free to use this paper for tinder or whatever else you choose—although I'd prefer if you didn't read my tenderer sentiments aloud to all Skyhold. I've got a reputation to uphold.

Which reminds me that one of your templar companions, Erriala, came by. Afraid I was rather rude to her. She was concerned about you and your arsehole of a brother-in-arms, though, so I feel obliged to pass along the sentiment. (Apologies if you’re fond of either of them. Must confess I hold a bit of a grudge.)

Hope you’re well. You’re probably not, but let me hope just in case. Don’t want to foist my worries off on you, though. I’m sure you’ve got enough to worry about. So if it helps, know that I’m thinking of you. If it doesn’t, forget I said a thing.

It's been too long since I saw you. And not just because you’re so beautiful… but I needn’t go on about it; it’s clear you agree that looks aren't everything. I've got a mirror. (But don't think I didn't enjoy it when you called my scars distinguished. Dubious compliment, but I’ll take whatever you’ve got.) A few kisses and a handful of letters to last us both a whole dreary summer. It hardly seems like enough.

This is a miserable attempt at a letter. What else is there to say? Garden's flourishing. Elan's pleased as punch. Pella's irritating as ever. She'll be relieved when you're back. So will I.

Maker, I miss you.

Stay safe.

Adan

 

 

 

To: Apothecary Adan

Excuse brevity; raven.

Thank you for your letter. Was ill but better now. Potions helped. (Satisfactory compliment?) At Skyhold within fortnight. Regards, L.

 


 

They’d been held at the keep for six full weeks. Lysette was a little baffled to see that it was the beginning of the harvest season. It made for a pleasant ride through the Hinterlands, with mile after mile of ripening gold crops and leaves just beginning to shift to their autumn coloring. And lyrium flowed through her veins. They made good time back to Skyhold, and trotted over the stone bridge after sunset on the fifteenth day of Kingsway.

There was quite a lot to be done on their arrival. An examination in the infirmary for everyone. Reporting in to the commander. A message of their arrival sent to the other advisors. Meals to be eaten, clothing to be changed… it all seemed to drag on forever, when there was only one place Lysette wanted to be, only one face she searched for in the small crowd that surrounded the rescued hostages.

It was odd to part from these people after so long in proximity, and they all felt it. But finally, the company went their separate ways, and Lysette and Mattrin walked to the templar tower. The renovations had been completed since they'd left, and looked luxurious by the standards of their captivity. But Lysette didn’t follow him inside.

Mattrin looked at her in surprise. “You’re not coming up?”

“No.”

“Oh.” He ran a hand over his sandy hair, and she braced herself for an unpleasant comment. But it didn't come.

"I'm sorry," he said curtly. "For the things I said while... I wasn't myself."

"Weren't you?"

"Maybe I was." He sighed. "But I want—I want to be better, Lysette. I know I'm not perfect. I never… thanked you for Haven, for stopping me before I hurt that mage."

"You did hurt that mage."

"You know what I mean. Shit, Lys, won't you let a man apologize?"

"For what you said in the Mire—yes. For everyone else you've hurt, I can't grant you absolution." Any more than she could to herself. "If you want to do better in the future, just... do better, Mattrin."

She turned and walked away, leaving him shaking his head in the darkness.

There were no torches lit on this section of the battlements. She could see a light in the Inquisitor's chambers, high above, but that was all. Only the smaller moon was up, and the sky was overcast.

But she didn't need the light; she knew where she was going. A heavy door and a dark narrow corridor that emerged onto a small inner parapet above the courtyard garden. First door on the left. The narrow leaded windows were dark.

She hesitated. Adan was almost certainly asleep—she wasn't sure what time it was. Past midnight, but before dawn. The polite thing to do would be to visit him in the morning.

But she'd waited too long already.

Chapter Text

Embriums are flowers from the orchid family. Their therapeutic qualities were actually discovered because of the embrium's exceptional beauty.

—An excerpt from The Botanical Compendium by Ines Arancia

Adan rolled over and let out a frustrated breath. There couldn't be many hours left until dawn, but he’d be damned if he could sleep. He’d fallen into a miserable cycle these last few weeks, lying awake night after night and then sleeping like the dead to make up for it. And then starting all over again. It had been an unseasonable scorcher of a day, but Skyhold was always comfortably cool at night. His discomfort was mental, not physical.

When were they coming back? There hadn't been so much as a raven since that first message from the keep—well, not that Adan knew of. Sister Nightingale no doubt had more recent information that hadn't trickled down to him.

The truth was that he was too much of a bloody coward to go and ask, since not knowing left open the possibility that Lysette was all right. There had been just enough information in the Herald's message—and Lysette's brief note—to make his blood run cold. Head injuries were no laughing matter, and lyrium withdrawal was worse.

Adan rolled over again and stared at the badly patched roof. She'd be fine. Probably. Almost certainly. But if—what was that? Hallucination was a symptom of sleep deprivation.

But no, there it was again: a soft knock from the balcony outside. No, please, not... He  leapt to his feet, heedless of his disheveled and half-dressed state, and went for the door.

And desperately hoped he wasn't hallucinating.

Lysette stood on the step looking at him, uncertainty writ across her features.

"Maker’s breath, Lysette." He couldn't seem to keep his voice steady, but he stepped forward and took her face between his hands.

"It's good to see you," she whispered.

He gathered her in his arms, pulling her tightly against him. She wrapped her own arms just as tightly around his back. And as he kissed her, the world that had begun to tilt at its foundations finally leveled.

After only a moment, Adan broke away from her lips and her arms. He knew he was coming on too strong. He took two steps towards the desk, aimlessly pacing so he did something other than drop to his knees before her and weep like a fool. They hadn't seen one another in weeks, they'd hardly had any time to adjust to this new sort of relationship between them, she'd nearly…

“I missed you," she said quietly, and his resolve vanished. He spun to see her watching him, but this time the tears were in her eyes, and had anyone ever looked at him that way? As if he, nobody that he was, were all she wanted? His thoughts shattered, sliding away into the Void as she reached for him. "Please...?" 

She didn't need to ask twice.

He kissed her again with the yearning of a drowning man for air, cradling her head as gently as he knew how, exploring the scalp with anxious fingers. “Are you all right?” he asked. His voice was humiliatingly unsteady.

“Yes. Don't worry.” She pressed her lips to his neck and he positively shook. And then her fingers went to the clasps on the front of her robe.

Adan sat heavily in the chair before the desk. He didn't trust his legs to hold him up.

She pulled off the robe to reveal loose linen underneath and hung the outer garment neatly on the hook by the door—of course she would—before loosening her hair. It tumbled down over her shoulders, pin-straight down her back, and then she came back to him, slipping easily into his arms and straddling his lap. 

He looked up at her with something close to bafflementShe was so familiar and yet so foreign; he'd longed for her and here she was, she was his, but it had been so long since he'd so much as set eyes on her. It should have been uncomfortable, awkward, but… well, it was a bit awkward.

But it was wonderful, too.

She was all firm muscle and long limbs, and his hands tried desperately to memorize every curve and angle as she stretched and pressed against him. She was alive. She was here, and she was talking to him.

"This is comfortable," she murmured into his neck. "I could just stay right here... maybe forever..."

"Lysette, my girl, I had no idea you were such a romantic."

"It's less romance and more that I'm not sure my legs work." She yawned. "Maker, I'm so tired."

He swallowed and brushed a hand over her waist. "Stay, then. We don't have to—just stay for a while."

She lifted her head to look at him, a faint curve on her lips. "We don't have to what, Adan?"

"Maker's breath, woman, don't tease me when I'm trying to..." He didn't know how to finish the sentence. To take care of her? It was a ridiculous notion, insulting, but her smile made his chest ache. "Andraste's ashes," he muttered.

Lysette shifted on his lap, rubbing against him deliberately, and chuckled when he let out a muffled expletive.

"I take it back. You're no romantic, you're completely heartless."

“Mmm.” She laid off teasing him and settled into his arms, shifting sideways on his lap and resting her head on his shoulder. The simple affection of the gesture had his eyes stinging.

Adan tightened his grip and pressed his cheek to her hair. It was easier to speak when he couldn't meet her gaze. "I thought you were dead," he mumbled. "I thought—I didn't know what to think. And Maker forgive me my selfishness—all I could think of was how little time I'd had with you. But I was so afraid for you, Lysette."

She held him just as tightly. "I didn't think I'd ever see you again, either," she told him. "I regretted it very much."

At that, he snorted with laughter. It might have been half a sob, he wasn't sure, but he found himself grinning. He pressed his chin against the top of her head, his beard mussing her silky hair. "You regretted it very much?”

"What?" She lifted her head and eyed him warily. "What's wrong with that?"

At the look on her face, he positively guffawed and leaned forward to kiss her again. "Nothing. It's perfect. Maker, you're perfect.”

"Far from it." But there was the ghost of a smile on those full lips.

They sat there in the flickering lamplight for a long time. He hardly cared that his back was beginning to ache.

"I liked your letters," she told him.

He caught her hand and brought it to his lips, kissing her palm, the delicate skin inside her strong wrist. It was so blasted easy to be like this with her. "I liked yours, too.” He breathed in the scent of her skin, sweat and leather and horse. The smells of the road; the smells of her. For all they'd joked in their letters—well, perhaps it had only been half a joke—he couldn't imagine any better perfume. “There was so much I wanted to say to you and now I can't remember the half of it. We've hardly had any time to talk since..."

"I know." She looked at him then, eyes moving over his face. He tried not to feel as if he were under examination, but she did have a piercing stare. "You look tired, too."

"I haven't..." He coughed and looked away. "I've had a lot on my mind."

She caught his jaw and turned his face to hers, eyes darting over his features.

"Are you all right?”

"Never better.”

Lysette frowned. “I can't tell if you're being sarcastic.”

“For once, I am not.” 

All right, maybe that had been a bit sarcastic.

They fell onto the bed together.

He wasn't sure how he'd lost his undertunic. Those long fingers of hers were like quicksilver, less the hands of a swordswoman than of a thief. She ran her hands up his chest, over his shoulders and down his arms, making a pleased noise in her throat. He supposed that was a good sign, although he felt surprisingly self-conscious under her intense scrutiny.

He was doing some staring of his own, to be fair. Maker, but she was lovely. Sheer linen did little to conceal lithe muscles or shifting curves under golden skin. And even in her travel-weary state, there was an effortless control behind her every movement that made his mouth go dry. 

“Just let me—” With an eye to the uncovered window, he reached to extinguish the oil lamp. He should probably have had the shutters repaired along with the roof. But he hadn't expected to have a woman in a state of some undress in his bed tonight, either.

It took his eyes a moment to adjust to the dimmer light. It was a cloudy night, but the moons were up there somewhere; a faint glow shone through the window behind the bed, the one that faced the mountains.

When he turned back, Lysette was lying on her stomach with her head turned to the side, watching him through half-shut eyes. She looked exhausted. Adan let out a long breath and sat next to her, sinking into the mattress. He reached to brush her unbound hair away from her face. Her expression was so serious, almost angry. But he knew her, and he thought he understood what she wasn't telling him.

"You're hurting?" he murmured.

"It's not too bad, I just—" She exhaled. “Everything aches. It was a long way here from the keep.”

“Don't I know it.” He slid his fingers through her silky hair, marveling at how her eyes fluttered shut. “Want me to fetch something from the apothecary? I hear the bloke who runs it is brilliant.”

She laughed, as he'd hoped she would. "No. I just need to rest.” Adan moved his hand to her back, stroking experimentally, and she sighed. “That feels wonderful. I'm sorry I'm falling asleep on you."

"Don't be. Although I'm rather concerned about your curfew. I don't even want to know what happens when you lot get in trouble, do I?”

She rolled her eyes up at him. “I'm on leave. Cullen gave us a whole week, if you can believe it.”

"Cheap bastard. Ought to have given you a month. Does that mean you can stay?"

"Yes. If you want me.”

He trailed a finger over her cheek. “Don't you know by now how much I do?”

Lysette turned her head to the side, into his touch. But her straight brows drew together and she answered him seriously. "I was gone so long. There was so much time to think, and… I wasn't thinking clearly. Not towards the end. Adan, I was afraid I'd only dreamed everything between us."

"So was I." He couldn't take this. "You didn't. You're here now." 

"Can I kiss you?" she whispered.

"Can you—Maker, guide my weary soul across the Veil. You don't have to ask, Lysette."

She lifted herself on her elbows and looked at him, then pulled herself up to sit next to him. Her hands rose to his face, bringing a rush of warmth with them as she settled a hand on each cheek to examine him closely in the cool light. She was painfully thorough in her inspection, her dark gaze unblinking. Then she leaned forward and pressed her lips gently to his, soft and warm, and Adan's heart cracked. 

“You should lie back down,” he muttered. He lifted a hand to trace the neck of her chemise—a practical garment of simple linen, cut for function rather than titillation. It had a certain appeal, even so, but it was also in his way. 

When his fingers caught on the fabric, she snorted. “Oh, just take it off.” She turned away from him, loosening the neckline and yanking the unwanted garment over her head.

Adan’s breath hitched, but with an amused glance back over her shoulder, Lysette tossed the crumpled linen aside and lay back down on her front. “I was enjoying that back rub,” she said in her low voice. He'd nearly forgotten how he reacted to that voice. “If you don't mind.”

“Hardly.” He spread his hands over the smooth skin of her back. Her body was toned and shaped by years of specialized training. She was so much more a creature of the physical world than he was, so much more connected to herself. And so beautiful it ached to look at her.

He rubbed deep, alternating the heels of his hands with targeted pressure with his fingertips, lighter caresses along her spine. His own breath came a little faster as she shifted into the mattress, as his hands dipped lower along her sides...

He had been afraid that whatever spark they'd had between them might be smothered by the time apart. Instead it seemed to have caught the kindling and now threatened to burn him alive. When her shoulders rose in a shuddering gasp, Adan was lost. There was little point in hiding it. "Maker, woman," he said hoarsely. "You take my breath away.”

She rolled over without a hint of shyness. His breath caught again at the sight of her bare breasts, as lovely as the rest of her. "You do too," she said urgently. "You take mine. I want—"

"You're tired," he whispered, but his hands were already on her muscular waist, sliding up to cup her breasts, rubbing his thumbs over her nipples. She shut her eyes and shivered, and he bent to brush his lips over her skin.

"Adan, you—I want—”

"What do you want?" His voice had dropped and roughened in spite of himself. 

"You," she said, blunt as ever.

The blood rushed out of his head and he sank down on the bed behind her, pulling her back against his chest. She shifted her hips in a deliberate movement that had him groaning into her neck, jerking against her backside. And then she made a vague, pleading noise that nearly had him pulling off her drawers to take her on the spot.

She's too tired, you ass. He muttered foolish endearments into her hair, kissing her throat, that long neck, the line of her shoulder. Meanwhile his free hand took on a mind of its own, racing over her firm flank and finding her breasts, rolling her nipples until she gasped—he thrust helplessly against her rear and she snatched his wandering hand and dragged it lower.

She swore, low and harsh, when his fingers slipped beneath her waistband and then ventured lower still. Her chest rose and fell rapidly and Adan was breathing just as hard as he dragged his fingers over her, finding her wet and warm. She tilted her hips forward, pressing insistently against his hand; he slipped the tip of one finger…

"Maker,” she gasped.

His hand stilled. “D’you want me to stop?"

"No. Oh, Maker, no. I'm just afraid I won't properly appreciate it without a night's sleep. And if you want to, well—I'd need to take the tea to prevent—”

"Right. Of course." He buried his face in her hair, trying and failing to gather his wits while he extricated his hand as politely as the situation allowed. "I can't believe this is real," he admitted.

"Neither can I." She laughed and pulled away, but only so she could turn and face him. She was so bloody gorgeous. "Lie back, Adan."

"What—"

"Lie back," she said, more insistently, and slipped a leg over his waist. He drew in a long breath as she straddled him, warmth surrounding him as she drew close for a slow kiss. Her hands cradled his face again, fingertips lingering on his jaw. "I'll take the tea tomorrow. And if you still want me then—" His ears were ringing, probably. He certainly couldn't be hearing her correctly. "Then we can do whatever you like,” she whispered, rocking against him in unsubtle invitation.

He didn't have anything to say. No responses came to mind other than grabbing her hips to grind roughly against her, layers of chafing cloth be damned. She let out a huff of laughter but her face was flushed with arousal, her soft breasts pressed against his body, and Maker… whatever improbable fortune had led them here, she wanted him as badly as he wanted her. Unbelievable.

Adan exercised a modicum of restraint and pulled back to examine her face. Despite her parted lips and eager movements, her eyes were shadowed and weary. “Tomorrow, then. You look bloody exhausted.”

Lysette sighed and lowered herself to lie on top of him, burying her face in his shoulder. His skin tingled at the brush of her lips as she confessed, “I am.”

“Then sleep. We'll have time enough another day.” He snorted. “I'd say we had all the time in the world, but…”

“That might not be long when there's a darkspawn magister out there trying to destroy it.”

“You read my mind.” He kissed her forehead. “How do you always read my mind?”

“Mmm. Usually obvious.” Lysette was already drifting off. He shifted to let her roll against his side, tugging the blanket up over them both with some difficulty. She was no help; her eyes were already closing and her breathing deepening as he wrapped his arms loosely around her back to hold her warm weight in place.

“Stay,” he muttered. Stay forever, woman.

She let out a wordless murmur of agreement and Adan wondered if she'd read that thought, too.

 


 

Lysette woke to the sound of Skyhold's birds, chattering and calling in the pre-dawn light. It was a sound she'd missed, all those weeks in the Fallow Mire. She shifted and—Adan was still there with her, warm and already familiar, sprawled asleep at her side. Her heart tightened at the sight. Andraste preserve her, she'd missed him.

She'd never spent the whole night in bed with a man before. The barracks didn't afford such a level of privacy between recruits. But now there was no obligation to rise. A week's leave was unprecedented. She didn't know what she'd do with herself. Although if last night was any indication…

Of course, Adan didn't even have any blasted shutters, she noticed with some amusement. If she'd had any reason to doubt his fidelity, that would have put the lid on it. But the clear glass did have her reaching for her clothing with some haste.

She sat up carefully and rose to her feet, the stone floor cold and dusty beneath her bare toes. Adan muttered something that sounded vaguely like a complaint but didn't otherwise stir.

When she'd stood before his door last night and he'd opened it to stare at her, she'd been suddenly and irrationally convinced that everything that had passed between them—words, kisses, letters—had been some sort of lyrium fever dream, and now she stood on a stranger's doorstep.

But then he'd taken her in his arms—no armor between them, for once—and it had all fallen into place.

She looked back at the bed and studied its occupant. So this was what it was to be in love. A surprising realization, but not an unwelcome one. Adan was still sprawled on his back, only half covered by the blanket. His bare chest rose and fell slowly. Lysette yearned to touch him, but she didn't want to wake him. And strangely, inexplicably, she felt more than a little shy about the night before. She'd been so direct about what she wanted…

Then again, so had he.

She glanced at the writing desk. Cluttered, of course. His tunic was crumpled on the back of the chair—upon reflection, that at least might have been her fault—and the desk's surface covered in an assortment of miscellaneous oddities. Small bottles, loose notes, an empty inkwell. Lysette smiled to see the journals she'd brought back from Haven lined up in a careful row under the window. And then she saw that he'd tucked her letters alongside them. She swallowed and blinked rapidly.

Maker, he really did care for her. How had she been so lucky as to find someone so well suited for her, under such unlikely circumstances?

She moved carefully to the door, slipping on her boots and robe, and ducked outside to find the nearest privy. It wasn't far. Her eyes were already adjusted to the dim light as she padded back along the battlements to the passageway that led to Adan's quarters.

But at the corner of the stairs, she paused. Adan and most of Skyhold were still asleep. She should go down to the chapel now, while it was quiet.

She had so many things to thank her Maker for.

 

Chapter Text

Make me one within Your glory
And let the world once more see Your favor.

For You are the fire at the heart of the world,
And comfort is only Yours to give.

—Transfigurations 12:5-12:6

Adan woke to the click of his own door and sat up with a start, lifting an arm to shield his eyes from the light that flooded his bedchamber.

A low Orlesian voice said, "It's just me." Half awake or no, his heart jumped at the sound. But as Lysette shut the door behind her, Adan was dismayed to see that she wore full armor.

"I thought you were on leave," he grumbled, casting a displeased eye over the angular pauldrons. His nemeses.

"Yes, but I'm disgracefully out of shape. Mattrin wasn't in any condition to train with me on the way back." She picked up her silk Chantry belt from the dresser and began tying it over her waist.

"So you intend to spend your time off bashing recruits?"

"The recruits are more likely to bash me. It's been months since I've done any proper sparring.” Lysette grimaced. “I'll only be an hour or two.”

He narrowed his eyes at her. "Are you well enough, truly?" She seemed all right, but…

"They had the surgeon look us over last night. Maker, that's an impolite thing to say. Shame on you, Adan."

"I'll show you impolite." He reached for her but she danced away. "How do you move so fast with all that bloody armor on?"

"By practicing my sparring. Go play in the dirt and I'll come to your workshop when I'm done."

"I do not play in the dirt, you incorrigible—"

But she was already hurrying out the door, leaving him grinning like a fool after her.

 


 

Cullen studied the man's dour face, searching for any similarities with the one that filled his nightmares. He found few. There was the coloring, maybe. But certainly nothing in the fellow's gruff manner made him think of Neria.

She had been so different. Lively, teasing but gentle, that spark of wit that had reduced him to a stuttering mess. More like... well. Quite a lot like the Inquisitor, now he thought about it.

It had been the beginning of the end, watching that spark leave her eyes.

Cullen struggled to drag his thoughts into the present. The apothecary—alchemist? Herbalist? What was the difference again?—was asking something about relapses. It had been a week since the man first came to see Cullen with a list of questions as long as the Frostbacks, and it seemed he still had more.

"I... no, I haven't relapsed. Although I've come close." Cullen rubbed his forehead. It wasn't pleasant, speaking of these things with a stranger.

"Do you have access to lyrium now?" Surana folded his arms, brows lowering as he spoke.

"I suppose so. Yes."

"Hm. Good. From what I've read—"

"Have you spoken to Dagna?" Cullen’s interruption was a bit curt, but he wasn't having a good day and he really didn't need to be thinking about any of this right at that moment.

"She didn't leave me much choice, I assure you."

Cullen snorted. "All right. I just wanted to make sure she was aware of this project of yours."

One of the doors creaked open and his attention shifted to the elven woman who slipped into his office. Ellana.

"Oh," she said, stopping short when she saw Cullen's visitor. "Sorry, I didn't mean to interrupt."

"Well, Your Worship, given this whole project was your idea I don't see why you shouldn't."

Cullen felt a flicker of annoyance that her title sounded so sarcastic on the man's tongue, but she didn't seem to mind. She smiled up at Surana and—Cullen lifted a brow—reached out to pat his arm. "We'll talk later. Thanks, Adan."

As the door shut behind the ill-tempered apothecary, Cullen shot the Inquisitor a wry look and lifted a hand to rub the back of his neck. "Should I be jealous?"

"Creators, no." She smiled at Cullen then, and he couldn't tear his eyes away. "He's in love with one of your templars."

"What, really? Which one?"

"Ser Lysette. But I didn't come here to discuss the romantic follies of the Inquisition ranks. I came here to engage in romantic follies with you."

For the next half hour, Cullen didn't think of Neria once. 

 


 

Adan left the commander’s office and crossed through the other gatehouse tower. He spared himself a glance down at the sparring ring in the courtyard below—tiny figures, gleaming in the sun, still attacked one another with aplomb. Morning training wasn't over yet.

He climbed the stairs to his own workshop with a grimace, his mind drifting between what the commander had told him and his recent reading. The symptoms of withdrawal were painfully well documented in certain Chantry records that Sister Nightingale’s archivist had located. It seemed it was an time-honored method of interrogation or punishment for wayward templars, to withhold the stuff and make them suffer.

This was a damned unpleasant business.

Adan looked out the window overlooking the western mountains. The sun was high, but the air was cooler than the day before. It seemed the year had turned to autumn proper. He was just considering lighting the fire when the workshop door swung open upon a rather disheveled templar.

He walked over to greet her. “Fresh from the fields of battle, I see.”

"I came straight here," said Lysette, looking a little embarrassed. "I haven't changed or anything. I'm a mess.”

He brushed a finger down the bridge of her long nose. “You're my mess.”

“Yes.” She laughed, and he fell a little bit more in love with her just for that.

And just when had he admitted to himself that he loved her? Maker.

“You’re a bit of a mess as well,” she added, lifting a brow at his grubby robes.

He was pleased to find his voice came out level. “Alchemy’s hard on the wardrobe. So’s gardening. Excuse me, 'playing in the dirt.'”

Lysette pulled off her gloves and turned away to lay them on the crate in the corner. "Why do you wear Circle robes, anyway? I keep meaning to ask."

Adan sat back down at the workbench and struggled to keep his thoughts on her question as he watched her unbuckle her vambraces, her couters, her pauldrons… did she know what she was…

"I, ah—"

She looked back at him with a faint smirk. Oh yes, she knew what she was doing to him, and she was doing it on purpose. He was suddenly very glad Elan had terrified the quartermaster into putting a lock on the door. Lysette flipped her hair out of her face as she twisted to remove her backplate.

"Can I help you with that?" he inquired.

She set the backplate aside and began unlacing her cuisses. "No. And I asked you a question."

"Right. Well. I’ve got some Chantry affiliations of my own, as it happens."

"Don't tell me you were a lay brother." She kicked off her boots.

"No, no. I studied with a mage herbalist from Ferelden's Circle. Years before the Blight. The robes are practical because they're enchanted to prevent against..."

Now she was unhooking the fasteners of her arming jacket.

"...damage," he said helplessly. "Lysette, for the love of—"

"Yes?" She pulled off the outer garment. In the sunlight that filtered through the gaps in the wall, her linen chemise and drawers were nearly translucent. Adan got entirely too good a view of her muscular thighs as she bent to lay the jacket alongside the rest of her armor.

"Please have mercy and come over here," he muttered.

She looked at him consideringly, then—Maker help him—complied, putting a knee on either side of him, straddling his thighs and sitting slowly on his lap.

He made some sort of strangled noise as she settled against him. This was last night all over again, except now she had the stamina to prolong his torment. She let out a chuckle.

"You're enjoying this," he accused her.

She cocked her head. "Aren't you?"

"I'd be enjoying myself rather more if I knew your intentions.”

"Oh. Well, you did promise me a passionate rendezvous in the garden—”

“I knew that’d come back to haunt me.”

“The gazebo’s not terribly private. We might scandalize the Inquisition's noble visitors.”

“Or titillate them,” he grumbled as her lips moved down his throat. “Which would be worse. Lysette—”

“It’s private in here. If you’re interested.”

“I’ve got perfectly good quarters just down the way. And a bed.”

“It’s a very nice bed, but your window looks out on the garden and you don’t have shutters. Or curtains. And if I’m going to have my way with you as I’d like—” her lips moved to his, capturing his disbelieving curse before darting away again—“I’d rather it were just us. Don’t you agree?”

“Wholeheartedly,” he murmured. “What about the tea?”

“I took care of it.”

"Already?" 

Her breath was so warm on his skin. "Your young assistant was very eager to assist me," she said. 

"No, Maker, don't tell me that.”

"I'm joking, Adan." Lysette leaned away and smiled, that slight smile that was hardly more than a crinkle in the corner of her eyes. "We keep a number of essentials in the barracks."

He coughed. "Right. Well. You’ve certainly thought of everything, haven’t you?”

“Yes.” Her hands tightened on his back and he sucked in a breath. 

“Then I suppose I’ll have to let you seduce me."


Lysette wasn't inclined to argue.

She slid her hands into the front of his robe and he turned to remove the offending garment without a word, dropping his belt and its assortment of pouches onto the workbench, followed by his boots and undertunic. She stepped away to pull her own chemise over her head and, while she was at it, yanked off her drawers as well.

The color that flooded his cheeks was unexpected, visible even in the filtered light. “Are you blushing?” she asked, enchanted.

He looked discomfited but only said, "How dare you look like that and expect me to keep my head?”

“I don't expect you to.”

Adan snorted. “Thanks. Although I agree it's more difficult to imagine you losing yours.”

“Perhaps if you put your mind to it.” Her lips twitched. “Or something else?”

“Hmm. I'll have to experiment.”

She kept her gaze on him as she lowered herself to the hearth rug and, after a brief pause, he followed. It was only a moment longer before she was sprawled on her back, rug rough against her skin, and he was on top of her. The fireplace was cold and unlit, but the warmth of his body made up for it; she was hot, burning everywhere he touched. And he was touching her everywhere.

She shut her eyes as he kissed her neck, her collarbone, her breasts—his lips were warm and soft, the brush of his bearded chin softer than the coarser scrape of stubble on his cheeks. The contrast had her arching her back and gasping as he moved lower, his fingernails dragging along her flanks as his mouth moved past her navel. She murmured wordlessly and he paused immediately, lifting his gaze to her face. "No?"

"No, I didn't mean—yes. Please."

He shifted lower as she spread her legs for him. An intimate position, a vulnerable one, but it didn't feel so with him. He planted a kiss on her bare knee with a deliberate smack and she laughed, but the laugh turned to a groan as his lips moved up the inside of her thigh. The light pressure of his breath was like the tickle of a flame, and he was attentive to every shift in her body as he pushed her thighs wider.

Lysette bit her lip when his mouth moved to the sensitive skin at the top of her thigh, just a hair's breadth from where she wanted him. He might as well have been in Par Vollen. She reached for the back of his head, stroking the close-shaved hair and dragging him where she needed—

She arched her back again at the first touch of his mouth, lifting her hips for him. He mumbled something incomprehensible and methodically drove her to distraction with fingers and tongue. He was careful but not hesitant, responsive to her every reaction. She hadn't expected him to be such a considerate lover but of course, of course he would be. He played the cynic but he'd been nothing but sweet with her…

Even so, it wasn't long before she pushed his head away again. He looked up questioningly, but her breathing was shallow and her heartbeat rushed in her ears. "Wait," she whispered, "Just wait a moment."

Adan sat back on his haunches as she gathered herself and rose to her knees, shaking out her hair behind her, and looked at him. His expression was inscrutable as ever but his eyes looked her up and down, slowly, and she saw his throat bob as she advanced on him.

"Lys—" Her name died on his lips as she kissed him, hungry, and they met in a tangle of tongue and teeth. Her eyes slid shut as his hands—Maker, those hands—slid around to her ass, her thighs, and gripped tightly, pulling her roughly against him.

But she ached to touch him in her turn, and ran her own hands over his shoulders, down his arms. She splayed the fingers of one hand flat on his bare chest, and his eyes darkened. Her other hand went lower, stroking through the cloth of his breeches; his hips jerked, pressing hard into her palm while he let out a ragged breath. "Maker, don't tease me—"

"I won't."

She kissed him again and fumbled with the laces. His own hands shook as he reached down to help her. It was an oddly endearing thing; her heart tightened to see the amazed delight with which he responded to her caresses—but the thought flickered out of her mind when he finally struggled free of that last bit of clothing to leave them naked together.

His cock was hot, smooth in her hand and then in her eager mouth. "Maker's breath," he muttered. She looked up to see his face, and dragged her tongue over him, reveling in his reactions. He hissed and twitched, hips jerking, and she felt an answering surge of desire in her own body and she'd never wanted anything as much as she wanted him, inside her, that instant.

He seemed to be thinking much the same, since he made a faint noise and grasped her arms. "It's too much, I need—” His voice was hoarse and she agreed, she agreed with all of it, everything he'd said and all the things left unspoken.

They fell together in a tumble of limbs and hot, wet kisses; they were only half on the rug now, but she found herself leaning back on a pile of sacking. They’d be rutting on the floor like animals, but she didn't care. All that mattered was being with him. She spread her legs and wrapped her arms around his shoulders, pulling his warm weight down against her.

They were both past ready. Adan was breathing as heavily as Lysette was; he dug his face into her hair and let out a muffled groan when she reached to circle his cock with her fingers, guiding him into position. But just as she felt him begin to press inside her, he paused and lifted his head to meet her eyes.

They stared at one another for a frozen moment. The old tower room was silent and dusty around them, sunbeams hovering in the air above. It felt as if time stood still along with their two bodies.

“This is absurd,” he whispered. “We're on the bloody floor.”

“I know,” she whispered back. 

And then she tilted her hips and he went deeper, filling her as she let out a breathless curse. "Fuck, oh, fuck me—" 

He let out a choked laugh in response as he withdrew and thrust into her again. "I'm trying. Maker, you've got a dirty mouth for a—"

She caught his face to turn it to her own, catching his bottom lip between her teeth, just short of drawing blood. Adan sucked in his breath, but he was as caught up in the moment as she was. He pushed her arms roughly above her head, fingertips digging deep into her flesh as they found their pace.

For once, he had little to say. Instead it was Lysette's words that ran away from her, mindless nonsense alternating with her panting breaths. Every thrust pushed her closer to the edge. "Oui—plus fort, harder… Créateur, I need—"

Adan shifted his weight to one side, freeing a hand to stroke along her flank—when he teased her nipple, that was all it took. Just that last bit of contact and she came fast and hard, clenching around him and dropping her head back as it took her, breaking the rhythm they'd established.

She made a strangled noise in her throat. "Shh," he murmured, and kissed her. And then again, pressing his lips frantically to her cheek, her closed eyelids, any bit of her he could reach. 

Lysette wrapped her legs around his back, aching to take him deeper, and he grunted as he lowered himself onto both arms again and thrust more forcefully. The slapping of body against body filled the stillness of the air. "Don't stop," she begged when he hesitated for a fraction of a second. "Come in me, mon cœur—"

He drew in a shuddering gasp but she was the one who came, again; the trembling waves carried her mind a thousand miles away while he breathed heavier, drove harder. She was still shaking with the aftershocks of her own climax when he jerked, warmth filling her as his body slowly stilled.

She felt both weightless and grounded, wide awake and dreaming. Her heart was still pounding when he turned her face to his, gazing into her eyes, and she blinked in hazy confusion. "Mm?"

"Mmph." Adan dropped his hand and pressed his face into her shoulder. "Just wanted to look at you.” And then he added, matter-of-factly, “Don't think I can move. Sorry.”

She stroked his arms lightly and pulled away herself, but only to nudge him onto his back. With a pleased sigh, she rolled onto his chest and rested her head in the crook of his shoulder. 

Adan let out a long sigh of his own as she nuzzled close, twining her legs with his; his warm breath stirred her hair, and his arms tightened around her sweaty back. It was so easy, so natural to be like this with him—everything with him was new and yet, when discovered, made her feel as if she'd come back to some long-forgotten but much-missed place.

A ridiculously sentimental thought. She needed to rise, clean up, attend to practical matters.

But… Maker. Not just yet.


Lysette finally eased away and Adan tried to gather himself. There was an argument to be made about practicalities, but the sight of her there, naked and flushed and contented was... it felt bloody sacred.

Although he probably shouldn't use that word to her.

“I’d better get dressed,” she said with a furrow of her brows. “And possibly take a bath. Do we have baths at Skyhold?”

“We do. All manner of luxuries. Still a little short on things like walls and roofs, but otherwise I’ve no complaints.”

He was startled by her sudden puff of laughter. “No complaints? Could it be?”

“I'm sure I could think of one or two more if I tried. For example, this floor is damned uncomfor—”

The pressure of her lips cut him off.

Chapter Text

Marvel at perfection
For it is fleeting.

—Threnodies 8:13

The week went by far too quickly.

They couldn't spend the whole of it together, of course. Adan had his work—although he confessed, with some sheepishness, that he was only performing the essential tasks at the moment—and Lysette was slowly rebuilding her strength. She hadn't lost as much of her conditioning as Mattrin, but it was hard and frustrating work to bring herself back into shape for combat. Although the lyrium helped. It helped with her nightmares, too. 

On the final afternoon of her leave, Lysette sat in the garden and waited for him. It really was a beautiful place. The harvest season was upon them but the embrium was still blooming, filling the air with its spicy fragrance; the rich red berries of the prophet's laurel were fully ripe. Most of the trees had taken more than a hint of copper to their leaves. With the long rays of the setting sun slanting golden through their branches, it looked as if the garden had been set aflame.

Adan's birthday was in Harvestmere, he'd said. It was indicative of her mental state that, no matter what she thought about, all roads led back to him. She'd have to give him something, she supposed, but Andraste alone knew what he expected. There was nothing material she could give him that would do justice to the strength of her feelings.

She was in love with him. It was baffling to contemplate. But it was so bloody easy to love him when she knew that beneath his sarcastic veneer he was compassionate and kind and well-meaning. He didn't put on airs or pretend to be anything he wasn't. Truly, Adan was right for her in every way she could imagine. She thanked the Maker that she'd found him.

But it was Pella whose light step came to her side first.

“Oh, hello,” she said upon seeing Lysette. “Adan said he'll meet you at the tavern at sundown. He's still talking with Minaeve about something or other. Or possibly Mistress Stuffyskirts.”

“That's all right. Thanks. How are you, Pella?”

“Overworked, underpaid,” she said cheerfully and perched on the bench at Lysette's side. “And I think it's going to rain.”

“You might be right about that.”

It did rain, at length, and the wind howled outside the tavern walls. But inside the fire was warm and her lover stood before her. Lysette breathed deeply, feeling a little giddy. The air was filled with the scents of wood smoke, hops, apples. She added to that list as she buried her face in Adan's robes: wet wool, leather, himself. Maker help her, she loved this man.  

"You smell like sheep," she murmured dreamily.

He leaned back to look at her askance. "I beg your pardon?"

"Your clothes." She laughed and ran a hand over the damp cloth. "Don't you have a cloak?"

"I used to. It's probably under a pile of rubble in Haven. But that's all right. What are you doing, pray tell?"

Her hand was still drifting over his ribs. "Exploring."

"Not exactly uncharted territory, is it?" Adan glanced around. But the upper level of the tavern was quiet; they were alone, or near enough to it, and he didn't resist when she melted back into his arms.

"Dance with me," she whispered into his ear. She might have had a little too much of that cider, but equally likely it was just his presence that intoxicated her.

"If you're sure you want to risk your feet." But as the minstrel's song floated up from downstairs, he wrapped an arm around her waist and drew her close against him.

This was more his forte than the old folk dances, she observed. "I admit, you're better at this than I remember."

"Perhaps I've gotten used to the way you move. Perhaps I like this sort of dancing better." He nuzzled at her neck and she shivered at the raw scratch of stubble against her skin. "Not to mention that the last time we danced, I was rather distracted."

"Distracted by what?"

"The Breach. Flissa's Fereldan ale. You, flirting with me."

She pressed her lips together, trying to repress a smile. "I don't know what you mean."

"You're a terrible liar, my girl." He slid his hands up her back and pulled away to look at her. His face was stern, but his eyes were alight. She swallowed over the lump in her throat. He looked so happy.

"I know. It's a good thing I became a templar and not, say, a bard."

"Maker, yes, it is." Adan shook his head and dropped his hands to her hips, tracing the curves with his thumbs. "It's been pleasant to see you out of your armor for a change, though. I'm not looking forward to seeing you back in it... but then I'm a selfish bastard."

"No, you're not."

"I certainly am." He looked over her shoulder and grimaced; the sound of footsteps coming up the stairs had him dropping his arms and drawing away. She mourned the loss of contact immediately.

"I worry about you too, you know," she said.

"My job's not life-threatening."

"Aside from the fact that you make explosives? Adan.”

He grinned, a quick flash of teeth that had her breathless. "Well. Yeah. There is that."


 

They both groaned as she sank down, taking him in. She braced her hands on his chest as she rode him, there in the lamplight—he had, in fact, had the shutters repaired—and shut her eyes as she took her pleasure. To Adan, it still felt bloody sacred.

As they lay with their bodies entwined, catching their breath, he tried not to count down the remaining hours that she was all his and only his. When they lay together, lost in one another, it was difficult to think of anything but the present—but Maker take him if he didn't want a future with her. He never wanted any of this to end.

He'd tried not to grow too used to her presence; they both knew it was a temporary sort of togetherness. Lysette wouldn’t be able to stay the night with him once she resumed her duties, not most of the time. It wasn't as if she'd be deployed on another mission right away, but this brief time of having her in his bed, the joy of rolling over in the middle of the night to find her there and wanting him… he already grieved for it, and she was still here with him.

To be exact, she was sitting cross-legged on the bed with his feet in her lap. She bent her neck and narrowed her eyes in concentration.

"What are you looking at down there?" Adan felt absurdly self-conscious and tried not to inch away from her curious fingers. They were just feet, ordinary human feet, so why was she—

Lysette ran a hand slowly up his bare shin. "No scars," she said. Her voice was as subdued as he'd ever heard it. “Nothing at all. At Haven I saw right through to the bone. And now there's not even a scar.”

Oh. That.

"No. No scars, thanks to you." He cleared his throat. "Not like I'd have lived to grow any without your interv—"

"Don't say that." Lysette looked anguished. "Maker, Adan."

He sat up and reached for her. "Hey. Hey, now. Where's this coming from? Surely you're not really afraid I'll blow myself up in a blast of alchemical fire. Here I thought you respected my talents."

Lysette didn't answer and didn't lean into his embrace. She just slid her hands further up his legs, as if trying to memorize every part of him. He couldn't say he objected to the project, but her silence was concerning.

Finally, she told him what was on her mind. "You said the other night that you thought I was dead. Well, I thought you were dead, too, that night in Haven. I dreamed about it when I was..." She shook her head. "I still dream about it. It's all so fragile, Adan. Don't you ever feel that way?"

“Yeah. Most days. Especially these days."

Lysette let out a sharp breath of vexation. "I don't know how to say such things. I didn't think I could feel such things.” Despite the frustration in her tone, his breath caught at her words. “And yet all I can think about is how easy it would be to lose everything. Like none of this ever happened at all.”

At his murmur of protest, she shook her head. Her hair fell over her face, hiding her features from him. “It doesn't seem fair to you, Adan. I've got a dangerous life. Something like what happened in Ferelden could happen again at any time. One day I might not come back."

Adan leaned forward to grip her by the shoulders, turning her to face him. His heart was pounding. "I know that. I know. You don't have to tell me. You think that's enough to keep me away?"

“I'm not trying to keep you away. If I were a better person, I might. But I'm so selfish…”

“My girl—”

Her hair was tousled and her face shadowed as she reached up to stroke his cheek. "If you—if you feel about me the way I feel about you—"

He couldn't speak, only turned his face into her hand. Then he cleared his throat and asked, "How do you feel, exactly?"

“Don't you know?” She looked sad. “I'm sorry. I shouldn't have—I don't want to push you for more than you're willing to give.”

“I'd give you anything you asked.” She was still looking at him and... blast it. If they were being honest with one another—he'd already said so much—"I love you," he muttered. "In case that wasn't obvious."

It did not appear to have been obvious. Dark eyes stared back at him, wide with astonishment.

He coughed and turned his head to look away, over her shoulder. "Sod it. I know it's too soon to say such things. You don't have to—"

But she caught his chin and pulled his face to hers, and her kiss had a desperation even beyond anything they'd shared. "Tell me again," she breathed into his mouth.

"I love you," he whispered into hers. "Lysette, you must know I'm in love with you."

"Oh," she said brokenly. “I love you too. I'm terrible at—I know I don't show—"

He smoothed her hair beneath his hands. "Maker, woman, you think you're not showing me now?"

Lysette smiled. A simple expression that made his eyes burn with its sweetness. He pressed his forehead against hers. "Look at the pair of us."

“Shameful,” she breathed.

“A disgrace,” he agreed.

“I'm glad of it.”

“Me, too.”

Chapter Text

"World-making Glory," I cried out in sorrow,
"How shall your children apology make?
We have forgotten, in ignorance stumbling,
Only a Light in this darken'd time breaks.
Call to Your children, teach us Your greatness.
What has been forgotten has not yet been lost."

—Andraste 1:13

"Here. Half a bottle an hour after your dinner. Don't forget. Wash it down with plain water."

The commander looked glumly at the row of tonics and powders lined up before him.

"This one if you wake in the night.” Glass clinked against the tiled surface of the desk as Adan set down another bottle. "One spoonful in a glass of hot water. Don't take more than two doses in a night, though, or I'll have some explaining to do to Her Worship."

Cullen scrubbed a hand over his face. "I'll spare you that."

"Much obliged.“ Adan began gathering up his things. “That's enough to start. Likely take a bit of trial and error to find the right mix."

"Trial and error?" Cullen lifted a brow. "Are you sure you won't end up explaining yourself to the Inquisitor after all?"

“Follow my instructions, you'll be safe enough. Might not sit well in your stomach, though. And it'll definitely taste like shit."

"Ah. Lovely. Anything else?"

"That's it. Send word down to the infirmary if you need anything."

He had his hand on the handle of the door when the commander spoke again. "Surana."

Adan turned. "Yeah?"

"That’s your name. Right?”

“Last I checked,” Adan said warily. He really didn’t want to go into an extended discussion of his background with the Inquisition commander, of all people.

“I knew someone by that name once. I was wondering if there might be a relation. Neria Surana, at the Circle of Magi in Ferelden?”

The air seemed to have left Adan's lungs and his ears were buzzing. "I thought you were from Kirkwall,” was all he could think to say.

"I was transferred there after the Blight. So there… is a relation?”

“My cousin. We lost track of her years back. Don't suppose you know what’s happened to her?”

“No.” Cullen looked a bit deflated and rubbed at the back of his neck. “I was rather hoping you could tell me.”

“What's one elven Tranquil to you?” Adan's tone was, perhaps, harsher than was called for. But something in the man's posture made him uneasy.

The commander looked up. Seeing Adan's expression, his face went blank. “A former charge,” he said coolly. “Nothing more. Excuse me for asking. I merely hoped that a relative might have more information on her whereabouts.”

“The Circle was never particularly forthcoming with that sort of information, Commander. Not to the likes of us, anyway.”

“...No. They wouldn't be, would they? I apologize for disturbing you, Apothecary.” Cullen sighed. “Thank you for—” he gestured at the array of pharmaceuticals—“all this.”

“No harm done. And you should thank Her Worship.”

Who, herself, was an elven mage.

Maker's breath.

Adan felt more than a little unsettled as he walked down the steps to the rotunda. He needed to speak with Minaeve.

As he'd expected, she was sitting in her usual alcove, papers and books spread out on the table before her. He strode up and addressed her without ado.

"Minaeve. You were at Ferelden's Circle, weren't you?"

She looked up at him. "Yes...?"

"Were you there during the Blight?"

"Maker, Adan. Yes, I was. Why do you need to know?"

He sat down across from her. "I'm trying to figure out... well." He cleared his throat and tried again. "I had a cousin there, once. She'd be a few years older than you. About thirty now."

Minaeve looked around. The library was quiet; at that early hour, their only companions were the sunbeams floating in the light that filled the alcove. "Adan, I'm sorry, but if she was with the rebel mages..."

"Unlikely. She's Tranquil."

"Oh.” She paused. “I see. What was her name?"

"Neria Surana."

In the morning light, her eyes were very green. "An elf? Not a human?"

"Yeah," he said briefly.

"I see. No. I don't think I remember anyone of that name. Are you sure she was at Kinloch Hold?"

"That's where they took her. That's where they made her Tranquil. I don't know anything else."

"When, exactly?"

"Twenty years since they came to the alienage. About ten years since we heard about the Rite. Haven’t heard a thing of her since." Nor, for all his connections, had he been able to track her down anywhere. It was as if she'd vanished from the face of the earth. The Circles didn't make it easy to learn such things from without.

She shook her head slowly. "If she was there ten years ago, the most likely outcome is that she died in the Circle uprising. I was there, and I remember all the survivors. No one of that name, I'm sure of it."

"But that doesn't make sense. We only heard the news she'd been made Tranquil after the Blight."

"Who told you?"

"She did. She wrote a letter." Adan had seen it, on his first trip to Denerim after the Blight. It had been awful: curt, blank, empty. A dutiful notification to the family that they would no longer be required to incur the expense of writing. Neria's mother had kept that letter until she died.

“I really don't know, Adan. I was hardly ten during the… during everything.”

"Damn.” He drummed his fingers on the table. “Any suggestion how I might find out?"

She looked hesitant, flexing her fingers nervously. "You could speak to Commander Cullen. He was there. For a while after, anyway.”

“It was Commander Cullen who brought the matter up with me. He doesn't have any more information than I do.”

“I don’t expect anyone bothered to keep records on the Tranquil," said Minaeve rather bitterly. "Avexis came to me with nothing but the clothing on her back and the brand on her forehead. Helisma, too. What makes you ask me now, after all this time?"

"I gave up looking a while back, but… she's still got family. Besides me, I mean. It was one thing to think of her safe in the Circle, but after all this new upheaval? I know you've heard about what they found in Redcliffe. What those Tevinter bastards were up to."

"I heard." Now Minaeve looked like she was about to cry.

"I just want to make sure she wasn't..." Adan paused. "Or if she was, at least I can let her family know. Bring them some peace."

“Of course. I’m sorry I couldn’t be more help.”

Another lead down.

If a former templar commander didn't know, and if Minaeve, friend to the Tranquil, didn't know… perhaps it was time to ask a favor of Elan.

 


 

“Reporting for duty, ser.” Lysette saluted.

“Very good.” Cullen glanced up only briefly from his papers. “Duty roster’s posted in the tower. You've got a bunk waiting for you on the third floor, or thereabouts. Ask Knight-Lieutenant Abrahas if you can’t find it.”

“Yes, ser. I'll still be reporting directly to you?”

“Until we get some more officers. I don't know where we'll find them. Might have to promote some of the Inquisition ranks.” He waved her vaguely to the door.

So dismissed, Lysette saluted again and took her leave.

The templar tower was spare, but surprisingly comfortable. The Inquisition must have brought most of the furnishings from the officers' quarters at one of the empty Circles. Even in the elaborate Montsimmard Circle, the rank-and-file templars hadn't had anything like this.

The first set of stairs took Lysette to a sun-drenched common room. Thick rugs woven with the old Order's insignia covered the floor. Bookcases were filled with expensive editions of the usual tomes, a small carved shrine waited for the pious to pay their devotions, and a pleasant window seat overlooked the garden. There was even a lute, although Lysette couldn't have named a single templar who could play.

Most of those here were strangers, people from other parts of Thedas who'd arrived from the redoubt while Lysette had been in captivity. She nodded at a familiar face or two and headed up the next flight of stairs.

There were half a dozen people in the dormitory-style room, changing their clothes between shifts or sitting idly on their bunks. Lysette found it all oddly jarring. For all the apparent familiarity of the barracks—plain bunks stacked one above another, personal effects stored in chests beneath—it didn't feel the same. This was the Inquisition, not a Circle, and the similarities made the differences all that much more obvious.

“Oi, she's back!”

“Hey, Lysette.”

One of the templars sitting on her bunk looked up. Erriala’s eyes met Lysette's and the women stared at one another.

Erriala spoke first. “Finally joining us here, eh?” Her face was thinner, tanned, and there was a new scar on her neck. “Wish I'd had a week's leave.”

“Perhaps you should consider being captured by barbarians,” Lysette said dryly, relaxing a bit. This was the old banter.

“I might have preferred that to the Western Approach. You wouldn't believe how many places sand can get.”

“Sand, mud, and snow. Who said being a templar wasn't luxurious?” Lysette looked around the room. Most of the bunks appeared occupied.

“We're out of bunks proper. You're over there.” Erriala jerked her chin to indicate a narrow cot wedged in the darkest corner of the chamber, under the stairs.

“Thanks… I think. Maker, are those cobwebs?”

“Not as comfortable as the apothecary’s bed, I'm sure.” There was a whistle or two from around the room. Erriala reached over to give her a friendly slap on the arm.

Lysette's cheeks heated even as she waved off the teasing and made her way to the cot. Of course they knew she'd been on leave, but after spending so much time on the road and then a full week away from her duties… evidently she'd grown to appreciate a standard of privacy rarely afforded to a Circle resident. Well, that time was behind her, for the moment.

Lodgings aside, things with Adan weren't as different as Lysette had feared once she was back on the duty roster. The two of them fell easily into a routine—just as they had in Haven, just as they had in those early days at Skyhold. They were both creatures of habit, it seemed. Adan set his own schedule, and Lysette's relative autonomy outside her duties allowed them to meet frequently.

She started each day with her visit to the chapel and then moved on to morning sparring while Adan worked in the garden. He was doing less weeding now and more harvesting. Hanging herbs to dry, preparing the soil and planting bulbs for the following spring, all that sort of thing. He enjoyed all of it, evidently; the garden, like his workshop, was his own small world where he could see everything and shape it to his satisfaction. She still didn't know much about it all, but she could see the joy it brought him and loved it for that.

In the afternoons, she drilled with the recruits while Adan worked on his own projects. He was already juggling a number of them; in the coming winter months, he planned to devote his full attention to research.

So the early evenings became their longest stretches of time together. The days were beginning to grow shorter now. While most of Skyhold was at supper, they could lie together and whisper affectionate nonsense back and forth, or they could simply sit in the twilight as the darkness grew and finally separated them, sending Lysette on to her evening guard shift and Adan back to his writing desk.

It was a comfortable routine and they were good, productive days, both of them working for the Inquisition and enjoying what time they found with one another. It did work, and better than she'd dared hope. The two of them fit so well together, their lives and habits as compatible as their temperaments.

But oh, she missed him at night.

At the sound of boots clomping heavily up the tower stairs, Lysette stepped back from the window with haste. Not that there was anything wrong with taking a moment to glance down at the sunny garden. She simply preferred not to subject herself to any more teasing than she already had.

But the owner of the boots was a new arrival. When she reached the top of the stairs and saw Lysette, Belinda let out a squeak and dropped her bags.

"Lysette! Maker, I was so worried! We heard what happened in Ferelden. Are you all right?"

Lysette found herself smiling. “I'm well. I'm very well. And you? How was the Emprise?"

A shadow passed over Belinda's cheerful face, but she shook it off after only a moment. "I'm so happy to be back at Skyhold. It's just lovely in the autumn, isn't it? I don't know how all these trees grow up here."

"I heard some speculation about ancient elven magic."

"Goodness, that sounds ominous." Belinda moved her bags onto her bunk and turned to Lysette. "Are you between shifts? Care for a walk down to the merchants’ stalls?"

"What do you need to buy?"

"Nothing, really. I just like to look. Please do come. I could use some pleasant company. I had guard duty with your Mattrin all morning."

“Maker bless you! I'm expected in the garden at midday, but... what's the hour? All right. Just let me get my things together."

Belinda looked delighted. But then, she usually did.

Lysette pulled out the low chest under her cot and took out her coin purse, attaching it to her belt. It was strange to have so much coin on her; strange to have coin at all, when templars took vows of poverty. Not that Circle life wasn't comfortable—her own Circle of Montsimmard had been positively opulent compared to some—but she'd never had the need or inclination to procure her own things before. Besides her arms and armor, this chest held all of her worldly possessions.

They were remarkably few, even by the standards of the Order. Everything she owned was standard-issue Chantry gear; all of it was in fairly good condition. Only the things she'd had on her person at the time of the Conclave showed any signs of age, but even the well-worn pocket book of the Chant of Light was the same printing you could find in any of a hundred market stalls in any Thedosian city. There was nothing here that linked her to the past or to any other living soul. Nothing she couldn't have replaced again tomorrow, should the need arise.

There were no limits on personal property, here. Beyond what space permitted, of course. She could go down to visit the dozen merchants who'd set up shop at Skyhold and buy any sort of frivolity she wished, if she liked. But she should really save her coin. Her future, once so clear, was no longer certain.

Although she could do with a fresh set of gloves. The armory would supply them, of course, but they so rarely fit her hands right—it might be worth going to a proper glover, when keeping her grip on her weapon could make the difference in battle.

"How long are you back in Skyhold?" she asked Belinda.

"I'm not sure. Probably not long. What about you?"

"I'm headed to Highever next." Lysette rolled her neck and pushed the chest back under her cot.

"Highever, in Ferelden? What's over there?"

"They're having a memorial for the Divine."

"Justinia? But it's been so long. Almost a year since the Conclave. Why now?"

"I don't know."

"I bet it's politics. Maybe they want to hurry up the clerics and have a new Divine appointed. The Fereldans must be getting uneasy. The teyrn of Highever... well, you know who his sister is... yes, I'd bet on it. A lovely memorial that just so happens to send a polite hint to the Chantry."

"Maker, Belinda, how do you know all this?"

"Oh, I'm sounding like my father again, aren't I? You know nobles."

"Not really."

"Well, you know me. And Barris... although I don't know if either of us is representative. What will you be doing in Highever, exactly?"

"Standing around looking impressive under an Inquisition banner, by the sound of it." Lysette stood up.

"Won't that be a refreshing change! Let's go, let's go." As they headed for the stairs, Belinda mused, "Maybe there's something I can buy to make myself look impressive for once. What do you make of that Scout Harding?"

Lysette stood with her arms crossed, examining the goods spread out before her. It was somewhat baffling to be so spoiled for choice. 

"Is there anything I can help you find, mesdames?"  asked the merchant. Bonny Sims was her name, and her wares were finer than Seggrit's by far. 

“No." Lysette had already placed her order with the glover. She was only waiting for Belinda to stop cooing over rubbish like silver dragonfly charms and miniature spinning wheels.

"Pardon! Vous êtes orlesienne?"  The woman had heard Lysette's accent.

"Oui."

"Ah, bon!"  The woman chattered away, apparently delighted to find a countrywoman. But she spoke about things of little interest to Lysette—a disgraced Chevalier at Skyhold, the empress’s upcoming ball. It was so odd to hear someone speaking her native language. Lysette hardly ever did, these days. Even in Montsimmard, people in the Circle mostly spoke Common.

Maker's breath. The woman had moved on to hinting about connections to the underground lyrium trade.

"Je suis templière," she told the merchant coolly. "I'm not interested in your illicit activities."

The merchant’s face was concealed behind her mask, but her voice was amused as she said, "No, certainly not. You must have misunderstood me."

Lysette gave her a stony look. Fortunately, Belinda strolled over a moment later. “Shall we?”

“Yes. I don't need anything else.”

But as they reached the stairs, Lysette's step faltered. “I do need something. I nearly forgot. A birthday gift.” She rubbed her eyes. “Maker help me.”

“What, something for your paramour?”

“My what?”

“Well, what should I call him?”

“Nothing. I don't know. He's just Adan.”

“Don't look so miserable. I'll help you. What does he like—does he like anything? Such a grumpy sort.”

“He likes… plants,” Lysette said weakly. “But it's already Harvestmere. Books? I don't know.”

“Maker's breath, now you look like you're about to hit something. Don't hit anything. He likes you, doesn't he?”

“Evidently.” Lysette folded her arms. 

“Hm. What did he get you for your birthday?”

“It's not until Haring.”

“Well, he must have given you something by now.”

Lysette gave her a sidelong look. “Belinda.”

“Maker! That's not what I—oh, I deserved that. But I'm trying to help, you stubborn ass. Well, if he hasn’t… hmm. It should still be something personal, don't you think? To remind him of you, while you're away saving Thedas… oh, it's so romantic!” She giggled.

“Are you sure you’re a templar? How old are you?”

“As much of a templar as you. Twenty-three.” Belinda looked at her thoughtfully. “You’ve got pretty hair. He must like it.”

“I haven't asked.”

“I'm sure he likes it. Why not that—a lock of your hair; that's so simple and sweet—”

“And when I fall in battle, he'll have a piece of me forever? How nice.”

“Ooh, so sarcastic. No wonder you get on with that man.”

Adan wasn't in the garden yet when she arrived. Well, she was early.

“I can assist you with any potion requisitions,” an elven woman said briefly, tapping her toes on the flagstones. The weather was still warm enough for bare feet. “What do you need?”

“Nothing. I was looking for Adan, that's all.”

The woman glanced briefly over Lysette's templar regalia. “Ah. Knight-Templar Lysette, I take it.”

“You have the advantage of me.” Although she had a suspicion. This must be Adan's newest assistant, the one of whom Pella spoke so disparagingly and Adan so fondly.

“Elan Ve'mal. Representing the College of Herbalists.”

“What's the College of Herbalists?”

"A loose organization of associates with shared interests. We tend to meet informally." Elan lifted a brow. Lysette couldn’t quite interpret her expression. “I studied with Adan after he left the service of the King of Ferelden. Or rather, once the king was no longer there to serve.”

“I see.” What an odd woman. She dressed rather like the Inquisitor, but there were no marks on her face. “You're a city elf?”

“It's... not a useful identifier. I am an elf; I was raised away from the Dalish. No, I do not know their customs. I'm sure that much was immediately obvious to Her Worship.” Elan dropped a brief curtsy to someone behind Lysette, and she turned to see Inquisitor Lavellan approaching them.

“Ser Lysette,” said the Inquisitor. “I'm glad to see you’re still with us.”

Lysette saluted. “I serve, as has always been my calling.”

A new voice came from behind Lysette. “Elan, have you seen Adan? Unless the old tosser's dallying with his sweetheart again—oh, shit. Good morning, Lysette.”

“Good morning, Pella.”

“Good morning, everyone. I'll just go extract my foot from my mouth, shall I?”

“What you'll do is get to work,” said Elan severely. “Adan's not here, so you'll have to do without his indulgence.”

The Inquisitor lifted a brow. “Is Apothecary Adan especially indulgent?”

“No,” said Elan, still frowning at Pella. “But he's got a soft spot for this one.”

“I see. He's never been all that friendly towards me, I must say.”

“A sign of his respect. Smiles are saved for fools, so they leave quickly.”

“Must not be many fools in the Inquisition, then,” muttered Pella.

Lysette stifled a snort.


Adan came around the corner and stopped in his tracks when four pairs of female eyes turned in his direction, like those of some disembodied giant spider. He managed to keep himself from taking a step backwards. Still, he felt rather like the spider’s prey.

“Morning,” he muttered. Sweet Maker, I hope they’re not talking about me.

“Hello,” said the Inquisitor. “We were just talking about you.”

Wonderful.

“What d'you need, Your Worship?” He avoided making eye contact with Lysette. Elan gave him a cordial nod. Pella was sitting on the ground, dragging a trowel across the soil like a bloody toddler.

“Oh, don’t call me that. I'm tired of being worshipped. Walk with me, would you?”

At that, Adan did meet Lysette's eyes. She looked as bemused as he but only said, “I'll be here when you return.”

“Right then. After you, Your… Whatever.”

The Inquisitor gestured for the stairs and Adan fell into step alongside her. They reached the battlements and he squinted in the sunlight. No shade to be found up here. “What can I do for you?” he asked. 

She came to a halt and turned to face him, leaning her elbows on the parapet behind her.

“I wanted to speak with you about Cullen.”

Adan blinked. “Everything all right with the remedies?”

“As far as I know, yes. And thank you for that. But I've received a communication with my Keeper. She has some suggestions for magical healing I might try. I don't know if—well, I'm not sure I'll get the opportunity to use them. But in case I do, I wanted to check directly with you to make sure it was safe. There would be no interaction with the remedies you prepared?”

“I don't think so. Everything I mixed is plain old herbs. What kind of magic are we talking about here?”

“The Dalish kind. I'm rubbish at that sort of healing myself, I'm afraid. Well, not rubbish. I am—was—my clan’s First, and basic competence with all forms of magic is required in that role. But I've no natural talent as a healer.”

Adan didn't need her to tell him how that felt.

The Inquisitor was squinting in the sunlight too, and shaded her eyes with one hand as she looked over Skyhold. It was quite the holding for any one person, let alone a Dalish apostate. Wonder how that sits with her?

She dropped her hand and looked back at him. “Anyway, it's nothing ritual-based; no lyrium or anything like that. And it's certainly not spirit healing.”

“Then I'd say you're fine. Leastways as far as the potions go. On the magic side, you know more than I do.”

“I wish I did. I'd really rather not involve more people in this than I must, but I may have to consult with my mage companions.“

Adan's eyebrows rose despite himself. The Inquisitor really was keeping this business close to the chest if she hadn't checked with the likes of Enchanter Vivienne before coming to him.

“Thank you for your time,” she added. “Again, I apologize for putting this on you. I know it's not in your job description.”

“Not to worry. It's nasty stuff, this lyrium.”

“The way they use it, it certainly is.”

He met Lysette in the garden and they went up to his quarters to share their midday meal. Once they'd finished, Lysette collected the crusts of bread and cheese from his desk while Adan leaned back on the settee, stretching out his stockinged feet and staring at the ceiling.

Having tidied the desk to her satisfaction, she came over to sit at his side. "Is everything all right?” 

Damn her astuteness. "I should have known I couldn't keep anything from you."

She watched him in silence. Her breathing was the only sign of movement in the shadowy room.

"I've told you about my cousin, the one who was in a Circle. I've started trying to track her down again, and it's..." He shook his head. "Unsettling. I don't know if I want to find out what happened to her."

"I remember. Neria."

"That's right. To be honest, I don't expect anything to come of it. But..." He swallowed. "I hate to ask. But if you could ask your colleagues, in case any of them know what became of her, I'd appreciate it."

Lysette paused. And then she admitted, "I did."

"What?" He realized his mouth was hanging open and snapped it shut.

"After you first told me on the way to Skyhold. And again since, with the other templars here. But I couldn't find anything out. I'm sorry."

He shook his head again. Then he reached over to take her hand. "Thank you for asking, Lysette. I didn't expect that."

"It was no trouble," she said, brows furrowing. "I wanted to as help as soon as you told me. I... well. I cared for you so much."

"Did you?" He twined the fingers of his other hand in her hair. 

"You know I did."

"I certainly didn’t know it then."

“You should have.” She gave him a half-smile.

“Well, you can hardly blame me given the conflicting evidence you provided.”

She blinked. "What do you mean?"

Adan wished he could bite off his tongue. But now that the subject had been raised, he might as well have it out in the open. "It feels foolish to ask about it at this point. But..."

Lysette looked more than a little alarmed at his hesitation. "What is it?"

"When did I lose the ability to form a simple bleeding sentence?” He shook his head in disgust. “I'm trying to tell you I don't want anyone else. Only you. I just wanted to ask if..."

"Are you asking if I'll be faithful to you?"

"I suppose," he muttered. "Maker, what a way to put it."

"Yes. Of course I will." She put a hand to his cheek and he shut his eyes in relief and embarrassment. "I should have said so before—were you worried? Adan, for heaven's sake."

"Shouldn't make assumptions. You never said, so it's not as if I had the right to expect it." He hesitated. "It's none of my damn business. But the night after the Breach, before the Herald came back, I happened to pass your camp.”

"Oh, Maker, no." She sat up straighter, a look of dawning horror on her face. "Shit—"

"It's all right, Lysette, you don't have to explain. I just wondered...”

"You saw me with Delrin? Is that why you avoided me afterwards?" She looked utterly dejected, resting her hands in fists atop her head. "I’m such a bloody fool. It’s not what you think. He only kissed me. I was upset, and—"

"You really don't have to tell me," he said, somewhat desperately. He didn't want to hear any more. "We weren't—you were free to do as you liked. Maker take me, you still are. I just wanted to ask what you..."

"Please, listen to me." Her face was so intent, so focused. Would he ever get used to that? Would it ever fail to take his breath away? “I don't want a relationship with anyone else. I don't want anyone but you. Unless you... do you want..."

"No. Blessed Andraste, no."

She let out a long exhale. "Thank the Maker."

"Indeed,” he said, blinking. “That was terrifying. But there it is, then. Settled. Are there any other major discussions we've forgotten to have?"

"Probably." She gave him a wry look. "But let's leave it for now.”

He wrapped his arm around her and pulled her to his side. She leaned her head against his shoulder. 

“I did think of another important talk we haven’t had,” said Lysette abruptly. They were still sitting on the settee, his arm still wrapped around her. But the shadows in the room were shifting. She'd have to leave before long.

“Oh?” Adan felt an uneasy sensation in the pit of his stomach. 

“I need to know if we’ll be one of those couples that use pet names.”

He let out a short breath, as much of amusement as of relief. “No. Can’t stand them."

"Good. I won't allow my own mother to use a pet name for me.” Lysette's lip curled. “Not that she doesn't do so anyway.”

“Really?” Adan was intrigued. "What does she call you? Lys?”

"I’m not going to tell you.” Her lips twitched. She was fighting back a laugh.

"Andraste’s arse, it must be awful. Buttercup—no, you're Orlesian—ah... fleur de… beurre?”

At his dreadful Orlesian, Lysette lost her fight. "Definitely not that," she said between splutters of laughter.

“Lysette already sounds like a pet name. What else is there? Lyssie?"

"Yes."

"No." Now it was Adan’s turn to be incapable of catching his breath. "My condolences. No wonder you ran away and joined the templars. I would have, too.”

“Stop laughing. It’s not funny.”

“Yes, it is. But I'm glad we've got that sorted before you leave for Highever. I might have written a letter calling you something dreadful. My precious Lyssie—”

She shifted her weight and glared at him. “I hate you.”

“You love me.”

“All right. Yes. I do.”

“Maker, why? You're so...” He was still laughing as he brushed the hair out of her face. “You're so lovely. Still don’t know what you want with the likes of me.”

She relaxed into his touch. “Your good looks and charm, of course.”

Adan snorted, still stroking her hair. But then she pulled away and rose to her knees, looking back at him narrowly. “All right, since you ask.”

He was alarmed. “I take it back. I think I’d rather not know.”

“Too late.” Lysette smirked and he shut his eyes. But she went on, “You're hardworking and loyal. You don't put on airs; you don't pretend to be anything you're not. Except maybe grumpier than you are. You're very intelligent—"

Adan cracked an eye open to look at her. "That's the only thing you've said so far that's accurate."

"It's not," she insisted. "You pretend you don't care, but I've known you do since the day I met you in Haven. I've always known you're honest and kind and… you make me laugh, and you're… shit, I'm awful at this.”

“No, you’re not,” he murmured.

“Besides which, I think you're very handsome,” she concluded, letting her fingers drift over his arms. He huffed in faint derision. But he couldn't keep his eyes from following her movements. After a moment he reached up to tug off his tunic.

Lysette nudged him back against the cushions and ran her hands over his sides, kissed her way across his abdomen. When he tried to wrap his arms around her, she pushed them away. “No. I'm admiring you.” She pressed her lips to his skin and he drew in a breath.

She trailed her fingers through the hair on his chest, her palm warm against him. He watched her hand rise and fall with his breathing. Maker, he was glad he’d found her.

Lysette shifted and raised a hand to run her thumb over his jawline. Her fingers moved lightly over his face, finding the deep groove on his cheek and taking inventory of his scars. She traced the two that bisected his eyebrow, the one across the bridge of his nose.

Someone else had done that, once. Adan didn’t like the memory. He leaned his head away and gently removed her hand.

"Should I not—"

"I'd rather not." He avoided her eyes. "Not that I mind you... it's just not my favorite topic of conversation."

"I'm so sorry.”

"Don't worry about it. There are much more pleasant things we could talk about. Abominations. Toothaches. Whatever it is you're doing now. Lysette?”

“Better than a toothache, I hope,” she said as she unlaced his breeches.

“Definitely better than a—Maker, woman.”

She looked up. “Mm?”

”A lot better,“ he managed before he let his head fall back on the cushions. She made a pleased noise and went back to what she was doing.

That was one way of changing the subject, he gave her that.

Chapter Text

Hope abandoned the armies of the faithful
At the sight of their Lady in chains.

—Apotheosis 2:2

Denerim, 9:15 Dragon

Neria was six years old when she learned what magic was.

She'd heard of it, of course. She knew it was something to be feared. But it had always been a vague sort of threat, nothing immediate. Far less threatening than the everyday danger of boredom.

"Go play," Mamae scolded.

"The boys told me to go away," she protested. Her brother Belaeth and her cousin Adan didn't want anything to do with her. They were holed up in the loft, talking about things from those books that Neria desperately wanted to read. But no one would show her how. Her father didn't read well and her mother didn't have time; she was always so busy, too busy to answer all of Neria's questions.

"Go outside, then. Be careful on the stairs.”

"I don't want to go outside. Everything's all wet." It had been raining.

"Neria, I don't have time. You'll have to find a way to keep yourself busy. Or would you rather I put you to work here?”

Real work, the kind that paid in coin, was hard enough to find for elves. Lots of human children worked, Adan had told her self-importantly, but not elven ones. But there was still plenty that needed scrubbing, even if it didn't pay.

So she went outside after all.

“Hello, Cluck-Cluck,” she said politely to the chicken on the stoop as she went downstairs, grasping the rough wooden railing carefully to avoid splinters. Cluck-Cluck ignored her, as was her wont.

Neria had chosen the wrong name for that hen. She was the quietest of all their birds. Most of the chickens made a fuss when they'd laid their eggs, proudly announcing their accomplishment to the world, but Cluck-Cluck was positively secretive. It was always fun to figure out where she'd laid this time. Just that morning Neria had found an egg under a pile of collapsed scaffolding that no one else in her family could have crawled through, but she was small and agile.

She went around the corner. It was muddy out here, which she really didn't like. The smell of wet earth and chicken manure was acrid in her nostrils.

So fussy, her father often laughed. Where did we pick this one up, Lusi?

I don't know, Orlen, but let's send her back, her mother would say irritably.

She was so bored. There was no one to talk to. Hardly any of the children in the alienage were her age. Everyone was either older or younger. There was Soris, of course, but Neria wasn't about to go see him. Everyone teased them about getting married one day. The more loudly Neria protested she didn't want to marry anyone, let alone Soris Tabris, the more they gave her those knowing smiles.

But there were animals to keep her company, and lots of them. The other day she'd gotten in trouble for sharing her breakfast with the stray dog who liked to loiter by the western gate and its rubbish heap. But he was such a nice dog, with a soft brindled coat and ears that stood half upright.

Neria had explained to her mother that the same amount of food was used up either way, so what did it matter if the dog got her share? But Mamae hadn't been impressed by the argument and Neria hadn't seen the dog in days. She hoped he was all right.

She rested her palm on the smooth, ancient bark of the vhenadahl and prayed for Andraste to look after the dog. Contact with the tree soothed her, somehow, although it was such an elven thing that she wondered if it was blasphemous to bring Andraste into it. It was all so confusing. But she thought probably, if it was for the sake of the dog, it would be all right. She wished she could have a dog of her own.

Neria looked up sharply as someone called out. Yelling was common enough, but this sounded—

Feet pounded on the packed dirt. Someone was running.

She ducked behind the tree, her heart racing as she looked to the other side. They were chasing him. Enormous men of metal, blades flashing like the sunlight glinting off the puddles—chasing one elven boy—what in the world—

The boy flung out his hand and a tongue of fire shot out.

Neria covered her mouth in shock.

So that's magic, she thought as the templars dragged the boy's unconscious body away.

It didn't seem to have helped him much.

 

Denerim, 9:17 Dragon

There he was. It was so late that Auntie Meris had sent her to look for Adan, and the rude boy was just getting home now? She scampered over the gate and was just about to call out to him when she realized they weren't alone in the alley.

Neria knew better than to let herself be seen. She ducked behind a pile of crates and peered around the edge.

"Oi, elf boy. Are you an elf, boy?"

Adan looked up. "'Scuse me?"

He’d always looked so large to Neria, but with those men looming over him he looked nothing of the sort.

"I said," the man repeated slowly, "are you a knife-ear?"

"Do I look like one to you?" Adan asked, a hint of contempt in his voice.

"What're you doing in these parts, then? Got yourself a rabbit for a girlfriend?"

"None of your business," Adan muttered, and moved to pass.

"I'm not so sure you're not an elf. Here, let's have a look at you." He reached out to grab the front of Adan's tunic.

Don’t, don't talk back—

"Oi, leave off," Adan snapped, shoving the man away and taking a step back.

"I've seen this lad before. He's either one of them or he's fucking them. Either way, rubbish stock. Wouldn't hurt to clean up this district a bit, eh, Your Lordship?"

Adan froze just before the first blow connected with his face.

“No,” Neria whispered. “No, no, no—”

They were going to kill him. It was so obvious.

There was no way to go for help. She might be small, but they'd see her even if she dashed for the gates. There was nothing she could do. All she could do was watch, helpless.

It went on and on. The men's shouts of laughter burned in her ears. One of them drew a sword and Neria gasped—but he didn't run Adan through the way she expected. He was playing with him like a cat tormenting a mouse.

But then… they stopped. They all stopped.

The man with a sword lifted the bloodied blade and looked at it in confusion. The shemlen men glanced at one another in silence, their eyes oddly glazed. The only noise was her cousin's ragged breathing. He was still alive, then.

All the men's faces were blank and puzzled, as if they'd forgotten what they were doing and why.

And then they left.

Neria wasn't about to question why. As soon as they were out of sight, she hurried out from behind the crate and ran for her cousin. “Adan?”

“What happened?” he whispered. His eyes were nearly shut and his face covered in blood. “Is that you, Neria? Where did they go?”

“I don't know. They're gone.” His face was already beginning to swell. She dug for a handkerchief to press against the wounds while he struggled to keep tear-filled eyes open. But he did, and he looked at her with horror and fear.

“It's all right. Don't worry. They're all gone.”

But he was still staring. Why did he look like he was afraid of her?

“Right,” he said slowly, getting shakily to his feet and leaning against the wall. “What a… bunch of bastards, eh? Glad they didn't see you,” he added in a slurred whisper.

She tugged anxiously at his sleeve. “We should go home. Now.”

“Home. Right. Neria… what did you do?”

“Do? I didn't do anything.”

“Maybe not. Maybe I'm confused.” He trailed off and pulled away from the wall, making his way unsteadily to the alienage gates.

Neria was just glad the men had left. What did it matter why?

It would be almost three years before she learned the answer to that question.

 

Denerim, 9:20 Dragon

“Shianni,” cried Neria. “Where's my book?”

“This book?” Shianni’s feet were dangling from the edge of the roof as she read out loud, “I have determined that Andraste was a Fereldan Orlesian who was born in every town from here to Hossberg. What little remains of elven history has been told and retold, shifted and skewed, until the tales are—”

“Shianni!”

Her friend laughed and dropped the book. Neria gasped as she ran to catch it. “Don't you know how much these cost?”

“Not like it's yours, is it?”

“That makes it worse! I have to return it.”

“So prim, so proper.”

“And you're awful.” Neria cradled the book to her chest and glared up at Shianni. Well, at her feet, as those were the only parts of her visible.

“Bye,” called Shianni as Neria ran the other direction.

And then her steps came to a halt and she lowered her arms. A group of boys she knew stood in the open courtyard, mocking a small girl, teasing her as she wailed.

“Hey,” she called, temper getting the better of her common sense. “Naros! Beral! What in the Maker's name are you doing?” These were her brother’s friends, but her brother was nowhere in sight. One of the boys was holding… was that a rabbit? Maker above, they'd taken the girl's pet.

“What have you done?” hissed Neria.

But she'd come too late. The animal was limp and its fur bloody. Naros tossed its body at the smaller girl's feet.

And Neria lost her mind.

She was older now. Stronger. No longer did she have to wait in the shadows and watch in horror. This time, she would do something.

She flung herself at the lad, dropping her precious book in the dirt. So much for fussiness—Neria clawed at him as his friends shouted jubilantly.

“Look out, she's got claws, this one!” The boys were laughing in her face.

And then a spark of light leapt from her hands and struck Naros, the rabbit-murderer.

Neria fell back in terror.

“Come on,” said the templar, not unkindly. “It's not so bad in the Circle, you'll see.” She kicked a half-rotted crate out of her path as she led Neria to the gate. And in a mutter, she added, “Better than this hole, anyway.”

Neria felt a flash of indignation. It wasn't a hole. It was her home.

At least, it had been her home. Maker, what have I done? 

But when she finally arrived at the Circle, she thought she understood what the templar had meant.

For one thing, there was food. Regular meals of more than she could eat—not that she didn't try, at first. There was companionship and communal living with people her own age. Books and a soft bed and passageways where she could roam freely, exploring. And the only thing that was expected of her was that she study, behave, and learn to control her magic.

And she did. Neria thrived in the Circle. She showed promise beyond her years as a mage, her tutors said in excitement. The First Enchanter himself took her on as his apprentice.

Of course, there were some things she missed from home. She missed all the animals. Pets weren't allowed in the Circle any more than they had been in her mother's house, and here the only creatures she ever saw were pigeons. She'd dreamed of having a dog, one day...

And of course she missed her family. But wasn't it a relief for them not to have to worry about her? She would be safe here, all her needs met. Forever.

 

9:23 Dragon

Neria was fourteen when she got her first visitor. Or more accurately, when she stumbled upon him. Visits weren't normally permitted. Not that most families would have come in any case.

She'd been studying in the library, as usual, when a man caught her eye. The fellow looked vaguely familiar, which was odd, since he wasn't wearing Circle robes but plain commoner’s garments. Not a mage, then. But then he turned and something about the pattern of scars on his face made her think…

"Maker," she exclaimed. "Cousin Adan?”

"Neria? Is that you? Maker's breath, you've grown!”

“Since I was ten? I should hope so.”

“I can't believe it's you. I've seen your letters. Are you well? Do they… treat you well here?”

“Oh, yes, most of the time.” It was hard to reconcile her fuzzy memories of a gawky boy with the grown man who stood before her. She wasn't quite sure how to talk to him. A stranger and family both. She hadn't seen a single relative in three years.

Adan seemed just as uncertain of the etiquette as Neria, which set her somewhat at ease. He gestured at the shelves and said, “One thing's better here at least, eh? We'd have killed for these back home.”

He talked like a human. Thinking back, she thought he always had sounded a bit different—had her brother teased him about it? It was all so hazy now. But of course, by now he'd been living outside the alienage even longer than she had. “What in the world are you doing here?”

“I've been studying with this… mage. Herbalist, actually, but she's a mage. She doesn't live in the Circle normally, but she's here visiting and brought me with her.”

Neria blinked. “Where does she live, if not in the Circle? She's not an apostate?”

“Well. Technically she does live here, but she's in the field more often than not. Special dispensation from your First Enchanter, or something like that. He probably got tired of her tongue. Do you know Ines?”

Neria shook her head uncertainly. There were a lot of mages at Kinloch Hold. All the apprentices knew one another, of course, but aside from their tutors most of the senior enchanters were shadowy figures. She couldn't have put names to half the faces she saw in the library.

One face from the next table over she did know, and Anders lifted an inquiring brow at her as he nodded to her cousin. “Who's that?” he mouthed.

Neria shook her head. That boy was a smart-mouthed ass. Good-looking, and he knew it. That day she wasn't there for his teasing.

“It's good to see you,” she said awkwardly to Adan and rose to her feet. “I… should we go for a walk?”

“Sure. I've got an hour or two before the old witch will be ready to leave. Shall we go outside?”

Neria examined her cousin's face. He looked a bit like her, she thought. It was so strange to see someone who did. “No, of course not. We're not allowed outside.”

 

9:30 Dragon

Despite all the years of work and study it had taken her to earn the title, somehow Neria couldn't quite wrap her mind around calling herself Enchanter. Her Harrowing had been so easy. Almost too easy. But everyone treated her with a new respect, even though—as yet—little in her life had changed.

She didn't even have her new quarters yet. She'd been to see them, but none of her things had been moved upstairs. And her new robes were still on order. Which made sense. No organization, certainly not the Circle of Magi, would take the expense of fitting and clothing a person who might be dead before they got the chance to wear their new garments.

The library was the same, and that was a relief as much as it was an odd sort of disappointment. She'd thought everything would be different, after her Harrowing: that her life would change in profound and dramatic ways. But of course that was nonsense. She'd been a Circle resident before her Harrowing; she would remain a Circle resident now that it was past.

“Forever” wasn't as much of a comfort as it had been, once.

She found her usual spot—the same wide table by the same window she'd spent the last ten years looking out. Cullen was the guard today. He didn't make eye contact with her, but she could tell he'd noticed that her eyes had fallen on him by the way he shifted and swallowed nervously.

It might have felt threatening to have caught a templar’s eye, but this young one was more endearing than anything. And if he was sweet on her, well, at least he was quiet and polite. Not all his comrades were.

And he wasn't bad to look at, either. She gave him a sly smile that widened when she saw the color creep up his cheeks. He coughed awkwardly and pulled on his helm, as if he'd meant to be wearing it all along.

Don't tease the templar, Neria.

People often thought Neria was shy. But she wasn't, really. She was polite—but she'd learned that politeness was the best way to avoid trouble. She was fussy—well, that was true, and it had served her well. That attention to detail had made her one of the most promising young scholars in the field of Fade research. Or so Irving liked to tell everyone.

Neria sighed. Some promise she showed, when she couldn't even keep her mind on her reading. She stood up and began to pace. Perhaps she'd go check on Jowan. He'd been so nervous this morning. Maybe she could reassure him.

She screamed. Dignity be damned. She wouldn't go down without a fight, wouldn't let them take what wasn't theirs. She kicked and lashed out. Someone grabbed her arms and she waited for a sword to pierce her flesh. She took a dark joy in it: yes, let them kill her first, they could bloody well kill her before they—

Neria let out a long, wailing sob as the templar twisted her arms back, holding them at a painful angle. She writhed fruitlessly and caught a glimpse of his bone-white face as he handed her to someone else—it was Cullen who'd grabbed her, of course it was, and his lips were moving—he was praying, he was fucking praying, and how dare he? She spat in fury but the new hands on her arms only tightened.

She'd been good. Patient. Understanding. She'd worked so hard, done everything right. Her Harrowing had gone so well. One mistake, a favor for a friend, and this was where it ended? Where she ended?

Sadness sat heavily on Greagoir’s face. But he raised his arm and then all she could see was the glowing brand and she screamed again. Neria wanted to shut her eyes but she still couldn't believe it, and it seared, it burned, it wasn't right, none of this was right—she was flooded with a torrent of emotions, rage and heartbreak and terror and anguish and—nothing.

Nothing.

Forever.

Chapter Text

 

Dear Ma,

I really haven’t had five minutes to sit and write you. Being a runner means being on your feet until you just about fall over. Sorry, though. Give my love to the girls.

Most days I’m assigned to this herbalist in the garden. She’s a right prissy sort, that Mistress Ve'mal. Or at least that’s what I thought until last night. You should have seen it! This little elf woman, never looks up but she’s frowning, swaying on her stool and fawning all over the poor bartender.

Now, don’t scold. I wasn’t eavesdropping. Can’t hardly help but hear when a voice is so piercing you could hear it all the way from the Free Marches.

But for all that, I think he liked it. This morning he was humming—and if you knew Cabot, you’d know that’s no small thing—and he told me she reminded him of a “peacock cut from leather”. Sounds like something Orlesian, but he’s a dwarf and she’s an elf, so I don’t have the faintest notion what he meant.

But it’s a good thing he likes her, Ma. I can’t tell you how many odd parcels she’s had me take back and forth. Was afraid she’d make me poison him if things turned sour.

— From a letter by Kattarina, Inquisition runner, to her mother in Ostwick

All as discussed. No suspicions or concerns. A is well distracted.

—E

 


 

It was a smooth ride down the high passes of the Frostbacks and into the rolling hills of the north Fereldan coastlands. The weather was still warm enough, although there was a growing chill in the air and each day was shorter than the last.

The company had set off for Highever on the morning of Adan's birthday. Pella, of all people, had been most forthcoming about her dismay when Lysette had mentioned her imminent departure.

“Maker's tits, that's a terrible birthday gift. He'll be sulking for a week.”

“Since when does the Maker have tits?”

“Since always, Lysette.”

It wasn't the best birthday gift, no, but she had given him another. In the end, she'd taken Belinda’s advice and trimmed a lock of hair with the shears they kept in the barracks for minor armor repairs. Lysette had felt beyond foolish offering it to him, but Adan had looked at her like… well. It appeared to have been satisfactory.

Maker forgive her. He meant so much to her, and she still didn't know how to show it.

It had struck her all at once, that note of disbelief in his voice when Adan had asked why she cared for him. He'd asked her more than once, before that, and she'd never given him a proper answer. He'd joked about wanting her to compliment him… or she'd thought it had been a joke. Maybe not. Andraste's ashes, she was rubbish at this.

The road to the teyrn's castle led through the town of Highever. Their horses' shoes clattered on the cobblestones, and more than one door opened for a villager to peer out at the company. One set of tall gates didn't move, and when Lysette realized what they were, she started. But of course Highever had its own alienage.

And of course her thoughts went back to Adan.

When he'd pulled her hand away from his face, her mind had gone blank with fear, the sensation she'd trod on ground that wasn't meant for her. It wasn't as if she didn't understand having things in one's past that one preferred not to discuss. All those times he'd seen her upset, he'd simply been there, patient, never pushing her to tell more than she wanted to. The least she could do was to offer him the same in return.

But what in Andraste's blessed name had happened to him? 'Nobles' was all he'd said when she'd asked about those scars. And there her imagination failed. She knew so little of the lives of city elves. Her father's home in Denerim's market district wasn't far from the alienage, but if course she'd never been inside. It had been a place to avoid, to walk past warily and as quickly as possible.

Lysette had lived through the final battle of the Blight. At least the scars she carried from that were only on her soul—not on her face, reminding her of its horrors every time she glanced in a looking glass.

She let out a long breath as they left the village behind them and turned up the road to the castle. All of this had been rebuilt since the Blight, it seemed. This was the place the Hero of Ferelden had come from.

Lysette had never seen her. She'd been of no mind to attend the public celebrations, nor had her family. Rian had been killed and none of them took it well. Lysette's stepmother had been so warm and welcoming until then, but after the battle it was as if a part of her soul had died along with her little boy.

For his part, Lysette's father had blamed Lysette for his young son's death. And he wasn't wrong to do so. If they hadn't been outside that day, pretending to train, engaging in horseplay with wooden swords like children—Maker, she'd been fourteen. Practically grown. If she'd been paying attention, Rian would have lived and everything would have been different.

It was with force of will that Lysette returned her thoughts to the present. More or less.

A few days out of Skyhold, she'd been both irritated and relieved to see her monthly bleeding had begun. It was cumbersome to deal with while traveling, but at least it meant the tea was working. The last thing she needed to worry about was falling pregnant. She knew Adan agreed—at least for now. Did he want children one day? Did she?

She was actually rather good with children, at least when they weren't hers. Most templars in her Circle had hated the nursery shift, but Lysette had rather liked it. Even if their chatter was sometimes hard to follow, their motives were always so clear compared to the plotting and politicking of the adult mages. It was pleasant to watch their antics and to see the littlest apprentices slowly come out of their shells, even to interact with them to the limited extent her position permitted. And she'd been good with her half-brother during the short period she'd had with him. It was, perhaps, possible that she could be a mother.

At the thought, Lysette scoffed at herself. Her own mother had always predicted she’d change her mind about the Order, declaring Lysette would want marriage and family one day. And here she was considering just that. It made her want to jump in the Waking Sea just out of spite.

Although Adan was far from the match Alene had imagined for her recalcitrant daughter. Delrin at least had been noble. What would her flattering, insincere mother make of her gruff, no-nonsense beloved... or he of her? They wouldn't have two words for each other. No, Lysette was making no concessions to maternal scolding there.

The real impediment wasn’t her pride. It was her calling and what came with it. Even if there was a future for any of Thedas, what sort of future could Lysette offer him? She couldn't very well bear him children, not with lyrium in her blood. And even if they did have children, how many years would it take her to forget their faces?

Or his?

She adjusted her reins and nearly raised a hand to rub away the sudden ache in her chest before remembering her armor. It couldn't be, and that was that, and there was no point in thinking of it. She'd chosen her path long ago—and she had already drifted from it as much as she dared.

In the meantime, there was this memorial to get through. She wanted to honor the Divine, of course.

And then she wanted to get back to Skyhold.

 


 

Adan went down to wait in the courtyard. He made no pretense about his reasons for being there. It wasn't as if anyone gave a damn about his love life. And if they did, they could shove it. He hadn't seen her in three weeks.

He unfolded his arms as the portcullis raised on the gleaming company, all polished metal and banners flapping in the afternoon breeze. His attention was on the riders, though, and Lysette caught his eye as she dismounted. With a quick nod to her colleagues, she handed her horse to a stablehand and strolled over to see him.

They barely made it back to his quarters.

Once the door was finally shut, they pulled apart only long enough to discard their clothing in a scattered heap of robes and armor.

“Did you miss me?” Lysette panted as she stepped out of her drawers.

"Maker, yes.”

"Then show me.”

And then she gasped and laughed, grabbing his waist for balance as he pressed her against the edge of the desk.

"There's a bed right there," she whispered between breathless kisses.

"Too far," he said briefly.

"This must be hurting your back." She braced herself on the surface of the desk with one hand and wrapped the other around his neck.

"Worth it." He hoisted her legs up and she wrapped them around him without hesitation. In a moment, he was inside her. She let out a sighing string of words, babbled Orlesian nonsense that cut off when his lips found hers, and they moved together with equal enthusiasm.

Although they did, eventually, retreat to the bed.

The room was fully dark by the time Adan rose and went for a candle. And his clothing. But as he pulled on his breeches, he couldn't help looking back at Lysette. She was sprawled facedown on his bed, fast asleep. The faint light was enough to show all the places reddened from their lovemaking, all the bruises from the training grounds. Every mark and blemish. He set the candle holder aside and bent to pull the blankets up over her. She didn't stir.

Lysette might have been a junior templar by the standards of the world before the Breach, but in this new era she was one of the only templars at Skyhold who hadn’t followed the Lord Seeker. It made her a valuable asset to the Inquisition. She was also nearly twenty-five, with skill and common sense on her side. How long could it be before she was promoted—given a command of her own—taken away from him for good?

Adan turned away and walked to the writing desk.

As always, time passed quickly while he was concentrating. He could have lit a lamp, but he didn't want to disturb his slumbering companion. The candle was all he needed to catch up on his correspondence. It burned down as he wrote, and he was still absorbed in the task when a familiar pair of hands slid over his shoulders.

At that, he lowered his pen and tipped his head back to look up at her. "Hullo. Missed me too, did you?"

"Yes," she said simply, curving her arms around his neck.

He shut his eyes and leaned into her embrace. "I love you," he mumbled.

"I love you, too." She released him and came around to lean against the edge of the desk, looking down at his papers. "What are you working on?"

"Writing a letter. It's very dull stuff, I assure you.”

She picked it up and held it to the light, reading aloud. "'Suggest you check the transmutation of the third component into...' Andraste keep me, you were serious."

“I did warn you." He wiped his pen clean and set it aside. "It's already past sundown. When do you need to report back?”

“Tomorrow morning.”

He felt a rush of unexpected delight. “I have you until then?”

“Well, I was planning to spend the night in the tavern—oh, don't look at me like that, I'm joking." Lysette rested a hand on his arm. They couldn't seem to stop touching one another, either of them. Adan was glad it wasn't just him. "Although I could use a proper meal.”

“Ah, yes. I can't imagine what miserable repasts you had to put up with at the wealthiest keep in Ferelden.”

“After what I put up with at the soggiest keep in Ferelden, I think I earned the reprieve.”

Adan stood up with some haste. “A very good point. Let's get you fed. What dreck did those Avvar give you, anyway?”

“Goat, mostly.”

“Really?" He blinked. 

"What did you expect? Human children? Dry twigs?"

"Something like that, I suppose.”

She dressed while Adan set his letter aside to dry, and then they went out onto the balcony. The air was chilly, but not enough that they'd need cloaks; the sky was dark, but not enough that they'd need anything more than moonlight to see them down to the tavern.

Lysette adjusted her robes and Adan turned to lock the door behind them. "Have you made any progress in your search for your cousin?" she asked.

"No," he said. "Not really." He had spoken to Elan, though. She'd helped him look years before, but he rather suspected her network of contacts had grown in the interval.

"Sorry to hear it." Lysette's straight brows lowered, giving her that serious look he adored.

"Don't worry yourself." He wrapped an arm around her waist. She already felt so familiar. "Maker, it's good to see you. All this traveling. Will you be here long?"

"Yes. Although I take it you’ve heard about the plans for Adamant Fortress?"

Adan dropped his arm. "Yeah. That. It does make long-term planning difficult, doesn't it?"

She turned to him then and wrapped her arms around his neck, pressed her face into his shoulder. He let out a surprised breath. "To think I once imagined you the reserved, dignified templar."

"I know. It's embarrassing. But maybe one day, if..." She pulled away, those dark eyes steady on his face. "If we both come through this war all right, it'd be nice if we weren't separated again."

"Yeah. It would."

Adan's heart was in his throat as they made their way down to the tavern. How did she always read his blasted mind?

The evening was young, but the tavern was already lively. The Inquisition had settled properly into Skyhold, now.

Lysette, too, had been looking around the familiar room. "Someone's advertising dance lessons," she mentioned casually, without a hint of shame.

"Lysette, my very favorite templar, you couldn't possibly be insulting my dancing, could you?"

"Maker forbid." She gave him the sidelong look that, for her, was the next thing to a broad grin. “I'll go get our supper.”

Adan took a seat and watched her make her way across the room. He was sufficiently distracted by the sight that it took a second jab of Pella's fingers between his ribs to draw his attention.

"Andraste's arse, Pella, what is it?"

"Lysette's arse, more like. Enough mooning. I need you.”

"Who raised you? Bogfishers?"

"As if you've got grounds to complain about someone's manners."

"I have perfectly good manners. Whether I choose to exercise them is beside the—Elan, thank the Maker. Please babysit the child. I want a drink."

"You want a hobby," said Pella as Elan took Adan's vacated seat. "And I still need to talk to you, you old codger."

"You do know I'm thirty-nine."

"Like I said. Old codger."

Adan stood up and followed Lysette to the bar.

She'd overheard the exchange, of course. “You know, she's not actually a child.”

“News to me.” He turned to glare over his shoulder at Pella. She made a hideous face in return. Elan cleared her throat in pointed disapproval.

Adan turned back to Lysette, suppressing a smirk. “Nice to see everyone's getting along.”

She lifted a brow. “You weren't hired as apothecary for your skills with people, were you?”

“I wasn't hired as apothecary at all. Inherited the position after the old one died at the Conclave. If everything had gone according to plan, I could have spent this entire last year making things blow up in peaceful solitude.”

“Would you trade it?” Her face was turned to his, lips curved. Torchlight flickered in her eyes and glinted off her hair.

Neither of them were much for public demonstrations, but there was surely no harm in reaching out to hold her hand.

“Not for the world,” he said.

Chapter Text

The minds of all lay bare before the Seven,
But no mere machinations against the sleeping
Had brought them hence.

—Silence 2:8 (Dissonant Verse)

Lysette usually slept solidly, these days. With the long hours the Inquisition army was putting into drills and preparations for the upcoming siege, there was little alternative. And she always slept better in Adan's quarters than in her own miserable cot in the tower.

That night, she woke in a blind panic.

Nothing felt right. She'd dreamt of unspeakable things. Herself, wielding a sword with sick familiarity, driving it home with more force than precision. She'd felt the steel grind against ribs and tear through flesh, and the stench of blood mingled with the metal—

She nearly gagged, rolling onto her back and resting a clammy arm over closed eyes. Maker help me. She hadn't had a dream like that since the summer, when she hadn't had her philter. Did she need to request an adjustment to her lyrium ration so soon? She'd been taking it for less than two years...

As she inhaled deeply through her nose, her heart slowly began to return to its normal rhythm. The taste of blood still filled her mouth, but it was only from a cracked lip. Lysette lowered her arm and turned to look at the man next to her.

The light from the uncovered window behind the bed showed him clearly. Adan lay flat on his back, sound asleep and breathing steadily. 

She forced herself to watch him. He didn’t stir. What would he think if he knew what she'd been dreaming of?

He’d been entirely undisturbed by Lysette's thrashing and tugging at the heavy wool blanket they shared. But he must have felt her breath on his face. When his lids lifted on unfocused brown eyes, she lowered herself wordlessly against him.

"Lysette? Are you all—Maker's blood, your hands are cold."

She didn't answer. He was warm, and alive, and here.

He let out a long breath and slid his hands over her back, tugging her closer against his body. "You're shaking," he said, the drowsy murmur giving way to a sharper tone of concern.

Lysette shut her eyes as he folded her into his arms. His heart beat steadily beneath her cheek. But she could still see his face, the shock and dismay and the blood that spilled from his lips—

A stronger shudder ran through her body at the too-vivid memory of a dream. She struggled out of his embrace and sat up with haste. "Créateur,” she muttered.

Adan raised himself on his elbows and looked up at her. It moved him out of the light. His expression was unreadable in the shadows—that beard always helped hide what he was thinking, damn him—but his eyes were alert and fixed on her face as she gathered her composure.

"I'm sorry," she said finally. She didn't know if the apology was for waking him or for what her sleeping mind had conjured.

He grunted. "Don't worry about it. Another dream?"

"Another?" She would have to increase her lyrium dose if this kept up. Was the cost of her calling already coming due?

"Yeah. You all right?"

"Yes. Don't worry."

Adan eyed her skeptically.

"I'm well enough," she said, but knew as she spoke that it was unconvincing. "You should sleep."

"No, you should sleep. Otherwise some fool recruit will do you in, and then where will I be?" Adan pushed the blanket aside and rose wearily to his feet. "Miserable and alone, that's where." He shuffled over to the washstand and picked up the ewer, returning a moment later to press a cup into her hands.

Lysette stared down at the water, dark against the pewter, and tried to gather her thoughts. This was how he always spoke of such things, with a layer of mockery. But it was painfully transparent. She knew Adan spoke from genuine anxiety—and he knew she knew it, too.

He jerked his chin at the cup of water. "You're meant to drink it,” he said irritably.

It was oddly comforting to find his bedside manner as dreadful as ever. She drank.

As she placed the empty cup on the nightstand, Adan lowered himself back down on the bed at her side. "How long have you had nightmares?"

"Everyone gets them from time to time," she said awkwardly. "Don't you?"

"Hm. Sometimes. Do you want to talk about it?"

"No." Lysette wanted to sweep the dreams from her memory, brush them off like so much debris.

She'd not only seen death, she'd caused it. She had blood on her hands and would never be clean of its stain. And that was the true cost of her calling, even more than the lyrium. Her certainty in the righteousness of their cause made it easier to fight. It didn't make it any easier to live with the aftermath.

Adan didn't say anything. He just watched her.

"I didn’t realize I was bothering you,” she said with regret. “This is... new. I had bad dreams for a while after the Blight. But they went away once I started my training."

“What happened in Highever?"

"Happened? Nothing. We didn't unsheathe our swords once."

"Glad to hear it.” He finally looked away. "I won't pester you any more. You can go back to bed."

"I'm the one pestering you." She stared into the darkness and then admitted, "Nothing happened, but it reminded me of the Blight, seeing where the Hero of Ferelden came from. Where she lost her family. I was feeling… sentimental, I suppose, and wrote to mine."

"You wrote to your mother?"

"No, my father. And he replied to me here at Skyhold. I read it when I stopped by the barracks this evening." Lysette looked at her hands. She could still picture that sprawling handwriting in her mind.

"A bad letter?"

"No. It was fine. I've got a new stepsister."

"Congratulations. I think."

"I didn't even know Dera was expecting." Lysette shook her head. "She's not that old, though. Maybe your age," she added with a glance at Adan.

"Hmph. 'Not that old,' indeed. So what's the problem? You'd like to visit?"

"I suppose I should. Although I've got other stepsiblings I haven't met. My mother's youngest is nearly four."

Adan's brows shot up. "I didn't realize. I assumed you were an only child."

"My parents went their separate ways when I was young, but they both married other people and had more children."

"I knew about your parents. Not the siblings."

"I suppose I thought I'd mentioned it. It doesn't matter."

He moved closer to peer at her face. "What's wrong?"

She looked back at him for a long moment. His expression was open and concerned, but not prying. Not pushing for any more than she was willing to give.

And so she told him.

 


Denerim, 9:31 Dragon

 

They'd been married for a decade, but she still thought Tieran was the handsomest man she'd ever met. With the same slim frame and beautiful dark eyes, his daughter took after him as much as Rian did.

Dera hadn't been quite sure what to expect from a thirteen-year-old Orlesian stepdaughter. But Lysette had been a delight. Even at that difficult age she was well-behaved and quiet, and her wariness had been matched by her willingness to help around the shop and with anything else the family needed.

Not just willingness but eagerness. More of it than was healthy, perhaps. It was clear the girl hadn't been valued at her home in Orlais. It made Dera's heart hurt to see; she knew, too well, what it was to be a neglected child.

And thank the Maker, Rian hadn't taken long to adjust to her presence. After nearly a year, he idolized her.

"Lysette, love, be gentle with your brother," Dera called, but she had to bite her lips to hold back a smile.

"She doesn't need to be gentle! I'm going to beat her." Rian giggled wildly and swung his sword at his sister. The fact that it was made of soft wood and would have splintered upon impact with a firm surface was, it seemed, beside the point.

"You're twice his size," Dera reminded Lysette.

"I am gentle." Lysette's brow furrowed, making her look even more like her father.

"I know." Dera's hand smoothed over the girl's black hair. Even six months before she'd never have dreamed of a gesture like that. Lysette was such a serious thing; it was a lovely change to see her relaxed and playing with Rian like the children they were. "You always look after him. I just don't want either of you to get hurt."

"We'll be careful. Come on, Rian. No battles in the kitchen."

Dera shook her head as the door creaked open and the pair went outside to while away the afternoon hours. She smiled down at the mending in her lap.

It would be some time before she smiled again.

 


 

"Have you ever seen a hurlock? And a nine-year-old boy... it ripped him apart.” Lysette’s voice was flat and dull. She still sat on the bed but her body was angled away from him, keeping her face in the shadows.

Adan didn’t know what to tell her. The story had been as simple as it was awful. Just one of the thousand tragedies that had taken place that day while he himself had been safe in Rivain.

He reached out and laid his hands on her arms. Her chemise was damp with cold sweat, clinging to her skin.

"It wasn't your fault," he said. "It wasn't."

"I wasn't paying attention," Lysette said bleakly. "I wasn't careful. We should have gone home as soon as the sun started to set. Rian was already tired. By the time the darkspawn came, there was no way he could have run."

"How did you survive?"

"Luck. Not skill, not bravery, just luck. I froze, like the useless girl I was—"

"The untrained, unarmed child you were. Even trained warriors would have balked at the sight of darkspawn in the alleys of Denerim.” He snorted. "They probably did, at that.”

"I don't remember if they did," she said. "I don't remember what else I saw. It's all muddled after that. I remember running... I remember my stepmother's face. She was devastated."

"Oh, my girl."

"She barely spoke to me after the battle. And my father was so angry. He's—not a bad man, but he wasn’t sorry to see me go. "

"They sent you away? After that?" Adan couldn't keep the indignation from his voice.

"They didn't send me. I'd already been hoping to join the Order. After Rian, it was the only thing I could think about." Lysette looked away. It was so rare for her to avoid his eyes. "It was best for everyone. I needed to find my own path."

"Bollocks. You needed to grieve."

"I did. Don't think otherwise. The Order gave me the space to do that." She raised her shoulders in a small shrug. "And a fresh start. My family didn't need me there to remind them of him."

"I'm not qualified to comment,” he muttered. “But I can't imagine turning out my own child like that." Her body went rigid under his hands. "Shit, what did I say?"

Lysette looked up. Her face was indecipherable, her eyes dark and piercing as the obsidian knives in his workshop. "Do you want children of your own, Adan?”

"Oh, Maker. It's all coming out tonight, isn't it? I didn't mean... look." He released her and leaned back, scratching his beard uncomfortably. "I don't expect—I didn't mean to imply anything."

"I wanted to ask anyhow. I was thinking about it on the way to Highever. We should make sure we want the same things, don’t we? If we're going to... continue like this.”

“If?” he muttered, feeling a little ill. “Truly, Lysette. I've no expectations either way."

“None?”

"No. By the time you came along, I'd about resigned myself to the life of a crotchety old bachelor." Adan hesitated. "Children? It'd... well, it'd probably be a pain in the arse. Noisy, untidy little beasts, so I understand."

Lysette nodded, jaw tense.

"But if you ever wanted... I'd be game. Yeah. Why not?"

She looked up from her hands and stared at him. “That wasn't the answer I expected."

"What were you expecting?" he asked, disconcerted.

"I don't know. Not that."

She turned her gaze away again and Adan watched the moonlight shift over the tight muscles of her neck. Might as well have it all out. "And you? Assuming we both survive this end-of-the-world business, would you ever want children?"

Lysette was silent for a long time. He could almost see the wheels turning and struggled to keep his breathing even as he waited for her answer. He'd said he had no expectations, and it was true, but…

"Yes," she admitted at last, sounding faintly surprised to hear the word come out of her own mouth. No more surprised than Adan was to hear it. His heart quickened as she spoke. "Yes. I would, someday. With you. But I can't."

He wasn't following. "What do you mean?"

"Adan, there's the lyrium," she said. Her voice was so low he could hardly hear it, even in the stillness. "I can't do that to a child."

And there it was.

Adan took a deep breath. He felt as if he were walking a tightrope—and he was no acrobat. Whether his inhibitions were lowered by the hour he didn't know, but he said, "You could always stop taking lyrium."

Lysette froze. "I can't. Don't ask that of me."

"I'm not! Maker, I'm not asking you to do anything. I just wanted to make sure you knew it was an option."

She leapt to her feet, jerkily. “It's not an option. Are you mad?"

His mood, so recently ecstatic at hearing she wanted to—to have his blasted children, plummeted right back to the cellars. "Lysette—"

"No." She stepped away, pacing like a restless horse.

"For the love of Andraste, it was only a suggestion. Do you think you might be overreacting?"

Adan hardly noticed her accent these days, but it was stronger than usual as she hissed, "What gives you the right to say such a thing?"

Shit.

"I didn't—look." He couldn't tell Lysette about the commander, of course. Not when she was his subordinate. But he could ask probing questions. "You haven't heard of anyone trying to quit before?"

"Not on purpose." She turned to face him, arms folded and brows lowered.

“It's possible. Not pleasant, but possible. I'm not telling you what to do—” She let out a derisive breath, but he could already see her shoulders relaxing.

He'd hit a nerve. But thank the Maker, Lysette wasn't the sort to hold a grudge. It was only a moment before she she came back and sank onto the mattress at his side.

He reached for her, contrite. "It'll be all right," he mumbled. "If you ever change your mind, I'll do what I can to help you through it. If not, I'm not going anywhere."

"Thank you," she whispered hoarsely, after a moment.

"As for children... it wouldn't be so bad, just the two of us, would it?"

She shook her head. "It wouldn't. No."

"Besides, there are plenty of ways to have a family. We'll adopt Pella."

Lysette snorted and wiped at her eyes. "Maker, I'm such a—I don't think anyone in Thedas has made me weep as much as you have."

"Just what every man wants to hear from his beloved."

She did go back to sleep after that. But Adan lay awake, thinking, until the birds began to call and dawn finally broke over Skyhold.

Chapter Text

Fortunately (or unfortunately, if one happens to be a witless apprentice), rashvine has a number of useful applications: salves that harden the skin or otherwise provide protection, not to mention being one of the primary ingredients for Antivan fire.

My advice? Use thick gloves and carry a sword.

—From Herbology in Thedas by Master Ilian Gravire

Adan wasn't an easy man to manipulate. Not unless you knew him well, at least. Fortunately, Elan had that advantage in spades.

Not that she meant him any harm. She was as fond of the old blighter as she was anyone in this wretched world. He was surprisingly tolerant, in his way. And of course he was almost embarrassingly idealistic, though he'd rather have died than admit it himself.

Still, he was no fool, and a Chantry outfit like this was hardly his usual milieu. For all that Elan herself found it easy enough to lead Adan where she wanted him, she'd been more than a little surprised to hear him talk about the Inquisition as if he believed in its cause. He might have signed up to keep an eye on things, but it seemed he'd been swept up in the nonsense.

Then again, the Inquisition wasn't what she'd expected it to be, either.

She'd expected the Inquisitor to be everything Elan despised about the Dalish. She'd expected the Chantry presence to be oppressive at worst and patronizing at best. She'd expected to find a group of people that were anything but what they claimed.

But they'd sealed the Breach. And now Elan found herself near the heart of a powerful organization that was growing more influential by the day. Power had a way of gathering more power to itself, like a snowball gaining in size and momentum as it rolled down a slope.

And Elan responded to power, too.

She slipped out of the rotunda and made her way back to the garden.

 


 

The sun seemed to rise with less conviction each day. Firstfall was upon them; the air outside was brisk and the balcony was coated with frost. There was a light dusting of snow on the bare ground of the garden and the canvas that covered half the beds. Lysette was grateful for the hood on her woolen robe.

The door creaked open behind her, and Lysette looked over her shoulder to see Adan step outside into the gray light. He came up behind her and wrapped his arms around her waist. She let her head fall back against his shoulder with a faint murmur of appreciation. She was wearing her armor, but he was still so warm.

"Good morning. Feeling better?” He nibbled affectionately at her ear.

"Yes. Just hungry." She let out a breath. "You may be satisfied with ear of templar, but I'd like a better breakfast than that."

His lips moved down the side of her neck and her eyes slid shut of their own volition. But she repeated, "I'm hungry."

"Me too."

Despite his complaints, Adan had been quick to figure out how her armor went together and where he could slide his hands under it. Which he was currently doing. Clever bastard.

"For the love of the Maker, we're outside. Anyone could—"

“Why shouldn't a man enjoy the company of his sweetheart on his own balcony?"

As if to disprove his territorial claim, the door to the chamber next to them clicked open and a sleepy Inquisition scout stepped out of his quarters. Adan dropped his arms and stepped back with haste, a look of utter mortification on his bearded face.

The scout, oblivious to their presence, rubbed his eyes and padded in the direction of the great hall. Lysette couldn't hold back a wide grin.

Adan glowered at her. “Once, I had dignity. Dignity and restraint. And then I met you.”

“I’ll take your word for it.”

He reached down and smacked her backside as they headed for the stairs.

Skyhold's great hall was more crowded than usual. Satinalia was upon them with all its fuss and feasting; even at this early hour, people were up and about. The Orlesian nobles seemed to have multiplied overnight, and the scattered light from the stained glass windows sparkled off their even more colorful attire. The Inquisitor herself was chatting with a pair of dwarves near the door. Her friend the Tevinter magister was sitting at a table with a few of the Bull's Chargers, and Adan lifted a hand in greeting to one of the latter group as they passed.

Lysette was curious. “I didn't know you knew the Chargers,” she said as they found a lucky pair of empty chairs at one of the long tables.

“A few of them roomed with me, back in Haven." Adan shrugged and turned to Lysette. "That dwarf fellow's not bad. Pass the porridge?”

She did so. “Rocky's all right. Skinner hates me, though.” Lysette looked down the row of tables to the cluster of bleary-eyed Chargers. To her relief, the hostile elven woman wasn't among their number.

Adan snorted. “I'm not surprised. Well, she's got reason enough.”

“What?” Lysette was startled. “What reason?”

But Adan's attention had shifted. "Who's that?" he muttered.

Lysette followed his gaze across the hall to a man in elaborate Orlesian armor. The man was deep in conversation with a masked noble, although he himself was bare-faced, revealing a pale face and blond hair.

"You mean Ser Michel?"

"Oh, for—" Adan let out a string of words that had Lysette blinking, and she'd spent half her life in the barracks. 

"I know he's been disgraced by the empress's court, but he's been quite the asset when it comes to training the—"

"Fuck that. What's Her Worship thinking?" He shoved back his chair and stood up.

She'd never seen him so agitated. Baffled and a little annoyed, she said, "There are a number of former Chevaliers at Skyhold. Ser Michel, Ser Stroud..."

Adan turned on her. "Do you know what that prick's done?"

Lysette could only stare back at him in confusion.

"Apparently not. I need to go," he said shortly. "I can't deal with this today."

"Adan, what in the world—"

"See you at supper?"

"Of course."

He strode to the hall door, shoulders rigid.

The Chevalier who'd caused such an unexpected reaction hadn't heard a thing, it seemed. He was still talking to the other noble.

Lysette took a deep breath. It didn't dislodge the weight that had settled on her chest. She'd missed something, and she didn't know what.

 


 

Adan was tired. A night of little sleep and fretting hadn't done him any good, but he was hardly going to mention that to Lysette. He'd said too much last night as it was. Better to remove himself from her presence before he said something truly unforgivable.

Fortunately, there was plenty of work to keep him occupied without requiring his full mental focus. He balanced the strainer carefully and poured the murky substance into a jar. Then he cursed. Mental focus might not be required, but steadiness of hand still was. And he appeared to be lacking in both today.

Elan, of course, had chosen that day of all days to come to him asking a favor. Some rival of hers, something about a recipe. Too much power in the wrong hands. Whatever. Adan barely bothered to follow her train of thought as he wiped up the spilled liquid, mentally cursing at the burn it left on the surface of his workbench.

“What do you want me to do, have him assassinated?” he scoffed.

She only looked at him.

“Oh, for—no! Absolutely not. I don't want anything to do with it.” He spun away from the workbench to glare at her.

“You've let that Chantry girl get in your head as well as your bed, I see.”

Typical Elan. Poisoned words were never far behind that facade of propriety. “Don't try to needle me. I will not ask the Inquisitor to order an assassination for you, Elan.”

“Any particular reason?" She lifted a brow in polite curiosity.

“Merciful Andraste, I've never had anyone assassinated! And I'll be damned if I start now.”

“You've associated with assassins in your time.”

“Who hasn’t?” He flung up his hands in frustration. “If you can show me a person in the Inquisition who doesn’t have blood on their hands, I’ll show you the stablehand. And given the teeth on those dracolisks, I’m not even sure—”

“You owe me, Adan.”

He stopped short. "Yeah. I do. But you owe me, too, Elan. Don't push me on this."

"As you like."

He did owe her, and he knew it. He'd relied on her network more than once in the past few years. Without Maric’s backing, Adan was limited in what he could do beyond putting the right people in touch with one another.

Elan might have been an elf, but she didn't have the same personal interest in the condition of the alienages as he did. She'd been born Dalish, in fact, but had left her clan at a young age. A complicated sequence of events had finally led her into his tutelage not long after he'd left Maric's service.

There were questions about Elan's activities he didn't ask, with answers he didn't really want to know. Still, she'd been his first student and was now one of his most accomplished colleagues. Since she'd come to Skyhold, he'd relied on her as much for her theoretical insights as for her influential friends. Adan respected her talents and trusted her as much as he did anyone.

So he changed the subject. “Did you see Michel de Chevin in the hall? Can’t believe he's at Skyhold.” Adan stood to light a lamp. The gray sky hadn't brightened at all since breakfast; no wonder he was clumsy, working half in the dark. He lifted the strainer to try the potion again. If it wasn't poured just so, it wouldn't settle properly.

“I knew he was coming.”

“Of course you did. You might have mentioned it,” he said, annoyed. “Maker, I nearly went over and—what’s he doing walking around freely? Here, of all places? What a fucking insult to us all.”

Elan tipped her head and eyed him thoughtfully. “The Inquisition has mages and templars mingling in its ranks. As well as Qunari and Tevinter recruits, Fereldans and Orlesians—”

“It’s not the same bloody thing. It’s not as if we’re inviting Meredith Stannard or Gaspard de Chalons over for tea—damn it, I've ruined this potion altogether. I'll need another jar.”

“Some would say Cullen Rutherford's no better than Stannard. And we might have de Chalons, at that. Haven’t you heard about the peace talks? They’re planning a ball at Celene’s palace in Halamshiral.”

“Maker take me. What did I get involved with?” He gave up, dropped the strainer, and ran his hands over his face. “Sorry, Elan. I didn’t—didn’t sleep well.”

She didn’t say anything else, only handed him a fresh jar.

 


 

In times of doubt, Lysette's instincts would always lead her back to her faith. It soothed the discomfort, the uncertainty that scratched at her like the slubs of a too-rough linen smock. So even though her questions were all of this world, she went to Mother Giselle in search of answers.

“Ser Lysette. Bonjour.”

“Revered Mother. Thank you for taking the time to speak with me.” The women strolled side by side in the empty garden. Despite the chill that had Lysette balling her fingers even through her gloves, the air was pleasantly fresh. Much fresher than the main hall with its must and dust and crowded bodies.

“Of course, my dear. All of the Maker’s children have need of guidance at times.”

Was it guidance she was looking for, or simple information? Lysette didn't know how to pose her question. So she settled on directness. “Why would an elf from Halamshiral despise me for being a templar? I know the elves of Orlais aren't treated as well as those in other places, but she's not a mage. I didn't do anything to her.”

Mother Giselle stopped walking and looked at Lysette. Her face was smooth and placid, but there was a glimmer of some strong emotion in her warm brown eyes. “One imagines,” she said gently, “that an elf originating from Halamshiral might look askance at any Orlesian carrying a sword. Particularly now that we have a certain infamous Chevalier among our ranks.”

“Why?” asked Lysette sharply. A sense of dread settled over her as Mother Giselle gestured to a bench. They were coming to it now.

“I am no player of the Game,” said the Chantry Mother simply as she folded her robes on the stone seat beneath her. “My concerns lie with the common folk of Thedas. They do say that choices must be made in war...”

Mother Giselle went on. It felt inconceivable that Lysette hadn't known any of this before. Chevaliers initiating one another into their order by "testing the sharpness" of their swords. Sordid rumors of Celene's over-fondness for the elves. And the final, most brutal purge of Halamshiral’s elves, with the hand of the empress's champion leading her troops. It hadn't even been why Ser Michel was disgraced—but it was certainly why Lysette felt queasy.

And it did answer her questions.

 


 

The following weeks passed quickly—too quickly for Lysette's taste. Her nightmares had abated, but as the siege of Adamant loomed ever closer on the horizon, sleep itself grew more difficult. She was half-tempted to ask Adan for a sleeping draught, but she didn't want… well. She'd shown him enough of her weakness already.

There was no reason she couldn't carry on as things were. Because for all her worries and woes, she'd never been so blissfully happy as she was with him.

Lysette rolled over and sighed. Her cot was no more uncomfortable than ever, and she had plenty of blankets against the chilly air. It was long past curfew and she had duties just after dawn. And yet all she could do was stare up at the cobwebs that had escaped even diligent scrubbing and listen to Mattrin's faint snores.

Parts of the Inquisition were already on the move to the Western Approach from their positions across Thedas. Lysette had thought their mission to the Fallow Mire a failure, but it turned out that after the Inquisitor had cleared the Avvar out of the keep, the scouts had been able to locate the passage across the Frostbacks after all. If Lysette's most useful contribution to the Inquisition proved to be her capture, so be it.

The forces at Skyhold, including Lysette and the other Inquisition templars, were scheduled to depart in a month's time. The Inquisitor and her advisors would leave even earlier to attend the peace talks in Halamshiral. All the parts of the Inquisition were in motion, in short, and whether or not Lysette felt like a pebble under the millstone was beside the point.

A pebble who still couldn't sleep. Curfew or no, at least she was free to roam the tower. Lysette rose quietly, tucked a small box under her arm, and padded down the stairs in her stocking feet to the common room.

The moons were up but the sky was overcast. It might snow again tomorrow. She took the seat before the window that overlooked the garden and glanced down without entirely intending to do so, but Adan's window was dark.

Anyhow, she'd have needed to ask leave to go see him. In the Circle, only templars with spouses had been permitted to reside outside the barracks; here, the lieutenants kept up the rule, but were rather more generous with overnight leave. Lysette was hardly the only one making regular visits to someone outside the tower.

Well, Cullen had wanted to integrate the templars with the rest of the Inquisition. That was one way to do it.

Lysette set her lyrium kit on the bench at her side and lifted the lid carefully. After two years, she hardly needed to look to prepare a draught. Still, it seemed important to take her time and do it properly, when it was her own future that she drank away with every dose.

The glass was cool against her fingertips as she tapped and stirred. The singing reminded her of a home she'd never known, made her nostalgic for a life she'd never had.

Lysette raised the phial to her lips and drank.

Chapter Text

15 Cassus, 9:41 Dragon

Just as prospects of a productive winter look bright, we get the news of upcoming siege and accompanying boom in potions prep work. After they're all gone, I'll have time to do the series of transformation experiments. Could have a good write-up by the spring.

Healers on the road will manage without me, glad to say. No need to drag weary bones across Thedas. Of course, Lysette will have to drag hers. Even if all goes well, she'll be gone for a while. Never expected to find myself hoping for less time to work on research projects.

Never expected to find myself with a blasted templar, either, but here we are.

—From the journals of Adan Surana

"Did you move the elfroot salve?" Pella scanned the well-stocked shelves, frustrated.

"Bottom shelf on the left."

"Why's it on the bottom shelf? We use it all the bloody—"

But the other woman had already left the infirmary, a cold draught hitting Pella’s face a moment later. Pella rolled her eyes. She was alone in the cabin: with no patients in residence, even the surgeon had taken herself elsewhere.

But Andraste's tits, she needed to speak with Adan. Where was the man anyway?

 


 

It was the middle of Haring and bitterly cold, but Adan paused on his way across the courtyard to the infirmary. Lysette was in the sparring ring.

It was... interesting. And rather alarming, to see the body he knew and loved engaged in such a brutal activity. Their feet tramped heavily across the bare ground as they lunged and dodged. Neither templar softened their blows. Adan supposed that was the point.

He'd mostly avoided watching her train until then. For all she could come to his quarters, his workshop—even his garden—there was little place for him in her world. He'd seen her drilling the recruits at a distance, but this was different. She looked so small against her opponent: shorter, slighter. He really didn't need to give his imagination any more vivid fodder.

But Maker, the way she moved. He'd have recognized her no matter what the armor. Despite a difference in size, he thought she and her opponent were well matched. He was no expert, but neither of them looked to be dominating the bout—until the tip of the other woman's practice sword landed in the gap under Lysette's breastplate.

Adan's initial assessment had been wrong. They might strike and slash with full force, but thrusting blows they saved for the battlefield. If the other templar had meant it to, that hit would have gone straight between Lysette's ribs and killed her on the spot.

He felt a sudden need to sit down.

"Damn your reach," he heard Lysette say, good-naturedly enough. She sounded a bit breathless.

"Damn your focus," called back the other woman, even more cheerfully. "I should have had you on the ground five minutes ago."

Don't think about it. Don’t give her another thing to worry about.

But it was hard to watch, knowing what Lysette was going to face. Wardens weren't shiny parade-ground soldiers: even outside a Blight they were battle-hardened and blooded, used to facing the toughest and most dangerous foes in combat. Whatever madness had taken them, Adan could think of few forces he'd have been less happy to think of Lysette fighting.

It wouldn’t be the first time he’d waited for her at Skyhold. Adan knew how to cope—or at least, he knew how to throw himself into his work. Even if the Inquisition took the fortress as they hoped, it would likely be weeks before he heard word of Lysette's survival. If he heard it at all.

Maker, what would he do if she died?

A tug at his sleeve drew his attention. "Oi," said Pella. Her head was uncovered and a few snowflakes rested on her brown hair. But despite the cold her cheeks were pale, not flushed; she must have just come outside. "I know you're busy. But you keep promising me time to talk. I really do need—"

"All right, all right, Pella. What is it?" With a final glance at the sparring ring, Adan followed her into the infirmary and shut the door behind them, or tried to. Sodding thing always caught in the snow. He opened the door to give it another go only to find Elan standing patiently on the other side of it.

Elan slipped past him into the infirmary as delicately as the tracings of frost that covered the glass windows. "Good morning, Adan."

"Hullo." Adan shut the door emphatically. There. "Pella, what was it you wanted?"

"Nothing," the girl said. "Never mind."

Flighty creature.

"If you could live anywhere," Adan asked, "where would it be?"

Lysette looked back up at him. "I don't know. I never expected to have a choice. Most people don't, you know."

They were in his workshop, late in the afternoon. Lysette was kneeling on the hearth rug with her armor spread out before her, polishing rag in hand. Adan leaned against his workbench, listening absently to the bubbling from the brazier behind him, and studied his beloved.

"True. But you must have a preference." He stepped around her to stoke the fire while she pondered.

"I really don't know," she said, at length. "All my time in Denerim I was prepared to spend the rest of my life at whichever Circle or chantry I was sent to. Mostly they assign people close by, but it could have been anywhere in Thedas. Under the circumstances, I was lucky to get Montsimmard."

"Indeed. One of the last to fall, wasn't it?"

"It didn't fall so much as disband once we didn't have the numbers to hold it. Everything was upside down by then, anyhow. When my Knight-Commander left for the Conclave, he took those of us who remained."

"What about the mages?" He straightened from the fire. 

"Some scattered. Some remained. Enchanter Vivienne went to her estate." Lysette shook her head. "We knew the war was going on, but our Circle was peaceful. Everything was as it should have been."

"Until the day it wasn't."

"That's right." Lysette went back to her polishing, the squeak of oiled cloth on metal mingling with the sound of the fire crackling behind her. 

Adan looked out the window at the grey sky.  Snow was falling in heavy flakes. It reminded him of Haven; the Frostbacks more than lived up to their name at this time of year. The sun must be on its way to setting, but there was no sign of it. Even less sign that, just under a year before, the sky itself had torn apart.

Lysette set down the pauldron in her hands and picked up its partner. Not its twin, since the left one was bigger. For blocking, she’d explained when he asked. 

"What about you?" She glanced at him. "Where would you settle, if all this were over and you had the choice?” Her tone was casual enough, but the question was a bit loaded. Well, he'd started it. 

"I've been a lot of places. I can work pretty much anywhere, you know. Stayed in Rivain the longest... even had a house there, for a time."

"Alone?" Her eyes were keen. Maker help him. 

"No, not alone." Adan lowered himself to sit next to her on the rug. The fire was almost too close for comfort, but she had a fondness for warmth. "That's a very specific question, Lysette."

"I know I'm not the only—I don't mean to pry." Her cheeks had darkened. Adan would have found it endearing if he weren't so alarmed by the direction the conversation was taking.

"I lived with a woman for a while," he told her. "Long time ago now. Don't know why I never mentioned it to you before."

That was a lie. He knew perfectly well why he hadn't: bringing up that relationship to Lysette felt like... like he was showing her all the worst bits of himself. He knew Lysette had had other lovers and assumed she knew he had, too. But she'd never asked him about that part of his past before.

Lysette only looked at him. Her brows drew together, but Adan thought her concern was only for him and his discomfort. He shouldn't have expected otherwise. Lysette wasn't the jealous sort.

"It was..." He shook his head, uncertain how to explain. "I don't know what it was. Nothing like this. Nothing like you." Aside from the fact that either woman could have knocked him out with both hands tied behind her back. Perhaps he had a type. 

He continued, "It didn't end well. We wanted different things in life. I said some things I shouldn't have, and I'm not proud of that. I'm a dull fellow, Lysette," he said ruefully. "She was away a lot of the time—"

At that, Lysette's expression changed. "It's a problem for you, my work with the Inquisition? All the traveling?"

"No!" Blast it. "That's not what I meant. It's different."

But she still looked worried, and he sighed. "When you're gone, I know you're not with another man, for one thing."

"Oh." She sat back, brows lifting. 

"I do miss you. I worry about you," he said gruffly. "Especially after what happened last summer. But it's not the same at all."

Lysette lifted a hand and laid it over the back of his neck, her fingers tickling his hairline. "Who could ever leave you?" She sounded genuinely baffled.

Adan let out a snort. "Most people would wonder why you stay. I'm not much of a catch, Lysette."

She shook her head, eyes fierce. "I think you're perfect," she said flatly.

"Poor, deluded woman," was all he could manage. They'd drawn nearer together, and her face was so close to his. All he'd have to do to kiss her was lean an inch forward—

But before he could turn the thought into action, she asked, "Why were you with her at all, if you were looking for such different things?"

Adan let out a short breath and sat back. Damned if he knew.

But that was a lie, too. He knew. "I thought she'd change her mind," he said with a grunt of derision for his past self. "That once she really knew my winning ways, she'd want to stay for good."

"And?"

"She didn't. Obviously. Why are you asking me this?"

Lysette frowned. "I want to understand you better. That's all."

"I'm not so complicated."

"You're so private about some things. Even with me." Her eyes raked over his forehead. "If it's not my place to ask something, just tell me so." 

"What do you want to know?" Maker's breath, where was this headed? 

She hesitated. Then—"Your face," she said quietly. "I have an idea, but..."

Well, that could have been worse. "Damn. I probably made it sound a bigger thing than it is. Not worth your fretting. Of course I'll tell you."

Lysette watched him closely as he spoke, but he kept his tone casual. "I was set upon, as a lad. Not long before I left the alienage."

He went on to tell her everything—even about Neria, and his confusion and suspicion that maybe, just maybe there had been magic involved in his survival. Lysette's eyebrows went up when he told her that part, but she didn't speak or censure him. Finally he ran out of words and just waited for her response.

"I see," she said eventually. "That makes sense. It's close to what I expected. Thank you for telling me."

"Lysette..."

She frowned. "Do you know who they were? Did anything ever happen to them?"

He gave her a sidelong look. "No and no."

"I'm sorry that happened to you." Her face was grim. "I'm sorry it was my people who did that."

"Not your fault."

"The woman you mentioned before, the one you lived with. Was she human or elven?"

"Why not dwarven? Qunari?"

"Well, was she?"

"No," he admitted. "Elf-blooded. An alienage kid, like me."

Lysette turned her head slightly, examining him. He'd grown more used to that intense stare of hers, the serious look on her long face. But he was no less captivated. "It's not a problem for you that I'm human?"

"Is that what brought this on? Maker, woman, I'm human."

"I know, but..." Lysette shifted and folded her legs beneath her on the rug. 

"I promise you. If it were a problem the way you mean, I'd never have..." Adan swallowed, suddenly as nervous as if he'd never said the words before. "You know how I feel about you, anyway," he muttered.

Her smile was breathtaking, and not just for its rarity. "Oh?"

"Do I need to remind you?" he grumbled. 

She chuckled. "Well, I love you," she told him. "In case you forgot."

"No. I didn't forget."

 


 

The sun had already set by the time Lysette made her way back up the slope from the training camp the following day. It was nearly the winter solstice; it was, in fact, her twenty-fifth birthday. She blinked yet more snow out of her eyes as she brought Hector to the stables.

She had requested overnight leave, but hadn’t received it. It made sense, of course, with the upcoming siege… but still, she wanted to spend as much time with Adan as she could before their upcoming separation.

When she reached his quarters, he was reading a letter on the settee. He glanced up as she slipped inside, shaking the snow off her boots and hanging her cloak on the peg. 

“Hello.” He looked back at the letter in his hand, frowning.

“Everything all right?”

"Oh, it's—nothing, unfortunately." With a grimace, Adan set the letter aside. "Something about Neria. Another dead end."

"Oh. I'm sorry." Lysette settled on the cushions at his side. 

"I don't really expect to find her, at this point. The Tevinter stuff seems the most likely.... But I've got to look.”

“I understand.” She caught his hand and held it as she studied his profile. It was still odd to think his lost cousin was elven. If he hadn’t told her, she’d never have guessed he was elf-blooded. Not that she'd known many people who were, but Adan looked as human as she could imagine: rounded ears, a stocky build. Nothing like the elves she knew. 

"I need my hand back," he told her, lifting a brow.

"No. I'm keeping it." She kissed his knuckles.

"Fair enough. Spoils of war... I’ve got a present for you."

Lysette looked up. He was watching her. “What?”

“It’s your birthday, isn’t it?”

There was a tingling in her face. Was she blushing? “I didn’t expect anything.”

“And after you gave me such a lovely gift for mine. What kind of man do you take me for?” Adan went over to slide open his desk drawer while Lysette remained on the settee.

“A grouchy, sarcastic—”

“You might be right about that.” He came back to sit at her side, dropping a pouch onto her lap. “Humor me anyway."

Wordlessly, Lysette pressed a hand to his stubbled cheek and then retracted it to open the pouch. When she emptied its contents into her palm, it became difficult to breathe.

"It's not an engagement ring," he added hastily. "Just..."

"I know what it is," she interrupted with a quick glance at his face. They exchanged rings like this in Orlais and Ferelden both. A sweetheart token. She ran her finger over the inscription and held it closer to the lamp. Warm light slanted over the gold, revealing the old-fashioned letters: Within My creation, none are alone. It was a line from the Chant. 

Adan looked pained. "It's foolish, but I wanted... I drew the line at that verse of yours about blood and sacrifice, though. Seemed an ill omen with which to send my beloved into battle."

She was crying. Again.

"Maker's breath, woman. That bad?"

Lysette shook her head and turned into his arms. "Not bad," was all she could say. "Not bad."

He was holding her so tightly she could hear his heartbeat drumming in her own ears. She leaned into him, resting her cheek against the familiar wool of his robes, and silently prayed for the Inquisition's victory and—more guiltily—for her own survival.

But if she didn't survive, at least she'd had this.

He didn't loosen his grip, and she felt as much as heard his mumble of, "I know I said it's not... but it could be. If you wanted."

"What?" She pulled back to get a better look at his face. She didn't entirely trust her ears.

Adan looked away, apparently fascinated by the view out the darkened window. "You told me once you'd make a terrible wife," he said, not meeting her eyes. "I don't know about that. Not that I'd make a particularly good..." He cleared his throat. "Listen, if you're dead-set against it, that's fine. You know I'm yours either way."

"You're asking me to marry you?"

And then he did meet her eyes, locking his warm gaze on hers. "Yeah. Suppose I am."

A hundred things raced through her mind, none of them coherent. What came to her tongue was, "You'd tie yourself to a lyrium-addicted ex-templar with no future?"

"Andraste's arse, Lysette, I'd tie myself to you if you were the blighted Divine with an elfroot habit. Don't you know that?"

She did, she realized with a sudden burst of giddiness. He was telling the truth. He wanted to marry her, he wanted a life with her—

And she wanted that with him.

Adan was visibly uncomfortable with her silence. His eyes were a little wider than usual as they flicked over her face. "You don't have to answer right away. Or ever. Lysette, I know your vocation comes first. I'd never try to keep you from that. If you don't want—"

"But I do." She struggled to keep her voice steady, to force the words out clearly in the face of his anxiety. "If I do have any kind of future, I want it to be with you. I'd be happy to swear that to you and to the Maker."

Adan stared at her disbelievingly. "Yeah? You're sure?"

"Yes," she said. "If you are."

"Maker's teeth, Lysette." He let out a long breath as he pulled her into a close embrace. "I'm sure."

She didn't want to leave him. But the bell rang out, marking the hour—if they hadn't been preparing for a major military operation, she'd have risked reprimand just to spend a few minutes longer with him.

"I'll see you tomorrow," she whispered, pressing her lips against his neck. "I've got to—"

"I know. Don't worry."

 


 

Adan felt foolishly lightheaded as he shut the door behind Lysette.

Maker, she'd agreed to marry him. Without hesitation. She'd looked as happy as he'd ever seen her, eyes sparkling like Serault glass—he didn't deserve it, but if he could make her that happy, he bloody well would.

They would wait, of course. In all the hubbub of preparations for the siege, there would be little opportunity or sentiment for such things. Even if there had been, Adan didn't want it to be like that, either. Not a rushed thing on the eve of her departure.

He loved her—he loved her ridiculously, and that made it all the more important to do the thing right. When they were ready. And they'd find a way to deal with anything that came, be it lyrium or darkspawn or who knew what else, because he'd be damned if he let anything keep them apart now.

If they could just make it through this next battle.

 


 

Lysette slipped into Adan’s workshop at midday. He’d given her a key, since she met him there often enough these days. Soon enough they'd share quarters, too. Maybe one day a home of their own.

Her heart still fluttered embarrassingly when she looked down at the ring on her hand. It fit and it was comfortable, the smooth metal on her finger. For all she'd never thought she could make that kind of promise… it felt right.

They were going to be married. Committed.

There was no one to stand in their way; they were both of age and then some. Lysette would need to inform Cullen, of course, but she didn't need his permission. Even in the Order of old, she'd likely have received sanction to marry someone like Adan: he wasn’t a templar, he was self-supporting, and he was at least nominally Andrastian.

They’d spoken of a future together before, albeit in an abstract sort of way. Adan knew the price her duty demanded and seemed willing to accept it. And she loved him.

It hadn't even occurred to her to turn him down.

At the creak of the door handle, Lysette stood, a smile tugging at her lips. But when the door swung open, it wasn't Adan but Pella who stood silhouetted by the snow.

Lysette blinked. "Hello."

"Hello." Pella looked miserably uncomfortable. Her large eyes darted around the dusty room. "I was just... Adan's not here, is he?"

"No."

"Shit."

"Pella, it’s freezing. Come inside. Is everything all right?"

"I don't know," whispered the girl. She handed Lysette a sheet of parchment.

As Lysette read, she felt a different sort of flutter in her chest. No, everything was certainly not all right.

What in the Maker's name was this?

Chapter Text

The teachings of the Andrastian Chantry have been part of Thedosian lives for over eight hundred years. ...[We] may find compassion for those who lived in those dark times, and also for they who even now are lost, and turn to shadow, trying find light.

— From Before Andrastianism: the Forgotten Faiths

 

SURANA, ADAN*

KNOWN INTELLIGENCE RISK. A.S. was field agent for years and now coordinates own ring. Formerly in service to King Maric (9:18-9:25). Since that time, has maintained network of influential associates ("College of Herbalists") with activities including assassination, smuggling; numerous links to alienage black markets. Overlap with Red Jenny activity in certain regions. For map, refer to extended report.

ANTECEDENTS

  • Born: 9:02 Dragon, Denerim
  • Mother: Meris Surana, Denerim alienage elf (only known connection: Elder Valendrian of Denerim alienage, succeeded by Elder Shianni 9:32) 
  • Father: Torold (surname uncertain, possibly Wetherby), Denerim city guardsman (d. 9:05, no known connections or assets)

ASSOCIATES

  • Elan Ve'mal, poisoner (responsible for assassination of Horatio Lorenz, possible others; known royal connections; see file) - student, longtime associate - Justinian 9:41 update: SEE FILE for reassessment. All ravens to be monitored.
  • Antonietta Tometti, bard, sometime assassin (last activity recorded in Cumberland, 9:40; see file) - longtime lover, last known contact with A.S. 9:36
  • Belaeth Surana, Denerim alienage healer (known to deal in black market herbs and illicit materials; see Denerim guard report of 9:38, before redactions made via A.S. influence) - cousin, colleague (see College of Herbalists, page 3), currently in contact
  • Slim Couldry, Denerim (see file) - criminal associate, last known contact with A.S. 9:40; A.S. sold incendiary devices

For full list of associates, see report on College of Herbalists.

SKILLS

Alchemist, specializing in explosive devices and Antivan Fire.

THREAT TO INQUISITION SECURITY

Moderate Under reassessment per Her Worship. Until complete, advise caution. AVOID sharing advance information on military actions/troop movements.

*Abridged version. For full report, see Sister Nightingale.

 

An elven woman passed the table where Adan and Minaeve sat in the library. She took no notice of them, even when Adan turned his head to watch her go. She was probably used to being watched.

Fiona cut a small figure, but she had presence. Even without the robes that declared her Grand Enchanter, her bearing left no doubt that this was a powerful woman. She reminded him a bit of his mother: the same short hair and prominent ears, tawny skin and a determined set to her jaw.

Minaeve was watching her too, but her expression suggested a different association than his.

"I take it you're not a supporter of the mage rebellion."

“The mage rebellion that brought down my Circle and half of Thedas as well?" Minaeve tucked a strand of short red hair behind her ear and returned to the book she was studying. “I could have done without it.”

"Yeah, well." Adan leaned back in the leather library chair, staring rather blankly at the table.

Talk of the Redcliffe mages always had his thoughts running back to Neria. Perhaps there was some way to identify who a skull had belonged to. That magister bloke might know. Wasn’t he a necromancer, or something of that sort?

But when he ambled over to the alcove where Dorian Pavus could often be found, the mage was nowhere to be seen. One of Minaeve's assistants was there, however, replacing books on a shelf.

It seemed Adan was blocking her path. "I beg your pardon," she said in that monotonous voice.

He stepped back out of her way. “Helisma, you're Tranquil. I don't suppose you know Neria Surana." He scoffed at his own question even as he asked it.

But Helisma said, "That is correct."

Adan turned to look at her. "You're joking."

The woman's eyes were devoid of expression, but they met his own directly. "I no longer joke, Apothecary Adan."

Right.

Adan heard someone speak. The someone had a Fereldan accent and a rough voice that sounded suspiciously like his own. The hypothesis was bolstered by the fact that his lips were moving. "Do you know what happened to her?"

 


 

Lysette stood still in the center of Adan's workshop, reading and rereading the parchment in her hand. This had to be some sort of jest—but Pella's anxious eyes told her it wasn't.

"Where did you get this?"

"I—" Pella winced, her smooth features crumpling. "I'm friends with one of the Inquisition runners. The one who works for Mistress Ve'mal a lot of the time. I asked her to… keep an eye out for anything odd." She swallowed visibly. "She found this on the floor of the tavern. One of the scouts or someone must have dropped it."

Lysette could hardly keep her eyes off the report. She looked back at it, examining the edges of the ink that marked her lover's—her betrothed's—name. Willing the letters to take on a new shape, to correct this mistake and take her life back to where it had been five minutes before.

But the letters didn't budge. Her body felt as if it had been dipped in ice. "Did you know about any of this?"

"No! I..." Pella's face twisted further. "I shouldn't have shown it to you without—I wanted to speak to Adan first. I didn't know what to do," she burst out. "Did you know, Lysette?"

Lysette ran her eyes over the parchment again. It was already carving itself into her memory as sharply as the letters engraved on the ring she wore under her glove. "Some of it. Not… Pella, I need to think. Can you leave this with me?"

The younger woman looked uncertain, but finally she nodded and quietly pulled on her cloak. When the door shut behind her, Lysette was left alone to examine Sister Leliana’s report.

Everyone knew that the former Left Hand of the Divine was the Inquisition spymaster. It was a side of things Lysette had little taste or liking for. Certainly, intelligence was invaluable in war, and Cullen was no doubt making heavy use of it as he planned their upcoming action against the Wardens. 

But it still didn't sit well with her. Stealth, dishonesty—that woman's work was the opposite of everything Lysette valued. She'd rather face an opponent in daylight than slip a knife between their ribs in the dark. Not that the smell of blood was different in any case.

To find Adan was… what, exactly?

Lysette moved slowly to the workbench and lifted the stack of papers on its surface. Something deeper than curiosity drove her to look. As she began to flick through the papers, her racing heart froze in her chest. The first document seemed to be a letter, written in a hand she didn't recognize.

 

Voluntary discontinuation of lyrium has a significant chance of relapse. Even if no relapse occurs, as in cases of involuntary discontinuation, the physical strain of withdrawal may cause death in up to 30% of templars.

This risk must be weighed against the near-100% chance of dementia after prolonged lyrium intake. This outcome is well documented and may, in fact, be observed with a visit to any of several countryside chantries set aside by the Order for the purpose of retiring its unfit members.

Risk factors for complications include...

She turned to the next page. This one was in Adan's handwriting.

 

For withdrawal nightmares, consider adding embrium extract to standard sleeping draught. Lyrium soothes nightmares (per discussion w/Lys.); lack of lyrium likely to augment symptoms in short term, esp. if patient has a history of night terrors.

For irritability/irrational behavior (remember: hallucinations possible from lyrium even if not discontinued), will consider trying...

A treatment plan for lyrium withdrawal. After she'd told him in no uncertain terms that she didn't want to stop taking it. 'Irrational behavior?'

Lysette dropped the paper as if her fingers had been burned. She was such a fool.

Oh, Maker, if you're testing me... please, please guide my steps.

 

 

She met him in his quarters that evening.

Adan stood up hurriedly from the desk as she pulled open the heavy door. "There you are! I was expecting you at midday. Everything all right?"

Lysette shook her head. She couldn't bring herself to speak. She drew out Pella's cursed parchment from her belt pouch and thrust it at Adan.

He took the page with a quirk of his scarred eyebrow. But when he unrolled it and began to read, he let out a long breath.

"Explain," said Lysette. She hardly recognized the sound of her own voice.

"Maker, woman, don't... not tonight." He furrowed his brow over the parchment and then looked up at Lysette. "This isn't even accurate. I was never a field agent. 'Incendiary devices'—well, that's a bit of an overstatement for confusion grenades—"

Lysette snatched the parchment back from his hand. "Who are you?"

His eyes were clouded. Obscured from her, the way he'd always kept part of himself from her. "You know who I am."

“No. I don’t." To her humiliation, her voice quavered. She swallowed and steadied it before she spoke again. This time the words came out clearer; her voice was low and steady. “Why should I trust you?”

"After everything we've shared, you ask me that?" He tapped the paper with a faint huff of laughter. "Over this? At least let me explain—"

"What's this about troop movements, Adan?" Lysette stabbed a finger at the bottom of the parchment.

"Because of you, probably," he said with infuriating calm. "It's a reasonable precaution. If I ran a spy network, I'd want to investigate any relationship between—"

"From what I understand, you do run a spy network!"

"Give me the benefit of the doubt here, woman! I—"

"Maker help me. You're some sort of… spy, and you speak to me of doubt?”

"I'm not a spy. I do have connections, but—"

"Connections! Is that what you call your relationship to"—she read from the parchment—"poisoners, assassins, black market smugglers—"

She could tell that Adan was on the verge of losing his temper. Good. 

"We don't all have the luxury of working exclusively with the blessed and holy, Ser Lysette."

"What kind of work is this? Selling incendiary devices to criminals?"

"Help," he said flatly. "Whatever help I can give. I'm not twenty-five with stars in my eyes—I know damn well I can't be anyone's savior, but I can help."

"I don't understand. I don't understand any of this." She hadn't even taken off her cloak. Her boots were still dripping with snow.

"Check the date, Lysette." His tone was harsh, colder than the wind that howled outside. She hated it. "You may have been snug in your Circle two years ago, but in the real world, your Order's war was already raging. The fellow I sent those grenades to is a petty criminal, no doubt, but he shares the same interest I do in protecting our families." Adan paused, a brief flicker of hesitation in his eyes, but at Lysette's lack of reaction he went on. "That's something I'd expect you of all people to understand."

"How dare you," she choked out. "You know who I am, what I believe—what am I supposed to think of all this?"

"Maker forbid you ever think for yourself."

Lysette stared at him. She understood, now, why people spoke of heartbreak. It was a bodily pain, the way her heart shattered as he spoke.

"Do you know what I learned today?" Adan paced a few steps away, then turned back to her. He was practically baring his teeth. "I found out where my cousin Neria spent the past ten years. All this time."

Despite her anguish—despite her heartbreak—Lysette was momentarily distracted. "You did? Where is she?”

“I didn’t say I knew where she is,” Adan said, sarcasm dripping from every word. It bit into her soul, that tone. “I said I learned where she was.”

“Where was she, then?”

“Montsimmard.”

She stared, uncomprehending. “My Circle?”

“Yes, your Circle. She was living there until it disbanded. After that—who knows.” His eyes were fixed on her and she couldn’t breathe, couldn’t think. Had she ever seen… she’d paid attention to the apprentices. The mages. But the Tranquil were a blur in her memory. Interchangeable, with those pleasant blank expressions and that sunburst brand...

“You don’t remember her, do you?” Adan let out another short laugh. Whatever was left of Lysette's heart splintered into shards. 

“No,” she said quietly. “I don’t.”

"I don't know why I expected otherwise." He turned away from her, lifting a hand to rub his temples.

For all that she was drowning in it, Lysette couldn't have named the emotion that filled her. Anger had twined itself with guilt and grief to form something more potent than any of its components. A more deadly alchemy than any of Adan's—but it was his, he hadn't told her, he'd never told her—

Still. Impassive. Rational. Lysette breathed through her nose. She would not let this betrayal wound her. She would not let this man cloud her judgment any more than he already had.

"I'm joining the advance party to Halamshiral."

"What?" Adan dropped his hand and spun to face her. 

"They asked for volunteers. I'm going now," she said levelly. "Before dawn."

He was breathing heavily. She could see his chest rise and fall in the fading light. "Lysette, for the love of—"

She turned on her heel and left without another word.

Lysette made it as far as the door of the templar tower before she looked back over the battlements. She stood for a long minute. The sun had set behind the mountains, and Adan's quarters were lit from within. His familiar shape moved around inside—the templar sentries eyed her, but she couldn't turn away—and through the leaded glass windows, she saw him sit heavily at the writing desk. And then she saw him bury his head in his arms.

Foolish, foolish woman.

She should go now, before she weakened.

Lysette walked deliberately up the stairs to pack for the journey. She hadn't planned to depart for another two weeks, but she had everything she needed. It took only a moment to speak to Knight-Lieutenant Abrahas, who was surprised but pleased to add her name to the roster of volunteers. It was done.

It wasn't until Lysette was five miles outside Skyhold, riding alongside her fellows as the sun rose behind them and the cold air filled her lungs, that she realized she was still wearing Adan's ring.

No one would have noticed if she shed a tear or two behind her helmet. But she didn't. She wouldn't allow herself any more weakness.

Chapter Text

The loyal shield, broken to pieces, found only ash
Left to the wind and rain.

—Apotheosis 2:15

"Fuck, fuck, fuck—"

Adan leapt back from the workbench, shielding his eyes with one arm.

The explosion didn't come. Good and bad news, that. He took a deep breath to steady his nerves.

He was flying a bit blind, calibrating these grenades for use in an entirely different climate. The Frostbacks in the dead of winter were hardly the same thing as the desert of Western Orlais in—whenever the army got there. Spring?

Adan dropped his arm, examined the shattered phial spread across the floor, and went for a broom. The grenades would do their job when the time came. If there was one thing he knew, it was his craft.

It might be the only thing he knew, at that.

Adan had singed himself at the workbench before. Badly, even, once or twice. But what he'd done to Lysette was worse: he'd hurt her, too. 

She'd been gone for three days, and Adan still felt like death. Even this, the shortest day of the year, dragged on and on. But there was too much work for him to call it quits and lock himself in his quarters with a bottle of something strong.

Maybe when all these pestering people had left for Adamant, he'd take off. Go somewhere he wouldn't see Lysette in every dusty corner—because he'd lost her, no doubt about it. He'd all but driven her away.

But why would he have mentioned his work for Maric? Let alone the favors he'd traded or the strings he'd pulled in the years since. It had never crossed his mind to. It was nothing to do with her or the two of them. Where had she even gotten that blasted report?

The door creaked and he straightened from the bench as a rush of cold air struck the back of his neck. Pella only gave him a quick nod as she set down a crate of scoured earthenware. Probably she could tell from his face that he wasn't in the mood for company.

Adan was used to being on his own. He kept things to himself out of habit more than any need for secrecy. Well, that habit had come back to bite him in the arse this time. Lysette had trusted him and he'd put that trust to the torch.

After what Helisma had told him, he'd gone to see Cullen. He'd wanted some confounded answers. He hadn't gotten any. And when Lysette had come to confront him that night, all he'd seen was her armor and her anger. Just another templar, as culpable as the rest of them.

It wasn't a very good excuse.

Maker. I don't even care if she doesn't come back to me. Just let her come back alive.

So that was how things stood. He could drink himself into a stupor, like the damned fool he was, or he could get back to work.

He'd chosen the latter. It almost did the job, too. He was so absorbed crushing dry beetles that he’d half forgotten his misery until a hesitant voice spoke from behind his shoulder. "Have you seen Lysette lately?"

He very nearly dropped the pestle. There was a suspiciously casual note in the girl's voice. Adan turned deliberately away from the workbench.

"Pella?"

She wouldn't meet his eyes.

"Pella."

"Just asking. I hadn't seen her around, so…"

"What did you do?"

At that, she looked up, eyes despairing. "I panicked! I didn't know what to do. You've had your head so far up your own arse that I couldn't get you alone for five minutes—"

"I've been busy."

"You're always busy! Why do you think I went to Lysette? You hardly talk to me anymore."

"Went to Lysette with a certain report, I take it." Maferath's balls. Adan pressed the heels of his hands into his eyes. "Where the blazes did you get that?"

"I... found it lying around. It doesn't matter. Is it true? What are you involved with? Maker take you, Adan, what are my parents involved with?"

He bit back a more vicious oath. "You might have written to them before taking it to Lysette. Lysette, of all people!"

"I'm sorry." To do her justice, she looked it.

He laughed shortly and turned back to the bench. "Yeah. Well. Me too."

"What did she say?"

"No sense dwelling on it." Adan picked up the pestle and began crushing beetles with renewed vigor.

"What do you mean?"

"She's left. Skyhold, me. It doesn't matter."

"Shit. Adan. Shit, I'm so—"

"Save it. I've got scores of these still to prepare."

He wouldn't lose his temper again. This was on him, not on Pella. And there was—as always—work to do.

Elan was the next person to intrude on his solitude.

"Have you received any word from your templar… associate?" she inquired as she bustled around behind his back.

“No need to be coy, Elan.” He shook his head but didn't look up. Associate, indeed.

“I wasn’t sure whether you’d prefer that to ‘shemlen lover’."

“What do you care if she’s human? Didn’t I hear something about that dwarven bartender?"

“I thought you didn’t listen to gossip."

“And yet it seems to find me.” He slammed the last jar down on the workbench and turned to face her.

She was, of course, as sleekly composed as ever. “It’s not her humanity but her allegiances I question, Adan.”

“Allegiances, my arse. You’re in the Inquisition too. Same as me, same as her."

“Among other things. But your personal life is none of my business."

“That’s never stopped you before,” he muttered. "Anyway, you know full well she's gone and left me."

"I do?"

"Cut the bullshit, Elan. Am I supposed to believe Pella just happened upon that report all by herself?"

"I haven't the faintest notion what you're talking about."

"Right. Of course not." She sounded about as sincere as… well, something insincere. Adan shoved back his stool and rose to his feet. "That's the last of these damned grenades. I want a walk."

Or course, there was a blizzard howling outside. So Adan kept his walk indoors. Skulking around the bowels of Skyhold suited his mood, anyway.  

It was still bloody cold, but it grew less so as his steps drew him closer to the Undercroft. They must be running the forge at full blast.

"Dagna." He nearly had to shout over the sound of Harritt's hammer. "I've got those notes for you. The lyrium withdrawal business."

The dwarven woman bustled over to his side. "Oh, you're the best! I could have asked Cullen myself, but I didn't want to bother him when I knew you already had these written down…" She looked them over. "Yes, that's what I needed. Thanks! Is he planning to fight in the siege himself?"

"Far as I know. Seems like folly to me, but I'm no soldier."

"It's important for morale that the foot soldiers see him alongside. Or something! Apparently! Hmm." Her mouth was running a mile a minute, but her head was still bent over Adan's notes. "What's this about nightmares?"

"All hypothetical, of course. You understand. I know Her Worship talked to you too."

"Right. Sworn to secrecy. Well, that's miserable! But I can compare this to what we've observed in the red templar captives."

Poor bastards. As if the regular sort of lyrium wasn't gruesome enough. "I'll leave you to it," he said curtly.

"No, don't go! I still wanted to talk to you about the Fade interaction thingy that you mentioned the other day. I've got an idea it could be related to the…"

She ran to pull out a chair, chattering all the while. Adan resigned himself to being distracted. Frankly, he needed it.

"Shit, man, can't you take her somewhere else?" Harritt called over the hiss of steam as he quenched a blade. "It's near sundown and she’s been… talking… at me all day."

"I'm not allowed in the library," said Dagna brightly. "Or rather, I'm allowed, but Minaeve glares at me and I think she's gotten Avexis and Helisma to glare at me too… oh, sorry, Harritt."

"I shouldn't have mentioned Helisma," she murmured to Adan once the smith's back was turned again.

Adan raised a brow. "Why not?"

"He knew her. Before, you know." She waved one short-fingered hand meaningfully at her forehead. "I think she's a relative or something, actually. Could be his daughter. Never asked."

"Isn't Helisma Orlesian?" Of course Adan knew she was. He'd talked to her just the other day.

"Who knows? The Circles send their mages all over Thedas, you know. Especially the ones who end up Tranquil—it upsets the others to see them after the Rite." Dagna scoffed a bit at that. "Gosh, I wonder why."

Adan hesitated, but there was no reason not to tell her. "I had a cousin living at that Circle myself," he admitted. "She was Tranquil, too."

"Oh, really?" Dagna looked curious. To be fair, that was her usual expression. "What happened to her?"

"Not the foggiest." Adan leaned back and tapped a foot crossly. "Helisma didn't know either. Dead, most likely."

"I've got a Tranquil colleague who might know. Neria Surana. If you give me your cousin's name, I can write and ask if she… what's wrong?"

What was wrong was that Adan couldn't seem to form a single word.

“Well, fuck me," he managed finally.

Dagna only stared back at him in puzzlement. "No, thank you." 

Adan snorted though his shock. "That's her," he clarified. "My cousin. Neria."

"Oh! Gotcha. You're awfully big for an elf."

"Damn it, she's alive? When did you—Maker's breath, I've been looking for her for ten years!"

"Well, why didn't you ask me before? Or put up a sign in the tavern. Hold on, I've got a letter from her! Here—"

Dagna leapt up and scurried into the back room. She returned a moment later, unfurling a piece of paper. "There it is! Look, see—'wiser to wait for the next caravan to Skyhold, as traveling alone would add unnecessary risk—'"

"She's coming here?" Adan leaned forward to grab the letter and flipped it over, searching frantically for a date.

"One of these days!” Dagna giggled. “I can't wait, I'm dying to talk to her about the fluctuations in the Veil after the Breach. She's brilliant, you know that? Helped me with a monograph a few years ago."

"You've paid me back for those notes, Dagna, that's for sure," he muttered, still scanning the letter. That was Neria's handwriting, no doubt about it.

Dagna glanced up and smiled. "Great! So back to what I was saying—" She rambled on about Veil fluctuations, but Adan's mind was spinning as much as if he'd turned to the bottle after all.

All those years of looking, all those dead ends, and someone just… showed him this? It seemed as unfair as it was improbable. But he wouldn't complain, not when one thing in his life was finally coming together. 

Because the rest of it was in Maker-forsaken shambles.

Chapter Text

For their dreams had been devoured
By a demon that prowled the Fade
As a wolf hunts a herd of deer.
Taking first the weakest and frailest of hopes,
And when there was nothing left,
Destroying the bright and bold
By subtlety and ambush and cruel arts.

—Exaltations 1:7

Of all the places to hold peace talks.

More than a hundred people had traveled with the Inquisitor to Halamshiral, most of whom would remain outside the city proper. To that end, they'd stirred a half-empty rural monastery from its quiet routine. Now the fallow fields echoed with the stomping of heavy boots. A farrier's hammer rang out over the meadows alongside the old chantry bell. Over all the other ruckus, someone was singing a bawdy song. Lysette felt a brief pang of sympathy for their pious hosts.

This was a company preparing for war, and it showed. After their leaders were done play-acting with the nobility, these soldiers would join the rest of the Inquisition forces to march on Adamant. It was clear why Cullen had wanted them quartered outside the city.

It was also clear why Sister Nightingale had wanted a guard of templars to escort Her Worship to the palace. It was one thing to know that a Dalish apostate led the armies of the faithful. It was another thing to see it with one's own eyes.

So Lysette had polished her armor and braced herself for an unpleasant evening. She tried not to shift impatiently as she stood waiting near the stables. How long would it take the rest of the party to assemble? 

The Inquisitor was already there, looking even smaller than usual beside her enormous dark bay and decidedly uncomfortable in her dress uniform. There was only one way into the city that didn't pass through what had once been the largest elven settlement in Thedas, and that wasn't the route that Her Worship planned to take. Another political statement?

Lysette didn’t know and she didn’t want to. It made her ill, all the deception and bloodshed lurking just under the masks and polite smiles. It hardly even counted as deception when the only thing you didn't know was whom they'd chosen to betray that day.

She wrenched her gaze east, away from the rolling valleys and peaceful meadows, towards the city of Halamshiral. What was left of it. The central portions had been untouched by the flames, but they were surrounded on nearly all sides by char and snow-dusted wreckage.

People could rebuild surprisingly quickly after a disaster. Lysette had seen it herself, after the Blight and after the Breach. But here it seemed there was little need to rebuild. The population of the elven district must be a fraction of what it had been.

How could they do this?

"They've always done it," a voice whispered, or maybe that was just the sound of fallen leaves blowing across the stable's slate roof. No, it was definitely a voice.

Lysette looked up to see a scruffy young man standing in the dirt before her. He studied her with limpid eyes before he spoke again. "Drips, dribbles, drops on the ground where the cobblestones were."

"I don't understand." But strangely, she found she wanted to.

"Skinner said. The laughter makes her eyes sting, snarl. Their swords are sharp enough already."

Lysette shook her head. "It's not right," she said, startling herself with her own passion. "It's never been right." Orlais or Ferelden, in the Circles or out of them. Injustice was everywhere she looked and she'd never noticed the half of it—she who'd devoted her life to protecting. Maker forgive her.

"You remind me of Knight-Captain," said the stranger, tilting his head. A wide-brimmed hat cast long shadows over his pallid face, shifting in the setting sun.

"There are no Knight-Captains anymore."

"No," said the man—boy—spirit? Lysette should have been more alarmed. All her training told her she should call for help, draw her sword. But she didn't, and he went on, "You remind me of her. And you remind me of me. I mean the me I became."

"What are you saying?"

"Knight-Captain and Cole. You're like them both, sad and ashamed. But they stopped. You can stop, too."

Lysette didn't know how to respond to that, but it was a moot point—as swiftly as the boy had appeared, he was gone. She blinked and looked back out over the roofs of Halamshiral. What had she just been thinking of? And why was she letting herself daydream? She had a job to do.

The templars saluted in unison as the wrought-iron gates of the innermost courtyard swung shut behind the Inquisitor and her party.

And that was that. Nothing to do now but wait for them to play their round of the Game. Lysette sighed through her teeth and nudged Hector to follow Erriala's horse to the stables. 

There were still eyes on them, but that was as it should be: the templars, with their gleaming armor and winged helms, were only a distraction. The real soldiers—in the guise of guests and footmen—were already making their way inside the palace.

Lysette could still feel the eyes boring into her back as she dismounted. An elven groom collected their horses and another led them to the guardroom where they'd wait out the evening. Even there, Lysette suspected they'd be watched closely.

The room was well-equipped and comfortable, and Lysette was grateful to find a fire already crackling on the hearth. The climate might be milder down here in the coastlands, but it was still Wintermarch and the wind outside was biting.

"Wicked Grace?" said Erriala, glancing from Lysette to the others.

Lysette shrugged and took a seat as Ser Wyatt pulled out a deck of cards. Why not.

Someone had told her once she had a face for this game. She pushed the thought aside, shoved away the memory of his fingers curling warmly over her cheek—no.

"You'll shuffle?" she asked Erriala curtly.

Elven servants brought them a decanter of wine. Lysette lifted a goblet and examined it in mild surprise: pewter, but elaborately inlaid. A vessel of finer quality than she was accustomed to.

"Good service here," said Erriala complacently as the elven servants disappeared around the corner. "They're treating us like chevaliers. That 'ser' goes farther this side of the Frostbacks, eh?"

Lysette set down her goblet with some haste. 

The following hours passed without event. The card game fizzled out early; no one's heart—or purse—was really in it. Eventually the templars sat in silence but for the odd shuffle or tap of the foot. Even if they'd felt like talking, they couldn't speak about anything of import. Not here where the walls had ears.

Lysette was suppressing a yawn when the sound of feet stamping down the hall had everyone jumping to their feet and reaching for their swords. But the messenger was unarmed.

"The empress is dead," he said briefly, his casual tone belied by shortness of breath. "Long live the emperor."

Lysette's stomach lurched. "Gaspard sits on the throne?"

"Emperor Gaspard… and his sister's dead, too. And we've got a bloody elven marquise! Your Inquisitor's all right, but Maker only knows what happened in there." The runner shook his head in disgust. "Maker. What a bloody night!"

 


 

Skyhold was an unusually large fortress. It seemed improbable to Neria that the existence of such a place had only been remembered when the Inquisition had had dire need of it. In her experience, such fortuitous circumstances often merited closer examination. However, it would be better to think about it later. Her immediate priority was to obtain shelter. Despite the warm cloak she had purchased in Lydes, the wind was cold and further exposure to the elements seemed unwise. The tips of her ears were already numb.

Accordingly, she presented herself at the gatehouse and explained her purpose to the guards. They replied to her as if she were slow of wit or hard of hearing, but this was typical behavior and only to be expected outside a Circle. Neria declined the offer of an escort to the quartermaster. There was no need for anyone to leave their post when simple directions would suffice.

The courtyard was nearly empty. Either her information regarding the Inquisition's numbers was inaccurate, or many of its forces were not at Skyhold. This concerned her only insofar as it affected the stability of the organization. Neria had come to Skyhold for several reasons, and security was one of them.

She located the quartermaster's office without difficulty. But just as she reached for the door handle, she heard the unmistakable cadences of an argument from the cottage next door. Neria paused to listen. She recognized that voice. It was a man's rough baritone, raised in a sarcastic peal. "If you wanted my mind on the job, maybe you shouldn't have—"

A woman's voice cut in crisply. "I ask you to trust that my objectives are not what you may believe. Any unfortunate personal consequences have been... unintended."

"Hmph." There was the sound of something heavy being dragged across the floor.

A few seconds of silence, and Neria turned away. If there was no more to be heard, she still had business to see to. But then the woman asked, more gently, "Are you all right?"

"No," said the first voice with a note of petulance.

"This is worse than the bard." The woman's statement was matter-of-fact.

"Infinitely... and Maker, that was bad enough. Why do you know so damn much about my personal life, Elan?"

"I know a lot of things," the woman said smoothly.

"Perhaps some day you might consider telling me a few of them," muttered the man. Neria had to listen closely to catch his words. "All this secrecy grows tiresome."

"Perhaps. Not today. Your drakestone order is here, by the way."

"Oh, good." His voice was easier to hear as he said, "Grinding it into dust will give me something productive to do. Close that door, would you? I'd rather suffocate than freeze."

The cottage door clicked neatly shut. Neria turned away and went in to see the quartermaster.

Her lodgings proved satisfactory. There were several Tranquil with the Inquisition, so it was convenient for them to share quarters with one another.

The afternoon of her second day at Skyhold, Neria found her way to the library. It was not far from the Tranquil quarters. She spent an hour surveying the selection and located several books related to her studies of the Veil. She was reading quietly by the window when a figure stopped short in front of her and spoke her name.

It was the man she'd overheard arguing at the infirmary yesterday. Many years had passed, but this was certainly her cousin. He'd grown a beard since she'd seen him last, she observed. Strange.

"It's you," he said. "I can't believe it."

"Cousin Adan." She nodded a polite greeting. "I am pleased to see you."

He barked a laugh. "No, you're not. You can't be."

"That is correct. It is merely polite to say so. In truth I am neither pleased nor displeased." She examined his face, assessing. "But it is apparent that you know this already."

"Neria," he whispered. "Maker's breath." He rested a hand on a chair back, but his eyes were fixed on her forehead.

"I did not intend to disturb you," said Neria. She began to rise from her seat, intending to fetch another book.

"Wait," Adan said. "Don't go—"

Neria paused, waiting for him to continue.

"I've got questions."

"I am currently otherwise occupied."

"I've been looking for you for ten years. Your family has been…" His eyes were wide. "You've got to come back with me," he said. "You've got to."

Neria no longer experienced emotions, but that did not make her incapable of recognizing them in others. The man's agitation was unfortunate. It would be difficult for him to ignore her presence. Perhaps she should return to her quarters.

"That is incorrect," she said, rising to her feet. "There is no benefit to such a journey. At present, I am fatigued. I shall retire."

"Neria, by the Maker!"

"I apologize for causing you distress." She collected her books and turned to the staircase.

Adan didn't follow. She had not expected him to.

Neria dragged her cot closer to the window, to better catch the light, and sat to continue her work.

Chapter Text

Should start seedlings soon. Can't be arsed.

—From the journals of Adan Surana

The sun was rising behind them as they rode through the gates of Halamshiral and set a course back to the monastery. The Grand Duke—or rather, the emperor—had invited them to stay longer, but even Lysette could tell he didn't mean it.

The Inquisitor had declined the invitation with the same insincere politeness. For a Dalish elf, she'd proven surprisingly adept at the Game. Of course, success at the Game had less to do with skill and more to do with who you were in the first place.

Someone must have sent word ahead. When they reached the monastery stables, they were greeted by a small army of Sisters to help the wounded soldiers dismount and show them to the infirmary. The Inquisitor and her companions went straight to their temporary council room, and most of the templars set off for breakfast, but Lysette headed to the dormitory to get what rest she could. They'd only have a day here before moving south to join the rest of the army.

Aside from herself, the long room was empty. The dormitory shutters kept out most of the daylight and the air was cool. But there were more than enough blankets, so Lysette left the fire unlit and sank gratefully onto a straw mattress. The linen sheets weren't particularly fine, but they were clean and softened with age. It didn't take her long to fall asleep.

She dreamed of Adan again. This time, the dream had nothing to do with blood and death. She dreamed of lying curled in his arms; he murmured something in her ear, it didn't matter what. What mattered was the vibration of his chest and the way his arms tightened around her. And Lysette woke with tears in her eyes.

Furiously, she wiped them away and reached for her lyrium kit. He wasn't who she'd thought he was. She had to remember that. But she wouldn't berate herself for her dreams; no doubt they would pass in time. Besides, they'd been up until dawn the night before. That would affect anyone.

It seemed to have affected the commander, too, as Lysette found when she ventured out of the dormitory in search of the chapel. It was early afternoon, but Cullen was still in his dress uniform from the night before. He stood in front of the chapel door talking to a mustachioed man Lysette recognized as Ser Stroud. She paused a few feet away and waited for them to pass.

The Warden looked troubled, but not by Lysette's presence. "Yes, that's what Hawke said," he told Cullen.

Hawke, the Champion of Kirkwall? Is she here? Lysette looked to Cullen, hoping for guidance, but the commander's expression was distant. He looked older than his years as he said, "All right."

"What will Her Worship decide?" asked Stroud.

"I can't say. She's sleeping at present, and I won't have her disturbed." Cullen sighed and unfolded his arms, turning away from the door. "Talk to Seeker Pentaghast in the meantime, Stroud, and let's regroup in a few hours. As much as I'd like to continue, you shouldn't count on me for sound tactical decisions until—" he covered a yawn—"I get some blasted sleep myself. Oh, excuse me, Lysette."

She saluted to the both of them—she couldn't remember the protocol for Wardens; she was tired too—and pulled open the chapel door.

It was a simple room, not all like the elaborate chantry across the courtyard. This was where the sisters and brothers of the monastery performed their personal devotions.

The walls had trim painted in the soft blue that was a common sight in the Orlesian countryside, but the oak beams overhead were dark with age. An alabaster statue of Andraste stood against the far wall, but the gilding on the Prophet's crown was the only touch of finery. The wide floorboards were too old even to creak under Lysette's booted feet.

Still, her steps faltered when she saw someone else kneeling before the shrine. Normally, the presence of a fellow worshiper was of no concern. Maybe even a comfort. But this worshiper….

She hesitated a moment longer, unsure whether to advance or retreat, but Sister Nightingale had already heard her. The woman looked back over her shoulder and nodded a greeting. "Hello, Ser Lysette." Her voice was low and a touch hoarse.

Lysette jerked her head in an answering nod. What did you say to someone like this—someone who wielded secrecy like a dagger, who moved in the shadows but prayed here in the light? Was it her hand who'd written that report about Adan?

What had his hand written? And to whom? Criminals, spies… assassins. Her chest tightened as she stood there in stiff silence. She still had that damned report. She'd read it a dozen times.

Lysette could hardly remember a time before Celene’s reign. Even six months before, she would have been aghast at the empress's assassination. Now she wondered if it had been for the best. Was she becoming like the woman before her? A creature of slyness and shadows, cunning and conniving?

The spymaster looked back at her calmly, face composed. Her eyes were a startling blue in the golden light. There were faint lines in the corners, but her skin was smooth, making her age difficult to pinpoint. It was a face tailor-made for deception.

"Join me," she said, indicating the kneeler next to her. "I was just saying a prayer for Celene."

"For the empress whose murder you failed to prevent?"

It wasn't a very tactful question, but Sister Leliana only inclined her head. "For that empress. And for all the victims of this war."

Lysette couldn't quarrel with that sentiment. She knelt at the spymaster's side. Closer than was comfortable: she caught a breath of a familiar scent that reminded her of the garden at Skyhold. 

But she ignored the associations and bent her head. She'd been trained to clear her mind of greater distractions than a single woman's presence.

Maker, though my enemies are abundant…

No. That wasn't right. She wanted to pray, but not for herself.

"I don't know what to recite," she admitted, turning to the Sister in some dismay. "Maker forgive me—I don't know what to think. I don't know what to feel."

Leliana shook her head and laughed a little, the hood sliding back from her forehead as she did so. "You're not alone, Ser Lysette."

Within My creation, none are alone.

Again, Lysette could have wept. Again, she didn't. She nodded in silence and turned back to the statue.

And she prayed.

I am not alone. Even as I stumble on the path, yet I see the Light is here…

Her breathing deepened and her eyes fell shut. She'd spoken these words a thousand times—they'd carved themselves into her soul—and yet she felt as if she'd never understood the truth of them until now. Lysette wanted to chant them, to sing them the way they were meant to be sung, but the voice wouldn't come to her throat. So she moved her lips in silence and sang the words in her heart instead.

Draw your last breath, my friends.

Cross the Veil and the Fade and all the stars in the sky.

Rest at the Maker's right hand,

And be Forgiven.

When she opened her eyes, the other woman was gone.

 


 

Neria looked up from her book as Adan pulled open the door of the Tranquil quarters. The afternoon sun cast long shadows in the meticulously tidy room.

"Hullo," he said, feeling more than a little awkward. "Didn't mean to interrupt."

"It is no trouble. May I help you?"

"I… yeah, you can." He scratched his beard uncomfortably. "Wanted to apologize. Wasn't right of me to push you the way I did."

Neria didn't answer right away, but she didn't look back down at her book, either. She was studying him, so he took the opportunity to do the same.

Aside from the raised scar tissue of her brand, her face was smooth and unlined. She hardly looked older than the last time he'd seen her. He supposed there was little cause to develop laugh lines as a Tranquil.

But she was alive. She was real. They stared at one another in silence for a long moment. Then she placed a bookmark between the pages of her tome and set it aside.

"It is of no import," she said. "We were close once. Your distress at my condition is to be expected."

"My mouth always did get me in trouble."

Neria looked at him serenely. "So I recall."

If she hadn't been Tranquil, he'd have laughed. She sounded so much like her old self, the girl he remembered. It made his head spin.

A year ago, he'd known who he was and where he stood. Now he felt as if he'd been turned inside out. Even his confidence in his professional skill had been tested. He'd changed poultices and tended the dying. He'd struggled to keep abreast of an ever-growing organization's needs, trying to keep everyone healthy and alive. He'd met Lysette. He'd found Neria… but he hadn't even done that, had he?

Adan had to face the unfortunate truth. He'd wanted, on some level, to find his little cousin and bring her home. An obligation—repayment of a debt—something that only he could give his family.

But she wasn't a thing to be delivered. She hadn't needed rescue at all; she'd made her own way to Skyhold for reasons of her own. He had nothing to offer her—there was nothing she needed. Not from him, anyway.

"I wanted to ask if you were all right," he said finally. "And… why you were here. If you want to tell me."

"I have no objection," she said calmly. "I came to the Inquisition for several reasons. First, it concerns my research. The events of the past year have provided invaluable opportunities for my investigations into the nature of the Veil. Although the Breach is now closed, my observations suggest the need for further examination. I also understand that the Inquisitor has the unique ability to close the smaller rifts that were torn open across Thedas."

"She does." Adan grimaced. "Enough to make the hair on the back of your neck stand up."

"Second," continued Neria, without acknowledging his interruption, "the Inquisition is one of the few organizations in Thedas that is currently increasing in stability and, accordingly, safety. It suits me to remain at the fringes of conflict. After the fall of my Circle, I was able to make my way to the protection of a chantry outside Lydes. I had been intending to join you here for some time, but chose to wait until a suitable escort could be found."

"So you've been... all right, all this time?"

"I am content."

Adan tried not to wince at the monotonous response. "You weren't hurt, or mistreated?"

"No more than I was as a mage."

"That's not a very comforting answer," he muttered.

"It is not a position of power. One's circumstances are determined by chance and subject to the integrity of those one serves." Neria paused, gauging his reaction—Adan could just about see the gears turning—and then went on. "Many of us are mistreated. It is common. I have lived quietly and been fortunate not to encounter undue unpleasantness to any significant degree."

"Maker, Neria." He sat on the cot next to her and dropped his head into his hands. "How did this happen to you?"

"You refer to the Rite of Tranquility?"

"Yeah. That." He found himself staring at her forehead again. It was easier to focus on that than on those expressionless brown eyes. "You were good… I heard you were good, anyway."

"That is correct. I was a very competent mage. The risk of possession was minimal."

"So why did they do this to you?" Adan shifted restlessly. His back was killing him.

"I cannot say for certain, but I believe the reasons were political. There was an incident with an apprentice. He had been accused of blood magic. I assisted him in his attempt to escape the Circle."

"What? Why would you do that?"

"I did not believe he was a danger. And I learned that he had been designated to receive the Rite of Tranquility." Neria didn't shift her features in the slightest as she spoke, and the matter-of-fact way she went on made her words that much more chilling. "He did not wish to undergo the Rite. I had been Harrowed and believed I was unlikely to be subjected to it myself. I was incorrect."

Maker.

He paused. But he needed to know. "It didn't have anything to do with Ser Cullen?"

"Ser Cullen was present at my Rite." She tipped her head in assent.

Adan nearly bit his tongue trying not to curse.

But Neria added, "If you refer to the reasons for the Rite, I do not believe he had any involvement. I do not understand why you would think this."

He let out a breath of not-quite-relief. "The way he talked about you, I was afraid… well. Don't worry about it."

"I see. Your concern is prudent. I believe he did, at one time, have a personal interest in me that was not appropriate to his position."

"Son of a bitch." Adan dropped his hands to his knees, clenching the fabric of his robes. So that was it, then. What sort of sick—

"However, I have no reason to believe that this interest played a role in the decision to subject me to the Rite."

He swiveled to face Neria, eyeing her warily. "No? Was his interest... ah, reciprocated?"

"No," said Neria placidly. "Regardless of his attachment, I did not find him any more threatening than any other templar. If I had, I would not have come to Skyhold."

Well. That was something, anyway.

"Would you..." he began, then cleared his throat and rose to his feet. "Could we talk more another time? I'd like to hear about your research, and… it'd mean a lot to me. If you could spare the time."

"Certainly, Cousin Adan. Good day."

She returned to her book, and Adan went back to his own work.

He was bent over his writing desk when there was a quick knock on the door of his quarters. It opened a few inches to reveal a windblown Pella, poking her nose through the gap.

"Adan, there's a courier here for messages to the the army. Do you have anything to send?"

The girl was still being politer than usual. He should probably reassure her, but… the runner was waiting. Damn.

Did he have anything to send? Only half a dozen unfinished letters. To tell her… but Lysette didn't need to read that rubbish on her way to battle. Or any other time. She wouldn't want to hear from him.

"No," he said.

Pella looked sad, so he added—rather gruffly—"It's all right. Thanks."

"Of course."

She slipped back outside, leaving Adan to his writing and his regrets.

 


 

The Inquisitor met her troops on the Imperial Highway. A good thing they'd allied with Orlais: this was quite the force to be marching across another nation's borders otherwise.

Lysette recognized the copper and green livery of a messenger and her heart jumped in spite of herself. But there were no messages for her. Of course there weren't.

"The courier's collecting letters back to Skyhold," said Erriala. "Do you have anything to send, Lys?"

She looked away. "No. Nothing."

They turned back to the road. The Inquisition was headed for the western deserts.

Chapter Text

There I saw the Black City, towers all stain'd,
Gates once bright golden forever shut.
Heav'n filled with silence, then did I know all
And cross'd my heart with unbearable shame.

— Andraste 1:11

Lysette was grateful for her mount. Traveling such a distance overland by foot would have taken more time than they had. The first troops had set out before Satinalia; most of the siege engines had been sent by river. The Inquisition was riding to war, and it was riding fast.

Despite their pace and the hundreds of people in their company, it was the most efficiently organized journey Lysette could remember. Thanks to the alliances Josephine had so painstakingly forged, they remained well provisioned; thanks to Cullen's strategic efforts and Leliana’s intelligence about what lay on the road ahead, they encountered no surprises. Everything that could be planned had been planned.

The skies themselves seemed to be on their side. There was no hint of rain nor snow, although the nights grew colder as they skirted the Dales. Lysette was glad to have a second person in her tent, if only for warmth. She and Erriala were sharing again just as they had all those months in Haven. Just as they had on the way to to the Conclave, traveling along the Imperial Highway in the opposite direction as the first snows dusted their tracks.

There had been more than two dozen of them, then. All the loyal templars of the Montsimmard Circle, led by Knight-Commander Abelin. So many ghosts. Only three of that company remained now.

And yet it felt strange to pass Montsimmard without stopping. One had to turn right to enter the city proper, but left of the Imperial Highway it was possible to see a distant silhouette overlooking the hills: the château that had become a Circle. It still stood, then, surrounded by vineyards and fields that would ripple with wheat in the summer. There was nothing to indicate that this has been a place where different crafts were practiced. Where nameless Tranquil padded quietly through the halls and galleries…

Holy Andraste. There was a rift hovering in the sky over one of those fallow fields, sickly green and spitting into life as they drew nearer. She hadn't seen one up close since they'd sealed the Breach. It made her head spin. That was the Fade, right there before her eyes? The world of demons?

She soothed Hector and looked for direction, but the Inquisitor only held up a hand to stop the company. Dozens of horses came to a halt. Her Worship leapt from her own mount, tossing her reins to Cullen, and her companions followed her with the practiced air of a group who'd done this a hundred times.

"It's not a big one," Lysette heard Varric say as he swung his crossbow off one wide shoulder.

"No," said the Inquisitor. "This should be quick."

And it was.

Lysette could only pray the demons at Adamant Fortress would be so easily defeated.

 

 

The weather grew warmer again as they turned west, passing south of Lake Celestine and finally leaving the Imperial Highway. It grew warmer still when they reached the badlands and joined the foot soldiers and the sappers with their siege equipment: when Lysette finally saw the full strength of the Inquisition gathered and ready for the assault.

The front half of Cullen's tent had been set up with campaign furniture as a sort of traveling war room. Lysette laid a slate on the desk and was ducking back outside when she nearly collided with Inquisitor Lavellan.

"Apologies, Your Worship!" Lysette stepped back and saluted, but the Inquisitor waved off her apology with a short sigh. 

"It was my fault. Please don't trouble yourself."

"Thank you." Lysette caught her breath and her composure. "If you're looking for Cullen, he's down with Rylen inspecting the troops. I was just dropping off a report."

"I see." The Inquisitor let her hand fall from the tent flap, looking a little disappointed. But she only shook her head and turned to Lysette. "Thank the Creators for Adan. I don't know how Cullen would have gotten through that ball without his remedies, let alone this campaign... If you're planning to write to him, Ser Lysette, please send my thanks."

Lysette's mouth was dry as she asked, "Remedies?"

"Dread Wolf take my—I thought you knew. I can't keep track anymore, not with everything that's going on." The Inquisitor grimaced. "I may as well tell you, so you don't fear the worst. He's stopped taking lyrium."

And then Lysette felt as if she'd been dipped underwater. The words echoed in her ears as the Inquisitor spoke.

"It's been more than a year, but I don't have to tell you how difficult it is. He'll be all right, I think, but it's a long process. Please don't mention this to anyone—although half the barracks probably knows by now," she added with a faint snort.

"Of course not, Your Worship."

Lysette stood stunned as the Inquisitor took her leave. It took a moment to realize her heart was pounding.

Stopped?  On purpose? No wonder the man always looked so ill. Lysette had thought it just the strain of his position… after what she and Mattrin had experienced in the Fallow Mire, even the thought of what Cullen had done had her jaw clenching in sympathy.

And Adan was helping? Was that why he'd offered to…

Had those notes she'd found on his desk been about Cullen, all this time? She thought she'd seen her name, but had it only been in the context of his work for the commander? There was no way to check. She didn't have those papers; she only had the bloody spymaster's report.

Maker, her mind was in a whirl. She was shaken, and she couldn't think about why. There was no room for regrets. No time for nuance. This would be their last night at camp before the final march to Adamant.

The sun was setting, and the sunset was like none she'd ever seen. The Western Approach was a strange place of fiery colors and unsettling noises. Heat that hit your face like a wall when you stepped out of the shade. Dryness that parched your throat. Lysette almost missed the Frostbacks.

All around the camp there was an undercurrent of nerves overlaid with unexpected joviality. Many of the older, wiser soldiers spent the evening checking their equipment and retired early to their bedrolls. The rest sat in clusters around the fires, laughing and joking to keep their spirits high. Lysette found herself in such a group with Mattrin on one side and Erriala on the other.

Erriala had been here before and was smugly relating her experience with the terrain. She told a tale about the scar on her neck that Lysette wasn’t sure she believed. Dragons? This might be a wild land, but it was still Orlais. Erriala's audience, however, laughed uproariously and raised their glasses.

There was plenty to eat, including some local creatures that had been butchered for the occasion. Quillback, that was the name. It looked monstrous. Maybe Erriala’s tale about the dragon had some truth.

Belinda wasn't there, and for a moment Lysette regretted her absence; she’d have enjoyed speculating about the strange wildlife. But she was somewhere in the north with Delrin’s company, across the Waking Sea. At least they’d be safe from the siege.

There were other familiar faces nearby, though. At the next fire over, Lysette caught a glimpse of familiar golden armor. Cillian and Sidony sat side by side, leaning into one another in a way that had her elbowing Mattrin as discreetly as she could manage. He followed her gaze and let out a much less discreet chortle.

Then her eyes fell on Ser Stroud. He stood with his arms crossed, staring into the fire. He'd been a chevalier and now he was a Warden. Did he take pride in either order, these days? The woman next to him was another face Lysette recognized, but not one that put her at ease. She'd never spoken to the Champion of Kirkwall, if that was still her title, but once she'd realized who that greatsword-bearing woman was… Hawke's involvement with the blood-drenched mage rebellion had led directly to the collapse of the Circles and the near-collapse of the Chantry itself. No, Lysette had never spoken to her, nor did she desire to do so.

All in all, there were few innocents here. This was a company of killers, renegades, heretics: all those things Mattrin had so often accused the Inquisition of being. He wasn't wrong. But they were united by a cause as worthy as any Lysette could imagine. The pragmatic part of her was grateful for the expertise of the people around her, however it had been obtained.

And that led her back to the subject she was so desperately trying to avoid dwelling on. Lysette took a bite of the seared quillback and chewed with determination, but her mind was elsewhere. She'd been able to avoid thoughts of Adan for weeks. But now, with the battle looming, all she could think about was him.

Say she had misunderstood. Did it really make a difference? He still lived a double life. He'd still kept it secret from her.

And yet... the Inquisitor had known about it, hadn't she? It said as much on the report. After Halamshiral she thought she understood, a little, why he hadn't told her about his work with the elven network. There was a need for secrecy in this world, as much as Lysette didn’t like it.

But then he'd said such things to her.

He’d accused her of being young and naïve. He looked down on her for it just as Skinner had. Both of them thought her a foolish shem, too indoctrinated to think for herself.  Was she angry because the words were false or because she feared they weren't?

She had been fooled, so many times. She'd had her faith and trust betrayed by everyone but the Maker. But it wasn't right for her to place that kind of trust in others, not to the exclusion of her own judgment. She couldn't avoid that responsibility and call it duty.

Adan's scathing words had been meant to push her away. She knew that. And she’d gone, leaving him alone—leaving both of them alone.

Lysette fidgeted absently with the ring on her finger as she watched the fire shift and crackle in the growing cool of the desert night. Erriala noticed the movement and nudged her. "What’s that?" she asked. "You don't wear jewelry. Gift?"

Lysette nodded vaguely. It was too complicated to explain why she still wore it, even after… everything. She’d considered having the thing enchanted. That would have given her an easy excuse to continue wearing it.

But that would have been dishonest, too.

They all looked up as Captain Briony approached. The senior templar was a shadowy silhouette against the fires, but the glowing blue in her hands was unmistakable. “Rations,” she said in a low voice.

Mattrin extended a hand for his dose and Lysette started. Hadn't she seen him preparing a draught earlier? He met her inquiring look, the blue of his eyes flat and wary, and turned away defiantly.

It was hardly her concern. If Mattrin was taking more lyrium than he ought... under these circumstances, she could hardly blame him. Still, unease jangled along her nerves as she watched her colleague mix his draught.

"Shall we toast?" asked Erriala, the corner of her mouth lifting. She lifted her phial in a sarcastic gesture.

Lysette rolled her eyes but went along with the impromptu toast. "Santé," she muttered as glass clinked on glass. Maker knew they would need it.

 


 

The siege was carnage. A Maker-forsaken bloodbath. Lysette was a warrior with some experience; she thought she’d known the horrors of war.

She hadn’t known the half of it.

The templars weren't part of the first wave. Lysette hated the thought that the regular Inquisition troops, including the people she'd trained, were more expendable. But it was the obvious tactical decision to have them open the gates and clear the way for the Inquisitor, to reserve the specialized strength of the templar conscripts for the army of demons that even now Lysette could see on the battlements, flinging men over the walls to their deaths.

The ladders were up. On the battlements, rank after rank of the Wardens—an order like her own, lives vowed to an honorable cause—fell beneath the Inquisition’s blades and bows. Behind, demons appeared from the air and attacked those same Wardens from the rear. It was like nothing she'd seen before. It was chaos. It was a nightmare.

The fortress loomed black and massive before them, lit by the flames of torches and arrows soaked in pitch. Lysette could hardly breathe. The sky was clouded with smoke and ash and Maker only knew what else. Demons poured from more of those sickly green rifts. Farther away—through the smoke, she couldn't judge how far—the shimmering light of a cleansing rune shone to mark the Inquisitor’s staff.

Lysette gripped her shield as another volley of flaming arrows soared towards the Inquisition troops below, but still fell short of where the templars stood on the ridge above. The trebuchets answered and the ground beneath their feet shook as the walls crumbled further with each impact.

There was no hope of taking the fortress in a single assault. This wasn't the sort of siege where they'd starve out the occupants, have a skirmish or two, and then a prolonged game to see who blinked first. This was a diversion. They were there to make sure the Inquisitor could reach the Warden-Commander and put an end to the madness.

There was a roar from the troops below. The gates were open. The siege equipment had done its job. Far below, she could see the Inquisitor advance through the gap with the commander on her heels. The two of them spoke a moment before he jogged back to the troops and raised a hand in the signal the templars had been waiting for. And then they descended.

They marched grimly down the slope. No one took pleasure in killing Wardens. No one took pleasure in dying for their cause. But all those long hours of drilling in formation had paid off: they advanced as a single entity, moving in unison even as arrows fell around them and their numbers grew fewer.

If Lysette had struggled against the tide at Haven, here she was part of it: part of a massive wave rushing and roaring ahead only to break upon the fortress walls. She lost all sense of herself as an individual entity as they flooded through the gates. It was someone else who dodged a terror and slashed its knees from behind to bring it down. Someone else who ran through a shrieking mage, someone else who stumbled over the woman's twitching body and ran up the stairs to the battlements.

Someone else who froze on the steps. Someone else who sank to her knees and whimpered as massive wings blocked the light.

But it was Lysette who rose to her feet and lifted her sword.

 


 

Skyhold had rarely been so peaceful or so quiet.

Adan couldn't stand it.

With most of the Inquisition forces away on campaign, there was little to keep the snow from drifting ever higher against the battlements. At times it looked as if the fortress were melting back into the mountain beneath. A strange image and a grim thought, but he couldn't help but wonder what would become of the place when the Inquisition was gone. One way or another, it wouldn't last forever.

Pella tiptoed around his workshop like a ghost. He wanted to reassure her, but he was so… tired. The days were longer now that they were past the winter solstice, but for weeks Skyhold was beset by storms. Day after day the sky hardly lightened beyond a dull gray; the wind howled and drove through the gaps in the walls like the bolts of invaders. Adan's quarters were cold enough to chill a golem.

He'd spoken to Neria several more times. It was good of her to humor him, at least. Her work on the Fade was interesting. He was no expert, of course, but he'd picked up a few more things since the Breach. It made sense for her to come to Skyhold to speak with Dagna and the others here. Adan was glad she was well, or as well as she could be.

Frankly, she was doing better than he was these days. He wouldn't go so far as to wish for Tranquility, but… Lysette had left traces everywhere. Not just the lock of black hair that lay in the top drawer of his desk or the bundle of letters in the untidy scrawl that had so delighted him the first time he saw it. Everywhere he looked there was something to remind him of her.

His work was no escape; his bed was no escape. Even if he could have forgotten how it felt to have her wrapped around him, to hear her sighing his name—he wouldn’t. He never would. He'd never loved anyone like that, never felt that connected to another person. They'd spoken of a family…

And what a sentimental fool he was. Why dwell on it? He should have known it was too good to last.

There was still a flicker of anger that she hadn't trusted him, hadn't given him time to explain. She said she'd loved him, hadn't she? People had disagreements and misunderstandings all the time. One fight and she was out the door? But the anger was overshadowed by guilt. He knew he'd gone too far. A raw wound felt no better for being self-inflicted.

Andraste's arse. Living with those spectres was too damn much. His assistants could handle things without him. As soon as they got the list of casualties from Adamant, he'd go.

But right now, he had an appointment.

Adan pushed open the door to the occult library that lay deep in the lower reaches of Skyhold. There was an acrid smell to the place, a tang of mingled mildew and magic. Strange, but not as strange as the books and manuscripts that filled the cobwebby cellar. Some of the texts he could read easily; Tevene alchemical treatises were familiar enough. Others… well, it would be quite the puzzle to decipher those. He should have been able to work out more of them: he knew the ancient elvhen script, and as much of the language as anyone in the Dragon Age. But it was as if a film lay over his vision, making his eyes cross when he looked at certain documents. There was magic here, all right. Damned if he knew what any of it meant.

He hadn't been there long before the door swung silently open again. Only the movement of air alerted him to the fact that he wasn't alone. He turned, and as he'd expected, Elan stood behind him, looking tidier than anything in this tomb of a library.

She went straight to business. "The ambassador and the rest are back from Halamshiral. They've confirmed the ravens' reports. The empress is dead." Elan pulled the door shut behind her.

Adan swore and leaned back against one of the dusty bookcases. "Celene Valmont can rot for all I care, but Maker, to have Gaspard on the throne—"

"Gaspard on the throne, but someone else behind it." Elan extended a hand, passing him a small note. "I imagine we'll be receiving word shortly from one Briala, Marquise of the Dales."

He squinted at the note in the dim light. "Since when do you give a shit about the elves, Elan?"

"I am an elf, Adan. It concerns me deeply."

"You know what I mean."

“I can’t tell you.”

“Of course you can't,” Adan muttered and stepped away from the bookshelf, shifting his weight from foot to foot. Maker, his back ached. Standing on this ancient stone wasn't helping. “If you can’t trust me enough to tell me wnat's going on, after all these years, why did you drag me down to this bloody cella—what's this?" She was handing him another, larger sheet of paper.

"Information concerning the Rite of Tranquility."

"What? What about it?"

"Read," she said with a tilt of one elegant brow.

Adan stared down at the page, reading rapidly, and then looked back at Elan. Her icy blue eyes were fixed on his face.

"Thank you," he said gruffly. "Thank you for this."

She gave him a half-smile.

 


 

The Inquisitor had vanished. The Warden-Commander was dead. The demons still fell from the sky.

Lysette found herself in a narrow portion of the battlements, back to back with Mattrin, both of them using all their skills and fighting with everything they had. She'd lost sight of Erriala somewhere along the way. She'd lost sight of anything that wasn't the next demon. They kept coming. No sign of any Wardens now. Did that mean the Inquisition was winning? Or did it mean that they'd already lost, and there was nothing to stand in the way of Corypheus's demon army?

These Wardens had misplaced their trust. Her Order had done the same. And Lysette had done it too—ever since the Blight she'd sought to trust something outside herself. Some Order, some cause, some individual.

But they'd all betrayed her in the end. Her focus was failing, but her fury had so many targets.

The Chantry, for what it had done to the Order.

The Order, for what it had done to its templars.

Adan, for… what?

She'd seen his face when she told him she was leaving, not a day after they'd agreed to spend their lives together. That anguish had been real. There had been no deception there.

It was the first time their commitment had been tested and Lysette had left without a word of explanation, without taking a moment's pause to reconsider. She'd thought it was the strong thing, the right thing to end it then, quickly: to avoid further pain by yanking the arrow from her flesh. But every soldier knew you should leave the arrow in the wound.

She was still fighting. And it was with the desperate calm clarity that only came in combat—with the blood rushing through her veins and her lungs gasping for air in the endless onslaught—that she realized, with faint surprise, she could forgive him everything. The things he'd said, the things he hadn't. None of it mattered.

She'd made so many mistakes. But Maker, if she made it through this… if he'd have her back… she'd never leave his side again.

Lysette ducked as something flew over her head and erupted in flame.

Chapter Text

Come to me, child, and I shall embrace you.
In my arms lies Eternity.

—Andraste 14:11

The grenade hit the parapet at her side and Lysette reared back.

“Lysette! Shit—"

Mattrin's voice faded into the chaos as she fell. Her calm evaporated as she scrabbled desperately for traction on the ancient staircase. One hideous, twisted foot was closing in for a kick and there was no time to react. Lysette shut her eyes just before the impact snapped her neck back. It rattled her teeth; her helm crashed loose and she couldn’t breathe—and she kept falling.

Calm returned as her muscles responded to a lifetime of training and to the lyrium in her veins. She bent her neck forward, shielding her head. But she couldn’t keep her eyes from opening; she didn’t want to face her death in darkness, but all she saw was a green sky, walls of flame, black blood spilled over the worn stairs. Time only to draw one last breath before the final drop.

It didn’t kill her. But there was no air left in her lungs at all. She could only lie gasping in the stillness, waiting for the twisted demon feet to come back.

There was a shriek somewhere in the distance and there was blood in her mouth and she desperately wished she were unconscious because it hurt, it hurt—

Oh, Maker, it hurt.

She knew she shouldn't move. Better to let them think her already dead. But Lysette rolled slowly onto her side. Her own mail had cut through her clothing to bite into her flesh and the stinging began to spread down her limbs as she lifted herself to hands and knees.

For a long moment, she could only stare down at the ground. There was sand strewn over the stone, wet with blood but gritty under her gloves. More blood dripped from the tip of her nose as she struggled to catch her breath, heart drumming in her ears. And then there was a roar from somewhere above.

Lysette sat back on her haunches, scanning the sky while more blood poured down her throat. It didn’t stop her from recognizing that sulfuric stench. Archdemon. Her hands contracted, seeking the hilt of her sword, but it wasn’t there. She rose on shaky legs and cast her eyes around the courtyard… and there it was, on the ground at her feet. Snapped at the tang.

She kicked the useless hilt aside. Lysette was no battlemage to summon a blade from the Fade. Instead she reached for a pike, yanking it from the crumpled breastplate of a nearby corpse. Not a pike, a halberd. The head of the weapon resisted as she tugged, turning the body onto its back, and she extended a foot to brace herself against—no.

Abandoning the halberd, Lysette leapt forward. She pulled off the templar's helm, praying it wasn't—

But it was.

Erriala's fair hair was tousled under the helm; her eyes were half open, her jaw slack. Lysette tugged off her gloves and cupped her friend's cheeks with unsteady hands, smoothing her thumbs over the skin, tracing the long scar on her neck. She was warm but so pale, so pale—she must have been killed before they even made it up the stairs. Her armor might as well have been parchment for all the good it had done. Skewered like a rabbit in a trap.

Lysette sat back and glanced around the empty courtyard. There was no sign of dragon or demon. She wiped the back of her hand across her lips as another wave of blood gushed from her nose. The only sounds now were the moans of the wounded and dying. And more distantly, shouting, the familiar cadence of orders being issued.

She looked down at the body. Erriala's midsection was a mess, but her longsword lay at her side. Lysette pulled her gloves back on and carefully lifted the weapon, wrapping her hands around the grip, testing the balance. It was much like her own. It would do. Her vision spun and she let out an involuntary groan as she rose dizzily to her feet.

Lysette turned to the stairs, whimpering in spite of herself as she began to climb them. Her body wasn't working properly. She gripped Erriala's sword tightly in one hand but her balance was off and the world was going black at the edges—where were the demons—where were the damn demons?

She found she was more crawling than climbing, pulling herself from step to step with her free hand. Something was wrong. There was too much blood. Lysette had nearly reached the top of the stairs when she found she couldn't stand. Her face was throbbing. Everything felt so heavy. Her fingers began to loosen on the sword…

And finally there was someone, another living being, not a demon. "Mattrin," she croaked, and then cried out as he hauled her up by the armpit. But he was pulling her to the other side of the rampart, pointing down into the courtyard. Look, he was saying. Look.

The Inquisitor was back—the Herald was alive.

Of course she is, thought Lysette with a strange giddiness rising over the rushing in her ears. Why did I expect anything else?

The list of casualties would be long. The Inquisitor and her companions might have reappeared, but the Champion of Kirkwall hadn't; as the Inquisitor’s party headed for the gates ahead of the straggling Warden survivors, Lysette caught a glimpse of Varric's stricken face.

She limped at Mattrin's side to the same stairs that she’d climbed up with such difficulty. She swayed on her feet, feeling increasingly distant. Mattrin muttered a curse and wrapped an arm around her, half-carrying her as they descended. She’d done that for Adan, once. They’d been in a hurry. But now there was no rush. The battle was over.

Mattrin caught his breath when he saw Erriala's sprawled body. The gaping wound where Lysette had drawn out the halberd glistened in the torchlight, and Lysette shuddered. She shouldn't have left her like that. Even if it was just an empty body, it wasn’t right.

"Where is the archdemon?" she rasped. Her voice sounded odd in her own ears. She’d never caught her breath properly after her fall.

“I don’t know.” Mattrin swore again as Lysette moved to bend over Erriala. “Not now! Fuck—you need a healer. I need a healer. Everyone needs a healer.”

“She doesn’t,” Lysette said vaguely, still looking at her friend's lifeless face. It was so strange. They’d known each other since they were fourteen.

“No," said Mattrin with unusual gentleness. "She doesn’t.”

 


 

Cullen leaned heavily on the fence post and gazed into the yellow eyes of a sheep. They stared at one another for a long moment before the creature bent its neck to grab a mouthful of scrubby grass.

The Inquisition was still on the road. Thank the Maker they were out of the desert, at least. The aftermath of the battle had been interminable. It had been a miserable job to gather the dead for burning in that scorching heat, another miserable job to write letters of condolence to the families—some of them; he hadn't yet brought himself to write to Bethany Hawke—while he waited for the army to gather its collective breath and set out again for Skyhold.

He was well away from the main camp, taking the air. They were resting for a day. This spot was private enough to gather his thoughts, thankfully. The only people nearby were a few templars talking quietly around the fire behind him. But the wind carried a few words his way and Cullen shifted his attention to follow their conversation. 

"No. Are you mad?"

It was an Orlesian woman's voice, low and emphatic. Lysette had made it out of the healers' tents, then. Good. Too many hadn't. Everyone in the Inquisition had known that Adamant would be a tough battle, but Cullen had prayed it wouldn't take as much of a toll as it ultimately had. Still, they'd been victorious. The Inquisitor had survived. That counted for something.

He'd wondered before if Lysette had ambitions. She didn't seem the type for higher leadership, but then, neither had he. In these days of upheaval, he was already having to promote less and less experienced people. And Lysette was competent, responsible, and dedicated to the cause. Clear-eyed, too. One of these days he should find out how she got on with her peers. Being an officer required a certain objectivity, an interpersonal distance and a willingness to make decisions. Lysette had shown good judgment on the spot once or twice, but she'd never led troops the way Barris had. Some things could only come with experience. Darrow might be a better bet. Maybe in a year or two, he'd—

"Your loss," said a second voice. "At least I can sleep at night."

"Where did you even get it?" Lysette sounded disgusted. 

"As if it's hard? There's a merchant at—" The man broke off. He must have spotted Cullen. 

That was Mattrin Gallifort, of course. Someone who'd probably expected to be an officer by now himself. So there was a merchant, was there? If they were talking about what Cullen thought they were—and they probably were. These were the two who'd been held captive without lyrium. Little wonder if they were already straining at the leash. 

So much for his rest. Cullen turned wearily away from the fence. The young templars jumped to their feet and saluted as his gaze turned their way.

He only gave them a nod as he passed. He was making mental notes of all the things he'd need to do when they got back to Skyhold. Interrogate the merchants, inspect the barracks... Cassandra could help. That would be best. The Inquisition would not be as the Chantry had been. He would not look the other way as his soldiers drove themselves deeper into addiction.

But, Maker, he really didn't want to deal with this.

Chapter Text

How can we know You?
In the turning of the seasons, in life and death,
In the empty space where our hearts
Hunger for a forgotten face?

—Trials 1:4

Spring came late in the Frostbacks, but there was already a hint of it in the air when the Inquisition troops returned to Skyhold. The worst of winter was behind them. Lysette admired the view from the battlements, breathed the fresh air as deeply as her wrapped ribs would allow, and felt relief settle into her bones. It had been a sorrowful and uncomfortable journey. She was ready to put it all behind her.

Some parts she didn't want to remember in detail. The early days in the healers' tents were a merciful blur. As she thought, she’d broken her nose, but it seemed she’d also punctured a lung and abraded half her skin—probably other things she didn't even know about that had been repaired magically. But she was better now. Yes, her ribs were still a little sore; yes, her breath still came a little short. But the bruises were fading and it wouldn't be long before her body was as fit for service as ever.

Her mind, too. At first she'd struggled in her lonely tent without Erriala, drifting between sleep and waking and nightmare. After a few days, Lysette had made a request to give up the tent. There were plenty of others who could use it. When the skies were clear, many of the troops lay their bedrolls in the open air near the fires, and Lysette had joined them. Better than being alone in the darkness.

It was good to be back at Skyhold.

There was a thread of anxiety running through her contentment. She hadn't seen Adan yet. She hoped he'd forgive her for leaving the way she had—she hoped he'd understand. But even if he did, it would surely be a difficult conversation. Lysette pushed the workshop door open cautiously, tucking the iron key back in her belt pouch. He wasn’t there, of course, which was why the door had been locked. But it was hardly midday. He should be back before long.

The tower room was cleaner than she remembered, the scorch-scarred surface of the workbench uncluttered. Some of the holes in the walls had been repaired, too, or at least covered over with planking. Everything else was as she'd seen it last, from the herbs hanging in bunches from the rafters to the faded rug by the fireplace.

Lysette folded her arms and stood to wait for him, shifting her weight from foot to foot.

The shadows in the workshop were beginning to shift and there was still no sign of Adan. Lysette was looking out the window, watching one of Skyhold's hawks circle outside and thinking vaguely about Kirkwall's Champion, when the door finally opened. She turned to the door with a start. It was Elan.

"Ser Lysette." The elven woman dropped a brief curtsy, her auburn ponytail bobbing, but she looked about as deferential as the icicles outside.

"Hello," Lysette replied rather curtly. For all she ached to make amends with Adan, she still had questions. Many of those questions concerned Elan Ve'mal. 'Poisoner', the spymaster's report had called her. Who in the Maker's name has she poisoned?

Elan folded her slim hands at her dainty waist. Lysette felt painfully large and awkward in comparison, an ungainly vulture next to this graceful songbird of a woman. She could almost have sworn the woman did it on purpose. "He's not here," Elan said.

All Lysette's thoughts of hawks and nightingales dissipated into the thin mountain air. Along with most of her tact. "Where is he?" she demanded.

"Away from Skyhold, I'm afraid." Elan tilted her head, her expression inscrutable under a thin smile. She might as well have been a bloody Tranquil.

Lysette felt as if the wind had been knocked out of her all over again. The other woman's composure only made her feel more off-balance. "Is he coming back?"

"I do hope so. I've too much work to do as it is. Speaking of which: please excuse me. You are obstructing the workbench."

Lysette stepped automatically out of her way. "But where—"

"If he didn't see fit to tell you, I don't believe it's my place," said Elan crisply, picking up some tool or other from behind the alembic. "You understand, of course."

"No. I do not. What—"

But the elven woman turned on her heel and left the workshop, giving Lysette only the briefest of nods before shutting the door neatly behind her.

Lysette fought off the urge to chase after her and shout questions into those pointed ears. There was clearly no information to be gained there. Pella must be around somewhere. Or perhaps she could speak to the ambassador: surely he'd told his employer his destination...

He hadn't even left her a note?

Was he coming back?

 

 

Lysette found herself walking towards the garden. She wasn't sure why. Adan wasn't here. The battlements were silent; the skies were cold and clouded as her mind.

There were no footprints in the snow outside his door. At least her key still worked. She stepped inside, brushing her boots on the threshold, and looked around. 

Like the workshop, it was unusually tidy. She should have known he was away from that fact alone. There was no note on the desk or anywhere else. She hadn't really expected there would be. But he must be coming back. His journals were still lined up under the window.

Although her letters were gone.

Lysette turned away, a little dizzy, and found herself unclasping her cloak and hanging it on the peg. Then she unbuckled her sword belt and leaned the weapon against the wall. She caught a glimpse of her own ashen face in the mirror over the dresser and averted her eyes. It wasn't as if she needed a mirror to remove her armor. She pulled off the heavy plate slowly and laid it, piece by piece, on the settee.

She had nowhere to be and no duties to perform until she was fully recovered. It left her feeling strangely empty. Two months on campaign left little opportunity for solitude: after Adamant, she hadn't much wanted to be left to her own thoughts. But here, in this room, she didn't feel entirely alone.

Her gaze fell on the journals over the desk. Would it be a violation of his privacy to read them? He'd told her he didn't mind if she did. Of course, that had been before she'd…

Selfish curiosity overcame prudence. Adan had arranged the volumes chronologically. He did have an orderly mind under that layer of clutter. Lysette laid her hand on the first volume but, when she opened it, found it almost crumbling. Cheap paper and watery ink made the words difficult to make out. She squinted at a few pages before giving up.

The next journal she tried was from the middle of the stack. She laid it on the desk and pulled back the cover. The spine fell open to an ink-splattered page with what looked to be a scribbled list of ingredients. "Snails" was underlined twice. The page was dated some years before: even so, the letters were crisp-edged and a rich walnut shade. She'd lay odds that Adan still made his own ink, but it seemed he'd improved the recipe over time. The next page had a diagram of an alchemical setup; each piece of equipment was neatly labeled with a string of numerals. The page after that had a journal entry.

8 August, 9:29 Dragon

Still too fucking hot.

Lysette snorted and read on.

Went down to the waterfront this morning looking for more of those sea snails. Can't believe I never realized there was a source right on our doorstep. Better than having the things shipped in from Antiva. Cheaper, too.

Also answered the letter from Ferelden. I think the kid wanted to go to Highever, but Eron was looking for someone to help out in the shop. At least it'll get him out of the arl's sight. All these banns and arls and teyrns are right bastards, and Howe is worse than most.

We'll see how it turns out. Toni may be right about me. But even if I am a gullible fool, there's little cost in sending a few letters. She'd certainly never let anyone take advantage of her. Maker help the man who tried. He'd wake up in a ditch somewhere in the Anderfels missing his purse and probably his cock, too. (Hello, love. I know you're reading this.)

Another hand had penciled a response, in the form of a coy inquiry, in the margin. Lysette closed the journal hurriedly and fought back a wave of nausea as she slid it back into place with the others. Even if she'd had any business reading such things, she certainly had no desire to.

After hesitating for a while, she pulled down the most recent journal. The first entry was dated 9:40. That should be safe enough. She took it across the room to catch the faint rays of the sun through the western window. The bed was still made; she didn't pull back the blankets, only sank slowly onto the coverlet as she read. After a moment, she kicked off her boots and pulled her feet up after her.

This was what she had wanted. It was like hearing his voice. Records of the weather, dry commentary on the absurdity of the Inquisition, quite a lot of complaining. And then several pages had been torn out, followed by a long stretch where the only things he'd recorded were sparse lists of patient names and potion inventories. Adan had been exhausted in those weeks after the Conclave. They all had.

She paused at the first mention of herself in the narrative. Perhaps reading this hadn't been such a good idea either… but all Adan had done was to remark on the implausibility of a templar volunteering her assistance. A few entries later, he praised Lysette's attention to detail in a tone of mild surprise that had her eyes stinging. Oh, Maker, she was a hopeless case.

But the volume wasn't complete. The last entry was from just before they'd sealed the Breach. She remembered now that he'd started a new journal once they reached Skyhold. Presumably he had taken that one with him to... wherever he was now.

Lysette closed the journal and lay back on the bed, letting out a still-too-short breath as she looked up at the patched ceiling. The builders had come to fix it last autumn, but the scent of fresh-sawed pine still lingered in the air as strongly as it had before she'd left. As strongly as it had on the nights they'd spent here together.

It was ridiculous. She shouldn't be in his quarters, not like this… but she found herself curling onto Adan's side of the bed. She dragged a fingernail over the ticking of the pillow. It made a small scratching sound in the stillness of the afternoon. A few birds were singing, rather optimistically, outside. A raven perched on the balcony and peered through the glass at her, cocking its head.

These would have been her own quarters, soon. Now it seemed likely she'd remain in the templar tower. But she wouldn't have to sleep in the spare cot any longer. There were plenty of empty bunks.

The grief hit her all at once, pouring over her like a flood.

And Lysette turned her face into the pillow and cried.

 


 

It wasn't a pleasant time of year to travel, but it wasn't as bad as it could have been. If Neria could make her way to a lonely mountain fortress in the dead of winter, Adan could drag his sorry arse along the much less formidable roads that led to the capital of Ferelden. So he'd spoken to Lady Montilyet and made arrangements to join a merchant caravan headed for Denerim at the end of Guardian.

The new road through the market—Adan still thought of it as new, though it had been rebuilt a decade ago—was freshly cobbled, but the stones under his feet grew rougher and sparser at the edge of the market district. Stone gave way entirely to dirt as he reached the alienage gates and gave the rusted iron a shove. There was an elf sitting on a crate nearby, playing a solitary game of cards: an unofficial sentry, however deliberately casual his demeanor. He looked up at the creak of the hinges but, recognizing Adan, only nodded briefly and returned to his cards.

This place was always a mess during the spring rains. Adan grimaced at the smell of rancid water and chicken manure. Same as it had ever been. Most of these buildings had been built since the Blight, but you'd never have known it from the look of them. Not unless you'd grown up here and remembered how it was before.

But the old vhenadahl still stood. Adan slapped a hand against its trunk as he passed. A greeting, if he were feeling sentimental about it; a convenient handhold while stepping through the muck, if he weren't.

"Oi, Surana!"

Adan grimaced again as he turned around to nod at an old acquaintance. Darrian Tabris was out walking with his little girl. She was hoisted over his shoulders and squealing like a nug. It took Adan by surprise to discover that the sight felt like a knife to the gut. He hadn't realized how invested he’d become in the idea of a future with Lysette and the notion of children of their own.

The way they'd left things, he'd be lucky if she ever spoke a word to him again, let alone volunteered to bear his children. Probably for the best. He’d have been a shitty father, anyway, and there wasn't just the lyrium to worry about. Maker’s breath, what if their child had been a mage? That discovery had all but destroyed Neria's parents. And common wisdom said the curse of magic ran in families. Would Lysette send her own blood to a Circle?

But that was another moot point. The Chantry hadn't even elected a new Divine, let alone gathered enough strength to restore the Circles of Magi. Bloody, senseless war.

Thank the Maker, Darrian only nodded back and kept walking. Neither of them were much for small talk. This was perhaps Adan's least favorite part of visiting, though: the fact that people recognized him. He really didn't care to be the center of attention in the alienage. This both was and wasn't his place.

His first stop was to see the hahren. She'd never liked Adan much, but she welcomed him cordially enough. When it came to alienage matters, they were often of one mind, and there were important discussions to be had about the new Marquise of the Dales and her friends. But once the essential news was conveyed, Adan didn't linger. They'd both agreed that further discussions could wait until the morning. In the meantime, Adan had personal business to attend to.

Leaving Shianni’s house, he turned into a familiar alley where there was an unmarked shop. As usual, the door was left open to let a bit of light and air inside. It was a dark place cluttered with barrels and crates, a single cot, and an assortment of unimpressive plants drying along the low ceiling. A basket of rolled bandages sat on the counter, too reminiscent of those early days in Haven. Nobody else was in sight. 

Adan headed straight for the back corner of the shop and ducked under the hanging garlic as he made his way up a narrow staircase. He went up one storey, ignoring the telltale signs of a cat residing on the landing, and then a second. Colorful draperies and once-bright bunting, relics of some festival long past, decorated the door. Adan only knocked once before pushing it open. He hardly needed to be announced. Not here.

They were all at home. He'd clung to a cowardly hope that they wouldn't be, but the single room was crowded with people. On one side of the room, a young woman was struggling to wrangle a shrieking infant into new swaddling; a tired-looking woman in her middle years sat offering advice at her side.

An elderly man sat upright on the bed in the far corner, gazing out the uncovered window onto the square below. In a rickety chair at the bedside, a man in his early forties sat reading to the elderly elf. The old man didn't appear especially engaged in the book, but really, it was remarkable if he could hear anything at all over the child's cries.

The younger of the two men looked up with a start as Adan stepped inside.

"Hey, Bel," he said wearily. "I've got some news for you."

 

 

The visit went as well as it could have done, but it was a relief to leave. Dusk was falling by the time he finally knocked on the door of his mother's house.

Meris Surana was not a demonstrative woman, on the whole, but she made certain exceptions when it came to her son. She came out onto the stoop to greet him with open arms, and Adan returned the embrace fondly. “Do you get smaller every time I see you?” he asked over an irritating constriction in his throat.

“Must be that. At your age, you ought to be done growing.” She leaned back and looked him up and down speculatively. "At least, I should hope so."

“Oh. Thanks.” He rolled his eyes.

“I tried to teach him manners,” she remarked to no one in particular.

“He learned them. He prefers not to exercise them.” Adan extracted himself from his mother's embrace and followed her inside and sat down at the kitchen table. It wasn't just her. This whole place seemed smaller every time he visited it. But it was neat as a pin and pleasant enough: much more pleasant than her brother's apartment in the building across the square. Now that she had the luxury of time to tend it, Meris had become rather house-proud.

"Skip the niceties, then. You wouldn't do them anyway. What brings you to Denerim?"

"Do I need a reason to visit my family?"

"Yes." She turned her back to him, moving briskly to the fireplace.

"Had business with Shianni. And I've just been to see Bel."

"Belaeth? Good. How's his father?"

"Not very well. But he seems to be hanging on." Adan let out a breath. "I had… some news."

Meris paused, her fingers curling around the handle of the old iron kettle. "Neria?"

"Yes."

Meris filled the teapot, replaced the kettle on its hook, and sat down at the table across from Adan before she answered. "Is she dead, then?" Her tone was matter-of-fact, but the grooves in the corner of her mouth deepened. Adan wasn't sure whether what he had to say would be better or worse.

"No. She's alive. I've seen her myself."

His mother didn't often show surprise, but her eyes widened at that. "You're sure it was her?"

Adan snorted. "Damn sure. She looks just the same. Maker, she is just the same, aside from the…" He tapped his forehead.

"She really was made Tranquil?"

"Did you doubt it?"

"No. Not really. I saw that letter she sent Lusi—but that's beside the point. Tell me the rest." Her eyes were dark and sharp as daggers. It was a demand, not a request.

Adan sat back and ran his fingers over the smoothly planed edge of the table. "She was transferred to a Circle in Orlais after the Blight."

His mother snorted faintly at that. Few Fereldans of her generation thought fondly of their neighbors to the west; Meris had lost her husband to that war. Adan himself had only been born at the end of Denerim's occupation.

But he didn't dwell on it, just relayed the facts as he knew them. "She kept her head down and focused on her studies. Apparently she's been quite successful in that regard."

Meris wrinkled her nose. "Is that possible? I thought it made them sort of… mindless."

"It's possible. I'd heard the Tranquil didn't have the creativity it takes for original research, but I don't think it's as simple as that. She's still sharp as a tack."

"Always was." Meris nodded and checked the tea. "Sugar?"

"I don't want to use up your stores."

"Maker, don't worry about that. You send too much coin my way as it is. It's an embarrassment, boy."

Adan reached across the table to catch her hand: arthritic, knuckles swollen from a lifetime of harder work than she deserved, so he only squeezed it gently. "I've got nothing better to do with it," he told her.

She smirked at that. "True."

He dropped her hand and picked up his cup. "Smells good. This from the garden?"

"No, from the market." Her brow furrowed and she tugged absently at one long ear. "Not one thing grew well last year. Maybe it was something to do with all that magical ruckus in the sky, or maybe it was just the Tabris boy pissing in my garden again."

Adan snorted and sipped his—mercifully piss-free—tea. "Haven't you put the fear of the Maker into that child yet?"

"You'd think. But that family have always been troublemakers."

"Not ours, though, eh?"

"Well, every family has its black sheep." She smacked his hand lightly, and he shook it dramatically in the air.

"I come for a visit to my elderly mother only to subject myself to this mistreatment—"

"Elderly, my ass." Meris let out a sharp sigh. "Though it does feel it sometimes."

"If Bel's a grandfather, we're all elderly."

"Oh, hush. It's a damn shame about his son-in-law, though. That was a good match."

"Poor little Lusi. How old is she now?"

"Twenty. Twenty and a widow." Meris shook her head, and Adan was reminded of just how young his mother had been when she lost her own husband. Adan's father had been far from what was considered "a good match" in this district. While she took a sip of her tea, Adan rose to his feet to light a small lamp and bring it to the table.

"What else is new in town?" he asked as he sat back down.

"Oh, not much... the city's been quiet, thank the Maker. Sorin finally drank himself to death."

"Damn." No surprise, but a pity.

"At least his sister got herself that position at the palace. Wonder how that happened," she added a bit dryly with a pointed glance at Adan, who only shrugged.

“It helps to know people, that’s all.”

“You’re a good lad, Adan, though you won’t let me say it. But tell me more about Neria," she went on before he could reply. "How did they take the news?"

"Well enough. I don't know how much her old man really understood, but at least he knows she's alive." Neria's father had wept, in fact. It had been extremely uncomfortable.

"How in the Maker's name did you find her?"

"I didn't." Adan laughed shortly. "If anything, she found me. She came to Skyhold to join the Inquisition."

"You didn't bring her here?"

"No. She didn't want to come." He set down his tea and met her eyes directly. "There's more. I didn't tell Bel; no point to it. But you'll want to know."

Adan flipped open one of his belt pouches, drew out the paper Elan had given him at Skyhold, and handed it to his mother.

And then she really did look surprised. Her mouth fell open as she read, and then she turned her gaze back to him.

"It's curable?"

"Yeah. In theory. But…" His voice caught and he cleared his throat before going on. "She didn't want to do that, either."

Meris shut her eyes. Adan sat back and let out a breath that was half a groan. "Maybe I was the wrong person to suggest it, I don't know… but it turned out she already knew it was possible. She said there was no point. She was 'perfectly capable of carrying out her work in this state'."

"I can still remember her as a girl," murmured Meris. "Always had a mind of her own."

"You mean she was stubborn as a donkey." Adan snorted, remembering. "She was always trying to tag along with me and Bel—a right pain in our arses." He regretted sending her away, now. Belaeth probably did too.

“Are you all right, my boy?”

“What could possibly be wrong?” he snapped. And then he shut his eyes briefly. “Sorry. I am sorry.” He pushed his tea aside and put his head down on his arms. “Maker’s breath, this is embarrassing.”

His mother came over to stand behind him, and he leaned against her for a moment before she stepped away.

“What else happened?” she asked quietly. "This isn't all about Neria, is it?"

He wiped at his eyes, feeling a fool. "It's just been a… it's been some year. This Inquisition business and all."

Meris swiveled to look down at him, eyes going suddenly keen in the lamplight. “Adan?”

“No.”

“Yes.”

“Mamae—”

“Tell me.”

He rolled his eyes to glare up at her. “A woman.”

“A human woman?”

“Yes. A…” He snorted through his embarrassing, infuriating tears, laughing at the absurdity of it all. “An Orlesian templar. Imagine that.”

She blinked. “By the Maker, Adan.”

“She’s only half Orlesian,” he muttered.

Meris only lifted a brow.

Adan grunted. “Her father’s a cobbler in the market, here, I think."

“Hm." Meris made her way back to her seat and picked up her cup. She leaned back in her chair and studied Adan. "Name of Rendall?”

“Don’t tell me you know him.”

“You’re not the only one with connections. Anyway, I know his daughter's a templar. That's her? What happened?”

"She was going to marry me."

"And?"

"Change of plans.” The words felt like razors on his tongue.

"Oh, I am sorry, boy."

“My own damn fault,” he said in disgust. He lifted his head and sat up. Abandoning all attempts to sound blasé, Adan told his mother everything. How Lysette had come into his life in Haven, how she'd saved his sorry arse from an archdemon and taken him by surprise with her own expressions of affection… but when it came to that last night at Skyhold, his voice stalled.

"Well, she… we argued. I said some things, and she went off to the battle." Adan grimaced at the pristine surface of the table. "I waited for the ravens. She survived. So then I came here."

His mother watched him pensively, then raised her cup to her lips. "Have you talked to her?"

"Not since she left. But she was… pretty clear, Mamae." Who could ever leave you? Lysette had asked him once. Well, she'd figured that out, sure enough.

Meris shook her head as she set down her cup to pour herself more tea. "You expect people to disappoint you," she said. "And you always did hate to be proven wrong."

Adan folded his arms. "Are you implying I deliberately seek out people I know will disappoint me?"

"Not exactly. I'm saying you trust the wrong people too much and the right ones too little."

"Very insightful," he mumbled, staring at the tea that was slowly going cold.

She wasn't wrong, and that was the infuriating thing. He and Lysette had been so cautious with one another for so long, both of them expecting to find some insurmountable obstacle just around the next bend. But they hadn't. There had been no fatal flaw. She wanted so many of the same things he did: a quiet life, but a life well lived. A life, if he was honest with himself, that he could be proud of. A way to leave the world better off than he'd found it.

No, she hadn't been perfect. But Adan didn't believe there was such a thing—or in fate, or destiny, or any of that rot. What mattered was that she'd been right for him.

He just hoped he hadn't left her worse than he'd found her. Because she'd left him better.

Chapter Text

Amrita's extensive writings would earn her a degree of freedom. She was allowed to continue living as she desired, as long as she submitted to the Harrowing.

—An excerpt from The Botanical Compendium by Ines Arancia, botanist

Lysette wept for a long time. More than she had in years, maybe more than she had since she was a child. But when it was done, she felt better, even as she gathered herself and locked the door of Adan's quarters behind her in the growing dusk.

At least, she felt better for a while. But when she climbed the stairs to the library in search of Minaeve—who could usually be relied upon to know Pella's current, if approximate, location—she found a different elf sitting at the long table in the alcove. It wasn't Minaeve, but her steps came to a halt even so.

She recognized this woman.

To her shame, her heart sank. Part of Lysette had still hoped there was some terrible misunderstanding: that Adan's cousin had been at a different Circle after all, that the two of them had never met. But the last of that hope was dashed when the elf looked up and there was a flicker of answering recognition in those empty brown eyes.

"Good evening, Ser Lysette," she said.

Lysette folded her arms. "You're new here."

"I arrived at Skyhold thirty-four days ago. Whether this is 'new' I must allow you to determine."

Tranquil were always like this. "What's your name?"

"My name is Neria Surana."

She'd known it, of course. She remembered the woman from Montsimmard. But just to be sure, she asked, "Are you related to Adan?"

"Adan Surana? Yes. He is the son of my father's sister."

Lysette swallowed. Horror and relief made an odd combination. "That's... he's been looking for you. Have you spoken with him?"

"He is not presently at Skyhold."

"I know. I meant before that."

"We conversed several times upon my arrival. Prior to those conversations, the last time I spoke with him was approximately seventeen years ago. Does this answer your question?"

Maker's breath.

"I do not wish to cause distress," the small woman said politely. "But if you have no further questions, I would prefer to return to my work."

"Do you know where he is?"

Neria stared at her dispassionately. Lysette met her eyes without blinking. They were unsettling, the Tranquil, but they were still human—or elven. Who was she to look away?

"You are his lover?" the elf inquired with a flat sort of—was 'curiosity' the right word?

"I was," Lysette said. The past tense settled onto her sore ribs with the weight of a millstone, but she still didn't look away as Neria's eyes traveled over her face.

"I see. I did not expect this."

Neither did I, Lysette almost said.

"I believe he is in Denerim," said Neria at length, returning to her notebook. "He asked me to accompany him to that city, but I preferred to remain at Skyhold."

"Do you know when he'll be back?"

"I do not." Neria didn't lift her head again; her pen was moving quickly over the paper.

"Maker go with you, then."

"Farewell, Ser Lysette."

The scratch of Neria’s pen echoed in Lysette's ears as she went back down the stairs.

 


 

Adan found it harder than he expected to leave Denerim. Middle age, or something, really was making a sentimental fool out of him.

He’d had a few stops to make outside the alienage. A few drinks in one particular tavern, and a message slipped along with a coin to one particular bright-eyed urchin loitering outside. A few words casually exchanged with a guard outside the palace. He’d deliberately avoided the shoemakers’ street. 

None of it was anything he hadn’t done a hundred times, and none of it would hurt a single blasted soul or really do anything other than keep his information up to date. It wasn’t dangerous, what he did; he wasn’t a bard or even a spy. Or a criminal, either.

Although he did know a few of those. Slim Couldry came to mind, but he wasn’t in Denerim at the moment. A few discreet inquiries led Adan to believe he was probably in Amaranthine. No matter. Adan had gotten the information he needed from a few other sources. Shianni, for one—and she’d gotten the information she needed from him, too. Maker save me from all these nosy bloody women.

His mother hadn’t been entirely correct when she said the city was quiet. One of the kitchen servants at the palace told him that the Inquisition had thwarted a Venatori assassination plot, and Adan felt an odd sense of pride in the organization. No group of people was ever so pure that it was safe from corruption, infiltration, or its own success… but for now, the Inquisition was helping.

After a week at his mother’s house, Adan was back on the road again and headed for Skyhold.

Maker save him, indeed.

"You're back," said Adan.

It was a ridiculous thing to say. Of course she was back. She was in the infirmary right in front of him, sitting on the edge of the surgeon's cot with her hair pulled up and bits of armor strewn over the mattress at her side.

"So are you," Lysette said. Her face was as stern and as lovely as he remembered. The light from the open door behind him showed the freckles on her long nose as much as the dark circles under her eyes.

Adan had known he'd run into her sooner or later. He'd just hoped it would be later.

"I can come another time," said Lysette to the surgeon in an expressionless voice as Adan shut the cottage door.

"Nonsense," said the surgeon. "I've been meaning to send a messenger to chase after you, ser knight. You were supposed to come see me yesterday. Those ribs aren't healing the way I'd like."

"I am sorry."

Adan stared at Lysette. Were those bandages peeking out from under her robes? "How the blazes did you hurt your ribs in that breastplate of yours?" he asked before he could stop himself.

The surgeon said dryly, "Master Surana, your lack of expertise in anatomy is apparent."

Ignoring the rather rude implication, he dragged his eyes away from Lysette’s chest to glare at the surgeon. "I know better than to wrap broken ribs with—"

"And if there were only broken ribs to worry about, you would be correct." She straightened from her patient and looked back at Adan. "Shall I give you a comprehensive list of this patient's injuries, or will you admit my superior knowledge?"

Lysette had turned her head away to stare out the window as if she couldn't hear them squabbling over her: embarrassed, likely, more than indifferent. Adan let it go. The surgeon might not care much for potions or spells, but when it came to non-magical healing, she was competent enough.

Adan tried not to listen as he focused on his task. He had more to do than usual. After tending to things in his absence, Elan had asked for a few days leave of her own upon his return. He'd given it, but he did hope she wasn't off poisoning anyone—or that if she was, it was at least in service to the Inquisition. Well, Sister Nightingale knew her business as well as he did his.

He avoided looking across the room as he worked, but there was no way he could avoid hearing their conversation. Such was life in a garrison. Adan was lucky to have as much privacy as he did, himself.

"You've not been training, I hope?" the surgeon asked Lysette.

"Only leading the drills."

"Hm. I still don't like it. Too much shouting."

"It's been more than a month since the battle." Lysette sounded displeased.

"Yes, and when you have a collapsed lung, it takes more than a month to heal," scolded the surgeon. "Magic may have saved you then, but you're still at risk for pneumonia. And you'll likely have lingering pain for some time. Not much to do about that, I'm afraid."

Adan found his hands were a little unsteady as he lined up potion bottles on the shelf. She'd been hurt, then? They hadn't sent lists of the injured from Adamant. Only of the dead.

"Will I still be able to fight?"

"I think so. Not yet," the surgeon added sharply. "And I'm confiscating that armor of yours. Let a runner send it up to the tower. I know how you people are, eager to get back to your slashing and stabbing—"

"You do plenty of that yourself," Adan muttered. Hard to keep his bloody mouth shut when there was a row of bone saws and scalpels taking up the far wall.

The surgeon snorted. "If our esteemed apothecary's elfroot salve could cure gangrene, I'd be able to cut back on the amputations."

"As it were," murmured Lysette. In spite of himself, Adan glanced over to find her watching him. Her lips twitched. But then she looked away, and he felt as if he'd cracked a rib or two of his own.

Addressing the surgeon, he said, "You want prophet's laurel for gangrene," and walked to the door.

"Adan," she said to his back. Lysette, not the surgeon.

He didn't turn around.

 


 

Lysette stared at the closed door. He'd been just the same. He'd sounded the same, but he'd looked at her as if she were a stranger. And the surgeon was so bloody thorough in her examination—by the time Lysette finally escaped the infirmary, Adan was nowhere in sight.

She needed to gather her thoughts. But even more than that, she needed to speak with him. If he was willing. Seeker Pentaghast, however, made a beeline for Lysette just as she was collecting her breath to climb the stairs.

"How are you feeling?" asked the Seeker with evident concern.

Stifling her dismay, Lysette shook her head. She wasn't sure how to respond, so she fell back on honesty. "I'm beginning to tire of war, Seeker."

Cassandra fell into step beside her on the stairs. "Are you dissatisfied with your career as a templar?"

"I am glad to be with the Inquisition. I want—I need to serve." Lysette wrapped her cloak around her shoulders. She missed her armor already. Even if it hadn't left her feeling as defenseless as when she'd been held captive in the Fallow Mire, it also left her cold. "I don't know, Seeker Pentaghast."

"Come," said Cassandra. "I will tell you some things in confidence, although I expect they will become public knowledge in time." She made a faintly displeased noise. "I would prefer that you did not mention this conversation to Commander Cullen, for instance, although it would be your right to do so."

"I—see." Baffled and more than a little alarmed by the suggestion of secrecy from her commanding officer, Lysette followed the Seeker to a quiet spot on the battlements. It was chilly, but out of the wind. The Seeker leaned casually against the tower wall. Some stray seed or spore had blown its way up here; there was a tiny plant growing in the cracked stone over the Seeker's head, bravely bearing the cold. Lichen, maybe? Something like that.

"You will be relieved to hear that the Grand Clerics have finally settled on their choice of a new Divine."

Lysette blinked and looked away from the lichen. "Who is it?"

"Well… myself. No, don't bow—please, there's no need for that. It is not yet official, and I shall remain with the Inquisition until our enemy is defeated." Cassandra let out a sharp breath as Lysette straightened. "At that time," she went on, "the future of the new Templar Order, led by our own Ser Barris, will be in some question. It may return to the Chantry or remain with the Inquisition. Time will tell what forces shape our world, Ser Lysette. But should the Order return to its previous position with the Chantry—and I confess that I hope it will, although I intend to introduce new reforms and safeguards—I would be delighted to have such a loyal templar as yourself in its service."

"Thank you." Lysette could hardly believe she was speaking to the future Divine. She'd never thought Cassandra Pentaghast had political aspirations... but she was led by her faith just as Lysette was. It seemed the Maker had called her to his service.

Cassandra held up a gloved finger. "I was not finished. There is another option. Another Order whose future is unclear." She paused, examining Lysette's face. "If you became a Seeker of Truth, you would retain your templar abilities without the yoke of lyrium. It is... an option to consider. As much as I appreciate your loyal service to the templars, I would also be happy to have your service as I rebuild that order."

"I am honored."

"It's not as much of an honor as you might think." Cassandra's brows lowered. "If you will consider this, I must tell you something else in confidence. This has always been a secret, but I will not allow any prospective Seeker to join me blindly. You may have heard rumors that a cure for Tranquility exists."

Lysette had heard the rumors, and she had disregarded them. It didn't seem likely.

"The rumors are true," said Cassandra. "What is more, the Seekers of Truth have always known this. The process of becoming a Seeker includes being made Tranquil and subsequently cured. It is only part of the initiation, of course; not every cured Tranquil will obtain Seeker abilities. But experiments are currently underway. The results are… varied."

"Oh," said Lysette. There was no way to keep her mind from leaping to one particular place.

"It is upsetting, for many of them. You will not be surprised to learn that possession is as much of a risk as it was before the Rite—although, strangely enough, it does not seem to be more likely. Once they are healed, some wish to be returned to their Tranquil state. Others would rather die." Cassandra shook her head. "I do not understand it. I am told that many of the latter group initially became Tranquil of their own free will. And while it is a risk to restore their powers—a danger, even—with adequate oversight, perhaps the worst can be prevented.

"I tell you honestly, Ser Lysette, that I believe the Rite of Tranquility has caused more harm than good, and I know that its application had not always been benevolent. Once I would have thought it a necessary sacrifice. Now, I hope that we may reverse the Rite in yet more cases. I say this as a Seeker and as the future Divine. There are few enough surviving Tranquil as it is. It seems an injustice to leave them vulnerable in these times."

Especially when the disease is of our own making, thought Lysette.

"I am aware of the cure," Neria said in her toneless voice.

"You don't want to try it?" Lysette asked blankly.

"Apothecary Adan asked me the same thing." Neria examined the spine of a book and then placed it back on the bookshelf. "I see no need for it. His motivations reflect a personal bias."

"Personal bias... Did you want to become Tranquil, Neria?"

"No. But it is irrelevant now."

"Don't you—" Lysette let out a breath. There was little point in arguing emotions with someone who didn't have any. She'd have to resort to logic. "You study the Veil. Wouldn't it be easier if you were connected to the Fade?"

Neria shook her head. "In fact, my own condition allows a useful objectivity. I can be certain I am uninfluenced by spirits and magic."

"But it is not a natural state." Lysette tried to keep her voice as level as the other woman's.

Neria looked at her and there was a flicker of something almost like curiosity in her empty eyes—and for all they were large, elven, they reminded Lysette of Adan's.

"Many things are not natural. You are a templar," she stated calmly. "Do you not support the use of Tranquility?"

"I—no, I—" And Lysette's tongue faltered. Truly, what sort of hypocrite was she if she supported the Circles' practices in the abstract but made exceptions for those she knew and trusted? There was no alternative to Tranquility. There were risks to everything, action and inaction both. And there was just so much she didn't know.

"If it's chosen freely," Lysette said slowly. As freely as can be, anyway. "If this is your decision, my approval is meaningless. But would you consider trying the cure temporarily? If you found it... difficult, or preferred to remain as you were, you could undergo the Rite a second time. Voluntarily."

Neria's face didn't change. "It is likely I would experience considerable discomfort from your proposal."

"Would that be a problem, if you were made Tranquil again?"

"It would be a problem if I were not."

Lysette grimaced. How could she argue with the woman's desire to avoid pain?

"I see that my answer upsets you," said Neria. "If it eases your mind, I have given the matter some thought for other reasons. The apostate who resides below"—she gestured to the center of the rotunda— "has spoken to me on a number of occasions. I believe he, too, finds my choice distressing, but he has raised a number of interesting points concerning my research into the Veil."

"What do you mean?" asked Lysette cautiously.

Neria tilted her head. "Initially, I had thought my objectivity an asset for this field of study. But Solas has given me new information concerning the nature of the Fade that I am unable to examine further in this state." She was still watching Lysette closely, and then she gave a measured nod. "Yes. I shall do as you recommend."

"You—"

"I accept the cure. As a trial." She paused. "I would prefer a templar presence, Ser Lysette. Would you be willing to assist?"

 


 

Of all the people to knock on his door at this hour, he might have known it would be her.

But he couldn't believe what she was telling him. Lysette was a bloody templar. Why would she go along with this? Even if their relationship had been… as it was before… even if she'd been suggesting it for his benefit, she was still a templar.

But then, Lysette had turned her back on the Order before he'd ever met her.

Adan hardly said a word as they made their way down the staircase. He felt as if he were dreaming. Nothing seemed to have any weight or reality to it.

"It is very dangerous," Lysette told him flatly. "Are you aware of the risks? If she becomes possessed—"

"I know the bloody risks. Do it."

"The choice is hers, not yours. But I have spoken with the Seeker and Commander Cullen, and all are in agreement. If Neria still wishes it, we will remove her Tranquility."

Adan snapped, "And if she chooses to become Tranquil again?"

Lysette didn't react to his tone. Her face was as impassive as ever as she said, "The usual method is not an option. But Solas has assured Seeker Pentaghast that he can reverse the cure as easily as healing it."

"Hope he's wrong," muttered Adan.

Lysette said nothing.

They stood in the frescoed rotunda, a handful of people in a circle around one short elven woman. Solas had shoved his desk out of the way for the ritual. Considering the piles of bird crap that dotted the floor, Adan couldn't guess why the mage wanted to work in this room at all. Presumably he had his reasons.

Adan had vaguely expected that the ritual would be exciting and that there would be something to see. There wasn't. The mage claimed to be doing something, but Adan couldn't see a damn thing… until Neria's face changed.

It didn't change the way he might have expected, either. Instead of tensing, her features relaxed. Her mouth fell open. For an instant, when his cousin's face was slack and her eyes so lifeless, Adan thought he was watching her die.

And then she blinked. She winced, a look of faint surprise and pain flickering over her eyes. And then she let out a thin whimper that turned to a howl of rage.

"Neria!" Adan stepped forward. He couldn't have stopped himself if he tried. "Neria, girl—"

She'd saved him, once. Adan could only hope to return the favor.

"It's all right," he whispered, resting his hands tentatively on her narrow shoulders. "Let it out, don't worry—let it out—"

Neria howled again and then clamped her mouth shut, gnashing her teeth as tears began to run down her cheeks. But she didn't resist as Adan wrapped his arms around her and slowly, she returned the embrace. Whatever pitiful comfort he could offer… it had to be enough. "It's all right," he said again, looking helplessly over her shoulder at the others.

Solas wore a look of relieved satisfaction. Seeker Pentaghast looked concerned but there was a suspicious glimmer in her eyes. Lysette, however, was stiff and stony-faced. Her hand still rested on the hilt of her sword.

Adan held Neria through her sobs as long as he could stand it, until his arms grew numb, until she herself pulled back and wiped at her eyes. She let out a hiccuping laugh and then covered her still-branded—forever branded—face with her hands.

"Cousin Adan, this is bullshit."

He could only agree.


Lysette saluted to the sentry as she climbed the stairs of the templar tower. They were used to late-night comings and goings here, of course. But it wasn't yet time for a shift change, so Lysette tried not to disturb her sleeping colleagues as she climbed slowly into her new bunk. She sat upright, still clothed, and let her eyes adjust to the darkness as her mind raced.

She was glad it had gone well with Neria. But this was a turning point for Lysette. How could she remain a templar—how could she ever rejoin the Order, any Order, after this? Even if it were led by people she trusted and supported. Even if the Rite of Tranquility was never performed again. She was done. And that meant she had a decision of her own to make.

The ritual had called for a bowl of lyrium, just like a Harrowing. It had sat quietly throughout the ritual to help Solas call a spirit.

It had called to Lysette, too.

She'd been dizzy from her fasting vigil when she'd stood at the altar of the chantry to receive her first dose. Her name had been called. She'd been thanked for her devotion and her willingness to sacrifice. This, she was assured, was her reward: control. Control over the mages and control over herself.

But that control was only an illusion. She might ensure death, but she could never ensure life. Luck, the Maker's will, whatever it was—it was out of her hands.

Maker forgive her. She just wanted everyone to be safe.

Lysette opened the lid of her lyrium kit and stared at the familiar paraphernalia. How many people had she loved and failed to save? Or loved and driven away. If she hadn't been terrified, convinced that Adan planned to take the lyrium from her, she'd never have confronted him the way she had. She'd have listened to his objections. He wasn't blameless, but it had been the lyrium she cared about most—not the secrets he'd kept or the insults he'd given. The fucking lyrium.

She didn't have any tears left in her. If she stayed on it forever—if she increased her dose, bit by bit—she wouldn't have to worry about the dreams and doubts that haunted her. She would stop seeing her brother's guts spread over the cobblestones and Erriala's dead eyes staring into the night; Tomas's slit throat and the bloodied face of a mage she'd run through. She would have peace of mind and her duty would sustain her.

If she went off it, there was no guarantee she'd even survive. It wouldn't bring Adan back to her. It wouldn't make up for the brothers and sisters she'd lost to war and bloodshed. It wouldn't restore her shattered faith in the Order and its righteousness.

But it might, perhaps, give her certainty in herself.

Lysette laid her fingers gently on one of the glass phials. Even in its velvet compartment, it glowed soft and blue in the darkness. She counted her breaths. She was alert to every sensation as her heart beat in time with its quiet song. That song had laced itself through her heartstrings, twined its essence into all that she was. That song would cost her everything, if she let it.

She closed the lid of the box and put it away.

Chapter Text

14 Cloudreach, 9:42 Dragon

I hardly know how to express myself.

I've flipped through more than ten years of these notes. I remember writing them, but it's like someone else's hand held the pen.

I feel as if I've woken from a dream only to find that I've lost a decade of my own life, and the injustice of it makes me want to scream. And then the fury passes into exhaustion and I feel as numb as I did a week ago.

Am I glad to be cured? Certainly. Glad, and angry, and a hundred other things. All the things I didn't feel for the last third of my life.

I have no one to speak with about this experience. Helisma is considering the cure, but wants to wait until—if—Corypheus is defeated. Avexis has no interest in it whatever. And I don't wish to speak of it with anyone else.

Yet people seem incapable of leaving me be. Cullen came to see me this morning. He asked after my health and said he regrets taking part in my Rite. What is his regret to me? I've been told my mother is dead. I can hardly remember her face.

I never want to hear anyone express their concern over my health again. Solas is helping me regain control of my powers. I'll be damned if I let anyone take them from me again. If they thought me a weapon before…

I shouldn't think such things, let alone put them to paper. But I feel sick when I think of the future. I'm watched so closely, and there are templars everywhere here. It seems inevitable that I will find myself once again within a Circle's walls. What irony that when I had the chance to run, I had no will to do so.

Adan asked if I was mistreated. Of course I know what he meant and why he asked. No, never that, and I suppose I should feel grateful—but it hardly seems to matter. Violation of the mind is not so far from violation of the body.

I can hear the voices again. They were never so strong before.

—From the journals of Neria Surana

 


 

It was two hours before dawn by the time Adan made it back to his quarters. No matter. Of all the night's improbable occurrences, sleep seemed the least likely. So, despite the hour, he lit a lamp and moved around the room to unpack.

He'd been putting off coming back here, only stopping long enough yesterday to drop off his pack and, later, to tumble into bed, aching. He really was growing tired of traveling.

Everything was just as he'd left it. Too much like he'd left it. Perhaps he should move the desk to the far wall. He'd been thinking of making more space once Lysette came to join him here. Now he just wanted it to be different. But in the meantime, he replaced his things where they had been: clothes in the dresser, shaving kit on the washstand, a cloth-wrapped bundle of letters in the bottom drawer of his desk. Adan felt a bit ashamed of himself for clinging to those letters, under the circumstances. But he still loved her, damn it. He couldn't just forget his feelings overnight.

At least he had feelings to worry about. Maker.

He hoped they'd done right by Neria. He'd never seen anyone so upset. Her face had swung between horror and dismay and laughter, distorting muscles she hadn't used in years. She'd been content as a Tranquil. Now she was restless and agitated. They'd examined her closely for any signs of possession, of course; even now the templars were watching over her.

Adan groaned and ran a hand over his face. He was glad he'd been at Skyhold for this. Although he had half a mind to head back north when this was all over—back to Rivain or Tevinter or maybe somewhere altogether new. Somewhere as far as he could get from mages and templars and so much bloody misery. He yanked open the top desk drawer and emptied the contents of his belt pouches without regard for order.

Just as he was just about to pull off his robe, there was a heavy pounding at the door. Adan flung it open to see a runner. The man was tall and thin, hardly more than a shadowy shape in the night.

"You're needed in the commander's office," said the runner, his eyes wide in the dim light. "At once."

"I'm what?" No, despite the hour, Adan had never been more awake. "Oh, shit."

Thoughts of everything else forgotten, he bounded out of the room at the runner's heels.

The Inquisitor was wrapped in a dressing gown when she greeted him at the door of the commander's office. Her face was solemn and bloodless beneath a peeling sunburn, and she squinted in the light of the moons as if they were too bright for her.

"Is it Neria?" Adan asked briefly.

"What? Your cousin? Oh, damn—I'm sorry, Adan," she said, correctly interpreting his fears. "Nothing to do with her. She's still being watched over. No, it's Cullen." Ellana stepped back from the door and gestured at the desk. Following her inside, Adan sucked in a breath at the objects strewn haphazardly across its surface. Phials, flasks, small pouches that glowed blue at the seams…

"There's a lot of lyrium here," she said unnecessarily. "I don't know how much he took."

"Where's the Seeker?"

That question was answered when the other door flung open and an infuriated-looking Cassandra marched into the room, hair ruffled every which way except for the thin braid tossed over one shoulder. It might have been a comical sight if the lines of her face had been less deadly serious. "Cullen?" she snapped.

Ellana jerked her chin upstairs. Adan was already moving for the ladder.

The three of them filed into the loft and stood around the commander's bed. The man was tossing and turning under a tangled sheet. Withdrawal? Overdose? Either way, he was certainly delirious. Naked as a jaybird, too. Adan turned to Cassandra.

"Seeker, how much lyrium is in his blood? Can you tell?"

The question came out sharply. There were no grounds for his resentment. He knew better than to be surprised if Cullen's situation was what it looked like. But he couldn't help the unjust thought that the man had some nerve if he—

"None," said Cassandra, and Adan was momentarily confused. 

"Not her," whimpered Cullen. "Not her, not her—don't make me do it, please—Maker, leave me alone! Just let them die, let me die—" The words were barely intelligible. He'd bitten his tongue, or his lip, or something; there was blood smeared over his cheek and staining the pillowcase. The Inquisitor perched on the edge of the bed, stroking his hair and murmuring endearments without apparent concern for her audience.

The commander, however, didn't seem to take any notice of her attentions. The stream of babbled words continued. He was like a man in a fever. Adan checked his forehead and found it cold. Cassandra asked, "Was he unwell earlier?"

"No! He was…" The Inquisitor looked ghastly in the moonlight, the tendrils of her vallaslin like veins on her skin. She cleared her throat and tried again. "He was well. But then there was a runner, and he was shaking… but it was nothing. He—I know he gets bad dreams, but I've never seen anything like this before. I can't wake him up," she added, and there was a tremor in her voice. "Is that normal?"

"It's normal in early withdrawal," said Adan curtly. "From what I've read. So he'd been taking it again and stopped?"

"Creators." The Inquisitor pressed a hand to her lips. "I hope not."

"There has been opportunity recently," said Cassandra slowly. "Some of the templars have been buying black market lyrium to supplement their rations—"

Adan groaned. "Bloody fools."

"It is to be expected," said Cassandra with regret in her voice. "I'm afraid it was a common practice in the Circles. In any case, the commander was determined to root it out of the Inquisition. Earlier today we searched the barracks and confiscated a considerable quantity."

"From which he might have helped himself? No. It can't be that, Seeker. Not unless he'd been taking it for some time previously."

Cullen coughed suddenly. With a look of alarm, the Inquisitor tried to tug him upright in the bed.

"Neria?” he gasped, and Ellana's face went stiff. She looked up and met Adan's eyes.

Would that be enough to do this? They'd just returned from a major engagement. A reminder of the past… and then the confiscated lyrium downstairs, tempting him…. but if the Seeker said there was none in his blood, Adan believed her.

"There is no record of anyone maintaining voluntary withdrawal this long," he said bluntly. "A few cases of 'involuntary discontinuation’, as the Chantry so politely refers to it… but I don't think he's relapsed."

"Then why can't I wake him up?" asked Ellana.

"Did he take one of my sleeping draughts?"

"He must have done. Of course." She lifted a hand to press against her eyelids.

"When?"

"I don’t know. I fell asleep as soon as we got the word that your cousin had been successfully cured," she added with a flick of her eyes to Adan's face.

"That'll be it, then." Adan sighed. "The combination of stressors plus the draught. Well, it'll wear off naturally in an hour or two, and I'll mix him a lighter remedy for tomorrow. It won't work as well, but it'll keep this from happening again."

"So he'll be all right?"

"As well as he can be. You should probably stay up with him—or someone should; fetch Mother Giselle if you must. Just keep him calm as best you can. Don't let him roll over. Seeker, will you lock up that bloody stuff downstairs or shall I?"

"I shall," said Cassandra. "Don't worry," she added for the Inquisitor's benefit. "He hasn't relapsed, and that's what's important."

Adan, for one, might have preferred it if he had.

 


 

Lysette woke early, but rose later than usual. She had nowhere to be until she was back on the duty roster. Every part of her was frantic to go see Adan, but her mind said wait. With his attention focused on Neria—well, her inquiry could wait. So instead she lay on her bunk listening to her comrades preparing for their daily work. She didn't care for this enforced inactivity, but the surgeon's orders had been clear. Lysette had bent those orders enough by helping in the ritual last night.

She felt well enough, even so. Mattrin, on the other hand, looked sunken-eyed and bleary. He grimaced at Lysette when he caught her watching him.

He really did look bad, she noticed with some alarm, and he wasn't the only one. Several people were moving sluggishly and snapping at provocations that wouldn't normally have raised an eyebrow in the barracks. Even the Knight-Lieutenant at the door looked a bit haggard.

Lysette pulled herself up onto her elbows. "What's going on?" she asked Mattrin an undertone.

"Lyrium crackdown." Mattrin narrowed his eyes at Lysette's involuntarily expression of contempt. "Yes, you're such a good girl, taking your assigned dose and no more—what does it matter how people come by it? We're doomed to be fucking addicts anyway." He glared at her with bloodshot eyes. "If they gave us enough in the first place, we wouldn't need to spend our own coin to make up the difference."

"I'm going to stop taking it," said Lysette.

Mattrin only snorted and turned away. "Good luck with that."

 


 

Adan slept for most of the day. When he finally rose in the evening, he found that someone had slipped a note under his door: the Inquisitor's spindly handwriting informed him that Cullen had woken and was feeling better, although he would take a day or two of leave from his duties.

That was under control, then. Good. Adan had no particular personal fondness for the commander, and didn't much care for what he'd learned from Neria. Still, he was the leader of the Inquisition's troops. More to the point, he was under Adan's care. I seem doomed to be a healer whether I like it or not. Or whether my patients do, Andraste preserve them.

With such thoughts drifting through his weary mind, he went to check on Neria. But the templar standing sentry at her door informed Adan that she was sleeping.

He hoped her dreams were pleasant.

When he reached the bottom of the stairs he was startled to see Elan in the rotunda, examining the murals with crossed arms.

"What are you doing here?" he asked, confused.

"Waiting for you, actually. I thought you might come down this way. Have you had dinner?"

They walked side by side towards the great hall. "Your errands went well?" he asked a little nervously. "When did you get back?"

"I believe so. This morning."

She didn't provide any more information and Adan halted just before the door, leaning a hand against it before she reached for the knob. "Keep your secrets if you must, Elan. But tell me one blasted thing."

She looked at him, cool eyes in the torchlight reflecting his own face back at him. "What would you like to know?"

"The spymaster's report. Why did you do it?"

"Ah." She broke her gaze, then. "Not for the reasons you think, Adan."

"I hope not, because all I can think of are some bloody nasty reasons."

"I made a mistake," she said as crisply as ever, but there was the slightest hint of unease in her words. "Several mistakes, in fact. That document was never intended for your assistant, nor anyone other than the bartender."

Adan dropped his hand from the door. "Cabot? Why the—"

"I made a mistake," Elan repeated firmly. "I grew to care for him. I am no coward, as you know, and yet I could not bring myself to end our association of my own accord." She met Adan's eyes again. "I apologize that it seems instead to have ended yours."

"Why did you need to break it off with—no, don't tell me. I probably won't like the answer."

"It is of little import. It was not a sustainable relationship. Yours, however… I understand you were engaged? I must repeat my apology."

He waved a hand in dismissal. He didn't bother to ask how she'd known of their plans. "Frankly, Elan, I did most of the damage myself."

"Oh?"

"She might have listened to me if I weren't such a prick about it. I'd just found out about..." His gaze fell on the stone wall of the passageway and his thoughts drifted to the woman sleeping upstairs, and then he looked back at Elan. "Doesn't matter. Lysette's done with me, I'd bet on it."

"Did she say so?"

He folded his arms and glared down his nose at Elan. "No, she only informed me she was heading to battle and took off without so much as a by-your-leave."

"Have you spoken to her?"

Of all the people Adan might have expected relationship advice from, Elan was even lower on the list than his mother. And yet both had asked the same question.

"Not as such," he admitted.

Elan only lifted a brow and opened the door, holding it for him to pass. "After you," she said.

Chapter Text

At last, the Light shall shine upon all of creation,
If we are only strong enough to carry it.

—Apotheosis 1:9

Pella couldn't quite bring herself to make eye contact with the ambassador. She fussed with a tassel on the tablecloth while she waited for the tea to cool. Lady Montilyet's hands, graceful and perfectly manicured, poured a second cup of the steaming liquid for herself before setting the enameled pot back on the tea tray. Pella tried to hide her own bitten, grubby nails as she lifted the teacup.

Once she'd set it back on its saucer, Lady Montilyet folded her hands in her lap and studied Pella keenly. "Thank you for taking the time to meet with me, Miss Lassin."

Pella nearly choked on her tea. "Just Pella is fine, your ladyship."

"As you wish." Lady Montilyet smiled. "But in that case, please call me Josephine. I am friends with your mother, you know."

"Oh. Of course." She swallowed, her gaze shifting to the swaying drapes behind the other woman's shoulder.

Pella's social position was an odd one. Herbalism was one of the few fields where an elf might find themselves in a relatively esteemed position at any royal court. There were reasons for the relative scarcity of humans in the field—one of which was the likelihood of the herbalist's execution in cases of suspected poisoning—but such things were hardly common these days. At least outside Orlais.

What that meant was that Pella had been raised in circumstances of some privilege for an elf. She'd never even set foot in an alienage and she'd been sheltered from the indignities that the more common elven servants faced in the palace. Her family was well respected, as it went, and her mother's services valued. After reading the spymaster's report on Adan, Pella had begun to suspect that those services had been more comprehensive than she realized. The Antivan monarchy was more show than true power. A skilled herbalist was a valuable asset in some circles.

"Excuse me if I overstep," said the ambassador politely. "But speaking as a family friend, I wonder if you'd given any thought to your future beyond the Inquisition."

Pella winced. It was a question that had been on her mind more often of late. So much was out of her control. For all she loved the Inquisition and—well, some of its people, she needed to start thinking ahead. She was nineteen years old: too old to apprentice for a trade and too late even to go into service, most places. The Inquisition had been a lucky opportunity for Pella. It struck her now that she should have made better use of her time.

When Pella didn't reply, Josephine smoothly redirected the conversation. "How were things in the apothecary while Adan was away?"

"Oh, you know." Elan had been... Elan. Pella tried not to make a face. 

Judging by Josephine's amused smile, it hadn't worked. "He tells me you've done well as his assistant," she said.

"Not really, my lady. That is, I hope I've done my job," Pella added hastily. She didn't want to lose her position. "And I've learned a lot. I know the difference between a salve, a liniment, and an unguent. I know how to make infusions and distillations of a dozen different things. But I'm not cut out to be a herbalist. Let alone do all the alchemical… explosive things." She grimaced. "I just don't want to kill anyone, you know?"

"I do know." But the ambassador's smile had faded. "What would you like to do, then?"

Pella took a deep breath, but was mercifully spared a response by the arrival of a runner. Josephine excused herself, and Pella set off in the direction of the rotunda to visit Minaeve.

It was a problem for later.

Adan was the next person to bring up the question of Pella’s future.

"What are you going to do with yourself after all this is over? I assume you won't want to scrub pots forever." He lifted a brow at her. "Since you don't want to do it currently."

Pella sighed and set down her pile of pots with a thud. "I don’t know. Suppose I could be a herbalist after all.”

“You could, if you wanted. You’ve learned a lot.”

She shrugged. "You're a good teacher. Too bad I'm a lousy student."

"Bollocks. You've done fine. But I know this isn't what you want to do, though as a trade it’s got a lot to recommend it. So what would you rather do with yourself, hm?”

"I was on my way to the university when the war broke out. I was lucky to get the opportunity—wouldn’t have, without my mother.” She shook her head helplessly. “That's why I came to the Inquisition, you know?"

"Yeah, I know." Adan chuckled. "Did you know they assigned you to me as a favor to your mother?"

“Lucky you. Well, before that I helped Flissa in the kitchen a bit. It wasn’t bad. Honestly…” Pella bit her lip, avoiding his eye. “I’d like to do something like that. Have an inn somewhere. But it’s not something you can just up and do, is it? Not… well, not without savings. I suppose I could marry an innkeeper,” she added dryly.

“What would your parents make of that?”

"Well, I suppose it would depend on the innkeeper in question—"

Adan rolled his eyes.

"All right, all right." She looked at her teacup. Proper strong tea, not like the fancy stuff the ambassador served. "I don't know what they’d make of it. But I like meeting new people, making them comfortable. Cabot hears the most interesting stories. And I think I've got a head for business—don't laugh!"

"I'm not laughing. I think it'd suit you."

But they both knew the question wasn't the expense of purchasing or establishing such a business. Pella was an elf. An elf with connections and advantages, it was true, but the way things were... even if it were nominally legal to have an elven woman running her own business, there were a thousand ways that it could be made uncomfortable for her. Even if she found the business. What sort of establishment would she be able to run? A boarding house in an alienage? A brothel? No wonder her parents wanted her to follow in their footsteps: herbalism was an exclusive and specialized profession, something that let one find work anywhere in Thedas.

"What about Minaeve?" asked Adan.

"I don't know. What about Lysette?"

He blinked and turned away, and Pella regretted the snappish response. Adan bent back over his workbench and she picked up the pots to take them downstairs. Back to work, as always.

 


 

"Adan?"

His head went up when Lysette said his name. She managed to speak calmly enough, even though her heart was racing at the sight of him. He looked tired, she thought, but the sleeves of his robe were pushed up to his elbows and the workbench had returned to its usual chaos. He was back to his routine, then.

Adan straightened from the bench. "Hullo."

The familiar way he moved, the impatience on his scarred face, had Lysette briefly at a loss for words. She had no right to gaze at him that way, not if they weren't… But she couldn't make herself stop. She could sooner have sprouted wings and joined the swifts roosting on the battlements.

"How was your battle?" he asked, glancing at her face.

She was glad the bruising from her broken nose had faded. "We won. How’s your cousin?"

"Fine." Adan met Lysette's eyes briefly before returning to his mortar and pestle with a sigh. "I don't know," he admitted. "She's so unhappy. That—peace, or whatever it was—is gone. I don't know what she wants, only the things she doesn't want."

"Which are?"

"Not to be in a Circle. Not to be here, I don't think, but not to go back to the alienage. No walls of any kind, I suppose." Adan paused in his grinding to grimace at the contents of the mortar. "What if she gets possessed? What if she already has been and we can't tell?” Lysette shook her head, but Adan kept going. “She was content before," he said. "And now she's not."

Lysette felt cold. "I talked her into it," she said quietly. "We all did. But I think it was the right thing, Adan. She'd been hurt. Didn't she deserve the chance to choose freely?"

"She said she'd rather die than be Tranquil again." He set down the pestle. "And if it comes to that, I have to remember it was her choice. Maker, Lysette—do you know why she was made Tranquil in the first place?" His voice was uneven. "Some bullshit political reason. She was no danger to anyone."

"I know. That's what Cullen said.”

He looked away. "Yeah. Well. I shouldn't burden you with this business. You’ve done enough already."

For a few minutes, they'd been speaking to one another as they always had—they'd always understood one another so well. Most of the time. Now the discomfort was back, and they were both aware of it. "What was it you wanted?" he asked, his voice strained.

Lysette folded her arms. “I need your help with something.”

Adan snorted. "A favor for a favor?"

"What?" She was confused. 

"For what you did with Neria. You’d like a favor in return?"

"Of course not,” she said, startled. “You don't have to help me. If you’re too busy…”

"If?" he repeated with a short laugh. "Oh, no, not busy at all. Surely not so busy I can't bloody think straight, let alone—" He shut his eyes. "Beg pardon. Still not your problem."

"Of course it is. I care about you."

His face was unreadable. "That's good of you. But it's not necessary. Well?"

It was a challenge to form the words, but she managed it. "You offered help, once. If I ever went off lyrium."

Adan strode across the room and passed within two feet of her before snatching one of the plants hanging from the rafters. Lysette's breath grew short as he brushed by, but he hardly glanced at her before making his way back to the workbench. "No," he said shortly.

She felt like she'd taken a step forward to find nothing but air under her feet. "No?"

"No. I can't help you." He began stripping dry needles from the spindleweed. "Ask Elan or Rachelle."

"You're not serious."

"I am."

"You offered to help me before—"

"And I shouldn't have." Adan smiled politely. "Is there anything else?"

Lysette was miserable. The ring under her glove all but burned her hand; at the same time, icy despair crept through her veins. "Your assistants know how to help?" she asked quietly. 

"I'll give them what they need."

Lysette nodded. "Thank you," she said, turning resolutely to the door. "And I'm sorry. For everything."

"Wait," he said.

She froze.

"I'll help. Of course I'll help. I just didn't think you'd want me to..." There was a long silence, and then Adan sighed. He didn't make any move towards her. "Why do you want to stop the lyrium?"

She turned and stared at him. He didn't meet her eyes. "Isn't it obvious?"

He shrugged and walked to the hearth, bending to fuel the fire. "You didn't seem thrilled by the prospect when I suggested it."

"It was not right of me to react as I did," she said. "You were right. The cost is too high, and the rewards too few. I do not judge those who prefer to continue. But I cannot."

"All right, then. When do you plan to stop?"

"I—don't know. As soon as possible. There's talk of making one last strike against Corypheus, somewhere in the south. Perhaps after that battle, if all goes well."

"Right. Why don't I…" He let out a breath. "I'll come see you tomorrow. After breakfast. All right?"

"Very well."

"Is that everything?"

Lysette paused. She'd hoped… but it seemed she was too late. She'd done this herself, anyway: severed the bond between them as ruthlessly as she would the head of a demon from its neck. "I have your ring," she said. "I can give it back. If you want me to."

His eyes dimmed. "Maker, woman, it was a gift. Keep it or fling it from the battlements, your choice." He picked up his pestle again. 

Trying to blame the ache in her chest on her injured ribs, but knowing the pain originated elsewhere, she tugged off her glove. She looked down at the ring on her finger, twisting it around as she considered.

Seeing the movement, Adan glanced up. His brows drew together.

"You're still wearing it?"

"I—"

Lysette was spared embarrassing explanations by the creak of the door behind her. She turned to see—oh, Maker.

Behind her, Adan let out a sharp sigh. "Commander Cullen. What can I do for you?"

Lysette kept her fist at her chest and her eyes on the ground. There was no way to hide her hot cheeks. But as soon as the commander acknowledged her salute, she fled.

 


 

Adan saw the commander off with a fresh batch of soothing tisanes. He even managed to be reasonably polite about it, despite a burning impatience to be done with the matter. What he wanted to do was chase after Lysette—and, what, fling himself at her feet? Probably.

He congratulated himself sourly on his restraint as he checked the stores in his workshop, comparing them to the inventory Elan had given him. They were well-stocked as before he'd left. He'd only been gone a few weeks, and Elan was as orderly and meticulous as—as anyone.

Lysette was still wearing the ring he'd given her.

Probably out of practicality, he told himself, trying to slow his pulse. She was a conscientious woman. She wouldn't have wanted to lose it…

He was planning to wait until the morning. He really was. But as the afternoon wore on, his nerves only grew twitchier. He tapped his foot under his desk as he sat, writing a letter to Denerim. He'd gotten as far as the salutation. Now he was staring at the ink as it dried on his pen, trying to think how to tell Neria's brother about what had happened.

And he could see the damn templar tower from his window.

He couldn't stand it. If nothing else, he owed her an apology. Or six.

The Inquisition banners were cracking in the breeze as he approached the door. He didn’t recognize either of the two sentries, a young woman and a young man, both of whom eyed Adan curiously as he approached.

"I’m looking for Ser Lysette," he said without ado.

One of them turned to examine a list of names on the wall. "She's not on the duty roster," said the templar. "Are you sure she's back from Adamant?"

"I’m sure."

"I can take a message. Who does she report to?"

But the question became moot when the door swung open on the woman in question. She stopped short at the sight of Adan in conversation with the sentries, and he winced. Fortuitous timing, though. She looked surprised but not displeased to see him.

"Got a minute?" he asked.

"Of course. I was just going for a walk." 

She fell in beside him as he wandered aimlessly in the direction of the garden stairs, but neither of them made a move to descend. Adan leaned against the parapet and Lysette joined him.

She'd followed the surgeon's orders and left off her armor, but she was still wearing her sword belt over her robes. "Is that a new sword?" he asked as an unfamiliar hilt caught his eye.

She glanced down at her hip. "Yes and no. It was Erriala's."

"Doesn't Erriala need—" Adan's mind caught up with his tongue a moment too late. "Shit. I'm sorry."

"Thank you." Lysette rested a gloved hand briefly on the pommel before letting it fall back to her side. "And thank you for coming to speak with me," she added. "I didn't think you'd want to."

"I—admit it's difficult," he said. "Seeing you."

It was more than difficult. It felt so right to have her walking at his side; even after everything, it was so easy, so comfortable to be in her company. Salt in the bloody wound, that was. 

"So," he said, returning to the immediate concern. "The lyrium.”

But she was shaking her head. "I shouldn't have asked. I know it's... not as it was between us."

"That's not—" He broke off, struggling to find the right words. "That's not the issue. Maker, woman, have mercy on my nerves and understand why I'm not the person to help you with this."

"We shouldn't talk about such things here," she said, eyeing a guard walking past on his rounds. "Let's go down to the garden."

"It's not much to look at yet.” But he turned for the stairs. The breeze was crisp, but not cold for Cloudreach: fair enough weather to sit outside. His quarters were just across the way, but Adan was hardly about to suggest going there. The garden it was.

But just as he set his foot on the top step, a pair of masked Orlesians walked under the colonnade, complaining in piercing tones about the Inquisitor's sartorial choices. Adan bit back an ungracious comment and looked over at Lysette.

"Skip the garden. You want privacy, I know just the spot."

Calling it a "spot" was very nearly an overstatement. It wasn't a room or even an alcove, just a closed-off staircase in the Inquisitor's tower. The place was filled with old scaffolding, and sunlight poured in from a gaping hole in the western corner of the tower.

Lysette drew in a sharp breath as she followed him through the door onto the landing. "How is this place still standing?" she asked, looking incredulously at the hole in the wall. "That goes a bit beyond normal wear and tear."

"Ancient elven something-or-other. Haven't you heard?"

"I probably don't want to know, do I?" She gazed out over the mountains, her face as remote as any of the rocky slopes she surveyed. "Nice view, I suppose."

"Oh, it's a good spot to stop and think. You're sheltered from the wind—and, more to the point, from other people. No one knows it's here."

"How did you know it's here?"

"Had a long winter, cooped up in this place." He glanced at the small staircase and sat on the bottom step with a sigh. "Found all kinds of things. Creepy ancient library. Wine cellar—and you don't want to know what the scouts get up to in there—"

Lysette lifted a brow, but didn't answer. She was still looking around the passageway.

"Anyway," Adan went on, "I was looking for a sunny spot to start this year's seedlings. I put a few in my workshop, a few here, a few all over the place."

"You've planted them now, then?"

"Yeah, down in the garden."

Lysette nodded and sat down next to Adan on the step. "I saw a few things growing." Her mouth quirked. "So did the nugs. One of them was getting into your spindleweed this morning.”

Adan watched as she brushed a few loose strands of black hair out of her eyes. To his perturbation, she was still wearing her gloves. “You've taken an interest in plants, then?”

“I suppose I have. I never noticed them much until I met you. But they're… nice.”

In spite of everything, he laughed a little at that. “At least you got something worthwhile out of knowing me,” he said.

She turned to him. “I have so many regrets. But knowing you? No. I only regret leaving the way I did.”

“You'd prefer to have left some other way?” Adan rubbed wearily at his eyes. “From my perspective, not much difference. It was my fault, anyway. I should never have said the things I did. And I should have told you more about my work—the stuff I was doing in the alienage, for Maric and after—I should never have kept that from you.”

She was shaking her head. "I'm glad you came back," she said, her voice low. "When I got to Skyhold and you weren't here... Adan, I thought you'd never speak to me again."

Now he was the one to turn to her in surprise.

"I'm sorry," she said. "I'm so sorry."

"I’m the one who should apologize. You don't have anything to be sorry for.”

"I do. I should have stayed. I should have listened." Her face twisted. "I was in love with you," she whispered.

"Maker, I wish you still were." It was a pathetic thing to say, but the words slipped out before he could stop himself. Adan looked up, grimacing at a lone raven preening its feathers on a ledge high above. The bloody bird was mocking him—witnessing his humiliation—

He jolted when a gloved hand slid over his cheek, turning his face back to hers. Her eyes were glistening. In the light, he could see the ring of brown around the black, and he couldn’t look away.

"I am," she said. "Of course I am."

“You are?” Not only could he not look away, it seemed that all he could do was stare at her as she spoke.

“Yes. Yes, I—” Lysette’s voice caught: Lysette, who was always so sure of her words. Her skin was golden in the sunlight, and Adan could see all the freckles on her long nose. Each strand of her dark lashes, every fine line in the corners of her eyes. “I understand if you don't want our relationship to be as it was. But even if you won't take me back—”

“Take you back,” he repeated, a bit numbly. The raven cawed and fluttered above their heads.

Adan rose to his feet and took a step away.

Then he took a step back and sat down again.

"Well, shit," he said roughly. Might as well give that fucking bird something to laugh at.

And then he did what he'd been trying desperately not to do since the moment he saw her again: he slid off the step and went on his knees before her, wrapping his arms around her waist and dropping his head in her lap. 

She made a low noise of surprise, but then—thank the Maker—her arms came around his shoulders and her hands stroked over his back. Adan shuddered at the touch. 

"I'm a bloody fool," he informed her left knee. "I don't deserve your forgiveness for the things I said. It broke my damn heart when you left. But don't think I love you any less for leaving."

He sat back on his haunches, sliding his hands over the warm wool of her robe to rest on her thighs, and looked up. She was staring down at him, her chest rising and falling as rapidly as his own, and Adan could hardly get the words out. "I just didn't think you'd be back." 

"I'll always come back to you," she said.

Her expression removed any doubts.

Chapter Text

Her touch was like fire that did not burn.
And by Her touch, I was made pure again.

—Canticle of Maferath (Dissonant Verses)

Lysette’s heart was too full to speak. She was sitting on the bottom step of the small staircase, Adan kneeling before her with his arms around her waist and his head turned sideways in her lap. Her whole body tingled just looking at him. Regrets were for later: just now, she was too caught up in wonder to harbor any.  

He didn’t seem in any hurry to move, so instead of speaking, she pulled off her gloves and ran her fingers over his scalp, tracing his ear and reacquainting herself with the shape of his skull. His muscles twitched as she smoothed her hands over his shoulders; he murmured wordlessly as she traced down the top of his spine. Maker, they'd been apart too long.

"What do you suppose this place was?" Lysette mused out loud, looking out over the mountains and trying to steady the drumming of her heart.

"I imagine it's been many things over the centuries," he said, voice muffled against the wool of her robe.

"Someone attacked it, I think."

"Or we're sitting in some previous alchemist's laboratory.” Adan finally straightened. Instead of joining her on the step, he sat on the floor at her side. 

"Some unfortunate alchemist," she said. There was quite a lot of rubble piled under the hole in the wall.

“Can’t sympathize. I’m feeling very fortunate, myself.” He took her hand, spreading her fingers and examining them as if he'd never seen them before. He touched her ring briefly, but he didn't say anything about it, only lifted her hand to his lips and kissed her palm.

"I felt foolish wearing that," she said over the giddiness rising in her chest. "But I couldn't take it off."

"You want foolish? I brought your old letters with me to Denerim." His lips moved to the inside of her wrist. "And your hair."

Lysette couldn't help the grin that tugged at the corner of her mouth. "I read your journals."

He let out a surprised laugh and looked up. "You did what?"

Her face was growing warm. "I missed you," she muttered.

"If you wanted for dull reading material, you could have picked up any of the dusty books in the library. They’d probably have been more interesting."

"It wasn't all boring," she said.

He looked confused, and then it was his turn to flush in embarrassment. “Damn, I forgot about—what did you—"

Lysette snorted and bent forward to kiss the side of his head. "I didn't mean that," she said. “I skipped over those bits. I just… I needed to..." Andraste preserve me. “I missed you,” she repeated awkwardly.

“Well.” He rolled his eyes up at her. “Good thing I trust you.”

"I’m glad.” She reached out and traced the line of his jaw with one finger. “I trust you, too."

"I don't deserve that." 

“Yes, you do.” Lysette framed his face between her hands, rubbing her thumbs over his scratchy cheeks. "You do."

Adan looked apprehensive. "I didn't keep anything from you on purpose," he said. "I just wasn’t thinking. If there’s anything you want to know—”

“There is. But not right now.” She kept stroking his face, watching the light shift over his features, the lines and scars and the sprinkling of grizzled hairs in his dark beard. He was just... real. Human and warm and close, blinking a bit in the lengthening rays of the sun. She bent and pressed her face against his shoulder, breathing him in. He smelled like himself; he felt like hers.

"We'll probably quarrel again," he said.

She lifted her head to nod. "Almost certainly." 

"Just… let’s talk, next time?" His eyes were intent. "Please, by the Maker—don't leave me again.”

"Never," she whispered.

He caught her around the waist and she curled her arms around his neck. "I love you," he said hoarsely. 

Lysette drew in a sharp breath when his hands tightened, hauling her closer to the edge of the step and closer to him. The unexpected movement had her flinching as a jolt of bright pain struck her ribcage. 

Her reaction didn’t escape Adan's notice. He dropped his hands at once, his face grim.

"Ribs," she explained through gritted teeth and reached for him.

Adan grimaced but took hold of her again. Still, there was an uncertainty to his embrace that had never been there before, and Lysette didn’t think it was only because of her injury.

"I love you, too," she said.

His shoulders twitched under her hands, but before he could reply, she was lifting his chin and kissing him. Their noses brushed and his stubble scraped her cheek as he finally broke away. 

"What happened?" he asked.

"I fell down the stairs."

He leaned back, looking as if he wasn't sure if she was joking.

"After a demon kicked me in the face," she muttered.

"Maker above. I'm glad you're back, but I wish you'd stop coming back in such sorry shape." He laid a hand on her leg as if to hold her in place and glanced at the staircase behind her. "Don't fall down these stairs, if you'd be so kind."

There were only half a dozen steps above them, not the forty or more she'd bounced off at Adamant, but she decided against mentioning that.

His fingers moved up her body and tapped tentatively over her flank. "Which ribs did you break?" He watched her face, gauging her reaction to the pressure of his fingertips through the wool. "Here?"

"Yes, that side. But I'm all right. They healed me on the battlefield."

"I know. I heard the surgeon. I also seem to recall the phrase 'avoid exertion'." Adan’s words were calm enough, but he couldn't entirely hide the concern as he asked, "Show me?"

Lysette loosened her collar and he helped her out of her robe. He didn't say anything when he pulled it off, only studied her with professional focus as she turned around for his examination. Once again, she was glad the bruising had faded. She'd only laid off her wrappings that morning.

"This is from your mail?" Adan lifted the bottom of her chemise and ran his fingers lightly over her lower back. The abrasions were nearly fully healed, leaving behind a patchy lattice of pale marks that followed the seams of her arming jacket.

"Yes."

"How's your breathing?"

"Better." It was coming a little fast, in fact, but that had nothing to do with her injuries.

If Adan noticed, he didn't comment on it as she settled back into the curve of his arm and leaned into his warmth. "I don't want anything to happen to you," he mumbled. She could feel the vibration of his chest as he spoke, every part of her body resonating in response.

"I know," was all she said. 

"Sending you off to war is bad enough, but this lyrium thing scares me to death. I'd take the bloody stuff for you if I could."

She stroked a hand over the back of his bristly head. "We don't have to talk about it now. I just want to be with you."

"Hmm." He let out a long exhale that ruffled her hair, and then he caught her meaning. "What—really? Here?"

Lysette ran her other hand over his arm, trying to keep her lips from twitching. "If you like."

"Not that I don't… but you know there's no hurry," he muttered. "We could go back to my quarters—or we could wait until your ribs are better—"

"We could do those things. But I'd rather not. Not if you want me."

"Oh," he said, "I want you." 

His lips were warm and eager and the next thing she knew he was pulling her closer against him, tugging her off the step and into his lap. She twined her arms around his neck and then his tongue was in her mouth and his hands were on her breasts and she wanted—

She rolled onto her back and he followed her down onto the old floorboards. But when the weight of his body compressed her flank, she flinched in spite of herself. 

Adan sat up at once and she hissed in frustration. 

"Floor’s too hard," he said.

"I don't mind." She shifted and frowned. "Usually."

"I know you don't," he said, and the roughness of his voice sent a renewed thrill down her spine. But Adan narrowed his eyes. "If we're going to do this in your current condition," he remarked, "you're going to have to learn some patience."

"From you?"

"I'm insulted." He laid a hand on her thigh and she caught her breath as his grip slid slowly up the linen, as his fingers flicked lightly between her legs. She tilted her hips, pressing into his touch, but his fingers darted away again. She let out an unladylike curse and he leered at her. "But you look very attractive all rumpled and half-dressed like that, so I'll let it—oh, for the love of the Maker, woman."

Lysette finished unlacing her chemise and tossed the garment aside, leaving herself topless, and rose to her feet to slip out of her drawers. This corner of the tower was sheltered from the wind. Still, she had to suppress a shiver as the chilly air touched her skin, but it was excitement as much as cold that had her pulse pounding in her ears.

"There," she said, turning back to Adan. He’d moved up to sit on the bottom step, but he’d swiveled to watch her undress and she caught his gaze on her backside. Stifling the surge of delight that ran through her, she asked, "Still attractive?"

"Beautiful," he said, but even behind his beard she could see his mouth curving. "Are you also planning to remove your boots? Can't deny the erotic appeal, but I think you've been in the stables."

"Perhaps just one boot. So I can fling it at your head." She struggled out of the footwear in question and piled her stockings on top, shoving the whole pile against the wall with her sword belt and scabbard. 

"That some Orlesian mating dance? I'll pass. Get over here and let's fuck like decent Fereldans."

So much for patience.

He murmured something as she lowered herself back onto his lap, straddling his hips. Her knees dug into the stone step, but Adan held her waist to steady her. He was breathing heavily, too; his eyes were fixed on her face and it was—as much as she wanted him, that was only a fraction of what she felt for him. She never wanted to forget the way he was looking at her now. She didn’t want to forget the golden sunlight slanting over the stone and their bodies, the sound of the wind or the squawking ravens outside. It was all worth remembering, the good with the bad.

Lysette tilted his chin up and kissed him again, as passionately as she knew how. She was rewarded by a faint grunt in the back of his throat.

"You haven't taken off your boots, either," she told him.

"I should take more things off," he agreed breathlessly. "My trousers, maybe—"

She tugged at the sleeves of his robe and he lifted his arms to let her pull it off along with his tunic. She slid her hands over the planes of his back, dragged her fingers through the hair on his chest and down over his stomach.

In return he kissed her throat, moving his lips along her collarbone to her shoulder while his hands brought goosebumps down her arms. She shuddered with desire as he grabbed her backside and tugged her closer, grinding against her.

"We could... like this?" he breathed against her lips. "Carefully. If you're comfortable."

"Yes," she said. "It’ll be fine. I trust you."

His eyes went a little bright at that, and her heart tightened again.

But his hands were already moving over her. He cupped her breasts, flicking his thumbs over her nipples, and the ache between her legs grew sharper. She clenched her thighs and rocked against him until his breathing quickened and his movements grew jerky, and then she reached down between their bodies. Through the cloth that separated them, she cupped his balls; he swore and pushed her hand away, but only to unlace the front of his breeches and shove them down and then she had him in her hand, hot and thick and ready. 

He pressed his face into her chest and groaned. "Andraste's arse, Lysette—"

"I haven't been taking the tea," she said hurriedly. "You'll have to—"

"Fine. That's fine. I just—shit, I can't wait—"

"Neither can I," she gasped. She rose onto her knees and rested her hands on his shoulders. He gripped her thigh and guided himself to her entrance.

His eyes went glassy and her own breath grew short as she lowered herself slowly onto his cock, rolling her hips until she was filled with heat and pressure and above all a sense of rightness—of certainty that this was where he belonged. Lysette might have found it foolish had the sentiment not been echoed in every line of his face. She was grateful, so grateful, they’d found their way back to each other.

His pupils were dilated, his breathing ragged, and she gripped his shoulders tightly as she moved on him. She rolled her hips slowly, feeling the warmth rise in her, and was gratified when his eyes slid shut. He kissed her breasts, beard scraping over the sensitive skin; when he took a nipple between his teeth, she nearly whimpered. She reached for his hand, but he already knew what she wanted; those deceptively clever fingers of his stroked and circled her clit and she could only let out a choked noise of approval.

Adan leaned back, sliding his hands around her hips to grip her ass tightly. She braced a hand on the step behind his head and arched back; he sank deeper inside her and let out a faint oath. His fingers dug into her flesh and Lysette reveled in the pressure as he guided her back and forth. It was—

"All right?" he panted.

"Mmm." It was more than all right. Her own hand crept between her legs and she moved faster as she grew wetter. The sound of their bodies was arousing in itself; the tension was building in her and his eyes were open, he was watching her and Maker, it felt so good—

She inhaled sharply but there was no holding it back: she came in a rush and her legs trembled. Everything trembled. He grunted and then he was holding her hips stationary as he thrust frantically into her sickness. Her head fell back and her muscles went lax; she sighed with contentment and let him fuck her as he would, savoring the rhythm and the blissful contact of their bodies until he withdrew abruptly, still holding her in place above him.

Lysette quickly regained her balance. She rose to her feet, stepping down to the floor between his legs. She laid her hands on his chest to push him back against the steps, then knelt and wrapped her lips around his still-wet cock. He groaned and lifted his hips as she licked and sucked and in only a moment he was coming, pulsing against her tongue; she swallowed, and his hands tightened in her hair as he sighed.

She sat back on her heels, wiping her mouth on her hand, and looked up at him.

Adan looked back at her through half-shut eyes. "You," he began. And paused, as if he'd forgotten what he meant to say.

"Hm?"

"Are a very practical woman."

"Thank you." She took a seat next to him on the step, propping herself on one elbow—dusty stone be damned—to study his face. "If that was meant to be a compliment."

"It was. Very good solution,” he said drowsily, turning his head to peer at her. “Ribs okay?"

"Yes," she said. Her breathing was still shallow, but no worse than before.

"One of these days we’ll make it to a bed.” He exhaled slowly while his eyes drifted shut. “You're good, really?"

"I'm happy," she whispered, laying a hand on his arm. "I'm so happy."

"You're here," he said, rather inarticulately.

But Lysette thought she understood. She leaned forward and pressed her cheek against his, smooth against his stubble.

"I'm not going anywhere," she said.

 


 

She would have to, of course, at least in the short term. Another campaign loomed on the horizon. Corypheus had gone south with what remained of his army, and if they followed in good time, there was a chance they could end this thing once and for all. And so the Inquisition army was making preparations as quickly as it could.

But it would be at least two months before Lysette had to leave Skyhold, and she was determined to put the time to good use both personally and professionally. Adan thought a gradual reduction in her lyrium dosage might be less dangerous than quitting it outright. After discussing the matter with Cullen, Lysette made the decision to begin reducing her dose immediately with the understanding that she’d return to a normal dose for the duration of the Arbor Wilds mission.

“You’ll have to start all over again after,” Adan told her.

It was a pleasant afternoon in Bloomingtide, and they’d found an hour to spend together in the garden. Lysette was perched on the gazebo steps, cleaning her armor, while he weeded a nearby bed of embrium.

She nodded. “I know.”

“It may make it more difficult in the long run than if you’d waited until after the battle to reduce your dose.”

“I was ready to begin,” Lysette said simply. “I’m not even feeling the effects yet. And,” she added, “thinking back, I think I’ve always had a bit of withdrawal after a battle. You usually take more, you see, if you’ll be using your powers during the fighting. And it gives you stamina in any case.”

Adan shook his head. “I understand why you don’t want to fight without it, at least.”

“Not this kind of fighting. Not now. But maybe one day when all these wars are over.”

“I hope we live to see that day,” he said, frowning. “I hope you’re right.”

Lysette rose from her seat on the steps and walked over to join him. She crouched at his side to look at the embrium. It was nearly ready to bloom, tiny flickers of light peeking through the red buds.

“This should be the last battle, one way or another,” she said. “But I’ll be sorry to leave you again.”

“You won’t have to.” He brushed dirt off his hands.

“What do you mean?”

"They've requested my services in the field." Adan grunted in annoyance and adjusted the closure on one of his belt pouches. "Skyhold really will be empty this time. With all our noble allies, even the ambassador and spymaster are coming on this campaign. No holds barred. No tired alchemists left behind." He made a face. "Maker help me.”

She couldn't help smiling, despite her concerns. "I hear there are some lovely rare plants in southern Orlais."

"Small consolation." Adan gave her a sidelong look. "If there are other lovely things, though..."

Lysette tried to hold on to her smile, but it was already slipping away. She closed her eyes. "I'm so tired of war."

"It's like you said. One way or another, this will be the last battle."

Chapter Text

In these dark times, mankind scrambled for a light, any light. Some found comfort in demonic cults that promised power and riches in return for worship. Others prayed to the Old Gods for forgiveness, begging the great dragons to return to the world.

Still others fell so low as to worship the darkspawn, forming vile cults dedicated to the exaltation of evil in its purest form. It is said that the world wept as its people begged for a savior who would not come.

—From Tales of the Destruction of Thedas by Brother Genitivi, Chantry scholar

Solas was used to traveling lightly.

Especially now that his magic was truly coming back to him, like a stiff muscle waking up after too long in stillness, it wasn't important to have more than a few things with him. His staff, of course. A spare coat the Inquisitor had given him. Little else.

It meant he'd be ready when the time came to face Corypheus. The absurdity of the situation didn't make it any less serious.

He had his pack open on top of his desk and was checking its contents when Elan Ve'mal pushed open the door to the rotunda. She walked straight to the desk and thrust a book at Solas.

"Returning this," she said coolly. "Thank you for the loan."

"Of course," said Solas. "Did you have any questions?"

"Only about the conclusion of the twelfth chapter." Despite the wind that lashed the trees and whistled between Skyhold's towers, Elan's auburn hair was tucked neatly behind her ears. She looked at him calmly, but there was a question on her face.

"Ah," he said. "Yes."

"I'm not certain I understand the argument. Do you have any other books that might clarify the matter?"

Solas tucked the small volume under his arm. "Soon, perhaps."

Elan nodded, understanding what he hadn't said, and the two of them went their separate ways.

For now.

 


 

"I can't believe you're leaving tomorrow," Pella whispered. "I can't believe you're going to fight."

"I'm not going to fight," said Minaeve with a sigh. "Not unless things go very badly wrong. In which case, one more mage could make a difference." Or it wouldn't much matter, because they were all doomed—but she didn't need to say that.

They were standing in an alcove under the colonnade in the garden. It was a warm day, and the sun was high. No one was nearby. Even so, Minaeve found herself glancing around nervously when Pella said, "Come north with me when this is over. We can see Antiva..."

"You forget I'm a mage. And an elf."

"So am I. Well, an elf." Pella's lips quirked. "If I'm a mage, I'm a very bad one."

"I don't speak Antivan."

"I do. Didn't you want to go to Nevarra, study with the Mortalitasi—"

"It's not that easy."

"I know it's not. But, sweetheart," said Pella, lowering herself to a stone bench and taking both of Minaeve's hands, "I hear you talk about all the things you yearn to see. All the things you want to find out for yourself. Is it a risk? Yes, but isn't there risk to going back to the Circle? At least... at least wait until things are settled before you decide to go back. There's risk in everything."

“Especially apostasy." 

Pella frowned. "There are so many apostates now. How could they possibly catch everyone?"

"They may make a call for amnesty," said Minaeve. "I've heard a few things. And you know I never wanted to leave the Circle in the first place. I don't want to put anyone in danger.”

“Then you won't," said Pella, passion in her voice. She pulled on Minaeve's hands to tug her closer and looked earnestly up at her face. "I've heard a few things, too. I even talked to Mother Giselle. I don't pretend to know better than the Chantry, but I don't think you can be possessed unless you want to be. Unless you willingly let a spirit in.”

“I'm not afraid of the demons. I'm afraid of myself—of what I might do in a moment of weakness." Minaeve's throat began to close. "I'm not a strong mage and I'm not a strong person.”

“You're the bravest, smartest person I know." Pella shook her head, stroking her thumbs over the back of Minaeve's hands. "Listen. Were you happy in the Circle?”

“In some ways. I don't think anyone's ever truly happy all the time."

Pella's eyes were so clear as they looked up at her. Her concern was so genuine and untempered by fear. No one had ever cared whether Minaeve was happy before. “Maybe not," she said. "But if you were really fulfilled—learning things, discovering things, not locked away like a sword in a dusty armory—wouldn't that make you less likely to give in?”

“Maybe that would make it more likely." Minaeve lifted a hand to Pella's cheek, but her stomach was churning. "Possession isn't the only threat to an apostate. What if something happened to someone I loved? What if it were a choice between… between saving you from some shemlen mob or becoming an abomination?"

Pella caught her hand and squeezed it fiercely. "You'd do the right thing," she said. Her eyes went soft and a dimple appeared at the corner of her mouth as she smiled up at Minaeve.

And Minaeve made her decision.

 


 

Adan hadn't exactly been thrilled when Lady Montilyet asked for his services on this campaign. But his job was his job, and to tell the truth, he'd rather be with Lysette than wait alone at Skyhold again. Elan and the apothecary staff had things well in hand here.

Part of him wished for more time to prepare, to put off the inevitable battle—but he didn't want to drag things out any longer, either. He wanted to get this bloody journey over with, make it through the bloody battle, and get on with their bloody lives.

All of them did.

It was still early on the morning of their departure. There were only a few people assembled, but Pella had already come down to the courtyard to see them off. She kissed Minaeve and then turned to Adan. They exchanged nods.

“Don’t die,” she said.

“Do your work,” he said.

Minaeve, of all people, let out a chuckle.

Adan turned away from the pair of them at the sound of bare feet on stone. Neria was descending the stairs from the battlements. It was difficult not to stare at the staff in her hand. A deadly-looking thing, sparking blue from some rune or other. Maker above.

Well, he'd known she wasn’t staying behind. She'd come to see him a few days before, which he'd been expecting. What he hadn't expected was the turn the conversation took.

"A templar, Adan?" she said dryly, but her eyes were flashing.

"I was afraid of this," he murmured. "Neria, girl, I don't know what to say."

"I don't want to hear anything. I want to fight."

"You what?" Adan was taken aback. He'd thought she might challenge his relationship with a templar—he'd been prepared for that. He hadn't been prepared to hear...

"I've been working with the Inquisitor's friends and the rebel mage leader. Some of the most powerful mages in Thedas. So you can trust them when they say I'll be battle-ready by the time we reach the Wilds."

Adan stared at Neria. Her face was rigidly composed under that branded forehead, but no one would have mistaken her for a Tranquil. Not anymore.

"Good for you," he said finally.

"Is that it?" she snapped.

"I don't..."

Neria turned, slim shoulders stiff, and stalked out of his workshop.

Adan groaned and rubbed at his eyes. Now he really would need to write to Denerim.

Almost all of the Inquisition was being mobilized. Their Orlesian allies would be joining them, along with what remained of the Wardens from Adamant. And there were mages. Minaeve and Neria weren't the only ones present. Some would fight on the front lines, and some would be held in reserve.

And then, of course, there were the templars. Ser Barris had been promoted to command them. Lysette hadn't shared her thoughts on that particular development, so Adan hadn't brought it up. There were plenty of other things for his mind to worry away at. Plenty of people for him to worry about: some here with the army, some back at Skyhold, some scattered across Thedas.

It was miserably uncomfortable, in short, both mentally and physically. He hadn't minded traveling so much when he was younger. But his back ached more with each night he spent on the hard ground. At least he had his own tent to store his equipment and to give him some distance from the masses of snoring, stinking soldiers each night.

Lysette slept elsewhere. On campaign, a low-ranking templar didn't have the same independence she did at Skyhold. They took their evening meals together, though. And even if she'd been able to share his bed—well, he wasn't much of a rider, and his body was stiff and aching. He doubted he'd be good for much besides falling asleep and drooling on her admirable shoulders.

Though he rather missed having the opportunity even for that. If nothing else, it was bloody cold at night.

Adan stopped worrying about the cold once they got out of the mountains. Paradoxically, it grew warmer the further south they went. By the time they reached the forests of the southern wilds, "uncomfortable" no longer sufficed to describe the conditions. Unless he was handling something particularly noxious at the potions bench, he left off his heavy wool robes and went about in his linen undertunic.

"How do you stand all that armor?" he asked Lysette one evening, wiping perspiration from his forehead and immediately regretting it. Evidently there was still a bit of rashvine extract on his hands. "Was this what it was like in the Fallow Mire?"

"No. The Mire had much more mud." She paused thoughtfully and added, "Also a large number of possessed corpses."

"Maker's breath."

"Mattrin was there, too."

"Now you're going to give me nightmares. Where is that young arsehole, anyway? Did he stay at Skyhold?"

"No, he’s in Briony’s command. Why are you glaring at the deathroot?”

"Because it's a pain in the bloody arse. Too humid here." He shook his head, disgusted at everything. "Alchemy’s not exactly a mobile craft. Hard to be precise when you're missing half your equipment and getting jostled about by every—"

"Good thing you're such an expert, then."

Adan leaned back from the folding worktable and directed his glare upwards. "A more cynical man might suspect you of sarcasm, my girl."

"Surely not." Lysette smiled as she tugged off her gloves and tucked them under her belt. "Ready for dinner?"

"No," he said irritably, but gave up on the deathroot and rose to his feet. "Right, let's go."

They set off in the direction of the mess tent, stepping over guylines and gravel. Lysette covered a yawn as they walked. There was a tension to the set of her jaw that drew Adan’s notice.

“Have you been sleeping well?” he asked a bit cautiously.

“Well enough. It’s just… unsettling, this place. These woods. Don’t you feel it?”

“No,” he said. "The heat's rubbish, but that's all."

She shook her head. Adan let the subject drop. If he hadn't found the forest and the overgrown stone ruins unsettling before, any more talk of old elven magic was likely to do the job.

They’d reached the forward camp that afternoon. The Inquisition was hot on Corypheus’s heels: by this time tomorrow, the forward camp would be the rear. All the pieces were in place for the final move of the game. The Inquisitor's troops would advance as soon as it was light. Lysette would be among them.

They sat on a fallen log at one end of the crowded camp. A rare moment of relative privacy, but they ate their dinner in silence. There was nothing that they hadn't said already. Adan found the salted meat and dry bread tasteless on his tongue. The fragrance of the tropical blossoms around them barely reached his notice.

When it was time to part, they looked at one another. Adan wished he had something to say, but the words stilled on his tongue.

“Good night,” she whispered, gripping his forearm and then vanishing into the ranks.

Someone had set up a shrine. Naturally. No room for a decent cot for a weary apothecary, but of course there was room for a shrine.

The Inquisitor caught Adan glowering at the carved statue and strolled to his side.

“How is your cousin?” she inquired. "Ready for tomorrow?"

“All right, I think." Adan shrugged as casually as he could, but Maker, he wished he could say more. "She doesn’t tell me much. Keeps her distance, what with Lysette… but to be honest, she probably would anyway. I don't think family is what she's looking for right now."

“Ah. I understand.” Ellana ran a hand over her fair hair with a sigh. "Both of those reasons, in fact."

“I’m sure you do. Inquisitor—I’ve been wanting to ask." Adan gestured across the camp to where the templar heraldry fluttered in the twilight. “What made you bring them to the Inquisition?”

Ellana didn't look surprised by the question. No doubt many people had asked her the same. "In truth," she said, "I had hoped to ally with Redcliffe's mages as well, in time. A foolish hope, as it proved... but, yes, I chose to go to the Seeker Fortress first. Not least because I trusted a free army of mages more than I trusted a free army of templars."

"You wanted to bring the templars under your control," he said.

"In part, yes. In part, because—based on my conversations with Leliana and Josephine—it seemed a way to..." She bit her bottom lip, eyes unfocused, but her words were clear and carefully chosen. Inquisitor Lavellan had learned diplomacy, indeed. "I'm a Dalish apostate, Apothecary Adan. I would be perceived as an outsider no matter my actions. An alliance with the templars would have shown that the Inquisition truly stands for all Thedas.

"Of course, after what I saw at the redoubt," she added with a wry twist to her full lips, "conscription seemed the only way to truly reform the templars. I could not join them to the Inquisition as a free order. At the time I acted from fear and anger, but I still believe this was the best decision. Because I did not wish to destroy the Order. I wanted to reshape it into something of value." She walked over to the shrine, looking down at it with her back to Adan. "I'm no Andrastian. I've heard horrific tales of the Circles. But Thedas needs the templars just as much as it needs the Wardens. As much as we might wish it, demons and darkspawn will not disappear tomorrow."

She turned back to him, walking lightly over the grass to sit on the birch log at his side. "And I had reason to believe there were templars worth saving. I'd heard Cullen speak of accountability. I'd seen Ser Barris question the Lord Seeker." Unexpectedly, the Inquisitor smiled at Adan. "I'd talked to Ser Lysette. To me, she seemed like the best that the old Order had to offer. Determination tempered by compassion."

“Yeah,” he managed. “To me, too.”

Ellana smiled again, but it was a sadder expression. Apologetic. "I hope she comes back to you, lethallin."

"Me, too."

Night had fallen by the time he made his way back from the fires to his lonely tent. He was foolishly disappointed not to find Lysette there waiting, rules and regulations be damned. But of course she wasn’t. He tugged off his tunic—wasn't as if it deterred the biting flies, anyway—and lay sweating and miserable in the darkness.

Not dark enough to help him sleep, though. The moons shone brightly; even beneath the canopy of the forest and through the canvas of his tent, he could see clearly without a lamp. And the Arbor Wilds were loud at night. Alien birdcalls, whistles and shrieks and growls of Maker-knew-what terrifying beasts prowling around. He wouldn't have been surprised to hear the roar of a dragon.

He was surprised to hear a faint rustling at the end of the tent. Adan sat up, peering through the shadows, as a figure slipped inside.

"Lysette," he whispered. "Maker's breath, woman, won't you get a reprimand?"

"No." She laughed a little, but softly. Forest noises wouldn't disguise human voices, not in a camp this crowded. "Half the soldiers are in the wrong bed tonight, I promise." She dropped her satchel and closed the tent flap behind her.

They settled quietly onto his bedroll. He wrapped his arms around her and pulled her back against him, and appreciated the lack of sharp-edged armor as she pressed her body close. "I missed this," she murmured in that low-pitched voice of hers. The blood was rapidly draining from his head as she tilted her hips to press her backside against him. He freed himself from his breeches and she chuckled. "It's hot," he said defensively, nipping at her shoulder.

She let out a pleased sigh. "It is."

His hands found their way to her waist, tugging gently at the silk belt that marked her as one of the Chantry's faithful. "I always feel a bit blasphemous taking this off you," he mumbled, but untied it anyway. "Don't soldiers have some superstition about the night before a battle?"

Lysette snorted faintly. "The men, maybe—oh." She inhaled sharply as his hand slipped between her legs. "Maker's blood, Adan."

He stifled a laugh. "More blasphemy, from my pious lady knight?"

"Oh, stop talking and just—" She arched her back and hissed.

He yanked at the bottom of her smock, lifting it up, hitching it out of the way as he grabbed her thigh. She raised her leg for him without hesitation; he slipped inside her with familiar ease. They knew one another's bodies so well by now. It wasn't long before they were both panting, both gasping and trying to stay quiet in the hot night.

As distractions went, Adan could think of worse. For a while there was nothing but her, rocking and bucking and sighing as he thrust into her from behind. He kissed the back of her neck and let his eyes fall shut as they moved together, an unspoken desperation in their embrace.

They still lay on their sides when they were done, sweat-slicked and breathing heavily, listening to the noises of the forest around them. But it was too bloody hot to sleep that way, so he finally let her go and leaned back on the spare robe that served—badly—as a pillow.

He missed her touch as soon as he pulled away. And despite the sheen of sweat on her skin, Lysette seemed entirely unbothered by the heat. Sod it. Adan wasn't going to sleep anyway.

He moved closer and tangled his legs with hers. She stroked his leg sleepily with one bare foot, then yelped and swatted at a biting fly.

"How romantic," he whispered.

She let out a breath and rolled onto her back, squinting up at him through the darkness. “It’ll do. What's on your mind, Adan?”

“Just remembering the first time I saw you, back in Haven.” He pressed his lips to the side of her throat, feeling the pulse twitch. "Covered in demon ooze."

"You must have been smitten," she said wryly.

"I thought you were beautiful." His hand twined its way into her mussed black hair, turning her face a fraction closer to his. "Still do."

"I thought you were an arsehole." She eyed him thoughtfully. "Still—"

He kissed her, and not just to keep her from saying it.

It wasn’t long before Lysette drifted off to sleep. But Adan stayed awake, peering at her in the dim light. Her face had relaxed in sleep, making her look agonizingly young. It gave him a jolt to remember she wasn't even as old as Neria. For all that, her cheekbones were hollow and there were dark shadows under her eyes. This war couldn’t be over soon enough.

Her hand was loosely balled in front of her face, and he grasped it gently. She didn't stir as he spread out the long fingers, studied the calluses. She was wearing her ring—as near as he could tell, she never took it off. He felt a pang of guilt. That self-indulgent gift was one of the only things he'd ever given her. She had so little that was her own.

Well, she had him. And if the Maker granted her—granted them both—the time, she'd have a future of her choosing.

The birdsong had changed, early calls heralding the dawn, by the time Lysette stirred and roused.

"Is it time?" she asked hazily as her eyes slitted open.

“Almost. Did you get enough sleep?”

“Yes.” Lysette sat up and reached for her satchel. Adan felt a jolt when she pulled out a small wooden box decorated with a carving of Andraste. For all they’d spoken of the stuff, for all she’d been carefully monitoring her intake, he’d never actually seen her…

Adan moved forward and laid a hand on the philter, giving her a questioning look. She let him examine the phials and tools, although it wasn’t as if she needed his help to prepare this potion.

He hated watching her do it. He was glad she didn’t have to do it alone. Her face was grim and dispirited as she contemplated the lyrium. It was the brightest thing in the dim tent, casting blue light over her long face and glinting in her dark eyes as she looked up at Adan.

"Hopefully I won't come back with broken ribs this time,” she said, and lifted the glass to her lips. He reached out to steady her hand as well as his own.

"Just come back," he muttered. "Come back, Lysette."

"I'll try," she said.

When she was gone, Adan stared at the swaying canvas of the tent flap and came very close to praying.

Then he turned away to get ready. They had a battle to win.

Chapter Text

The human heart is more powerful than the greatest weapon, and when wounded, it is capable of the blackest of deeds.

—From Tales of the Destruction of Thedas by Brother Genitivi, Chantry scholar

 


 

The Templar Order might be no more, but the chain of command that had collapsed around Lysette had been reforged nonetheless. She wasn't reporting directly to Cullen any longer. Instead, she and Belinda had been assigned to a troop of templars in Rylen's company under Knight-Lieutenant duBois.

Lysette hastened back to the north end of the camp. The moons were still up, and the wet moss softened her steps. Belinda was already awake and waiting for her. Lysette shot her friend a quick look of apology as she donned her armor. Despite the other woman's smile, her face was drawn and pallid in the early light. With her vivid red hair concealed by coif and helm, she looked like any other templar heading for war. Aside from the smile.

The pair of them hurried to the muster point among scores of other armed and armored templars. Cullen stood at the fore, surveying the gathered host, while Knight-Commander Barris issued orders to his captains.

They'd be on foot as they moved through the forest, but they'd strike hard and fast. The Inquisition had made good time, but it had taken longer than they hoped to catch up with Corypheus's forces. There had been a few skirmishes as they drew closer: a chase in slow motion. Today, they'd catch up. They were deep in the Arbor Wilds and, despite the engineers' haste to clear the way, the vanguard would fight through dense woods.

Lysette had fought in a forest only once, the day of the Breach, and it hadn't gone well. She doubted many of the other templars at her side had more experience of this terrain than she. Still, they had no choice in the matter. Cullen was now explaining as much to the troops.

"Scouts report the red templars have fortified their position at several blockades. Corypheus's destination is an ancient temple in the heart of the forest. The Inquisitor is the only one who can prevent his plan from taking effect. Once we clear the way, Her Worship will advance. Assist her in any way you can."

Barris stood at the general's side. His visor was flipped up and his face was stern. Even at a distance, Lysette could see the determined set of his jaw. He was taking his new role as seriously as he'd always taken everything. He seemed born for leadership, she thought with a quick, bittersweet pang, but her attention was drawn away by Cullen's next words.

"This is more critical than you can imagine. We have the numbers to defeat Corypheus. We have every advantage. But if he reaches what he seeks before the Inquisitor—if she doesn’t make it to the temple—all is for naught."

"Knights of the Order," called Barris to the templars as Cullen stepped back. "The first blockade is at the base of a great waterfall. We'll advance as one. Once we clear the blockade, Rylen's company will move to the north bank and Briony's will take the south. The main host will follow the vanguard, and Her Worship after that. It may be a long battle. Follow your commanding officers' orders as you would my own."

Lysette's eyes fell on Belinda. Her jaw was set as tightly as Delrin's, but she gave a short nod of agreement as the Knight-Commander concluded, “This is the culmination of all our work and training. Fight well and fight bravely. Keep Andraste's Chosen safe so that she may save us all, and may the Maker guide our blades."

A clatter of metal rang out across the clearing as two hundred fists struck two hundred breastplates.

 


 

Neria crossed her arms and looked out over the camp. It was hardly past dawn, but the heat was already palpable and the camp was crowded with people. The vanguard had advanced at first light, followed by the main host. The Inquisitor's party had just left. Adan was across the way, speaking to the Orlesian ambassador. Neria avoided his eye and turned away, facing the forest.

This was a strange place.

It wasn't the old elven ruins that gave her pause. Not the crumbled arches overgrown by jungle nor the broken bridges where no rivers ran. She'd seen plenty of old things in her time. She'd explored the ancient archives of Ferelden's Circle Tower. But even they hadn't felt like this—or if they had, the sensation of presence had been nowhere near as strong. Perhaps she was more sensitive to old magic now.

She certainly seemed more sensitive to everything else. Not least to the soft voices and whispers that were always just out of earshot until she closed her eyes. When she was half asleep or half awake, when her mind was drifting, that was when the voices came: bubbling and sparkling with more clarity than any of the rushing streams in these woods.

They spoke, in fact, whether Neria liked it or not. Even when she was awake, she could hear them any time she wished. It was no more difficult than leaning against a door to listen to a gathering of people in the room beyond. She didn't miss the muffling silence of Tranquility, but in some ways, she missed her privacy.

Neria felt... jagged. Inconsistent, like the last book on a shelf that stubbornly refused to fit although the label was correct. She’d walked for hours on the battlements at Skyhold. She’d paced furiously to keep from screaming, as far from any living being as the templars would allow her to go—and she’d wept. And then it would all pass and she’d laugh at her overwrought emotions, laugh at herself and at the world, breathe in the sharp air with the giddy sensation of being alive and the stranger sensation of caring that she was alive.

But the wild joy never lasted long. Always the rage came back. The nausea, the revulsion that she'd let it happen to her. To her—and with that wounded pride came the guilt.

Neria’s life had never been her own. She’d spent it following orders, dutiful, proud of her own compliance. She’d looked down on those who struggled against their bonds. And yet she might as well have been a blood mage in truth for all the good that obedience had done her.

Adan kept his distance. Or rather, he let her keep hers, for which she was grudgingly grateful… when the resentment didn't threaten to spill over. It wasn't his fault, of course, but looking at him was like looking at her own past. The past was what she wanted to escape. The weight of family was too much to contemplate.

She kept her friends at a distance, too. If ‘friends’ was the right word. Could you call someone you'd never known as yourself—your full self—a friend? Dagna seemed to think so, at least. She'd made Neria a new staff of bloodstone and onyx. The head shimmered blue with a frost rune and the base had a serrated blade in that glossy black stone: sleek, but not subtle. It was a weapon, and more than that, it was a mage's weapon.

Because Neria was a mage.

She swung the staff experimentally, holding it loosely enough to move freely. Just tightly enough to keep her grasp and stay in control.

There were so many things magic could do. Healing, creation, exploring the world around them. Making lives better, watering the crops and curing diseases. Easing the suffering that was all she seemed to see these days.

But most people didn’t see any of the potential. They saw weapons. Neria had been trained in combat as well as in research methodologies. The Circles were a tool of the Chantry, and the Chantry wanted blood as much as any of the demons that hissed at her when she felt the rage rise in her chest.

She adjusted her grip on the staff. Held in reserve, indeed. Neria had no intention of remaining where she was. She had a mana potion on her belt, a staff in her hand, and a forest full of templars to kill.

 


 

The Inquisition camp didn't come under threat until several hours in. The sun was high overhead, but as the explosions began drawing closer, Adan stopped sending longing glances towards the shade of the trees. Instead he doled out potions nearly as quickly as he could get the things in order. He'd already had to have a stern word with several of the soldiers: glassware was limited enough already, and there they went flinging empty potion bottles to the ground like so much rubbish. Bloody wasteful.

His workstation was situated halfway between the healers' tents and the sappers. Apt, he thought sourly as he readied another supply crate and nestled a last grenade among the restorative potions and jugs of water. "Careful with the Antivan Fire," he barked at the scout who stood waiting to collect the crate. "Keep it away from the foliage. Tell the soldiers! Don't want to burn the whole bloody forest down around our ears."

The scout nodded breathlessly as she gathered the crate into her arms.

"Go on, then," he said, but she was already sprinting away through the trees. The ground beneath his feet shook as a grenade rocked the clearing. Not one of his—and it was closer than the last had been. Lovely. There were deeper rumbles further off as catapults fired on both sides.

Adan turned back to the potions table and mixed hastily. Healing potions didn't keep, and they'd already gone through everything he'd prepared that morning. The Inquisition was taking heavy losses, and that thought might have made his blood run cold if he'd had half a second to dwell on the matter.

Minaeve was assisting him. It wasn’t why she’d come, but he wasn’t about to turn up his nose at a helping hand. She was more use here than in the field, she'd said. She had her staff strapped to her back and the sleeves of her robe shoved up to her elbows, freeing both hands to shuffle through the trunks and vats of ingredients while Adan worked. Neria was… somewhere nearby. He hoped.

"All right for healing potions?" panted Minaeve, wiping her brow on one wool sleeve.

"Not for long," said Adan after a quick glance at the bench. Not for much longer at all. "We'll want to—" Another explosion rocked the ground and drove the words from his mind. "Maker's breath," he muttered. Were they safe here? It was a relative question. There wasn't anywhere to retreat, unless you counted jumping off the cliffs behind them. What in blazes is going on with the rearguard? Hope Briala's people are all right. 

Adan left Minaeve to the chaos for a moment and strode across the camp. Lady Montilyet was less than her usual composed self, shifting uneasily from foot to foot as she watched the edge of the woods. At Adan's approach, she stopped twisting her hands and let them fall to her side as she glanced up at him. "Apologies, Apothecary. This is a little closer than we'd hoped, isn't it?"

"Just a bit."

"Marquise Briala's hunters should be just beyond. Our lieutenant"—Lady Montilyet gestured to the northern half of the camp—"thinks a few red templars may have slipped between the lines." Her brow furrowed, eyes darting back and forth. "We may need to send some of the mages to investigate."

"Of course." Adan bit back a few words not fit for a noblewoman's ears. "Of course we bloody will. Maker, why—"

"It's all right, Adan." Neria's voice was soft, but it cut through the humid air like the crack of a whip. “I’m ready.”

 


 

People spoke of the Veil as if it were a piece of cloth, something that could be torn and mended. But Neria preferred to think of it as if it were a thin layer of liquid on a slightly uneven tray. Tip the tray too far to one side, and the liquid would puddle deeper on that side to leave bare surface exposed elsewhere. Like spreading oil in a cookpot, all centering on... well, she'd spent years taking her own measurements and comparing them to others' reports. It had been somewhere in the Frostback Mountains. Possibly, she thought, at Skyhold itself.

But here, at the margins of Thedas, the Veil was prone to becoming... not thin, not exactly _thin_, but stretched. There were ripples, the perimeter vague and undefined. Ever shifting, like the coastline of an invisible sea.

And that sea was restless.

The man at her side was another mage. Not a Circle mage. He was Dalish, actually, although not the haughty sort one might have expected from his demeanor. For all he was kitted out in gleaming armor and weaponry, for all his face was marked with those prideful tattoos, Cillian was a laid-back sort of fellow. Neria had met him at Skyhold, but hadn't been able to bring herself to respond to his friendly overtures then or since. She hadn't spoken much to anyone on the journey south.

"I have a clanmate by your name," he remarked. "Neria." His eyes moved over her forehead. There was only curiosity on his features, not the revulsion she was accustomed to seeing from mages and templars—from nearly everyone, really. But just then, making pleasant conversation seemed more difficult than calling on the elements to do her bidding. Shaping reality to her will was one thing. Small talk was another.

"It's a common name where I'm from," she said with a shrug.

"You weren't born Dalish, were you?"

"No. I'm from Denerim." Neria looked away. "We should move quietly."

"You're right about that, child." Cillian turned his attention back to their surroundings as they walked—although Neria suspected that his mind had only ever half been on her at all. That placid demeanor belied a deadly battlemage. His skill showed in every serene movement of his lean body as they stepped over the boundary of the camp and into the forest.

There was no sign of anyone nearby. A rustle drew both their eyes, but it was only a colorful bird alighting from the ferns. But something had prevented their scouts from making it back. They had to be prepared for anything.

Neria breathed deeply through her nose, drawing in more mana. It was coursing through her. She could feel every beat of her heart; all her senses were attuned to it. She could reach out and take more, if she chose. She could summon the strength to become one with this forest, to learn every rock and branch and drive out the intruders—

Cillian glanced at her sharply. He was shimmering, and it wasn't simply his golden armor; he'd cast some sort of shield spell. Not one she knew. Yes, every mage was trained in the fundamentals of combat, but there were many things the Circles didn't teach. She knew a barrier spell of her own, however, and drew on her mana to drop it over them both.

Her partner held up a hand to halt her step. She followed his gaze and drew in a sharp breath, gripping her staff and reaching for flame—

At her side, the shimmer around Cillian disappeared like a shadow covering the sun. Her own barrier dropped an instant later.

They'd only moved a few feet before the arrows began to fly.

 


 

The vanguard met almost no opposition as they marched. Lysette hoped that the main host of the Inquisition would come prepared for ambush. It was so difficult to see what was going on in these woods. No wonder the Inquisition scouts and the elves from Orlais had been able to harry Corypheus's army so successfully.

They heard the blockade before they saw it. As Barris has told them, it was at the foot of a great waterfall. Rushing water and clouds of mist gave way quickly to a wide area of marsh; more falls led downstream, but most of the water was still. It came up to their knees, but even wading was easier than maintaining formation in the slippery moss and fallen logs of the woods.

And that was fortunate, because a wall of red templars emerged from behind an ancient stone bridge-to-nowhere. Red templars with that twisted red lyrium song—the song was there, wasn't it? It was just out of hearing, but she couldn't stop to listen. Lysette held her sword and shield at the ready, loosening her knees and looking to her Knight-Lieutenant for orders, but the first fighting was already over.

The templars split into two hosts, then. Barris and Briony led the troops on the south bank while Cullen and Rylen led the troops on the other side. The fighting might be easier in the water, but it also left them exposed. They needed to clear the way for the Inquisitor, and that meant clearing out any ambushes and encampments that might threaten her progress. Once they'd forded the water, the templars spread out and split into smaller formations.

Lysette's troop only made it a few hundred yards before the ground shook under their boots. There was a crack as nearby trees splintered at another volley from the catapults. She turned, horrified, but she'd lost the rest of her troop—whether they were ahead and she'd fallen behind, or if they'd been crushed by the volley, she didn't know—it was chaos. But there was nothing to do but forge ahead. She didn't particularly want to be killed by red templars, but being killed by her own side was even less appealing.

There was a whistle from above and Lysette looked up. The sky was newly cleared of its canopy—she ducked as another fiery payload flew overhead to strike—no, to miss Corypheus's dragon. Its dark silhouette was flying west. Flying back the way they'd come, flying to the Inquisition camp where Adan was waiting for her.

Maker, keep him safe, she begged silently. She'd never wanted to be a soldier, but for a templar there was always the possibility of war or Exalted March. But Adan wasn't a soldier at all—he hadn't chosen this. Keep him safe—

And there was the song again, it was Dera calling her name, calling for Rian to come home but only Lysette was coming back. Her mind grew dizzy, her heart beating in time with the song, and then Belinda let out a shout. At least one member of her troop had made it through the bombardment.

Lysette dropped back into a fighter's crouch as the shadow of the beast blocked the light, blocked everything that was good in the world, and then it flew on past, away from the camp. But that was little relief when it flew towards the center of the forest. Towards its master.

She exchanged a glance with Belinda, who gave her a wry grin under her visor. "Found you. Maker, what a mess! Shall we catch up with the others?" Lysette nodded, but then... her friend's eyes grew wide. Lysette turned.

At first, Lysette thought it was one of the spiky red ferns that peppered the undergrowth. But as it moved she saw a monstrosity, so twisted and crystalline that it was more golem than human.

Whoever it had been was gone. There was no trace of humanity left in this creature. Lysette took a step back. How were they supposed to fight this? She'd been trained, she'd been blooded. Demons, mages, men… even fellow templars were nothing in comparison to this… this entity.

"It's a behemoth," shouted Belinda. "We fought them in the Dales. You have to—"

The behemoth slammed a massive fist against the ground and a wall of red crystals—singing crystals—lyrium—sprang up between Lysette and Belinda. The monster let out a low rumble of satisfaction.

Lysette circled, preparing to attack, and then something caught her eye. Something other than the behemoth.

They were on a raised bluff at one end of a stone bridge. It was little more than a narrow walkway over the water. On the other side stood an elf, his profile motionless in the dappled sunlight. But it wasn't a statue, and it wasn't Solas, for all he reminded her of the Inquisitor's companion. Not Solas, not one of their Orlesian allies. This man had branching tattoos over his face. And he held a bow, and he was looking down at the water…

When he nocked an arrow, Lysette knew.

The Inquisitor's party was about to emerge and approach the second blockade. It was an ambush.

There was no one else in range. Belinda was blocked by the wall of red lyrium. Lysette was the only one who could intercept the threat. The rushing water would cover any cries of warning, but if she were careful, it might also hide her approach from the archer—if she stayed out of his line of sight—

She looked back at Belinda. The other templar had seen the same thing Lysette had, and her face was twisted in horror and fear. They both knew the truth. If the Inquisitor didn't make it to the temple, it was all for naught.

Belinda turned away from Lysette and locked her gaze on the advancing behemoth. She lifted her sword, an attempt at defense as brave as it was hopeless…

And Lysette ran the other way.

 


 

With her foot, Neria rolled one of the elven corpses onto its back. "What clan is this?" she asked Cillian without looking up. Their attire was strange even for the Dalish.

"None I know, da'len," he said grimly. And then he wheezed. They’d dispatched the strange elves, but it had been a hard-fought and unexpected skirmish. “We need to go back to camp. Report to—”

“You go,” she said. “I want to look ahead.” Mana flowed through Neria faster than water in the rushing river below. She felt invulnerable. Part of her knew she wasn’t, but that part wasn’t in control right now. What was the secret of this forest? There were more voices here than anywhere she’d ever been. More spirits pressing against the Veil, or something… else?

She moved forward without waiting to see if Cillian followed her suggestion. It didn’t matter. She wasn’t going back.

The trees gave way to dense undergrowth, and then the undergrowth thinned.

Neria's staff rippled with frost and flame, a mingled paradox of elemental forces, as she came upon the clearing at the end of the bridge and took in the scene below her.

A red templar monstrosity. One of the massive ones, a crystalline weapon of a being. It had a human fighter cornered. Neria lifted her staff to help—but then the monster shifted and she recognized the woman's armor and… she hesitated.

She was safe in her position on the ridge. She could stay where she was. Why risk herself for one of them? She should let the templar fall, then deal with the monster.

You should kill them both, hissed a voice.

No, thought Neria vaguely. This could be Adan's lover, for all she knew; she could hardly—

Kill them.

It was her own voice. What do you, she, I, what does anyone owe a shemlen cousin who lives freely while you're caged—what does anyone owe some templar cunt—what do you owe the world, Neria? Prove them right prove them wrong prove what you are—what you could be.

It sounded like a crackle of flame, like the flame that ran down her staff and the flame that ran through her veins. Neria was drawing more mana into herself, she was alight, she was burning like a living torch of a Tranquil and then—

—she cast.

 


 

A voice—a low, Orlesian-accented voice—had Adan's head whipping around. He took two steps towards the healers' tent before he realized it wasn't her. It was some other young woman, dark-haired and covered in blood, and if not for the Imperial armor he might still have taken her for Lysette.

Adan cursed under his breath as he turned away, trying to return his heart to its normal pace. There was no time for distraction. He had to keep working.

Little wonder they'd wanted him here. The healers could mix elfroot potions for themselves, but they needed more than that. And not just for explosives. Under these conditions, they needed someone who knew what they were doing to prevent mass poisoning. Which also meant he had to pay attention, damn it.

But despite the creaks and shouts of the sappers firing the trebuchets, the injured woman's voice carried clearly across the camp, and Adan couldn't block it out.

"We're pushing them back?" she croaked. "The red templars fall?"

"You've done your part. Rest. Stop moving, you'll open the wound—"

"I can't, I need to know—" The words trailed off into an agonized moan as the healers' low whispers turned to gasps.

Adan glanced up from his workbench to see faces looking upwards—to see the sky darken as an all-too-familiar roar echoed over their heads. Adan ducked, for all the good it would do—because that was a dragon, that was the bloody dragon from Haven. How had he forgotten that Corypheus had a fucking dragon? Adan reached for the first thing that came to hand—a pitch grenade, Maker help him—

But the sun came back. The creature flew away and over the forest where the battle was raging. Where somewhere under those trees, Lysette was fighting—shit, he hoped she was still fighting. And Neria was… where?

As if in answer to his question, a glint caught his eye. A man, white-haired and brown-skinned, was coming into view at the edge of the woods. His unmistakable golden armor caught the long rays of the setting sun. That was the mage who'd gone with Neria.

But he was stumbling, bent at the waist. His hood was pulled back to reveal a face twisted in pain. Adan could only stare, aghast, as Cillian reached for a tree trunk in a vain attempt to support himself. Then the elf sank slowly to his knees.

At this distance, Adan couldn't see the arrow shafts that must have protruded from the chinks in the man’s armor, but they were there. He could see their gilded fletching. And he could see the blood that spilled from Cillian’s lips a moment before the man collapsed face-first in the dirt.

A blood-curdling scream startled Adan out of his paralysis. One of the other mages was sprinting to Cillian's motionless shape. She bent and clawed at the arrows, drawing one from his neck with a sick spray of blood. From the way the man spasmed in response, that was his lifeblood spilling onto the ground. The woman gathered his limp body into her arms and wailed, a chilling sound of grief and fury, as the healers descended.

Adan had spent more time than he liked among the wounded and dying. It was too late for the healers to do much. He tried not to retch as he scanned the forest. It had only been a few moments since Cillian stumbled up the slope, and still no sign of Neria. Where, where in the Void was she?

He’d only taken one step from the potions bench when he felt a hand on his arm. Adan looked back to see Minaeve's solemn face. Her eyes were as green and sad and ancient as the forest behind her.

"Adan, you can’t," she said.

He shut his own eyes, just for a moment. Just for a breath. Minaeve was right: the only way to help was to keep working.

So he did.

But Adan didn't think he'd ever do anything harder in his life than turn his back on those woods.

 


 

Lysette sprinted across the stone bridge as quickly as her legs would take her, until the blood burned in her throat. She had to make it in time, she had to—

There was no time for subtlety. Lysette lunged for the elven archer. Her shield struck the man in the back; her blade thrust cleanly into his shoulder just as he loosed his arrow. The arrow went well wide of its mark. Lysette hoped it had drawn its target's attention. She'd spent her own advantage of surprise already.

She leapt back and struck again, hewing at the archer's neck. He went down without ever turning around, his head nearly severed from his body. But he hadn't been alone. More of the alien elves were on her in an instant.

Curved blades rippled in the sunlight and time seemed to slow as Lysette dropped her shield and shifted her stance. A shield would be a hindrance against dagger-wielding rogues. Her back was to the river: all they had to do was get her to the edge, get her to lose her balance—

She needed to move, to find better ground to defend herself, but her boots were still damp from fording the stream and the stone beneath her feet was slippery with spray from the falls. Andraste preserve me.

The trio of rogues advanced in formation, and Lysette braced herself for a final desperate lunge. But just before she risked it, there was a volley of arrows— red-fletched—templars. Maker, it was the templars. Briony's templars, who'd gone along the south bank.

Lysette stepped cautiously away from the ledge. Her knees watery and heart still pounding in her ears. She was greeted by a babble of voices, crisp and educated, but only one of them stood out.

Of all the bloody people.

Mattrin clapped her on the back. "Hey," he said curtly. "What's with the elves?"

Lysette didn't have the breath to answer, even if she'd had an answer. Which she didn't. She turned to gesture down at the stream below. "Ambush," she gasped. "Herald—"

As they looked out, they could see the Inquisitor's party crossing the second blockade. She'd made it through. It had worked.

But Lysette only felt numbness. "We need backup across the bridge," she said hoarsely. "Outnumbered. There are red templars—behemoths—"

"Divide up," called Briony. "Abrahas, across the water—we're clear here. Lysette, Gallifort, watch the bridge."

Before Lysette could blink, shields were raised and booted feet pounded on the stone as the troop headed back the way she'd came. Back to where Belinda had almost certainly fallen.

Lysette was left standing alone with Mattrin and the dead elves.

Her throat constricted as she bent to pick up her shield.

 


 

The sun had set. Hours ago or minutes, Adan didn't know. He'd lost track of time long since.

He'd finally taken a moment to breathe when Neria had stumbled in to camp at dusk, alone. Singed but alive. Safe.

"What happened?" he'd whispered, holding her at arm's length and peering at her haggard face.

"I fought," she said. And that was all she'd tell him.

He got a few more answers when the templars began to return, one troop after another. He scanned their weary faces, but Lysette wasn't among them.

He found her redheaded friend, though. Belinda Darrow was in the healers' tent, two cots over from Cillian.

The elven mage lay still and quiet—sedated. How he'd survived that injury, Adan still didn't know. Blood magic? Noticing his stare, the necromancer sitting at Cillian's bedside sent him an evil look.

Adan hastily averted his eyes.  Definitely blood magic.  He walked past them both and went to speak with Belinda.

"Adan?" asked the woman sleepily as he crouched on the canvas floor of the tent at her side. "Oh, good. Lysette will be glad you're all right…"

"You've seen her?" He checked Belinda's pupils. "How're you feeling?" He thought her voice sounded a bit odd, although that Starkhaven accent made it hard to tell.

"All right," she said with a lopsided smile. "Sleepy… took a potion. Lysette? No, not since before I saw your cousin."

"What? Neria?"

Belinda nodded vigorously. Or tried to; her lids were closing even as she spoke. Adan had never regretted the efficacy of his own sleeping draughts so much. "She saved me, Adan. Maker above, I've never seen such a…" Her voice grew faint.

Adan rose to his feet.

The third person he went to for answers was the Inquisition commander. He was glad he'd been treating the fellow's lyrium withdrawal. Not many people would have gotten into Cullen's tent that evening.

The men looked at one another in silence for a moment. Cullen was the first to speak. "Ner—your cousin is well?"

"Yes," said Adan shortly.

"Good. Glad to hear it."

Cullen looked worse than Adan had ever seen him. That was saying something: Adan had seen him bleeding all over his bedding and foaming at the mouth from lyrium withdrawal. But now he just looked haggard, hollow-cheeked and battle-weary. He'd been doing better with the withdrawal, of late, and it gave Adan some hope for…

Well, that was the question, wasn't it?

"I haven't seen Lysette," Adan said roughly. "Do you know…" He cleared his throat.

"I have no idea. I'm sorry."

Adan shut his eyes. Pale spots danced over his eyelids. From the darkness beyond, Cullen's voice added, "There are scouts looking for survivors now. We'll send more people out at first light to—check."

Start gathering the bodies for burning, more like. But Adan nodded and opened his eyes. He unclasped a belt pouch and took out a potion. They were nearly out of these, but if anyone needed a sleeping draught, it was this man.

"Here," he said curtly, shoving the bottle at Cullen. "Take it as soon as you can. Her Worship will need us back on the road as soon as possible, I take it?"

"Maker, I wish I knew." Cullen pressed his hands against his eyes. "Excuse me," he said to Adan, dropping them. “I should explain. The Inquisitor's not here."

"She's still at the temple? I thought we won the damn battle already."

"We did. But she's not there, either. Excuse me, I—" Cullen ran his hands over his face. "I'll speak with you tomorrow."

Outside the tent, Adan stood and stared up at the night sky. There were half as many trees as there had been the night before. The moons were up but their light was faint. He should head to his own tent—but he couldn't. Not until Lysette came back.

A final troop of templars limped into camp half an hour later.

Adan spun around and craned his neck as they filed up the hill, one by one. And she was there–she was all right. Blood-splattered and weary, but she was well.

She came straight to him and put her arms around his neck. For once, he didn’t mind the pauldrons.

"It's over," she said. "It's over."

Chapter Text

Whatsoever passes through the fire
Is not lost, but made eternal.

—Exaltations 1:8

Lysette woke with a jolt, kicking her legs out reflexively before she realized where she was. The sun was shining through the canvas walls of Adan’s tent. She'd slept past dawn—and, Maker, her head ached. She shut her eyes to block out the light, but the sound of a pen scratching drew her attention.

"Adan?" She lifted herself onto her elbows. 

He was sitting on the end of the bedroll with a notebook perched on his knee. He looked up as she spoke.

"What am I doing here?" she asked groggily as her vision cleared. His linen tunic was wrinkled, sleeves rolled up to his elbows. Even while she was half-awake, the deft movements of his hands caught her eyes. The light glinted off the hairs on his forearms as he cleaned the nib of his pen and set it down. She was overwhelmed by sudden gratitude. He was alive—and so was she.

"You fell asleep on me," he said, watching her closely. There was a softness in his eyes that had her chest tightening.

Lysette shook her head to clear it. "I haven't reported in. They'll think—"

"Not to worry. I've sent a message to the commander. I'm looking after you in an official capacity, you see."

"Oh.” She let herself fall back on the bedroll. “That's too bad."

"Hmm?"

"Since I'm your patient, it would be very unethical if you came over here and kissed me."

"Not only unethical but unwise. You haven't washed, my girl, and I'm not sure whose blood you've gotten all over my pillow."

She turned to look and grimaced at the sight. "This isn't a pillow. It's a rag."

"It used to be my spare robe, until I let you near it."

Despite his protestations, Adan set aside his notebook and moved closer. He wrapped an arm around her waist and she leaned into the solid warmth of his body, heedless of the sweat that dampened the thin cloth of his tunic. Lysette laid a hand on his chest and felt the steady beat of his heart.

"We made it," she whispered.

"You made it." His lips brushed over her temple and she let her eyes drift shut. "I just mucked about back here while you lot did all the work."

"Why do you always underestimate yourself?" she murmured.

"Me?" Adan let out a short laugh. "You should talk to my colleagues. Not one of them has ever accused me of false modesty, I assure you."

"I didn't mean your work, I meant—”

He shook his head, brushing the question aside. Lysette let it go and kissed his neck. “Are your people all right?" she asked. "Minaeve… Neria?"

"Yes. Yours?"

"Yes. I think so. Mattrin said Belinda made it out."

Adan nodded. “I saw her last night."

"Thank the Maker.” Oh, thank the Maker.

The camp was quieter than it had been in the run-up to the battle. Instead of drilling soldiers and sappers hauling heavy equipment, there was only the creaking of branches in the wind. A few snatches of conversation as people walked to and fro. There was plenty of work to be done, but she wanted a moment—just a moment—to sit here and breathe.

Adan seemed to feel the same. He pulled her closer, wrapping his arms around her back, and she chuckled. “You haven't washed, either. You're all sweaty." She dragged a finger over his unshaven cheek and untrimmed beard. "And hairy."

"It's an experiment. I'm told women like a more down-to-earth sort of fellow."

"I like you."

"Thank you."

"I would also like you if you bathed."

Adan snorted into her hair. "Truth is, we should purge this entire tent with cleansing fire. Why don’t you take care of that while I go get us something to eat?” 

“There’s breakfa