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What It Feels Like To Be Human

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Athdhea Lavellan never liked writing letters, let alone write them in a language that is not her own. The past several days she had to write several of them with the help of Lady Josephine—to Chantry Sisters, Teyrns, Arls and to many other human titles she could not remember. One letter in particular though, she had to write on her own. Even though it was one that she wrote in her own language, it did not make writing any easier.

Dearest Sister,

I am well. As you may have heard from Keeper Deshanna, the humans have been nothing but kindness to me, and I am slowly adapting to their ways.

I am sorry I missed your ceremony. But one comfort from this is that you do not have to hide anymore, and while bring First may be daunting, in time, you will learn as I have. I have faith in you.

She used the bulk of the letter describing some things that she found amusing—like those little bowls that's changed in her room every morning, which she later learned were things that humans used to relieve themselves, or the little scroll binders that humans use to compile knowledge, called books—which were kept in wooden slits fixed to the walls of the Chantry. Those little things at least can give a sense that she was somewhat comfortable and safe.

Of course, that is not completely true. At first, the humans did keep her as prisoner, but only because they thought she blew up their place of worship and many people inside it, including what it looks like their Keeper—the Divine. And there was the matter of her left hand, which always glowed with a bright green hew whenever it was near those portals to the Fade they called rifts, and shot an intense pain through her veins every time she wielded it against those rifts. Still, after that incident, she marveled at how the villagers treated her with utmost respect—almost to the point of worship—the Herald of Andraste, so they called her.

Yet despite their reverence, everything still felt strange—the sound of the language spoken around her was different, and though they knew that she was Dalish, she got the sense that nobody knew from where she really was, because every time she explained something, people tended to give her a certain curious look as if she was describing something foreign. She was the First of her Clan, so she was well studied in the human language to the point of near fluency. Her clan traded often with humans, and she knew more than enough of the language to be able to sneak herself inside that very important human meeting that got her into this fiasco in the first place. Nonetheless, every time she used it, it always reminded her that that language was not her own.

Athdhea closed her letter with greetings to friends and other family members, and well wishes for her sister, Samahl's new appointment as the new First. Her sister becoming the First is the one of the good things that came out of this unexpected turn of events. Samahl's magical capabilities was an open secret in the clan. They knew she had it but she was never allowed to use it, for fear that the other clans find out, and having her sister sent away alone. It was something she could not bear. Both of them never knew their parents, so Samahl was the world to her. And now, that world has drifted far away. The best thing she could do is to send some words that would let her imagine her sister smiling.

As soon as she dispatched her letter to one of Leliana's messengers, she found her feet moving through the snow towards the outside of Haven's gates, and towards the trees beyond it. On one low tree, her arms moved to pull herself up its branches, towards a semblance of some familiarity. Even though she's been living in Haven for some time, she's still not used to its cold stone walls where people live in. Trees to her felt closer to home, and she found herself, on a few occasions dreaming on its branches.

It was her natural curiosity that made her volunteer for the spying mission. Growing up, shemlens always fascinated her with their power, knowledge and technology. She knew that elves who lived among humans clustered around alienages, and she knew about human armies raiding other clans, so she was always careful around them, particularly those heavily armored ones who hunted people with magic. They were different but fascinating. While many in her clan always looked backwards to those times when elves ruled the land and those times when their own gods walked alongside them, at least the shemlens looked to the future. Volunteering gave her a chance to learn more about them, and what it may feel like to be human. Nowadays, she if she ever had that opportunity to caution her past self, she would have told herself to be careful of what she wished for.

Haven has many dreams, so she has seen. Solas told her about a lot of them. Among all her new companions, he at least spoke her language. He was an elf who is quite vocal in his dislike for her people, yet he always spoke of beautiful dreams. Through him, she learned how to make herself dream, and to see the dreams around her. One time, she dreamt of a large group violent men killed anyone who visited this little town and sacrificed them to the dragon they worshipped. She saw Rosamond Cousland, hero of Ferelden, charge the beast with her flaming red hair flailing in the wind, and her companions—the king of Ferelden, two female mages, a qunari, an elven assassin, a dwarf, and a familiar red headed bard, follow after her. The bard, Athdhea recognized as Leliana. And when she asked Leliana about it, the latter was surprised at how accurately this precocious elf described that old battle. In a lot of ways, Athdhea found that dreams do help her understand her new reality, and all it took was a little bit of lyrium to make these dreams happen.

Athdhea was about to take a sip of lyrium, when heard hard footsteps below her.

"Your Worship?"

Her feet moved to flee by reflex, but ice on the tree caused her hand to slip sending her falling down the pile of snow below.

"Your Worship!" the voice repeated in alarm.

When her eyes adjusted, she found herself staring above towards a pair of brown eyes that belonged to Commander Cullen. "Are you alright?" he asked gently. His voice sounded different compared to his usual forceful commanding tone. This time, it was a lot softer, more undecided.

"Commander…I'm fine. You just startled me, that's all."

"I'm sorry."

After he helped her up on her feet, she found herself explaining. "I wasn't running away. I do intend to keep my promise to the Inquisition." The man before her used to hunt people like her, and he probably followed her to keep her from escaping.

"Whatever made you think that I was…oh! I did not mean to make you think that…" His voiced trailed off. Athdhea found herself equally dumbfounded by this version of the Commander who was awkward, and a lot less in control.

"I'm sorry I misjudged your intentions."

"It is not entirely your fault. I, after all, was the one who startled you."

It suddenly occurred to her that she knew nothing of the Commander, or any of the ex-templars who fought with her some weeks ago. This man in particular, she knew, gave up his post in Kirkwall to fight for her. Maybe he wasn't as cold as she originally thought.

"If you don't mind my asking, what were you doing up there?"

"I wanted to dream, that's all."

"Dream?" he asked incredulously. "On a tree?"

A moment of realization came: adult humans don't climb trees. To him, she probably seemed very much like a child. And she was tired of explaining herself. "You humans have no imagination at all."

"I'm sorry I didn't mean to offend. You are, after all, very far away from home. You must miss it."

There was genuine fluster and concern in his voice. If he did not follow her, why was he at the edge of the forest? "If you weren't following me, why were you here, Commander?"

"I was just…trying to catch some air."

Upon closer examination, Athdhea did realize that he did look pale, a lot paler than most humans, almost as if he was ill. "Are you feeling unwell?"

"Just a headache. It will pass as it always does."

At that moment, the Commander and ex-templar, suddenly became vulnerable, almost like any normal person. "Let me." Drawing closer towards him, her hands touched his forehead.

"What are you doing?"

"Quiet! I'm trying something."

Her fingers glowed as she silently uttered a spell. There was no assurance that it would work, but after a minute some color was restored to his cheeks. She quickly pulled away after realizing that their faces were dangerously close.

The ex-templar, as flustered as she was, muttered, "What did you just do?"

"A healing spell. Did it work?"

"Maybe." She could swear she saw his cheeks redden. That was a good sign.

"I'm glad."

They were silent for a while. The awkwardness was still there, but at least there was no fear. Not anymore.

"Well, if you don't mind…" the Commander started, "I'll get back to my soldiers, so you can get back to your…dreaming. Good day to you, Herald."

"Athdhea." Her voice stopped him for a second. "I would like you to call me by my name, since we are working together."

"Of course…Athdhea."

"Good day…Cullen."

Both paused after each said the other's name. Athdhea found the exchange interesting to say the least. Instead of climbing back up the tree, she found herself walking back to Haven. The dreams will have to wait.


Cullen thought they were getting along so well.

Before this misunderstanding, she started approaching him during training. She asked about the status of the soldiers, what his life as a Templar was like, and she even joked about his relationships, or the lack thereof. When she started a bit of sword training under Cassandra-she wanted to be able to fight in those times when she runs out of magical energy—he even stepped in one time to correct her stance. And she did not mind that at all.

Until one day, he started receiving gifts—ram meat, some things that she may have gathered during one of her hunts, and various herbs that he received from Inquisition messengers who all said it was from her. At first, he found the gestures nice, until they became quite excessive. The last straw came when Harrit approached his tent bearing a sword, who said that the Herald forged it herself for him. Indeed that got a lot of giggles from all the other officers. It did not help that Varric too loudly joked at dinnertime about writing a story about a forbidden romance between an elven mage and an ex-Templar.

He had enough, and it was time to put an end to this. Maybe if he let her down easily, she would be able to move on. And it was too bad, because he rather liked the sword she forged for him. And he had to admit that at times, he thought she was pretty.

It was difficult to get her alone, because most of the time, he found her writing with Varric, getting lessons about diplomacy from Josephine or chatting away with the elven apostate in a language that he definitely does not understand. Until one time after a war meeting, he was able to call her aside.

"Your Wor—Athdhea…" he started. "May I speak with you alone?"

"Gladly," she replied smiling. "I was waiting for you to ask me that."

She was not making it easy.

For a while, they walked around Haven, not uttering a word. When they finally reached the gates, they simultaneously broke the silence.

"I'm not interested in a relationship at the—"

"Would you please train me how to wield a sword?" she asserted loudly.

They started at each other disbelievingly. At that moment, he suddenly wanted the ground to open up and swallow him whole.

He nervously cleared his throat, "Wait, you want me to teach you?"

"I thought it was clear," she asserted. "Cassandra thought that it would be a good idea for you to teach me instead…And the ram, herbs, the sword … All of it was to prove my intention to learn. Aren't you supposed to do that to show respect to your Masters? I thought-or is it just another thing I did wrong?"

"One does not do those things to just anyone here."

"Wait, you thought I was interested in you?"

He hung his head in shame. "Oh Sweet Maker, please kill me now."

"Cullen, I-"

"Let's speak about this later!" he interrupted, trying not to show the obvious signs of embarrassment on his face. "I have a training exercise to attend to! Goodbye!" With that, he went as far away from the war room as he could. If there was an ensuing battle, he would have found it so he would have died quickly.

That night, he sought out Cassandra, who was drinking with Leliana and Josephine in the tavern. He asked Cassandra if she got the same gifts that he did, when she trained with her initially.

"Oh I did," she admitted. "And I thought it was very…thoughtful."

"For you, maybe."

"I thought her fervor is one that would have been becoming of any knight, if only she wasn't a mage…"

"Oh, you and your romances Cassandra," Leliana interjected. "But I do see that a little bit of romance does suit our dashing Commander. Look! He's blushing!"

"I'm not—"

"Don't worry Commander, you do look pretty when you blush!"

Josephine added, "Perhaps there is a more diplomatic solution to your romantic problems, Commander…That may involve—"

"There is none!"

Days passed and he avoided her, even when she volunteered to personally recruit Mother Giselle herself in the Hinterlands. Weeks passed, and he always received word from her via Leliana and Josephine, who often both put emphasis on her indirect messages to him with numerous giggles.

Finally, a letter came. It was open of course, and Leliana's eyes definitely saw it first, who probably would tease him endlessly about it as soon as he sees her. The letter said:

Dear Commander,

I hope this letter finds you well.

I am writing to request some troops to build some watchtowers at the villagers' request. I see no harm to it, and I do think it will benefit the nearby its nearby inhabitants greatly, especially if they get more security against bandits and wild animals. And it would greatly please the Horsemaster.

Please do tell me what you think about this, and send your reply as soon as possible.

Regards,

Athdhea Lavellan

PS. We really should talk when I get back.

PPS. I am not interested in you either.

He found it very short, but very cutting in its brevity. There goes any chance of anything with her. It was over even before it had begun. To this, he sent a sort reply indicating that he is sending soldiers her way. In the next war meeting, sans Cassandra and her, Leliana kept humming tragic love songs and songs about couples breaking up. There was almost no end to it.

Until thankfully, she came back. She came just when he was breaking a fight between mages and Templars just outside the gates. It did not help that Chancellor Roderick was seemingly goading the fight. Soon it was decided that they definitely should pick a side, and picking either side would not bode well for the other. But even days after her arrival, she did not seek him out. He had enough. He needed to know.

When he found her, she was speaking with Solas, who excused himself when he saw him. As they sat together, near one of the huts, she avoided his gaze.

"You really are not interested in me?" he begun.

"You came over here to ask me that?" was the reply.

"Yes."

"Then no! No, I am not interested in you. Does that satisfy you?"

He nodded.

"Good!"

"Good."

"So will you teach me then?" Her eyes fluttered eagerly.

"Why do you care so much about this? You're already a mage. You may be taking too much upon yourself."

"It won't be too much if I at least can defend myself from an enemy at close quarters," she said determinedly, "especially when I run out of strength to draw mana. You know as well as I that I am defenseless from any Templar or anyone with the same ability. I don't want anyone risking their lives to save mine."

"That's what friends do. And you're lucky to have them, especially Cassandra."

"She threatened to kill me the first time we met."

"I would have been more worried if she did not threaten you enough."

They laughed.

"So will you—"

"Alright! Alright!" He said with a defeated sigh. "Maker, you are persistent. Just the basics, alright? And do not expect that I would go easy on you just because you are the Herald of Andraste."

"I wouldn't dream of it."

He got up on his feet, and with his commanding voice, he shouted, "On your feet, recruit! Head to the training camp and strike one of the practice dummies one thousand times!"

"One thousand?!"

"I'll make it two thousand if you ask me one more time. Do I hear any complaints?"

"No, sir!" she declared, imitating a salute from one of his soldiers, before scuffling towards the training camp.

Someday, he will get back at her for all this embarrassment.