Chapter 1: Encounters and Misunderstandings
As Athdhea Lavellan adjusts to her new life as Herald of Andraste, she finds herself drawn to one particular ex-Templar. Cullen is not sure how he feels about the attention.
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.
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.
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."
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.
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."
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."
"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!"
"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:
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.
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.
"Then no! No, I am not interested in you. Does that satisfy you?"
"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."
"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!"
"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.
A/N: Thanks for reading! This is my first fic in a while. For this, I want to give the Inquisitor's story similar to an immigrant's experience and what it's like to a adapt to a culture that she barely understands. It will be in rotating POV, so expect Cullen and Cassandra in the next few chapters. Solas will feature significantly, and there will be a triangle. Anyway, thanks!
A/N2: If you're reading this as of Aug 25, 2018, perhaps some would notice the chapter merger. No big change but I need it to keep the chapter longer. Besides, they both are about misunderstandings even if they are on different POVs.
A/N3: Solavellan part is up on next chapter...
Chapter 2: The Cave
Athdhea Lavellan finds that in her dreams and repressed memories, an old friend has been right beside her all along.
She thought it was going to be a lovely day.
The sun was up above in the sky, and the Inquisition was camping by the sea. Sure, there were dragons, but their presence only made her more battle-ready companions excited—the Iron Bull specifically. The sea reminded her of home, and all those times she played at the beach near Wycome. Every morning, she snuck out of the camp, walked towards what looked like an old stone dock and moved her arms as if she was directing the lashing wind and waves with magic. There was no magic though, only the power of nature.
One morning, she was doing the exact same thing, when she felt a pair of eyes intensely scrutinizing her. When she turned, her eyes met the greyish-blue hue of those that belonged to her friend, the elven apostate. For a moment, he stared at her dubiously, until he too started imitating her movements. Soon, their movements synchronized, and from a distance, it looked as if they directed the wind and the waves in an elaborate dance. As they walked back to the camp for breakfast, he complemented her movements.
“The grace of your movements,” he declared, “is an enjoyable side benefit. And the stance to conducting electricity with magic is similar, if you wish to learn it.”
“Side benefits?” she repeated jestingly. “So you’re saying I’m graceful?”
“It was never a subject for debate.”
There was no denying that he shamelessly flirted with her from time to time. Another time, he did praise her “indomitable focus.” And she wondered if Varric would continue to call him Chuckles, if he knew Solas actually has this side of him.
“Also Lethallan,” he added, “Please do not tell Varric.”
Breakfast brought the rest of the unlikely group together. The Iron Bull looked like he was recovering from an intense hangover. He did, after all, opened up three wine casks that the Chargers found washed up on the shore the night before. Varric was having his coffee while penning a letter. Cassandra, as usual, was hitting things with her sword—this time, it was the bow of a small wrecked ship that made it to the shore. Blackwall was sharpening his sword. Vivienne quietly sipped her tea, while Sera looked like she was attaching something to the bottom of the enchanter’s coat. When her eyes met Sera’s the elf simply sniggered and ran away.
This was the company she kept, and at that moment, she realized she had friends. Friends were different from family, and she would remember to write about every one of them to Samahl. Maybe it would be nice for Samahl to find friends of her own outside the clan.
Later that day, Blackwall told them that there are some Grey Warden caches that he would like to find in a forest nearby. All was well until they came towards the mouth of a cave. Every since she could remember, she always hated going near caves, and everything about the one before her told her to stay away.
“Is there no other way?” she asked.
“There is,” Blackwall assented, “But it is about more than a day’s climb above those cliffs, or two days if we have to go around.”
There was a bit of debate among the party about which path to take, but not wanting to displease her friends, who have already walked for hours on the rocky cliffs, decided to go along with the cave path. She tried not to show her fear.
Perhaps sensing her fear, Solas took her hand and guided her in the darkness. The knowledge of his presence, his nearness calmed her a bit. It was something that felt warm and familiar. It was almost as if the same thing had happened before.
All seemed well until a swarm of giant spiders started attacking the group. The next thing she knew she was lying on the forest floor outside the cave with everyone’s faces crowding around her.
“You okay, Boss?” inquired the Iron Bull, with a very concerned look on his face as she sat up.
“What happened?” she groaned.
“You passed out Squirrel,” answered Varric. “Luckily, Cassandra was able to keep those things off you, and Bull was able to carry you out. We took care of the rest.”
“I appreciate it,” she replied. “I’m sorry, everyone.”
“I think it is best that we set up camp,” Cassandra suggested. “The Herald needs to rest.”
Afterwards, she thought no more of it. Growing up, she often rationalized her fear of caves. Perhaps it had to do with some memory that she blocked out when she was really young. She had always suspected that it had something to do with how she and Samahl were found one day at the edge of the forest, and adopted into the Clan. She often asked Keeper Deshanna who her parents were, but her answer was always, “One day, Dalen, I will tell you when the time is right.”
After that incident, one could say that the rest of the journey on the Coast was very productive for the Inquisition—they managed to close a few Rifts, destroy some Red Lyrium and get rid of most of the bandits on the Coast, who all ended up swearing their allegiance to the Inquisition after Athdhea defeated their leader in single combat.
All was well, until at the Hessarian Camp, she caught a glimpse of two dead men, slightly decomposing, hanging above some scaffolding. Suddenly, it was as if there was a shadow that flashed through her eyes—someone’s shadow, being lifted and hanged in a similar way, her feet dangling—a voice telling her to run—a mirror with ripples, and then the face of a wolf, whispering, “That is not your Mother, Da’len…Follow the path to the other side of this mirror.”
The next moment—the visions, the voices, were gone, and she found herself staring at a pair of familiar grey blue eyes.
“Lethalan, stay with me!” screamed Solas as he shook her shoulders. “Lethalan!”
Without knowing how or why, she wept in his arms.
That night, in the well-known comfort of a tree branch, she wrote to Keeper Deshanna. In that letter, she begged the Keeper to tell her what happened about fifteen years ago, and how she and Samahl were found. It took weeks for a reply to arrive, and by that time the party had already returned to Haven.
I must say I was surprised by your letter. But there’s always this part of me that knew that this day would come.
Around that time around fifteen years ago, our scouts reported a squad of Templars hunting mages nearby, so we were constantly on the move to avoid them. One of our hunters found you, close to the camp, slumbering under a tree clutching your little sister. When you came to us, you did not know your name, or your parents or where you were from, so we gave you names. Samahl got her name from her laughter, and you got your name from the dawn.
Days after we found you, our hunters found two mages—what’s little left of them—strung up on a cave. We believed them to be your parents. There were also traces of red lyrium and a shattered glass of what could have been a broken mirror. As for the Templars, we thought the shemlens brought them to justice, until one of them, a woman became Knight Commander of Kirkwall.
We never told you because we did not want you to feel that you are not welcome, that you are not one of us. Our clan, our family is not measured by blood, but love. In those nights when you find yourself crying from these memories, I hope that you remember that we love you, and that someday, the Creators would bring you back to us.
Keeper Istimaethoriel Lavellan
She was supposed to spar with Cullen that afternoon, but after reading that letter, she had no heart to see him. The flashes brought back broken memories, and she felt that if she did not piece together those broken memories, she would remain broken as well. So she sought out a friend close by. Solas was just setting out when she came running to his door.
“Would going in the Fade restore some of my broken memories?” she inquired as soon as she was able to catch her breath.
“It is possible. But Lethalan, some memories are not meant to be remembered. Perhaps these are memories that should remain hidden…for your sake.”
“Please, Solas,” she begged, desperately clutching his hand. “I am not a child anymore, and I don’t want to remain broken forever.”
“Memories such as yours are dangerous. If you are not careful, they could easily attract spirits of Despair. And you are too important to this organization to succumb to Despair.”
“I am not afraid. Remember, I have also fought demons. It is time that I fight my own.”
She spent the evening in the quiet of her own room. The door she left ajar for two friends to come—Cassandra, who she secretly asked to come for insurance in case she did not succeed, and Solas, whose presence was always comforting, and necessary. The lyrium did its work quickly, and soon she entered the place of many colors.
The Fade bends to the will and imagination, or at least that’s what she knew. It led her to a small house by a forest. The house was dark, and quiet. Its hearth looked like it had not seen fire for some time. Papers and books were scattered everywhere—most of them contained notes about spells. In one corner, there were two beds and a cradle. A brown toy bear lay asleep on the smaller bed. As she approached it, a white wisp circled around her, like it wanted to be found.
The white wisp was actually warm to the touch. As she did, the hearth suddenly lit the room with its warm fire. Laughter echoed on its walls. And then she just knew. She had a family—a mother, a father, and a sister. Her parents were apostates, who lived in peace away from the Circle for a time.
She wanted to bask in its warmth for a little longer, but the walls around her suddenly disappeared. The forest around her grew, and she felt a presence close by. A hooded figure dashed by her, and grabbed her hand, forcing her to run alongside it. In the dark, she could tell that the figure was a woman, and her touch was cold. “Quickly,” she said, “Before the Templars catch us.”
The running, the growing forest—all of this happened before. That instant, more memories flashed—her sister crying in her arms, her mother telling her to run, the sound of armored feet following, and the cave of red crystals. She didn’t want to run away. She wanted to go back to get her father. But the voice told her that her father was gone.
They stopped, and before them was the mouth of large cave. It glowed red, and from the outside, Athdhea could sense the presence of red lyrium. On one side, someone erected some makeshift scaffolding, and two empty nooses.
“Who are you?” Athdhea demanded. “Why did you bring me here?”
“Do you really not know me, child?” The figure removed its hood. The woman appeared to have a face that looked like her, only a little older. The voice that spoke was similar to one who sang her lullabies, many years ago.
“Mother?” she posited.
“Yes, my child,” she said. “The Templars took you away from me. Like they took your father. But I see you have now grown so beautiful…so strong, without me.”
Athdhea fell into her arms, her emotions quickly turning to tears. And she spoke words that she wanted to say, but could not because they were hidden in her mind. “Why did you have to make me leave?”
“I had to protect my little girls,” she answered, returning the embrace. “But it does not matter now. We can be together again. If you just stay here…”
Her voice was calming, comforting, lulling her into a deep slumber. Maybe one could just rest here and forget everything, Athdhea thought. But then she remembered—on the other side of this dream, she had her sister. She had her Clan. She had friends—Cassandra, Varric, Solas, Vivienne, Bull, Blackwall, Sera, Leliana, Josephine, and even Cullen. She had the Inquisition. And she promised them that she would help make things right. Nothing about this dream was right.
As soon as she opened her eyes, her Mother’s touch grew cold. In her Mother’s place was not her mother, but a Despair demon.
“You fool!” it cried. “You could have stayed here with me forever.”
Backing away, she channeled magical energy around her. The flames grew from her fingers. The demon tried to summon walls of ice to protect itself, but the fire simply melted them away. Athdhea realized that she was stronger than her own despair, and the life she lived, the life she is living, was more than enough to burn all the sadness.
“Spirit, begone!” she declared. “You have no hold in my life any longer.”
That moment, she knew that the memory of her family, her Clan and her friends have made her stronger. With a loud cry, she summoned a rain of fire around her. Within moments, the demon burned into ash, its piercing screams silenced for now, if not forever.
Athdhea stood there for a while, stunned by the energy, the magic that she was suddenly able to channel. She never knew that she had that much power within her.
When the last embers died, she heard someone clapping. “Well done,” it said. Its voice was masked but its tone carried something familiar. Upon turning, she found herself face to face with a man, or a spirit, wearing a wolf mask. A wolf’s mask, a wolf’s face—she had seen this before too.
“Are you a Man, or a Spirit?” she asked.
The masked man laughed. “Funny, you asked the exact same question…many years ago.”
He led her into the cave, and she was careful not to touch the red lyrium seemed to grow around her. This time, she was not afraid, not anymore. And there was different feeling to the man before her, as if she knew that he was someone who always protected her.
Deep into a cave was a large mirror. Unlike any other mirror, its surface rippled, much like water. The masked man motioned for her enter it.
And she did. Upon passing through the mirror, she found herself suddenly bathed under the light of many colors. Red trees grew around her, and there were waterfalls. Many bridges and mirrors stretched before her towards as far as she could see. Somehow though, she had been there before.
A child, clutching a crying baby, was crying by the corner of one golden bridge. Somehow, she knew that that child was her.
“Where are we?” she inquired to the masked man beside her.
“You are still in the Fade,” he answered solemnly. “The Fade carries echoes of the past. In this case, it is YOUR past. Look…”
As if on cue, a copy of the masked man emerged from across the bridge, and walked towards her younger self. “What is wrong, Da’len?” asked the shadow of the masked man.
“Mama…Papa…” she replied. “I have to go back…I have to go back.”
The shadow took some steps towards the mirror, past them, feeling through its ripples. He paused for a moment. Then turning to the child, he said, “That is not your mother. There is nothing back there, but black angry spiders and terrible ghouls.”
“Who are you?” asked the child. “Are you a man or a spirit?”
“Then what do they I call you?”
“I am a simply…a friend.”
“A Friend…” she repeated. “What kind of stupid name is that?”
He laughed. “Trust me, Da’len. You will count yourself lucky when people call you that when you grow up.”
With a nod from the shadow’s head, music from ancient flutes sounded. Quickly, the baby fell fast asleep. “Come,” he said. “I will take you to your family.”
The shadow made its way across the bridge. The child with her little sister followed close behind. Pathways emerged where there were none. It was as if the man--the shadow--made roads with anything that his feet touched. Soon they came upon another mirror, this one larger than many of the other mirrors they passed by. The shadow motioned to the little child, “Follow the path to the other side of this mirror. Your family awaits you there.”
Before the child entered the mirror, she called back, “Hey, A Friend?”
“Yes?” the shadow answered curiously turning to her.
“My house is just near the edge of the forest. Will you come and visit us? Mama can make us some magic tea.”
“I am afraid that I don’t like tea much, Da’len.”
“How can you say that? Everybody likes tea. And Mama makes the best tea that makes everyone feel nice.”
“I suppose. I have been sleeping for a while. Maybe tea would do me well.”
“Goodbye, A Friend! Please visit us someday!” The child waved back before passing through the mirror.
“Someday,” the shadow repeated, before all the shadows before disappeared.
The sky still had its colors. Waters still rushed below and the wind rustled on the red trees. But everything is much quieter now.
The vision filled Athdhea with a lot of questions for the man beside her now. “How did you know?” she asked, still wondering at what she just saw. “How did you know that the Clan would be on the other side of that mirror?”
“I have been observing the dreams of the waking world,” was the answer. “Of course I knew they were there.”
“Have you always been here?”
“No. Part of me has already awoken.”
“Are you a dreamer too? A mage?”
“In a manner of speaking, yes.”
Noting the wolf mask, she inquired, “An agent of the Dread Wolf?”
“No.” was the abrupt answer. “But if I were, would that make me any less trustworthy?”
She shook her head. The man before her, after all, saved her life. She had nothing to fear from him. “I…” she tried to find the best words, but the words that she needed to speak only needed to be simple. “Thank you.”
“I simply did what I had to do to a child who lost her parents.”
The lights around them grew brighter. The waking world was calling. She was waking up.
“Will you keep your promise then?” her tone had a slight teasing note.
“You promised to have tea.”
“I made no such promise.”
“No matter,” was the determined reply. “I will find you. I have…powerful friends.”
“You can try…Lethalan.”
After he spoke those words, Athdhea felt a flash of light.
The next thing she knew, the gazed at the light passing through the curtains of her window. Cassandra lay sleeping my her bedside, clutching a dagger with one hand.
At least she knew that she survived the night.
Outside, the morning sunshine shone brightly on the snow around her. It was as if everything was filled with hope, even the sky beyond that lay open before her.
Someday, she will find him. And she will start by trying to find the Mages.
This chapter was difficult to write. I find writing memories very hard. But I hope I did justice to it. The triangle is established now. I'll eventually use Solas' POV, but it will have its own time. I know it is super obvious who that person in Athdhea's dreams is *cough* Solas *cough* But of course I'm operating on the fact that she doesn't know yet. Anyway, let me know what you guys think. Thanks!
Chapter 3: A Dalish Promise
Cullen and Athdhea disagree about either allying with the mages or the templars. While they may not see eye to eye, Athdhea makes him a promise--a promise that she fulfills in a way that he does not expect.
“For the last time: you cannot go to the mages!” shouted Cullen. “You’re letting your emotions keep you from making rational decisions.”
“And I am telling you: the Templars will not be an option!” Athdhea snapped back.
“You cannot blame the deaths of your Mother and Father on all Templars! Some of us chose this life for noble reasons. Not all of us killed your parents!”
“No, but that does not make me feel any better, Commander!"
The rest of the room stayed back in shock. This is the first time that he’s seen her raise her voice. As she met his gaze, she made it clear to him that she was not backing out.
“We’re done here. I leave for Redcliffe tomorrow. Stay or follow me: I don’t care.”
Upon leaving, she slammed the door loudly behind him. Leliana and Josephine followed quietly. Cassandra stayed, watching Cullen pace the room furiously.
“How could she be so stubborn?!” he fumed. “She’s driving the Inquisition to th ground with this.”
“The mages are not a terrible option, Commander,” argued Cassandra. “Their magic is equally powerful to seal the Breach.”
He snarled, “Their magic! Their magic started this mess at Kirkwall in the first place.”
He heard Cassandra roar, and the next thing he knew, he felt her grab him hard on the shoulders, glaring at him as she pinned him to the wall. “You’re being unreasonable too! Just remember that everyone in this fight has scars.”
A sigh escaped his lips. Cassandra was right. He was being too hard on the Herald, on Athdhea. After all, she did just find out that she lost her parents because of the actions of some of the members of the Order. And Meredith was one of them. The same Meredith he served at Kirkwall. The same Meredith he turned against when she went insane.
Perhaps she did have the right to be mad at him, and he hated that feeling.
Lying on his bed, he tossed and turned. Ever since she came back from the Storm Coast, she’s been actively avoiding him. Not only was she skipping sword training, but she kept meetings short when he was present. The last thing he wanted was her thinking ill of him. It was a feeling that he could not understand.
Then he knew what he had to do. He had to apologize. Quickly, he got his coat and his boots. Never mind that they were not completely laced. He just had to go. As he opened the door, he came face to face with a pair of purple eyes—her eyes.
“I…” she muttered awkwardly, “I was going to knock.”
He eyes her curiously. It looked like she rushed there too. She was a fur coat, and possibly not much underneath. Maker, this was not boding well. “I…was on my way to find you.”
“Well, I am here.” She shrugged in defeat. “I…may I come in?”
“NO!” he protested abruptly. Of course, he would not admit to anyone that he did imagine her in such an attire, in his room.
“Okay. Maybe I should just go—”
“NO!” Trying to avoid her puzzled gaze, he continued, “That is, I…maybe we should just head to the bonfire instead.”
The large fire right in front of the Chantry rose high above, as they sat beside each other. As the fire lit her gentle features—her eyes, her nose, her lips—he knew that he could not stay mad at her for very long.
“I’m sorry,” she began. “I realize I took out my feelings on you, and that was cruel of me. You obviously did not kill my parents, and I know you left the Templars for the Inquisition, because you wanted to right the exact mistakes that both Mages and the Templars made. I know you’re a good man, and I’ve misjudged you.”
“Did Cassandra put you up to this?”
“No, I came because I knew I was wrong, and I want apologize.”
“Funny,” he said with a serious look on his face, “Cassandra said almost the same thing to me.”
He again tried to avoid her eyes, which he felt was curiously studying his features.
“Cassandra told me that everyone has scars in this fight. And she was right. You were not the only one who was emotional in that room. And I’m sorry too.”
The bonfire crackled before them. For a moment, his eyes were lost on the embers dancing. He’s seen fires like this before, bigger more destructive ones…on Ferelden, on Kirkwall.
As if reading his mind, she said, “I heard stories about Kirkwall. I heard about the mage who blew up the Chantry, how the First Enchanter became an abomination, and how the Knight Commander went mad. Experiencing all of that must have been—“
“I should have seen through Meredith sooner…” he interrupted. “It’s…not a subject that I would prefer to think about at the moment…”
“I’m sorry,” she repeated. “And since, we’re making confessions…I have another one to make.”
“What?” This time he was really interested.
“I…” she started. “I confess that there’s another reason why I wanted to approach the mages...”
Oh Maker, stop torturing me and spit it out already!
“I want to find someone.”
“To find someone?” he repeated. Trying not to sound interested, he took a bite of a dry apple that he had in his coat pocket. “Who?”
“My first love…”
He nearly choked on the apple piece when he heard that. If she was trying to make him jealous, it was working. “What? Are you serious?”
“A little. I mean, he did save my life once. I feel indebted, attached to him. If that’s not love, I don’t know what that is.”
“You know very little of love then.”
“And as far as you have told me, neither do you. I bet you barely have any experience…”
He scoffed. “Oh, you’ll be surprised.”
“Anyway, I do want to find him---that man in my dreams. Because I can’t shake the feeling that he’s just nearby. Maybe if I try, I would find him.”
“You don’t even know if he’s real. For all you know, maybe you just imagined him because what happened to you and your family was beyond terrible…”
“I know he’s real.”
“Maybe you’ve been reading too much of Varric’s romances.”
“Oh yes,” she teased. “I can see the title of that novel he will probably write about me now printed in huge letters: ‘Destiny Finds’ You by Varric Tehras. Honestly, I do want to read that.”
“Why are you telling me this anyway?” he asked, a little annoyed.
“I’m telling you this because I want you to know why I am doing what I do. Like you, I am doing this so I could find a part of myself. Maybe if I find it, everything would be so much better.”
He examined her for a while. There was nothing in her eyes that told him that she was lying.
“And I want to make you a promise,” she said. Without warning, she slipped a green ring on his left ring finger. He could tell that it had magic.
“What in the Maker’s name is this?” His eyes furrowed as he examined it.
She replied matter-of-factly, “It’s a promise ring.”
Blood instantly rushed to his cheeks. He heard of such rings from the Dalish. From what he heard, elves gave them to each other as engagement rings.
“And before you get any ideas,” she stipulated, “I’m giving this to you because of this promise to you.” Clearing her throat, she continued. “I swear, by Mythal, all-Mother and Goddess of Justice, to whom I have given my allegiance to, to instigate peace in this endless war. I swear after we recruit the mages and close the Breach in the sky that we will go to the Templars and broker peace. And I will never stop until justice is done…on both sides.”
He stared in amazement. “Do you mean that?”
“I do,” she answered. “And this ring will keep you alive until I keep my promise.”
He believed it, and that was enough.
Days passed after she left, and there was no word from Redcliffe. When the reports finally came, they indicated that she was coming back with an army of mages in tow. The report included intelligence of a plot to assassinate Empress Celine, and something about “the Elder One” who was mentioned to be behind everything. However, what upset him the most was the fact that despite these mages allying with a Tevinter magister—one that necessitated the King of Ferelden to exile them—she recruited these mages as allies.
So after all that talk about Justice, she could not keep her promise after all.
Even after she returned to Haven, he could not find it in him to see her. One morning, as he was heading out for a training exercise, he found her sitting by his doorstep, obviously waiting for him. Upon seeing him, she quickly stood up and anxiously approached him.
“Herald,” he said, slightly mocking. “Congratulations on recruiting the mages. It was definitely a job well done. Justice well served.”
“I know you’re mad and I can explain—“
His steps quickened, and she desperately followed. He did not want to see her. Why couldn’t she just go away? “There is nothing to explain. You just proved that you are light on your promise. You talk of justice? You just set hundreds of apostates loose across Thedas—apostates who swore their allegiance to Tevinter. So congratulations on keeping the peace.”
“They had no choice!” she shouted.
Her voice stopped him in his tracks.
“There is no justice in conscripting mages who allied themselves with Tevinter because they were desperate, because there was little help. And we were almost too late. There is no justice in punishing those who have already been oppressed!”
This he could not take anymore. She had no idea of the dreams he suffered through every night, all because of magic, because of mages. Turning to face her, he argued, “You think mages are the only ones here who are oppressed. Many of us have also known oppression because of magic!”
“I’m sorry.” For a moment, he swore that he could see tears forming in her eyes as she said those words. But he could not look at her. Not anymore.
He felt the ring seemingly burn in his hand because of his disappointment. But for some reason, he could not find it in him to throw it away.
No time was wasted on the ritual. Within days, they assembled all the mages who helped Athdhea channel the unexplained power of the Mark. Soon, the large rift above the sky at the Temple Ruins of Sacred Ashes is gone.
They did it. The Inquisition won, or so they thought.
A storm brewed on the mountains nearby. Despite this, the celebrations in Haven are at full swing. Cullen spied her speaking with the new mage from Tevinter, Dorian. She was laughing, and it looked like she greatly enjoyed his company. For a moment, she met his eyes, but he quickly broke his gaze. He could not bear to see her.
He was above to leave the celebrations when the bells started clanging wildly.
“Commander!” the watchman shouted. “Massive forces coming fast!”
His hand tightly gripped his sword. A massive force was marching. Who? How? Why?
“None, sir! None!”
None? His mind started processing the situation. They have been caught unawares. If there was an army marching on them, Leliana’s scouts would have given some warning. But there was no time to think about that now.
“Sound the alarm!” he barked as he ran to the gates.
He quickly organized his lieutenants, and called everyone to run to the safety of the town walls. She came, staff in hand, and he quickly brief her about the situation.
A loud banging from the gates sounded.
“I can’t come in unless you open!” a voice called from the other side of the gates.
She nodded towards him, and he drew his sword, ready to face anything beyond the gate. The gates opened to reveal a Templar falling to his knees. A boy emerged behind him, daggers drawn and dripping with blood.
“I am Cole,” the boy said. “I came to warn you. To help. People are coming to hurt you. You probably already knew.”
Everything about the situation is strange but this boy looked even stranger. His polite manner and tone contradicted the bloody daggers and the dead Templars around him.
Athdhea frantically approached the boy and demanded, “What is this? What is going on?!”
“The Templars have come to kill you,” Cole replied quietly.
Cullen could not believe his ears. “Templars?! Is this the Order’s response to our talks with the mages? Attacking blindly?”
How is this happening? He living among Templars, and he was a Templar. How all of this even possible? Numerous questions raced in his mind.
“The Red Templars went to the Elder One,” Cole replied cryptically. “You know him. He knows you. You took his mages.”
He pointed to a spot in the hill where two figures emerged—a very large man, or monster with red lyrium spikes jutting out of its body, and another man—someone he knew—the disfigured form of his old friend Samson. It couldn’t be.
“He’s very angry that you took his mages,” Cole pointed out.
“Cullen!” Athdhea desperately called. “Give me a plan. Anything!”
For a moment, he could not look at her. With everything that was happening, she was right. If everything he was seeing was true, the Templars have become truly corrupt. Then he spotted the trebuchets, which his soldiers calibrated merely days ago. Hardening his voice, he replied, “Haven is no fortress. If we are to withstand this monster, we must control the battle.” Pointing to the trebuchets, he said, “Get out there and hit that force with everything you can.”
She nodded. Suddenly, they were fighting together.
To the mages, he raised his voice, “Mages! You have sanction to engage them. That there is Samson and he will not make it easy. Use your barriers to protect yourselves and the soldiers. Keep your distance and only use ranged attacks.” Drawing his sword, he called, “Inquisition! With the Herald! For your lives! For all of us!”
The small army behind him roared in response. Athdhea nodded to him before she charged with Cassandra, the Iron Bull, Varric and the rest of her party towards the trebuchets.
At first, the plan worked. The trebuchets were giving them the advantage, burying hundreds of the Elder One’s army. It looked like they had a chance. Then without warning, a dragon swooped setting the trebuchets and the town in flames.
There goes hope.
He managed to regroup the few that were left inside the Chantry. When she and her part managed to make it back to the Chantry before the doors closed, he managed to feel some relief. She was safe for now.
“Our position here is not good,” he said as soon as she came. No doubt she was expecting a report. “That dragon stole back any time you might have earned us.”
Then Cole, who was tending to the gravely wounded Chancelor Roderick, spoke up, “I’ve seen an Archdemon. I was in the Fade, but it looked like that.”
An archdemon. Wonderful.
“I don’t care what it looks like!” Cullen shouted back. “It cut a path for that army. They’ll kill everyone in Haven!”
“The Elder One doesn’t care about the village,” Cole pointed out. “He only wants the Herald.”
“Then he can have me!” Athdhea declared.
No! There has to be another way. He thought.
“Cullen, at Redcliffe I saw the future,” she said. “I don’t want to live in any future where none of you would have the chance to fight back. If this can give you a chance…”
Cole shook his head. “It won’t save them. He wants to kill you. No one else matters but he’ll crush them, kill them anyway. I don’t like him.”
“You don’t like—” Seriously, what is wrong with this boy? Cullen’s mind tried to come up with solutions, but none came. “There are no tactics to make this survivable. The only thing that slowed them was the avalanche. We could turn the remaining trebuchet, cause one last slide.”
“We’re overrun!” she argued. “To hit the Enemy we’d bury Haven.”
“We’re dying, but we can decide how,” his voice softening. “Many don’t get that chance.”
That was that truth that he knew. They were dying, but at least it could be in their own terms, together.
“Yes, that!” Cole’s voice interrupted. “Chancellor Roderick can help. He wants to say it before he dies.”
The old man was bleeding, so Cole had to help him up. His voice struggled for breath as he spoke, “There is a path. You wouldn’t know it, unless you’ve made the summer pilgrimage as I have. The people can escape…She must have shown me…Andraste must have shown me so I could tell you…”
Athdhea turned to him. “What are you saying Chancellor?”
“It was whim that I walked the path. I did not mean to start—it was overgrown. Now, with so many in the Conclave dead, to be the only one who remembers…I don’t know Herald. If this simple memory can save us, this could be more than mere accident. You could be more.”
The Chancellor, with his dying words, in the end he did believe. But that was not time to think about that.
“What about it Cullen?” Athdhea asked. “Will it work?”
“Possibly, if he shows us the path. But what of your escape?”
She turned away. Then he knew, she wasn’t planning on coming back. Then meeting his eyes, she forced a weak smile. “I guess I will be fulfilling my promise after all.”
No, not like this.
“Perhaps you can surprise it? Find a way?” His jaw clenched. He could not lose her. Not like this.
She took both his hands and gazed up at him. “I’m going to face him. And the Templars. It’s the only way. You know this. Justice will be done.”
“If I knew that it would come to this, I would not have—“
“Shhh…it’s all in the past. Will you take care of the future for me, Cullen?”
He nodded, but he could not meet her eyes.
“Please tell Keeper Deshanna, that I hunted well. And my sister…tell her I love her. And that silver brush that she tried to steal from me ages ago...she can have it.”
He was never good at goodbyes. He never wanted to say them, because there was still so much he wanted to tell her. “Athdhea, I—”
The walls and the ground shook, interrupting him. Maybe it was best that she did not know. Just before she released his hands, he felt her light lips graze his cheek.
“Thank you,” she whispered.
Then she let go. He took one last look at her as she and her party charged outside the doors. He wanted to follow her, but duty took him elsewhere. It was the only thing that kept him from running to her.
The passage that Roderick directed them to was cold, dank and dark. Some of his soldiers managed to salvage some supplies, and carry some of the wounded. The trek took some time, and he knew that she was trying to bide time for them as long as she could. At last, he felt the cold wind again as they made it out of the narrow passage on the far end of the mountain. They were safe for now. He ordered an archer to light a flare. If she sees it, maybe, just maybe…she could make it out.
“Commander!” cried Rylen, his scope lowered, pointing below.
Before he could reach Rylen, the last trebuchet fired. Like a massive river, the snow rushed downwards, burying almost everything down below. The roar of the snow and sliding rocks filled his ears. The dragon swooped past and took off into the darkness.
When the avalanche seemed to be over, he wondered, did she survive? In the distance, eight figures emerged in the snow—Cassandra, Varric, Solas, Dorian, Vivienne, the Iron Bull, Blackwall, and Sera.
“Cullen!” Cassandra called as she ran towards them.
“What happened?” he inquired. “The Herald…did she?”
Cassandra sadly shook her head. “She sent us away…I’m sorry, Cullen.”
She’s gone, and he could not believe it.
“She’s still alive!” Solas contended. “Send a search party after her, Commander.”
Then Rylen approached, pointing out, “Commander, enemy forces could still be in the area. We have to move.”
He wanted to listen to the elf, but Rylen also had a point. Leliana gently placed a hand on his shoulder. “She did what she could to bide us some time. Do not let her sacrifice be in vain.”
He did not want to leave, but duty commanded him to. And if she was truly gone, he owed her as much as to protect the people she tried to protect. Steeling his voice, he regretfully gave the order move out.
He lost her. But he also realized that he wanted her—not despite their differences—but because of them. When they disagreed, he always found himself questioning everything he believed to be true. Everything she said always made him examine himself, and think about how he could be a better person.
And he was never able to tell her that.
A/N: Of course he will be able to tell her. Because SPOILERS: she's alive. But we all know that.
One thing about CullenxInquisitor fics that I know where the Inquisitor is a mage, the mage templar debate is often there to create sexual tension. While there may be that here, I mostly wanted to focus on the ideological tension here. Because I do think falling in love is about meeting minds. Blame it on Shakespeare.
Next up: "A Wolf in the Distance." I guess I'll be writing in Solas' POV after all. :)
Chapter 4: A Wolf in the Distance
Solas grapples with his growing feelings for Athdhea–a girl he once saved, a woman who now bears his mark. While he hated this new world that he created, his burgeoning feelings for her is starting to make this world suddenly somewhat beautiful.
If you've been reading this from a few weeks ago, you may notice the Inquisitor name change. That is because I found the Project Elvhen at AO3, and because my quizzy's name does need to be consistent with DA Elven not LOTR Sindarin, I just had to change it. I got the original name from a Sindarin dictionary for an old playthrough, but games are different from fiction. I hope it's not distracting.
Moreover, I merged former chapters 1 and 2 into just one to make chapter lengths more consistent. :)
And now to Solas... Because I am writing a love triangle here, it would be interesting to know who you think Athdhea Lavellan should end up with. I do have my own throughts about it and some plans, but I am very interested in knowing what people think.
He woke to a world where the dreams he knew did not exist.
His people had lost their cities and their villages. Humans treat them like stray animals. Worst of all, they had lost their dreams and clung to the very chains that he sought to break.
Once, walking in a human city, he was chased away as soon as its inhabitants realized that he had magic. For many people in this world, magic was a sin.
Like walking in a world of Tranquil, this world had nothing but death. So he sought to change it again.
And then he met her.
The first time he saw her was in a long dream. In his long slumber, he led this child and her baby sister through the Veil towards a mirror, one that led them near safety towards a nearby Dalish clan.
On the second time, he sought her out. At first, he did not know it was her. He merely wanted to find the mage with the mark who was found in the Conclave.
She was Dalish, and she probably grew up despising him. The words that he would use to describe her was: young, beautiful and dying. Her battle with death was hopeless because none but he could bear the mark and live. Poor thing, he thought. It was his orb that caused it, along with the deaths of so many others. True, he had caused the deaths of so many. One does not get to survive wars, lead rebellions and fight for freedom without some sacrifice, so he never understood why he didn't want her blood on his hands.
For days, she slept. He often wondered what the color of her eyes was. So he followed her in her dreams.
It was there that he recognized that little girl he once walked with. They walked alongside the same mirrors that walked through years ago, while she peppered him with questions: Is it more useful to have intelligence, common sense or wisdom? Can people's natures actually change? Is it possible to live lives without prejudice? What is power? What does freedom mean anyway? Whenever she asked about him or who he was, he always found a way to distract her. One time, he even introduced her to Wisdom. Both had lengthy conversations that he knew that she most likely would not remember, but would linger in that space between dreaming and waking.
And then, she woke up.
He guided her hand to close one rift.
And then she did it again on her own. And again.
With a gesture of her hand, she continually silenced ghosts and ushered lost spirits to where they belong. If such a person could carry the mark, a burden that he thought that only he could carry, everything he knew, everything he thought possible could change.
Her spirit was indomitable.
The version he met of her in this world was much different from the one he's met in her dreams. While the one he met previously was a little more open and carefree, the person he met in the world outside the Fade is slightly more reserved, more guarded. But then, he concluded that maybe because she had to live in the world of humans. Still, in those times when she is relatively at ease, that carefree side of hers would show. Because he wanted to see more of that person in her dreams, he became her friend in the waking world too.
It is simply wonderful to be liked for who one is. Not as Fen'Harel, but Solas. For a while, he realized that he had forgotten what friendship and affection felt like.
To live in this world with such a person, he thought, maybe this world can be beautiful. That thought frightened him more than anything.
"Solas!" she called, marching out of the Haven's open-air dance floor towards him. "By the Dread Wolf! What are you doing sulking over there?"
He snickered at her choice of expletives. Normally he was unnerved whenever anyone else said them, but there was always some sweet irony whenever she said them.
Her eyebrows lifted. "What's so funny?"
"Nothing," he snickered. "But this is how I like to enjoy such fleeting celebrations such as these. Distance just makes things easier given certain inevitabilities."
"You mean the Elder One?"
He nodded. "You have now interfered with his plans twice. Once at the Temple of Sacred Ashes, and now again at Redcliffe. A being who aspires to godhood is unlikely to ignore such an affront. You should prepare yourself."
"And this is how I prepare myself." Her arms stretched out to the sky, the cold air became visible as she exhaled. "I breathe a bit."
"Time is not a luxury that everyone has."
"True. But not everyone has managed to time travel, and be given a chance to save the future."
"Are you certain you experienced time travel? Could it have been an illusion, a trick of the Fade?"
"I've been to the Fade," she said firmly. "I'd know it."
"Point taken," he agreed. "It is vital the Inquisition succeed to avoid the future you witnessed."
"I am surprised you are not more interested in your own future," she posited.
In truth, he had seen it in her dreams. The vision she saw of him was one who was weak and desperate, someone who could only rely on her to remedy his own failures. "I know enough. If that future happened then I—and Cassandra, Cullen and the rest—failed to stop this Elder One."
"This time we will not fail," she stated with much certainty that he almost believed her.
The music by the bonfire continued, but for a while they sat in silence, simply breathing. Her eyes turned to examine him, and he prepared for another onslaught of questions. She never did run out of questions.
But this time, it wasn't a question. "You know sometimes, Solas, when you look at me, it's as if you look beyond me—it is as if I seem like a ghost to you like I'm someone dying."
"Are you not the least bit afraid of dying?" he asked.
"Maybe," she admitted. "But we're all going there anyway. That makes living so much more precious. Hearing Cassandra's bellowing every single day, Sera's sniggering…Those times that drive me insane when I can't seem to wrap my head around what our Commander is thinking, or times like these when I just get to sit with you. To me, these are all precious."
He remembered similar words from Varric, in those conversations they had about the dwarven kingdoms and that story he told about the fisherman. Everything you build, it tears down, the Stone Child said. Everything you've got, it takes—and it's gone forever. The only choices you get are to lie down and die or keep going…That's as close to beating the world as anyone gets. All of them—these people who knew they were dying—seem to talk about struggling, about striving. Then he understood that it's all the effort that made life for them so precious. It's a concept that still seemed alien to him.
So he changed the subject. "Did you find the person you were looking for at Redcliffe?"
It was, of course, a loaded question. He knew that she was looking for him, and there's always that part of him that thought that maybe she knew that he's always been there for her. This time, he only looked like a person she knew.
"No," was the abrupt reply. "But I will find him. I don't care how long it takes. Because I know, everything he did for me, they all happened. Even if it was all in the Fade, even if everyone else tells me he's not real, he was real to me."
He opened his mouth to say something in reply, but the sound of battle horns interrupted him.
After that, everything went by so fast, but small moments slowed down in his eyes—the terror in her eyes as she first glimpsed the so-called Elder One and his army, the mages' battle cries, the whirring of the trebuchets, the race towards the Chantry as dragon fire consumed Haven's feeble structures of wood and hay, the Commander's stern pleading against what she had set out to do, the last look that she gave the Commander before the Chantry doors closed, the push to the last trebuchet, the way her voice cracked when she ordered them to leave, the snowy mountain falling down around them, and the Commander ordering everyone to move out while he begged the man to send out a search party.
She was alive. He was sure of it. He would have felt his own magic leave her if she did. His consciousness reached out to the Fade for recent memories. At first, all he could see was chaos. Spirits fled the confusion, and numerous deaths ruptured the Veil. And then he glimpsed her form standing as steadfastly as she could against the dragon and its master. Defiantly, she flung the last shot that shook the mountains, before falling to the depths below. The small spark that lit her hand was still there, fighting, enduring but slowly fading.
He couldn't lose her. That was the only thought on his mind as he slipped away from the weary caravan of survivors, and into the cold. With just a little bit of magic, his hands changed into paws. It was a form that he had not used for some time—a form that he did not want her to see. But time was of the essence. He needed to find her. So he pulled his nose down and sniffed.
Athdhea peered through the blizzard. There was no way one could tell which direction one should go.
A sharp pain continually shot through her arm and through her spine. She just narrowly escaped a darkspawn magister and an avalanche. The mark on her hand bore through every nerve in her body. As if it had a will of its own, it triggered an explosion decimating demons in the cave that she fled minutes ago. Theoretically, she knew that generating fire magic could keep her warm, but the explosion exhausted a lot of her physical and spiritual energy. Now it seems that the cold is harder to outrun.
Her steps slowed. Even as she tried to move forward, the snow was lulling her to sleep. Her body tumbled onto the snow.
It is said that in death, one's life flashes by in an instant. That was how her life appeared to her that led to that moment: the boots that Keeper Deshanna bestowed upon her as a parting gift before she left the Clan-Samahl's tears as she said goodbye-Cassandra bursting through the prison doors minutes after she woke with a mysterious glow on her left hand—the first time Solas guided her hand to close her first rift—the moment she placed her hand on Cassandra's tome as she swore her allegiance to the Inquisition—that time Cullen blushed when she touched his forehead—that release she felt that morning after the end of her long nightmare—that memory of that dream where she walked with an old friend—that promise that she spoke as Cullen stared earnestly at her—and that relief she felt as she saw Cullen's flare up in the sky.
He was safe. They were all safe, at least. She wouldn't have minded dying. Only, she regretted that last moment she saw Cullen because there was still more to say. He was an ignorant human ex-Templar. He hurt her pride once when he vehemently told her that he wasn't interested in her. Of course, she wasn't interested in him, but it hurt her pride nonetheless. She almost always had an opinion, something to say to people, but with him, sometimes she ran out of words. They often disagreed, and their worlds were completely different. Yet she found that she disliked his disapproval more than anything. A part of what he said was right. Mages have been oppressed for ages, but in some ways so are Templars because of the broken systems that allow all of these to happen. Because she did not act quickly enough, she could not save them both. So when the chance came, she was glad that she could fulfill her promise.
The wind was strong, and it tore through every layer of clothing she had down to her bones. Yet if this cruel wind could carry her to where Cullen was, she would have thought herself content. Or if she was nearing death, maybe in her dreams, her old friend would come for her, like he always did in the loneliest moments of her life. Because dying alone is such a sad thing.
Then, as if the Creators heard her plea, she felt a wet nose sniffing through her hair. Looking up, her eyes came face to face with a large black wolf with three pairs of grey eyes staring down at her.
But instead of devouring her, it gingerly nudged her arm with its nose. The creature carefully sank its teeth on her sleeve, in an attempt to drag her on her feet. Why?
Perhaps in answer to her question, the creature stood erect and slowly transformed into that person she wanted to find.
"A Friend," she smiled, tenderly reaching for his wolf mask. "I knew I would find you again." At least now, she wasn't dying alone. And she found him.
"Get up!" he said. "Your allies are nearby. If you move now, you could still catch up to them."
"Is this a dream?"
"No," he replied firmly. "The snow is real. The cold piercing through your bones is real. You will die if you stay here. Take my hand."
When she reached out, his hand felt so warm, so familiar, and so real. She was not dreaming, and they were both real. He was in her world.
"You are real," she joyfully whispered, getting up on her feet. "You're real! I knew it!"
"Now is not the time for this!" he argued. She felt his frustration as he let go of her hand. "Follow me, lethallan."
"It's too cold."
"If I answer three questions, would you follow me then?"
They trudged through the snow for a while. Even with his coldness, she noted his care. Her body was still a bit weak, and while he kept his distance, he made it a point to slow down his steps for her.
"So how does your magic work? I mean, I've met you a few times now, and as far as I can tell, you don't seem to age much. And you seem to easily walk between the Fade and then here."
"It is the same with all magic. It all comes from the Fade. But unlike you, my people have a special connection to the Fade."
"Who are your people exactly?"
He stopped. For a moment, he turned his face to her but she could not see under his mask. Then he continued on his way.
"You promised an answer."
"They lie asleep. Awaiting to wake from their dreams."
"That's not an answer."
"Please ask about something else."
She sighed. "Very well then. How do you always find me in situations such as these?"
"I just do."
"That's not an answer either."
"Quiet!" he cautioned. "Listen, they've come."
Before she could ask anything else, he transformed once again into a wolf and scrambled away. The moment he disappeared, the warmth left her body, and it suddenly grew cold again.
"Fenedhis!" she mumbled. "You are so unfair! Whoever you are."
The snow got less deep as she plodded forwards into a snowy gorge. Fatigue and the cold started taking over her body again, but she pushed onwards. Her friend gave her this chance, and she was not going to waste it.
She managed to glimpse some light from afar. Though her sight started to fade in and out, she tried to focus on the light. But her feet gave way, and her knees sunk into the snow.
"There!" a familiar voice sounded out. "It's her!"
"Thank the Maker!" uttered another familiar voice.
Moments later, she felt the rush of armor and moving bodies surrounding her. Someone's arms were around her. They were warm. They smelled like elderflower and oakmoss. Cullen, she thought. A smile formed on her lips. For a moment, she felt the brush of lips on her forehead before sleep finally took her.
Finding her was not a difficult task. He simply followed her scent, and his own power calling to him. When he found her, she was on the ground, slowly getting buried under the falling snow. Noticing the look of terror in her eyes as she woke up and glanced at the wolf, he changed into a form that was dear to her.
Predictably, the easiest way to get her to move was to make her ask questions. Even weakened by the cold, her questions were sharp, and he did his best to answer them without giving away too much information.
The moment he heard a search party coming, he took the opportunity to leave. Of course, they would come for her, even if at first they seemed hesitant. From a distance, he noted the way the Commander held her, it was as if he found something precious that he had lost. The way she smiled peacefully as she nestled on his neck—he had not seen that smile before.
As they laid her to rest, the medic indicated that she had a fever. For days, she moved in and out of consciousness. The people around her at times could hear her whisper in her sleep, "Please don't hurt the wolf. He means no harm…A Friend…you didn't really answer my questions. You are so…unfair." She searched for him in her dreams, but he dared not show himself. He chided himself for being such a coward, but then every time he appeared to her always had a risk of exposure. He loved and hated that in this dance with her.
When her fever broke, and she finally came to, she wasted no time in meeting her advisors, who all argued endlessly about the next course of action. Their angry voices echoed across the encampment. But as soon as she appeared out of her tent, all of Haven's survivors gathered around her, singing a song of hope that resounded far into the dark night. A smile played on his lips while he pressed his staff and watched. Only she could have inspired this.
After the scene ended, he approached her quietly and led her to the outskirts of the camp. There, as her friend Solas, he confided in her that the orb that Corypheus was elven. Unlike that other friendly version of himself that often appeared in her dreams, at least Solas can feign some ignorance, allowing him to evade further questions.
The next day, through her, he advised the survivors to move Northwards. Again, they plodded through across snowy mountains, but this time, as Solas and Athdhea. He took comfort in how slowly, their relationship in both the land of dreams and this world was starting to become more similar. On their long walk, she confided in him how she somehow managed to defend herself against demons with only the Anchor, and how that ability drained so much of her spiritual energy. He theorized, and she debated with questions. He realized he could listen endlessly to her voice and not tire of it.
They did not stop until Sera voiced out, "Hey, weirdies! We've been listening to your magical blah blah for hours. How much farther do we still have to walk?!"
It did not take long for a scout to spy Tarasyl'an Te'las. It was a place that he had not visited for some time, not since after creating the Veil or his long slumber. Much had changed—it contained traces of humans, dwarves and other elves and their dreams. The humans started calling it Skyhold. The name slowly caught on.
As soon as Haven's survivors settled into it, they began rebuilding parts of it that fell into disrepair. Only mere days later, Andrastian pilgrims started visiting, hoping to catch a glimpse of the one who survived the destruction of the Temple of Sacred Ashes, and faced the darkspawn magister and his archdemon. These devotees also helped tend the wounded and the dying.
The day came when both pilgrims and refugees assembled into the courtyard. She ascended up the Keep's long staircase and lifted a sword, vowing to everyone present how she, as an elf, would stand for all of Thedas. "The Inquisition," she proclaimed, "is for all!"
This was welcomed with cheers from the crowd below.
And just like that, she became the Inquisitor.
Already, she was shaping the remnants of his world into something better. As he admired from the windows of his old tower, he fancied that in this place, their worlds could possibly meet after all.
Chapter 5: A Homecoming
Cullen volunteers to go to Wycome to protect Clan Lavellan from bandits, and in this way meets the family. As Athdhea is given a chance to revisit her home, she realizes that the borders of home can extend father than one can expect.
There was no way that Cullen would finish writing his dispatches before they reached the shore. His stomach followed the tossing of the waves below. Cullen was not exactly fond of sea travel, but he made a promise.
Following the exodus to Skyhold, he barely got the chance to talk to her about anything save Inquisition business, and rightly so. In almost losing her at Haven, he realized how wrong he was about everything and how he loved her. Finding her again was nothing short of a miracle. It was as if the Maker gave him a second chance. It was a chance to atone for everything.
All of these also meant another thing: the Inquisition was at war, and they had to take up their rightful places—she as Inquisitor and him as her general. So when she stood up there on the landing proudly defiant under the morning light raising the Inquisitor's sword. In war, feelings don't matter.
As for her feelings or if she felt anything for him, it was something that he could not ascertain for sure. Sometimes he fancied catching a look or a glance in his direction, but he was probably mistaken.
When they finally got the chance to talk, he was going over through repairs at Skyhold and guard rotations with her. "Do you ever sleep?" she remarked.
Of course, he barely did but she did not have to know that. "If Corypheus strikes again, we may not be able to withdraw…and I wouldn't want to. We must be ready. We will not run from here, Inquisitor."
A pause, and then a soft hum in her voice, "Inquisitor Lavellan…its sounds odd, don't you think? Creators! What did I get myself into…"
"You won't have to carry the Inquisition alone. Although it must feel like it."
"Yeah, thanks for the reminder," was her sarcastic reply.
"We needed a leader," he pointed out. "You have proven yourself. I don't think you give yourself enough credit for that."
"Thank you, Cullen." There was still a bit of uncertainty in her voice. It occurred to him that perhaps no one really becomes ready to be a beacon of hope.
As he watched her tuck loose strands of her hair between her pointed ears and stare intensely at random spaces into random objects—this time it was a map—when she's in deep thought, he felt the world disappear around them. Those random times, when she simply zoned out, he found it oddly endearing.
"Haven was…close," she reflected. "I was relieved when you—I mean—so many, made it out."
Her slip—he wondered if she really meant it. He noticed how her eyes nervously avoided meeting his. And for a moment, there was that sense that maybe, she felt the same way he did. "As am I," he whispered. She had no idea how the idea of losing her tortured him.
After a pause, he dropped his voice, "I was wrong, you know. I pressured you into going to the Templars, not realizing how far the Order had gone. And I am sorry for it. Most of my life, I blamed a lot of things on magic…on mages such as you, and I tolerated a lot of things for it because, in truth, I was afraid. But seeing what you did at Haven—what you are doing here—maybe it doesn't have to be that way."
"Cullen, I—" He waited for her to finish that sentence, but she did not.
"I will not allow the events of Haven to happen again. You have my word." It was a promise that he could at least give her. He meant every word of it. And that was how they met halfway.
"I'm glad," she murmured. A smirk seemed to peek from her lips. "Although, I kind of miss your lectures."
He smiled back. "And the sparring, the push-ups and the dummy practices?"
"Oh, definitely not those. Though I admit that it made Knight Enchanting an easier choice. Commander Helaine and Vivienne are my designated torturers now."
Laughing with her was one of the luxuries that he allowed himself to have. But no more.
The night that she was supposed to leave for Crestwood, she summoned him via a messenger to the stables. When he got there, she was saddling her hart. Her hair and armor were wet as she probably rushed in from the rain outside.
"Cullen: I need to borrow some of your men," she stated straightforwardly. "I'm sorry to ask this, especially given that our forces are still spread thin, and recruitment is still underway. But I need them ready to set out at dawn tomorrow."
"I will do as you ask, Inquisitor," he replied with some stress on her title, to perhaps remind himself to be sane around her. "If you truly think the extra forces necessary. But from my understanding, wouldn't an army marching to Crestwood be the opposite of discretion, especially given that you are meeting the Champion's Grey Warden contact secretly?"
"I won't be heading to Crestwood tomorrow. We're headed to Wycome."
"Wycome?" was his surprised response. "Whatever for?"
"Clan Lavellan is under attack. Armored bandits are raiding our caravans as we speak. I need to be there."
His hand stopped hers as she started tightening his reins. Her hands were still cold and wet from the rain. He was close enough to hear her breathing. The hart uttered a low grunt beside them. "Easy," he said, "I think you're making her anxious too."
She sighed and nestled her head on the horned beast's mane. "Enas, ir abelas."
Her eyes avoided his gaze, but everything about her spoke her worry. She had not seen her Clan for months, and he could understand how hard it is to not be with family, knowing that they could be in danger. He knew because ten years ago when news came to him of how the Blight reached Honnleath, there was a part of him that thought of abandoning the Order in search of his own family. While he remained steadfast and he seldom responded to his sister's letters, there was always that part of him just could not help but pray earnestly for their safety.
"Let me go to them in your stead," His request was direct, and there was disbelief in her eyes when they finally turned to him.
"When I promised not to let the destruction at Haven happen, I meant that for everything that represents you. And that includes Clan Lavellan. Your family's interests are the Inquisition's interests now."
"You would do that? For me?"
He nodded. "I swear to you, on my honor: no harm will come to Clan Lavellan."
It easier said than done. Not only was it a bit of a challenge to gather an army, even a small one, especially after the devastation at Haven, but there was also the matter of securing a ship. Thankfully, Josephine was up to the task, and she sent a dispatch ahead of them. Still, these reassurances were barely enough for Athdhea, who agreed to these terms, but indicated that she would join Clan Lavellan at Wycome directly after finishing the business at Crestwood.
On this ship, Cullen's stomach still turned. Thankfully he did not forget his lyrium kit in his hurry to leave. Not that he needed it. He shouldn't need it. The little inconveniences of sea travel were also next to nothing compared to those things that arrive after he falls asleep. Because at least when he's awake, a part of her was still with him. When the right time comes, he will perhaps tell her about the lyrium. He just needed her to know that she could trust him.
Upon landfall, Cullen immediately sent out scouts and his soldiers made inquiries at the port town for a more specific location. The villagers, unfortunately, had no useful information so they marched on through thick unmapped forests. A couple of days later, the scouts finally found Clan Lavellan.
With great haste, Cullen and his troops rushed to the valley to where the Clan's hunters were making their stand. Flying Inquisition banners, the Inquisition cavalry charged down the hillside. The horses shook the ground beneath them. Upon seeing their superior numbers, the bandits made a hasty retreat. The Dalish hunters quickly regrouped rallied alongside them. Only with only a few swords clashed and minimal arrows fired, the Inquisition and Clan Lavellan managed to chase off the bandits in less than half an hour.
After most of the smoke cleared, Cullen took his horse to gallop towards the middle of the Dalish camp. He dismounted to survey the damage. Much of their aravels were overturned to function as temporary barricades. Some were still burning and some elves scampered about to douse the flames. Hunters started disabling traps. Others gathered the dead and tended to the wounded.
An elderly elf and another most likely in her late teens both dressed up in ornate robes walked up to him. "Commander Cullen Rutherford, I presume," greeted the middle-aged elf.
Cullen gave a sharp bow. "Keeper Deshanna Istimaethoriel Lavellan. We come on behalf of her holiness, Inquisitor Athdhea Lavellan."
"And thank the Creators you did!" she replied with a sigh of relief. She took him around the encampment, with the younger elf following silently staff in tow. "We were barely holding out, and I was about to give up hope."
Upon examining the dead bandits that the elves were starting to pile up, he noticed the grade of their weapons and their armor. They were all the same—as if they were equipped for it. These were no ordinary bandits.
Keeper Deshanna explained that they had to give moving to try to evade the bandits, but were cornered once they got to the valley. Their hunters tried to hold out with the traps and little weapons they had but almost could not do so given the bandits had superior weapons, armor, and numbers. As the Keeper talked, he noticed the younger elf scrutinizing him closely, and she did not seem at all impressed by him.
"Oh!" Keeper Deshanna interjected. "Pardon my manners. This is my first: Samahl Lavellan."
On closer examination, he noticed similar features—the same set of eyes, nose, and eyebrows. The one key difference was that this one before him had dark hair, instead of her sister's auburn tresses. The markings on her face were also different. While he did know that they corresponded to particular elven gods, he could not tell whose god her markings were dedicated to.
She nodded a bit dismissively. "Andaran atish'an, shemlen."
"Samahl!" Keeper Deshanna chided.
"Sorry." She curtly apologized but she did not sound like she meant it. "If you would excuse me, Commander, we have our dead to bury."
"She means no offense, Commander," Keeper Deshanna explained. "We just lost too many today. And she just…misses her sister."
When evening came, the Dalish finished much of the burials. Their halla found their way back and grazed nearby. Inquisition soldiers and Clan members set about repairing what's left of the aravels and the tents. The Inquisition healers, equipped with potions and elfroot, aided the wounded. Still, there was an atmosphere of mourning that hung about in the air.
Cullen ordered the Inquisition camp to be moved to a close but in a slightly secluded part of the valley, in part to give the Clan some much-needed privacy. As he started penning a letter to Leliana, an armored messenger rode into the camp with a letter. The letter read:
I am saddened to hear about the recent attack on your Clan. Bandits are an all too common occurrence in these parts. I am pleased to see the Inquisition set this to right.
As a gesture of friendship to the Inquisition, might I care to invite you to the castle at Wycome tomorrow? We will be waiting.
Duke Antoine of Wycome
The message came to quickly for it not to be deemed suspicious. He almost immediately discarded it, but not before getting one of his lieutenants to produce a copy for both Leliana and the Keeper.
A day later, Cullen took his stallion out of camp to survey the area while Inquisition soldiers continued with the relief efforts. As he neared the road towards Wycome, he heard the sound of hooves heading towards his direction. The rider passed him.
"Lady Samahl Lavellan!" He called.
She put her hart to a stop until he caught up to her. "Commander," she greeted him with a slightly reluctant nod. His eyes observed the elven mages curious clothing. It was a mage armor, one that the Inquisition issued recently. Somehow he had just caught that proverbial thief with her hand in a cookie jar. The only problem here is that thief is Athdhea's sister.
As if answering those thoughts in his head, she hesitantly admitted, "I 'borrowed' this from a mage bathing near the river last night. I…uh…hope that she was able to find other clothes."
His arms crossed. "And?"
"I am setting out in response to the Duke's invitation."
His eyes widened with shock. "Absolutely not!" he objected. "The letter was addressed to your sister. Not you."
"He does not know that she is not here. And as far as anyone can tell, I am by far the best person to play the part of my sister." On her left hand, she conjured up a fire spell that produced green flames. "See? Looks enough like her mark."
"My lady, the invitation is obviously a trap. You will be placing yourself in far too great a danger, especially for one so…" Young.
"Keeper Deshanna thought so too. Are you going to stop me Mr. ex-Templar?"
He could have done it. After all, he had spent most of his life capturing misbehaving mages to bring back to the fold. But this girl is Athdhea's sister, it wasn't as simple as that. There was a part of him that did not want this young girl to feel powerless. "I doubt if your sister would approve."
"Athdhea is not here." She firmly insisted. Her eyes scanned him, perhaps noticing his Inquisition armor. She added, "But since you are so concerned, you may come, Shemlen. The Inquisitor, after all, would look much more credible with her commander accompanying her."
Seeing that she would leave anyway with or without him, he was surprised at himself for suddenly agreeing. Trees lined the road. The awkward silence was filled with the occasional rush of the wind through the trees and the chirping of birds. He caught her examining him a few times, with a hint of disapproval in her eyes.
He had to ask. "My lady, have I offended you in some way?"
"No," was the brusque reply.
"Then why do I feel as if you dislike me so much?"
"You and your Inquisition took my sister away," she answered matter-of-factly. "And you can't help it. It's just what you humans do. My sister, as selfless as she is, may have forgiven you all, but I can't. I just can't."
"Because you love her." At least she was honest.
"Do you know the Duke at all?" Cullen asked, changing the subject and guiding his stallion's pace to march hers.
"No.," her tone a bit mocking. "But he knows of us."
"What do you mean?"
"Well, he does have a tendency to spread stories about us. Like those times that he pinned the blame on missing children on us? Plus all the calamities on their farms. It is always us. We steal their livelihood and take their children. Because apparently, that's what we Dalish do."
"And is there any truth in those stories?"
A frustrated sigh escaped her lips. "Stupid Colonizer. You truly are as ignorant as the rest of them."
Wycome, as it turned out, was not very far from the encampment. It is often called the "freest" city in the Free Marches. Its walls and towers stood mightily against many invasions—pirates, qunari, and time. Everything near the city and within it had walls and gates—from small houses, gardens, vineyards, universities and their various markets and districts. Even their wells had locked grates. If it had Kirkwall's imposing bronze statues, Cullen thought that one could easily mistake one city for the other.
One interesting aspect of the city is its frustrating number of checkpoints. As it was a market day, traders lined the checkpoints with their carts for long periods hoping to get in. Inside the city, stone towers loomed at several points, and one could not get very far before one encounters a city guard or the another.
Perhaps noting their Inquisition uniforms, guards allowed them to pass through special lanes and less populated roads. Still, Cullen could not help but notice the suspicious looks that some human pedestrians gave Samahl. He almost wanted to stop when he heard one young man shouting at an elven trader. The young man yelled, "Hey, knife-ear! Go back to your valley! Stop stealing our trade!"
Cullen asked Samahl beside him, "Maker, is it always like this here?"
Samahl rolled her eyes. "Every. Single. Day."
At this point, Cullen's abhorrence to the type of treatment that elves receive had become apparent.
Approaching the castle gates, a hooded middle-aged man greeted them with a hint of a Tevinter accent. "Inquisitor Lavellan, we honored that you have come all this way. My name is Markus, advisor to Duke Antoine. Unfortunately, the Duke is suddenly feeling ill today and is unfit to see anyone. But he has asked me to tell you that he will support the Inquisition's attempts to have more rifts close."
While he spoke, Cullen out of a sudden felt what feels like dozens of needles beneath his temples. He knew that pain. It was similar to what it feels like when he close to lyrium. Only this time, the needles felt a lot more relentlessly intrusive. And it called to him like it did at Kirkwall. Something wasn't right, and he tried not to show it.
Thankfully, all eyes were on Samahl, who replied with a voice of a slightly higher pitch close to that of her sister's, "Maybe he can tell me that himself if you would let me see him."
She moved towards the entrance, but two large knights blocked her path with their heavy axes.
Cullen wanted to move to her, but the throbbing in his head also made most of his body inept.
The Tevinter advisor repeated almost threateningly, "The Duke is very unwell today. I humbly suggest that you be on your way."
It wasn't a suggestion. Guards escorted them until they made it outside the city. Cullen was relieved though because he would not have been able to go through more of that. The headache slowly faded the farther they went from the castle. Once they were outside of earshot and well into the forest, Samahl let out a frustrated sigh. "Dread Wolf take me! Such a waste of a good escape."
"Do you think he knew that you're not her?" Cullen asked.
"I don't think so. For men like him and the Duke, all we elves tend to look the same. Even if one of us became Inquisitor." Then turning to him, she asked with some restrained concern in her voice, "And what happened to you? You just completely zoned out."
"It happens sometimes," Cullen admitted. "I usually have it under control, but there was something there."
"What?" Her eyebrow raised.
The sun had already set by the time they got back to the forest. A light mist rose from the ground as it grew colder. Cullen got this nagging feeling that they were being watched. When they reached a clearing, a wire suddenly swung up from below them, felling Cullen off his horse. Samahl's hart started behaving nervously throwing her off the ground as well before running away. Getting up, Cullen spotted a dozen ahead of men-assassins, by the look of them. He moved to turn around, but another six men approached from the other side.
"Of course it's a trap," Cullen muttered, drawing his sword and shield. To Samahl, he said, "Whatever happens, stay behind me. Keep those barriers up and don't let them touch you."
"Fenedhis!" she scoffed, drawing her staff, which he noticed had a knife attached to one end. "I was a hunter before I became my Clan's First. This staff is not for show."
"Fine! Pick them off one by one then. I'll try to draw as much of them from you as I can."
"Oh, alright!" She sighed frustratedly. Then more seriously, she added, "Listen Shemlen: if you're going to die, you might as well die happy. I think my sister likes you. Well, you and that other mage. She needs to pick, really."
What in Andraste's name did she just say?!
But before he could respond, one assassin charged at him. His shield blocked the assault. If they survive this, he may never be able to ask that again. The thought drove him mad that there was some relief that he actually had heads to bash with his shield. Truthfully, he was mad enough to call them all on him.
Samahl was not doing so terribly herself. For a mage, she barely cast any barriers. Instead, she focused on casting freezing spells so she could dismantle her opponents using her staff as a spear, and fight them hand-to-hand. Cullen has hardly ever seen one so small move so fast and so aggressively. This way, she took out nearly half of their opponents. Clearly, Clan Lavellan did not send their best warrior to the Conclave.
It seemed that this fight was starting to turn on their favor, until one assassin managed to cut the rope that tied the pointed end of Samahl's staff, sending it flying off on the ground. She managed to still counter and knock off this opponent to the ground with the blunt end of the staff. But she did not see one archer aiming for her.
"Look out!" he called. It would have been too late for her if he had not thrown his shield to the archer's direction. It knocked the archer out but at the same time, it left him without a shield.
Seven left. But then five more appeared out of the shadows.
They were cornered. He had no shield and her staff was broken. Still, Samahl held out the blunt end of her staff.
Then a blade made out of magic stopped the assassin's sword coming down on Samahl. It was that blade that he had seen a number of times as he spied that one person down the courtyard sparring with Vivienne.
Athdhea. Her defiant face glistened in the moonlight as the attacker's sword bounced back.
An arrow suddenly hit one of Cullen's attackers on the chest. "Looks like Bianca and I are right on time, Curly," said the dwarf.
Out of thin air, Cole appeared and stabbed one assassin at the back. Cullen heard a familiar battle cry and a warhorn. Cassandra, Blackwall and the Iron Bull came charging in, followed by Vivienne dashing to the center of the battle spirit blade in hand. From behind, Dorian summoned fireballs, and Solas replenished everyone's barriers.
And then another arrow. "Tits!" screamed Sera. "Leave some of the squishy ones for me!"
Before they knew it, the battle was over. The Iron Bull dragged one assassin by the hair. He still struggled when Bull made him kneel in front of Athdhea. "Boss," he said. "Caught this one trying to escape."
"Good," Athdhea replied nonchalantly. "Hopefully Leliana can make him talk."
It didn't take long for Athdhea and Samahl to find each other across the field. Athdhea stormed furiously to her sister.
She yelled angrily. "Sil'ahn! What were you thinking?! You could have gotten yourself killed!"
Even at Haven, Cullen had not seen Athdhea this angry.
Samahl bowed her head, choking back her tears. "Ir abelas, Asa'ma'lin. Ar unnuvena shalas. Ir abelas…Ir abelas…"
"Felasil!" Athdhea shouted, also almost on the verge of tears. "Ar dea telsilem! Do you have any idea how feels like?"
"Ir abelas…Ir abelas…" Samahl replied this time in between sobs. "Nuvenan na amahn."
The sisters fell into each other's arms weeping profusely without a care about the eyes around them. Athdhea whispered, "Ar mi'nas'sal'inan. More than words can say."
Their onlookers watched the sisters with varied reactions. Sera went around trying not to look while collecting arrows. Cassandra examined the scene sternly, but with her hand clutched to her heart. Varric wiped a small tear from his eye, "This never gets old."
Dorian made his way to the sisters, clearing his throat. "I'd hate to interrupt. But I have it on good authority that there's a perfectly good bowl of hot-pot waiting for us back at camp. I'd hate for it to get cold." The mage, however, was pulled into the hug. The sisters giggled as he stiffly protested. "This is wonderful…all wonderful really…but I'm not exactly a hugging person, you see."
Athdhea muttered. "You'll get used to it."
The moment Athdhea's eyes met Cullen's, she mouthed, "Thank you."
If there were moments that Cullen could freeze, it would be that moment—that moment when she first smiled at him.
It was raining the last time Athdhea saw her home. She hated the rain because it kept her from seeing the sunset for one last time. When she came back on a different ship, it was still raining.
Athdhea looked forward to coming back to her own clan for a very long time. As soon as the Grey Warden meeting, the flooding, and the rifts at Crestwood had been dealt with, Athdhea and her companions found a ship and set sail towards Wycome. Upon arriving at the port, Inquisition soldiers directed them towards the encampment, which was almost a day's ride. She was happy that her Clan was safe and that in a few hours, she would see Samahl again. Once they got to the encampment though, they found Keeper Deshanna distraught. Samahl was nowhere to be found, and so was the Commander.
With great haste, she got back on her hart to find them. That little fool, she thought. Always wanting to be brave. That was one of the things that she loved and hated about her little sister. And of course Cullen, after promising her, had to go after her. It was something that she just knew that he would do, because even with all his faults, he was always so steadfast, so loyal. She had to remind herself that he was doing this for the Inquisition, not her. It would be foolish to think otherwise.
Even after the almost a day-long horseback ride, her companions insisted on coming. Even with all the Inquisition patrols, the area may not be completely clear of bandits. They found the two just when they were being pinned down by a number of assassins—assassins that were meant for her. "How dare you touch my sister?!" she roared as her spirit blade clashed with the swords of her attackers.
When the battle was over, she immediately found her sister crying. Though she wanted to keep screaming at her, she could not be angry at her for long. The reunion involved a lot of weeping and laughing especially after they dragged Dorian into the fray.
It was simply wonderful to be home.
The next day, her gifts—ones that she had to leave at the port in haste—were brought in at the camp. Some of these gifts were things that could have been considered junk in the Inquisition: pieces of broken pearls for the children, used metal for crafters, half-used bottles of cologne, used clothes and footwear among other things. When she brought out the used silverware, her clansmen around her stared at them as if they weren't real. Dorian initially had a lot of questions for her why she insisted on bringing those things, but then he never really understood their value when one has so little. Samahl said she brought too many things as if it was First Day. Of course, Samahl got the best presents: a human device used to point North, a new ice staff, and books. Although Samahl never really liked reading, she figured that the books could help in her studies as the new Clan First.
Still, despite being home, Athdhea could not help but feel that some things have changed, especially the way her clansmen look at her. Maybe it was the way she used boots instead of going barefoot or the way she has grown accustomed to using saddles on her hart. Perhaps it was the way that she frequently mixed Elvish with Common Tongue in her sentences. She told Samahl about it, who said, "They can't help but feel guilty. We have all these things thanks to you, but we all feel like we gave you away."
"But it's not true!" Athdhea protested. "You didn't give me away. I volunteered."
"It's the same to them."
Talking about those things with Solas made things worse. Solas, who had engaged in numerous debates with Keeper Deshanna the for the past few days, told her that she should be glad about feeling different because she was better than all of them. But she did not want to feel different. She just wanted everyone to look at her the same way they did.
She tried not to cry on the morning of her departure. Keeper Deshanna had packed numerous baskets of food for her and her companions. Although they did not have much, the food was more than enough for more than a week's journey. It's always food that reminds one of home. The night before, she did help Keeper Deshanna pack all of them but watching her pack, it was like she was silently packing away love in small boxes and baskets.
Samahl came a little late. Several eyes were on her, as she had boots on and some of Athdhea's Inquisition mage clothes. "What?" she glared at everyone. "So what if they're ugly? They're warm anyway."
Athdhea noticed that she a First's robes with her—the old robes that she had to leave behind. Samahl looked down and bit her lip, as she handed them to her. "I wore them on my ceremony, but you should have them back. They don't fit me anyway. It's your fault because you're too fat, Asa'ma'lin."
When she took her in her arms one last time, she whispered, "Nuva tarasyldhe re uth'su mar'veth."
It was hard not to cry.
Athdhea watched the land retreat as she stood out on the ship's stern, even hours after the land disappeared. Only the Creators know if she would see it again. Just like the first time she left, the clouds sent small spatters of raindrops.
This time at least, she was not alone. Vivienne stayed with her for a bit and then left. She was born in Wycome, but when dismissed any form of attachment to the place as she spent most of her life in Circles. Dorian lingered with her for some time, knowing how it is to miss one's homeland despite its problems. But he left when the waves started getting a little rough stating that he and the sea "don't mix well."
Just like the last time that she left, clouds blocked her view of the sunset. It was almost evening when she heard metal footsteps ascending the ladder from the decks towards her. When she looked, she spied Cullen pulling himself up. Even at sea, he still wore full armor. She was about to tease him about it when she noticed how pale he was, just like that day when she found him in the forest.
When the floor beneath them rocked to the side, she tried to catch him as he fell, but the weight of his armor instead pulled her down landing on top of him. She realized that falling on top of someone wearing armor is just as painful. Her cheeks felt hot as she found herself staring directly at his brown eyes. Once she realized how uncomfortably close her face was to his, she immediately scrambled off his chest.
"I'm so sorry!" she exclaimed. "I was trying to help but the gravity…It just happened."
He groaned as he got up on his feet. "Yes, I noticed that it has its way of bringing you towards me." His eyes widened as he realized his mistake. "That is…I don't mean it in that sort of way! Maker, what did I just say?"
She laughed. It's his awkwardness that she often found strangely endearing. More seriously, she asked, "Are you alright?"
"I've been better," he answered, moving towards a nearby bench.
She found a seat beside him. "Do you think it's because of the sea, or is it one of those headaches again?"
"Both." `He answered running his fingers through his temples. "I often have these headaches. The sea just makes it worse."
He avoided her gaze. There was clearly something wrong. "Cullen, would you please just tell me what's going on? We survived and fought through Haven together. And you were there to do what I had to do when my clan needed me. Don't you think it a bit unfair if I don't listen to whatever it is you have to say?"
He sighed. "When I pictured telling you, I didn't imagine it to be like this. I wanted myself to be more…in control. You have every right to know as…as the leader of the Inquisition."
She watched him get up from his seat. He walked up to the railing and surveyed the waves before him. "Remember what I told you about lyrium and how it grants us Templars our abilities? It is also a method of control. Those cut off suffer—some go mad, others die. We have secured a reliable source of lyrium for the Templars in the Inquisition. But I…no longer take it."
"You stopped? Since when?"
"When I joined the Inquisition. It's been months now."
"Months…" she repeated with definite concern on her voice. "Cullen, if this can kill you…"
"It hasn't yet. After what happened in Kirkwall, I couldn't…I will not be bound by the order—or that life any longer. Whatever the suffering, I accept it. But I will not put the Inquisition at risk. I have asked Cassandra to…watch me. If my ability to lead is compromised, I will be relieved from duty."
Getting up from her seat, she made her way towards him. "How bad is it?"
"I can endure it." His arms rested on the railing and there was weight on his words.
"I believe you," she said softly. "And thank you for telling me."
"The Inquisition's army must take priority. Should anything happen…I will defer to Cassandra's judgment."
Athdhea carefully examined the man beside her. As the evening lights glimmered in his hollowed eyes, she wondered how much this man had to endure and for how long for everything he believed in. She knew that he had to give up a lot of things, for the Order, for the Chantry, and now the Inquisition. Like her, he too had to give up home and everything he possibly loved. Seeing him thus, she did not want him to give up himself, even for her.
Raising the tone of her voice argumentatively, she reasoned, "Would you trust my judgment too then, when I say that you should believe in your own judgment too? After all, I would not have trusted my Clan and the safety of my sister to anyone less strong or worthy."
He chuckled. "Yes, I do remember that same sister of yours did part with me saying, 'Hey Shem: Take care of my sister or I will hunt you down!' Frankly, I may have too much on my shoulders at the moment."
She laughed. "That sounds just like her." The cold wind blew and she felt him shiver.
"In that case, I will lend you my strength." She stretched the edges of her old First's robe. Huddling beside him, her hands draped its cloth to cover both their shoulders. He did not protest. "Not warm enough?"
"It will suffice." Then that smile came. It wasn't really a smile, but more like something that just peeks at the corner of his mouth by that small scar on his upper lip. She loved thinking about it as his shadow smile.
Athdhea knew that she will always miss her Clan. But with the Inquisition, she had friends who really cared for her, almost like family. And at that moment, she could not think of anything else she would rather do than watch the horizon with that man beside her. Even though the sun did not show up, she did not mind because at least her friends did.
I had so much writing this chapter because Wycome is not a territory that's not explored much. Maybe after I finish this, I can write a separate story exploring this story further, and it will probably be in Samahl's POV (first person). If I ever get to write that, it will explore the Wycome conflict further, and deal with the politics of assimilation in Wycome, especially given that after the Clan Lavellan series of quests on the War Table, elves would suddenly become "model minorities" in Wycome. To me that gives a very interesting conflict, especially after that note on the Tresspasser DLC of several elves aligning themselves with Solas.
Originally, I did not intend Samahl to be a tsundere, but I disliked the original version because she became too much like Athdhea. So the version of the sisters that came out here is that they're opposites-Athdhea is more kind, brainy, open-minded and bookish, whereas Samahl tends to butt heads more and is not too fond of reading.
The most challenging part here is the Elvish. I owe everything to the Project Elvhen dictionary on AO3, and if there are corrections to be made, esp. if spotted by people who understand it more than me, please feel free to point them out.
We don't have Solas much here. I can imagine his frustration here though. He did try to tell her that she's unique but he said it in a way that she did not want to hear it, so I guess she is a bit dismissive here. Anyway, there's more Solas next chapter.
Anyway, thanks for reading! And please do let me know what you think as I am always up to answering questions or suggestions.
Chapter 6: Sleeping and Waking
Things happen when the Anchor changes how Athdhea dreams. She longs for her mysterious friend and the Anchor finds a way to let her walk in his dreams without her knowing. As she grows in power and learns more things, Solas has to decide if making her forget is the right choice.
*Note the changes in trigger warning folks. Skip this chapter if non-consent triggers you.
The desert road from the Forbidden Oasis was long. There wasn’t really a road, only endless sand. After finding Venatori and the ruins of an ancient elven temple, it was a weeklong journey back to Skyhold.
It was somewhere in the middle of the day and Athdhea’s water bottle was already empty. She was thirsty, but she hated asking for water when she could still bear the heat and her thirst a little bit longer.
And then she felt a light metal tap her shoulder, and the sound of water in it. Looking up, her eyes found her friend Solas handing his water bottle to her.
“Are you sure?” she asked, not wanting to impose.
He gave her a slow nod, and that was more than enough for her to quickly unscrew its cap and drink its contents. It was always wonderful to have a friend who is most considerate. Often, it almost felt like he could read her mind.
A gasp heard at the head of the party interrupted her thoughts. Turning her head, she noticed Cassandra looking at her disapprovingly with her hand covering her lips. After thanking Solas, Athdhea urged her hart to move ahead to catch up to Cassandra. Their mounts paced together.
“What’s that look for?” Athdhea asked her. After sleeping on a tent several times with her and sharing a room at Haven, she knew Cassandra enough to know that her glares often masked care and concern.
“An indirect kiss,” Cassandra muttered.
“A what?!” Athdhea gave a confused smirk as her eyebrows lifted.
Cassandra’s glare intensified. “Your mouth touched that thing his mouth touched. I do not approve."
“It’s just a water bottle,” Athdhea pointed out. “Nothing more.”
“It’s an indirect kiss,” Cassandra insisted. “It always leads to something.”
Athdhea sighed. If there was a good time to blame Varric and his novels something, this would be the time. With a grunt, Cassandra spurred her horse forward.
Blame it all on thirst for people to imagine things.
The last time Athdhea was that thirsty was when she was twelve on a visit to Wycome. It took weeks of begging for Keeper Deshanna to allow her and Samahl to follow their friend Sabrae and her father who was tasked to go to the city to trade with the humans.
The summer festival was in full swing. Multicolored banners and flowers were strung overhead straddling roads, gates, and rooftops. Various musicians and clowns performed in every street corner. Wooden stalls lined the city streets displaying various food and curiosities such as cheese, exotic fruit, expensive wine, articles of silver that humans use for eating, fancy necklaces made with green, red and other various stones, fabrics made of gold, and small boxes that made music with human figures that danced. And there was so much food and drink that humans at some stalls were practically giving some away often in the hope of more sales—anyone that is, except elves.
All day long, Athdhea and Samahl walked the city streets with Sabrae who knew her way around the city’s dizzying streets and people. At the end of the day, she got very thirsty, and so did Samahl who repeatedly complained about the lack of food and water. Athdhea’s growing thirst made each movement more exhausting. Despite the number of people, trade was slow that day. Sabrae’s father could not offer the girls any money. Those humans giving away food or drink refused to give them anything upon glimpsing their pointed ears and bare feet.
Finally, a voice called. It was a middle-aged human man beckoning them towards his wine stall. Athdhea could not understand what he said but by the way he gestured, he offered the girls some punch. The girls drank with very little hesitation. The draught was cold and sweet, and it satisfying their parched throats. After thanking the man, they went their way.
They did not get very far when Samahl started muttering about getting sleepy. Soon after, Athdhea also felt the world spinning around her and everything slowed down. The last thing she remembered was reaching out to Sabrae, who was being led away by a group of men before everything turned black.
When Athdhea woke up, it was two days later at the Lavellan encampment with a number of bruises, a headache that lasted for days. The worst of it was that feeling of helplessness as if she lost herself and her own body. Samahl woke up a day later, and when she did she did not speak for days.
Then someone told her that a female grey warden protected her and Samahl from a group of men who almost assaulted them when they were passed out, and managed to find Sabrae’s father. To that at least, she was grateful.
Athdhea never saw Sabrae again. The last thing anyone saw anything of Sabrae was her name on a slave ship bound for Tevinter. She was only sixteen.
As for the Grey Warden, she never saw her again, but was told that she journeyed to the rest of her command somewhere in the Anderfels or Orlais.
Nothing had happened really, but still, she felt like she lost herself.
It is an experience that Athdhea had worked hard to move away from. She walked away from something that not everyone could. She survived. And she learned that this world, despite all its hate, there are good people and even good humans.
Athdhea’s thoughts came back to the present as she heard loud voices at the back of the caravan.
“Solas!” Dorian called. “What’s this look of yours about?”
“I’m sorry?” Solas responded with some confusion.
“No! That outfit is sorry.” Dorian’s eyes looked the elven apostate up and down. “What are you supposed to be? Some kind of woodsman? Is this a Dalish thing? Don’t you dislike the Dalish? Or is it some kind of statement?”
“No,” Solas replied with some annoyance.
“Well, it says ‘apostate hobo’ to me…”
“Unwashed apostate hobo, more specifically,” Vivienne added.
“Hey, hey, leave poor Solas alone!” Athdhea shouted to the back. “I’m sure we’ll all be able to find the opportunity to bathe once we get to Lake Celestine.”
Still, Athdhea could not help but snicker. It is, after all, true that Solas had the hygiene habits of a wolf who mostly lived his life on his own. He was almost twice her age, and he often talked in blank verse. But some of these quirks did make her friend somewhat endearing. Clutching the water bottle that he gave her tightly, she knew that would not have accepted a drink from him if he was not someone she trusted her life to.
He told her stories of his many dreams. She often stayed up very late at night listening to him and watching the dying embers of the campfire to the Cassandra’s annoyance. His calm voice often lulled and cradled her especially in long cold nights far away from the comforts of home.
Solas’ stories were often a wonderful distraction especially in those moments when she thought about her friend—her friend who had saved her twice now but is noticeably absent. She knew that she had only seen her friend a few times. It felt strange to her that at times she could remember conversations they had or places they had walked, even though those conversations never really happened or those places might not have existed. In those moments upon waking up, there was often that sense that she had lost something important. And she thought that she was simply going insane. Because when she closes her eyes to sleep, her thoughts often went to him and his absent smile. But hearing Solas’ voice, sometimes she could feel her friend being there with her even though he wasn’t.
But Solas was equally elusive as her missing friend. Still, there were moments when she felt as if she could catch glimpses of him and what he could have been thinking. One time as she lingered between that space of dreaming and waking while listening to his stories, she thought he heard him whisper, “Ma Vhenan.” His home. His heart. She did not know where his home is, but that gave her an inkling of how like her maybe his heart may have often wandered in search of home. Maybe that’s why he often wandered in the Fade in search of his memory of it. He never talked much about himself but maybe in that way, he is like her.
And then there were conversations that she could not help but overhear between him and Cole. Cole often referred to Solas’ “quiet pain” and she often wondered what it was. Perhaps he had lost friends, family, a wife or children in the recent Blight, the Mage-Templar war or the Conclave. Everyone, after all, had lost someone in all these wars. Maybe going to the Fade was the only way to possible way he had of finding them or being with them. But there was that one talk as the two sat by the fire.
“You don’t need to envy me Solas,” Cole posited. “You can find happiness your own way.”
“I apologize for disturbing you Cole,” Solas replied. “I am not a spirit, and sometimes it is hard to remember such simple truths.”
Cole argued gently, “They are not gone so long as you remember them.”
“I know.” Solas' eyes were transfixed by the fire.
“But you could let them go…”
His eyes were still locked on the fire, perhaps picturing images in the flames that she could not see. “I know that as well.”
“You didn’t do it to be right. You did it to save them.”
At that point, Athdhea’s curiosity was peaked. She turned to the pair and asked, “Solas, what is Cole talking about?”
“A mistake,” Solas answered decisively with much regret in his eyes. “One of many made by a much younger elf who was certain he knew everything.”
“You weren’t wrong though,” Cole pressed.
Dread Wolf’s hairy ass! Did Solas murder someone? Maybe he killed a wife. Or seven wives and hid their bodies up in an attic like that Orlesian tale? No. Cole also talked about him saving people. And Cole was a serial killer out of kindness. No. Creators, no. Maybe Solas participated in some war, and maybe his actions got some people killed. Despite everything, Solas did not look like one who would hurt anyone. After all, Solas did risk his life just so he could stop the mark from killing her and help heal the Breach. Someone who does that cannot be that bad.
Days after they got back to Skyhold, she came to his study, which was mostly bereft of any sort of furniture save for a desk, some papers and some scaffolding on the walls where her friend Solas was painting. On one side of the wall, she noticed two finished murals. One of them depicted the Temple of Sacred Ashes exploding under a red sky. Golden rays rained on this red sky from what appeared to be a dark center. Perhaps it was a depiction of the Andrastian black city? The second mural was, for the most part, showed the symbol of the Inquisition surrounded by howling wolves.
As she touched the image of one wolf, she asked, “What’s with the wolves?”
“I like wolves,” he answered nonchalantly, setting down his brush. “They are intelligent, practical creatures that small minded fools think of as beasts.”
Athdhea’s fingers traced the wolf’s shadows. “I know. A wolf saved me once.”
“Your dream friend?” He replied looking down, his friendly smile framed by the ladder’s railings.
“Yes, him.” She smiled back as he started coming down towards her. He was one of the few friends who after all did not think her mad in thinking about her friend. After all, Solas had friends in the Fade too. “But I did not come here to talk about him. Right now, I am much more interested in what you have told me of yourself and your studies. If you have time, I’d like to hear more.”
His gray eyes gazed down at her intently for a moment. “You continue to surprise me.”
“How so?” After all, what she expressed was only a statement of interest in knowing more about him, and everything he knew. Nothing more.
He shrugged. “You just do.”
By the way he looked at her, it was as if Solas was a different person compared to the elven apostate she knew—someone who knew her differently.
“But alright,” he said in his normal tone of voice interrupting her thoughts. “Let us talk…preferably somewhere more interesting than this.”
With that, he tossed some herbs to a nearby brazier, and the room suddenly smelled like a meadow in early spring.
Taking his hand, he led her to the courtyard, and then the gardens. They talked about the herbs she grew and their magical properties. Looking up at the sky, she noticed it started snowing. And it snowed a lot to the point that it covered everything around them in white so she could no longer see Skyhold’s walls and battlements. They walked through a forest, and then beyond it, her eyes glimpsed a place she knew well.
Haven. It was as she remembered it with its humble gates, its houses, its little shops, its tavern, and its Chantry. Red banners flew in the air.
She tried to find the words, the questions. She asked, “How? Why here?”
“Haven is familiar,” he answered simply. “It will always be important to you.”
“We talked about that already.”
They went inside the Chantry, into its dungeons and into its cell where she was once held prisoner. It was a room that did not hold pleasant memories.
“I sat beside you while you slept, studying the Anchor.” Then for a brief moment, a vision came before her: he was there and so was she. She lay on the ground, unconscious. Large beads of sweat were coming from her forehead. The mark on her hand burned like fire. Solas sat beside her. His hand cradling her marked hand. He uttered words that she could not understand. His magic pooled his mana and her life force.
When the memory ended, she let out a smile. “I am glad someone was watching over me.”
“You were a mystery,” he added turning to her. “You still are. I ran every test I could imagine, searched the Fade, yet found nothing. Cassandra suspected duplicity. She threatened to have me executed as an apostate if I didn’t produce results.”
She shook her head. “Cassandra’s like that with everyone.”
He chuckled. “Yes.”
They found their way outside again. The snow gently cascaded from the sky, and the massive rift above the mountains loomed like a storm brewing without end.
“You were never going to wake up. How could you, a mortal sent physically through the Fade?” Turning to her, he continued, “I was frustrated, frightened. The spirits I might have consulted had been driven away by the Breach. Although I wished to help, I had no faith in Cassandra…or she in me. I was ready to flee.”
“The Breach threatened the whole world,” she pointed out. “Where did you want to go?”
“Someplace far away where I might research a way to repair the Breach before its effects reached me.” A playful look crossed his face. “I never said it was a good plan.”
He stepped forwards thrusting his hand above the heavens like she often did with the Anchor. “I told myself, ‘one more attempt to seal the rifts!’ I tried…and failed. No ordinary magic would affect them. I watched the rifts expand and grow, resigned myself to flee! And then…”
Another vision, a memory. It was that moment where she stood before a rift for the first time. Solas grabbed her hand, and a torrent of magic exploded from her palm towards the rift. Then the vision ended, and Solas stood before her once more, gazing down at her.
“It seems you hold the key to our salvation. You had sealed it with a gesture. And right then…I felt the whole world change.”
He gently took her left hand and turned her palm up. As he ran his fingers through her palm’s valleys and creases, she felt the Anchor responding to his touch. It was like the Anchor called out to him as it did to her, drawing them together.
“Felt the whole world change?” she repeated, stepping closer towards him.
“A figure of speech.” He responded quickly, avoiding her glance.
“I know how the metaphor works,” she teased. “I am more interested in felt.”
He turned towards her again with a look that she could not comprehend. Admiration? Sadness? Surprise? Reflection? It was hard to tell. She felt him move even closer to her, close enough to feel his heat under her clothes. As he tilted his head to look down at her, she noticed the grey-blue of his eyes dilate. “You change…everything.”
The Anchor was a mystery, but she could not fathom why it was personal to him.
She felt his other hand caress her cheek. The way he looked at her, the way he talked, the way he led her around Haven, and the way he touched her, it felt like it had happened before. It was like the humble stoic elven apostate was slowly fading and in his place walked that dear friend who she greatly missed. It was like he was there with her and she could reach him. And just like that, without knowing how or why, she reached up on her tiptoes and lightly pressed her lips to his.
When she felt him stiffen, she pulled away. Of course, he would not have wanted her. It was a kiss that came out of nowhere. What was she even thinking? But then, he suddenly grabbed her arm, pulling her into him so she almost crashed into his chest. Looking up, she saw that his expression was not one of indifference, but one of wonder and passion. It was as if he desired her. Then he pressed her mouth against hers, circled his arms around her, bending her downwards and parting her lips open with his tongue. She moaned against his hungry kiss. She felt him deepen the kiss, pressing her even closer, his hands moving downwards, then he suddenly tore away.
“This isn’t right,” he said with some regret. “Not even here.”
“Yes…that was my…” She stumbled backward still somewhat recovering from the aftershock of his kiss. “Wait. What do you mean by ‘not even here?’”
“Where do you think we were?” he answered playfully.
Then she noticed. The blankness of the place. And the illusion fading somewhat as she looked carefully. “This isn’t real.”
He grinned sheepishly. “That’s a matter of debate. Probably best discussed after you…wake up.”
Athdhea shot right up her bed at Skyhold. Wake up. She could still feel his words echoing in her head. It was already morning. Sunlight poured out the curtains and the large windows of her room. And it was cold.
What happened to me? She felt around her body. No scars or bruises. She still had yesterday’s clothes on. What happened? She didn’t know. She had to know.
Once more she felt like she was twelve again. There were no bruises this time but she felt vulnerable and helpless nonetheless. As she looked at the steady glow of her hand, she remembered how he touched her hand in the dream. He led her there. And she suddenly felt afraid. She trusted him, but he may have done something to her.
Drawing her arms to herself, she sat there. And wept.
The world outside of dreams is not real. A friend of his made that mistake and he had to die for it. He would not make the same mistake.
For several weeks now, she had been walking into his dreams. He never thought that any mortal could do it, but she did. And she did not know that she was doing it. It was his mark on her hand that kept drawing her to him.
So he decided to indulge her, to reform his dreams just to see her smile. Once, he took her to Barindur, and then another time, the Deep Roads. And because she loved stories and reading so much, he even took her to Vir Dirthara, where she sat for hours pouring over ancient texts and questioning old spirits. In those times that she just wanted to be safe, he took her to Haven, or at least his version of it. On those times when they walked and sat together in his dreams, time stood still. If only she could stay in his world forever.
Everything was always much simpler, much easier in the Fade, because the Fade bends to his will, to his imagination. But her being there complicated things. Each step she took drew her closer to him, closer to learning everything. Because he was afraid, he chose to make her forget, again and again. After all, what is so wrong about bending reality a little bit? He did it every time in the Fade to suit him. And the truth would only hurt her. This way, he thought of protecting her like that day when he first found her. Forgetting would make things simpler. Yet, each time he made her forget, he regretted it.
In the waking world, he noticed how her actions mirrored some of the unconscious knowledge she acquired from the time she spent in the Fade—the way she judged people, especially after conversations with spirits of mercy and justice, as someone who attempted a balance between those spirits’ arguments or the way she pushed herself to train more physically after reading an ancient tome of arcane magic. Each day, she grew more powerful.
If she does manage to transform the waking world—the endless nightmare that he created—it will be all for the better. Why the mark ended up coming to her, why she had to change everything, why she always ended up finding him, and why he found it harder each day to keep his distance would always remain a mystery. Loving her was in a lot of ways, his very own guilty pleasure. If there is a reason for these, he was simply there, waiting.
A day came when she came to him herself in the physical world asking specifically about him. The fact she had come to continually seek him out, even in the waking world, surprised him. This time, he wanted her to remember. If she could remember, maybe there could be a chance that their worlds could meet.
This time, she was able to follow him, even before she fell asleep. It was a simple matter of letting the herbs that he put on the fire and the Anchor do its work, pulling her to the Fade. After all, the Anchor’s was meant to be his bridge between both worlds, his weapon to tear down the Veil he created. While her consciousness followed him into his dream, he left her physical body in a place where others would easily find her.
In that dream, she listened to him, and he tried to tell her as much as he could about how he felt. And she looked at him it like she could follow him anywhere, and that despite everything, he could be someone else, someone worthy of that trust that she seemed to give to him. He tried to tell her that with everything she does, she simply changes everything.
Then she kissed him. At first, it came as a surprise. But the touch of her lips awakened something in him—an overwhelming feeling that rose suddenly from his body. Once awaken, it only seeks to touch her once more, and again. This was his hunger, his passion that caught her lips back. But no, drowning in her meant losing his purpose, so he had to pull away.
And then she realized that she was in his dream, and awakened. He knew that they could not stay long. Her waking was always an inconvenience, but he wondered what she would do this time that he allowed her to remember.
Mornings were always too bright, too glaring, and that morning he decided to take tea. He detested it, but he needed to be awake. Even awake, the touch of her lips still lingered. And he needed to know what she would do, what she would say. So he waited.
But she never came.
Daylight passed and she never sought him out. So he walked under the evening light, looked up and found her on a tree in the garden hugging her knees. When she saw him, she went down. Her face showed traces of tears. She slowly walked up to him and slapped him.
“What did you do to me?!” she cried.
He looked at her with some confusion. “I apologize. The kiss was impulsive and Ill considered. And I should not have—”
“It’s not about the kiss!” Her anger was not very apparent in her voice. “I am asking what you did to me. You put me to sleep and you did not even tell me!”
“I am sorry. You said that you wanted to understand me and my studies. Naturally, showing you in the Fade was the best way to show you.”
“There is nothing natural about any of this! Now I don’t know what’s real anymore!”
“The Fade is reality. This world is—” He stopped himself. This world was her reality. And this simple truth dawned on him: their realities are fundamentally different. And allowing her to enter into his world would break her. He broke her. “I am sorry. I am so sorry…lethallan—”
“Do not do that to me again, Solas.” Her hands wiped tears from her face. “Please allow me some time to…forgive you. I am not sure if I am making any sense, but please just give me this time. I don’t know anything anymore.”
“I am so sorry.” These were the only words that he could keep repeating.
So from that time on, he stopped appearing in her dreams. As she walked his dreams, he watched from a distance because she asked him to. It would be better if she never finds out. It would just break her. Even if her world may not be real, she was real to him. Her smile, her scent, her voice, her touch, her lips were all real.
Forgetting was always easier. But because she was real, forgetting would take forever.
I had to change the warnings because of this one. Yes, that was a consent violation, and we will be dealing with some of the consequences of this for chapters to come. I did not write this without thinking about this. Athdhea is a survivor of rape culture just like many of us. We move on, but sometimes there are things that just come back. But the terrible things that happen to us do not of course define us. One running theme that I hope people do pick up on is how this story depicts how terrible things can happen to people or how people can make mistakes but moving forward is one things that makes us, well, human (and of course I’m not talking about them as a race but about being mortal).
Of course, one major problem here is that Solas did not understand how violating it was until it was too late. He is too used to bending reality because that is how it is in the Fade. This in no way excuses him. He is not a perfect person. He is immortal but he does make mistakes.
In writing this, I can’t help but think about the parallel to Cupid and Psyche, and about how relationships between gods and mortals are depicted. In that myth, Cupid marries the mortal Psyche but does not let her see who he is. He only came to her at night when she could not see him. Of course, that led Psyche to believe that her husband is a monster until she almost killed him. The myth, of course, has a happy ending with Psyche becoming a goddess in the end, but not all love stories between gods and men end up that way. And that happy ending was only possible when they were finally equal as gods. It’s almost the same situation here. There’s definitely a problem in the power dynamics of a relationship when one person is a god.
Solasmancing readers and Solavellan friends, I hope the inclusion of this does not upset you. Part of this is, after all, a character study and a what if scenario if you put a god and a mortal together.
Who do you think the female grey warden who saved Athdhea is? Bethany? The Hero of Ferelden? Clarel? Or just some random passing grey warden who I just put in because I regret the lack of grey wardens in Inquisition?
And now to Cullen and a much lighter chapter. Athdhea definitely needs it and so do I. I’ll try to update next week, but I do have some writing for university and I’ll be doing bridesmaid stuff for a friend’s wedding. But stay tuned.
Music for the week: 그대를 잊는다는 건 (Forgetting You) - Davichi. (see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hP9WAzJ6w-c).
Chapter 7: Confessions
Half-naked soldiers, an afternoon chess match, some drunken antics and a confession at the battlements. All is well in Thedas.
After that dream with Solas, mornings were a challenge. She had long stopped crying. Though she went through every routine--war table meetings, formal judgments, and training sessions—finding motivation or energy for anything was difficult. Sometimes, things that she loved such as reading, gardening or riding became chores. There was a darkspawn magister loose, a possible assassination at the Winter Palace, Grey Wardens amassing a demon army, and an upcoming march towards Adamant Fortress, but she had no energy for anything. Despite everything, nothing felt real.
Cassandra suggested vigils, but vigils did nothing for her since she did not believe in the Maker. Asking Solas for anything was not an option, and she did not want Cullen to see her such. Dorian was much more patient. At first, he started with giving her breakfast and reading with her some of the funniest things he found in the things he read about Southern Chantry history. And he listened. Though she thought at first that he would think her mad or possessed, he did not do so. He believed her. And in those times that she just cried, he held her and reassured her that crying was alright and that there would be days when she would not feel that way. Before, she listened to him and helped him with his father. He reminded her that he was also her friend and that they were fighting this war together after all.
Soon, Dorian got his friend up in the morning. Mornings and exercise were all important in getting her better, he often repeatedly told her. Getting up in the morning with Dorian helped make things a lot easier, and so did the sight of a bunch of shirtless male soldiers jogging their way in the morning.
“They do this every morning?” Athdhea asked as she ogled at the muscled bodies.
Dorian gave naughty smile. “Quite motivating aren’t they?”
“Uh-huh.” There were no other words that she could use to describe this sight.
As the parade of abs and muscles passed them, she teased, “So…what’s going on between you and Iron Bull exactly? I could not help but notice him flexing more and more in your direction.”
Dorian rolled his eyes. “If only there was some discreet bone in that lummox…We are friends, but there are times when I don’t’ want people to know about this, just like I wouldn’t want anyone to know I fancy Ferelden beer. At first, it was an ill-considered night after drinking…”
The soldier’s marching song grew louder. And Dorian told her details. Perhaps too many details at some points. Not that she minded.
“I don’t know what’s ‘going on’ to be honest,” Dorian concluded. “I suspect neither has the Bull.”
“So is that why he left a note the other day saying that he was taking the Chargers for a few days for a small job?”
“We decided to give each other some space to think things through. And he did not want to pressure me about feelings…if I am having them. Honestly, that sappy lump of...” Dorian sighed. “Now that I said it, my ancestors are officially turning over their graves. Ah, well.”
“But you,” Dorian smirked, nudging her on the shoulder. “My friend, possibly have something more interesting going on.”
“If this is about Solas, I don’t want to talk about—”
“This is definitely not about that conceited hobo wood-elf,” Dorian interrupted. “I am talking about our Commander over there.”
Just as Dorian mentioned it, Cullen walked down the steps right on cue. His arms crossed, he gave the order for Rylen to halt the march. “What? Cullen? He’s just—”
“Don’t look!” Dorian ordered, putting an arm around her. “Turn around.”
“I don’t see why—“
She did as he asked. She watched Dorian’s face contort as he peered out, and then smile. “Ah there! See the way he broods now that he sees us!”
She slightly turned back to look. “How can I see it if I can’t—“
“Quiet!” Dorian abruptly turned her head back around with his other hand. “I’m trying to prove a point here. There you go. The passion, the longing, and the jealousy…It somewhat makes me jealous.” His smile grew wider. “Now let’s quietly walk away before Cullen marches over here and smites me.”
She did as she was told. As soon as they got back her room, she exclaimed. “You did not even let me see anything!”
He laughed. “It’s for the best. Your poor heart would probably not have been able to take it. I almost melted, you know.”
She shook her head amusedly. “I’m glad you’ve found a way to amuse yourself.”
“But case in point…” A naughty smile played on his lips as he leaned on the table and placed both his hands on his cheeks. “Someone likes you…”
“You’re imagining things!” She rolled her eyes. “The man himself came to me and told me that he is not interested.”
“But that was some time ago. And a lot of things have happened since then. Some people can change and develop these things called ‘feelings.’ Trust me: I know how things can get complicated.”
“Yeah, tell me about it.” She said, running her fingers through her hair.
“And I’ve seen that date you had on the ship to Denerim, and the way you both looked at each other with googly eyes. Warms the heart.”
“It wasn’t a date,” she recollected “I was just there, he happened to come by and he decided to stay. Really, it was just us standing over the water, possibly trying not to get seasick. Then he started telling me things. And from that time, I knew I could trust him because he trusted me. So I guess, it was special in a way. But not in the way that you think.”
“A mundane date then.” Then he victoriously raised his arms as if he thought of something clever. “Ah! A mundate!”
“A mundate?” she asked. Her brows rose incredulously.
“It’s when two people find something special in a place or time no one really considers special. That’s a mundate and it doesn’t happen to everyone. You lucky wench.”
Athdhea laughed. “That should be in a dictionary. But Cullen and I…it’s impossible. We are so different.”
“Yes, that’s how it usually starts.” He pinched her reddening cheeks. “Oh you do look so adorable when you blush!”
“Fenedhis! Or how do you humans say it? … Fuck off Dorian!”
Dorian laughed again. “Now, now…You really should not pause when you swear. It ruins the effect.”
After a bit more playful swearing, Dorian reassured his friend that he would always be there for her, and that she should take whatever time she needs to be happy. Romance, after all, is not necessary for happiness, even if it helps sometimes. At least, that was what he said. But she could not help but be suspicious based on the sly grin he had when he left.
One of the first things Athdhea asked for as Inquisitor was a library. So Cassandra, Leliana, Josephine and Cullen all made efforts to fill it as much as possible. The books took several months to gather but Cullen was satisfied with the outcome. Dorian, however, had much to say about it.
“All these ‘gifts’ to the Inquisition,” Dorian grumbled. “And the best they can do is The Malefica Imperio? Trite propaganda! But if you want twenty volumes on whether Divine Galatea took a shit on Sunday, this is evidently the best place to find it.”
Athdhea and Dorian mage were becoming fast friends, and perhaps even more. Word was that the Tevinter mage was visiting her in her room daily. One morning, he found the both of the mage with his arms around her. And Cullen did not like any of it one bit. So Cullen did the best thing that every jealous person would do: know thy enemy.
Unlike Josephine or Cassandra though, his skills at conversation were not exactly top notch. Thus, he resolved to do it the best way he could—chess.
It was surprisingly easy to get him to play for a round. The mage came willingly with just one invitation. He could not decide if he should be frustrated or amused at how the mage often tried to provoke him, while he cheated. He always cheated. It felt like he cheated because he wanted to annoy him. Having a board in front of him was not really chess, but a game of confidence and charisma.
After one chess game came another, and then another. Because each game somewhat offended him, Cullen just had to do it again. And when he finally found the words and the opportunity, as Dorian called it, to “sass” him back, Dorian looked pleased.
Then one day, she dropped by. As they played, she studied the pieces curiously, and had a few exchanges with Dorian on the names and purpose of each piece. The way her brows furrowed as she examined the board, and the way she blinked with each new change in the game, he was almost distracted. Almost.
“You need to come to terms with my inevitable victory, Commander,” Dorian gloated. “You’ll feel much better.”
Of course Dorian cheated again. A bishop appeared where it wasn’t supposed to be. But it did not matter. The game was his.
“Really?” Queen to G2. Checkmate. “Because I just won. And I feel fine.”
There was nothing better than wiping the smirk off Dorian’s face every time.
“Don’t get smug. There’ll be no living with you.” Always the sore loser.
He was about to head off as well when he noticed her disappointment that the game had ended. “I should return to my duties as well,” he told her. “Unless you would care for a game?”
Her eyes lit up as if excited. “Really? Prepare the board then. First time for everything. So go easy, please?”
“I can’t promise that,” he smiled. “In my experience, tough loses are always the best teachers.”
She shook her head. “There you go…always the taskmaster.” She picked white. Pawn to D4.
Black knight to F6. White bishop to G5. For someone new at the game, she had very aggressive first moves.
Then he started talking about Mia, how she gave him a series of defeats, how he practiced with Branson everyday, and how she looked that day when he finally won. “Between serving the Templars and the Inquisition, I haven’t seen them in years. I wonder if she…still plays.”
Pawn to G6. White bishop captures on F6. Pawn captures on F6. And just like that, she compromised his pawn structure. Too clever, especially for someone’s supposed first time.
“You have siblings?” she asked. Pawn to C4.
“They moved to South Reach after the Blight. I do not write to them as often as I should.” He told her stories. Her eyes met as they talked. And just like that, he almost forgot it was his turn. Pawn to D5.
“Alright. Let’s see what you’ve got.” White pawn captures on D5.
Black queen captures on D5. White knight to C3. Cullen thought to himself, whether she was lying about this being her first time, the game at least would prove to be fun.
Her pieces immediately took control of the center of the board, making him put up a tight defense. As they did, she talked about various clan members she missed, and he in turn, talked more about his family: Mia’s constant nagging, Branson and all his girlfriends, and Rosalie’s antics. Before he knew it, hours flew by quickly.
She made some mistakes, and he managed to flag her down a few times. She sacrificed a bishop and a knight, but in doing so, she also cleared paths for two of her pawns to become queen.
“This may be the longest we’ve gone without discussing the Inquisition—or related matters,” Cullen remarked. “To be honest, I appreciate the distraction.”
“We should do this more often then,” she replied smiling.
“I would like that!”
“Me too,” was her almost silent answer. His eyes met hers, and the world seemed to stop. She said that, and it was more than enough for him to be almost drunk with happiness.
Pawn to D8. White gets a second queen. He almost forgot that the match was still on.
“We should…finish our game, right? My turn?” Pawn to G1. Black also gets a second queen. Cullen would not let her win so easily.
“Alright, let’s end this,” she replied determinedly.
White queen captures on F7. Check. He did not see that one coming. Black king to H6. White queen to H7. Checkmate.
And just like that, she won. “I believe this one is yours. Well played.”
She beamed. “Thank you. That was fun.”
“But you have to be honest with me here: is it really your first time playing this?”
She smiled guiltily. “To be honest, I have no idea. Would you think I am crazy if I say maybe? That I may have played this, forgot and suddenly remembered. It’s bizarre, really. And insane.”
“Not insane, but wonderful. As you always are.” He was getting ahead of himself, and he almost did not know how to stop.
She stared at him as she said those last words, and then snickered. “Wonderful? I am sure that’s not what everyone would say.”
“I beg to differ then.”
“Oh Creators! I almost forgot!” she suddenly exclaimed. “I was supposed to meet Dorian and Varric at the tavern half an hour ago.”
Of course, that mage again. But he kept his jealously in. “But of course, good day milady.”
He was about to walk away, when her voice called, “Wait! Unless…you would want to join us? What better time to get to know one another than now, right?”
Not knowing what came over him, he said yes. He watched the two joke, flirt and laugh with one another, while he slowly sipped his pint and Varric coaxed him about a game called Wicked Grace. It was a mistake. After his second pint, he got up to leave.
“You’re not leaving after only two drinks, are you Curly?” Varric remarked.
“I believe I must. I have a thousand things that need my attention.”
At that point, she had a concerned look in her face, and he could not tell for what reason. Dorian, who had an arm around her shoulders, added a bit too giddily, “Oh come now Commander, we’ve not gotten enough drinks to any secrets yet. And this lady here has plenty!”
“Dorian!” she protested, her cheeks turning to a shade of crimson.
Usually, he thought that anything beyond two drinks was irresponsible, but this was an exception. So, he sat down again as Dorian called the bartender for another round of drinks. But soon, he felt that everything around him drew suddenly hot, and then he could not remember anything else.
The next morning, he missed the drills, awoke with a massive headache, and noticed that he wasn’t wearing anything except for his knickers. And he couldn’t find his armor.
Maker, what happened?
The door of his office opened below, and Dorian walked in with a large tray and two bowls. Though his head still throbbed, he quickly donned a shirt and trousers and went downstairs.
“Good morning, Com…mander…I hope your headache is not as disastrous as mine…” he called groggily with some mock enthusiasm. “I was tasked with this…peace…offering: Hangover soup: courtesy of…the Inquisitor. Dalish recipe, I think. Tried some…It’s not too bad”
The sun was still hurting his eyes, but he noticed a large black circle on Dorian’s forehead. “Ugh. What happened to you? Who among the soldiers did that to you?”
“You did,” Dorian replied matter-of-factly setting down the tray on his table.
Cullen’s eyes squinted with the headache and confusion. “Hold on. I did what to you? Maker, I’m—”
Dorian held his hand up interrupting him. “Ah…before you start raving apologies…I may have deserved it.”
“Why? What did you do? How—”
“Long story!” Dorian interrupted again. “I hate…long stories. Don’t you?”
Cullen stared. “It depends on the story.”
The two slowly sipped the warm soup. It was spicy, but Cullen felt how it slowly jolted him back to his senses. When the two slightly sobered up, Dorian began, “Alright, short version: We both got very drunk. There was some sort of drunken challenge and I may have accidentally conjured a giant spider…”
Cullen protested, “Athdhea is deathly afraid of spiders!”
“Now I know,” Dorian replied with much regret, “The things you learn too late about the friends you care about…Anyway, before I permanently traumatized our dear girl, you leapt to her rescue and put your fist right up to this charming face. That’s all I remember, and it still hurts…”
“What happened to my clothes and my armor?” Cullen demanded.
Dorian shrugged. “Perhaps you set it on fire? Pity. I would have paid to see that. But that’s not the most important thing here… She never told me anything, but I can’t help shake the feeling that you told her something important last night…”
Cullen spat out the spoonful that he just took. Then things flashed before him. After the bar fight, he remembered feeling the weight of his armor, her arms trying its to support him, that feeling of relief after unburdening himself of his armor and clothes, and her Elvish cursing and chiding for him to put his clothes back on. And then he told her those feelings that he wanted to tell her from the time he almost lost her on Haven.
So she knows.
After he finished his share, Dorian got up and took his staff.
“Where are you going?” Cullen asked.
“Last night’s events made things a lot clearer for me. I’m going to find a dragon and confess my feelings to that Beast, though he may not deserve it.”
Cullen glanced at the mage with some disbelief. What beast? Did that mean that he was mistaken all along?
Before any other questions came up in his head, Dorian added, “Life is too short, Commander. And my friend has been hurt a lot, but I believe you both have a chance to be happy.”
Just like that he left. He heard that Cassandra, Varric and Athdhea followed him to the Hinterlands in search of a dragon. They two together again, but this time, it felt different. If she knew about his feelings, why did she not confront him then, and she usually did. If there was anything that he knew about her, he knew that she was not one to hold anything back. And he always admired that about her.
The days that passed gave him a bit of time to think, and to restore his dignity in front of his men. Strangely enough, the drunken antics of that night seemed to have raised morale. Still, he could not get over the looks that his men started giving him. As soon as the gossip reached Josephine and Leliana, the two teased him endlessly.
She did come back after a few days, but they barely got the opportunity to talk. Nonetheless, he could not help but notice that she somewhat softened around him, and the way she looked at him, it was always as if she had something to say but was not saying it.
Finally, one morning, she burst into his office. With much determination in her voice, she declared, “Cullen: we need to talk. Alone.”
And he could not refuse. If she was going to reprimand him for impropriety and to tell him to keep his distance and remember his place, he felt like he deserved it. So he followed her up the battlements and resigned himself to his fate.
The smoke started to clear. Athdhea started to see the charred rocks and trees around her. They just killed a dragon, one whose tail almost fell on her when Cassandra landed the killing blow. The dragon’s mass obscured most of her view of Varric and Cassandra who stooped low examining a pair of legs, which are the visible part of Dorian after he dove into the dead creature’s mouth to grab something. Even from the other side, he could hear his voice, “Come off you slimy excuse for a molar!”
Athdhea called, “How’s the dental work?”
Moments later, Dorian emerged out of the dragon’s mouth, his skin and hair covered in dragon slime. Victoriously, he lifted his prize: a dragon tooth for the Bull. Hours later, as Dorian stood over the requisition table about to split the tooth, Athdhea thought about things she needed to say to someone. Sometimes, it is easier to face dragons than one’s own feelings.
Growing up in a clan with dozens of ma'asa'ma'lins, ba'isa'ma'lins and lots of esa'var'lins, Athdhea never felt alone, and anything romantic felt incestuous, even though technically she was not related to any of them. And at around fourteen, she thought she was well on her way to spinsterhood when she proudly declared to everyone, after being pronounced First, that she would never need a husband. Until that time she left for the Conclave, she never thought about needing anyone.
And then there was her Friend, whose name she probably would never know. She wasn’t sure if it was love, but she felt that there was always something that pulled her thoughts to him. Because in the saddest and loneliest moments of her life, he was always there. But even if he was always there, he was also somewhere she could never reach. Chasing his shadows only made her feel sad.
When Dorian suggested that Cullen might have feelings for her, she almost dismissed it. Yes, they disagreed. They have been through a lot and he proved that he will always be there if she needed him. But she never really thought of being with him, because they were so different. And the man did tell her once that he was not interested. Still, her curiosity was peaked, and she decided to spend more time with Cullen to test the waters.
Playing chess and sitting out on a boat with him showed that he had a warm, carefree side of him to balance out his competitive nature. At least he was not a warmonger all the time, and she actually enjoyed his company. And they trusted each other.
But when he was with other people, he usually looked impatient and annoyed. To his credit, he may have had more important things to do, and she distracted him from it. Yes, they were friends, but she was also her Commander. He probably just could not say no, even though she never ordered him to follow her to the tavern.
And then the stupid men dared each other to a drinking game and got seriously drunk.
Cullen seemed to have fallen asleep after three drinks, and she regretted not having in it in her to stop him. After observing that Dorian may have been getting too drunk and red from the ale, she entreated, “Ok, Dorian: this may have to be your last drink. I think Bull will kill me in my sleep if I let you drink more than this without him…”
“Oh that Beast?” Dorian repeated weakly. “I can…summon him…right now…”
Dorian muttered under his breath, and the next moment, a large spider emerged from the ground. Immediately, there were screams and a lot of the people who were singing and drinking the moment before this, stampeded outside.
The creature, baring its large fangs, directed its large red eyes at her.
“Sparkles, I think you may have summoned the wrong boyfriend,” Varric said with a bit of a quake in his voice. “Now may be a good time to unsummon it.”
“What?” Dorian protested drunkenly. “We’re drinking! The more the merrier!”
Athdhea stared at the creature defiantly trying not to show her fear. Since that disastrous time at the Storm Coast, she started summoning little spiders to steel herself. It was Templars, not spiders who killed your parents…It wasn’t spiders…It wasn’t spiders…If only her Spirit blade hilt was not on the other side of the room past the creature…
Without warning, the creature charged at Athdhea. She dodged its attack. Its fangs narrowly missed her sleeve. Too close…
“Anytime now, Varric…” she called with shallowed breaths, her chest tightening.
“I would love to Squirrel, but Bianca’s on the other side of the room.”
Just as the room was starting to blur around her, she heard a clang and a loud crash where Dorian and Cullen were sitting. The creature suddenly disappeared.
When her eyes started adjusting again, she noticed Dorian passed out on the table and Cullen towering wobbly above him. “Annoying mage,” he muttered before passing out again with a loud crash on the same table.
“Well, I guess that works too…” Varric said under his breath.
Varric, with a little bit of help, managed to take Dorian to an upstairs room. Athdhea, feeling responsible for the chaos, took it upon herself to bring drag Cullen to his room. After all, the man did save her and Varric a few moments ago. The only problem was that, even with all her training, the ex-templar’s armor was weighing her down especially after climbing a flight of stairs. She almost regretted taking on the task.
After setting Cullen down on one corner, she tried her best to not feel his taut muscles as she loosened his armor. Even in his sleep, she almost admitted to herself that the man looked almost perfect. Almost.
She set his armor aside on one corner, leaving a note. Tomorrow, hopefully someone will find it and bring it to the Commander. If not, she will have to send someone to bring it to him. Then she heard some ruffling clothes in the direction of where she left Cullen.
“Andraste’s flames, why is it so damn hot?” she heard him mutter.
Good, he’s finally awake.
Upon turning back on his direction, her eyes widened as she stared at Cullen standing almost completely naked save for his underwear, which in her eyes, left very little to the imagination.
“Dread Wolf on a cart!” she screamed. “Cullen: put your clothes back on right now!”
“What issue do you have…against my clothes?” he dazedly ranted as he unsteadily shuffled towards her. “Even Josephine, hates them…”
“I have no issue with your clothes,” she barked nervously trying to avert her eyes away from him. “I only have an issue with you without clothes.” Of course, that was a lie. A part of her was secretly enjoying the view.
He lazily draped his arm around her shoulder. “Alright, dear lady, take me back to sea before I start turning back to foam…”
She tried not to laugh as she was secretly enjoying this side of him. With her carrying some of his weight, they hobbled slowly towards his office.
“I know a lot of people think that it’s a girl’s story,” he sleepily whispered, “But there are times that I think of myself as a mermaid.”
“You laugh…but it is sometimes true. There are times, I don’t mind giving up everything just to be where you are. Because you are so far away, and we are so different…”
At that point, she almost stopped on her tracks but she continued on with him. Some of what he said might ring true, and she tried to convince herself that it was all drunken gibberish.
“That time when I almost lost you at Haven…I wanted to tell you…how sorry I was. I never told you…that I loved you. And even now, I can’t tell you, because you are the Inquisitor. And you are far beyond my reach. That is why, I don’t mind giving up my voice, if only I can get to be in your world, even if you may never notice or feel the same way that I do…Even if I turn into foam, I don’t really mind…Because that is how much I want to be with you…”
Cullen fell asleep almost immediately as she helped him to his bed and covered him with blankets. She examined his sleeping form as she thought about what he just said. If the ale had indeed turned him into an honest drunk, she would have to think through how she feels about this—what she feels about him.
It was all unclear. She hardly knew anything about this man, except that they often disagreed, and that at times his smile felt like the winter sun—rare and strangely nourishing.
She thought she had feelings for someone else, but she also didn’t mind being with this man before her. Those times when he drove her mad, when they raged at each other and when she was angry at herself for almost not fulfilling her promise to him were real. Those times when she could kill only to know what he was thinking was real. Those moments when he made her smile were real. The warm feeling of that sunset when gazed at the sea as he told her his secret was real. The breezy afternoon that he spent with her playing chess was real. The way he saved her a few moments ago as if by instinct was real. He was real.
There were times when she too wondered where they would stand if only they were not mage and templar, or elf and human. In his own way, he gave her a glimpse of what it feels like to be, in their own terms, human.
But all of it felt muddled to her, and the next morning, she sent Dorian because she could not bring herself to see him. The day after, she left with Dorian so she could give herself time to think. And when they return to Skyhold, perhaps her feelings would somehow be clearer.
As she gazed at Dorian as they raced back to Skyhold almost right after the exhausting dragon fight, she thought to herself how lucky her friend was to know exactly what he wanted.
Days passed after her return to Skyhold, and she delayed the impending confrontation. War meetings became especially harder, because seeing him and hardly being able to say anything to him was almost painful. She never wanted him to know how cowardly she was.
At last, after one war table meeting, she summoned the courage to speak to him after Cassandra, Leliana and Josephine left the room. Summoning as much determination in her voice as she could, she said, “Cullen: we need to talk. Alone.”
“Alone?” Cullen repeated nervously. “I mean, of course…”
The pair walked silently along the battlements, a nervous tension filled the surrounding air. Athdhea hardly knew where they were going, and she almost wanted to kick herself for asking to talk to him when she could hardly say a word.
“It’s a nice day,” Cullen muttered awkwardly.
“What?” was the only word she could reply. Curses.
“It’s…” he replied hesitantly. “There was something you wished to discuss…”
Athdhea shook her head, unable to bear the nervous frustration. “It definitely has nothing to do with the weather…”
“I assumed that much,” he answered, looking away nervously, “I can’t say I haven’t wondered what I would say to you in this sort of situation.”
“You don’t have to wonder. You already said something of the sort. That night when I had to carry you back to your office after you got ridiculously drunk.”
His cheeks reddened with embarrassment. “Maker! What did I say?”
“You told me that you were a mermaid, and that you wanted to be with me more than anything. I really didn’t want to say anything, but the past several days I wondered, how much of it is really true…” There, she said it.
“Minus the mermaid part: all of it,” he admitted succinctly.
“What stopped you from telling me all this before? I remember you telling me many months ago that you had no interest in pursuing any kind of relationship…”
“That was before I realized how blind I was. And many things have changed since then.” He turned to face her, and she recognized the same confusion in his eyes as hers. “You’re the Inquisitor now. We’re at war. And you…I didn’t think it was possible.”
“So did I,” she confessed. And at that moment, as she examined the reflection of his earnest brown eyes. She realized that she wanted to stay in that moment when her eyes met his. This time, she was not going to run away. “Yet, I am still here. And I’m not going anywhere.”
“So you are…It seemed unreal.” His body slowly inched closer. “I thought it was too much to ask.” His voice lowered slightly. “But I want to.”
She closed her eyes as he lowered his head towards hers. Her breathing slightly hitched. Time slowed as she felt one hand at the curve of her hips, and the other feel the corner of her lips.
She expected the touch of his lips, until a nearby door slammed open and a voice shouted out, “Commander!”
Time suddenly resumed its normal pace, and she felt its whiplash. Blood rushed to her face with both embarrassment and disappointment. What, in Fen Harel’s ass, is wrong with time? Oh, Fen fucking Harel the betrayer.
“You wanted a copy of Sister Leliana’s report,” said the offending scout cluelessly, as if he had not noticed what was happening.
“What?!” Cullen growled.
“Sister Leliana’s report…you wanted it delivered without delay.” Then she observed the scouts eyes dart towards hers and then his glowering commander. “Or…to your office…right…”
Athdhea almost felt bad for the scout as he rushed out as quickly as he came. Almost. But then the moment was gone, and Cullen obviously has many other things to attend to, which she distracted him from. “If you need to—”
She could not even muffle the rest of that sentence as Cullen swallowed the rest of her words with a kiss. While the kiss began ravenously, Cullen gently eased the assault to move more slowly to match the coaxing of her lips. She wanted this. It was he who began it, but it was her who wanted more of it, more of him. It was as if all of Thedas spun around and time forgot them for a moment. And she needed to breathe. She sighed disappointedly to his mouth when he broke the kiss.
Her senses heightened with his warmth, his closeness. For a moment, he gazed at her, and muttered an apology, “I’m sorry. That was, uh, very nice…”
“Nice enough for you to try again?” she coyly teased.
His lips curved boyishly. “Most certainly, my lady…” True to his assertions, he tipped her chin and took her in his arms again for another kiss. This time, they took their time. Maps, scouts, meetings and the rest of Thedas be damned.
Cullen was real, and he smelled of warm summer afternoons. He was everything she needed. And this is just the way she always wanted to feel.
Sorry I took some time with this. I got too busy with life and my thesis.
I purposefully kept this chapter very light as the next one is expected to be chaotic.
I will also take a bit of time with the next one, as I am fairly busy this semester, but hopefully not too long.
Thanks for reading!
Music for the week: Something Just Like This – The Chainsmokers and Coldplay. (see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FM7MFYoylVs)
Chapter 8: Harellan
Athdhea stumbles upon the world of dreams and finds something that she does not expect.
Athdhea has come to love mornings. They always came with the expectation of the best things to come. As soon as the sun was up, she developed this habit of waiting by the forward camp in time for the morning scout to bring in the Commander’s morning report.
The morning’s scout arrived on schedule and she was always happy to relieve him of the gifts that he bore. The letter read:
My Dearest Lady,
These days I have gotten into that familiar habit of imagining you receiving my letters. I always like to think that you receive them as fondly as I receive yours. In my case, I get up and wait in the hopes of bypassing Leliana. Though I am not always successful, the Maker has blessed my most recent efforts, and I get to read your letters sooner. I get to think of you smiling as I am at the current moment just thinking of you
Now to my duty: the March is proceeding as planned, and I am on my way to you with trebuchets and the rest of our forces. We are hoping to get to you as fast as our horses can take us within three days.
There I am done. I have fulfilled my task for today as your Commander. Now onto other matters…
I know it was important for you to march ahead, but there will always be that part of me that wished you delayed a bit. And I am almost jealous of Rylen who has you there at Griffon Keep. I trust the man, but he does not know how lucky he is.
The water situation that you wrote about had me worried the other day. I am relieved to hear that the scouts were able to find a water source. Still, it would be wise to let someone else taste your water for a few days before you drink it. One can never be too sure.
I passed by this pair of Crystal Grace yesterday on the march. I can imagine you missing the scent of flowers as you are surrounded by a lot sand.
Do you miss me at all?
As per your question yesterday—or rather the other day as your letter did take its time to reach me—No, I am not in the habit of writing long letters. Mia always wants long letters, which I usually do not have the time for. But I always have time for you.
PS. Leliana: I know it is pointless to ask, but would you please leave my reports alone?
Athdhea pressed the letter and the flowers to her chest before dashing back to her room in the Keep and immediately penning a reply.
My Very Dearest Commander Cullen,
I am almost offended that you think that I don’t miss you.
These moments when you are away from me I always think about all of the horses that can run over you, the scaffolding that can fall over your head or any disgusting thing you could swallow. Just yesterday as we were clearing a Venatori encampment, a sudden thought crossed my head that you may have forgotten to take that elixir for your headaches. You almost always do and you always regret it halfway through the morning. But anyway, it distracted me for a moment almost got singed by fireball. I am fine by the way. The Bull is very thorough about clearing camps.
So really, I am most offended dear Sir.
And also, please do not forget to take your elixir. It drives me insane thinking about how many times you kept forgetting! I think it will always be a given that we will always worry about each other.
Can’t you get here sooner? Three days is too long. You getting here sooner would unburden Leliana’s scouts greatly. While I do look forward to your letters every single day, I would very much prefer its writer to be here.
The Crystal Grace smells lovely, but now I think I prefer the scent of Elderflowers.
Heading off today to help rangers chase away some angry varghests. It’s our fault really. We after all, took away their water. Thankfully, I know a thing or two about herding. That way, you would have less trouble getting to me.
I miss you more each day.
PS. I do know your preference for mabaris, but how opposed are you to cats? It’s of utmost importance. Please advise.
After he kissed her on the battlements, they barely had more than a week to each other before matters called her to the Western Approach. I was not the most ideal way to get to know someone, but she quickly found another side to this man who wrote her the sweetest of reports.
It’s this memory that she clung to as she felt the Nightmare probe her mind for memories. This Nightmare had taken from her once, and she will not let it do so again, especially not these memories. Not Cullen.
And it was bad enough they only a few moments to each other before the battle started. Barely enough time to squeeze his hand. And when they managed to breach through Adamant’s gates, his words to her were the words of her Commander, and the only thing she could tell him was to keep the troops safe. Why couldn’t she tell him to keep himself safe? Of course, it simply wasn’t the time, but a part of her regretted not being able to say the things that she wanted to say to him for weeks. But there were no words for it.
She did not believe in the Maker. In fact, she just confirmed that it was not Andraste who gave her the Mark but rather a mere coincidence that she was at the wrong place at the wrong time. But if there was anything that she wanted to believe from Cullen’s faith, is that love drives out all fear. If that is true, maybe that could be enough to get out of this Nightmare and to get back to the safety of Cullen’s arms. If not for him, for herself.
“We must get moving,” Solas reminded her gesturing to the Spirit leading them. “The Nightmare is closeby.”
Her old friend held out his hand to her and she took it.
A few minutes ago, they were attacked by spiders—or at least in her eyes, they looked like spiders. She used a fair a bit of her strength to banish them to the Fade before they got to her. A few minutes did not feel like enough but it would have to do.
On one side, Cole fidgeted nervously. “Not like this,” he whispered. “Not like me…” Bull kept his guard up, continually mocking Krem perhaps to keep himself sane. Hawke took the time to sharpen her daggers, and Stroud lit a nearby candle.
Unlike the rest of the party, Solas seemed unfazed by everything that was happening. In fact, it seemed as if he was enjoying everything. She had almost forgotten how this man really loved the Fade, or the fact that he once kissed her in the Fade.
They never talked about that incident again, but at least they had resumed to becoming friends again. Even after everything that happened and even after he did her wrong, he after all did not mean to hurt her. It was difficult to be angry at him for too long.
The Nightmare was definitely close. Each moment, his voice taunted them one by one. This time, it called to Solas in their own tongue. It said, “Dirth ma, harellan. Ma banal enasalin. Mar solas ena mar din.”
Solas called back defiantly, “Banal nadas.”
She did not completely understand what the exchange meant. But the Nightmare called him, harellan, trickster. It was a word she knew well, because it was a word that her clan used to describe the worst of people. And the Nightmare mentioned his friend’s pride. Once again, she found herself in that old habit of guessing. In this man’s other life, what did he do that he never want to speak about?
But that was not the time to think about that. They just needed to get out soon.
And they did. The Divine, Spirit, or whatever it was helped weaken the demon. After Stroud sacrificed himself to clear a path to the rift for the rest of them, Athdhea vowed to not to let his sacrifice be in vain as the rift closed behind them.
Stepping back into reality—her reality--she curled the mark into a fist. Immediately, she felt the Nightmare struggle as she destroyed its last connection to the known world. The demons in the courtyard fell at their feet. A cheer rose up among the surviving troops. As for the Wardens, she granted them the mercy of atoning for their mistakes by joining the fight against Corypheus.
Once again, the Inquisition was victorious.
Amidst all the triumphant shouts and the surrounding crowd, there was only one face she really wanted to see. Her eyes spotted Cullen standing on top of a downed part of the wall issuing commands to one of his lieutenants. When his eyes met hers, she pushed through all the bodies, all the people and threw herself immediately in his arms.
His arms were exactly how she remembered them—large, warm and very secure. She felt him smell her hair. As she unburied her face from his armor, she realized that she just covered him in demon blood. His hands felt for her chin but she immediately reburied her face under his chest. They hardly saw each other for weeks and this was the face she was showing him.
“Ah, don’t look!” she protested. “I am such a mess. Fenedhis! Now you’re covered in this junk too. I’m so sorry…”
His laugh pealed right after she said those words. “Trust me. I have been covered by far less savory things than that.” His fingers smoothed her hair. “And you had me worried. Maker, do not scare me like that again.”
“I’ll try not to,” was her reply.
His fingers angled her chin upwards and she found herself looking up to his gentle brown eyes. He smiled. “You look perfect to me, my lady,” he whispered before meeting her lips in a kiss.
Everything felt perfect after that, at least for a little while.
The next day, after some last instructions at Adamant, Athdhea ordered the march back to Skyhold.
Athdhea rode with Cullen and the rest of her party at the head of the army. They followed the long desert road back to Skyhold. Athdhea continually nudged her hart forward stealing glances at her Commander, who also naughtily stole glances back. Only she got to see this playful side of him.
Directing her gaze to the road ahead, her thoughts for the moment wandered as to who and how many people have travelled this road to Adamant. Then she felt the mark pulse, and her eyes caught sight of several armored Grey Warden riders rushing straight at her. Pulling the hart’s reigns to avoid collision, she was surprised to feel no pain, and the figures passed through her like shadows. Griffons swooped past her, and she heard the shadows muter something about an Archdemon.
And she thought Griffons were extinct.
Upon turning around, all her companions seemed to have disappeared and the sky’s appearance changed into a crystal pink hue. No, it’s not possible. Immediately, she recognized that she was definitely back in the Fade.
Her thoughts immediately drifted to how she can get out, but nothing came to mind. If she was dreaming, she needed something to jolt her back awake.
Just then, she spotted a lone rider and her mabari heading towards her. As this one drove past, Athdhea felt her thoughts. Forgive me Alistair, it said, this is something only I can do alone. I cannot let the Calling consume you too.
Athdhea spurred her hart after this figure, who just uttered the King of Ferelden’s name. If this was who she it is, this is a person she corresponded with not too long ago via Leliana. “Wait!” she called.
The retreating figures quickly disappeared into the horizon.
As Athdhea rode westward, she eventually came the Great Chasm at the spot where she thought Adamant was. Darkspawn came out of it in droves adding to the horde that marched on the ground towards her. Right then, a griffon swooped down and its rider rained down arrows on the darkspawn below. She heard a trumpet blast and more griffons and grey warden horse riders descended upon the horde. When the battle was over, bodies of griffons, horses, darkspawn and many great warriors lay on the sand.
Just like that, she witnessed a great battle, which the Grey Wardens won at great cost them.
When Athdhea awoke, her eyes adjusted to the golden lion patterns on the tent that hovered above her. She was covered in Cullen’s furs which were piled up on her like blankets. Dorian sat by her side, and so did Cassandra who let out a sigh of relief, “Thank the Maker! She’s awake.”
A sharp pain shot at her side as she tried to breathe deeply. Sensing her trouble Dorian helped her sit up, propping pillows and blankets on her back. “Rest easy there. Elan said you broke a rib when you fell.”
“What exactly happened to me?” she asked.
“We were hoping you could tell us…” Cassandra replied.
Dorian recounted, “One moment you were giving our dear Commander the cute googly eyes, and then the next moment your mark suddenly let out a gigantic burst of light right before you fell off your hart suddenly asleep.”
“The apothecary concluded it to be mere exhaustion,” Cassandra continued. “Solas believes it to be something else, and he’s gone to consult…demons.”
“Spirits…” Athdhea corrected her as she groaned. “How long was I out?”
“A few hours,” answered Cassandra. “Commander Cullen carried you here himself. So romantic…” A sigh escaped her lips. “He was also very worried…”
“Where is he?” Athdhea tried to mask her slight disappointment in her question.
“You just missed him,” Dorian interjected. “But you’d be happy to know that he stayed by your side holding your hand for hours. That is, until a good sergeant came with some news about quillbacks on the nearby road. I hope you’re not too disappointed.”
Of course, she’s never disappointed at seeing her friends, but missing Cullen was a different matter.
Later that night, Solas came to check on her. As her friend examined the mark, Athdhea tried to contain the excitement on her voice as she told him about her recent Fade experience. “And they not just regular darkspawn. I’m talking large angry trolls with large maces. And then the griffons! I did not imagine them to be that huge! I am so sorry you missed it.”
“Whoever said that I missed it?” Solas disputed. “When I surmised what was happening, I immediately excused myself so I could witness these memories.”
“Wait…” Athdhea stared at him accusingly. “You skipped out on Cassandra just so you can watch the battle?”
“Cassandra doesn’t have to know,” he muttered defensively, his grey eyes slightly pleading.
“Your secret is safe with me,” Athdhea assured him, her lips tightening to a smile. “But only if you answer me honestly: does this mean that I could harness this, so I could willingly walk the Fade on my own.”
Solas nodded. “It may take a bit of practice. But it is possible.”
“So that night at Skyhold…was it I who walked into your dream?”
“Yes,” he answered succinctly avoiding her gaze.
“Why didn’t you tell me?” she protested. “It would have been easier if I understood.”
“You were frightened,” he reminded her. “And I simply did not wish to burden you with this. You already have a great burden to bear.”
“I’m sorry too,” he repeated. But for some reason, she felt like he was sorry for something else. “Scars do have their way of weighing down the people they mark.”
“You never talk about yours even though you know a lot of mine,” she added regretfully.
“Perhaps it is for the best,” Solas said as he took got up and took his staff. “I should go.”
“Should you?” she asked almost pleadingly. She realized that she had greatly missed this friend.
“Yes,” was his simple reply before drawing the tent’s curtains back.
Perhaps it was for the best that they remained friends. Even though she trusted him, she did not like the feeling of him not trusting her, or anyone. He always was a lone wolf. Yes, he swayed her feelings for a moment, but it was only because he reminded her of another Friend who probably has better things to do and has far more superior dreams.
The rest of the journey back to Skyhold was mostly uneventful. When Athdhea was well enough to ride, she shared a horse with Cullen, and the two used the rest of the journey to make up for lost time. Unlike Solas, Cullen never avoided her questions, and he was always made her feel wonderful. Mabaris are, after all, superior companions to wolves.
After getting back to Skyhold, several matters required her attention: letters, judgements, an expedition to the Exalted Plains and plans for the ball at the Winter Palace. It was as if all of Thedas needed her wisdom—wisdom that a young elf who have barely seen much of the world may be a little lacking.
Thankfully, she had something to supplement it. Using her mark to walk the Fade, she stumbled upon some of her companions’ dreams. Vivienne dreamt of a spa in her room. Through the Iron Bull’s dreams, she got an idea of how torturous Ben-Hassrath reeducation was like. Leliana dreamt about meditating. Dorian dreamt about his father. Josephine sailed in her dream, while Blackwall’s dreams involved jousting. And Cassandra’s dreams may have a need a little censoring. Cullen was nowhere to be found, but it is perhaps because the man almost does not sleep. Solas also seemed to be surprisingly non-existent. All of these seemed too private that she felt guilty for stumbling upon them even as she only walked passed, so she decided to occupy herself with something else.
Another time, she found a hidden doorway while exploring, one which did not seem to exist in the waking world, but only seems to exist in the Fade. The doorway provided the entrance to a ruined library—the biggest that she had ever seen and the most puzzling. In that place, she could not tell if she was in the realm of dreams or reality. Some parts of the library were upside down. The spirits and ghosts who live in it were not the most helpful as they only gave cryptic answers about being “sundered” with one’s self. The texts all seemed to be in another language, but its symbols indicate some similarities with the language she learned to read from.
This library had given her a new hobby, one that she got to pursue in her sleep. She read, deciphered and translated as much of it as she could, and when she woke up, she wrote what she remembered of her own translations. It wasn’t a perfect system, but it somehow worked.
The first fragment or memory that she translated involved a hundred year duel between Elgar’nan’s and Falon Din’s champions. This fragment, Athdhea shared to some of her friends to some varied reactions. Solas seemed impressed with the translation. Dorian was intrigued with the rare elven lore. Varric looked amused but said the fantasy genre is not his thing, noting that he preferred his stories dark and gritty. Blackwall praised these knights who fought with honor. Cassandra seemed uninterested most likely because of the lack of romance. Sera stuck her copy to her wall for arrow practice.
Cullen’s disinterest was what probably annoyed her the most. It was bad enough that the man’s taste in books ranged from Brother Ortner’s “Growing in the Faith” to Sister Workwell’s “Laws of Leadership.” While he did not discourage her from her newfound hobby, he did comment something about using this to procrastinate, and something that she uses as a crutch due to her lack of confidence in her own wisdom and decisions. This comment unnerved Athdhea greatly, and it led to their first fight. What did he know anyway? His first response to problems after all were usually to bash things. And it was only right that she collect knowledge as former First of Clan Lavellan. But then again, part of what he said was right, and she realized that she ought to believe in herself more. Cullen then apologized for his insensitivity, acknowledging that it is important to understand her people’s history, especially given that his own people did try to erase hers. She apologized for overreacting and recognized that he only had her best interests at heart. And the pair made up with their game of templar-catches-mage--a game they made up which involved a lot of kissing but sadly nothing much further than that.
Every time Athdhea was back at Skyhold, she walked this Fade library, turning this into her second favorite part of the castle next to the battlements. It wasn’t exactly the safest place to be. After all, there were still unknown spirits there those who spirits call “librarians”, and there were parts of it that collapsed in rendering them almost impassable. At one point, she got nearly crushed as she attempted to head to another section. Things fell apart every single day. A part of her conjectured whether someone was at times intentionally collapsing parts of it so visitors could not see certain areas. Spirits spoke of a wolf that stalked its halls.
The Dread Wolf perhaps?
And then she realized that she was not alone in this world of empty fragmented knowledge. If this was truly the Betrayer, she resolved to catch it by its tail and sent it back to where it belonged.
Then one night, she found another hidden section of the library having repaired a broken staircase. She saw not a wolf but a shadow with the head of a wolf. As she hid, this shadow was approached by two other shadows. She head its dark voice whisper, “Very well. Once the Veil is measured, we will have better chances at taking these eluvians. I will return tomorrow to await your report.”
She watched these shadows depart via a mirror—eluvians as her Keeper taught her. But she had no way of activating any in the area. So she was determined to catch this suspicious perpetrator.
While she may not be able to beat this shadow in terms of magic or the resources of the Inquisition, perhaps she could use something that he might not expect. From what she knew, this shadow operates with ancient magic. So she worked with that. The next night, she made makeshift spring traps from various stones and metals that she could find in the area, a little trite but possibly unexpected. These are some of the things that one can learn from Sera.
The next night, she waited patiently. Hours seemed to pass, yet everything was silent. Then a trap sprung. When Athdhea got to it, she was surprised to find a figure she knew well in all her dreams. “A Friend?” she gasped.
Though she could not see his face under his mask, she could tell that he stared at her confused as she was. At that moment, a number of questions raised in her head. What was he doing there of all places, especially at that time? What did he want with the eluvians?
The split second allowed him to tear his leg away from trap and escape. Leaving traces of blood and his cloak on the cursed trap, and his path of escape.
“Wait!” Athdhea called.
A small blood trail led up a spiral staircase, and up to an entire floor of shadowy bookcases and stacks. She threaded silently, not to alert anyone on the floor. There was also something that did not feel right. It was as if something lurked that preyed on her fear.
Suddenly, she felt someone grab her towards a darker corner of a bookcase. His long fingers muffled her scream. “Quiet, Lethallan!” whispered the figure. “There’s a librarian on the far end of the room.”
“Solas?” was her puzzled reply as he loosened his grip.
Placing a finger to his lips, he gestured for her to see on what’s on the other side of the bookcase. Slowly, as she peeked on one side of the bookcase, she saw a fear demon heading towards their direction. Immediately, she hid back behind her friend.
Athdhea summoned her spirit blade, but Solas shook his head.
So they let the demon pass. Solas took her hand and they quietly slipped away from the room. He led them back down the staircase and into a courtyard. “There,” he said slightly panting. “We’re relatively safe here I think.”
“What was that?” asked Athdhea.
“A librarian,” Solas answered. “They’re powerful fear demons that lurk on this part of the Fade.”
“How did you find me?”
“I was exploring this part of the Fade as per your suggestion and stumbled upon this section. You were right about the books, the memories…they’re fascinating. The scale of—”
“Yes, yes,” Athdhea interrupted, knowing that her friend can go on talking about the wonders of the Fade, but that wasn’t what was important at the moment. “And you didn’t see anyone else come into that part of the library?”
“None that I know of,” he answered simply. “I was too preoccupied about escaping that fear demon. Why? Were you expecting to find someone else?”
“I followed someone here,” Athdhea replied, her frustration evident in her voice. She couldn’t have lost him again.
“It could have been a spirit,” posed Solas. “And spirits can take on many forms. Including those we care about.”
“I never said something about…” her voice trailed off. At that point, she was fixated on the slight limp on her friend’s walk. “What happened to your leg?”
At that moment, she instinctively let go of his hand. His expression dissolved from the friendly smile that she knew to a tight mask of distance and otherworldly wisdom. And then she knew. His grey eyes acknowledged it.
“So, you found me,” he said, his deep voice echoing world weariness. “I have always wondered about the first thing you would ask me when you’ve found out.”
Athdhea stared at him in shock. It couldn’t be. He couldn’t be… “Solas…the things I told him…They were meant for him, not you…”
“I know,” he said regretfully. “And I’m sorry, Vhenan.”
“All this time, you were here all along. I looked for you and you never told me…” Her eyes reflected a hint of his betrayal. “Why?”
“Because I knew that you would look at me like this, and I wasn’t so sure if I could let you go. You not knowing was always easier. This complicates things…”
As he moved to touch her, she backed away, defensively putting her marked hand between them. Its green hue glowed brighter and cracked the closer he moved towards her. “So you want me to forget?”
“No,” was his answer. “I just need you to wake up.”
Without warning, he caught her in his arms and kissed her. As his gentle lips touched hers, silent memories started resounding like a growing crescendo—the first time he taught her how to play chess, that warm feeling of his hand touching hers, the sense of wonder she had when he took her to an old forgotten thaig, the way she marveled the first time she saw the Library and that time when she told him that she loved his dreams, and that she never wanted to leave.
Feeling herself drift back to the waking world away from his touch, she felt the pang of betrayal and rejection. Why did he never tell her? Why did he want her to forget him so badly?
As her eyes opened, she realized that she had fallen asleep across a pile of papers on Cullen’s desk. Cullen’s warm hand held hers from across the desk, as the man sat lightly sleeping on his chair.
Waking up felt a lot like betrayal.
I take it back. I had some time over the weekend, and this chapter just came pouring in. From this point on, I will still follow the Inquisition plotline, with some changes in the progression and sequencing.
I wrote it this way because I want Athdhea to find things out sooner, and I wanted to use a part of the Shattered Library in Trespasser. If there was a physical part of the library, I can imagine that there may be a Fade part lurking somewhere. Unless someone tells me otherwise. I just had to because I really love libraries.
Another important thing to note here is that although Athdhea did feel like she just betrayed her boyfriend, and that she obviously has feelings for both Solas and Cullen, I don't think one should demonize her feelings for both. And there's definitely hints of internalized heteronormativity in her consciousness. I think at this point it what may be important for her would be to acknowledge these feelings and talk about them openly. And from the way she acts, she's not that person who keeps secrets. If anything, she is confrontational. What will matter here though is if she will be made to choose.
Next chapter’s working title would be “Compassion.”
Song for the week: “Auditory Hallucination” – Jang Jae In (feat NaShow) – Kill Me Heal Me OST https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I7LeFyNmJxc
Chapter 9: Compassion
After finding out that Solas was her long lost friend, Athdhea confronts him, and the two reach an agreement.
Solas remembered what it was like the first time he tasted his first cake.
He had always wondered what they tasted like, especially since they were always present in every happy occasion he could think of—births, bondings, the successful casting of decades-long spells, appointment rituals and banquets—especially banquets. But he couldn’t taste them because he had no body.
That is, until Mythal called to him, and gave him form. Thus he became Solas.
The white fluffy piece before him was small, frilly and frivolous. It even had flowers on it and some dark brown shavings that people said was both bitter and sweet. Of course, he had no idea what those words meant.
And then he did. As soon as his tongue tasted the small piece that he took, he understood. While it felt like it gave little sustenance, it had this sensation of simple happiness that simply made him smile.
That was how he knew that he loved cakes. He loved small, sweet frivolous things. It was something that not many understood about him, even that old friend who called him into this world.
This was the memory that slowly faded in that small Orlesian street corner. A human baker, perhaps seeing the Inquisition’s insignia on the soldiers and some of his companions, started handing them all slices of cake, proclaiming a blessing upon all of them. He just took a sweet large portion of when he heard Athdhea curse in frustration.
“Fen’harel can choke my dick for this!” she shouted. “And so can that cheat that sold me this box!”
Solas almost literally coughed out the piece that he just swallowed. Every single day, she was becoming more terrible in creatively taking his name in vain. At first, he found it unnerving, but after awhile the irony of all of it made it almost endearing. Plus, she never had a phallus to begin with.
“Dread Wolf take me!” she cussed under her breath.
The sweet irony. Because he knew that would never happen if he wanted to be true to who he is.
Those days, she pestered him less with questions. The little time she had, she spent them writing letters to Skyhold. And almost everyone could tell who most of those letters were directed to. He almost felt a little jealous thinking about it. But that’s just what mortals do. They make do with the little time and affections that they have. And both she and the Commander did deserve some happiness.
Still, he thought that it would relieve him because each day she somewhat came to knowing the truth, but there was that part of him that wanted her to know. What would it be like for her to know that the Friend she was looking for had been by her side all along? How would she react if she knew that the very same friend, is also that being who the Dalish she taught her to hate? Would she hate him for deceiving her? Would she wish to forget everything? That’s what most mortals want anyway, especially when things start hurting. Or else, they would not have Compassion, who they now call Cole, with them.
When mortals talk about falling in love, it is always beautiful but fleeting. Just like the taste of sweet cakes.
The truth, in contrast, is far from sweet. He had hoped to keep her in blissful ignorance. After all, if death would claim her eventually at least she could stay happy.
But as fate would dictate it, she could not stay ignorant. After Adamant, she somehow learned to step into the world of dreams consciously and of her own volition. The mark, though it also slowly claimed her life while doing so, was making her like him. She wielded it, like he would have—out of a growing thirst for knowledge and wisdom.
And she found the Library—at least that part hidden in the Fade where some of his spies met him. So, to protect her and some of his secrets, he collapsed some parts of it to the anger of some other spirits. She should never know.
But like the fool he was, he underestimated her simple imagination. And he walked into her trap. And then she knew. As he expected of any mortal, her hands, her voice shook at this knowledge. “Solas…the things I told him…They were meant for him, not you…”
“I know,” he was the only reply he could mutter. “And I’m sorry, Vhenan.”
Then her eyes which at first reflected disbelief, now recognized his betrayal. “No: all this time, you were here all along. I looked for you and you never told me…Why?”
“Because I knew that you would look at me like this,” he answered honestly. “And I wasn’t so sure if I could let you go. You not knowing was always easier.”
He raised his hand to touch her. With just one touch, it could all be over. She could forget everything, and go back to her world of the waking, back to where she was happy. She just needed to forget him. But at this gesture, she backed away. Summoning her spirit blade on one hand and the mark on the other—his mark—she positioned herself in defense. Her reply astounded him, “So just you want me to forget?”
Why didn’t she want to forget? After all, everything he caused her was pain. He was no longer that Friend she knew. Why? And the worse of it too was that at that moment, he realized that he did not want her to forget about him. So he did the opposite. When his lips touched hers, he made her remember everything. In the Fade, her lips always tasted sweet.
The next morning, he started at his desk understanding that with that one impulse, he had doomed everything about his mission. His room and the Commander’s office was only separated by a bridge. Any moment, she or the Commander could simply march in with a group of ex-Templars from the Inquisition. Perhaps the best course was to simply disappear
But none of that happened. He decided to stay. After all, he found the Inquisition to fight Corypheus and reacquire his orb. Both of those things have to happen regardless of anyone’s feelings. So he decided to play this game with both his eyes open. And that morning, he sat down and did something he had not done in ages: he sat down and drank his tea.
Athdhea watched Cullen pace around his office for almost an hour. She had told him about what happened in her dream, omitting a few details such as some of the things she overheard or some of her suspicious so as not trigger him to alert Cassandra or the Inquisition’s former templar soldiers. While it is true that his opinion about mages has somewhat improved, she still could not risk endangering Solas. But she did tell him that how she found out that Solas was her old friend all this time. And she told him about the kiss, and hence the pacing and the balled fists. But so far, he had not punched anything. Not yet at least.
“Please say something,” Athdhea muttered.
“I don’t know what there is to say,” he remarked still pacing.
“Aren’t you angry at me?”
“Why should I be angry at you?” he asked, throwing his gaze back at her. “If anything, he is to blame for not telling you. And now he has the gall to…” He did not finish that sentence, but it was evident to Athdhea that he was indeed jealous. “But I am grateful, that you have told me about this. Not everyone can be as honest as you.”
Not about everything, she thought. Though she cared for him, and that he did care about her, nothing can change the fact that he was a templar. And even if Solas lied about who he was and that he may have other intentions especially regarding the Inquisition, deep inside herself she knew that he would do nothing to harm her. She could not have Cullen or Cassandra acting against him until she knew what his true intentions were.
“But more importantly,” he continued. “The question is: do you have feelings for him?”
“I don’t know…” she answered. “He did save me and my sister all those years ago, and he saved me back at Haven. Yet he still lied while he knew all this time how much I wanted to find him. I idealized him, and now I can’t help but feel so stupid.”
For some time, she tried to stifle her tears, but at that point, the tears just came. As soon as her tears fell, Cullen instantly took her in his arms. His warmth, his scent was always soothing, and she clung to him. Her lips repeated, “I’m sorry…I am so sorry.”
His hands smoothed her face. “No, I am sorry. All this time, I dismissed everything you told me… even your dreams. I will just have to try harder to deserve you.”
It was she who did not deserve him, she thought. At that moment, she realized that she knew nothing about love.
Some time later, as she walked out of Cullen’s office, she determined to confront her old friend to understand his intentions. Cullen, despite everything after all, still trusted her. He reluctantly promised not to do anything too Solas for her sake. She truly did not deserve him. Athdhea also remembered her responsibility as leader of the Inquisition to survey any potential threat to it. She steeled herself as she pushed the handle to the door of Solas’ mural room.
Solas was on his desk sipping tea, evidently waiting for her. Trying her best not to betray any anger or remorse, she sat across him returning his gaze.
“Fascinating,” Solas remarked placing his cup down. “I expected Templars.”
“I doubt that they could really do anything to you,” she replied folding her arms. “If you wanted to escape, you would have done so already. Yet, here you still are. You can walk into and manipulate people’s dreams, as well as their experiences of the Fade. Time does not seem to affect you and you know all about this place more than anyone. You, after all, led us all here. And based on what I have seen, you also have spies. You may know the Dread Wolf, if he does exist. You may even be his agent. So I doubt that there is anyone or anything in this place more dangerous than you.”
“Hmm…” he muttered as he took another sip from his cup. “Interesting conclusions, yet I think you overestimate my abilities.”
“Have I?” she posed. “You also seem to have a knack for making people believe that they have overestimated you. Or is my experience the exception?”
“You are…” he was about to say something but he paused, perhaps thinking of the most appropriate word to say. “You are unique. And though it was never my intention, you are the reason why I am here. Whether it was luck or a twist of fate, you ended up bearing the mark that is the key to stopping Corypheus and to saving your world and mine.”
“What is your world like exactly?”
With that question, he remained silent keeping a tightly neural expression on his face. At that point, she knew that his silence meant that she was asking the right questions.
“I see…” she remarked. “So I guess we are both far away from home then.” She had thought that the Fade was his home, but he did mention that living in this world was an important factor in experiencing the Fade. So whatever this world is, it may be somewhere in between. Wrapping her head around the idea was confusing, but that was her best guess. And of course, she knew he would never tell her.
“In a manner of speaking…yes. Regardless, I never intended you any harm, same as the Inquisition, especially as our goals are very much aligned.”
“Then I promise not to send any Templars your way until those goals are accomplished.”
“Agreed,” he assented putting down his cup.
“Agreed.” She suddenly saw a slight change in his expression as he stared at her unmarked hand curiously. Then she realized that she had just stood up and extended her hand for a handshake just like all the humans at Skyhold. In his eyes, she had become one of them. Despite everything, there was still a part of her that cared for his opinion.
Upon that realization, she instantly drew her hand back, and abruptly headed towards the door out to the main hall. Pausing as she grasped the handle, she muttered, “I could not have thought my imaginary Friend could be this…different.”
“I am sorry to disappoint…Dalen,” he replied softly.
Even though this time he wore no mask, she could not help but think that he would never let anyone see anything beyond this, and she would be a fool to expect anything more than what they had agreed on. There was a part of her that used to worship her old Friend, but that old Friend was gone.
After that, everything went on at Skyhold as usual. Cullen reiterated his promise to leave everything to her. As for Solas, though she saw him every day, every day reminded her how little she really knew about her friend. He was most likely working for some Fen’Harel cult. She was not naïve to think that he had no intentions for the Inquisition, yet every action of his declared that he cared just as much for the members of the Inquisition, just as much as she does.
One afternoon, she spied Solas arguing with Cole. When she interrupted this argument, she learned the cause of it. Cole was particularly distressed about the demons at Adamant that he demanded that Solas bind him. Solas suggested a compromise—that they use an amulet of the Unbound, which Athdhea was able to acquire through the Inquisition’s resources.
Solas, Cole and Athdhea assembled in the mural room for the ritual. However, when Solas tried to charge the amulet, it seemed to have backfired with a very loud noise.
Varric quickly burst in the room. “Oh for…what are you doing to the kid?”
“Stopping blood mages from binding me like the demons at Adamant,” Cole stated simple. “But it didn’t work.”
“Something is interfering with the enchantment,” Solas noted, his eyes narrowing to give Cole a quizzical expression.
“Something like Cole not being a demon?” Varric pointed out matter-of-factly.
Varric may have a point, Athdhea thought as she stood back watching the pair debate.
“Regardless of Cole’s special circumstances, he remains a spirit,” Solas argued.
Varric crossed his arms. “Yes, a spirit who is strangely like a person!”
With this ongoing exchange, Cole bursted out, “I don’t matter! Just lock away the parts of me that someone else could knot together to make me follow.”
But Cole matters, Athdhea almost argued but stopped herself. If people or spirits stop mattering, what is the point in all of this?
After Cole had calmed down, Solas gently instructed Cole to focus on the amulet and to speak about what he felt. Cole muttered something about being the wrong shape, and then pointed to a direction. There, he said.
Where there was not exactly concrete so they had to make him sit with Cullen to spot where there was in the map. Cole pointed to a spot in the map close to Redcliffe.
The next day, Varric, Cole, Solas and Athdhea travelled to Redcliffe Village. Cole immediately spotted the cause of all of this. “You!”
Without warning, Cole charged at the man, grabbing him on the head and bringing him to his knees. “You killed me!”
The man pleaded, “What? I don’t…I don’t even know you.”
“You forgot!” Cole shouted, his rage dripping from his eyes. “You locked me in the dungeon in the Spire and you forgot, and I died in the dark!”
The man’s eyes widened in recognition. “The Spire?”
“Cole stop!” Solas protested, distracting Cole. In the split second, the man scrambled away. Athdhea and Varric caught up and temporarily tried to calm Cole down.
Cole continued to cry, “He killed me! He killed me! That’s why it doesn’t work. He killed me and I have to kill him back!”
Athdhea stepped in front of Cole. “Before anyone gets killed, I need to know what’s going on!”
“Cole, this man cannot have killed you,” Solas stated gently. “You are a spirit. You have not even possessed a body.”
“A broken body…” Cole resumed, his fingers dug into his head slowly piecing fragments. “Bloody…banged on the stone cell, guts dripping in the dark dank…a captured apostate.”
Athdhea’s blood ran cold from this familiar story. Back in her Clan, people told stories of templars, of the Spire…memories from that night running away from the Templars, flashed back. This boy or spirit carried the almost same scars as hers, and worse.
Cole continued, “They threw him into the dungeon in the Spire at Val Royeaux. They forgot about him. He starved to death. I came through to help…and I couldn’t. So I became him…Cole.”
For a moment, there was a lull. Varric only confirmed their suspicions. “If Cole was an apostate, that would make the guy we saw a templar. Must have been buying lyrium.”
“Let me kill him,” Cole urged. “I need to…I need to…” His feet slowly moved towards his prey.
Varric and Solas silently debated. Solas argued that Cole needs to forgive as a spirit does. Knowing what she knew about him, she then understood why Solas gravitated towards spirits. Varric suggested that Cole instead should work through his grief and anger like a person.
While the two continued to argue, Athdhea chased after Cole. Cole was Cole. Whoever he was and whatever he is--shouldn’t it be his decision alone? She caught her enraged companion’s hand.
“Please,” she begged on her knees. “Please…” Upon saying this, she placed his hands on her forehead letting him trace her memories—quick footsteps through the dark forest, her sister crying in her arms, her mother pleading for her to hide, the dark cave, the blood, her mother screaming and the mirror and her Friend beyond it…
Cole’s hand dropped his dagger and fell to his knees beside her. “Do you want to forget?” he asked.
“Don’t. You. Dare.” Was her firm reply.
That night, it was decided that they would let the matter rest, and pick up the trail again in the morning. It was not their decision but Cole’s. So they rented a room at the Gull and Lantern to spend the night. After finishing a letter to Cullen, she headed out to find Cole. When she did, she took a seat beside him on the dock. At first they sat silently, until she removed her boots and her feet started playing with the warm water. Cole observed her at first until he copied her, swinging his feet in sync with hers.
“It’s very…warm,” he remarked. “And it makes a noise when it rushes...”
“It does,” she repeated. “One of these days, summer will catch up to Skyhold too. We can all find a pond somewhere nearby to go swimming. And maybe we can find berries.”
“Flies like berries,” he smiled.
“Yes, they do,” she smiled back. “Perhaps when we get berries, you’ll like them too.”
They sat silently for a while longer, their feet swishing through the water and their ears listening to the song of the cicadas. Then he asked, “Why didn’t you want to forget? I could feel the memories…hurt.”
“Sometimes they come back as nightmares, but sometimes they are also good dreams. It’s the good dreams that make everything worthwhile. So I don’t mind a little bit of pain. It’s this combination of sweetness and pain that makes us…” She tried to find a word in the Common Tongue but she could not find any.
“Human…” he finished staring blankly into the darkness.
“Not the word I was looking for, but in some ways, yes…” Explaining things to Cole was often a challenge, but even with the lack of words, she felt like he understood.
“The blood and the dry screams…” Cole mumbled. “The darkness biting in the dark mirror. A sister crying. Then a soft voice calls…A Friend. He will protect us from the spiders.”
“Yes,” she smiled longingly. “In my best dreams, he was always there.”
“The sharp white cold…death catching…the warmth of a wolf’s fur…a familiar face…He’s real!”
The warmth of her memories caught her as she continued, “Even if he does not really exist. Everything he says may be a lie. But sometimes, lies make good dreams.” As she said those words, she realized how those words were all true. Though they were painful, there was a part of her that loved his lies.
At this, Cole lifted his feet from the water. His eyes, often hidden under his large hat, flickered with determination. Though she could tell what it was, it became clear to her that he had made his choice. Before heading back into the Gull and Lantern, he whispered, “It’s alright. He longs for you too…”
This revelation echoed under the night sky drowning the sounds of merriment coming from the tavern or the cicadas from the nearby forest. It was always there, and she had not noticed it, like a dull headache on a rainy day.
Cullen was waiting for her, and she longed for his warmth and comfort of his scent and his arms. Yet, even when she was with Cullen, there was always this subtle ache—not too distracting but it was always there. It was that longing for a Dream--something that can never be because it’s not real. Yet she wished for this dream to be real.
She wished her Friend to be real. Though her feelings for the man who waited for her were clear and were real, her feelings for the Friend who called to her was also real. He was in every way part of her world. Though she knew that she can find a way though this world without him, a world without him would feel like winter without playful snow days or summer without its distracting warmth.
Growing up is about picking one’s self up every morning and smiling though the dull ache.
Her thoughts endured through the night sky, and she did not get any sleep that night.
As soon as the sun peeked from the mountains, Solas found his friend Cole. It was time for him to choose. Solas watched closely as Cole clutched Varric’s hand. Together, they walked towards the expected confrontation.
Cole had made his choice, and it was not a choice that Solas expected. Though Solas made a similar choice ages ago, he could not help but think that it would have been better if Cole remained a Spirit. Though as a spirit of Compassion, Cole had always felt others’ pain, now he too would find his own pain, and it would be a kind of pain that no one can heal.
After the two disappeared, he found Athdhea leaning on a nearby stone balustrade. He steadied himself, resisting the urge to brush one auburn lock that slid down to cover her pensive eyes which continued to look to that spot where Cole and Varric disappeared. He remarked, “I do hope that he does not entirely change once he becomes human. He may find the transition to be painful.”
“He will survive like we all do,” Athdhea said with a slight lull in her voice. “Cole will always be Cole. Nothing can ever change that.”
“I suppose you’re right.” This time he noticed dark circles in her eyes. “You look tired.”
“I had a lot to think about,” she confessed with her eyes closed.
He knew that she had stayed out all night. He would have followed her, but he felt that his presence would have been unwelcome.
While she had been civil after that time she confronted him in his room, she never addressed him with that same familiarity that he was accustomed to. He deserved it, of course. But a part of him missed her friendly inquisitive vivacity, and the way her eyes used to light up whenever he told her stories.
As she tried to steady herself, he resisted that urge to pick her up and make her lean on him. Instead, he asked, “What about?”
“None of your damn business.” She replied, with a bit of playfulness in her voice.
He followed her back up the inn readying himself to catch her as she slowly wobbled her way back to her room. Just before he heard her door close, he heard her call, “Solas, can you help me dream?”
The request caught him by surprise, but he relented, following her inside as she lay her head on a pillow, her eyes closing as she buried herself under the covers. “Most certainly…Vhenan.”
“Make it a good one.” A small smile formed on her lips as his hand found hers. “Thank you, A Friend.”
He let her dream of the sea and of lush Wycome forests—her home. But he dared not follow her there.
End of term and I have a lot on my plate. With all the news about DA4 (and Anthem), I figured that it would be best to post this to help a little bit.
I’ll try not to take too long with the next one, which will mostly be in Cullen’s POV. And I do, for some odd reason, have the most fun writing in his POV. Strange, because it’s the person among these three who is the opposite of me.
For this, I decided to simply make Cole choose, because I don’t think this should be anyone else’s decision. But if he were to choose, I suspected that he would choose to be human. But that may be what I just concluded. Others might have different opinions and I respect that.
I also heavily borrow from the theory that Solas used to be a spirit. It’s a theory, but there are parts of it that are pretty sound. I blame some Reddit users for somewhat convincing me.
We’re about halfway through. Thank you so much for those who have followed this story so far! Especially given the fact that I am an irregular poster.
Song of the Week: Song of the Week: Lush – Love, Mirror of the Witch OST ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OT8qdN42QFk); also Sara Bareilles - Gravity (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rEXhAMtbaec)