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I shouldn't be doing this.

“Someone! Please! Help me!” A French- Orleasion woman shouts behind the ridiculously large oaken doors, pure desperation and heart stopping fear seeping through the wood.

 What's right, and what's meant to be?

 No future Inquisitor is nearby, most people are in the library or one of the many offices.

 Fuck. I'm just a kid, I'm just fifteen how I'm the hell am I going to save this foreign world?

 My heart is pounding and oh no I'm going to cry-

 With a mighty clang, I slam the doors open, a horrible grimace on my face as I take in that bird look in’ asswipe that’s going to murder me.

 “The fuck is going on here?!” I shout because I need to let something out before my chest bursts. The bird peers down at me with disdain and his eyes narrowed. Gods, how could you do something like that to your face? How could you allow something so corrupt to grow on you like a parasite?

 “Foolish girl, you have no idea what you’re intruding upon. Kill her.” Coriphy-shit says with irritated wave of his hand, and the Grey Wardens- the look in their eyes is glassy and reddish. Tainted by the blood magic binding them to the false god - start walking towards me with swords and staffs drawn.

 The Divine chooses this moment to kick the stupid ass Solas sphere at me and the one thing I remember is ‘ shit grab it with your left-!

 Time and space magic bullshit . Do I look like The Doctor’s companion to you?


 

 Pain and chafing wrists, the soft clink of chains hitting each other when I shift- My left-hand feels like it's being scrapped out from the inside.

 My eyes shoot open and I only have a moment to appreciate the terrible dungeon I'm in before bright ass fucking green fills my vision and pain decides to shoot up my forearm by it’s veins.

 I'm not ashamed to admit a ugly sob breaks its way out of my mouth at the feeling, nor ashamed to know my watering eyes let a few tears fall.

 The door to the cell opens with a unceremonious clank that terrifies the shit out of me while I'm still reeling from the mark’s growing. What's scarier? The face of a terribly pissed and murderous Cassandra Pentaghast, Right hand to the Divine and ready to disembowel me, or the knowledge that I'm going to loose my left arm?

 God, if you’re out there? Don't let me die before twenty. Hell, I'll take eighteen. Just make me legal first.

 I try to jerk away when Cassandra goes for my still glowing hand, stopped by the chains anyways, but it doesn't stop me from flinching hard as she tugs me back forward with it.

 “What is this?! Answer me prisoner!” She yells and oh my god no panic attacks in Thedas please. I know exactly what that terrible tremble in my hands is godfucking damnit.

 “I- I don't know. ” I almost sob. She's legitimately terrifying, twice my age, and much stronger. She could actually kill me right now and it'd be easy .

 She shoves the hand back into my chest with a glare and I honest to god whimper .

 She takes a step back and blinks, genuinely surprised by the way I'm trying to make myself smaller and scoot as far from her as possible. Yeah Cass, you’re terrifying a kid right now and make me want to cry for my mommy. Oh god. Never gonna see mom again am I-?

Fuck. Not right now.

 “I-” Cassandra starts looking lost, but Leliana only puts a hand on her shoulder. “Take her to the forward camp. Right now sealing the breach is more important.” She says not sparing me a glance.

 Oh no. Demons .

 Dead fucking bodies lines up in rows with a lone sister praying over them, a man near the side seemingly ignored while he rocks himself back and forth. He's having a mental breakdown and no one stops to help because there's a hole in the sky and their friends and families and Divine are all dead.

 Why this universe? Why no Ouran Highschool Host Club where I can live in comfort and no one is dying.

 In my panic I don't notice that Leliana has already left and Cassandra is quietly unlocking my shackles. Is it possible for guilt to really roll of of someone? Her lips are pinched, brows furrowed, and a self deprecating frown on her face as if to say ‘ You fucked up again. Already, Cassandra? ’.

 I guess my babyface probably has something to do with it. Or the fact that I whimpered. God I hope I never have to mention that to anyone.

 “Follow me.” The Nevarrian states, walking out the door quickly.

 Stumbling to my feet I rub my wrists with a wince. You can do this Zoe. You can fucking do this.

 Walking out of the door and up into the Chantry prior I don't bother looking at the Sisters and few Mother’s looking at me scornfully. I get it, it's like I've been caught green handed.

 Cassandra leads the way and stops to look at-

 At The Breach.

 A tear in the veil that spits out demons every minute and thunders. Growing like it has fingers reaching outward to tear this reality apart.

 It grows with another low thunderous sound and I'm suddenly being helped up from my knees by callused hands.

 “This is the Breach, the product of the explosion at the Temple and a tear in the Veil itself.” She explains and I nod with watery eyes. “Every time it grows that mark on your hand does so as well. It's killing you.”

 I give a choked laugh, because this is just like one of those fanfictions I kept reading all the time.

 “You think it will close it.” I mutter. “I'll try to or die trying Seeker Pentaghast, don't worry about me.” I finish lowly, because for all of this madness it's true. Even if I'm in some backwater terrible ass-end of a different world I'll be damned if I don't do anything to help it.

 My fucking heart will end me today or soon. Stupid Divergent test and it’s ‘Erudite and Amity’ bullshit proving true.

 Cassandra nods, but doesn't let go of my hand as she tugs me along with her other hand on the pommel of her sword. She's looking at the people around us who give me bad looks, and the people around us look at me, this pitiful looking thing who looks terrified out of her damned mind.

 All of this self worth bullshit isn't relevant right now. Focus on that confidence you’ve kept alive despite the fires of Puberty . Fuck periods are going to be a bitch in Thedas.

 “The people of Haven have already decided you’re guilt. Their hearts mourn their lost and the Divine, so they lash out like the sky.” Cassandra explains quietly, and it's funny, I remember those lines being much more heated in the game.

 I really do change things don't I? The Inquisitor was a grown ass adult and I’m a teenager just entering Sophomore year. Not to mention I've got a scholar’s fingers and obviously haven't swung a sword in my whole life. Give me a little Dagger and I'm good to go but a two pound sharp metal stick? No thanks.

 Keep monologuing. It's a coping mechanism that's keeping you from breaking down Zo-zo.

 Fuck that sounded just like my best friend. Keep moving Zoe. Focus.

 Before we head off the first bridge - oh god bodies in rows - while the scouts open the gates Cassandra draws her sword and looks me in the eye.

 “I can promise there will be a trial, but we must close the breach first.”

 Another change. Gods have mercy I hope I don't die before I've tried booze.


Unlike the game, there is no convenient crate of weapons for me to kill the shade with. Thanks a fucking lot Maker. Piece of shit.

So you know what I do?

I duck under its clawed strike and punch my fist right into it, freezing it from the inside out .

It shrieks a nightmare inducing sound that makes me want to crawl in the bloodied snow and stay there, but I only tear my hand out and watch with morbid satisfaction as it falls back and shatters into a million different shaped pieces.

A mysterious prisoner is suspicious. A fucking Apostate prisoner already has the noose around their neck.

I'm lifting my hands up in instant defense before Cassandra is even close, words of “You’re a mage-?!” Dying on her lips. 

“I’m a dirty apostate, and you’re a Seeker. Why would I tell you…?” I mutter slowly putting my arms down with a frown on my face. It's not like I just figured the Mage thing out or anything. Nope. Not at fucking all.

Cassandra looks like she wants to reply to that but only shakes her head with a scowl.

“I should remember you came willingly. Are you wounded?”

With my quick shake of no she nods and starts of again with a fire in her step.

She's powerful and awe inspiring when she fights, this Amazonian. She'd make any warrior woman jealous of her skill in battle and looking good while doing it. Even if her glare makes me want to pee my freaking pants. Several more demons fall to her blade or shield while I send ice up and impale her targets from the ground with a quick stomp of my foot.

I'm so happy these things aren't people. So. Happy. 

I don't think I can stomach anything but demons, and this still makes me a little guilty.

I keep from getting more than nicked on my right upper arm, two scratches lining the side of it. They’de faded to silvery scars seconds after Cassandra practically shoved a potion at me, muttering something about them fading away in a week or so.

When we finally come close to where Solas and Varric are hanging around, I feel the pull of the anchor to two different somethings. A faint one to Solas, and a large one to the tear. I don't know why I'm noticing it, but it's weird as hell feeling how… kindred his magic and the anchor’s is. The anchor is like some bastard child of Solas’s subdued primal magic and Coryphy-shit’s corrosive scary as hell magic.

My heartbeat pounds in my ears when I hop down to the fight with Cassandra, attempting not to clutch my jacket in my anxiety to stop my trembling hands, so I can start throwing the elements at demons.

Holy shit I'm fighting demons.

It'd be cool if I hadn't seen so many bodies so far.

I send a icicle through a Shade that was going for Varric with his back turned, pinning it to the stone wall and sending another spike of ice up from under it to kill it. 

Just like water bending, don't think about it too much.

“Quickly! Before more come through." 

A warm hand grabs my left wrist and by instinct I'm sealing the rift shut. 

I stumble back a little when Solas lets my hand drop, and I give him a little nod.

“Ah, thank you.” I say, running my fingers through my hair in habit. He just shakes his head with a serene smile that almost(?) looks forced. Hell if I know, I don't presume to know the mind of a ancient eleven god.

“The doing was yours, I simply helped you along.” He says.

“It was the mark, not me. I couldn't close tears in the veil before the thing was smacked on my hand.” I grumble with a sigh, fingering my jacket. Why do I have to talk to people when the world is ending? Damned plot. Damned Kayuga, bet that Moon Goddess had something to do with this on sheer principle. Fucking around with mortals is her thing.

“Even so, it is a feat to have gotten this far at all. I'm glad to see you still live.”

“What he means is, ‘I'm the one who kept you alive while you slept.’ Varric Tethras, rogue, storyteller, occasional unwelcome tag along. And you are?” Varric pipes in and I find myself smiling and lifting an eyebrow.

“Zoe Avery. It's nice to meet you.” I say, resisting the urge to hold out a hand for him to shake.

“You may rethink that in time. If there are to be introductions, I am Solas.”

From there the conversation slowly dies off, and we set off towards the goal. The Breach.


I wake up four days later very much not in the generic not very appealing Herald clothes, so I change into the fluffy Avvar clothes anyways because it's freaking cold and I live in fucking Florida.

Under my clothes is a necklace with the Saint of Travel on it that I distinctly remember losing. A joke, probably.

Instead of waiting to scare the crap out of that poor elven lady, I sneak out the window and shimmy up the rock face to avoid all the people lined up. Like hell I’m being paraded around like some side show Jesus man. Religious figure or not I don't do that crap.

Pulling myself up with a grunt I ignore what people who are staring and head straight for the Chantry, snow crunching under boot while I go over the plot in my head.

Protologue, Hinterlands mess with Mother what's her face, Val Royeaux where I recruit Viv and Sera and yell at the Envy shit who punched that old lady, then Blackwall and Bull. After that I choose between Mages or Templars, or figure out how to do both , deal with the same Envy demon (like hell that thing scares me, my mind is a steel trap) or scary as fuck time magic where all of my inner circle are slowly dying…

Seal the breach, get Haven crushed-

We really need to talk about escape plans, even if it isn't that pilgrimage path we need to be more prepared. I still don't understand how Leliana had never thought of it with all her scheming, paranoia, and sneaking about.

Huh. So that's what a Chantry looks like when people aren't trying to murder you.

It's obviously a place of worship, and the old time Catholic Church would no doubt appreciate the aesthetics and racism. Not sure how they’d feel about a female pope though- ( not very happy at all. )

“What is the Herald wearing..?” A sister whispers near me while I stand outside the Chantry, and I sigh, running my fingers through my hair.

Stepping forward I push open the doors and shut them behind me, eyeing the stone columns and pews at the sides of the large room. Sisters and a few Mothers whisper prayers in front of small shrines, probably for the dead, probably in hopes that the breach won’t start growing again. My footsteps are silent while I walk, following the sound of shouting and arguing to the war room. The words are too muffled for me to hear, so I just open the door.

“Ah, here she is. Guards chain her, I want her on the next wagon to Val Royeaux.” Rodrick states as soon as he sees me, and I’m ducking away from the armored men before they can try anything. I swear to Freckled Jesus if this world ruins my love for hugs and gives me touch aversion, I’m going to stab someone.

Leliana looks almost amused by my ducking away, and Cassandra waves the men off.

“Disregard that, and leave us.” She says with only a small frown, watching the men salute and close the door behind them while Rodrick silently fumes.

I get it, this is all scary, but am I what you think of when a terrorist attack happens? Seriously?

“You still think I did it Chancellor, after I saved the world from being swallowed?” I grumble, grimacing and eyeing the old man with clear distrust. He wavers just a little before narrowing his eyes further, getting ready to respond with a biting remark. 

“That doesn’t matter. You are not a suspect any longer.” Leliana says, and the holy man’s face only gets redder. 

“What do you mean she is no longer a suspect?!”

I lean back against a small pillar, watching the adults finish their argument before Rodrick storms out in a flurry of robes and slams the door behind him. His steps pound outside the door even with it closed. The weird face he made when Cassandra did the book smacking was quite therapeutic, even if I feel bad. He’s just doing what he thinks is right, though it isn’t fun to know the governing body of a religion think I’m a Divine murderer.

Cassandra runs a tired hand down her face, then turns to face me. I try not to flinch away from her intense look, very much reminded by the face she made when we met with less murderous intent, but she notices my tensing anyways.

“I have not had the chance yet, with your recovering, but I am sorry for the way you were treated.” Cassandra says slowly, awkwardly. I feel awkward too, so I just shrug then run my fingers through my hair. “You thought I murdered your Divine.” I say simply, a small frown on my face.

Your Divine?” Leliana asks with a cocked eyebrow, still leaning comfortably against the wall. She reminds me of a cat constantly waiting to pounce on you, really.

“I’m a dirty heretic.” I say in deadpan. “Not a follower of Andraste or the Maker, the Dalish gods, or anything else really.” I explain. Cassandra looks like she can’t compute someone being religionless, and Leliana seems to regard me with much more interest than before. Agnostic and Atheist really aren’t a thing here then, not all that surprising considering all the shit the Chantry pulls.

“They are calling a Herald of a faith you do not believe in then.” Leliana says and my frown only deepens.

“Indeed.”

“And you don't wish to protest it?” Leliana asks and I sigh.

“Of course I do. I have no interest in being bowed to or treated like Andraste reborn or something, but me telling them to shove it won't do anything now will it?” I explain, fingers taking a run through my hair. “People believe what they want to believe unless it's shoved in their face.” My psychology teacher made that much clear even if I didn't have common sense.

Leliana stares for a few more long moments, than nods in satisfaction.

“If you’re both quite done, we need to discuss your part in the Inquisition.” Cassandra says. Her hand is laying on the old book while she looks at me and I dig my hands into my jacket to hug myself.

“Close rifts, close the breach, kill demons. With my hand this isn't a choice anyways, is it?” I ask, but it's generally clear I realize the situation. Leliana would probably just drug me and drag my ass back anyways, even if I had somewhere to go.

I have no one to go to . Fuck, I want my Mom and Dad. I wanna watch and see if Lola’s chin scar ever fades and if Ava gets a tattoo-

Not yet, stupid brain. Wait until you’re alone to start that shit.

“You do have a choice-” Cassandra attempts to protest, but I just shake my head at her with a wry smile.

 

“No, I don't.”

Chapter Text

'Turn back now Seeker, this battle is for naught.’ Rodrick murmurs, looking at the warrior woman with sheer despair in the face of a problem like the breach. I don’t blame him, the damn thing is beautiful in its terror and spits out more and more demons by the minute.

Cassandra looks to me questioningly, looking for input I didn't realize she'd want from me with all the circumstance.

I blank for a moment, unsure of myself and what's better. These are real lives. Real lives that are apparently in my hands.

Damn it.

‘The mountain path, Seeker. If there's a chance at saving those scouts we have to try.’ I say solemnly. I'm emotionally drained from all of this... insanity. Insanity is a good description for all the hell that's going on around me.

Cassandra’s face is blank enough to let me know she's not fully happy with the decision, but understands the logic. I can see small approving looks from Varric and Solas at the corners of my eyes when we set off, but it doesn't help the pit growing in my stomach.


 

My left hand is spasming when I wake up, the sheets around it looking suspiciously singed.

“Damn.” I hiss, taking the offending appendage into my other hand in an attempt to stop the twitches.

The occasional dull spike of pain comes from the mark while I sit, staring at the ceiling of my still unfamiliar cabin.

It's lonely. An ache in the heart, lonely.

I'm not used to being so far away from my sisters. Through every house switch from Mom to Dad they were always there with me. By my side as annoying as they could be, and now they're gone. A whole universe away with my parents, probably grieving and angry and looking for some kidnapper. I might have traumatized them, actually.

Numerous curses fly out of my mouth when my eyes start to leak dangerously. This sucks. This really, really fucking sucks and I'm probably never going home.

Tossing my blanket off of me and shoving my clothes on I sprint out of the suddenly suffocating cabin and into the small hours of the night. I'm out of the gates before the sentries can say anything, kicking dust all the way to the woods with gritted teeth.

I'm punching a tree before I can register it, fire roaring around my fingers and crisp splinters fly around when my fist connects.

I freeze, stumbling back from the dented, large pine.

“Holy shit.” I whisper, looking down at my now scraped knuckles with wide, teary eyes. The pain doesn't register much, but the burnt tree does. It's a good thing I realized I needed to get out before I killed someone, Jesus.

My hands are trembling while I take deep breaths, trying to calm down. I’m a walking bomb now, it seems, and that means emotional control. One of the things I’m terrible at, and don’t enjoy doing. My heart has always shone right on my sleeve for everyone to see, no shame in crying when I’m sad, cussing when I’m angry, laughing when I’m happy-

Man this is gonna be hard.

“Herald?”

My head snaps to the side, and I blink when I see a almost… concerned looking Solas.

I hope he didn’t follow me man, I don’t need Fen'harel getting really.. curious about me? Fuck if I know. It's gotta be at least three in the morning.

“Hey, Solas.” I mutter with a shaky voice, grimacing at how this probably looks. Unstable kid wielding his magic and bloodied knuckles. I was always better at calming other people down.

“You seem to be bleeding, Herald.” He continues in a conversational tone, but he's stiffer than usual, unnerved? Guilty? Fuck if I know. Again, ancient Elven god.

I hate that title, Herald. Like I'm some harbinger, like I'm more than just another person trying to figure my shit out.

“Please don't call me that.” I whisper with teary eyes. “Don't pretend I'm not a person like the rest of them do. Varric’s the only one who's called me by my name in a week. A week.”

My voice is shaky with new tears, and I reach up to furiously scrub at my eyes. Count until your calm again, ground yourself, you’re five steps from a panic attack. The air is cold, my hands ache, Solas is watching me like I’m a frightened animal, the stars are beautiful.

Exhale.

A warm hand slowly grabs my right, and I watch Solas look over it.

“You awakened your magic only recently.” Solas states.

“It showed when Seeker dragged me up the mountain.” I say back quietly, watching him still his movements for only a moment, then lightly drop my hand.

“You’re uncomfortable with her, not that I would fault you given the circumstance.” Solas observes quietly, then gestures to my scraped knuckles. “It will heal quickly so long as you bandage it. Come, my supplies are in my cabin.” He says with a small gesture to follow him.

So I do, snow crunching underfoot while we walk back to the gates of Haven. It's fucking stupid my first time seeing snow was here.

We pass the half awake sentries and head towards Solas’s Cabin, that is indeed right next to Adan’s hut like in the game, and go inside.

It's warm in the small, one room cabin. Faint embers flicker in his fireplace and papers are strewn about random places in some sort of organized chaos. It's familiar to the way my room at my Dad’s is, was, except I had drawings on the walls and in the most random of places. Not sure how I feel about having similar organizational tastes as Fen'harel.

“Take a seat on the bed, if you don't mind.” Solas says with a small smile, then goes over to his storage and rummages around. I do as he says, wishing more than anything to just sleep for a long while. His bed emanates warmth, probably runes, and he has a few soft furs for blankets.

I look back at Solas when he reappears in front of me with a roll of bandages, lightly taking my hand into his own so he can wrap it.

“Does the mark bother you?” He asks quietly, and I snort in a very unladylike manner.

“My hand spasms whenever I wake up, and the mark itself keeps sending pain up my forearm. Not surprised with how corrosive the damned thing is.” I hum just as quietly, and the words taste a little bitter on my tongue. It's a lot of this man’s fault that I have this mark on my hand, a lot of his fault that this world is pulling itself apart at its seams.

Not that I can voice that. A victim of elven justice I am not, thank you very much.

He frowns at that, lightly tying the end of the bandage as he does so. I wonder if he actually thought the pain would just stop after the breach was stilled, or if he just said that to make everyone more compliant? A honest question that I'll probably never get to ask.

“You can feel the magic’s nature? That’s surprising for such a new mage. Tell me, how is your experience in the Fade-?”

“I don't wanna talk about it.” I cut him off quickly, pulling my hands to fist my jacket out of habit.

His smile looks a touch more strained at that, and he stands from his crouched position.

I wince a little, feeling sort of bad for the quick cutoff. For all his mistakes he's a Fade nerd at his core, I suppose, but it's really none of his business and I don't give a shit this early in the morning.

“Thanks for patching me up, Solas. Sorry for… waking you? I dunno. Goodnight.” I say quickly. Standing up just as quick I head for his door. Oh Jesus he's better not assume this is because he's an elf, I might just punch another tree if that's the case. He's just the person to assume that first.

“Goodbye.”

Ugh. Leliana is going to corner me in the morning ain't she? Fuck it. I want sleep.


 

“Any reason for the bandages, Smalls?” Varric asks when I sit down next to him, yawning.

Ha, ya killin’ me smalls-

Shut the fudge up movie references, too early for this shit.

The tavern is filled with low, drowsy conversation and filled to the brim with hungry villagers, scouts, and soldiers alike. The sun is just coming up, but I guess there ain't no rest for the wicked after all.

Wait, does that saying count since this is a religious organization? ‘Ain’t no rest for the holy’ doesn't have the same ring to it-

Oh yeah, conversation.

“Punched a tree.” I say stiffy, giving a frazzled elven woman a smile when she sets down a bowl of soup and what smells like mead.

Varric, who’d been taking a drink of his own mug, chokes on it with a surprised snort. Coughing and pounding on his (hairy) chest he shoots me a incredulous look.

“Since when?”

I curl into myself, remembering the emotion fueled experience. “Last night.”

I look away from his face and take a tiny sip of the mead that's been placed in front of me. It's… fine I guess? Not all people play it up to be in Skyrim at least, the alcohol content probably isn't even that much and it’s kinda just disappointing. Like that one time I had non-alcoholic cider.

Bummer. Was hoping I'd get some sort of vice to make things interesting, guess I'll just have to do tattoos. Was planning on getting some anyways when I was older and now I can offend some old Chantry ladies doing it.

“Not many times am I surprised Smalls, this is one of the good times. Definitely going in the book once you give me the reason.” Varric says with a grin that's not all happy. Wonder if Hawke had some nightmare problems too since Varric looks so… knowing. Honestly wouldn't blame any Dragon Age companions or main characters for being fucked up, no way I'd be able to deal with any of the darkspawn shit from Origins.

Ugh, Broodmothers.

I take a nice bite of my soup.

“I woke up sad and angry, so I punched a tree instead of a person.” I mutter to him, eyeing all the people nearby who might hear if I say it any louder. “I burnt the fucking pine tree. Not even joking, this mage thing sucks a lot more than it's fun most of the time. All of the time so far besides the realization that I could shoot ice outa’ my hands.”

Varric nods patting my back gently.

“You'll mostly get a hang of the control once you use it more. Maybe using a staff with help?” He asks just as quietly, helpfully.

I make a face at the suggestion.

“If I don't need the staff to fight I don't see the point in lugging around a stick that lets everyone know I make things boom when pissed.” I state, taking another bite of my soup.

Varric laughs at this, and a couple heads turn in our direction and look at us with awe. Not everyday you see a ‘religious figure’ and a famous author I guess. The religious figure part makes me wanna puke honestly.

“Lookout, annoyed Seeker incoming.”

My eyes snap over towards the doors, watching nervously as Cassandra takes long strides towards us. She’s not happy looking either, though that might just be her morning face. I can understand the feeling.

“Morning. Sleep well, Seeker?” Varric asks when she gets to us while I attempt to shrink into myself, holding my bandaged hand on my lap and hoping she doesn't notice.

“It was fine, Varric.” She says back, pulling up a chair and sitting in it.

Oh boy. This isn't a interaction I want this early in the morning.

“Did you sleep well Herald?” Cassandra asks, turning to look at me with interest.

“Yeah.” I reply simply, happy that Varric doesn't make any move to rat me out. She'll hear about it from Cullen at the war meeting today anyways, and I'm not in the mood for a interrogation on what me and Solas were doing out in the middle of the night.

I focus on eating my food while Varric keeps Cassandra occupied with conversation. It has something to do with the state of the Hinterlands and the troops that were just sent over this morning, so I do listen in with one ear, but otherwise I try to be ignored. I still feel a little nauseous around Cassandra. As good a person as I know she is, that first interaction is going to stick for a while. A long while at this rate.

“I’m heading up to the War room.” I say quietly, taking another sip from my mug of mead and standing.

Cassandra is quick to stand too. “I'll come with you Herald.”

“I'll just stay back here and watch the recruits fumble around Smalls. I'll see you later, alright?” Varric says, giving me a smile. I smile back, pushing in my chair.

“Bye, Varric.” I state, before walking out of the small Tavern with Cassandra right behind me.

“You and the dwarf seem to be comfortable with each other already.” Cassandra says. I nod, fingering my jacket.

“He's comforting.” I say quietly, looking up at the sky. It's covered in blues and pinks and oranges from one side, and a huge green mirage on the other. It's almost surreal the way everything looks, the real people I'm speaking to, the actual Chantry we’re approaching. All the parallels to the Catholic Church are weird too, Lady Pope included.

Wonder if I could start having the Canticle of Sharton preached earlier this time around? I remember most of it from when I'd looked into it after my first play through. Sharton was a real badass.

Leliana isn't in her tent when we pass it, so I assume she's waiting inside the War room.

Cassandra opens the door for me and we step inside the warm building, greeted by low morning prayers said by a couple ex-Templars and Chantry Sisters.

My marked hand chooses now to spasm a little, and I use my other hand to grip it.

“Does it still bother you?” Cassandra asks while we walk, and this reminds me of the first walking into the Chantry scene before Mother Giselle. I can almost see the choices in front of me, but I go for honesty instead.

“I want to cut it off, which is a lot coming from a artist.” I say with a hollow looking grin. So fucking lucky I'm right handed. So. Fucking. Lucky.

Ugh I'm depressing. Happy thoughts, dwelling only makes you sad.

Cassandra looks alarmed by this, but before she can comment we’re entering the war room, seeing a more tired looking Cullen, a cheerful Josephine, and a frowning Leliana as she looks over some of her papers. Probably reports from a way her eyes are narrowed.

“Morning.” I greet, and get a couple replies in response as me and Cassandra come up to stand by the table. There's a couple scattered papers, one of Leliana’s little figures on the Hinterlands, and a open Inquisition book Josephine seems to be looking through.

“What’s that on your hand, Herald?” Cassandra asks, now staring down at my hand with piercing eyes.

Oh boy oh boy, here it comes.

Leiana in three, two, one-

“It seems the Herald had a walk last night.”

Bingo.

“Yes, my men reported seeing you run out of the village and come back with Solas. Care to explain?” Cullen asks, in a probably unintentional condescending tone.

Nah bro, cutting that shit out at the start.

“I had a nightmare and needed some air, if a tree met a fiery demise it was it’s own fault, Commander. Please don't use that tone when you're talking to me, I'm at the big kids table too.” I reply. I'm frowning and leaning against the table, ignoring the way my left hand keeps freaking glowing. That shit is going to be annoying.

Cullen blushes, and Josephine quickly jumps in to save the situation before I get more passive aggressive.

“Apologies Herald, we were simply worried for you. I'm sure Commander Rutherford meant no harm.” She says with her best no harm smile.

I seem like a brat don't I?

I do. Time to salvage this.

“I'm not trying to be rude, I'm just-” I cut myself off with a sigh.

“It's fine. Let's just start the meeting and deal with the touchy feely stuff after.” I finish.

“As you all well know, my scouts and Cullen's soldiers have been sent to the Hinterlands. My scouts are scheduled to make it to the war zone in three days, Cullen’s men following two days later with two wagons of supplies. With what supplies and men we can give, we hope to somewhat stabilize the region and gain more support.” Leliana summarizes, and I'm happy she's so ready to get things started.

“How many hours are our people here working on average a week?” I ask, and Leliana blinks at the question.

“I… wouldn't know. Why do you ask?”

“We need to make sure they aren't being overworked, and that our Elven workers are being paid as much as the humans would for the hours they're doing. Excuse me if I'm wrong, but a startling majority tend to forget that their people both need leisure, and equal treatment.” I explain, running my fingers through my hair.

“If you don't mind, I'd like at least a list of how many people we have on payroll here in Haven and the hours and pay they get for them a week. I can write out the average from there by myself and see what we need to be doing from there.” I ask. Both Cullen and Cassandra both seem to be startled, and Josephine is looking at me with furrowed eyebrows.

“You’re knowledgeable of arithmetic, Herald? I hadn't known you were of noble birth.” Josephine asks and I shake my head.

“I know a lot about math and science, but I'm not a noble. My mom was just a soap maker and my dad was a carpenter.” I say, and it's not all that far from the truth. My mom is actually a hairdresser and skincare specialist, but she makes soaps on the side. Dad… makes motorcycles and works at Mercedes. That doesn't really equate well to this word, so I'll just play on his good building and setting up skills.

“Then how, may I ask, did you learn such a thing? You seem to be well spoken as well.” Leliana pushes further, so I shrug.

“I like books, I like learning. If you can find the money it's easy to find a merchant who'll teach you what they know.”

None of that is a lie, if I'm implying that that's how I learned how to do math then that's just a slip of tongue.

So manipulative. I need to just not.

Leliana takes out a piece of paper and writes out a set of numbers, then slide it to me with a quill. “Find the average.”

I give her what I hope is a thoroughly unimpressed look, and take around five seconds to finish, circling my answer and sliding it back.

What a boring skill, math is. God must've thought it was funny to make someone who hates math be good at it.

Dick. One day I'll punch whoever’s the creator for that.

“Anyways, it makes no sense to make our people work themselves to the bone ourselves included.” I look over at Cullen when I say this, making him blush.

Yeah, looking at you Curly.

“You make a good point Herald. I'll see about getting that information to you by tomorrow’s meeting. Does anyone else have anything to include?” Josephine asks with a smile, and we all shake our heads.

“Well, to work.” Josephine says, and we all step away from our spots by the table, walking towards the door. 

Progress. That's all I can hope for.

Chapter Text

My fingers tap quickly as I look over reports for people’s wages.

There's been a mostly consistent payment for everyone, on paper. However, Leliana did a little digging and found a couple people who'd been keeping parts of certain persons’ payments for themselves. Leliana made certain to post a notice on the Chantry doors that this wouldn't be flying, and the perpetrators had been shoved into menial tasks there's always need for. Cooking, outhouse digging, and other stuff no one really wants to deal with.

It makes me happy to know I've done something good on my own already, reassures me that I have some sort of control in my spiraling life, but-

With slightly shaky hands I gather the papers up in a neat pile and put them at the corner of my desk. With that handled I push myself out of my seat and grab what money I've been given in the past week.

(Apparently this counts as a job, my walking about and talking to people. With a plus of suddenly taking over stuff about the welfare of our people.
Waking up with the suspicious pouch of coins had been a surprise in the very least.
)

Taking a deep breath I head out the door and make a beeline for Seggrit’s stall, a half formed plan pounding behind my ears.


“You want me to what, Smalls?” Varric asks with lifted eyebrows from his seat in his corner of the tavern. When in doubt of his whereabouts, he's usually right there writing, telling stories, or drinking. Usually all three.

“I don't trust my hands to be steady enough, and you're the least likely of anyone I know to stop me,” I explain, ignoring a pang in my heart.

I do know people who wouldn't have stopped me, they're just gone.

Breathe. You need to breathe.

Varric chuckles lightly. “Between me, Seeker, and Chuckles that's probably true.”

“I'll do it, but not here. Can't exactly be caught in the act, can we?”

I wrinkle my nose at his wording. “This isn't that scandalous, Varric,” I try to say, but he only laughs in response. “Trust me kid, this is going to be hilarious.”

And with that the dwarf and I make our way out of the tavern and to my cabin with rings jingling in my pocket.


 

Surprisingly, it takes everyone but Leliana a couple minutes into the next War Meeting to realize what I did.

The results are, as Varric said they’d be, hilarious.

“Herald, what have you done to your ears,” Comes from Cassandra in one breath, staring at both the rings in my ears’ cartilage.

Piercings aren't really a thing for respectable folk in this world, unless your Rivani. Even then, you’re Rivani. With the parallels between the Chantry and Roman Catholic Church, a certain level of chastity is expected in society, and earrings ain't godly in many people’s books. Save little ones in your earlobe.

I've always wanted to get my cartilage pierced, and now that I've got a high chance of death, save divine intervention, I'd like to do some cool shit. I'm planning for tattoos at some point, but I'm gonna wait till we get the Chargers to see if Bull knows anybody with some skill in it.

If these people want me to be their Herald, they can see me as their Herald. I'm not going to lose myself for them though. This is who they’re getting, and if that makes them unhappy then they can suck it.

“I pierced my cartilage.” I say simply. Like the sky is blue and most grass is green, my cartilage got pierced.

It feels great too, to be in control. I can understand people with anorexia a little bit more than comfortable in the control aspect, that sucks, but at least I'm channeling this shit into something nondestructive.

God I've got more issues than someone my age should, then again, most of my generation jokes about killing themselves.

Grim, grim thoughts those are.

Leliana continues to look amused at her corner of the table, watching with a slight smile and crinkle at the corner of her eyes.

I guess I'm generally good entertainment?

“Are you sure that was a good idea, Lady Herald? This could affect your image negatively…” Josephine says calmly, all the while Cullen attempts to distance himself from the situation altogether, if his small, measured steps are to be taken into notice.

“I'm a fifteen year old commoner who fell out of the fade, is a mage, a heretic, and a declared false prophet. Really, the only place we can go at this point is up.” I hum with amusement, all the while holding up fingers at every fact. It's fun to honestly not care about certain people’s opinions. A feeling I don't usually get to have thanks to my hormonal worries about how people think about me.

Not that I don't totally care, it kind of hurts for people who've never met me to dislike me on principle, but details.

“But still, Herald. You cannot just… pierce yourself without warning.” Cassandra argues.

“I didn't pierce myself.” I say simply.

“Who- The Dwarf-!”

“I believe we have other matters to attend to, such as details involving said denouncement.” Cullen interrupts quickly, though looking very unwilling to have Cassandra’s ire focused on him.

“A Mother in the Hinterlands has requested to see you, Herald, and decide whether she wishes to offer support towards our cause from the inside.” Cullen finishes, looking to Leliana, who's holding said letter in her hand.

“Mother Giselle and Divine Justinia used to correspond about her efforts at the Crossroads. We should in the very least listen to what she has to say. A voice in our favor against the tide of other voices who aren't could be beneficial.” Leliana explains, causing nods around the table.

“So I go see this Mother and see what she has to say, then probably attempt to stabilize some of the Hinterlands in the Inquisition’s name, right?” I ask, but I know it isn't really a question.

“Yes, however you won't be alone. Master Tethras, Solas, and Cassandra will no doubt be happy to accompany you right along with the new recruits and supplies being sent their the day after tomorrow.” Josephine is quick to reassure. Cassandra nods firmly when I look over at her.

She's stiff though, with a almost guilty look on her face. Does she still feel bad about the dungeon thing? Shit, that makes me feel bad.

Clanking chains, panic, fear, pain spiking up my forearm like cracking whips-

My hands clench behind my back, and I ignore any nausea in my stomach.

Is this PTSD? Please don't be PTSD.

Rubbing frost from my fingers I nod.

“By the way, I was talking to some of the refugees still here from the conclave. There's a lot of orphaned, especially mage or of mage parentage, orphaned. We need someplace warm and safe for them,” I say, un-clasping my hands and running my fingers through my hair. “Right now they’re just kind of wandering about underfoot.”

Josephine makes a noise, then angrily mutters about forgetting something.

“I greatly apologize, Herald. I had set out to handle that situation, but become occupied with my ambassador duties.” Josey says, then starts writing furiously.

I quickly lift my hands and shake my head. “No no, it's fine. As long as we handle it now it doesn't matter. I'm completely fine with offering my cabin for them, there's enough room.” I state, then turn to give Cullen a small frown. “I'd rather no former Templars be put around the cabin as well, Cu-mander. They seem to scare more kids than do them some good.”

I internally wince at the almost slip up, and at the expression Cullen is now wearing.

“Herald, they are young newly awakened mages. They are at risk of-”

“All mages are at risk of possession Cullen, as one of those newly awakened I can assure you that it's the fear the Chantry-” I cut myself off, puckering my lips before taking a deep, calming breath. My opinion of the Chantry and its fear tactics isn't important.

“You only recently gained your abilities, Herald?” Cassandra says with wide eyes, and suddenly I realize that I hadn't told that tidbit of information to the inner circle.

“Yes. I think the- my imprisonment, is what did it.” I say quieter, stiffer.

Racing heart, fear and pain. She could kill me. She could kill me-

“It doesn't matter. I have a handle on it, if my fighting up the mountain shows anything. The point is, I have a feeling that I can handle some kids, magic or not. I don't need any armored people to help.”

I don't know who I should be making eye contact with, just that I shouldn't look down at the floor. A stupid habit I had to break in favor of looking confident enough to fool people in high school. Make eye contact, or focus on a place close to their eyes. Like the bridge of their nose or an eyebrow.

My hands are shaking. Tremors are a good tell for panic attacks. God I'm a mess.

“Done, Zoe. I suppose this meeting is adjourned then?” Leliana breaks through the cotton in my ears, pulling everyone’s attention to her.

Quiet agreements or grunts (Cullen) are made and we’re heading out of the room. I shove my hands in my pockets and make towards the door with a quick pace, taking deep, calming breaths. I feel like I'm drowning. I'll be fine though. I have to be.

The cold smacks me in the face and grounds me.

It's cold. The snow underfoot isn't as fresh as it was this morning, muddier and dirty. It still crunches with each step. A woman with long ears hurried past me, two scouts laugh quietly up against a cabin, and I'm going towards the gate.

God I want a hug. No one that'd hug me is left though, are they? Gone. My whole world is gone.

I'm hurrying down the path up the mountain, I note idly.

I want Cole, but Cole can't know me yet though. Not until I deal with the magic time bullshit and- and look at a world where I fail to save it.

I pause my steps abruptly.

“I can't keep doing this.” I whisper, pulling my shaky hands out of my pockets and trying to rub the tremble away.

Snow around me is melting away or turning to ice, much to my bemusement. I have a handle on it.

I snort. I'm full of shit.

Tomorrow I've gotta leave early to start the mission-y aspects of the plot, recruit Mother Giselle and somehow fix the lives of the people who live in the Hinterlands. Then once I get back to home base, at some point, I go back out and find Blackwall.

Ugh.

Ugh.

No more panic attacks. Stop freaking out you crazy, I need to focus on saving the world.


 

I don't like fighting people, I don't like the crazed look in a majority of the Templars and Mages both or the thought of ending someone with a mind, heart, and soul. Fuck whatever Druid blood I have, I don't do killing people. I don't even like killing bugs.

I'm forcing stone around their ankles like shackles for capture from my place towards the back of our little fighting party, trying not to think that not all of them will be willing enough to be captured and then-

A sword aimed at Varric’s neck, raging eyes-

Sharp, pointed ice is coming out of the ground and into his eye before I can think. A whisper of power at my fingertips as my mana takes a quick dent at the action. The eyes are soft, and make a quick entrance for the brain behind them.

The Templar falls backward and lands in a metal heap on the ground.

Such a cliche, but I didn't think it was so easy.

If I'm crying when the skirmish is over, that's my business. Varric gives my shoulder a reassuring squeeze and keeps his hand there protectively when they start cleaning up bodies and interrogating those still living.

Mother Giselle is exactly how I expected her to look.

Dark skinned, wrinkled, and kindly looking. Her hat is just as ridiculous as I thought it'd be as well.

She, of course, takes one look at me and tries to take a maternal role, but it feels more condescending.

“Herald. I had heard you were young, but I had not realized… Well, come.” The Mother says, walking off to the side, away from the patients under her care and my companions.

My shoulder is cold when Varric’s hand leaves it, lightly nudging me towards the holy woman.

I wonder what mom would say, seeing me talk to someone so high up the religious totem pole. Probably think I’ve gone crazy, since she, a southern baptist, was the one who told me I'm more pagan than anything else.

Wonder how people’d start reacting if I started reading cards for them. It'd be a pain to get a hold of tarot cards though, might even have to make my own.

“I'm sorry you’ve been thrusted in such a position child. Tell me, do you truly believe yourself to be a actor of Andraste’s will?” Mother Giselle asks me, and I lift a eyebrow at her despite not wanting to disrespect the lady.

“I'm not even Andrastian, Mother. I do have a magic glowing hand though, if that counts for anything.” I say, ignoring the way the mark flickers at the mention of it. Half sentient stupid freaking-

Giselle laughs lightly, pulling a little at the crows feet at the corners of her eyes.

She was probably drop dead gorgeous when she was younger. She's got the bone structure for it.

“The Inquisition just wants to help people and fix the hole in the sky, Mother Giselle. I’m sure you've seen what good our soldiers are doing.” I say. The woman looks me in the eye.

“I have seen that, but I admit I am still a bit unsure of what this Inquisition could mean for Thedas.” She turns around and starts walking back to her patients. “I will send a good word for the Inquisition, and go to Haven myself, child.”

I blink at her as she starts tending to men, conversation decidedly over.

“Guess we've got some Chantry support then.” I mumble, fingers going up to run through my hair. Not a surprise, but a different interaction then the game nonetheless.

I just killed somebody, maimed a few more, and I'm about to be in charge of fixing the Hinterlands.

Oh boy. I'm thrilled.

 

Chapter Text

We hunt rams while looking for the apostate stashes, my own quiet suggestion at multitasking logical enough not to be questioned. Cassandra stays close to my side, a hand always on her sword, her eyes always looking for danger.

We find it in bandits.

I take deep breaths don't focus on their eyes. Varric is sending arrows flying by a tree, while Cassandra gets in their faces. Solas is next to me, sending magic at the men as fluidly as breathing.

I try not to think of their families, who might mourn them, and freeze one right before Cassandra’s sword meets his head. He shatters and I'm already sending ice spikes and fire at the others.

My bones ache, even if I know physically I'm fine.

I'm not fine. That's okay, I shouldn't be.

That train of thought still isn't as helpful as I wish it were, so I focus on being thankful that I'm still alive. There's definitely something worth living for.

“How many people are we going to have to kill, just to fix this mess?” I ask the air quietly when we start moving again. It's still midday, but I just want to go to sleep. I'm fucking depressing.

Yet alive. Woo.

Varric is the person who answers.

“I say we don't think about it until the time comes, Smalls.”

No real response to that, other than how. The number six chiming in my head, only two faces to pull up with it. Inaccurate ones I'm sure, but I don't want to see their faces. It may be selfish, but I don't want this to fuck me up more than it probably is.

I wonder what my parents would say.

An urge to defend myself crawls up my throat, and I'm speaking before I can stop it.

“I'm not always like this, y’know? Sorry to be a downer, sorry to drag you around and stuff.” I say, smiling, not looking at them but at the path in front of us. It's not the best smile, but whatever. I'm developing depression I do what I want.

“You do not have to say sorry, da’lath’in.”

We understand.

Well, guess Solas likes me. That's probably a good thing.

We get all three of the caches and kill some ram. I pointedly don't pay attention to how efficient Varric skins and stores away the ram’s useful bits. A hunter I am not, not a very good soldier either if I'm honest. The meats are put in a large bag Solas but put a cooling rune on, and he carries it back.

I would insist on doing it, but I recognize I'm already slower than them. Adding more weight doesn't help make me any faster.

Stupid fatty legs and arms. You aren't very good for endurance. I love my body, but you suck.

The hunter has actual tears in his eyes when he sees the full bag of meat, and praises us with a grin on his face while I smile back. This one is real.

Vale is just as happy about the blankets, along with the scout who sent us off after them. There's at least ten, maybe fifteen of them, but apparently that's just enough to him.


 

I help out at making dinner at the Inquisition’s camp. Using herbs and plants I picked up while we were walking, thinking about Mom. Gardening was her thing, not mine, but I recognize the plants anyways. Pulled up from a field book I'd read once upon a time, and recognized from her own growing.

Basil, mint, spinach, even some katniss when we passed a brook. Mildly familiar in the last case. Katniss does like a colder climate than Florida, but it was in my head regardless.

They add some more substance than just salt and meat stew. It helps me feel more useful.

“Where did you learn to recognize these plants, Herald?” Cassandra asks over her own bowl, and the others around the fire are curious. Scouts and the other members of the inner circle.

“My mom liked gardening, plants in general really. Cooking too. Wasn't ever my thing, but it's useful.” I realize that's the most that I've said about my family to these people. I'm not usually like this. Why can't I just be back to cracking dumb jokes and acting like a damn thirty year old? Why do I have to hurt and whine and-

Don't.

“I must ask, where are you from? You do not have a Ferelden accent, or a Orlesion one for that matter.” Solas asks, and I pull up my pre-planned answer.

“A little town by the sea in the Free Marches. It's... not there anymore.” I say. Nonspecific, but no so much that it’s suspicious. I hope. My tone channels my unending grief as well, so that’s a plus.

“I apologize. I did not mean to open a healing wound.” Solas says. I just shake my head.

“You’re curious. I would be too. Before you ask, I came to the Conclave to see how to become a chantry sister. Didn't have jack shit going for me otherwise and thought I might as well.”

Cassandra looks appalled.

“You do not believe in Andraste.”

“They'd give me food, money, and a place to sleep. No one wants to take on a orphan from the marches as a apprentice, Seeker. All I'd have to do is suppress my values.” I hum mock cheerfully, taking a overly enthusiastic bite of my stew. “Could've been a prostitute I guess, maybe a pickpocket. Both of those aren't appealing.”

Play the character Zoe. Lies work best when you believe them.

Cassandra makes a face like she's in great pain or constipated.
“That sucks, kid.” Varric says, and there are a few noises of agreement.

One scout butts in though.

“How can you not believe in Andraste’s light?” The woman asks from her seat on a log, and I shrug.

“Do you want the honest answer, or the nice one?” I ask. I respect people who have faith, and it’s definitely not my business as long as it isn’t maiming or killing anyone.

"Honest," She says, and I only frown at little at it  

“Andraste was a woman. A powerful, commendable one certainly, but just a woman. The maker people say is ignoring his creations? That just sounds like an excuse for the lack of any divine or godly action to me. You all probably have differing opinions, and that’s fine. I envy how other people can have faith in something they don't see, but I don't have that.” I take a bite out of my soup. “People call me Herald of Andraste. Whether I believe it or not doesn't matter. What you people believe does.”

I have too much logical reasoning and a much too cynical way of thinking to believe humans have the ability to just know how the world works. It took a many of years to just get proper sanitation in our tiny minds as a majority, let alone realize we aren’t the center of the universe and evolution is a thing.

I wish I could believe someone's out there looking out for me, and other than getting doubles whenever I pray to Zeus out loud as a joke, the only stuff I’m willing enough to believe in is Tarot cards, and that’s because they’ve always worked for me.

“How do you fight then? If not for Andraste, than what?” One man asks suddenly, and a few glares get pointed at him. A ex Templar from the heavier armor he has on.

Not for me. The immediate answer smacks me in the face, pulls me into bad thoughts late at night involving daggers and quick ends.

They wouldn't want that. They would never want that.

“For the people who need me to. For the people who can't fight or won't. I don't need a god to tell me I'm doing what’s right.” I murmur, clenching my spoon a little tighter and staring at my stew, putting another spoonful in my mouth as Varric quickly changes the subject to some fight he remembers from Kirkwall and a Templar without pants.

You need to live to fix this. You need to live for your family. Your girlfriend.

All I think about for the rest of the evening is beautiful freckles, brown eyes, and smiles.


 

It takes me all of a minute to realize I'm in the fade, in a field of grass with a sole tree providing shade that I sit under.

It's cloudy and sunny. Peaceful.

I close my eyes and enjoy it, listening to the trees rustle and quiet chirping of birds. It's better than the past few nights, reliving times on that mountain or watching a faceless woman stand imposingly over me.

I know who she's meant to be. I'm not an idiot.

I let out a tiny sigh, stretching my arms above my head and opening one eye.

Spirits peak at me through the trees looking like nymphs as they stare. I tilt my head at them, and them at me.

I wave them over with a lazy hand, yawning contently as I scoot up, both eyes open while I watch their approach. Some wispy in vaguely humanoid shapes, others looking like actual nymphs, probably like the form. With a little concentration, a stream runs through the meadow, and I smile at old imaginings of nymphs playing in the water.

For now, it just adds to the ambiance, a calming sound of water.

One of the spirits starts playing with my hair in the form of a red-headed, freckled nymph, and I lean into the comforting touch.

“You pull us here. The calm is appreciated, dear.” One hums I front of me with a more masculine voice, and wispy features, he sits down while others wander the clearing.

The company is appreciated.

I wake up warm and much less worried than I had been the night before.


 

I get through as much as I can quickly, accepting requests from as many people as possible and handling the quests with just a map and force of will.

I can only handle the closer stuff for now, and Dennet, bless his sarcastic heart.

I feel better with good nights of sleep every night. Compassion, Youth, Curiosity, they all enjoy the small haven in the fade I've made, safe from tears in the Veil and safe from demons who would see them harmed.

I haven't had to see one in my dreams yet, only hear of them from Mr. Compassion’s calm murmurings as Miss. Compassion braids my hair or hugs me comfortingly. Youth is happy to run about in the clean and cool stream (that’s become a creak) I've made, splashing whoever’s closest and taking on the form of a nine-year-old boy. The Curiosities (a wonderful band name) usually play along with him or ask for stories from me. All three of them have stuck to androgynous nymphs so far.

They’re good. They make me feel safe. I'm content with that.

I don't feel so good when Solas asks me about it. In front of a Seeker.

I'd like to say he was doing it on purpose, but he's a fade nerd. A fade nerd who forgets his audience when he’s curious.

“It's amazing how easily you control your pocket of the fade, da’len. I'm unsure of how you can attract so many kindred spirits.” Solas says, using his staff like a walking stick as we head back to Haven. I flinch from where I sit on a wagon holding supplies next to Varric. Our legs are too short to walk most of the way and not be slower, though I'd bet Varric could do it if he tried. He looks up from what he’s writing, and looks at me, then Solas.

“Demons?” Cassandra asks, looking behind her and hitting me with a very disapproving stare. “Are you trying to be possessed, Herald?” Is what comes out next, and I shrink into myself a little, a finger going up to mess with the ring in my cartilage.

“Spirits aren't malicious like demons, Seeker. I don't think they have it in them to body-snatch me.” I say back, quieter than usual.

“It is true, Seeker. If she were in danger than I would step in.” Solas says, and I try not to frown at that. That's my space, I highly doubt a demon could waltz in and try to take me. I'd be sure to offer it tea first though. Missy has been asking for some tea stuff on hand, for some reason. I think she used to work with food, with how much she tries to feed me. It doesn't do much in the fade, but it’s nice.

“If I ever have a problem, I'll tell you, Seeker.” I say, trying not to single her out and start an argument. I don't want to villainize her, I know her like a friend. I wouldn't be able to- to hate her like that. To be cruel. No matter how much-

How much I still want to run when she glares, at me or anyone else. It isn't her fault, she lost people. I know exactly how it feels to lose important people.

She makes a face like she wants to say more, but doesn't. She turns around again with tense shoulders.

I'm bad at handling people unhappy with me. I'm wonderful at helping others at their relationships, and I've got enough emotional intelligence to understand things much quicker and easier than others.

That being said, you can know someone is unhappy, and know why, and still be at a loss of what to do. I hide from my problems, I tuck into a corner and wait them out. Years in unstable a household when you have a introverted personality makes your rely on those kinds of instincts I guess, but it doesn't mean it's right.

Hell, I don't know how I'm functioning right now. The last time I lost someone important to me I stopped going to school for a week and tried to become one with my bed, fuck education when you just want to cry, or sleep.

I don't think my unstable home life helped.

Regardless, people problems make me anxious. I worry and worry until I get so in my head that things get worse. I don't want that.

This isn't a quick fix though. She's dealing with a hailstorm in her head right now, and I'm descending into whatever the hell my brain is doing right now.

My fingers come up and take a quick run through my hair. It's oily and I can't wait to be at Haven’s hot springs again. A cold river just doesn't do it for me.

My fingers are itching for paper and pencil to sketch something. It's been a while since I had time to, so I pull at my bag and take out my journal and a tin of charcoal. Messy, but I could care less right now.

Opening the book I flip a few pages of people and characters, my heart clenching at the familiar face of my favorite character to draw, but I stop at an empty page.

I should probably draw my family, before-

My hand trembles a little, but I start anyways, my hand stilling and easing into the smooth strokes on the paper. It's rougher than modern stuff, but that's better for the charcoal anyways.

My mouth is in a thin line as I work through the picture, legs crossed and my lap used for a table. I pray that I will be able to find a way to make erasers soon as I work, worrying that I'll mess up and have to start over.

I don't have to.

An hour or so later it's done.

My youngest sister stares up at me with a smile, and the ache in my chest soothes, only a little.

Coping. This kind of coping is good.

“So, who's that?” Varric asks next to me, eyes on the paper. The thin scar on her chin, the little wrinkle at the edge of her eyes, a big smile, and cheeks filled with baby fat, hiding what will be more prominent cheekbones than my own.

She was a little shit sometimes.

I love her.

“Lola. Figured I should draw her before I forget.”

A hand goes to my shoulder and squeezes it comfortingly. He doesn't ask anymore questions, but his hand doesn't move even when he starts writing again. I wonder if this’ll go in the book.


 

I'm about ready to pass out by the time we’re at haven, and after turning in a list of our exploits and our map with all the significant stuff we found marked in my hurried hand, I stumble into my cabin and somehow don't realize there's children inside until I've dropped my travel pack.

There's at least ten of them, mostly humans, three elves, and a qunari kid who's assessing me.

Oh yeah. I brought in some mage kids, didn't I?

No shit, Zoe.

Blinking, I estimate none of them are older than twelve, and one looks like she's at least four.

Welcome to motherhood?

“Good afternoon munchkins. Would anyone like to go get some food?” I hum. Rolling with the punches I see.

One of the human kids, a little boy with black hair and dark eyes says yes with a grin. The others ease into it as soon as the qunari kid gives a small nod.

Biggest means leader than. Someone must of had to keep em safe.

“Follow me ducklings. Flissa is sure to be thrilled at the service.” I say, scooping my money pouch out of my pack and waving for them to follow me. “‘Name’s Zoe, before you bother with that Herald nonsense.”

Food. Food is the way to make kids like you.

Zeus, buddy, I might need a better blessing than doubles at monopoly.

Chapter Text

I realize when one of the elven kids sneeze and electricity crackles at her fingers, I'm going to need help.

They’d ate plenty when we got to the tavern and I happily paid for it. They’re kids, kids who were left alone and they deserve to not want for what they need. Kids are important.

It's lucky she sneezed when we were back in the cabin that's now lined with a couple cots and a bed shoved in the corner, very lucky no one but me and the others saw her.

I take a deep, calming breath, wishing for sleep yet knowing this is more important.

“I'm going to go get someone for you guys to meet, alright? He knows more about this mage thing than I do, enough to get some demon repelling runes up in the cabin or something,” I tell the kids, but keep eye contact with Birsa. She's the qunari, her head comes up to my shoulders, and she's only two years younger than me.

She was probably the kid of a qunari merc that got sent to the Conclave, but I haven't asked yet. Not with my internal panicking.

I get a few nods, and then I'm stumbling through the snow toward Solas’s cabin, trying to pull my fluffy jacket closer while I shiver at the cold.

I knock on his door only once before he's opened it, looking down at me curiously.

I feel bad, I shouldn't bother him, but this isn't about me. It's about the ten kids in my cabin who can shit fire. 

“So, you know how I’ve shared my cabin with some mage kids?” I ask in a nervous tone, and he nods.

“I was wondering if you knew any runes or something that would keep them safe from demons? I know how I keep them away, but I'm not sure it works for everyone like that,” I ask, moving from one foot to another while I look into Solas’s eyes.

They look like crystals, a cold blue color that looks grey in the right light.

Why is he so tall?! 

He nods leaning lightly on his doorway.

“I can. Though I wonder why you’ve come to me, instead of a more… qualified mage.”

A circle mage. 

It makes my stomach churn just thinking about what the Chantry did, making people see themselves as monsters.

“I'd rather have someone who isn't so biased against the fade do it. They should still be able to see spirits, but someone else might think them one in the same,” I explain. It's not that I think circle mages are less intelligent, or less skilled than mages who learn outside, but a fear of yourself won't help you improve and grow. I can feel other people with magic, I can freeze ice inside of a living thing, I can do more than what the Chantry said mages could do.

There's a small smile pulling at the corners of his lips at the end of my sentence, and he does his weird nod that looks more like at bow at me.

“I'd be happy to provide my assistance, da’lath’in,” Solas says. “How… are you faring though? You look like you’re falling asleep where you stand,”

I take a nervous scrub through my hair with my fingers, and chuckle.

“I wanna die, but I'm fine. Best get on with this, right?” I hum, and the dark humor feels much more natural than a lot of other things I've been doing lately. Solas looks momentarily stalled by my statement for a moment before gesturing for me to lead on, of which I do so gladly.

“Are you sure you’re alright? Pardon me, but that is a… concerning sentence,” Solas says quietly by my side.

“I want to fall asleep and never wake up,” I mumble simply, face pulling a grimace. “I can't though, not with this thing on my hand. Now everyone is counting on a grieving fifteen year old to fix the world, poor dudes.”

I don't look to see his expression.

“Sorry does not off solace. All I can do is say I understand,” Solas replies in the same quiet tone, and I can feel mirth smoothing out my pained expression. He understands more and less than he could ever know.

I know my head isn't healthy right now. You shouldn't be able to say that you want to die so easily and mean it. I would tell an adult if I had any I trusted left, as it is these people would just start treating me with gloves and still make me go out and kill people.

I feel sick.

“If I’m being honest, I wish a sorry could fix this, but thank you.”

I open the door to a group of children milling about, and notice the way most of them tense when they hear the door open.

Poor babes. 

“I’m back, and I’ve brought a helpful fellow mage!” I say with a small grin, gesturing dramatically to Solas, and thankfully getting a few giggles and smiles.

“I’m glad to make your acquaintance. I am Solas.”

So old. Then again, I call people dear one and have scolded my friends for running around the pool.

A couple ‘Hi’s are called out by the munchkins. Birsa seems to deem him worthy after a considering glance too, before going back to braiding the smallest girl’s hair with gentle and practiced fingers.

“Solas is gonna put a few wards and the like up to keep y’all from getting nabbed by some unsavory folks in the fade. Don’t mind him walking about.” I say before giving Solas a small smile, gesturing for him to do what he’s gotta do. I didn’t really think this through in the moment did I? This is why INFPs shouldn’t be left to make split second decisions damnit.

Labeling does not excuse your dumbness . Focus. 

Solas nods to me and walks towards the beds. He starts tracing patterns on the wood that leave faintly glowing marks, all the while he chants something in elven under his breath.

I’ll start my corruption of the youth by giving hugs, I guess. Not many can resist them! Except for my sister, but she only likes hugs from my mom anyways.

Crouching down in front of the two Elf kids, I open my palm. Small, pretty snowflakes start floating above it, and I grin at their awed faces.

“How do you do that?” One asks quietly, carefully taking my hand and rotating it so she can see all of the fancy magic.

I take her palm and open it, then the boy’s.

“I think about how the snow falls in the morning. Just channel your mana to your hand first…”


 

Splitting pain trails down my forearm. 

I fall to my knees, forcing my crying eyes shut as I force the breach to seal. My mouth is clamped shut in an unconscious attempt to keep any sound from coming out even while I'm shaking with strain and sobs. 

I can't hear anything but blood pounding my ears and my own breathing, but I can feel two warm, calloused hands holding me up. 

My blurry eyes open to a wide expanse of greens and blues and floating debris. 

The most terrifying things can be beautiful, I suppose. 

I pull harder, an unseen force keeping my left fingers from shutting. I need to do this. They’re counting on me. 

I hear a huge boom through it all when my fingers finally close and my wrist snaps to the side quickly. There's shouting and I'm being carried. It's blurry, but before my eyes shut, I get one last glimpse at the now just sealed breach. Subdued. For now. 

“I've got you Zoe, okay? I'm right here. You did it. Shit, Chuckles she’s fading-!”

 


 

-Gentle fingers braid my hair with practiced ease. Suppose Dad would be after a big sister and three daughters. Ava and Lola are already asleep in their room while we hang out in the living room-

 


 

In and out of consciousness. Pale slender hands checking my temperature and there's murmuring in a lyrical language under someone’s breath. 

 


I wake up with a kid curled up in my side, with my own arms around her.

Gently, I lift an arm up and rub my tired eyes, tight from old tears. My muscles ache faintly from all the exercise I've been doing lately, and it takes a lot in me not to groan at the feeling.

The ceiling stares down at me and I stare at it. Wooden with a few straws of hay poking out from in between the boards. For insulation maybe? Wonder how often it has to be changed.

I look down at the sheets and am relieved to see I haven't left any frost or burns on them this time. That fade sequence was kinda shitty.

The barest hints of sunlight make their way through the covered windows and I slowly get up and out of the bed.

I feel like shit.

I throw on my padded, warm clothes and a jacket and head out the door.

Oranges and pinks and reds streak against the sky from the east, coloring the clouds and bathing what’s below in the same light. It's weird how much more you can appreciate certain things after near-death experiences.

Checklist for the day-

Visit my inner circle and check on them. 

Spend time with the servants and talk about their needs. 

Take care of the kids I’ve suddenly taken under my wing, like an idiot. 

Visit the healing tents and continue to keep people from having blood drained via leeches. 

Okay. That’s only four things! Give or take a few stuff, but I can do this. I can do this! 

Smiling to myself I walk down and out the gates towards Cullen’s tent. He’s probably already awake by now and I need to look into the size of our forces anyways. That and their training. I’m not a military strategist, but it’s probably in our best interests that we look into gorilla warfare. Coryphy-shit probably won’t be playing fair anyways.

My smile stays on as I crunch through the new snow and nod to any I pass on my way. Today is going to be great. I’m not going to depress myself and I’m going to get things done!

I gently pull Cullen’s tent’s flap to the side and am greeted to a tired looking commander peering down at reports on his desk.

I frown and look over his appearance. Haggard, messy clothes, and bags under his eyes. He really shouldn’t have gone cold turkey on the lyrium.

“Commander?” I say quietly, mindful of a chance he has a headache.

The blonde man shoots up from his seat in surprise, fingers immediately going to the hilt of his sword before he recognizes me. He quickly drops his arm from it, but I saw all the same.

“Herald- I apologize for not seeing you before. Is there something you needed of me?” Cullen asks.

“Not very much. Did you sleep last night, Commander?” I ask in the same quiet tone. The same tone I usually use with hurt people and animals, one that I hope is soothing. He straightens and tenses a little, hesitant.

“No. I’ve just been caught up in my reports, I apologize for concerning you,” Cullen says. He’s always saying sorry. I wish I could be annoyed about it, but I do the same thing.

“It’s perfectly fine, Commander. I’m just worried for your health,” I say. There’s a itch in my fingers to comfort him somehow, but I know some people don’t like surprise physical comfort. “I just wanted to talk about a few things. I don’t presume to be an expert on military, but I got a few ideas on how we may improve our forces.”

Cullen nods, studying me for a few moments, and his gaze is critical.

“Alright. Have a seat, Lady Herald.”

He gestures to a chair pulled up right in front of his desk, and I sit down.

“Just call me Zoe. I’m far from highborn and I’m very iffy on the whole religious leader thing,” I tell him with a smile as he sits down himself.

“Apologies, La- Zoe. I insist that you call me Cullen then. What is it that you’re suggesting?” He asks, folding his hands on top of his desk and looking intently on me.

“One, teaching coordination between our battle mages and our normal recruits, preferably without Templars there to… guard them,” I start, and when he quickly opens his mouth I cut him off. “Please hear me out! I think creating friendship among all of our recruits would benefit our teamwork, and creating formations and teams of magic and no magic wielders could improve battle performance.”

“I’m not saying we exclude the ex-Templars, I’m just saying that we should let them both ease into each other's presences to avoid infighting. The Templars will probably have prejudices that will further bias the mages intended teammates, making things harder starting off.”

I’d thought about this towards the end out our trip in the hinterlands, watching me and my party slowly get better and better at interpreting each other's movements. It makes a well rounded fighting group if you have a mage in it, so it also makes a good way to start fixing mage prejudices! A good solution for a problem that could bite us in the ass.

Cullen nods slowly, eyebrows furrowed in thought as he stops focusing on me, but the back wall. Thinking. Which is good, because I have few ideas on how to actually implement this crap.

“This idea leads into my second one. I’m unsure of how familiar you are with it, but have you heard of gorilla warfare? Deadly surprise attacks?” I ask.

“Yes… that seems more like something Leliana’s men would be suited for, though,” Cullen says, looking in my eyes again. “It does! But imagine how quickly we could take out enemies if we had teams coming from a army’s rear rather than having our men face them straight on? It’s a good skill to have, even if it isn’t used often.”

“I see. You bring up good points, Zoe, I’ll think on your suggestions. I may be slightly… biased on your first suggestion, but I can say it is a very good idea. I’ll tell you if I decide to implement it,” Cullen says, giving me a small smile. I smile back easily. “Was there anything else?”

“Just a request for some statistics. I have what I would like listed here, so if you could at least count and let me do the percentages? I would really appreciate it.” I ask him, smile turning into a small grin as I pull out a piece of parchment with a small list of what I would like counted. Amount of soldiers we have total, amount of mages, the races, amount of males and females, stuff like that.

Cullen eyes the paper with visible pain.

“Of course. Do you truly enjoy doing these counts so much, H-Zoe?”

I nod quickly. “It’s important data! We can see how much we’ve grown in a few months, and I can check more wage differences.”

He almost sighs. “Of course. I will get my runners on it as soon as I can. I’ll see you at today’s war meeting, Zoe.”

I stand up from my seat and push the chair back in place. “Can’t wait. Please sleep more, Cullen. Eat something too, you’re pale.”

With that, I’m out in the cold again, smiling kindly at the soldier standing guard at the door and heading towards the blacksmith’s to check on Harritt. I grabbed a frack ton of metals for him, I really hope they aren’t bad quality.

Chapter Text

“Magic isn’t linear. It works by its own rules, on emotion and intent. You could be trying to make fire but make ice instead, because it feels more natural. You could make a barrier, but be so aggressive the whole thing explodes,” I explain quietly, legs crossed and in front of the kids.

The area around us is cold, but there’s no snow or dew on the ground thanks to my melting it all when we got here. It’s a small spot by the lake, a private spot by the lake just far enough from Haven to avoid making anyone nervous.

Birsa’s hand shoots up from the middle of the group, frowning in thought.

“Yes, Birsa?”

“So we need to get a hold on our emotions before we can do shit with our magic,” Her young voice states, and I sigh.

“Yeah, and watch the language kiddo. I’m not saying you block out your feelings- that usually only leads to setting things on fire or explosions. I’m saying that you understand your feelings well enough to channel them positively. Magic isn’t nice when you can’t control it, that’s part of why people are so negative about it.”

A boy calls out this time.

“Is this gonna keep us from getting posa-possessed?” He fumbles a little. He’s got green eyes and red hair some folks would kill for.

“It’ll help. You also bring me to our main topic for today, possession and avoiding it,” I explain, before lightly laying a hand on the ground and slowly managing to get a flower to grow.

How in the flip is this so easy? Am I just a weirdo or would it be this easy for everyone if they’d seen so many examples of magic in books and TV?

“Mana, what powers magic, is without feeling. For you to use magic you’ve got to tap into your emotional connection to the fade- or at least that’s how I’ve figured it. When you go to sleep you attract things in the fade with your emotions, be them negative or positive. Get it?”

Nods are all that greet me.

I focus in on my grief for just a moment and the flower at my fingertips withers away- eliciting the gasps I expected from a few of the kids.

“That is what happens when you’re using magic and focus on something not so nice feeling. Demons in the fade are attracted to those feelings. Pain, sadness, shame, cruelty, fear, and any weakness they can smell. They come to you wanted to tempt you into letting them in- and some people can’t handle keeping them away.”

My hand goes to my lap again, and I make eye contact with all of them, breathing in the cold morning air.

“That is how someone becomes an abomination. They let in something that wants to use them, and they are consumed by it. If you want to avoid that, I suggest on dealing with your feelings in a healthy way.”

“You’re kids, and that’s going to be really hard for the first while, but folks like us have gotta take care of ourselves to stay safe,” I explain to them, slowly and kindly. I don’t want them to get too scared, being scared of yourself would probably just make it easier to get taken by bad shit in the fade.

“How d’ we do that though?” A elven boy in the front asks me, sitting real close to a smaller elven girl. He’s got dark eyes, and he’s certainly not old enough to have any Vallaslin. The girl is ashy blonde like me, with silver eyes.

I lean back a little humming to myself.

“There’s a lot of ways. Breathing exercises can help when you’re mad, crying when you’re sad and talking to someone about what’s bothering you. Hugs definitely help, most any physical contact usually helps when someone’s unhappy,” I list off. My hand takes a quick run through my hair when I’m finished, and I watch the kids digest this information.

“There will always be danger when you can shoot fire at will, kids. Despite what the chantry says though, being possessed is only a problem if you let it be one. Almost every night I hang around my own pocket in the fade with spirits who could care less about sharing a body with me. Not that I suggest you make some spirit friends without supervision-! That’s a little much for you guys at your age.”

“Anyways, I think now I’ll teach you some of those breathing exercises-“

“Herald!” Someone calls from the direction of the village, and my head snaps in that direction quickly, immediately spotting a scout jogging over to us.

“What’s it, soldier?” I call back as he gets closer, slowly standing up and stretching.

“The Nightingale called an early war meeting. I apologize for interrupting you, m’lady.” He says when he stops in front of me, awkwardly looking from me to the still sitting kids on the ground next to us.

“No problem at all. Please don’t call me a lady though, I’m just as lowborn as everyone else here.” I tell him politely with a smile, slightly looking up at him.

The hell do people eat around here that makes them so fracking tall? I’m the same freaking height as Varric surrounded by people who are six foot or taller. Maybe it’s the fade doing weird shit and only the dwarves are normal.

The scout nods again, just as awkwardly, and starts hurrying back towards the town.

I turn and focus back on some suddenly more tense kids.

“I suppose not. I’ll be sure to continue this as soon as I can kiddos, alright? Come on. Let’s get back.” I tell them, gesturing with one hand for them to get up and start walking.

There’s some unhappy grumbling but they get up anyways, and I stay at the rear while they chatter.   

I wonder what Leliana needs to tell us all so quickly? Blackwall sightings maybe, or some news about talks with the chantry?

A small hand grabs mine and I look to my right, seeing one of the younger kids looking back up at me. Her hair is as dark as Cassandra’s, but her eyes are lighter. More of a milk chocolate brown?

Over analyzing is dumb. Stop that.

“Hello darling. Did you like my rambling earlier?” I ask her, gently holding her hand back.

She nods, hair bouncing with her.

“I’m happy you did. If I ever use any words you don’t understand, interrupt me. I don’t mind much.” I say as we pass the military encampment, noting the way my kids start to close ranks with the littlest of them towards center.

I just as gently before let go of her hand and nudge her towards the other kids.

“I’ll see y’all later today, okay? If you get hungry just tell Flissa to put it in my tab.” I tell them all, waiting for some nods and statements of confirmation before starting up towards the Chantry, wary of the icy steps and subtly evaporating it as I walk.

Am I abusing my newfound scientific law breaker?

Yes. Yes I am.

Smiling at anyone who makes eye contact with me, I head inside of the holy building, only pausing when I see Mother Giselle beckoning me towards her.

I force myself not to slump, and walk up to the Mother with the same small smile.

“Good morning, Mother.” I say, and she seems to look over my appearance and expression in a moment.

“Good Morning to you, Herald. I only wanted to check on you. In the flurry of you getting here yesterday I had no chance to speak with you.” Giselle tells me with her hands clasped in front of her.

She’s kind, and she’s really not a bad person. I just don’t like the way she makes me feel. Like I should just listen to her on principle. It’s not her fault, I’m probably just an ass.

“I’m dealing. Have you settled in alright? It’s cold, but it’s all we’ve got right now.” I flip the question in a obvious manner. She chooses not to ask about it further. I don’t want to talk about this with her, and I’m sure she gets that.

“I am quite settled, despite the cold. I must say though, my allergies have not agreed well with the different location.” The mother says, and I respond without thinking. “Local honey helps, a small spoon of apple cider vinegar too, if you can stomach it alone.”

Shit. Why haven’t my allergies been freaking out? They mess up when I go to Alabama, let alone a different world.

Fuck it, it’s probably magic bullshit. I don’t care.

“Oh! Thank you. I’m unsure if anyone raises bees in this climate, but I’m sure I can find some apple cider vinegar. I won’t keep you any longer, Herald.”

And with that, she leaves abruptly. Again?

Maybe that’s just how she ends conversations.

Shaking my head, I hurry over to the War room’s door and open it, stepping inside the warm, parchment smelling room.

“I’m sorry I’m late. I was out by the lake and got stopped by Mother Giselle.” I say, noting Leliana’s lax position leaning over the map, Cullen’s drowsy eyes, and Josephine’s pause at writing next to a continuously tense Cassandra.

“No harm done, Lady Avery. I only just came in myself.” Josephine tells me with a kind smile.

Goodness gosh she’s beautiful. Everyone in this fracking room is.

Well, except for me, but I’m okay enough when I actually wear a dress. And go outside.

“Yes. Now we can see why Leliana has chosen to call our meeting so early.” Cassandra says, looking over at the red head.

Leliana straightens up from her place.

“I’ve received a raven this morning that I believe you will all be happy to hear of. The clerics in Val Royeaux have agreed to speak with us, so long as Zoe is there.” Leliana says, clasping her hands behind her back.

“That is wonderful!” Josephine says.

“Indeed. They’ve asked to meet in a week or two’s time, if you leave tomorrow we will be able to get there before the time limit.” Leliana says, focusing on on me.

Tomorrow? Ugh. I just got back from a long ass trip.

Leliana seems to see the disappointment on my face and is quick to apologize in her own way.

“I realize that you do not wish to leave so soon after just getting back, but I assure you that you will be allowed to stay in Val Royeaux long enough to recuperate before being sent back here.” Leliana says, and I nod.

Does this mean I need to practice my meager French? I’m going to accidentally offend someone before we leave there, I’m positive of that much.

“I will alert Dennett that we’ll be needing horses ready, and the quartermaster for supplies. Herald, do you mind telling Solas and Varric of our next journey?” Cassandra says, pulling my focus to her.

“Sure, Seeker.”

“Now, since we’re already here, I have news on a certain marquee’s response…”


 

I find Varric at his home table by the fire, in the Tavern.

“Hey there, Smalls! Come on, sit down and order something.” He calls to me, and I feel a grin pulling at my mouth at the sight of him. I take a seat next to him, peering over at the letter he’s writing with no shame.

“Huh. That’s a lot of money the Carta owes you.” I hum, and he only laughs.

“Nosey, aren’t you? Yeah, I’m just trying to pull some favors right now for Nightingale. Inquisition needs more supplies and the Carta always delivers.” Varric says.

“Anyways, Seeker wanted me to tell you we’re moving out tomorrow to Val Royeaux. The clerics finally decided to see us.” I tell him and Varric grimaces.

“Already? Smalls you were dead on your feet yesterday, I dunno if that such a good idea.” He says. I can only shrug back. “The clerics want us to see them in at most two weeks. If we don’t leave quickly there’s a chance of being late.”

“Shit. Well, I guess I’d better hurry up on these replies. Go to bed early tonight, kid, and tell Solas he owes me six silvers.” Varric says, reaching over and ruffling my hair.

The hell did they bet about?

“Yeah okay. Same goes to you, Varric.” I reply, before getting up and hurrying out the door, towards Solas’s abode.

Eyeing the closed door, I knock for the second time in two days, and for the second time in two days he’s answering the door almost immediately.

“Good morning, Zoe.” He says in his almost always serene voice.

“Good morning, Solas. Cassandra wanted me to tell you we’re heading out for Val Royeaux tomorrow.” I tell him, and he lifts an eyebrow.

“Oh? Is that wise, considering we’ve just gotten back yesterday?” Solas replies, and I can tell from the tone he means the same thing Varric said. ‘You were lookin’ pretty rough buddy, you sure that’s a good idea?’ is the gist.

I agree with the gist, but assholish clerics don’t care about my personal needs.

“The clerics put a time limit on us, and it wouldn’t look good for us to be late.” Is all I shoot back, but the look on my face probably describes my feelings well enough. The apostate hums to himself, before tilting his head ever so slightly at me.

“Well, that is unfortunate. Was there anything else?”

Oh. Right.

“Varric says you owe him six silvers?? Should I be worried about my dear companions betting with each other?” I ask, both mildly concerned and amused.

His expression only turns utterly serene, but that twinkle in his eye says differently.

“Of course not. Any sort of bets made are purely in good nature. Tell Master Tethras that he should wait patiently before speaking so soon.”

What the-

You know what? Ima just let the famous dwarven author and the ancient elven god do their thing. As long as they don’t get maimed it ain’t my concern.

“...Kay then. I’ll see you tomorrow, Solas.”

“Goodbye, Zoe.”

Odd people. I’m surrounded by odd, odd tall people.

Chapter Text

The We stop by some chantry before we make it to Val Royeaux, something about a agent of Leliana’s handing over some reports since we’re passing through anyways, nothing too bad. 

“- should see fire and go towards Light.
The Veil holds no uncertainty for her,
And she will know no fear of death, for the Maker
Shall be her beacon and her shield-“ sounds from somewhere inside and suddenly, I can smell the burning dead in Haven. I can see grief stricken faces and I- 

Some small part of my mind thinks, ‘ You’re not there anymore. It’s just the Chant for the departed. It’s probably a trigger. ’ As if that knowledge could stop my hands from shaking and my stumbling steps.  

I’m fucked up. I’m so fucked up. I can smell the ozone from lightning magic, smell decay and death and the nausea inducing smell of that gook demons leave behind mixing with the blood-

I’m there. The breach is right there and a scout just died feet away from me. Cassandra is shouting in fury behind me and I send a ice spike through a demon’s head even if I’m shaking.

What if I mess up? What if I die and these people are left with the breach? What if one of the inner circle dies? My fault. It’d be my fault.

Somewhere someone is holding me. How am I getting held? People are dying and fighting and oh god stupid lightning troll-

“Zoe, I’m right here. Calm down, breathe, I’ve got you. I’ve got you. ” Someone- Varric says lowly and soothingly. Warm arms wrapped around me, someone’s crying? Am I crying? He’s warm like dad. I want my dad.

I can still smell it. I smell it like I’m still there, but I’m not. I’m not.

Catalog.

Warm arms, Varric’s comforting voice, the floor feels hard- wooden , and my tears are soaking Varric’s shirt.

Breathe in.

Hold.

Out slowly.

I want my Mama and Dad. I want them to hold me and tell me I’m safe.

That isn’t happening though. Varric is good enough.

Slowly I calm down, and we just sit for a moment.

“I’m fucked up. I’m fucked up for life.” I whisper shakily into Varric’s chest, holding him as close as possible. “Why’d it have to be the chant.

I’ll never escape stupid songs with religious connotation. I’ll just have to suck this up as much as possible for the rest of my life. Heck. Frick. Mother flipping pears.

“You’re not the only one who’s fucked up, Smalls. This- this shit isn’t your fault.” Varric tells me, rubbing my back. It isn’t. I sure as hell didn’t have a choice going up that mountain, that was made for me. Not that I would’ve done otherwise anyways. What’s one kid’s life in the grand scheme of everything? Very little. Less than little.

I just want to be okay.

“I’m sorry you have to deal with me. I’m sure you’d rather do something else than comfort some kid.” I tell him, despite not wanting to throw my stupid worry of being a bother out. Stupid. This is all utterly stupid.

“Don’t be sorry . Who the hell else was going to? Chuckles has a stick up his ass and Seeker looked like she wanted to flee.” Varric says patting my hair. I pull my face away from his chest and note the awkward position we’re sitting in on the floor. 

“I’m sorry. This stuff isn’t for kids, Smalls. You shouldn’t be dealing with this- this nugshit.” He says, lifting a arm and rubbing a hand down his face. Varric looks tired and older. Wearier. At least I wasn’t wrong in thinking these people deal with their adventuring too.

“I’d hope trampling through the wilds and killing people isn’t a kid thing.” I grumble, closing my eyes and taking a deep breath. It’s easier to smell the battle though, almost see dead that I made with my eyes closed. They open again to see a concerned looking Varric.

We’re in a small room, one of the cottages that grouped around the Chantry. All hardwood and faintly Smokey smelling.

The door opens before one of us can breach the silence. Solas steps inside like nothing’s wrong, such a calm face and bearing that lets me know he’s on edge. I wonder if I just shut down, or if my magic started flaring? Hopefully the first. The latter would be bad news bears.

“Da’lath’in.” He says, carefully shutting the door and taking in the situation.

“Ha’hren.” I reply, bringing a hand up to rub my eyes.

A momentary pause, and when I look at him again there’s a small question in his face, but he continues anyways.

“Cassandra has spoken to Leliana’s contact, and we’re ready to leave once our supplies are restocked.”

‘Are you okay to leave?’

My eyes shut and I take another deep breath, ignoring ghosts of blood I can smell with it.

“Okay. Thanks, Solas.” I say, leaning closer into Varric’s chest.

Tuelanen ama na, Da’lath’in.” Solas says, and all that’s left is a dwarf and a human and quiet silence.


 

It’s raining in my small grove in the fade, enough so that I have to picture a small cottage and porch for us to sit on, out of the downpour. I suppose I could stop it, but I miss just watching the rain from my porch with a sketchbook in hand.

Solas has to walk through it to the porch, and the disgruntled look on his face brings a smile to my own. The spirits of curiosity all look up from where they’re attempting to braid flower crowns, and Youth tilts his head at the bald elf from his seat on my lap.

“Hey, Solas.” I greet, watching him wring out his shirt with a suddenly much more amused smirk.

“Hello, Da’len. Did you have to make the rain soak through my clothing?” Solas asks with a slightly amused tilt in his own voice, and I cheekily shrug.

“So. How do you like my grove? It’s usually less… wet.”

Red headed curiosity makes a sound of triumph, picking up the flower crown they’d been making and plopping it on the brown haired one’s head. Blonde peers at it from his(?) own seat, looking from it to his own scattered group of flowers.

Solas smiles serenely.

“It is peaceful. I have never met a dreamer so young so quickly master manipulating the fade.” He says, settling in a chair next to my own. I shrug at him, looking down at youth’s head and run my fingers through the curls.

“The fade likes to be something different, and I ask nicely.” I tell him, looking up and at the rainy clearing in front of me. “I think most could do it if they just understood it’s all at their fingertips. Birsa’s been visiting sometimes since we left Haven.”

I see Solas nod at the corner of my eye.

“It is simple when put that way. Most mages, however, are less… understanding of the fade’s nature. In my own time exploring it I still doubt I fully understand it.”

A bright smile pulls at my lips.

Fade nerd. 

Youth taps my thigh a few times, pointing at the rain with the other.

“Ima play now.” Is what he says, and I remove an arm from around him, letting him slide off my lap and watching him speed walk down off the porch and into the rain with a happy laugh. Red hurries up from their seat to join him, gladly enjoying his babblings on a game he wants to play. 

“So. You know Elvhen?” Solas asks, and I look over into his eyes.

“A little. I had a few friends who spoke some, and a picked up what I could from there, Ha’hren. ” I tell him. Not lies, not when I did know a few people online who did know some.  

“Really? You truly are a peculiarity in your race, Da’lath’in.”

I cringe.

There’s the racism. Not malicious racism, just… racism.

“I find that it doesn’t matter what race you are in the subject of ignorance.” I say in a matter of fact manner, running my hand through my hair. “To ignore a entire culture’s rich history is a waste. So much is already forgotten thanks to the fall of Arlathan anyways, and the systematic oppression of the elves only made that worse.”

There’s a pause.

Would a peasant from the Free Marches be knowledgeable enough to say that?

...probably not. 

Fuck it, there’s holes in my story already. Leliana’s just too nice to poke at them yet.

Solas hums.

“Your words are true. Apologies, I have just gained a wariness to humans from experience.” He says, doing that head bow thing. I quickly wave him off.

“No, your point is valid to think humans as a majority are prejudiced to other races. I just think you should open your mind more to the possibility that not every human is like that.” 

Carefully not hostile. My inquisitor never had the chance to kindly steer Solas out of his elven glory mindset, to give my own honest opinion on the past and where it should stay. He’s my friend, and I don’t want to hurt him and smack his ideals.

It’s all in the tone of voice, calmly nonchalant. A small smile and relaxed posture.

Not that I’m not relaxed, but it all adds up to a nice picture.

“A very open minded way of thinking, though I should expect it from the young woman who ensured equal payment in the Inquisition.” Solas says with a smile, and my cheeks heat up.

“It wasn’t anything that shouldn’t have been done.” I say, slouching into myself a little and watching Brown hair attempt to help Blonde make a flower crown. It isn’t going well from the looks of all the broken stems.

“To you, It was. To others, it wasn’t even a thought in their minds.” He says, still looking at me.

That’s the problem though, isn’t it?

I can barely comprehend why someone would do cruel and unfair acts, unless from a dire life situation standpoint. I feel and I feel and for some reason any pain someone else is experiencing I have to take on myself, like a idiot.

Stupid strong sense of justice and mortality, you’re the reason I’m in this mess.

“True. I can hope that someone else would’ve done the same though.” I say, looking back at the old elf.

“Hope, but I would not have bet on it.”

The conversation lulls, and until morning we watch the rain fall.

Blondie never really gets the hang of flower crowns, try as he does.


 

Val Royeaux drips in wealth and prestige, and from it’s very gates we can all see the masked rich meandering like they’re one step down from the Maker and Andraste herself. 

I watch them silently as my companions talk and plan and plot. The grace disguising other flaws, the masks ruining their facial expression game, treating every conversation like it could ruin someone’s family business in a few words.

Self importance. Greed. Easy jealousy.

Not that they don’t all have good qualities, but it’s all so far down I can only see blurred pictures of their real personalities.

We walk into the plaza, and towards the platform the Clerics stand on.

“Good people of Val Royaeux, hear me! Together we mourn our Divine. Her naïve and beautiful heart- silenced by treachery.” A mother says from the top of the platform, and we walk towards the front of the crowd.

Here is comes.

“You wonder what will become of her murderer. Well, wonder no more.” She says, looking straight at me.

Well, ow. That actually hurts some. Do I honestly look like a terrorist?

“Behold. The so called Herald of Andraste claiming to rise from where our beloved fell.”

Claiming my fucking ass. This woman wouldn’t be talking so much shit if she- she saw what that mountain was like.

In.

Out.

It’s midday. Cassandra looks pissed. Varric is putting this in the book. Solas is leaning too serenely on his staff, looking up at the Mother.

“We say this is a false prophet, perhaps even a puppet. The maker would not send a child in our time of need.” The mother finishes, and I suppose this is the part where I say something.

“Mother, I’m not the person you should be asking about what the maker would and wouldn’t do.” I say as soothingly as possible, clasping my hands behind my back. “We came to talk to you, you requested we speak to you. I don’t know how this helps the immediate problem of sealing the breach.”

The mother only shakes her head at me, disbelieving.

“So you do not even believe in your own organization’s lies? An example of the obvious mistruths the Inquisition seeks to spread. We asked for you to come here and explain yourselves, and you offer only weak responses. Regardless, it is already too late.” The mother says, before pointing to a large group of Templars coming towards the platform.

I watch them carefully, loosening my stance and watching the Mother step back and make room for them, looking at the distance between me and her.

“The Templars have returned to the chantry! They will face this ‘Inquisition’, and the people will be safe once more!”

I watch the captain gesture to one of them, and I’m sprinting up onto the stage in a second, pushing the mother away and-

Fuck!

Ugh. That was my cheekbone. Agh, that shit is going to swell like a bitch.

I quickly turn to the shocked looking mother.

“Are you alright? Did I push you too hard?” I ask, completely ignoring the shocked looking Templar who punched me and a utterly unhappy three adults I rope along.

“Why would you-?”

What is the meaning of this, Lord Seeker? ” Cassandra seethes, and oh my god I can feel the pain on my entire left cheek. Not good. Ice and a healing spell later. Ugh I’m tearing up.

“Her claim to authority is an insult, much like the girl’s who got in the way.” The stupid Envy demon says coldly, turning and starting off the platform. 

“You will no longer address me.”

“Lord Seeker!”

The Envy demon says some more trash talking, but I’m more focused on rubbing any tears in my eyes away. Fuuuuck that really smarts.

“Mother, are you sure you’re okay? Men shouldn’t try and put their hands on old ladies.” I say angrily, suddenly focusing all of my annoyance towards said old lady on the prick of a demon who almost got the poor woman a cracked cheekbone and maybe concussion. I’m made out of harder stuff, thanks to magic and crap, but she might’ve been really hurt if hit in the temple.

“I- I am fine, child. Why would you do such a thing?” The Orlesian woman asks, distaste and concern warring on her features from her stiff posture to her twitching hands.

“What, because you voiced your opinion I should have let you get hurt? That’s stupid.” I say, shaking my head.

Cassandra makes her disgusted noise™, and I turn to see her watching the envy demon walk away. She turns on her heel and up onto the ramp, looking down at my face and eyeing the damage.

“Damned- that is not how a Seeker should act, Herald.” She hisses, visibly pissed at my self sacrificing getting me punched pretty hard on the face. I don’t know how I didn’t rag doll like the Mother did in the game, holy crapping Christ on a bike- ugh.

“Will you please consider an alliance now, Mother? The Templars are clearly being dickish right now, and we can always use more assistance.” I ask looking over at the Mother and Sisters standing to the side while Cassandra waves Solas over.

The clerics all look disgruntled at this.

“We will think on it, child. Do not assume one act can change the Chantry’s position on heretics.” The Mother says, but I recognize that some people will take this and see us better for it. Always good to get good publicity.

“Very clear, Mother.” I reply, before Solas gently takes my chin and hovers his hand above my already swelling cheek. 

“Foolishness and selflessness are often in the same actions, Da’lath’in.” He hums quietly.

“Completely true, Ha’hren.” I say back just as quietly, trying not to crack a grin and hurt more.

Chapter Text

Two steps away from the platform, an arrow misses my right foot by an inch. An inch.

‘I used to be an adventurer like you. Then I took an arrow to the knee.

Yikes. I’d rather not.

“Andraste’s tits- is that a note, Smalls?” Varric swears, putting a hand on his heart as Cassandra just almost draws her sword, still on edge. I pull the arrow up and gently take the note off of it, wary of tears.

Oh. Well, at least someone has worse handwriting than me.

Not to self, never mention that thought to Sera. Ever

‘People think you’re special, and you helped that granny. I want to help. I can bring everyone.

There’s a baddie in Val Royaeux. I hear he wants to hurt you. Have a search for the red things in the market, the docks, ‘round the cafe, and maybe you’ll meet him first. Bring swords.

Friends of the Red Jenny’

I grin, and say it aloud. Cassandra groans, Varric snorts, and Solas looks positively intrigued.

While we’re off on our scavenger hunt we’re stopped by Vic’s messenger too, and I get to read that aloud to everyone too. The party thing is in a week or so, and once we’ve grabbed all of the stuff that noble hid places we find out we have to meet him tonight.

So another week in Orlais until we can start heading home.

Ugh™.


 

I hate shopping. Idle wandering around with no clear goal for no reason other than browsing?

No. No thank you.

Varric, however, has other ideas. He happily drags me along, and by proxy Cass and Solas. Val Royeaux is far larger than the game liked to imply and I get to enjoy walking through its indoor and outdoor markets.

Perfumes and colognes fill the air for most of it, mixing with savory and sweet smelling foods on display. A few people speak French or Spanish loudly, but a strong majority are speaking trade speak, aka English. I stand close to Varric as he struts like he owns the place, peering over wares and stopping every once and a while to get a closer look.

“Varric, these talismans do diddly squat.” I hum next to him, fingering a utterly normal necklace with elven engraved on it.

“Indeed. They all say halla in them.” Solas says calmly, eyeing one in his hand carefully with the barest of a uplift on his lips.

One day, I’ll be as subtle as Solas. Eleven out of ten role model- then again he’s a lying ancient elven god…

Nine out of ten.

“I don’t see why we must dally about like this. Surely there are other more productive things we could be doing.” Cassandra cuts in before Varric can do anything but grin at Solas’s comment.

“Half agreed.” I say. I do need some better art supplies and some books, but browsing is satan. Stupid weird people in my life who enjoy it. These talisman aren’t even well carved!

Another note, I need to see if there are Tarot cards anywhere around here. Or get better supplies to make some myself and hope they work properly. They work best when you get them as a gift, but I don’t exactly have that option at the moment. Or ever at this point .

Depressing of me, moving on.

“Come on, you two! Shopping is fun, I get to find goodies.” Varric says with a grin, gesturing to a pretty looking halla statue.

Spending money makes me anxious. It probably always will, what with my not so stable upbringing, but it’s probably part of why I have such a distaste for shopping. I don’t like buying things for myself, and I don’t like other people spending money on me.

I frown, and we continue onward. I wanna play the freakin squeeze game.

Gently taking Solas’s hand into my own, the unfortunate victim since he’s walking next to me, and squeeze his hand twice.

He looks down and blinks at me questioningly. He’s confused by affection? Weird. Very weird. I must remedy this.

I squeeze his hand again, and he squeezes back, making me grin.

It’s not really a game, as anyone could tell from seeing it, but it’s familiar. Back in freshman year a best friend got into a car crash and couldn’t talk for a month and a half. It was… scary. So I’d take her hand in mine and we’d squeeze back and forth. Reassurance. She hasn’t been in good shape, and if one of her Intestinal injuries got missed-

Squeeze game. Right.

I squeeze back.


 

Ice freezes most of the soldiers near me in place, and at the corner of my eye I can see Sera hopping and flitting at the sides of the action. She’s fast and deadly accurate.

I shove away a man who gets too close to me and don’t wince when a crossbow bolt makes its way in his eye.

People are dying and you’re too much of a coward to do shit about it .

Thanks brain. Thank you so much. A fucking pleasure.

Cassandra bashes a man’s face with her shield and Solas sets a barrier just in time to protect Varric from a stray sword swipe. I kick a lightly armored man away and a arrow finds its way through his throat.

I’m going to have nightmares. God fucking bless.

They all fall in the end, most knocked out, others dead.

Sera jogs up with a grin on her face like the cat who’s just got the canary.

“Nobles, always trying for more than they can get. Name’s Sera. You’re the one with the glowy hand-” she pauses for a moment, looking me over with a tilt of her head.

“Shorter than I thought, younger . Whatever. ‘Sides, you’re tall where it counts.”

Penis joke. Don’t laugh at unintentional penis joke degenerate -

I keep it down, but grin back at her anyways. Now I’m thinking about Naruto fanfiction of all things.

“Suppose so. So you’re with the Jennys?” I ask, and she nods.

“Yeah. Like I said, I can bring in help from all over places, bring in calls for it. You’ve seen me in action too, so that’s a plus.” Sera says to me. I nod.

“Very helpful for the screening process at least. I know a little about the Jens, so I’m all for you joining up.” I say, and she visibly brightens.

“Oh? Heard a little about you bein’ little person, but I hadn’t believed it. Little people don’t just get power like that so easily, y’know? See it now though, no puff or elegance.” Sera says quickly and focus entirely on her words, noticing though the way Cassandra shifts a little at her words. Probably sort of catching what the elf means, though for people with no experience with the elf they’re doing pretty well.

I shrug. “Wasn’t really nothing, the breach was…”

Ozone .

“Not good.”

Sera nods along, but I know her and know she doesn’t get it yet. She will, and I hope it doesn’t shake her too bad.

“Anyways, suppose I’ll meet you at Haven then, right? I’ve got things to handle before I go.” Sera says quickly, straightening and hurrying off without a goodbye. I blink at the quick departure.

Yeah, she’s a little off her wagon, but that’s alright. Everyone in the inner circle is.

“Well, she was a character for sure.” Varric says to himself, and I snort. Cassandra makes her Disgusted Noise™ all the while Solas smiles, and we leave the small courtyard, leaving a forgotten bag of breeches.


 

I sit cross legged out on my room’s balcony, sketching out the pretty buildings in front of my quietly. Some sort of stringed instrument plays in the distance, probably at a restaurant or tavern this late, and I let the strokes of my hand fill my head. Keep out stupid thoughts.

I don’t want to see the fade tonight, I know exactly how fun it will be if a do.

Someone walks up behind me, and I tense.

“Ah, Herald, I did not realize you were out here…” Cassandra says awkwardly, and my grip on my pencil tightens a little. A lot.

It isn’t her fault. She wasn’t thinking clearly. She wouldn’t hurt you. It’s just Cass, romance loving and maybe Varric loving Cass.

I force my breathing to stay relaxed, ignoring the anxiety churning in my gut.

“It’s fine, Seeker.” I say quietly, forcing my pencil to start moving again and ignoring the little tremble in my hands. I’m terrible, I’m making her feel like shit right now. Stop being a brat Zoe.

The air is tense, and Cassandra takes in a breath to say something, stops, and sighs to herself.

“I… am not very good with emotions.” She murmurs and moves to the ground next to me, enough distance to not encroach.

Look at how she’s trying, don’t be a dick.

This thought process is faintly reminiscent of how people rationalize staying with abusive people, and that annoys me. Logically it is her fault for bullying a child when she is an adult. It’s her fault for not keeping a handle on her emotions and ultimately her fault that I’m acting like this. Not. Mine.

That, however, doesn’t change the rolling guilt and genuine fear in me.

“I hurt you that day, when you woke. It was dishonorable of me to act in that manner towards you.” She says just as quietly, and I glance over at the utterly tense woman sitting on the ground next to a fifteen-year-old girl.

“It’s fine-“ I try to say, quieter.

No. It was not fine. ” She hisses, fingers clenching into tight fists. “I acted like a overgrown bully unbefitting of my position as a hand to the divine. You are a child and I could not see past my own grief to comfort you, scared of me .”

She curls into herself a little, frowning severely with her eyes shut tight.

“I deeply apologize for my actions against you. As a Seeker, a hand, and as one who is meant to protect you.” Cassandra says, finally facing me.

I hold back tears. Why am I crying stupid hormones- stupid natural reactions.

“Thank you.” I say. Slowly I reach over and gently to her own hand into mine, shoving my nerves down and sniffling like an idiot.

“You were hurting, and you let out that hurt in a bad way. You are at fault, but-“ I swallow, “ I understand. I understand and I forgive. I won’t forget it for a long time, but I can forgive you.” I tell her, lightly rubbing my thumb against the back of her hand comfortingly. Love often, forgive moreso, but never forget. Forgetting gets your feelings broken.

She looks almost shocked. She nods though, a sharp one that speaks of duty.

“I am unworthy.”

“Don’t say that. Don’t ever say that. Your actions were unworthy of you, but you’re making an effort to fix them. That is worthy of you. Don’t worry on how worthy you think you are to me.” I tell her with a frown, moving my other hand to take her hand as well, sketchbook laying forgotten on my lap.

She frowns back, but it’s not a unhappy one. More of acknowledgement than than anything.

This is a step in healing. Don’t be a wuss Zoe.  

“Want a hug?”

She flinches at it in shock. The hell is up with these people and physical affection? Bullshit. I will slowly and softly worm my way into the easy comfort zone.

“If you wish it.” She says slowly, and I nod, pushing down my cocktail of feeling and gently hugging her.

Cassandra’s warm. This is nice.

She slowly relaxes, taking a deep breath and hugging before just as gently hugging me back.

This doesn’t just fix my anxieties and fears. That isn’t how the brain deals with trauma. But this? This helps, even if only a little. She’s hurting, I’m hurting, and sometimes you just have to…

Breathe. Take a deep breath to fill up your chest, hold it, and release. Stewing in all of your bad feelings will only make you miserable, and that isn’t how I want to live.

The next morning is much less awkward than it’d been before between me and Cass. Solas and Varric notice, of course, but besides curious glances they don’t say anything about it.

I’m more worried about the obvious exhaustion in my eyes and looking through books on Orlesian noble customs and family trees in an effort to not embarrass myself during Viv’s dumb party that she’d probably only set up because I was in town.

The interbreeding is gross, it’s all borderline bad incest, of which I usually don’t judge unless it makes baby Joffrey’s a’la Game of Thrones style, but there’s no way the lack of variety in the gene pool is helping any of these people. So I have to keep track of enough names to not sound like an idiot, but I can barely remember names after speaking to the person for months , so it’s slow going.

Someone pushes me some toast and tea, of which I aggressively eat, not looking up from the De Ghislain family tree, Viv’s hubby’s family or whatever. They have connections with the royals for fucks sake, they’re rich as hell , and probably have branches in every other major family in Orlais.

Headache. I’m getting a headache. At least I know who to call ‘Madame’ and ‘Your Grace’. Should I go in a dress? The inquisitor just waltzed right in in the game, but Inquisitors always give little craps about that stuff anyways. I could play on how young I am, maybe a flowy dress? Sundress type flowy dress? Flower crown??

I don’t know. I’ll mail Josephine today, she’ll get back to me by tomorrow if it kills the crow that has to carry it, bless her.

“Doing alright there, Smalls?” Varric asks beside me, and I look up from where I was staring blankly at the page. Varric looks both amused and slightly worried.

“Uh, yeah? Maybe? Just trying to think on how not to utterly destroy my reputation with the stupid nobles.” I say, leaning over and letting my pounding head rest on his shoulder, eyes shutting. It’d be easier to establish myself as a ignorant hieratic, but it benefits me more to seem like a young, endearing , peasant who so happens to be at the head of a powerful organization.

Underestimation is the worst mistake you can make. Always expect more than what it seems from an opponent.

I sound like an old politician. Ew.

“That is a lot of thinking over breakfast.” Solas says, and I don’t have to open my eyes to realize he’s making that dumb face of his. The one with the fake innocence. I peak an eye at him.

Yeah. That one. Stupid high cheekbones, I’d smooch him if he weren’t so darned old.

“We owe those vultures nothing from us. I say we go as we are and be done with it. They will judge us nonetheless.” Cassandra says from where she’s eating an omelet in full armor.

I try not to snort. I do. My head pounds harder in retaliation.

“You underestimate the power of an impression, Seeker.” Solas says simply, and Cass huffs at him.

My eye shuts again.

“Their impression of me will affect how they treat my authority and the validity of the Inquisition. As I am, I’m not very intimidating. If we play on that, then we can use whatever charms I have to make them like us. If they like us, then we gain support.” I explain slowly, leaning into Varric more when he wraps an arm around my shoulder.

“Already thinking with the game in mind, Da’lath’in?” Solas asks, and I hum.

“Playing the game is what they want, so they’ll get it. I was gifted with the ‘ great’ ability of understanding people and how they work. If I use that to manipulate these dumb dumbs and they fall for it? Their fault. I don’t feel bad.” I explain.

I really don’t feel bad about playing these people. The nobles of France had a history of oppression, and I can see it here too. They’re a century or less to getting a revolution anyways, suckers.

( Not actually, I don’t really wish for people to get their heads cut off via fast moving, sharp metal. )

“Very conniving of you, Smalls.” Varric says sarcastically, ruffling my hair. I open my eyes just to make a clear show of rolling them at him. He snorts.

An eleven lady comes in holding a tray with more tea on it and I give her a big grin despite my stupid head.

“Thank you very much, ma’am.” I say when she sets it down, watching her eyes widen with shock at the acknowledgment. Her face is gaunter than it should be, wrists small, and there’s a trace of red in her pale blonde hair.

Early malnutrition, continued bad diet.

Something in me hardens.

“There is no need, my Lady.” She says, quietly, looking down at her feet. She’s old enough to be my mom, she shouldn’t be looking like I’m better than her or some stupid shit.

“No, ma’am, there is a need. Thank you for serving us, and I apologize for not saying it when you first came in. Here…” I say, reaching into my coin purse and pulling out a large handful of coins, ones of varying value.

I don’t need them, not as much as her. I get food and boarding, along with the ability to keep anything I find on my missions. She needs this much more than I do.

My head pounds, and she protests as profusely as she can without breaking the meek way she holds herself, but there is no way in the name of Hades I’m not helping her. Bullshit conditions, I should yell at the Empress at some point after I get Orlais’ triad on the throne. No, I should rip her a new ass in a way that would make my parents proud.

She leaves after that, and I sit up triumphantly. Stupid. This is stupid and it’s stupid as hell that that woman gets treated differently for the shape of her ear. Why is it intelligent life can never just play nicely with each other?

I then realize that my three companions are staring pretty heavily at me.

Varric is approving, Solas is very approving, and Cassandra looks like she approves of my quick reaction to help and not getting hit for it this time.

“How does one stage a workers revolution?” I ask myself aloud, and then the silence isn’t there anymore, making me grin through my headache.


 

The party had been stressful, so I happily let Viv wisk me away to where ever, keeping my ‘smiley youth’ face on the entire time as I take in my surroundings.

She pauses at a window, so I do as well, tilting my head at her a little.

“It was nice of you to stop that man from before, though the verbal thrashing could’ve been a touch much.” I hum lightly, watching her smile widen a smidge.

“Don’t worry your pretty head, darling. The man deserved far more than a bit of frost bite and a tongue thrashing I’m quite sure.” She says.

I nod, glancing out into the night.

“Of course, the Inquisition always has use for those willing to help others.” I state.

Her smile widens at the corner of my eye.

“Oh? Well that does sound like a wonderful idea. Orlais does get boring sometimes, these summer months.” Viv says.

“Mhmm. The mountains could use more beautiful people, there’s mostly nugs and snow about.” I nod along. There’s no way she actually believes I act like this normally, but only Zeus knows who’s hiding around here to get some juicy gossip.

She laughs delicately. It makes me want to roll my eyes at her. I don’t.

“Well, how could I say no when you phrase it like that? Oh, it will take me a bit to pack though… I suppose I’ll meet you back at your mountain when possible?” Vivienne says.

“Of course. Shame you won’t be traveling with us, so few other mages to speak with.” I tell her.

It isn’t. I love Viv, she’s apart of my circle, but boy can she grate the nerves sometimes. Our views just… conflict too much.

I leave with a tray-full of fancy cookies, carried by a subtly chewing Solas when we make our getaway.


 

It takes a week to get back to Haven. A very long week as I aches for a shower and a real toothbrush, as opposed to the charcoal toothpaste/rub I’d made in desperation. My mom makes soap . Do you really think I’m going to just suffer with gross breath and smell? No. No I will not.

It’s early morning when we get in, so I’m not as bone tired as I was last time I came back, but my first stop is the cabin the check on the kids.

I open the door and make a quick count.

Okay. All accounted for. Note, draw Birsa and lil’ elf’s cuddling later.

I drop my travel bags in the entryway and exit the cabin again, peering around at the few soldiers, scouts, and servants awake. Reminder, check on Cullen and make sure he’s sleeping.

He probably isn’t. Second reminder, get him some lavender oil.

I trudge through the fresh powder towards the Chantry, running two hands through my hair and nudging the small door open with my hip. It’s much warmer in here.

I continue through the war room, then Leliana’s tiny office she only uses for holding paperwork, and take the paper she sets aside for reports. My right hand goes down into my jacket for a pencil, and after some patting I pull it out and plop down on the floor. I slowly fill out all the important details of the trip with a book under my paper and drooping eyelids.

Panic attack, Lord Seeker is a serious dick, saved an old lady = + brownie points with everyone, recruited pretty blonde elf, bought some stuff and stopped an assassin, recruited fancy pretty mage, killed some Tevinter on the way back…

Light pokes to my forehead bring my back to consciousness, and I blink blearily at a purple gloved finger.

“Oh. Hey Le Le.” I murmur, reaching over and lightly patting her shoulder, feeling the muscles under.

Huh. Someone trains daily.

“Hello, Zoe.” She says, smirking from her crouched position with my report in hand.

“I’m just waking you for the war meeting.” She explains and I nod, slowly standing and stretching, hearing a few cracks.

I yawn. “Kay. Did my kids do anything dumb while I was gone?”

“They terrorized any circle mage we tried to have teach them, though that might be your influence.” Leliana says, and I grimace.

Ima have to talk to them about that.

We step out of the small room and into the war room, where a tired looking Cullen and furiously writing Josey are.

“‘Morning everyone. To start, I’m pretty sure we’ve got some Chantry support, and an offer from the mages to get their help.” I start, and from there the conversation gets a little…

Cullen is less set on the Templars after he heard about the old lady incident, not gonna lie. He barely likes me and he looked a little pissed at the actions.

Jose is happy that my plan worked out well, since she’s received letters about me and asking about me after my appearance at Viv’s party. She’s not happy about the two marriage proposals that’ve already shown, but Cullen and Cassandra are just as annoyed so I’m assuming it’s not that important of an issue issue.

Leliana likes the new informants Sera’s brought in, She likes my punching gaining support, and she especially likes that I played the game. For the most part she’s usually happy about what I do. Alignment of interests I suppose.

There’s more debating about Templars or Mages, but overall the meeting was just to get everyone up to date, rather than make any serious decisions.

After it, Leliana holds me back.

“I have something I need to talk to you about.” She says and I nod, looking up at her.

“A few months before the Conclave, I noticed a sudden decrease in Grey Warden activity. I have a good few contacts in their ranks and none of them will respond or acknowledge my requests for information.” She explains.

Oh, Blackwall.

“You think it’s related.” I state, and she nods.

“I don’t want it to be so, but it is suspicious. I’ve tracked one Warden down to the Hinterlands, a recruiter named Blackwall. When you set out next I want you to see what he knows.” Leliana says.

“Got it. Oh, I forgot to ask, those towers got completed, right?” I say and she nods. “Just a few days ago. I’m also told the scouts sent to gather the supplies you spoke of were successful, so I have no doubt that Corporate Vale will be easily swayed closer to us.”

We part ways and I yawn again, hurrying through the Chantry, hoping that who I think is out there is out there.

I step through the doors and-

Ah. Krem a’ la krem.

“Ah, excuse me?” He asks, and I turn to look at him with a big smile.

“Yes?”

“I’ve been trying to get someone’s attention, but no one will listen to me.” He says with a sigh. I step to the side to let a elven lady with a huge basket of clothes through the door.

“I can take your message. What do you need?” I ask, and his face brightens. Such a. Best boy, right with Cole.

“I’m with a mercenary group, and our chief is interested in joining up with the Inquisition. We’re called the Bull’s Chargers.”

“Really? And where would you want to meet?”

“On the Storm coast. Chief’s heard some rumors about Tevinter activity up there and thinks it’d be a good place for a demonstration.” Krem says, and I nod along.

“Alright! We’ll be there in about a week and a half, I’ve gotta take my party out to the Hinterlands after that for a little.” I say. Krem looks confused for a moment before looking surprised.

“You’re the Herald!” He says, and I nod with a smile, looking up at him.

“So I’ve been told. You’re very handsome.” I inform him. He blushes. I count that as a win.

Chapter Text

The Storm Coast feels like home.

It’s humid, rainy, and there’s more rocks than in Florida, but it’s familiar. It’s familiar and it aches.

“You look entirely too happy in the rain, Smalls. Stop it.” Varric grumbles at me and I laugh. My sketchbook and stuff are shoved away in a waterproof crate, so I have no problem with getting rained on.

Varric does not agree, as he looks like a drowned cat. Cass looks majority indifferent and Solas is mildly inconvenienced.

A weird bunch, we are.

The wagon stops and I look around it’s cover and see a small camp partially kept away from the drizzle by an overhang.

Hopping down and test freezing the ground, I note how easy it happens. I melt it again just as easily, and walk over to a equally drenched looking scout Harding. We share small grins.

“Herald.” She says.

“Scout.” I reply.

“The Chargers are camped down below, taking care of the Tevinter problem their chief sniffed out. Quick warning for you though, he’s a Qunari. A big Qunari. Besides that, there’s been mentions of a lot of cave spiders running around. That, and a Merc group called the blades of Hessarian are harassing anyone coming through. We sent some scouts to negotiate, but…” Harding trails off.

I grimace.

“I’ll look into it, Harding. Stay safe, alright?” I tell her, and she nods.

“Right back at you, Avery. I wasn’t joking about those Blades, do not let them take you prisoner, kid.” Harding says, and my insides turn to ice.

Don’t let them take me-? Oh.

Shit. That fucker of a leader is even higher on my shit list now. Much much higher.

Her and I share a bro arm clasp before our group and I start heading down the cliff.

“Are you alright, Zoe?” Cassandra asks after we’re quiet for a while.

“Yeah, just- don’t let me get taken prisoner. I don’t care how much my hand is worth, I refuse to do that. I don’t-” I cut myself off.

I’d rather die.

“We would not allow that to happen, Da’lath’in.” Solas says seriously, and the tone makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up.

Oh yeah. I’m friends with a god. Keep forgetting.

My stomach still feels sick.

I’m tiny, soft looking. Easy prey.

I’d stuff them full of ice, then shock them.

We stop at the very edge of the fight, and focusing on that eases my nausea a little.

Holy shit he is big. He’s a fucking giant.

I must’ve whispered it aloud, because Varric snorts.

Bull cracks skulls with his maul and attracts most of the Vints to himself, letting them come to him.

I watch in awe as he easily finishes off the Tevinter with his men. They all drop to the stoney ground and I blink when Bull turns to us and focuses in on me with his single eye.

Wonder how big his dick is.

I forcefully try not to burst into laughter at my thought process, and focus on the fact that I’m being analyzed by I lift up a hand and wave with a small grin.

Yes Zoe, show him how much of an idiot you are. Wave to the fucking seven foot Qunari.

How even.

“Hey there!” He shouts, grinning back at me and pouring himself a drink, and I a drink. He hands it over and I’m pretty sure I’m facing a grey, tattooed wall.

I eye the amber liquid, take a sip, grimace, and set it to the side.

Bull laughs.

“A bit too bitter for you, huh? Well. Now you’ve seen the Chargers at work. Any questions?” Bull asks, and I let a hand run through my wet hair.

“Le Le’s handling the pay, right? I’m bad at mental math and Josey never lets me see her budget sheets.” I ask and he chuckles. Easy to please crowd?

“Yeah, your spymaster already settled that with me, but the cost isn’t important. What’s important is that you get me, not just the Chargers. A personal bodyguard willing to fight anything. The bigger the better.” He says, and something about that bigger part sounds suggestive. Not towards me, of course, but in general.

I hum and tilt my head like I’m really contemplating it.

“We could always use more help, and the more the merrier.” I say simply, standing up and walking over to his sitting form, holding out a hand.

Her takes my hand very gently as I marvel about how his entire hand is bigger than my face. We shake on it, and forgetting that he sees me as I stranger I compare my hand size to his, awestruck.

“Holy shiz.” I mutter. “What kind of milk did you drink when you were a kid, and where can I get some?”

Bull laughs again.

“Nothing you could find this far south, kid. How’d you get so tiny?”

“Islander blood.” I say with an exaggerated sigh. “Curse you grandma, and your short height.”

“Islander blood? I heard you were Free Marsher.” Bull asks and I shrug.

“Grandma wanted off the Island, so she married a Navy boy.” Is what I say, like that’s all I need for things to make sense. It isn’t a lie.

My unease creeps back in as soon as we’re going through the woods on the cliffs, and little tendrils of frost come up my fingers. Logically I recognize I have four people protecting me and magic, but my brain also wants to tell me how many bad ways this could end. Which is apparently many.

Varric, being the aware man he is, stays close to me, shoulder to shoulder close, and I would hold his hand if he didn’t need to be constantly ready to draw his crossbow.

“Did you know if you shove a thumb in someone’s eye socket and push it to the side they’ll either seize or pass out? My best friend’s dad taught me that.” I say, awkwardly trying to fill the silence. The quiet gains more purpose when the three who’ve been with me realize that’s another nugget of my ‘mysterious past’ they haven’t heard before.

“Really? He ever used it on someone?” Bull asks.

“Nah. He was more of a ‘punch them until they pass out’ guy. He told me that cause I’m a bit small for that.” I say.

“Well, if a guy is ever up close and personal that works. Or scratch them.” Bull says.

“Mhmm. Varric says I grab my boot knife and stab ‘em in the dick first though.” I comment and half the group guffaws or snorts.

Varric because he didn’t think I’d tell anyone he said that, Bull because he got caught off guard, Solas is trying to fight a indulgent smile, and Cassandra makes Disgusted Noise™.

See, Varric had found out I didn’t own a weapon and lived too long around Lowtown to be emotionally and mentally okay with me not having one at all times. Thus, boot knife. Someone tries to grab me I stab them in the genitals and run.

Bless Varric.

“I would ask that you not corrupt the Herald, Varric. You already helped her with those blasted earrings.” Cassandra grumbles.

“Aw, Seeker, you know I was just an accomplice! How could you say no to that face?” Varric says, gesturing to my face. I snort.

“Besides, they look interesting! Just wait until I start asking our tattooed friend here who gave him his.” I pipe in, looking over at Bull and waggling my eyebrows.

“Please do not.” Cassandra says.

“Please do.” Varric responds.

The frost melts away on my fingers. See? You’re fine. You will be fine.


 

I try hard not to cry when we step into the shack, but when I see the scouts-

Oh no. ” Varric says quietly, crouching down by them, checking fruitlessly for pulses. Cassandra is like stone beside me, and Solas beside her.

I roughly wipe at the wetness by my eyes and power walk over to the note on the table, reading it with blurry eyes.

Fuck. Fucking fuck.” I hiss, hands shaking. You were expecting this, weren’t you? Why are you so pissed?

Because I was hoping I’d be wrong. Apparently not.

“What is it, Da’lath’in?” Solas says, coming up beside me and gently taking the note from the table. His expression blanks for just a moment, before a dull ‘ah’ sound leaves his mouth.

“They’re dead, have been for a day or so, from the looks of it.” Varric says behind us. We should have came quicker .

“And the men who did it left us a lovely note.” I say with an angry grimace. “Their leader is challenging me to a fight, and they suggested making a amulet so I’d just be fighting him.”

There’s a momentary silence at that declaration.

“Can you use magic…?” Varric asks.

“Never said anything against it. Do I freeze him inside out?” I ask right back. I remember how big the guy was in game, though I wonder if I can pull a fanfiction and have Bull jump in? Maybe?? This is very bad. Oh god this counts as premeditated murder doesn’t it? Does it count if the feeling is mutual?

“Yes. You should. I would suggest lightning spells as well, to be sure. ” Solas adds, a dangerously blank face as he does so.

How the hell did I endear him to me so much? Was it the squeeze game? Eh, probably. That one tends to make people like me.

“Not to bump in, being new and all, but are we sure throwing a kid at a merc leader is a good idea?” Bull says, standing beside Cassandra with his arms crossed, back not quite to the door.

“It’s fine.” I say, trying for a reassuring smile that probably isn’t all that real looking.

The Qunari stares at me with his one eye, and I resist the urge to squirm. I get the distinct feeling that he’s unimpressed with my attempt at easing his worry. Really don’t blame him though, I don’t feel reassured in the slightest. I’m a little chick with very little combat experience outside of Thedas, and I’m not even sure how I’m going to feel about killing doggies.

“Well, at least if I’m not you can probably get the hand, alright?” I say with a sigh, scrubbing a hand through my hair frustratedly. “I’m sorry, but he wants me to fight him y’all. We can’t exactly lie and let the mercs get bound to some poor scout.”

Cassandra frowns deeply. “It is not an agreeable situation in any way, I agree. Come, let us head back to camp and see if they have any of the items needed for this amulet. ” The word amulet is said with such distaste I resist the urge to grin.

“Agreed, rain is letting up anyways.” Varric says tiredly, beckoning us out the door with his chin as he starts walking.


 

Stars, hundreds of thousands and a purple green nebula all stare down at me from where I lay on the cart.

The rain cleared out, though one of the local scouts easily points out that it’ll most likely be back in a day. I don’t care particularly much. I get to look up at a whole different galaxy of stars, and it’s beautiful. New constellations and new stars that peer down. They aren’t mine, not my planet’s stars and sky and constellations, and it aches , but this is nice.

“Enjoying yourself, kid?” Bull says next to me, and I turn my head to see him looking down at me from beside the cart, a smirk on his scarred face.

I hum and nod, reaching over slowly and lifting his arm up, peering at his hand again carefully. He doesn’t stop me, though I did give him a large window to do so, so I eye up the little and big silvery scars on his palm and digits.

“Wonder if I’ll ever get callous like your’s.” I murmur, my own hands completely lacking the tough skin, weirdly soft even for my own world’s standards.

“Doubt it, kid. You’re a bit too soft for that much fighting.” Bull says with a small laugh, head half tilted as he watches my focused examination. “You this friendly with everyone you meet?”

I blush, because I do that stupidly easily. “Ehhhh, depends? I like being nice in general, but you’re nice too? And you don’t care if I stare stupidly at how freaking huge you are? I dunno.” My response is stumbled through, as I remember the guy has only known me for a day. I mean, how do you explain that you were already friends with a guy before he’d even met you? Not well, and certainly not this soon after you watch him crack Tevinter sculls in half with one big ass cleaver- thing.

Though I highly doubt Bull would hurt me, not like that. He- that just wouldn’t happen.

Then again, Cassandra had been pretty willing to throw you to the wolves, hadn’t she?

Fuck off. Stupid ass hormone driven doubts that aren’t relevant. No one was having a good time that day. Absolutely no one.

Oh, I should probably improve my relationship with Rodrick when we get back, huh? My whole avoiding people I don’t like isn’t really good for the keep people alive thing.

“Chief, what’re you- Andraste’s tits , Chief. Why are you standing over the Herald?”

A wild Krem appears, and damn is he handsome.

Oh wait, shit , I said that oUT LOUD-

Bull laughs roaringly, using his free hand to pat his second in the back, hard.

I pointedly don’t use Bull’s hand to cover my face. It ain’t my damned fault that everyone I know is hotter than hell. And that Krem is closer to my age. Mariana would agree-

I shove my sudden feelings down, deeply , because I can work that out in the Fade and crying ruins moods.

“I swear to gosh I’m not trying to make you uncomfortable, I’m just bad at not voicing surface thoughts.” I say quickly, sitting up and gently patting the young man.

“It’s fine! Just- was not expecting it.” Krem says, rubbing the back of his neck while Bull grins down at him, then at me.

“Oh really? Any other thoughts?”

I’ve dug this far, might as well make it to China.

“Literally all the adults around me are stupidly attractive, and I am woefully a teenager.” I inform him with a completely serious face. Quiet for a moment, and I start laughing, unable to keep it up.

“Not that I’d tap at this age anyways, I’m very smol and not responsible enough to trust myself with mature decisions like that.” I say with a dumb grin, patting Bull’s hand. “Ten years? Who knows. Anyways, I’m gonna go draw something.” I state, gently dropping Bull’s hand and scooting off the cart, towards my tent.

Did I just tell the Iron Bull that I’d tap that if I were older?

… Yeah.


 

I don’t want to talk about the spiders, or the creepy crawlies, so I won’t. The only statement I have is properly described in frantic, mental screaming.

Bull had fun though, so… good for him? Yeah. Focus on the positives.

Anyways, Solas almost gets stabbed more than usual, if that’s notable at all. It might be his elfy-ness, or the magic, but a lot of the people out to murder us almost get him more than once. Of course, the elf is as placid as ever, happy to stare serenely onward at the horizon after setting a pyre on fire for the people we… handle .

Am I worried for the mental state of a ancient god? Yes. Yes I am. Is he onto it? If the easy dealing with my constant hand holding and patting is evidence, probably. Solas is many things, and blind is not one of them. As to be expected with all those eyes, hahaha. Ha.

Ugh ™.

It’s stupid to care about someone who intends on absolutely ruining the world, but he’s still a person, regardless of that. One who probably cares about me too? The man is a mystery, even with all my weird emotional intelligence.

“Ha’hren.” I state, watching Varric talk to Bull about horn balm and where the hell one gets it, while Cassandra tries very hard not to be interested.

“Da’lath’in.” Solas replies. I give him a withering look.

“What’s bothering you? Please don’t redirect it either, I know what upset looks like.” I say, watching his expression carefully. Not even a flinch, though he does smile and turn to look at me.

“Do you see through me so easily, so soon?” The apostate asks, and I snort. We’ve been in constant contact for almost two months now, I doubt that I could be less close.

“Apparently yes, Solas. Is it something you’d prefer talking about alone?” I ask.

“Ah, no. Right now is fine, I suppose.” He murmurs, taking a sweeping glance at our surroundings.

“I’ve not been able to get a more… full nights sleep since we came here. It may be the frequency of rifts in this small area, I’m unsure, but it has not been an enjoyable experience.” Solas says in that same quieter tone, and I can see a slight pull of frustration in his features. My hand goes to his, and I gently squeeze it.

“Then I guess we just close them.” I say just as quietly, smiling comfortingly. My marked hand glows a little from where it’s pressed against his. “Should be pretty easy. We’ve got a new, much bigger guy to help.”

Bull’s loud laughter starts up in front of us, probably at a joke made by Varric, almost on cue. Solas hums, and though he’s still frustrated, I can tell it’s not so much.

How the heck did he get so much closer so fast? Pack bonding? Imprinting?

Heheh, ‘ YOU NAMED MY DAUGHTER AFTER THE LOCKNESS MONSTER?!

Dead meme, but still enjoyable.

A very familiar roar sounds from behind us, and I call up ice on sheer instinct.

BEAR!

Me and the original gang have freaking PTSD from the Hinterlands I swear to god. If I never see a bear again after this it’ll still be too soon.

 

Chapter Text

The amulet weighs heavy around my neck.

Mercy’s crest, is what it’s called, a stupid name for it’s purpose. To negotiate and/or challenge whoever is in charge.

This is all utterly stupid.

I walk through wooden gates with blades of Hessarian watching me and my party.

“They sent a kid?” Someone asks none too quietly. I agree. They did send a kid, the kid volunteered .

Bull is right at my back, looking intimidating and looking the part of a bodyguard. Which he is, of course. It’s easy to forget when you’re playing a game where he flies off with wild abandon, but every fight we’ve been in so far has been him watching me like a hawk.

We stop in front of a throne, with a monster of a man sitting in it. He’s got at least two feet on me, though Bull is taller, and he’s got a mean looking expression on his face.

“So you’re accepting my challenge, little girl? I’ll tell you what, if you lose I’ll keep you and that marked hand of yours for myself.” He says with a cruel grin. I try to shove away the ice in my stomach and the pressure pushing it’s way up my neck, and my eyes narrow dangerously at the older, bigger man.

Shove him full of ice and shock the ever loving shit out of his body.

“I won’t lose.” I say quietly, and he laughs.

Jesus, I’m pissed at him but I’m about to murder a person-

Shut the hell up brain, he’ll do worse to us if we lose.

He stands up from his seat, and people move back into a large circle around us, including my companions. I roughly rub the growing ice off my fingers as rain drips off of me, watching the leader draw his sword in a large arch, making a show of it. I shift my legs, one forward one back, and my hands up by my face.

“Andraste guide the strongest blade.” A blade says up at the front of the circle, making a chopping motion with his arm. My opponent makes a quick slicing motion towards my chest, but I step out of the way quickly. With every tap of my feet to the ground a ice sickle shoots out of the moist and puddle ridden earth towards him. He dodges every single one, grinning ferally and sending swipes towards my shoulders and head.

“Quick on your feet, but how long can you keep that up, girly?” He asks, trying to stab me while I focus on his talking. I turn to avoid it quickly, but it cuts my light armor easily.

I have to get closer to freeze him from the inside, there’s too much water to focus on just him.

Remembering my dad’s advice on how to handle bigger opponents, I steel myself and get right into his guard, sending a ice covered punch straight to his groin.

There.

The ice spreads and I watch in morbid horror as the water on him freezes, then I feel it freeze under the skin.

I think I’m going to puke. Oh god.

He’s dead before he can do more than whimper.

Some people are cheering, I can hear it past the ringing in my ears. The ice melts away from my unmarked hand and I rub both my eyes as the body drops with a thump.

That’s twenty seven.

A warm, calloused hand goes to my shoulder, and I lean into Varric’s side, looking up instead of at the body.

“You did it, kid.” Varric says, squeezing my shoulder and steering me away from the body. I wonder just how much what I did hurt. Certainly wasn’t like a fucking paper cut.

I only hum in acknowledgement, looking back to the front and watching who must be the second in command coming towards me, Cassandra in the background pulling up the Inquisition banner on the flagpole.

“Good riddens, Herald.” Is what he starts with, and I idly ponder how long it’ll take for me to go back to camp and sleep. “The man was a pig and a disgrace to the Hasserian. The Blades are at your command, milady, hopefully for longer than that lout.”

I nod. “We can hope. I have scouts posted outside the fortress, they’ll be coming in as soon as they see our banner. We can talk more on what you’ll be doing as soon as they get situated.” I say quietly, never leaning away from Varric’s now half hug. The man nods easily, all while some Blades carry away the body behind him.

I ignore my watering eyes and let out a sigh.

 


 

 

“You’re a murderer!” My mother’s voice accuses, yelling and angry. It makes me want to cry because how could she be wrong? How could that be a lie, when I’ve been keeping count?

“My mom would never call me that.” Is what I say though, and it’s true. My mom would rather punch herself in the face than say that when she knew I already felt guilty. The demon behind me wraps its hands around the my neck warningly. “Are you so sure?” It asks, still using her voice.

“I am.” I say quietly with complete conviction, gently placing a hand on dangerously tightening fingers. They don’t feel like her’s, but they look enough like them that the demon must have grazed a surface thought.

“They would all hate you for what you are.” It says again, changing angles right in my ear, sounding so much like my little middle sister I could cry. At least I get to hear her voice.

I smile a little. “No, they wouldn’t.” I murmur, gently patting the hands squeezing my neck as the demon hisses in confusion and frustration.

“Give me your grief .” It says, cutting off more and more of my air. I shake my head.

“You don’t want this.” I say back, clasping one of the hands gently, rubbing a finger. “No one wants this, and I won’t let you have it.” I tell what must be grief or something like it.

The demon lets go of my neck with a angry roar, and I focus on breathing. It’s not like I need it, not in the fade, but not being able to breath is unnatural and something I don’t enjoy at all.

Something in me is angry, but another part is sad. Sad for this creature to live such a miserable existence, stuck feeding and feeling other people’s pain. I’d rather die than live like that. 

I turn and see the thing twitching, shifting through different forms of people in sorrow and pain and sobbing. I slowly reach out, ignoring the warning scratch I get on the arm and settle a hand on it’s shifting shoulder. It whimpers and hisses, but I settle another hand on its other shoulder, gently pulling it towards me.

This is suicide. Fool . What use are you dead to the world?

I’ll be fine.

I hug the demon, a hand going up and softly rubbing it’s ever changing, but now slowing, scalp. “I’m sorry you died and were left like this, buddy.” I mutter, ignoring what must be scratches hurting on my back. “I’ve got you.”

The wailing slows little by little, and I wonder what god thought it’d be funny to send me, Miss Let’s Save Everyone and Be Kind, to a place where people like me get chewed up and spat out. I’m going to die here.

The shifting stops.

I look up, and Peace stares back at me.

“Oh.” Comes out quietly.

“Hello.”

 


 

 

Da’lath’in! ” Is said in a hissed whisper.

I shoot up out of my bedroll, an ice sickle half formed in my hand before I blink and see Solas checking me over with a serious expression on his face, all from the flap of my tent. He’s wearing his sleeping clothes, and his lack of totem tells me he’s just gotten up.

The sickle evaporates.

“Hi?” I ask in a just as quiet tone, blinking sleep out of my eyes.

A smooth, pale hand lifts my chin and he stares intently at my aching neck, and eyes the freshly scabbed over mark on my arm.

“You were almost possessed, I could feel it.” The elf says, and I blink wetness away from my eyes. Oh. Right.

That- that actually just happened. Sweet Jesus, Lord and Mary. Did I purify a demon with a fucking hug??

I shuffle out of the bedroll and grab Solas’s hand, dragging him with me away from the quiet campsite and farther into the woods, stopping next to a large oak.

Solas .” I state, half panicking and grasping him by the shoulders.

“I just purified a fucking demon by hugging it, and I’m not dead!” I hiss frantically, bouncing at the balls of my feet with wide eyes. His blue eyes widen too, staring at my green in shock. “It tried to possess you and you decided to hug it? ” He responds, focusing momentarily on that issue before remembering holy shit demon just got purified.

“How did you do it?”

“I-I don’t know? It was trying to take my grief and feed on it, but I didn’t want it to, I didn’t want it to feel like- like I do. So I spoke gently and hugged it because I felt bad.” I say, running fingers through my knotted, oily hair. “I didn’t mean it! Are you going to yell at me? I’m sorry.”

“Why on the fade are you apologizing ? This is a major discovery! A feat like this- I’ve only seen it done with major preparations and people previously close with the once mortal. To do it with simple empathy…” He says quietly, looking at me like he sort of wants to study me. Not a good feeling. Though understandable considering the situation.

We’re quiet a moment, and I rub at my aching, probably bruised neck. Solas blinks and takes my hand from it, his own lightly glowing green as he holds it over my neck. The pain goes away, and I sigh in relief. I’ve already got back problems, I don’t need a stupid bruise on the list.

“Where else did it hurt you?” Solas asks, looking me up and down, dressed in a long shirt and baggy pants and decidedly blocking him from healing whatever the demon did.

“Boss?” Bull’s voice says nearby, and I snap my head in the direction it’s coming from. Can we trust him with this? Is he gonna assume Solas and I are on some secret lover thing? I need to go back to bed.

“We tell him?” I ask quickly and quietly, and Solas is completely still, as if weighing our options.

A slight nod. Probably for the better seeing as how suspicious this looks.

“Over here, Bull.” I say back, watching the large man appear silently. “Sorry to worry you, mage things happened.” I explain quietly before he can make weird assumptions.

I’d probably rather choke to death on cotton candy then have someone think I’m a thousands year old elf god’s latest fancy. No thanks.

“Mage things? You’re not going to explode, are you? Do you need the Seeker?” I flinch, because definitely not. She’d have a conniption fit that’s leave me shaking like a leaf.

“That is not needed, Iron Bull.” Solas says, hands clasping behind his back like he isn’t in the middle of the woods, barefoot, and in his nightclothes.

“Than what exactly happened, if you don’t mind me asking? Boss, your arm is bleeding.” The Qunari says.

Not blood magic, before you assume.” I say quickly. “I was almost possessed and, uh, something weird happened.”

Bull’s expression turns a little Stoney.

“Possessed? Are you sure you don’t need the Seeker-“

“No. I somehow purified the demon by hugging it.” I say quickly, after he makes an aborted movement to start walking back to camp.

Now his face is blank, and Solas makes a small huff.

“Not the most eloquently put, but it does the trick nonetheless. A demon made an attempt to possess Zoe, she however looked at the creature with compassion and pitied it, leading her to hug it and subsequently purify it into a spirit. Am I correct?” Solas explains, then looks at me expectantly.

“Yeah, much better said Ha’hren.” I state, never taking my eyes off of Bull, trying to read the Qunari. Tense shoulders, twitching fingers- out of his element I suppose. Not really an issue he can smack with a maul.

Stop that, it’s impolite.

“Alriiiight. Well, magicky shit isn’t really my thing, so… congratulations? Right. I’m going back to watch, you two have fun with that.” Bull says finally, reaching over to pat my head and walking back, just as silently, to camp.

We both watch his retreating back in silence, until we’re sure he’s gone.

“Dodged an arrow there.” I say quietly, sighing.

“Agreed. We should wait until back in Haven to speak of this with Cassandra. Now, show me your arm and whatever else you’ve hurt.”

 


 

 

With the work we’ve done in the Crossroads there aren’t any Mage Templar skirmishes in it anymore, but there’s still the issue of too many people in one area with not enough tents and the essentials to go around.

It makes me want to do so much more than I can, but next time I’m in stupid Orlais I’m convincing some stupid nobles to start donating towards recovery. They’ve got plenty of money anyways, might as well use it to help others.

Then again, I’ve been told I don’t really think with the same moral compass as other people, so fucking whatever.

I still give half my money to Vale. I don’t pay for much at all, besides the kids, I don’t need it as much as these people.

“Your efforts towards helping others are admirable, Herald.” Cassandra says as we start making our track towards where Blackwell has situated himself. I shrug.

“It’s what’s right. As long as that money goes towards making others happy, I have have no personal use for it.” I say simply.

“You’re a lot better of a person than I was your age, Smalls.” Varric compliments beside me, reaching over and ruffling my hair. I roll my eyes.

“Yeah whatever. You’re all good people.”

We shuffle up the hill that leads to the cabin Blackwall is staying in, and my eyes widen at how pretty it is. From the lake to the dock, to the cabin and the aesthetically pleasing trees.

Blackwall is drilling young men from what I can hear and see, and all five of us walk around and by the man. He suddenly spots us and walks up with a deep frown.

Something in me is a little cold at the sight of him.

He looks so much like my dad. It might just be the beard, it probably is, but one look at him brings up feelings I don’t have time to address right now. I wonder if I can get close enough to him that I’ll be allowed to hug him? Hugs are good. Hugs make everything better.

“Who are you? You’re not bandits, who sent you-?”

An arrow thunks into his suddenly raised sheild in front of my face.

Oh shit. Right. We get attacked.

“We don’t have time for this- live, then we’ll talk.” Blackwall says, quickly starting to direct the men he’s training to use what they’ve learned. My companions quickly start handling the bandits attacking us, and I instead watch Blackwall fight with a critical eye.

I’m not some mastermind with the whole fighting thing, but he’s good, and you can see his formal training in the elegant sweeps of his sword- ones that remind me of fencing, though I might just be looking into it too much. Oh gosh I am not looking forward to judging him, I can barely look at the man without mentally associating him with my dad.

I’m so fucked up. I need a therapist- mom always said I need to quit with this bottling shit. Would Mr. Compassion be willing to listen? Probably. I’ll ask when I sleep tonight.

“Poor bastards. Now go on, you lot, you’ve proven yourselves to me and yourselves. Go protect your families.” Blackwall says, patting each of the guys’ backs, who could only be a few years older than me, when they pass him.

They all hurry down towards the Crossroads, talking with each other and looking back at us curiously a few times, one actually winks at me.

Oh yeah, I’m a teenager with hormones, and so are other teenagers here.

I miss my girlfriend.

“So? What did you want?” Blackwall asks, looking at Cassandra instead of me. I shove down a happy laugh at the lack of spotlight on me.

Cassandra sends me an almost amused look though, so I take over anyways.

“We’re here to look into the disappearance of the Grey Wardens. We’re with the Inquisition, and you’re the only one that’s come up in any of the spymaster’s reports.” I explain to the man, crossing my arms.

“Well, I wouldn’t know much about that. I don’t spend much time with the other Wardens, seeing as I mostly do recruitment.” Blackwall says, lifting his eyebrows at me.

“Well that’s no use, we’re trying to find if they had involvement in the Conclave’s explosion.” I say with a sigh, reaching up and running my fingers through my hair as I watch Blackwall’s expression morph into agitated disbelief.

“The Wardens would never be involved in something like that-“ He pauses, and takes a breath.

“I apologize, you’re not sure, or you wouldn’t be asking. I- I don’t know much of anything up to date right now, I don’t have to report in often enough to be.” Blackwall explains, and I nod along.

“Well, i suppose we won’t be keeping you then.” I say simply, turning on my heel and starting to walk away, the rest of my party following, vaguely surprised.

I count down with my fingers for be cool, and grin when I get the timing right, watching Varric chuckle a little beside me.

“Wait! Inquisition, wait.” Blackwall says, and we turn as he walks quickly, stopping in front of me.

“I may not know much, but I can’t very well sit around here doing nothing now that I know the Wardens are under suspicion. I’d like to join your Inquisition and hep figure this out.” Blackwall says, and I nod with a grin when he finishes.

“The Inquisition could always use a few more swords! Just come with us, we’ve got a camp nearby where I can see about getting a letter to Cullen on your joining.” I tell him. He blinks in a surprised manner.

“You’re a bit young to be a recruiter.” He says, and Bull laughs.

“That’s the Herald you’re talking to, Warden.” He says, and Blackwall makes a even more surprised face.

“Apologies my Lady-“

I make a face.

“No my Lady stuff please, I’m no noble. Just Zoe is fine, Blackwall.” I say. I’ve been trying since I became the stupid Herald to make people quit with the Lady crap, but it doesn’t seem to work. At all.

He nods, giving me and my party a clear once over, reevaluating whatever conclusion he’d come to before about what two humans, a elf, a dwarf, and a Qunari were doing together.

“Right then. Just grab your things and we’ll be off to the Camp.” I state. Blackwall nods. “Right, right. I’ll be just a moment.”

The bearded man walks swiftly away to the cabin.

Seven down, two more to go. The mere thought of the attack on Haven that comes with meeting one sends my shaky hands into my coat.

Should probably go over those escape plans again with Le Le when we get back. Maybe even a drill.

Chapter Text

Solas and I decide to reveal the whole ‘ purified a demon ’ thing to the triad as soon as the next War Meeting.

“What is this about, Lady Avery?” Josephine asks, and I take a glance over at Solas, who just keeps his serene smile.

I sigh, turn with my back facing the rest of the group, including those of us who had to come in to report, and lift the back of my shirt.

“My Lady what-” Josey starts, but Cullen cuts her off.

“Maker.” He says quickly, holding the shirt up for me and looking over the still red new scars on my back critically. “When did this happen?”

“During our trip from the Stormcoast to the Hinterlands, a demon of Grief attempted to possess Zoe.” Solas says, but Cassandra cuts in before he can continue.

And you did not tell me?! ” She shouts, and though I can’t see I can tell she’s probably pissed.

“We didn’t because I somehow purified the thing by hugging it . Solas came into my tent thinking the demon had taken me over, and when we went over the situation it made more sense to wait to tell anyone else.” I explain, turning my head as far as I can behind me to try and make eye contact with the Seeker.

“Purified? I was not aware that could be done?” Josey says, and I can’t see what she’s doing, though she’s probably still staring at the scratches on my back.

Apparently cuts made by demons heal slower. Joy.

“It is not common, at all . Zoe is lucky to be alive, let alone purify the demon intending to possess her.” Cullen says darkly, tracing one of the scars with what must be a frown.

“Badass, Boss.” Bull says, and I snort.

“This is not a laughing matter, Qunari. She could have died.” Cassandra says scathingly, and I sigh, focusing on the wall in front of me, eyeing the cracks and grooves.

“Yeah, she could have, key word. I don’t know about you, but that sounds like an achievement to me.”

“Thanks, Bull.” I hum, and he grunts in acknowledgment.

“So what you’re saying is the kid did something very rare, lived, and you aren’t fully sure as to why ?” Varric asks.

“That is the gist, Master Tethras.”

“She’s been doing that since she went up the mountain, Seeker, this isn’t exactly new .” Varric follows up with. Cassandra makes an aggravated noise in the back of her throat.

I mean, it’s not like he’s wrong.

“I should have been told! I am a Seeker!”

“To be frank, Seeker Pentaghast, Zoe is not the most comfortable with any Templar, even you.” Solas says calmly, and I can practically feel Cullen stiffen behind me as he gently drops the back of my shirt. I let out a sigh and turn around.

“This conversation leads us nowhere.” Leliana choses to pipe in from her usual pillar. Cullen stands beside me stiffly, and it makes me feel bad. Of course I’m not the most comfortable around Templars, they’re told from a young age that people like me are to be kept on a short leash or they go rabid. That doesn’t exactly foster good feelings.

“I agree. The point of this was to inform you all so no one sees obviously demonic scars and thinks I chose not to tell you about some wound. I’m alive, Peace is fine now, and nothing has tried to come for me since then.” I explain, before slowly placing a hand on Cullen’s arm.

“Sorry. It’s not your fault I’m iffy on trusting Templars about these things, you too Cass.” I say, looking between the both of them.

There’s a sort of uncomfortable silence for a few moments after that, then Bull starts walking out.

“Well I’ve had my fill of drama for the day. If anyone needs me, I’ll be watching Cullen’s men fumble around without him.” Bull says. Varric laughs. “Yeah, I’ve got to check over my mail and make sure the Carta hasn’t been trying to swindle me since I’ve been gone. I’ll see you real soon Smalls.”

And with that, the triad and I are left alone to go over what was new and talk about missions.

Fun.


Vivienne stops me on my way out of the Chantry.

Balls .

“Afternoon, Madame Vivienne.” I greet, leaning my side against a pillar and watching her smile from her spot by her desk.

“Afternoon, Lady Herald. I’m afraid Haven was just as cold as you alluded to.” Vivienne says.

“I am a woman of my word. You’re settling well, I hope?” I ask, and she nods easily, but I can tell she wants to talk about something else completely. Oh dear.

“Most certainly, though there is something that has worried me. You’ve young mages in your care, yes?” She asks.

I resist the urge to frown, keeping my relaxed smile on my face and my eyes curling with it. I don’t want to talk about this with her, I can’t risk ruining my relationship with her this early on.

“I do.”

“Well, I’ve heard the oddest thing. You’re teaching them on your own? Without the help of a proper circle mage?” She says, concern on her face.

“I am, for the most part. Solas has helps some when I’m too busy, but majority I am alone.” I tell her, and watch her lips curl into a displeased frown.

“And who’s idea was it to put you and a Apostate in charge of such a thing? The children need a real education.” Vivienne says thoughtlessly, and this time I do frown.

“That Apostate and I are perfectly capable of teaching them, Madame. Learning in a Circle isn’t required to be a good mage.” I say carefully, watching her expression turn a little sharper.

“That’s absurd, darling. Besides, you couldn’t have awakened you magic more than a year ago, I doubt you’ve even had a harrowing .” She says, looking down at me with crossed arms.

Harrowings are barbaric. ” I say before I can stop myself, frowning deeply. “Regardless, my opinion on circles does not change that I’m the one taking care of them. I apologize that it bothers you, but the situation is perfectly handled as it is.”

She doesn’t like that, and I can tell she isn’t well acquainted with people shutting her down so quickly. She’s a grown woman though, and I don’t feel bad defending the inner circle’s and my own judgement. Solas may be as old as a Dino, but he knows magic intricately. Enough to seal up an entire facet of reality.

Now he may be a tad racist and set in his stupid ideals, but he knows his shit. Apostate or nah.

“I am simply looking out for both your own and those children’s interests, darling. I apologize if my opinion was unwelcome.” Vivienne says with convincing false ease. She probably realizes she can’t manipulate me, she saw how not real that innocent act was, so why is my having my own conflicting opinions bother her so much?

“All opinions are welcome, if we didn’t voice them no one would go anywhere. I personally dislike the way the circle system is run, and though I dislike conflict, I’m willing to speak intelligently as to why .” I explain.

“Morning, Avery!” A elven man named Rynic says as he walks past, carrying logs to feed all the fire pits and the like inside the Chantry. My face brightens and I wave enthusiastically to him as he laughs. He’s a few years older than me, and actually listened when I said I don’t like ‘Herald’ or ‘Lady’. “Morning, Rynic! Be careful with that axe, dingus.”

He rolls his eyes. “Yeah yeah, sure lovro’mae . Tell your kids to quit going for my pockets and ask me for the carvings instead.” He says, smiling despite himself. He’s a good guy, I’m glad to be his friend.

“Solas told me what that meant, you! Stop calling me out. I’ll talk to the munchkins.” I say with a pout, making a shooing motion with my hand at him as he walks off.

I focus back on Vivienne, who looks unamused.

Baaaallls.

“Sorry.” Comes out sheepishly, and she sighs at me.

“We shall finish this conversation at a later date, it is clear you’re focused on other things. Should you need me, I’ll be here, away from the cold.” Vivienne tells me, and I take the dismissal for what it is, muttering a goodbye before hurrying out of the Chantry and into the cold.

“Holy fuck she wasn’t lying.” I mutter, pulling up my hood and hoping my ears don’t fall off.

The talk with Vivienne reminds me though that I’ve got to make sure Sera is settled and that Blackwall hadn’t been overwhelmed by the big ass hole in the sky. Heading towards the Tavern quickly, in an attempt to escape the stupid cold, I wave at anyone who acknowledges me. The door opens, and as it closes I let out a sigh of relief.

“Took ya long enough!” Sera says suddenly beside me, grabbing me by the arm and settling me down at a table.

I blink uncertainty.

“Oh, hi Sera.” I say, a smile pulling at my lips.

“‘Hi’? ‘S that all? Didn’t realize how ran to the bone they had you here, Herald , else I would’ve came to get you myself.” Sera scoffs, looking me up and down.

“I’m sorry! I just keep getting thrown every which way, I didn’t mean to ignore you.” I say sincerely, leaning forward with a worried face. Oh gosh, does she think I don’t like her? Probably not? I hate talking to people, I haven’t been able to hide for a day since I came here and I’m starting to feel run down.

“Piss, it ain’t your fault.” Sera waves my concerns off easily. “Just glad I was able to grab you now, tell you how absolutely insane you must be to have walked up to that thing .” Sera says, now vaguely gesturing off towards where the Breach is.

I can’t stop the grimace that comes up, and she catches it quicker than I can say anything.

“They made you ?” Sera shouts, and I have to try not to shrink into myself when people turn and look.

“I was a prisoner, it wasn’t very much of a choice.” I say quietly in hopes that she’ll get quieter.

She doesn’t.

“That’s balls ! You want me to stick someone full of arrows? You’re barely old enough to have tits!” She says loudly, and this time I cover my face in my arms.

Sera. ” I say in a suffering manner, muffled by my sleeves.

“I’m almost sixteen, Sera, why did you say that?” I ask.

I gain no straight answer.

“It’s that Seeker isn’t it? Saw you lookin’ nervously at her when she’s loud. I’ll prank the shite out of her.” There’s an air of finality in her words that makes me worry enough to look up from my sleeves. There’s a dangerous glint in her eyes that tells me there is no stopping her.

“Really Sera, it’s fine. It happened almost two months ago.”

“Doesn’t matter. No one should be forced near that thing. Especially not little people.”

What is it about me that makes everyone jump to protect me? My baby face isn’t that bad, and I’m not immature enough for people to assume I need my hand held. I hope this isn’t some sort of fade bullshit from me being the ‘protagonist’ or something. I know I’m not always likable.

Sera changes the subject to booze in a way that is entirely her, and I decide that questions like ‘why do these people care’ can wait for a while.


 

“Alright, how many of you did your breathing exercises?” I ask when I step inside my cabin, turning the corner and taking in the sight before me.

The seven kids are all scattered around the room, Birsa laying out on the bed with dark hair girl and red head boy on top of her, or at least until I walked in. They all sat up when they heard me. The rest of them are playing with carved animals on the floor.

I get a few immediate ‘Me’s but Birsa sends a annoyed look at a boy with brown hair and green eyes, and the elf kid next to him.

I give them a big sister look I’ve perfected over the years. Brown hair crumbles, but Elf kid stays straight faced.

“I didn’t.” He grumbles, looking away. “I did!” Elf kid argues with a big frown on his face.

“You did not. You were off with Erik every night and morning.” Birsa argues with narrowed eyes. Elf kid turns his head quickly over to her to stick his tongue out.

“Shut up ox.

Hey !” I shout, frowning at him. “Don’t be like that. I’m not angry or mad that you didn’t, I just want you to be honest. Apologize to Birsa.”

The others are looking between me and the dark Haired elf, though Brown hair ( Erik ?) grabs the elf’s shoulder and gives him a look.

The elf makes a grimace, before turning and looking at the Qunari girl on the bed.

“Ir’abelas, lethal’lan.” He grumbles. Birsa rolls her eyes at him.

“Thanks, Arnarel.” Birsa says, before looking back over at me expectantly.

Arnarel mutters something in Elvhen to Erik, and to my mild surprise he responds in a rougher accent.

“Right. So I’ll be back for a while longer, at least a week or more. I’m just trying to see who’s like me and sucks at doing things when they’re meant to.” I explain slowly, plopping down in my desk chair facing the kids.

“Really?” Dark hair girl asks with wide eyes. Guilt sort of wells up in my stomach. Vivienne was right that I shouldn’t be the kids’ main caretaker. It’s unstable at best and some of them are young young kids, elementary school aged. Can’t exactly do much now, they’ve shown very little willingness to learn from any circle mages Leliana sends over.

Which I should talk about. Right now. Like… a adult.

“Yeah kiddo, I’m back for a while. Really.” I give her the brightest smile I can muster and she responds in kind, half hidden behind Birsa.

“Also. What’s this I’ve been hearing about scaring teachers away?” I ask, making sure to make eye contact with all of them. The older ones pull up poker faces or look away.

No one says anything.

“Guys. I know this whole situation is terrible. I know that you want something more stable, but you need to listen to the mages from the circles.” I say gently. Either they’re doing it to take out frustration and/or took something they heard me say and acted on it in a wrong way. Both situations require firm, but calm handling.

I’m too young to be a mom. I just want to go home and play Minecraft.

“You said the circle mages were stupid.” Birsa tells me seriously. My eyebrows lift in surprise.

“I don’t really remember saying that. I don’t agree with the way mages in circles were taught, but they’re not stupid by any means.” I explain. “They still have things to teach you that could be valuable. If you can learn from more than one source of information, you can get a clearer view of the whole picture.”

My anxiety spikes.

“Also, please don’t ever say that again. At least not near adults. People will think I’m teaching you blood magic and Templar hating.”

“They’re arrogant though.” Arnarel says with a deep frown.

I wave for him to continue.

“Two of them openly talked bad on Solas Ha’hren, one talked about how he was a ‘dirty hill witch’ communing with demons.” He says communing a little slower than the other words, and has to take a second to articulate himself right, but I get the gist.

Well. That’s problematic. I don’t doubt the same guy was probably unhappy that a ‘apostate’ had gotten such a big role in the inquisition while the other mages were being handled with gloves. Cullen’s battle mages don’t live away from the main encampment anymore, but they’re in a specific area with strategically placed ex-Templar’s tents nearby.

Yeah. I’m not a idiot, I can tell when Cullen is trying to pull a sneaky. Even if Leliana made her ‘smile threat’ face when she said it would be beneficial to keep all the troops together.

Oh. Cullen probably sent those numbers to me, didn’t he? I should probably check that stack of papers on my desk- correction, two stacks of paper on my desk.

Gosh have mercy.

“Did you tell the Leliana?” I ask. Birsa nods as Erik asks Arnarel a question(?) in Elvhen.

“I heard he was moved to work for Adan.” Birsa says simply.

“Well, that’s good at least. Anyways, that’s part of the ‘how they were taught’ thing I was talking about. The Chantry teaches it’s mages that the circle is the only thing keep the rest of the world and themselves safe. Someone actively living outside of the circle and being a good mage doesn’t really help the mindset the Chantry creates. Do you get it?”

I get nods from the bigger kids but I can tell I’ve bored the younger ones.

“Right. How about we all go the the tavern soon before the lunch rush, and have a talk on getting caught with your fingers in other people’s pockets. If you want to pick a pocket, don’t get caught.


Breathe. Deep breaths. One. Two. Three.

Snow crunches underfoot and the moon reflects a little off of the fresh powder. I focus in on the visible puffs of air leaving my mouth and the half awake men at the gates. Tonight lightning is crackling off of my fingers and hands, so I keep them shoved under my arms and with fluffy gloves firmly pulled over them.

That was a not fun nightmare. One of the… more mild ones, but still overall not a good time.

I let out a big yawn, eyes narrowed in exhaustion and my back, shoulders, arms, and legs aching. Basically everything is shitty right now.

I look around, and to my surprise spot Bull and Blackwall sitting by a fire near their tents, with mugs of ale in hand.

I look up at the moon.

It’s like three in the morning what the fuck.

I look back over at them, try and calm the trembling and sparking of my covered hands, then start towards them at a slow slow pace.

“Why the hell are you two still awake?” I ask quietly when I get close enough.

“Could ask the same question to you, Boss.” Bull responds as Blackwall tries to stand up with a grave ‘my lady’.

I wave him off and plop down on a turned over log, right next to Bull. Who still has no shirt on?? His nipples must ache like a bitch.

Blackwall sits down uncertainly.

“I’ve got an excuse. Lovely lovely nightmares.” I respond with a faked smile and finger guns.

Bull rolls his eye at me.

“So do I. I like a nice drink after a good fuck.” He says simply and Blackwall chokes on his drink.

Iron Bull.” He says red in the face, gesturing towards me. Now it’s my turn to roll my eyes.

“I know what sex is, Warden, don’t worry. No innocence lost here. What I do want to know though, is if Bull ever bottoms.”

Bull opens his mouth to respond, but Blackwall makes a noise that makes it clear he doesn’t want to know.

“Alright alright. Fine, we’ll be kid friendly. How are those kids of yours, Boss? Spotted them when I came into the tavern earlier tonight.” Bull asks, and I shrug my shoulders.

“They’re good. Apparently none of them knew how to pick a pocket right and I had to show them, or else a friend of mine will keep talking smack about them getting caught.” I explain, gesturing with half awake awareness and abandon.

“A wonderful influence.” Bull says with a nod, then takes a swig of his drink.

“Sorry to ask, but what children?” Blackwall asks peering curiously at our exchange.

“I take care of kids who got left orphaned by the Conclave. More specifically the ones who’ll probably get magic or already have it.” I respond. Blackwall nods, though there’s this look on his face that makes me think he’s reevaluating me. Again. He’s been doing that since we left the Hinterlands.

“That is more than admirable.” Blackwall says simply, and for a moment I see my tanned, smiling dad complimenting my art instead.

Only for a moment. Then it’s gone.

I know what I do is what’s right, what should be done. I’m not a blind idiot though. I know it’s work. I know it's crazy to literally give your money away, offer your life to save a world that isn’t yours, chose to watch over kids with special needs, chose to keep going after losing everything.

I’m suicidal. I’m self sacrificing. I will bring my death over my head with a smile. It’s not healthy. What do I have to lose though? As long as I make it long enough to either stop Solas or ‘figure out’ his identity, what does it matter? What does it matter if my bones break, or if aching scars lay on my back, or if I want to scream?

I’m tired. I’m so, so tired.

I won’t bend though. Life isn’t easy. Life isn’t meant to be easy. What are the good parts worth if you don’t know how good you’ve got it? If you can’t be relieved that despite the hardship you will see good?

I haven’t responded. Blackwall looks awkward.

Heat flushes up my pale cheeks, and I cover my face in my hands.

“Sorry. I’m not doing good right now. Thank you, thank you very much.” I say, muffled by the dark, thick gloves on my fingers.

“I’m not one to talk, but you should be in bed, Boss.” Bull says, before taking a loud chug of his huge mug.

Something like annoyance, that is annoyance don’t be stupid brain , pools at my throat. I ignore it and shove it down harshly. Getting irritated does nothing, especially yelling at other people.

“I know that. Malice and another Grief are a bit against a good rest at the moment though.” I inform the men instead, roughly rubbing my face and ignoring the few tears falling out of my eyes. It’s so frustrating, not being able to just sleep without worrying that something with your loved ones faces is waiting to make you miserable.

I want to go home.

Thick silence.

“Do you… want to talk about it?” Blackwall asks quietly.

Do I?

I don’t like talking about my problems. I never have. I have this complex where I think I’m a burden and I don’t want to make things harder. Great for saving money, not for when your self esteem takes a hit every time you need something.

My fists clench.

Fine. Fuck it.

“Sure.” I say, squeezing my eyes shut and trying to think through my next words.

“I’ve killed people. Sometimes I go to sleep, and demons wait with my family’s faces and tell me how terrible I am. Sometimes…” I trail off.

“You don’t have to-“ he’s quiet like my dad.

“It’s fine. I should talk about it anyways.” I cut in aggressively, before sighing and rolling my tense shoulders.

“Sometimes, I’m in the dark in chains. It smells like lightning magic and a Seeker- a Seeker stares down at me with so much hate. I can’t move. I can’t speak-“

I rub my face again, cutting myself off and going silent. Guilt rolls in my gut, along with regret. That was too much. This will mess things up. I’m such a whiny bitch.

Shut the fuck up brain we need this.

Says the idiot talking to herself.

I curl over, leaning against my knees and looking down at the fire with tightly shut eyes.

Why am I traumatized by that? I’ve been yelled at before. I’ve been talked down to.

It’s probably the threat of death. The threat of a much bigger person with a weapon having me at their mercy. Her utter willingness to hurt me at the time.

“What exactly was done to you, before you were brought up the mountain?” Bull asks in a conversational tone.

“I woke up in chains. Cassandra came in, yelling. I wouldn’t look at her, she grabbed me- uh. Then she let me go and stepped back. We went to the northern camp, after that.” I say quietly, trying to ignore the fact that I’m having to evaporate ice from inside my gloves. My hands tremble.

This sucks. Not cash money. Not cash money at all.

“That’s bare bones.” Bull says dryly, and despite myself I let out a sort of watery laugh.

“Yeah, sorry. I don’t want to end up on the floor in tears or something. Happened once on our way to Val Royeaux.”

“I cannot believe the inquisition still allows you out on the field.” Blackwall says quietly, but there’s a unmistakable anger in his voice. I shoot up, blinking away some stupid tears.

“No! No it’s fine! It’s not their fault, I’m the only one with the hand, y’know? I mean, I’d probably offer to get it cut off if there were a way to keep it stable, but- it needs a host. It’s how it was made.” I explain nervously. “I’ll be fine. It’s the rest of the world that needs saving.”

I get decidedly unimpressed stares.

“I’m not the Seeker, Templar, Red or Ruffles. I won’t eat that bullshit up and grin, Boss.” Bull says with a blank look on his face, before shrugging and taking another drink.

“But if you want a yes man, I’m definitely being paid enough to do that.”

I swallow.

“It’s bad, ain’t it Bull?” I ask quietly, arms coming up to hug myself. I know it’s bad. I know. I really really do. “But what’s some random ass teen in comparison to the world? If it weren’t me I’d be horrified for the person, but it is me. And I have to be fine with this.” I say seriously.

“I’m a fucking- I’m not the person I was before this mess anymore. I can’t smile and laugh like I used to. I’m damaged goods anyways, and I’d take this for other people anyday. Doesn’t- I’m- Fuck . I’m taking a walk. See you guys in the morning.” I stand abruptly and start hurrying off, clutching myself. I rip my gloves off and ignore Blackwall’s low cry of “Herald!” behind me.

Fire and ice war at my fingers and sparks crackle with every footstep. I walk deeper and deeper into Haven’s surrounding woodlands and past a fire scarred pine tree, focusing in on another even thicker one.

Without pause my right leg swings up and my shin connects with a solid, hard thunk.

This… is not a healthy way of dealing with emotions.

Lightning arches up and down the tree, and I send two jabs it’s way next.

At least it ain’t a person? Yeah. Yeah let’s think of this that way. No one being yeeted with a song of fire, ice and death is a good thing. A very good one.

I keep punching and kicking until my muscles ache, my knuckles and shins are bruised, and my fists are bloodied. Not sanitary.

I’m panting and let the sound of a wounded animal leave my throat before dropping to my knees, sniffling and exhausted.

What’s the point of this? Is there a point to it? Maybe I’d just be better off slitting my throat and being done with it. I’ve got one shoved in my boot right now.

Varric would be destroyed if I offed myself with the dagger he gave me.

Oh god.

I’m contemplating suicide.

I swallow with my aching throat and shut my wet eyes tight. I hope this gets better. I hope with all of my heart and soul this gets better.

I’m a depressing fuck, aren’t I? I need a hug. I need an adult. I need help.

Help.

I stand shakily, pull on my dark gloves and start towards the gates again. I don’t even glance at the now empty and put out campfire, and don’t acknowledge worried and tired looking guards at the gates.

I hurry quietly through the tiny village and stop in front of a door.

I knock, and flinch when my hurt knuckles hit the wood.

There’s a silence for a few long moments, but a candle lights and Solas opens the door.

He takes me in, completely alert and with narrowed observant eyes.

“Come in, Da’lath’in.” He murmurs opening the door wide and gently leading me inside by the shoulder.

“Thank you, Solas.” I murmur back in I think the most exhausted tone I’ve ever heard.

“You are always welcome.”

Chapter Text

Solas has lived so long. He is old now, he feels it in his very bones, that weight adding to the heaviness left behind by all of his sins.

Zoe is a child compared to him, an infant he has unintentionally marked with power meant to pacify and then destroy Corypheus. It will kill her, he knew that from the moment people were told a woman fell from a rift with a glowing mark on her hand.

She was so small when she was lying in the cot they allowed her in that dank dungeon. Dark brownish blonde hair and features soft with youth. A child. She is a child.

But he pushed through then with a healer’s precision and cool calm. She was a vessel and she would most likely die closing his year of work. It was best to disassociate and see her as just another human. She looked like she’d never worked a day in her life, a soft noble’s daughter most likely, who probably sneered at any beneath her.

Yes. That he could work with.

Then, though, he saw her as she followed the Seeker storming through the Valley. Pale, shaking like a leaf, and with tear tracks down her sooty face.

Solas has done a many of bad things in his endless life, killed and locked away the people closest to him, destroyed his civilization, murdered and pillaged with a smile in his youth. Something about seeing this child jump into action and save the dwarf he’s been fighting with like her life depends on it fills him with a deep loathing.

Once he speaks to her it gets worse.

She is not a self absorbed nobleman’s daughter like he had deluded himself into believing. Zoe was selfless, she cried silently a majority of the time they were walking but not a single sound escaped her lips until she attempted to seal The Breach.

She was a better person than he, likely, though it was not a very high bar to cross anyways.

Solas presently does not like how often she is hurting herself.

With practiced and gentle pale hands he settles a thick paste over her knuckles after cleaning them. Solas notes every uncomfortable twitch, every sniffle, every tense of her shoulders. Her eyes though, stay watery and stare blankly at the wall in front of her. What is she thinking of, at this very moment? The blessed Herald of Andraste, a teenaged and broken girl sits on his bed and yet he feels like he knows her only a little better than he did in that valley.

How long ago was it that he let someone come so close to him? He wonders if his friends in the fade count truly, after spending so much time wandering the plane that he’d cut off from the world he doesn’t know if he would have told the spirits that inhabit it his secrets willingly.

Not to say that he has told Zoe any. No matter the warmth and guilt she inspires in him, his plans come first. They always will.

“I’m sorry,” A quiet voice says. Internally he wants to bang his bald head against the wall.

Her insecurities are plain for many to see, a easy tell being her constant apologies.

“Don’t be. This is not your fault,” Solas responds in a quiet tone, reaching for a cloth and wiping his hands clean of the salve. He watches her face crumple a little, and a few fresh tears fall from her dark green eyes. Darker than the Breach, colored like a forest and expressive.

The guilt and loathing rears its head again, sharp and biting into his throat. He makes not outward reaction to it.

“You say that, but I still feel terrible,” Zoe tells Solas with a shaky smile. “I’m sorry for waking you, then. You have research due in by tomorrow afternoon, right? For Leliana?”

Ah. The research. Pages of half baked theories with sprinkles of truth for the spymaster to read and prove they’re getting somewhere at least. Solas finished them weeks ago in the wilds, though he doesn’t blame Zoe for not noticing. She’s one of the most observant people he’s met and yet the smallest details will slip her focus. Names especially.

He is glad to be turning those papers in finally, though. Perhaps it will keep Leliana’s prying eyes away from the spies he is slowly planting in the Inquisition.

“Yes. It’s not a bother at all, though, I finished them a while ago. You, though, have a good few papers piling on your desk I’ve been told,” He says with a small smile, remaining in his crouched position. Solas watches almost comical dread begin to take over her features, but it is a improvement from her tears and fear.

He is not a normal elf. Fear? Fear he can smell.

“Paperwork is evil, yet necessary. It’s my own fault for wanting to be important,” She says with a sigh, roughly rubbing her tired eyes.

He’s quiet for a moment. Thoughts quiet. .

“You think your role here unimportant?”

The role that gave her the bandages on her knuckles. The role that makes her shake and cry after battles. The role that fixes his mistakes at every turn and gives her power and sway over the inquisition?

There is no way so much grief could be for such small importance. Not in any reality he could imagine.

She must see the thoughts on his face. Solas hasn’t a clue how she does it, picking up on ticks he’d thought he’d smoothed out years and years ago.

“You are very important to the very success of the inquisition,” Solas says slowly, almost disbelieving. Zoe’s face flushes and she fumbles for a moment.

“I know that! I’m just- I- Self confidence has been an issue these past few weeks. Trust that I know, Ha’hren.”

Solas only bows his head in acknowledgment for a moment.

There’s a uneasy silence interrupted only by the crackling of fire in his fireplace.

“Can I have a hug, Solas?” Zoe mutters quietly, wringing her hands anxiously.

It is foolish to be so affectionate. To create a bond like this with the child.

Solas nods. He hates himself with every moment her warm arms are wrapped around his neck, and he rubs her back. He cannot beat back the contentment that comes with it, regardless.


 

I don’t like going to the tavern at night.

It’s the alcohol. I know it couldn’t be anything else. I’ve never had a good relationship with it, and I certainly won’t gain one spending time near drunk soldiers.

Varric wants to hang out though, and with his back turned to his papers he can’t see the way my jaw clenched and my lips thin. It’s fine. I’m okay with him having fun, I’m not going to be a bother to the only adult a truly trust here.

Solas can’t count. I wish he could, but he really and truly can’t. He lies .

I step inside while it’s loud and almost turn right around. I don’t do well in small spaces with lots of people I don’t know. I keep going though, to the table Varric keeps right by the fire. He, Sera, and surprisingly Blackwall are sitting there, talking about something that involves hand gestures from Sera.

I’ve killed people, fought demons and survived. This is stupid easy in comparison.

Except it isn’t.

I practically fall into a chair beside Blackwall, facing Varric and Sera.

“Evening,” I greet. Blackwall gives me a nod in response, eyes trained on me critically. It’s like my Dad trying to pinpoint if something is wrong or not from sight alone. The way his eyes narrow tells me he’s already checked off ‘something is wrong’.

“Eveninggg, Zoe. Tell me, is it just me or is Blackwall’s beard too well groomed?” Sera slurs, eyeing the man’s beard suspiciously, palms planted flat on the table.

Drunk people. Oh boy.

“I dunno. My dad’s was like that,” I say as quietly as I dare in the loud tavern.

“Really now? ‘S that why you look at him like he killed your Mabari?”

Fucking hell Sera.

“Fucking hell, Sera,” Varric voices for me, pulling away her cup. “No more for you. Don’t say shit like that.”

Sera has to blink once before realizing she said that aloud and slumping in her chair. Pouting. She’s only a few years older than me, but sometimes I feel like I’m more mature by years.

“How’ve you been Smalls? Dent that paperwork today?” Varric asks. I nod.

Flissa comes to our table.

“You need anything, darling?” She asks me.

“Some water would be nice, thank you ma’am,” I tell her. She flushes.

“Don’t ma’am me, dear.”

“My mama taught me manners, Miss. Flissa. I will give you the respect you deserve,” I huff back. She sighs, but not in a bad way, before hurrying back over to the bar.

“When they think back on the Herald, they’ll remember her manners,” Varric says with a laugh, and I pout at him.

“They’d better use it as an example. Be respectful to others, people giving you things especially,” I explain. I’m the person who scolds my friends for not saying please and thank you to lunch ladies. Why in the world would I stop now?

“But yeah, I did about half of it. I intend on getting the rest done tonight if I can. I’ve ran the numbers, and there’s a stupid pay divide between battle mages and soldiers doing the same hours. Of course, the battle mages may be doing less physical work, but I’m going to have to work it out with Josephine sometime this week. Then deal with Cullen’s racist ass-“

I cut myself off and cover my face. Why did I just say that? I’m a terrible person.

“Racist?” Varric asks, genuinely interested.

“It’s essentially racism, the divide between mages and not magic people. It’s a pain working with Cullen on it, and it makes me feel bad to say that,” I explain slowly, trying to rub the embarrassed flush away from my face.

“That’s cause mages are fucking weird, Zoe. Look at Elven Glory . Weird fade-y shite,” Sera adds in.

“I’m a mage, Sera. My mother’s family had a lot of mages going way up the family tree. Apologies if it bothers me that I’m treated like a second class citizen on the basis of something I can’t control. Or I would be if I didn’t have a stupid fucking mark on my hand.

Oh. That was mean . It’s a very quiet thought in comparison to my biting statement.

To clarify, I don’t have people who could do magic magic in my mom’s family. They came from a line that supposedly had been voodoo practitioners, though, and there’s been honest to god frequent possession problems with my Filipino family. Not something I’ve had to deal with, but again, Tarot cards always work for me. A freaky freaky thing.

This outburst and attitude is mostly stress, being in an uncomfortable situation, and frustration. Logically, I can understand that. It doesn’t excuse that it’s childish when I was just saying in my head how mature I am.

Goddamn I’m a piece of shit.

Fuck off.

Well sorry, Lady Herald . Didn’t mean to get your fuckin’ knickers in a twist,” Sera spits, getting up and stomping off, chair screeching when it rubs against the floor harshly.

Oh no. I’ve done a bad thing.

“Sera, wait! I’m sorry!” I say quickly, but not getting up to follow her. She’s prone to getting angrier when you pester her with apologies, I can tell.

I fucking hate alcohol. Why am I here right now?

“Well. That escalated quickly,” Varric says, taking a swig of his ale.

“Agreed,” Blackwall says. They both look at me.

“I’m sorry. I ruined things,” I say, sinking down in my seat.

“Don’t blame yourself, Smalls. She was out of line in the first place. Let’s just let her deal with her feelings awhile,” Varric says simply, waving his hand in the direction she took off. I really hope she doesn’t mess up my desk. If it gets messed up I’ll have to do all that math again and I’ll burn more than a tree.

Chantry burning wouldn’t endear me to anyone. Think positive.

Two drunken soldiers stumble past singing about women with big boobs.

This is terrible.

“So. You ever played wicked grace, Zoe?” Varric asks. I shrug.

“No. I’ve played Mau, but I really doubt you’ve ever heard of that.

Varric pulls a deck of cards out of nowhere, and starts dealing. “Ah. Well I suppose I’ll just have to teach you. You in, Warden?”

Blackwall nods. “As ready as I’ll ever be.”

Spoiler, I’m not very good at Wicked Grace. But the grin I’m sporting at the end of the night is worth it.


 

I wake up the next morning to bustling kids and a sun just rising.

My muscles ache, my bones ache, and despite it all I really just don’t want to get up. Don’t want to talk to anyone. Don’t want to do anything other than lay in my lumpy bed under my sort of itchy covers.

I’m tired. In a way that isn’t just physical, to be honest. I’m surprised I made it this far.

At least I’m not crying. I’ve had enough of that nonsense to last a lifetime.

I keep my eyes shut tightly and sigh through my nose.

“Zoe?” Is not so quietly whispered in my ear. A little hand finds itself on my chest and pulls at my shirt, shaking me a little. “Are you okay?”

I open my eyes just barely, seeing who’s interrupting my probably depressive feelings.

An ashy blonde haired elf stares back at me, dark eyes wide. Vavra is what I think her name is, and I’m disappointed in myself for not knowing for sure by now.

“No. I’m dying. You’ll have to go on without me,” I say completely seriously, though my perfect tone is ruined by my hand reaching up and ruffling her soft hair.

She grins. “No you’re not !”

Technically I am, considering my bomb of a hand, but that’s just another unfortunate technicality in this situation.

“Truly? Well thank you for telling me, I was certain I wasn’t going to make it,” I inform the six year old, before forcing myself to sit up and stretch my arms. I’m not allowed to wallow. I’ve only got a week to make sure the kids get some more knowledge in their heads and don’t blow themselves up.

“You don’t make sense,” Vavra whines flopping over my coveted legs and kicking her legs. “What does certain mean?”

“It means that I was sure,” I explain before picking her up and setting her to the side so I can get out of bed. She flops over again, grabbing one of the pillows and hugging it to herself.

Her nose scrunches up.

“Why’d you think you’re dying?” She asks.

“Forgot I had legs,” I inform the little elf. She makes a face that shows exactly how she feels about that.

“You can forgot your legs?” She asks seriously. I contemplate whether it’s responsible for me to say yes or not.

It isn’t. I only barely stop myself.

“No. I’m just weird.”

I grab my clothes out of a small chest at the end of my bed, and throw off my shirt.

“What’re we learnin today?”

I tug on my undershirt and hum in contemplation. What should they learn?

I should probably make sure they can read. Yeah, great plan making Zoe, you’re just the best at this.

“I’m making sure you guys can read,” I tell her, pulling on a long sleeved over shirt. It doesn’t seem to be as cold this morning as it was yesterday, so I’ll probably forgo my heavy jacket.

“I know how to write my name,” Vavra informs me, hugging the pillow to her chest and rolling on the bed. Freaking kids man, they do the cutest stuff.

“That’s good! If we’re lucky I might be able to teach you more by the end of today.”

With myself properly clothed and Vavra hopping off the bed, we’re ready to go out and brave the icy north- er. South. I’m in the south right now.

Teaching kids to read. How hard could that be?

I make it a point to knock on my doorway as we leave, suddenly worried about jinxing myself. It’s be just like me to have a hard time with that.




Chapter Text

So. Most of them can read. With the exception of Arnarel, Vavra, and Lanna. That’s expected of the two girls, they’re six , but Arnarel seemed really embarrassed about it. 

How to go about this. 

We’re settled in our spot by the lake with the kids grouped around me. A few magic tomes, sheets of paper, and pencils lay on my lap as I attempt to think out how I’ll do this. 

“Alright. Those of you who can read, pair off and read aloud together. If you need help sounding something out, don’t be afraid to ask for my attention. Okay?” I start, making eye contact with the other kids. I carefully hand them the books and watch as they uncertainly open them. Certainly in Birsa’s case, already taking charge with Erik, or at least I hope that’s Erik , on ordering which paragraphs they’re each reading. 

That leaves two kindergarteners and an embarrassed sixth grader. With more companions now I might need to start leaving Solas sometimes to make sure they keep practicing. Arnarel is a good kid, but he’s not very good at remembering. Or consistency. I’m not sure if I can trust one of the circle mages to get him to keep practicing with his track record. 

On the other hand, I really don’t want to trade Solas out for Viv. Oh dear. Food for thought. 

“Alright, we’re going to start with your names, okay?” 

I write each of their names on each of the papers, and hand them over. 

“I can write my name,” Arnarel grumbles. 

“I know, Da’len. Practice never hurts though, right? Tell you what, I’ll do it with you to be fair. That okay?” I ask him, watching him carefully. 

He watches back with equal focus, before nodding and scooting up beside me as I took out my own page. 

Every once and a while I scoot to help one of the others with pronunciation, or reading out a word, but for the most part they’re fine. Arnarel is a bit pouty, but he got smiley with a few jokes. They’re good kids with dangerous things at their fingertips, and I’ll try my best to help them. 

I just hope my best is good enough. 

Solas appears, and settles on the ground next to me. His staff lays unused by his side. I wonder how much he needs that thing, considering that last scene in Trespasser. Didn’t need a fancy stick to take away my Inquisitor’s arm. 

“Morning, Solas. I’m just doing some reading lessons if you feel like helping,” I inform him, rubbing my graphite smudged hand on my pants. My left twinges in greeting from the mark, leaving a faint ache. Ow. 

“I would be happy to, Da’lath’in,” Solas states with that little smile of his, the faintest of curls at the end of his mouth. I wonder why he never smiles all the way? I get the depression thing, but I can still get a few laughs out through it. 

Heh. Just got mentally smacked with like ten vines. Nice. 

Oh, yeah. Elfy-ist elf. Focus. 

“Right, well I think I’m going to focus on Arnarel. Do you mind fielding questions? He needs more personal help,” I inform Solas in a lower tone, mindful of little ears. I don’t want to embarrass Arnarel. He’s already upset to need more in-depth help or whatever, singling him out more would only aggravate him. 

Aggravating smol mages would be a ‘ very bad idea ™’.

With a similarly quiet “Of course.” Solas is already moving to be next to the kindergarteners, who’d started doodling and giggling to each other while I was talking to Solas. The way he very carefully listens to them talk to him is funny, funnier when he not so easily steers them back on task. 

Solas lies. 

Then again, so do I. 

“Which letter is that, lethal’an?” Arnarel asks next to me, pointing to the first letter of my name. Right, Z isn’t the most common of letters, and his clan might not have had any members with a name including it. 

“That’s the last letter in the alphabet, Z. Here, I’ll write them all out for you.”

I carefully write every letter down. He nods, and murmurs quiet questions about how to spell certain words. It’s good progress, and I’ve hopefully gotten a couple in his head by lunchtime. 

The kids run off ahead. Only Birsa and the littles try and clean up, but I wave them ahead. 

Then, it’s Solas and I. 

I carefully gather up the books, papers, and pencils with Solas. He doesn’t let me carry the big books by myself though. 

We start walking at a much slower pace. 

“I see your hands have healed well, Da’lath’in,” He says in his quiet, conversational tone. I try not to react outwardly, but I really don’t wanna talk about this. 

“Yeah. I-” I cut myself off, because apologizing again and again tends to annoy people. “Thank you for helping me, Solas.” Solas nods. 

“I’ve told you, Da’lath’in. You are always welcome. Especially were you to need someone to talk to,” He says quietly, tone never changing and ever nonchalant. He’s offering a healthier way to deal with my feelings, I suppose. For what gain though? Fen'harel is a wolf in wait, selfish and prideful in nature. Sins most people deal with, but they are his most primary ones. 

“I’ll think about it, hahren. I’m not very good at talking about my feelings,” I say, reaching over with my free hand and carefully patting his arm. The mark twinges again when it touches him and I ignore it. 

He nods. We leave the books and things in my cabin and he wanders back to his own. I watch his back from the doorway for a moment. His head is high in comparison to most elves, his walk is more drifting than one foot after the other. 

Humans, people , are complex. Too much so for little old me to figure them out entirely. 

Now, to make sure I did all that math right again before my meeting with Josie and Cullen. I refuse to have inaccurate percentages when talking to the big kids. 


 

“So as you can see here, half the battlemages are also being used in the healing tents. They still aren’t being paid for that work though, and the payment they’re being given for enlistment is not enough to compensate for their hours.”

“The mages aren’t doing the same amount of physical work, Avery.”

“These percentages are very interesting, Zoe! I’m quite happy you thought to get specific statistics on our workforce.”

“The mages doing healing are facing recovery from constant mana drain, thanks to the influx of injuries last week, Commander.”

“And they’ve been given allotted time off, Avery.”

“Well, shouldn’t they be given a sort of bonus for their hard work, Commander Rutherford? That does not seem unreasonable.”

“All I’m saying is those of them who help in the healing tents should be paid for that as well, which should bring a majority of them up to the normal soldier’s pay, or even ex-Templar pay. Thanks to their specialized combat, of course.”

Maker’s breath. Fine, Avery. I will not move them away from the ex-Templar’s though.”

“I believe it would be wise to get Leliana if we’re reopening this conversation. Perhaps Seeker Cassandra as well.”


 

Headache oh headache, how I wish you would fuck off

The mages conversation delved into an argument on all sides once again over who to approach to close the breach. An hour of that, again and again, being forced to mediate between four grown bickering adults. Ugh. 

Worse is that my hand is aching like a bitch, aggravated for some reason. Maybe triggered by my feelings or maybe just doing its own thing. I need to shove it in the damned snow or something, because I’m tired of it hurting. Oh my god. 

I need alone time with a good book for a little bit, I don’t trust myself to be cordial right now. 

I walk and walk as far as I can get away from the Chantry, but that ends up being Varric’s tent. 

“Smalls! Get over here kid.” I’m waved towards the dwarf, pausing my escape from Haven. I don’t bother pulling anything more than a small smile for him, but I don’t stomp or anything. 

“Afternoon, Varric,” I greet. He’s standing by his fire, arms crossed. Probably avoiding work if he’s willingly standing in the snow. 

The man grins and pats me on the shoulder. 

“I heard you got pulled into another Mages vs. Templars debate. How you holding up?” He asks. How would he know? I’d be surprised if all of Haven didn’t with all the shouting. My grimace must say enough, since he squeezes my shoulder sympathetically. 

“That bad, huh? Remember, Smalls, I’ll always have a quick escape if you need one, Maker knows Rivani is itching to meet you,” he tells me, only half joking. 

It’s the first conversation we’d had after I bandaged the breech, an offering to get me spirited away. 

Sometimes I wish I’d said yes. 

“Dunno why, I’m pretty boring, save the glowing hand and magic,” I comment, leaning into his side with a sigh. Hugs. Hugs are good. Hugs make the annoying pang in my head go bye bye. 

“You kidding? The moment you got those piercings I think she was half tempted to leave that ship of her’s. You know how Rivani feel about those things,” Varric tells me. 

Oh yeah, my piercings. I half forget about them half the time to be honest. Guess other people notice them more than I do. 

“Oh yeah? Soon as I convince Bull to get a tattoo artist I’ll get another one. Probably a stud this time, though,” I tell him faux thoughtfully. I’m only sort of joking, anything to make everyone question the Herald thing.

“Can’t believe you thought you’d be able to play Chantry sister, Smalls,” Varric says with a shake of his head. 

“Hey now, it was that or a life of crime. I chose the straight and narrow!” Lying, at times, is like breathing. 

It’s like that more and more often. 

Does it even matter who I was before this anymore?

“Whatever you say, Smalls.” 

I roll my eyes at him and sort of enjoy having some physical comfort, for a moment. 

My dad always smelt faintly of cigarettes and something that was him, same with my mom. 

Varric smells like sulfur, the earth before rain and some sort of gunpowder. It’s nice, and he’s warm. 

I wonder what he sees when he looks at me. Some kid to try and save from this place? An orphan? Or does he see his best friend in me, another Hero who gave everything for a place that just kept taking. 

Things were easier when I knew exactly why people cared about me. Your parents should care about you, your siblings should care about you. I’d known my best friend since first grade, of course she cares. I half lived at her house, of course her family cared. 

Why should any of these people care about me? 

I cry after battles, I’m a heratic, I fight against their ideas, I play some hero but show exactly how scared I am. 

Is it pity? Reverence? Duty? A mixture of all three?

I think it’s guilt that makes Cassandra care for me, same with Solas. I think it’s reverence from the people of Haven, and duty from their soldiers. 

I’ve seen a growing look in Blackwall’s eyes. It’ll be pity from him. 

Does it matter?

Probably not. It never will in the grand scheme of things, but it’s something to think about. 

“You alright, Smalls? You’re zoning out.” Varric’s voice pulls me out of my thoughts, and I look away from the fire and at him. He’s concerned, but it only shows in his eyes, not that ever present smile. 

I wonder if he’s hiding behind humor, or if this is just who he is. 

“Yeah, I’m fine. You wanna get something to eat?”

“Course. I heard they’re serving stew with actual flavor today,” Varric says, ruffling my hair before steering is towards the tavern. I nod in understanding. “Fereldens. Would it kill them to add some garlic, at least?”

“Sound a bit adventurous for their tastes, Smalls. Let’s take it slow, maybe some cloves?” I huff a laugh at that. 

“As long as they don’t discover asparagus, Varric, we have a deal.”

Now we both laugh and Varric asks about my problem with asparagus. Do I really need a reason?


 

After a meal that did, in fact, contain some flavor, I head down and out the gates. 

Clanging metal fills the air from both the left and right. Blacksmith and training field respectively. 

I decide to wait before checking on Cass and Cullen, heading towards Bull first. 

He sees me before I’m even near him, and offers a grin. Something about his eyes on me fills me with unease, more so than Solas at times. The Iron Bull never ever turns off that big brain of his, never ever stops reading and drawing possible conclusions. He’s as dangerous as Leliana because of that, even if he’d stab me up front instead of in the back. 

“Afternoon, Bull,” I greet, smiling easily. 

“Hey, Boss. You just checking in?” It’s not really a question, but I answer anyways. Gotta fuckin’ crane my back to look him in the eye though. 

“Yup. How’re you, Bull? Everything alright?” Someone yelps from behind us, and I spot a recruit lying flat on his ass. I’ve seen him before… yeah definitely seen him before. Was he with us when we looped back from the Hinterlands? Yes, that’s where. 

Clearly inexperienced with a sword though, definitely a fresh recruit. Didn’t he mention where he’d been from specifically by the fire..?

Right. Bull. 

“His name’s Roderick, that’s the fifth time I’ve seen him trip over his feet today,” Bull tells me, leaning down as if to help me hear better from his height. 

I just wanna be tall. Why can’t I be tall ?

“Mhmm. He was from… a farm near Redcliffe? Ram hill or something like that. He was tripping all the way to Haven wasn’t he?” I ponder aloud, peering over at Bull towards the end. 

“Saw that too. Never would’a put a sword in that one’s hands under the Qun,” Bull informs me. I hum back. 

“What d’you think I’d be doing if I were there?” I ask, moving over beside him so I can look at him and the shirtless men trying to use swords. 

Nice. 

“Hmm. Probably ben hassrath. You’ve got an open face and an eye for detail. That’s if they could convince you not to run off, though,” Bull tells me. 

“Don’t think I’d last long, to be honest. I’ve got authority issues. This is ignoring my magic thing, right?”

“Right. Mages aren’t exactly treated nicely under the Qun, Boss.”

“Figures. We aren’t treated nicely anywhere. What was the whole no parents thing like?” I ask the Qunari, and he hums in thought. It’s more like a rumble. 

“It isn’t much different. We’ve got these sort of matrons who take care of us, teach us, and recommend what jobs we’re skilled for. Less… touchy feely. Most of the Qun is less touchy feely, more practical. Why do you ask?” His voice is always casual, no matter the subject. I think he could comment on someone dying right in front of us right now and still keep that tone. 

“Your culture is way different than mine, it’s just interesting to hear about. I was raised on personal freedoms above all else, so the Qun is crazy to me.” Roderick lands on his rear again, and it’s the frustration in his face that keeps me from hugging a laugh. Maybe he’d be better suited for some other job we have need of? Being an archer doesn’t been much moving, unless you’re Sera or Lele. 

He’d break his neck, oh dear. 

“Personal freedoms, huh? That couldn't have been the Marches, Ferelden, or Orlais. Rivian?” 

“Not close, Bull, not close. If you’d like, you can just tell your bosses that my grandma was from there? It’s sort of like her home, with less occupation,” I inform him helpfully. “There was definitely jungle and lots of tattooing going on at a point.”

“That, doesn’t help at all, Boss. Thanks for trying though,” Bull says with that smile. 

“I wish I could tell you, Bull, I really do.” I pat him gently on the shoulder. “Ima check on Blackwall now. Tell me if you need anything.”

“Bye, Boss.”

Bull is a good person, even if he can’t act on it at times. Maybe at some point I’ll tell him the truth, but not while he’s with the Qun. 

Chapter Text

 I’ve thought about it. Thought about it since I got here, late at night in that tiny tent I sleep in on the road when it isn’t safe to wander. 

Mages, or Templars?

Mages. That’s who I’ve decided on. If I’m going to fight an army of red lyrium infected monsters, I’ll pick the ones that can’t throw fire at me. Mages will always be more dangerous than everyone else, especially when they want to hurt you. 

I’d rather them on my side, even if it damns thousands of others. 

“We must decide on who we are approaching. With Enchanter Fiona’s invitation and the power we hold, we can enter Redcliffe and speak to the mages,” Leliana states, leaning on her pillar. She’s speaking directly towards me, rather than the others. It’s become clear that I’ll have to be the decision maker in the end for some crazy reason. 

I’ve made almost all of the main decisions for the inquisition so far, okayed missions and recruited support. It makes sense now, but I still wish it wasn’t me. Doesn’t someone have a problem leaving the decision making to a fifteen-year-old?

Or , we could attempt to contact Therinfal Redoubt. We also have obtained enough weight to approach the Templars, though it might cost more of us,” Cullen adds, hand gripping his pommel and his eyes especially tired looking. 

The man needs some melatonin, I’ll see about someone making sure he’s sleeping. Maybe take away his reports after twelve. 

I stare down at the war table, looking at the current missions in progress and the ones we’ve completed. 

I rub my face, sighing deeply. I spent the last night talking over the two choices with my spirits, debating back and forth the pros and cons, but the choice I made is probably the best of the two. 

“Redcliffe. If I were to have someone on my side, I’d rather it be the mages,” I state quietly, grabbing the mission knife and looking up at all four of my companions. 

“We-“ Cullen starts, but Cassandra raises a hand to cut him off. Her eyes stay set on me. 

“Are you sure, Herald?” She asks in that strong voice of hers. I don’t know what I did to earn that trust in her face, but it scares me. 

“Yes, Seeker. I am certain.”

We hold eye contact for a moment, before she makes a small nod. 

The knife is driven into Redcliffe town’s center with all my might, which is apparently more than it was a few months ago since it’s solidly in there. 

“Well. I’m sure Leliana will see that a party is ready to leave for the Hinterlands by this week’s end?” Josephine breaks the silence, looking over at her friend. Lele nods. 

“Of course. Seeing that an important decision has just been made, no one else opposes ending the meeting here?” Lele asks us all. No one argues against that, so we all slowly shuffle out of the room with our thoughts. 

That was… interesting. 

I don’t feel like destroying any trees though, so I think I’m just going to go see what Solas is doing. Hopefully desk work, then I can just lay on his nice bed and listen to him write. 

Listen, there isn’t Spotify around here. You want soothing background noise then you gotta seek it out on your own. Otherwise you just get the constant sound of snow being walked on and people talking quietly. Or worse, the Chant

Vivienne is not in her spot when I walk past so I continue out the door towards Solas’s cabin. I exit the warm Chantry and sludge my way through fresh snow. Solas isn’t standing outside his cabin, so I knock on his heavy wooden door. 

Two solid knocks, then only a moment before the door is opened. No sound of footsteps beforehand, just silence then the door creaking open. 

“Good morning, Da’lath’in,” The Elvhen god greets, leaning against his doorway. 

“Good morning, Ha’hren. I was wondering if I could hide with you? I don’t feel like talking to people right now.” He nods, always with those eyes looking deeply into me. What does he see? 

“Of course, Zoe. If you don’t mind telling me what worries you.”

Everything and nothing old man, the whole world and what I’ll force down my throat for dinner today. There’s too much to worry about and not enough time. 

I sigh, before waving him in close. He plays along with a smirk, leaning in and tilting his ear towards me. 

“We just decided on who we’re approaching. The mages at Redcliffe was the final decision. Did you just shave?” Momentarily distracted, I carefully tilt the top of his head towards me so I can further inspect it. Definitely recently shaved, looks baby smooth. 

“Do you do that with a spell?” 

His shoulders are shaking, and I realize when I see his face he’s laughing. 

Oh. Didn’t realize I was that funny. 

“Yes, Da’lath’in, on both questions. Now come inside before someone notices your keen ministrations.” He’s quickly recovering from his laughter, but the silent mirth remains. Tucked in that smirk that shows teeth and the crinkle in his eye. 

He’s handsome when he smiles like that. 

“Keen ministrations? Yeah alright Ha’hren, tell me, is that hip of yours feeling alright?” I huff at the elven man, moving my hands and entering the cabin once he moves out of the way. “Could’ve sworn you’d thrown it out that last rift we closed. The one in the river?” 

He shuts the door behind us and I flop on his warm, fur covered bed. 

“I’m glad for your concern, Da’lath’in, but my hips are in working order. Tell me, just yesterday I saw you and one of The Iron Bull’s men canoodling. Was that flush from the cold, or something said? I could not tell,” Solas asks innocently, settling at his desk and reading something over. 

Penis face. 

OH!

“Fenedhis lasa,” I state, watching with morbid curiosity as shock hits Solas’s face suddenly, before leaving just as quickly. 

“Who taught you that?” He asks, looking in the other direction. Probably because he’s got that weird eye smile he does and he knows I already figured that tell out. 

“No one you know. For your information, Krem and I are friends. He’s got a damn nice face, but he’s twenty-two. Too old for my baby looking butt,” I explain, having grabbed one of his pillows and hugging it to my chest. Solas’s looking at me now, chin leaning on his propped up hand. 

“I suppose that would be a significant difference from your perspective. What of that dark haired serving girl?” Solas asks, apparently genuinely interested in my dating life. 

“Oh, Nahna? She’s nice, but she’s pining after one of Cullen’s lieutenants. Besides, I’ve got too much baggage to put off on someone. Would be nice to not die a virgin though,” I pause, then realize I admitted that aloud. 

“Uh. Forget I said that, not even Bull would touch my holy ass and I’m way too young for sexy times.” Solas only looks amused again. Stupid old wolf man, a girl can dream. 

“Of course, Da’lath’in.” He turns back to his writing with that dumb smirk firmly in place. Stupid Ha’hren- old man. It’s not like he’s getting some either. 

Wait, is he getting some?

That’s weird, throw away those thoughts into the dumpster fire. They don’t deserve mercy. 

Get comfy in a nest of blanket and stare up at the ceiling, enjoying the quiet for a few minutes before he breaks it. 

“So. The mages, then?”

Right. Real life. 

“Yeah. The mages,” I pause to collect my thoughts, looking at all the odd shapes in the ceiling. “If whatever opened the breach were to get the side I don’t pick, I’d never let them have a large force of mages. We’re too dangerous, Solas. Especially if the rumors I’ve been hearing are true.”

And there are rumors. Rumors of odd, red blighted creatures roaming certain areas. First experiments I suppose. Enough for my concerns to be somewhat validated. 

“So you do agree with certain Chantry ideals?” Solas asks. No judgement, just curiosity. 

“That mages deserve to be caged? No. I only speak of the power I’ve felt coursing through my veins, and having it turned against me. I can handle a silence, but enemy mages and murderous elements? Not so easily.” I sigh deeply, rubbing my face. 

“You speak as though there is some greater conflict than just closing the breach.” I don’t have to look over to notice the change in tone. 

“Whatever opened the breach did it for a reason, that kind of world ending damage couldn’t just be for terrorism. What scares me is the reason they may have, and what they’ll do if we stop them,” I explain quietly. 

Solas is quiet for a moment, probably collecting his thoughts. 

“You are wise beyond your years, Zoe. I doubt another could handle the task put on your shoulders as you have,” His words are just as quiet as my own words. Filled with a meaning I shouldn’t be able to understand, lying beneath it all. 

Oh Solas. Why did it have to be you?  

“If this mark didn’t need a host, I would’ve asked for it to be chopped off, Solas. I suppose it’s the tasks forced onto us we handle best.”

We don’t talk much more after that, and the room is filled with quiet breathing and the scratch of quill against parchment. 


 

If I miss anything, it’s probably my family. My sisters the most. 

Lola, the youngest. Maria, the middle child. Maria should be halfway through her last year of middle school now, Lola was a fifth grader. I wonder how they’re doing right now? 

Maria probably didn’t cry at my funeral, I’ll be completely honest about that. She deals with emotions differently than me. She’d be sad, but she’ll keep moving. She always does. 

Lola, Lola is too much like me and not at the same time. She’s probably still crying, or hoping I’m still alive out there somewhere. She’s young, though, she’ll get older and slowly forget about me. 

A sob curls up in my throat, and I wipe away a tear. 

I would give up my sight if I could just hug them again, to know they’re alright. To tell them that I’m alive and that I love them so much

But I can’t. 

I wipe away the few tears that have escaped, and close my eyes. 

They will be fine. Even if I won’t be, they’ll keep on living their normal lives, probably get to a ripe old age and then pass away in their sleep. Lola will probably have at least three kids, but I don’t really see Maria going through the trouble of adoption. She’s practically unable to have kids biologically, and I can see her just spoiling Lola’s kids to spite her. 

They. 

Will be fine. 

I open my eyes and stare up at all of the stars above me, looking at the faint purples and blues that tell me this is a completely different galaxy from my own. I allow myself to be fascinated. 

Something shifts in the snow to my right, and an ice shiv appears in my hands before I snap my head to look. 

A sheepish looking scout stands there. 

I sigh. 

“It’s fine, I was thinking of going somewhere warm anyways.” I wasn’t thinking of doing that, but I’d rather not embarrass the scout further. 

“Right, Herald.” The scout salutes in that weird inquisition way, before disappearing into the shadows. 

Weird folk, those rogues, but fine enough I guess. 

I run my fingers through my hair, before standing and heading back towards Haven proper. 

Is that Sera?

Sera, in all her plaid weave glory, picks me up bridal style and starts carrying me away. 

This is fine. 

“Uh, hello.” I’m greeted with a snort as we head through Haven’s streets, stopping at a small cabin I don’t think I’ve seen in game. Sera kicks the door open, then tosses me onto what seems to be a bed. 

“Right. Before you say nothing I’ll talk first,” Sera says, shutting the door behind her and standing by it, looking sort of vulnerable . “I’m pants when I’m drunk, talk too much and say what I see. You haven’t talked to me since and-“

She stops herself from where she’d started pacing. 

She turns quickly, crouched down, and grabs my face with both of her hands. 

“What I’m sayin’ is sorry, Tits. I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings, or whatever. Shite you said ‘bout mages is fine or whatever too. Just don’t get any sticks near me!” She pauses. “Other sticks too. We fine now?”

I blink slowly for a moment, taking in the disheveled looking elf in front of me and her equally messy cabin. 

“Yeah, we’re fine. Why’re you up right now?” 

Sera moves her hands away from my face and puts them on her hips. 

“Your sleeping is pants, y’know? Saw you leave, wanted to make sure you came back. Then I felt more bad lookin’ at your pitiful face.”

Pitiful. Haven’t heard that one yet. I roll into a more comfy position on her bed and make grabby motions with my hands. 

“Well if you feel so bad then give me cuddles. It’s not like I’m gonna sleep anytime soon and you look like you need them, dear,” I state idly, practically feeling the bags under my eyes grow. 

She makes a face, before looking like she’s taking me all in again. 

“You act like a mum. It’s weird in that tiny body. Fine, though, I’ll give you your stupid hugs,” She grumbles, kicking off her shoes and flopping onto the bed, into my arms. I grunt at the sudden weight, but enjoy just hugging someone. 

Well, that was easier than I thought. I think I’m gonna go to sleep or something now. I doubt demons will come for me while I’m cuddling. 


 

Memories, though, are apparently free game.

Before this town was Haven, before the temple and before the mines, there were the elves. 

This was once a small camp for runaway slaves. 

There were tents not so unlike Dalish ones, made with hide and furs, but also having random spots of bright color. These people seemed to favor purples and blues, hanging lines of bright cloth on anything they could and tying them for good luck. 

They lived quietly, always fearing recapture, but there were lighter patches that outshone the darkness. Hope, clarity, fellowship, family. The birth of a couple’s child that turned out to be two. Surviving an especially harsh winter with no one harmed or dead. Bringing a local human hunter into their midst after years of loneliness and isolation on his side. 

They moved, at some point. Maybe remaining uncaptured, maybe becoming one of the modern clans of today. 

But they were here once, at one point in time for a few years before the fall. It’s amazing to be able to see even a moment of what they lived and loved. 

I wander through the fade after looking through those memories, peeking into small pockets of dreams. A servant dreaming of home, a soldier of the conclave before it blew, and-

A ball. An Orlesian one filled with spirits playing nobles. It looks similar to Val Royeaux or the Winter Palace. 

I change my clothes to that of a servant’s, happy to wander in character and watch the festivities. The fake nobles are ever dramatic and I could’ve sworn I’d seen at least one romantic tryst down a corridor. 

I wonder who’s dreaming about this? 

I look around for any familiar faces, carrying a tray of glasses likely filled with wine. My ears are distinctly elven, probably the fade trying to keep things as close to the original as possible, but I don’t mind it. 

I pass countless brightly clothed nobles before spotting a familiar dark skinned mage dazzling a group of masked spirits. 

Vivienne. I’m not surprised in the least. 

She looks beautiful in that dress, though, and the mask is less stupid looking than some of the others I’ve seen in this dream and out. 

I appear beside her, smiling. 

“Wine, Madame?” I ask, and she turns her head quickly, blinking behind her mask in surprise. 

“Now what are you doing here? The Herald would never wear that,” Vivienne murmurs, taking one of the glasses and sipping it elegantly. 

Should I play along?

“The Herald is a dreamer, Vivienne. This is a beautiful dream,” I murmur to her playfully, before taking one of the glasses and imagining it to be Dr. Pepper. 

Ah, yes, good old battery water how I’ve missed you. 

“Why, I was under the impression that only Solas had such abilities. It’s quite rude to intrude, my dear. I must say, your usual furs suit you far better than those rags,” Vivienne states, plucking at the fabric of my shirt with mild distaste. 

I hum in acknowledgement. “They’re far better than a corset, Vivienne. Apologies on intruding though, I was just curious of who was dreaming of an orlesian ball.” Annoyed by the weight of the tray I have it disperse into the air, letting me roll my shoulder. 

Lucid dreaming on steroids baby. 

“Nonsense, you have no need for one of those. You have an appealing natural shape, far more than some could wish for.” Vivienne waves her hand dismissively at my statement. She’s far more at ease with the dreamer thing than I thought she’d be. Then again, she’s good at hiding her feelings. 

“I’m just glad I haven’t had to dress up for one of these yet, ignoring your party. I have a feeling it’d increase the marriage proposals I’ve been getting.”

And marriage proposals have been got. Not a crazy amount like I should expect once we get a castle, but enough to be… unnerving. 

Josie says I don’t have to worry about them, most just want access to the inquisition, but the few I’ve read are weird. All about my shining youth, beauty and piousness. Clearly none of them have actually met me, or they’d cross off the last bit. 

Ugh, am I gonna get flirted with during the Winter ball?

Probably. Fuck me. 

“Pay no mind to those, Herald. Even in that quaint village you’re above most who would dare ask. You’re the head of the inquisition’s inner circle, and a young beauty,” Vivienne states easily, before taking another elegant sip of her red wine. “Besides, you’re only at betrothing age. Any willing to marry you so soon deserves social pariahhood.”

Something about that tone indicates that she’d make sure of it. Note to self, Vivienne is scary and not to be trifled with. At all ever. 

“Noted. Care for a dance, my Lady?” I make a show of bowing and holding out my hand. Vivienne sighs before setting down her glass and taking it. 

“If memory serves, this is when Ser Gervais Beaulieu declared his undying love to Lady Janine Dufort. At least this will be more entertaining than Lady Dufort’s senseless crying.” We walk towards the dance floor with me snickering and Vivienne looking decidedly amused. 

I’ll count this as a win, as long as I don’t step on her toes. 

 

 

Chapter Text

Blackwall, Bull and Sera join me for the trip to Redcliffe. Varric looked like he wanted to come anyways, but I’d rather him at Haven resting. Solas I need to teach the littles. Vivienne... wasn’t in the mood, last I checked. I’m pretty sure whoever she was writing those letters had better pray for forgiveness, because she looked like she gave no mercy. 

So. Bull, Blackwall, Sera and I made off towards the Hinterlands with a group of scouts. 

“You make a habit of sleeping in other folks’ beds, Tits?” Sera asks out of the blue towards the beginning of the trip, just as we leave the mountains. 

My face heats up quickly at both the nickname and the statement. I’d cover my face if I weren’t riding a huge ass nug. 

His name is Snuffles, and he is a beautiful nug who deserves all the love in the world. He also strikes fear in the hearts of bandits where I can’t, so that’s a plus. 

Sera,” I hiss, making what must be a distressed face at the snickering elf a few years older than me. 

“Never thought that’d happen. Nice, Boss,” Bull states back towards the rear, and I make a distressed noise in the back of my throat. 

“Not- That isn’t what happened. I was kidnapped and demanded cuddles as payment. Purely platonic bed sharing!” I state, looking back at Bull and then up towards Blackwall. 

“Keep reacting like that and I’ll keep talking, Tits,” Sera sing songs before cackling. Evil. 

“I will freeze your arrows, Sera, don’t think I won’t,” I threaten, pointing at her dangerously. 

Not that dangerously if I’m honest, I’m not that scary or dangerous looking to begin with. 

Sera sticks out her tongue in response. The ride continues. 


 

We take out a group of bandits before we reach Redcliffe’s gates. 

A rift greets us, just as I remember. 

My mark pulses in synch with the tear in reality and we charge forward. Time slows and speeds up, just as it did in the game, but it doesn’t mess with my casting. 

Bull cuts a few of the demons in half and Blackwall defends Sera while she shoots. I charge forward, sending ice into demons in a few well placed steps before sending lightning through the ice. 

There are a couple close calls, but the party is mostly uninjured and allowed inside the town with little resistance. 

“Anyone else notice how… odd that was?” I ask my companions. Bull grunts in agreement. 

“All of those.. things are weird. We closed it, I’m alright with that,” Sera declares, looking frazzled by the experience and not willing to talk about it. At all. 

An inquisition scout appears, tells us about how no one was expecting us and that we’ll be using the tavern, we get told a magister is in charge, and I can feel the whole party’s mood plummet. 

Off to a great start. 

We go to the tavern with little difficulty, but the clear confusion on Fiona’s face is enough to make me groan internally. 

Fucking space time bullshit, do I look like the Doctor to you? 

“Welcome, Agents of the Inquisition,” Fiona greets. “What brings you to Redcliffe?”

“You did, Grand Enchanter. You said you wanted to ally with the Inquisition, in Val Royeaux. Don’t you remember?” I play the fool easily, channeling some genuine concern for the mages into my tone. 

“No, I do not. I haven’t been to Val Royeaux in some time, Inquisition. It must have been an impostor of some sort.” She pauses. “Besides, the free mages have already aligned themselves with another force.”

“What force?” I ask innocently, and I fully expect the interruption I get for an answer. 

“I’m afraid she speaks of me, survivor,” Magister Allexius states, and I turn to view him. 

He’s taller than me, which is unfortunately true for most around here, but he’s clearly seen better days. Whatever dark magic he’s been doing to change time has clearly taken its toll. 

“Or rather, the Tevinter Imperium. Magister Gereon Alexius, at your service. I apologize for not being able to greet you earlier. This has been quite the sudden visit,” Alexius greets, bowing to me specifically with a pasted smile on his face. 

“The southern mages are under my command, survivor of the fade.”

I put on my brightest and best smile, holding out a hand to shake. 

“Zoe Avery of the Inquisition, pardon our sudden visit, Magister Alexius. It appears something odd is going on, perhaps a mage with a penchant for wearing faces.” This man decided to put a group of men, women, elderly and children into indentured servitude. I hate his guts and I’d love to handle him right now. 

But that isn’t how you win the war, just the battle. 

Sera makes a noise behind me, voicing her discomfort at the situation, but I don’t react outwardly. 

Alexius takes my hand and unfortunately kisses it, rather than shake it. It’s just a peck and not slobbery or anything, but it feels demeaning. 

“A pleasure, Agent Avery. While unexpected, I would not mind bargaining for some of my mages. For a price, after all.”

I smile with my eyes, never revealing the nausea in my gut. 

“Of course, Magister Alexius. I would wonder the legality of claiming southern citizens though, especially with the inclusion of children. They are indentured servants, are they not?” I pause for a moment, concern pulling at my features. “Us southerners must be quite queer to you, but one must pay attention to the law. Especially in these troubling times.”

I can see the exact moment he realizes there’s a brain behind the ‘Herald’ bullshit, the little shift in his features before a mask settles on his face. It’s exactly like the ones I’ve seen in Val Royeaux.

“Most queer indeed, Agent. Most queer indeed. While I’m afraid I haven’t gone over any sort of legalities, what with the suddenness of it all. The mages are ensured citizenship after ten years in service to the military, of course,” Alexius says. 

Fucking bitch, fenhedis looking ass, goblin ear wearing son of a-

What part of children isn’t understood? I’m going to break this man’s fucking toes. 

Felix interrupts me before I can act on my promise, falling dramatically into my noodle arms and tucking a note into my hand. 

Well, that’s a good distraction if any. 

“Oh my goodness, are you alright?” I ask quickly, holding the older man up and looking him over like I would any other time. I’ve been known to care too much about random people, this isn’t out of character. 

“Felix! Felix, are you alright?” Alexius asks his son, taking him out of my arms and helping him stand. I subtly shove the note in my sleeve, giving the father and son concerned looks. “Apologies, friends, I must leave quickly. We may continue this conversation at another time.”

Alexius rushes out, along with his Tevinter servents, slaves , and Fiona. 

“Holy shit, fuck that guy up the ass,” I declare, looking disgustedly at the door and leaning back against Bull. 

Bull laughs lowly, and Sera makes a show of voicing her agreement. 

“I was almost concerned, my lady. Are you sure you’re not highborn?” Blackwall asks to my left. Sera makes a gagging noise. 

“I know how people tick, I just played the part I needed to. What kind of person is okay with enslaving children? Christ almighty,” I say with a grimace. This world has slaves . There’s another injustice on top of the mages, elves, and humans being dickheads. 

Bull’s chest rumbles. 

“Knew I had you pegged for Ben-hassrath.” 

Well yeah, how else would I keep all my secrets if I couldn’t play pretend? 

“Your observations are rarely wrong, Bull. Now, let’s poke around and see what’s going on. Maybe kidnap some kids, depends on if my mood changes,” I state with a sigh, rubbing my face. I wave for them to follow and we set off to finish every quest and interaction Redcliffe offers.

“Oh, and I’ve been invited to talk to someone in the chantry. Should probably do that first.”

Ah, Dorian. A well groomed, if prejudiced, balm for my soul. 


 

Dorian of Minrathous is mid fancy staff twirl when we arrive at the Chantry. 

“Oh, good, you’re finally here. Help me with this, will you?” He says, before tossing sparks at a demon. 

Two steps and two spikes enter another. It’s a short fight, even if my arm aches afterwards. 

The rift seals shut, and Dorian is in front of us. 

“Fascinating. How does that work, exactly?” He asks with a smile, before chuckling to himself. “You don’t even know, do you? You just wiggle your fingers, and boom! Rift closes.” 

I mean, Solas tried to explain it once, and I know some of it based on the game and having it. But really? No. I couldn’t think of how to make it and have it work in a lifetime. 

“You’re right on that. It does seem fond of arm eating, though,” I agree, before holding out my markless hand for a shake. “Zoe Avery, agent of the Inquisition. And you?” 

He takes my hand and shakes it, unlike some Tevinter I know. “Dorian of house Pavus, most recently of Minrathous. How do you do?” He lets go of my hand and adds a little bow at the end. Bull makes a face beside me. 

“Watch yourself, the pretty ones are always the worst,” he states, eye piercing through Dorian. 

Aw, cute. You could call it-

Adori-bull. 

I cackle internally. I truly am a humorous genius. Even if I didn’t come up with that ship name. 

“And I see the rumors of your odd company are as true as your age, Agent Avery. Or should I use Herald?” He says, before continuing with the main conversation. 

“Magister Alexius was once my mentor, so my assistance should be valuable— as I’m sure you can imagine.” 

Now Sera is the one making a face, fingering one of her arrows in a twitchy way. Probably wants to stuff him full of them. That’s her usual solution to things she doesn’t like. 

“So Felix brought us here to meet with you then? You did say once , so I assume there’s something we should be concerned about,” I say, before bumping my shoulder against Sera. She needs to chill out at least a little, I can’t have my ship ruined by arrows. 

Also dead companions are bad, that too. 

“Ah, besides the sudden enslavement of the free mages and the weird time shit going on.”

“Correct! I do love a quick one. There’s danger here, and you must know it even without the note,” he pauses, likely for dramatic tension. “Alexius taking the mages out from under you, as if by magic. Which is exactly right. To reach Redcliffe before the Inquisition, Alexius distorted time itself.”

Ugh. Time travel. Well, at least I get to watch Dorian’s mustache twitch for the rest of the conversation. I wonder what he puts in it?


 

We run into the dragon’s nest after wandering. I’m sure others would call it lost , but the Inquisitor and her companions don’t get lost. 

YES !” Bull shouts at the top of his lungs like the madman he is, dodging fireballs and looking like he’s having the time of his life. “Today is a good day. Today is a very good day.”

I don’t have enough mages for this fight. 

Sera seems to be cackling though, with Blackwall seemingly alright with this terrible situation. 

Why do I have to be the voice of reason among adults?

Likely because they’re all adrenaline junkies in need of some action. Sending Ser Woolsey on his way hasn’t exactly been the most eventful quest. 

Despite my better judgement and years of evolution keeping my ancestors from death, I let my mana thrum in my veins. The dragonling doesn’t see the ice spikes coming, and neither will it’s siblings. 

You owe me a fucking drink, Bull !” I shout at the Qunari after jumping away from a fireball of death. 

Bull only responds with that hysterical laughing, and shouts shit in Qunlat back. 

Blackwall shield bashes a dragonling that almost bites my face off, and I throw a barrier around Sera before she catches herself on fire. 

We work like a well oiled machine, even if this is our first mission with each other as a unit. It’s weird, but whatever keeps us alive. 

We get to the actual dragon after a while, and I even manage to get Bull to drink a health potion. Fucking tanks, man. I act like one too, don’t get me wrong, but it’s a pain in the ass to constantly worry that Bull’s gonna get one too many slashes and bleed out. 

“We’re killing a dragon, Boss!” Bull says giddily as we jog to the seething mother dragon. Majestic as she is dangerous. 

“Gonna stick it full ‘a arrows,” Sera informs us all, already sending one towards the dragon’s eyes. 

It meets its mark, and suddenly the Ferelden Frostback is much more angry. 

It roars . The ground tremors with the sound and her flapping wings, and I suddenly realize I’ve never felt so alive before. 

“TAARSIDATH-AN MALSAAM!” Bull shouts, running for the dragon that’s probably about to spit fire. 

Ah, fuck it. I might die anyways. 

“EAT SHIT, DOVAH!”

We don’t die, but we’re definitely more singed than we were to begin with. And one of us had to guard the body while the others got some scouts to help us collect the beast’s parts. And by us I mean the scouts. No way I’m skinning a dragon, especially one that almost ate me. 


 

Once a certain possessed ram is returned to his owner and/or caretaker we decide to take a break and drink copious amounts of alcohol. 

Yay healthy?

Sera is already passed out. By we, I mean them, because I’m underage with a developing brain. No drunken adventures till I’m at least sixteen. 

At least no one is bothered by me cuddling, I attached myself to a questionably intoxicated Blackwall and get to listen to Bull’s deep voice talking about… something. 

Pay attention?

“-and that way she tried to hit me with her back claws? Glorious. ” Right, dragon. No one better sell that dragon stuff without my say so, those things have good master forge whatever pieces. Master work? Ugh, too much thinking. Blackwall is a comfy pillow to lean on. 

“Bull, if you could I think you’d fuck a dragon,” I cut myself off with a yawn. “And I’d cheer you on, even if I were very concerned for the dovah and you both.”

Bull sets his eyes on my tired form, barely affected by all the alcohol he’s got in his system. At least visibly. 

“Oh? And why do you keep calling them dovah, Boss?” He asks, ready for more precious backstory. 

Ah, fuck it. 

“That’s their name in their language, the Thu’um . Dovah Tinvaak . It’s what lets them use magic, at least the way I learned it. That dragon did look at me funny when I called it Dovah ,” I tell him, before yawning again. 

“I figure these dragons have been stuck around here so long they lost the ability to shout, Thu’um. They’re supposed to string words together in their language to do fancy attacks, but they can’t do that here.”

Bull looks like he wants to take notes. 

“And you speak it? ” Blackwall asks beside me, looking aghast. 

I shrug. “Yeah. I felt like it when I was like, eleven, so I learned it. Fin Rah Los Koraav. The gods are watching. I could try and say the words of power, as in the magicky stuff, but,” another yawn. “I dunno if it’ll work, and using them inside a crowded tavern would be bad.”

Sera pops up from the ground, still looking drunk. 

“Say, “hot tits”!”

Ah, do I know that one? 

“Ugh, gimme a second I gotta remember.”

Was there a word for boobies? No, there’s not even a word for chest? Am I remembering correct?

“No word for chest, Sera, sorry. Again, dragons. They don’t have boobs.” Sera groans loudly, before flopping back to the floor. 

“Alright, say ‘I’m going to eat you’,” Bull says. 

Fuckin- what am I, google translate?

Zu’u Bo… Wah Naak Hi, ” I state, looking at the ox man. He looks like he’s memorized it for life. 

Zu’u Bo Wah Naak Hi, ” He repeats dutifully with a grin, and I make a face. 

“If you shout that at the next dragon we fight, I’m gonna throw hands,” I tell him, before adjusting my position against Blackwall to be more comfy. Blackwall only grunts. 

“Dumb dragon language, don’t even got a word for tits,” Sera grumbles under the table. 

“Plenty of dirty stuff you can say in Elvhen. I’m sure Solas would love to teach you,” I tell her jokingly, and laugh when she only groans harder and mumbles. 

Bull adjusts his position in his seat, leaning down and staring more intently at me. 

“So, any reason I hear you’ve been sneaking into his cabin late at night? Or was that just a rumor,” Bull asks, and I make a face. 

“Not doing the dirty, if that’s what you’re asking. I’m a whole virgin and he’s a whole too old for me,” I say, then stifle another yawn because it isn’t too past my bedtime. 

Someone near the center of the bar roars with glee when he wins what’s probably wicked grace. Everyone else grumbles. 

“I have a habit of punching trees to deal with my feelings, and he’s good at patching bloody knuckles up.” Blackwall stiffens at this, and in his drunken haze he grabs my right hand to inspect. As if it’s still wounded. It’s got a couple small scars now, but it’s mostly fine. 

“My lady, you can speak to us about these things. Injuring yourself isn’t the answer,” Blackwall says, clutching my hand. Right, uber depressed soldier who probably understands PTSD and depression. 

“He’s right, Boss. I’m definitely getting paid enough to be a therapist if you need one,” Bull adds. Sera makes a noise of agreement, though that might just be her making noises. You never know when she’s drunk. 

Oh look, a whole support group of adults willing to help me work through my issues?

Not today! Cries my self-hate, because of course it’s all out of pity. I’m a terrible person with no redeeming qualities. 

Hey brain, you suck. Just get some fucking seratonin for once. 

No, cries Brain. Because Brain is bad at expresso, and good at depresso. 

Heh. Depresso. 

It’s around three in the morning and I killed a dragon today- yesterday . Exhaustion does weird things to you. 

“I promise to give you a warning before I start pulverizing trees. If I start talking about feelings this late at night I’ll start crying, and I killed a dragon today. I don’t want to cry,” I ramble, before sinking further into my chair. 

“Can we go home now? We did the stuff and the Hinterlands is depressing.”

Blackwall picks me up bridal style, despite being drunk, and starts for the door. 

“Your wish is my command, my lady.”

I snort. I’m not sure if he’s joking or not?

“I wish to not get dropped, Ser Blackwall. Onward, troops! To camp!” I wave my hand forward. Sera whoops from behind us, and just as we step outside she catches up, Bull probably following at a more sedate pace. 

I look up and enjoy the thousands of stars above me. 

I wonder if people figured out super good space travel while I’m gone. Seems like the sort of thing that’d happen to me. 

“What’re you thinkin about, tits?” Sera asks beside me, squinting up at the stars herself. 

I huff a laugh. 

“Going to space. I wonder what it’s like on the moons, looking down on Thedas?” I ask her, and she makes a face back. 

“Dead probably. Ain’t no air that high, arrows always come back down.” 

Huh. Fair enough. 

“Ser Blackwall, your beard is very well groomed,” I state, before reaching up and poking said beard. 

Blackwall hums. “I’m glad you say so, my lady.” Sera peers over at it herself. 

“Do all Wardens have beards like yours?” Yes. Finally. This conversation. 

We sleep in the next day. Probably because two out of four of us are hung over. 

Chapter Text

Hungover companions aren’t the best companions, but Bull at least didn’t show that he was having problems. Sera on the other hand…

“Fucking sun is gonna get arrows.”

Not doing as well. 

Blackwall’s taken to grunting and squinting, which is funny and makes me concerned. Well, I’m concerned for both of them, and I’d like to give them some aspirin, but I don’t have any of that around here. 

So. Suffering it is. 

This trip’s been quicker than the last one since we didn’t have to walk across half of Ferelden, but it’ll still take a day and a half to get back to Haven by horse. Faster than when we travel with scouts of recruits, but still slower than it would’ve been with a car. 

I miss cars. Would I get car sickness if I tried to ride in one? It’s been four months since I got here. Four months is a lot more time than it’s actually felt like. 

Skyhold soon. Then the Winter Palace, Adamant, creepy Elvhen woods, final battle, then two years filled with travel and rift closing. Then the Qunari invasion. Eluvians. Solas. And that’s just the major events, since there’s so much else to get done before this is all over and I can rest. 

At least I know what to prepare for. My inquisitors didn’t get that luxury. 

So. A day and a half, then we talk over the Redcliffe plans and come back to deal with Alexius. 

Time travel. Ugh. 

We’re close to the mountains before we settle camp for the night. 

I start setting up the tents while Blackwall does the fire, Bull starts handling the rations, and Sera mentally prepares herself for first watch. Well, and handle the mounts, but they’re really good at doing their own thing. 

Unlike my companions, no one will ever let me do any watch. Probably because I’m a fifteen year old, and the inquisition’s best asset, but it still smarts to not do that much. Everyone else gets to be sleep deprived. 

“Tits! Say that cuss word, the one I heard you call Solas,” Sera says from beside the fire. I pop my head out from our tent, as I’d been laying the bedrolls out. 

“Eh? Why’re you eavesdropping on me and Ha’hren?” I ask. I’m not too bothered, there’s no such thing as privacy, but I would like to know why. We don’t talk about much interesting stuff, at least to the outside world. I could listen to him going on about the fade for hours as long as I get to lay down comfortably during it. 

Sera makes a gagging noise. “You ain’t even an elf, tits. Weird. Cause I wanted to make sure he wasn’t being gross. All you two do is talk about weird fadey wadey shite, though.”

Yeah. That’s more than once someone has assumed that now. Can’t I just have one paternal figure in my life? I mean, I’ve got Varric, but you gotta switch it up sometimes. 

“I’m not saying it then. Appreciate the fadey wadey shite, Sera, I’d be dead if he didn’t know any,” I say, half joking and half not. I crawl out of the tent and settle on the ground in front of the fire, next to the elf. 

“Tch. You’d be fine. You’re you ,” Sera says with complete certainty, both concerning me and enlightening me to her views of me. 

“Dunno how many folks who can purify demons, that’s all I can say,” Bull adds from where he’s stirring a pot. 

Okay, that’s true. I pout anyways. 


 

I’ll skip over the gritty bits about the hour long debate session and the dramatic Dorian entry. All anyone needs to know is that Bull, Varric and I will enter through that castle’s front door while Dorian and some agents will enter through the sewer. 

Trust me, no one else deserves that kind of headache. 

I don’t bother leaving the chair I’m slumped in, politely asking a guard outside the open door to fetch Bull and Varric. I watch him leave quietly, before looking up at the ceiling blankly. Is this my life now? Mediation? I suppose that’s what my Myres-Briggs personality was called, but I didn’t expect it to be literal. 

Then again, I didn’t expect to be at the head of an Inquisition a couple months ago so whatever. 

I hear Varric and Bull chatting quietly outside the now closed door, then louder when it opens. 

“You look like shit, Smalls,” Varric says, and I look down from the ceiling to meet both the men’s gazes. 

“Aw, thank you. Just the thing I wanted to hear,” I reply, smiling my worst fake smile. 

“So, what’s up, Boss? You usually come to us,” Bull says, closing the door then leaning against the wall. 

I sit up from my slumped position, and cross my legs. 

“Right. So basically we’re springing Magister Alexius’s trap by hopefully Friday, and you two will play ‘bodyguard’. Apparently the keep Alexius has settled in has a nice sewer system that’s good for sneaking people through.” I wait for questions. 

“So we’re willingly putting you in the hands of a evil Magister?” Varric asks in deadpan, arms crossed. 

I shrug. “That’s the gist. His ex-student has let us in on him being in league with these ‘Venatori’, who have something to do with the temple explosion. We can’t get more information until we get him monologuing,” I explain. I uncross my legs and start swinging them back and forth, watching carefully for the two’s reactions. 

These are the two people I’ll see in the nightmare timeline. It’d only be worse if I’d picked Solas instead of Bull. 

But I’d rather my best guys behind me then not. So that’s that. 

“Makes sense. When we heading out, Boss?” Bull asks. 

“Tomorrow morning. Please handle what you need to before then, and make sure you get your gear in with Harrit, Bull. Can’t have burnt armor on you,” I finish. Varric makes a face. 

“That. We need to talk about fighting dragons without me, Smalls. As in don’t do it,” He states, pinching the bridge of his nose. Bull chuckles lowly. 

“You should’ve seen her, Tethras. She almost took my arm off in one stomp!” Bull says. Because he’s really fucking weird about dragons. “Please tell me I get some of that dragonscale Boss.”

I make a face. 

“Sure, Bull? Please stop talking about it with that tone of voice. Little ears.” I gesture to said, pierced little ears, but he only grins in response. 

Bull leaves with a still weird toned goodbye, but I leave with Varric beside me. 

“You sure you’re okay with this, kid? Wandering the Hinterlands is one thing, you know this is an ambush,” He says quietly. Not in a patronizing way, it’s never like that with him, but just quiet concern. 

I shrug. “It’s what needs to get done. We need the mages for one, since the Templars definitely won’t stand with us now. Can’t get the mages if they’re under the control of a Magister.” None of this is about how I feel. It never is. If it was, I’d spend all day teaching my kids and leave the world saving to the adults. 

“You’re too good for these people, Smalls. Too good for any of us,” Varric says in that same tone, rubbing a calloused hand down his face. “I’ll stand by you no matter what, alright, Smalls? Just please, don’t get hurt.”

A bit late for that, Varric, but thank you anyways.

We split at the door after Varric ruffles my hair and walks on to deal with whatever. I stand alone for a moment, just soaking in the crisp air and the sounds of walking and speech. 

The sky is clear blue with a couple clouds, and the breach cuts through one of its sides like an open wound. A hawk flies up there to some unknown destination. 

“Taken to sightseeing then, Herald?” Rodrick states from behind me. 

He doesn’t like me, I don’t like that he wanted me as a scapegoat. 

It was peaceful for a moment there, so I can be glad for that. 

“It’s a beautiful day outside, Chancellor. How are you?” I turn to look at him in the eye, watching his disgruntled expression shift a bit. 

“I fare well. How has that… mark been affecting you? Your arm appears fine.” There’s some small concern, some being better than none, I suppose. 

“I’ll likely lose this arm in a couple years time, as the mark is corrosive in nature. Today has been fine though, minimal aching,” I inform him quietly, wary of any curious ears. 

He makes some microexpression I can’t quite describe, but his face is slack otherwise. 

“I see. Good day to you… Herald , I’m sure we both have duties to tend to,” He says before nodding and leaving in the direction of the gates. “Good day,” I reply, watching him go. 

Interesting. 

I shrug, before starting my daily wander. Bits of interesting conversation surround me, and one scout sends me a loud, toothy greeting. She runs with Harding, so I see her a lot. I wave back with my own grin. 

If only I could remember her freaking name. I’m such a bad leader. 

Something runs in the corner of my eye, and I spot one of my littles sprinting towards me. He slams into me and hugs me tightly, partially hiding behind me. I let out a grunt at the sudden, forceful affection, but ruffle his hair anyways. 

“You alright, Erik?” I ask, him heavily breathing and watching where he came from with wide eyes. 

“I got caught,” he states, and I spot an angry looking soldier stomping this way. 

I grimace before throwing the skinny boy over my shoulder, then sprint out the gates. 

Not dealing with that today. 

Erik squeaked when I got him over my shoulder, but overall he seems content to hold onto me while we make our escape. He’s trying to explain what happened, but I’m not really paying attention past the realization that my stamina is way better now. Which it is, I guess that happens when you run from things a lot, or dodge them, or hit them with sticks. 

The like. 

I hear a few calls towards me from some scouts or soldiers, mostly amused questioning, in one case a hastily drawn sword. I get through the second set of gates easily enough and slow to a stop. 

I slide the sixth grader off my shoulder and breathe an airy, nervous laugh. 

“That’s why we practice on people who won’t stab us, alright?” I inform the boy, running my hands through my too long hair and looking him over. 

He’s as fine as I left him this morning, clothes a bit ruffled and a streak of probably muddy snow on his cheek, but alright. 

He nods quickly, looking around us and at the mostly undisturbed snow. I clear a patch of ground, and sit down with a sigh, patting the place beside me. He sits. 

“You alright?” I ask gently, arms resting on my crossed legs. His own legs are curled up to his chest, arms wrapped around them. 

“Yeah,” he responds quietly, looking down at the ground. 

He opens his mouth once, closes it, then looks at me. 

“You speak for Lady Andraste, don’t you?” He asks, looking almost… desperate. 

Shit. 

“That’s what they say. Why, kiddo?” I respond. 

“Has she forsaken us? Are we not worthy anymore? Is that why-“ He stops himself, and rubs away a few tears. 

“Is that, is that why my parents died? Because they weren’t worthy anymore?” He asks me, looking at me with those wide green eyes and so much hurt. 

I gently take his hands into mine. His parents were a mage and a Templar. They came to the conclave hoping they could finally love each other in the open. 

“I’m not Andraste, so I can’t possibly know what she’s thinking right now. But… if she knows even a little about you or me or anyone, then I think we’re fine.”

I pause, thinking out my words. 

“Things like this usually happen because of people down here wanting them to, or making them happen. People die because of that, and it’s terrible and not right. I don’t know if Andraste or the Maker wanted this, but I don’t think your parents did something wrong by loving each other. Any Maker who doesn’t like that isn’t worth your time.” I pull him into a sideways hug. 

He cries into my side, and I dunno if anything I’ve said helps, but I’ve been told I’m a good hugger. So at least that probably helps. 

“Did I ever tell you about the time my little sister taught me how to make a flower crown?” I ask the boy, watching him shake his head in my side. 

“Well, I’m not the best, but I’m sure we can do it if we do it together,” I offer gently, watching him take a few deep breaths in my side, slowing his tears. 

He looks at me now, and nods silently, rubbing his teary eyes. 

I grin. “This can be a lesson too, if you feel like learning.” I put his hand in mine and lay them both down in the grass, palms flat. 

“Just imagine the flower you’d like, and push the tingly magic bits into the ground. You can describe it out loud, if that helps,” I explain, looking for any confusion. I don’t get any, and he nods. He looks down at his small, pale palm and mumbles about his flower. 

“Once you feel it sprouting, just lift your hand slowly. There’s no rush.” He nods again, never looking up from his palm. 

We sit like that for maybe five more minutes, me murmuring encouragement and stories about funny looking flower crowns. 

The flower does grow though, bluebells, if a little smaller than it should be. Erik beams and sniffles, looking at me for some positive reinforcement. I oblige happily. 

“Look at that! Well, I've never made a flower crown with bluebells before, but with that skill? I’m sure we’ll do fine,” I state, lifting my own palm and watching a couple bluebells form. Magic didn’t work like this last I checked, but if the fade obliges it obliges. 

I spend the next hour or so making wonky looking flower crowns, enough for all my kids, but Erik seems proud nonetheless. 

I’m glad. The kid deserves a break. 

Hello pot, meet kettle. 

My mark flickers and aches as I watch Erik run towards Haven proper, arms full of flower crowns. I suck in a sharp breath and look down at the mini rift. 

I pull off my glove and watch it glow sickly green. Ever present and parasitic. 

I flex my left hand a little, but shove my glove back on and look around. Nugs run through the snow, squeaking at each other and playing. The breeze makes the trees rustle and makes me shiver. 

Weird. Really weird. 

I turn on my heel and start back towards Haven, because ain’t nobody got time for whatever feeling that was. Especially not religious leaders, or whatever I am. 


 

Hin Haas? ” Bull asks before we leave Haven. I shrug. 

Nahlaas. Alive. Did you pack those extra healing potions I asked about? Can’t have you getting stabbed and bleeding out,” I ask, looking the large man over as if to check for injuries. I wouldn’t be surprised if he had at least one slash. 

Alas, nothing too visible, but he gets what I mean regardless. 

“You run into battle as much as me, Boss. I’m just big enough to take it. Yes, I grabbed those extra potions.” 

I nod, looking Bull and Varric over. We’ll be going alone, with Dorian and Leliana’s scouts following farther back. Makes sure no super secret spies catch wind of our super secret plans. 

It’s nice to know I’m progressing forward with the plot. Being in Skyhold will be a relief, even if Haven has wormed its way into fondness from me. Which is a feat. It’s really fucking cold up here. 

I glance behind me at the sound of crunching snow, and spot Leliana in the Twilight. 

“Lele,” I greet quietly. She smiles, and it might be the realest kind I’ve seen from her yet. 

“Zoe. I’ve come to say goodbye, and good luck,” She says, hands clasped behind her back. I nod. 

“Glad to know you think I need some more luck. The way things have been lately have been a little worrying, to say the least. Can I have a hug?” 

I watch Leliana analyze me for a moment, prying into my deepest secrets, before the smile turns into a smirk and she nods. 

I get a surprisingly nice hug from a spymaster, reaffirmed in the idea that she might actually like me. We mount our... mounts, and leave Haven behind. 

This could either be very bad, or very bad. At least I probably won’t die. Probably. 

 

Chapter Text

Dorian has known Zoe for all of a week. If he were asked about his opinion of her, it would be far more positive than he had expected in the beginning. 

She is kind to him, despite his being Tevinter and knowing him for so little time. She is concerningly young for her position in the inquisition and what it expects from her. 

She is distressed immediately when she finds herself in the future. 

“We need to get to Alexius and find that necklace, right now,” Zoe says after handling the two guards who find them, fists clenched and covered in left over frost. 

“Of course. Shall we?”

They walk through the keep, her steps as silent as a rogue’s and her shoulders tense. Dorian admits he’s a bit more calm about the situation than some would consider appropriate. He is living something he used to only theorize, though, and it is fascinating. Unnerving, of course, but ever so fascinating. 

They stumble upon a future version of the Qunari, though, and Zoe’s face becomes stone. 

“Bull, Jesus Christ,” She says, reaching out and wrenching open his cell door. 

“Boss? Don’t tell me I’ve finally cracked, you were very dead last I saw,” He states, staring down at the Herald with an irritated face. 

“No, Bull. He sent us forward in time. I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry.” He can’t see her face anymore, he’s too far behind her, but apparently it’s enough to convince the Qunari that she’s real. 

“Nothing to be sorry about , Boss. It’s Alexius who did it,” the Iron Bull tells her. 

“Bull, your eyes,” She lifts her hand, but doesn’t touch him. Her hand is shaking. 

Oh dear. 

“Come on, Boss. Varric is here too.” 

They walk, and something about Zoe’s stride becomes different as they pass more dead with lyrium growing from them, more damage. Ever silent, but it’s more like a predator. He walks behind her and the Qunari, so he sees nothing of her face, but Dorian worries. 

They turn a corner, and there, sitting against the back wall of his cell, sits the author of Hard in Hightown.

Smalls, ” He says, standing suddenly. He glows the same as the Qunari, poisoned by the red crystals they can’t seem to escape. 

There’s a healing bruise on the side of the dwarf’s face, and a cut in his lip. This time The Iron Bull opens the door. 

“We were sent forward in time, Varric. Look what they’ve done to you.” 

That, is a wet statement, and an angry one. This time, Zoe does not stop herself, and she tilts his head to get a better look at his injuries. 

“I’m alive, Smalls. Don’t worry about me, you can’t touch me, please. I won’t watch this shit make you crazy, not after I watched you die,” Tethras tells her, taking a step back to avoid her touch with moist red eyes. 

“They need the magister’s necklace to get back, Varric. They get back, we avoid this ,” The Iron Bull tells the dwarf. 

“Good. She can’t stay here, not with Corypheus. He’ll have sensed her. Come on, Smalls. We’ll… we’ll catch up while we go, okay?” Zoe has stepped back enough for Dorian to have a good view of her face. Tears run down her face, but not one sob. Oh dear. 

Then, that stone returns, with something in her eyes that makes him nervous. 

“Okay. Let’s move.” 

They move from hall to hall, until they reach a sort of crossroads of bridges, meeting more enemies. Zoe beats them to it. 

With a wave of her hand, that’s why she carries no staff , ice impales their throats, and the one that dodges gets a crossbow bolt to the eye. 

“Should’ve let me cleave them, Boss,” the Qunari grumbles, but he says nothing else of it. 

“There was a demon army, Zoe. And it all went to shit with the assassination of the Empress of Orlais. No one would listen to anyone else, and we all got stomped,” Tethras tells the teen, and she nods. “Are any of the others here, Varric? Any at all.”

“No. Just the Nightingale.”

Lightning crackles at her fingers, and Dorian decides to keep to the rear. 

“Even Solas?” She asks quietly, looking back. 

“He was lost in the last big battle, Smalls,” he says gently. She nods again and they continue out to a dock. 

Dorian is not sure how to feel about any of this. He’s not exactly ‘buddies’ with anyone in the inquisition, and hearing of these allies’ deaths is odd. This is not a future he will allow to come to pass, ever. 

Zoe uncharacteristically and brutally attacks any soldier they see, leaving few leftovers for the rest of them, and it only becomes worse when they face the rift in the courtyard. 

Her eyes practically glow with the reflection of the Breach and the rift. Dorian kills any who come close to her, but the way she lets the elements flow through her and destroy demons is almost as fascinating as this nightmarish future. Her gait is that of a predator, so different from an hour ago, and her magic flows wildly in contrast. 

Her men are not dissimilar, despite their red glow they move in the same way, determined, but not so angry as she. 

It is most definitely as fascinating as this place, Dorian decides, even if he almost worries she would turn her magic on him. 

“You must watch your mana, Herald,” he tells her, and she only shrugs at him, never stopping after stonily searing the rift together.

“The veil is weak, very weak. There’s an endless supply of magic as long as I keep each action to a minimum. Don’t you feel it?”

He did not, but he wouldn’t be arguing with her in this state. 

“Why did you want to know about Solas, Zoe?” The dwarf asks. 

She finally pauses, stopping her stride and thinking without looking back at them. 

“I can’t tell you, Varric. I wish I could, I truly do,” She quietly says, looking back at them with old eyes, still almost glowing green with her natural eye color. 

“That’s okay, Smalls. I’m just happy you’re alive.”

They move forward again, onward and closer to the spymaster of the inquisition with three predators and himself. 

Then, they hear a woman scream was they walk into another set of stairs, and Zoe is sprinting ahead, leaving frost in her footsteps. Two wet sounds are all Dorian hears after, but once they reach the room, he has to grimace at the sight of a tortured Chantry mother shivering, being held in the Herald’s arms. 

He would not let this future happen. He thinks it again and again, and the more he sees the more he wishes he hadn’t left Alexius to himself. 

Maker, I am but a servant of your will. I dream of your light and only yours, blessed are the- “ the Chantry mother whispers to herself, rocking in Zoe’s arms with eyes squeezed shut, bruises covering her wrists and her face. 

“Hide here, Mother. If I’m right, you will see the maker very soon, I promise you. Andraste wills it,” Zoe whispers back, gentle hands in the woman’s messy and dirty hair, soothing her. 

Her eyes snap open, and through the red there is recognition and clarity. 

“Herald. The maker has not abandoned us. Bless you, your worship, bless you,” her voice is hoarse from screaming, but she does do what the Herald says. 

“I forgot how you do that. You’re so much like Hawke,” the Dwarf whispers. They continue. 

Lightning has resumed with vigor, trailing Zoe’s fingers with every twitch and step. 

The Nightingale is in the next room they visit, heavily scarred with eyes made of ice. 

“So you live,” The left hand of the divine murmurs, dropping from her shackles. “Alexius sent us forward to the future, Lele,” the Herald of Andraste responds, lightning stoping long enough to retrieve a bow and arrows for the tortured woman before them. She takes them with ease, eyes not leaving the Herald, trailing her figure and analyzing. 

Dorian never wishes to be at the opposing end of those eyes, in this nightmare or real life. 

“How did Josie die.”

“Peacefully. I ensured it.”

“Good.” 

They continue, four predators and himself. He wonders what could be going through any of their minds at this point.

“What was your torturer’s name, Lele?” Zoe asks, breaking the stifling silence before Dorian had the opportunity. It was not a better option, but it’s better than quiet. 

“You and I are too alike, Zoe. You told me once about a time for ideals.” 

A soldier spots them, and has his head cleaved by the Qunari. 

“Any person capable of that doesn’t deserve my compassion. In this time or my own.”

“You would punish for something that has never been done?”

Dorian freezes a man, and Zoe sends a lightning bolt down on him. 

“I’m greatly tempted.”

They push forward, ending every enemy in their path with ease. Dorian feels a strain on his magic already, but Zoe moves with no fatigue yet. Very odd, though the wrath and anger he’s sensing from her might be fueling better than his own determination. He thinks he will avoid angering the small girl when they get out of this. 

Another ice spike sends a man to death, choking on his own blood. 

Yes, he will very much not get on her bad side. Are her eyes glowing or is that just a reflection off her mark? Disconcerting nonetheless.

“You always had this much in you, Boss, or is this a one time thing?” The Qunari asks said girl with a grin, despite this nightmare. 

To his surprise and further discomfort, she smiles in kind with truly unhappy looking eyes. 

“The world has all but ended, and the last thing I could call family is dead. I hope to god that this is a one time thing,” she says. 

Dorian does not think he wants to dwell on that statement. Ever. 

“Cruel. Do I look dead to you, Boss? … Don’t answer that.”

“I can’t even hug you without further risking infection. I’m sorry I died, Bull. I’m so, so sorry.” 

—-

They collect the shards unceremoniously, only continuing their pattern of many corpses being left behind them up to the point of opening the door. The lightning does not cease, if anything, it gets worse.

Alexius, what have you done?

Magister Alexius, please give me the necklace on your neck so I can avoid this future, ” Zoe states lowly, stopping only two feet from the much larger man. “ If you do not, I will kill you where you stand .

There is no time for Alexius to explain himself, defend his foolish actions. This Corypheus, Elder One , is coming. Dorian wishes to know, he does, but he will not get between righteous wrath for this version of his mentor, not when what’s left of his son sits vacant eyed, staring right through him. 

A nightmare. This is truly a nightmare. 

“Just do it then, girl. I’ll be dead regardless for your continued existence,” Alexius hisses. Something clearly snaps in Zoe, because the electricity at her fingertips hums loudly. She waves a hand, and a bolt of ice finds a place through Alexius’s eye. Despite himself, Dorian is glad she didn’t electrocute him. It is a painful way to die. 

There is a crash against the door. 

“Shit. Kid, you need to go. Please, Zoe, you need to go,” Varric says quickly, cocking his crossbow and aiming it to the door, Leliana and The Iron Bull following suit. 

Dorian snatches the necklace from his mentor’s neck, quickly working through equations and magical sequences as more and more bangs follow. 

Zoe stays close, right at his side, but sends up barriers around their allies. 

“It is useless to waste mana on us, Zoe,” The Nightingale states. “It isn’t a waste if it’s you,” the Herald responds, and the door crashes. Dorian forced himself not to look up, forces himself to calculate and send them home. This place is but a nightmare, and he will need a great deal of drink to properly handle it in a few hours. Hopefully less than a few. 

Zoe, beside him, whimpers, and he hears a large something crash to the ground. 

The Iron Bull. 

He needs to finish, he’s almost- almost!

“Hurry, Altus!” The Nightingale cries, and-

I’ve got it ! Hold on, my dear!” Dorian holds one arm around the girl next to him and pulls her to his chest, with one final glance- Tethras - they-

Leave. 

Dorian is a touch unsteady, but before him is his mentor and friend, still alive. 

Zoe steps forward with that same stride, and forward, until she is only a foot away from him. 

“You’ve lost, Magister Alexius of the Imperium.” That is all it takes for Alexius to slump down to his knees, and for the inquisition’s agents to gather him up and start towing him out. 

Dorian releases a breath, and turns to look at the three people who had just died for them, blessedly not glowing red. 

He’s going to find that drink now. 


 

I almost killed him, oh god oh god Bull was dead, Varric was dead, Leliana was only saved by my barrier. 

Pull yourself together and bottle your rage. A king is coming. 

Stiffly I turn on my heel and watch the front doors swing open for the King of Ferelden. 

“Good Evening, King Alistair,” I state. He glares back.

Great. 

 

Chapter Text

Choking. I can’t breathe. They’re dead dead dead and I’m alive. Why am I alive? Why am I always alone. 

I’m fighting and instead of a Templar, Vivienne is choking on blood. It looks so similar to Leliana clutching her neck, covering weeping claw marks. Eyes bulged and her mouth dribbling blood-

Varric smiling and pulling me into a hug, but it’s wet wet wet and he’s so cold. Coughing. Dead. 

Kill me. Not them, anything but that, please, please pLEASE PLEASE-


 

Someone’s screaming. Is that me? It sounds like me. It smells like sulfur and the red lyrium sings so sweetly in my ear. 

“Breathe, breathe, Zoe. I’m right here, listen to my voice,” Varric says in my ear and I’m being held. Lightning and sulfur and burning flesh, chains. Varric is dead. 

“You’re on a stone floor, feel it?” My hand feels cool, rough stone. The other is being held like a lifeline. “We’re in Redcliffe, at that shitty castle. Do you remember? You told me it looked boring when we got here ‘add some grooves for fuck’s sake’. Remember?”

I take a shuddering breath, then another and again and again. 

Not this again. 

I look up from where my face had been stuffed in Varric’s shirt, and look at the tired older man in the face. I can still smell the rot from the bodies becoming Lyrium, the burnt flesh of months ago, the fucking sulfur. 

I hold him closer, shoving my face into his shoulder and sob. 

I’m sorry. I’m sorry, I’m sorry- “ I repeat again and again. Is it to him? He died in front of me in another reality, and it’s because my barrier broke. Is it because I keep freaking him out? Is it because I hate myself? Fuck if I know. God I’m shitty. 

Was due for another one of these, I guess. Was almost recovering too. 

“Don’t be sorry, Smalls. Please, don’t ever be sorry,” Varric says instead of telling me I’m horrible, because he’s too nice to me. I’m sure he’d tell it straight to fucking Bull. 

Bull, they cleaved his head in half. 

I dry heave. 

“This isn’t your fault. It never is, Smalls. It never is.” 

Why not. 

I know your future, I know the woman you love betrays you. I know your best friend may die if I let him, because I’ve done it before and watched you hurt. I know who killed the Divine and I’ve known it since I woke up in that dungeon. 

I’m a liar. 

And you will hate me for it. 

“I just wanna hug my parents, Varric. I just wanna go to sleep,” I whisper shakily, tears falling and never fucking stoping. Varric’s arms tighten around me. 

“I know, kid. I know. I’m sorry, I’m sorry that I’m all you’ve got. I’m- I’m not that good at this,” Varric says, and now his voice is wobbling. 

Fuck me.  

We sit there for what feels like hours, Varric trying to calm me down and me trying to forget the smells stuck in my nose and pretend that my hand doesn’t hurt. 

“I watched you die, Varric. I couldn’t do a thing and you died.” I pull away from his shoulder and look the exhausted looking man in the face. 

Varric cracks a smile. “Do I look dead to you?”

No. But I can see blood coming out of your mouth like a fountain when I close my eyes. So you breathing and speaking to me apparently means nothing to my brain. 

“No,” I say instead. 

“I’m right here, all that shit that happened in that future? It won’t happen here. Ever. Okay, Smalls? No one is dead,” Varric soothes, and I try and calm down. I rub tears away from my face and take a few calm, deep breaths. 

Fuck panic attacks.

“I wanna go home,” I state, looking up at Varric. He nods. 

“Soon as everyone else wakes up we’ll leave, alright? Past few days have been shitty, I’m sure everyone needs a break.” Varric hugs me close and for a moment it’s like my dad is. He doesn’t smell like cigarettes, but it’s close enough. 

I hug Varric tightly, wondering if this is my life now. 

You can’t appreciate the good in the world if you haven’t felt the bad. I hope this is all worth it. 


 

Alistair is stiff when we say our goodbyes, looking at me like he sees a ghost. I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s thinking of the Warden, it seems I remind everyone of their old hero buddies. 

I forgot how much you’re like Hawke’ bangs around in my head. Spoken from chapped and bloody lips. 

“I’m sorry we had to meet like this, King Alistair. Yesterday was… a bad day. For everyone,” I say to the half elf king, watching him nod. 

“I could tell. If the future really is so damned as you say, I don’t blame you for being shaken,” He states, before sighting and running his fingers through his hair. “I admit I was also a bit rash. Rogue Magister’s with mage armies don’t really put a monarch at ease, Herald.”

“Safe journey to you and your party, Lady Avery. I'll be sure to send Leliana a raven once I’ve cleared this mess up,” Alistair states, and I nod in thanks. 

“I’m sure she’ll appreciate it, King Alistair. Thank you again for letting us stay the night.”

With that, we leave the stupid castle with its shitty fortresslike looks. If you’re going to build such a big eyesore at least make it pretty to look at. Skyhold? Skyhold is the way to go. Fancy arches and shit, instead of rectangles and squares everywhere. 

Shitty fucking castle. 

Bull snorts, so I assume I said that last bit aloud. 

The mood is bleak for the two days on our way back to Haven. Either it’s me bringing everyone else down or that I’m not the only one exhausted from that ordeal. The good news is that the mages will show up a day after we do, and that we can get the first act over with soon enough. 

How bad is hypothermia? I don’t want hypothermia. The only reason I haven’t died of the cold yet is all the magic keeping me warm and durable. I need to make sure I have my go bag ready, maybe rehash that evacuation plan one for time with Leliana. 

I’m going to get grey hairs early despite being from a family of people who barely fucking age. 

At least I don’t get period cramps. My stress probably can’t fuck with that. 

After waking up in the middle of the first night from nightmares I crawl into Varric’s tent and gently tap his shoulder, ready to move out of the way if he accidentally tries to stab me. 

Fucking hell Hawke- oh. Nightmares, Smalls?” Varric asks, having lurched up, and now staring at me blearily. I nod silently, and he pats beside him before flopping back down on the sleeping roll. 

So yeah. Definitely entered the ‘dad’ stage of our relationship, which is a sort of upgrade from ‘uncle’? I don’t usually like sharing a bed, alright; but when the people closest to you keep crying out your name and dying in your sleep you do what you have to. 

Plus, I get touch starved easily here. Never know who wants a hug and who doesn’t. 

I see a wolf the second night. I don’t get nightmares. 

“So, are you two by any chance related?” Dorian asks Varric and I as we ride back to Haven the final stretch of the trip. 

“No? I don’t have a drop of dwarf in me, Altus,” I tell Dorian while Varric chuckles. “I get why you’d think so though.”

“Family friends then? You’re very close,” Dorian says. 

Varric opens his mouth and I can see him spinning a lie from here, so I hurriedly cute the man off. 

“The Inquisition is all the family I’ve got left, so I guess so. Varric is like a cool uncle, and I’m his cooler niece,” I say. Varric grins. 

“Oh? I don’t see you writing any bestselling books, Smalls. Only thing cooler about you is that I’ve magic.”

I huff dramatically. “You’re just saying that cause you’re old. At this rate you’ll go bald like Solas. Even your chest hair. ” And now it’s Varric’s turn to be dramatic, gasping like I’ve blasphemed. 

“Now that’s just cruel,” Bull comments from the rear. 

“I think I’ve just learned all I need to know,” Dorian says, and I finally laugh. 

“Glad to be of service, Altus. Any other questions?”

Dorian pauses in thought, tweaking his mustache. 

“Do you believe yourself to be Andraste’s Herald?” He asks. 

It’s an ever familiar question. I answer it the same as I always do. 

“I’m agnostic, meaning I believe there’s a higher power but I haven’t a clue who it could be. I think I got this mark because I wouldn’t let someone hurt an old lady. If that makes me worthy to the Chantry’s Maker then who am I to say?” I run my fingers through my hair. 

“To be honest? I hate the Chantry and it’s stupid book and it’s stupid rules and discrimination. I’m not the only one who sees how fucked up it is, right?”

Bull grunts in agreement. “Qun doesn’t waste potential resources because of ear shape.”

“And I suppose the Qun is much greater than the rest of us in general, isn’t it?” Dorian asks sarcastically, and I hear Varric take out that journal he keeps for the stupid book. 

I let out a quiet “Yikes.”

“Not what I said, Vint, but I’m not sure you can hear right with all those feathers,” Bull responds. 

Yikes ,” I say again, this time not able to suppress a quick exhale from my lungs that turns into a laugh at the end. 

Scribbling of a quill. Joy of joys. 

“Tell me, how much do you report back to your superiors, Qunari? I’m genuinely curious,” Dorian says sassily. 

I quietly raise my hand, bringing attention to me. 

“Uh, he sends his reports to Lele first before sending them to his other bosses. I’ve seen a few, they’re enough to keep them happy. If he’s been sending any secret ones past Lele , then they deserve to get sent.” Because Spymaster knows everything happening in the inquisition. I’m a teenager, but I’m also stupid smart, I know I always have someone on my tail and that everyone’s gotten a background check. 

“Can we just… respect our differing cultures? I’m sure me bringing up slavery wouldn’t feel nice either,” I say. 

Dorian digests everything I’ve said, and promptly decides that that’s stupid. 

“That is a different subject altogether, Herald,” Dorian states. I disagree. 

“Both include losing free will, don’t they?” I ask, making my ‘are you serious’ face. “If we’re gonna start beating each other up we can even add in the caste system, just so Varric feels included.”

“All our cultures suck ass, let's all agree to argue about them after we’re settled with some nice stew,” I grumble. 

The subject closes with some furious writing on Varric’s part. 

—-

All my companions deign to be in the tavern the night we return, half of us playing wicked grace while my kids enjoy some positive attention. 

“-and would you suggest we simply allow mages to roam free? Not all have as much control over their abilities, Zoe,” Vivienne states. Solas makes a micro expression to my side. 

“Definitely not. What I’d suggest is some mandatory schooling for a few years, but being let out once they’ve shown proficiency. A University sort of thing rather than being forced away from everyone and not being allowed to have children,” I explain. 

“More booooze !” Sera shouts at the other end of the table, half draped over Bull as she does so. Bull snorts. 

“I’m mystified that you can’t even reproduce,” Dorian states from his seat next to Vivienne. 

“And I’m so sure slaves don’t have the same limitations placed on them,” Solas states in deadpan. I run a hand down my face as I bounce Lanna on my knee. 

“Duuude, speaking of that, that isn’t chill. Didn’t that feel weird to you even once, Dorian? People owning people.” I make a face. “I get growing up with it making it different, but Jesus.”

“Who’s Jesus?” Lanna asks. I choke on air. 

I gently run my fingers through her dark hair. “I’ll tell you later, my dear. Think Andraste or Maker,” I explain. 

Lanna nods seriously, before turning back to playing with her stuffed mabari. 

Fereldens

Wait. 

Fuckin shapshifting. 

“Holy shi-ooot, guys. Guys I just remembered mages can shapeshift. Please, do any of you know how to s hapeshift I beg of you?? ” I ask, quickly catching myself and hugging Lanna close to my chest. She giggles at my oddness, and shoves Tiger the mabari into my nose. 

Did I suggest the name? Yes. Do I regret anything? No. 

Solas blinks the way he does when I do something surprising, then to my surprise, he laughs quietly. A rare feat, in front of this many people. 

Vivienne sniffs haughty, as she is prone to do when circle ideals are in question. “There is no such thing, darling. I don’t know what stories the apostate is putting in your mind, but magic does not work that way.”

Vivienne, darling amazing Vivienne, if you were right I would fight against nature itself to prove you wrong. 

I want to be a cat. I will fight god , to be a cat.  

Solas’s eye is practically twinkling, enough for even a newcomer like Dorian to spot it. 

“The apostate knows something we don’t, Madame de Fur,” Dorian states. Vivienne narrows her eyes in response. 

“I have seen many things in the fade, Da’lath’in,” Solas says simply, but it’s all I need. 

Fuck yeah. 

“Fricking best Hahren there ever was, Solas. I’m going to be a cat.

That mirth is still there, and I seem to create that reaction more and more lately. 

Definitely attachment. Hopefully not unhealthily so. 

“You most certainly will not be, and certain someone’s shouldn’t put those thoughts into your head. That is hedge mage superstition, darling, not real magic,” Vivienne interjects. 

“Hero of Ferelden travelled with a shapeshifter,” I say in response, smiling something more like a smirk. “And that has eyewitness accounts, even if the Chantry doesn’t want mages getting ideas in their heads. Can’t keep you locked up if you can become a fly.”

Vivienne makes a face, and I feel bad for enjoying all the banter. 

“Lady Avery, it appears one of yours is asleep,” Blackwall says from beside Solas, and I see Vavra very asleep curled up on top of him. I grin. 

Adorable. So freaking adorable. 

“It is bedtime isn’t it?” I ask, looking out the dark window. 

To my surprise, Erik stands from where he’d been playing wicked grace, and goes to pick up the girl. Blackwall stops him. 

“Don’t worry about it lad. I can handle it,” Blackwall says, gently picking the girl up. I pick Lanna up myself, and get out of my seat. 

“We’ll be right back y’all, feel free to talk about whether shapeshifting is or isn’t real while you wait.” I pat Solas’s shoulder and ruffle Erik’s hair. 

“Do come back quickly, Zoe. I have questions about that peculiar phrase and where exactly you come from,” Dorian says, before taking another drink of his wine. 

“Will do, Dorian. Solas, don’t hurt him too bad. I like this one,” I mock-whisper the last bit, and laugh as I walk out to sputtering and quiet chuckles. 

Blackwall and I take a slow pace, and I idly mess with Lanna’s jacket. It won’t be warm enough for the coming winter, I’ll see about requisitioning a new one tomorrow. 

“I heard that Redcliffe was... bad,” Blackwall says awkwardly. Despite the images the mere name brings up, I huff I quiet laugh. 

“If walking through a broken apocalypse can be called bad,” I state, smiling humorlessly. 

“What’s apocalypse mean?” Lanna asks quietly. 

“The end of the world, darling,” I respond quietly, adjusting her seat on my hip. Maria was always better at carrying kids.

Blackwall is quiet until after we put down the girls and leave the cabin. He stops outside the door, so I do as well. 

“As I’ve said before, if you are ever in need of someone to talk to…” Blackwall murmurs. 

I lay a hand on his arm, surprising him. 

“Thank you, Blackwall. I’m sure Solas and Varric would fight you for first spot, but I’m thankful to have you here,” I say. “If I had to open up right now, I’d say that the entire situation was a clusterfuck. I-“ 

I take a deep breath. 

“I watched Bull get his head split in half like a pumpkin, and Varric- Varric get his throat slashed.” My eyes are getting wet and my throat closing up. 

“I never want to feel that way again, watch my people die in front of me and be able to do-“ I hold back a sob, “to do nothing.

Of all the people to understand most, it’d be Blackwall. I can see it in his eyes that he’s reliving something similar with me. 

He lays a heavy hand on my shoulder. 

“I understand how you feel, and want you to remember that now we have the chance to avoid that ever happening,” Blackwall tells me. I nod, and wipe away traitorous tears. 

“We- we should probably get back. Vivienne might start freezing people, specially Solas and Dorian,” I say. Blackwall nods, and honest to god hands me a handkerchief. 

I laugh, despite everything. 

“You’re a gentleman, Ser Blackwall. A real gentleman. Now, let's go make sure everyone hasn’t killed each other,” I state, pointing a hand forward reminiscent of the last time we had a tavern escapade. 

I grin now. “Blackwall, you feel like carrying me?” 

Blackwall smiles under that beard of his. 

“As the lady wishes.” I’m picked up princess style, and we head onward. 

Life is shit sometimes, but it's moments like these that make it all better. 

Chapter Text

I sleep in way later than usual, body trying to make up for being on the move for almost a week straight. My head feels like heaven until I’m woken up for a War meeting. That started five minutes ago. 

It’s at times like these that I wonder. 

I step through the meeting room doors in my pajamas, because fuck it I’m a teenager and a religious figure no one can fucking stop me. 

Lele is smirking, Cassandra looks like she still hasn’t gotten rid of last night’s resulting hangover, Josie is as amused as Lele, and Cullen looks like he’s going to faint. 

Also, Cullen has bigger bags then last time I saw him. Is he still not sleeping? I’m going to stage a goddamn intervention. 

Speaking of which, the withdrawal symptoms are showing worse and worse, and if he doesn’t get more rest and food for god’s sake his body won’t be able to fight them off as well. 

Early intervention it is. I can cite my uncle who overdosed as a reason to know about withdrawal symptoms. Rest In Peace, Jason. I can help others with your bad decisions, and I think you’d be glad about that. 

“Good morning, Zoe,” Leliana greets, and I half heartedly wave. 

“Morning Lele. This is about the mages, right?” I ask, looking at the others. 

“Indeed, Zoe. Specifically going over how they should be best implemented in powering your mark. Solas should be here soon to assist in that, as he has already been researching this subject,” Josie says. I nod. 

“On a different note, we should go over our evacuation plans one for time beforehand. If closing the breach causes another explosion of demons or something I want everyone to be able to leave quickly,” I say. 

“A good plan, Avery. We must be prepared for all possible eventualities. Ah, onto other topics while we wait… why are you in your sleepwear, Avery?” Cullen asks, rubbing his eyes. 

“Because I’ve been going nonstop for a week and no one can tell me no,” I state, before setting in my chair and picking up my pile of reports. 

Cassandra looks like she’s about to make her disgusted noise, but the door opens before she can. 

On dhea , Hahren. Take a seat, or don’t. Casandra and Rutherford get twitchy if they have to sit, and Lele likes her pillar too much,” I say, gesturing to the mostly forgotten seats around the table, though Josie is sitting next to me. Because she’s normal. 

“I much rather standing, but serannas , Da’lath’in,” Solas says. 

Da’rahn ,” I wave him off, and look at the small price on the war table signaling the Mages en route. “So. The gist is we have them channel magic into me, and I use the excess to close The Breach?” 

Solas nods. 

“Correct. But you must quickly use the mana, Da’lath’in. You are not built to take so much magical energy at once.” I notice idly the ‘you’ rather than ‘most’. It’d be unnoticeable to anyone else, but his little verbal ticks show me everything I need to know.

 He could handle it, an elf in general could likely handle it better, but my little human badly could get toasted way faster. 

That, or I’m thinking too much into it. Like a paranoid idiot. 

“How much of a risk to Zoe will this be, Solas?” Cassandra asks next, leaning against the war table. 

“Zoe is very proficient in magic, better than some I’ve seen thrice her age. So long as you, Da’lath’in, remain composed, I doubt we will have any complications.” He looks between Cassandra and I as he speaks, ever calm. Cassandra’s tensed shoulders relaxed a little at this, but not all the way. 

One concern in a much larger pile. 

Is it weird that Solas has so much faith in my magical abilities? Probably not, from an outside perspective. I do things in a way that isn’t how it should be done. People notice when you’re good at that. 

Maybe being so good comes from mom’s shamen side of the family? Dad’s too if my joking ‘blood of the druids’ was actually true. With my luck it is. 

I tap my knuckles on the wood of the table twice, grimacing. 

“I just hope no one gets overwhelmed. From what you said before, group spells can be too much for some. I don’t want to lose anyone else on that forsaken mountain,” I say, staring down at the map and running both my hands through my too long hair, twice then thrice. 

I’ll cut it after Haven falls, I’ll probably want the change after that mess. 

For now I’ll deal with the stupid boob length locks. For now

I’m distinctly reminded of Good Omens Crowley and his plants. Oh dear. 

“With so many mages connected that is a legitimate concern. I will do my best to regulate the magical flow, Da’lath’in,” Solas states. 

“And those who still take lyrium will do their best to weaken the breach. It isn’t as many as the rebel mages, but they will do their absolute best,” Cullen adds. His hand is on his pummel, a tell for his own anxieties about the situation. 

“That is all I can ask of them, Commander. Thank you.” 

“Now, for more details on exactly how these mages will channel their mana into, Zoe.”

To work. 


 

Once the mages get here we make sure everyone who needs to know knows the evacuation plan. We can’t just tell everyone, not with the risk of Venatori spies knowing, but the people everyone looks to for guidance knows. That’s enough for now. 

The mages will rest a day after their travels, they need to be in top shape to not accidentally explode themselves I’m told. 

As for the prisoner our agents brought-

We made eye contact when he was marched into the Chantry. I’d been standing by Viv’s desk debating how long a mage could feasibly stay alive underwater before hand. 

All I could see was exhaustion, contempt and a sad old man.

It didn’t stop ice from coating my fingertips though. I can forgive many things, but selfishly destroying the world I cannot. Solas only gets by because he’s the only one who could even slightly understand losing everything you know.

“How Altus Pavus can stand that man is beyond me,” Vivienne comments from beside me, now standing. We watch him get walked into the dungeons together. 

“We can’t help who we love,” I state somewhat bitterly. Love isn’t always romantic obviously. I love my inner circle and I kill and would die for them. 

But sometimes those you love turn out to be capable of terrible things. My mother got to learn that first hand. 

Old rage that’s turned cold, but ever slicing. If he were to find himself in Thedas, I don’t think I’d mind killing him. 

“You speak from experience,” Vivienne says. I only smile. 

“Well, back to the subject at hand. Hedge mage shapshifting is not being considered.”

“What! Now you’re just being stubborn, if a mage could turn their self into a fish they most definitely could stay underwater indefinitely. Which they can do , even if those circles lied to you.”

And thus the debate heats up again, until I’m forced to remove myself by a patronizing Mother Giselle for ‘ too much excitement in the Chantry.

I have war meetings in your precious Chantry, clearly excitement doesn’t bother you at all. 

Snarky today. Great. 

Who to see, and who have I been neglecting?

Cassandra, I haven’t spoken to her much this week. 

I ignore the nausea in my stomach and head out Haven’s gates. I wave to Bull, flirting with a scout I see, and immediately spot Cassandra brutalizing that dummy. 

Yikes. 

“I wonder what Mr. Dummy did to deserve that?” I ask her, standing a respectable distance to the side. She huffs a laugh, before striking another killing blow on it. 

“You jest, but I remain concerned for tomorrow,” Cassandra says. I have to agree. 

But for completely different reasons. 

“I probably won’t sleep tonight, so I can agree on how stressful this all is,” I spot a few soldiers I recognize training, one spots me too and winks. 

Cassandra doesn’t catch that, which is good for his health. 

“Sleep is important to replenishing your mana, is it not? You should sleep, Avery,” Cassandra says. 

I shrug. “The demons are antsy, I can already feel it. Besides, I have reports to go over anyways.” Cassandra looks distinctly unimpressed with this, eyes narrowed and a frown on her face. 

“I’m sure Varric and Solas will be pleased with that,” Cassandra says. I pout. 

“That, Cass, is bullying. Very not nice of you,” I say while crossing my arms. 

She rolls her eyes, honest to god. 

“You look like a puffed up kitten, Avery!” One of the soldiers shouts from his training. Terys. 

Dhava ‘ma masa, Terys!” I shout back, and the few other teen elven recruits make a show of Ooo -ing, as teenagers are prone to do. 

“Who taught you that? Was it Shalelan ? Besides, if you’d like me to I’d be happy to, Da Fen, ” Terys wiggles his eyebrows suggestively. I stick my tongue out at the older boy. 

“You’d have to get past Hahren and Varric first, Lethal’in ,” I chance a glance at a slowly realizing Cassandra. “Maybe Seeker too, now that I think about it.”

He’s grinning roguishly. It’s annoying in a good way. 

“Anything for you, Da Fen . ” He says. One of his superior officers grabs him by his scruff and makes him face his snickering sparring partner again. 

Sure hope Solas doesn’t scare that one away, I don’t mind him much. 

“Were you just… flirting , Zoe?” Cassandra asks, having paused her dummy murder. 

“Eh, maybe? First thing I said was for him to kiss my ass,” I say, watching said elf dodge a sword strike. 

Nice. 

“Be careful with those soldiers, Zoe,” Cassandra states a bit awkwardly, but more firmly towards the end. 

Huh. Concerned Cassandra for my virtue?

“Will do, Cass. Any other motherly advice before I get interrogated by Bull?” 

And I will, I can practically feel his eye on me at the last exchange I had. It’s like having a bunch of aunts and uncles around constantly, honestly. 

“Motherly-?” Then she sighs. “Take your tea, if you feel so cheeky.”

I let out a surprised laugh and she makes her disgusted noise™. 

“Thanks, Cass. See you later.”

I make the walk over to Bull, then stand at his side, facing the soldiers. 

“You walk like you’re marching,” Bull comments. I shrug. ROTC does that to you for a while, even after you quit. 

“More mysteries I guess,” I say with a smile. I don’t look at him, but he’s probably smiling too. 

“You show more and more the longer I’m around. Why’d you learn Elvhen?” Bull asks. 

I watch the soldiers get called for a break, the few that I know wave at me, Terys winks. Idiot. 

“Language is interesting, it shows you things about other cultures you wouldn’t have guessed before.” I do look at him now. “Would you ever feel like teaching me Quanlat?”

He shrugs. “Depends. You planning on fucking that elf?”

I choke on air. 

“Uh, probably not ?” I say, caught more off guard then I should be. 

There’d be worse people to lose that V-card to, I suppose. Not that I’m planning on doing that soon. I’ve had plenty of guys want me as their girlfriend before, and very few got attention back. 

“Why? Do I look like I’m desperate for some romantic affection?” I ask, now genuinely curious. 

Bull gives me a look. 

“You’re a teenager.”

“Yeah, fair enough.”

I peer up at him and tilt my head. 

“Y’know, you’re way more chill about this than the others would be,” I comment. 

“Sex is different here than it is under the Qun. Less… touchy feely. Make sure to check if he’s got anything funky though,” He explains. 

Well, that’s a perfectly reasonable response. Go cool uncle Bull?

“Should probably wait till you’re a little older. Then again, you’ve got a green death mark on your hand so I can’t judge too much.”

What would I have done if Bull’s death had been permanent? Like a watermelon, with more blood and brain matter than seeds. 

I shiver, and what I’d been thinking about must’ve shown in my eyes because Bull taps my shoulder. The phantom smell of sulfur let’s me know that those thoughts wouldn’t have lead anywhere good. 

“Where are you, Boss?” He asks conversationally. Ever calm, and no one else is alerted. 

“Haven. Sorry, Bull,” I say. I don’t know what I’m apologizing for at this point. He gets paid enough to help with this much. 

He maybe even likes me too, but with his emotional walls I don’t really know. 

“Not a problem, Boss.”


 

Should I feel guilty?

Mariette was my girlfriend before, but it wasn’t serious. We were best bros first-

Actually, did I ever even like her like that in the first place? 

We still acted more like best friends than like we were dating, even if we were more touchy feely I was like that with everyone. 

I stare up at the sky, frowning. I feel sort of nauseous at the realization, but… 

Well. It’s not like I can even speak to her from here. That bit of my life is over now even if it still hurts in waves. 

I don’t think she’d mind if I moved on, all things considered. We’re kids, she’ll date someone else or never date at all, and she’ll be happy in the end. 

I feel a familiar elf approach, and settle behind me. 

“You should be resting, Da’lath’in,” Solas says idly. I look over at him. 

He probably couldn’t feel me in the fade and investigated. At least he’s concerned. 

“Too many thoughts tonight, Hahren.” I look at The Breach. “ O’arulin'sil ma’asahngar .” The word’s still feel odd on my tongue and it took a moment to put them together, but Solas nods in understanding. 

Asa’eolasan. This will be a great climax in your journey,” Solas states. He’s looking at me, rather than The Breach. I can feel his eyes. 

“Not the only one, I imagine. I wonder how many more I’ll face before this is over?”

The pine needles rustle above us in the breeze. 

“More than anyone wishes,” Solas says quietly. He’s probably thinking of his own eventual betrayal. I shuffle on my rock seat and lean on Solas’s warm side. 

“What animal can you shift into?” I ask instead of anything else I could be. Why isn’t this world good enough or why it all has to fall at once. 

He pauses in thought. 

A wolf ,” He murmurs with the air of significance. His first deliberate hint on his identity then. 

“Like Fen'harel?” I ask with a small smile, still not looking at him.

His muscles don’t stiffen and he makes no noise, but his breathing does change just enough. It wouldn’t have been noticed if I hadn’t been looking. 

“Yes, like Fen'harel,” He replies. 

I wonder what he’s thinking right now past his guilt or wariness. 

“That’s good. If I ever need to scare anyone with pointed ears I’ll know who to come to,” I tease, ever the picture of ease. What’s the point of being scared now? I’ve been around him since the start of this mess. If he wanted me dead he could literally do it in his sleep. I finally look over at him. 

There’s calculation in those grey grey eyes that almost glow in the dark. That’s an elf thing, not a god thing, even if it’s otherworldly. They’ve got better night vision than humans. Then again, all the other races do. 

He smiles despite his feelings. 

“Trust that I wouldn’t need such a form to scare anyone, Da’lath’in. Neither would you, I imagine.”

I huff a laugh. “I got called a puffed up kitten today, Hahren. Somehow I doubt I could be all that scary.”

Then again, it’s always the nice ones you avoid making angry. 

“And who said that?” Solas asks, the calculation gone. 

“One of Cullen’s recruits, Terys. Then he called me Da Fen right after,” I say, plopping my head down on Solas’s thigh. He sighs long sufferingly like the old man he is. 

If he’s going to interrupt my angsting than he gets to be a pillow. 

“Terys you say? Should I be scaring that one, or should I tell Varric?” Solas says, and that mischievous micro expression is there. 

“You’re like a nosey old lady, Hahren, even if you’re bald,” I grumble. “You’re the third person to be weird about it, Bull thought I was trying to get into his pants.”

“I should hope you’re not.” And there’s the suitably Hahren looking face. A bit too stern to be just an uncle thing, more grandpa. 

“We’ve got other things to worry about right now, don’t we? I promise I won’t let anyone in my pants till I’m at least sixteen,” I tease, reaching up and patting the side of his face. He looks comically unamused. 

“If I had hair, Da’lath’in, you would turn it grey. I trust this boy did nothing untoward?” 

“If me telling him to dhava ‘ma masa , and him replying with being happy to counts as untoward,” I say thoughtfully. Now Solas sighs again like an elderly man who is so inconvenienced by life. 

“Who taught you that?” Solas asks in a tone of long suffering. 

“I have other friends who speak the language you know. Friends who like the same words as me,” I say simply. Now, Solas rolls his eyes. I enjoy it immensely. 

“These friends will help in your hair greying efforts, Da’lath’in. These are the same ones who taught you fenhedis lasa , I assume?” 

I make a show of crossing my arms and looking away into the trees. Lele’s agent is that way. 

“None of your business,” I huff. 

“Well then. If I’m so untrustworthy I’m sure you don’t want to hear of my first transformation.”

hIS FIRST WHAT?!

I immediately perk up and uncross my arms, looking at him. 

“It was Shelalen, now spill the beans, Hahren.”

I drift off to the sound of Solas talking about his youth and wolves and magic. For a moment I can pretend that everything will be alright. 

Chapter Text

I wake up alone in Solas’s cabin. I’m not worried, I’ve fallen asleep on accident in here before, but the blanket left on Solas’s chair says that I deprived him of his bed. Yikes. Hope I didn’t give him back pain. 

There’s prepping getting done, there are jittery mages inside the tavern and a general aura of anticipation all around. I go to Leliana’s tent and she tells me we’ll be heading up the mountain in an hour. 

I run my fingers through my hair a few times once I step away from her tent, taking deep breaths. Dorian appears, as people tend to do in this reality. 

“If it isn’t Zoe! Ready to close a tear in reality, my dear?” He asks, far too chipper this early. The air is admittedly crisp though, so I can’t be too angry. 

Fall is fast approaching, and with it winter and an assassination attempt to foil. 

Ugh. 

“As ready as I can be. Just try not to use too much mana, Dorian, else I might overload,” I say sarcastically, rubbing a tired eye and yawning. 

“Wouldn’t dream of it, I admit that you’re far more entertaining alive rather than dead.” Thanks, Dorian. Glad I’m useful for something. 

“Of course I am! Who else will banter with you about the injustices of the world?” I ask, hand on my heart. 

“Very few, I’m afraid. Those conversations would be better named as arguments,” Dorian says with a dramatic sigh. 

“You’re just too fabulous for them to take, Dorian.” I pat the man’s arm solemnly.  He grins. “Now, unless you’d like to keep the company of teenagers for the rest of the hour, I have elven friends to exchange cuss words with.”

“As tempting as that sounds, I think I must pass, Zoe. Madame De Fer invited me to breakfast! Likely to verbally spar, but I’m told she has food with taste.” Dorian pats my shoulder before starting off towards the Chantry. 

“Save me a cinnamon roll if she has any!” I call after him, before heading down to the soldier encampment. 

I nod to the gate guards I pass and give Cullen a little wave where he’s standing anxiously watching the earliest of risers spar. I zero in on a certain section of tents and a few certain teens sitting around a fire. 

Ma’lethalen !” I shout in greeting, I get two groans in response and one whoop in greeting. 

Le’dhea , Avery. I thought you were normal,” Shelalen grumbles, leaning heavily against a dark haired elf named Haleir. 

“Speak for yourself, Shelalen, Nerare’un sou ,” Terys says from the other side of the fire, wiggling his eyebrows at me. I make a face at him and resist the urge to throw a snowball. 

“I’ll have you know I have a whole Hahren who can turn into a wolf, so watch yourself,” I tease, pointing a finger at the older boy before setting on a log beside him. 

“Hahrens like to say that, thought you were a bit old for that?” Haleir mumbles, his face a little too close to his bowl of nug stew. 

“Not all Hahrens are hedge mage dreamers,” I say simply, before leaning my side into Terys. I like my elf friends, they’re touchy feely like me. 

“So it’s right if I call you Da Fen?” Terys asks, grinning. 

“You can call me whatever you feel like except Herald, Lethal’in,” I say before sighing. Warm bros are best bros. 

“So, you’re closing The Breach today?” Shelalen asks, sitting up a little and looking intently at me. 

Vin , I just hope I don’t pass out this time,” I say, before pausing.

They’re going to end up in the initial fighting once we get invaded, now that I think about it. 

The thought sends ice shooting through my chest and I flinch. 

“What’s wrong?” Terys asks beside me, laying a hand on my shoulder. 

“Nothing, just wanted to invite you guys to come party by the Chantry with me once this mess is over. Might even break my no drinking till I’m sixteen rule.” I wiggle my eyebrows, but I won’t and I know it. If I drink than Coryphe-shit can kill me easier and I’m not allowed to die. 

Josa Fen’hela ?” Haleir asks with a roll of his eyes. He finally takes a bite of his stew. I wonder how Solas feels about how much he gets mentioned in this language. I’d feel flattered honestly, even if one involved my nonexistent dick. 

Er, not to day he doesn’t have one? Ugh, the images. Nevermind. 

“Great. Terys, you’re boney, eat some food or something,” I say under my breath, halfheartedly patting his face and leaning my own into his admittedly hard shoulder. If he isn’t being fed enough I’m going to eviscerate someone. The whole ‘elves need less food’ thing is a lie. 

Find your chill, Zoe. You’ll be almost dying again in an hour, don’t need more stress on top of that. 

“Not all of us have babyfat left, Ma’vherlin ,” Shelalen coos teasingly, reaching over and ruffling my hair. I make a move to bite him and he moves his hand out of range, sticking his tongue out. 

“Definitely Da Fen, Nevermind,” the boy says with a roll of his eyes. 


 

We march to the now corpse-less temple and stop in front of the rift. 

“Remain focused and calm, Da’lath’in,” Solas murmurs beside me, laying a hand on my shoulder despite the people around us. I swallow my nerves and the bile coming up my throat. 

Ma serannas , Solas,” I say in kind, before nudging him behind me to get this thing started. I’m the only one without a staff, but they’re not focusing magic there anyways. 

Mages are taught from a young age how to focus mana into a certain point, it helps them use staves. Even a less skilled mage can do it, though with more difficulty than another.

I hold my hand up. Seeing it helps them visualize better, apparently. It makes sense. 

I stare at the rift, only just able to see what’s beyond. Floating structures and debris. 

Ready ?” Cassandra calls, and at what I presume is Solas’s signal, “ NOW !”

Mana pours into my hand and the mark burns down my arm by the veins. 

I force the breach to start sealing closed, more directly the rift in front of me. 

God it hurts, it hurts i t hurts it hurts-

Tears are welling up in my eyes and I let out a shaky breath because the fade doesn’t want to be apart from this reality, so it isn’t helping at all. But the veil was built to keep the two apart so it tries to follow my command to its best ability. 

Green light is pulsing a connected to the rift. I can feel it wavering and with a small cry I feel more and more mana forced into me, it feels like I’m about to burst. 

I force my hand to close, and jerk my whole arm to the side because it is going to close if it likes it or not. 

It hurts so bad, and the pain has reached my left shoulder pulsing and acidic. 

But with a great bang The Breach closes, and I fall unceremoniously to me knees, taking deep breaths and clutching my limp left arm. 

I’m so losing that arm holy shit. 

I’m lightheaded and I can feel the air around me freezing from the still excess mana but I’m alive at least. 

They’re cheering behind me, I think, but I can’t hear much over the ringing and my heartbeat in my ears. 

Deep breaths. In, one, two, three, four, five. Hold. Out. 

A warm familiar presence is at my shoulder, and I can feel Solas helping me to my feet. 

“You’ve done well, Da’lath’in,” He says, holding me up with my bad arm over his shoulder. It hurts, it always hurts , but it’s fine. 

I’m alive. 

I bury my tear fill face in Solas’s shirt and we begin our walk back, Solas talking about nothing important to help me start breathing normally again. The pain is so fresh and I wasn’t built to handle it, but humans are hardy unkillable things even in a world with magic races. I’ll live. 

They’re cheering at me even before I get to the gates, and Haleir appears at my other side, throwing my other arm around his shoulder. 

Son’viraju ,” He says quietly, wary of the god on my other side, but with meaning. Haleir is the quietest in our group, but he cares. 

There are a few shouted questions on my physical state, but I’m not bleeding so most don’t care much. They’re already breaking open the watered down ale Lele has left around for just this reason. 

Leliana is a suspicious sort, and if I can imagine someone not liking us closing the breach so soon after we do it than she’s happy to ensure our men are at least mostly sober. 

Mostly. I can see one man already downing a whole mug by the time I’m settled in a chair outside the Chantry. 

“Badass, Boss!” Bull says in greeting, patting my shoulder. I grin back, wiping any stray wetness on my face. 

“Thanks, Bull. You gonna teach me Quanlat now?” I ask him. He raises an eyebrow in response. 

I sigh. 

Well, Elvhen is enough for now. There’s always getting better at French- Orleisian

That’s definitely get me some court approval, the little peasant mage heathen speaking fluent Orleisian. 

Then I slip some Elvhen at the elves. Glorious. 

Right. Waiting for an attack, dragon and red lyrium infected Templars attack. 

“Da Fen!” Terys shouts in front of me, three mugs of watered ale in his arms and a slightly concerned looking Shelalen at his side holding his own mug. 

“Ma’lethalen!” I call back half heartedly, waving my arms at the two of them before Haleir gets annoyed and forces them down at my sides. I don’t mind, I already feel exhausted anyways. 

Elan’avem? People said you were being carried,” Terys says once he’s in front of me, carefully setting down his drinks. Two of which presumably for Haleir and I. 

Elanem , Lethal’in. My arm just hurts is all,” I explain, reaching over and patting his arm. 

“Smalls! You alright?” Varric is coming now from my right, stopping at my side and starting to look me over. I don’t mind this either, he got to watch me get carried off the mountain unconscious last time I did something like that. 

“My arm aches like a bitch,” I repeat in Varric terms, and despite his concern he huffs a laugh. 

“That’s better than last time, that’s for damn sure,” Varric says with a grin, ruffling my hair. I pout. 

Doesn’t matter anyways, my hair is always a mess these days. 

“These your friends, Smalls?” Varric asks, and oh no not that smile. 

“Varric Tethras, rogue, storyteller, and this one’s cool uncle,” He says proudly, not looking at me but at the three boys with one too many teeth. 

I resist the urge to cover my face in my hands. 

“Your uncle wrote Hard in Hightown?” Shelalen asks me in mock hurt, his hand on his heart. 

I look up at the now breachless sky in search of divine comfort. 

“Adoptive uncle, Shelalen,” Haleir says crouched by my side, ever sharp. 

“Correct. Not related, I barely know this man,” I say forlornly, not looking down from the clouds. It’s late afternoon now, and I really am anticipating that attack now. 

“Aw, am I embarrassing you near your friends?” Varric asks teasingly, and I don’t have to look to see that still too toothy grin. At least they’re passing his ‘are they good enough’ test so far, even if I don’t know the criteria he’s looking for. 

“I’ve been wounded by my own shield-uncle. Woe is me and my continued existence,” I say monotonously. 

Terys guffaws behind his hand if the slight muffle means anything. Might’ve been Haleir’s hand, actually. Who knows. 

The clouds are nice. 

“You boys aren’t planning anything weird with my dear niece, are you?” Varric asks, and his expression probably hasn’t changed once. His tone is still friendly but he’s ready to send bolts at anytime. 

“They’re not trying to get in my pants, Varric. They’re soldiers and boys , got it. Go clean Bianca or something,” I fake whine at the last bit, finally looking at the dwarf and waving my hand at him. 

The expression changes to something more friendly, at least. 

“Yeah yeah, I get it, you don’t want old people around,” Varric says with a sigh. “I’ll just be over here, cleaning Bianca and looking forlorn.”

Good ,” I reply, sniffing haughty. He sits by the chantry’s doors next to Bull, who’s been bodyguarding and stuff. 

“That was nice,” Shelalen comments sarcastically, settling in a seat as well. 

“He was looking at me like I was a nug and he was a wolf,” Terys says idly, sitting at my other side on the ground, leaning his head on my thigh. 

I hear the ominous click of Bianca cocking behind me. I don’t stop a small laugh. 

I play with his chin length brown hair to keep my hands busy, humming. 

“He cares a lot about me, and I’m sure he knows exactly how boys are,” I say. Haleir grunts in agreement beside me, people watching. 

“I’m wounded, Da Fen! I’m the picture of innocence,” Terys says. Now it’s Shelalen’s turn to laugh. 

“Weren’t you just talking about ‘ Venirast Da Fen masa’ren’ ?” Shelalen asks, and I guffaw behind my hand. 

“Nice job saving him from a bolt, ma’halla ,” I say through laughter, and Terys covers part of his face with his hand. 

“I’ll stab him if you’d like, Da’lath’in,” Haleir says beside me. 

“I’ll keep the offer in mind, it depends if he’s just been talking about ‘ma masa .” I tug on Terys’s hair for emphasis. 

Ow . Right, probably deserve that,” He grumbles. I roll my eyes. 

“... we should probably start drinking that ale we brought,” Shelalen says, staring at the four cups. 

I grimace. 

“I’m not drinking,” Haleir says simply, never looking away from his people watching. 

“Seconded. Stupid Breach took a lot out of me,” I say. 

The last two boys share a look, then push the mugs away from all of us carefully. 

We’re teenagers, at a point you just don’t feel like doing rebellious shit. 

“So. You said something about your Hahren shape shifting?” Shalalen asks, ever uncomfortable with silence. 

“Oh, yeah. So apparently from what he tells me it’s a lost art. Back in Arlathan all the most powerful mages could do it, but after it fell there wasn’t anyone to teach it, not really,” I explain. “Since he’s a dreamer he could look at what he could of it in the fade, and replicated it. It’s pretty badass.”

Not that I’ve seen it in real life, but side glances in fade count too. 

“Sounds complicated, but badass,” Terys says, and I’ve resumed my messing with his hair. Elves have such pretty freaking hair…

“I’m getting him to teach me how to shift myself. I wanna be a cat.

I hear Terys start saying “Ma’vherlin” so I tug on his hair a little again. The resounding “Ow!” cuts him off. 

“I don’t know what elf would want to turn into a fen ,” Haleir says on my other side, looking away from his people watching this time. 

I shrug. “It suits him.”

We’re quiet for a little while after that, and I’m content to attempt to braid Terys’s hair. Do I actually know how to braid? No. Does it even matter? No again. 

Dorian interrupts the silence like he always does, loud and flamboyant. 

“Are these your ‘teenager friends’, Zoe?” Dorian asks as he comes up to me, smirking with his eyes on my hands in Terys’s hair. 

Braiding can be platonic. 

Uh . Don’t judge me?

“Indeed they are, Dorian. Boys, this is Altus Dorian Pavus, Altus Dorian Pavus this is Terys, Shalalen, and Haleir.” I gesture to each of them when I say their names. 

“A pleasure,” Dorian says simply. 

“You’re as shiny as an Orleisian,” Haleir replies, looking unimpressed. At least it isn’t racist?

“I resent that, Ser Haleir, resent .” 

It’s then, of course, that the panic starts becoming loud enough to be heard over the walls. 

“We’re under attack!” Someone shouts above the chaos, and the boys and I all stand abruptly. 

“Knew this was all too good to be true,” I hiss, playing my part perfectly. 

“Ma’lethalen!” They turn to me. “Get people inside the Chantry, prioritize children first then the rest of the non-combatants. Do not engage unless threatened directly , am I clear?” 

“Yes, Ser!” The louder of the two boys say automatically at the sound of my ‘commanding officer’ voice. Haleir nods. 

“Do not die, and-“ I can hear it singing for here , “do not touch the red crystals under any circumstances.”

I get two pats and a firm look before they hurry off into the chaos. 

I shiver, the icky feeling of red lyrium on my skin even at this distance. 

“To the gates. Bull, Varric, with me!” I look at Dorian then shout at Varric and Bull. They’re at my side in seconds as we hurry through the crowd and to the gates where Cullen is standing. 

“Leliana lost track of a few scouts half an hour ago, then the army was spotted by those outside the walls,” Cullen fills me in quickly. I nod along, waiting for someone. 

“That’s shit. Someone needs to give Leliana the evacuation okay, maybe see if anyone knows a more discrete route,” I state, and find a scout nearby close enough to have heard. 

“Scout, you got that?” She nods quickly and hurries to the Chantry. 

That should maybe save Rodrick, and if not at least we can get people out more quickly. 

I really hope Blackwall was inside the walls before this mess.

I feel him before I see him, like a mage and a spirit except not, smelling like sage. 

“I can’t help unless you let me in!” Cole says outside the gates. 

“Let him in,” I order, and the soldiers are quick to comply. Most everyone is out of the way in the Chantry now, much faster than in the game and that makes me nervous. 

Cole walks in, and before anything else he looks at me. 

“You know me,” He says, confusion on his face. “Older than the world, but younger than us…” he murmurs before blinking. 

“You made Corypheus angry, stealing what didn’t belong to you. You already know that, but he’s very very angry.”

“What is this creature?” Cullen asks himself and the air, clearly reminded of abominations, before shaking his head. “This is unimportant. If Corypheus is here and looking for you, we need to leave.”

I nod. 

“We need to make sure there’s no non-combatants outside first, maybe chuck a few catapults at the fuckers.” 

Cullen nods gravely. 

I pause, considering for a moment what may happen if I do end up dying. 

“And Cullen?” I ask, and he flinched at whatever face I’m making. 

“Make sure my kids are taken care of if this goes south, am I understood?” I ask. 

He opens his mouth to tell me it won’t, for a moment, but closes it again and nods with a hard face. 

To work. 


 

The red lyrium sings at me, loud and cajoling. I don’t know the words for what it wants but I know how it feels. Like claws on my skin, dragging but never piercing. 

The monsters that were once men are worse. So much worse. 

The lyrium growing from them is just as grotesque as it was in Redcliffe, jutting out from always weeping wounds and staining skin, teeth, and eyes red. 

My barriers are like steel this time. No one will die. 

I send lightning at these ones, something I often don’t do. I don’t mind burning these creatures from the inside like I do about humans. There is no returning from the lyrium, and it’s better to kill them as fast as I can rather than dragging it out. 

Lightning crackles at my fingers and my feet, leaving scorch marks in my wake as I send one Templar a lightning bolt and watch what’s left of his metal armor turn red hot and I watch him scream like an animal. 

He bursts, but nothing touches me. My barriers will not fail. 

We send off the first catapult, then the next and then at some point we’re back inside the gates towards the last catapult. 

I should feel panic gripping me, nausea and fear. I’ll be facing a god, won’t I? 

We kill the behemoth thanks to Bull cutting off it’s head, and then the dragon cries above. 

“Go!” I cry, looking at the others. This ain’t how it went in the game and I won’t let them die because I messed with too much. 

In the end, they don’t have a choice. The dragon sends them sprawling on the other side of some debris. The flare was included in the plan from the start so I know I won’t end up burying anyone but myself. 

Then. 

Corypheus

“Foolish girl,” is the first thing he says, but I’m too busy staring at his disgusting face and the lyrium jutting out of him, that’s a part of him. 

Who would let something eat away at them like that?

“Do you even know what is on your hand? That mark you’ve labeled a gift of Andraste?” He hisses, looming over me and taking only a step closer. I take one step back, unflinching. 

I wonder if he’s ever wanted to die?

No. I don’t think he has. What is there to fear of a man who’s never known death truly?

“It is mine . A gift you have stolen, the Anchor,” He says, and his hand shoots out and despite everything I let him grab me and lift me by my wrist.

“I will take it back now. Don’t worry, you’re life will end soon regardless.”

And then the pain starts again. 

I clench my teeth and tears fall, but I don’t whimper, no, I keep direct eye contact with this monster. 

“You’ve ruined it!” He hisses, eyes wide and mad. “Your meddling has ruined my anchor.”

I grin, it’s the most feral one I think over ever made. Wide wide eyes and all my teeth. 

I’m glad, ” I state, before suddenly kicking him, and freezing part of his stomach. He cries out and drops me. 

I scramble over to the thankfully correctly turned catapult. 

Stop !” He cries, angry angry with so much wrath. 

I laugh. Because this is the bumbling fool who’s made me miserable for these few months. His fault

Stop ? Only a god could stop me, and there are no gods here, ” I say, before kicking the catapult into motion. The look of shock on his face is glorious. 

Ah. There’s that flare. Went a little early for dramatics but we’re fine. 


 

I wheeze, clutching my chest and trying to breathe. 

Stupid ass fucking wind got knocked out of me. 

I sit for a few minutes, trying to breathe correctly again but I get up. It’s fine. 

God he cracked something out of wack in the anchor, stupid fucking thing is more hungry now. 

I throw my go bag over my shoulders with a hiss, not before throwing my hood up and trying to rub warmth back into my hands. 

I shuffle forward, left hand out by my side and twitching, anticipating its prey. 

I’m dizzy and my vision is fuzzy at the edges. 

“Hungry fuck, aren’t you?” I grumble, looking down at the thing with a grimace. It pangs in answer, and I pretend that I can’t hypothetically have a conversation with my hand. 

It feels like forever, just moving one exhausted foot in front of the other, but eventually the small room of demons comes into view. 

With little fanfare I let the mark do what it wants, tearing a hole in the veil, and watch blandly as the demons go home screaming. 

The anchor closes it again with little protest, probably just happy to be doing some opening for once rather than all closing. Might’ve been bored, y’know?

I chance a hysterical giggle and try not to cry. 

There’s a blizzard outside. I wonder if it’s worth going through it or dying of hypothermia sitting down. I hear it’s a painless way to go, if a bit cold. 

Then I think about how many people would be disappointed in that so I go into the storm. 

I can feel magic pulsing vaguely northeast, so I go in that direction, very happy that I get another useful something out of this mage thing. 

I think I cracked a rib. I dunno if it’s worth reaching back and grabbing one of my healing potions for. 

I shuffle some more. The anchor pulses a little and I shake my hand out. I wonder if it’ll ever calm down after getting to eat some demons. 

Probably not. 

The blizzard slows down and the magic feels closer and closer. Other problem, I can hear wolves. 

They don’t come near, but I’m on edge for the next hour. 

The tracks become fresh, I know it because there’s a few drops of blood that haven’t soaked into the snow yet. Tumblr told me that was because of the temperature difference, once. I wonder how it is on there right now?

Still gay and a hellsight, probably. There’s worse places to be. 

My rib aches. 

I wonder if the others think I’m dead? Cole can probably still hear me. Hello, Cole. I love you. 

There. That’s my admittance of love for the day, er. Does he understand love, yet? Eh, he’ll rifle through my memories at some point and understand. Maybe. Possibly. I really hope ma’lethalen are okay, and I really hope Varric doesn’t think he just doomed me to die. I can’t even comprehend my kids being hurt. 

The anchor pulses. 

I can smell smoke now, and faint iron too. I’m close even if I don’t see light yet. 

I wonder if people here understand light and light refraction yet? Is it refraction? The thing where leaves soak up everything but green so they reflect that? 

Ow. Jostled my rib. Ow. 

I should probably not do that too much, I’m risking internal bleeding. I don’t know much about medicine, but internal bleeding is bad and stuff. 

Light. I open my mouth to call out by my voice doesn’t work. Just like in your dreams when you want to talk shit at the demon pretending it’s your mom and she hates you, but your voice doesn’t work. 

Well, fuck you demon. Guess who has two hands and can clap?!

I clap a few times, and ah, there’s Cullen. 

“Rutherford, I have a cracked rib. There’s potions in my bag. Goodnight.

I go to sleep. 


 

I groan gutterally. “ Fenhedis ,” I hiss, eyes clenched closed. 

“Language, Herald,” Mother Giselle says beside me. I groan again. 

“How long?”

“Two hours at most, you should rest, Herald,” she murmurs, and for once she’s more soothing than patronizing. 

I can hear the arguing from here. Sleep is for the weak. 

With a groan I sit up and throw my legs over the side of the bed, and start shuffling out of the tent. Giselle is saying something, but I’m not listening at this point. Singing’s for normies, the Inquisition is full of fucking cool kids. 

“Guess what I said to Corypheus, y’all!” I shout, and I’ve got every eye on me suddenly. 

Stop ? Only a god could stop me, and there are no gods here. ” I state. “And then, like a badass, I sent a mountain down on him. So if my scrawny ass can beat him up, I think we’ve all definitely got a chance.”

Look around, daring anyone to argue. 

“We are the Inquisition! Who’s agents defeated an evil magister?” I ask. 

“The Inquisition’s!” One person shouts. 

“Whose agents killed a high dragon?!” I shout, because some of our normal agents did , when they stumbled on the nest on the Storm Coast. 

“The Inquisition’s!” More people shout. 

Whose agents just pulled one over on an entire army, that we just buried in a mountain ?!” 

“THE INQUISITION’S!”

“AND ONCE WE GET ON OUR FEET, WHO IS GOING TO KILL THE BASTARD WHO BLEW UP THE CONCLAVE?!” 

THE INQUISITION !”

“We are the Inquisition! We will return order, kill the bastard who killed the divine and blew up her temple, and we will do it in goddamn style. We started with nothing, and this time we’ve got hundreds of men and women ready to go down kicking and screaming. Are you with me?”

Cries of affirmation surround me, reminding me of the last pep rally I went to. 

Good . Now get some shut eye! We’ve got a new base to be looking for starting tomorrow!” I shout one last time, grinning widely. 

Now everyone’s grinning and up on that “school pride” high, as I call it. Less effective without the spirit stick, but it’ll work. 

My grin turns down to a normal smile, but I’m sleep deprived so I don’t think I can be blamed. I rub my face with both hands. 

“Well done,” Leliana says, first to break the silence between the hydra. 

“It was nothing, I’m just exhausted with a lack of inhibition right now. Please tell me Varric got all that down.” Someone pats my back, coming up from behind me. It Varric, journal in hand with suspiciously wet eyes. 

“I got every word. You looked great against the firelight, Smalls,” He says, reaching up and giving me a gentle hair ruffle. His face, my the look on his face. He’s ages ten years in the past few hours, wrinkles that hadn’t been there before growing new ones. 

“Good. I’ve got a majestic aura to feed,” I say with a huff, leaning heavily into his side. 

“And fed it was, Da’lath’in.” And there’s Solas, about to talk about his fancy dancy orb that gave me my shitty half sentient hand. Er, mark, not hand. Got that from my mom with everything else. Solas looks ever composed and calm. A lie and I know it. Did he think he killed me, or did he feel my magic from the moment I woke up in that cave?

“Would you mind coming with me for a moment?” He asks, and Varric holds me tighter. I give the man a firm hug, before letting go. 

“I’ll be right back, Varric. Make sure to add flowery details about my beauty, readers eat that shit up.” I turn around and walk with Solas, past tents of people and off far from where we could be heard. Even my usual follower is gone, the area clear of ears. 

“When Corypheus confronted you, did he have something with him?” Solas asks quietly. 

“He had an orb, the runes looked El’vhen make but I can’t be too sure. I was worried about other things,” I state. Solas plays the part of a concerned then ‘fears realized’ person. He’d have been a wonderful actor back home. Or, not home now. Home had become Haven and I buried that literally. 

“That’s what I feared,” Solas says with a sigh, turning his head to look at the mountains ahead of us. “Corypheus likely got his hands on a magical El’vhen artifact, and was planning to put that mark on himself, rather than you. Am I wrong?”

You know you aren’t, Hahren. 

“No. He tried to take it back, and when it didn’t work I froze his stomach,” I say. Solas nods. 

“Da’lath’in, you know why we must keep certain parts of this to ourselves, correct?” He asks more gently now. 

I can practically smell his guilt from here, rolling under his skin. Does he feel like scum, I wonder? This is all his fault of course. I wonder if it's worse seeing me alive or having thought he killed me. 

Da’lath’in, the girl he killed with his fumbling. Maybe it’d have turned him good. 

Or made him worse. 

“Of course. You think people would blame the elves,” I say idly, careful not to voice my agreement. No one in the Inquisition would be so stupid to do so, despite whatever he seems to think. Any noble eager to please would be quickly put in their place as well. 

That knowing look on his face that says he patronizingly disagrees, one he doesn’t often make. My half lidded eyes narrow slightly at the insult to my intelligence. 

“Do you think I would allow anyone to harm others for their ear shape, Solas?” I ask, carefully conversational. Teasingly, even. He notices his mistake. 

“Never, Da’lath’in. I’m simply wary of what humans are capable of.” A normal worry for an elf, but he’s forgotten the shape of my ears as well, it seems. 

I tuck my hair behind my ears, never breaking eye contact. 

“I won’t mention it’s origination unless asked directly, Hahren. Does that ease your worry?” I ask. It doesn’t take words to let someone know they’ve slipped up. 

Varric though I was dead, a few hours ago. All that was his fault underneath the idiocy of Corypheus. Yet he still forgets I’m the race he’s so happy to hate. 

He nods. 

Vin , Da’lath’in. Abelas ,” He says quietly. He’s not just apologizing for the ears and the comment. 

Oh Solas. So much guilt, and not enough time to do anything about it. 

Da’rahn. Was there something else?” I ask.

To Skyhold. It’s probably bigger than the game made me believe. I’ve never owned a castle before. 

God, I’m so tired. 

Chapter Text

I’ll skip to the bit where we finally get to Skyhold. 

It’s been three days of constant trekking, and most everyone has lived through it. 

Some didn’t. Either from previous wounds or one elderly man who couldn’t handle the cold, they died all the same. It wasn’t anyone I knew, but it still felt bad. 

Things turned out better than they had before, didn’t they? Almost all of our forces made it out, all of our civilians save the old man are accounted for, I won’t be writing any letters telling families that their sons and daughters died!

It still feels gross. Like I should’ve done more. 

I lightly kick a slowly decaying plank of wood, looking out at the rubble and debris in the main hall. 

It’s large. Bigger than I’d imagined when I was playing the game, so had the courtyard. Big enough for more than a couple merchant stands on one end and definitely big enough for a good infirmary. 

Not that I’ll be assigning healers out in the open. They need a clean environment away from dirt and bacteria and god forbid animal shit. 

“It’s a castle,” I state. 

“Indeed,” Josie murmurs, delicately stepping over some dusty rocks and up towards where the throne would be. The morning light washing over her as she looks out into the room. 

“It is a work in progress, but it most certainly fits our image better than Haven had!” Josie says, trying for some positives. 

“I wonder if we could get your soldiers to help move all this, Rutherford?” I ask, looking behind me at the Commander. He blinks. 

“Ah. I’m not so sure about that…” He trails off. I roll my eyes. 

“Don’t worry, Rutherford. Consider it strength and discipline training. It’ll be a nice break from lyrium infested armies, I think. As much of one as we can afford one.” I crouch down and start picking up a few smaller pieces of wood. 

Might as well make a pile. They’re good enough for firewood. 

Avery, ” Cullen says, and he’s probably uncomfortable with the soon to be Inquisitor picking up wood like a servant or something. 

Rutherford ,” I mimic teasingly, arms now full and heading out the door to start making a pile outside. 

The man sighs. 

“I do believe we’re making the perfect choice,” Josie says conspiritally once I’m at the door, and I roll my eyes. 

I wander down the stairs and set the wood down in a small pile next to them, though out of the way. 

“What’re you up to, Herald?” A passing servant asks. Tan skin, dark hair. I know her! I… don’t know her name. 

“Starting to clear out that damn hall. Messes like that make me nervous.” Because there could be stray stuff and give someone like Solas a cut open foot. 

Speaking of him, I wonder where he wandered to?

“Oh!” The woman exclaims. “You should’ve just said something, my lady. Us servants will get on that right away.”

I shrug. The more the merrier. 

I start walking up again as she hurries away to get the cavalierly, dusting myself off and grimacing at the dirt. Gross. I’ve carried bags of dirty mulch before though, a little firewood won’t kill me. 

Avery , you really don’t have to help clean up,” Cullen says once I appear through the ridiculous doors again, ready for more. I huff a laugh. 

“I don’t have to do anything with the exception of dying. All the middle bits are arguably optional,” I quip back, starting to pick up more wood. 

He makes an almost distressed face, then appears at my side, taking the heaviest things before I can touch them. 

“You are still recovering,” He murmurs. Hello pot, meet kettle , and I take in his haggard appearance. 

Haven did not do his condition good, that’s for damned sure. 

“We all are,” I respond, trying to ignore the still dull ache in my rib. It’s mended but still bruised, there were more important injuries to tend to and potions aren’t a fix all solution. Not to mention how fucking sore my legs are, or how ever exhausted I am. Breathing hurts. 

One good night of sleep is all I ask for. Just one. 

Servents and soldiers start coming in through the door, and the woman from before zeros in on Cullen and I. 

“Herald! You’re still recovering, hand me that,” She mothers, hurrying over to take the wood from my arms. I huff. Then try not to wince. 

“I’m not made of glass, m’dear. It’s Rutherford you should be worried about, man hasn’t slept in days,” I say. Cullen sputters when she turns her piercing gaze on him. 

At least I’m not being made to hold up that gaudy sword. Yet. 


 

Fucking heavy ass sword. 

“The Inquisition will stand for kindness and tolerance, anything less would make us no worse than Corypheus and his Venatori!” I exclaim, broadsword held high above my head with both my shaking hands. 

I look out at the crowd before me, trying to shove my anxiety down. That must be one of the most cheesy things I’ve ever said, but I always told myself I wouldn’t forget my morals if I were in a position of power. To do anything less now would be a betrayal to myself. 

There’s a “For the Inquisition, For the Inquisitor!” chant starting up, louder and more frightening than I think they intended it. 

This is it. I’m the big guy in charge now, officially. 

Nausea rears its ugly head in my stomach and I swallow dryly. 

I see people breaking open casks of ale and lower my arms, then Cassandra gently takes the broadsword from my hands. 

“You’ve done well,” She says quietly, laying a hand on my shoulder. I laugh nervously. 

“I hope so. Because if I haven’t then everyone will know me as that kid who had no idea what she was doing,” I state, rubbing my face with both hands and wondering what my life has come to. 

“Are you not already?” Leliana quips, and I groan. 

“I have to pretend, Lele, or I’ll self destruct.” They walk down into the crowd, towards Josie and Cullen, but I head inside the dirty keep. Better to just get some quiet time or I’ll start drinking to numb to feelings. That is a path that leads to ruin and alcoholism. 

I’ll die before I become an alcoholic. Maybe someone is conveniently lurking about and will suddenly distract me from my woes. I tend to have that effect on people. 

I enter the main hall and take it all in. The sunset in the half ruined window and the blank place where there will be a throne. I step closer and eye the window, the faded colored panes half left. 

I wonder if that used to be Andraste or something? Seems like something that’d be left around here. 

“Not partying, Boss?” Right on cue. Hello, Bull. 

“And miss out on the sunset? Crazytalk, Bull.” I turn and face the Qunari, sunset at my back and him before me. Lower down on the stairs. 

He huffs a laugh, staring at me analytically. 

“How bad did that hurt the rib?” He asks. 

“Inquisitor answer or the honest one?” 

“Honest.”

“I was more concerned about wanting to throw up, but it definitely hurt like a bitch.” I gently lay a hand above the place with a wince. “Don’t tell the others that, if you don’t mind. They’re still guilty about the ‘leaving me for dead’, thing.” 

Now Bull really laughs, it isn’t a genuinely humorous one. 

“Makes sense.” His face goes serious. “You know exactly what all this means, right?” 

“That there’s no pretty escape with Varric’s Antivan, anymore?” I respond, lips quirked humorlessly. “I’m the one that they’ll curse if this goes sour? There’s a lot of things it means. Most aren’t very pretty.”

Oh so serious. I can still see his head split, right now. I can practically smell the blood and hear the lyrium. 

“I think if I’d found you before all this, Qun would’ve made me recruit you,” Bull says simply, before stepping up to my height and staring out the darkening window. I turn to follow his gaze. 

“Unfortunate for them that I would’ve killed myself first. I’m a bit too soft for all that mess, Bull.”

Now Bull really laughs. “You’re the opposite of soft, Zoe. I agree, though. You’re about as made for the Qun as Sera is.”

The festivities outside are muffled, up here. 

I wonder why he’s saying all this? Preparing for something I wonder? Worried? I never can get all that much of a read on him. 

“Won’t say a thing if you run right now,” He says, never changing his tone. My gaze snaps up to him, but his eyes never stray from the window. “You probably won’t, you’re not the type to run from your problems. Just letting you know that this’ll be your last chance.”

Is it even a choice, anymore?

“I’ll leave when I die or this finally ends, Bull. Dunno if I’ll complain either way.” 

He nods, pats my shoulder, and leaves. 

I watch his back for a long moment, before looking back at the window. 

That’s that, then. 

I lower myself to a seat against a pillar, and stare up at the ceiling. The conversation and merriment a background noise that feels like it’s fading in and out. I’m lonely and tired and alone and for now I’d like to stay that way. 

I close my eyes, breathe in the dust and the air flowing through the open doors, and let the world pass me by. 


 

The Sisters and Mothers try to bully me into going to their service the next afternoon, something about my new position making my own personal beliefs unimportant. 

“I dislike organized religion, and I don’t believe in the maker or his bride,” I say, anger starting to pool in my stomach and build up to my throat. “If you attempt to speak to me like a idiotic child again, I will shout at you. You do not want me to shout at you.”

So. Those relations aren’t going well. Which is their own fucking fault, I’m not going to just do what they say because the Divine started this mess. I don’t believe in their stupid fucking religion why can’t they just leave me alone. 

Dorian, blessed man, nods along from where they’re already beginning to situate the library. 

“Not good of them to irritate our leader so soon, hm?” I wince at that. “It’s the truth! You’d better get used to it, my dear. For better or for worse you’re in charge of these idiots now.”

“Technically whoever’s the Divine is in charge of them, I’m just a placeholder for now,” I state. He rolls his eyes. 

“You can say that all you want, it doesn’t change a thing.” He turns and picks up a book from atop a pile, and grimaces. “Speaking of which, do tell our Lady Josephine that we’re in desperate need of quality literature. The moment an Orlaisian steps in this library we’ll be through.”

“It’s that bad?” I ask, picking up a book for myself and grimacing at the title. Mother Marquardt’s One Hundred Ways to Cook a Potato . Yikes. I flip it open and blanch at the sheer lack of seasoning. 

Southerners, ” I state with a look of doom, and Dorian nods gravely. 

“I don’t think they’ve even heard of a Chilli pepper, let alone can imagine using one,” I bemoan, leaning dramatically against the wall. Dorian’s face lights up. 

“I know! It’s as though everything I eat is bland, here. If it weren’t for the preservatives I’m convinced they’d never use even salt !” 

“They must have access to garlic at least! I have no idea what’s up with Ferelden taste buds. I can expect the lack of soy sauce, but not even garlic ?”

We’re getting looks from the mages nearby trying to sort through the books, mostly confused ones. 

“You’ve heard of soy sauce? I’d thought it was only made in the northern marshes, in Rivian?” Dorian asks. “I’d heard you bemoan the lack of rice before, but I hadn’t thought much of it before.”

Uh. Lie. Right now. 

I shrug. “My past is a mystery, my dear friend. All you need to know is that where I come from they have quality spice and flavor.”

Dorian gives me a look that says he really wants to know more, but he ain’t gettin shit. I’m not getting outed so soon, not before I can convince Hahren to- Solas , to cut it out. 

“That, at least, we have in common. Now run along, my dear, I’m sure you have your rounds to make. I’ll be here contemplating burning a few things,” Dorian says instead of questioning me further, waving me off. I give his side a pat before walking down the roundetta, Hahren— SOLAS , just starting on his first painting. 

He’s outlining first, hands covered in charcoal and the breach coming to being under his hand. A large eye. 

Leaving all these hints, aren’t you? Sometimes I think he wants to be stopped. 

He does. I can see it in his eyes when he doesn’t think anyone’s looking. I’ve seen it in the mirror and I see it in him. 

But that might just be me overanalyzing. Who really knows the mind of an ancient Elv’hen god?

“Looks dramatic,” I comment. He huffs a laugh, glancing back at me. 

“World ending events oft are,” Solas says. “Not all of us can simply come through at every obstacle, you know.”

I shrug, plopping down in his new chair and scooting it into his direction. He’s shaking his head at the wall, then finally turns all the way and steps down, walking next to me and looking out at his work. 

“Trust me when I say I agree that it isn’t normal. It looks fantastic, Hahren. It’ll look even better when you’ve painted it,” I say. He nods. 

“One can hope. I haven’t seen you drawing lately, though.”

It’s… complicated. 

I love art, it fills my lungs with every breath and I exhale shitty drawing ideas. I still doodle on the backs of important stuff I probably shouldn’t, but finished pieces have been a struggle lately. 

It’s hard to be inspired with a hand that wants you dead while you lead a religious organization, is what I’m trying to say. Life is rough and I need to catch my breath before I even try to make something. 

“Things have been a little rough lately on the creative juices,” I state. 

“A pity, considering your skill.” Solas leans his hips against his table and crosses his arms. 

“I’m sure you’ve had far more practice than I at your craft. By the way, how the heck are we going to teach me to become a cat while stuck in a castle?” 

Solas grins, and I imagine if it’d been a tad more feral that it once made his enemies weep. 

“Castles have secrets, Da’lath’in. I trust there’s a few that would benefit us in your endeavor.”

Ooo, showing me his super secret castle passageways is he? Glad he trusts me enough. 

I grin in kind. “Just give me the when, Hahren, and I’m with you.”

He should be wary of all my trust, properly paranoid to match his lengthy secrets. Now, though, he pats my head and I take his hand and inspect the pale skin and the tiny scars, all hit with the dark smudges of charcoal.

At least he doesn’t hate me. That’s probably the worst alternative for any chance of saving the world.