Actions

Work Header

Hell is Empty

Chapter Text

“By the stone,” Inha swore under her breath as she paced in the small hut designated for her. She had no idea how she got into this situation. She was enjoying her time in Orzammar waiting for a job when she was plucked out of the city and told to sneak into the Divine Conclave and report on what happened. The conclave would impact the demand for lyrium in immeasurable ways and the Carta wanted to be ahead of that demand.

In under 24 hours Inha had gone from revered Carta member, to prisoner, to a symbol for a god she didn’t believe in. The unnatural green scar that tore across her left hand marked her as such. She clenched her fists into tight balls and bore her nails into her palms. She was tired and frustrated with the whole damn thing.

She stopped pacing mid-step and with an exasperated sigh and threw her hands in the air, letting them fall back to her sides with a loud clap. Inha looked around the room for the first time since she woke up, taking the time to scan her surroundings. The room was barren save for a few furnishings but it was more than she was used to; at least she had a real bed. There was a small table next to the bed and she walked over to it; noticing there was a piece of paper lying face down she picked it up and skimmed the contents.

“Ancestors have mercy!” Inha exclaimed. “So the little elven girl wasn’t lying. I really have been out for three days.” She swallowed the lump that formed in her throat and shrugged into her leathers, making sure her daggers were secured at her hip. Based on the elven girl’s proclamations Inha figured Lady Cassandra would want to see her now that she was awake, and the Seeker didn’t seem like the kind of person who liked to be kept waiting.

When she opened the door Inha was shocked to see the horde of people lining the walkway up to her hut. As she made her way to the Chantry she could feel their eyes on her and hear their whispers as if they were screams. Each word, every mention of the “Herald of Andraste”, made bile rise up in her throat that she had to fight to keep contained. It seemed as if every soul in Haven had been waiting to lay eyes on her not unlike a cat waits for its prey. As she neared the Chantry the crowd thinned out and Inha sighed in relief. By the time she reached the reached the steps leading up to the large building there was no one lined up to gawk at her.

The first thing Inha noticed when she opened the Chantry doors was earsplitting arguing coming from the back. Despite distance and at least one set of closed doors between them she could hear the exchange as if it was taking place next to her.  A familiar accented voice, harsh but not all unpleasant, pulled her forward. Cassandra had a different opinion on the current situation than the Chancellor, one she was not backing down from. Inha braced herself for whatever waited for her and threw open the large doors drawing the attention of the room’s occupants.

“Chain her!” shouted a man in Chantry robes, “I want her prepared for travel to the capital for trial.”

The Seeker stood opposite Inha, leaning on a table with parchments and books spread out in front of her. Cassandra briefly looked up from the table to dismiss the guards before pushing herself up to her full height to address the protesting Chancellor.

“The Breach is stable, but it is still a threat. I will not ignore it.”

Inha walked up to the table and rested her hands on her hips. It didn’t seem like this was going to end in her favor. “Let me guess,” she started her voice devoid of emotion, “you need my help.”

“You have done plenty!” the Chancellor bellowed down at her. Inha could see the veins around his temple pulsing. “Your actions will be taken into account by the new Divine.”

“Have a care, Chancellor. The Breach is not the only threat we face. The Maker sent her to us in our darkest hour.”

Inha’s eyes snapped up to meet the Seekers’. “Wait, you honestly can’t believe I’m any kind of ‘Chosen One’. I’m a dwarf,” she swept her arm down the length of her body in emphasis, “you realize that, right? Do you really think your Maker would send someone like me?”

“Humans are not the only people with an interest in the fate of the world.” Cassandra’s disapproval was blatant yet her voice betrayed no emotion. She spoke with a tone of finality as she continued. “No matter what you are, or what you believe, you are exactly what we need.”

Well, shit. Inha thought to herself. There went her chances of walking out of here a free woman. Whether she was kept prisoner and sent to trial didn’t matter anymore. She had spent more than enough time with the Carta to know when she would be working for someone else, despite her feelings on the matter.

A red haired woman, Leliana, stepped forward and joined in the conversation. Inha listened to the three of them bicker while trying to figure out how she felt about the situation. She glanced down at the glowing green scar carved into her palm. Her shoulders sank, tension she didn’t realize she was holding released from them and a sigh escaped her lips. She was needed here, of that she was certain, but she was wary of the intentions of her captors. She had seen plenty of people slaughtered after their usefulness ran out.

The sound of Cassandra slamming a thick book on the table snapped the dwarf out of her thoughts. She watched, enraptured, as the Seeker declared the Inquisition reborn and all but sent the Chancellor running with his tail between his legs. Cassandra struck Inha as the kind of woman that could fix whatever was going on out of sheer force of will. She couldn’t help but admire the Seeker in that moment.

The redhead walked forward and placed her hand on the book Cassandra had thrown down. “This is the Divine’s directive; rebuild the Inquisition of old. Find those who would stand against the chaos. We aren’t ready. We have no leader,” she glanced at Inha before continuing. “We have no numbers. And now, no Chantry support.”

“But we have no choice,” Cassandra countered. “We must act now, with you at our side.” She turned to address Inha.

Both women now had their gazes cast upon the dwarf waiting for her response. “If you’re truly trying to restore order, I want to help.” She may have been a member of the Carta, and she may not be excited about this, but Inha was not heartless. She would not stand idly by and watch the world burn when there was something she could do about it. More-so when she was probably the only one who could do something about it. Cassandra extended her hand and Inha gripped it tightly, looking the other woman in the eyes. With that the Inquisition was revitalized and word was sent out across Thedas.

The door across the table from the women opened and two figures emerged from behind it. Inha tensed at the sudden intrusion, fearful that the Chancellor had returned to imprison her once more. A familiar blonde haired man stepped over the threshold first followed by a beautiful tan woman and Inha shook the tension out of her muscles, she was safe, for now. They both nodded at Cassandra then fixed their gazes on Inha.

“Herald, may I present Commander Cullen,” Cassandra extended an arm towards the man.

“Yes, I remember him from earlier. The mighty military leader,” she smiled up at him. “Good to see you again.”

“This,” Cassandra was already moving on, “is Lady Josephine Montilyet; our ambassador and chief diplomat. And you already know Sister Leliana, she is our Spymaster.”

With the introductions, brief as they were, out of the way Cassandra and the three advisors discussed their next plan of action. They needed help, be it mage or Templar, but Josephine informed the group that the Chantry had denounced them. They had been branded as heretics and traitors—enemies of the Divine. As a religious organization without Chantry support their options were limited.

Inha thumbed at the mark on her hand aware of its dull throbbing. It didn’t hurt like it did when she first woke, but it was still there strong enough that she didn’t think she would ever get used to it. The longer she played with it the more doubt crawled to the front of her mind. Inha knew she was to blame for it and hoped she would be able to help the Inquisition instead of making things worse.

She was content to let the other four of the room’s occupants control the conversation but they kept turning their focus on her. She tried to be a passive observer—a glance here, a head nod there. However, they assaulted her with questions; each one firing off in rapid succession.

 “Herald, how do you feel about that?”

“What do you think, Herald?”

“Would you side with the mages or the Templars?”

“Will you recruit agents and expand our influence?”

They looked to her for answers and sought out her advice with so much force it made her head spin. Whether intentional or not they had placed their faith in her to guide them; she was as much an advisor to them as they were to each other. She should have been used to it by now, but she struggled to contain her surprise. The myriad of strangers in front of her were not the first to look to her for answers; answers she would never have.

Leliana directed her towards Mother Giselle, a Chantry cleric who had requested to speak with her. If they were to make amends with the Chantry she would be the best place to start. Her assistance could be invaluable if she could convince the cleric to join them. Tasked with her first mission as a member of the Inquisition the impromptu meeting was brought to a close and Inha made her way out of the Chantry. The crowd from earlier had dissipated while she met with Cassandra and the others. For the first time that day Inha felt like she could breathe.

Despite being unconscious for three days her body still ached and was heavy with exhaustion. She rolled her shoulders and neck in an attempt to soothe her muscles as she walked. Snow began to fall as she walked down the path littering her lashes with fat flakes. Mother Giselle would have to wait, for now Inha wanted nothing more than a warm drink and some rest.

Without direction she wandered through the village surveying the bustle of its inhabitants and an unfamiliar loneliness crept over her. She was part of the Inquisition now but she didn’t belong. There were humans and elves aplenty but other than Varric she had yet to see another dwarf. Her presence was artificial, her importance exaggerated. Be it chance or fate it was the power cut into her hand that brought her to where she was now.

She peered into the huts as she passed each one, pausing to gaze into the tavern. Strangers sat at tables around half empty pitchers, some shared laughs, others bonded over the fear of what was to come. She flirted with the idea of escaping the cold, her hand hovering over the door handle before she withdrew and pushed the thought from her mind. She turned away from the building and continued her self-guided tour. Perhaps one day she would join them but for now she was eyed with suspicion and mistrust, whispers following her.

A faint thrum resonated in her like a second heartbeat just out of rhythm with her own urging her towards the main gate. Her Stone sense, while weak, sang to her guiding her forward. It was different than anything she had felt before, it was thick and scratchy like wading through muddy water. However she was on the Surface, her sense shouldn’t be active. Still she closed her eyes and surrendered herself to the Stone. Smoky tendrils danced across her eyelids guiding her, unease churning in her gut. Something about it was wrong but her feet moved under her with purpose over the rocky terrain.

Searing pain flashed in her hand causing her to cry out. When the pain subsided she opened her eyes and found herself at the edge of a frozen lake. Haven’s gate was a faint line in the distance behind her. How far had she gone? She tried to find the source of what triggered her Stone sense but whatever had called out to her was long gone. Her brows knitted in confusion as she gazed out on the icy water.

Through the cold she heard someone shouting a name almost forgotten to her. The call was a faint whisper in her ear and Inha dismissed it. Surely it was her fatigue and the wind playing tricks on her.

“Pumpkin!” A gruff voice called out behind her sharper this time. “PUMPKIN!

She turned at the unusual title and was surprised to see Varric running towards her. He stopped only when he stood an arm’s reach away from her, eyeing her with his scrutinizing gaze.

“What are you doing?” He asked breathing heavy from the unexpected run.

Her eyes darted between Varric and the frozen lake next to her, heat rising in her cheeks. “Would you believe me if I said I wanted to swim?”

 “Look I know--,” Varric started but cut himself off, all of a sudden unable to meet her gaze. “Something tells me you’re not out here for a swim. So again, what are you doing?”

“Oh you know,” she let her voice rise and fall forcing the playful tone, “just your typical shifty smuggler business.”

“Well I guess it’s a good thing I followed you. Two shifty smugglers are better than one,” he let out a chuckle that Inha tried, and failed, to return. “Why don’t you tell me what’s really going on?”

“I-” she started but her voice faltered, cracking under the weight of her unease. “I don’t know.”

“You don’t know? You come running out of Haven faster than any dwarf in recorded history, damn near throw yourself in the lake and don’t know why. Sounds believable.” He crossed his arms in front of his chest and relaxed his weight on one foot. His tone was light but there was something deeper behind his stance and his words; he didn’t ask a question but he was waiting for an answer.

Inha appreciated that he wasn’t prying giving her the freedom to respond with what was comfortable for her. She eyed the dwarf in front of her, eyes scanning and evaluating him. She saw secrets behind his eyes, pain hiding in his edges, stories in the lines of his hands. He was a man that had lived lives that weren’t his own, he carried the burden of everyone else on his shoulders. Inha didn’t want to add to that burden, hers was not meant for him, but she needed someone she could trust and at least for now Varric was that someone.

Chapter Text

The light snow flurry from earlier had turned into a proper snow shower, further blanketing the area in soft white. A herd of druffalo wandered the hills snuffling under the snow as they foraged for food. Inha watched them for a moment before returning her attention to Varric. The serenity of the atmosphere was a foil to the turmoil churning inside her.

“Okay, so, fuck,” Inha breathed out a sigh and ran her hands through her hair. Her thoughts were jumbled word garbage and her brain couldn’t make sense of them. She breathed in filling her lungs until her chest hurt and reset.

“I spend a lot of time in Orzammar, and around lyrium, so has my family; we may have been exiled but we never actually left.” Inha didn’t try to stop the prideful smirk that tugged at her lips. “While my Stone sense isn’t nearly as strong as dwarva that never leave the city, I still have it.”

Varric arched his eyebrow in a quizzical manner. “I’m failing to understand what that has to do with why you ran out here.”

“Right,” Inha rocked back on her feet and brought her hands together in front of her stomach, toying with her fingers. She shifted her weight from one leg to the other and took a deep breath.

“Well, lyrium sings to me and red lyrium is still lyrium so even though it’s not as clear as regular lyrium it sings too and what brought me out here was the tainted call of red lyrium except it was diluted as if it was mixed with something else, but it disappeared as quickly as it came it was something I’ve never felt before, I have no idea what it was.” Her words poured out of her in one long rambling sentence.

Varric’s eyes widened as she spoke. By the time she was done she could see her own surprise reflected in his gaze. Heavy silence enveloped the two dwarves interrupted only by Inha’s ragged breathing. She could feel her heartbeat in her chest and the warmth rising to her cheeks. The sound of her blood rushing in her ears was deafening.

Could she really trust Varric? Would he try to use her for his own gain or would he think she was two nugs short of a litter? Her instinct told her he was harmless but her experiences argued otherwise. She wanted to tear her gaze away from his but she was unable; all she could do was hope he wouldn’t notice her panic. They stood there for what seemed like ages before Varric answered with a whistle.

“You can hear red lyrium? What are the odds?”

Inha hung off the edge of each of his words searching for any malice or ill-intent in them. All she heard was surprise and perhaps admiration. If Varric meant any harm she couldn’t tell.

 “You probably shouldn’t tell Cassandra,” he continued, “or she’ll try to use you as some kind of lyrium seeking hound.” He shook his head causing the snow that accumulated there to fall around him.

Inha lifted her hand and waved her glowing scar in Varric’s face, “I’m already her magical demon slaying bitch, what’s one more task? I’m pretty used to being passed around by the Carta.” Inha winced at her own words, they sounded harsher than she meant them.

“Hey,” Varric took her hand and guided it out of his face, “you’re not some thing that just gets tossed from person to person. You’re more than that.”

The sincerity in Varric’s voice caught her off guard and she snapped her hand away from his. He had known her for less than a day and had already accepted her without question. She took her bottom lip between her teeth and cast her eyes down. When she tried to thank him a gust of frigid wind tore across the lake cutting through her. She closed her eyes and tensed from the cold.

 “Are you okay?!” Varric shouted at her but his voice sounded miles away.

When she opened her eyes white spots danced across her vision obscuring her field of view. She squeezed her eyes shut then blinked a few times before looking around. The world was fuzzy around the edges and as it came back into focus she was met with Varric looming over her. She was lying on the ground, covered in snow and soaked to the bone. Varric was kneeling beside her with one hand gripping her shoulder, his face contorted with worry.

“What happened?” Inha lifted a hand to rest on her throbbing forehead as she spoke.

“I’m pretty certain I’m supposed to be the one asking that question,” he offered her a smile. “I’m no doctor but my guess is that you fainted for a couple minutes. Your eyes rolled back and everything. Let me help you up.”

Varric stood and extended his hand out to her which she leaned up to accept. Her limbs felt like pudding, it was as if every bone in her body had been replaced with rubber as she grasped his wrist. Disconnected from her legs she struggled to push herself off the ground. She gathered her strength and with Varric’s help they managed to get her upright.

She released her vicelike grip from Varric’s wrist and pushed out a shaky breath. Inha paused for a second to test her balance shifting her weight from one foot to the other. She didn’t trust her stability yet but she took a cautious step forward. Her knees buckled under her once more throwing her off balance and sending her face first back towards the ground. She reached out to catch herself and her fingers tangled in the fabric of Varric’s clothes as she fell into him with a soft thud.

“Throwing yourself at me already, Pumpkin? At least offer a guy a drink first.” His laugh rustled her hair. “You might wanna watch what you’re grabbing, Bianca’s the jealous type you know.”

One of her hands was wrapped around his arm again, the other had a fistful of ass. Heat rose to Inha’s cheeks as she scrambled to release him.

“Holy shit, I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to grab you there.” She swatted away Varric’s attempts to help her and she managed to regain her footing. “Is she here? I didn’t see anyone else. I should apologize.” Inha peered out into the snow searching for the missing figure but all she saw were the druffalo moving on for better pickings.

Varric nodded towards the crossbow strapped to his back. “That’s Bianca, she’s one of a kind. Don’t worry about her though, she might be jealous but she’s understanding. Isn’t that right, Bianca?” He all but cooed at his weapon and Inha noticed his eyes soften for a second.

“You’re absolutely soaked through.” Varric turned his attention back towards Inha. “You need to get warm and dry. Can’t do much world saving if you’re stuck in bed with a cold.”

Inha struggled to remain standing on her own accord and could feel herself swaying gently with the wind. Her body was heavy and begged to sink; her abrupt run had left her drained of all energy. Her mind raced as she tried to figure out how she was going to make the walk back to Haven. The snow was falling heavier now and the soft layer of fresh snow would make the trek even more difficult. For all she knew she had run miles from the village and in her current condition she doubted she would be able to make it more than a few feet.

Her thoughts were interrupted by the feeling of an arm sliding around her waist. She hadn’t noticed Varric adjust so that he was beside her, supporting her weight against himself. He was crouched next to her and by the time she understood what he was doing it was too late. In one fluid motion Varric stood and lifted her in his arms, one supporting her back the other cradled her knees. Inha tried to curl into a ball, a passive resistance to being carried, and the more Varric insisted the tighter she locked up.

“Stop fighting! Do you want me to drop you?” He barked at her.

“Yes! Put me down!” She tried to be authoritative but her voice was weak.

He looked down at her and she glowered at him trying to intimidate him into freeing her. She moved to better position herself for her release, instead Varric gripped her tighter and laughed. “You look like a small, wet, angry cat. You’re not as scary as you think you are right now.”

She pictured her hair plastered to her wind burned face and the way she was shying away from her icy clothes. His laugh was infectious and Inha couldn’t help the giggle that escaped at the image.

“You’re not gonna put me down are you?”

“Nope.”

“You should have asked first,” she scolded him.

Inha sighed in resignation and relaxed in his grip as he adjusted his arms under her. Varric began walking slowly at first which she presumed was to make sure she was finished struggling. He must have decided it was safe and quickened his pace. She held her arms out in front of her chest unsure what to do with them. Her cheeks burned as she stared at her hands and tried to ignore the intimacy of their position. For once the silence was welcome.

She watched as the sun dropped down the horizon taking any lingering warmth with it. They had been walking for a few minutes yet they didn’t seem to be any closer to Haven than when they started their journey back. It felt like she would freeze to death before they reached the small town. She shivered and slid her arms up Varric’s chest and brought them behind his neck lacing her fingers together.

He felt white hot under her frozen skin and she curled into his warmth. He burned around her like a fire; each step enveloped in him melting away her ice. Content, she tucked her head under his letting it rest at the base of his neck. She closed her eyes allowing him to carry her closer to the town. His heartbeat raced under her and she pulled back to gaze at him. He didn’t appear to be struggling but she could feel his heart dancing against her fingers.

“I’m not too heavy, am I? I can try walking if you want.”

“No offense but I doubt you could get anywhere on your own right now.”

“I could try crawling,” she drew the word out pronouncing each letter. “I don’t want you to hurt yourself.”

“You’re not heavy and I’m not putting you down. We’re almost back at Haven,” he looked down at her and met her gaze with a small smile. “Don’t worry about me, I’m fine. But what about you? You holding up alright?”

Inha took a deep breath in, taking a moment to think about how to answer his question. For days it seemed like everything was going on around her, like she wasn’t a part of anything. It was as if she was a statue caught in a storm being whipped by wind and pummeled by rain while stood safe in her shadow. No one had taken the time to check on her, to see how she was doing. So far, Varric was the only one who seemed to care about her as a person, not an asset.

“Honestly, I have no idea what’s going on. I thought I was a prisoner but now I’m a soldier? I can’t keep up! All I know is this is all bullshit! I mean none of this should have fucking happened!”

Her lips curled in disgust and she furrowed her brows. When she breathed in her nose stung as if she was inhaling acid. “Too many people died up there; I don’t even want to think about how many lives were lost.”

Varric nodded his head in agreement. “That makes two of us. This shit-show doesn’t make much sense,” his face turned somber, a frown pulling at the edges of his mouth. “A lot of good men and women didn’t make it out of there.”

The wall encircling Haven stood before them, large and imposing. Nearby a lone recruit was packing up the last bit of training equipment. He was young, Inha assumed he was no older than 14, a mere child training for a war that had already claimed too many lives. Bile rose in her throat at the thought of his body lying lifeless at the Breach. She was in no position to judge the recruiting habits of the Templars having grown up in the Carta but she was unable to stop the flow of her thoughts.

She watched as he picked up a sword and placed in in the mount, each movement planned out and deliberate. Had no one seen her run out or did no one care to follow her? He looked up and their eyes met, he must have sensed her watching. She offered him a smile and a wave, making sure she used her unmarked hand, which he returned before focusing his attention back on his duties.

“But not me. Why? Why am I the only one who survived? I can’t believe I’m still standing,” she paused shaking from more than just the cold, “well technically being carried but still I’m alive. And I’m happy about it. Do you know how shitty that feels? All those innocent people died and I’m relieved I wasn’t one of them.”

“For days now, we’ve been staring at the Breach, watching demons and Maker-knows-what fall out of it. ‘Bad for morale’ would be an understatement. I still can’t believe anyone was in there and lived. Being happy you’re alive isn’t the same as being happy other people are dead.” Varric looked down at her, his gaze as intense as his words. “All of us are relieved you’re here, you’re the only hope people have, but that doesn’t mean we wanted everyone else to die for it.”

“I suppose you’re right. It was pure luck I escaped and if it wasn’t for the fact that dwarva don’t dream I don’t think I would believe any of this was really happening. But if it was so bad why did you stay? Now that Cassandra has me she said you were free to go. You don’t have to tangle yourself in this, Varric.”

He carried her up the stairs and through the gate in silence. She could see him working his jaw as he tried to figure how to answer her. He shot a quick glance down at her before opening his mouth to speak.

“From where I’m standing it looks like I’m already tangled in it wouldn’t you agree? I like to think I’m as selfish and irresponsible as the next guy, but this,” he let the rest of his thought trail off. “Thousands of people died on that mountain. I was almost one of them. And now there’s a hole in the sky. Even I can’t walk away and just leave that to sort itself out.”

Her hut wasn’t far from the gate, she could already see the sconces burning on either side of her door, a trail of smoke coming from her chimney. Lit fires were scattered around the town and there was a soft buzz of conversation draped over the area. The sun had long since set and the town’s occupants were preparing to turn in for the night. Inha was eager to join them, the days’ events had wiped her of all her energy and she fought to keep her eyelids open. She would have fallen asleep in Varric’s arms if it wasn’t for their conversation.

“You might want to consider running at the first opportunity. I’ve written enough tragedies to recognize where this is going. Heroes are everywhere. I’ve seen that. But the hole in the sky? That’s beyond heroes. We’re going to need a miracle.”

“The Breach needs to be sealed; the sooner the better. You know that as well as I do,” she clenched her fists behind Varric’s neck. “And for whatever Ancestor forsaken reason I also seem to be the only one capable of doing that. I’m not going anywhere. I’ll finish this even if it kills me. It’s the least I can do for everyone that died up there. You’re stupid for even suggesting something like that.”

Varric let out a soft chuckle. “I had a feeling you would say that. For what it’s worth I think it’s good that you’re doing this. Not everyone would have stuck around.”

They came to a stop as Varric approached her hut. “Well, unless they’ve moved you I believe we’ve arrived.”

Varric had brought her so close to her door she could reach out and open it if she tried, but she didn’t. Neither of them made any attempts to change their position; their eyes were locked on each other’s. All of a sudden she became conscious of how close they were. She could see the gold flecks in his eyes and the scar from where his nose had been broken. She could feel his breath soft on her face and his fingers digging into her ribs.

“Varric,” her voice was raspy, “I have a question.” He hummed in response.

“Why did you call me Pumpkin earlier?” His pulse quickened under her fingers again but his face betrayed no emotion.

“Nicknames are kind of my thing, everyone gets one. You were so far away your orange hair looked like a Pumpkin resting on one of the hills. I can think of something else if you don’t like it.”

She shook her head. “No, I like it. There’s no need to worry. It’s just—” her breath caught in her throat and she closed her eyes. A scene from her past played across her eyelids in syncopated bursts. A dimly lit bar, patrons scattered amongst the cacophony. Orange hair tangled in thick fingers, her name whispered in her ear. The flashback ended as quickly as it started.

“Sorry,” she said with nervous laughter as she opened her eyes again. “It’s just no one’s called me that in a long time,” there was a tone of longing in her voice as she spoke. “You don’t need to think of another nickname for me.”

She beamed up at him using her wide smile to hide the devious smirk pulling at the edges of her lips. In one quick motion she thrust herself forward to plant a kiss on his cheek. The laugh that followed was genuine. “It’s perfect. Thank you.”

“Alright, that’s enough outta you,” he shook his head as he spoke but Inha saw the smile he tried to hide.

He guided her to the ground as if she could break with one wrong move. Her hands slid down his chest helping her maintain her balance as she stabilized herself on her feet. She turned to face him, the cold wood of the door pressing into her back leeching the warmth out of her. She wanted to say something, anything, to keep the conversation going.

“Get some sleep, Pumpkin,” his voice was gentle. “I’ll tell Seeker to take it easy on you for a couple days.” Then without another word he turned to leave.

She called a thanks out after him and he waved behind him in response. She could feel where his hands carried her and she couldn’t stop the small smile that came across her face. She wondered why a complete stranger was taking such good care of her. She wondered why a complete stranger seemed familiar. Inha watched as he walked towards his tent nearby, toying with the stiff hem of her shirt. Once he had disappeared from her view she entered her hut to retire for the night.

Chapter Text

Over the next couple days Inha stayed inside Haven recuperating. Her stunt at the Breach as well as her run in the snow had taken their toll. The first day she stayed in her hut. Except for her visit the apothecary, Adan, for medicine. She had a persistent ache deep in her bones that made her feel twice her age. And a slight cold. Adan seemed delighted to see her and shared that he had helped in Inha’s recovery. A fact for which she thanked him numerous times.

They chatted while he mixed a variety of herbs and liquids together to craft a tincture for her. He lamented about how he wasn’t a healer but rather an alchemist. Inha stared rapt at the various pestles and vials as Adan paced back and forth between them. Every time he picked up a new herb she had a question to go along with it.  Despite her mother’s best efforts she had never been very good at herbology and medicine.

Inha mentioned how she wished she had some Crystal Grace balm for her hands. They were chapped from the cold wind and the Mark was causing her some pain around the edges. Crystal Grace was a potent herb and while most people were unsure of how it worked, Inha suspected magic, it was effective in sealing and moisturizing. He promised to make her as much balm as she wanted as long as she supplied the herbs.

After a few minutes he handed her the finished products with detailed instructions. She lifted the vial until it was level with her eyes and swirled the muddy liquid inside. It was viscous and she noticed as it settled there were small chunks. She gave Adan a curious glance, one eyebrow raised.

“Adan I thought we were friends, so I’m certain this isn’t poison. But why does it look like poison? You are aware Cassandra would have your head if you accidentally or intentionally killed me?” She eyed the thick mixture with equal parts caution and fear.

With a chuckle he explained what he had given her. “That is a carefully crafted solution of Elfroot, Spindleweed, and ginger. I also graciously added mint to help the flavor and this is the thanks I get.” His voice was playful as he spoke. “And yes I am aware. Now, go home.”

As she left he gave her a stern lecture about playing in the snow and taking care of herself. Out of fear for another lecture she followed Adan’s instructions and felt better than she had in weeks when she woke the next morning. The only lingering sign of her cold was a slight dry cough. Her body no longer ached and she felt rejuvenated, it was like she had woken up as a different dwarf.

She slipped out of her night linens and into the fresh set of day clothes that were left on her bed the night before. She reached for her daggers but decided against it and made her way for the door. She got halfway there before she turned around and walked back to her daggers, standing over them with a scowl. Once more she walked towards the door and reached for the knob. She hesitated before withdrawing her hand; a second later she reached out for the knob but could not bring herself to grasp it.

Inha turned her back to the door and started pacing back and forth across the small hut. She eyed the door, her uneasiness making her stomach churn. She took in a deep breath and pushed it out with enough force to make her cheeks puff. She stomped through the hut towards the door, intent on leaving but changed her mind as soon as she reached the door. She let her head hang in defeat she as she shuffled back into the hut.

 She knew she needed to get out of her hut and meet the people who were looking up to her but staying inside was easier. She felt like she was lying to all of Thedas, a fraud soon to be discovered. She was a high-ranking Carta official; the only thing she was good for was killing. Once everyone realized that no one would want anything to do with her.

Panic bubbled up inside her. The already small hut shrunk in around her, the only exit disappeared into the walls. She was suffocating under the pressure of the building and even though she could see her breath in the winter air she was burning up. Her head spun sending the room into nauseating circles. She couldn’t focus but managed to stumble into the desk.

Little black dots swarmed her vision, the corners of her sight faded into black. She didn't feel when she hit the ground, her knees scraping against the floor with a bang. The darkness crept further into her vision and she tried to shake the dots out of her sight. All she could think of was the world crashing around her in a messy blur. Everything went dark, then the feeling passed.

Her ears rang, beneath it she heard an echo of someone from her past. Her vision was blurry as she scanned the full sized room for the source of the voice but she was alone. The ringing stopped and her vision returned to normal allowing her to think clearly. She must have fainted again, for how long she didn’t know. That made two times in just as many days, a fact that worried her. Unsure of what to do she rummaged through the desk in search of parchment and a quill.

She managed to find a small scrap of parchment and a broken, but usable, quill. She dipped the quill into the inkpot that was on the desk and began to write in quick motions.

Dearest Eva,

It’s been a while since my last letter but in my defense a lot of crazy shit has happened. I’m sure you’ve already heard it but here it is again. I’ve somehow managed to get myself mixed up with a bunch of humans who think I’m some Chosen One by their Maker. They call me the Herald of Andraste. Fucking weird right? But I can’t leave, they need me. If you were here I know you would be telling me to leave but you don’t know the full story. I have to help. In fact, I met another dwarf, Varric. He already tried to convince me to leave but it didn’t work. You’d like him. He’s been taking really good care of me which is, well I don’t know. Nice? I guess? I feel like he knows more than he says though. Don’t freak out but I’m literally green and have been fainting recently but overall I’m okay. I promise to explain all this better later. I’m running out of parchment so sorry this couldn’t be longer. Hope everything’s well with you. Kiss the babies for me. I love you. I miss you.

Always,

Inha

She squinted at the pathetic excuse for a letter. It was too short and didn’t answer or explain anything but at least she had it; some contact had to be better than none. That’s what she told herself, but the selfish truth was she wrote the letter for her own sake. She needed to get her feelings out, she needed to admit that what was happening was real. One meager letter wasn’t enough to fix her mistakes. She rolled the small note into a loose tube and secured it with a scrap of fabric. Inha hurried into her boots before marching out of her hut towards the Chantry.

The wind this close to the mountains was persistent; to her it seemed like it either blew hard or harder. She pulled her shawl tighter around her shoulders in an attempt to shield her from its unrelenting force. Now that she had the time Inha studied the small village. There was a sea of tents slapped together across the village and outside the gate with buildings scattered like crests on a wave. Everything had the appearance of being worn down with time, threatening to fall apart at a moment’s notice.

Various people bustled about from one tent to another, some carrying supplies others stacks of parchment. As her gaze drifted over the passing faces she was surprised that no one was gawking at her and whispering to their neighbor. The silence, while welcome, made her brief walk somewhat eerie. Either the excitement surrounding her was short lived or everyone was so preoccupied in their tasks to pay her any attention.

She spotted Leliana heading into a tent stationed in front of the Chantry and turned towards it. If anyone would be able to send her letter out it would be the Spymaster. Leliana was kneeling at the base of a barrel, her head bent in prayer. The moment felt private to her so she hovered outside the tent, giving Leliana her space.

Inha took the opportunity to study the Spymaster. The hood she wore covered most of her head and face, her modest clothing bore the symbol of the Inquisition. The bright light from the midday sun illuminated her features allowing Inha to see her clearly. Red bangs fell short of icy blue eyes and Inha could see the faint ghosting of freckles dotted across her face. Should she have to guess, Inha would put Leliana at only a few years older than she. Perhaps in another life they could have been sisters; they certainly shared enough similarities for it to be believable.

“…is death your only blessing?”

Leliana’s voice grew louder with frustration as she continued. Inha sensed the woman was spiraling, the loss of the Divine having affected her in a way she couldn’t understand. She stepped into the tent and cleared her throat.

“I like to think life is the blessing,” she leaned against one of the posts supporting the fabric structure. “But what do I know?” She asked with a shrug.

Leliana turned to her, her lip curled in anger. “You probably don’t even worship the Maker. Lucky. He asks a lot.”

“I think I have an idea,” Inha said as she cast a glance down to her left hand. “If it helps, dwarva believe that the Stone shelters and guides us. To us she is our beginning, our middle, our end. We don’t always understand her, but we give to her and she gives to us. I’m sure it’s the same with your Maker. I am sorry for your loss though.”

She pushed herself off the post and ventured further into the tent. She wondered why Leliana wasn’t working out of the Chantry like the others. This tent seemed more like storage; barrels and bundled goods occupied most of the space. The “table” was little more than half of a broken door supported by two large crates. Most of Haven could be described as makeshift. The Chantry was the only legitimate building, yet Leliana was not inside. Inha supposed it was a direct parallel to the work Leliana did for the Divine; close but just outside anything official. 

The redhead stood and approached Inha, a softness in her eyes that wasn’t there before. “Perhaps you are right. You are not the first dwarf to educate me on such matters; it seems I still have much to learn.” Her eyes settled on the coiled parchment in Inha’s hands. “Oh, something for me?”

“I need this sent out. I figured you would be the best one to help.” She handed the parchment to the other woman as she spoke.

“Why not one of the others? I am not the only one with ravens.”

“This isn’t Inquisition business—it’s personal. I don’t exactly want just anyone handling it.” She crossed her arms in front of her chest. She suspected the Spymaster already knew a majority of the intimate details of her life. Information in the wrong hands could be dangerous, but she had to trust that at the very least Leliana meant her no harm.

“Oh?” Leliana waggled her eyebrows. “A little love letter for your boyfriend?”

“Not quite,” Inha laughed.

“I’m sorry! I didn’t mean to—I didn’t realize,” Leliana stammered, her face and neck turning red.

“It’s okay,” Inha dismissed the woman’s apology with a wave. She was willing to let people think what they wanted; the less others knew the better. “So are you willing to help me? It’s important this get sent out immediately.”

“Right,’ Leliana cleared her throat. She tucked the scrap of parchment into one of her sleeves. “I can have this sent within the hour.”

Inha provided Leliana with the necessary details to deliver her message and thanked her for her assistance. She turned to leave and was almost knocked over by a man who was rushing to Leliana. She leaned against the post once more, interested to hear whatever news the agent brought. She noticed he bore the symbol of the Inquisition as he leaned to whisper something into Leliana’s ear. Upon hearing his report the woman’s face twisted into a grimace, her eyes narrowing to slits.

“So it’s true. Butler has turned on us. Did he think we wouldn’t notice? He killed one of my best agents; and he knows where the others are.” Leliana’s tone was harsh but bowed her head in an attempt to hide the regret in her features. “You know what must be done. Make it clean. Painless, if you can. We were friends once. I had hoped my hunch was wrong.”

Inha thrust herself from the pole and took a step towards the spies. “Whoa, whoa, whoa. Wait a second. What are you doing?”

Leliana turned on her, anger burning behind her eyes. “He betrayed us. Murdered one of my agents, one of his friends. Should we not return the favor?” She crossed her arms across her chest in defiance.

“So you’d kill him? Just like that? Without even knowing why? We can’t solve our problems with murder.” Inha placed her hands on her hips. She had no intentions of backing down from this.

“That’s rich coming from a member of the Carta, especially a Cadash,” Leliana quipped at her.

“You’re right. Why would an accomplished Carta assassin care about the death of an unimportant stranger? I do what I do because I have no other choice. Unlike you, I didn’t decide to become a Spymaster. I didn’t decide to kill. I was born into it. I am a Cadash and that comes with many responsibilities.” Her hands trembled, something about this conversation seemed familiar. Although she couldn’t think of who she would have had it with.

“Why not leave, if you hated it that much?” Leliana seemed satisfied as she adjusted her stance to mimic Inha’s as she continued her rant. Inna knew Leliana had baited her into talking about herself but she didn’t care.

“Why do you think dwarva in the Carta are so loyal to it? It’s because they kill anyone who breaks rank or betrays the gang. I have the blood of some of my closest friends on my hands because they tried to leave. Will you kill me too?” She pushed her curls out of her face and tilted her chin up towards the woman in front of her.

She knew Leliana, or anyone in the Inquisition for that matter, would never kill her. She was too important. She was their only hope, a beacon of light in this darkness. Perhaps that made her more cocky than usual.

“And what would you have me do?” She chuckled humorlessly as she tossed her hands out at her sides in exasperation. “Leave him be? Free to sell us out to our enemies whenever he pleases? Butler’s betrayal put our agents in danger.”

“Living a life that’s better for him, probably. Who are we to take that away from him? People are more than just one thing and people can change. Being in the Carta I’ve had to do plenty of things I didn’t like, but I found ways to make my position align with my ideals.” She waved her arms in emphasis as she spoke, unable to contain the nervous energy inside her.

“The dusters in Orzammar were starving and I made contracts with farmers so we could smuggle additional food into Dust Town. I saved two elvhen orphans from being killed by Templars because their mother got caught doing magic. They assumed the children were the same. My sister, who is also in the Carta, adopted them.”

Leliana rushed forward, crossing the space between the two women in a couple steps. When she spoke her words were hurried, pouring out of her in one breath. “I condemn one man to save dozens. I cannot afford the luxury of ideals at a time like this.”

Inha looked up at the woman before her, brows furrowed. The Inquisition was supposed to stand for order, for justice; not wanton murder. She refused to stand idly by and watch someone be sentenced to death. She refused to be the same woman she had always been. The world was changing around her, now was the time for her to change with it.

“Now is precisely,” she stomped one of her feet into the ground for emphasis, “the time for ideals. We’re trying to build something here, not destroy it. What kind of Inquisition do you want to present to Thedas? People are looking to us to put an end to this shit-show. Everything we do is under scrutiny, you of all people should know that.”

Inha shook her head in disappointment before returning her resolute gaze to the woman towering over her. “I expected better from the Inquisition’s spymaster. You will find a better way.”

She wasn’t in any position to be giving orders yet she was unable to fight the compulsion to do so. She was confident there would be consequences to this conversation but Inha couldn’t be bothered to care about that. The two women locked eyes for a second, neither willing to admit defeat. Still, Leliana turned away with a sigh, returning to her position in front of the table.

“Very well. I will think of another way to deal with this.” She turned to the agent who was staring wide eyed between the two of them. “Apprehend Butler, but see that he lives.”

The agent gave a curt nod before turning on his heel and leaving the tent. Inha could see the tension in Leliana’s shoulders and felt like she should apologize for undermining her authority, but she knew a superficial apology was meaningless. She did what she thought was best, something for which she would never be sorry.

“Now if you’re happy, I have more work to do.” Leliana dismissed her without as much as a look in her direction.

Inha turned to leave but paused at the entrance of the tent once more. She glanced over her shoulder to see Leliana was already spreading out rolls of parchment in front of her, the contents of which Inha could only guess at.

“Thank you,” she called out behind her as she left the spymaster to her work.

She wouldn’t call their conversation a fight, but it left her feeling guilty. She understood how difficult it had been for Leliana do give in to her wishes. She didn’t understand why this group of powerful women and men trusted her, but she was pleased they did.

Inha spent the rest of the day becoming better acquainted with the inhabitants of Haven. These people were hers now; it was best that she stop considering herself an outsider. Her tour of the village started with Threnn the quartermaster and ended with her sharing a drink with Flissa. Overall, her welcome into the town was warm though there were still those that avoided her. She felt embarrassed for having judged the people of the town before she even met them. She had done the same thing to them she was scared of this morning.

It was dark when she exited the tavern and she nodded at a couple as they passed. She blew hot air into her hands and rubbed them together before heading towards her hut. She had more hope for her place in all this than when she woke that morning. Her confrontation with Leliana had given her an odd confidence. Asserting her position had awoken a drive within her. The Inquisition was more than a means to and end for her. Come morning she would start her journey towards building the Inquisition she felt Thedas needed.

Chapter Text

Four horses trotted down the narrow, winding mountain path nestled between thick clusters of trees and the rocky landscape. The early morning sun rose above them casting long shadows behind them. The growing light woke unseen creatures around them and the air was filled with the sounds of chirping birds from the trees and skittering from the underbrush. Not to be excluded the horses whinnied as the world came alive around them.

Inha gazed around marveling at the serenity of the mountain life. She had been in the mountains before, part of being a Carta smuggler was a lot of transport time. However, her recent brushes with death had also given her a new appreciation for life. In her eyes the whistles from the birds were more beautiful, trees were more vibrant, and nugs were even cuter.

They were on their fifth day of travel and had already been on the road for hours that day and Inha was dying for a break. Or a nap. Her eyelids were heavy with sleep and she tried to hold back a yawn. It was dark when Cassandra woke the rest of the group; that woman was determined to shave a day off their travel time. She lagged behind the rest of her group contemplating whether or not she could keep pace with a running horse.

Inha noticed a cluster of purple bellflowers growing from between the rock wall and stopped to pluck one of the largest ones. A small smile ghosted her lips and Inha felt her eyes soften. They reminded her of the small flowers she would make rings from as a child. She let out a sigh and her breath caught in her throat. Her chest tightened and her eyes burned with emotion. What she wouldn’t give to be young and innocent again. She shook her horse’s reins and gave its sides a soft tap with her feet to get it moving.

Inha thumbed the delicate petals of the flower. They were soft and velvety; its fragrance was light but pleasant when she gave it a sniff. A light dusting of pollen sat atop the petals and tickled her nose causing her to let out a loud sneeze. Cassandra turned from her position at the front of the line of horses to inspect the disruption. She let out a disgusted noise upon seeing Inha so far behind the rest of the group.

“We are almost there. Try to keep up,” Cassandra ordered before turning to face forward again. Inha could feel her irritation radiating off her in waves.

“Can we take a break?” Inha belted. She saw Cassandra’s shoulders raise as she winced. “I need to stretch my legs.”

“No. You’ve made it this far, a few more hours won’t kill you,” Cassandra’s reply was curt and she didn’t bother turning around. “Mother Giselle is expecting us.”

Riding a horse as a dwarf presented its own problems; her legs stuck out at odd angles, unable to rest at the steed’s belly like a human. Even with her modified saddle she was unable to move with her horse causing each step to jostle her; she found the whole experience jarring.  Inha muttered curses under her breath while she tried to shake the stiffness out of her legs. Her mare huffed her displeasure under her and trotted forward as if she understood Cassandra’s orders.

Inha surveyed her companions in front of her. Solas had put himself next to Cassandra, they were speaking in hushed whispers too soft for Inha to hear. She didn’t know Solas very well as she hadn’t spoken to him since she first woke up in Haven. To Inha it seemed like he had been avoiding her, but it made sense for him to talk to Cassandra. He did join the Inquisition to assist her, after all.

Varric had slowed his horse down to a crawl as he waited for her to catch up. Unlike her he didn’t seem to be having trouble with his horse, in fact he looked natural astride it, regal even. He gave her a wink as she caught up with him, increasing the speed of his mount to stay even with her.

“Cassandra says she doesn’t believe I killed the Divine but, ya know,” she raised her shoulders and her voice followed their lead. “I’m not sure if I believe her.”

“Don’t mind Seeker, she isn’t exactly a morning person,” he smirked.

“Huh. Would you look at that? We actually have something in common.” Inha’s laughter was soft. “You know her well, then?” Inha rubbed the last bit of pollen from her nose.

“We have a,” Varric trailed of for a second. He rubbed the scruff on his cheek as he planned the rest of his sentence. “A history, if you will.”

“Oh, I get it. She’s your ex. Talk about awkward,” Inha grimaced.

Varric laughed at her, but it was not in malice. “Cassandra isn’t exactly my type. Humans just don’t do it for me. Rather, when someone spends the greater part of a year interrogating you, you get to know them.” He offered her a smile.

“She, she didn’t hurt you did she?” Inha’s voice was laced with genuine concern as she reached out to touch his shoulder.

“Maker, no,” Varric laughed again and patted her hand before she withdrew it. “She’s definitely harsh, but she isn’t cruel. I’m okay. You can be so innocent sometimes.”

She looked down unsure of herself all of a sudden. Her hand tingled from where Varric had touched it and warmth rose in her cheeks. She didn’t understand why she became this way around him and it infuriated her. His last sentence flashed across her eyelids as she blinked. What did he mean by that? They’ve known each other for a week so why is he being so familiar with her? She opened her mouth to argue his point but changed her mind at the last second.

“I’m glad. For both of our sakes,” she beamed at him. “Say, Varric, can I ask you something personal?” Her voice was soft as she spoke.

 “You want to talk about me?” His eyes widened a touch and Inha could hear the surprise in his voice.

“Well, I realized we spent a lot of time talking about me the other day. I hardly know anything about you. If we’re to be friends, I would like to get to know you.”

“I’m flattered. Also, inclined toward extravagant lies,” he winked at her again.

“If you’re gonna insist on getting handsy with me you can at least tell me little about yourself,” she teased him.

“Oh I’m the handsy one now?” He pressed his hand to his chest in mock offense.

“Yeah you are,” she nodded and laughed.

Varric reached out for her, flexing his fingers as if he was going to grab her. She let out a playful shriek and swatted his hands away giggling. “See!” she squealed

“What do you want to know?” he chuckled.

“For starters, where did you get that crossbow?” She inquired.

“Bianca? She’s one of a kind,” Varric cast a quick glance behind him to admire his weapon.

“I’ve never seen one like it. She certainly is beautiful,” she added.

 “I won her from Paragon Smith Branka in a game of Wicked Grace. She was such a sore loser. Ran off to the Deep Roads in a huff, and that was the last anyone saw of her.” There was a mischievous twinkle in his eyes as he spoke and Inha was inclined to believe him.

“One of your ‘extravagant lies’, I presume?” She let her voice raise in pitch as she finished her question as if it wasn’t obvious she didn’t believe him. Varric’s only response was a shrug.

“Not everyone names their weapons. Those that do normally name them weapons after things, like The Crusher or The Executioner. So why Bianca? Who is she named after?”

 “Because that’s not my style,” his voice betrayed no emotion, it was unnatural in its flatness. “And sorry to disappoint but I can’t tell you. That is a very complicated situation. It’s the one story I’ll never tell. We’ll just have to leave it at that.”

Inha could tell how hard he was struggling to remain nonchalant. He tried to speak in the cadence she had come to recognize as his own, but it was forced. Strangely, however, that had to have been the most genuine she had seen him since they met. Curious as she was she respected his wishes and didn’t pry any further. Everyone had their secrets, those things about them that were better left unsaid.

“Well, moving on then. Where are you from? Ferelden? Orlais? Definitely not Antiva. Maybe the Anderfels?” she was supposed to be asking a question but instead started guessing.

“Free Marches, actually. Born and raised in Kirkwall. And despite whatever you’ve heard, no. Kirkwall’s not that bad.” He swelled with pride as he spoke.

“I’ve been there a few times before, it has its charm. My first official Carta mission was there, although I can’t remember much about it. It seems like that happened a lifetime ago,” she thumbed the petals of the bellflower she was still holding. She lifted it up to tuck it behind her ear but was unsuccessful due to the bouncing from her horse.

“Charm, that’s certainly one way to describe it. Who knows, maybe we crossed paths once or twice. Here, let me,” he reached out and took the flower from her.

Varric brushed her hair out of her face and deftly tucked the flower behind her ear. His fingers traced along her jaw as he pulled away and she shivered. There was a softness in his face when she glanced up at him. She could see her delicate green eyes reflected in his and had to resist the urge to reach out for him. She was captivated by his amber gaze, unable to look away.

“It suits you well,” Varric murmured. The phrase echoed in her mind and pulled her back to a memory from long ago.

The light from the candles and sconces bathed the room in a soft glow giving it an ethereal haze not dissimilar from her own feelings. Her body was warm and her mind swirled as if she drank too many cups of her favorite spiced wine. She hummed under her breath, her focus jumping, unable to concentrate. His fingers on her thigh. His breath through her hair. Him. She was drunk but only on him. She was happy.

Their limbs were tangled together in the silky red sheets, their naked skin still tacky with sweat as they laid intertwined. Inha could feel the rapid beating of his heart under her fingers at the base of his neck. She placed gentle kisses across his chest. He reached to wrap an arm around her waist and gold flashed in her peripheral vision.

“Are you sure you want me to keep this?” He asked, his voice thick and sultry.

“Of course I’m sure. I wouldn’t have given it to you if I wasn’t,” she leaned up and placed a quick kiss to his lips. “Besides, it suits you well.”

Inha looked up and she was blinded by a harsh white light. The flashback had disoriented her and she blinked dots out of her sight as she tried to gather her senses. Her gut told her it was one of her own memories but it was more like she opened a book halfway through the fourth chapter. Where was she when it happened? Who was the man she was with? How could she have been so intimate with someone she didn’t even remember? She had no context for it and trying to figure it out only made her head pound behind her eyes.

As she regained her vision her eyes focused a wide hand resting on her knee; she could feel its warmth through her leathers. Her focus bobbed up and down and she shook her head before realizing she was still on her horse—her still moving horse. She looked around and noticed Varric peering at her, concern on his face.

 “There you are,” he said with a small smile. “Lost you there for a second.”

 “Yeah,” she managed to croak out. “It would have been pretty shitty to faint on a horse,” Inha tried to laugh but her throat closed around the sound.

“You feelin’ okay, Pumpkin? You look pretty pale. Which is impressive considering you’re already paler than Andraste’s lily-white arse.”

Inha glowered at the dwarf next to her. “You’re one to talk. No one’s gonna mistake you for Rivaini. I just—” she trailed off.

She just, what? Was reliving forgotten sections of her life? Is connected to someone in a different world or universe and is seeing their life? Has gone nug-humping mad? There was too much weird shit going on for her to keep up anymore.

“I just thought I saw something,” she smoothed the mane of her horse with her hands. That wasn’t a lie per say but she wouldn’t consider it the truth.  “Anyway, enough about me. Let’s get back to you.”

Varric looked at her, one eyebrow had the slightest hint of a raise and his lips were pursed into an almost unnoticeable pout. He did an excellent job of hiding his dissatisfaction but Inha could tell he didn’t quite believe her. However, he didn’t push the issue nor did he resist when she attempted to direct the conversation back towards him. For two complete strangers they seemed to understand each other as if they were old friends.

From their conversation she learned a few things about her companion but the only thing that stood out was his status as a renowned author. He was a merchant son from a merchant family with some shady side dealings. Overall, Varric was what most people would consider a typical dwarf; he was the other side of the coin. She realized she had no reason to suspect him of anything, yet despite all this she still had the same haunting suspicion that he knew more than he was letting on.

The two of them continued to chat as their group made their way towards the Crossroads. Their conversation moved away from Varric as he became reluctant to divulge information about himself. He was willing to talk about anything and anyone other than himself and whenever she pushed a subject he deemed too personal he distracted her with a related fact about someone else. Or he lied. It seemed he had humored her enough for one day, which just made her hunger to know him better.

The Carta taught her people lie for two reasons: they either believe the lie or they’re scared of the truth. They also taught her how to tell the difference. Varric was careful with what he did and didn’t tell people. He was an intelligent man. He told enough truths, and enough obvious lies, that people took the small lies as truth. It was clear Varric didn’t believe half of what he said by the way he would break eye contact with a well-timed blink or wave of the hand. So what didn’t he want people to know? Or what she guessed was more accurate, what was what was he scared of?

Inha was aware of the passing time but it was not in the forefront of her mind. She was too preoccupied with keeping up with Varric. Trying to discern fact from fiction was an exercise in mental acuity, but there was no denying she enjoyed talking to him. The tales he wove in front of her and their exchanged quips brought a sense of normalcy to the whirlwind that had become her life. At the front of the line Cassandra had brought her horse to a stop and was in the middle of dismounting before Inha realized they had arrived at their destination.

Up ahead was a small forward camp that looked just as thrown together as Haven. Tucked away in one corner there was a cart half-loaded with additional boxes left abandoned and barrels littered the area. The camp had a sizable amount of occupants; one scout poked at a bubbling pot over the fire, a group of about four stood huddled around a table, and the rest ambled about with varying degrees of seriousness. In the middle of it all stood one auburn haired dwarf who looked like she had been waiting for them to arrive. She approached the group as they entered the camp and Varric let out a soft whistle.

“You been holding out on us, Pumpkin? I’m disappointed. Why didn’t you tell us you had a sister?”

Inha’s heart felt like it stopped beating; her hands became cold and clammy. She focused her gaze on the back of Cassandra’s breastplate and refused to look at him lest he see the panic in her eyes. How did he know? Inha quickened her pace to emerge ahead of Cassandra, meeting the other woman halfway.

Inha studied the dwarf in front of her, just now realizing Varric was joking about Harding being her sister. They did share a striking number of physical similarities, enough to be mistaken as kin with ease. However, it was as if she was looking at her reflection from a cloudy mirror, or an old painting whose colors had faded.

“Atrast vala,” Inha chimed. If anyone heard her they elected to ignore her words.

“Herald of Andraste,” the unnamed dwarf rushed to greet her it sounded like a single name instead of a title. Inha started to grimace but caught herself, turning it into a welcoming smile. “I’ve heard the stories—everyone has. It’s an honor to meet you, milady,” the woman bowed before Inha, her voice quivering with excitement.

 “There’s no need for all that,” Inha’s smile was sincere now and she let out a small chuckle. It seemed like she had met her first fan. “Please, just call me Inha.”

“Inha,” the dwarf repeated her name with purpose as if she was tasting it. “That’s a lovely name. Scout Harding at your service. I—well all of us,” she backtracked, “will do everything we can do support you, mil—Inha,” she extended her hand and Inha grasped it between both of hers.

“If I didn’t know any better I would think I was seeing double,” Varric stated and Inha noticed Solas nod in agreement.

 “Pleased to meet you, Scout Harding,” she gave the scout’s hand a gentle squeeze before releasing it. “To be frank I’m thrilled to see another one of the dwarva. I was getting worried it’d just be me and that miserable cur over there,” she said with a wink.

“Hey! I heard that!” Varric shouted with mock indignation.

“I could say the same. I was pretty surprised when I got the news the Herald of Andraste is a dwarf. It’s not every day you hear about a dwarf saving the world,” Harding smiled.

“I’m trying to at least,” Inha laughed. “So there’s stories about me now? Should I be worried?”

“Oh there’s nothing to worry about,” Harding reassured her. “They only say you’re the last hope for Thedas.”

“Oh. So the usual then. Good to know,” she shook her head.

“What’d I tell ya, Pumpkin? This is gonna take a miracle,” Varric added.

“The Hinterlands are as good a place as any to start,” Harding paused looking remorseful, “fixing things.”

“Yes, I agree,” Solas chimed in and clasped his hands together in front of him. “I sense a great deal of Fade magic here. The veil must be quite thin in this area. It would be best for us to take precaution here. There are most likely more rifts, like what we saw at the Temple, here.”

“Mother Giselle is at the Crossroads helping refugees and the wounded. Our reports state the war has spread down there too,” Harding turned and pointed somewhere hidden in the hills. “Well, you best get going. No time to lose. Oh and be careful.”

Inha thanked the scout and looked to Cassandra to lead. Now that the need for the “Herald of Andraste” had passed she assumed the Seeker would take charge once more. Instead of barking orders like she did earlier the only answer Cassandra had for her was a slight nod of her head. She was relinquishing control to Inha. Inha gave her head a slight shake to convey her rejection of the idea but Cassandra gave her a flat stare. Inha rolled her eyes and muttered a brief prayer to the Ancestors. She was going to need as much of their strength as they could lend her.

She motioned for her companions to follow. She had been given rudimentary directions on where to find the Chantry cleric but she was already familiar with the area. They navigated down a small, rocky hill before heading in the direction pointed out by Harding. She doubted she was ready for this, but what she thought didn’t matter anymore. She was an agent of the Inquisition now, it was too late to go back. She swallowed the lump in her throat and flexed her fingers at her sides, steeling herself for what was to come.

Chapter Text

Inha looked up the mountainous barrier to where the camp was and made a noise of approval. Scout Harding had used the natural advantages of her homeland to secure safety for her people. They were protected on all sides. Should an attack come there was only one direction it could come from. She scoffed under her breath. The fact that a strategic camp location was the first legitimate sign of competence she had seen was more discouraging than anything else.

She paused a moment to better survey her surroundings. For an area beseeched by war it hadn’t lost any of its natural beauty. The path ahead was well worn and nestled between rising walls of stone. There was a small clearing to her left with another narrow path leading away from her destination. If Inha had wanted to go another way, to choose another path, she wouldn’t have been able. The landscape had only one exit to offer her.

She pressed forward past two large pillars of stone marking the entrance to the path. On one side an overhang jutted over, almost connecting with the other side making it more like a tunnel. Bodies were propped up at the base of each wall. Some still had arrows and swords embedded in the flesh. Inha noticed the body of a young mage woman speared to the roots of the tree behind her, a pile of Templar corpses at her feet. At least she didn’t go down without a fight.

Bile rose in the back of her throat. The air was filled with the saccharine smell of death. A scent she was much too familiar with. Now that her small group was nearing the end of the short trail Inha was aware of the sounds of battle. Someone let loose a vigorous roar before it was cut short. An Inquisition scout ahead crouched as they readied their bow before sneaking towards the fray.

Inha raised her hand to command her group to stop, the other rested on the hilt of one of the daggers she kept strapped to her hip. She kept one eye on the scout to her right and sidestepped left to get a better view. She led her group towards a large ice structure with Templar corpses trapped inside.

“Inquisition forces!” Cassandra proclaimed her voice low. The Seeker moved forward to stand next to Inha, unstrapping her shield from her back. “They’re trying to protect the refugees. Why are they being attacked? We’re not apostates.” Inha could hear her distress.

“I do not think they care,” Solas stated.

“Cover me!” Inha commanded.

In one fluid motion she had withdrawn her daggers and melted into the shadows. Two Templars advanced towards an archer taking cover behind a crate. Inha dashed forward and wedged herself between the archer and Templar. She used her momentum to power her strike as she lashed out with both her daggers. One caught the blow from the Templar’s sword and knocked her and the scout back. The sudden shift in position caused the other to gouge the man’s side rather than embedding the dagger in it.

Solas used his staff to send a ball of magic arcing towards the Templar who was now moving to flank her and the scout. The magic struck the warrior encasing him in ice and Varric let loose an arrow that shattered the ice. Inha felt the cool sting of the ice on her face as the man trapped within dropped lifeless in front of her.  She dug one of her feet into the ground and used her momentum to push forward towards the other Templar advancing towards her.

Cassandra had moved in and struck her shield with sword. The metallic clang pulled the Templar’s attention away from Inha and Varric rained arrows upon him. Inha took the opportunity to retreat back into stealth in order to flank the warrior. She scanned his armor looking for a weak spot that would allow her to deliver a final blow. She zeroed in on an unprotected spot on his side and plunged her daggers in then pulled them out at an angle.

Compared to the full plate armor dwarva wore human armor was ineffective. It was pieced together, using enough plate to keep the vital parts protected. Helmet, breastplate, shoulders. She committed the design of human armor to her memory. They left the elbows, knees, armpits unprotected. If she wanted to render one of these Templars at her mercy she could do so with ease.

Inha turned to the Inquisition scout. The woman appeared unscathed but Inha urged her to return to Harding. The woman ran off and Inha turned her attention back to the fight. Varric had already begun unleashing a torrent of arrows upon the remaining Templar. Two additional scouts had the soldier boxed in and they finished him off.

Cassandra hunkered down behind her shield as she surveyed the area. Inha positioned the warrior at her back using her as cover. Together the two women searched for any additional enemies that may have been lurking out of sight. Confident the danger had passed Inha began to sheath her daggers when a bolt of magic whizzed past her left side.

Inha looked up and saw Varric loading his crossbow. Their eyes met and he gave a small nod of his head towards her right. She slipped out from behind Cassandra to take shelter behind a discarded and broken wagon. Cassandra continued to advance shouting her orders for peace. The slight fizzle of magic and various other sounds of battle numbed her hearing. She readied her daggers, her eyes locked on Varric’s, trusting him to guide her.

He let loose a volley of bolts to her side and she moved into position. From under his weapon Varric waved his hand. Wait. She let her stance widen and kept her knees soft, ready to pounce at his signal. Her breathing and the world around her slowed. Feet encased in a faint magical glow appeared next to her. A mage had snuck around one of the walls to flank Cassandra. He stepped forward, his back to her, and Varric gave her a quick nod. Go!

Without a sound she propelled herself forward towards the unsuspecting mage. He began to turn at the same time her daggers found their mark. They plunged into the mage’s back with a wet sound and she gave them a twist before unsheathing them from his body. He collapsed in front of her and she shook his blood off her blades.

She looked back up to where Varric was perched and gave him a wink. Solas released a blast of freezing magic behind her. She turned in time to see her would be attacker frozen in place. Before she could move to attack the ice shattered from their body, they too fell lifeless before her. She turned to face Varric again who winked back at her.

“Hold!” Solas attempted to order the mages. “We are not Templars. We mean you no harm.”

“It doesn’t look like they care,” Varric chuckled, mimicking Solas’ words from earlier.

Inha grinned and turned back to where the mages had emerged from. Up ahead Cassandra and a few scouts had fought off the last of their attackers. Inha sheathed her blades and took in her surroundings. The air was still and quiet, the last bit of magic fading from the atmosphere. She heard her companions approaching her but her mind was elsewhere.

Now that they were in the open Inha was able to get a good look at the damaged caused by the war. Piles of ash and smoldering embers decorated the landscape from fires of unknown origins. The cobbled stone walls that lined the path were almost entirely demolished. The few houses she could see were damaged with doors kicked in or holes in the ceilings, their contents looted. Bodies littered the ground; mage, Templar, civilian. Nothing, or no one, was safe.

“Herald, are you alright?” Cassandra asked, the first to reach her.

She stood amongst the destruction, mouth agape. Her mind ran circles as she tried to process what she was seeing. Ferelden was being torn apart from the inside out. It was in shambles. Everything came crashing down on her; her situation, the war. Her confusion turned to an anger that blossomed within her. She wheeled on Cassandra, eyes wide.

“This is the Crossroads? This is the Crossroads?!” Inha repeated louder the second time.

“Yes. I do not understand what the problem is,” Cassandra’s voice was flat.

“The problem, Cassandra,” her words stung her tongue with their venom. “Is that rogue Templars are running wild attacking anyone they please. Hunting and cutting down any mage, or suspected mage. Just look around! Soon enough there won’t be anything left here. How much more of Ferelden is like this?!”

“And rebel mages are willing to kill anyone who gets in their way. Who do you think supplies the mages? The Templars?” Cassandra kept her voice even despite her evident anger. “Lyrium smugglers. Friends of yours, no doubt.”

“What exactly are you suggesting,” Inha growled. Her hands drifted towards her sheathed daggers.

“I think I made myself quite clear,” Cassandra crossed her arms in front of her chest and rose up to her full height.

Inha, not about to let the other woman intimidate her, rose up to the challenge. She began to approach the Seeker when Varric put himself between them. He stared down his nose at Inha, a warning in his eyes.

“Pumpkin,” he tutted. “Maybe now isn’t the best time to be picking fights.”

“You’re taking her side?” Inha cried, indignant. She felt a pang in her chest, upset by his perceived betrayal. She shouldn’t care who he aligned himself with yet she did. She hadn’t realized how much she craved his approval.

“I’m taking the side that doesn’t end with the two of you killing each other,” he explained. “Clearly, you have some issues to work out. Preferably without weapons.”

 Varric shot a glance down to Inha’s hands which were clutched around the hilt of her blades. She released them and let her hands hang at their sides. Pleased, Varric removed himself from between the two women.

“I just don’t understand how this could have happened,” Inha’s voice was somber.

“The Mage-Templar war affects all of Thedas. As a member of the Carta surely this is not the first you’ve seen of it,” Cassandra remarked.

Inha could feel the sarcasm dripping off the Seeker’s words as she spoke. The growing anger inside her erupted. It consumed her with its intensity and she pounced on the other woman.

“I have seen the disaster wrought by the war but this is the first time I’ve seen an entire country brought to ruin by it! The Chantry was supposed to prevent this not cause it! As a LEADER,” Inha rose on her toes and let her chest puff out at the word, “of the Carta I would never let my people suffer while I stood idly by.”

“The Inquisition is trying to help!” Cassandra shouted.

“The Inquisition WILL help!” Inha thundered as she threw her hands down. Lightning rippled under her skin, electrifying her nerves. Cassandra towered over her and Inha could see her wild expression mirrored in the Seeker’s eyes.

“Here and anywhere else we’re needed. We will not let our people suffer. Chantry support be damned,” Inha spat.

Her chest heaved with the force of her breaths. She turned on her heel and marched away from Cassandra. Her eyes stung with emotion she fought to keep contained. She would not cry here. There was no resolution to that conversation that would end in peace.

“Would you say you’ve always had this temper? Have there been any other unusual side effects of the Mark?” Solas called, jogging after her.

“Oh my fucking Ancestors, Solas. Sod off,” Inha continued to march in the direction of Mother Giselle’s camp.

“I think it would be interesting to study the Mark’s effect on you,” Solas remarked. “Beneficial even for those that wish to understand the Fade.”

“For the love of nugs!” Inha ground her teeth in frustration. “I’m not some fucking experiment!”

 “You clearly have no experience with dwarven women, Chuckles,” Inha could hear the smile in Varric’s voice. “They’re a feisty bunch.”

“Am I going to see Mother Giselle alone or are the rest of you coming?” Inha grumbled behind her.

“See?” Varric sounded smug and Inha rolled her eyes.

They walked farther down the path towards Mother Giselle’s impromptu camp. The small medical camp was overflowing with the injured. Some limped from one cart to another but most either sat or laid on the ground too weak to move. An Inquisition banner was raised, claiming the area for their cause. Inha approached two recruits who saluted her before pointing out the cleric.

Mother Giselle was on the opposite side of the camp, crouched by one of the few occupied bedrolls. She nodded her thanks to the recruits as she made her way to the Mother. The cleric was arguing with one of the soldiers, trying to convince him to let the mages heal him. Mages were just people, a fact long forgotten, and it warmed Inha’s heart to hear the Mother speak in their favor.

“Mother Giselle?” Inha inquired.

“I am,” the woman stated as she rose to her feet. “And you must be the one they call the Herald of Andraste,” her accent denoted she was Orlesian.

“Not by any choice of mine. Please, Inha is fine,” she insisted.

Inha took a moment to evaluate the woman in front of her. The cleric was dressed in modest red and white robes. An enormous headdress of matching colors made her tower over the other humans. Her face and hands were the only part not concealed. She was older than Inha had expected. Faint wrinkles pulled at her rich tawny skin. Her warm brown eyes were kind, but held a fountain of wisdom behind them. She held herself with the respect she knew she deserved. The cleric was from a different world than Inha, yet she felt she could learn a lot from this woman.

Mother Giselle pursed her lips and chuckled. “We seldom have much say in our fate, I’m sad to say.”

“So you agree with them?” Inha’s eyes widened and gave her head a faint shake. “Surely you’ve noticed I’m not a human.”

“I don’t presume to know the Maker’s intentions. For any of us,” her voice was kind yet firm.

“It feels like I’ve had this exact same conversation before,” Inha rubbed her chin in mock contemplation. “Cassandra, does this seem familiar to you?”

Cassandra, upon hearing her name, let out another disgusted noise. “There are dwarves that follow the Faith. Is it really so hard to believe you were chosen by the Maker for something greater?”

“I—” Inha began to protest, she was still agitated from their altercation earlier. Now was not the time for petty fights. “I will take that into consideration.”

Inha turned her attention back to the cleric in front of her. She nodded towards the soldier Mother Giselle had been tending to before they arrived. “What you said to that soldier surprised me. You’re not against magic?”

“We do not teach that magic is evil. We teach that pride is evil, and does not corrupt only mages,” Mother Giselle stated. “But I did not ask you to come simply to debate with me.”

“Then why am I here?” She opened her arms, raising them in question. She managed to keep her tone light.

Mother Giselle began walking away from the injured and motioned for Inha to follow. Inha kept pace with the cleric but her companions did not follow. “I know of the Chantry’s denouncement,” she whispered.

“Word certainly does travel fast,” Inha let out an uncomfortable laugh.

“I am also familiar with those behind it. I won’t lie to you; some of them are grandstanding in hopes of increasing their chances of becoming the new Divine,” she kept her voice low.

“One person’s failure is another’s success. Vultures,” Inha hissed and clenched one hand into a tight fist.

“That is only some,” the Mother repeated. “The rest are simply terrified. So many good people were senselessly taken from us.”

The two women came to a stop a few yards from where they started.

“What happened was horrible. But that’s no excuse,” Inha countered.

“Fear makes us desperate. But hopefully not beyond reason,” Mother Giselle nodded.

“What would you have me do?” Inha asked.

“Go to them. Convince the remaining clerics you are no demon to be feared. They have heard only frightful tales of you. Give them something else to believe,” Mother Giselle’s voice was strong with her conviction. 

“You want me to appeal to them? They want me dead! You really think that’ll work, not just make it worse?” Inha wanted to trust the cleric but she was hesitant.

“Could it be worse than it already is?” the Mother inquired.

“Actually, yes,” Inha chuckled and crossed her arms. “I could be dead.”

“Let me put it this way,” the cleric started. “You needn’t convince them all. You just need some of them to doubt. Their power is their unified voice. Take that from them and you receive the time you need.”

“That won’t be easy. I doubt they would be willing to listen to anything a dwarf has to say,” she shrugged. “But it’s the best we’ve got.”

“I honestly don’t know if you’ve been touched by fate. Or sent to help us, but,” a smile pulled at the corners of the older woman’s mouth. “I hope. Hope is what we need now. The people will listen to your rallying call as they listened to no other. You could build the Inquisition into a force that will deliver us. Or destroy us. I will go to Haven and provide Sister Leliana the names of those in the Chantry who would be amenable to a gathering. It is not much but I will do whatever I can.”

“Thank you. It’s good of you to do this,” Inha smiled.

 The two women nodded their goodbyes. Inha watched as the Mother departed for Haven. Inha felt more confident after having spoken with the cleric. Everyone kept telling her she was Thedas’ last hope, and maybe they were wrong. She still didn’t believe she was sent by Andraste or the Maker but she felt something she hadn’t felt in a while. Hope. Hope in the Inquisition. Hope in herself.

Chapter Text

Inha looked over the small encampment spread out in front of her. Even if little remained of the Crossroads this small section remained unchanged by the war. The people had used the mountainous terrain to their advantage, utilizing the hills to give them more space. Huts decorated the hilltops with stone stairs connecting them. Although not well placed, the area was beautiful and full of life.

Overlooking the camp was a large mountain waterfall which allowed fresh water to flow through the circle. A small pond sat at the base of a large statue of a woman Inha did not recognize. Inquisition scouts assisted refugees while locals pushed hand wagons full of supplies and a merchant peddled his goods. The immense juxtaposition from the destruction a few meters away had Inha’s mind reeling. Perhaps she was wrong in her harsh judgment from before.

Now that her conversation with the Mother was over her companions approached her. They stood in silence looking over the rest of the Crossroads. From behind her someone shifted in impatience but Varric was the first to speak.

“Cat got your tongue, Pumpkin?” Varric chuckled and appeared next to her. “I didn’t hear any shouting so I’m assuming that went well.”

“You just love teasing me don’t you?” She turned and grinned at him. “But yes. Mother Giselle is returning to Haven to help Leliana find Chantry support.”

Cassandra approached Inha and cleared her throat. “Corporal Vale is coordinating the Inquisition’s efforts in the area. If you still want to help, we should speak with him.”

“After you,” Inha motioned for Cassandra to take the lead.

Inha looked at the towering woman next to her. Inha admired how the woman was dedicated to her mission or how she was unapologetic for it. While they did not know each other well Inha knew Cassandra fought for what she believed in, for what was right. Cassandra had a presence that demanded respect; Inha had noticed it the moment they met. Despite their many differences, Inha was in awe of the woman. It was possible she had judged the Seeker too harshly as well.

Cassandra stepped forward and began to guide them towards the Corporal. Vale and his men were located up a narrow dirt path left of where they started. Their elevation gave the troops enough space to train but also provided an excellent vantage point to observe the area. Inha hadn’t expected much from the Inquisition or its forces, yet from the scouts’ ability to set up strategic camps or the troops’ training, she continued to be surprised at their prowess and competence.

Atop a small rise behind the troops was an individual camp. A single tent and campfire decorated the hill. Standing with their arms crossed was a man watching over the rest of the forces. Inha looked to Cassandra who just nodded. She approached the man and greeted him.

“You must be the Herald. Corporal Vale. Thanks for your help,” he spoke in sharp staccato sentences, abrupt and broken. “The mages and Templars don’t seem to care who gets caught in their war.”

“I didn’t realize the scouts from earlier were yours. I couldn’t just watch as they were attacked. Anyone would have done the same,” Inha brushed off his gratitude. “I heard you were in need of further assistance.”

“The refugees,” he motioned towards where Inha had just came from, “are in dire need of help.”

“Tell me what we can do,” Inha requested.

The Corporal detailed the needs of the refugees. The war had left them without a home and they were frightened. Many had nowhere else to go. They were freezing, starving, and many were sick or dying. He told her he had sent requests to the Inquisition for supplies but they were withholding them, only sending a limited amount. She promised she would make sure the refugees had the supplies they needed and threw a pointed look in Cassandra’s direction.

“What can you tell us about the man who is supposed to be getting horses for the Inquisition?” Cassandra interrupted.

“Horsemaster Dennet? He lives on a farm to the west. We haven’t heard from him,” Vale shrugged.

“We will attempt to locate him,” Cassandra gave the Corporal a small nod.

“Thank you, Corporal,” Inha turned to leave but was stopped.

“For you,” Vale handed her a rolled parchment. “Raven came the other day.”

Inha reached out, hesitant, to take the note from the Corporal. Her heart hammered in her chest as she looked for any sign of Carta influence. She hadn’t reported back to them since she got assigned to the Conclave. They would be looking for her soon, if they weren’t already. She turned the letter over in her hands and released a sigh of relief. A deep red seal bore the sigil of the Inquisition. Inha released it and unraveled the parchment.

Herald,

Several months ago the Grey Wardens of Ferelden vanished. So have the ones in Orlais. Ordinarily, I would not have considered the idea they’re involved in all this. But the timing is…curious. The others have disregarded my suspicion but I cannot ignore it. My agents in the Hinterlands heard news of a Grey Warden by the name of Blackwall. My scouts have reported he is to the west near the river. Please seek him out. He could help us. And put my mind at ease. Make sure to burn this.

Leliana

Inha did as she was instructed and tossed the parchment into the nearby campfire. Leliana’s note didn’t contain much information. All she had was a name and a vague location. The Warden could have moved on by now. If Leliana sent word four days ago he could be halfway to the Fallow Mire or have gone deeper into the Frostbacks. She hoped the Spymaster wasn’t sending her on a wild nug chase.

She turned back to Corporal Vale and once again promised to make sure the refugees received the aid they were in desperate need of. At the end of it all the Inquisition was supposed to be there for the people. They were to be a force of order and justice. What justice was there in letting innocent people starve to death, or die from wounds that could be treated with ease? Their country may have failed them, but Inha would see to it the Inquisition did not.

She gave Vale her thanks for his time and turned to leave. She looked up at the sky and traced the sun’s path in her mind. She readjusted her positon and headed down the hills. Her companions followed her lead, not sure where she was leading them. Cassandra was the first to approach her.

“I assume the raven came from Leliana,” Cassandra pressed. “She always makes me burn our correspondence.”

“She’s a spy. She knows what kind of danger could arise out of the right information in the wrong hands,” Inha replied.

“Yes, I suppose you are correct. So, what did the note say?” Cassandra glanced down and kept her pace even with Inha.

“There is a Warden who has been traveling through the Hinterlands. Leliana thinks he can help us,” Inha examined her gloved hands. Even though she hadn’t lied it wasn’t the full truth.

“I see,” Cassandra hummed. “Did she say where we would find this Warden?”

“She said he had been spotted to the west by the river. With any luck we’ll find him and the horsemaster in one go,” Inha stretched her arms over her head, enjoying the slight pop in her back.

They walked in silence while stealing glances at each other. Varric and Solas chatted somewhere behind her, their muffled voices indicating their distance. Inha chewed on the inside of her lip. Whatever differences she and the Seeker had her outburst earlier was unwarranted. She muttered to herself as she built up the courage to apologize.

“Cassandra,” Inha let out a shaky breath. “Look, I just wanted to say we may not see eye-to-eye but it was wrong of me to attack you like that. You’re not responsible for the Mage-Templar war. And you’re not responsible for the state of Ferelden,” Inha paused. “Or the entirety of the Inquisition. So I’m sorry.”

“I am not without fault. I haven’t given you much reason to think highly of me. But it is noble of you to apologize,” Cassandra’s voice was warmer than it had been. Inha noticed she didn’t apologize for her part in their argument.

“Herald, may I ask you something?” Cassandra prodded.

“You just did,” Inha grinned up at the other woman.

Cassandra rolled her eyes. “You remind me of Varric.”

“You mean charming, roguish, and debonair?” Inha batted her eyelashes up at the Seeker.

“I meant annoying,” Cassandra grunted. “You two are cut from the same cloth.”

“Seeker, you wound me,” Inha clutched at her heart. “But what’s shaping? What did you wanna ask?”

“Earlier when you said you wanted the Inquisition to help,” Cassandra cleared her throat. “You said ‘we’. Does that mean you consider yourself part of the Inquisition?”

Inha pursed her lips in thought. “Well,” she rubbed her hands together. “I guess I don’t not consider myself part of it.”

“What does that mean?” the Seeker demanded.

“It means I could have left long ago. After you released me as a prisoner you stopped keeping me attached to your hip. If I wanted to run away from all this I easily could have done so. I thought about it but—”

“But you didn’t,” Cassandra’s voice was gentle.

“But I didn’t” Inha repeated. “I want to help. I’m probably the only one who can help. That’s not something I can just walk away from. And the Inquisition is trying to do something about all this. So I guess, yeah, I do consider myself part of the Inquisition.”

Cassandra was silent after that; she seemed pleased with her answer. The Seeker didn’t strike Inha as the kind of person inclined towards hugs or affection. However, her aura had a noticeable difference. Cassandra seemed more open to her. She walked beside Inha instead of slightly behind. It was a small change but it held a lot of meaning. It gave Inha hope that they could work together.

Other than the occasional joke or comment from Varric the rest of their trip was spent in comfortable silence. They had left the thick forest behind but the landscape was still full of towering trees. As a dwarf it was hard for Inha to imagine anything being that tall, but that was part of their allure. She admired their beauty and the way they continued to grow towards the sun.

She breathed in the fresh, woody scent. Her hand brushed against the rough trunks. She didn’t understand trees the same way she understood the stone, yet she felt safe in their shadow. They stood like sentinels, their branches covering and protecting what was under them. People could learn a lot from nature, if they only took the time to observe it.

The foliage thinned out and the group emerged near the river. Although she could not yet see it she could hear its soft babbling. As they approached Inha saw a man pacing in front of three young boys. Each of them were fresh faced and fumbled with the small axe and wooden shield they wielded. As the man turned the light reflected off his breastplate; a griffon was imprinted in the center of it. Leliana was right.

Inha quickened her pace. As she approached she noticed the bodies of a few bandits speckled the riverbed. Fresh blood dripped off the men’s blades. The boys’ faces wore masks of both excitement and horror. Inha realized the Warden had been teaching them to defend themselves—an important skill during this troublesome time.

“Even if this shouldn’t have happened, thieves are made not born,” the Warden addressed the boys. “Take back what they stole and go back to your families. You saved yourselves.”

The three young men each thanked the Warden before leaving. They headed in the direction Inha and her group had come from. They were most likely more refugees caught in the whirlwind of the war. Each of them were still children in many ways and Inha’s heart broke for them. She looked back towards the Warden who was already making his way back across the bridge.

“Blackwall? Warden Blackwall?” Inha called as she jogged towards the man.

The man turned at the sound of his name. His eyes jumped from Inha to the rest of her group before landing back on Inha.

“You’re not—,” he advanced towards her. “How do you know my name? Who are you?!”

“That depends on who you ask,” she held her hands up in front of her. “I’ve been called a lot of things lately by a lot of people.”

Now that she was closer to him she took the opportunity to inspect the Warden. Compared to the Templar armor from before his was much more effective. Under his breastplate was a thick, studded gambeson and she could see scale mail peeking out from under it. At first glance he appeared unprotected; he wasn’t even wearing a helmet. His armor was intentionally deceptive and she loved it.

His rich brown hair stopped just under his collar and a thick pointed beard covered the lower half of his face. The creases on his forehead and at the corners of his eyes betrayed his age. He appeared to be near Varric’s age, maybe a few years older. His grey eyes glistened brightly, cold and metallic. They scanned her up and down and Inha shivered under his gaze.

She was captivated by him. His demeanor was as steely as his eyes and Inha found herself longing to know him better. She was surprised when she realized how attractive she found him. While she had navigated her way around a human or two they weren’t her type. She couldn’t ignore the desire growing within her. Maybe pursuing the Warden wasn’t the best idea, but she didn’t see the harm in flirting a little.

“Well, I’m talking to you,” his eyes narrowed. “Stop dancing.”

“If greetings are in order, I’m Inha,” she extended her hand. Blackwall crossed his arms and stared down at her.

“Right,” she withdrew her hand. “I know your name because I’m an agent of the Inquisition. I’m investigating whether the disappearance of Wardens has anything to do with the murder of the Divine.”

“Maker’s balls,” Blackwall paced in front of her. “The Wardens and the Divine? That can’t—no. You’re asking so you don’t really know.”

“Now who’s dancing?” Inha crossed her arms and smirked.

“First off,” he came to a stop in front of her. “I didn’t know they disappeared. But we do that, right? No more blight. Job done. Wardens are the first thing forgotten.”

“Clearly not if enough people in the Inquisition alone have noticed a difference in Warden activity and presence,” Inha argued.

“Is she always like this?” Blackwall turned to the rest of Inha’s group.

“I’m afraid so,” Cassandra groaned, rubbing her temples.

“She does seem to have a temper,” Solas nodded. “Although this is quite mild.”

Varric had sat himself on a large rock and was polishing Bianca. “She’s certainly feisty,” he stated, not looking up from his crossbow.

“But one thing I’ll tell you,” he turned his attention back to Inha. “No Warden killed the Divine. Our purpose isn’t political.”

“Is it killing bandits, then?” She knew she shouldn’t be teasing a possible ally but she couldn’t help herself.

“I don’t have to put up with this,” Blackwall’s brow was furrowed. He was beginning to lose his patience with her.

“I wasn’t accusing the Wardens. That’s not what I’m here for. Not yet at least,” Inha smoothed the wrinkles in her pants. “I just need information. Out of all the Wardens I’ve only found you. Where are all the rest?”

“I haven’t seen any Warden’s for months,” he shrugged. “I travel alone, recruiting. Not much interest since the Archdemon is a decade dead. No need to conscript because there’s no Blight coming.”

“Then why are you here?” She tilted her head to the side.

“These idiots,” Blackwall motioned towards one of the dead bandits, “forced this fight. So I ‘conscripted’ their victims. I taught them to fight and told them to stand. Next time, well, they won’t need me.”

Blackwall looked down, his face somber. “Grey Wardens can inspire. Make you better than you think you are.”

“Well, thank you, Warden Blackwall. Both for your time and for helping those boys.” The Warden looked up at his name, catching her gaze.

If Blackwall knew anything about the missing Warden’s he wasn’t willing to share. He hadn’t offered aid either and Leliana wanted to make an ally out of him. Inha had a plan to pique his interest. She took a few steps forward, adding extra sway to her hips as she walked. Even though there was plenty of room at the head of the bridge for her to cross without issue she brushed against him. She let her hips graze his thigh and glanced up at him through thick lashes as she passed.

“But now,” Inha turned to face him. She kept her voice low and sultry as she spoke. “Where does this leave us?”

She nodded for her companions to follow and turned back to finish crossing the bridge. She crossed her fingers and prayed to the Ancestors her plan worked. She didn’t know if she could face Leliana if she came back empty handed. She counted down with each step she took. 3…2…1…

“Inha, hold a moment,” Blackwall called after her. “Did you say you were with the Inquisition?”

Amgarrak, victory. She held back a grin and turned to face the Warden. “Yes?”

He approached her once more. “The Divine is dead and the sky is torn. In events like these thinking we’re absent is almost as bad as thinking we’re involved.”

“What are you trying to say?” Inha took a step towards him.

“If you’re trying to put things right maybe you need a Warden,” Blackwall paused and closed the distance between them. “Maybe you need me.”

“Warden Blackwall,” Inha beamed up at him. “The Inquisition accepts your offer.”

Inha took a step back from the Warden. A sharp pain burned her left hand and she cried out. Unable to withstand it she fell to her knees, clutching her hand. Her companions called out to her but their shouts were drowned out by the loud crackling sound. The sound was all around her. It engulfed her in its cacophony. Her vision flashed green, then everything went black.

Chapter Text

Shouting. Crackling. Splashing. Groaning. Inha was bombarded with sounds and her hand felt like it had been impaled with a flaming blade. The air was filled with the sharp acrid scent Inha had learned to associate with the Fade. She blinked tears out of her eyes and pushed against the weight on top of her. Blackwall had dropped down to protect her, his body her shield. Upon feeling her struggle he helped her to her feet.

The once peaceful site was thrust into chaos. Demons had spilled out of the shimmering fade rift above her. Cassandra plunged her sword in the center of a Wraith but her blade had no effect. Solas sent two quick freezing blasts at the Wraith and it dissipated with a shriek. Varric fired bolts into a Shade in rapid succession. Another approached him but he was defenseless while reloading.

“What in the Great Maker is this?!” Blackwall demanded.

“I’ll explain later! Go help Cassandra” Inha ordered as she withdrew her blades.

The Shade focused on Varric had its back to her. Black dots peppered her vision as she sprinted towards the demon. It was almost upon Varric when she reached it. She lunged forward and buried her daggers to the. She dragged them down the length of its back as she landed. The demon exploded into Fade essence that was sucked back towards the rift.

“Nice save, Pumpkin. I thought I was about to be demon food,” Varric grinned.

“Can’t be having that now, can we?” She pushed out a laugh. Inha was unsteady on her feet and fought to remain balanced. “You ready for more?”

“You know it! Bianca’s getting lonely,” he patted his weapon. “Go, I’ll cover you.”

Inha nodded and turned back to the fray. She slipped into the shadows, searching for a target. Blackwall and Cassandra were taking turns keeping the Wraith’s distracted for Solas. His magic took them down with ease. From the foot of the bridge the last of the Shades was approaching. Varric sent a few bolts flying towards it, giving Inha the cover to slip behind it unnoticed. She lashed out hard at the demon with a swift and lethal blow.

She was back where she started, right under the rift. It flickered above her, turning her vision a misty green. As the last of the demons fell the rift began groaning again. It bulged and pulsated above her. Fade magic fell around her like snowflakes.

“Quickly!” Solas shouted from his position across the river. “You must seal it before more come through!”

Her four companions began closing in on her from all angles. Their weapons were drawn, each eying the rift with caution. Inha raised her left hand, the magic within reacting with the Fade. She concentrated on the rift, visualizing it closing. A stream of glowing magic burst forth from her hand with such force she had to support her arm with the other. The sensation of the magic within her was uncomfortable. It pricked at her skin like a thousand needles. It weighed her down and she struggled under its power.

The rift crackled, the sound growing louder and louder. Magic splintered off it as it turned unstable. The rift became engorged, struggling to contain the energy trapped inside. Inha gritted her teeth and dug her heels into the ground. She pushed against it, willing it to close. A loud BANG echoed through the valley. The rift was closed at last.

The blast had disoriented her and she couldn’t focus on any particular sight or sound. She was panting and her chest heaved with each breath. Sweat dripped from her brow, the hairs that had escaped from their tight braids were plastered to her face. She was both too hot and too cold. Her stomach twisted itself in knots threatening to empty its contents. The world spun around her in dizzying circles.

“S-something’s. W-wr-wrong,” Inha stuttered.

One of her companions shouted for her but she wasn’t sure who. Or from which direction it came from. She looked up and saw Varric running towards her. She took a shaky step towards him. Her feet tangled under her and she went crashing down on the bridge. She tried to call out for him but her tongue felt too big in her mouth. Her eyes rolled back in their sockets. The last thing she heard was her head hitting the concrete with a wet crack.

As soon as Inha hit the ground Varric slung Bianca around to rest at his back. He, and the rest of her companions, ran full speed towards her. She was in a motionless heap in the center of the bridge. Varric was the first to reach her. All he could hear was his heart pounding in his ears as he dropped to his knees next to her.

He reached out to pull her head into his lap and his hand slid through something hot and wet. His hand shook as he removed it from under her. His fingers were covered in thick, sticky blood. He heard the Seeker gasp and looked up. Cassandra’s eyes were filled with worry but she had already began barking orders at the poor Warden. Fresh water, clean linens, no forget the linens just get the water. Blackwall trotted off to get the water and Cassandra squatted in front of him. She tore a piece of cloth off her armor and handed it to him.

Varric reached for the scrap the Seeker offered. He pulled Inha’s limp body into his lap and cradled her head. He pressed the fabric to her wound in an attempt to stop the bleeding. Her face was flushed bright red and he could see the beads of sweat dotting her skin. He pushed some of her damp hair out of her face and cupped her cheek. She was breathing but it was shallow.

“Is she..?” The Seeker started, unable to finish her question.

“No,” Varric responded. “She’s burning up.”

Solas approached from behind Varric and sat next to him. “Here, let me.”

He reached out for Inha, his long fingers wrapped around her head. A soft glow emanated from his hands and Varric could feel the gash under his fingers seal from Solas’ magic. Solas withdrew his hands from her hair and set them on his lap.

“She most likely knocked herself out when she fell. She should wake up soon,” Solas remarked.

Varric opened his mouth to speak but was interrupted by an approaching stranger.

“Everything alright here?” The stranger asked. “I was out getting two of my mares that escaped when I heard what sounded like an explosion. Damn near sent them running again.”

Varric looked up to see an aging man with rich copper skin and a grey beard. He had two horses with him and was astride a third. The Seeker approached the man to greet him and provide an explanation. At least he didn’t see the demons; that would have been hard to explain.

Varric turned his attention back to Inha. Her face wasn’t as red as it was a few moments ago but she was still on fire. Now that he thought about it she should have woken up by now. When she fainted back at Haven she was out for a few seconds. Something wasn’t right. He leaned in closer to her and shot back up.

“Son of a bitch. Guys! She isn’t breathing!” Varric shouted.

Varric struggled to come up with a plan of action. He wasn’t a healer and whatever Chuckles did wasn’t working. He had no idea what was wrong with her. All he knew was she was dying right in front of him. And that he was powerless to stop it.

Blackwall noticed he was struggling to get a comfortable grip on Inha. The Warden crouched in front him, his eyes searching for permission. Varric nodded his head and Blackwall scooped Inha into his arms. Solas reached out to her once more and touched her forehead. He closed his eyes for a moment before opening them. He turned to address Cassandra.

“I think I know what’s wrong with her,” Solas called. “There’s no time to explain. We need to get somewhere safe and cool her down. Immediately. I did manage to get her breathing again.”

“Dennet,” Cassandra turned to address the man that had found them. “Will you please help us?”

“I-I don’t know,” the man, Dennet, stammered.

“Are you not Andrastian? This a matter of faith,” Cassandra pointed at Inha. “That is the Herald of Andraste. The Maker chose her the same as He chose you. To deny her aid would be to deny Him.”

“Inquisition, huh,” Dennet rubbed his chin. “I’ve heard some things about you lot. Can’t say I’m not interested in what it all means. Alright, bring her here.”

Blackwall carried Inha to Dennet and handed her over with caution. Dennet dropped the leads for his other horses once Inha was secured in front of him.

“I’ll go on ahead. My wife will help get her settled. Take these two,” he motioned to his mares, “to the farm northwest of here. Just follow the path. It’s only a couple minutes.”

Dennet dug his heels into the sides of his horse to get it moving. After a few test paces he gave the signal for his mare to start running. The four of them mounted the horses he left behind. Blackwall and Varric on one, Cassandra and Solas on the other. It wasn’t the most comfortable ride for any of them. But they all knew their pride wasn’t what mattered then.

“Varric,” Solas addressed him. “Do you know if this has happened before? It is imperative I know.

“How would—,” Varric’s first reaction was to lie. To make up some story about how Pumpkin has always fainted. To defend himself. But that wasn’t what she needed.

“I know it’s happened once before. The day she woke up in Haven,” Varric admitted.

“Why didn’t you tell me?!” Solas demanded.

“I’m sorry, Chuckles. I didn’t know it wasn’t some one-off thing. She was only out for a few seconds. By the time she went down she was basically already getting back up.”

“If she doesn’t make it…” Cassandra trailed off again.

It’ll be my fault, Varric thought to himself.

After what seemed like an eternity the four of them made it to the farm. Dennet was waiting for them outside. He instructed them to go inside for the Herald, he would take care of the horses. They thanked him and ran into the humble farmhouse. A large table was in the center of the front room. Inha was stretched out on top of it, stripped down to her linens, with her bright orange hair fanned around her like flames. Damp cloths were placed on top of her to cool her off.

Solas approached her and reached out to her with a glowing hand. His hand hovered a few inches over and he closed his eyes. After a moment he turned to address them.

“She’s weak, but I think there is still time,” he stated.

“What’s wrong with the little lady?” Blackwall asked.

“As you have seen, the Mark on her hand has direct access to and control over the Fade. Children of the Stone have never been connected to the Fade, or magic.” Solas explained. “It is my belief that this unadulterated connection has overloaded her system causing her to go into a stasis.”

“What does that mean?” Cassandra gazed at him with caution. “What will you do?”

“To put it simply: she’s lost,” Solas answered. “I will enter the Fade, find her, and attempt to bring her out. I think once she understands what is going on she will be able to better control it.”

Solas walked to the table and sat next to Inha. “Do not try to wake myself or her. If we are disrupted she could be lost in the Fade forever. Keep her body safe. Do not let her freeze or overheat. I will warn you this could take hours. Time in the Fade works differently than here.”

With the warnings out of the way Solas laid down. Varric could see a faint shimmer of magic wash over the two of them as Solas closed his eyes. Now, there was nothing to do but watch and wait.

Inha sat at a table in the far corner of the tavern next to a bar that seemed cut out of the surrounding stone. The place was dingy and falling apart; held together with sheer force of will. A large pillar protruded from the center of the room as if that was enough to keep the roof from caving in. The light that came in from the few small windows and sconces kept the place lit enough to see but dim enough to mask most of the bloodstains. At least she hoped they were bloodstains.

Inha clasped her hands in front of her on the table. A full mug of ale sat next to her, untouched. The fast paced chatter of the bar’s occupants drowned out the sound of her thinking. She groaned and dropped her head to the table with a soft thud. Why did she agree to come here?

A warm hand on her back made her look up. She hadn’t heard anyone approach her. She looked up to him settling on the bench in front of her. His rich voice soothed her soul as he called her name. She drank him in as her gaze traveled from his broad chest to his face. She saw his lopsided grin and then…

“Solas?!” Inha gasped. “Where did—! How—! Where even are we?!”

“We are someplace familiar,” he set his staff on the table next to her forgotten mug. “Someplace that will always be important to you.”

“I don’t see how a dilapidated excuse for a tavern is important to me,” she retorted. “Although it does feel strangely comfortable.”

“That is not something I can tell you. Perhaps you can explore it later. For now, there are more pressing matters do discuss,” Solas urged.

“I think understanding why I’m in a foreign but not so foreign ramshackle hole-in-the-wall with an apostate is most definitely pressing,” Inha narrowed her eyes.

“I don’t—,” Solas started but Inha cut him off.

“Solas if you do not tell me what’s going on right now,” Inha pounded a hand against the table. “I swear on my Ancestor’s Ancestors your Creators will not be able to save you.”

“You have fractured rules of man and nature. And you will shatter more before you are done,” Solas opened his hands and a steaming cup appeared between them. “For me to find you here— you one of the Durgen’len—is astounding.”

“Oh my stones, Solas! What does that mean,” Inha was losing her patience. “Where is here?! What is going on?!”

“Where do you think we are?” Solas asked his hands now empty.

Inha looked to either side of her, finding both tables empty. She turned around to scan the grimy tavern. The small windows were tinted black and the sconces had been snuffed out yet she had no problem seeing. It had been cleared out of its rowdy occupants leaving just her and Solas. She became hyper aware of the sound of her breathing and the faint shifting of Solas opposite her. The openness of the once crowded room made her feel both vulnerable and trapped.

“This isn’t real,” Inha muttered, eyes wide.

“That’s a matter of debate,” Solas smirked. “What is reality but things that exist, things you experience? Are we not having a conversation? Do you not feel the table beneath your hands? Dreams and the Fade are just as real as the world you are used to.”

“Woah, hold your nugs!” Inha brought her hands up in front of her and gave them a slight shake. “Are you trying to tell me this is a dream? That we’re in the Fade?”

“That is precisely what I’m saying. It really is magnificent that a Child of the Stone is able to meet with me here,” Solas interlaced his fingers.

“Listen. Firstly, stop calling me ‘Child of the Stone’. It would be the same as if I kept calling you ‘The Elf’ or ‘Knife-Ear’. I’m more than just a dwarf. It wouldn’t kill you to use my name,” Inha ran her fingers through her hair, dragging her nails against her scalp. “Secondly, how the fuck am I in the bloody Fade?”

“This is what I’ve been trying to tell you,” Solas extended one hand out to her and grabbed her left hand. He exposed her palm causing the Mark to bathe their faces in harsh green.

“I have theorized that this Mark has given you a direct connection to, and control over, the Fade. You now have access to an entire world previously cut off from you. It is flooding your system with a magical power greater than anything I have ever seen. Magic you are ill-equipped to deal with,” Solas released her hand but Inha continued to stare into the gash across her palm.

“Would you quit talking in circles and just tell me what’s going on?” Inha demanded unwilling to look away from the Mark.

“Tell me,” Solas spread his slim fingers out. “How many fainting spells have you had since you woke up in Haven? Have you been experiencing visions of situations not your own?”

Inha’s head popped up and her gaze locked on to Solas’. “Paragon’s teeth! Is that what I’ve been seeing?! Have they all been dreams?!”

“Considering you have no prior experience with the Fade or spirits I would gather that they are most likely your memories. Similar to this place,” Solas waved one hand in a circle. “But you did not answer my question.”

Inha looked away from Solas’ knowing gaze. How could she be experiencing her own memories when everything was new to her? She had no idea what this place was supposed to be. Each time she saw something new it had given her a feeling of déjà vu. Yet nothing she had seen, or experienced, so far had been something she recognized as hers.

“I’ve blacked out five times so far. Six if you count this right now,” Inha sighed. “And they keep getting longer.”

“That is far more than I had expected,” Solas stood and walked over to her side of the table. “Master Tethras said you had fainted once before, and as a precaution I assumed this wasn’t the second time. But six? This is extremely serious. You must listen to me carefully.”

Inha swallowed a lump that formed in her throat. A feeling of urgency and dread washed over her. Solas seemed to tower over her, large and imposing. His lips were pressed in a hard line as he studied her.

“The reason I believe you keep fainting is the magic contained within your Mark is consuming you, drawing you into the Fade. Whether circle or apostate mage, we all undergo training on how to resist the call of the Fade. You have not had such training,” Solas crouched down until he was level with Inha.

“This is killing me, isn’t it?” Inha trembled. She felt a sudden wave of nausea hit her. The pounding of her heart was so loud it drowned out even her thoughts.

“Not technically,” Solas remarked. “The reason these episodes are taking longer is because as you are drawn deeper into the Fade it is taking you longer to get out. Your body is still out in the world where you left it. If you get lost in the Fade and your body dies you will become a spirit stuck here forever.”

“What do I do?!” Inha struggled to remain calm. “I don’t want to die!”

“I can teach you how to control your magic, but first you must make it out of here,” Solas stood and began walking away from her.

“Solas, wait how do I leave?” Inha chased after him. She reached out for him but he stayed just out of her reach. He walked without urgency yet he seemed to get farther away from her with each step. She pushed herself forward but the world around her remained stagnant. No matter how much she ran she never got any closer to him.

“Find what brought you here,” he stated. Then he was gone.

“Solas? Solas!” Inha cried. “You get back here you lanky, useless rock licker!”

She crossed her arms in front of her chest in a huff. She stood in the center of the empty room trembling. She waited for Solas to return for what felt like hours but he never came back. Her face felt tight, as if her skin was stretched across her bones. She reached up to touch her cheek, surprised at the streaks of wetness she found. When did she start crying?

Inha sank to the ground and sobbed into her hands, overcome with sudden grief. She would die, stuck in the Fade. Thedas would continue to fracture from the civil war until the Breach consumed whatever was left. Everyone would think she had abandoned them all, left them to defend against guaranteed destruction. No, Inha shook her head and forced herself to stand. She would not give up. If she were to die here she would die fighting.

Using the back of her hands to wipe her tears, Inha looked around the tavern. She thought back on Solas’ departing words. Find what brought you here. She assumed he didn’t mean the Fade; that would have been too easy given what he had told her. But she didn’t know what here was, let alone why she would have come here. She dragged her fingers through her hair and screamed in frustration.

A warm hand traced the length of her back before stopping to rest on her shoulder. Alarmed she whipped around, fists raised, to face whoever had joined her. However, the only thing that greeted her was empty air. Inha heard a faint whisper, too muddled to understand. It pulled at the strands of her memories and an image conjured at the forefront of her mind. Stairs.

Inha’s mind shouted at her as she scanned the room for the stairs. There was a large flight of stairs directly across the room from the door. With no other stairs in sight Inha took a few tentative steps towards them. As she approached them something inside her awoke and pulled her forward. Warmth blossomed across the small of her back as if someone was guiding her forward. Her body, her mind, recognized this place and she surrendered herself to it.

As she climbed the steps her body was assaulted with sensations and memories. The tickle of a man’s deep whisper against her ear. Tingles of excitement as her lips traced the outlines of his jaw. Touching him in her memories was like realizing everything she ever wanted was right there in front of her. It was that simple. She tried to picture him but it was like trying to remember someone she never met.

She emerged at the top of the stairs in front of a large set of double doors. A hallway trailed on to her left with doors lining each side. She began to turn towards the hall but was pulled back towards the doors in front of her. Here. She pushed on the thick wooden doors and they swung open with ease. She stepped into the large room, impressed with its size and appearance. Based on the main room she just left, she never would have expected this.

The room was spacious and beautiful. It seemed as if the room was carved from the surrounding stone. One word ran across her mind in an endless loop: dwarf. Ornate decorations covered almost every inch of the room. A large embellished table stood in front of her, she moved towards it but was instead drawn deeper into the rest of the room. To her right Inha noticed a small bedroom with no doors.

Inha walked into the bedroom and gasped. In the center of the nook was a large bed with red silk sheets. A bed she recognized from her most recent vision. She climbed onto it and laid down on her back. This is why she was here, she could feel its truth deep in her soul. She closed her eyes and let herself sink into the memory.

She became alive with color as wave after wave of emotion washed over her. His rich baritone called out for her and her world was dark grey with longing. The warmth from his thick fingers on her skin fading was a blue she’d never known. He was yellow, his hair, his dreams, everything he touched glittered like a saturated golden sunrise. She was bright, burning red as her love spilled from her lips and their hearts beat in tandem. It’s not living if it’s not with you.

As she mouthed the words Inha’s eyes shot open. She was hyper aware of her heart pounding in her ears. She was on fire, burning from the inside. A single word escaped her with a gasp.

“Varric.”

Chapter Text

Inha was aware of a weight draped over her legs. She sat up, using one hand to support herself. Varric was slumped over in a seat next to her. His arms stretched out over her lap, his head rested comfortably on her thigh. His crossbow sat on the table next to him, aimed at the door, ready to defend her from any intruders.

Some of his hair had freed itself from his ponytail and was draped across his face. Inha pushed the strands out the way with her fingertips. A wistful smile pulled at the corners of her mouth and she sighed. He looked so at peace, free from all the stress and burdens he put on himself. He was breathtaking.

She rubbed her eyes and looked around. She was no longer in bright stone room but rather in an unfamiliar wooden house. Instead of laying on a soft bed she was on a hard and unforgiving table. She had been stripped to her linens and was covered with a thin sheet. The only light was from the fire burning in the furnace. It bathed her in soft orange but did nothing to help her identify her surroundings.

 “Varric,” Inha whispered his name again as she gave his shoulder a gentle shake.

“Pumpkin?” He opened his eyes and looked up at her.

“Good morning, sleepy,” she beamed at him.

Varric’s eyes widened as the sleep cleared from his mind. He shot up to his feet and lurched forward to wrap Inha into a tight hug. She relaxed into his embrace enjoying the feeling of his arms around her. Varric pulled away and Inha resisted the urge to follow him.

“Oh thank the Maker!” Varric sighed in relief. His hands slid from her shoulders to rest on her hands. “I was—we all were so worried about you. Chuckles woke up not too long after doing whatever weird magic he did. But you—”

“But I didn’t,” Inha took a risk and laced her fingers through his.

His head was hung, unable to look at her. The corners of his mouth were turned down and he looked more tired than she remembered. Varric was a protector. He was the kind of person to take care of someone who had no one. She didn’t have to ask to know he blamed himself for what happened. He seemed so vulnerable and Inha’s heart broke for him.

“Hey, I’m right here,” Inha reached out with one hand to cup his face. Varric seemed to melt under her touch. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to scare you.”

“You were saved from the explosion that leveled a mountaintop, and fell out of the Fade,” Varric stated his voice drained of its usual winsome tone.

His stubble tickled her palm as Inha ran her hand up his jaw. Her fingers curled around his neck and she stroked his cheek with her thumb. Their fingers were still tangled together and Inha felt Varric give them a slight squeeze. She leaned in to catch his gaze.

“Thank you for staying by me,” Inha smiled.

Varric lifted his head to meet her gaze, his nose just brushing past hers. His eyes demanded her full attention. Even though they were brown they were pale like sun baked soil. They were gentle, a kindness flowing out of them and into her. His eyes were beautiful, reassuring, and Inha never wanted to look away.

Inha leaned in closer to him. It was as if her body was moving on its own but she did little to resist it. He smelled of smoke and sweat, of warmth and worry, and a familiar dwarven earthiness lingering behind it all. His breath tickled her lips and she gazed at him through half lidded eyes. She inched closer still until his breath tickled her lips, his just out of reach. She closed her eyes and rubbed her nose against his.

“Varric, I….” Inha sighed.

She felt his stubble scrape against her lips as she spoke. Her stomach flipped at the sensation and she resisted the urge to do it again. Varric brought one hand up to rest on the one she had cupping his face. Her breath caught in her throat as she felt him shift under her. Instead of coming closer he pulled her hand away from his face and turned away from her. Inha opened her eyes, warmth rising in her cheeks.

“You should thank Hero,” Varric glanced towards the front door. “He did most of the hard work.”

“Yeah okay. I’ll, um, I’ll do that,” she assumed Varric was talking about the Warden but didn’t ask for clarification.

Inha cleared her throat and ran her hands down her face. She felt her skin burning under her fingers. Whatever moment they may have had was gone now. An uncomfortable chasm left in its wake. Unable to look at Varric her eyes bounced across the room. They settled on her leathers neatly folded at the base of the table. Next to them sat a pile of linens weighed down by a small bundle.

“Are those mine?” Inha motioned towards the underclothes.

“The horsemaster’s wife, Elaina, thought you might need them,” Varric shot a quick glance at her before looking away once more. He seemed pained, as if he was holding something back.

So they were at the horsemaster’s house. Cassandra must have found him. Inha walked towards the clothes laid out for her. She reached out to stroke the fabric with shaking hands. It was softer than the ones she owned. They were worn down by time but were well taken care of. She lifted the cotton bundle and gave it a sniff. It contained a soft, yet pleasantly, fragranced soap.

She glanced over her shoulder at Varric. He had moved closer to the furnace, his back facing her. With a sigh she scooped the clothes into her arms.

“Well I smell like the ass end of a bronto,” Inha forced out a laugh. “I’m gonna go try to find somewhere to clean up.”

She hovered near the table waiting for Varric to say something. Anything. With silence as her only answer she shuffled towards the door. She was halfway out the building when the sound of Varric’s voice stopped her in her tracks.

“The river is just south of here. Seeker and the others should have set up camp by it,” Varric stated. “But be careful. The horsemaster said they’ve been having trouble with wolves.”

“I’ll be quiet as a stone,” Inha never turned around.

She pulled the door closed behind her with a soft thud. The house sat perched on top of a gentle hill. The light from the moon bathed the farm in a hazy glow. A mild breeze lifted her hair from her shoulders as she looked down across the hills. The world was asleep. The only sounds were the rushing of the river and her own heart. She saw a faint orange glow near the river. That must be the camp, she thought.

Inha began making her way down the path towards the river. What started as a brisk stroll turned into her sprinting towards the water. A knot churned deep in her stomach. The clothes she held were heavy in her hands. Tears stung her eyes and she choked out a sob. Her legs pumped faster as they carried her. Her lungs burned with each breath of cool air. Even if she ran forever she could never put enough distance between her and her problems. She could never outrun herself.

She came skidding to a halt at the riverbed. Panting she dropped to her knees. Rocks and sand dug into her skin. They scraped against her as each of her heaving breaths rocked her body forward. The pain helped keep her grounded. The linens she had been carrying rested in her lap. She wanted to yell, scream, and curse the world. Instead she sobbed into her hands. Her fingers caught her screams preventing them from waking her companions a few yards down the riverbed.

Her mind replayed what happened with Varric over and over. The sour taste in her mouth grew more intense until she thought she would choke on it. She wept out of frustration, humiliation, and hopelessness. She had been holding her feelings in ever since the Conclave. They sat in her, eating away at her insides all this time. She was already full and the night’s events were the drop that caused her to overflow.

Now that her tears flowed freely she was powerless to stop them. She sat amongst the rocks and emptied the contents of her soul into the air. What had she been thinking? That Varric would take her into his arms and they would share a night of passion together? Or perhaps he held the key to her missing memories and one kiss would unlock what was hidden from her?

Ancestors she was stupid. She hadn’t noticed her growing affection for him. If she had she could have distanced herself from it. She had heard the rumors after all. Rumors that he had never taken a lover. Rumors that he took a new lover with the change of the seasons. Perhaps the most pervasive of all was that he had already had his one great love and had no room for another. Inha hated it. She hated all of them. Most of all she hated herself for listening to the gossip in the first place.

It was clear whatever feelings she had developed weren’t returned. It was a fact she should have noticed before. She was nothing, a nobody. A no-named Carta thug brought into his life by circumstance alone. He had been nice to her, but he’s nice to everyone. It’s one of the things that had drawn her to him. Now, she wasn’t sure she could ever look at him again. She couldn’t even bring herself to think his name. They had become fast friends but she had ruined whatever chance they had at continuing that friendship.

Inha lowered her hands to her sides and let her head roll back. She gasped for breath, the cool night air drying her tears on her face. There was a certain freedom to be found in crying. The cathartic release cleared her mind and left her feeling lighter than she had before. She drew a deep, shuddering breath and set her clothes on large rock nearby. She gathered her strength before making her way towards the water. She knew she would need to apologize to Varric but all she wanted now was to rid herself of the day’s events.

Inha stripped herself of her linens, discarding them in a heap next to her. She plucked the soap from atop her fresh clothes. The frigid water lapped at her toes causing goosebumps to rise on her skin. She took one hesitant step into the river before wading in deeper. Inha took in a sharp breath as the cold water enveloped her. The river wasn’t deep and only rose to Inha’s hips.

Her reflection stared at her, unblinking, as she scowled into the water. Her hair was disheveled, freed from the tight bun it had been in that morning. Waves and curls flew in all directions. Her tears had cut streaks through the dust that settled on her skin. It was impossible to tell where the dust ended and her freckles began. She frowned at her reflection. She was a mess, exhausted and worn down.

She unwrapped the soap from the cloth scrap with a sigh. She was thankful for the opportunity to rid herself of the grime that covered her but longed for a proper bath. She lathered her hair and body with hurried movements. With each layer of dirt she washed away Inha felt more like herself. Everything had been so messed up lately, and she hadn’t been helping her situation. She threw a handful of cold water on her face. Everything’s gonna be alright, she told herself. She would make sure of it.

Satisfied that she had scrubbed every last bit of dirt from her body Inha made her way out of the river. Her skin pebbled as the cool night air glided over her. She wrung out her long hair and ran her fingers through her curls in an attempt to detangle them. She was aware of the cold but did not feel it. Her resolve burned a fire inside her. Even though she had been wiped of her energy from the day’s events she felt more awake than she had in years. Her journey though the Fade had given her an unusual clarity.

Inha removed her clothes from the large rock. Still damp, she pulled on the linens provided for her. She hadn’t thought to check, or ask, for a towel before leaving for her impromptu bath. Content, she turned towards the farmhouse. Splashes from across the river caught her attention. She had thought she was alone and now she was caught weaponless. Inha raised her fists and wheeled around to face the source of the disturbance.

She expected to be met with an attacker. Instead a large ebony she-wolf stood across the river surveying her. The wolf was strange, it was larger than a typical wolf and it eyed her with an almost human-like intelligence. The strangest thing about it however, was its eyes. They were a piercing sapphire. The light from the moon reflected off its gaze making it seem like they were glowing.

The two stood in silence regarding each other. The wolf’s ears were tilted slightly forward and its mouth was closed, but Inha noticed its tail was lowered. Inha let her fists fall to her sides and took a small step towards the creature. A twig snapped behind her and she cast a quick glance over her shoulder to investigate. When she looked back towards the wolf it was gone.

Inha hesitated a moment before leaving the river. She had looked for a trace of the wolf but saw none. Her exhaustion must have made her imagine things in the shadows. She entered the small house and was greeted by the warmth from the furnace. She looked for Varric, hoping to apologize, but he was gone. The table had been cleared, a small plate of bread and cheese left in place of the soiled sheets. Inha sat in the empty chair and picked at the snack left for her, waiting for morning.