To say the bridge is old would be an understatement beyond reckoning. The bridge is ancient, a relic of a bygone age like himself. When Solas squints and looks through instead at he can see the empty places where the veil gathers in twisted clumps, snagged like cobwebs on the memory of the shape it once had, but finding no purchase in the lifeless, rotted wood and rusted metal on which to anchor itself. Half of the bridge is obscured under a cloud of grey mist, a sheer cliffside just barely discernible in the distance. The veil is...distressingly thin here. He can see the shadows of ancient travelers as if dreaming, striding back and forth across the bridge, beckoning in their silence...
"Well? Do you sense anything?" The voice of his vhenan calls Solas back from where he'd almost drifted, fully awake, into a Fade-soaked fugue. He turns away from the bridge, though it takes more effort than he would like to drag his focus back to the here-and-now.
The sight of Roiya, resting against a lone tree near the bridge, offers no relief. Her hand is laid against her belly, its roundness hidden under the thick layers he had helped bundle her into this morning—but his attention is ensnared by the deep brown of the tree trunk against her back. The living wood is a tapestry of whorled knots, deep striations of cracked, aged bark. Thick roots and knurled branches reach out to its brethren in the valley below. Solas does not doubt that it, too, is a remnant of the long forgotten past.
The longer he stares into the tree, the more his senses are overwhelmed with its sense-memories, the way it felt the life-energy of spirits and elvhen alike as its awareness expanded across the ages. A curious spirit planted the seed which gave it life, watched in silent fascination as it sprouted from the tiny shell into a young sapling, and finally matured into a tall, proud sentinel. It was to stand guardian over this bridge and the valley below forever, and the purpose gave it strength to do so. But then—the tear, the soul-splintering separation from the life-energy of all things, blinded to all but the ground beneath its roots, the wind through its leaves, curled its tall, straight spine into a crippled hunch. It was alone, so horribly alone, its connection to the ever-present flow of energy stripped away like a storm rending its branches bare...
Solas gasps at the remembered agony, feeling it deep in his soul as if the Veil had sliced though his own being, as if he'd just woken again from his sleep to discover the world had become a hollow facsimile of reality.
"Vhenan? Solas?" Roiya's voice calls to him, distorted as if by water. Her hand is tight on his shoulder, and he seizes on the single point of contact, trying and ground himself without opening his eyes.
He needs to leave this place, before it drowns him in memory. This is not like Skyhold, where the echoes of the past that await him around every corner are kept to the Fade, where he can revisit them at his discretion. The spirits here are lost, restless, desperate for anything to remind themselves they exist, that they once lived. Their presence beats against him like a hungry tide, washing away his sense of self with each pass.
He tries to speak, but...he cannot make the words come.
"Solas—what is it? Is—is there anything I can do?" His vhenan's voice is thready with fear. For the first time, Solas finds himself thankful that she does not have the connection to the Fade their people were meant to. For now, she is as unaware of the spirits and their insistent memories as they are of her. But that will only last for so long. The anchor has still left its mark on her, despite his efforts to sever it from both her body and soul, and it will inevitably draw their notice given enough time.
He must regain mastery of his senses. He must.
Ironically, the power of the anchor would have easily scattered the spirits and sealed whatever tiny crack has allowed the Fade to slowly leak through the Veil over the centuries like a dripping faucet. And though the bulk of his own power is now returned to him, Solas rarely draws on it outside the most dire circumstances. The presence of the Veil makes its uses somewhat limited, and it is, in all honesty, easier for all parties not to be reminded that he could turn them all to stone in the blink of an eye. But here, where the Veil is thinned almost to nonexistence, he feels almost like himself again, his true self.
The deep well of arcane strength in the core of his being feels briefly, blessedly bottomless. Solas reaches out to brush away the spirits and the intangible miasma of the Fade as if sweeping papers from his desk, and the fog lifts from his mind instantaneously. His lungs pulls in their first sharp breath of cold, clean, real air in minutes.
"I can't carry you, Solas, you have to stand at least," Roiya is urging him, the command almost masking the worry he can feel in her shaking fingers.
"We must leave this place immediately," he rasps. His voice is finally free, but his throat is raw with unspoken words.
"But the artifact—?"
"Explanations later, vhenan, I promise you." He leans heavily on her supporting arm to stand and together they cross the few steps to the tree, where their horses are tethered. The beasts snort and wicker softly, hooves stamping nervously in the grass. It won't be safe to ride until there's a healthy distance between themselves and the bridge.
Solas holds back the spirits in the clearing around the tree and bridge for as long as he can. Eventually the strain is too much, his connection to the ancient magic fraying, and he releases it with a reluctant gasp. He feels the loss in his bones, contained within his own skin once again. But it feels familiar now, comforting in its realness. The thought that he is more a man of this world, with its distinct separation of the living and spirit worlds would have disturbed him before, perhaps even disgusted him. How much his perspective has changed in only two years. Two years. Barely a breath to the elvhen, and yet the people he's met, the things they've done together, have already left such indelible marks upon him that he shrinks from remembering things as they were. Perhaps that is the true nature of this world, that all things are connected in deed rather than thought; that the ripples of one's actions inexorably change those around them; that they may be felt even by those ignorant of the source.
How different the Evanuris might have been, had they learned this lesson sooner.
At his side, Roiya squeezes his hand.
"Better?" she hedges, her brow wrinkled with equal parts concern and hope. Solas presses his forehead against hers, feels the tension smooth away with a relieved sigh.