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To Weather the Storm

Chapter Text

Those who oppose thee

Shall know the wrath of heaven.

Field and forest shall burn,

The seas shall rise and devour them,

The wind shall tear their nations

From the face of the earth,

Lightning shall rain down from the sky,

They shall cry out to their false gods,

And find silence.

-Andraste 7:19

 

 

        Darkness. That was all she remembered. Cold and black and thick as smoke, the feeling of her skin crawling as it tried to make sense of where it was. She had been here before, she knew it, but only in dreams. It had never felt like this, dark and angry and full of fear. This wasn’t right. She shouldn’t be here. The spiders, larger than any she had ever seen, chasing her, chasing… them? Running, running, a woman shouting, a hand reached out to her, and then, nothing.

Sarya Lavellan woke up to pain. White, hot, burning pain in her left hand. The Dalish elf tried to remember how she had gotten to the cold cell she was in, her wrists clad in iron. She wasn’t alone, two soldiers in full armor standing behind her, watching, waiting. She could practically feel the hatred seeping from them. She was used to humans disliking elves, but this was different. This was a different kind of hate, one that burned from pain and suffering and loss. Something was wrong. Terribly wrong. She looked down at her hand as the pain seared again, green light flashing from it like a storm and terrifying her. She raised her head towards the wooden door as it opened, two women walking in. The first one, with short hair dark like the night sky, wearing armor bearing a symbol she didn’t recognize, although that wasn’t unusual since clan Lavellan tried their best to avoid humans. The dark haired woman’s eyes were angry, mourning, fearful. The second woman stood at her side, in a long purple hooded dress covered in chainmail. Her short red hair was covered by the hood, her inquisitive eyes shining behind the shadow. She also looked questioningly at Sarya, though Sarya felt it came from a place of wanting to understand. Sarya wanted to understand as well.

“Tell me why we shouldn’t kill you now,” the dark haired woman spoke, her voice cold, already seeming to have judged Sarya for something she knew nothing about. She spoke with an accent Sarya hadn’t heard many times before. Nevarran? Was that it? She walked around Sarya, circling her, sizing her up. “The conclave is destroyed. Everyone who attended is dead. Except for you.”

“What do you mean, everyone’s dead?” Sarya asked, her eyes widening. She racked her brain, trying to remember. What had happened? She couldn’t seem to remember anything. She remembered her clan, her Keeper sending her to spy on the conclave set by the human’s Chantry to mediate between the templar order and the apostate elves that had broken free of their Circles. She recalled travelling all the way to the Temple of Sacred Ashes, and then… nothing.

“Explain this,” the dark haired woman demanded, grabbing Sarya by the wrist and holding up her hand, dropping it as it glowed green again.

“I- I can’t,” Sarya breathed, feeling at a loss.

“What do you mean, you can’t?” The woman asked incredulously.

“I don’t know what that is or how it got there,” Sarya shook her head.

“You’re lying!” The woman yelled, grabbing Sarya by the collar of her coat. The woman with the red hair stepped in, pulling the dark haired woman off of her.

“We need her, Cassandra,” the red haired woman said. Need her? For what?

”I don’t understand,” Sarya said, desperation in her eyes. If she could remember, would it help? Would they set her free, allow her to return home?

“Do you remember what happened? How this began?” The red haired woman asked.

“I remember running,” Sarya said, looking at her bound hands as she tried her hardest to remember. “Things were chasing me, and then… a woman?”

“A woman?”

“She reached out to me, but then…” Sarya trailed off, shaking her head as she remained unable to remember anything else.

“Go to the forward camp, Leliana. I will take her to the rift,” Cassandra said, kneeling down in front of Sarya to remove the shackles. She knotted rope around Sarya’s wrists, not ready to trust her.

“What did happen?” Sarya asked as Cassandra pulled her to her feet.

“It will be easier to show you.”

Sarya followed Cassandra outside as the wooden doors were opened for them, the soldiers behind her encouraging her forward. Snow fell from the grey sky. The building she had come out of was in the midst of some sort of camp, tents and soldiers scattered throughout. Sarya’s eyes drifted to the left and towards the mountains, her mouth gaping in awe at the sky. It was as if a hole had been driven into it, large and green like the mark on her hand. It circled the wind and clouds around it, large boulders from the mountains floating below it. It crackled like lightning, sending a shiver down her spine.

“We call it ‘The Breach’,” Cassandra said, watching the hole in the sky as well. “It’s a massive rift into the world of demons that grows larger with each passing hour. It’s not the only such rift, just the largest. All were caused by the explosion at the conclave.”

“An explosion can do that?” Sarya asked, looking at Cassandra with wide eyes.

“This one did,” Cassandra said, eyeing Sarya warily. “Unless we act, the breach may grow until it swallows the world.”

Sarya looked to the Breach as it gave off another powerful crack, this time growing larger with the sound. Sarya cried out, falling to the ground as the mark on her hand reacted in time to the breach, feeling as if it were stretching her hand apart as well as it grew in the sky. As the breach calmed its expansion, so too did the mark on her hand fade, the pain vanishing, replaced with a slight sting. She wanted terribly to use her magic to cool the pain, but knew inside her that revealing herself to be a mage at that moment would only worsen things for her.

“Each time the Breach expands, your mark spreads… and it is killing you,” Cassandra said. Sarya looked up at Cassandra, breathless at her words. “It may be the key to stopping this, but there isn’t much time.”

“You still think I did this?” Sarya asked incredulously. “To myself? You just said it's killing me!”

“Not intentionally,” Cassandra shook her head. “Something clearly went wrong.”

Something went-” she sighed in exasperation, shaking her head as she bit her tongue. Fighting wouldn’t help, not while she was already on trial in everyone’s eyes. “And if I’m not responsible?”

There was a bit of desperation on her tongue. Dirthamen, if she had known this would have happened she would have had her Keeper send someone else, or no one at all.

“Someone is, and you are our only suspect. You wish to prove your innocence? This is the only way.”

Sarya’s stomach sunk at Cassandra’s words. She looked down at her hand, as if expecting it to go off again. At this point, what choice did she have in the matter?

“I understand,” she said quietly.

“Then…?”

“I’ll do what I can,” Sarya said as she stood, looking at Cassandra with confidence though inside she was shaking with fear. “Whatever it takes.”

 

        Cassandra led Sarya through the camp, everyone’s eyes on her back. Whatever had happened at the conclave, this explosion, Sarya knew everyone blamed her for it. She should have been used to humans being wary of her, a Dalish mage, but these looks took the cake. They blamed her for the hole in the sky, the deaths of all those people, not to mention their Divine, the leader of their religion. Once past the camp, Cassandra had cut Sarya free of her bonds, instructing her to follow her, which Sarya did without question. With all the odds against her at the moment, there was nothing to do but everything Cassandra asked. As they moved towards the valley the rift expanded again, each time throwing Sarya to her knees. It was so painful, so sudden, without warning, seemingly getting worse the closer she got to the Breach. Humans ran by them on their way to the camp they had come from, yelling about the end of the world and something about the Maker, their God. Green rocks shot from the rift to the ground, like asteroids coming in hot in their path, dead bodies and burning carts littering the way.

Sarya had asked Cassandra about her survival on their way. The soldiers at the Temple of Sacred Ashes said she had stepped out of a rift before falling unconscious, a woman with her in the rift glowing before it had disappeared. It was baffling to Sarya. She had walked the Fade in dreams, as most mages had. But to actually physically have stepped out of the Fade was unimaginable.

At one point in their journey a strike of green energy akin to lightning had shot out of the rift, destroying the bridge they were crossing. Falling to the ice covered river below, Sarya looked up as a demon appeared, dark red and terrifying.

“Stay behind me!” Cassandra yelled, rushing forward towards the demon. Sarya stood quickly as a green light glowed on the ground in front of her, another demon materializing out of it. Cassandra was busy fighting the other demon, Sarya knew she couldn’t rely on her to save her at the moment. Looking to the side at the crates that had fallen from the bridge with them, Sarya spotted a staff, of all things. Not the greatest condition, but it would do.

Sarya had been no hunter, barely a fighter unless you counted chasing away wolves. As the First mage of her clan she had apprenticed under her Keeper, but she had always been more privy to healing spells, controlled bits of fire to warm a camp, ice to heal a wound. The most she had done straight from her fingertips, not needing to focus her magic with a staff to do what little she needed to do. However, all mages knew that the staff would help amplify her power, and right now that was what she needed.

She focused her energy into the grip of the staff, allowing it to build and exit through the orb at the top as she swung it towards the demon. Ice shot out, dealing damage little by little as she continued to swing it to build its power. Holding back her hands, she charged, feeling fire licking at her arms as it grew along her but never hurt her, before it too flowed into the staff, amplifying as it shot through the top and towards the demon. That seemed to knock it back, Sarya noted, holding her breath as she went to do it again. Ah, too fast, she shook her head in frustration, feeling out her mana as it ebbed and flowed, grew and fell with each use and each pause. She looked over at Cassandra as the demon in front of her shifted focus, moving onto her to help its friend as they now both attacked her. Sarya ran forward, her fingers tingling, the hair on her neck standing as she threw a barrage of lightning at them, hitting both of them at once. She leaned on the staff as they seemingly vanished into wisps of green light before disappearing, her breath heavy as she tried to rest for a moment.

“It’s over,” Sarya sighed as Cassandra neared her. She looked up as Cassandra raised her sword towards her, annoyance in her gut. She knew she shouldn’t be surprised at Cassandra’s reaction, but she did feel entitled to perhaps a thank you for helping.

“Drop your weapon. Now,” Cassandra said, her face serious.

“Do you really think I need a staff to be dangerous?” Sarya breathed, raising an eyebrow at Cassandra. Sure, her magic was far less powerful without a staff, but Cassandra needn’t know that.

“Is that supposed to reassure me?” Cassandra scoffed.

“I haven’t used my magic on you yet.”

“You’re right,” Cassandra sighed, sheathing her sword. “You don’t need a staff, but you should have one. I cannot protect you, and I cannot expect you to be defenseless. I should remember that you agreed to come willingly. This will not be easy for either of us.”

“Thank you,” Sarya said, inwardly sighing in relief. She followed Cassandra as she continued on her way. They continued along the frozen river, finding their way towards the main road they had been on before the destruction of the bridge. More demons crossed their paths, forcing Sarya to continue learning to fight without much break. Sarya opted to stay at a distance if she could, still adjusting to the stride of fighting. Still, some of the demons, glowing green as the rift, had the ability to fight with magic from afar as well, easily targeting her.

“Here, take this,” Cassandra said, handing a potion to Sarya. “We’re almost to the far camp.”

Sarya took the potion, eagerly drinking it down. She breathed in a sigh of relief, the familiar taste of elfroot on her tongue as it washed over her. It made her feel more awake and ready to move on. As they reached the top of a long set of steps, they spotted a group fighting demons among a smaller rift. Sarya and Cassandra leapt down from the wall, rushing to help them. Demon after demon came from the small rift. Sarya barely had time to make out the men who fought with them, other than one being an elven mage and one a dwarf who shot arrows closer to her face than she would have liked a few times. As they defeated the last demon, the tall elf grabbed her wrist.

“Quickly, before more come through!” He shouted, raising her wrist to the rift. Electric green shot through her arm, focusing on the rift. Her body tingled as the rift closed with a crack, the light disappearing from her hand in unison. Sarya looked at the elf in awe, holding her hand close to her, her fist closed tightly.

“What did you do?” She asked, her breath heavy.

I did nothing,” the elf said. “The credit is yours.”

“You mean this?” She corrected, looking at her hand.

“Whatever magic opened the Breach in the sky also placed that mark upon your hand,” the elf said, looking at her with a kind smile. “I theorized the mark might be able to close the rifts that have opened in the Breach’s wake - and it seems I was correct.”

“Meaning it could also close the Breach itself,” Cassandra said, attempting to hold back her excitement.

“Possibly,” Solas nodded, looking at Cassandra.

“And here I thought we’d be ass-deep in demons forever,” the dwarf chuckled. He walked towards Sarya, catching her attention. “Varric Tethras: rogue, storyteller, and occasionally unwelcome tagalong.”

The scowl from Cassandra didn’t go unnoticed by Sarya, even though her focus was on Varric.

“That’s a nice crossbow you have there,” Sarya said, looking at the crossbow that had been hooked over his back.

“Ah, isn’t she?” Varric said, looking lovingly at the crossbow. “Bianca and I have been through a lot together.”

Bianca?” Sarya smirked. “Ah, perhaps Bianca can try not to get her arrows so close to my face next time?”

“Sorry,” Varric chuckled. “I promise, she’ll be great company in the valley.”

“Absolutely not,” Cassandra shook her head vehemently. “Your help is appreciated Varric, but…”

Sarya sighed as Cassandra and Varric squabbled for a moment. There was so much going on, was this really necessary? Their squabble soon ended with Varric’s stubbornness winning, Cassandra resigning to an annoyed sigh as she crossed her arms.

“My name is Solas,” the elf said, once Varric and Cassandra had quieted down. “I’m pleased to see you still live.”

“He means, ‘I kept that mark from killing you while you slept,’” Varric teased.

“Then I owe you my thanks, Solas,” Sarya smiled. She was beginning to feel more relaxed now that she was around people who didn't seem to be staring at her as if she had just killed the Divine. Well, as relaxed as she could be with the seeming end of the world and her hand trying to kill her scenario.

 

        The four of them continued on their way to the forward camp. There seemed to be no end to the demons along their way, lining the trail in huddled groups as if waiting to ambush. By the time they arrived at the gates of the forward camp and closed the rift that was holding the camp hostage, Sarya felt her legs shaking. Cassandra offered her another potion, which helped her get through the gates. Still, she knew it was temporary. This much fighting in such a short time would put a toll on her when she was so unused to exerting herself like this.

Inside the camp they met again with Leliana, who had been speaking - or, rather, arguing - with a Chantry chancellor named Roderick. He, like everyone else it seemed, blamed Sarya exclusively for the death of the Divine and the rift in the sky and was ready to send her to an executioner at once. Sarya was surprised when Cassandra spoke up for her, boasting how Sarya had fought along her side to get there and was willing to do as she could to close the Breach. Cassandra and Leliana left the decision of how to proceed forward to the breach to Sarya since they could not agree on their own, much to the chagrin of Chancellor Roderick. They take the path to the Temple of Sacred Ashes, the most direct path but also the one Leliana saw as dangerous, or through the mountains, which would take longer and also the one Cassandra deemed as too risky. Sarya took a breath as she considered the options. Even with the use of potions, she could feel her body’s ware from the strong use of magic, the running, just everything the day had brought. She was unsure how much more of this she could take in one day.

“We’re running out of time,” she sighed. “I say we charge. I won’t survive long enough for this trial of yours, not with how this day is going at any rate. Whatever happens, happens now.”

“Leliana, bring everyone left in the valley. Everyone,” Cassandra said.

“On your head be the consequences, Seeker,” Chancellor Roderick warned, glaring at Sarya.

Sarya, Cassandra, Solas, and Varric continued forward to the Temple of Sacred Ashes. More glowing green rocks fell from the sky, letting them know they were on the correct path. As they neared a gate, somehow still standing despite everything around it being in shambles, another green rock fell from the sky, hitting a soldier on its way down. Demons spawned from an open rift, a group of soldiers fighting them fiercely as Sarya and her group ran towards them.

“We must seal the rift if we are to get past!” Solas shouted.

“Quickly, then!” Cassandra said as she drew her sword. Unable to keep a distance this time because of the uneven ground, Sarya fought as best she could amongst the soldiers. She sent a wave of fire to one of the glowing green ones that floated just above the ground, watching it as the wisp was sucked back into the rift in a fade of green light. As she looked to her right, she saw one of the larger, solid red demons gliding towards her on the ground. She gripped her staff, trying to send another flame at it, but it was too soon after her last attack. The short waves of ice she could send without much build up of her mana did little to stop it. Her heart pounded as it neared, her body freezing in anticipation as it raised its hand, a gutteral screech escaping its throat as it went to attack. Sarya let out a breath as a sword was sent through the demon’s heart as a tall man stepped in front of her.

“Are you alright?” The man asked, turning towards Sarya as he pulled his sword out of the demon before it faded back into the rift. His warm amber eyes traveled down momentarily to her hands that trembled as she gripped her staff, then met with her green eyes.

“Thank you,” Sarya breathed, nodding in an attempt to convince him that she was fine. The man nodded at her, giving her an encouraging smile that pulled at a scar on his lip before rejoining the soldiers in their fight against the demons. Sarya shook her head, getting back into focus as she turned on another demon. Once the last was finished off, she quickly held up her hand, closing the rift as she had the other one. As it closed with a final crack, the others turned, meeting with one another where the rift once stood.

“Sealed, as before,” Solas said, standing near Sarya. “You are becoming quite proficient at this.”

Sarya couldn’t help the small laugh that escaped her; what a thing to become proficient in.

“Well done, Lady Cassandra,” the man with the amber eyes called out as he approached them. Now that they weren’t in the thick of battle, Sarya was able to get a better look at the man who had saved her from the possibly fatal blow of a demon. He was a tall human, his armor and garb more pronounced than the soldiers who had fought with him. His golden hair had a slight curl to it, appearing to have once been tamed back but knocked free in a few places from the battle.

“Do not congratulate me, Commander,” Cassandra said, grinning at Sarya. “This is the prisoner’s doing.”

Sarya grimaced; still a prisoner, no matter what she did. How much would she have to prove herself that day?

“Is it?” The Commander said, looking at Sarya in surprise. Her shaking had calmed since he had looked at her last, the fright her in eyes replaced with determination and a hint of exhaustion. He could tell just by looking at her that she wasn’t used to all this fighting. “Let’s hope they’re right about you. We’ve lost a lot of people getting you here.”

“You’re not the only one hoping that,” Sarya said, her stomach sinking as she thought about all the lives lost that day.

“We’ll see soon enough, won’t we?” The Commander said, giving her a small smile. Sarya furrowed her brow at him for a moment; he was unsure of her, yet he was smiling? What was this human playing at? He had paused his eyes on hers, her green eyes iridescent as she tried to figure him out, before he quickly looked back at Cassandra. “The way to the temple should be clear. Leliana will try to meet you there.”

“Then we’d best move quickly,” Cassandra nodded. “Give us time, Commander.”

“Maker watch over you, for all our sakes,” The Commander said as he looked at Sarya before helping up an injured soldier. Sarya watched him help the soldier off of the battlefield, still trying to figure him out.

“Don’t have ones like that in your clan, huh?” Varric asked Sarya, his voice low.

“No- I mean, what?” Sarya blurted out, her face turning red in an instant.

“Relax,” Varric laughed. “Curly’s easy on the eyes, I get it. It’s easy to look for a distraction among all this shit.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Sarya shook her head, quickly turning and walking briskly in the direction Cassandra and Solas had headed.

“Sure, sure,” Varric nodded as he kept up with her. “Say, after this is all over, you want me to arrange a meeting? Could be great fuel for my next book.”

“For your next- how, exactly?” Sarya scoffed.

“An ex templar and an apostate mage?” Varric grinned, looking up at her, thoroughly enjoying the look on her face. “That’s the stuff of romance gold, Branchy.”

Branchy?” Sarya raised an eyebrow at him. The Commander had been a templar? Now she knew something was definitely up with that smile of his.

“The marks on your face- I don’t know, I’ll work on it,” Varric sighed. Sarya laughed.

“You write books and the best you can come up for me based on my vallaslin is branchy?”

“Hey, I said I’d work on it!”

 

        Sarya felt a chill run down her spine as they approached the ruins. The blast must have been a powerful one to have reduced everything to rubble and ash, only the bare foundations of the temple remaining like a skeleton. Charred bodies littered the path of broken and scattered stone, many still aflame with nothing but their bones remaining, their last expressions burned into their faces when they remained. The closer they got to the Breach, the warmer Sarya’s hand felt. It was as if it were pulling her towards it. The Breach was humongous from where they stood, a gaping hole in the sky surrounded by dark clouds, green light pouring from it to a rift near the ground where surely more demons would be waiting for them. Sarya felt exhausted just thinking about it.

“You’re here! Thank the maker.”

The four of them turned to find Leliana approaching from behind them with soldiers, many in a different garb than Sarya had seen on the others.

“Leliana, have your men take up positions around the temple,” Cassandra instructed. Leliana nodded in acknowledgement, walking back to her men and giving directions. Sarya turned her attention back to the Breach. She felt a pull from it, different from the mark on her hand. Something about it felt familiar, like something known from a distant dream. It was curious and terrifying.

“This is your chance to end this,” Cassandra said, looking to Sarya. “Are you ready?”

“I’m assuming you have a plan to get me up there?” Sarya raised an eyebrow at Cassandra. She was fairly certain she knew as little about all of this as Cassandra at this point.

“No. This rift was the first and is the key,” Solas said, standing near Sarya as he looked at the rift that fed from the green energy of the Breach. “Seal it, and perhaps we seal the Breach.”

“Then let’s find a way down. And be careful,” Cassandra warned.

The four of them began down the steps further into the ruins of the Temple of Sacred Ashes, Leliana and a few of her men following closely behind as the rest took up positions elsewhere. Nothing looked even remotely as it did before. Ash, rubble, one may have even assumed that this were a ruin from hundreds of years ago, a temple long since destroyed by time and war. Sarya paused in her path as she heard a voice echo in the air, low and foreboding, resonating through her bones.

“Now is the hour of our victory. Bring forth the sacrifice.”

“What are we hearing?” Cassandra asked, looking to Sarya for an answer. Sarya shook her head, unsure herself.

“At a guess: The person who created the Breach,” Solas said. They all followed Sarya as she began walking again. The rock that bled into the rubble of the temp around them seemed to be marked as if by green lightning, glowing like lyrium veins but green as the light from the breach. Two archers were in position further down, looking towards the rift as the group passed. Sarya looked ahead of them where glowing red rocks had jutted out of the ground, crystalline and large as they towered over them. Shards of it littered the ground like broken glass, still glowing as if rooted in the earth themselves.

“You know this stuff is red lyrium, Seeker,” Varric said, his voice low and hesitant.

“I see it, Varric,” Cassandra muttered, as if she were well aware of what it was. Sarya had never seen anything like it before. Its glow reflected off of her skin as she passed by it, and it gave off a warmth that seemed to reach out dangerously.

“But what’s it doing here?” Varric asked, keeping his distance from the red lyrium.

“Magic could have drawn on lyrium beneath the temple, corrupted it,” Solas offered.

“It’s evil,” Varric shook his head. “Whatever you do, don’t touch it.”

Sarya looked up towards the Breach as the same echoing voice from before spoke out once more.

“Keep the sacrifice still.”

Then, another voice, a woman, desperate and fearful: “Someone help me!”

“That is Divine Justinia’s voice!” Cassandra said, urging the group forward and down the long steps ahead of them. As they reached the end of the path, they stood at the top of the wall, perhaps ten feet from the ground below. They were finally there, at the Breach. As they jumped down, the mark on Sarya’s hand flared again as the voice of the woman cried for help again. Sarya looked up at the Breach in confusion as her own voice echoed from it.

“What’s going on here?”

“That was your voice,” Cassandra said, looking at Sarya in confusion. “Most Holy called out to you! But…”

An image flashed before them in a white light as if visions of a ghost: Divine Justinia, floating in the air as a magic energy held her arms out, and a large dark figure with glowing eyes looming behind her. Sarya entered the room in the temple through the large double doors, confusion on her face at the scene in front of her.

“What’s going on here?” Sarya asked, warily looking from Divine Justinia to the dark figure.

“Run while you can! Warn them!” Divine Justinia cried out, no longer struggling to break free from the magical bonds.

“We have an intruder,” the dark figure’s voice boomed. “Slay the elf!”

The white light disappeared, the images fading from their vision.

“You were there!” Cassandra said, stepping closer to Sarya. “Who attacked? And the Divine, is she…? Was this vision true? What are we seeing?”

“I don’t remember!” Sarya yelled in desperation. Everything was so confusing. The images they had seen, was that what had happened? She couldn’t recall any of it, only fleeting moments here and there, ones she couldn’t quite piece together to make sense of.

“Echoes of the fade. It bleeds into this place. This rift is not sealed, but it is closed,” Solas said, looking at Sarya. “I believe with the mark, the rift can be opened and then sealed properly and safely. However, opening the rift will likely attract attention from the other side.”

“That means demons,” Cassandra said.

“Great,” Sarya sighed, looking up at the rift.

“Stand ready!” Cassandra called out, the soldiers and archers nearing them getting into formation. Sarya held her hand up towards the right, pouring the magic from the mark into it as it opened the rift. Her eyes widened as a demon, larger than any she had faced that day, fell from the rift. It let out a guttural laugh as they fanned out around it, Sarya quickly casting a barrier spell around the four of them as it formed what seemed to be a whip made of lightning. No matter what they threw at it, it all seemed to do very little to the demon. Sarya wasn’t sure how, but she could feel it pulling its strength from the rift itself. She stepped out of its path of vision, thrusting her hand up to the rift again, the green light pouring from the mark into it. She pulled at it, struggling as she tried to bend it to her will, stumbling back as she disrupted the energy pouring from it.

“The demon is vulnerable!” Cassandra cried out as her sword made a noticeable mark on the demon with her swing. They fought the demon fiercely, Sarya continuing to disrupt the rift as its power filled again. She yelled out as a demon snuck up behind her, its claw scraping into the fabric covering her arm. Turning her attention to it, she quickly set it on fire, watching as it was sucked back into the rift. She ignored the sting in her arm, there was no time to rest now. As the large demon finally fell, Sarya turned her attention to the rift. Her left hand raised high above her head, she focused her energy on it, green light pulling from her as it attached to the Breach. All eyes were on her as the rift closed in an explosion of green. Sarya stumbled backwards from the blast, her heart pounding and arm aching. The immense energy she had to use to close the rift, the mana spent defeating the large demon, the wound on her arm, all seemed to pile up onto her as she fell to the ground, her vision going black.

 

Chapter Text

So Andraste said to her followers: "You who stand before the gates,

You who have followed me into the heart of evil,

The fear of death is in your eyes; its hand is upon your throat.

Raise your voices to the heavens! Remember:

Not alone do we stand on the field of battle.

-Apotheosis 1:8

 

 

     Sarya startled awake. She looked around, finding herself lying on top of a bed in a wood cabin. A few candles lit the room, a small window letting in the noise of what sounded like a large group of people. Their voices sounded excited, some whispering, some arguing. She sat up as an young elf walked into the room, a wooden box in their hand. As their eyes met, the elf dropped the box as they startled.

“I didn’t know you were awake, I swear!” The young elf stammered apologetically.

“It’s all right,” Sarya said, giving the elf a strange look at their apology. “I only-”

Sarya’s eyes widened as the elf threw themselves to their knees, groveling before her.

“I beg your forgiveness and your blessing. I am but a humble servant,” the elf said, looking at the ground. Sarya furrowed her brow at the elf’s sudden show of respect. What in Thedas was going on? Her blessing? “You’re back in Haven, my Lady. They say you saved us. The Breach stopped growing, just like the mark on your hand.”

Sarya looked at her hand as it glowed green for a moment, this time gently, a hum in her hand, seemingly calm. So stopping the expanding of the Breach had calmed the mark. Did that mean it wasn’t killing her anymore?

“It’s all anyone has talked about for the last three days,” the elf continued.

“Three days?!” Sarya breathed, shaking her head. She must have worn herself out more than she could have imagined to have slept for that long. “Then the danger is over?”

“The Breach is still in the sky, but that’s what they say,” the elf nodded, slowly rising from the floor, still not looking Sarya in the eye. “I’m sure Lady Cassandra will want to know you’ve awakened. She said, ‘At once’!”

“Where is she?” Sarya asked.

“In the Chantry with the Lord Chancellor,” the elf said. “‘At once,’ she said!”

Sarya watched as the elf took off quickly, running out the cabin door and nearly slamming the door shut. Sarya rose from the bed, grimacing slightly. Her muscles ached, but that didn’t surprise her. A day of fighting for her life and three days of lying in a bed, anyone would be sore after that. She had been put in some kind of light clothing, her light traveling armor set to the side on a chair. It had only been three days, it was probably still cold outside. Normally she could cast a simple warming spell, but she didn’t know what awaited her outside of the cabin, and she opted for saving her strength just in case. She redressed into her armor, which had been cleaned, and looked around the cabin. A fire was burning in the hearth by the bed, warming the air around her. She found a small bunch of elfroot, picking off a few leaves and chewing on them, sighing as the aches in her muscles slowly lessened from the herb. Her eyes caught a note written on parchment on the table in the corner of the room. She gingerly picked it up, reading it as she chewed on the bitter elfroot. It seemed to be notes from whomever had been trying to heal her after closing the last rift, notes from the first day she had been brought there.

Clammy. Shallow breathing. Pulse over-fast. Not responsive. Pupils dilated.

Mage says her scarring “mark” is thrumming with unknown magic.

Wish we could station a templar in here, just in case.

Sarya rolled her eyes at the remark about stationing a templar in with her. Yes, the mark was an unknown magic, but it wasn’t like it was a demon living inside her hand. Still, if she had been that weak, she did understand the concern for her being open to a demon invading her body in that state. On the other hand, Solas had seemed a completely capable mage, most likely the one referenced in the note giving the healer information on the mark. She would have felt more comfortable with another mage guarding her than a templar any day. There were two more notes written by the same hand. Her pulse and breathing had returned to normal by the second day, although it sounded as if she had been doing quite a bit of thrashing and muttering in her sleep. The third day there had been two attempts by locals to break into the Chantry to kill her. So some didn’t care of the work she had done, they still blamed her for everything. Somehow that didn’t surprise her. She set the notes back down on the table, pulling her boots on and lacing them.

Sarya walked over to the small mirror that hung on the wall in the cabin. Her pale, silvery-white white was a mess. Her normal braids had long since worn out since the conclave. She took her hair down, letting the messy waves fall to the middle of her back. She ran her fingers through it, detangling it and taming it as best as she could. She shook her head as she gave up; she needed to wash it, nothing else could fix it at this point. Right now, though, she needed to find out where she was and what was going on. Quickly putting in some braids to help hold the bulk of her hair back, she headed towards the cabin door, opening it and stepping out into the cold, snowy area of Haven.

Two guards, stationed perhaps ten feet from her cabin, stood facing her, their hands fisted against their hearts in a salute. Sarya paused as she looked further. Two lines of guards had created a path for her, using the same stance as the two nearest her. A crowd of people had gathered on either side of the guards, staring at her as she slowly began down the path. Some looked at her with a curiousness, others judgingly or without trust. She could have sworn a few of them were looking at her as if she had fallen from the sky bearing gifts from the Gods of Old.

No, not the Old Gods. They believe in the Maker, remember?

Sarya quickly reminded herself of the small bit of human customs she had learned from the Keeper of her clan. They never intended to run into human settlements, but it was always important to know just in case.

“That’s her! That’s the Herald of Andraste!” A man excitedly whispered to a woman next to him.

Herald of what now?

“They say when she came out of the fade, Andraste herself was watching over her!”

Hush! We shouldn’t disturb her!”

“Maker be with you!” A woman whispered loudly to her as she passed. Sarya tried to keep her face straight. Was she being put through a test? What in Elgar’nan’s great world was going on? They saw the ears, right? The markings on her face? They shouldn’t disturb her?

Why would Andraste choose a knife-ear like that?”

Ah, there it is. Sarya sped up her steps, her face reddening at the derogatory term. She had been called it a few times, sure, but she had been with her clan before. Strength in numbers and all that. Here, in the cold mountains and a camp obviously run by Shem, she felt utterly exposed with her long pointed ears sticking out of her hair. As she made her way up a set of stone steps, she saw the Chantry that the female elf had mentioned before just down the way. Although she barely knew her, Cassandra had stuck up for her and placed favor in her in the short time they had fought together. Seeing a familiar face, one that wouldn’t be staring at her in wonder or scepticism, sounded like heaven at this point. She came upon the Chantry, members of the church standing outside, watching her warily as she pushed open a smaller door built into the large wooden doors embellished by a sunburst mark.

The inside of the Chantry was large. Vaulted ceilings reached up into the darkness, illuminated only by groups of candles spread throughout and the torches that clung to its columns. Sarya’s boots rung out on the stone floor as she walked through, her steps quieting as she moved to the long rug that led her to a door at the very end of the building. As she neared it, she could hear voices arguing through the door.

“Have you gone completely mad? She should be taken to Val Royeaux immediately, to be tried by whomever becomes Divine!

Ah, yes, Sarya recognized that voice. That was Chancellor Roderick, the man from the far camp who had cared little for Cassandra and Leliana going along with Sarya’s plan of attack.

“I do not believe she is guilty.

That would be Cassandra. Sarya gave a small smile at her encouraging words. Cassandra knew her so little, but she had seen through her loss and seen reason with Sarya.

“The elf failed, Seeker. The Breach is still in the sky. For all you know, she intended it this way.

Sarya sighed; enough of that. Gathering a bit of courage she opened the door to the chamber, the room quieting as she walked in. Roderick, Cassandra, and Leliana stood in the room around a wooden table, two guards standing near the door Sarya had just come through. As Roderick looked towards the door, he glared at Sarya, pointing at her.

“Chain her,” he directed towards the guards. “I want her prepared for travel to the capital for trial!”

“Disregard that, and leave us,” Cassandra said, looking at the guards with little emotion. The guards moved their hands to their hearts, leaving the room. Roderick had a sour look on his face as he looked back at Cassandra.

“You walk a dangerous line, Seeker,” he seethed.

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

“So I’m still a suspect, even after what we just did?” Sarya asked, slight desperation in her voice as she looked at Roderick. “I nearly died trying to close that thing and you still feel this way?”

“You absolutely are still a suspect,” Roderick nodded, determined.

“No, she is not,” Cassandra interrupted, her voice forceful. Sarya crossed her arms as the three of them argued. What could she say to sway his opinion? These two seemed to know this Chancellor Roderick better, and even then he was firm in his belief of who she was and what she had done.

“So her survival, that thing on her hand,” Roderick scoffed. “All a coincidence??”

“Providence,” Cassandra said, making Sarya widen her eyes slightly at the remark. “The Maker sent her to us in our darkest hour.”

“Even if that means a Dalish elf is His chosen?” Sarya asked, more shocked at the fact that a human was willing to call an elf a chosen of the Maker. Her, someone who had grown up running wild in forests and fields, casting magic without templar rule, praying to the Old Gods who barely had one foot in the Andrastian religion.

“Humans are not the only people with an interest in the fate of the world,” Cassandra said, looking at Sarya encouragingly.

“The Breach remains and your mark is our only hope of closing it,” Leliana said gently.

“This is not for you to decide!” Roderick said, gritting his teeth as he seethed. Cassandra grabbed a thick, dusty book, slamming it onto the table in front of them.

“You know what this is, Chancellor?” Cassandra asked, looking at the book at then at Roderick. “A writ from the Divine, granting us authority to act. As of this moment, I declare the Inquisition reborn.”

Cassandra stepped towards Roderick, backing him up against the wall as she pointed her finger at him.

“We will close the Breach, we will find those responsible,” she said forcefully, a hint of fright in Roderick’s eyes as he tried to mask it with indignation. “And we will restore order with or without your approval.”

Roderick glared at Cassandra, throwing his hands up as he stormed out of the room. Sarya jumped slightly as he slammed the door behind him, seemingly unphasing the other two. Cassandra shook her head, obviously having hoped that he would have changed his mind. She and Leliana returned their attention to the book in front of them, purpose on their faces.

“We aren’t ready,” Leliana admitted now that Roderick was out of the room. Sarya stepped closer to the table, ready to hear what they had to say now that the most aggressive one was out of the room. “We have no leader, no numbers, and now no Chantry support.”

“But we have no choice,” Cassandra sighed, looking to Sarya. “We must act now. With you at our side.”

“What if I refuse?” Sarya asked slowly. She hadn’t asked for any of this. Right then, leaving and running home to her clan sounded tempting. Surely they didn’t need her for some holy war amongst their own kind? Humans had always waged war amongst themselves, why did she need to get involved? All because of this damned mark on her hand that she didn’t even want?

“You can go, if you wish,” Leliana said earnestly.

“You should know that while some believe you chosen, many still think you guilty,” Cassandra said. “The Inquisition can only protect you if you are with us.”

“We can also help you,” Leliana pointed out.

“It will not be easy if you stay, but you cannot pretend this has not changed you.”

“Those are all fair points,” Sarya sighed reluctantly. “If you’re truly trying to restore order…”

“That is the plan,” Leliana nodded, a smile on her face.

“Help us fix this, before it’s too late,” Cassandra said. Sarya turned to face Cassandra, looking at her outstretched hand.

“Just, remember I’m no good at fighting,” Sarya sighed as she shook Cassandra’s hand.

“We can work on that,” Cassandra smirked.

 

     The news traveled quickly: by the Divine’s directive, the Inquisition of old would be rebuilt in Haven. Banners were hung, soldiers gathered to practice. Leliana sent off her ravens to hopeful allies. More gathered, although they were still relatively a small order. The Breach in the sky remained, glowing green, though its storm seemed to have been calmed for now. As a few days went by, Sarya let Cassandra and Leliana take care of much of the work as she familiarized herself with Haven. There were a few other elves at the camp, although most of them were city elves and were more too nervous around her for her to strike up conversation. Still, she was surprised to find a good handful of humans that had been very welcoming of her and didn’t seem to treat her differently than the rest, in addition to those she had fought her way to the Breach with. Just outside of Haven’s gates was a blacksmith named Harritt. Sarya had visited him a few times, inquiring about armor since her traveling clothes weren’t really fit for the kind of battles she had already partaken in.

“There you are!” Harritt called out as she neared his shop. “I’ve been waiting for you for ages.”

“Didn’t you hear? I’m important now,” Sarya said in jest, a smirk on her face. “You’ll have to send a raven if you want to get on the list.”

“Har, har,” Harritt rolled his eyes. He picked up a pile of clothes from a workbench, handing it to her. Sarya’s eyes widened as he dropped them into her arms. “Go ahead, try ‘em on. I finished ‘em this morning. Should be more of what you were lookin’ for.”

“Thanks, Harritt,” Sarya smiled. She went into the cabin next to his workshop, pulling off her green travel clothes and putting on the new armor. It was lightweight, but sturdy. Different shades of brown in a cotton long sleeve shirt, breeches, and a leather vested coat that met her mid-thigh. The coat kept it easy for her to twist and turn, but still would provide a bit of armor if something got too close. She stepped out of the cabin, a grin on her face as she walked back over to Harritt.

“Well?” He asked expectantly.

“It’s fantastic, Harritt, thank you,” she nodded. “Much more comfortable than my other things.”

“Those are yours as well,” Harritt nodded towards a pair of boots that leaned up against the short stone wall of his shop. “I’m, ah, assuming you wear those?”

Sarya laughed as she watched his eyes travel down to her bare feet. Now that she knew she was staying in Haven for the foreseeable future, she had taken to her normal routine, which was not wearing shoes when she knew she wouldn’t be going far. As the First of her clan, her Keeper had taught her to connect with the earth beneath her feet, the roots of everything that sprung the magic into their fingertips and ran through their souls. It helped her feel more at home.

“Yes, thank you. I promise I’ll make use of them,” she smiled.

“One more thing,” Harritt held up a finger. He walked to the back corner, picking up a staff and bringing it over to her. Sarya couldn’t help the grin that spread across her face. The craftsmanship on it was superb, the grip comfortable beneath her fingers.

“Ah-” Harritt said, putting his hand on her shoulder as she began to swing the staff. “Maybe, try that out away from camp. Not everyone here is, ah, comfortable around mages.”

“Good point,” Sarya grimaced. Her clan was used to her using magic for just about everything, but she was far from her clan now. “Thank you, Harritt, for everything. I really appreciate it.”

“You let me know if you need anything else made,” Harritt nodded.

Sarya set the boots and staff in her cabin - she could take the staff out for a spin later. As she made her way back up the stone steps of Haven, she came across Varric crouching by a small fire. He stood as she approached her, an encouraging but concerned look on his face.

“Now that you’re settled in and Cassandra’s out of earshot, are you holding up all right?” Varric asked, looking her over. “I mean, you go from being the most wanted criminal in Thedas to joining the armies of the faithful. Most people would have spread that out over more than one day.”

“I mean, four days, really, if you count when I was unconscious,” Sarya teased.

“Yeah, I suppose that’s right,” Varric chuckled.

“Honestly?” Sarya sighed, returning to his original question. “I have no idea what’s happening anymore. It’s been so much in such a short amount of time. I don’t know how to keep track of it all.”

“That makes two of us,” Varric said, giving her a slight smirk. “You might want to consider running at the first opportunity. I’ve written enough tragedies to recognize where this is going.”

“You do realize this isn’t one of your stories, right?” Sarya raised an eyebrow.

“Heroes are everywhere. I’ve seen that,” Varric shook his head. “But the hole in the sky? That’s beyond heroes. We’re going to need a miracle.”

“Lucky for me, it seems like everyone has put that on me,” Sarya said.

“Good luck or bad?” Varric chuckled. “I think I heard Cassandra saying she’d need to find you soon today. Might as well head her off before she goes looking.”

“Thanks, Varric,” Sarya smiled.

“Oh, I think Curly was with her as well. Maybe you two can share a drink? Talk about what happened, settle your differences. Give me some new writing material!” Varric called out at Sarya began walking away, chuckling at the red that flushed in the tips of her ears as she kept walking. Sarya shook her head. She silently told herself her blushing was from Varric’s teasing, nothing else. He could have made the same comment about one of the demons they had fought and she would have reacted as such. Still, she never had been able to properly thank the Commander for saving her before, and that alone left knots in her stomach. As she walked to the Chantry, she found Cassandra waiting outside for her.

“There you are,” Cassandra said, as if she had been waiting for her for a long time. Sarya opened her mouth to apologize, only for Cassandra to continue. “There are people you should meet. Come.”

The two of them walked into the Chantry, Sarya’s bare feet quiet against the stone floor as Cassandra’s boots rang out in the hall. Sarya looked down at her hand momentarily. The mark hadn’t bothered her in a couple days, other than a minor burning sensation that wouldn't quite go away. The scar maybe would have seemed just a scar to her by now if not for the constant anxiety that had come with it flaring up seemingly at random in the past.

“Does it trouble you?” Cassandra asked, seeing Sarya looking at her hand.

“Not really,” Sarya lied. What was she to say: it’s a gentle burn, it never lets up, but hey at least it’s not trying to kill me at the moment?

“Good, it’s important that it’s now stable, as is the Breach,” Cassandra nodded, a pleased look on her face. “You’ve given us time, and Solas believes that a second attempt might succeed if we can give the mark more power. The same level of power used to open the Breach in the first place.”

“Sure,” Sarya nodded, a smile on her face. “What harm could there be in powering up something we barely understand?”

“Hold on to that sense of humor,” Cassandra chuckled as they reached the War Room at the end of the hall. Inside, the Commander from the battle before stood behind the table with Leliana, and another woman with dark hair. A large map of Thedas covered the wooden table in the room, a number of markers set to the side, ready to be placed.

“You’ve met Commander Cullen, leader of the Inquisition’s forces,” Cassandra said to Sarya as she closed the door behind them.

“It was only for a moment on the field,” Cullen nodded, giving Sarya a small but warm smile. His eyes seemed to pause on her, seeing her a bit differently. Before she had been garbed in Dalish traveling armor, a staff in her hand as she shook from battle. Fierceness had been in her eyes, terror, determination. In the new armor Harritt had made for her and her hair down, loose braids holding most of it back, she seemed much more approachable, her face more soft with her silver-white hair framing it. “I’m pleased you survived.”

“Thank you,” Sarya said, returning the smile nervously as she tucked hair behind her ear and out of the way. She really wasn’t sure to make of all these smiling humans; things were moving so quickly, it was hard to keep note of who blamed her for all of this and who was glad she was helping. Varric’s mention about Cullen having been a templar still rang in her ears, making her wary of him.

“This is lady Josephine Moltilyet, our ambassador and chief diplomat,” Cassandra continued, nodding to the olive skinned woman who was wearing what was one of the most poofy gold shirts Sarya had ever seen. She was holding a calligraphy board with a slowly melting candle poised at the top of it, a quill in her other hand.

“Andaran Atish’an,” Josephine nodded with a smile. Sarya couldn’t help the surprised look that washed over her face at the words.

“You speak elven?” She asked, her voice a bit more eager than she had wanted.

“You’ve just heard the entirety of it, I’m afraid,” Josephine said, a small chuckle in her throat.

“And of course you know Sister Leliana,” Cassandra said, nodding to the woman Sarya had spoken with a few times now since the disaster at the Conclave.

“My position here involves a degree of…” Leliana began, only to be interrupted by Cassandra.

“She is our spymaster,” she said bluntly.

“Yes,” Leliana nodded, a small smile on her face. “Tactfully put, Cassandra.”

“That’s an impressive bunch of titles,” Sarya said, slightly teasing. Titles were fine and all and gave her a good measure of just how important the people near her were, but she knew there was more to this than just a meet-and-greet.

“I mentioned that your mark needs more power to close the Breach for good,” Cassandra said, looking at Sarya.

“Which means we must approach the rebel mages for help,” Leliana nodded, looking at Sarya expectantly. Sarya inwardly sighed; humans were predictable: Oh, you’re a mage, too? Nevermind that you grew up wild in forests and not in a Circle, you must have so much in common with the rebel apostates.

“And I still disagree,” Cullen said, his hand resting on the pommel of his the sword attached to his belt. “The Templars could serve just as well.”

“We need power, Commander,” Cassandra argued. “Enough magic poured into that mark-”

“Might destroy us all,” Cullen cut in, although his voice was still rather calm. “Templars could suppress the breach, weaken it so-”

“Pure speculation,” Leliana scoffed.

I was a templar. I know what they’re capable of.”

“As do I,” Sarya said without thinking, the only thought on her mind the run-in with templars she had experienced at a younger age. Her remark didn’t go unnoticed, the quietness of her voice softening Cullen’s face slightly as she avoided his gaze.

“Unfortunately, neither group will even speak to us yet,” Josephine said as she looked at Sarya, opting to move the conversation along. “The Chantry has denounced the Inquisition- and you, specifically.”

“Can’t you simply ignore them?” Sarya asked, her face scrunching slightly at the thought that one group could be powerful enough to control so much.

“If only that were possible,” Leliana said, a slight grin on her face.

“Some are calling you- a Dalish elf- the Herald of Andraste,” Josephine said, the corners of her mouth twitching into a smile. “That frightens the Chantry. The remaining Clerics have declared it blasphemy, and we heretics for harboring you.”

“Chancellor Roderick’s doing, no doubt,” Cassandra spat.

“It limits our options,” Josephine continued. “Approaching the mages or templars for help is currently out of the question.”

“They aren’t more concerned about the Breach? The real threat?” Sarya raised her eyebrow.

“They do know that it is a threat,” Cullen said, the smile on his face showing that he agreed with her sentiments. “They just don’t think we can stop it.”

“The Chantry is telling everyone that you’ll make it worse,” Josephine said.

“Oh good,” Sarya sighed.

 

     Their talks went on for a while, focusing on what should be done next. Since Sarya had been named by many as the supposed ‘Herald of Andraste,’ it was decided that she should be active in trying to help recruit more allies for the Inquisition. In addition, many smaller rifts had opened up throughout Ferelden, so having Sarya available to close them would surely help spread word of their cause. As Sarya lay in the bed of her cabin that night, she stared up at the ceiling, thinking quietly to herself.

Elgar’nan, have I wronged you, for you to have cast this mark upon my hand? Or did Mythal send me to heal the hole in the sky? She, whose markings were chosen for me. Could you not have sent someone more prepared? Why me?

She sighed as she rolled over in the bed. Haven had quieted considerably since the sun had set, the only sound on the mountains the distant chatter of soldiers making their rounds. She tried not to think about how long this would be her life. This mark on her hand didn’t seem to give any indication of leaving any time soon. Better to accept it as it was, as confusing as it was, and focus on what she could do for these people rather than her own anger. Perhaps things would get easier over time.

Chapter Text

     Sarya sat at the edge of a dock overlooking a frozen lake. Beyond her, she could see the Inquisition soldiers practicing, Commander Cullen’s voice carrying over the ice as he barked commands at them, and Cassandra practicing her swordsmanship against a straw dummy. They all were so capable, so used to conflict and war and all that came with it. After their discussion in the Chantry they had Sarya travel to the Hinterlands along with Cassandra, Solas, and Varric, to speak with some Mother Giselle. The goal had been to find more allies and expand the Inquisition’s influence so that they could eventually approach either the rebel Mages or the Templars for help closing the Breach. The only problem was that Sarya had no idea how she was to do all of this. She had grown up in forests and fields among her own kind. Any interactions had with humans had been awkward: disgust on their faces; fear in their eyes when they saw her staff; the whispers of knife-ear behind her back, even at the Inquisition camp at Haven. It was why she had been quietly sent to the Conclave without invitation, to find out what was going on so that her clan would know best how to react if there was to be further war between the Chantry and the apostate mages. How could they expect her to win over such people to their side, especially when her mark could flare up at any moment and further scare people? Was she really the best suited for it? Perhaps Cassandra would be better fit, although her temper was a bit short and her words brash. Josephine, then? She certainly had a way with words. Leliana could probably scare people into submission with one look.

Sighing as she laid back on the dock, Sarya stared up at the sky. Grey clouds had rolled in signaling more snow on the way, the distant green of the Breach seemingly expanding as it reflected off the clouds. She raised her hand in front of her face, looking at her palm. The scar on her hand was a constant reminder of all that had happened, all that was to come. Would it go away once the Breach was closed? Or, at the very least, cease to burn her at random anymore? She traced a finger along it from the opposite hand, leaving a film of ice across the scar. It helped the slight tingling go away, if only until the ice would melt against her skin. Still, a moment of reprieve was better than nothing.

It felt as if she were making things up as she went. Her journey with Cassandra, Varric, and Solas in the Hinterlands had resulted in more influence for the Inquisition for sure, but she had no idea if her methods were as helpful as they could be. Sarya could fight when needed, but she wasn’t used to it. In her clan she had been more of a healer, more focused on small spells meant to aid others and help with discomforts. It was why she had been given the vallaslin of Mythal the Protector: thin branches of life stretching below her eyes on her cheeks. If anything, she could pat herself on the back for keeping her circle of friends - was that the correct word? Allies? - safe when fighting, always casting barriers around them so that their harm was minimum. It had helped them conserve potions, which meant more could stay with those fighting without a mage by their side. She had grown more accustomed to fighting in the past two weeks they had spent there, however, lightning now springing through the tips of her fingers more quickly, and she had discovered how to concentrate the ice she summoned into freezing an enemy in their path when they got too close to her. When they had gone to the Storm Coast and met with the Bull’s Chargers, a group of mercenaries looking to be hired by the Inquisition, their Qunari leader, Iron Bull, had shown just a flicker of disdain when she had first done this in front of him. She wasn’t sure if she could blame him for his fear of magic, though; what with the Breach most likely being caused by a mage, who wouldn’t fear magic now more than ever? Then the whole mess with Redcliffe and a Tevinter Magister practically enslaving all the rebel mages… It was a pretty damning time to be a mage. She didn’t even know where to begin with Redcliffe.

Eventually making it back to the small encampment in front of the gates of Haven, Sarya watched for a moment as Commander Cullen trained his men, correcting their forms and nodding in encouragement as they sparred with one another. Something about him seemed different from the many times she had seen him at the War Table. He looked in his element here, his eyes focused, only brought out of his trance as Sarya approached him. There he went again with that warm smile as his eyes met her. He was handsome, as much as Sarya would deny it aloud, the thin scar on his lip pulling slightly when he smiled at her. He had been so kind to her since the mess with the Conclave, much more so than she would have expected from the Commander of the Inquisition's forces, especially after everyone had originally blamed her for the hole in the sky.

“We've received a number of recruits over the past few weeks- locals from Haven and some pilgrims,” Cullen said as she met him. “None made quite the entrance that you did.”

“That wasn't my idea,” Sarya pointed out as she sighed.

“I'd be concerned if it was,” Cullen chuckled, his eyes wandering down to her bare feet that looked surprisingly clean despite her walking around like that. “Aren't you cold?”

“Warming spell, along with a bit of a barrier,” Sarya said, a small laugh escaping her at his confused look. “I suppose it does look a bit odd.”

“It looks uncomfortable is what it looks like.”

“I've always felt more grounded to the elements with my feet on the earth,” Sarya smiled, stretching her feet out against the ground as she looked down. “My Keeper taught me to pull my magic from the Earth, from what's beneath us and around us. Walking like this isn’t exactly practical for longer journeys, but when I'm wherever home currently is, it's what I prefer.”

“Where is your home, exactly?” Cullen asked, realizing that he knew very little of the Dalish elf or clan Lavellan.

“Wherever I am,” Sarya shrugged. “We moved around enough, I never got too tied to the idea of home being a specific place. Tough enough to settle in when you're constantly being harassed or even hunted by shem- I mean, humans.”

“I'm sorry to hear that. That can’t be easy,” Cullen said, frowning slightly at her words.

“Really?” Sarya raised an eyebrow at him in slight surprise. “Most humans shrug or tell me, ‘Of course you're hunted, you live with mages with no templars to keep them in line.’

“I was led to believe that the Dalish keep their mages in check?”

“Oh, we do,” Sarya nodded. “I'm the First of my clan. If I, or any mage, were to become possessed by a demon or try to summon one, the rest of the clan would hunt me down outright. But most humans don't care about that... Anyway, enough about that. Where are you from?”

“I grew up in Ferelden, near Honnleath. I was transferred to Kirkwall shortly after the Blight. This is the first I've returned in almost ten years.”

“Kirkwall?” Sarya repeated, a hint of surprise in her voice, hesitation obvious as she continued. The Free Marches weren't far from Kirkwall, and her clan had heard rumors of what happened there. “You said you were a…?”

“Templar, yes,” Cullen nodded, noticing the sudden shift in Sarya's mood. “I can understand your apprehension of the thought. The order is a shell of what it once was. I joined the Templars to help protect, not to.. well, I am sure you've heard stories of Kirkwall.”

“Enough to make a Dalish mage more than wary of templars, yes,” Sarya said, biting the inside of her mouth. To be able to suppress a mage’s magic was one thing terrifying in on its own; but the stories of how many mages lost their lives trying to escape the circles - or even inside of them before the rebellion - only served to solidify her fears of the templars. “You don’t seem like the templars that I, ah… ran into when I was younger.”

“You had a run-in with templars in the Free Marches?” Cullen asked, a somewhat surprised look on his face. It wasn’t unheard of for templars to expand their reach, searching for mages in need of joining the circles, however the Dalish were known to keep a close watch on their mages and the templars were well aware of it. Not that they didn’t think they would do better in a circle with a closer watch, but it was somewhat of an understanding.

“When I was sixteen,” Sarya nodded, looking at the mix of snow and dirt beneath her feet. “My clan was harvesting herbs and three templars came across us. I guess one of the human settlements nearby had let them know I was with them and not fully trained yet. They seemed to take that as a challenge. They said that a trained mage under Dalish guidance was acceptable, but since they were there I may as well go along with them since I wasn’t trained yet. There was a lot of arguing between our Keeper and the templars... I don’t know what would have happened if there hadn’t been so many of us and so few of them. My clan had to keep a close eye on me for weeks, one of our hunters, a close friend of mine, went everywhere with me. The look on the templars faces… they were determined and there would be no plausible way for me to fight them if they had caught me alone since they could suppress my magic.”

“I’m sorry to hear that,” Cullen frowned, looking at her as she avoided his eyes. No wonder she had been so against the idea of joining with the templars instead of the rebel mages when they had entertained the thought at the War Table. The Chantry did little to keep in line templars who used any means necessary to bring mages to the circle, one of the things he had disliked about the order towards the end. She had always seemed a bit timid around him as well, it now made a lot of sense. “Those templars were out of line. The Dalish overall have done a good job watching their mages, there was no reason for them to approach you with so much concern. There’s probably good reason they were sent out as scouts rather than actually working in the circles.”

“You don’t stick up for every templar, being one of them? No, ‘they must have had a good reason,’ or something like that?” Sarya asked, looking up at him a bit surprised.

“I left the Order shortly after the rebellion,” Cullen said, giving her a reassuring smile. “As did a few former templars from Kirkwall, and elsewhere, who are with the Inquisition now. I do not agree with how the Order has changed, what it has become. I once thought what we were doing was good and just, but all that drastically changed for me with Knight-Commander Meredith and Kirkwall. ”

“So, as a former templar, you aren't concerned about having the fate of the world resting in a Dalish mage’s hands?” Sarya asked, raising an eyebrow. She hated how warm his smile was; everything her clan had told her of humans, everything she had experienced, told her not to fully trust a human, especially not a templar, and here he was warming her suspicions with one damned smile. What was his game? She was correct to be suspicious of him, right?

“I'd be concerned giving that much responsibility to any person, regardless if they were a mage,” Cullen chuckled. “But I swear to you, no one at this camp will attempt to suppress you while I’m commander, lest you become possessed by a demon.”

“Not on my list of to-dos,” Sarya said, not able to help the small smile that crept onto her face. “So, you left the templars for this... You believe the Inquisition can work?”

“I do,” Cullen said. “The Chantry lost control of both templars and mages, now they argue over a new Divine while the Breach remains. The Inquisition could act when the Chantry cannot. Our followers would be part of that. There's so much we can– Forgive me. I doubt you came here for a lecture.”

“Not really, but if you have one prepared I'd love to hear it,” Sarya said, internally slapping herself as the words spilled from her mouth.

“Another time, perhaps,” Cullen chuckled, looking down at her. Internally berating herself for her flirtations, Sarya could only look back at him, and awkward smile on her face. Cullen cleared his throat, looking away. He suddenly became aware of just how many soldiers were around them at the moment, practicing their forms all the same, but still. “I, ah... There's still a lot of work ahead.”

“Of course,” Sarya nodded. She looked away as well, pretending to be suddenly interested in the clouds.

“Commander!” A scout approached the two of them with haste. “Ser Rylen has a report on our supply lines.”

“As I was saying,” Cullen said, giving a small grin to Sarya before following the scout, his hand rubbing the back of his neck as he tried to focus. Sarya waited until Cullen had walked over to Rylen before turning and opting to take a long walk on one of the snowy paths surrounding Haven to cool her red face. What was she doing, reacting this way? He was a human, a Shem, one her kind had always warned her against. She couldn’t be entertaining these kinds of thoughts. Yes, a walk would put this out of her mind.

 

     For the most part the people at Haven stuck close to the gates, and for that Sarya was thankful. Apart from the occasional hunter or scout from the Inquisition she’d come across, Sarya seemed to have nearly free reign of the woods and other surrounding areas to herself. It made it easier for her to practice magic without prying eyes, and easier to clear any thoughts certain golden haired commanders from her mind. As she walked through the snow the frozen lake to her left caught her eye, a small smirk flirting with the corners of her mouth as an idea came to her. She walked to the side of the wooden dock, following the narrow slope of the shore to the edge of the lake. Gingerly stepping onto it, she gripped the edge of the dock as she slid. She glanced over towards Haven, making sure no one appeared to be paying her much attention. Her left hand steadying her against the dock, she tried to feel out the energy around her, pulling gently from the ice beneath her feet. As she pulled from the small area, she tied the energy around her feet, as if binding the ice to them. Taking a breath, she bent her leg as she raised it slightly, letting out a small laugh as a thin piece of the ice came off of the lake with her movement, bound to the bottom of her feet. She shivered slightly from the ice pressing against her skin, but couldn’t help the grin on her face as she started to slide on the ice with slightly more control than before.

She stuck along the edges of the lake at first, moving further from the camp so as to not draw attention to herself. Sure, this may not have been the most productive thing she could be doing at the moment, but between all the fighting she’d had to do recently and the annoying mark on her hand, she figured she was allowed some fun now and then. She kept her arms out to her side, trying to keep her balance as best she could. As she reached the edge of the lake furthest from the main camp, she ventured out away from the shore. She moved slowly at first, her hips locking in place as she tried desperately to keep straight. Then, as she relaxed, she skated in slow circles, warming the bottom of the ice on her feet every so slightly in an attempt to see if it would make her glide faster. Sure enough, the slickness at the bottom increased her speed, her heart pounding as she smiled, any loose hair not done up by braids flowing in the wind behind her as she went in a circle. She tried to slow down as she felt herself losing balance, her eyes widening as her wobbling became out of control and she fell backwards. The breath left her as her back hit the ice, a grimace on her face as she felt her back ache as she went to sit up. As Sarya placed her weight on her knees, her eyes moved quickly to the ice around her as she heard the sound of a deep crack.

“Oh, fenedhis-”

The words barely left her before the ice gave way underneath her, plunging her into the icy water. Sarya bobbed her head out of it quickly, taking a sharp inhale of breath as she grasped the edge of the ice with her hands. Thankfully the rest of the ice was solid, allowing her to slowly pull herself out of the frigid lake. Once out of the water she took a moment to collect her breath, doubled over on her knees as water dripped from her. Gathering her strength she began making her way back over to the shore, walking carefully as she slipped and shivered.

Want to take a quick trip to Ferelden to gather some information and be on your way? Here, have a mark on your hand that wants to kill you. Want to blow off some steam and have some fun amongst all this madness? Why not take a swim in ice cold water instead? Elgar’nan, what did I do to cause all this?

Sarya was pulled from her thoughts as she heard a voice calling out to her. She raised her head, the last shred of her dignity blowing away from her as she saw Commander Cullen hurriedly making his way towards the part of the shore she was heading to.

Oh, oh no. Please, Dirthamen, please tell me he didn’t see that. Maybe the Chantry is here to cart me off to Val Royeaux? Please don’t tell me he saw me fall into the damned lake!

“My Lady Herald, are you all right?!” Cullen called out to her as he neared the edge of the shore.

“No- Please- Don’t come out onto the ice, it’s- it’s slippery,” Sarya breathed, trying her best not to stumble in her embarrassment as she slid the rest of the way to the shore.

“Maker’s breath, you’re freezing!” Cullen said, looking her over as she shivered intensely. She was dripping wet, her clothes clinging to her and her skin red from the cold. He immediately began pulling his mantel from his back as he stepped closer to her.

“Oh, please, you don’t have to do that,” Sarya said. She was certain if her skin hadn’t already been red from the intense cold she felt, it would have been from her embarrassment. Cullen ignored her protestations, pulling the mantel around her.

“Don’t be ridiculous,” he said, pleased as she pulled the warm mantel tighter against her. “What were you doing out there, anyway?”

“I, ah… I was just… Skating,” Sarya said quietly, clearing her throat.

“Skating?” Cullen furrowed his brow as he glanced down at her bare feet. He couldn’t help the small laugh that escaped him as he looked back at her face. His laugh calmed her embarrassment a bit, a small grin spreading on her face.

“Yes, ha, ha,” she rolled her eyes, the grin not leaving her.

“Are you hurt at all?” Cullen said, his usual warm smile on his face, along with a hint of concern.

“No, thank you,” Sarya said, laughing a bit herself this time.

“Think you can make it back to your room without falling into a snow drift?”

“Ah, I see, the daggers come out when the elf is wet,” Sarya joked, her eyes widening as her mind went elsewhere at her comment. Ah, yes, this is it. This is the moment I die from complete embarrassment.

“I’ll, ah, make sure someone brings you a dry set of clothes,” Cullen said, rubbing the back of his neck as he looked slightly away, a light blush tinging his cheeks.

“Tha- That’s great, thanks,” Sarya blurted out, quickly walking past him and towards the gates of Haven.

 

     Sarya had made it to her cabin as quickly as possible, ignoring all the stares from those who saw her not only dripping on her way back but hugging the commander’s mantel close to her as she clung to its warmth. Once the door was shut behind her, she quickly went about stripping out of her wet clothes, grabbing a warm blanket off of the bed and pulling it around her shoulders. She pulled a chair over near the hearth, setting her clothes and Cullen’s mantel on it to dry before sitting in front of it herself. She reached a hand out from underneath the blanket, a few sparks manifesting from her shaking fingers and lighting a fire in the hearth. It wasn’t long before she heard a knock on her door. She turned her head as a female soldier walked in, a small bundle of clothes in her arms.

“Commander Cullen mentioned you needed fresh clothes, m’lady,” she said, bowing her head as she addressed Sarya.

“Thank you, you can leave them on the bed,” Sarya said, giving her a small smile. “I’m sorry to take up your time with something as trivial as this.”

“No need to apology, my Lady Herald,” she said, setting the clothes down on the edge of the bed. She clenched her hand against her chest in a salute as she bowed to Sarya before leaving the cabin. Sarya sighed as she turned her head towards the fire once more; she wasn’t sure if she would ever get used to people talking to her like that.

As she warmed in front of the fire and her shivering became minimal, she eventually went about unbraiding her hair, knowing that it would dry much more quickly that way. She stood up at one point, turning the wet clothes on the chair before settling back on the floor. She closed her eyes, focusing on the warmth from the fire, trying to clear her mind of everything. She almost laughed as she realized that being that cold was the first time in a while she hadn’t felt the burning of the mark on her hand. Now that she was warming, it was steadily coming back just as before. She shifted slightly under the blanket as she heard another knock, not having realized she had been drifting off.

“Uh huh?” She called out, yawning slightly as she turned towards the door. She perked up slightly as Cullen walked in, a cup full of something steaming in his hand.

“I thought you could use something warm to drink,” he said, watching her eyes move to the cup. “As it turns out, they have tea at the tavern, not just ale.”

“Shouldn't you be training your troops rather than bringing me warm drinks?” Sarya grinned as she watched Cullen set it on the table near her.

“Normally I would be, but it seems our Herald doesn’t know how to gauge the thickness of ice,” Cullen teased.

“I'm never going to live this down, am I?” She sighed.

“Not if Varric gets wind of this, I'm afraid not,” Cullen chuckled.

“Surely you aren't planning on telling him?” Sarya pouted, looking up at Cullen with pleading eyes.

“Of course not,” Cullen cleared his throat, his eyes shifting slightly towards the fire. “I'm, ah, unfortunately not the only one who witnessed your… swim, though.”

Cullen couldn't help but chuckle as Sarya let out a defeated groan, pulling the blanket up over the top of her head. He paused for a moment before asking her something that had been on his mind.

“How were you skating with bare feet out there?” He asked. Sarya looked back up at him, chewing on the inside of her cheek.

“You want to know how I did it with magic?”

“Well, it's just- I've never seen someone use magic for something like that before. At least, not in my time working in the Circles,” Cullen said, rubbing the back of his neck. “Not that we exactly had frozen lakes for anyone to try it on, but the magic taught in Circles was more along the lines of, well… Shooting fire and creating wards, that sort of thing.”

“Really?” Sarya asked, tilting her head slightly. “I suppose Dalish magic is a bit different, then. Ours was always more for practical use. A bit of fighting, of course, but to heal a wound, to warm the area… I suppose I just… pulled the ice to me and bound it there. It just seemed the natural thing to do.”

The natural-” Cullen chuckled. He looked over to the cup he had brought in, noticing that the steam coming from it was visibly less than before. “I'll leave you to your tea before it cools.”

Cullen picked up his now dry mantel, tucking it under his arm as he stepped away.

“Cullen?” Sarya blurted out as he went to leave. Cullen turned to face her, his face warm as ever. “Thank you. For your help earlier. And the tea.”

“Of course, my Lady,” he said quietly, giving her a small smile before leaving. Sarya waited until Cullen was gone before she got up from the floor and got dressed with the dry clothes that had been brought to her earlier. As she picked up the cup, she sat back on the floor in front of the hearth. Wrapping the blanket around her once more, she closed her eyes as all the cold seemed to fade from her as she sipped the tea and smiled.

Chapter Text

The air itself rent asunder,

Spilling light unearthly from the

Waters of the Fade,

Opening as an eye to look

Upon the Realm of Opposition

In dire judgment.

-Exaltations 1:2

 

     Over the course of the next two days, amongst all the planning for Redcliffe and hours spent in the War Room, Sarya couldn't help but find herself spending more time speaking with Commander Cullen. She chalked it up to bridging the gap between elves and humans, mages and Templars. She was trying to understand more of why one would become a Templar and what it was like, her only exposure to them being the stories told in her clan about horrible Shem who longed to lord over and control mages, or find an excuse to kill them, and the few she had encountered that she had mentioned already to Cullen. Not to mention, after her accidental dip in the lake, she was feeling a bit more warmed up to him than before, so to speak.

“Did you enjoy your training?” Sarya asked. The two of them were standing on the edge of the training field, a good vantage point for Cullen to watch his men train while they learned more about one another.

“I wanted to learn everything,” Cullen said, smiling as he reminisced. “If I was giving my life to this, I would be the best Templar I could.”

“I remember feeling the same when I first came to have magic,” Sarya said, her smile matching his. “I tried to learn everything I could, as quickly as I could. Ended up nearly burning our Keeper's robes in the process.”

“Well, I’m glad it seems you have it under control now,” Cullen chuckled. “I’ve been around mages who couldn’t control their power. It’s, ah, not what I would describe as an ideal situation. Perhaps it’s fortunate the Conclave took so long to take place.”

“Yes, I could have accidentally set fire to the sky when attempting to close the Breach,” Sarya laughed. “This Herald thing is hard to swallow, I have to admit. Seems humans are having trouble with it as well. Not just a mage, but an elf. Can you imagine?”

“Is that why you’ve been covering your ears?” Cullen asked, his eyes straying to the side of her head where she had put up her long hair in loose braids, covering the bulk and tip of her ears.

“You noticed that?” Sarya looked down at her feet, her cheeks reddening.

“I do hope people haven’t been rude to you,” Cullen frowned, looking at her expression. “You have plenty on your shoulders without your own allies giving you trouble for it.”

“There are fewer whispers of knife-ear behind my back if I do this,” Sarya muttered, her voice quiet. “The comment never really bothered me, but then I was always among my own kind and it was rare when we went to human settlements so it was easier to swallow. Now I’m not just a knife-ear, I’m a flat-ear as well.”

“Flat-ear?” Cullen repeated, unaware of the term.

“An elf living amongst the humans,” Sarya laughed, shaking her head.

“Your clan sounded very supportive of your work when they wrote back to you,” Cullen said, referring to a letter that had come to the Inquisition inquiring on Sarya’s well being. Her clan had been very relieved when she had personally written back to them, reassuring them that she was not being forced to stay.

“They are,” Sarya said, a small smile on her face, still not meeting his eyes. “I know they’re proud of me. They know this is an important opportunity, not only to close the Breach but also to show that a Dalish elf, a mage, can be of importance. Still, I can imagine a few scowls clear as day in my head.”

“Closed-minded people will be everywhere,” Cullen said, offering her a kind smile. “The important thing is to not let it get to you. And that starts with uncovering your ears. You should be proud of what you’ve accomplished.”

“Thank you,” Sarya said, her voice a bit surprised as she looked up at him. The stark contrast of the templars she had met before and Cullen were like night and day. How was it possible for someone to come out of a life of guarding the Circles and be so… nice? His eyes seemed to be following the lines of her vallaslin, her cheeks reddening. Sarya caught a glint of something fast out of the corner of her eye, quickly bringing up a barrier of ice in front of the two of them. Cullen jumped back as the ice formed, the tip of an arrow barely sticking out of it in front of Cullen’s face. Sarya quickly broke down the barrier, ice shattering at their feet, Cullen’s face livid.

“Who shot that arrow?!” Cullen yelled, looking at the soldiers. The training field had become silent from the moment Sarya had brought up the wall of ice. Some eyes were on Cullen, some looking around at the group of archers who had been practicing, others eyeing Sarya carefully. “Well?!”

One of the archers took a nervous step forward, clearing his throat as he gripped his bow tightly in his hands.

“I- I’m sorry, Commander, I must have missed-”

“Must have missed what, the target that’s only ten feet in front of you?!” Cullen had closed the distance between the two of them, the archer’s eyes getting wide as he stood less than a foot from him. “What in Andraste’s name were you thinking? You could have killed the Herald!”

“I- I’m sorry, my Lady Herald,” the archer said, his voice shaking, unable to draw his eyes away from the fuming Cullen in front of him.

“Lieutenant!” Cullen barked out into the crowd, not taking his eyes off the archer.

“Yes, Commander?” One of the lieutenants called out as she ran over.

“If this man is to be an archer, make sure that he has a safe place to practice where he won’t kill anyone, is that understood?”

“Yes, Commander,” the lieutenant nodded, saluting Cullen before addressing the archer and taking him with her.

“All of you, back to work!” Cullen shouted to the rest of the soldiers, each of them quickly getting back to their sparring. Sarya watched Cullen as he walked back over to her, his face softening a bit as he looked at her.

“Are you all right, my Lady?” He asked, looking at her as if there would have been damage.

“Am I all right?” Sarya repeated, a laugh escaping her. “That arrow was headed straight for you, Commander.”

“Then I suppose I owe you my thanks,” Cullen said, giving her a small smile. “That was very quick acting you did there with the, ah… the ice.”

“One less I owe you for, then,” Sarya smirked.

“One less?” Cullen repeated, raising his eyebrow slightly.

“Ah, well, you’ve helped me twice now,” Sarya said, biting her tongue as she looked away. “First that demon you saved me from at the rift, then the other day when I fell in the lake…”

“You’re keeping count?” Cullen asked, a grin creeping onto his face.

“No, I just- Well,” Sarya sighed. “I’m glad I could help.”

They were silent for a moment, standing in the other's company as Sarya racked her mind for anything to talk about that would change the subject.

“Do templars take vows?” She asked, opting to return to their original conversation before the flyaway arrow. “'I swear to the Maker to watch all the mages' – that sort of thing?”

“There's a vigil,” Cullen nodded. “You're meant to be at peace during that time, but your life is about to change. When it's over, you give yourself to a life of service. That's when you're given a philter- your first draught of lyrium- and its power. As Templars, we are not to seek wealth or acknowledgment. Our lives belong to the Maker and the path we have chosen.”

“But you changed that path,” Sarya pointed out.

“I did, yes,” Cullen said. “Although some of the vows I still work to uphold.”

“Are Templars also expected to give up... physical temptations?” Sarya could have sunk her face into the snow in that moment. It was an honest question, what did she know of Templars and their vows? Still, it felt a million times more of an intimate question than she had meant.

Physical? Why- Why would you,” Cullen cleared his throat, obviously flustered by the question. Amongst her embarrassment, Sarya couldn't help but crack an amused grin as he shifted uncomfortably; he was so easy to get to blush, not what she had expected from a former Templar and the Commander of an army. “That's not expected. Templars can marry – although there are rules about it, and the order must grant permission... Some may choose to give up more to prove their devotion, but it's, um... not required.”

“Have you?” Sarya asked, not being able to help but poke him when he was already so flustered; plus, she was curious, though she inwardly slapped herself for being so.

“Me? I... um... no. I've taken no such vows,” Cullen said, rubbing the back of his neck, his face reddening. “Maker's breath- can we speak of something else?”

“Sorry,” Sarya said, a quiet laugh accompanying her apology. “I don't mean to tease. I was just curious- about the Templars, I mean.”

“Of course,” Cullen nodded, quick to put it behind them.

“I, ah… I think I’ll get a head start at the War Table,” Sarya said quickly. “Stare at reports a bit. All that fun stuff.”

“Of course,” Cullen said. He watched Sarya as she walked away, a slight grin spreading on his face as he saw her tuck her braid back behind her ear.

 

     Sarya spent some time at the war table, staring at options before Josephine, Leliana, and Cullen joined her. She was still getting up to speed with this whole thing, and weighing her options definitely took her more time than the others. She was thankful for their input, but definitely felt more at an advantage if she could read all the reports before they all arrived.

“I’m glad to see you took my advice,” Cullen mentioned quietly to Sarya. She had taken her loose braids down, her long hair flowing down her back while a few smaller braids held the bulk in place, her ears no longer hidden.

“I have more important things to worry about,” Sarya said, matching his smile. The two of them broke eye contact as Leliana cleared her throat, a knowing smirk on her face.

“Shall we discuss our plan on infiltrating Redcliffe Castle?” She suggested.

“We don’t have the manpower to take the castle,” Cullen sighed, resting his hand on the pommel of his sword. “Either we find another way in, or give up this nonsense and go get the Templars.”

Sarya stopped herself from rolling her eyes; this was an ongoing argument that had lasted the past two nights. Sympathetic as he may have been for Sarya’s decision to go after the mages after what she had seen in Redcliffe, Cullen still believed their best chance was with the Templars, something Sarya couldn’t quite agree with.

“Redcliffe is in the hands of a Magister,” Cassandra said. “This cannot be allowed to stand.”

“The letter from Alexius asked for the Herald of Andraste by name,” Josephine said, shaking her head in frustration. “It’s an obvious trap!”

“We can’t waste time fighting among ourselves,” Sarya said.

“And yet, some of us want to sit and do nothing,” Leliana said indignantly, shooting a look at Cullen.

“Not this again,” Josephine sighed.

“Redcliffe Castle is one of the most defensible fortresses in Ferelden. It has repelled thousands of assaults,” Cullen said, annoyance seeping through his voice. He looked at Sarya, his face quite serious. “If you go in there, you’ll die, and we’ll lose the only means we have of closing these rifts. I won’t allow it.”

“And if we don’t even try to meet Alexius, we lose the mages and leave a hostile foreign power on our doorstep!” Leliana said.

“Even if we could assault the keep, it would be for naught,” Josephine said, looking over at Sarya. “An Inquisition’s army marching into Ferelden would provoke a war. Our hands are tied.”

“The Magister-” Cassandra began, only to be cut off by Cullen.

Has outplayed us,” he said forcefully.

“We can’t just give up!” Sarya said, looking at Cullen desperately. She knew it was risky, but how could she just leave all those mages to become enslaved to Tevinter? The Magister they had met there had used some kind of time magic to get ahead of them. Power like that was unheard of. Even the Tevinter Mage, Dorian, who had helped her close a rift inside Redcliffe had been adamant on stopping Alexius. “There has to be something we can do!”

“We cannot accept defeat now,” Cassandra agreed. “There must be a solution.”

“Other than the main gate, there’s got to be another way into the castle,” Sarya said, trying to come up with anything that could help. “A sewer? A water course? Something!”

“There’s nothing I know of that would work,” Cullen said, his tone softening a bit at the desperation in her voice.

“Wait,” Leliana said, almost causing Sarya whiplash at how quickly she turned to look at her. “There is a secret passage into the castle, an escape route for the family. It’s too narrow for our troops, but we could send agents through.”

“Too risky,” Cullen shook his head. “Those agents will be discovered well before they reach the Magister.”

“That’s why we need a distraction,” Leliana said, looking slyly at Sarya. “Perhaps the envoy Alexius wants so badly?”

“Focus their attention on Lavellan while we take out the Tevinters,” Cullen said, following along, thinking it over carefully. “It’s risky, but it could work.”

The four of them looked to the door as it opened. The Tevinter mage Sarya had met in Redcliffe walked through the door, one of Leliana’s agents trailing behind him quickly.

“Fortunately, you’ll have help,” Dorian said, not letting the strange looks from the others get in the way of a good entrance.

“This man says he has information, Commander,” the scout said, an apologetic look on his face as Dorian stood next to Sarya. Cullen eyed Dorian suspiciously; his accent and flashy clothing gave him away quite easily.

“Your spies will never get past Alexius’ magic without my help,” Dorian said, giving a smug look to the three of them. “So if you’re going after him, I’m coming along.”

“Who do you think-”

“Commander,” Sarya interrupted Cullen, clearing her throat. “This is Dorian Pavus, the mage from Tevinter I mentioned to you all before. He was Alexius’ apprentice. He may know the magic Alexius used to go back in time and get to Redcliffe before we could. I’d like to accept his aid.”

“Very well. However, the plan puts you in the most danger,” Cullen said, looking at Sarya, slight concern on his face. “We can’t, in good conscious, order you to do this. It’s not too late, we can still go after the Templars if you’d rather not play the bait.”

“No, we must do this,” Sarya shook her head. “It’s the only plan we have, and I won’t leave all those mages in Alexius’ service.”

“Very well,” Cullen sighed. “We’ll prepare so that you may leave in two days time. And you, Tevinter, I’d like a word with you.”

“I as well,” Leliana said, looking at Dorian with a curious eye.

“But of course,” Dorian said, having fully expected this. “Nothing like a good looking chap from Tevinter to spice things up around this, ah, quaint camp.”

“Thank you, Dorian,” Sarya said quietly, giving him an encouraging smile before leaving him to the others in the war room.

 

     The next day found Sarya restless. So much hung on this journey to Redcliffe, so many dangers ahead, more than usual. But was it really more than before? After all the demons she had fought, the Templars, mages, the rifts she had closed, what was one Magister? She would have Cassandra, Varric, and now Dorian with her while the others prepared for closing the Breach once they returned. All would be well. Casting a simple warming spell around her bare feet, Sarya grabbed her warm cloak and headed out of her small cabin.

Things were as usual in Haven: people passing reports between hands, others moving supplies from one area to another, always a few people in the tavern. The weather was quite calm for the day, barely any snow falling and clear skies save for the Breach. As she walked past the Chantry and towards a group of cabins, she paused as she heard Adan, the apothecary, grumbling from inside his workshop.

“Damn scouts can’t pick herbs worth spit,” he was complaining. Sarya glanced through the window, seeing him angrily grind at something with a mortar and pestle. “I said I needed elfroot, not embrium!”

Sarya held back a laugh; Adan was always finding something to grumble about, though, as someone who knew quite a bit about herbs herself, she could understand the frustration. She looked over to a burning fire, a family with their two children sitting near it gathering warmth. One of the children, a boy, was lazily poking at the fire with a stick, looking bored out of his mind as his sister stared up at the sky. They couldn’t have been more than eight each. The family looked up as Sarya approached them, the mother standing with surprise on her face.

“My Lady Herald,” she said, giving somewhat of a rushed bow to her. “How may we be of service to you?”

Sarya smiled warmly at them, looking at the two children.

“I was going to go collect elfroot, very close to here, not more than a ten minute walk,” she said, crouching down so that she was at eye level with them. “The only problem is, I have three baskets and only two arms. Would either of you like to help me?”

 

     “My scouts report little out of Redcliffe,” Leliana said, looking at Cullen as he sighed. “The roads are fairly quiet, so at least we know they are not sending reinforcements ahead of the Herald meeting with the Magister.”

“I don’t like this,” Cullen murmured, crossing his arms as he shook his head. “I know she’s determined to see this through, but there’s so much that hangs on this. We need more information before she gets there.”

Cullen's gaze veered past Leliana to the trail that led into the woods around Haven. He could hear Leliana speaking, but the words didn't register as he watched Sarya walking back towards Haven on the trail. She had two of the refugee children at her side, ones that had joined Haven with their parents recently. The three of them each had a basket full to the brim of elfroot in their arms. As they got closer, he could see that wild flowers had been placed throughout Sarya’s braided hair as well as that of the children's. Her braids seemed imperfect, and Cullen suspected that they were not of her own work.

Maker, where did she find wildflowers on this snow covered mountain?

“Commander?”

Cullen snapped out of it as Leliana repeated his title, suddenly bringing his attention back to her just as she began following his gaze.

“I'm sorry, Sister Nightingale, you were saying?” Cullen asked quickly, internally grimacing that Leliana had found his distraction so quickly. Of course she did, you dolt, she's the Inquisition's Spymaster and you’re staring at the Herald like some kind of distracted child.

A small smirk crept onto Leliana’s face as she zeroed in on Sarya, the smirk softening into a smile as Sarya approached them, the two children following her direction to take their baskets of herbs to Adan.

“My, Herald, that is kind of you to gather so much elfroot,” Leliana commented. “And how lovely you look today. Do you not agree, Commander?”

“W- What- I mean, yes, of course,” Cullen stammered, clearing his throat. Leliana couldn't help a small return of her smirk as both Cullen and Sarya looked in opposite directions, their faces reddening slightly.

“Ah, thank you,” Sarya said almost timidly, her hands gripping the handle of her basket tightly. She tried to brush it off as quickly as possible. Her feet bare, casually shoving one into some snow and letting her warming spell wear off was enough to help cool her down some. “I overheard Adan commenting that we were low on supplies. I figured we may need plenty of elfroot in the days to come. The children were much quicker at picking it than I was, I should be embarrassed.”

“I'm glad you had a moment to go slowly,” Cullen commented, turning his gaze back to her. “There hasn't been much chance for that lately.”

Leliana looked at the two as they warmly gazed at each other, shaking her head with a smile.

“We can talk later, Commander,” she said, giving a nod to Sarya.

“Oh, no, we can-” Cullen started, but she had already begun to walk back into the gated area. Cullen rubbed the back of his neck, slowly looking back at Sarya. “I must ask… Where did you find wildflowers near here?”

A smile broke out on Sarya's face, a sudden sparkle in her eyes that warmed Cullen's heart. She opened her mouth to respond, only to cry out in pain as a flash of green light broke out from her hand. She fell to her knees as she dropped the basket of elfroot, the mark burning at her nerves as if her hand were severing apart. The pain vibrated through her, wave upon wave of burning in her hand causing her body to contract painfully in response. Her hand gripped her wrist, trying to will some kind, any kind, of magic into her hand that would cease the burning, unaware of how every soldier had ceased their training to stare, not hearing Cullen's yells of concern. As the light faded and the burning stopped, Sarya fell to her side, her breath heavy as she tried to regain her grounding with her head spinning. Sarya heard a few unidentified yells, then the clanking of swords and shields resumed, filling the otherwise silent air. She felt herself being lifted, closing her eyes as she rested her face against smooth metal. It was cold, but it felt wonderful against her cheek which felt as if it was burning from the pain that had all but suddenly stopped. She focused on that feeling as her body remained tensed, a sudden onset of exhaustion getting the better of her as her vision went dark.

 

     Sarya's awareness slowly returned, finding herself looking up at the familiar roof above her bed. She could hear three others arguing, their voices low as if trying not to disturb her, but obviously too worried to leave all the same. She turned her head to the side to look at them, finding Cullen, Josephine, and Cassandra all looking rather irate at one another.

“We can't keep sending her into the field,” Cullen said, his arms crossed as he shook his head. “What if this were to happen while she's fighting rogue Templars or apostates, Maker forbid while she's fighting off demons at a rift? I can’t in good conscience condone her leaving for Redcliffe and sending her into the hands of a Magister like this!”

“We need the mages,” Josephine sighed, her hands on her hips. “We cannot expect to close the Breach with the Inquisition's forces alone.”

“Solas says it's because she is so close to the Breach,” Cassandra said, looking at Cullen. “Because it's so large, it may be influencing the mark on her hand when it fluctuates since it is not yet closed entirely. She tires after closing many rifts in the field, yes, but never like this. She has never fainted from it before. She is more capable than you believe, Commander.”

“I didn't- I never said she isn't-” Cullen paused mid sentence as he looked over at Sarya and found her watching them, her eyes tired but awake. His pausing and gaze led the others to the same discovery.

“Thank the Maker,” Josephine breathed. “How do you feel?”

“I'm fine,” Sarya lied. She could tell them the truth, that her hand had just felt like it was trying to split in half and she was still light headed, but what good would that do? She sat up in her bed as if to prove it, closing her eyes if only for a moment to try to slow the spinning. “If it’s because of the Breach as Solas says, we should hurry to Redcliffe to gain the support of the mages. The mark hasn’t felt like that in a while, the Breach could be readying to grow again. We need to close the Breach now.”

“After you've rested,” Cullen said, noting the disapproving look on her face. “Night will be falling soon anyway. If you feel up to it, you may leave in the morning.”

Sarya nodded, finding that compromise acceptable.

“We should skip our meeting at the War Table tonight and focus on preparing for your journey to Redcliffe,” Josephine said, nodding at Cassandra. “In the meantime, please rest. We must have you at your best if you’re to return with the mages.”

“Of course,” Sarya sighed, having already agreed to resting when Cullen suggested it. They really all knew her too well already, to know that she would want to help pack for the journey. She paused as Josephine and Cassandra left the small cabin, calling out as Cullen went to follow them. “Commander, a moment?”

“Of course,” Cullen nodded, walking back over to her bedside. As Sarya paused, Cullen’s eyes wandered to her hands that were gripping the sheet on her lap. He wasn’t sure, but he thought he almost saw the slightest hint of fear in her eyes as she looked up at him.

“I wanted to - I mean, what I’m trying to say - thank you,” she blurted out, looking down at her hands as she felt her cheeks redden. “For earlier. The mark, it - well, it’s as Solas says: it becomes more unstable near the Breach. This never happens when we’re further from it, not to this degree. I can’t imagine it’ll happen in Redcliffe.”

“I suppose that’s twice now you owe me,” Cullen teased, happy to hear the light laugh that escaped her.

“Are you keeping count now?” She asked, a small grin on her face.

“If you are, I suppose I should as well,” Cullen chuckled. “Does it hurt?”

Sarya looked up at Cullen at his question in surprise, his voice soft as he sat in the chair next to her bed. Not many had ever asked that, and when they had it had seemed to be more out of concern for whether or not she could control it. She wasn’t sure how she knew that Cullen meant the question out of concern for herself, something in his eyes perhaps.

“It’s draining,” she said, a small laugh escaping as a breath. “It’s like my nerves are on fire and I’ll split just like the Breach if it doesn’t stop.”

“I’m sorry,” Cullen frowned, looking at her hand. “Does it hurt now?”

“No,” Sarya shook her head, giving him a small smile, her heart leaping as he returned it. “It’s strange, once it disappears the pain is almost non-existent, it’s just the drain that I feel. A little bit like a fresh scar still healing.”

“I’m glad to hear that,” Cullen said. Sarya watched him as he picked up one of the wildflowers that had fallen onto the bed from her hair, yellow as the sun with speckled white in its center. He smiled at it warmly before looking at her. “You didn’t get the chance to tell me where you found these.”

“I’ll show you,” Sarya said quietly, smiling at the flower as he handed it back to her. She took it from him, her bare fingers gently brushing against the leather of his gauntlet. She twirled it in her finger for a moment before looking back at him. “When we return from Redcliffe.”

“I’d like that,” Cullen said, his voice quiet and warm. Cullen sat there for a moment, the two of them smiling at one another. He thought about what he should say to her: should he talk about her journey tomorrow? The logistics of guarding apostate mages amongst their camp if it came to that? How worried he had been for her when she had fallen to the ground gripping her hand while green light erupted from the mark like lightning? How he wanted right then to brush the stray hairs out of her face that had come undone from her braid?

Maker’s breath, get ahold of yourself, she’s the Herald of Andraste.

“I should let you get your rest.”

Cullen rose from the chair, giving Sarya one last smile before exiting the cabin and shutting the door behind him. He let out a breath, the cold air turning it to steam as snow lightly fell around him. He needed to refocus; Sarya would be heading to Redcliffe tomorrow, which meant the closing of the Breach would be happening soon after. There was too much to prepare for to allow him to get lost in his own personal thoughts. He grimaced as a familiar headache began pounding at his temples; perfect timing. He shook his head, his footsteps crunching in the snow as he made his way to the Chantry.

Chapter Text

Those who had been cast down,

The demons who would be gods,

Began to whisper to men from their tombs within the earth.

And the men of Tevinter heard and raised altars

To the pretender-gods once more,

And in return were given, in hushed whispers,

The secret of darkest magic.

-Canticle of Threnodies 5:11

 

     Sarya's boots rang out in the Chantry of Haven early in the morning. She and a few of her companions would be heading for Redcliffe soon. Although she wasn't Andrastian, there was something soothing about the Chantry that Sarya appreciated. The dim candles, the quiet, it was a welcome break from the sounds of swords and shields and the sight of the Breach in the sky.

“Mistress Lavellan, do you have a moment?”

Sarya looked into the office to her left, finding Josephine behind her desk, beckoning her in. Sarya held back a laugh as Josephine’s eyes traveled down to her boot covered feet as she walked in, then back up to meet her eyes, a satisfied look on her face as if she had expected her to travel without shoes as well.

“Did you need something, Ambassador?” Sarya asked, standing in front of her desk.

“Yes. Well, not precisely, but… I should like to know if anyone here has treated you unkindly, Herald. For being an elf.”

Sarya bit her tongue; she had admitted to Cullen about it, and sure enough the comments had come back in full force as she passed by certain people among Haven once she had stopped hiding her ears behind her hair, but she didn’t want to cause more tensions by bringing it up again.

“Not that I’ve noticed,” Sarya lied, not quite meeting Josephine’s eyes.

“The Commander may have mentioned he had heard of some occurrences,” Josephine said, giving Sarya a kind smile. “I believe he is handling his soldiers, but for the rest… well, stories of ‘wild Dalish elves’ have grown even more outrageous as people learn of you.”

“Outrageous?” Sarya raised an eyebrow. “How so?”

“I would… Rather not repeat them,” Josephine sighed. “It may help if the people know more about you directly from the Inquisition. Such as… How you and your clan lived?”

“We roamed the planes of the Free Marches, although I preferred the days we spent in the forests,” Sarya said, a reminiscent smile on her face. “I used to spend hours wandering, gathering herbs. It was peaceful.”

“Haven is so far away from home,” Josephine said, an understanding smile on her face. “You must miss the people of your clan.”

“I do,” Sarya nodded, her smile fading a bit but still holding. “I’m the First of my clan, I can’t pretend I don’t have a duty to them... But they understand how important closing the Breach is. It affects everyone, not just those in Ferelden”

“Whether you’re with them or not, being the clan of the Herald of Andraste will mark them in history,” Josephine pointed out.

“The Dalish still worship the gods of our ancestors,” Sarya said, a light laugh escaping her throat. “They’ll either roll their eyes or call heresy. Much like I would expect if a prominent member of your Chantry was to be called the Herald of Andruil.”

“That… is a good point,” Josephine said, a look on her face that clearly said she hadn’t considered the thought. She quickly wiped it away, replacing it with her ever confident smile. “Still, they know you. It is the people of Haven and Val Royeux we must reach at the present.”

“I understand,” Sarya nodded. “Please, let me know if there’s anything else I can do to help.”

“Of course, thank you, and have a safe journey to Redcliffe,” Josephine smiled, looking back down to the stack of letters in front of her. Sarya sighed as she walked out of the Chantry. After her conversation with Josephine, she couldn’t even remember what she had originally walked into the Chantry for. Living amongst these people was so upside down from her life before. Andraste this, Maker that. It was fine. She accepted, more than most of her clan, that people all over held different views on the matter of gods and such. To have them decide that she was akin to a prophet sent by the bride of their god, though, was a bit odd to say the least. As she walked along Haven, she came across Solas near one of the cabins, standing and observing all around him. He turned to look at her as she approached him, a knowing smile on his face.

“The Chosen of Andraste, a blessed hero sent to save us all,” Solas said, as if the look on her face clearly showed what troubled her.

“Am I riding in on a shining steed?” Sarya scoffed, smiling at him. Solas may not have been Dalish, and was quick to point that out, but Sarya figured he must think as much of this whole Herald of Andraste business as much as she did.

“I would have suggested a griffon, but sadly, they’re extinct,” Solas said. “Joke as you will, posturing is necessary. I’ve journeyed deep into the Fade in ancient ruins and battlefields to see the dreams of lost civilizations. Every great war has its heroes. I’m just curious what kind you’ll be.”

“Hopefully the kind who makes the world a better place,” Sarya sighed, her eyes drifting to the Breach on the horizon. Hero, now there was another strange word to add to her list of things making her uncomfortable.

“It isn’t always that easy, but I wish you luck,” Solas said. “I will stay then, at least until the Breach has been closed.”

“Did you have other plans?” Sarya raised her eyebrow.

“I am an apostate surrounded by Chantry forces and unlike you, I do not have a divine mark protecting me,” Solas said, looking at Sarya seriously. “Cassandra has been accommodating, but you understand my caution.”

“You came here to help, Solas. I won’t let them use that against you,” Sarya said, giving him a reassuring smile.

“How would you stop them?” Solas asked, intrigued by her supposed bravery.

“However I had to,” Sarya said, leaving it at that. She may not have been the best fighter, but Solas was right, she did understand his caution. Humans were often apt to mistrust mages, let alone an apostate, and there were Templars in their ranks. It was something that made her nervous as well.

“Thank you,” Solas said, slight surprise on his face. “For now, let us hope the mages of Redcliffe have the power to seal the Breach. I do believe the horses are about ready to take you to your destination.”

“I’m sorry you won’t be joining us on this one, Solas. You’ve been a great help,” Sarya said earnestly.

“There is much I can accomplish while you are gone,” Solas nodded. “Namely, figuring out a way to harness the power of the mages to close the Breach once you return with them.”

“Thanks for being optimistic,” Sarya sighed, looking over towards the gate where Varric waved for her.

“Shira eth.”

“Serannasa, Solas,” Sarya said, giving Solas a smile. It was amazing what hearing a few words of her people’s tongue could do to make her feel more grounded and whole. Everything since she had arrived at the Conclave had been so upside down for her. Not all Dalish were conversational in Elvish, and though she had been surprised that Solas knew so much, it was one of the things that made her feel more at home. Turning, Sarya headed down to the gate where Varric stood, her boots crunching in the light layer of fresh snow. The air was crisp, the wind slightly stronger than the other day.

“You ready to walk into a Tevinter Magister’s trap, Lightfoot?” Varric asked as they neared Dorian and Cassandra who were standing by the horses. Sarya snorted at his nickname for her, one he had given her in the previous weeks when she had tripped over a mole hill in the Hinterlands.

“No time like the present,” Sarya grinned, patting her horse gently on the nose as it sniffed at her. Gear was already packed onto the sides of their saddles, ready for the long trip to Redcliffe Castle. Sarya was thankful that the sky looked clear, good weather would shorten the length of their travels and she was eager to get this over with. She gave Dorian a warm smile, trying not to laugh as he yawned, her attention drawn to her right as she saw Cullen approaching.

“We've received word from our agents stationed near Redcliffe. They will be ready to infiltrate at your word upon your arrival,” Cullen said, glancing at her party before turning his attention back to Sarya, his voice lowered. “Leliana has been looking into your Tevinter companion, he appears to be telling the truth regarding his history but I'd still keep a watchful eye on him.”

“I believe Dorian is here to help,” Sarya said, giving Cullen a reassuring smile. “But if it makes you feel better, I'll keep him in my peripherals.”

“It does,” Cullen admitted, pausing as Sarya turned away to put her hands on the saddle of her horse. “...Herald?”

“Yes, Commander?” Sarya asked, pausing nearly mid-mount. The others had mounted their horses, waiting for her to lead them on their path. Cullen had paused, looking as if he were contemplating something before his face relaxed.

“It’s nothing,” he shook his head, giving her a warm smile. “May the Maker watch over you all and give you a safe return.”

“Thank you,” Sarya said quietly, smiling at him. Cullen watched the four of them ride off down the path, rubbing the back of his neck as he sighed.

“Careful, Commander, your admiration is showing,” Leliana teased behind him. Cullen internally groaned at her words.

“Maker's breath, is it that obvious?” He muttered. “It's mischance.”

“Why? Because you were a templar and she is a mage? Or is it because she has been called to a higher cause as the Herald of Andraste?” Leliana chuckled, smiling as Cullen looked at her with a confused look that told her that was exactly what he meant. “Do not measure happiness in differences, Commander. I think you will find she is not one to hold the past against someone, she has already demonstrated that with the people who are closest to her here. Even the Herald of Andraste deserves happiness, even a Commander with a troubling past.”

Cullen looked back at the road as Leliana left, his eyes barely finding the group as they disappeared down the road. Leliana's words resonated in his mind. It was something he had thought about often recently, always dismissing it outright for many reasons: not the right time; not the right past; he couldn't possibly be the right fit for her; she couldn't possibly feel the same for him; how perfect she was, how absolutely undeserving he was. Still, he was drawn to her every time he saw her, any time he thought of her, any time he heard her laugh coming from somewhere in Haven. Thinking on Leliana's words, the corner of his mouth twitched into a smile as he considered it before he shook his head, letting reality reaffirm his rationality as he went back to his duties.

 

 

     Being thrust into the future- past? Whenever they were- with someone she barely knew was not Sarya’s idea of a good time. Even less so when it was in a castle she didn't know, with flooded areas and red lyrium growing out of the walls as if someone had put it there on purpose. When she had gone to Redcliffe Castle to meet with Magister Alexius she had expected some sort of fight, but this just seemed more unfair than usual. Together with Dorian, the two of them set out to traverse the prison area of the castle, the lower half of their clothes dripping still from their arrival in what seemed to be a pond in a cell.

“I don’t understand,” Sarya mumbled, grimacing as her breeches clung to her legs uncomfortably, her warming spells only doing so much to dry them. “Why send us into the future? Why not just kill us? Wouldn’t that have been easier?”

“That probably was Alexius’ plan,” Dorian sighed as they traversed up and down the various areas in the cell block. “I must have disrupted his spell when he went to cast it.”

“Well, thanks for that,” Sarya said. “Do you think you can get us back?”

“If we can find Alexius and he still has the amulet? Possibly,” Dorian said. “Won’t know until we try, will we?”

As they entered through a door, Sarya could feel the warmth of the red lyrium in the cells and along the walls. It grew out of the stone like trees in long abandoned castle ruins. It felt inviting and dangerous at the same time, a slight humming, almost like an enticing song, emitting from it the longer they stayed near it. An elf stood in one of the cells as they approached, his hands clasped together, red energy glowing from him as he stood near the red lyrium.

“Andraste blessed me… My tears are my sins, my sins, my sins… Andraste guide me, Andraste guide me…”

“Lysas? Are you alright?” Sarya asked quietly as she neared him, waiting for a response. His eyes looked through her, as if she weren’t there, continuing his chant. “I don’t think he can hear me.”

“Come on,” Dorian said quietly, taking Sarya gently by the arm and pulling her forward.

“What happened to him?” Sarya whispered, fear in her eyes. She had just met the elf a few weeks ago in Redcliffe. Well, a few weeks ago for her and Dorian. Varric had mentioned the dangers of red lyrium before, but Lysas… he seemed to have lost his mind. Is that what Varric had been talking about?

“I don’t know,” Dorian said, making sure that she continued to follow him. “But we must press on.”

Water flowed from cracks in the ceiling, finding the path of least resistance as it continued on flowing throughout the stone, catching in puddles at their feet. There were skylights all about, light reflecting eerily off the water. Heading up another set of stairs, they came to a room with three doors, the only floor a woven metal suspended in the air that attached to the stone walls. It didn’t cover the entire space, a long drop awaiting anyone who wasn’t mindful of their steps. Red lyrium climbed the walls like ivy, it was really growing everywhere in the castle.

Two soldiers stood guard by the doors, and Sarya and Dorian gripped their staffs as they prepared themselves when one began to draw his sword. Sarya cast a barrier around the two of them as Dorian sent a barrage of ice towards one of them. The one soldier frozen, Sarya summoned electricity into her fingertips, shocking the other as he ran towards them. As Dorian wore down the one soldier, Sarya continued focusing on the other who was quickly back on his feet and angrier than before; Sarya couldn’t blame him, her bolts of lightning had a bit of a bite to them as of late. The soldier got close to her, Sarya’s heart speeding as he swung his sword at her again and again, once just barely missing her face. She quickly pointed her staff at him, pulling as much fire into it as she possibly could and directing it towards his face. The soldier screamed in pain as his skin burned, running blindly as he hit at his face in an attempt to put it out. Sarya watched as he overstepped, falling from the suspended floor to whatever fate lay below in the darkness.

“Well, that’s one way of disposing of them,” Dorian said, his breath surprisingly calm compared to Sarya’s. He looked her over, seeing how tightly she still gripped her staff. “Not used to the whole fighting thing, are you?”

“You’d think after a couple months of this I’d be well adjusted,” Sarya said, a nervous laugh escaping her throat.

“Well, I’m fine, that’s all that matters, right?” Dorian joked, patting her on the shoulder before heading towards one of the doors. They proceeded down another set of stairs into what seemed like another cell block. As they went through another door, Sarya heard a distinct humming that sounded incredibly familiar to her that was coming from behind one of the locked cells.

“Varric?” Sarya asked as she ran to the bars, finding the dwarf sitting in the cell. She quickly unlocked the door with a key she had found on a guard earlier when they had first arrived.

“Andraste’s sacred knickers,” Varric breathed as he stood up. “You’re alive? Where were you? How did you escape?”

“We didn’t,” Dorian said. “Alexius sent us into the future.”

“Everything that happens to you is weird,” Varric said, his face scrunched up a bit. Sarya looked at Varric closely. His voice was a bit off, almost as if it was echoing slightly. His skin seemed… red, illuminated by the color, the same way the red lyrium glowed, very much like how Lysas had looked.

“You don't look so good, Varric,” Sarya frowned.

“Bite your tongue, I look damn good for a dead man,” Varric joked.

“You’re not dead,” Dorian pointed out.

“The not-dying of this red lyrium stuff? Way worse. Just saying.”

“We may be able to fix this if we can get to Alexius.”

“That… may not be as easy as you think,” Varric said, looking at Dorian. “This Elder One? He assassinated the Empress of Orlais and took control. The Elder One rules everything. What’s left of it, anyway. Alexius… is really not the one you need to worry about.”

“We’ll make sure none of this happens, whatever we have to do,” Sarya said confidently. “If we can find Alexius’ amulet and go back in time, we’ll stop this.”

“I’m pretty sure you’re crazy. Or I’m crazy. Either way it’s a nice thought,” Varric said, a slight grin on his face. “You want to take on Alexius? I’m in. Let’s go.”

The three of them continued on, down more stairs to lower cells where more water pooled at the bottom. As they went through another door, they heard a woman reciting the chant of light in a dark cell, her voice echoing much like Varric’s.

“The light shall lead her safely through the paths of this world and into the next,” the woman said, sitting with her back to the cell. “For she who trusts in the Maker, fire is her water.”

Sarya quickly recognized Cassandra, inserting the key into the locked cell at once. She turned around quickly as Sarya opened the door, remaining on the ground but staring up at her in wonder.

“You’ve returned to us,” Cassandra breathed. “Can it be? Has Andraste given us another chance? Maker forgive me. I failed you. I failed everyone. The end must truly be upon us if the dead return to life.”

“I’m not back from the dead, Cassandra, I just…” Sarya sighed trying to even think about it. “Well, this is hard to explain.”

“I was there,” Cassandra said incredulously as she stood. “The magister obliterated you with a gesture!”

“He sent us forward in time,” Dorian said, his voice sounding a bit tired of the repetition. “We may be able to return if we can find Alexius.”

“Go back in time? Then.. can you make it so that none of this ever took place?” Cassandra said, her voice desperate.

“That’s my hope,” Sarya nodded encouragingly.

“None of this will happen,” Cassandra said, a hopeful smile on her face. “Andraste, please let that be true.”

Cassandra walked out of the cell to join them, looking towards the door they came through.

“Alexius has locked himself in the throne room. I overheard one of the guards the other day.” She said, gesturing to the door. “That is where we will find him.”

“Then we’d best head that way,” Sarya nodded.

 

     They continued through the castle, trying to find their way to the throne room. Along the way they had come across Grand Enchanter Fiona, leader of the mage rebellion who had indentured her people to Alexius in a moment of desperation for safety. Lyrium growing out of her and fixed to the wall of the cell, she had confirmed that it had been one year since Sarya and Dorian had been taken through the rift Alexius had conjured. One year for all of this to happen, for the Elder One to assassinate the Empress of Orlais and take control of everything. The further into the castle they got, the more the air felt… off. It was as if they had entered another world, not just another time. Sarya tried hard to recognize the feeling, as familiar as it was. It was so close to the feeling she had experienced in her dreams when she had visited the Fade, the feeling of the veil being thin and spirits and demons being near, almost close enough that you could breathe them in. Judging by the look of unease on Dorian’s face that he was fighting to keep down, she had a feeling he was having the same thoughts.

They made their way to numerous torture chambers, horrible tools and holding areas with red lyrium growing out of who had long since succumbed to death. It made Sarya sick to her stomach, and she fought hard to keep the bile in her stomach down. They had come across Leliana, full of fight as ever, her face marred by months of torture and terror, though her eyes still had that fearsome spark to them. Although Leliana wanted little to do with talking about what had happened during the past year, Sarya could read into the bit that she did say about the world suffering. The Elder One hadn’t just seized control of Thedas, but the entire world. In one year. How was that possible? His power must have been more enormous than Sarya had suspected.

When they had stepped into the courtyard of Redcliffe Castle, Sarya nearly dropped her staff at the sight above them: the Breach, large as it was near Haven, had engulfed the sky. The black clouds that surrounded it swirled with the green light that emitted from it, engulfing everything. No wonder the veil had felt so thin to Sarya, the Breach had all but opened it for the whole world. It sent a shiver down her spine, resonating into the mark on her hand that vibrated inside of her as if it didn’t know what to do. Fighting their way through demons in the courtyard and closing rifts along the way- seriously, how many rifts did one castle need?!- they finally made their way to a door that led into the main Keep. After closing yet another rift, they approached a large door that was locked by some strange mechanism. Sarya leaned against the wall, trying to catch her breath as Dorian examined the door.

“It appears to be sealed by a magic key- five of them to be exact,” he said, looking it over. “That lyrium shard you found, Sarya, let me see it.”

Sarya walked over to him, taking out of her pouch the shard that she had found on a dead soldier after sealing the last rift. Given the circumstances of everything they’d seen she would have avoided touching the stuff, however the shape of it had seemed unusual compared to the rest.

“Are you all right?” Cassandra asked Sarya quietly, noticing how exhausted she seemed.

“I’ll be fine,” Sarya shook her head. “It’s a lot of rifts to close in such a short amount of time.”

“If we do not get into that room soon, it will all be for naught,” Leliana said, no room for empathy in her voice.

“I didn’t say I needed to rest,” Sarya frowned, well aware of the stakes. “I said I’ll be fine, I mean it. I’ll see this through.”

“Well, the good news is, the shard fits,” Dorian said as he approached the group. “The bad news is, we need four more and there are two sides of this part of the castle to look through.”

“We should split up,” Sarya nodded. “Dorian and I can take one half, the rest of you take the other.”

“Good, I can tell the Seeker here all the ideas I’ve come up with for stories in my time in my cell,” Varric grinned, making Cassandra audibly grimace.

 

     The five of them split up, Dorian and Sarya taking the door to the left as the other three took the door to the right. Moving through the upper floor, Sarya and Dorian managed to find one of the shards on a mage in a decrepit library, quickly taking it and the other soldiers out. In this part of the castle the hallways were longer, with many doors and rooms for them to look through, leaving nothing unturned just in case a shard would be hidden away. The halls were dark, illuminated only by magically lit torches, the occasional hole in the stone ceiling that let the green light of the Breach creep through, or the ominous glow of scattered red lyrium. As they turned a corner, Sarya held out her arm to stop Dorian from continuing as she saw a figure on the ground, red lyrium growing from them. It was a man in faded armor similar to the ones they had seen around the castle, although he wore no helm. He was sitting with his legs out as he leaned his back against the stone wall, not moving much but still very much alive. Her fingers tight around her staff, she slowly stepped forward until she could see if they were a threat or if they could pass unnoticed. As the light in the hall seemed to shift slightly and his face was revealed, her heart practically stopped as she recognized the man.

“Commander?” Sarya called out, seeing the familiar face. She rushed over to him, crouching on the floor in front of him. Dorian stayed behind, giving them space after he saw how Sarya had rushed to his side, how her voice shook as she spoke to him. His golden locks were illuminated red by the lyrium growing from his shoulder near his face, specks of red marring his face where it had begun to grow. A large portion had grown from his arm and seemed to be weighing him down as he hunched against the wall. He looked up at Sarya as she kneeled in front of him, his eyes tired, faded amber replaced with red that mimicked the lyrium growing from him.

“Maker's breath, I'm hallucinating again,” Cullen breathed, a sense of longing in his eyes as he looked her up and down. His breath was heavy, as if even just sitting wore him down, his voice echoing from the red lyrium as it had from the others. “It's always you... Always you...”

“You're not hallucinating, Commander, it's me,” Sarya said. She wanted to reach out, to comfort him, but the heat of the red lyrium kept her from getting too close.

“That's exactly what a hallucination would say,” Cullen chuckled, a tired grin on his face.

“What happened to you?” Sarya asked, trying to remain strong. Seeing this many of her friends corrupted by red lyrium had started to weigh on her emotions, she wasn't sure how much more she could take. Cullen looked behind Sarya where Dorian stood in the shadows. His expression furrowed slightly, as if not understanding.

“Two visions? Why you?”

“Cullen, please,” Sarya pleaded, giving him a small smile, tears welling up in her eyes. “We're not visions. Alexius meant to stop me from being, or… something like that, but accidentally sent us into the future. This future.”

Sarya reached into the pocket inside her light armor, pulling out the wildflower Cullen had handed to her in what had been just under a week ago to her. She had taken it with her on a whim, a silly notion of something that she couldn’t feel like she could rationalize within herself. It had dried in her pocket, but the colors still shone through, hardly having faded. Cullen looked at the flower in her hand, his face softening as he understood.

“Then you're real?” Cullen's gaze returned to her, disbelief on his face.

“We are,” she nodded. “Please, what happened?”

“When you didn't return to Haven, when you vanished, we assumed you were dead,” Cullen said, his face contorted as he tried to make sense of her being there, looking exactly as he had remembered when she left Haven. “Our initial forces near Redcliffe were taken. We marched from Haven to launch a strike on Redcliffe Castle, but it was too late. We were overrun by an army of demons. Many of us were taken captive, some force fed red lyrium to bend to the will of the Elder One. I've taken lyrium before, as a Templar, but this, it's too much.. too much.”

“It's all right,” Sarya said, forcing a wavering smile onto her face, her shaking voice betraying her. “I'm here now. We're going to figure this out, return everything to normal.”

“I should have kissed you before you left,” Cullen said, his eyes forlorn, a regretful smile on his marred face as he met her eyes. “I told myself there would be time later. I would have liked to, even just once.”

“It's not too late,” Sarya’s voice faltered, choking back tears. Back in Haven she had flirted with the Commander, not imagining that it would have gone anywhere; she knew how his smile had made her felt, never knowing he felt the same. If she had known… She smiled sadly at him as he lightly chuckled.

“I wouldn't dare risk exposing you to the red lyrium, Herald,” he said, his eyes heavy with exhaustion. “As tempting as it may be.”

“I'll reverse this,” Sarya breathed, her heart aching for him as he closed his eyes, the exhaustion from the red lyrium getting to him. “I swear to you, I'll make this right.”

“Sarya, we should go,” Dorian said quietly, his hand on her shoulder. Sarya nodded, wiping her eyes as she followed him down the hall.

The shards retrieved and the door unlocked, the five of them had continued into the room, confronting Alexius and retrieving the amulet after subduing him. As the castle walls shook with the coming of the Elder One, Dorian worked on the magic of the amulet as the others bought him and Sarya time. Sarya watched in horror as her friends fell to a demon army, wanting so badly to help them before Dorian pulled her through a newly opened portal. When they had returned to the past, Sarya could barely believe how normal everything looked, Cassandra and Varric as perfect as they had been before that nightmare of a future. With Alexius defeated and in the custody of the Inquisition, Sarya had encouraged Grand Enchanted Fiona to have the mages join the Inquisition and close the Breach- not indentured to them, but of their free will, as Sarya believed it should be. Everything was finally right for the time being, save for the memories and nightmares in her head of what could have been, and would come to pass if they failed. They set out back for Haven, Sarya more determined than ever to see to it that the Breach was closed for good.

 

 

     It was night when they returned to Haven. Calm, quiet streets only slightly illuminated by torches here and there greeted them, a welcome contrast to the ghastly future she and Dorian had seen. Sarya dismounted her horse, handing the reins to the stable hand. She smiled and nodded as her companions acknowledged her before heading in, some to their rooms and some to the tavern. The mages would still be a few days out, many of them traveling by foot. As she walked towards the snow covered steps that led to the gate, she saw a familiar face waiting to the side of the stone rail. Golden locks still in place, no red lyrium to be seen, that damned warm smile on his face that could melt the very snow under her boots. Her steps slowed, her heart quickening.

“Nothing quite like being thrust into the future to be reminded of what could be,” Dorian said, his voice quiet near her ear, a smirk on his face. “I'll leave you to create better alternatives. As for me, I need one hell of a drink after that mess.”

Sarya tried not to look back at Dorian with wide eyes as he gently pushed her by her lower back towards Cullen. She gingerly walked over to him, the smile never leaving his face.

“We received word of what happened ahead of your arrival,” Cullen said, looking down at Sarya as she stood behind the stone railing with him, her head not quite reaching the top of the highest part of it as she leaned against the wall of Haven. “It was a quite vague, but sounded nothing short of dreadful. I’m glad to see you appear to be unharmed.”

“I'll reveal more in due time,” Sarya nodded, looking at her feet as she was reminded of what happened, everything she had seen.

“Herald,” Cullen said, causing her to look back up at him. With one word he could turn her head, have her looking to him as if he was the source of everything of importance. After Redcliffe, she felt that hold on her even more as she drank in the sight of his once more amber eyes. No red, just brown and gold and warm as they should be, his voice warm like honey and unobscured by corruption of red lyrium.

“Yes?” Sarya breathed. His words from the future in Redcliffe echoed in her mind: I should have kissed you… Cullen seemed to pause for a moment as if contemplating something, and Sarya found herself fighting the urge to step closer to him.

“You must be exhausted from your ride back,” Cullen finally said, a slight feeling of disappointment dropping in Sarya's stomach. “I'll let you get your rest. We'll reconvene at the War Table tomorrow afternoon.”

Sarya felt like her heart was going to burst from her chest, her stomach churning as she thought of those sad, forlorn eyes he had looked at her with in Redcliffe’s future, the regret on his face as he spoke of what could have been.

“Comman- Cullen,” she blurted out, stopping him in his tracks as he began to turn away. He turned back towards her, slight surprise on his face.

“Yes, Herald?”

“It's Sarya,” she breathed quietly, noticing how his face softened at her suggestion of familiarity.

“Sarya, then,” he said softly, noticing how she stepped closer to him until they almost touched. They seemed to meet each other halfway: Cullen leaning as she pressed on the balls of her feet, his gloved hand gently holding the side of her face as their lips met. Her lips were surprisingly soft despite all the time she had spent in Ferelden fighting. Cold from the ride to Haven, but soft all the same. Cullen's kiss was gentle, halfway between hesitation and giving into the longing that had put this image in his mind for quite some time. As her arms wrapped around his neck, a sense of relief washed over Cullen. It pushed away the hesitation in his kiss, giving way to the want to be closer to her as her cold hands reaches into his hair as if the warmth from him would disappear if she didn't hold onto it. Sarya gently leaned her back against the stone wall of Haven with him, the warmth from his mantel enveloping her as he pulled her closer, his stubble rough against her soft face. As Cullen gently broke the kiss, he looked down at her, a soft grin on his face.

“I very much wanted to do that before you left,” Cullen said, his heart beating in double time.

“I know,” Sarya said as she smiled up at him, her eyes tired from the trip. Cullen looked at her questioningly, intrigue on his face.

“How could you possibly know about that?” Cullen asked, watching her face as he saw what appeared to be sadness flicker across it for a moment as she ran her slim fingers gently down the side of his face.

“A story for another time, not tonight,” Sarya smiled. She wanted to forget the image in her head, but she knew better than to hope that it would fade. Nightmares of demons, red lyrium, and her friends falling in front of her ran through her mind. She would find little sleep that night, her only solace in Cullen's gentle kiss as snow fell around them.

Chapter Text

Then the Maker said:

To you, My second-born, I grant this gift:

In your heart shall burn

An unquenchable flame

All-consuming, and never satisfied.

From the Fade I crafted you,

And to the Fade you shall return

Each night in dreams

That you may always remember Me.

—Canticle of Threnodies 5:7

 

 

     The morning after they returned to Haven, Sarya found herself waking to the familiar sound of bustling of people and soldiers outside her cabin. She slowly got dressed, exhausted from the nightmares that had plagued her throughout the night. She had woken what seemed like every ten minutes from visions of Leliana’s throat being slit, Varric being tossed to the side like a ragdoll by a demon, Cullen’s tired red eyes, Lysas’ incessant chanting in his cell… She shook her head as she put her hair up in a quick braid, trying to rid the visions from her mind. She was here, this was now, not that horrible future. The events that transpired would never happen, she would make sure of it. She focused on the grey-blue sky above her head, a smile growing on her face as she thought of Cullen's gentle kisses from the night before. Deep down she had known that small feelings for Cullen had been growing, little flutters of her heart warning her each time she had seen him from afar, but until Redcliffe she hadn’t thought to act on it. Now, knowing that he felt the same, it was as if a gate within her had been opened and those feelings were free to roam her heart and mind fully, becoming a mixture of nervousness and excitement at the thought of seeing him. Part of her kept nagging to stop acting like a child discovering their first crush, but she couldn’t seem to fight the red that gently tinted her cheeks as she thought more and more of it. Light flakes of snow cooled her face as she made her way to the Chantry in search of the others.

As she walked into the Chantry, she found Cassandra, Josephine, and Cullen standing near the middle of the hall arguing while Dorian stood off to the side watching with a hint of amusement on his face. She internally sighed; it seemed rare these days that there could be one meeting without everyone arguing with one another, especially as they neared their attempt to close the Breach again.

“It’s not a matter for debate,” Cullen was saying seriously, looking from Cassandra to Josephine. “There will be abominations among the mages and we must be prepared.”

“If we rescind the offer of an alliance, it makes the Inquisition appear incompetent at best, tyrannical at worst!” Josephine said, raising her hands to her side in her frustration.

“What were you thinking, turning mages loose with no oversight?” Cullen asked, looking at Sarya as she approached them. She stopped in her tracks, biting her tongue at the intensity in his voice. “The veil is torn open!”

“We need their cooperation to close the Breach,” Sarya said slowly, wanting to stand her ground but still not having expected that strong of a reaction from him. Judging by his tone compared to the previous night, apparently Cassandra must not have mentioned in their initial letter back to Haven that Sarya had offered the mages their freedom with the Inquisition. “Conscripting them wouldn’t have done us any good, there’d be nothing to keep most of them from running or fighting if we made enemies of them again.”

“I know we need them for the Breach, but they could do as much damage as the demons themselves!”

“Enough arguing, none of us were there,” Cassandra cut in. “We cannot afford to second-guess our people. The sole purpose of the Herald’s mission was to gain the mages’ aid, and she did that.”

“The voice of pragmatism speaks!” Dorian said, causing their attention to shift to him as he leaned against a column. “And here I was just starting to enjoy the circular arguments.”

“Closing the Breach is all that matters,” Cassandra said bluntly, before turning back to face the others.

“I got a taste of the consequences if we fail,” Sarya said, looking down at her hands as she was unable to meet anyone’s eyes as the memories began flooding back again. “I can’t let that happen. I won’t let that happen.”

“We should look into the things you saw in this dark future,” Leliana said, her voice quiet. “The assassination of Empress Celine? A demon army?”

“Sounds like something a Tevinter cult might do,” Dorian smirked ironically. “Orlais falls, the Imperium rises. Chaos for everyone!”

“One battle at a time,” Cullen sighed, looking to Sarya. “It’s going to take time to organize our troops and the mage recruits. Let’s take this to the War Room within the hour. You should join us. None of this means anything without your mark, after all.”

“And here I was thinking I’d just go for a walk, leave all the work to everyone else,” Sarya joked, feeling more comfortable now that Cullen’s tone had softened.

“What is it they say? ‘No rest for the wicked’?” Cullen grinned.

“Join us when you’re ready,” Josephine said, giving Sarya a smile. “Take your time. I’m sure you’re still tired after your journey.”

“Commander, a word?” Sarya asked quietly as the others dispersed.

“Of course,” Cullen nodded, following Sarya over to one of the more secluded corners.

“Are you really that upset with me for bringing back the mages as free people?” Sarya asked, biting the inside of her cheek in anticipation of his answer.

“Upset with you?” Cullen repeated, a surprised look on his face. “Maker, no, why would you ask that?”

“You just seemed so… irritated, when Cassandra mentioned the deal I had made with Fiona,” Sarya said, looking at her feet. “I wasn’t sure if that had changed your thoughts about me.”

“I apologize,” Cullen said gently, causing Sarya to look up at him at the calmness of his voice. “I have been told I get very, ah, passionate when it comes to my duties. I may have my opinions on how I would have chosen to proceed, but the fact of the matter is that you’ve brought the mages to the Inquisition and we will be able to attempt to close the Breach soon. My only concern is the safety of everyone in Haven- including the mages. You must understand that.”

“I do,” Sarya nodded, relaxing a bit at his words with a sigh. “I hope you know I’ll do my best to ease any tensions. I hope this can end in compromise between both the mages and the Templars- that perhaps they needn’t fear one another. We can all work together.”

“Perhaps we should focus on closing the Breach at the present- one leap at a time,” Cullen chuckled. “At any rate, no, this, ah, definitely doesn’t change my thoughts on you, that is... If you are referring to last night.”

“Oh, good,” Sarya nodded. Her cheeks reddened at his words as she bit the inside of her lip, trying to suppress a grin.

“I should get to the gates,” Cullen said, giving her a gentle smile. “I’m sure the Templars in our ranks will have a lot of questions. I’ll join the others in the War Room shortly.”

“If you need a liaison, I’m happy to help,” Sarya said.

“I’ll keep that in mind, thank you,” Cullen said, gently touching her shoulder before heading out of the Chantry. Sarya turned to watch him walk out the door, finally letting the smile grow on her face.

 

 

     It had been less than a week since the mages had joined the Inquisition at Haven. There were definitely tensions between the Templars and mages, but Sarya had tried to help dispel them as best she could. Being the Herald of Andraste, as uncomfortable as the title made her, put her in a unique advantage to where most of the Templars actually respected her despite being a mage. It seemed that, in their minds, if there was one mage free of the possibility of abominations, it was her, which allowed her to express concerns for the mages more freely and with a better response from the Templars. Some of the mages had faced brutality at the hands of Templars, and it made sense to request that a certain distance be maintained. After all, this was no Circle, and these mages had joined them of their own free will, no need to treat them like prisoners. The Templars could easily keep watch from afar if it would assuage their fears, and most mages weren’t above reporting one another if they were to see someone suddenly summoning demons- that wasn’t something only Templars feared.

As Sarya walked out the front gates of Haven, her bare feet lightly pressing into the dirt path, she approached the training grounds where Cullen was overlooking their recruits at work. He turned his attention to her as she approached him out of the corner of his eye, his posture relaxing just enough for her to notice.

“Walk with me, Commander?” Sarya casually asked as she approached Cullen.

“Of course, Lady Herald,” Cullen nodded, handing off a report to the man next to him. “Lieutenant, make sure they continue to improve. I want them ready for tomorrow.”

“Yes, Commander,” the lieutenant nodded, turning his attention to the sparring soldiers.

“We're making great progress. Our army will be ready to help you close the Breach tomorrow along with the mages. There is still tension between the mages and our Templar recruits, however your interventions have helped quite a bit,” Cullen said, walking with Sarya as she led him down a trail mostly covered in snow. Out of eyeshot of the camp they walked closely together, Cullen's gloved fingers just barely brushing against Sarya's bare hand as if he was wanting to grasp her hand but too shy to do so. He looked around the further they walked, not having traveled this area of Haven himself. “Where are we going?”

“I thought you could use a break, even for a moment,” Sarya smiled, taking them off the trail for a few minutes until they reached the top of a hill. It was still snowy there, but the lack of tree coverage had allowed patches of the snow to melt, small yellow wildflowers popping out of the ground amongst patches of elfroot. A chuckle escaped Cullen's throat in understanding.

“This is where you found the wildflowers that day,” he said, smiling as he looked around. Sarya nodded, looking at him.

“I did promise I’d take you here after I returned from Redcliffe,” Sarya said. “I thought now would be a good time. I think even just a moment without swords is warranted with everything going on.”

They smiled at one another for a moment before Cullen looked back at a patch of the flowers, rubbing the back of his neck.

“I, ah, never had the chance to really... talk with you privately after you returned,” he said. “About what happened between us that night.”

“Are you regretting it now?” Sarya teased.

“What? Maker, no, I-” he let out a breath, the gentle smile returning to his face as he saw the smile on hers. “I regret nothing of that moment, no. It was very… Nice.”

“I thought so too,” Sarya said quietly, biting her lip.

“Good, that's... good,” he said, smiling at her for another moment before getting that shy, nervous look on his face again. Sarya relished it; it was the only time she got to see Cullen ever really let his guard down. He was always so confident, standing so tall, always the Commander of the Inquisition’s forces. Out here, out of the earshot of the practice field, he was just Cullen. “I, ah, just wasn't sure what it meant to you. That is, if you wanted...”

Sarya laughed as he sighed, causing him to raise an eyebrow at her.

“I'm sorry,” Sarya said, giving him an encouraging smile as she leaned up against the trunk of one of the trees at the edge of the grove. “You just get so flustered around me, it's… sweet. You're not what I expected in an ex Templar.”

Cullen chuckled, opening his mouth to try to stumble out some more words, only for Sarya to cut in.

“Cullen, I genuinely like you... I would be glad to see where this goes if you'd like to as well,” she said, her cheeks tinting red as she looked at her feet.

“I'd like that very much,” Cullen said, stepping over towards her. Sarya looked up as he neared her, his hand reaching out to gently push some of her loose hair behind her long ear. His hand resting on the side of her face, Sarya closed her eyes as he leaned down to kiss her. Her heart fluttered, her hands gripping gently onto the fabric of his mantel that draped over his armor. A hand rested on her hips as her arms reached up and around his neck, pulling him towards her as she continued to lean against the tree. Warming spell or no, Sarya was sure that the snow around them could have melted from them kissing alone. The fur from the mantle of his coat brushed the sides of her face, holding in the heat that escaped their mouths when they occasionally came up for air. There was something between their lips, it almost felt like electricity. Sarya's tongue found his, their breaths becoming heavier as she strung her fingers into his hair, his hands moving to her back, both trying to hold the other as close as possible. After a few minutes Cullen broke their kiss, looking warmly down at her.

“We should... probably get back,” Cullen breathed, his face slightly red, trying to control the desire that grew in him the longer he kissed her. He was a patient, controlled man, but kissing her was bringing out something he hadn't felt in longer than he cared to admit.

“Of course,” Sarya nodded in agreement, a mischievous smirk on her face as she pulled him down again to kiss her. Cullen chuckled against her lips, indulging her a bit longer before pulling away again.

“Cullen?” Sarya asked quietly as she looked down at her feet, her chin staying tilted downward just slightly as she looked up at him under long lashes.

“Yes, Sarya?” Cullen breathed. Maker, that look she was giving him was not helping him calm himself. That was the look he was fairly certain the Chantry Mothers meant when they had mentioned temptations that could cause a Templar to stray, and he was suddenly very aware of how willing he was to give in to it.

“Be careful tomorrow,” she said. “I'd like to continue this when we all return.”

“I'd like that as well,” Cullen said, giving her a small smile as he placed his gloved hand gently against the side of her face. Sarya smiled, closing her eyes for a moment as she rested her head against his palm before they began their walk back to Haven.

 

 

     Templars were never to fraternize with mages. They should keep a general distance, only ever observing or stepping in to keep them in line when needed. They weren't to become friends, and absolutely never to be romantic with them. It hadn't been long since Cullen had left the Templar Order; long enough to make way on his new path, but not long enough to shake some of the nagging voices in his head. Those voices had long spoken to him after he had met the Herald- Sarya, she hates it when you call her the Herald- and those nagging reminders had fought with him relentlessly. He may not have agreed with the decisions of the Order in the end, but some things did make sense.

What if you get too close to her? She's a mage, she'll always be in danger of becoming an abomination, especially with how much time she spends around the rifts. Who knows if the mark leaves her even more susceptible? You remember what happened in Kinloch, how many died. Will you be able to do what must be done if it comes to that? Do you even deserve someone like her after how you treated mages in Kirkwall?

That rationalizing voice in his head had been enough for a while. Having been off of lyrium for a short time now, the withdrawals still coming and going like storms for him, it certainly helped enhance that voice that told him no, that it was dangerous, that he was undeserving. But then she had begun asking him about his life, and he hers. There was something interesting about her life, foreign and unknown since many Dalish clans kept from humans as much as possible- especially clan Lavellan, by her account. She came back from every mission victorious with new allies and more confidence, growing stronger every day. Yet still she found time to walk around barefoot without concern, staring up at the snow falling as a child would the first of the season. He had worried for her more than he could rationalize when he had carried her to her cabin after the mark had thrown her to the ground in front of Haven; not just for what would happen to them all if the mark were to kill her, but for her. And then the kiss they had shared when she had returned from Redcliffe… any rationalization in his mind had gone out the window, so to speak, after that.

Cullen had watched her help train some of the mages who had joined their ranks, the ones who had been young and just starting out in the Circles when the rebellion had begun. She had built up their confidence, provided them counsel of how to resist demons and how to wake themselves from a Fade dream if needed. And when it came time to close the Breach, upon the initial assault when they were fending off the demons that poured from the Breach, he had seen her face them, fierce and strong, the fright gone from her that he had seen that first time he had fought near her when he had only known her as a prisoner. When she raised her hand up to the sky, blazing green, he could see only the slightest hint of pain as she fought to keep it hidden amongst everyone's close watch as she poured her soul into the act, falling to the ground as it cracked like thunder and the Breach closed. Cullen had taken a step forward to help her, quickly beaten there by Dorian as he pulled her to her feet. The fierceness had left her face, replaced with a smile of relief as Dorian helped balance her in her exhaustion. Her eyes had found Cullen's, her face softening into a warmth she seemed to reserve for him and him alone, one that made his heart beat and his face swell with pride as he nodded at her in recognition as soldiers, Templars, and mages alike cheered all around for her.

If he had still been in the same mindset as when he was the Knight-Captain of Kirkwall he may have been suspicious that she had used some kind of blood magic to enamour him so much to her. He knew it wasn't just him, though: her inner circle, constantly growing with people who flocked to her side to help her close rifts and share an adventure with her, these were people who saw her as she was, not as the Herald of Andraste, but as Sarya, a compassionate mage who would go out of her way to clean their wounds and fuss over them after every small battle, a woman who was working to make their world a better place while fighting this Elder One and his power. He knew this wasn't blood magic. How could he not be drawn to a woman who was both courageous in a battle and carried the most caring heart? Cullen was a Templar no longer; he could try to allow himself her affection.

 

 

     Haven was bursting with celebration when they returned from the Breach. The hole in the sky was now a scar, the night sky speckled with stars and moonlight instead of the foreboding green that had marred so much of it before. Bonfires roared, people sung and danced to music, Templars and mages celebrating together, their cares gone for the night. Having spent some time celebrating with her friends, Sarya now slipped away from the celebration, her drink in her hand. She made her way into the Chantry, its halls quiet, dimly lit by candles burning low at this hour. Still in her light armor, her boots echoed quietly against the stone as she made her way to the War Room, shutting the door behind her. Setting her still mostly full mug on the table and setting her staff to the side, she leaned her hands forward, looking down at the map. She could remove her piece from the Breach now that it was closed, but what next? What of this Elder One whom Alexius had served? Surely closing the Breach warranted a retaliation?

“The people of Haven celebrate your victory. You should be enjoying it as well.”

Sarya spun around, startled by Cullen's voice. She gave a small laugh; she was too comfortable in the War Room by now, she had let her guard down.

“This isn’t over,” Sarya said, leaning back against the table as he shut the door and approached her. “Alexius spoke of an Elder One, someone he served. I can't imagine he'll be happy we closed the Breach.”

“I fear our work will never be done,” Cullen said, giving Sarya a comforting smile. What little drink Sarya had partaken in warmed her body, or was that from her staring at him? She found herself grinning longingly at Cullen as he stood in front of her, watching as he picked up her piece from the board, turning it in his hand. “You’ve given so much to our cause. You deserve at least one night of peace.”

“Then help me find it,” Sarya breathed, well aware of how close he was standing to her. Cullen set the piece down on the map, his hands resting on either side of her on the table as he leaned down to kiss her. Liquid courage begged Sarya to immediately grip her fingers in his hair, her chest pushing against the metal of his breastplate as she pulled him closer to her. Their kisses, at first soft and gentle, quickly became heated, their breaths heavy against one another. Cullen's hands moved to her waistline, helping Sarya up as she moved to sit on the table, the sound of map pieces rolling as they disturbed them. Their tongues found one another as he settled between her legs, hearts beating heavily as Cullen's hand began gingerly sliding up the front of her shirt.

Knock. Knock.

The knocks were rapid, and Cullen pulled away from Sarya quickly before the door opened. One of Cullen's soldiers stood in the doorway, face reddening slightly as he saw their flushed cheeks and heavy breaths.

“S- Sorry to disturb you, sers,” the soldier said, clearing his throat. “Commander, ser Rylen requests your presence at the gate, ser. Says it's urgent.”

“Of course,” Cullen nodded, for once glad for the cold of Haven; at least his face wouldn't be as flushed by the time he got to Rylen, else he'd never hear the end of it. “Tell him I'll be there shortly.”

The soldier nodded, giving a small bow as he closed the door behind him. Cullen sighed, running his hand through his hair.

No rest for the wicked? Is that how you said it goes?” Sarya asked, a grin on her face at his flustered look.

“Something like that,” Cullen chuckled, looking at her. “I'd better not keep the Captain waiting. You should enjoy the festivities in the meantime.”

Sarya leaned into the short kiss he gave her, wishing that it could last longer. She watched Cullen leave the war room, sighing as she looked at her mug of ale.

“Nothing a little more won't help,” she told herself as she grabbed it, taking a drink before heading back out. Once outside, Sarya stood near the edge of one of the shorter walls not far from the Chantry, watching everyone with a tired smile on her face. Closing the Breach had taken an immense amount of energy, but she found herself not wanting to retire to her cabin just yet. The smiles, the laughter, the happiness that radiated from everyone around her, this was what all the fighting had been for.

“Solas confirms the heavens are scarred but calm. The Breach has been sealed.”

Sarya turned to see Cassandra walking towards her, a triumphant grin on her face.

“Word of your heroism has spread,” Cassandra said.

“Heroism? You know how many were involved,” Sarya said, a modest laugh escaping her. “Luck put me in the center.”

“A strange kind of luck,” Cassandra nodded. “I’m not sure if we need more or less of it... But you’re right, this was a victory of alliance. One of the few in recent history. With the Breach closed, that alliance will need new focus.”

Sarya opened her mouth to respond, only to pause as the sound of bells rang out from the gates. She and Cassandra turned their attention to the commotion as people began to scurry.

“Forces approaching! To arms!” Cullen’s voice called out among all the noise. Sarya’s heart sped up, her stomach dropping. She knew rest wouldn’t come soon, but she had no idea the next threat would have shown itself so quickly.

“We must get to the gates!” Cassandra said quickly, pulling out her sword. Her staff in her hand, Sarya followed Cassandra as they made haste towards the front gate. Refugees ran the opposite direction, some to the tavern and cabins, others to the Chantry, while soldiers and mages began forming near the gate.

“Never a dull moment for Southerners, is there?” Dorian said, half-joking as he joined Sarya as she neared the gate.

“You’re telling me,” Sarya shook her head. “And here I was hoping I could get one good night's rest for once.”

“I knew it was too easy,” Varric mumbled.

“Cullen?” Cassandra called out as they neared him.

“One watchguard reporting,” Cullen said, his demeanor completely changed from when Sarya had seen him earlier. He stood tall, the Templar in him showing as he readied himself. “It’s a massive force, the bulk of the mountain.”

“Under what banner?” Josephine asked.

“None.”

None?!” Josephine repeated, her voice desperate and confused. They looked towards the gate as it shook, a light shining through it for just a moment before a voice called out from behind it.

“I can’t come in unless you open!” The voice pleaded. It sounded desperate, in need of help.

“Open it!” Sarya commanded, rushing towards the gate as a soldier opened it for her.

“Herald, wait!” Cullen called out, running after Sarya as she ran out of the gate. An enemy soldier, large and heavily armored, fell to the ground, a boy who looked not much older than twenty in a large hat standing behind it with a dagger. Cullen drew his sword, staying at Sarya’s side as she ran out towards him.

“I’m Cole. I came to warn you. To help,” the boy said, fear in his eyes that made Sarya relax at his presence. “People are coming to hurt you. You... probably already know this.”

“What’s going on?” Sarya asked, her voice calm in an attempt to assuage the fear in Cole’s eyes.

“The Templars come to kill you,” Cole said, his voice becoming more grave.

Templars?!” Cullen shouted as he pointed his finger at Cole, his sudden movement and tone startling the boy and causing him to shift back on his feet as Cullen stepped towards him. “Is this the order’s response to our talks with the mages? Attacking blindly!”

“The Red Templars went to the Elder One,” Cole said, looking at Sarya. “You know him? He knows you. You took his mages.”

Sarya and Cullen followed Cole’s gaze as he pointed to a tall hill on the mountain where a man in red armor stood wielding a large sword, a cloud of black forming next to him as a man- a demon? Sarya couldn’t put words to it- materialized next to him. Something in her gut told her, she knew who it was: the Elder One.

“I know that man,” Cullen breathed, his voice solemn as he looked at the man next to the Elder One, each staring at the other for a moment before the man switched his gaze to the Eder One. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of soldiers marched past them towards Haven, torches aglow and swords in their hands.

“He’s very angry that you took his mages,” Cole said, his voice quivering ever so slightly.

“Cullen, give me a plan! Anything!” Sarya said desperately, looking to Cullen.

“Haven is no fortress. If we are to withstand this monster we must control the battle,” Cullen said, looking away from the force and back to Sarya. “Use everything you can.”

“Cullen,” Sarya breathed, catching his arm with her hand before he turned away. He looked down at her, and for a moment she saw a hint of concern behind his eyes. “Keep safe.”

“You as well,” Cullen said quietly, giving her a confident nod. Sarya let go of him as he turned to address the Inquisition’s forces behind them.

“Mages! You have sanction to engage them!” Cullen said, looking at the mages that had gathered near the soldiers. “That is Samson, he will not make it easy! Inquisition, with the Herald! For your lives, for all of us!”

 

     The battle was not easy. Wave after wave of Red Templar soldiers came at the Inquisition’s forces, Sarya and her group doing their best to protect the trebuchets and allow them time to reload. Some of the Red Templars were like something out of Sarya’s nightmares from the future: red lyrium growing out of them, some barely resembling a person anymore, lost to the madness that grew from them. These monsters fought harder and faster than any of the other opposing soldiers, rivaling perhaps the demons she had faced while closing rifts. Potions only did so much to help conserve her energy after closing the Breach, but the adrenaline of the battle helped give her that extra push she needed to keep going. After helping clear the battle from around two of the trebuchets, they were able to launch a blow that buried a portion of the forces under snow in an avalanche. Just as they began celebrating their victory, a fireball- was that what it was? Or lightning, but made from flame?- fell from the sky, blowing the trebuchet to pieces, a dragon soaring over their heads after the blow. A dragon.

“Elgar’nan, what did I do to deserve this?!” Sarya breathed, falling back quickly with the others as the dragon soared by again. Bodies littered the outside of Haven, both from the Inquisition and the opposing force. As they ran through the gates, the dragon flew overhead once more as they shut the gates and threw down the large wooden bolt.

“We need everyone back to the Chantry! It’s the one building that might hold against that… Beast!” Cullen called out to anyone who could listen. Sarya looked around Haven. Buildings aflame, people screaming, there wasn’t enough time to help everyone if they stuck together.

“Solas, Bull, Blackwall, Sera, head to the left, help anyone you can who’s trapped or needs help getting to the Chantry,” Sarya said, her heart pounding. “We’ll head to the right, circle around and meet back at the Chantry.”

They all nodded, taking off with their respective groups. As Sarya heard screaming from the tavern, she sent Vivienne and Cassandra off ahead as she, Dorian, and Varric pulled people from the falling rafters, getting them out before the building collapsed. The fire singed the edge of her armor and burnt her hand, but she had no time to stop. She pressed her hand against the burn, cooling it with ice as she ran with the others to the Chantry. The doors shut behind them, Sarya turned to find Cole consoling Chancellor Roderick as he lay bleeding on the floor of the Chantry, having been stabbed by a Red Templar.

“Herald, our position is not good,” Cullen said, approaching Sarya quickly. “That dragon stole back any time you might have earned us.”

“I’ve seen an archdemon. I was in the Fade, but it looked like that,” Cole said.

“I don’t care what it looks like!” Cullen said, his voice serious, making Cole flinch back again. “It’s cut a path for that army! They’ll kill everyone in Haven!”

“The Elder One doesn’t care about the village. He only wants the Herald,” Cole said, looking at Sarya.

“I don’t care what he wants,” Sarya shook her head. “How do I stop him?”

“It won’t be easy,” Cole frowned. “He has a dragon.”

“We know what he..!” Cullen sighed, shaking his head as he turned to Sarya. “There are no tactics to make this survivable. The only thing that slowed them was the avalanche... We could turn the remaining trebuchet, cause one last slide.”

“We’re overrun,” Sarya said, furrowing her brow. “To hit the enemy we’d bury Haven!”

“We’re dying, but we can decide how,” Cullen said, his voice still intense but his face softening as he saw the desperation in hers. “Not many get that choice.”

“Chancellor Roderick can help, he wants to say it before he dies,” Cole said softly, looking to Roderick.

“There is a path. You wouldn’t know it unless you’d made the summer pilgrimage as I have,” Roderick nodded, looking towards the door that led to the War Room before looking up at Sarya. “The people can escape. She must have shown me. Andraste must have shown me so I could… tell you.”

Sarya paused as she looked at Roderick; where before he had looked at her with disdain and mistrust, now he looked at her with hope and anticipation. A matter of hours had changed so much. She looked back at Cullen hopefully.

“What about it, Cullen? Will it work? Could you get everyone out?” She asked.

“Possibly,” Cullen nodded, his voice softening as he looked at Sarya, the desperation in her eyes changed to determination. “But what of your escape?”

Sarya looked away from Cullen. She knew what had to be done. The people couldn’t escape with the enemy still on their trail. If so few knew of the path Roderick spoke of, if Sarya did bury Haven, they would have the element of the enemy believing them all buried and would have time to escape. She wouldn't escape it, though, that was certain. There was a tightness in her chest at the thought, but what else was to be done? She couldn't let them all die. She had closed the Breach, her job was done. Perhaps this was the final thing she was meant to do.

“Perhaps you will surprise it, find a way,” Cullen said softly, motioning for everyone to follow Roderick and Cole out. Sarya turned towards the door as everyone left, her heart pounding as she heard the roar of the dragon outside. She began to take a step when she felt a hand on her arm.

“If we are to have a chance- if you are to have a chance- make that thing hear you,” Cullen said softly as he held onto her, his grip tight as if he were afraid to let her go.

“Cullen, I-” Sarya was cut off by his kiss as he pulled her towards him. She leaned into him, trying to memorize the feeling of his lips if this were to be the last time she felt them. She wondered what would have happened had they met under different circumstances: would they have grown towards one another, an ex Templar and a Dalish mage? What would their life had looked like without all the chaos and death and destruction surrounding them? She looked up at him as he pulled away, trying to shake off the tears that threatened to escape her as fear seeped past her defenses.

“You will find a way,” Cullen said confidently, locking his eyes with hers. “Maker watch over you. You will find a way.”

Sarya nodded as he turned to leave, wiping her eyes as she headed out of the Chantry with Varric, Dorian, and Cassandra, who had opted to stay by her side while the others helped the people on the path.

“Sooo... You and Curly, huh?” Varric commented, amusement coating his tongue.

“Really, Varric? You think now is a good time?” Cassandra scoffed at his timing, easily seeing the distress in Sarya’s face that she tried so hard to hide.

“Hey, we’re about to be eaten by a dragon, when is there a better time?” Varric frowned.

“If that is how we are to look at it,” Cassandra sighed, giving in as she looked at Sarya with a smirk. “I must admit, it is like something out of a book of forbidden romance: a Templar and a mage. Who would have expected it?”

Sarya laughed, choking down tears as she shook her head, shifting her focus as they neared the trebuchet. They could see Red Templars heading their way, they had to make it, for everyone’s sake. They fought through them, wave after wave as they tried to load the trebuchet. They seemed endless, and Sarya found her strength slipping as they fought through the last round of them. Quickly she ran to the trebuchet, winding it up to aim for one last launch. Sarya looked above them as she saw the shadow of the dragon as it flew in, breathing fire all around them. She rolled as she was knocked to the ground by the force of the flames as it blew crates of supplies into nothing more than splinters and ash. She looked behind her where Varric, Dorian, and Cassandra stood, a wall of flames between them too hot to cross.

“Go!” Sarya shouted to the others as they stepped towards her. “Find the others, get out!”

She slowly rose as they fled on her word, turning to see the ghastly figure she had seen from afar on the mountain now emerging from the flames ahead of her behind the trebuchet. Tall and horrific, the Elder one approached her. The skin on his face stretched to show the muscle beneath, hardly resembling a man but more of something Sarya would have expected to fall from the Fade itself. She spun around as the dragon landed behind her, roaring terribly as it watched her through hungry eyes.

“Enough!” The Elder One yelled, blasting a wind of energy at Sarya to draw her attention from the dragon to him. “Pretender. You toy with forces beyond your ken. No more.”

“What are you?” Sarya breathed, trying to hide the fear that threatened to shake beneath her skin. “Why are you doing this?!”

“Mortals beg for truth they cannot have,” the Elder One shook his head, his eyes surveying her as she stood before him. She was tiny, no more than a mortal elf far out of her comfort zone, ill equipped to face him. “It is beyond what you are. What I was. Know me. Know what you have pretended to be. Exalt the Elder One! The will that is Corypheus.”

Corypheus pointed at her as he took another step forward, standing tall and proud as he towered above her.

“You will kneel,” he said confidently, as if giving her a chance.

“These people are innocent,” Sarya shook her head. “You’re forcing this fight for no reason!”

“Innocent?” Corypheus snarled. “You will resist. You will always resist. It matters not.”

Sarya looked to his hand which held an orb with ancient markings covering. It looked… familiar to her, though she didn’t know how.

“I am here for the Anchor. The process of removing it begins now,” Corypheus said. The orb in his hand flared with a red magic, and as he held his hand out towards Sarya his hand glowed the same red. The mark on her hand flared out, painful and hot, causing her to cry out in pain as she fell to her knees. “It is your fault, Herald. You interrupted a ritual years in planning and instead of dying you stole its purpose. I do not know how you survived, but what marks you as touched, what you flail at rifts, I crafted to assault the very heaven. And you used the Anchor to undo my work! The gall!”

“Take it! I didn’t ask for this!” Sarya cried out. The pain was unbearable as the mark- the Anchor? Is that what he called it?- threatened to rip from her hand as her vision blurred from the pain.

“Mortals have always cried thus,” Corypheus said, his voice unsympathetic. “Praise me, for I would end the silence that answers!”

He walked to her, reaching down and grabbing her wrist roughly as he pulled her from the ground. Sarya’s heart pounded as he lifted her feet from the ground as if she weighed nothing, holding her as high up as he could.

“I once breached the Fade in the name of another, to serve the Old Gods of the Empire in person,” Corypheus spoke, watching the glow of the Anchor in her hand as Sarya struggled in vain to break free from his hold, unphasing him. “I found only chaos and corruption, dead whispers. For a thousand years I was confused, no more. I have gathered the will to return under no name but my own, to champion withered Tevinter and correct this blighted world. Beg that I succeed, for I have seen the throne of the gods, and it was empty!”

Sarya held her breath as he threw her by the arm, a pained yell escaping her as her back hit the trebuchet. She looked where her staff lay at his feet, there was no way she could reach it. Even if she could, she knew her energy was low, no spell she could possibly cast would do much damage to this creature.

“The Anchor is permanent,” Corypheus said, distaste on his tongue. “You have spoiled it with your stumbling!”

Sarya looked in front of her where a sword lay forgotten in the chaos. She scrambled to her feet, grabbing it and holding it in front of her as she leaned in pain against the trebuchet. Who was she kidding? She didn’t know how to wield a sword, much less fight with one. Still, despite how tired she was, she couldn’t back down yet. She had to hold his focus for long enough for the others to get away.

“So be it,” Corypheus said, his dragon following closely behind him as he walked towards the trebuchet. “I will begin again, find another way to give this world the nation and God it requires.”

Sarya looked up to the mountains behind the Chantry, a red flare shooting up into the sky like some beacon of hope. Corypheus and his dragon faced her, their back to the faint light, the escape still a secret. She let out a breath of relief; they made it. They would be safe for now. She had done her job.

“And you,” Corypheus spoke, pulling Sarya’s attention back to him. “I will not suffer even an unknowing rival. You must die.”

The sword still gripped tightly in her hand, Sarya looked to her left where the lever for the trebuchet was, all wound up and ready to let loose on the mountain. She looked back at Corypheus, a determined look in her eyes.

Tel’athim. Your arrogance blinds you,” she smirked, the look on her face causing Corypheus to glower at her. “If I’m dying, at least I’ll take you with me!”

She kicked the lever of the trebuchet with all her strength, the lever spinning wildly as the trebuchet flung a large boulder at the mountain. They all turned their heads as it impacted on the peak of the mountain high above, a rumbling shaking the earth beneath them as an avalanche began. With Corypheus and his dragon distracted, Sarya dropped the sword and began running as fast as her feet would carry her. She could hear the shrieking roar of the dragon behind her, unaware if the wind she felt against her was from its wings taking off or from the wind that began roaring from the incoming avalanche. She jumped as she reached the edge of the wooden planked deck she had been running across, the force from the avalanche thrusting her through more wooden planks and plunging her into darkness.

Chapter Text

Then did I see the world spread before me,

Sky-reaching mountains arrayed as a crown,

Kingdom like jewels, glistering gemstones

Strung ‘cross the earth as a necklace of pearl.

“All this is yours,” spake the World-Maker.

“Join Me in heaven and sorrow no more.”

- Andraste 1:12

 

 

     Sarya awoke in cold and darkness. Ice covered the the ground she lied on, the air filled with silence. Snow had covered the way she had fallen through to whatever underground cavern she was in, almost all light gone save for the glow of the mark on her hand. She ached as she pulled herself to stand. Her body felt bruised, her skin sore to the touch. How long had she been out? Her staff was gone, most likely buried in the snow with the rest of Haven above. She wanted to build a fire, to get warm, but her energy was so low. If the Inquisition had made it as the flare had told her, she should move on before they were lost to her. She started out slow, her feet slightly dragging in her pain.

“Couldn’t have attacked in spring when this mountain would be covered in elfroot and this cavern would be flowing with water, could you, Corypheus?” Sarya mumbled, clinging to the cavern wall as she slipped on the ice beneath her boots until she made it to a dryer area.

She slowly made her way out of the series of connecting frozen waterways, leading her to the same side of the mountain the others would have come out on. She looked in the darkness, trying to orient herself in the blizzard. The wind was harsh against her face, her light armor doing little to keep out the cold in these conditions. She tried to keep a steady pace; if they had traveled in these same conditions, perhaps she would be able to catch up to them since there was no one to slow her pace but herself.

She didn’t know how long she had walked for. She had increased her pace at first, moving as quickly as possible in her condition. She was light on the snow, but her boots managed to sink just far enough into the drifts to slow her and make it more difficult. Sarya looked down at the anchor on her hand as she trudged through the snow, the glowing steady but not painful. It seemed to hum, content for the moment lighting her way as if it wanted her to survive.

What a strange idea, she thought to herself. As if it were a living thing. Still, it was connected to the Fade; it wasn’t out of the question that it should have desires of its own.

Each cold campsite she came across gave her hope. Perhaps she was gaining on them. At the very least she was on the right path. She shivered, her body frozen to the bone as she held the anchor close to her body, trying to take in the small bit of heat that it gave off with its constant glow. She was exhausted, but she couldn’t stop; thirsty, but she would freeze faster if she drank the snow, and she had no energy to melt it with magic. The cold even seemed to leave her after a while, her body strangely warm without any heat providing her relief as the blizzard subsided. Her footsteps had slowed considerably by the time she had found the next abandoned campsite, the faintest hint of smouldering ashes left behind. She was too tired to think of what that meant, if she were closer to them than before. She looked ahead of her as she climbed a hill of snow, the last bit of her strength leaving her as she reached the top. She fell to her knees, hearing the distant sound of shouting as she fell face first into the snow, giving in to sleep.

 

 

     Sarya ran her fingers through the tall green grass as she walked through it, barefoot and calm. The sky up ahead swirled in a mist of gold and green and black, the sun beating down on her in an attempt to warm her frozen body. She ached, but she felt at peace in the field. A halla leaped through the grass to her right, dark and black as the night sky, wisps of smoke trailing behind it as it moved. Sarya knew this place well. She had come here many times in her dreams before everything with the mark had began. This was the Fade, the way she had seen it so often as she slept in the fields and forests of the Free Marches. Strange, she thought, to see it this way so far from home.

“You are tired, Herald of Andraste,” a voice spoke to her. Sarya turned to face a spirit, a white embodiment of shining light. It was unfamiliar to her, but for some reason she didn’t fear it.

“So many call me that,” Sarya said, looking up at the swirling sky as a large winged creature floated by. “I don’t know if I’m worthy of their praise, no matter how much I disagree with the title.”

“They believe you died for them, as Andraste did once before,” the spirit said as it floated to her side, seemingly growing as it approached her until it was as tall as an ancient tree.

“Andraste was burned as a heretic after declaring a holy war in the name of her god,” Sarya said, seemingly uninterested in the comparison. “I only did what I could to save the innocent.”

Let the blade pass through the flesh, let my blood touch the ground, let my cry touch their hearts. Let mine be the last sacrifice,” the spirit quoted, speaking from the Chant of Light.

“Not often I come across an Andrastian spirit,” Sarya said, furrowing her brow as she brought her attention to it. She didn’t know the verse, but she had been around Andrastians enough in the past two months to know the Chant of Light when they started.

“You gave your life for them, so that they may survive,” the spirit said. “Your work may be done, should you be ready to rest. You will warm again, your pain will fade. Much awaits you here, Herald of Andraste.”

Sarya looked at the hand the spirit stretched towards her, fingers long and shining white as the rest of it, its knuckles glistening as if adorned by jewels. She shivered, still so cold despite the light that poured down on them. She was tired, so very tired. The wind blew by, a faint voice riding on it, gentle and warm and familiar. She caught a few words, more lines from the Chant of Light, but these did not come from the spirit in front of her. She looked at her hand where the anchor lay dormant for the moment, the faint scar on her palm reminding her of all that would be should Corypheus succeed.

“There’s still much to be done,” she shook her head, looking up at the spirit as it withdrew its hand. “Thank you for the offer. But I cannot stay.”

 

 

     When they had found the Herald in the snow, it had seemed unreal. For her to find her way through the blizzard in as short a time as she did was nothing less than a miracle. Cassandra had first spotted her as she fell, Cullen quickly taking off his mantel and wrapping it around her in an attempt to bring warmth to her chilled body as he carried her back to the camp. The healers had done all they could, covering her with blankets to warm her, the mages closest to Sarya helping as much as they could. All they could do was wait to see if she would wake.

Cullen sat at the side of Sarya’s cot, his hands clasped around her cold hand, his gauntlets off in an attempt to transfer the warmth from his hands to her. Vivienne had cast an enchantment to help warm her blankets, but still she felt frozen to him. He pressed his forehead against the back of his hand, gripping hers tight as ever as he spoke in a low breath to whatever ears may be on the wind.

How shall your children apology make? We have forgotten, in ignorance stumbling, only a Light in this darken'd time breaks. Call to Your children, teach us Your greatness. What has been forgotten has not yet been lost.”

Cullen didn't know what else to do. Lost in the cold abyss of the mountains, who else were they to turn to than Andraste, She who had sent their Herald to them and She alone? Would Andraste really send Sarya to the people who needed her the most, only to cruelly tear her away when they were so lost? His heart had only just begun to grow for her. He longed to touch her lips again, to feel her alive in his arms. Short as their flirtations had been, he couldn’t bare to lose her now. Not again, not after he had watched her walk away to certain death once already.

Cullen lifted his gaze quickly as he heard his name; soft, whispered, but most definitely his name. He glanced to see Sarya looking at him through tired eyes, a weak smile creeping onto her face as he met her eyes.

“Thank the Maker,” Cullen breathed, placing a warm hand on the top of her head, relief washing over him as her smile grew with his touch.

“I wasn’t ready,” she said quietly, her voice hoarse from the cold.

“Nor was I,” Cullen nodded, unsure of what she spoke of but knowing what it meant to him. He kissed her hand, holding it close before looking at her again. “I'll get the healers. They’ll want to make sure you’re recovering well.”

Cullen paused from standing as she weakly gripped his hand, fear in her eyes.

“Please, don't go,” she begged. Cullen sat again at her side, placing his free hand on the side of her face.

“I'll return with them. I won’t not leave you, I promise you that,” he said, squeezing her hand encouragingly. He waited until she nodded, releasing her grip on him. Sarya relished the warmth from his hands, the cold returning as he left. Although the blankets on her were warm, her insides still felt like ice. Cullen returned shortly with a healer who quickly went to work, helping to get fluids into Sarya now that she was awake.

“You’re alive,” Cassandra said gleefully, standing over Sarya with a relieved smile on her face. “Thank the Maker.”

 Sarya opened her mouth to talk, grimacing as she struggled to sit up.

“You need to rest,” Cullen shook his head, his hand resting gently on her shoulder as he stopped her.

“I’ll make sure the others are aware,” Cassandra assured Sarya, giving her another smile. “And that they leave their visiting until you have more strength.”

“Thank you,” Sarya said, smiling weakly at Cassandra as she left. She turned to Cullen, her face serious as everything came back to her: Corypheus, his dragon, the things he had said about the Anchor. “Cullen, the Elder One, you must know-”

“Later, when you’ve rested. I’m sure the others will want to hear as well, no need to make you repeat it,” Cullen smiled kindly at her, his hand resting gently on the top of her head. As her face relaxed, he lowered his voice, speaking to her quietly, his face more somber. Everything that had happened, everything that could have… “You stayed behind in Haven, you could have… I will not allow the events at Haven to happen again. You have my word.”

 

 

     It would take days for Sarya to feel warm again, days they didn't have. The soldiers were tired, the people cold even as they clung to their fires. When night came the day after she awoke, she lay on a cot near Mother Giselle, staring up at the makeshift canopy above them as she listened to Cassandra, Leliana, Cullen, and Josephine argue about what was to be done next. Sarya had told them all she had learned when she had faced Corypheus, and it was daunting. Corypheus had caught them off guard with his massive army, and tempers were high.

“What would you have me tell them? This isn’t what we asked them to do!” Cullen shouted.

“We cannot simply ignore this! We must find a way!” Cassandra responded, her voice equally as loud.

“And who put you in charge? We need a consensus, or we have nothing!”

“Please, we must use reason!” Josephine begged. “Without the infrastructure of the Inquisition, we’re hobbled!”

“That can’t come from nowhere!”

“She didn’t say it could!” Leliana scoffed at Cullen. Sarya sat up, looking at the four of them as they stood by the fire, arguing with one another. She should be there, she should be helping them figure out what was to be done next, but everyone had taken to making her rest, assuring her that everyone would be taken care of. Listening to them was more exhausting than being on her feet in the thick of it.

“Shh, you need to rest,” Mother Giselle said, her voice quiet and gentle as she looked over at Sarya, seeing that she was awake.

“They’ve been at it for hours,” Sarya sighed.

“They have that luxury, thanks to you,” Mother Giselle said. “The enemy could not follow, and with time to doubt, we turn to blame. Infighting may threaten as much as this Corypheus.”

“If they’re arguing about what we do next, I need to be there,” Sarya frowned, looking at her. “I should help.”

“Another heated voice won’t help, even yours. Perhaps especially yours,” Mother Giselle said, a knowing smile small on her face. “Our leaders struggle because of what we survivors witnessed. We saw our defender stand… and fall. And now we have seen her return.”

Sarya shook her head as she sat up fully, swinging her feet over the edge of the cot. Again with this Herald business.

“I barely escaped the avalanche, but I didn’t die,” Sarya said, her voice perhaps a bit more rough than she meant. It was no light matter for her, being thought of as a savior sent by someone so many believed to be holy, someone they held so dear to their hearts. All her life she had been warned about humans, about their disdain for elves and mages and how they believed them to be heretics with their elven gods. It seemed like some kind of sick trick, for them to raise her so high with so little information of her or who she was, her own beliefs still held strongly in her heart. Her eyes drifted to the group near the fire, still arguing, some throwing their hands up in frustration. Did they really all believe her to be sent by Andraste as some kind of holy gift to save them from Corypheus?

“I just don’t see how what I believe matters, how anything anyone believes matters right now,” Sarya shook her head. “Corypheus is real, whether the gods sent me or not, whether your Andraste sent me. We can’t match him with hope alone.”

Sarya rose from the cot, her head in a fog. She glanced around as she left the canopy. The four arguing at the fire had dispersed, all of them with defeat on their faces as they went to their respective areas of the camp. Cassandra stood looking over the map laid out on a table, her eyes not really scanning the parchment. Cullen stood nearby, looking around as if trying to figure out what the solution was when much of the camp was already asleep. As Sarya stood at the edge of the canopy she had been lying under, she racked her mind, trying to think of what her clan’s Keeper would do in this situation. She slowly turned to look at Mother Giselle as her voice rose quietly in a melody, ringing out through the camp.

“Shadows fall and hope has fled, steal your heart, the dawn will come,” she sung, walking over to stand near Sarya, as if singing what she could not herself put in words. “The night is long and the path is dark. Look to the sky, for one day soon the dawn will come.”

Sarya’s head turned to Leliana as she joined in, her soprano voice floating above Mother Giselle’s. Sarya hadn’t recognized the song when Mother Giselle had begun, the tune light and soothing and sounding almost like something you would sing to a troubled child. As people one by one joined in she quickly realized it must have been one of the Chantry’s songs. Soldiers joined in, walking closer to where Sarya and Mother Giselle stood, even Cullen, his baritone warm and drifting towards her as he joined from where he stood. Sarya had to stop herself from stepping back as one of the refugees kneeled in front of her, others joining in suit. Suddenly, she was very aware that everyone’s eyes were on her. Not Mother Giselle, her.

Sarya's stomach twisted in knots as the people sang. Everyone. To her. They truly believed she was some sort of prophet sent to them by their blessed Andraste, the entire premise for their religion. Her. A Dalish elf who didn't even believe in the Maker. They had called her the Herald before, but to have everyone singing their devotion and kneeling before her… Her instincts told her to run. Run far away, run home, back to your clan and your forests and fields of halla where you can live in peace with your own kind. But she knew she couldn't; not with this mark on her hand and Corypheus with his dragon. His dragon. Mythal protect her, she didn't know to what end all this would come. She tried her best to not let the color drain from her face as they finished singing, eyes expectantly on her. Finally, as if reaching out to save her, a familiar voice came from behind her.

“A word?” Solas said, nodding his head behind him as Sarya looked at him. Sarya gladly followed him away from the dry camp and up a hill to a snowy embankment that overlooked the mountains. An unlit torch stood among the snow, and with a wave of his hand Solas lit it with a blue flame.

“Thank you for saving me from that,” Sarya muttered, her face troubled now that they were out of sight of the rest.

“The humans have not raised one of our people so high for ages beyond counting,” he said, standing with his hands clasped behind his back as he watched Sarya approach the flame. “Her faith is hard-won, Lethallan, worthy of pride. Save one detail. The threat Corypheus wields? The orb he carried? It is ours.”

“Ours?” Sarya furrowed her brow.

“He must have used it to open the Breach, destroying the Conclave in the process,” Solas nodded. “We must find out how he survived… and we must prepare for their action when they learn the orb is of our people.”

“You think they will retaliate? After what you just saw them all do?” Sarya asked incredulously as she raised her brow.

“How many of those praising you tonight have called you knife-ear behind your back? How many of them cling to the idea of you as their Herald simply because it is the convenient answer for them? Just as this orb being our fault will be the convenient answer then.”

Sarya bit her lip as she looked out at the mountain in front of them. For someone who was quick to point out that he was not Dalish, he sounded just like the people in her clan, just like the ones who warned her to stay away from humans as much as possible.

“Your flirtations with the Commander will not help you when his faith calls him to think otherwise,” Solas said, unflinching at the shock in her eyes at his comment. “I have seen it before, humans intrigued by the elven way of living when they do not come from bustling cities, elves straying down a path that sets them apart from their own. But your Gods and their Maker do not walk hand in hand. He was called to the song just as the rest. Do not forget that.”

“I don’t believe that,” Sarya shook her head, trying to push away the sinking feeling she felt in her stomach at his words. “You may have observed these people, Solas, but you don’t know them as well as I do. I don’t believe they would turn on me for the mistakes of another. Especially not Cullen.”

“Very well. However, faith tends to make martyrs of its champions,” he said, giving her a knowing look. “Whatever the case, if you are to be steadfast in your resolve, that trust cannot come from the wilderness. You will need every advantage.”

“All right,” Sarya nodded, willing to listen. Solas may have been cold in his opinions of those around them, but Sarya knew his advice was invaluable. There would be a truth to what he said: some would look to blame her, and other elves, for Corypheus if they found out that his orb was elven, that an elven orb killed their Divine. If he had a plan to make them trust her more, and elves in turn, she would take it to heart. “What did you have in mind?”

“Scout to the North, be their guide,” Solas said, looking ahead of them into the valley below. Darkness had fallen fast over the land, but the outline of ravines and rocky paths stretched out, lightly illuminated by the moonlight. “There is a place that waits for a force to hold it. There is a place where the Inquisition can build, grow: Skyhold.”

“Skyhold?” Sarya repeated, confusion on her face.

“Long lost to history and the world,” Solas nodded. “It will be a fortress worthy of the Inquisition.”

“How do we find it?” Sarya asked, shaking her head. “I realize you say to the North… I’m no scout, Solas. I- I gathered herbs for my clan, healed wounds, mixed potions-”

“I will help you,” Solas said, giving her a kind smile. “But it must be you who shows it to them, who leads them there. The people look to you for now. You must keep it that way.”

 

 

     Two weeks had gone by since Haven, two weeks of them on the move by foot, ten days since Sarya had encouraged them to redirect their path, asking them to trust her to lead them through the mountain. Snow still littered the mountains around them, but the roads were clear for the most part, even if they were mostly narrow and some overgrown by brambles and other weeds. Sarya had spent most her time with Solas, him talking her through each day how to lead everyone to their destination and where to send scouts in search of food and water for the camp, the two of them scouting ahead whenever rests were made. It was a bit overwhelming, the looks everyone gave her often, their faces full of hope, wondering if their faith in her would pay out as it did before. Still she kept on, thankful for the time she spent scouting ahead with Solas so that she didn't have to see their expectant faces too much at a time. Now that night had fallen, she found herself wandering their temporary camp. She had passed by a fire at one point, where Varric, Dorian, and Bull were deep into a game of Wicked Grace that had the chance of starting a war between three countries; Sarya had politely declined when they had tried to call her over to join, her mind elsewhere. Now, she bit her lip as she approached Cullen's tent. Most of the people had gone to sleep with the sun, save for the soldiers on their night shifts, some sitting around fires and others patrolling the area. Light came from the tent in front of her. It was low, but still present. She cleared her throat, announcing her presence before pushing aside the flap and entering. Cullen sat at the edge of a cot, a lengthy report in his hand and quite a few more to his side.

“Lady Herald,” Cullen said as he looked up from his notes, setting them on his cot as he stood. Sarya rolled her eyes at the formality, a smile on her face.

“Cullen, how many times-”

“Old habits,” Cullen grinned. The tent was small, giving just enough room to stand, and as such it didn't take many steps for Sarya to near him. “I suppose reading reports puts me in a specific mindset.”

“Do you ever sleep?” Sarya teased, looking at all the reports on his cot. She picked one up to glance at, raising her eyebrow at the report of a very aggressive and stealthy goat that had been causing trouble for the hunters.

“There is too much to consider at the moment, too many unknowns,” Cullen shook his head. “I fear there will be little rest until we find a new stronghold, not until we’re safe from Corypheus.”

“I know what you mean,” Sarya sighed as she tossed the report back onto the cot. She kept a strong face for the others during the day, but now that she was behind the curtains of the tent she felt exhausted, unmasked. Despite Solas’ words of warning, she felt she could be herself in front of Cullen, that she didn't need to convince him of anything. “So much depends on me, on all of us. Solas is doing wonderful helping us find our way, but it’s still a lot to handle. I... was hoping you might be able to help me… get my mind off it all... a little.”

“I can certainly try,” Cullen said, a slight smirk on his face as he took her hand, gently pulling her to him. His armor was cold against her, but his mouth was warm and inviting. They had barely had a moment since Haven, especially not one away from prying eyes. From Cullen's quick response to her request, Sarya was fairly certain he felt just as eager as she did to continue where they had left off back in Haven. There was something about Cullen's presence that calmed her, helped her to forget the troubles of leading everyone and the weight on her shoulders.

Tired from the day's excursions, Sarya leaned into Cullen, her tongue gingerly licking at the scar on his upper lip. Emboldened by her gesture, Cullen's tongue quickly found hers, his hands moving to her hips to guide her to sit on the cot with him. Sarya obliged, sitting on the warm fur that lay over the cot, her breath increasing and a fire lighting inside of her. Taking off his leather gauntlets and tossing them to the side, his hands slid along the back of her head, the first time his bare fingers had really felt her soft hair as his fingers tangled in it. His hands strayed to the sides of her face, feeling her soft skin, fingers trailing the curve of her ear and neck as if he were memorizing every inch of her. He would have traced her lips if they hadn't been kissing.

As Cullen deepened their kiss, Sarya let the weight of it push her back, leaning into the cot with him. They ignored the crinkling of the parchment reports underneath her, her arms wrapping around Cullen's neck to encourage him. Cullen continued tracing the side of her face with one hand as the other moved to her hip, his heart pounding as she sighed at the touch. An inch of her skin had been exposed when she had lain back, and he couldn't help the breath that escaped him as his index and thumb discovered it. His hand gingerly moved up, slipping just under her shirt, feeling the soft skin above her hip under his rough hand. He slowly moved the hand up to her waist as her body began feeling hotter and hotter under his touch, or was that him? His hand was gentle on her, slower than the last person who had touched her this way before the Conclave and the Anchor and everything had been turned upside down. Although quick to act on the battlefield, Cullen was more cautious and even a bit shy when it came to Sarya, something she found incredibly endearing; he was so soft with her, and the fire that crept out from him the longer they kissed was proof of his want for her.

Sarya's breath quickened as his other hand left her face to gently trail down to her thigh, gripping at it as she began to feel something familiar pressing against the side of her leg. It was slowly hardening as their breaths became heavier, causing her to grin against his lips. His mouth moved to the corner of hers, kisses trailing along her jaw, an audible whimper escaping her throat as his stubble grazed her neck and she began aching between her legs.

“Commander? Permission to enter, ser?”

Cullen moved off of Sarya quickly as he jumped, his voice hoarse as he managed to push out the words, “A moment!”

The two of them sat up, attempting to collect themselves.

“Maker's breath, there's never a moment to rest,” Cullen breathed, his face flushed, trying to calm himself as he pulled his gauntlets back on. “I- I'm terribly sorry, I got carried away.”

“You definitely don't have to apologize for that,” Sarya said, a quiet laugh escaping her as she smiled at him. She reached to him, pushing his hair back into place and giving him a soft kiss before standing up and speaking more loudly. “Thank you for the talk, Commander, that was… very informative.”

“Of course,” Cullen said, trying to suppress the grin on his face as she winked at him before turning to leave the tent. His face flushed again as he realized the physical predicament he was in at the moment. Opting to remain sitting in his current position, Cullen grabbed up the reports from the cot and tactfully rested them in a stack on his lap just as Captain Rylen entered the tent.

“Sorry to interrupt,” Rylen spoke, a knowing smirk on his face.

“The Herald was just on her way out,” Cullen said, his face back to his normal calm and focused look. He didn't bother to meet Rylen’s gaze; the two of them had worked closely with one another for a while now, he already knew what was coming. Allowing Rylen to see the red still in his cheeks would only make it worse.

“I never knew you were so quick at briefings.”

“Did you have something important to tell me?” Cullen sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose as he pretended to be interested in one of the reports on his lap.

“The scouts have returned, they had a bit of luck finding game as well as other much needed supplies, thanks to the Herald’s suggestions,” Rylen said, pausing for a moment before smirking and adding, “Sounds like you've been having a bit of luck yourself-”

“As you were, Captain,” Cullen interrupted, his voice slightly louder. Rylen chuckled as he left the tent, leaving Cullen to rub his temples as a headache began forming. He tossed the reports to the end of his cot as he sighed. He really needed to focus on the reports, but the thoughts of Sarya in his head only aided to distract him. Her skin had been so soft under his hand, soft and warm and her lips so inviting. Every time he kissed her his want for her seemed to increase, each time his senses leaving him as he became lost in her, heavy breaths with gentle touches bordering the need for something more. Maker, that whimper she had made…

The growing pain in his head shifted his focus. He grit his teeth; how long would these damn things last? He felt suddenly hot, impatient. He had suppressed his lyrium intake for nearly four months now, surely the withdrawals would be coming to an end soon? He looked down at his hand, realizing that he had crumpled one of the reports. He sighed, smoothing out the paper. Sarya wasn't just the Herald of Andraste, she meant so much more to him now. He had to get his withdrawals under control before things got too deep between them. He couldn't lose this over one of his bad days, not now.

 

 

     “Do you believe I was sent by Andraste?”

Sarya was walking beside Cullen as they all continued their journey, the sun shining down on them and warming the chill in the air. The question made her uncomfortable and Cullen knew it. She had never been excited about the title of Herald of Andraste and he couldn't blame her; if a Dalish clan had started praising him as the herald of one of their gods he probably would have been waiting for the Maker to open up a pit beneath his own feet for the heresy.

“My faith is tied to the teachings of the Andrastian Chantry, if that's what you're asking,” Cullen said. He really wasn't sure what to say; did he make her uncomfortable and tell her his thoughts on it, something she didn't agree with? Or did he fib in an attempt to make her comfortable, lie to the woman he was trying so hard to not make himself a fool in front of when it was already proving to be so difficult?

“You were a Templar, I'm well aware of that,” Sarya said, giving him a small smile that told him she knew he was avoiding answering the question.

“You want to know if I believe the bride of the Maker sent you to us in our hour of need?” Cullen asked. He waited until Sarya nodded to continue. “The timing does seem... a bit more than coincidental.”

“I suppose,” Sarya murmured. She paused, biting her tongue as she considered her words. “I visited the Fade in a dream before I woke with you at my side, the night you found me.”

“Oh,” Cullen said, looking down at her. He had never had a mage talk to him about walking the Fade in dreams, only having heard what other Templars had heard, always second hand knowledge. He honestly didn’t know what to think of it, it was such an unknown thing to him, one of the times mages were at the most risk of being tempted by a demon and the reason they tested mages with a Harrowing in the Circles to begin with. “Is that why you asked? Did something you saw there make you question that?”

“The Fade has always been peaceful for me, for the most part,” Sarya said, looking at her feet as they walked, a small smile on her face as she thought about it. “Almost like an extension of home: rolling fields, trees, sunlight, but everything in the Fade is always… off. You know it’s not here, if that makes sense. Like when you see your reflection in a dream and your face is wrong. The sky isn’t blue, living creatures are more akin to spirits and wisps of black… I have heard it’s different for every mage, though.”

“I think I understand,” Cullen nodded, trying his best to imagine it. Only mages visited the Fade in their dreams, and with no other way to access it, it wasn’t something he could quite visualize.

“I came across a spirit, or it came across me, I’m not certain,” Sarya said, looking ahead of them. “But it offered for me to stay. It said that I’d sacrificed myself and I could be done if I pleased.”

“Sounds more like the temptation of a demon than a spirit, if there’s a difference between the two,” Cullen said, furrowing his brow at her words. Sarya pondered her next words carefully as they walked. She knew Cullen viewed her as sent by Andraste, and she couldn’t really blame him, especially after how the spirit had quoted the Chant of Light; there really had been too many coincidences that mimicked Andraste, other than Sarya believing in her own elven gods. Still, she didn’t want to give everyone more cause to kneel to her in song again. But she knew Cullen well enough, he wouldn't spread her dream like gossip around camp like others might.

“How do they describe your Maker?”

“Sorry?” Cullen said, not sure where her thoughts were going.

“In the Chant of Light, do they ever describe Him?”

Shining before me, greater than mountains, towering mighty, hand all outstretch’d, stars list’ning as jewels from rings ‘pon His fingers and crown ‘pon His brow,” Cullen recited from the Chant. He looked down at Sarya as she was silent, his face showing understanding as he followed her trail of thought. “You think-”

“I don’t know what I think,” Sarya said, a nervous laugh escaping her. “Spirits take on many forms. This one knew much from the Chant of Light that I’d never heard. Although I don’t know what mimicking being Andrastian would do a spirit good if it were trying to tempt me. I wouldn't have known to match its description to the Chant, that form wouldn't have aided it in convincing me to stay.”

“What made you decide not to stay?” Cullen asked quietly, watching her. The look on her face was tired, seemingly lost.

“I heard a voice on the wind, as if in prayer. It reminded me that everyone was waiting for me,” Sarya said. “I couldn’t abandon all of you, not when I knew what Corypheus was planning for this world.”

“Was the spirit… angry at your decision?” Cullen asked.

“No, it let me go freely,” Sarya said, a small smile on her face. She laughed, shaking her head as she pushed the tired look away as she remembered they were around everyone, eyes wandering to her here and there. “It's strange. If I were to believe that the Anchor is a divine gift, even if it was of Corypheus’ doing, I can't place my finger on which of our elven gods it would be from.”

“What would be your first guess?” Cullen asked as he gave her a small smile, genuinely interested as he knew nothing of the elven Pantheon.

“Elgar'nan,” Sarya said, glancing up at the blue sky speckled with clouds as if it would give her some recognition of an answer like tea leaves in a cup. “First of the elven gods, representing vengeance and the sun among others. Angered of Corypheus attempting to gain Godhood, it would make sense to bestow the power to thwart him unto an elf.”

“That would make sense,” Cullen nodded in slight understanding.

“But then there's Mythal, protector, the patron of justice,” Sarya sighed. “June, who gave us weapons to hunt. All the pain and suffering that comes with it, though, I'd almost think it was some trick of Fen’Harel.”

“That… Seems like an awful lot to consider,” Cullen said, trying to hide how much he didn't understand. Sarya laughed as she looked up at him.

“Don't worry, I don't expect you to understand the deep customs of the Dalish, not overnight,” she said, giving him a smile that relaxed him. He removed the water skin that was tied to the outside of the pack on his horse, taking a drink. “Besides, I suppose Herald of Andraste does have a better ring to it. Kind of hard to imagine you moaning, Herald of the Creators, Disciple of Mythal!

Cullen choked on his water, stopping in his tracks as he coughed. His face was bright red, looking around to see if anyone was watching or, Maker forbid, had heard her. His eyes wandered back to Sarya as she giggled quietly to herself as she continued walking without him, catching up to Solas. Maker, she was going to be a handful. Despite his bout of embarrassment, he couldn't help but smile as he watched Sarya laugh at something Sera had said to her. They may have been searching the wilderness for a place to call home, but he hadn't seen her this happy in weeks. Perhaps this was the beginning of better things for them all.

Chapter Text

     Inquisitor. The title didn't quite roll off her tongue well, and how could it? She had come from a small Dalish clan that traveled mostly in the Free Marches, keeping to themselves. As the First of her clan she had been expected to someday take over for her Keeper, but even then a clan of maybe twenty or so was small when compared to the stress of making decisions for hundreds, perhaps thousands as they grew. Not to mention that every decision she made could affect all of Thedas. They trusted her to lead, an elf of not even thirty, whose greatest experience was in healing, the lore and secrets of her people, and now killing demons. She would have understood being an advisor with her unique knowledge, but Inquisitor? When Sarya and Solas had led the Inquisition to Skyhold, a large fortress lost in the mountains to war and time, Sarya knew the question of leadership was one that would need answering. Deep down, she had an inkling of a suspicion that this was Solas’ plan all along with having her lead them all there, and she didn’t know whether to begrudgingly thank him for securing her position with them or to kick him.

After the first couple days Josephine had excitedly shown Sarya the chambers she had outfitted for her. It was a large space near the top of Skyhold, with a couch, desk, bed, large balcony overlooking the border and the courtyard, and her own private bath. Sarya had insisted that it was too much, that they could allocate it for something more important, but Josephine had insisted that Sarya's advisers agreed she should have a quiet area to be able to relax after all the work she had done and had yet to do. Sarya would admit the space was nice, and seemed to be one of the few areas of Skyhold secluded enough to be truly quiet amongst all the construction and bustle that slowly filtered in. Still, it was one more thing to get used to, along with everyone bowing and addressing her as Inquisitor every time she walked around. They had been at Skyhold for a week now, and she had found her way to one of the far corners of the battlements in a moment between tasks, taking time to breathe as she leaned on the parapet and looked down at the courtyard below.

“You look troubled, Lethallan.”

Sarya turned her head at Solas’ voice as he approached her. She hadn’t seen him much since they had found Skyhold, her advisors keeping her busy and plenty of reports to read. Everything had been such a whirlwind, and she was just realizing she hadn’t seen much of any of her friends since getting there. She glanced back down at the courtyard, a sigh escaping her.

“It’s just one title to the next, isn’t it?” She said quietly, leaning on her elbows as Solas stood next to her, before adding in jest, “I should probably blame you for this.”

“You have brought hope to them, and in return they raised you in their hearts,” he said. He stood with his hands clasped behind his back, his eyes gazing to the mountains ahead of them rather than following her line of sight. “It is what we discussed back at the camp. This should come as no surprise.”

“Well, color me surprised,” Sarya said, a light laugh escaping her. “It’s no matter. If this is what I must do to defeat Corypheus, it’s what I’ll do. There are bigger things at work than my mild discomfort with a word.”

“I am pleased to see that you have let Cole stay,” he said, glancing down to observe the spirit as he deposited what appeared to be three daggers into a bucket full of them. “I imagine Madame de Fer is not pleased. She had very choice words about him.”

“Vivienne grew up in a Circle, she only knows what the Chantry allowed her to,” Sarya said, raising her eyebrow as a soldier seemed to search themselves in confusion after Cole took their dagger without being seen. She couldn’t pretend to know the workings of Cole’s mind, what outcome would be had from a bucket full of daggers. “We visit the Fade in our sleep, we see so much that can’t be imagined, and yet assume we can see the line that separates what’s good and what’s wrong. Cole wants to help. I see no harm in it as long as what he’s doing is helping, same as anyone else here.”

“You continue to surprise me,” Solas said, a small smile on his face as she looked at him. “You are not what I expected when you were brought to Haven.”

“What were you expecting?” She asked, turning to face him as she leaned her back against the wall of the tower behind her.

“You were a mystery. You still are,” he said as he looked at her. “I ran every test I could imagine as you slept, searched the Fade, yet found nothing. I did not imagine you would wake up. How could you? A mortal, sent simplicitly through the Fade. I watched the rifts expand and grow, and then you sealed it with a gesture… Right then, I felt the world change.”

“A lot of things are changing, faster than I can sometimes handle.”

“Lean on your advisors if you must, but never let the people see you falter,” Solas said, looking at her knowingly. “You already give them reason for scrutiny when they are not being reminded of what you have become to them.”

“Because I'm a Dalish mage?” She frowned, knowing it was true. She hadn't heard one utterance of knife-ear since they had found Skyhold, but she saw the hesitation in the eyes of those who didn't know her well, their benevolent leader who could turn to an abomination at a moments notice, who could rip the veil open in front of them at her whim.

“Yes,” Solas nodded. “And because of your flirtations with the Commander.”

“What do you mean?” Sarya asked.

“It is naive to believe whatever is between you will not be scrutinized by the very people whose alliances you seek,” Solas said. “People will judge him less harshly. It is not unheard of, especially in Orlais, for humans to fool around with a lowly elf so long as it does not lead to deep feelings. When it becomes obvious that it has, there will be whispers from the humans, accusations of you bewitching him. Not to mention how your clan will likely view your feelings as transgressions.”

“My Keeper knows I've never been one to hate humans as others in our clan do,” Sarya said, biting her tongue in frustration at the truth she knew there was to Solas’ words. “I won't pretend she'll be happy, but it's not something that I'd be exiled for, if that's what you're suggesting.”

“A First, laying with one of the Shemlen when they are the ones who have even hunted your kind for sport before. You think they will trust you to one day lead them once word reaches them? That he would be welcomed into your clan? That he would want to?”

“Why are you saying all this?” Sarya asked, looking at him with choked back tears. She tried her best to control it, her eyes glassy as she fought the urge to blink and let them fall. “Do you distrust Cullen so much that you would try to drive me from him?”

“I seek only to counsel you,” Solas shook his head, turning his gaze from her. “Although my opinion of Templars comes from the strong memories I have witnessed in the Fade of the ones who once trusted them, the ones who feared them.”

“Your opinion of Templars, not of Cullen,” Sarya clarified, turning back to face the courtyard.

“It is difficult to tell if they are not one in the same,” Solas said. “One can only change so much from a life that eclipsed everything else.”

“Well, I suppose you'll just have to trust my judgement.”

“I suppose I will.”

Sarya turned her head as Solas began walking away, stepping towards him before he got too far.

“I do understand what you mean, Solas,” she said, giving him a small smile as he turned to face her once more. “I should be thankful you're looking out for me, even if I don't agree with everything you said.”

“I have met few of our kind like you in this world as of late,” Solas said. There was something in his eyes Sarya couldn't place, something akin to the look of someone who had experienced a loss he saw reflected in her. “I hope you are right about the Commander.”

 


 

     Repairs to Skyhold were well under way. Although a great fortress with much potential, many parts of it were worn down, left to crumble from wars long lost from parchment and books. It would take work, but the Inquisition would have it running as a proper stronghold in no time. They had already made great strides, fortifying the crumbling battlements and connecting the gaps in the ramparts. Commander Cullen stood in the great hall that would be their throne room, workers busily removing debris while others repaired and built anew.

“The workers have made a lot of progress since we arrived,” Cassandra said as she walked over to Cullen.

“Yes, I believe we'll have this place fit for running the Inquisition very soon,” Cullen nodded, looking over at her. He paused with a question on his tongue. He knew Cassandra's response, or the tone of it, that she would read into his question more than what he meant to say. He knew her well enough since she arrived in Kirkwall before the Conclave to know that she wouldn't pry too much. Still, it felt strange now to ask others about Sarya since word had begun to spread of them being more than just casual flirts. It had been difficult to hide it with few places to meet in solitude on their journey to Skyhold. “How is the Inquisitor adjusting to her new position?”

“She still refuses to wear her boots, despite Josephine's nagging,” Cassandra smirked, giving Cullen a knowing look. “I don't believe she will have trouble leading. I believe it is the title itself that vexes her.”

“It's quite a lot to have on one's shoulders,” Cullen nodded.

“She can do it, I believe that wholeheartedly. We have already seen proof of it.”

Cullen turned as he heard the sound of multiple small things tumbling, quickly followed by a familiar voice muttering, “Fenedhis!” loudly. He looked over near the large door that led from the courtyard to find Sarya getting up from the ground, frantically trying to help one of the workers pick up the papers and tools she had knocked from a makeshift table when she had tripped on debris. She waved her arms around apologetically as the worker apologized repeatedly, his eyes wide.

“You should see her in the field,” Cassandra teased, a smirk on her face. Cullen looked at her, his eyebrow raised. “The Inquisitor has grown immensely as a fighter, I'll give her that. But when we are walking to a destination, she gets distracted and stumbles easily. Varric has taken to calling her Lightfoot. I admire her ability to laugh it off.”

“What's that Elvish word she said?” Cullen asked, looking back at her, a small smile growing on his face. Sarya had finished putting back everything she had knocked down and was now laughing with the worker. She may have been the Inquisitor now, but her people would know her as so much more with how personable she was.

“I have no idea,” Cassandra shrugged. “Judging by how often she uses it when tripping or running into things, I'm assuming it's along the lines of ‘shit’ in Elvish.”

Cullen couldn't help the breath of laughter that expelled from his throat at the word. He cleared his throat, straightening as Sarya approached the two of them.

“Are you laughing at me, Commander?” Sarya teased, crossing her arms with a serious look on her face that Cullen and Cassandra could see right through.

“I wouldn't dream of laughing at you, Inquisitor,” Cullen said, trying his best to hold back a grin as Sarya squinted her eyes at him in joking suspicion.

“I was assuring the Commander you fight better than you walk,” Cassandra teased.

“That's kind of you,” Sarya smirked as she rolled her eyes. “I'm glad to see my Commander and Seeker are working hard.”

“We were discussing the progress of the repairs at Skyhold,” Cullen said.

“Good, that's, ah, good,” Sarya nodded. Who was she kidding? She had no idea how to do this Inquisitor thing, no matter how much she tried to fake it. “I was just heading to see Harritt, he said he's been working on a new staff for me since the old one is buried in the snow.”

“Perhaps this one will be better at alerting you before you walk into a nest of dragonlings?” Cassandra smirked.

“Ir lasa suledin,” Sarya loudly sighed to herself as she walked away, heading towards the undercroft.

A nest of dragonlings?” Cullen repeated, raising his eyebrow at Cassandra as she chuckled.

 

     Later that day found Sarya and her advisors at the War Table, discussing plans on garnering an invitation to the Winter Palace, Halamshiral. In the desolate future Sarya and Dorian had seen, Empress Celene had been assassinated, throwing Orlais into chaos and allowing Corypheus to gain a stiff upper hand. There would be a masquerade soon, a perfect time for someone to do the deed. Josephine would be sending ravens to Halamshiral, hopefully receiving word. A few days had gone by without word, however Josephine had still taken it upon herself to teach Sarya a few things about Orlesian culture in the meantime.

“I don’t see how this is going to help negotiations,” Sarya raised her eyebrow, her eyes towards the ceiling as she tried to balance a book on her head.

“The Orlesian court is very refined, and you…. Well,” Josephine said gently, giving her a small smile. “You… slouch.”

“Have you seen my ears, Josie? I don’t think we’ll be passing me off as a noble anytime soon,” Sarya said, her back going rigid as Josephine plopped two more books on top of the other.

“When the people at Halamshiral see how regally you walk, your ears will be the least they notice,” Josephine smiled, standing back and waiting to see if Sarya held them steady. “See! You’re doing-”

Josephine let out a sigh as Sarya wobbled and the books came tumbling down around her.

“Am I interrupting?”

Sarya turned to see Cullen standing in the doorway, an amused look on his face.

“Not at all, Commander,” Josephine said, picking up the books.

“I received the reports you were asking for,” Cullen said, handing a small stack of papers to Josephine.

“Wonderful!” Josephine said, a smile on her face.

“Commander, are you busy?” Sarya asked eagerly. “I had something I wanted to discuss with you.”

“I do have some time, if you’d like to-”

“Perfect,” Sarya interrupted, quickly guiding Cullen out of Josephine’s office.

“If you come back before the meeting, we can go over dinnerware!” Josephine shouted as they rushed out.

Sarya sighed with relief once they were outside, leading Cullen to the battlements. The air was crisp, the sun shining bright. From the edge of the battlements the world always seemed so calm, everything serene in the snow covered wilderness they now called their home.

“You wanted to discuss something?” Cullen asked once Sarya had stopped walking.

“What?” She asked, looking at him before laughing as it came back to her. “I’m sorry, I may have used you as an excuse to get me out of there…”

“What exactly was our Ambassador doing?” Cullen asked.

“Teaching me how to be a noble, apparently,” Sarya sighed. She scowled jokingly at Cullen as he laughed. “Let’s see how you do with books stacked on your head, Commander.”

“I fear it would be an embarrassment to the Inquisition,” Cullen chuckled.

“Do you have time, though? I mean, if it’s not about Inquisition business,” Sarya asked, chewing on her lip. “We just haven’t had much time since arriving here, and there’s still so much about you I don’t know.”

“For you? Of course,” Cullen said, a smile on his face. Sarya returned his smile, leaning her elbows on the parapet as she turned her head to look at him.

“You mentioned back in Haven, you were at the Ferelden Circle before Kirkwall?” Sarya asked.

“I was, yes,” Cullen nodded, his eyes straying as he looked away.

“Was it very different from Kirkwall?”

“Kinloch was different for a time,” Cullen said, his eyes focusing on a small hole in the parapet as he picked at it. “It was more quiet, when I first arrived. Mages and Templars seemed content to go about their business. I wasn’t there for long.”

“Why the transfer to Kirkwall?”

“I'd... rather not speak of it. I apologize,” Cullen said quietly, his hand gripping the parapet. “It was an… Incredibly hard time for me. It’s been… difficult to process.”

“I'm sorry, I shouldn't have asked,” Sarya frowned as she placed her hand on his. She could tell that there was a deep hurt there, one that he was trying to bury deep down. Part of her wanted to help dig it out so she could help, but she had a feeling that was the exact opposite of what Cullen wanted. She smiled as he looked at her, leaning her side against the parapet so she could better face him. “We can talk about something else.”

“Tell me about your home,” Cullen suggested, matching her smile as he tried to shift his mind elsewhere. “Do you miss your family? Your friends?”

“I had a few close friends, but growing up being the apprentice of the clan’s Keeper makes people… Distant,” Sarya said, looking to the side though the smile never left her. “I love my people, but it's hard to get to know anyone well when they place you higher than themselves; people close themselves off, they try to help rather than letting you help; they leave no room to open a discussion about something other than when the hunters should go out next, or when herbs need to be harvested, or whether we needed to move because humans were poking their noses into our business too much. I suppose that's made it easier being with the Inquisition; I've met more people here far less concerned about decorum, much to Josephine's dismay.”

“Did you always know you were going to take that role with your clan? Of being a First?”

“No, not until I came into my magic when I was eight,” Sarya shook her head, a laugh escaping her as her face scrunched slightly. “One of my friends teased me awfully when it first happened. He told me, ‘You’ll have to wear those silly robes and tell everyone what to do and have no fun for yourself ever!’

“I love it when you do that,” Cullen chuckled, causing Sarya to furrow her brow.

“Do what?”

“That… scrunching thing you do with your nose when you're confused or displeased with something,” he said, chuckling more as she made the face again. “Yes, the one you're doing now.”

“Well… I suppose that's just comparable to how I feel about how easy it is to rile you up,” Sarya said as she crossed her arms.

“Rile me up?” Cullen repeated, a slight look of confusion on his face.

“What did you say before?” Sarya asked, tapping the side of her mouth in thought. “You… love it when I scrunch my nose? Love?”

“Yes, I- I mean, I did say… That, but I didn't mean, th- that is to say-”

Sarya burst out laughing, causing Cullen to sigh. He shook his head with a smile, rubbing the back of his neck. Well played, he thought to himself. He looked to his right as Captain Rylen walked towards them on the barracks, giving Cullen a knowing wink as he passed the two of them on his way to a group of soldiers at the upper tower. Cullen bit his tongue, inwardly groaning as he saw Sarya's eyebrows raise in slight amusement at Rylen's wink.

“It must make good talk,” Sarya said, a small grin growing on her face. “The Commander of the Inquisition and the Herald of Andraste…”

“You wouldn’t believe how quickly gossip spreads through the barracks,” Cullen sighed, resting his hand on the pommel of his sword, a bit relieved that she didn’t seem too embarrassed by Rylen’s teasing. “Captain Rylen and I have known each other for a while. I'm afraid he's always the first to figure something out with me. Well, perhaps after Lady Nightingale. He is much more blunt about it, though.”

“Does it bother you?”

“What? No, of course not,” Cullen shook his head. “I just… I would like private matters to be just that… private.”

“I suppose we could have been a bit more discreet of our flirtations in the beginning,” Sarya laughed.

“I wouldn’t have changed a thing about it,” Cullen said, smiling warmly at her as she sat on the edge of the parapet.

“What did you think about me before?”

“Before?” Cullen asked.

“Yes,” Sarya nodded. “You knew about me when we met at that first rift, Cassandra’s comments about me being the prisoner made that clear. But you helped me during that battle, saved me from a rage demon. You must have wondered why Cassandra had dragged along a prisoner who had little fighting skill.”

“I knew you possessed the mark, that if you were willing there would be some sort of attempt on the Breach with it when you awoke,” Cullen said.

“You seemed so accepting of my help from the beginning,” Sarya smiled, looking up at him as he stood close to her. “Where others were skeptical of me in Haven, from the moment you introduced yourself to me in the Chantry you were so warm, I didn’t understand.”

“Honestly, I couldn’t keep my eyes off you,” Cullen chuckled, his eyes warm on her as he thought back to it. “But we’d only just met.”

“Couldn’t keep your eyes off me?” Sarya smirked, biting her lip. “Is that why you came to my rescue at that rift? You saw I was in trouble because you couldn’t keep your eyes off me?”

“When you were brought to Haven unconscious after falling from the first Fade rift, I stood in the lower dungeons with Cassandra, watching Solas as he tried to save you from the mark,” Cullen said, leaning his hands on the parapet as he looked over Skyhold. “Even with everything in chaos all around us, the sky torn open, demons falling from it, you were so beautiful, lying there in the dark. I remember berating myself: beauty doesn’t mean she can’t have used blood magic to make all this happen. But there was something so… kind in your face, something I didn’t quite understand at the time but now I know so well. Deep down, I knew you were incapable of causing that kind of destruction. Not that you couldn’t gain the power to, but that you never would yield that power in such a frightful way.”

“That’s… just a little naive, Cullen,” Sarya pointed out, biting her lip as she smiled.

“I suppose so,” Cullen chuckled.

“And here I was, thinking you were just a handsome face who came to my rescue,” Sarya said, letting out a small breath of laughter before looking back at him. “Cullen, I don’t know what to say, I-”

Sarya sighed against Cullen as he leaned over and pressed his lips to hers, his hand gently holding the back of her head. They smiled against one another, their kisses numerous and sweet as Sarya wrapped her arms around his neck. They paused as they heard a female voice very familiar to them yell from a rooftop nearby: “Oy! Get a room before I puke!

Sarya choked on a laugh, looking up at Cullen apologetically as his face reddened.

“So much for keeping private matters private,” Sarya teased.

“I can’t seem to control myself around you,” Cullen cleared his throat as he straightened, leaning his hand on the pommel of his sword.

“Try not to work too hard on that,” Sarya smirked.

“Speaking of work…” Cullen sighed, rubbing the back of his neck. “Could we speak in my office?”

“Of course,” Sarya nodded, hopping off of the parapet and following him. Cullen’s office was along the battlements, conveniently located nearly above the entrance to Skyhold, allowing him full view in case of enemy engagement. Sarya had been in there a few times already since it had been outfitted, though she still quietly wondered to herself what was at the top of the ladder that went into the high ceiling. Cullen walked over to his desk, opening a sleek box that lay in the middle near various letters and reports. The box had small tools in it Sarya didn’t recognize, though as a mage she knew the vial of lyrium in it well.

“As leader of the Inquisition, you…” Cullen sighed, standing straight to look at Sarya. He rested his hands on the pommel of his sword, a tired look on his face as his mind shifted focus. “There’s something I must tell you.”

“Sounds important,” Sarya said, walking over to his desk. “I'm all ears, so to speak.”

“Right, thank you,” Cullen said, a small smirk flirting his face at her joke. He took a moment to compose himself before leaning his hands against the desk, looking at the items again. “Lyrium grants Templars our abilities, but it controls us as well. Those who are cut off suffer. Some go mad, others die. We have secured a reliable source of lyrium for the Templars here, but I… no longer take it.”

“You stopped?” Sarya asked, a surprised look on her face. How could she not have realized he had cut off himself from lyrium? Things had been so hectic since they got to Skyhold, she hadn’t taken the time to think about much else than the Inquisition. As she thought about it, this was the first time she had ever seen him with a vial of lyrium in front of him.

“When I joined the Inquisition,” Cullen said, not meeting her eyes. “It’s been months now.”

“Cullen, if this can kill you-”

“It hasn’t yet,” Cullen said, straightening up to look at her as he heard the distress in her voice. “After what happened in Kirkwall, I couldn’t- I will not be bound to the Order or that life any longer. Whatever the suffering, I accept it, but I would not put the Inquisition at risk. I have asked Cassandra to... watch me. If my ability to lead is compromised, I will be relieved from duty.”

“Are you in pain?” Sarya asked, not able to hide the concern from her face.

“I can endure it,” Cullen said assuringly.

“How long will it last?”

“I’m unsure,” he sighed. “With any luck, not much longer.”

Sarya nodded, pausing in thought before giving him a small smile.

“Thank you for telling me,” she said. “This can’t be easy. I respect what you’re doing, and I’m glad to offer any assistance if I can help.”

“Thank you, Inquisitor,” he said, his body relaxing a bit now that it was out in the open. “The Inquisition must always take priority. Should anything happen, I shall defer to Cassandra’s judgement.”

“Cullen,” Sarya said, giving a small laugh as she walked around the desk to stand near him. “We’re alone. It’s Sarya. Not Herald, not Inquisitor-”

“Sarya,” Cullen said quietly, his expression softening at her words. “My apologies. I get so caught up in-”

Cullen was silenced by Sarya as she pulled him down to her level, pressing her lips against his. He blindly pushed the box with the lyrium in it to the side as she sat on the desk, allowing Cullen to settle between her legs. He moved his hands to her hips as he kissed her, her fingers gripping into his hair as if she could pull him closer than he already was. The two of them had little time alone together since they had all come to Skyhold. There had been so much planning, so many things to take care of before they could send Sarya and her circle out into the field again. Small warm kisses here and there, short private conversations, a touch of fingers in passing. Now finally left alone, Sarya was reminded of the moment they had in Haven in the War Room just before Corypheus had attacked. Everything had seemed so right then, just her and Cullen alone together with heated kisses, a simple moment in which they could relax and forget everything for the moment. Everything that night had been a stark reminder of how quickly things could change, what little time they may actually have.

A small whimper escaped Sarya’s throat as her mind wandered under his touch, his lower half pressed against her and obviously very much thinking the same thoughts as her. She shifted slightly, her heel gingerly pressing on the back of his thigh to encourage him closer as she pressed her lower half against his, gently biting at his lip as she did so. Cullen carefully pushed his tongue into her mouth, lapping at hers, his stomach doing flips as she whimpered again when he pushed up against her. Maker, he loved that noise she made; it sent shivers down his spine and set fire to his veins. He repeated the motion, wanting to hear it again, willing to do anything to hear it. The friction caused him to swell against her through his tightening breeches, her breath heavier and whimpering louder each time he did it. He moved his foot forward as he rubbed against her again, the desk moving slightly against the force of his motion. The two of them startled as the box holding the lyrium, precariously perched at the edge, fell from the movement of the desk, the bottle breaking. Cullen began to look to see the damage on the floor before his attention was drawn back to Sarya as she broke out laughing.

“I’m sorry,” she said through her laughter, causing a sheepish grin to break out on Cullen’s face.

“I seem to have replaced one addiction for another,” Cullen sighed, letting go of her as he began to pick up the pieces, his face slightly red.

“Here,” Sarya said, hopping down from the table to help him pick up the glass.

“Your hands are bare, I can take care of it,” Cullen interjected, trying to quickly gather the pieces as she carefully picked them up with her fingers.

“Are you fussing over me, Commander?” Sarya smirked as she looked up at him. She scowled as a piece nicked her finger in her distraction.

“Apparently someone has to,” Cullen sighed in jest, pouring the glass pieces he had collected into the box. He held out his hand for hers, smiling at the confused look on her face. “Let me see.”

“It’s just a scratch,” Sarya said, looking at him in confusion. She wasn’t used to having someone fussing over her like this when it came to a scratch, that was usually her role.

“All the same,” Cullen said, his hand still held out for hers. Sarya gingerly placed her hand in his, letting him look at the cut that lightly bled. His gloved fingers gently trailed down her finger just below the cut, pausing on her palm in distraction. “I have a salve that we use when the soldiers get a bit overzealous during training-”

“Cullen, it’s a scratch, it’ll be fine,” Sarya laughed, taking her hand back. She wiped at it with the corner of her shirt, holding the finger back up to him. “See? It’s already stopped.”

“Very well,” Cullen smiled, tossing the few remaining pieces back into the box. “We should, ah, probably get to the War Table. It’s just about that time.”

“What, you don’t want to be late?” Sarya asked, looking at him with a glimmer in her eyes that made Cullen’s mouth water.

“I- well, that is,” Cullen stammered as he swallowed. They were still crouched on the ground from picking up the glass, Sarya gradually inching towards him, his face growing redder by the moment. She couldn’t help but laugh at his sudden shyness.

“Weren’t you just grinding against me, Cullen? And now you’re stammering as if you’re so innocent and polite,” Sarya smirked, inches from his face. She let out a breath as he moved his body forward, not bringing his mouth to hers but still catching her off guard with his sudden boldness and causing her to fall backwards. Her elbows caught her behind her back, steadying her as Cullen moved over her, his arms trapping her in place.

“I’ve been told I’m very polite,” he said, his confidence returning in wake of her teasing.

  

     “Ah, there you two are,” Josephine said, looking at the letter in front of her as she heard the door to the War Room open. She recognized their footsteps well enough by now to know it was them without looking: Cullen’s heavy yet calculated steps, Sarya’s almost non-existent ones since she still refused to wear her boots around Skyhold despite Josephine’s fussing. “We were starting to wonder if-”

Josephine looked up as she heard Leliana giggle, coughing in an attempt to suppress one herself as she looked at them.

“What’s so funny?” Sarya asked, raising her eyebrow.

“I was going to ask if the Commander had been briefing you on the response we received from Halamshiral, but I see now that I may have received a mixed response,” Leliana said, a smirk flirting the corner of her mouth.

Sarya and Cullen both looked at Josephine and Leliana with confused looks for a moment before looking at one another, their curious expressions soon turning to sudden understanding with a hint of horror. To anyone who didn’t know the Commander, the unkempt hair may have not seemed so out of place. However, to everyone in that room, it was painfully obvious something had been messing with it, most likely the small hands of a certain Dalish elf in the room. As for the irritated red skin around her mouth and one side of her neck that had apparently been too difficult to see in Cullen’s dimly lit office by the time they had left, anyone at a glance would have been able to surmise that Sarya had been receiving the great affection of someone with stubble on their face.

“Your, ah, your... hair,” Sarya cleared her throat.

“O- Oh!” Cullen stammered, quickly running the palm of his gloved hand over it in an attempt to fix it, failing miserably as the curled locks refused to go back down. “And your, ah, well, I… don’t think there’s anything to be done about... that...”

“Wonderful,” Sarya said, putting on a smile, her eyes still a bit wide as she looked at Leliana and Josephine. She and Cullen would never hear the end of this. “Halamshiral, you were saying?”

“We’ve received word that the Inquisition will be welcomed at Halamshiral for the masquerade,” Josephine said, trying to focus on the letter in front of her, failing miserably at wiping the smirk from her face. “We will need everyone attending to be measured for formal wear, and it may be in our best interest to have a few more lessons in etiquette before then.”

“You mentioned earlier that they’re more formal than those in Ferelden, hence the books?” Sarya asked.

“If by formal you mean better than everyone around them,” Cullen scoffed, indignation on his tongue.

“The nobles in Orlais play The Great Game, always vying to be one step ahead of the rest,” Josephine said, ignoring Cullen’s comments. “Everyone will be judging the Inquisition on how we act, how we dance, what we say… and yes, even how we walk. It is all of high importance if we are to sway this evening in our favor, not to mention remain in the Winter Palace long enough to stop the assassination.”

“I suppose we should be considerate of whom we bring with us, then,” Sarya sighed.

“Josephine and myself will be accompanying you, as will the Commander and whichever of your companions you see fit for the task,” Leliana said.

“You really think I’m not better suited bolstering our forces in the meantime?” Cullen asked.

“You really don’t like Orlesians, do you?” Sarya pointed out, an amused look on her face.

“Orlesians care more about who has the most power, or the better gossip,” Cullen muttered. “They hardly exude loyalty. Whether we win them to our side or not, you can never be sure where they will turn their allegiance to next.”

“It is important for the leaders of the Inquisition to make a full show in Halamshiral,” Josephine said. “Just… try not to get into a fight with anyone.”

“Why do you think I would be the one to start a fight?” Cullen furrowed his brow.

“Well... Fereldens do seem to have a habit of being easily offended in regards to their home, and Orlesians aren’t exactly subtle when it comes to speaking their minds.”

“I don’t think Cassandra would have asked Cullen to be the Commander of the Inquisition’s forces if he got into a fight with everyone who threw words at him,” Sarya interjected, trying to diffuse the argument before it grew.

“I am fully capable of controlling my Ferelden temper, Lady Ambassador,” Cullen said indignantly.

“Shall we discuss decorum?” Leliana asked, turning the conversation with a sparkle in her eyes that seemed to remain throughout the rest of their discussions, despite Cullen’s steady apathetic interest in the matter.

 


 

    “You know what your problem is?”

Sarya looked up from her tea the next morning as Sera slid into the chair across from her at the table. There was a mischievous look in her eyes behind the scowl that was sitting on her face.

“I can’t sleep because I can still hear my advisors arguing in my head when I finally get to bed?” Sarya guessed. She knew she looked tired; she had been up late listening to everyone argue at the War Table about where the Inquisition was needed most next, on top of what was required for Halamshiral. It was an exhausting routine that they had gotten into, each of them wanting to prioritize a different location over the other, each one having a different opinion on how they should try to sway the evening at Halamshiral. Sarya was currently making a mental note to not allow War Table meetings more than a couple hours on the nights before she would actually head off from Skyhold with her team. Falling asleep on her horse probably wouldn't have been on the list of good things for her to do.

“One of em, yeah,” Sera laughed, watching Sarya yawn before drinking more of her tea, her hand clinging to it as if it would pour the life back into her. “Also, look around. Everyone in here’s sitting on their own. They’re all up their own arses about the Inquisition. You too, with your important meetings and your Inquisitorialness. I can’t have fun with everybody whinging!”

“What do you suggest, Sera?” Sarya yawned.

“I’m thinking pranks,” Sera smirked. “Just you and me, messing around in people’s stuff. You know, to start.”

Sarya scrunched up her face in slight confusion.

“I’m the Inquisitor,” she said slowly. She couldn’t deny, it sounded fun as long as it didn’t get too out of control. Still, this whole thing of being Inquisitor was so new to her. Was there a line she’d step over in having a bit of fun?

“Right! They’ll never suspect you!” Sera laughed. “Come on, let’s do something fun!”

Sarya looked down at her empty mug, as if the tea leaves at the bottom would tell her what to do. Was there really a right decision? It was just pranks, how bad could it be? She should have been pouring over reports after not looking at any last night, that would be the Inquisitor thing to do, but she knew she wouldn’t absorb the information with as tired as she was. Maybe a bit of running around would wake her up.

“Lead the way,” Sarya grinned, getting up from her seat.

“What, really?” Sera asked, slightly surprised.

“Really,” Sarya laughed. “Too many demons and magisters and awful things. I could stand to let loose a little.”

“I knew you were different!” Sera giggled loudly as she got up. “Let’s go!”

The two of them traversed Skyhold, laying little traps of pranks as they went. Sera was very methodical about it, making sure that those in higher up positions would be the ones on the receiving end, a kind of morale booster for those underneath them. Sarya had to hand it to her, it did make sense: nothing helped lighten the mood and make people a bit more relaxed than seeing their boss stumble a bit when honey was placed in their boots, or screech when they opened their drawer and found a mouse- an alternative Sarya had suggested over precariously perching a bucket of water over Josephine’s door, drawing the line at possible injury. It was still early enough and most of Skyhold were in their morning routines, a great time to not run into people. As they walked across the ramparts, Sarya bit her tongue as they entered Cullen’s office.

“Right, General Uptight is gone,” Sera whispered as she looked around. “Have a search about. Find something to mess with and give your soldiers a laugh.”

Sarya inwardly sighed as she looked around. She had to admit, being about to prank someone she had been grinding up against in that very office just the day before did feel a bit strange. She and Cullen hadn’t had a lot of time to talk, what with Skyhold still needing many repairs and the two of them being incredibly busy with their work. Maybe she could go easy on him, find something not too terrible that he hopefully wouldn’t hold against her, especially with his lyrium withdrawals. For the soldiers, right? Right. She stared at the desk, the corner of her mouth twitching as she remembered their kissing and clothed grinding from the other night.

“What, the desk?” Sera asked, finding Sarya staring at it. “Oh, yes! Center of the empire and all that. What to do, what to do… Thing looks heavy. Don’t want to move or break it... “

“Oh, it’s sturdy,” Sarya said absentmindedly, immediately internally smacking herself as Sera quietly giggled.

“Oh, I’ve got it!” Sera exclaimed excitedly, grabbing a small piece of wood amongst unswept debris and shoving it under one of the legs of the desk. She laughed as she explained herself. “Tilted just enough to make everything off. He won’t know why everything’s started rolling. It’ll drive him bonkers!”

“Well, I think I’m officially awake now,” Sarya said, smiling as they walked out of the office and onto the battlements.

“You know, you’re not too bad,” Sera said, crossing her arms as she looked at Sarya with an impressed look. “A bit elfy, but still, not bad.”

“Things have been overwhelming. This… was more fun that I expected.”

“Don’t forget that you’re People too,” Sera said. “Once you stop being People, that’s when my Friends and I start getting annoyed.”

“If I ever become too serious, promise me you’ll put me in line,” Sarya said.

“Oh, you can bet your high elf arse I will,” Sera laughed. “Now, off to do the pranks you’re too nice to do…”

Sarya shook her head with a smile, heading down the stone steps that lead into the courtyard. They would be leaving for Halamshiral within a few days, more hardships and possible deaths on the horizon. She would have to endure dance lessons today, among other trials Josephine was determined to put her through in order to make her presentable to the Orlesian court. In the meantime, she’d enjoy the peace and quiet that would be broken by Josephine as she opened her desk drawer as the day’s first order of business, her surprised shriek echoing throughout Skyhold.

Ah yes, there it is.

Chapter Text

The Old Gods will call to you,

From their ancient prisons they will sing.

Dragons with wicked eyes and wicked hearts,

On blacken'd wings does deceit take flight,

The first of My children, lost to night.

-Silence 3:6, Dissonant Verse

 


 

 

     “I think they made this jacket too tight,” Cullen mumbled, his face uncomfortable as he pulled at his collar.

“It appears the Duchess may disagree,” Leliana said, amusement on her tongue as she eyed the woman in the corner leaning slightly to get a good look at Cullen.

“Andraste preserve me,” Cullen sighed as he looked around. Sarya, her advisors, and a handful of her inner circle had traveled to Orlais, to attend the masquerade at the Winter Palace. It was a desperate attempt to stop what seemed to be the opportune moment for the assassination of Empress Celene which Sarya had heard about when sent into the future with Dorian. Josephine had procured their invitations as guests of the Grand Duke Gaspard, who was in the middle of a civil war with the Empress, his sister. The civil war was the main focus of the peace talks that were to happen tonight - apparently, a masquerade was necessary for this.

“Perhaps we can use my personal tailor in Val Royeux next time, hm?” Vivienne suggested, standing tall in comparison to Sarya. “I do believe there are some… improvements to be made. For starters, these sashes-”

“The Inquisition does not need embellishments, Madame de Fer,” Josephine said, giving her a courteous smile.

“We’d be wearing masks like the rest of them if that were true,” Sarya said, eyeing the fancy masks everyone seemed to be wearing. The Winter Palace was grand: marble staircases with golden trim, vaulted ceilings with details that must have taken ages to accomplish and chandeliers to make them glow. Everyone in their fancy gowns and gold and silver masks seemed to fit right in with the decor, even the stars in the deep black-blue sky masked by clouds seemingly reached to sparkle along with everyone else in the outside gardens. Sarya silently agreed with Vivienne: despite how certain she was that she would be more uncomfortable in one of the gaudy gowns and masks everyone wore, the Inquisition stuck out like a sore thumb in their red and gold jackets with blue silk sashes. However, perhaps that was Josephine’s hope. They were garnering a lot of interest from onlookers, even if it were whispers and sideways looks. Sarya had already been approached twice by masked nobles, demanding drinks from her and throwing up their hands in frustration when she raised an eyebrow at them.

“Inquisitor Lavellan!” Whispers began more furiously as Grand Duke Gaspard approached Sarya near the ballroom door, greeting her with a deep bow. “My Lady, are you ready to shock the court by walking into the grand ball with a usurper?”

“I think the shock has already begun,” Sarya said, a light laugh in her voice. She glanced around for a short moment, and sure enough nearly every noble’s head was turned their way, looking on curiously as they whispered and shook their heads. “You’re sure you want to walk in with a Dalish mage at your side? Who knows which way it will sway The Game for you tonight.”

“Favorably, I have no doubt,” Gaspard said, a confident look showing clearly on his face despite his mask. “I detest the game. But if we do not play it well, our enemies will make us look like villains.”

“Well, then, let us shock the Empire,” Sarya said, giving him a smile.

“You’re a woman after my own heart, my lady,” Gaspard said, holding out his hand to lead her into the ballroom. Sarya followed his lead, walking into the ballroom as two servants opened the large double doors for them.

The ballroom was grand indeed, and Sarya couldn’t help but let her eyes wander the room: grand white ceilings adorned with gold embellishments and paintings; golden statues of winged creatures lined the high walls of the dance floor that marble and golden trimmed stairs led down to. She had been impressed with the richness of the vestibule, but this hall was possibly even grander. She snapped out of her trance as Josephine cleared her throat behind her, quickening her step as she kept up just behind Gaspard.

“Wait until they announce your name, then follow slowly, try to match the Grand Duke’s pace,” Josephine whispered to her as they reached the top of the stairs. Sarya nodded silently in understanding, her heart suddenly pounding. All along the upper floor and along the sides of the dance floor, nobles stood shoulder to shoulder waiting to see who was to be announced, who would be arriving with the Grand Duke. This was insane. She was expected to walk in front of all these nobles, to keep her face straight and not make a fool of the entire Inquisition. She was suddenly thankful for the gloves she wore, sure that the bright lights from the chandeliers above would have illuminated the sweat she was sure was forming on her hands for all to see.

“And now presenting: Grand Duke Gaspard de Chalons,” the herald announced loudly, almost making Sarya jump.

“Breaths, Inquisitor,” Leliana said gently from behind her as Gaspard began walking confidently down the last set of stairs and to the long ballroom floor. Sarya took in a deep breath, not having realized she had been holding it, and braced herself.

“Remember to smile,” Vivienne said. “This is all for show, my dear.”

“And, accompanying him: Lady Inquisitor Lavellan,” the herald continued. Sarya gingerly began down the stairs, careful not to trip in the boots Josephine had only given her the day before. She quietly gave herself a pat on the back for successfully traversing the stairs, then focused on keeping the distance between her and Gaspard consistent, heeding Vivienne’s words and putting on a smile she hoped didn’t look too fake in her stress. “Vanquisher of the rebel mages of Ferelden, crusher of the vile apostates of the Mage Underground. Champion of the Blessed Andraste herself.”

“Crusher of the what?” Sarya muttered quietly, trying her best to not react with her face.

“This guy writes better fiction than I do,” Varric said, holding back a laugh.

“Ser Cullen Stanton Rutherford of Honnleath,” the herald continued. “Commander of the forces of the Inquisition. Former Knight-Commander of Kirkwall.”

Stanton?” Sarya repeated, her fake smile turning into an all too real grin.

“Less talking, more smiling,” Josephine said quietly, encouraging them all to move along. Sarya continued ahead, walking up the steps at the end of the ballroom floor. Above her on the balcony, a woman in a silver mask stood looking down to greet her. Her outfit was regal, midnight blue and golden feathers adorning her back.

“Lady Inquisitor,” Empress Celine spoke, her voice lilted as she stood tall. “We welcome you to the Winter Palace. Allow us to present our cousin, the Grand Duchess of Lydes, without whom this gathering would never have been possible.”

“What an unexpected pleasure,” the Grand Duchess to the left of Celene said while curtseying politely. Sarya couldn’t be sure, but, judging by her tone, it sounded as if she was quite put off by the Inquisition being there. “I was not aware the Inquisition would be part of our festivities. We will certainly speak later, Inquisitor.”

“Your arrival at court is like a cool wind on a summer’s day,” Celene said to Sarya as the Grand Duchess walked away. Sarya bit her tongue hard, her instincts wanting to snort at the metaphor. An ice storm during Spring, you mean, she thought.

“Thank you, your majesty,” Sarya nodded politely. “It’s an honor to have been invited.”

“How do you find Halamshiral?”

“The Winter Palace is breathtaking,” Sarya said, an earnest smile on her face. “I can’t say I’ve ever seen anything as grand.”

“Your modesty does you credit, and speaks well for your Inquisition,” Celene said, a hint of pride on her face. “Feel free to enjoy the pleasures of the ballroom, Inquisitor. We look forward to watching you dance.”

Sarya bit her tongue again to keep her eyes from widening as she gave a deep bow to the Empress before eagerly walking up the stairs to her left. She stood to the side, waiting for her friends to follow.

Please tell me I’m not expected to dance,” she breathed exasperatedly as Josephine walked over to her.

“There’s no harm in turning down the lesser nobles here,” Josephine said, a smile on her face. “However, I would try not to say no if anyone of great power asks. You did just fine during our lessons, I doubt you’ll make a fool of the Inquisition if that’s what you’re worried about.”

“You may find yourself spending less time in the ballroom as it is,” Leliana said. “I’ve already heard from my spies that there have been commotions in the servant’s wing. You should try to listen in on conversations, see if you can find your way in there. We must gather all the information we can if we are to know that the assassination is to happen tonight.”

“Right,” Sarya nodded. “Half the people here think I’m a servant anyway. How difficult can it be?”

 


 

 

     The first part of the evening, Sarya spent much of her time slowly making her way through the various halls filled with lord and ladies of all ranks. Although the task set before her by Leliana was to eavesdrop, she found herself often stopped by people wanting to speak with her about the Inquisition. Most of it seemed a waste of time to her - only so many ways to convey Inquisition good, end of humanity as we know it bad to people who really only wanted whatever outcome would mean they could get ahead. However, she did find herself gaining little bits of information here and there that she was sure would help their goal, or at least be interesting to Leliana, and many of the nobles who had been curiously whispering about her before were now eagerly vying for her attention as she made her rounds. Now back in the ballroom, she looked around for her advisors, trying to figure out what next step she should take with this found information.

“You must dance with me, Commander! You cannot stand about all evening.”

Sarya’s gaze followed the sound of a male Orlesian, finding the man standing along with a group of other nobles who had seemingly trapped Cullen. They were all standing around him, not too close but still very obviously there for him, a few of them giggling while he had a look on his face that clearly said he was uncomfortable.

“I’m afraid not, thank you,” Cullen said politely to the man.

“Can I get you a drink, Commander Cullen?” One of the ladies asked.

“No, thank you.”

Sarya held back a laugh as she walked over, watching relief wash over Cullen’s face as he met her gaze.

“Inquisitor!” He breathed, glad for the space a few of the nobles made as Sarya moved to stand in front of him. “Did you need something?”

“You’ve attracted quite a following,” Sarya said quietly, amusement on her face. “Who are all these people?”

“I don’t know, but they won’t leave me alone,” he said, his voice a bit exasperated.

“Not enjoying the attention, then?” She asked. Truthfully, she couldn't blame them. Even in their tacky uniforms, Cullen was quite handsome, and the tightness of his jacket probably didn’t help.

“Hardly,” he sighed quietly. “Anyway yours - yours is the only attention worth having.”

“Well, you have it,” she said, her cheeks reddening as she smiled at him. “I’ve been talking with quite a few people, they seem to be very interested in the Inquisition.”

“There are few here we can trust. Be careful,” he warned. “I doubt there's a single person here without ulterior motives.”

“Earlier, the herald announced you as Knight-Commander.” Sarya said. “I thought you were Knight-Captain of Kirkwall?”

“It’s complicated,” Cullen sighed. “I was Knight-Captain under Meredith, as I’ve mentioned. When she was overthrown, there was so much chaos in Kirkwall. I stepped up to take command until the Templar Order would see fit to announce a permanent Knight-Commander, but with everything that had happened and the looming mage rebellion, it never happened.”

“So it just happened, although not officially, you’re saying?”

“In a sense,” he nodded.

“I suppose I should be glad you were there to step into command,” Sarya said.

“And why is that?” He asked, intrigue on his face. “If someone else had, they may have been our Commander,” she said with a smile. “I can’t imagine they would have looked as good in that uniform, and all these people would have nothing to ogle at.”

“Andraste preserve me,” Cullen sighed, making Sarya laugh.

“I don’t suppose you’d save a dance for me later?” She asked. Truly, the idea of dancing in front of everyone made her nervous beyond reason, but the idea of doing so with Cullen eased her thoughts.

“No, thank you.”

“Oh,” she said, trying not to sound too disappointed.

“No!” Cullen said quickly, his eyes widening as he realized his mistake. “I didn’t mean to - Maker’s breath! I’ve responded to that question so many times I’m rejecting automatically. I’m not one for dancing. The Templars never attended balls.”

“It’s all right, Cullen,” she said, giving him a small smile. “I understand. I should probably get to looking around more, anyway. I overheard two servants earlier say something about a package in the upper Guest Wing.”

“Be careful,” Cullen said, the look on his face more kind as he relaxed with her reassurance. “And don’t take too long. People will notice your absence.”

 


 

 

     Ambassadors murdered, dead servants, blood everywhere staining marble floors. Sarya, Varric, Cassandra, and Vivienne only aided to add to that blood as they were attacked by groups of Venatori that had overrun the gardens and Guest Wing of the palace. A Council of Heralds Emissary had been found dead with a knife bearing the crest of Grand Duke Gaspard, but why would he leave something there that would so easily tie him back to the crime? It made no sense. It couldn’t have been him. And Ambassador Briala, the elven ex-lover of Empress Celene - verified by the locket Sarya had found in a vault - who had turned the servants of Halamshiral into a spy network against the Empire, had so quickly tried to pin it on Gaspard without Sarya even mentioning the knife. When she had returned to the ballroom and the Grand Duchess of Lydes, Florianne, had asked her to dance, Sarya had been unsure of what to expect. Question upon question on the dance floor, trying to pry information out of Sarya but not being tactful enough. Sarya began to have the sneaking suspicion that playing The Game only worked as long as your opponent was wearing a mask as well. Everyone was out in the open, trying to hide their intentions but feeling so emboldened by the mask on their face, revealing their desires and the deep meaning behind their questions to Sarya. Florianne had given Sarya a lead - a captain in the Royal Wing that could give her information. Sarya was sure it was a trap judging by the questions Florianne had been asking her on the ballroom floor, but the stakes were high and every lead had to be investigated.

She would be meeting with Cassandra, Varric, and Vivienne at the entrance to the Royal Wing in ten minutes, and Sarya found herself in a quiet hall trying to catch her breath beforehand. A handful of lords and ladies stood in the hall, the walls lined with tables with tons of decadent desserts. Sarya stood and glanced over the desserts, her interest piquing. She had never seen so many, each one looking to be a different kind, shape, flavor. There were neat slices of yellow cake with white frosting, bite sized tarts adorned with fruit, small round pastries covered in powdered sugar. She looked around before gingerly taking a small plate that had a slice of some kind of pie on it, grabbing a fork and sneaking off with it.

There was a corner near a window away from the groups of people, and Sarya stood there hidden by a conveniently placed large potted plant. It effectively hid herself from the other guests, giving her a moment to lean against the wall and breathe. She sunk her fork into a corner of the pie, closing her mouth over it. It was fantastic. She silently thanked the potted plant for shielding her, sure that the look on her face over a simple dessert was something most nobles would raise an eyebrow at. She closed her eyes as she took another bite, allowing a blissful smile to wash over her face as she tasted the mix of cinnamon, brown sugar, and tenderly baked apples surrounded by a perfectly flakey crust.

“You seem to be enjoying yourself.”

The warm voice of Cullen startled Sarya out of her dessert trance, her eyes quickly scanning the hall to see if anyone else was watching her as he chuckled.

“Relax, your hiding spot is safe with me,” Cullen said, watching as her demeanor relaxed again once she realized no one else seemed to be aware of her.

“I've never tasted anything quite like this,” Sarya sighed, slowly blinking in bliss as she took another bite.

“They call it The Blessed Apple in Orlais,” Cullen said, watching her warmly as she ate the dessert. He couldn't remember the last time he had seen her this relaxed, and he made a mental note about apples and sugar and staying out of the public's eye. It was a complete flip from the stress he had been able to see slipping through the proper smile she had mastered throughout that evening.

“My clan mostly stayed away from human settlements, so we never often had access to sugar,” Sarya said, pausing to take another bite. “When we did we made hearth cakes, sort of denser cakes with lots of halla butter and the sugar and dried fruit. It was always a comforting treat, but this…

“I can only imagine your face once you find the petit fours,” Cullen chuckled.

“If I find the time to,” Sarya sighed before taking another bite. “I only stepped away for a moment. I'm meeting the others in the Royal Wing in ten minutes. So many cakes, so little time, and too much murder abound.”

“I'm sure there will be plenty when you've returned,” Cullen smiled at her. “Orlais would never recover from its embarrassment if the Inquisitor commented on the lack of desserts when asked how the masquerade was.”

“What about you?” Sarya asked, turning her attention fully to him now that her small plate was empty. “Last I saw you, you were being gawked at by a row of lords and ladies.”

“I slipped out for some air, same as you I suppose,” Cullen grimaced as he remembered the group most likely awaiting his return. “These Orlesians are… Much more forward than I'm accustomed to.”

“I can't say I blame them,” Sarya said, smiling at him as he slightly raised his eyebrow at her. “You are quite the catch.”

“Your flattery will get you everywhere, Inquisitor,” Cullen chuckled. “Still, I'd rather a quiet, secluded corner with you than the ballroom with those handsy nobles any day.”

“Want me to fend them off? Set some coattails on fire?” Sarya teased, grinning at the way his eyes widened as if he didn't know if she were serious or not.

“Maker - no, I - I don't think that will be necessary,” he said.

“Are you sure?” Sarya asked, lowering her voice as she stood near him, thankful for the seclusion the dark corner gave them. “A pass has been made at my Commander and I must have satisfaction...”

“I think that could be arranged…” Cullen said quietly, well aware of how close she was standing to him. He pulled his hand away as he realized it had moved to her arm, his eyes scanning the hall. “We're not the only ones listening for conversations tonight, we should be careful.”

“I suppose you’re right,” Sarya sighed. “There’s enough going around without adding more scandals to the docket.”

“It seems like the most people have moved back to the ballroom,” Cullen smiled. “You'd best not miss your opportunity to investigate.”

“This is why you're my Commander,” Sarya said, nodding in agreement. “Always keeping me on track.”

“Someone must,” Cullen chuckled. Sarya gave him one last smile before heading down the hall the way she had come. The Royal Wing would be just in the next hallway and up the stairs. A quick look around, and then she'd discover these petit fours Cullen had mentioned, whatever they were.

 


 

 

     So, it had been a trap. Most definitely a trap. True to Florianne’s word, Gaspard’s Captain had been found in the Royal Wing, in the Empress’ room no less, tied up on the bed wearing naught but his helmet. He had been tricked by Celene into betraying Gaspard, and although it did sound like Gaspard had planned on some kind of attack that evening, with all the information Sarya had gathered she was beginning to believe it was more of a military coup than an assassination - in short, something any of those vying for power tonight would have been happy to do. Florianne had met them in a courtyard on their way back, mercenaries standing at the ready with arrows and a Fade rift spewing demons just after Florianne admitted working for Corypheus. It had been the first time Sarya’s hand had stung that night, the Anchor burning as she closed the rift only to find Florianne long gone.

“We have to get back to the ballroom,” Sarya said, her breath heavy as Varric shot and killed the last of the mercenaries. “If Florianne is working for Corypheus, she could be behind the assassination attempt. We should find Leliana, Josephine, and Cullen and discuss what should be done.”

They had quickly returned to the ballroom, each of them looking around. Florianne was nowhere to be found, and a relief washed over Sarya as she saw the Empress standing in the corner speaking with her ladies in waiting. She saw Cassandra speaking with Leliana, and so Sarya found her way to Cullen, who had changed locations but still gathered the same following as before.

“Did you just - grab my bottom!” Cullen exclaimed, a look on his face that clearly said he didn’t know what to do with himself.

“I couldn’t help myself!” An Orlesian woman giggled. Sarya shook her head, quickening her step.

“Commander, I need to borrow you,” Sarya said. She could practically see the relief wash over him at her words as she approached him, putting herself in between him and the handsy nobles.

“Of course, Inquisitor,” he nodded, disappointment obvious on the faces of his group of fans as he eagerly followed her to the other side of the ballroom.

“You looked like you needed rescuing,” she said, an apologetic look on her face.

“These Orlesians have no sense of boundaries,” Cullen muttered, grabbing a nearby pitcher and filling a glass with water. “Have you had luck with your searches?”

“We found a captain in the royal wing tied to a bedpost wearing nothing but his helmet,” Sarya said, holding back a laugh as Cullen choked on the water. “And the Grand Duchess of Lydes is working for Corypheus. It's been a very interesting night, to say the least.”

“Maker, that’s not good. At least it’s been entertaining for you, if nothing else,” Cullen said. Sarya let out a small laugh, turning to the table to get herself a drink. Her hands slowed as she overheard an Orlesian quietly talking to someone next to him.

Did you see the Inquisitor?” He was saying. “Silver hair and emerald eyes.

You always did have a thing for the servants,” his male companion chuckled. Sarya bit her tongue at the comment. She could see them out of the corner of her eye, about halfway down the hall, attempting to whisper but obviously not trying hard enough for her to not hear.

What do you think she’s like? I’ve heard the Dalish are wild things,” he said, and Sarya turned slightly as she realized Cullen had gone quiet and still. A sense of dread grew in her as she realized he could hear them as well. She was used to these sorts of comments from humans, but she was unsure if Cullen had ever heard anyone utter anything about her more than the usual knife-ear.

If the Inquisition is here, do you think they will be a part of the talks?” The man’s friend asked. “Perhaps she would be willing to personally negotiate, for alliance purposes.

Forgetting her glass, Sarya turned towards Cullen and grabbed his arm as he took a fast step in their direction. His face was infuriated, his hands clenched into fists and ready for battle.

“Please don’t start a war with Orlais over me,” she pleaded quietly, well aware that a few eyes had been drawn towards them, including the two men who had been talking.

“You can’t possibly ask me to stand by while those two degenerative-”

“Cullen, our focus is to stop an assassination,” Sarya said, stepping in front of him in an attempt to bring his attention to her rather than the two men whom he seemed to be trying to kill just with his fiery gaze. “As much as I appreciate your willingness to pummel someone for me, we can’t protect the Empress if we get thrown out.”

“You’re right,” Cullen mumbled through clenched teeth, his demeanor softening slightly though his hands remained balled.

“Come on,” Sarya said, nodded her head to the side as she redirected him away from the nobles. They walked to the opposite corner, her hand still fixed to his arm in case he changed his mind on the way there.

“Is everything all right?” Josephine asked as she approached the two of them with Leliana.

“Just fine,” Sarya nodded, looking up at Cullen. Cullen met her eyes, his gaze softening as he sighed and nodded.

“Cassandra said you had a run in with the Grand Duchess of Lydes?” Leliana asked.

“We did,” Sarya nodded, turning her attention to Lelina. “Florianne tried to convince me earlier on the dance floor that Gaspard is the traitor, although after she attacked us and admitted she’s serving Corypheus, I don’t know if I believe her.”

“The Grand Duchess attacked you?” Josephine asked exasperatedly.

“Then… the attack on the Empress will happen tonight.” Cullen said, his attention fulling shifting focus to their conversation at the news.

“The Empress is just over there, should we tell her?” Sarya asked.

“Warning Celene is pointless,” Josephine shook her head. “She needs these talks to succeed, and to flee would admit defeat.”

“Then perhaps we should let her die.” Leliana said plainly.

“What?” Sarya’s eyes widened in shock. “I thought we were here to stop the assassination!”

“Listen to me carefully, Inquisitor,” Leliana said, her voice quiet. “What Corypheus wants is chaos. Even with Celene alive, that could still happen. To foil his plan, the empire must remain strong. This evening, someone must emerge victorious.”

“And it doesn’t need to be Celene,” Cullen said. “She’s right.”

“You can’t be serious,” Sarya said incredulously.

“Sometimes the best path is not the easiest one,” Leliana said.

“I don’t care about the politics, we can’t just let her die on purpose!” Sarya exclaimed quietly, disbelief on her face. “I can’t believe you’re all suggesting that’s an option!”

“Not all of us are suggesting that,” Josephine shook her head as she crossed her arms. “I agree, Inquisitor. It would be appalling to make such a decision.”

“Well, we may not have to make the decision if we cannot locate the assassin before it happens,” Cullen said.

“You could speak with Celene in the ballroom,” Josephine suggested. “But she won’t act. Not without proof.”

“Florianne just tried to have me killed,” Sarya raised her eyebrows. “What more proof could she want!”

“You know what I mean,” Josephine sighed.

“Let all gathered attend! Her Imperial Majesty will now address the court!” A herald called out. They turned, finding Empress Celene standing at the balcony as before, overlooking the ballroom floor.

“We’re running out of time,” Sarya whispered, looking around frantically as Celene began her speech. People had gathered all around to listen to her speech, her words flowing eloquently as ever. Sarya walked away from her advisors, trying to move through the crowd as it tightened. She wasn’t as short as other elves, but Sarya still had trouble seeing through the crowd as she tried to pick out anyone who looked like they were doing more than listening.

“We must be that light! We must lead our people safely through these troubled times,” Celene was saying, her voice soaring high over the heads of everyone, echoing off the high ceilings. That was when Sarya saw her: Florianne, entering the ballroom from one of the outside balconies, making her way to Celene.

Elgar’nan, she’s going to do it herself,” Sarya breathed, her heart pounding as she came to the conclusion. She tried to get through the crowd quickly, bodies packed tightly together hindering her, nobles scoffing as she pushed past them. There were too many people, she couldn’t just send a wave of ice to stop her, not without hurting others in the process.

“My friends, we are here to witness an historic moment,” Florianne said, her voice reaching Sarya as she continued in vain to through the crowd. Sarya barely had made it through the crowd, shoving past the last noble in her way when she saw the knife in Florianne’s hand pressed to Celene’s back.

NO!” She shouted, her heart dropping as Florianne sunk the knife into Celene’s back. Blood pooled around the wound, staining her dress as she fell to the ground. Sarya ran full speed at Florianne, throwing herself around her waist and tackling her to the ground. Florianne let out a surprised yell, struggling as multiple guards grabbed her arms and dragged her up.

You!” Florianne seethed, glaring at Sarya behind her mask. “You are supposed to be dead!”

“Sorry to disappoint you,” Sarya said, shaking her head.

“It is no matter,” Florianne laughed. “Celene is dead, and all because of Gaspard!”

“Gaspard?” Sarya scoffed as the nobles around them gasped and began whispering. “You are the one who just openly admitted to me moments ago to serving Corypheus, right before stabbing your cousin in the back. You’re not fooling anyone, Florianne.”

“Cousin, is this true?!” Gaspard asked in shock.

“You will not defeat him, Inquisitor,” Florienne spat. “When he reaches the Black City, he will know who his true servants are!”

“Take her away,” Gaspard said coldly, waving his hand at the guards who dutifully dragged Florianne off.

“I’m sorry I couldn’t get to her in time,” Sarya said quietly to Gaspard, heart heavy as she glanced at Celene’s body.

“You have brought our Empress’ murderer to justice rather than allowing her lies to poison these halls,” Gaspard said, loudly enough for all to hear. “Orlais will not forget that, Inquisitor.”

 


 

 

     Despite the Empress being murdered, the masquerade continued into the evening, nobles excitedly relaying to one another the version they had seen: some recounts of the Inquisitor setting Florianne aflame at her dress skirts, some remembering a daring struggle between the Empress and her traitorous sister, each tale more tall than the last. At the very least, Gaspard had gained control and ended the Civil War, bringing peace to Orlais for the foreseeable future. Cullen found himself wandering the ballroom, looking for Sarya now that she seemed to have escaped the throngs of nobles who had flocked to her side after the ordeal. As he walked by an open doorway leading to a balcony, he glanced out to see Sarya by herself, leaning against the railing and staring out into the night. She didn’t seem to react to his footsteps, though her head tilted slightly to the side in acknowledgement as he stood next to her and leaned his elbow on the railing to face her.

“It’s been quite a night,” he commented, trying to break the ice. Her face looked distant, tired. She hid it so well when she was around everyone else, but Cullen knew she had more weighing on her than she let others see.

“It’s been a disaster,” she mumbled, her expression not changing.

“Orlais isn’t crumbling, since Gaspard is able to take on the roll as Emperor,” Cullen said, giving her a small smile for encouragement. “Florianne is in custody, thanks to your quick efforts, which means Corypheus won’t be marching on Orlais anytime soon. I’d call that a victory.”

“Empress Celene died because I couldn’t stop Florianne in time,” Sarya said quietly, and Cullen frowned as he saw a hint of tears welling up in her eyes.

“Empress Celene was not the saint she came off as in person,” Cullen said, placing a hand on Sarya’s arm. “From what I’ve heard, a mere rumor of not supporting her could have been grounds for assassination.”

“How do you choose between one person playing The Game and the rest?” Sarya shook her head. “The games, the lies, the senseless killing. I don’t understand it.”

“I’m glad you don’t,” Cullen said, smiling at her as she turned her head to look at him with a questioning glance. “Your need to help, how much you care… It’s what makes you you. You’re very different from others with this much power and influence at their fingertips. I believe your ability to stay unhardened amongst all this is a testimate to yourself and everyone who follows you.”

“I suppose things would be easier if I wasn’t,” Sarya sighed.

“Easier? Probably,” Cullen said. “I am not certain you would be as loved by everyone around you, though.”

“Ah, yes, that’s just the blood magic at work, though,” Sarya said, laughing at the look on Cullen’s face as his mouth opened slightly. “I’m joking, Cullen. I would never-”

“I know,” Cullen chuckled, his face relaxing. He looked back towards the ballroom as slow music flowed through the door, a grin on his face as he stepped back from Sarya. She looked at him curiously as he bowed in front of her, holding out his hand.

“May I have this dance, my Lady?” He asked.

“I thought you said you didn’t dance?” She asked, placing her hand in his.

“For you, I’ll try,” he said quietly. Cullen gently pulled her close to him, her hand in his while his other rested on her waist. Sarya smiled as she followed his lead, letting her focus shift to what was in front of her. The night had been dark, much more than she had wanted to happen. She quietly decided to let it go for now, to focus on Cullen’s warm smile and the cool night air.

“You're better at this than you let on,” Sarya said.

“Lady Montilyet refused letting me get out of dance lessons before we left,” Cullen sighed. “I almost thought I could argue my way out of it, but she is our Ambassador for a reason. I've never had a woman scowl at me so much who wasn't my mother or a member of the Chantry.”

“I'm sure she was hoping you could sway some opinions on the ballroom floor,” Sarya said. “And yet you just stood there, denying anyone who asked. What will all the Orlesians think if they see us?”

“That I'm the luckiest man in Thedas,” Cullen said warmly, smiling as he gently spun her.

“I'm afraid they'll be more jealous of me than you,” Sarya laughed. “I'd be surprised if you don't begin to receive fan mail at Skyhold.”

“Let’s hope not,” Cullen said, smiling more at the look on her face than at his own words. She looked happy in that moment. There was the hint of exhaustion behind her eyes, the night's events being heavy indeed, but her joy of spending a moment with Cullen, her hand in his as they danced close, that outshone the rest of it. It was what Cullen had hoped for in asking her to dance, to help get her mind off of everything. If he could have his way, she would wear that smile every moment of every day.

 

The two of them danced for some time before Josephine interrupted, shuffling Sarya off to meet other nobles who were asking about her. The rest of the evening found Sarya in the ballroom until late, dragged into conversation after conversation with each noble that came to meet her after the finale of the evening. Each time she thought she would be able to finally sneak away for the night, another would approach, wanting to hear of her account of everything that had happened that evening with Florienne and the rise of Duke Gaspard to Emperor. When Sarya had finally managed to sneak out of the ballroom and to the Guest Wing of the palace, she shut the door to her room a servant had shown her to, sighing as she leaned against the door with her eyes shut. She was exhausted, silently wishing that she had remembered to bring a specific herb mixture she had at Skyhold that helped her relax when her mind was racing. She found herself nearly falling asleep standing against the door, jumping as a knock on the other side of the door startled her. She slowly opened the door, just a crack at first before fully opening it when she realized it was Cullen.

“I hope I haven't disturb you,” Cullen apologized, seeing the tired look on her face. Sarya opened her mouth to respond, pausing as she looked down at the tray he carried in his hands. The lid over it obstructed her view of whatever was on the tray, a confused look on her face.

“What's that?” She asked, eyeing it. She looked up at Cullen, a grin slowly breaking out on his face at her question.

“One of the servants helped me find where they were. If you're not too tired…”

Sarya moved to the side, holding the door open for Cullen as he walked into the room. She shut the door behind him, holding back a laugh as he looked around the room for a place to set the tray. Having been last minute additions to the masquerade, the Inquisition had been given smaller quarters than the higher up nobility. The room was decently sized, but didn't have much in the way of furniture other than the bed and two comfy chairs near the fireplace. Sarya walked over to the bed, sitting down on it and crossing her legs as she patted next to her. Cullen took a deep breath as his face reddened slightly, calming himself as he sat next to her, placing the tray in between them. He watched her face as he pulled the lid off, setting it aside as her eyes widened, a laugh escaping her lips at what he had brought her.

“You really know the way to my heart,” Sarya said, only slightly joking as her eyes glided over the tray. No fewer than ten small, bite sized cakes sat neatly on the tray: dark ones sprinkled with gold dust; white and pink ones with single berries adorning their tops; one that had what appeared to be the smallest sliver of a candied orange peel that elegantly wove itself around the soft looking bite. “Are these those… What did you call them? Pet the floors?”

“Petit Fours,” Cullen chuckled. “Yes, that's what these are.”

“Ah,” Sarya said simply, a smile on her face.

“I won't pretend to be ecstatic about Orlesian culture or their incessant need to play The Game to the bitter end,” Cullen said, smiling warmly at her, watching as her eyes darted from one cake to the other. “However, I will give credit where it's due.”

“You are going to help me, right?” Sarya asked, her eyes sparkling as she looked up at Cullen. “As amazing as these look, I don't think I could possibly eat them all on my own.”

“I suppose I could assist you, if you insist,” Cullen chuckled.

The two of them had discarded their gloves and slowly worked on the petit fours, Sarya becoming more enthusiastic with each bite. By the time she had gotten to her fourth one, Cullen had every incentive to believe her comment before of not having had much access to sugar. She seemed much more awake, her eyes a bit wide now fueled by the sugar. Cullen was suddenly reminded of when he and his brother had devoured nearly an entire small cake themselves secretly at night when he was perhaps nine years of age, and the sugar induced coma they had found themselves in not an hour later.

“Why do you think they do it?” Sarya asked, looking over a light purple one with little white flowers stuck in the hardened frosting. “Dance with their enemies, wearing masks, all to try to get a glimmer of the person beneath it while speaking in riddles?”

“Everything does always seem more complicated in Orlais,” Cullen sighed, watching her as she popped the bite sized cake into her mouth, her eyes lighting up in intrigue as the mystery of the flavor was solved. “I do feel this entire evening would have been solved in an hour argument had it been done on Ferelden soil.”

“It's not a party until someone dies,” Sarya mumbled, grimacing at the morbidness of it.

“You joke, but they'll be speaking excitedly about this evening for years to come. Much more so than if everyone had lived,” Cullen shook his head. “It's a pity it happened the way it did. However, I won't deny I'm intrigued to see where Emperor Gaspard will take Orlais from here.”

“I imagine you see more eye to eye with him than you did with Celene. He did seem to dislike The Game almost as much as you do.”

“Do not take a man like Gaspard at his word,” Cullen said, a slight warning to his tone. “He is no less Orlesian than Celene was. I have no doubt he prefers the battlefield to ballrooms, however his supposed disdain for The Game may very well be a ploy to gain favor with the Inquisition.”

“You really can never trust anyone here, can you?” Sarya frowned.

“They wear masks for a reason,” Cullen said, a small smile on his face. He looked down at his hand that was on the bed as Sarya leaned forward, placing her hand on his.

“Cullen, thank you,” Sarya smiled, her eyes lighting up as he looked back at her. “This was… Incredibly sweet of you, to do this. This evening has been nothing I expected it to be, and you somehow managed to help me relax after all of it, as always.”

“I'm happy to assist,” Cullen said, returning her smile. Sarya leaned towards him over the now empty tray, pressing her lips gently to his. Her kiss was soft, tired, her fingers lacing with his hand. Cullen brought his other hand up to cup the side of her face as he returned the kiss, the sweet taste of frosting on her lips.

“Will you stay with me for a bit?” Sarya asked timidly as she pulled back gently. Her face rested against his hand as she looked at him with tired eyes. “I know it's late, I just… really enjoy your company.”

“Of course,” Cullen smiled. He moved the tray to the side as she scooted closer to him, his arm wrapping around her as she leaned her head on his shoulder. Resting his head against the top of hers, Cullen closed his eyes, content to sit in the first true calm silence of the night with Sarya so close to him.

Chapter Text

     Cullen awoke to the sound of birds chirping, sunlight pouring in from a large window that reached his face. He stayed still for a moment, sighing in content as he relished the moment without a headache after a rare night of uninterrupted rest. He paused as he felt something nuzzling into him, slim fingers curled into the side of his hair making him realize it was a someone. Cullen slowly opened his eyes, lifting his head slightly to find Sarya with her face resting on his shoulder. Her fingers absentmindedly playing with his brushed out curls in her sleep, a happy hum escaping her. They were both still in their dress uniforms from the night before, light creases pressed into the fabric from lying in one position for too long. Cullen gathered they must have fallen asleep before he could make it to his own room, and he couldn’t help the smile that grew on his face. Waking up with her in his arms felt more normal than he ever could have imagined. Her small frame fit against him well, and holding her felt so comforting. He felt… content. He let out a sigh of approval as her fingers delved further into his hair, tangling in it, her nails lightly running along his scalp, a feeling he was sure could easily lull him back to sleep. He reached his hand across his chest, gently pushing strands of silver-white hair out of her face. Sarya stirred at his touch, her eyes opening slowly as she tilted her chin up to look at him. A smile grew on her face as he met her gaze, and his heart swelled.

“You stayed all night?” She asked quietly, her hand remaining in his hair as she yawned.

“I must have fallen asleep,” Cullen nodded, tucking hair behind her ear.

“People will talk,” she said, biting her lip gently as she adjusted herself so she could look at him better. He looked so relaxed, so at ease in comparison to how controlled and calculated every step he took usually seemed. Some of his hair was matted on the side, a stark change to his usually perfectly brushed back hair. It was a good look for him, she decided.

“It's nothing they haven't said before,” Cullen chuckled, pulling her close to him. He shifted her onto her back, leaning over her as he kissed her. Sarya sighed against him, her arms wrapping around his neck to pull him closer.

“This palace is... pretty big,” Sarya said in-between kisses. “We could... probably hide here... for a long time... before anyone... realizes where... we are.”

Cullen chuckled against her lips before placing a sweet kiss on her nose.

“Perhaps if Leliana was not the head of our spy network,” he said, the truth to his words making Sarya groan in defeat.

“What about just a little longer?” She asked quietly, her eyes meeting his in silence. Cullen's eyes traced her face for a moment, his heart racing as he saw an amatory gaze in her eyes peeking out behind the fatigue that still lingered. He kissed her softly, allowing her to set the pace as her tongue grazed his upper lip longingly. His gladly joined hers, the two wrestling with one another amid sighs and gentle moans as their kisses became more frantic. Cullen’s hands moved to the top of her dress jacket, practically shaking as he undid the top button. His heart seemed to have moved to his throat as he found the second, thumping out of control as his fingers freed yet another silver button from crimson fabric, the enticing sounds careening from her mouth the only thing driving him past his apprehension.

“Inquisitor? Are you still in your room?”

Cullen practically flew off of Sarya at the sound of Josephine’s voice calling from the closed door accompanied by light knocking.

“Maker, does Leliana know? Did she tip her off?” Cullen asked, his breath ragged as Sarya sat up with a laugh.

“I think Leliana has more important things to focus on than if we’ve spent the night together, Cullen.”

More important, yes, but I wouldn’t be surprised if-” Cullen stopped mid sentence as a thought occurred to him, his stomach sinking. “The door.”

“What?”

“We didn’t lock it,” Cullen said, his eyes drawn to the door handle as it began to turn. Sarya held back a snort as Cullen practically flung himself over the side of the bed, pinning himself out of sight on the floor between the bed and the window.

“Inquisitor? Ah, there you are,” Josephine said as she entered, spying Sarya on the bed. “You’re… still in your dress clothes.”

“I must have fallen asleep in them,” Sarya said, adding a yawn for effect.

“I understand, the night was quite eventful,” Josephine said, giving her a smile as she looked around. “I thought I heard another voice?”

“I don’t see anyone,” Sarya shook her head, matching Josephine’s smile.

“Yes, I… see that,” she said, tilting her head questioningly. “We will be leaving to return to Skyhold within the hour. If there is anything you need before then-”

“I’ll be dressed and out in just a bit,” Sarya nodded. “Thank you, Josie.”

“Of course,” Josephine said, grabbing the door and adding before leaving, “If you see Commander Cullen before I do, will you let him know as well? I haven’t been able to locate him yet.”

“Absolutely,” Sarya said. She waited until Josephine closed the door behind her before falling onto her stomach on the bed, hanging her head over the edge to look at Cullen with a smirk. “The scary ambassador is gone, Commander. I believe you’re safe to get off the cold floor.”

“That wasn’t the best idea that’s come to my mind recently,” Cullen sighed as he propped his arms up on the side of the bed.

“Which one? Hiding behind my bed or staying the night?”

“Hiding,” Cullen chuckled. He smiled warmly at her, his eyes lingering on her lips for a moment before he found her eyes again. Maker, they could be made from emeralds with the way they shine, he thought. “I should probably get changed before tongues wag too much.”

“Let them wag,” Sarya laughed, leaning forward and kissing him before he stood. She sighed as he left, rolling onto her back and staring up at the intricately decorated ceiling of the guest room. “I really need to start locking doors.”


 

     It was the day after they had all returned to Skyhold. Having been gone for about a week, they had quite a long day ahead of them at the War Table playing catch-up. They had begun early, Josephine eagerly waking Sarya earlier than usual in a chipper mood, coaxing Sarya with the promise of food while Sarya had grumbled and rolled out of bed. As she stood staring at the large map of Thedas on the War Table, the morning sun filtering through paned windows in glimmers of reds and golds, Sarya absentmindedly rested her finger against the side of her cup of tea, the liquid soon steaming again as she yawned. She had no idea how all three of her advisors were already so awake, and for a moment she had a suspicion that they mustn’t need sleep at all. She was having difficulty focusing, her mind miles away as she stared at her marker which had yet to be placed anywhere.

“I heard the Inquisitor did as well,” Leliana was saying, drawing Sarya out of her daydream.

“I’m sorry, what did I do?” She asked, looking at Leliana.

“Leliana heard you enjoyed the cakes, Inquisitor?” Josephine said, a knowing grin on her face. “At Halamshiral.”

“Oh, the cakes,” Sarya sighed, a dreamy look on her tired face as she reminisced.

“Which was your favorite?” Leliana asked, her voice peaked with interest, as if she would be adding Sarya’s answer to a long list in her mind. “The chocolate petit fours with raspberries, or perhaps the sugar cakes?”

“They were all heavenly,” Sarya smiled, wondering if she wished hard enough if they'd appear in front of her. “I think my favorite though - what did you say it was called, Commander?”

“The Blessed Apple,” Cullen said, chuckling at the reminder of the look on her face when she had believed she was out of site, alone with her sugar.

“I've always loved apples,” Sarya sighed happily. “If anything good came out of that night, it was that dessert.”

“That wasn't everything that came out in our advantage,” Josephine said, looking at Cullen with a restrained smile. “I've received requests for information on your lineage from a few interested parties.”

“Andraste preserve me,” Cullen said exasperatedly. “Feel free to use those requests as kindling!”

“No, I shall take them,” Leliana smiled dangerously. “I want to know who pines for our Commander. We can use this to our advantage.”

“My thoughts precisely,” Josephine nodded.

“Josie, that's rather diabolical of you,” Sarya said, holding back a laugh at Cullen's expense. She straightened, the conversation waking her more.

“I'm not bait!” Cullen exclaimed.

“Hush, just stand there and look pretty,” Leliana commanded. The three women broke out laughing, all the while Cullen pinched the bridge of his nose in frustration.

“Now that we have returned, we can discuss the matter of Venatori in the Hinterlands,” Josephine said, changing the conversation though her smile never quite left her face.

“His jacket, was it made tight on purpose?” Sarya asked Leliana quietly as Josephine and Cullen discussed the situation.

“A Spymaster never reveals her secrets,” Leliana replied, the corners of her mouth curling upwards deviously to answer her.

 

     The four of them discussed matters over the course of three hours, going over the reports that had piled while they had been gone in Orlais. Leliana's agents had discovered the whereabouts of a group of Venatori in the Hinterlands, and after her run-in with them at Halamshiral Sarya was more than happy to solidify plans for her to personally take them out with her companions. Not to mention, another stop in the Hinterlands would give her a chance to check in with their soldiers out there and the refugees they had been helping.

“There is another matter,” Leliana said, sliding a letter across the War Table to Sarya. “This arrived this morning. A letter from your clan’s Keeper.”

Sarya picked up the letter, her eyes quickly scanned the writing. It seemed Clan Lavellan had been having issues with bandits recently in the chaos of all the rifts, heavily armed and armored in numbers too great for them to match. Her Keeper, Istimaethoriel, had written to her asking for the Inquisition's aid.

“Have you all read this?” Sarya asked, looking up from the letter.

“We have, Inquisitor,” Josephine nodded. “The Duke of Wycome is an ally of the Inquisition. I can write to him on the Inquisition's behalf and ask for his assistance on the matter.”

“Can we trust the Duke to help them? Surely, if there are bandits so close to his city he would have sent aid by now if he wanted to?”

“I could send my agents to help,” Leliana offered. “That way they can retreat safely. Though, it may take time for them to gather there.”

“Are there no other options?” Sarya asked, her heart pounding. For her clan to come under attack while she was so far away, it was wretching to her. If they were closer, she would ride out to help them herself. The situation must have been dire for Istamaethoriel to write asking for help, she could only assume there wasn’t much time to spare.

“We have soldiers stationed along the Storm Coast, Inquisitor,” Cullen said, noticing the desperation in her eyes. “Say the word and I'll have them at your clan’s side in two days time.”

“Thank you, Cullen,” Sarya nodded, a sigh escaping her.

“Are you well?” Leliana asked, looking at Cullen as he pinched the bridge of his nose, his eyes shut tightly.

“A headache, nothing more,” Cullen sighed, gathering up the small stack of reports in front of him. “I'll get our soldiers stationed nearby sent to the Free Marches this instant. I also have a few other matters that require my attention this morning, if we could pick up from here later.”

“I think that’s a good idea,” Sarya nodded, eyeing Cullen as he walked past her and exited the room quickly. His headaches had seemed more frequent since Haven, hough he hadn’t been one to talk about it unless pried. The helper in her nagged, wanted to look into it more, but Cullen could be so hard to get information from when it came to such personal things. What did he say before, that Cassandra was keeping him in check? Perhaps she would have more insight, Sarya thought, drinking down the last of her tea and heading on her way.

 

     Cassandra wasn't easy to find. She wasn't in any of her usual locations this time of day, and Sarya spent a good half hour looking around Skyhold for her. She was stopped a few times by runners and others, either delivering her messages or else wanting a word with the Inquisitor. By the time Sarya finally made it to the courtyard the sun was nearly right above her head. Cole walked past her with a basket of turnips, and Sarya couldn't help but match his smile. Cole had been so busy around Skyhold, doing his best to ease the pain of anyone suffering in any a way only Cole could. She knew some of her inner circle were unnerved by Cole's presence, but after seeing the good he was doing Sarya was sure she made the right decision allowing him to stay. As he disappeared, she turned her attention to the open door that led to the blacksmith, the sound of Cassandra and Cullen's voices carrying out.

“It’s relentless! I can’t just-” Cullen paused as Sarya walked in, his face softening though she could tell his headache was still plaguing him by the slight pain in his face.

“Forgive me,” he said quietly, his feet quickly carrying him out of the room. Sarya opened her mouth to speak, but he was gone before she could formulate words.

“And people say I’m stubborn,” Cassandra sighed incredulously once he had left.

“His headaches have been worse lately, haven’t they?”

“I do not know if worse is the correct word,” Cassandra said as she leaned against a wooden post. “The symptoms of his withdrawals have plagued him for months now, ever since he left Kirkwall and stopped taking lyrium. They may simply be wearing on him, piling up with little relief. He wants me to recommend a replacement for him. I do not believe it is necessary. He’s come so far, to take something else, it would destroy him. I believe Cullen has a chance to break free from the chains of lyrium and show others that it is possible. He can do it, he just needs to realize it.”

“Is there anything I can do to ease the pain?” Sarya asked, frowning. “If I gave him a tea to help ease his headaches would that be bad? Does that count as a replacement?”

“Only if it's addictive,” Cassandra said, a slight smirk on her face. Sarya always fussed over their health and comfort in the field, it made sense that she would do the same with Cullen. “Taking a potion after a battle to aid with healing isn't the same as replacing one addiction with another. That being said… I do not know if he will accept the help right now. He becomes rather stubborn when he’s in these moods, more so than usual. Although, if there’s anyone who can get through to him, it’s probably you.”

“I can deal with stubborn,” Sarya sighed. “I’ll figure it out.”

 

     Sarya took Cassandra’s words to heart: nothing he’d get hooked on, but she could help ease his suffering if he’d let her. She had acquired quite a stash of herbs from her time in the field, dried while hanging from the inside of her tent and transferred to various jars kept in a bookcase in her room. They all had different uses: some for general healing and pain relief; one that could help her get to sleep when nothing else could; another to help wake her up when she didn’t take the other until a few hours before she’d need to wake. She opened a few jars, taking a pinch here and there and putting them in a bowl to crush them up. She poured the crushed herbs into a cup, filling it from the pitcher of water on her desk. Removing the lid to a small jar of honey, she put a generous spoonful into the cup, stirring it until it dissolved smoothly. With the cup clasped in both hands, she closed her eyes, taking a deep breath and slowly expelling it over the water, binding the ingredients and fortifying them, a simple spell her Keeper had taught her. As she left her room, her hands magically warmed the cup, gradually warming the tea as she made her way across Skyhold.

She chose to take the long way to Cullen’s office, since fewer people would run into her on that route. Although she could keep the tea warm with her magic, she was determined to see if he’d allow her to help in this way and didn’t want to be delayed with his headache as bad as it seemed. She ran her words through her head, how she could possibly convince him to take it without thinking that it meant he was making it easy on himself. She knew Cullen well enough by then to know that, as warm as his smile could be, his stubbornness was just as strong. As she reached the side door to his office she found the door wide open. She mentally crossed her fingers, putting on her best smile. As she began walking through the door, Sarya jumped back as something went flying in front of her face and broke against the door, a few drops of the tea splashing onto her fingers.

“Maker’s breath! I- I didn’t hear you enter! I-” Cullen stammered, his voice panicking and shaky. Sarya looked down at her feet where a lyrium kit lay in pieces. Cullen shook his head and averted her gaze as she looked back at him, his voice calming although he still sounded troubled. “Forgive me.”

“Cullen, if you need to talk-”

“You don’t have to-” Cullen interrupted, groaning as a pain overcame him. His arm gripped the side of his desk to support him as the pain overwhelmed him. Sarya quickly set down the cup on the desk, moving towards him to help. She stopped as he held out his hand and shook his head.

“I never meant for this to interfere,” he said, leaning both hands against the desk. He sounded defeated, and it made Sarya’s heart ache for him.

“Are you... Are you going to be all right?” Sarya asked.

“Yes… I don’t know,” Cullen sighed, his expression growing dark as he stood up, his eyes barely meeting hers. “You asked what happened to Ferelden’s Circle. It was taken over by abominations. The templars - my friends - were slaughtered.”

Sarya watched him quietly as he walked over to the window. He sounded out of breath, exhausted.

“I was tortured,” Cullen continued. His voice was forceful, but there was a sadness to it that Sarya could hear clearly. His eyes looked lost, as if even talking about it brought him back to that time. “They tried to break my mind, and I - how can you be the same person after that? Still, I wanted to serve. They sent me to Kirkwall. I trusted my Knight-Commander, and for what? Her fear of mages, a fear she in turn encouraged in me, ended in madness. Kirkwall’s Circle fell. Innocent people died in the streets. Can’t you see why I want nothing to do with that life?”

“Of course I can,” Sarya said, trying her best to keep the pity she felt in her heart from showing on her face. Still, her voice faltered, her heart aching for him and all he had been through. “Cullen, I support your decision in this, I-”

“Don’t,” Cullen shook his head incredulously as he put his hand out. “You of all people… You should be questioning what I’ve done.”

Sarya inwardly sighed, not knowing what to say. She wanted to give him her support, but how could she if he wouldn’t accept it? She watched him pace back over towards the bookcases in the room, the air around them tense.

“I thought this would be better, that I would regain some control over my life, but these thoughts won’t leave me,” Cullen said, his voice full of frustration as he paced back and forth. “How many lives depend on our success? I swore myself to this cause! I will not give less to the Inquisition than I did the Chantry. I should be taking it!”

Sarya jumped slightly as Cullen punched the side of the bookcase, a few books tumbling out of it from the impact. Cullen’s breath was heavy, his face pained and exhausted as he leaned into the bookcase.

“I should be taking it,” he repeated, looking down at his feet. Sarya took a step towards him, biting her lip as she stopped herself, unsure of how much space he needed.

“Cullen, listen to me, please,” she said softly, wanting so badly to wrap her arms around him and tell him everything would be fine. She knew that wouldn’t work right now, though, not with him like this. “This doesn’t have to define you. Is that really what you want? To go back on lyrium and be controlled by it?”

Cullen turned to face her, his expression and stance softening as he looked at her.

“No,” he sighed, worry on his face. “But… these memories have always haunted me. If they become worse, if I cannot endure this…”

Sarya stepped closer to him, placing her hand gently on the side of his face, looking at him warmly and with confidence.

“You can. I know you can,” she said. Cullen exhaled as if her words alone had released his worries, his expression softening considerably.

“All right,” Cullen said, giving her a weak smile. Sarya returned the smile, letting go of him to walk back over to the desk. She picked up the cup, bringing it over to him.

“Here,” she said, holding it out for him.

“What's this?” Cullen asked, eyeing it suspiciously. Sarya stopped herself from rolling her eyes; he was obviously in the middle of a difficult withdrawal, she knew this wasn't entirely him reacting to the idea of a mage giving him some kind of concoction to drink.

“We had an older woman in our clan who had terrible headaches because of a head injury when she was younger,” Sarya said, sitting on the edge of his desk, her voice calm and quiet in an attempt to not exacerbate his headache or mood. “Our Keeper taught me this recipe. It'll ease the worst of headaches.”

Cullen paused, looking from Sarya to the cup again. Sarya let out a quiet laugh.

“I promise you it doesn't taste terrible, I drink it myself when I need it. There's lots of honey in it,” she smiled. “Cassandra said it’s fine. It’s not a replacement for an addiction, it just eases the pain of it. I can drink it if you think I'm trying to poison my Commander.”

“What? No, I don't think you're-” Cullen sighed, taking the cup from her and taking a sip. It was surprisingly sweet and not just from the honey, only a hint of something bitter in the mix. True to her word, it wasn't terrible. “Does honey help headaches?”

“Not really,” Sarya said, smiling as he continued drinking it. “She never added it, but I always thought it was nice to have something sweet when a headache was putting me in a bad mood.”

“What's in it?”

“Elderflower, elfroot, bit of oakmoss, lots of honey. Little bit of magic, so sorry to say you won't be able to replicate it without a mage who knows how.”

“You enchanted tea for me?” Cullen asked, letting out a sigh of relief as he felt the headache beginning to soothe. He could already feel his body relaxing, some of the aches lessening, and with it his anxiousness and frustration. He'd be lying if he said that watching mages set things on fire even in practice didn't make him a bit nervous, but the idea of her gently charming a cup of tea to help him was… Well, charming, to say the least.

“I could do a lot more for your headaches if you'd let me,” Sarya smiled, her eyes absentmindedly wandering to a letter on his desk.

“They're a good indication that I'm still not over the lyrium, but the tea is appreciated, thank you,” he said, looking at the letter she was looking at with a smile. “A letter from my sister, Mia.”

“That's wonderful she's writing to you,” Sarya smiled, looking at him. “When did you see her last?”

“It's been too long,” Cullen sighed, picking up the letter and looking at it. “I'm afraid I'm not very good at keeping in contact, but she always finds me somehow.”

Finds you-” Sarya laughed incredulously. “Cullen, don't tell me you didn't let her know you were safe after Haven?”

“There was so much to be done, there was no time,” Cullen sighed as he set down the letter.

“You couldn't send a note? I'm alive and well and don't worry? Something simple like that?”

“That's almost exactly what she said,” Cullen chuckled, looking at Sarya.

“I already made a small jar of the herbs for the tea, should last a while,” Sarya said, watching as he finished the tea. “All it needs is my enchantment and a bit of honey.”

“I wouldn't want to bother you over a headache,” Cullen smiled as she hopped off the desk. “You have more important things to do as Inquisitor.”

“More important than making sure my commander is comfortable? Perish the thought,” Sarya teased, smiling as she gave him a kiss on the cheek. She turned to leave, stopping as she felt his gloved hand grip her wrist. He pulled her back to him, holding her close as he kissed her. Sarya hummed against his mouth, smiling as she kissed him back. His lips were sweet from the honey, and she could already tell that he was relaxing. It made her heart swell, relief washing over her that he had accepted her help and was already benefiting from it. As they ended the kiss, Sarya looked up at him, her eyes glowing with affection.

“I mean it,” she said gently. “If they start up again, let me know. I'll just be a frustrated Inquisitor with a commander distracted by his headaches otherwise.”

“Fair enough,” Cullen chuckled, kissing the back of her hand before letting her go. Sarya bit her lip in a smile, looking at him once more before heading out of his office through the open door that led directly to the Keep along the rampart. Cullen watched her walk away from his desk, unsure if the slight sway in her hips was on purpose or just in his mind. Either way, he couldn't complain.

Chapter Text

     The next day came quickly, Sarya already readying to leave with a few of her companions for the Hinterlands once more. After the quick turnaround since getting back from Orlais, she was glad that it seemed this would be a quick trip, no more than a week and then perhaps they would be able to take a few days before sending her off again. Sarya knew the work she was doing was important, but the idea of having even one moment to breathe between meetings and traveling and fighting demons and Venatori was a welcome thought. Although she hid it well, she was wearing herself thin with all the meetings, traveling, fighting, not to mention the stress of never knowing when or where Corypheus would strike first.

“I have something for you.”

She had found her way to Cullen’s office early in the morning, wanting to say goodbye before she left with Bull, Dorian, and Varric. Amongst all the chaos in her life, even just laying eyes on Cullen was enough to calm her considerably. She now stood in front of him in her light armor, staff on her back and a smile on her face despite the tiredness that she allowed to show just a little when they were alone.

“For me?” Cullen asked. He looked at her curiously as she pulled a small glass jar out of her pocket, holding it out for him.

“It's a salve, of the ingredients I make your tea with,” Sarya said, her heart skipping a beat as his gloved fingers brushed against hers as he took the jar. “In case you have more headaches while I'm away, since it has to be bound with magic to work well.”

“You made this for me?” Cullen asked, smiling as he opened the lid and smelled it. It smelled very much like the tea: elderflowers and oakmoss, a faint hint of elfroot. It was earthy but sweet, the scent on its own soothing him as he breathed it in.

“If you'd like it,” Sarya said, giving him a small smile.

“I would. I mean, I do, very much,” Cullen said, placing the lid back on the jar. He smiled at the way she melted into his hand as he gently cupped the side of her face, her eyes closing for a moment to remember the feel of his leather gauntlet, breathing in his scent before she opened her eyes to meet his, her green eyes filled with a warmth that had been the cause of his stuttering many times before. “Be careful hunting those Venatori. I can only imagine what kind of tricks they'll be hiding.”

“That's why I'm bringing my favorite Tevinter with me. I'm sure he'll have some clever insights,” Sarya smiled, closing the gap between them to kiss him. Their kiss was long, starting with a gentleness that made Sarya's knees weak, melding into a desperate passion that made her ache knowing she had to leave.

“Do be careful, though,” Cullen said, also feeling a regret that they didn’t have more time before she left. He knew it was frivolous to wish danger to not come her way, but he wished it all the same.

“It's just a few Venatori,” Sarya said, giving him a reassuring smile as she gave him one last kiss on the cheek. “It's not like we're going after a dragon.”


 

     Fighting a dragon had definitely not been on Sarya's list of things to do while hunting Venatori in the Hinterlands. She, Dorian, Bull, and Varric had found a secluded area surrounded by stone to set up camp after finishing off a group of Venatori Leliana’s spies had tipped them off to. They had been in high hopes after their victory, Sarya slipping off through a shallow cave to a more grassy area with water to fill her waterskin. The are was peaceful, calm sunny skies and elfroot aplenty. As she knelt by the stream, cupping cool water in her hand and drinking from it, a strong gust of wind blew all around her, whipping bits of grass and herbs into the air. Sarya looked up for a moment to survey the sky, her eyes widening as she saw a giant ball of fire barreling straight towards her. She rolled as quick as she could to the side, the fireball barely missing her as it singed the end of her coat. As she landed on her back, she quickly scrambled to her feet, watching as a yellow-orange dragon soared overhead. A dragon.

“Tried to get water with magic and set the ground on fire, did you?” Dorian asked as he came out of the cave with Bull and Varric, his eyebrow raised in judgement. The three of them froze in their tracks as a spine tingling roar came from overhead, their eyes matching Sarya's as the dragon soared overhead.

“Oohh, Boss, please tell me we're going to fight it!”

“I don't think we have much of a choice at this point!” Sarya yelled at Bull as it swooped at them, forcing the four of them to drop to the ground. The dragon was massive, unlike anything Sarya had ever seen. They could have run back to camp, packed up and left, but she had a feeling it would have no trouble following now that it had its sights set on them. Adrenaline peaked with each fireball shot towards them, Varric shooting bolts from Bianca frantically at it as Sarya slowed it with a bolt of lightning.

Why does this shit always happen around you!” Varric yelled, jumping out of the way as the dragon swiped its tail at him. “Three Venatori aren’t enough for you? You had to go find a dragon?!”

“Varric, if we ever come upon Fen’Harel, I’ll let you get first shot,” Sarya said, her voice full of exasperation as she used ice to slide herself out of the way just before a claw came at her. They were too close when it was on the ground, the dragon always landing near them and knocking them to the ground with a gust of wind. The fight was brutal, seeming to go on forever as they slowly chipped away at the dragon, but at least Bull seemed to be enjoying himself.

Best job ever!” He was cackling, something akin to a triumphant roar escaping him as his axe took off a few scales from the dragon’s tail.

Shit, shit, shit,” Sarya muttered wildly, rushing with the others to get behind a large rocky column as the dragon began flapping its wings wildly. It created a whirlwind of air, dust, and rock flying around them.

“Boss! Freeze me!” Bull shouted at Sarya from his side of the rock.

“What?!” Sarya shouted over the whirlwind the dragon was kicking up all around them. It pulled them tight against the rock, bits of it crumbling and pulling towards the dragon. She spit out a bit of spindleweed as it flew into her mouth.

Freeze my axe!”

Sarya didn’t bother asking, concentrating her magic to bind ice around the top of Bull’s axe. As the wind died down, Bull ran around the side of the rock, coming perhaps twenty feet from the face of the dragon as it roared at him.

Taarsidath-an halsaam!” He shouted as he reared the axe behind his head before throwing it at the dragon. It went straight into the skull of the dragon, right between the eyes, the ice shattering and spreading along its face. The dragon let out a screech, taking a few steps back before it fell to the ground with a weight that sent dirt and water flying all around them. As the dust settled, Sarya poked her head out from behind the rock, a breath of relief escaping her as she saw the dragon was no longer moving.

“Did you see that! Did you see that!” Bull yelled, laughing triumphantly as he pulled the axe from the dragon’s skull.

“Kind of hard not to,” Varric grumbled, hooking Bianca to his back. “Can we not fight anything else for the rest of the night?”

“Wasn’t really my intention to have a dragon spot me while gathering water,” Sarya sighed, leaning on her staff. She was going to need a hell of a lot of elfroot after that fight.

“Life certainly isn’t boring around you, Lavellan,” Dorian murmured as he dusted bits of dirt off his jacket and plucked a bit of elfroot from his hair.

“See the way everything lit up when it tried to fry us?” Bull laughed as he followed them back to the camp. “Now that is a fight!”

“Oh good, the Inquisition soldiers are here. After we slay the dragon,” Varric said sarcastically, nodding at a small group of soldiers who were making their way towards them. They walked up to Sarya, saluting her.

“I trust everything is well, your worship?” The lieutenant asked, addressing her.

“Yes, everything’s fine,” she nodded. “There’s a dragon past that opening. I’m sure Harritt will be thrilled to have dragon scales to work with back at Skyhold if there’s anyone who can pick it apart.”

“A- A dragon, y- your worship?!” The lieutenant’s eyes went wide at her words.

“Oh, don’t worry, it’s dead now,” Sarya said, walking past the lieutenant to start picking elfroot off of a nearby plant.

“Oh,” the lieutenant said, letting a breath of relief escape her.

“I’ve changed my mind, I don’t want into the inner circle. I’m fine working camps,” one of the soldiers murmured to another as they followed the lieutenant towards the opening.

“How do you manage to not notice a dragon, Lavellan?” Dorian asked, crossing his arms with a smirk on his face as Sarya winced while sitting on the ground. “Was it hiding? Flying in the sunlight? Cloaked itself with a field of invisibility, perhaps!”

“Oh, shut up,” Sarya sighed as she popped a leaf of elfroot in her mouth and chewed on it. “You’re the one who nearly got stabbed in the ass by a Venatori earlier.”

“Yes but it was a stealthy Venatori,” Dorian said, plucking a piece of elfroot out of her hand. “Hardly the size of a dragon!”

“Boss, you and I are having drinks when we get back to Skyhold,” Bull said, a satisfied grin on his face as he clapped her heavily on the shoulder. She put her hand out on the ground beside her, keeping her from falling over from the weight of his hand.

“Sure, Bull,” Sarya said, watching Dorian as he looked at the elfroot suspiciously before taking a bite from the end of it. He immediately scrunched up his face, struggling with the bitterness of the herb. “I may not have seen the dragon right away, but at least I can handle a bit of raw elfroot.”

“Yours are an uncivilized people, my tastes are more refined,” Dorian grimaced, taking a drink from his waterskin to wash the herb down.

 

 

     Their trip back to Skyhold was a quick one. After the mess at the Winter Palace, Venatori, and a dragon all in the span of two weeks, Sarya was eager for a bit of quiet and a good long rest. She couldn’t escape the memory of fighting the dragon, although mostly she could thank Bull for that. The Qunari just couldn’t contain himself, eagerly reliving each moment loudly on their way back to Skyhold, and Sarya had a feeling soon everyone would know about it. By the time they had returned to Skyhold it was just about night, the pale blue of twilight setting in the mostly quiet courtyard.

“Boss! Drinks?” Bull asked eagerly before Sarya could even get off her horse.

“We’ve only just gotten back,” Sarya laughed, holding onto the horn of her saddle as she swung herself off. “I should probably check in with the others.”

“Aw, come on. It’s already late. They probably weren’t expecting you tonight,” Bull pointed out.

“Oh, fine,” Sarya sighed. “Just let me change first, I’ve been wearing this for two days now.”

She looked around, finding that Dorian and Varric had already vacated the area. Bull was probably right, it was too late now for her advisors to be expecting her at the War Table. One drink couldn’t hurt, right?

Taarsidath-an halsaam!” Bull yelled out, slamming his empty pint on the counter. Sarya jumped slightly as the counter shook, her head spinning. One drink had turned into three, each one some kind of strong alcohol Sarya had never heard of that Bull had asked the bartender, Cabot, for. It burned down her throat hot, stinging until it turned warm and everything felt fuzzy. Cabot stood to the side, refilling their drinks at the bar whenever Bull motioned for him. The tavern was fairly empty this late, a few of the Bull’s Chargers conversing with one another, and Maryden still singing her songs as always. The small part of Sarya not completely overtaken by the drink was thankful for it, although she was sure Sera would have loved to have seen her this way. She had changed earlier out of her light armor and into a sleeved dress, her bare feet hanging off her stool and swaying in the air as she turned to look at Bull.

“What does that mean?” Sarya asked, staring at the refilled drink in her hand and wondering how it got there. “You yelled that before, at the dragon. When it was trying to kill us.”

“Yeah, they do that,” Bull chuckled. “I guess the closest translation would be, ‘I will bring myself sexual pleasure later while thinking of this, with great respect.’”

Sarya snorted, taking a small drink of the liquid in her hand and coughing as it when down.

“To killing more winged… Things!” Sarya blurted, holding onto her drink. She had no idea how Bull managed to not seem drunk, it quickly becoming obvious that she had drank more than someone her size should have.

“Fuck yeah!” Bull shouted, holding his drink up. He looked over at the doorway as Cullen walked into the tavern, who easily spotted Bull who towering over the bar. Sarya was so tiny sitting next to him, even seeming more so as she slumped against the counter.

“I heard you had returned early. Are you two celebrating?” Cullen asked, seeing the drinks in their hands.

“Commander! Join us!” Bull said loudly, waving Cullen closer. Sarya’s head perked up at Bull’s words. “We slayed a fucking dragon! Taarsidath-an halsaam!”

“So I've heard,” Cullen said, watching Sarya spin in her seat to look at him.

“Cullen, it was amazing!” Sarya breathed. Her eyes were wide with excitement, a drunken grin on her face as she offered her mug to him. “I mean, it was terrifying, but amazing!”

“Maker’s breath, what are you drinking?” Cullen asked, chuckling at her drunken excitement. He scrunching up his face as he smelled the drink, the scent strong and possibly something that would be effective at burning holes through cloth.

“Bull says it kills the nerves... was that it? That’s what you said, right?” Sarya asked, looking at Bull.

“Close enough,” Bull nodded, taking a swig of his, followed closely by a coughing fit as it burned his throat on the way down.

“Sounds… Wonderful,” Cullen said, eyeing it before setting it down on the counter.

“I love your hair,” Sarya said, grinning foolishly as she stumbled off her stool, leaning on Cullen’s breastplate as she ran a hand through his hair, thoroughly messing it as she wrapped a short curl around her finger. Cabot let out a not so quiet snort as he cleaned a mug behind the counter. “It's so golden. Where'd you get it from?”

Where'd I get it - Maker, I should get you to your chambers, you've obviously had enough in celebration,” Cullen said, chuckling at the childish wonder in her eyes as she looked at him.

“What, you're going to break up the celebration already?” Bull pouted, or at least got as close to pouting as a Qunari could. “Although, if you two need a third in that bed -”

“I don't think that will be necessary, thank you,” Cullen interrupted, his face reddening at Bull’s suggestion.

“You should dance with me,” Sarya smiled excitedly at Cullen, causing him to laugh.

“My Lady, I'm really no good at-”

“Shhhh,” Sarya shook her head, putting her finger over his lips. “You were wonderful at Halamshiral. Don't make me cry?”

“You're threatening me with tears, now?” Cullen raised an eyebrow, holding back a laugh as she attempted to pull him over closer to where Maryden played near the hearth, only to stumble over her own bare feet. Cullen pulled her to him, keeping her hand in his as he placed his other on her hip. “Very well. If only to keep you from falling.”

Sarya seemed satisfied with his excuse, smiling sloppily as they slowly swayed to the music. The room spun in her eyes, the drinks further settling in her head now that she was moving.

“Vhenan, why are you so serious?”

“Would you have me less so?” Cullen asked, smiling warmly down at her. “If I weren't, you may have no one to hold you up after drinking that swill of Bull’s.”

“Hey, it's good swill!” Bull shouted, leaning over the bar but still able to hear just fine.

“I'd have you smile more,” Sarya said, her eyes focused on his. “You have such a wonderful smile.”

“I suppose I save it for you,” Cullen said. He continued swaying her, careful not to turn them too fast. Judging by how her eyes moved to try to catch him as they turned, it wouldn't end well.

Halani, I think the floor is moving,” Sarya commented, her grip on him tightening.

“Do you want to sit down?”

“Banal,” Sarya shook her head, the drunken grin still plastered to her face. “I would dance with you for bellanaris, Vhenan.”

“I'm going to need to learn Elvish if you're going to make a habit of drinking with Bull after every victory.”

“Psshh, it's once, Vhenan,” Sarya scoffed.

“You keep saying that one: Vhenan,” Cullen smiled. “What does it mean?”

“My heart,” Sarya said, smiling at first before looking down at her feet, her cheeks turning redder than the drink had made them before.

“I like it,” Cullen said, his voice quiet, his heart warming at her words. Sarya snapped her head up to look at him at his comment, the motion making everything spin even more than before. She lost her footing, causing Cullen to pull her against his body as she threatened to topple them both.

“I think it's time for bed for you,” Cullen chuckled, keeping a hold on her as he began to lead her out of the tavern.

“Be safe, but not too safe!” Bull yelled after them as they left.

Sarya looked up as Cullen guided her out the door. It was dark out, the stars twinkling in the black-blue sky. The wind chilled her, the grass cool against her feet. She slipped away from Cullen, smiling as she spun with the breeze. Cullen went to hold her to stop her inevitable fall, however he couldn't help but stop as she opened her mouth, a soft melody escaping her lips as she twirled.

Elgara vallas, da'len. Melava somniar mala taren aravas ara ma'desen melar. Iras ma ghilas, da'len, ara ma'nedan ashir dirthara lothlenan'as bal emma mala dir.”

Cullen couldn't help but watch as she gently danced to the melody she sung. He had never heard an elven melody sung before. It was light on her tongue, the words seemingly clinging to her like a song sung from childhood. Many of the elves he had been around in the Ferelden Circle had come from cities, not usually the type to know much Elvish, and if there were any Dalish who sung in The Gallows, it would never have been done near the Templars. The moonlight reflected on her pale skin, glowed against her silver-white hair. The light dress she had changed into, dark blue in color and speckled with flecks of silver that seemed to mirror the stars, twirled gently around her ankles. He was simply in awe, enchanted by her. Even drunk out of her mind, she was sheer perfection to him.

“Tel'enfenim, da'len, Irassal ma ghilas, ma garas mir renan, ara ma'athlan vhenas. Ara ma'athlan vhenas.”

“Oy, enough with the elfy-ness! Some people are trying to sleep!” Sera shouted from the window above them, causing Sarya to reply with a rather loud raspberry - which was immediately returned by Sera. Sarya snorted, taking a step towards Cullen before tripping on a lump in the ground, falling face first into the grass.

“Maker, are you all right?” Cullen asked, rushing to her side.

“Fine, s’fine,” Sarya nodded, waving her hand in dismissal. Cullen helped her to her feet, watching her as she ran a hand through his hair once more, seemingly unfazed by the fall.

“Cullen,” she said, looking at him as if she were thinking very hard as he gently wiped a bit of dirt from her face. “What color hair does your sister have?”

“Mia?” Cullen asked, looking surprised at the question. “Very similar to mine. Perhaps a bit darker.”

“Hmmm,” Sarya said, playing with a thick strand of his hair. “What d’you think we'd have? Blonde? White? In between?”

“W - what -? But we - we haven't even -” Cullen stammered, his face flushing at her question. Andraste preserve me, I can never let her drink with Bull again. “I think you'd best get some sleep.”

“Did I embarrass you?” Sarya giggled, taking his hands in hers and standing awfully close to him. “What if I don't want to sleep?”

Cullen sighed, taking advantage of her hands being in his and moving her arms over one of his shoulders before bending over, slinging her over his shoulder. Sarya let out a drunken laugh as he grabbed ahold of her legs, steadying her as he walked up the steps to the Keep. It was late and most of the Skyhold had gone to bed, save for a few soldiers and an Orlesian pair who whispered excitedly as they watched the Commander walk the drunken Inquisitor to her chambers.

“Culleeen!” Sarya said, elongating it as if to make a point as he carried her up the many steps to her room. Once at the top, he brought her to the bed, gently setting her down on her back. Sarya grabbed him by his mantle as he began to straighten, pulling him into a kiss. Cullen steadied his hands on either side of her, giving her a moment to get her drunken kiss out of the way before he pulled back, a gentle smile on his face.

“You should rest,” he said, holding his breath slightly as her slender hands lifted to the tie on the front of her dress, slowly pulling at it.

“You should stay,” Sarya said, her voice low and sultry, her cheeks still tinged red from the drink.

“I... can't,” Cullen said, realizing how unconvincing he sounded as she continued unlacing it, his eyes glued to the area as more skin slowly appeared.

“You can,” Sarya said, taking his hand and sliding it under the now loose fabric to rest on her breast. She caught his lips with hers, her tongue licking at his lips as she breathed heavily against him. Cullen returned her kiss, his brain temporarily losing focus as he silently wished he could feel her skin through his glove. As he kissed her, their breaths becoming heavier, and her teeth grazed his lip sharply, bringing him back to reality. He pulled back, taking his hand from her breast and moving it to the side of her face.

“Do you not want me?” Sarya asked, her face falling. Cullen's stomach dropped at her words.

“Maker, no - I mean, I do, I just,” he sighed, rubbing the back of his neck as he sat on the edge of the bed. “You're incredibly drunk, Sarya. If I'm to be with you, I - I'd rather you remember in the morning.”

“You think it'll be memorable?” Sarya teased, a grin on her face. Cullen chuckled.

“Anything to do with you is memorable,” Cullen said, pushing her hair behind her long ear. “Now, please, rest.”

Sarya obliged him, lying on her side and closing her eyes as he pulled a blanket over her. She felt his hand on the top of her head before she drifted off, dreaming of dragons, Cullen, and horrible tasting drink.

As Cullen left Sarya’s room and entered the throne room, he couldn’t help the quiet chuckle that escaped him. Trust a Qunari like The Iron Bull to get their Inquisitor drunk. Maker’s breath, though, a dragon? He shook his head as he headed for the entrance, looking ahead of him as Solas came walking in. Cullen paused for a moment, speaking as he walked past him.

“May I ask you a question, Solas?”

“You may,” Solas said, turning to face Cullen with his hands behind his back.

“You know Elvish, correct?”

“You are wondering about the song the Inquisitor was singing in the courtyard?” Solas asked, amusement on his face at Cullen’s confused look that confirmed his question. “I was walking the battlements in thought at the time. It is a lullaby, passed down by the Dalish to their children as they drift off to sleep.”

“A lullaby?” Cullen repeated, a warm smile creeping onto his face as he looked off to the side, his eyes looking as if they were drifting off somewhere else.

“Her history, little of it as the Dalish know, is not one that has existed for ages to amuse and enchant you, Commander,” Solas said, his tone changing from one of amusement to his usual indignance.

“What are you suggesting?” Cullen frowned, crossing his arms as he looked back at Solas. Truth be told, Cullen never spoke with Solas often. When he had, it had always been from a technical standpoint, usually asking for information that one as well informed and traveled as Solas could give insight to. Cullen had always brushed off his suspicion that Solas didn’t quite trust him - or, rather, humans in general - but his sudden change of tone on the matter of the Elven people quickly brought the suspicion to the surface.

“That the Dalish are - that she is so far removed from your view of what is normal that to you, it is as if she is a mystical being that you cannot help but tame.”

Tame? What are you talking about?” Cullen asked, his voice getting louder, not taking notice to the few heads in the hall that turned. “You have no right to tell me -”

“You are simply enchanted by her, are you not?” Solas shook his head. “Of all the people in Haven, you simply could not leave one of the only mages not soiled by Templar rule alone.”

“This is ridiculous,” Cullen said as he threw his hands up in frustration.

“Is it, Commander?” Solas tilted his head slightly, his eyes narrowing. “I have heard stories out of the Gallows, of the Templars who abused the mages there. It must be frustrating knowing that she was so close in the Free Marches, and yet unobtainable for your desires.”

“How dare you,” Cullen seethed, gritting his teeth but keeping his voice low as he stepped close and quickly to Solas. Solas didn’t move, unflinching as Cullen pointed his finger, hand clenched and shaking, inches from his nose. “I was left in the dark regarding many of Knight-Commander Meredith’s decisions. I never, never, took advantage of my charges! For her sake, I’ll walk away from this. But do not ever speak to me about her in this manner again, unless you wish me to do something we’ll both regret.”

Cullen turned from Solas, his fists clenched tight as he stormed out of the Keep. He barely could recall walking across Skyhold, already back in his office in what seemed like the blink of an eye. The doors closed, he stood at the end of his desk, staring at a training dummy in the corner by the far door. Crossing the room, he grabbed the dummy, throwing it to the ground with a frustrated yell. Cullen fell to his knees as he gripped his pounding head. Memories of Kirkwall flooded back to him, brought on by Solas’ words: screams, Meredith’s lies, Cullen’s cold view of mages at the time, so much death and destruction in such a short time after Kinloch. He had been broken, left malleable for Meredith to turn him into whatever she wanted, leaving him in the dark when she knew he would question it. Cullen may have never harmed his charges in the way Solas had suggested, but his memories were a constant reminder of everything he let happen in the Circle, of how everything had been driven to madness and ruin.

“He’s wrong,” Cullen told himself through clenched teeth, his hands gripping the base of his hair. Cullen could never tame Sarya, and why should he want to? She was perfect to him. Their differences, those were only things that endeared him to her as much as she had said his differences endeared her to him. He didn’t care for her because she was Dalish, because she was a mage. Solas was wrong, and Cullen had no one to prove it to other than Sarya.

 


 

     “Lethallan, there is a matter I must bring to your attention.”

“What is it, Solas?” Sarya asked, her voice little more than a sigh. Her eyes were half open, her head pounding in her recovery from the previous night. She had found herself wandering Skyhold in the morning, stopped early by Solas as she was passing through his tower.

“The Commander and I exchanged words last night,” Solas said, looking up at the tall mural on the wall, his hands clasped behind his back. “I thought it best you hear it from me first.”

“What do you mean, exchanged words?” Sarya asked, furrowing her brow. “What happened?”

“The Commander was asking me about a song you were singing,” he said, giving her a knowing smile at the confusion on her face. “After your drinks with the Iron Bull.”

“Oh,” she nodded, the memory not fresh for her. She brushed it aside for sake of time. “And he was… Upset about the song…?”

“No. However, I took the opportunity to make him aware that the history of your people does not exist for his amusement.”

“What?” Sarya raised her eyebrows at him. “Solas, what in Thedas has Cullen done to make you think that he pays me attention because our history amuses him? I thought you didn’t care for the Dalish?”

“It is not specifically the Dalish I have concern for. I have seen the desires of humans, watched the memories of their elven sweethearts, cast aside once the novelty wears off and they tire of the whispers and judgements from their own kind,” Solas said, turning to face her fully. “I have also seen the destruction his kind has done to those such as yourself. Your Commander is a Templar at heart, he is used to mages being under his control, of taming that which yearns to be free. Why would he not be drawn to you?”

“Cullen isn't a Templar anymore, Solas,” Sarya frowned. She hated how his words stung, how it was as if he was putting irrational fears back into her heart that she had removed some time ago. For as much as Solas seemed to have disdain for the Dalish, right now he was sounding much like those she had grown up around, warning her of the wicked ways of humans and Templars.

“People do not change, Lethallan,” Solas said, his voice calm despite her tone. “You are like something out of a dream for him, a mage who has never felt the iron shackles of the Circle. A Templar is always a Templar, whether he has left the title behind or not.”

“Solas, Cullen is kind and good, and he supports me,” Sarya shook her head. She knew Solas didn't trust the Templars, but this was incredible. “You’re grasping from experiences that aren’t what’s unfolding in front of you.”

“He is a Templar from Kirkwall, he will use you until he is done with you with no regard for how he leaves you. You, of all, deserve better than that.”

“We haven’t even slept together, Solas! How is he using me?!”

Solas paused, her words running through his mind. He had assumed… But therein lied his fault. His mind cleared, brought him back to the ground. How could he have been this blind? It had been so long since he had a friend so close to his own self, so long since it came in flesh and blood and not in the form of a spirit, someone he could teach and confide in. He had let his emotions cloud his judgement, had let it make him lose sight of why he was there.

“I am sorry, I hadn't realized...” he said. For a split second, Sarya could have sworn she saw a slight hint of regret on his face before it was hidden away. “Perhaps you are right. Perhaps I have misjudged the Commander.”

“Apologize.”

“I believe I just -”

“To him,” Sarya shook her head, crossing her arms. “You have no idea the pain he's been through, the things you probably reminded him of when you said those things to him. Apologize to him and make it right. If not for him, then for our friendship.”

Solas paused, obviously uncomfortable with the idea. He swallowed his pride, nodding.

“Very well. I will amend the situation.”

As he left, Sarya shook her head, leaning against the wall as she rubbed her throbbing temple.

“Fleeting anger, then, understanding. He doesn’t know how to handle it.”

Sarya jumped, startled as Cole appeared near her. She took in a deep breath to steady her nerves before looking at him.

“Handle what, Cole?” She asked, trying to understand.

“He put up the curtain and everything fell apart. He didn’t know how to take it down,” Cole was saying. “So much was lost. And then, you showed that it all isn’t. Like... when you lost your nug on the day the sun was hottest, but found another friend in your search. It wasn’t a nug, but it was still good.”

“I’m… the nug?” Sarya asked slowly, furrowing her brow in confusion.

“No, he lost the nug. But, it was more than a nug, much more. Everything, left to memories, locked away in the dark and green.”

“I see,” Sarya nodded. She didn’t quite get it, and she could tell from the frustration on Cole’s face that he knew. “I’m trying to understand, Cole, I really am.”

“Let me try again, I know I can get it!” Cole said, ever the enthusiast. “He lost it all, and you remind him of it.”

“I remind him of the ‘nug’? So he’s being protective of me.”

“Yes!” Cole said, his face lighting with a smile as she understood.

“I think I get it,” she said, giving him a small smile. “Thank you, Cole.”

 

     “I believe I owe you an explanation.”

“What?” Cullen’s voice was irate, still on edge from their argument the night before. Solas stood feet in front of his desk, hands clasped behind his back as usual and a neutral look on his face.

“I spoke with the Inquisitor a moment ago. She explained things to me I had not taken into account,” Solas said. Cullen was leaning against his desk, hands on either side of a few reports he had been looking at before Solas had come into his office. He looked up to meet Solas’ eyes, only to find him surveying the room as if sizing it up.

“The Inquisitor is different from any other Dalish I have met in the past,” Solas said, his eyes glancing over the books in the shelf as if he could read them from where he stood. “She is eager to learn, to know the truth even if it contradicts everything she has been taught by her people. It… Has been quite some time since someone inspired me as she does. I overreacted. It will not happen again without sufficient evidence.”

“I should be thankful so many people care so passionately for her,” Cullen said, his tone relaxing. Solas’ eyes met his, his brow furrowing at his words.

“You are pleased I accused you of taking advantage of her?”

“I'm glad you’re looking out for her,” Cullen said, straightening as he crossed his arms. “I cannot be at her side as much as I would like. It's comforting to know she has such close friends protecting her.”

Solas nodded, leaving it at that. He turned to leave, pausing in the door frame as Cullen continued.

“Only, perhaps confront me in my office and not in front of others, the next time you think I've gone power hungry in lust.”

 

     Sarya had spent part of the morning on the battlements speaking with Varric’s friend, Hawke, who had traveled to talk to her. Apparently, Hawke knew about Corypheus and had a friend in the Wardens who may have had some insight into what was going on. Well, a Warden who was currently in hiding from the Wardens… the ones who were apparently missing. Sarya couldn’t say she understood the entire situation, but it did sound promising. She had entered the Keep of Skyhold through a lower side door, opting to take a longer yet more quiet route that cut through the kitchens as she thought things through. Cassandra wasn’t going to be happy, that much was obvious, since she had interrogated Varric before the Conclave trying to uncover the whereabouts of Hawke. Still, perhaps there was a way Sarya could smooth things over, make it easier for them to all work together. Or, she could opt for Cassandra to focus on other things while Sarya traveled to Crestwood with Varric and Hawke.

As Sarya began ascending a set of stone steps, she looked up as she heard footsteps. She and Cullen locked eyes, a sudden glimmer in his as they smiled at one another.

“Commander,” she said in acknowledgement as he began walking down the steps towards her.

“Inquisitor,” he nodded, his voice low as he neared her. The stairwell was narrow, just barely enough room for the two of them to be able to squeeze by with Cullen in his armor.

“Did Solas talk to you about the other day?” She asked, referring to their argument.

“He did,” he nodded. “Everything has been resolved, nothing to worry about. A simple misunderstanding.”

Sarya almost wondered if he would keep walking, he was a busy man after all, and they had a meeting at the War Table in two hours. She let out a surprised noise as he put his hands on her hips, guiding her against the stone wall of the quiet stairwell as he kissed her. Sarya hummed against his mouth, wrapping her arms around his neck as she returned the kiss. It was passionate, sweet, a long kiss that said so much more than words possibly could. As Cullen broke the kiss, he gave her a gentle kiss on her forehead, looking warmly down at her before continuing on his way. Sarya leaned against the cold stone, using all that was in her to keep her from sitting on the steps with her chin in her hands and staring after him like some kind of lovesick puppy. Oh, Mythal, how he could turn her day upside down and make her beg the gods for a day where it could just be them, together without any need for planning against an attack or what horror to stop next. It was really unfair how like putty she was in his hands and how much he knew it. He was absolutely playing it, when his shyness didn't get the better of him. She'd need to level the playing field if this was to be a game they were to play between her travels.

“We should send a small band of soldiers to the village to provide support,” Cullen said, pointing at the map. “I already have men in the area, they would be the quickest to arrive.”

“And the quickest to tip off the Venatori and make them scatter,” Leliana responded, shaking her head. She, Cullen, and Josephine had started at the War Table ahead of the Inquisitor, opting to get some arguments out of the way that Sarya needn't worry so much about.

“I'll let you two decide this one,” Josephine said, putting up her hand with a sigh. “I'm not sending an ambassador into a death trap like this.”

The three of them looked up as the door to the War Room opened, Sarya walking in. Her feet were bare as was her usual when not on a mission, however instead of her usual pant and shirt getup that Josephine had originally had fashioned for her, she wore a dress, deep purple and fitted from the waist up, sleeveless, the fabric over her shoulders turning into a loose hood that draped over her upper back. It was low cut in the front just enough to show enough skin to make Cullen’s knees weak and his mouth water. The smooth fabric flowed past her waist, a slit in one side beginning mid-thigh and ending at her calves. A silver band clung to her upper right arm, grey metal working within it that mimicked what appeared to be an intricate tree.

Cullen would have believed it if any healer pronounced his heart stopped at that moment. Always clad in her light armor, long sleeve shirt, or a loose dress, he had never seen the true shape of her arms, the softness of her calves, only felt the curve of her hips with his hands, never truly saw them through fitted clothes. Her long silver-white hair flowed freely without braids, and it was more curled than Cullen had noticed before now that it wasn't in its usual braids, the points of her ears poking out from the bulk.

“Careful, Commander, I do believe you are drooling,” Leliana teased at Cullen’s slacked jaw, causing Josephine to giggle at her words.

“I hope I'm not interrupting,” Sarya said. She gave a small smile, her eyes meeting with Cullen's.

Maker's breath, she's done this on purpose, Cullen realized as he saw the sparkle in her eyes, not registering Leliana's comment as he swallowed.

“Not at all,” Josephine smiled. “That armband is lovely. Did Harritt make it?”

“He did,” Sarya smiled, looking at the band on her arm. “He said it was a belated thanks for helping him save his family hammer at Haven. It continues my vallaslin.”

Cullen's eyes wandered to the arm band and then the faded greyish-green branch-like markings just beneath her eyes. It occurred to him then that he had never asked her about it.

“You're beautiful - I mean, it's beautiful - I, ah, shall we discuss Crestwood?” Cullen stammered, causing a round of giggles from Josephine and Leliana. Sarya remained calm, a small smile on her face as she looked down at the map, ready to begin.

They went on for hours, solidifying plans and settling arguments. Cullen tried his best not to be too distracted, his speech slowing every now and then when Sarya would tilt her head to one side, pushing her hair over her neck so she could look at the map without the lightly curled strands in the way. Cullen was suspicious that she did it to give him a good look at her long neck and the slender tipped ears that he had encouraged her to never hide. He found himself more than once chastising himself for the thoughts of throwing her onto the War Table that flitted through his mind.

Andraste preserve me, give me the strength to make it through this meeting, he silently prayed.

Once they had details mapped out for an excursion for a group of soldiers, letters for Josephine to write to noble households, Venatori for Leliana's agents to hunt down, and the logistics of Sarya and her inner circle’s journey to find this Warden whom Hawke had mentioned, they called it a night. As Leliana and Josephine left the room, Cullen shut the door, pausing for a moment with his hand against the wooden door before turning back to look at Sarya. She was still looking at the map, a good chunk of her back bare other than what her hood covered. It seemed the back of the dress jutted down towards the small of her back in a v-shape, gentle creases in her pale skin from her position tempting his hands. Her small hands rested on the table, leaning forward slightly to get a better look, a hand lifting to push her hair to the side again as it fell forward.

“I fear I’m being tested,” Cullen said as he approached her, gazing at her back longingly from behind. Sarya smirked, knowing he couldn't see her face from where he stood.

“Do you?” She asked coyly, continuing to look at the map as if this were a conversation that could have have been had in front of anyone else.

“Where did you find this?” Cullen asked, just barely trailing a gloved finger on the hood of the dress.

“Josephine's been kind enough to give me an extensive wardrobe for any occasion,” Sarya smiled, tracing her finger around the outline of Crestwood on the map. “Do you not like it?”

“No. I mean - it's, ah, it's… Very… nice,” Cullen stammered, mentally smacking his forehead. He had kissed her enough times, had pressed against her and heard the whimpers he could extract from her while still fully clothed. Why was he always so nervous around her in the most inopportune moments?

“Good,” Sarya nodded.

They were silent for a moment, each waiting to see what the other would say or do. It was a bit of a game at this point, and they both knew it: a type of chess between the two of them, waiting to see who would make the first move now that temptations had been made. They knew they wouldn't be disturbed there now that the others had left; it was late, no need to rush it. Sarya leaned onto her elbows, getting a better look at the map, her face very near the board. She was well aware that all she was really doing was enhancing Cullen's view.

Cullen held in a breath as she bent herself forward in front of him; Andraste preserve me, I can withstand any force on the battlefield but I can't withstand the temptation of her.

Sarya smiled as she felt his bare hand trailing lightly down her back, a shiver running down her spine from the contact as he set his gloves on the table. She stood up, humming slightly as his mouth kissed the crook of her neck. His hand reached around her, resting on her abdomen and holding her close to him. Sarya closed her eyes, smiling as she leaned into his touch. Every kiss against her skin seemed to melt away all her problems; she may have even thought it a dream if not for the scratching of his stubble against her skin that kept her grounded. Sarya's breath became heavy as his other hand trailed down her side, gathering up the skirt of the dress at her thigh until his rough fingers touched her soft, cool skin. His mouth had moved to her ear, planting gentle kisses on the tip and moving down to the curve, trailing her jawline as his hand gently massaged the side of her thigh. Her heart pounded as his hand began trailing further up, her mouth hanging open, hardly aware that her breath had become audible.

Sarya's eyes shot open as his hands and mouth left her, spinning around in a daze to see him looking at her gently with a kind smile on his face, although there was something mischievous in his eyes.

“Well, Inquisitor, it's been a long day. I should probably catch up on my reports before it grows too late,” he said, inwardly laughing to himself at the look of shock and disappointment she was giving him as he gathered up his gloves; two can play this game, my Lady. He turned to leave, taking two steps forward and smirking triumphantly as Sarya loudly cleared her throat.

“Commander,” she said, clearing her throat again, trying to control the shaking want in her voice. “I don't believe I dismissed you.”

“My apologies,” Cullen said, letting her see the smirk this time as he stepped back over to her. “I wasn't aware you were in the habit of dismissing.”

“I'm the Inquisitor,” Sarya said, giving him a sultry look and a gentle bite of her lower lip to wipe the smirk off of his face. “Even the Commander of our army must acquiesce to my requests.”

“And what would you command me to do, Inquisitor?” Cullen asked, his voice low as he stood as close to her as he could without them touching, placing a hand on either side of her on the table. Inward his heart was beating against his chest so hard he was sure it would burst, a thunder of nervousness fighting with his stubbornness to continue this game with her. It took everything in his willpower not to show it. “Since I’ve not been dismissed, as you have been kind enough to point out.”

Sarya caught his lips with hers, her hands resting behind her on the table, the tips of her fingers brushing against his. She licked at his lips, encouraging his tongue to find hers. Her body already felt hot in the drafty room, her blood pressure rising with the beat of her heart as her lips begged him to continue even as he pulled his lips from hers, a whine flitting from her throat.

“You haven't given me a command, my Lady,” Cullen pointed out, a teasing look on his face, well aware of the fire in her eyes and how dilated her pupils had become.

“A command?” Sarya repeated as if she had forgotten, her mouth dry.

“What is it you desire?” Cullen asked, watching the pale skin underneath her vallaslin turn pink at his words.

“You're going to make me say it?” She asked quietly, biting her lip. Perhaps if she begged through her eyes it would be enough.

“I must be commanded, Inquisitor,” Cullen insisted. “I'm afraid I'm lost without your guidance.”

“Touch me,” Sarya breathed quietly, the redness in her cheeks spreading to her ears. She closed her eyes as Cullen's fingers gently grazed each ear, tracing the outline. He traced her vallaslin, the curve of her jaw. Sarya opened her eyes, watching Cullen as his eyes traveled along with his fingers, moving to the side of her neck, her collar bone, the light short hair on her arms standing as he trailed fingers down them. He watched her chest inhale as his hands slowly slid down each side of her dress, pulling again at the fabric until he could slip his hands underneath it, his hands warm against her cool thighs. He looked down, having pulled the fabric up just enough to see her thighs, slender and firm from all the riding and fighting she had done over the past months. He had paused there, a look on his face that said his confidence was slipping in favor of his shyness as his heart pounded against his chest.

Please,” Sarya breathed, his gentle touches feeling like heaven but never being quite enough. Cullen brought his lips to hers, loving how she sighed into him. As his tongue found hers, his hands slipped up under her dress to her hips without him thinking, lifting her to sit on the large table. Sarya's stomach flipped, her breath heavy as Cullen's hands rested on her hips, his fingers timidly handling the side of her smallclothes. She could feel the hesitation in his kiss once his mind started to work again and realized where his hands were, beginning to pull them away until Sarya grabbed them over her dress, holding them against her.

“I asked you to touch me, Commander,” she breathed through kisses, satisfied in his response when he solidified his grip on her hips with the slightest hint of a growl.

“My apologies, Inquisitor,” Cullen said, his breath heavy as he continued to kiss her. Was there a limit? They had never spoken about what this was in detail, other than that one time in Haven when they had agreed to see where this went between the two of them. He was always timid with her, other than the couple times hormones had won over reason and their kissing had turned into clothed grinding, but they had never taken it further. Had they been about to at the Winter Palace? What if she didn't want it to go further than what they were doing now? What if he overstepped a boundary with her? But she was practically begging, trying to hide her pleads as a command in this game they had come up with amongst the little time they had alone. She had so much riding on her decisions day in and day out, perhaps she needed to relinquish the decision making and was waiting for him to take that leap. Was that it? A whimper escaped her throat, flowing into his mouth. Yes, he could do that for her, he decided.

Cullen moved his mouth to her neck, pulling her closer to the edge of the table by her hips. His hand slipped into the front of her smallclothes, his fingers timidly venturing into the growth of short coarse hair that covered her warmth and he felt his already hard length twitch against his breeches. Sarya's breath became audible, her hands gripping the fur mantle that covered his pauldrons. Another whimper escaped her as his finger teased her, running along her slick folds as his stubble burned into her neck, his kisses becoming more fervent and impassioned. His breath was hot against her neck, and she gasped loudly into his ear as he slipped a finger into her.

“I'm sorry,” Cullen sputtered at her gasp, his head pulling back as he quickly removed his finger from her. He opened his mouth to apologize more, stopping as she quickly grasped at his wrist before he could pull it further away.

“That was a - a good noise, Cullen,” Sarya breathed, her breath ragged as she met his gaze.

“O - oh,” Cullen stammered, his cheeks reddening. His embarrassment faded slightly as she smiled gently at him, pulling his hand back under her dress.

“I promise, if I want you to stop, I'll tell you,” she said quietly, nearly breathless as she said it. “Okay?”

Cullen nodded in understanding, his posture relaxing as he brought his lips to hers again. This time his kiss was light, more gentle. He rested his hand on her hip under her dress as she let go of him, his thumb slowly inching its way back into her smalls. As their kisses became more ardent again, his other fingers followed, until he again slipped a long finger into her.

Her reaction was more subdued this time, having expected it. A sharp inhale of breath, a grin on her lips that encouraged his own. Her legs widened at the sides of him, his mouth continuing to hungrily kiss her as she fought to control her moans as he stroked the inside of her. She was so warm around his finger, warm and soft and, Maker, the noises she was making just from his finger alone. He found his mind wandering, wondering what she would sound like with more, what it would feel like for him to be enveloped in her.

“Cullen,” she breathed against him, her voice a whimper as it called his mind back to the moment, begging him. She leaned her forehead against his before pulling her head back, his finger slowing its movement in her as she locked eyes with him, lust and love and warmth pouring from them. “I love you.”

The corners of Cullen's mouth twitched as a warm grin spread across his face, his eyes softening. His other hand moved up to cup the side of her face, a gentle smile on him as his amber eyes scanned her before looking back at her green eyes.

“I love you, Sarya,” he said, drinking in the smile that broke out on her face. He pressed his lips against hers, holding her face as his finger continued its movement in her. Something sparked between them then, something that had been lit before but only smoldered, dampened with time restraints and interruptions, now bursting inside of them. Sarya's legs wrapped around his hips, giving her the leverage to move her hips against his finger. Her hands moved between them, pulling at the tie on his breeches that restrained him. She could feel him swollen against her hand from outside his breeches as she licked at the scar on his upper lip, their kisses becoming more fueled by fire and passion as Cullen realized what she was doing. He pulled his finger from her warmth, dragging her smallclothes down with his hand as she lifted her hips to help.

Cullen didn't think either of them had gone into this game of theirs that evening planning on going this far. Then again, he could only guess her intentions when she had walked into the War Room wearing that dress. If he had been given time to plan, he may have chosen somewhere a bit more romantic other than on the War Table, which just so happened to be one of the draftiest rooms in the Keep. Perhaps somewhere warm, someplace with a bed. The blood rushing through his body told him to stop thinking about it and focus on this, right now. Nothing else mattered but the two of them and that moment. He moved his mouth from Sarya's lips as she pulled down his breeches and smallclothes, his nearly painfully erect length exposed and begging for friction. Her eyes were glued to it, knowing she shouldn’t be surprised of his size with his height, but the sight making her chest beat with a flame of nervous anticipation all the same. He wet his hand and slid the slickness along his length as she watched him, his eyes watching her with bated breath.

Sarya moaned immediately upon impact, or was it a gasp? A mixture of the two? Somewhere between pleasure and pain as he slowly pressed into her. She had never truly done this before. She had gotten close to it with a boy from her clan what seemed like ages ago, experimenting and not really sure what they were doing, more fingers and hands and it not getting far before he had already lost control, gotten embarrassed, and that was that. She wondered for a moment if that time would have stretched her like this, the way that Cullen did, just enough to make her breath catch in her throat as she focused on the feeling of him slowly and gently pushing her apart to fill her. Cullen allowed her time to adjust, pushing long strands of soft hair from her face as he kissed her, gentle whispers of love against her cheek as her chest heaved until she nodded in a quiet request for him to continue.

Sarya was so tight around him, and each gentle thrust reminded him of it. She was warm and wet, everything he had ever fantasized about, better than what he had imagined nights when kissing or grinding against her hadn't been enough once most of Skyhold had long gone to sleep and he had been too shy to find her. He had never felt this for someone before, his heart full to bursting for her as the sounds escaping her lips stroked his ego and the flame in him. If he could forever make her repeat that noise, yes, that small hitched gasp right there, his job in this world would be complete.

Sarya tangled her fingers in his hair, whimpers escaping her throat as she clung to him, trying to keep her voice down lest someone hear, but having such difficulty. It felt so good, he felt so good, and the flame in her was only fueled further by the desperate groans that escaped past his resolve. Cullen moved his hands to her hips, lifting her slightly from the table in an attempt to angle better in her as she laid back against the map. Pieces knocked and rolled from the table, neither of them taking any time to wonder if they could piece it all back together after. They moved in sync with one another, quiet moans and heavy breaths escaping each of them as they perspired in their clothes. Cullen was precise with his movements, responding to her gasps in turn once he discovered them, repeating the same motion over and over, knowing he was satisfying her not only by her sounds but in the way she gripped his hair as if she would burst if she let go, the way her thighs pressed tightly against his side. Cullen was a veteran of battles and he knew how to find a weakness, that spot in the battlements that would break down if hit over and over and over. That weakness soon became his own, pressure building in him like like a string being pulled too tight, each whimper, each gasp, each thrust into her causing it to tighten until it finally snapped. His face buried into her neck, Cullen groaned desperately with a final deep plunge, exasperated breaths escaping him in succession as he spilled into her with his release.

Sarya's hands remained in his hair, her strong grip gone, replacing it with gentle strokes to soothe him. She smiled as Cullen kissed at her neck, his kisses gentle and tired, his breath ragged and audible. His fingers trailed the side of her face as he shifted to look at her, his amber eyes glazed over and more warmth pouring out of them than she had ever seen.

Mythal, help me, I can't think straight when it comes to him, She thought. His lips render me asunder, the thought of his hands set me aflame. Of all the people, you chose a human for me. My clan will not be pleased, even though this match could not have been made by anyone but you.

Sarya pulled his lips to hers, her kiss loving as she crossed her legs behind him, holding him to her. She gently pushed his unkempt hair back, the roots damp from perspiration, his carefully brushed down curls regaining their natural shape.

“I never imagined finding someone like you,” Cullen said breathlessly, tracing her long ear with his fingers. “Someone so perfect, so kind. I have… never felt this way, this strongly, for anyone.”

“Neither have I,” Sarya smiled, leaning into his touch. By the morning she would be heading out with Hawke to Crestwood, not knowing what would be waiting for them there. For now, though, she had Cullen, and he had her, and, for the moment, all was right in the world.

Chapter Text

Blessed are the righteous, the lights in the shadow.

In their blood the Maker’s will is written.

-Benedictions 4:11


 

     Sarya took in a deep breath of air as she walked the battlements of Skyhold early in the morning. Dawn had only just begun to break, the sky still a hue of blues and greys as the sun began to rise behind the mountains that surrounded the great fortress. Most of Skyhold still slept, only a handful of people moving about to get started on their day. It would take her and her companions nearly four days to get to Crestwood, and even though she had only returned from the Hinterlands two days before it was important that they set out just as quickly as they had arrived. If Hawke had been correct about his contact in the Wardens being searched for, they needed to get to him first before someone else did.

Glancing down towards the stables, Sarya watched Varric, Blackwall, and Hawke talking, still waiting on her and Dorian. Although they needed to leave soon, they had agreed to leave at dawn, and Sarya wanted to soak in just a bit more of Skyhold if she could before the sun reached them.

“I was hoping I’d catch you before you left.”

A smile spread across Sarya’s face at the sound of Cullen’s warm voice, turning eagerly to see him walking towards her. She met him halfway at a corner of the battlements, still close enough to the stables where she would be able to hear when everyone had arrived. She opened her mouth to speak, nothing more than an appreciative hum escaping her as Cullen pulled her into his arms and kissed her. There was something deep in his embrace, something that hadn’t been there before: an openness that had once been too shy to come out, locked away and guarded by hesitation and doubt. As Cullen broke the kiss, he chuckled, rubbing the back of his neck.

“I’m… not sure what came over me,” he admitted, the slightest hint of a grin on his face.

“I have a bit of an idea…” Sarya suggested quietly, earning another chuckle from him. “Might have something to do with last night?”

“I found myself thinking of nothing else while I tried to see to my duties before sleep,” he said quietly, gently cupping the side of her face with his hand. “You have to leave so soon… I’m afraid I don’t know whether to spend the short time we have kissing you or talking with you.”

“Why not both?” Sarya teased. She gingerly gripped the fabric of his mantel, pulling him towards her. Cullen hummed against her lips, his hands moving to her waist and directing her back against the stone parapet. He lingered on her lips for some time, his mouth moving to her cheek at one point, feeling the corners of her mouth crease in a smile.

“What did you call them?” Cullen asked, kissing her nose before moving back to her mouth.

“Them?” Sarya repeated between kisses.

“Your tattoos.”

“Oh, my vallaslin?” Sarya smiled, holding back a laugh. She hadn’t actually expected him to take her up on her offer to attempt a conversation while kissing, but she could hardly complain.

“I’d like to know about them,” Cullen said, kissing the corner of her mouth. “If you're comfortable telling me.”

“Of course,” Sarya smiled, tilting her head as he kissed the side of her face. “They're a symbol of the Goddess Mythal, the Protector.”

“Sounds like you,” Cullen said, kissing her temple and making her laugh.

“She's the Goddess of Love,” she said, grinning at Cullen's sound of approval. “Patron of motherhood and justice. She created the moon, to reflect the sun's glory.”

“Did you choose them?”

“I did,” Sarya nodded, gripping the fur of his mantel as his mouth moved to her jaw. “She is kind, offering protection to those who ask it of her. I've always aspired to be like her as much as I can.”

“I think you're doing a wonderful job at it,” Cullen said, smiling as she pulled his chin up and his mouth back to hers. Sarya sighed against him as she leaned fully against the parapet, arms reaching up around his neck to hold him close. She wished so much that he could come with her, though there was a part of her that felt good knowing he would be in Skyhold. Skyhold felt safe, deep in the mountains where they could see enemies coming from miles away, a fortress to hold that which grew dearer to her every day, including the wonderful hands slowly working their way up her sides…

“Hey, lovebirds!” Varric called from below. “We’re ready to head out!”

Sarya and Cullen each turned a brilliant shade of red as they pulled apart, not having noticed how easy to spot they had been. Sarya couldn’t help but laugh as Cullen sighed, rubbing the back of his neck.

“Don’t feel bad,” she said. “You don’t have to travel with them. Be thankful for that.”

“I suppose you're right,” Cullen chuckled. He paused as he held her hand, looking down at her pale skin against his leather gauntlet. “Be safe… Vhenan.”

“Where did you learn that?” Sarya asked, a suspicious smile growing as her eyes narrowed.

“You.” Cullen chuckled at the confusion on her face. “You slip into Elvish when you drink. You kept calling me that. Did I… Did I say it correctly?”

“Perfectly,” Sarya smiled, pulling him down for one last kiss. Her hands snaked into his hair, gripping handfuls of smoothed back curls as she pulled him close. She wished she knew a spell to stop time around them, to let them continue for a while longer. Someday, this would all be over and they'd have fewer goodbyes.


 

     Crestwood was wet. Worse than the Storm Coast, buckets of rain pouring all around them and the living dead at every turn. Finding this Grey Warden of Hawke’s was proving to be more dicey than they had expected, having run into another group of Grey Wardens along the way looking for the same man. Their first day had turned up no leads, briefly learning about the dire situation in the village in regards to a nearby rift from the mayor. It was something they would be able to look into once they covered their ground looking for this Warden. With the other Wardens nearby searching for him, they couldn’t stop for long. Their first night found them at a campsite just outside the village, no campfire on account of the relentless rain. The spot they had found allowed them to look down into the valley with the hills at their backs, though they couldn’t see very far as it was thanks to the thick rain. Always apt to spend time together unwinding in the evenings, all of them had squeezed into Dorian’s tent for a bit. Sarya had created a warming light with magic in lieu of a smoking fire, and the five of them were crowded around it as they attempted to dry themselves.

“I had no idea it rained so much here,” Sarya mumbled. She rung out her hair, droplets of water falling from it and leaving a mess of frizz behind.

“Yes, why weren’t we told that little detail that could have encouraged us to bring a cloak or two or three more?” Dorian asked.

“Crestwood isn’t usually this bad,” Hawke grumbled. He wiped his face as water dripped from his hair onto his nose. “Could the rift be causing this?”

“It’s hard to say,” Sarya sighed. “I suppose we’ll find out once we find this Warden and have a chance to close it.”

“Now, Hawke, you’re from Kirkwall, correct?” Dorian asked, leaning back on a rolled up bedroll.

“Did the title Champion of Kirkwall tip you off?” Varric laughed.

“Yes, I'm from Kirkwall,” Hawke sighed.

“Ever hang around The Gallows?” Dorian asked, eyeing Sarya with a smirk. “Meet any interesting, handsome Templars while there?”

“You mean your Commander?” Hawke raised his eyebrow. “I did meet him a few times, yes.”

“Make an impression on you? Got any dirt?”

“Dorian,” Sarya sighed. “You don't need to mine for information on Cullen's past.”

“I'm just interested in the deep, dark past of the man who has stolen the heart of our dearest Inquisitor. Can you blame me?” Dorian asked, shrugging. “Don't get me wrong, the man is a rather charming, albeit smug, chess adversary, but everyone knows what went down in Kirkwall, even us more civilized people in Tevinter. Everyone has skeletons in their closet. Well… Except for perfect prophets sent by Andraste, apparently.”

“Kirkwall was a mess, but Cullen stood with us when things were the worst,” Hawke said. “Not that it was difficult to pick a side when Meredith went mad with power… But he tried his hardest to help Kirkwall rebuild afterward.”

“Wrap that compliment in gift wrap,” Varric said. “Not often Chuckles doles them out like that.”

Hawke let out a slight grunt with an eye roll as Varric clapped him on the shoulder.

“Chuckles? Isn't that what you call Solas?” Blackwall asked.

“So I reuse nicknames sometimes…”

“You gave someone else my nickname?”

“Hey, you were the one who ran off into hiding with Broody after everything went down…”

Sarya slipped out of focus as the four of them talked and laughed, her mind miles away. She found herself wondering what Cullen was doing in that moment. Probably in his office, bogged down by reports as usual. She hoped he wasn’t suffering headaches, that she had left enough of the salve for him to hold him over until she got back, that maybe they would even lessen over the time. It had been about four days since that night at the War Table, four days since that moment… No, but it had been so much more than a moment. So much more than just some thing that had happened. He had said he loved her. Cullen loved her. Of all the things that had happened to her since the Conclave, there was a bright light that outshone all the darkness. Deep down she knew something had changed for Cullen as well. The way he had greeted her before they left for Crestwood, kissing her in that way where anyone could have seen where he had been apt to finding quiet, secluded spaces to do more than touch fingers before... She couldn’t help the slight smile that flirted with the corner of her mouth as she thought about it while staring at the icy blue warming light. What would it be like when they returned? Would they have more moments like the one on the battlement, more moments like the one on the War Table, lips locked, breaths panting...

“...she’s obviously daydreaming about Curly. I mean, look at her face.”

Sarya snapped out of her trance as Varric’s voice broke through, blushing as she realized she had no idea how long she hadn’t been listening to their conversation.

“Don’t tease the poor Inquisitor, Varric,” Blackwall chuckled.

“Something’s… different about you. The look on your face when you’re daydreaming. What’s changed?” Dorian asked, regarding Sarya with suspicion.

“What are you talking about?” Sarya asked, her face reddening further as she failed to remove the image from her mind: Cullen poised above her, brow furrowed, sighs and groans leaving him as he thrusted into her.

“Yeah, something is different,” Varric nodded, his eyes narrowing. “You’re getting all flushed. You haven’t gotten flushed from our teasing in a long time. And Curly was awfully handsy with you before we left...”

“D - Don’t be ridiculous,” Sarya stuttered, wishing she could bury her head in the dirt. Maybe when they returned to Skyhold she would ask Sera to teach her how to disappear as she often did before sticking an arrow in someone’s rear.

A-HA!” Dorian shouted, making Sarya jump with wide eyes. “You’ve had sex!”

“Good night!” Sarya was high pitched and loud as she stood up, quickly stepping over Blackwall as she headed towards the front of the tent.

“Wait! You have to tell us when and where! I have fifty silver riding on this!” Varric called out towards her, laughing.

“Yes, don’t go to sleep before I have a chance to pry details from you!” Dorian whined as she practically flung herself through the flap of the tent into the rain.

“Different group, same dynamic, huh, Varric?” Hawke chuckled.

“You know it,” Varric nodded. “But seriously, I need to know if I owe Sparkles or if he owes me…”

“You know I was right,” Dorian smirked as he crossed his arms. “I’m always right about these things.”

 

     “You said he would be in this area, right?” Sarya asked, stumbling out from behind some brush. The rain still had not let up overnight. The day was full of dark clouds, not one bit of sky peeking through, the valley and hills lit in a world of grey and flashes of lightning. The rain was thick, and Sarya could just make out a few druffalo wandering together in the valley below. Sarya’s boots stuck slightly in the mud as she walked, and a part of her vowed never to come to Crestwood again.

“Should be a cave nearby,” Hawke said. “He should be there, unless the other Wardens got too close.”

“And if they did?” Blackwall asked.

“We’ll deal with that if it comes to it.”

Sarya made her way up a hill, a flash of lightning illuminating what appeared to be a small opening to a cave. The others followed her as she moved into it, breathing a sigh of relief for the momentary reprieve from the rain. The cave was quiet, and a long tunnel stretched inward with no sign of light. Sarya made a blue fire in her hand, a spell Solas had taught her, holding it out in front of her as she continued walking.

“Well, if he’s not here, at least we’ll have a dry spot for the night,” she said quietly, pausing as she reached a wooden makeshift wall with a door, the markings of bandits painted on it. She extinguished her flame, cautiously opening the door and heading into the main cavern. The cavern was well lit by torches, water dripping from various stalactites above her head. As she looked around, the area appeared unoccupied. Nearing a table, she looked at a map that was unrolled, various markings covering the landscape.

“If he’s gone, it hasn’t been long,” she surmised, turning around. The steel point of a sword was in front of her face before she realized it, a tall man in blue padded armor with the silver crest of a griffon standing at arm's length with the sword.

“It’s just us,” Hawke said quickly as he entered through the door. The man turned to look at Hawke, his posture relaxing. “This is the Inquisitor.”

“My apologies,” the man said, lowering his sword. “I’ve been a bit jumpy lately. Being hunted by friends will do that… It’s Inquisitor Lavellan, right?”

“Sarya,” she nodded, feeling more at ease as he sheathed his sword. Able to get a better look at him, Sarya surveyed the Grey Warden in front of her: he was tall, a bit taller than Cullen, with short light brown hair and tired eyes. He looked as if his armor didn’t fit him quite as well as it should have, although Sarya could only imagine how long he had been running from the Wardens for and what that would have meant for survival.

“I’m Alistair. It’s an honor to meet all of you,” he said, scanning the group that had come with Hawke. His sight stopped on Blackwall, eyeing his armor, a slightly confused look on his face. “You have a Grey Warden with you?”

“Warden Blackwall,” Blackwall spoke from behind Varric.

“Blackwall?” Alistair repeated. “Duncan, my mentor, mentioned a Warden Blackwall.”

“Duncan. Right,” Blackwall nodded. “Good man.”

“Right,” Alistair nodded slowly.

“Are you the same Alistair who fought with the Hero of Ferelden?” Sarya asked, her interest piqued.

“Yes, yes,” Alistair sighed, although there was the slightest grin on his face. “War, betrayal, darkspawn, all the fun goodies I’m sure you’ve heard in stories. That was some time ago, though. I answer to Warden-Commander Clarel now, just like everyone else.”

“So, try to help me understand what’s going on,” Sarya said, crossing her arms. “All the Wardens disappear suddenly, just around the same time I get a cursed hand and an ancient darkspawn magister named Corypheus attacks us. I don’t suppose one has to do with the other?”

“Probably. I mean, I think so.” Alistair shook his head. “When Hawke killed Corypheus, we Wardens figured it had been dealt with, done. But archdemons don’t die from regular people stabbing them. It’s not that simple. No offense, Hawke.”

“None taken,” Hawke said, waving his hand dismissively.

“Anyway, I feared Corypheus may have had such abilities, so I began investigating,” Alistair continued. “I found small hints, but nothing concrete. Then, shortly after, every Warden in Orlais began hearing The Calling.”

“You mentioned a lot of things, Alistair, but you didn’t mention that,” Hawke said.

“What’s The Calling?” Sarya asked.

“It’s a secret, a rather dangerous one at that,” Alistair said. He crossed his arms, looking down at the ground as he leaned against the rocky cavern wall. “I do try to keep some of my oaths to the Wardens. We Wardens are tied to the darkspawn. It’s what allows us to kill archdemons. Eventually, that connection poisons you. It’s not exactly something we share. Can you imagine how few Grey Wardens there’d be if everyone knew?”

“You don’t know it’ll poison you before you join?” Sarya raised her eyebrows in shock.

“No, but everyone who joins the Wardens is well aware it’s a lifelong commitment,” Alistair said. “Some are running from something, or looking to do some good with the rest of their time. The Wardens are known for their secrets. By the time you find out, it’s not that great of a shock. Besides, it usually takes a while. I’ve been in the Wardens for what… eleven years, now? Although, I must admit, I was a bit surprised to hear The Calling so soon. Then when everyone else began to hear it, I knew something was wrong.”

“So The Calling is your connection to the darkspawn poisoning you?” Sarya asked, her face falling ever so slightly.

“It’s like a song,” he said, his eyes drifting off to the side as he could hear it. “It starts out quiet, but it calls to you, gets louder… Until it’s so loud you can’t bear it. At that point, most Wardens go to the Deep Roads: a last hurrah against the darkspawn, to die fighting. ‘In death, sacrifice.’”

“Every Warden in Orlais is hearing that right now?” Hawke asked. “You all think you’re dying?”

“Yes,” Alistair nodded, drawing his eyes back to them. “I think Corypheus caused this somehow. It’s got them all terrified. If we all die, who will end the next Blight?”

“So the Wardens have become desperate because of it,” Sarya said.

“Which is exactly what Corypheus wants,” Hawke grumbled.

“Blackwall, is this affecting you as well?” Sarya asked, turning to look at him with concern.

“I do not fear The Calling.” Blackwall shook his head. “To fear it only gives it power.”

“The Calling comes for us all, whether we fear it or not,” Alistair said. “Whether this is real or simply caused by Corypheus, it’s hard to say.”

“I take it the other Wardens didn’t have the same thoughts as you?” Sarya asked. “Or they’re erring on the side of doom?”

“I saw what a Blight did to Ferelden firsthand,” Alistair said grimly. “All of Thedas would have been gone if not for Grey Wardens. Warden-Commander Clarel proposed some things - blood magic and such - to prevent further Blights before we die.”

“If blood magic would end Blights, wouldn’t mages have done so by now?” Sarya asked, raising an eyebrow.

“That was my thought as well… I suppose the theory is that blood magic done by Wardens would be different. I argued perhaps a bit too loud. Clarel sent guards for me, and, well… Here I am.”

“Do you have any idea where they’ll be attempting this blood magic?”

“Wardens were to gather here, in the Western Approach,” Alistair said, walking over to Sarya and pointing at the map she stood near. “The spot is an old Tevinter ritual tower… Foreboding, to say the least.”

“If you think a ritual tower is foreboding, you should see the parties back home,” Dorian jested.

“You keep interesting company,” Alistair commented to Sarya, surveying Dorian before chuckling. “We had a Qunari traveling with us during the Blight. Sometimes you find the best allies in common enemies.”

“Oh, we’ve got one of those, as well,” Dorian nodded. “She’s got quite a collection going, our little Inquisitor.”

“Well, I could use help investigating, if you and your collection would like to join me,” Alistair said, turning his attention back to Sarya.

“I think that’s a good plan,” Sarya nodded.

“We should head back to Skyhold, then head to this ritual tower from there,” Blackwall said.

“What about the village?” Sarya asked, her stomach sinking as she thought of the rift plaguing the town with the dead.

“Do we have time?” Hawke asked, looking to Alistair.

“I mean, you could fight off the dead every day, but, from what I’ve seen since I’ve been here, they just keep coming back the next,” Alistair said.

“It could be the rift,” Sarya said. “If we can close it, it may stop the rest.”

“You mean it’s not just talk, you closing rifts with your hand with a bit of luck sent by Andraste?” Alistair asked, wiggling his fingers in front of him for effect. He chuckled as Sarya sighed tiredly. “Sorry, sorry. I recognize the face tattoos. Then, whatever god you think it’s from. Or… wherever it came from.”

“Still to be determined,” she sighed. “But yes, I can close them.”

“That sounds exciting,” Alistair grinned. “Well, shall we go flail your hand at it, then?”

 

     Closing the rift had been more difficult than anticipated. Reaching it required them to open the floodgates on a dam, search the flooded village that had been covered by the lake, and then find their way through a deep cave and old dwarven ruins. However, once they had closed the rift and exited the ruins, they were greeted by bright sunny skies as the remaining rain dripped from tree branches like jewels in the sun. Sarya would have liked to stay to close the remaining rifts in the valley, but now that the village appeared safe, and with the impending gathering in the Western Approach, they needed to head back to Skyhold and possibly leave immediately after.

The ride back to Skyhold was a short one, all of them attempting to make good time. They were aided by clear skies all the way which helped to speed them along, the six of them in rather good spirits by the time they arrived to Skyhold in the evening. Sarya grimaced as she slightly stuck to the saddle of her horse as she dismounted, her clothes still soaked through from the rain in Crestwood.

“I don't think I'll ever feel warm again,” she mumbled, picking at her shirt as she tried to keep it from sticking to her skin.

“I'm sure Curly can help you fix that,” Varric teased. Sarya shot him a scowl, though a smile crept through it.

“Oooh, I know that look,” Alistair sung as he got off his horse.

“What look?” Sarya asked, pretending to be indifferent though she could feel her ears reddening. Was she really that transparent?

That look, that, ‘I'll pretend like it's not what I want,’ look.”

“What?” Sarya raised her eyebrow, now actually confused.

“It’s the look Lana always put on whenever I flirted with her around people. Which was… A lot. She still does from time to time, now that I think about it. Anyway, you’ve gotten a taste of being frisky with someone and you can’t even hide how much you want to revisit it.”

“I’m sorry, you did say you’re a senior member of the Grey Wardens, right?” Sarya asked.

“Surprising, right?” Alistair nodded. Sarya shook her head with a laugh as she led her horse into the stables.

“You should probably join us at the War Table,” Sarya said to Alistair. “My advisors should hear from you everything you told us in Crestwood.”

“Lead the way,” Alistair said, following Sarya as she left the stables. The two of them made their way up the stairs that led to the Keep. Sarya nodded with a smile to the soldiers and handful of nobles who were gathered in the throne room, keeping her footsteps quick in an attempt to avoid any unnecessary conversations when this meeting would be so important. As they made their way to the end of the hall past Josephine’s study, Sarya opened the door and motioned Alistair in.

“You’ve got to be kidding me,” Alistair exclaimed as the door to the War Room shut behind them. Sarya's advisors looked over as she and Alistair entered, a knowing smile growing on Leliana's face. Cullen looked a bit shocked, as if he had been expecting anyone other than Alistair. Sarya worried for a moment at the look that lay below the surface on his face, a look he usually wore when his darker memories were surfacing, but he quickly brushed it off, straightening and standing tall as ever, giving her the slightest smile as reassurance as their eyes met.

“Left Hand of the Divine and now this? You look nearly the same as the last time I saw you, albeit a bit more foreboding with the hood,” Alistair spoke to Leliana as he approached the War Table.

“You look thin,” Leliana said, her eyes not missing a single detail as usual.

“You ever try taking out a druffalo with one person?” Alistair cocked an eyebrow as he shook his head. “Traps are useless out in Crestwood, what with them stomping around everywhere. All you need is one hoof caught and suddenly the whole herd’s trying to take you out. It’s not been the highlight of my life, I must say, but I suppose Grey Wardens have few as it is.”

“You haven’t changed, Alistair,” Leliana said, a light laugh leaving her. “How is Lana? Last I heard she was very far west towards the Sea of Ash.”

“Lovely, as always,” Alistair sighed. “Though I fear I haven’t been able to be in contact with her much on account of all… this.”

“You know Morrigan is here as well?”

“No,” Alistair gasped, his eyes wide. “Oh, Maker, I'll need a good hiding spot if I don't want to spend my night arguing…”

“I understand you two know each other fairly well, but we really should focus on the matter at hand,” Cullen interrupted.

“Yes, of course,” Alistair nodded, clearing his throat. He glanced at Cullen for a moment as if he wanted to say something to him, before deciding against it and continuing. “Well, to the business, then.”

Alistair spent the evening filling in the others on everything he had told Sarya and her companions in Crestwood, as well as answering the extensive questions her advisors had for him. The situation with the Wardens seemed to be the next step to thwarting Corypheus, and everyone agreed it would be best if Sarya, Alistair, and a few others set out again the next day. As the moonlight shifted and melded with the candlelight, Sarya covered her mouth as she let out a silent yawn.

“The other items on the docket I believe can be left for later,” Josephine said as she noted Sarya's yawn. “I can create footnotes for you of each matter for reading on the road. You may send your decisions to me on the items by raven.”

“Without discussing it with all of you?” Sarya asked. She was humbled by Josephine's suggestion, but was she ready - or did she want - to dole out decisions like an actual ruler?

“They are items we have already spoken about.” Josephine smiled as she noticed the hesitation in Sarya's voice. “I have notes on all our opinions, but I believe I speak for the three of us when I say: we trust your judgement fully.”

“Thank you, Josephine,” Sarya said, a small smile on her face.

“Before we adjourn, Inquisitor: you received another letter from your Keeper,” Leliana said, sliding the letter across the War Table to Sarya.

“Do you mind if I use one of your ravens to send a response?” Sarya asked, glancing over the letter briefly.

“Our ravens are yours, Inquisitor, you know that.” Leliana smiled, her eyes sparkling from the gesture.

“I would never want to slight my Spymaster,” Sarya teased.

“Smart woman,” Alistair yawned. “Well, I’ll be wandering if you need me.”

 

     Sarya sat quietly up in Leliana’s area of the tower, reading over the letter from her Keeper. It was nothing urgent thankfully, just Istamaethoriel checking up on her and updating her on the status of Clan Lavellan. The winter was mild up North, and Sylaise had blessed them with a good harvest of herbs to see them through many months if the weather turned. Sarya smiled as she fondly remembered the last winter with her clan, the rush to get everything bundled and dried before the cold set in, their smiles abound despite the severity of the oncoming storm. She felt guilty for not writing more, always seemingly needing to be prompted by her Keeper to send news her way. She knew Josephine was in contact with Istamaethoriel and keeping her updated on the status of anything that may concern Clan Lavellan. Still, a part of her felt it should be her taking the extra time to do so as First of her clan. The tower was quiet, a couple of Leliana’s scouts sitting over across the way playing a card game while Sarya slowly scrawled a small doodle of elfroot and flowers near the end of the letter; she couldn't be there to help the harvest, but Istimaethoriel would understand the sentiment just the same. She looked behind her as she heard the shuffling of a few items, the squawk of a raven, and found Alistair shushing it while steadying the cage he had knocked into.

“You must know Leliana very well to be poking around her ravens without worry of retribution,” Sarya teased.

“I like to think I’ve spent enough time with her to not feel her full wrath,” he said with a grin. He walked over to her, motioning towards the letter. “You’re able to keep in contact with your clan, then?”

“I try.” She sighed as she looked back at the letter. “I don’t feel I write as much as I should. It’s difficult… I feel guilty for not being with them.”

“I never liked the idea of having to choose between two very important things.” Alistair walked over to a nearby window, leaning up against the stone wall that surrounded it. “Had to do that a couple times… Let me tell you, not easy decisions.”

“How did you decide?”

“The first one was the most difficult,” he said, his head turning to look out the window as he crossed his arms. “I had a lot of people expecting things from me I didn’t want, expecting me to give up everything, everyone, for them, for the ‘good of Ferelden’. After all that ruckus, they seem to be doing just fine with what they have now. The second was surprisingly easier, though it was…. Difficult in other ways. When you have to choose between life with the one you love, or living without them, or them without you, the answer is more clear. Both times Lana helped me decide, whether directly or because of how I felt for her. I didn’t have the strongest constitution back then. Being a Grey Warden, our lives are shorter than most, depending on when you join and when The Calling sets in. She made sure that I chose in favor of what would bring me the most joy in the time I have, and I’m grateful for that.”

“I hope I won’t have to choose between the Inquisition and my clan,” Sarya sighed. She stood up and walked over to one of the cages, opening it and tying the letter to the raven’s leg before holding out her arm. The raven hopped onto her, holding tight as she gently pulled it out of the cage. “Leaving here is not an option, not while Corypheus is still alive and I have this mark. I’m sure my Keeper understands that, but I’m not sure how things will look once he’s gone, once the threat is over and there are still things left to finish.”

“Well, at least you’re doing good for those who follow you. Being with the Inquisition must be doing wonders for the mages,” Alistair said, an amused look on his face. “I met the leader of their rebellion just a moment ago, down in the library. She hugged me.”

“Fiona hugged you?” Sarya raised her eyebrows before laughing. “That’s a bit odd for her.”

“Yep,” Alistair nodded, emphasizing the word. “Asked if I was the Grey Warden she had heard about, hugged me, and went on her way. It was…. Strange, to say the least.”

“Maybe she lost family during the Blight?” Sarya suggested as she opened the window near Alistair. “We have a lot of people here who did.”

“Perhaps.” He paused for a moment, looking off to the side as if something was grabbing his attention, before looking back to Sarya as the raven flew off from her arm and into the night. “Do you mind if we talk for a bit? It helps drown out the singing. I do love a good song, but this one… Well, it's become quite loud.”

“Do you think if we stop Corypheus the singing will stop?” Sarya asked. She leaned against the wall on the opposite side of the window to face him.

“Possibly.” Alistair nodded as he shifted. “Since it began for us all around the same time, if he’s causing it, it would make sense. But I suspect for some of us it will linger, and then we'll know for sure. My love is searching for a way to end it, for good. I would have gone with her, but this business with Corypheus can't wait. I hope to join her in her search once this has all been settled. Darkspawn has kept us apart for long enough. I'm sure you know how that is, you riding all over Thedas, closing rifts before coming back to… What did Varric say? Curly?”

“It’s Cullen,” Sarya laughed. “And yes, I do know what you mean.”

“Cullen?” Alistair raised his eyebrows in slight surprise. “Cullen, the Cullen your now Commander, Cullen?”

“You two seemed to recognize each other earlier.” Sarya nodded. “Do you know him?”

“Lana and I went to the Ferelden Circle, looking for help against the Blight, only to find it had been overrun by abominations,” Alistair nodded. “Cullen was… not in the best state when we found him. I’d say he’s lucky to be alive, but… How is he doing? He seemed all right earlier.”

“Better. Some days more than others,” Sarya said, her gaze falling on the floor. “He stopped taking lyrium, so there's nothing to keep his memories at bay.”

“Wow,” Alistair said slowly. “Don't hear about too many Templars doing that, like, ever. That… Can't be easy.”

“He's going to be all right,” Sarya said confidently, looking back at Alistair with a smile. “He's made it this far. He's strong. I know he can make it through it. I’ll help him along the way any way I can, but I know he has the strength to do it.”

“Don't ever let that go,” Alistair said, giving her a smile as she met his gaze. “There's too much awful in this world to not act on love. I don't know what I would have done if Lana hadn't encouraged me… I was so shy when we met, but Maker, that woman…”

“What's she like?” Sarya asked, intrigued to know more about the woman who ended the last Blight.

“Like a rose,” Alistair chuckled. “Beautiful and sweet, but she'll make you bleed if you rub her the wrong way. Shortest elf I’ve ever met. I'm not sure how she survived in the Circle for so long with that fiery temper of hers. She's probably lucky Duncan came along to recruit her before she set a Templar on fire in an argument.”

“I didn't know the Hero of Ferelden was a mage, or an elf,” Sarya said, straightening slightly at the news.

“History tends to leave that out,” Alistair said, a knowing grin on his face. “I'm sure you'll learn that if you survive all this.”

“The way you speak of her, you must love her very much,” Sarya smiled.

“More than I ever thought possible,” Alistair sighed. “I was told by someone that love makes a fool of us all. If that's true, I'm the luckiest fool in the world.”

“I should probably go, I need to check in with some others before it gets too late,” Sarya said. “Have you been shown to a room at all?”

“Leliana helped me find one earlier. I figured your Spymaster was best equipped to get me around without certain people noticing.”

“Are you actually avoiding Morrigan?” Sarya asked. She had to admit, she was a bit amused by it all, of everyone here who seemed to know him. Thedas seemed so large to her, yet there seemed to be very few degrees of separation in the Inquisition.

“It’s a long story, one I’d rather not go into detail about…” Alistair sighed as he shook his head. “Morrigan and Lana were friends, but Morrigan, like always, had a hidden motive. Morrigan will be a wealth of knowledge for you, Inquisitor, but don’t forget that she has her best interest in mind. There's a reason she's here, and it's not for anything that won't directly benefit her. I wouldn’t trust her further than I can throw her, after all we’ve been through.”

 

     Sarya thought on Alistair’s words as she walked the battlements of Skyhold. Morrigan had seemed a mystery to her, but was she really not to be trusted as much as Alistair said? Sarya was apt to trust people with an open heart, always wanting to see the good in them. Still, it was something to think about another day when they didn’t need to head out so quickly. In the meantime, she had made her way through Skyhold, checking in with Blackwall, Sera, and Dorian to make sure they were up for going on the trip in the morning. Other than one minor gripe, ‘Oh, yes, I'd love to go to a desert right after being water boarded by the sky for two days straight. You always take me to the most decadent of places, Lavellan,’ Sarya had her group picked out for the morning and could focus on getting herself to sleep; though, not without first checking on her favorite Commander.

“I hope I'm not bothering,” Sarya said as she walked in. Cullen was situated at his desk, sitting in the chair he normally had pushed to the side during the day. A few candles were burning in the candelabra near the window, and one candle burning low on his desk. He had three separate piles of reports on his desk, and Sarya felt tired even looking at them after the relentless week.

“Not at all,” Cullen smiled. “I'm just finishing looking over a few new reports about Emprise du Lion that came up just after the meeting ended. Leliana suggested I forward them to you, that perhaps you can look into these issues on your way to the Western Approach.”

“What's it about?”

“It appears Red Templars have been sighted in large numbers in the area,” Cullen said as he looked back at the report. “They appear to have been taking people from the village, there's hardly anyone left. I can only imagine what they're doing with them.”

“That's awful,” Sarya frowned as she approached his desk. “I agree with Leliana, a short detour shouldn't delay us too much.”

“I'll make sure the others are aware of the change in itinerary.”

Sarya was quiet for a moment, watching Cullen pour over the reports at his desk. She couldn't help but smile as she watched him work. He was so focused, always so diligent with whatever he was working on.

“Did you know the Hero of Ferelden is a mage?” Sarya asked after a short while. “Warden Alistair said most stories leave that bit out.”

“I did, yes,” Cullen said, looking up from the report in his hand. “She was in the Ferelden Circle before being conscripted to the Grey Wardens.”

“Alistair said she had a temper, is that true?”

“Not enough to get her into much trouble,” Cullen chuckled, a slight smile on his face. “There were some arguments between her and the other apprentices, but nothing to hinder her being granted a Harrowing. She was… Quite charming.”

Charming?” Sarya repeated, smirking as Cullen sunk back into his report. “Cullen, did you have a crush on her?”

“I was a newly initiated Templar, there was a lot distracting me,” Cullen mumbled, his face hidden by the report though his ears were turning red. He looked up as Sarya sat on his desk, pushing the report down. A wickedly amused look painted her face.

“Cullen Rutherford, I think you have a type!”

“A what?” The scoff that came out of his mouth was entirely unconvincing.

You have a thing for elven mages!” Sarya giggled, causing Cullen to sigh.

“I - Do you - is this really that amusing to you?”

“Yes.” Sarya nodded, laughing again as Cullen groaned in defeat. “What, would you be jealous to learn of every person I've ever had the slightest of feelings for?”

“When you say every…”

“Lav’Enal, when I was six, although that was short lived since he tired of my games and thought Shala’s were better. Which, he was right, hers were, and I stole her a bit for myself when I was sixteen, although they had tired of each other long before that,” Sarya said, leaning back in thought as Cullen's eyes widened slightly. “I thought I had one on Renan, but he was more interested in me than I was in him. I found I'd rather focus on perfecting my potions and poultices than-”

“W - What did you mean, about… Shala was it?”

“She's lovely, we stayed friends after,” Sarya said, a smirk on her face at the look on Cullen's. “She's one of our hunters now. She would practice her sneaking on me, late at night when everyone had gone to sleep...”

She paused for a moment, noticing Cullen practically fixated on her as she continued, the smirk never leaving her face, well aware that he had set down the report by now.

“She used to sneak into my tent, run her fingers down my neck, ‘For old time's sake’” She tilted her head and ran two fingers along the side of her neck to illustrate. She paused again, Cullen's expression not changing, his mouth hanging slightly open. “… Cullen?”

“Hm?” Cullen blinked, not realizing he had been staring, his mind obviously trapped on this newfound knowledge. Sarya laughed, hopping off of his desk to kiss him. He clinged to her lips, his mind already far from Kinloch and stuck somewhere in the Free Marches he knew little about. His hands rested on her waist and pulled her closer. He paused as he tried to move his hand, the leather of his gauntlet sticking to her still damp clothes. Sarya grimaced as she felt the pull of the fabric, suddenly reminded of it.

“The rain soaked through both of my changes of clothes,” she sighed. “Neither of them were dry by yesterday. I was afraid if I took these off I’d never be able to get the others on.”

“You should probably change into some dry clothes,” Cullen chuckled. “We wouldn’t want our Inquisitor to catch cold.”

Sarya kissed him again, not ready to leave his side just yet. Cullen welcomed it, her lips slightly chilled against his warm ones. He chuckled as she stifled a yawn against his lips, bringing his hand up to brush her still frizzy hair out of her face.

“You've had a long journey. You should get some rest before you have to leave again,” he said.

“Will you stay with me tonight?”

“Will I...?” Heat rose from Cullen’s neck to his face as he swallowed hard. His boldness had dissipated somewhat in favor of his shyness in her short absence, and her request took him off guard, though it was by all means not unwelcomed.

“I have to leave so soon, and we've only had a few minutes together. And my mind is restless,” Sarya said, staring at her boots as she straightened. “I just thought I may sleep better with you there, that it would give us a - a little more time. But, you don't have to, obviously. You have so much to do, and-”

“I would love to,” Cullen cut in, his smile joining hers as it grew on her face.

“Really?” She asked as her eyes lit up.

“Allow me to finish up these few last reports and then I’ll join you.” Cullen’s voice was quiet, his eyes warming Sarya as he smiled up at her. Sarya beamed at him, nodding her head as she gave him one last kiss before she left his office with a slight bounce to her step. Left alone, his mind wandered, fingers aching to stroke her neck as she had just done in front of him. Maker, she must have known what she was doing when she had told him. Part of him wondered if she had anything else in mind when she had asked him to stay the night with her.

She’s tired, don’t get worked up over a completely innocent request, he thought to himself. He sighed at the voice of reason in his head, leaning over his desk and setting out to finish his work quickly.

 

     Knowing Cullen would be a short while, Sarya took time once in her room to ready things for the morning. She pulled off her wet clothes piece by piece, laying them out by her hearth as she sparked a fire in it. Opening a drawer in her dresser, she pulled on a sleeveless, deep green cotton nightgown, sighing at the feeling of dry clothes against her chilled skin. She stood in front of the hearth for a few minutes trying to warm her body, her face flushing as she remembered Varric’s suggestion earlier. Shaking her head with a small smile, she grabbed a mug and a small jar of herbs from a bookcase, busying herself making tea to help calm her nerves. Herbs in the mug and heated water melding them together, she opened her pack and took out the jars of herbs she always brought along, refilling them with ones in her bookcases. Normally she would have harvested more during her trip, but Crestwood had been so wet it hadn’t been worth it at the time, the likelihood of those herbs not drying in time too high. The west side of the mountain would likely be more dry with the weather, especially once they hit the desert, and she was sure she’d be able to restock plenty to make up for it then. She drank a bit of the tea, the hot drink helping warm her further as she closed the lids of the jars. A smile grew on her face as she heard the door to her room close at the bottom of the stairs, familiar steps making their way up.

Cullen nearly dropped his armor as he reached the top of the steps to her chambers, having begun to remove it on his way. The sight of her, in the deep green nightgown that hugged her waist, made his heart leap to his throat. It left her shoulders bare from the thin straps that could hardly be construed as sleeves, and Cullen felt his breath catch in his chest as one of the straps slid down to her arm as she finished putting jars into her bookcase. In that moment he realized she could wear anything in the world and his heart would try to vacate his body by any means just to be near her. He cleared his throat as he set the bits of armor on the couch near him, her smile not going unnoticed as she tilted her head back to look at him.

“That was quick,” she commented as she put the now full jars of herbs back in her pack. “You usually stay up so late working, I expected you to be longer.”

“I didn’t want to waste our time together before you leave in the morning,” Cullen said, his smile warming her as always. Sarya observed him as he stood staring at her, the armor on his left side off and on the couch while the rest remained on.

“Are you planning on sleeping in half your armor?” She asked.

“N - No, of course not,” Cullen stammered, quickly fumbling with the buckles on his remaining paldron.

“Take your time,” she said, a giggle hiding in her words. “I'm just teasing you, Cullen. I’ll be another moment.”

Cullen let out a silent sigh as she turned her attention back to the task in front of her. He turned towards the couch, removing each remaining piece of his armor and setting them in a pile with the rest. He then made his way over to the bed, sitting at the edge nearest the couch and unlacing his boots. He had pulled off the one on his right foot before his hands slowed on the laces of the left one. Sitting on the edge of her bed in his shirt and breeches, he wondered how much he should remove. Should he remove his shirt? Leave his breeches on? Take them off? And what of his smalls? They wouldn't all be exactly comfortable to sleep in, but was one mostly clothed romp on the War Table a pass for him to do as he pleased? It was her room, her bed, she had invited him there to sleep. Was he overthinking things? Should he go back to his room, get his sleep clothes-

“Are you all right?”

Cullen snapped out of his thoughts, realizing suddenly that Sarya was sitting next to him. He gave her a smile, trying to control the red that spread over his face as he removed his remaining boot.

“I'm - yes, I'm fine,” he said, realizing only too much how nonreassuring it sounded.

“I'm sorry, I sprung this idea on you so suddenly,” Sarya said, fiddling with the mug in her hand. “It must seem strange, for me to ask and not give you some idea of what it would look like.”

“I’m not really sure there’s a correct way to ask, if that's reassuring,” Cullen chuckled.

“It strangely is,” Sarya laughed. “I want you to be comfortable sleeping, Cullen. Wear as little or as much as that entails. Really, I mean it.”

“That tea, what’s in it?” Cullen asked, his eyes drawn to the nearly empty mug.

“Hawthorn, cinnamon, honey. Do you want some? I can make you a cup. It’s very calming.”

“No, thank you, I’m fine,” he smiled. Hawthorn and honey, that explained the wonderful scent he could always find clinging to her hair and face. He surmised she must drink the stuff quite often for it to always follow her everywhere she went. It would have been foolish for him to wonder why she needed a calming tea so often, her being the Inquisitor and Herald of Andraste. She carried so much weight on her shoulders, he was glad she had something to help comfort her. He watched her as she finished her tea, walking around the room to put out the few burning candles. The flickering glow of the hearth lit her as she made her way to the bed, pulled back the covers and slid in. His heart pounding, Cullen unlaced his breeches, pulling them off and sliding into the other side of the bed in his shirt and smalls. Maker's breath, but why was he so nervous? He had already joined with her once, something as simple as sleeping should have come easy to him after that. But then they had been almost fully clothed that time, there was still so much unknown for the both of them. He nearly immediately regretted the shirt, his body warming significantly as she turned to cuddle into him. Her arm wrapped around his middle, her head resting on his chest as his arms enveloped her.

“I'd almost think you’d been running,” she teased, his heart beating like mad into her ear.

“Is it warm in here?” Cullen asked, sliding from her touch as he sat up, pulling the shirt over his head as he murmured, “Maker, it's warm, isn't it?”

Sarya paused for a moment as her eyes wandered his exposed back, the flicker of light from the hearth illuminating quite a few scars on his back. She wanted to ask what had caused them, but decided to leave it for another time.

“Cullen,” Sarya laughed, her reaction causing him to pause. She gently pat the pillow behind him, and he slid back down to lay his head on it. “Everything is fine. This is fine. I love you.”

“Maker, I love you so much,” Cullen sighed at her words, allowing himself to relax. As she slid into his arms again, he focused on the feel of her. He was reminded of the time he woke up next to her in Halamshiral, her body so perfect against his. This time was even better, now able to feel her skin, even the cotton of her nightgown soft against him. Her face had nuzzled just below his chin, her light breaths bouncing off his neck. With his eyes closed, he allowed his hand to wander, first starting with her cheek, then her jaw, tracing down to her neck and bare shoulder, the thin scrap of a sleeve getting in the way as his fingers slid over a small scar below her shoulder and down her arm. His breath caught as she pressed against him surprisingly innocently, as if she were only trying to fully melt into his form. Cullen bit his tongue as he felt Sarya shaking lightly with laughter. Her hand had slid up to his chest, a finger tracing a small circle on him that made him all too aware of how heavy his breaths were in that moment, and the presence of the erection that was now pressing against her through his smalls.

“I'm - I'm sorry,” Cullen stammered, thankful for the near darkness of the room as he felt blood rush all across his face and to his ears. “You're exhausted from your journey, I'm not trying to -”

“Cullen,” Sarya interrupted softly, placing a finger gently on his lips. In the glow of the distant fire he could just make out the smirk on her face, and for a moment he could have sworn some of the embers burned in her eyes as well. She shifted up, her hand sliding to the side of his face as she kissed him. The arm underneath her bent to pull her closer, Cullen's other hand pressing against the small of her back. She tasted wondrous, like honey and the other ingredients of her tea that Cullen couldn’t have been bothered to remember at that moment if he tried. Cullen brought his hand up to her jaw, gently cupping the side of it. Sarya let out a lengthy sigh as he slowly trailed two fingers down the length of her neck to her collarbone.

“Just like that?” He asked, his mouth dry and voice slightly hoarse. He paused as she shook her head, his heart swelling as she looked up at him with shining eyes, her teeth roughly holding onto her bottom lip.

“It's different with you,” she said quietly. Her eyes trailed all over his face as her palm rested against his stubble, her smile growing larger the longer she looked at him. “Everything is so… so different with you, Cullen.”

That was all he needed to hear to make his lips crash back to hers, sighs leaving the both of them as Sarya's fingers delved into his hair and Cullen pressed against her. His hands slid down from her face, gingerly grazing her covered breasts with uncertainty. Maker, he wanted to feel her skin so much, he wanted to explore every inch of her, but he was so afraid of getting lost in her and losing control. His head was swimming, everything around them blurred into Oblivion, everything else so easily forgotten and unimportant when she was there. Sarya smiled as she kissed him, his hesitation not going unnoticed by her.

“Cullen,” she breathed between kisses, and he paused to look at her as she spoke. Her face was flushed, as if she were nervous to say what she wanted to. “I'm yours. When we're like this… Whenever we're together… Please feel free to treat me as such.”

Cullen couldn't help the grin that broke out across his face at her words; she was his. Maker, but she must have known, he was equally hers. His mouth crashed back down against hers as he let his hesitation fly to the wind. His hands gripped at the hem of her nightgown, breaking their kiss only for a moment as he pulled it up and over her head before kissing her again with an intense passion she often dreamed of. She moaned against his mouth as his hands found her breasts, still gentle but grasping at them with a newfound purpose. They were so soft, each fitting perfectly in his calloused hands. A moan of his own grew from his chest as she ground her core against his hard erection. He could feel her soaking through to his smalls, and her words echoed in his mind, her permission for him to find his confidence and forget his worries. His tongue found hers like a magnet, following hers wherever it went as he pulled away his smalls and kicked them away. She whimpered against his mouth as he slid his hard length against her slickness, eagerly coating himself with her. His hands wandered her body, touching every inch of her and seeing how she would react: sighs with rough palms against her breasts, and small gasps with accompanying grins when he encouraged their peaks to harden with his fingers; a spot along her side that made her shiver, and another he was certain would make her squirm that would be saved in the back of his mind for a lighter and less carnal moment; and then there was a spot just above her heat that rewarded him with a desperate moan, a begging whimper even, and roll of her hips as he touched it. It made her twitch under his touch, her whimpers growing and grip tightening on his back. Rolling his thumb against it made her roll her hips in turn, her whimpers becoming louder as he moved his mouth to her neck, nothing left to muffle them. Cullen slowly slid down her body, his mouth meeting her breast and making her gasp as he closed his mouth around a pert peak. Her back arched into him, long, thin fingers grabbing at his hair as he gently sucked at her and rolled his tongue against her. She whimpered as his mouth left her, only to sigh again as he gave the other one much needed attention. Cullen rutted himself against the bed, her moans and twitching and the rolling of her hips against his hand driving him wild with need. He slid back up to kiss her as his palm held her face, her neverending whimpers the only thing he needed to encourage him further as he guided himself into her.

Maker, but she felt just as amazing as the first time, all wet and warm and tight around him, a blazing perfect heat unlike anything he had ever felt before her. Her nine day absence had done her little favor when it came to making this any easier for her than last time. The sensation of him stretching her ever so slightly was a strange mixture of discomfort and pleasure, although once he settled in her the two melded together into a wondrous symphony that had her mewling in approval. Sarya's fingers slid into Cullen's hair, gripping the locks as he gently rocked against her.

“Touch me,” she begged, whimpering as she moved her hips in time with his.

“Where, love?” He moaned, his breath ragged.

“Where you were a moment ago, please.”

Cullen kissed the side of her face as he returned his hand just above her heat, finding that small bundle and rolling it with his thumb. A gasp left Sarya immediately, and Cullen shivered as he felt her flex around him at the contact. Her hands left his hair in favor of gripping his shoulders as he worked to find a good motion she enjoyed the most. The rolling of her hips became more sporadic, whimpers falling from her throat like a quiet prayer on the wind until they fell into a rhythm and she became more unwound. She was louder, so much louder than that time at the War Table, when they had tried to keep their voices down in case anyone was nearby, in case Josephine could have heard from her study. Her room was comfortably warm, but Maker, the noises she was making, they made him shiver: loud gasps and moans of desperation and pleasure that would make any man feel accomplished to hear, encouraging moans of his own; sharp intakes of breath that accompanied her grip tightening on his shoulders with just the right thrust; the repeated use of what he had deemed to be her favorite elvish swear as he increased his speed in her. She twitched and shook underneath him, her back arching towards him on and off of its own volition. It was like music to his ears, her moans and sighs and hums of approval, loud gasps and whines as she begged him to continue his ministrations on her. Her grip on his shoulders began to tighten further, her sounds more desperate, and Cullen knew to slow his hand down at this point was the last thing he should do. She was obviously nearing something, that great precipice he longed to follow her over. As her moans became louder, his name repeated on her tongue, Cullen knew she was near that edge, her sounds ceasing for a split second, her body tensing around him, and then, finally, it happened: her nails dug into his skin, her body almost violently convulsing against him, her voice crying out in pure ecstasy as she spasmed around his length and made him moan heavily in return. Cullen continued thrusting into her through her orgasm, her walls spasming around him enough on their own to topple him over that edge with her. Cullen shoved his forehead into the bed as he came with her, desperate, loud moans and breaths escaping him. His hands gripped the sheets behind her, whimpers falling from her lips as she felt every pulse of his length inside her. Sarya’s hands slid into his hair, her nails soothingly running though his damp curls as he lay atop her kissing her neck.

“I think I’ll sleep rather well tonight,” Sarya said, smiling as Cullen chuckled against her.

“I’m happy I could assist you,” he said, kissing her neck once more before sliding off of her to the side. Sarya wasted no time turning towards him, burying her face into his chest as her arms wrapped around his middle, her legs tangling with his. Cullen kissed the top of her head, breathing her in as his hand absentmindedly played with a long curl of her hair. The two of them lay in the bed, the covers pulled up to their shoulders, the crackling of the fireplace the only sound in the room. With Cullen's arms wrapped tightly around her, their bodies pressed against one another, the two of them slept soundly for what felt like the first time since the Conclave.

Chapter Text

The moment they entered the city of the maker, their sin poisoned it.

What had been golden turned black,

and violently they were flung from the world of dreams back into the waking world.

Twisted and corrupted by their crime and their magic into monsters,

they fled underground,

unable to bear the light of day.

The first darkspawn.

-Threnodies 8:27


 

     Morning light barely glimmered through the paned glass windows into the room, light blues filling the room in anticipation of the dawn. It was early, but not too early for Skyhold to have the beginnings of stirring with people shuffling about as they began their day in the courtyard below. Sarya stirred as the light woke her, yawning as she opened her eyes. Her bed was so warm. She hated to have to leave Skyhold so soon, but she knew she had to leave with her friends. Everything was always so chaotic, coming and going without much time to breathe. She began to move to get up, only to feel the tightening grip of strong arms wrapped around her that held her close. She grinned sleepily as the memories of the past night came flooding back to her, her eyes drifting to her couch where Cullen's armor still lay. She could feel his warm, steady breath on the back of her neck, his face buried into her long hair. He seemed to cling to her in his sleep like life itself, as if she would spill away if he lessened his grip. Knowing Cullen, he usually would have been up by then, perhaps even earlier. Sarya gladly blamed it on their exhausting activities the night before, glad to see him resting for once.

“You're supposed to swing the damned thing, not poke with it like a child,” Cullen murmured against her neck. The corners of Sarya's mouth twitched; was he talking in his sleep? It was a bit amusing, thinking of Cullen training soldiers in his dreams. She turned her head to look at him as his hand gripped her wrist tightly, his expression troubled as his breath became heavy, his eyes still closed shut.

“Leave…” He murmured. Sarya eased her free arm out from underneath his, abling her to turn onto her back so she could see him better. His body twitched slightly, the space between his brows creased. “Please… don't…”

Sarya reached up to Cullen as he jolted awake, sitting up in a fright. He flinched as she gently touched her hand to his face, his expression softening as he realized it was her.

“It's all right,” Sarya said softly, ignoring how tight his grip on her wrist still was. “You were dreaming.”

“I'm so sorry,” Cullen breathed, looking down at her wrist before he let go quickly. A look of defeat clouded his face as he saw the red mark on her wrist from his hand that was slowly fading. “Maker, forgive me. Without the lyrium, the dreams-”

“Cullen, it's all right,” Sarya interrupted, giving him a warm and tired smile. “If you had done it willingly, we'd be having another conversation.”

“Andraste preserve me,” Cullen sighed, worry still on his face. Sarya guided his head down towards her with her hand, running her fingers soothingly through his hair as he rested his head on her chest.

“I'm sorry your dreams are so bad,” she said.

“I should be the one apologizing,” Cullen said, letting his arm rest over her waist. “I shouldn't make you worry.”

“You can let me worry about you a little,” Sarya smiled, her fingers playing with his disheveled curls. Cullen chuckled against her, entwining his fingers with her other hand.

“All right,” Cullen said. “But you - you have my blessing to burn me if I grab you like that again.”

“You're giving me permission to use magic against you?” Sarya laughed.

“If I'm hurting you at all, ever,” Cullen clarified.

“I think waking you will serve the purpose. But that's quite a blessing coming from a man who's uncomfortable around magic.”

“Is it that obvious?” Cullen sighed.

“It's why I enchant your tea before I bring it to you.”

“I don't mean to make you feel self conscious about it,” Cullen said as he looked up at her.

“You have a difficult past with it, Cullen, I understand.” Sarya smiled at him warmly, melting away any worried thoughts on his mind. “Besides, perhaps one day I'll do it in front of you and you'll change your mind.”

“If there's anyone who could set my mind at ease, it would be you,” Cullen said, moving up so he could kiss her. It was a gentle kiss, warm and loving as so many of his were. Cullen looked at her as he pulled back, his eyes looking at her with a warmth she loved so much. “I… Would like it. That is, if any hesitations I have of magic could be replaced with new memories of you. Your magic is a part of you, and I would never want to change anything about you.”

“You want me to use my magic in front of you?” Sarya asked, a small smile creeping onto her face. Ever since Cullen had spoken in more detail about Kinloch and Kirkwall, Sarya had been more hesitant to use magic around him, even the most practical spells she knew that weren't quite as eye catching as setting an enemy ablaze or summoning a bolt of lightning from the sky. To hear that he wanted to try to replace his memories of torture from magic with ones of her…

“Very much,” Cullen said, pressing his lips to hers once more. Sarya smiled against him, pulling her arms around his neck as they kissed. Cullen's hand moved to her hip, pulling her closer to him.

“I have… Never felt this way for anyone,” Cullen said, resting his forehead against hers as his heart beat strongly against his chest. To be with her was to wash his troubles away, to forget for a moment his withdrawals and the war outside the bed they lay on. It was indescribable, absolute bliss.

“You've said that before,” Sarya teased, still loving hearing him say it.

“It's because I can't believe I've found this, that I've found you, amongst all this,” he said, his eyes wandering her face as he traced her vallaslin with his fingers. “It's not something I expected.”

“Well, if it's one of the many surprises to come from all this, I'm glad it's a good one,” Sarya smiled, melting against his touch.

“As am I.” He paused a moment, a sheepish grin on his face as he continued. “I'll miss you while you're away. I always do.”

“I feel the same, Cullen,” Sarya sighed, she kissed him once more, wanting to stall her leaving though she knew she couldn’t. “I'll be back as soon as I can.”

 


 

     Somehow, Emprise du Lion was colder than the mountains around Skyhold. Snow packed into corners of stone buildings with roofs that had caved in, strong winds blowing frost towards them when they reached higher ground. Perhaps it wasn’t the actual cold, though; rather, the endlessly scattered red lyrium that grew from Red Templar camps, jutting from fortresses and leaving a trail of their enemy’s path. It warmed them when they walked near, making the cold seem even more unbearable than if they were able to adjust to it.

“Really making me hate red things, all this is,” Sera grumbled as they carefully traversed through an area full of it. Touching it for a moment wouldn’t cause harm, but still they tried to keep their distance.

“The sooner we rescue those trapped at the last mine, the sooner we can meet Warden Alistair and Hawke in the Western Approach,” Blackwall said, focusing on the matter at hand. Alistair and Hawke had opted to ride ahead to the Western Approach, intending to scout the area for threats before they arrived. The rest of them had been making their way through a series of mines, uncaging villagers who had been taken from their homes and force fed red lyrium. Based on letters they were uncovering at each one, it seemed that those who sprouted the red lyrium ended up having it harvested from their bodies. The idea sent a chill down Sarya’s spine, memories flashing through her mind of red lyrium growing out of and pinning Grand Enchanter Fiona to the wall of Redcliffe Castle in the ghastly future she and Dorian had seen.

“We should send these letters by raven to Commander Cullen when we get back to camp,” Sarya said. Many of the letters had been written by a Samson, and Sarya guessed it couldn’t have be a coincidence that it was the same name as the man who stood beside Corypheus at Haven. “He recognized Samson back in Haven, maybe he has some insight into what’s going on.”

“Still call him Commander, do you?” Dorian chaffed. “Did you call him that when you first frolicked in - where did you say you two first -”

“I didn't say, Dorian,” Sarya sighed as she rolled her eyes. Dorian and Varric had been relentless on their way back from Crestwood trying to get the details out of her, and it seemed Dorian would be continuing his prodding until he got what he wanted. Sarya began wondering if maybe she should have left him back at Skyhold this round.

“Did you not?” Dorian asked, playing dumb. “Silly me, of course you haven't! My purse would be a little heavier by now if you had!”

     The other mines were spread out, and it took nearly all day for them to rescue the rest. Although they were able to rescue a handful of the villagers, it made Sarya sick to her stomach thinking that any of the Red Templars they faced could have been those poor people, forced from their homes to be an experiment and energy source for men too mad for their world. They eventually made their way back to the entrance they had found in the first place and had set up camp, just as the sun was setting and the day was becoming colder by the minute.

“Not much time to move elsewhere. We should stay here for the night, send those letters and make our way west in the morning,” Blackwall suggested.

“I’ll get the letters sent off,” Sarya said as she headed towards her tent.

“Yes, do send hugs and kisses to the Commander for all of us, would you? Don’t be selfish!” Dorian shouted after her.

Although it was cold, the snow had stopped falling and the wind had settled as the sun gave way to an endless dark sky full of stars. Dorian had cleared a section of snow away with a bit of fire magic, making a dryer and warmer area for them to have a fire. The four of them sat round the campfire, laughing as they each told stories to pass the time.

“All right, all right.” Sera waved her hands wildly to get their attention. “This one time, just outside Val Royeux, I hear from this older woman her master is all stuck up his arse, right? Turns out, the guy's loaded but can't afford manners ‘nough to give a smile to his own staff, even threw a pie at one of ‘em couple days before ‘cause it got a little ashy. Great job for a Jenny, right? So I go into his grand ol’ twenty room mansion at night all sneak like, slip a bit of herb into his drink so he'll fall asleep in the bath. Then, while he's all z’s, I steal all his clothes.

“His clothes?” Sarya repeated, a grin growing on her face as Dorian snorted.

“Yup.” Sera nodded, firelight glimmering off her teeth as she smiled wide. “Took ‘em all out his drawers, took his towels too, every last one of ‘em. Handed them out, but I filled his drawers with ash so he'd think they'd been burned.”

“You didn't!” Sarya laughed.

“What was the point of the ash?” Blackwall chuckled.

Ash. Like the burned pie, get it? Anyway, then...” Sera took a moment to snort with a maniacal laugh before continuing. “Get this. Then, Mr. Arse-Too-Big-Sos-I-Can’t-Think-Straight, he comes runnin’ down the steps in nothin’ but his mistress’s frilly pink dressing gown, flailing his hands all up in the air going, ‘My clothes! Someone's burned my clothes!’”

Sera took a moment to laugh with everyone, her cackle carrying through the night air.

“Didn't the servants get punished for it?” Dorian asked as their laughter settled.

“Think he was too freaked out to rightly do much,” Sera snorted. “Servants got to go out and buy him new frocks, which means they got a day away from him, and I bet he didn't complain about burned pies for a long time!”

“Quiet,” Blackwall mumbled over their laughter. He soon said it louder, “Quiet!” while holding up his hand as he heard crunching in the snow. They all went quiet, looking around into the dark surrounding them, though none of them could see any sign of anyone.

“An animal, maybe?” Sarya asked quietly. The four of them leapt up as six Venatori ambushed them, swords out and glowing in the sheen of the fire.

Fenedhis,” Sarya cursed as she backed up. Dorian had immediately lifted his staff, setting a rune of fire on the ground in front of him just before one of the Venatori jumped at him. Sarya looked around frantically before she remembered: her staff was in her tent and out of reach. Her magic had gotten stronger since the Conclave, but it didn't compare to the focused power a staff gave her. With the Venatori surrounding them, there was no way she could make a break for her tent without making herself more of a target. She could hear the metal of Blackwall’s sword meeting a Venatori’s, feel the heat from Dorian's spell as he tried to create a wall of fire to keep them afar. Sera had seemingly vanished into the shadows, though a yelp from one of the Ventaroi gave away her position to the rest. Sarya pulled magic from the ground, conducting it to her fingertips before freezing the snow beneath one of the Venatori into a sheet of ice. She smirked as it lost its footing, falling on its back with a groan before Blackwall sunk his sword into its gut. She jumped back quickly as one jumped through the wall of fire, swinging a dagger wildly at her. She continued backing up, her heart pounding wildly as she tried to throw fire at it from her fingertips, each time missing. Her foot found a patch of ice somewhere along the way, losing her footing and falling to the ground as the dagger broke through her shirt and grazed her abdomen. She breathed heavily as she gripped her abdomen, trying to slide further from the Venatori. A scream quickly emitted from the Venatori, and Sarya looked up in time to see it running wildly, its face on fire and Dorian standing nearby with a triumphant look on his face.

Na via lerno victoria! You'll have to do better than that, you stinking pile of melting flesh!” Dorian called out just before the Venatori fell. He walked to Sarya, holding out his hand. “You really need to work on your footing, Lavellan. One more inch and you could have been in tomorrow's soup!”

“Yuck,” Sera grimaced, her face scrunching up in disgust as she walked over. Sarya took Dorian's hand, still holding onto her abdomen. She smiled for a moment before her legs have out. Dorian moved quickly, catching her by her sides before she hit the ground.

“Shit,” Sera said as she rushed over to Sarya's side. “What the hell happened? Thought you were good with that magic thing, yeah?”

“Not good enough without my staff, apparently,” Sarya said. Truth be told, the wound hadn’t actually hurt that much at first, but a stinging sensation was steadily growing at and around the area.

“Let me see it, it can't be that deep,” Dorian said, kneeling next to her. He pulled up her shirt once she had moved her bloodied hand away from it. Sure enough, the cut wasn't deep enough to do damage to organs, but the wound was quickly turning to what seemed to be a blackened green color in the firelight. “Kaffas.”

Blackwall looked over Dorian’s shoulder at the wound, his brow furrowing.

“That bad?” Sarya asked, somewhat hoping in vain that they were all joking.

“The blade must have been poisoned, Inquisitor,” Blackwall said.

“It's going to take more than a bit of elfroot to heal that,” Dorian muttered as Sera began grabbing for Sarya’s pack, usually full of all types of helpful salves. He looked at Sarya, her forehead beginning to perspire.

“We can't detour, we have to meet Alistair and Hawke,” Sarya said as she shook her head.

“We'll send a runner to head them off, they’re not going to go rushing off to face the Wardens without us if they’re smart,” Dorian said.

“Stay with us, Elfy,” Sera said as Sarya started leaning back. Sera crouched down next to her, helping hold her up.

“We need to get her back to Skyhold, and fast,” Blackwall said. “I’ve seen poison like that before. It moves quick, I’m not sure what will help it. Dagna’s smart, she may be able to figure something out.”

“How quick?” Sarya asked, wincing as she tried to sit back up. Even with Sera’s help, it still hurt.

“Depends how strong you are.” Blackwall shook his head. “Could be a few days. Maybe sooner.”

“Well aren't you the bright and cheery sort,” Dorian said, rolling his eyes at Blackwall. “How far are we from Skyhold?”

“Maybe a day if you're a quick rider,” Blackwall surmised. “A very quick rider, and don’t make any stops.”

“Get the packs off my horse, I can get her there sooner and try to keep a barrier around it in the meantime. Perhaps that will slow it spreading,” Dorian said, recalling that Sarya often did that whenever any of them had cuts or minor wounds before they could properly wrap them. Blackwall nodded in agreement, immediately beginning to take the two packs off the horse.

“Wait, what about us then? What are we supposed to do?” Sera frowned, watching Sarya grimace as Sera helped her up. “I’m not just sitting here on my arse waiting to hear about it!”

“One of you ride ahead, warn them what's happened so they're ready,” Dorian instructed as they helped Sarya over to his horse. “One of you will ride more quickly alone. Between the two other horses you can divide the packs and the last of us will take up the rear with the extra horse and gear.”

“I'll ride ahead,” Blackwall said, already dividing the packs amongst Sera’s horse and Sarya's. “I can warn them of what's to be expected with the poison. I'll take the dagger, looks like it still has a bit of it on it, since it didn’t do more than a grazed wound. We may need it.”

“Good man,” Dorian said. He looked at Sarya as she stood leaning against his horse. “Sorry, my dear, this is going to hurt a bit.”

“When does it not?” Sarya joked, trying to keep her face light but failing miserably. Her head felt like it was on fire, her abdomen painful to the touch. It felt like energy was slowly sapping out of it, like water leaking from a hole in a bucket.

“Here, maybe it'll ease it a bit, yeah?” Sera said, handing Sarya a potion.

“Thank you, Sera,” Sarya smiled weakly, taking a swig of the potion. It helped numb it enough to get her onto the horse, but not enough to keep it from still searing as she stretched getting up. With Sarya's horse roped to Sera's, Blackwall took off on his own without a word.

“Don't you go dying on me or anything stupid like that,” Sera said, her laugh coming out more nervous than she had wanted. “I know I said you needed to be more real to people, but dying's a bit much.”

“Not planning on it,” Sarya said, giving Sera a weak smile as Dorian mounted the horse behind her.

Dorian kicked the side of the horse, taking off in a quick gallop without another word. They were lighter without the weight of the gear, but sure enough Blackwall was soon a dot on the black horizon as he made way. Every step by the horse was agony to Sarya. Her wound yelled against her shirt as it rubbed with every movement. Dorian kept his arms close at her side, holding her in place so she didn't have to use as much energy to stay upright. Hours went by in silence, Dorian speaking to her every so often to make sure she was still awake. Soon it wasn't just her wound that hurt, it was the entire area around it. Her entire body felt sensitive to the touch, her clothing too much as her skin burned from the heat that radiated from her. The morning sun had risen and continued now high above them, the air still cool and fresh though offering little relief to her sweat-laden forehead.

“Inquisitor, stay with me,” Dorian said, looking down at Sarya to find her eyes closing. “I know you want to sleep, but now is not the time.”

“I'm so tired,” Sarya said quietly. She was leaning against him now, heat radiating from her hand. Dorian looked down, frowning as he saw the Anchor lighting up in her hand.

“What are you feeling right now?” Dorian asked, partly trying to keep her awake and also out of curiosity. The Anchor didn't usually light up like that unless they were near a rift, and there had been none in that area recently. He couldn’t imagine that its wanting to light the way now of all times was a sign of something good.

“My skin feels like it's on fire, but… Everything is so cold,” she said, her eyes drifting towards the sunrise. They were deep the mountains now, not too far from Skyhold at their current pace but not close enough for Dorian's liking. Sarya looked down at her hand, the mark glowing as if a warning.

“Does the Anchor hurt?” Dorian asked.

“No, strangely,” Sarya shook her head. It was warm, but not burning, much so like when she had escaped Haven in the snow and it had lit her way. Sarya dropped her hand to her side, unable to hold it up any longer. She was so tired. So, so tired.

“I don't want to have to explain to your dear Commander that you went and got killed on my watch,” Dorian joked, his face falling as she leaned to the side, her head resting against his shoulder. “Sarya? Sarya! Kaffas, can't you go any damn faster, horse?!”

Sarya was in and out of consciousness for hours before they finally reached Skyhold, the sun gone and night growing longer by the minute. While Dorian was relieved at the time they had made, he was worried more than he would admit about Sarya's state. True to his word, Blackwall had arrived before them and stood with Elan the apothecary, Cullen, and a soldier at the entrance to Skyhold waiting for them. Dorian quickly rode the horse up to them as Elan and Blackwall laid a cloth stretcher out on the ground.

“What in Andraste’s name happened?!” Cullen shouted, his voice angry as he helped Dorian move Sarya down from the horse. She was passed out and slumped into him, making it difficult to gently bring her down while avoiding the wound. She whimpered from the pain though her eyes didn’t open, and Cullen murmured an apology quietly to her.

“I would have assumed Blackwall told you?” Dorian commented. He looked to Blackwall, whose face confirmed with slight annoyance that he had indeed already briefed Cullen.

“Commander, we need to get her to a room as quickly as possible so I can observe the wound until Dagna can extract an antidote from the blade,” Elan said, motioning to the stretcher. Cullen set her down gently before grabbing one of the ends. The four of them picked up each end without further word, moving her to her chambers. It wasn't the closest, but it would be the easiest to keep her stable and out of the way of prying eyes. Cullen had instructed soldiers to clear their path through the throne room, much to the displeasure of the nobles who wanted to see what all the fuss was about. Elan had already unbuckled the lower half of Sarya's shirt by the time they had her on the bed, her eyes widening at the blackish-green hue that covered a good two inches around the wound and the same color that radiated in a vein-like pattern across her skin. She undid the rest of the shirt, finding the blackening veins continuing all the way up to just below her chest. Elan quickly got to work, having already gathered the water, fresh linen, and elfroot earlier to the room when Blackwall had first arrived.

“You were supposed to keep her safe! How could you let this happen?!” Cullen barked at Dorian, anger seeping from his voice as he backed him up towards the edge of the room.

“How could I- We were ambushed, we were all caught off guard!” Dorian shouted angrily, too tired from the long ride to control his voice.

“If I find out you had any part in this-”

“Oh, yes, let's blame the Vint, shall we?” Dorian scoffed. “Nevermind that the Inquisitor is my dearest friend. Killing our friends is all the rage in Tevinter!”

“If you two are going to argue, get out!” Elan yelled, causing both of them to startle. She paused, waiting for a moment before glaring at them when they didn't budge. “Out. Now! I can't focus, and your tempers will do nothing to help keep her heart rate down!”

Dorian shook his head at Cullen, storming down the stairs and out of the room. With Dorian gone, Cullen took a step towards the bed before pausing in his tracks when Elan shook her head.

“Commander, you can't do anything right now, let me work. I'll let you know when we've made progress,” Elan said.

“Is she-”

“It's not good,” Elan shook her head as she cleaned the wound with the linen and water. “As far as the wound itself goes, it’s not deep, so a few stitches should be enough, but this poison is working quick. If anyone can make the antidote it's Dagna. But we need it fast. The Inquisitor is strong, but so is this poison. Please, Commander, let us do our job.”

Cullen nodded in understanding. He hated the thought of leaving her side, but Elan was infinitely better equipped than he to take care of her at that moment. He took a last look at Sarya, his face overwhelmed in worry before leaving.

 

     Dorian sat at a far table in the mostly empty throne room, his hands clasped in front of him. The soldiers had cleared out the entire hall, save for the Inquisitor’s inner circle, ensuring that Dagna and Elan would be able to come and go without hesitation. Dorian looked up expectantly as the door to the Inquisitor's chambers opened, sighing in annoyance as Cullen took one icy look at him before looking away and standing near the door.

“Curly’s on guard, that's not good,” Varric muttered, pulling up a chair next to Dorian.

“Yes, he's quite the loyal hound,” Dorian said, annoyance in his voice mixed with guilt. “He blames me for it.”

“He's deep into lyrium withdrawals and the woman he loves shows up half dead with a mage from Tevinter holding her. Can you blame him?”

“What, he's having them now?”

“Can't you tell? Just look at him. He wasn't hiding it quite as well when Blackwall got back.”

“Head throbs, body aches, heart burns for her,” Cole said behind Dorian, making both him and Varric jump from his quick appearance. “She said I'm strong without it. I should have been there, I should have taken it.”

“The Commander doesn't need lyrium to protect the Inquisitor. That's my job, our job,” Dorian sighed, calming slightly as he understood.

“Fire burning, worry in my bones as she falls to the ground. Smell of burnt flesh, blackened sky. If only I had been quicker,” Cole said, looking down at Dorian. “It's not your fault.”

“Yes, thank you, Cole,” Dorian muttered. Somehow the words made him feel worse. He knew it wasn't his fault, but he still wished he could have gotten there sooner.

“Wait, I did it wrong. Here, let me try again-”

“I think another time, Cole,” Dorian sighed. Cole shifted in understanding, standing quietly behind them.

One by one a few others of Inquisitor's inner circle joined the table, waiting for news. Dagna had at one point rushed past Cullen with a bowl in her hands, yelling out a loud, “Nope!” as Cullen tried to follow her.

“Hot, like fire, but cold as ice, burning, burning,” Cole said, a somewhat fearful look on his face. “It's angry. It doesn't want her to die. If she dies, so does it. This isn’t it’s choice.”

It?” Dorian repeated, looking at Cole.

“The Anchor, perhaps,” Solas said. Dorian looked over at where he stood in the doorway near them, his eyes on Cole, an understanding look on his face. “It lit her way to the camp in the snowy mountains after Haven fell. It is tied to her now, it wants her to live. For now.”

“You speak of it as if it's a living, breathing thing,” Dorian said, almost angry about it. “That thing has caused her nothing but trouble! You think it cares about her?”

“Cares? No,” Solas shook his head, a slight smile on his face. “But she is the key to its survival. For now, it has been calmed with the sealing of the Breach, though it pulls at her with every rift. You must remember, it is connected to the Fade. We cannot pretend to know more of the Anchor than what we have been presented. Perhaps it feels its time has yet not come. Corypheus awakened it, its purpose has not been fulfilled.”

Dorian shook his head, crossing his arms as he leaned back in his chair. He glanced over at Cullen. He was leaning against the stone wall nearest the door to the Inquisitor's chambers, his hand gripping the pommel of his sword as the fingers of his other hand pinched the bridge of his nose. His eyes were closed and he appeared to be mumbling continuously under his breath.

“Always the pious one, our Commander,” Dorian sighed.

“You're not the only one he yelled at,” Blackwall said. “Let it go, Dorian.”

“He thinks he's the only one worried for her,” Dorian scoffed. “I could barely feel my ass after that ride, there aren't many people I would do that for, you know.”

“Oh really? What about-” Bull started, shutting his mouth as Dorian kicked him from underneath the table. Dorian stood in unison with the others as Dagna and Elan exited the door. Elan spoke to Cullen as Dagna walked over to the group at the table.

“Well, it took a while, but I figured out a possible antidote,” Dagna said, looking up at them all with a hopeful yet nervous smile on her face.

Possible antidote?” Varric repeated, raising his eyebrow.

“Madame de Fer and I worked relentlessly on it, it should work,” Dagna said. “We won't know for a few hours, but it at least seems to have stopped spreading for now. She needs rest, so no rushing up there everyone at once. She's not awake now anyway.”

“The antidote should be replicated if it works,” Solas said, looking at Dagna. “This may be a new tactic of the Venatori. We must be prepared if someone is injured again further from safety. The Inquisitor is fortunate they were not further west when it happened.”

“I'm on it,” Dagna nodded. Dorian watched Cullen follow Elan through the door, his face clad in worry. His anger at Cullen blaming him had subsided a bit, replaced with understanding, although he was still a bit frustrated. Cullen knew nothing of Dorian's past, of what Sarya meant to him. She had accepted him from the beginning, not treating him any differently for being from Tevinter. If anything, Dorian was berating himself more than Cullen could possibly know for allowing this to happen. He would be more careful next time, he must. He had already lost too many friends. He couldn't lose another.

 

     Cullen kneeled at the side of Sarya's bed as he looked at her. The black in her veins had reached her neck by the time Dagna had applied the antidote-ladened poultice to the wound, and although Elan was optimistic of her chances of recovery, Cullen couldn't get over how pale and frail she looked. He hadn't seen her like this since Haven. If even possible, she appeared worse now than back when they had found her in the snow. Her left hand still glowed an eerie green from the Anchor, never a good sign.

“Come back to me,” Cullen said quietly, pushing her damp hair to the side of her face. His hand shook slightly as he gently grasped hers, his headache pounding away in his head. He took a deep breath, trying to calm his hand, unsure if his shaking was from his lyrium withdrawals or from fear of losing her. He knew exactly where in his office the salve was she had given him, the one she had made for when his withdrawals were the worst, but he couldn’t leave her side, not now. No, he would endure this for her. He would stay at her side and be there when she awakened. He couldn’t have been there when she was injured, he wouldn’t be able to forgive himself if he wasn’t there when she awoke.

“You know, she talks about you nonstop.” Cullen tilted his head ever so slightly in the direction of Dorian’s voice, though his eyes never left Sarya’s face. “It’s always, ‘Oh, the Commander says this,’ or, ‘We should send that to the Commander.’ It’s sickening, sometimes.”

Dorian was silent, leaning against the arm of the couch ever so slightly. When Cullen didn’t respond, he continued.

“My point is… You may not be able to be there with her physically, but she’s been happier ever since you two got together. I think she fights better because of it. But still, it’s up to those of us she brings along to keep her safe… I'll watch her more closely next time. I'll do everything in my power to prevent this from happening again.”

Dorian took the next silence as his cue to leave, turning quietly on his heel and heading back towards the stairs.

“It was wrong of me to blame you,” Cullen said quietly, making Dorian turn his head and stop in his tracks. Cullen's eyes were still on Sarya, his hands tightly gripping hers. “She's the Inquisitor, I can't follow her to every battle, every mission. Still, she is… too precious to me, that I must worry for her safety no matter who is at her side. I apologize... for what I said to you.”

“For what it's worth, she was right about the lyrium,” Dorian said, remembering Cole's words. “It wouldn't have helped you protect her. You're a better man for her without it.”

Cullen was silent as Dorian left, holding it together until he heard the door close behind him. Once they were alone, he held her hand to his lips, tears rolling down his face as he closed his eyes.

“You have walked beside me, down the paths where a thousand arrows sought my flesh. You have stood with me when all others have forsaken me. I have faced armies with You as my shield, and though I bear scars beyond counting, nothing can break me except Your absence.”

Cullen continued the Chant quietly at Sarya's side, her hand always in his. He shook slightly now and then, some verses reminding him more of her than the Maker to whom he prayed to for her. The black in her veins slowly faded over the hours, eventually turning into a small cluster that remained around her bandaged wound. Periodically Elan would come in to redress her wound, checking it and reapplying the poultice. As night began to fall, Cullen's words began to muddle together, and he soon found himself at a loss of which part of the Chant of Light he had left off on. He placed the back of his hand gently on her forehead to feel her temperature. It was still warm, but some of the color had returned to her cheeks, the green light from the Anchor having nearly all but faded. He stood from the floor, ignoring the ache in his knees as he walked over to her desk where a clean bowl of water had been set along with fresh linen. He took one of the rags, dipping it in the water and ringing it out before walking back to her side. Folding the rag, he placed it gently on her forehead, hoping to aid lowering her temperature in any way he could. If their roles were reversed, Cullen could imagine Sarya chilling the rag with her magic before reaching the bed. What he wouldn't give to trade places with her now.

“I'll be right here, Vhenan,” Cullen said quietly as he kissed the top of her head. “When you awaken, I'll be at your side. I swear to you.”

 

     Sarya's vision was groggy when her eyes first opened. It took her a moment to realize she was in her bed, unsure as to how she got there. She remembered the sun rising, the pain and galloping and the wind whipping in her face. The room was dark, save for the fire burning in the hearth, the moon illuminating some of the room from the shut glass doors that led to the balcony. She winced as she tried to sit up, everything suddenly coming back to her. Lifting the sheet, she saw the bandage wrapping her lower abdomen, a bit of blood just starting to stain through the cloth. As her vision focused more, she turned her head to find Cullen leaning against the bed, his head turned to the side in his arms, eyes closed and mouth slightly open as he slept. She smiled weakly at him, her hand reaching out to the side to play with his brushed back curls. Cullen’s eyes opened at her touch. At first, he met her smile calmly as if it had all been a bad dream, before he awoke more and relief washed over his face in understanding.

“Thank the Maker, you’re awake,” he breathed, wincing slightly as he quickly straightened himself.

“That doesn’t look like the most comfortable position to sleep in,” Sarya teased, her eyes tired as she smiled at him.

“There are far worse things to endure,” Cullen said quietly, feeling her head for her temperature before gently resting his hand on the side of her face.

“What happened?” Sarya asked. “I mean, I remember the fight, bits and pieces of the rest.”

“You’re better now, that’s all that matters,” Cullen smiled at her. “Are you thirsty?”

“Actually, I am,” Sarya said, wincing again as she sat up fully. Cullen helped prop pillows behind her back, and she sighed as she leaned into them. She felt so weak, as if all her energy had been sapped out of her. She watched Cullen go over to the dresser where a water pitcher had been placed, his hands shaking slightly as he poured a cup for her.

“Cullen, are you unwell?” She asked, concern lighting her face.

“Nothing I can’t handle,” Cullen said, giving her a reassuring smile as he set the pitcher down and brought her the cup.

“If you’re having withdrawals-”

“Darling, let me take care of you for once without you worrying about me,” Cullen chuckled as she sighed. Her arms felt weak as she lifted the cup, the cool water relieving as it wet her mouth and ran down her throat. She gave another sigh of relief, her eyes staying closed for a moment.

“I know you must be tired, but I should get Elan to check your wound,” Cullen said, taking the empty cup from her. Sarya nodded quietly, her eyes staying closed as Cullen left.

Sarya felt she must have dozed off for the short time Cullen was gone, awakening once more when Elan pulled back the covers to check the wound. She seemed happy enough, replacing the old bandage with a new one after stitching up her wound now that Sarya was out of the woods. The antidote had worked entirely, the black no longer visually present. Cullen and Elan spoke at the end of the stairs quietly on her way out, before Cullen rejoined Sarya at the side of her bed.

“You'll need to delay leaving until the stitches can come out,” Cullen said. He continued speaking without pause, ready for her protestation. “Elan said with some of your salves and a bit of magic, they may come out in three days at the earliest, but no sooner.”

Three days!” Sarya exclaimed, her eyes wide. Cullen put his hand on her shoulder as she moved to stand up, as if doing so would prove she was well enough to leave. With barely any pressure on her shoulder, he was able to keep her sitting in her weak state. “But Cullen, Alistair and Hawke-”

“- have been told what's happened and are fine. If you get on a horse now, your stitches will tear. You can't fight until they're out.”

Sarya groaned as she slid back down in bed, her head hitting her pillow forcefully.

“What am I supposed to do for three days?”

“Rest,” Cullen chuckled. “We can bring you anything urgent if it comes up, but right now your recovery takes priority.”

“Cullen, thank you.”

“For what?”

“For staying by my side, for being there when I woke up,” she smiled. “I can’t imagine how worried you must have been…”

“Don’t fret over things like that,” Cullen said quietly, kneeling beside her again as he took her hand in his. “I’ll always worry about you. You’re safe now, that’s all that matters.”

 

     The next two days found Sara still in her room, on bed rest until her stitches came out as Elan had instructed. She wanted so badly to get up and stretch her legs more than a short walk around her room, but knew that any tearing of her stitches would further delay her ability to leave. Her friends had taken it upon themselves to take turns spending time with her, some in small groups. Elan had chased Sera out earlier the second day on account of her making Sarya laugh so hard she was doubled over in pain when Elan had come up to check on her status, and Josephine had all together put her to sleep trying to catch her up on the reports that had been piling up - at least, Sarya thought, she could blame that on the wound for once.

“This author is absurd,” Dorian grumbled. He was currently sitting on Sarya's bed next to her on top of the covers, one leg crossed over the other. Sarya lowered her book with a quirked eyebrow to look at him as he huffed. “Listen to this: ‘...Tevinter has seen a great slowing of architectural prowess on account of the long standing war against the Qunari.’ Can you believe that? You'd think he'd never even been to Tevinter, let alone seen a painting of Minrathous!”

“When was it written?” Sarya asked.

“9:32 Dragon,” Dorian sighed as he shut the book with finesse. “Never mind it, you can't expect an architect from Ferelden to know much about architecture as it is. It's all huts and the occasional meager Chantry out here.”

“Trying to start a war in my room, are you?” Sarya teased.

“No one from Ferelden in here, Lavellan. I think I'm safe to judge.”

“None you're aware of, you mean.”

The two of them turned their heads towards the couch as Cullen’s ever brushed back golden hair came into view, making his way up the stairs. He was carrying a tray with some food on it, and he gave Dorian a smirk as if he now had leverage on him.

“Always so smug.” Dorian shook his head as he slid off the bed. “Don't forget you're from the Free Marches, Lavellan. Call my name, and we'll have him outnumbered.”

Cullen chuckled as Dorian left down the stairs with his book. He set the tray on one side of Sarya as he sat next to her on the other.

“Ah, my Commander is waiting on me now. I have hit the height of pampered,” Sarya joked, giving Cullen an appreciative smile.

“You are a formidable mage, I'd hate to see you displeased.”

“How are you feeling today?” Sarya asked, her eyes wandering him. Under her gaze, Cullen felt her full analysation: observing his posture, his eyes, looking for any indication of anything from a headache to a worse symptom of withdrawal.

“I'm doing quite well, thank you.” Cullen smiled at her, his eyes wandering her in the same manner. “Your color is much better.”

“I'm feeling much better. I think maybe tomorrow-”

“- your stitches can come out, and you can spend one more night resting.”

“There'll be so much time to rest on the road,” Sarya whined. Cullen's lip pulled into a gentle smirk for a moment at her tenacity; she really was quite stubborn when she wanted to be.

“One more night, after your stitches are out, will give me better peace of mind.”

“Fine,” Sarya sighed.

“Speaking of peace of mind,” Cullen said. He reached into a pocket to pull something out, his hand fiddling with it a bit as he looked down. “I have a request of you.”

“Oh?” Sarya tilted her head in interest.

“Before I left for Templar training, my brother gave me this.” Cullen opened his hand, a small silver coin resting in his palm. He looked at it, a smile on his face. “It just happened to be in his pocket, but he said it was for luck. Templars aren’t to carry such things, our faith in the Maker should see us through. This was the only thing I took from Ferelden that the Templars didn’t give me. Humor me…”

Cullen took Sarya’s hand, placing the coin in her palm.

"I don’t know what you’ll face before the end, but this can’t hurt.”

“Are you giving me this because of what’s happened?” Sarya asked, looking at the coin in her hand.

“I know it’s a bit foolish…”

“It's not foolish at all.” Sarya smiled she turned the coin over in her palm, looking at it warmly before she closed her hand around it and looked back at Cullen who was giving her that warm smile that could melt mountains. “All right. But you’ll need to humor me as well.”

“Anything.”

“In my armor, the coat, there's a pocket on the inside breast.” Sarya nodded towards the leather sleeveless coat that lay draped over her chair. Cullen rose from the bed, walking over to her desk and picking up the coat. He held it in front of him, searching a hidden pocket in the breast for a moment before he pulled something small from it. Cullen felt a wave of emotion roll over him at the small object in his hand: a small yellow flower with a white middle, encased in a thin clear glass to keep it safe. The same kind of flower he had handed to her in Haven, when she sat in her bed after fainting from a flare-up of the Anchor, after it had fallen from her hair.

“Is this from Haven?” He asked, looking at the flower as he set her coat down. His eyes jumped to her, finding her standing next to him in her nightgown. She nodded, and he looked back at the flower as he held it up between his thumb and index finger, sunlight hitting the glass and practically making it glow. “Is it… It can't be… The same one that…?”

“I kept it with me after that night, and have ever since.” Sarya smiled warmly as she looked at it. “That flower went with me into the future, it saw me back; it was in my pocket when I tackled Florienne; more importantly, it always sees me back to you. I'd like you to have it.”

“Sarya, I… I can't possibly…”

“Consider it trading luck for luck,” she said. She placed her hand on his, gently closing his fingers around the glass. “You and I have been through a lot, Cullen. But we're meant to be together, I can feel it. We'll always be drawn back to one another. Now, we can each have something to see that connection, not only feel it.”

Cullen placed a hand on her lower back, pulling her gently towards him as he tipped her chin upwards with his thumb. Sarya sighed into him as their lips met, her hands resting on his breastplate. Her arms slowly extended, her hands traveling up to grip the hair on the back of his head as she pulled him closer. His hand slid from her chin to the side of her neck, ever so gently holding it to support her head as her tongue eagerly found his. He dropped his other hand down to her back side, gingerly grasping at her through her nightgown. A whimper left her, the noise shooting to Cullen's brain like electricity. He pulled back, smiling apologetically at her as she whined.

“Stitches, Sarya,” he breathed, the words nearly a disappointed groan coming from him.

“I hate how right you always are,” she mumbled. Her fingers drew the shapes of various curves from his cheek slowly down to his neck, his eyes closing and a sigh escaping him at her touch. “Still, there must be something we could do that wouldn't tear them…”

“I think you give me more credit than is worth when it comes to pacing myself,” Cullen chuckled. He gave her one last kiss before motioning towards the bed. “You should eat your lunch. I'm sure Josephine will be back soon with more work for you.”

“No rest for the wicked, right?” Sarya sighed.

“Someday,” he said, and her smile met his with determination.

Chapter Text

     Sweat rolled down Sarya's neck. The sun beat down on her, Bull, Cole, and Blackwall as it floated high above them. She worked on fully braiding her hair before wrapping it into a bun as the wind whipped it and sand all around them. They had traded snow for desert, frigid cold for unbearable heat as they tied their steeds at their campsite for fear of one of them breaking a leg in the unsteady sand their path would lead them on if they were to come across any enemies.

“How far are Warden Alistair and Hawke?” She asked as she finished her hair. She pulled at her collar, her shirt already unbuttoned further than what Josephine would have deemed ‘proper’.

“Should be about an hour's walk west if the winds aren't against us.” Blackwall was bent over a small table with a map at their campsite, memorizing the landscape.

“An hour?” Sarya grimaced. “I should have talked to Harrit about lighter armor for out here. It's usually either temperate or cold everywhere we go.”

“Here, Boss, you can wear this,” Bull said, pulling clothing out of a pack and tossing it to her. “Qunari light armor, usually used by archers. Doesn't do much for blocking a sword, but as long as you keep your distance it'll at least keep you cool.”

Sarya held up the grey pants and teal top in front of her. Sure as Bull had mentioned, Sarya was sure the wrap top would do little to protect her. Still, in this heat, her smalls would have been better than the long sleeved shirt and long leather coat she usually wore.

“Oh, yeah, you'll need these as well to hold it all up.” Sarya jumped as Bull threw a couple bundles of bright red rope at her, catching it quickly as he added, “I can show you how to tie it.”

“Is there a reason you’re carrying around women's Qunari armor in your pack?” Blackwall squinted at the clothes and ropes in confusion as he asked Bull.

“Well-”

“Nope!” Sarya cut in as she began taking off her armor. “Don't want to know. Just… Help me tie these things, would you?”

Blackwall held back a laugh, turning his back to them as Bull helped Sarya.

“The ropes are for the armor, but also for fun,” Cole said, and Blackwall snorted, unable to hold it in any longer.

“Really, really don’t need to know,” Sarya said, although she couldn’t help the amused smile that grew on her face.

Once Sarya and Bull were finished, the four of them began their trek further west. The wildlife in the Western Approach was much different from the druffalo, goats, and occasional bears they usually came across elsewhere. Fennecs could still be seen trotting along in the sand, but there were creatures Sarya had never seen before: dark red, almost burgundy, large creatures with long quills sticking from their backs that would come running towards them at first sight; one that almost resembled dragonlings, fierce and hot-tempered; and large, rough-skinned grey creatures with horns that seemed as if they would be quite formidable foes, but seemed to not mind their group so long as they were kind to them while they gathered water at a small oasis. Cole seemed to enjoy the latter, and one gave him a happy huff as he placed his hat on its horn.

“She doesn’t think it works for her, but she wanted to try,” he said happily.

They eventually made their way through the sand dunes, and before too long they spotted two figures at the bottom of a sand dune who had turned towards them. The two waited for them to approach, and Sarya was relieved to find Hawke and Alistair rather than another set of bandits.

“I'm sorry we kept you two waiting,” Sarya said as she brushed some sand off her arm.

“No need to apologize. Plenty of sand and wind and bandit watching out here to keep me entertained,” Alistair said, causing Blackwall to look at him curiously. Alistair observed the still very red scar on Sarya's abdomen, faint hints of marks from the removed stitches still remaining. “The letter I received mentioned you were injured?”

“Right as rain now,” she said. “Where is this ritual tower you mentioned?”

“Just over that hill,” Alistair said, nodding behind him. “There appear to be a handful of people gathering, probably up to no good. Seemed too risky to get closer without being ready to charge in. What do I know, though, what will all this sand blowing around and getting in my ears.”

“You said you’re one of the senior Wardens?” Blackwall asked slowly, furrowing his brow slightly at Alistair.

“Yeah, funny thing, that, isn't it? They'll give titles to anyone who helps kill an Archdemon these days,” Alistair said, grinning slightly at his own joke. “Although, most Wardens I've come across are aware of the senior members.”

“I am,” Blackwall said, crossing his arms. “You're just… Not quite what I envisioned, when I heard tales of the last Blight.”

“Yeah, I get that a lot.”

“We should probably find out what's going on,” Hawke interrupted loudly.

“We should stick together, we don’t know what to expect up there,” Sarya said.

“You take point, I’ll bring up the rear.”

Sure enough, as they reached the top of the sand dune, there was what seemed to be the remains of an old tower, surprisingly still standing strong from a time when Tevinter reached that far south. The walls were short, allowing them to vaguely see where there seemed to be a small group of people gathering at the very top of the tower.

“Did you see that?” Alistair asked. There had been a flash of red, short lived, but discernible even from their distance to the tower.

“Blood magic,” Hawke pointed out, his face contorting slightly.

“How can you tell?” Sarya asked in surprise. They continued quickly moving towards the tower, trying to remain unseen as best they could.

“You can smell it, can’t you?” Hawke said. Sarya felt a chill run down her spine as the wind shifted towards them. Sure enough, there was a distinct metallic smell in the air, much like the smell of a fresh battlefield. Coupled with the light they had seen, Hawke must have been correct.

Red, smell of the Fade, a crack in the air, a song to fill the void. I don’t want to die,” Cole spoke, his voice wavering with unease. Sarya touched her hand reassuringly to Cole’s shoulder.

“Let’s not waste any time,” Sarya said, passing through the stone archway. There was a short, narrow walkway that led to a small flight of stairs. When she reached the top, she stopped in her tracks as she saw a handful of Grey Wardens, a rage demon, and a man in white and red armor who stood upon a small platform just above them. The eerie green light of a fade rift floated between Sarya and the Wardens, the Anchor in her hand humming at its proximity.

“Inquisitor! What an unexpected pleasure!” The man said, and Sarya was almost certain that, for a moment, he genuinely sounded surprised. The man brought his arms out to either side, bowing deeply to her. “Lord Livius Erimond of Vyrantium, at your service.”

“I’m guessing you’re not a Warden,” Alistair said.

“Not unless you have Wardens from Tevinter,” Sarya said, recognizing the name of the city.

“You must be the one Clarel let slip,” Erimond said, pacing as he observed the group, his eyes wandering from Alistair to Sarya. He seemed unsteady, as if he truly thought there would be no interruption from whatever ritual they had been performing. Sarya’s eyes wandered for a moment to the ground, a Grey Warden lying dead just to the side of where another one stood. She brought her gaze back to Erimond quickly, trying to calm her beating heart as she reminded herself that they seemed to have the upper hand at the moment. They had caught him off guard, that was good.

“And you found the Inquisitor and came to stop me,” Erimond continued. “Shall we see how that goes?”

“Wardens, please!” Sarya called out, turning her attention to the Grey Wardens still standing. “This is all Corypheus’ doing! You’re being deceived by darkspawn! You don’t have to do this, we can find another way!”

Erimond laughed, drawing her eyes back to him when none of the Wardens so much as looked at her.

“Were you looking to garner sympathy? Word has spread of your softness, Inquisitor. I’m afraid you won’t be able to sway anyone here. Wardens: hands up!” The Wardens followed Erimond’s command, raising their left hands with him. “And, down.” They lowered their hands in unison. Sarya's stomach tightened in unease.

“He’s enslaved them,” Alistair spoke through gritted teeth.

They did this to themselves,” Erimond said, seeming more at ease now that Sarya and the others were aware of his control over the Wardens.

“The Wardens are heroes! They would never do this willingly!” Blackwall shouted angrily.

“Oh, but they did! The Calling had them terrified, you see,” Erimond continued. “Since it was my Master who put The Calling into their little heads, when they came looking for help, we in the Venatori were prepared. Warden-Commander Clarel and I came up with a plan: raise a demon army, march into the Deep Roads, and kill the old gods.”

“What?” Sarya breathed in exasperation. “That’s madness!”

“Is it?” Erimond chuckled. “Clarel didn’t seem to think so. Old gods become corrupt and cause Blights. Remove the old gods from the equation, no more Blight. Sadly for the Wardens, the binding ritual I taught them has a side effect: they are now my Master’s slaves.”

“This can’t be all of them,” Sarya said. “Where are the rest of the Wardens?”

“This was a test. The rest of the Wardens will be raising the demon army very soon,” Erimond said, a smirk on his face. Sarya felt a chill run down her spine as she remembered Cassandra's mention of the demon army that overran Thedas in that bleak future she had traveled to. This must have been the start of it, the Grey Wardens were the key to that army.

“You talk a lot for a man with one Fade rift and a handful of mind controlled slaves at your side,” Sarya said, regaining her confidence as she readied herself to end this. “Did Corypheus not mention what I did to the Breach?”

“He did.” Erimond nodded. “He also mentioned what he did to you at Haven.”

Erimond held out his hand, red light forming around his palm. Sarya let out a yell as the Anchor flared in her hand, ripping from inside as she fell to the ground. Alistair took a step back, never having seen the Anchor flare other than when she had closed a Fade rift in Crestwood.

“The Elder One showed me how to deal with you, in the event you were foolish enough to interfere again,” Erimond said. “That mark you bear? The Anchor, that lets you pass safely through the veil, you stole that from my master. He’s been forced to seek other ways to access the Fade.”

Sarya breathed through the pain as the Anchor continued to rip at her skin. It hummed as she focused on it, fought against the magic he used to control it.

“When I bring him your head-” Erimond was cut short as Sarya redirected the flow of magic between the Anchor and him, pulling energy from around her to force through the Anchor and back at him. He flew off his feet, falling to the ground violently with a surprised yell. The rift between them flared as Sarya broke the bond between the two of them. With Sarya back on her feet, the six of them took a step closer towards Erimond as he scrambled up.

“Kill them!” He yelled to the Wardens, scurrying away as the rift exploded with magic. The three remaining Wardens, eyes glowing red from the blood magic, rushed at them along with the rage demon that had stood by patiently until then. The rage demon only served to make the area around them hotter, the flames dripping from its body scorching the stones beneath it. Sarya tried to maintain a distance between her and their enemies in the small space, casting barriers around herself and those around her before encasing the rage demon in a sheet of ice. Their minds gone, the Wardens were strongly focused on the fight. They were all mages, their attacks fast but luckily focused more on offense than defense, leaving them open to strategic attack once they all caught on. As Sarya froze the last one in a sheet of ice, she let out a breath as he shattered and quickly closed the rift before more could come through.

“The Wardens deserve better than this,” Blackwall mumbled, obviously upset.

“We'll have to move quick if we want to save those still willing to listen,” Alistair said. “Erimond was heading in the direction of Adamant, it's all old abandoned Warden fortress. It's fairly large, it could be where he's expecting the others.”

“A fortress? We'll need an army, then,” Sarya groaned.

“There's a modestly sized keep down the way. Griffon Wing Keep; it was a Grey Warden post until, well, all this mess. ” Alistair nodded his head to the north, a sly grin on his face. Sure enough Sarya could see a speck on the horizon. “Would be a waste for the Inquisition to pass up an outpost like that.”

“Warden Alistair makes a good point,” Blackwall said. “If we established that point, word could be sent back to Skyhold about this matter. The fortress could serve as a meeting point for those soldiers needed to breech Adamant.”

“It certainly makes more sense than riding all the way back to Skyhold, only to have to return again.” Sarya nodded as she thought it over.

“Alistair and I can trail Erimond, make sure they really are using Adamant as a location for summoning this demon army,” Hawke said. “Two of us should be a small enough number to not draw attention.”

“Adamant isn’t far, we should be back in four days time,” Alistair said.

“Be careful. If there’s any sign of trouble, head back,” Sarya said. She then looked to the rest in her group, before surveying the small fortress on the horizon. “Well, let's go see if this nearby fortress is full of friends or not, shall we?”

 

     Griffon Wing Keep had most certainly not been full of friendlies. The Venatori had been using it as an outpost, which proved for a tiresome fight for the four of them with Alistair and Hawke off on their own. On the bright side, once they had cleared out the fortress they found plenty of supplies to last them a while. Alistair and Hawke had returned within three days confirming the gathering of more Wardens at Adamant. Sarya had written a lengthy letter to her advisors back at Skyhold asking for assistance, sending it by raven once they had moved their gear, steeds, and the few soldiers at their first camp with them to the outpost. It would be a few days before they would receive a response from Skyhold, and hopefully by then they would have more soldiers on their way to assist further west. In the meantime Sarya and her friends had worked with the few soldiers they had, clearing vents in more strangely gaseous areas of the desert, allowing them better access to drinking water. By the time they had finished, Sarya had received a response from Cullen that he and a good handful of their army were heading towards the Western Approach, along with sappers sent by an Orlesian ally that would be able to give them good entry to the fortress.

“Oh, you’re very excited,” Cole commented happily as Sarya finished reading the letter.

“I take it Cullen will be giving us a visit?” Bull asked. He smirked as he finished tying off one of the canopies above the table that had been set up at the top of the outpost.

“Heart fluttering, warmth rushes to my neck in spite of the shade. Crossed out formalities and scribbles meant only for me at the bottom-”

“Anyway!” Sarya cleared her throat loudly, her ears reddening as she stuffed the letter into a pocket of her breeches.

“No need to be embarrassed, Inquisitor!” Blackwall chuckled. “Perfectly normal, two loved ones writing personally when they’re afar.”

“Unless it’s not words,” Alistair teased, a grin on his face. “Maybe Commander Cullen’s sending the Inquisitor naughty doodles in his spare time.” Bull and Blackwall let out a loud roar of laughter at Alistair’s words, and Sarya could have sworn she saw one of the nearby soldiers choking on their water while another patted his back.

“What a nice gesture from you three, offering to take our findings on the high dragon to Professor Frederic,” Sarya said as she tilted her head slightly to the side. “I’m sure he’ll be thrilled you came all the way this time of day.”

“Three?” Cole repeated, looking around and counting on his fingers.

“You can stay and help me, Cole,” she said.

“The desert’s made you cold, boss,” Bull teased.

“Look what you’ve gone and done, you’ve incurred the wrath of the Inquisitor and taken us all down with you,” Blackwall chuckled as he crossed his arms.

“I have been told: I’m a glutton for punishment,” Alistair sighed.


 

     “Captain Rylen, have some of your men begin setting up camp. A few should join the scouts we saw up ahead to get a better idea of the area.”

“Of course, Commander.”

Cullen, a few more of Sarya’s inner circle, and a good chunk of the Inquisition’s army had made its way west of Skyhold to the Western Approach, making good time in haste of the Inquisitor’s urgent letter. Although the news of the Grey Wardens being tricked and controlled by the Venatori had been unfortunate, Cullen was relieved to finally know what was happening so that they could stop it before they got to far - not to mention, the opportunity to see Sarya after more than two weeks. It was the longest they had gone without more than letters between them, and he had tried to keep the excitement hidden from his face the closer they had gotten to the outpost; Rylen, of course, had seen right through it, teasing him on more than one occasion when the moment fit. Cullen made his way into the fortress, surveying the walls. It appeared to be sturdy, few structural issues that he could see at first glance, and very effective at keeping most of the sand out - most was the key word. It certainly wasn’t made to withstand a siege, but for a decently sized outpost it would do. As he made his way up the first set of stairs, a lieutenant met him with a salute.

“Commander Cullen, the Inquisitor is just at the top with the rest,” she spoke.

“Thank you, Lieutenant.” Cullen nodded as he continued on his way. The sun was hot, already having risen high above his head before they had reached the outpost. Having lived in rather temperate climates most of his life, Cullen was beginning to regret not heeding Leliana’s suggestion of lighter wear for him at least for the ride out. Before he reached the top of the second set of stairs, he eyed a couple makeshift canopies hanging from the top of the fortress. They weren't impressive by any means, but he did note the decent drop of temperature they provided as one shielded him from the sun. He quickly found Alistair and Hawke looking over a map that was sprawled out on the table in front of them, and and his heart leapt as he saw Sarya walking towards them with an even larger map. She plopped it down onto the table, rolling it out on top of the other one.

If Cullen's mouth hadn't been so dry from the desert air, the armor - could it even be called that? - which Sarya wore would have done the trick. At first he didn't even think it was a top she wore, almost mistaking it for a breastband when the rolled up map had been covering it. And the ropes - Blessed Andraste, what are the ropes for? - that wrapped all over her arms to her chest, and another set tight around her hips. He tried to swallow, but found himself unable as she turned her head and met his eyes with the kind of smile that could rival the sun. She ran to him, catching him off guard as she flung her arms around him and pulled him into a kiss. She recoiled from him almost instantly, before he could even respond.

“Sorry, your armor is burning,” she said, her smile still just the same. Her eyes widened as she saw the dumbfounded look still frozen on his face. “I'm so sorry, should I not have done that in front of everyone? I just figured, since all your soldiers are down there, and it's only the few of us up here-”

“My only wish is that this damned heat hadn't cut it short,” Cullen responded quietly, and relief washed over Sarya's face. Her eyes wandered his face, a grin widening on her as they stopped at the top of his head.

“The heat’s gotten to your hair,” she commented, a light laugh in her voice. Cullen sighed, pulling off one of his leather gauntlets to run his fingers through his hair that had regained part of its natural curl in the heat.

“I suppose I should be thankful Skyhold is in the mountains,” he grimaced.

“I like it,” she said, and Cullen smiled warmly at her comment.

“Really?”

“Mhm.” She nodded. “How were the roads on your way?”

“Fairly clear, thanks to your efforts.” Cullen couldn't help how his eyes wandered her, a million questions coming to his mind. Maker's breath, but she was a sight to behold. Her skin had gotten a shade or two darker in the weeks she had been out there, though it was so gradual a change he might have not noticed had it not been for the sliver of creamy skin that showed at her hip as she shifted under his gaze.

“Will that… be your new official wear as Inquisitor?” He asked.

“Hm?” Sarya asked, looking down at her clothes and then laughing. “Oh, this. My other armor was too much in this heat.”

“Yes, but where did you, ah…” Cullen cleared his throat, lowering his voice. “Where did you get it?”

“Why, do you like it?” Sarya asked quietly, her eyes sparkling with suspicion. “Bull gave it to me. Apparently it's Qunari armor used by long distance fighters. Although I'm… Not really sure why he had it with him. I thought it best not to ask.”

“Are you… Keeping it?” Cullen asked timidly, causing a grin to grow on Sarya's face as her cheeks flushed. The two of them jumped, startled as Alistair clapped a hand on either of their shoulders.

“As much as I too enjoy a good bondage chat between loved ones, we should probably go over plans for tomorrow before night falls,” he said, his voice low enough for just the three of them to hear. Both Sarya's and Cullen's faces turned beet red, Alistair's sly grin not going unnoticed as he winked before walking back over to the table where the others stood.

 

     Their meeting looking over the map was a bit different than the usual hours at the War Table Sarya was used to. Before it had been almost tedious sometimes, hours spent nitpicking where she should go next to seal rifts while her other advisors sent aid, correspondence, or spied on others. This time was more dire than usual, a silent clock ticking above their heads as Alistair and Cullen discussed the easiest area of the fortress to breach and what Sarya’s plan of attack should be. They settled on the army moving forward in the morning; they would arrive before the Inquisitor and breach the walls, allowing her an easy way in by the time she arrived in the evening. Then she would be able to charge in with her inner circle, providing aid and ultimately stopping the Wardens from being enslaved and summoning demons. By the time the sun was just starting to set, most of the group had left the table, leaving Alistair and Cullen to meet with Cullen’s men to go over everything. As Sarya walked through the fortress, she came across Hawke, leaning in a corner and peering over the wall.

“Find something interesting?” Sarya asked. Hawke straightened as she neared him, looking off to the side in the opposite direction as she looked over the wall. Dorian was down there with Bull, the two of them strolling along the side of the fortress in the shade while chatting.

“Just keeping an eye on things,” Hawke said plainly.

“I see.” Sarya nodded. She pulled back, leaning on the wall as she faced Hawke. “Thank you again, for offering your help to the Inquisition. We wouldn’t have been able to get this far as easily without you.”

“You have a lot of friends, I’m sure you would have found a way.”

“You haven't been alone this entire time, have you? Varric made it sound like he was the only one who knew where you went after Kirkwall.” Hawke chuckled at Sarya's concern, crossing his arms.

“No. Fenris left Kirkwall with me. I almost thought he’d go his own way, but he’s always been full of surprises.”

“That's right, Varric mentioned something about that in Crestwood. What did he call him? Broody?”

“That's Fenris,” Hawke said, a light smile on his face as he spoke of him.

“Why didn't he come with you to Skyhold? You two must be close if he left with you from Kirkwall.”

“Fenris would kill himself to save me.” Hawke paused for a moment as if considering his words before continuing. “He’s had a rough life. He escaped from Tevinter not long before I met him. I couldn't bare it if he was hurt or worse because of me. I knew the risks when I left to find the Inquisition. I couldn't risk his safety. He deserves peace and quiet after all he’s been through.”

“Escaped Tevinter? Was he a slave?”

“I imagine there are few, if any, elves in Tevinter not in the position of being owned by someone,” Hawke grumbled. His eyes wandered again in the direction of Dorian who had just turned around the corner out of sight. “Imagine my surprise when I found out the Inquisitor was not only an elf, but kept company with a Tevinter mage.”

“Dorian's not what I would expect most from Tevinter to be like,” Sarya said, hoping to reassure him. “He's been a very dear friend to me. He's killed quite a few Venatori himself.”

“I’m sure he has,” Hawke said, and from his tone Sarya wasn't sure if he was at all convinced of Dorian's intent. “Still, him being here probably makes it even better that I didn't bring Fenris along. You may have been less one mage.”

“And then you would have been less one partner,” Sarya said, raising her eyebrows at his suggestion.

“See? I make decent decisions every now and then.”

Sarya paused, chewing the inside of her cheek as she contemplated how best to switch the topic.

“It sounds like you know Varric fairly well.”

“That’s putting it lightly,” Hawke chuckled.

“You must have stories…”

“I couldn’t,” Hawke said tentatively. He looked at her, finding himself met by pleading eyes. “Oh, come on. Don’t do that.”

“He always has so much to tease me about,” Sarya sighed. “Come on, surely just one? The Inquisitor could owe you a favor…”

“Well, if you put it that way,” Hawke chuckled. He sighed, scratching his head before folding his arms again. He looked around, as if to make sure Varric wasn’t anywhere near. “You know… Bianca isn’t just the name of his crossbow.”

“I had an inkling.” Sarya grinned. She crossed her arms, leaning against the stone parapet. “Who is she?”

Hawke opened his mouth to give her more information, pausing as he saw Varric waving for his attention down the way. Hawke chuckled as he shook his head.

“Ask me again after this mess is over. I may need to be able to run very far and very fast if I tell you before,” he said. Sarya sighed in defeat as he walked down the steps and out of sight with Varric. She looked back over the parapet to the horizon, the sun nearly set. The sky was becoming a deep blue, the heat finally beginning to drop even if just a bit. As she made her way out of the small fortress, she walked to her tent, strategically placed a bit further from the rest; she had anticipated needing to prepare before the morning, and knew the further away she was from her friends the less they would try to convince her to drink with them before the night was over. Once inside her tent, she went about finishing hanging the few bunches of herbs she had collected earlier, tying them to the top of her tent where they could finish drying before she could bottle them up for storage. A book lay on her pillow, one she had asked Dorian to bring with him, some writing on blood magic that may give her any insight into what they may be dealing with or how to stop it - not exactly the kind of book the Chantry would have been thrilled to know he was in possession of. Still, she needed to be as prepared as possible. Sitting down on her bedroll, she sighed as she opened the book, flipping through the pages and settling in for a long night.

 

     Hours had flown by since Sarya had first opened the book. Pages and chapters about blood magic and demon summoning, seemingly written more from the perspective of someone who was assuming how it was done rather than from learned experience. Somewhere along the way she had began multitasking, reading the heavy book while she mixed salves and potions for the morning.

“I hope I am not disturbing.”

Sarya looked up as Cullen poked his head into her tent, a smile spreading across her face in an instant. She hadn’t realized until that moment how clouded her brain had become from all the thick text of the book, a relief washing over her with his presence.

“I don't think disturbing me is in your abilities,” she said. Cullen grinned as he fully stepped in, letting the tent flap close behind him.

“You did well preparing for our soldiers arrival,” he said, watching her stir something in a jar. He looked up, smiling as he saw the various desert dwelling herbs hanging in bunches from the top of her tent as they dried out. “I was told fresh water was a scarcity when you first discovered this place, but you all made that possible.”

“It's a desert, I couldn't just ask you all here to die of dehydration,” she teased as she looked up at him, finding him looking curiously at the jar in her hand. Pulling the small wooden spoon from the jar, she put a lid over it before setting it to the side. “More of your salve. I figured it was time for another batch.”

“You shouldn’t waste precious herbs on me out here,” he said quietly, though the sentiment was quite touching.

“I asked Dorian to grab the herbs from Skyhold before heading here with you all. Not that you are ever a waste. I need to have my Commander at his best, especially for a siege, and that means no headaches.”

“I can't argue its effectiveness,” he chuckled.

“Take off your armor.”

“What?”

“You look uncomfortable. I figure it's either the heat or you have bad news.”

“Thankfully not,” he sighed. He smiled as he took off his heavy armor piece by piece, sighing with relief as his body began to cool significantly. Sarya was still looking over the book that had been open in front of her when he had come in, her finger trailing the passage.

“A little light reading in the desert?” Cullen asked as sat next to her.

“I asked Dorian to bring anything he could think of that may have an insight into Tevinter ritual blood magic,” she sighed as she turned the page. “Anything that would give us a leg up on what we may face beyond your run off the mill demons. It doesn't seem like there's much on it available in Ferelden or Orlais.”

“I can't imagine the Chantry would allow many publications on the matter, if any,” Cullen said as he eyed the page she was on. There was a rather graphic sketch on one page of what appeared to be a mage standing over a presumably dead human sacrifice, blood dripping to the ground as some kind of whisp floated overhead. “For very good reason, I might add.”

“I'm not looking to do blood magic, I'm just trying to understand it,” she mumbled. “Believe me, I'm not a fan of the idea. But if there was a way to counteract their magic, to be able to reverse it and return those wardens to their natural state instead of having to kill them…”

“I don't pretend to know as much about magic as yourself or Dorian, but I feel something of that caliber would require more blood magic.”

“You're probably right.” Sarya shut the book with another sigh. She massaged her temple with two fingers as she tossed the book to the side. “They're just doing what they think will save everyone. People will do desperate things when they believe their end is near. If only we had known, we could have gotten to them before Erimond...”

“You have a big heart, Sarya,” Cullen said. He moved his hands to her shoulders, his thumbs finding knots and working in circles on them. Sarya let out an audible moan as she immediately eased into his touch, her eyes shutting. “We will try save those who will see reason.”

“I hope they will,” she sighed. She paused for a moment, as she noticed Cullen had slowed his fingers as if in thought, before continuing. “Cullen, is something the matter?”

“W - What?” A nervous laugh escaped him, and he knew instantly how unconvincing it was. “Why would… ahem… Why would anything be the matter?”

“No, you're right. You're probably stammering because everything is perfect.”

He could feel the smirk on her face just from her words. He sighed in defeat as his hands dropped from her shoulders.

“I… Well, truth be told, I couldn’t take my eyes off of you earlier,” Cullen admitted. He paused to rub the back of his neck uncomfortably, looking to the side as his heart pounded. Was it getting warmer in the tent? Perhaps she had started a fire without him noticing? Perhaps one right underneath him? “Lately I wouldn’t have second thoughts about… acting on my feelings for you, but, with everyone around, and not having, well… walls to keep noise muffled...”

Cullen couldn’t help but smile as Sarya laughed, infinitely glad that she always seemed to find amusement in his awkwardness.

“Are you giving me a challenge?” She asked coyly. “I may have situated my tent a bit further away from the others in anticipation of you being here, among other reasons, if you didn’t notice…”

“Did you now?” Cullen asked quietly, his smile growing. “I suppose that is something.”

Cullen's eyes wandered to Sarya's mouth as she wet her lips, his eyes slipping lower as she put her arms behind her and leaned back onto her palms. Cullen’s mouth followed his eyes back to her lips, kissing her lightly as he leaned into her. She tasted of salt, unsurprising with the heat even despite her attire, and her hawthorn and honey tea. Cullen uncrossed her legs gently with his hands, sliding in-between them and deepening their kiss as he leaned in. She brought her arms up to wrap around his neck, sighing against him as he eased her onto her back. He let his hands wander her for a minute, reacquainting himself with the feel of her skin he had missed while she had been gone. After the scare with the poisoned dagger, he had found her absence to be more difficult to swallow than usual. He pulled away for a moment, looking down below her navel as his thumb ran over her still fresh scar.

“Does it hurt?” He asked, berating himself for forgetting it so quickly when the possibility of sex was on the table.

“It just feels a bit tight when I stretch. It doesn’t hurt anymore, though,” she said. She took the opportunity of pause to grab the hem of his shirt and help him pull it over his head. Cullen sighed as the shirt came off, each layer removed from his skin giving him more relief against the heat.

“I’m glad to hear that.” He smiled at her before he kissed her again, this time more fervent than before. His hand timidly slid to her breast, and a grin spread on her face that made his heart soar. He ground his lower half against her, a whimper escaping her as she pressed back, her legs wrapping around him as she pulled him closer.

“Lavellan, are you still looking at that book-”

Cullen had immediately let go of Sarya’s breast the moment Dorian waltzed into the tent. He had moved to back off of Sarya, but she seemed to have frozen solid with her legs still wrapped tightly around his waist and arms still around his neck. Both of their faces, each a nice shade of matching red, had turned towards Dorian who stood with his hand still on the front flap of the tent, the widest smirk Sarya had ever seen on his face growing the longer he stood there.

“Ah,” Dorian finally said after a moment of complete silence. “I take it you’re done with it, then. I’ll just…”

He leaned down to pick up the discarded book from the ground, looking at the cover before looking at them again, taking in everything before turning and exiting the tent without another word. Sarya’s legs finally slipped from Cullen, a groan escaping her as she covered her face with her hands.

“I’m so sorry,” she murmured into her palms. “They’re so used to coming and going as they please out here, I should have told them -”

A startled breath left Sarya as Cullen grabbed her hands from her face, pressing them to the bedroll as his lips crashed to hers. She could feel the heat rush further to her face from his rare display of dominance. She whimpered into his mouth as he ground against her, clearly not having trouble regaining his erection after their interruption. She arched her back as his hands slipped behind her, pulling at the point her top knotted. His kissing slowed as he tried to focus on undoing it. He almost thought he'd have to have her turn to get it, but then it popped free, and he felt a wave of relief. He pulled at the fabric and with a good tug it fell away, leaving only the red ropes behind. Glancing over her and seeing the pale of her breasts covered by the tantalizing red ropes, no more fabric to hide her save for her grey breeches, he found himself wanting to do things he was sure would make the Chantry curse him to high heaven.

“Cullen,” Sarya's voice carried to his ear quietly in a song, and he suddenly realized he had all but frozen against her as his mind imagined what he could do with those ropes that were so snuggly wrapped around her. “Remember what I said the last night we were together?”

Cullen relaxed at her words, and he smiled in a haze as he met her eyes.

“To treat you as if you were mine,” he said quietly. She nodded.

“Seems like a good opportunity… doesn’t it?” She said, and Cullen never missed the tongue that darted out for a split second to wet her lower lip. He chased that tongue as quickly as he could, his lips pressing against hers in fervor as his tongue went in search of hers. Sarya hummed against him, a whimper following the sound as he rubbed against her again. Cullen found his mind in a tumultuous jumble of thoughts, trying to decide what to do now that he had her. As he rubbed against her again through his breeches, an idea forced its way to the front, something he had been curious about for quite some time. He pulled his lips from hers to glance down her body, looking at her grey breeches that were held up by red ropes that matched the ones around her chest and shoulders and arms. Sarya watched him as he slid down her to tug at her breeches. As he pulled them off her legs along with her smalls, his eyes wandered her. He was drinking in the sight of her like a man lost in the desert for days who had just found an oasis, and Sarya felt her cheeks blush under his gaze. Cullen slid down, his lips kissing below her chest, slowly making their way down. Sarya smiled as she closed her eyes, letting her head rest on her bedroll as she breathed in deeply as his stubble lightly scraped along her body with each kiss. Her fingers snaked into his hair as he kissed along her navel, and she could feel him smile against her as she gently ran her nails along his scalp. Cullen slid his arms under her legs, his mouth traveling lower still. Sarya barely had the time to register the objection of his path, her eyes swiftly opening to follow him.

Sarya couldn't hold back the gasp that escaped her as his mouth hit her warmth. She bit down on her lip, breath heavy as his tongue slowly ran along the wet seam of her. Cullen couldn’t hold back the groan that reverberated through his throat as he lapped at her. Maker, she tasted amazing, better than Cullen had imagined the many times he had wondered what this would be like, and the way her body reacted was much more intense than when he had only used his fingers. He opened his eyes to look up and find her watching him intently, her lips parted, chest rising and falling rapidly, before her eyes rolled back and her head hit the bedroll once more as his tongue pressed against that small bundle he knew she loved him to touch so much. Quiet whimpers left her, little twitches that told him he was on the right track. He could tell she was trying desperately to keep quiet, a sure indent being left on her lower lip as she bit at it trying to keep some control. He watched her as he ran his tongue along the bundle, flicked at it, rolled it, each time watching her reactions to see which resulted in the most sighs, the largest arches of her back, the strongest tug from her arms as she gripped at her bedroll and freed her lip from her teeth if only for a moment to let out a loud sigh.

Sarya was overwhelmed with thought and feeling as she twitched under his care. She had never felt anything like this before, the wetness of his mouth meeting hers, the pressure of his tongue and the feeling of his own moans vibrating off of her to her core. All those years avoiding humans except for trade, being warned constantly about them. It was unlikely that, even with all her adoration, her clan would be welcoming of him, their very founded hesitations of his kind so deeply embedded into their culture. Cullen was different, though, so different: in the way he spoke to her; the way he treated her; the way he - oh, Mythal and all that is holy - the way he touched her. The way his tongue lapped at her, the way he flicked it at her. Did all humans know how to do this? It was as if he was reading her every reaction, gauging his next move perfectly, like a commander on the battlefield or even during one of their games of chess in the Skyhold garden. Each time she thought he may be losing his touch, he refocused, finding whatever made her twitch just right and following through. Sarya's hands gripped back in his hair as he rolled his tongue on her, her back arching like mad, moan after moan escaping her throat with desperate sighs and abandoned resolve as she forgot in her bliss why she was trying to stay quiet. This was perfect. This feeling, this is what perfection felt like. She felt a tidal wave growing in her belly, his tongue relentless in his assault to break down her barriers. Her hands flung to her bedroll, her knuckles turning white as she gripped it, her body convulsing beneath him as she burst, his name rolling off her tongue again and again and again as she came undone beneath him.

Cullen stayed below her briefly, lapping up her juices greedily as she came down from her high. Her chest heavily rose and fell, back still slightly arched as if she’d never quite straighten it again as he hummed against her. Her eyes remained closed as she bathed in her bliss as rapid breaths gave way to deep ones. Sarya turned her head as he slid next to her on the bedroll. He pulled her towards him in his arms as he kissed her, the taste of her on his lips, on his tongue, in his mouth. His fingers gently grazed her pointed ears delicately and soothingly, and as he pressed his body against her Sarya realized he had lost his breeches somewhere amongst her heavy breathing and spinning head. She reached between them with a shaking hand, relishing the hitch in his breath as she grasped at his length. He was warm in her hand, solid and smooth. She stroked him slowly, his breath heavy against her mouth, a whimper on his tongue. She smirked against him, having found her commander's weakness: if ever there was a sound of begging to come out of Cullen Rutherford's mouth, that was it. As if remembering their talk earlier, he rolled them until he was on top of her, grinning at the short breath of exhausted laughter that escaped her. He took a moment to look at her, amber eyes scanning her face. Maker, he loved this woman. Her face was flushed, practically glowing, a deep color to her eyes he usually saw at the end of their lovemaking. He found himself wondering just how much deeper her eyes would become, what expressions he hadn’t seen from her yet. He held her close, kissing her with purpose.

Sarya’s mouth opened wide to expel a gasp as he entered her. Every nerve inside of her seemed to be lit aflame after her orgasm. Every thrust was like a gentle shock of lightning inside of her, every time he pressed to the back made her feel like jelly in his arms. She found herself clinging to him, fingers digging into his back as she pressed her face into his shoulder to muffle moans she knew she couldn’t control. For a moment she wondered if one could die from such bliss, and quickly came to the conclusion that there couldn't have been a better way to go. Her head fell back onto the bedroll as Cullen's fingers caught the ropes on her hips, pulling her up with them to angle her higher. Sarya cried out as he once again reached between them, his thumb rolling on her and making her twitch. Creators, he was trying to end her, and she'd gladly let him do it. Her back arched toward him, his constant thrusts and perfect touch quickly driving her once more towards her edge. Well aware of the grip of her thighs against hips, Cullen wrapped an arm around her middle, pulling her close to him as he continued his thrusting and rubbing of her, panting and sighing loudly next to her ear as she began shaking. He knew by then the sound that then left her mouth so well, the crescendo of her voice that let him know she was so, so very close. He sped up, just slightly, just enough to help push her over that edge before she cried out into his shoulder as she spasmed around him and toppled him with her. He groaned loudly into the bedroll as he released into her, his arms wrapped tightly around her middle as he desperately clung to her. Cullen’s breath was hot as he panted against her neck. They had worked up quite a sweat in the heat that still hadn't dissipated much into the night, and he carefully unstuck himself from her before rolling heavily onto his back.

“You've already finalized the plan for tomorrow?” Sarya breathed.

“Yes,” Cullen responded shortly, his breath coming out as heavy pants as he stared up at the canvas of the tent.

“Good,” Sarya said. She turned her head to look at him, a tired smile on her face. “I want you to rest before then. No staying up all night triple checking everything just to be tired when you get there.”

“I do not think that will be an issue,” Cullen chuckled. He turned his head toward her, shifting to pull her into his arms. He sighed as Sarya buried her face into his chest, his fingers absentmindedly playing with a stand of her hair that had come loose from her tight braids. Tomorrow they would face so much uncertainty, having no way of knowing truly what they would face. Until then, they were thankful for the quiet of the desert and the warmth of each other, blissfully unaware anymore of the heat that lingered in the sand beneath them and air around them.