Chapter 1: Hello, Old Friend
The Fade flexes and shimmers, drawing the attention of Fen'Harel. He had been anticipating such a call for weeks. Perhaps they had been more weak than he had thought, gathering their power slowly. The air parted, revealing the familiar dark, hooded figure from his past.
"Hello, Old Friend."
"Lethallen," The Dread Wolf bowed, ever courteous.
"My apologies for not reaching out sooner," The shadowed figure grinned, teeth glinting in the low light, "I had an errand to run."
"Oh? I assumed you were recovering your strength."
The cloaked form laughed, raising into view their grip on the arm of an unconscious body, the sleeping face of whom had been branded into the Dread Wolf's mind. His stomach sank violently.
"You could say that, I suppose," The hooded figure laughed softly, almost pityingly, "We will speak again soon, Brother."
The window closed with a snap, as panic rose in the Rebel Wolf's throat.
Chapter 2: Cruel and Unusual
Halesta has been kidnapped by Falon'Din. A vague guess is all she has of her location, and she finds herself used as bait for the Dread Wolf––much to her chagrin. She can only hope Solas won't be stupid enough to try to save her.
Halesta means "Thread of the Fox", which I use as both a nod to "the red string of fate", as well as a hint at her role in changing the fate of Thedas
(shout out to FenxShiral for the name and like, half of the translations)
Hale = Fox
da'Hale = Little fox
Wish me luck actually finishing a fic for once!!!
It had taken every ounce of strength he possessed to delay his response, but he could wait no longer or he would go mad with fear. He waved his hand brusquely, silently praying that she was alive and unharmed. The Fade wavered, first lax, then tensing before a small opening formed. There she was, conscious, breathing, struggling in Falon'Din's grasp. Silent snarl curling her lip, she glared holes in her captor while he grinned approvingly down at her. He had her kneeling on a threadbare cushion between his legs, hands bound behind her back, stroking her cheek with the back of his hand. Blackened eye, bloodied lip, various other small bruises and abrasions, but she was otherwise in one piece.
"Brother, dear! I was wondering how long it would be before I heard back from you," Slow to raise his eyes from his prize, "Your little toy and I were just getting acquainted, weren't we, love?"
"Halesta," Solas struggled to keep his voice even, though it shook in his ears, "Are you okay?"
At first she appeared to make no discernible movement, not turning to look his way or nod at all. Then he caught sight of the brief, subtle hand signals, unnoticeable to her captor. She was okay, no one else had been taken with her. He nearly showed his relief, making a mental note to thank Laleal for her lesson on their hand signs.
"I must say, my dear Fen, you've strayed far from your previous tastes. She's pretty, I suppose, but ultimately unremarkable," Falon lifted her chin with a long fingernail, scrutinizing her small scowling face, "I wonder what it is you find so fascinating about her?"
" Enough. "
"Was she particularly challenging to break?"
"Ha—!" Brows rising in amusement at her scoff, Falon'Din smoothed the girl's hair affectionately.
"Oh, she laughs! So you did not manage to break her? Tsk tsk ," He leaned down, grasping her face as he ran his nose along her throat.
"Perhaps I will break her, then," Saccharine, cloying, bile rising in his throat, "What do you think, Brother?"
She spat at her captor but he merely chuckled, the proud uncle of a precocious niece.
" If you harm a hair on her head ," Voice strained to the point of breathlessness, Solas's vision grew dark with rage.
"Yes, well...I make no promises, of course," Twirling one of her opalescent curls around a long, skeletal finger, "But I will promise to keep her alive long enough for you to come kiss her farewell."
Challenge issued, smirking wryly, gaunt cheek pressed against Halesta bloodied forehead.
“ Don’t come for me––” Her voice ringing in his head, so brief a sound after so many months; Falon wrapped a hand over her mouth
"How about...that old Thaig? You know the one. It's filled with the statues of Mother, and her little dog ," Wide grin of too-sharp teeth.
“Dohnd!” Her muffled yell went ignored by both men, though he held her furious stare for a moment.
That was all he required. Solas waved a terse hand, snapping the Fade window shut, and called for his Lieutenant. He would be gone for a while; how long, he wasn't sure. Continue with all operations as planned. No attempts should be made to contact him. He would send word as soon as he was able…. All this, yet he had carefully neglected to mention that this little solo mission of his was of a quite sensitive and personal nature.
After Solas had closed the portal, Halesta had expected Falon'Din to return her to her cell. Well, it was actually an ancient, abandoned Dwarven bedroom, and admittedly fairly roomy; but a prison is a prison, no matter how spacious or finely furnished. When he did not immediately have his undead soldiers come carry her away, she felt her first twinge of fear. Being a pawn or bait was not scary. That Falon'Din, most bloodthirsty of the Elvhen gods, wished her to remain longer in his company? The blood froze in her veins.
"So. You are Halesta , hmm? Your mother must have had quite a cruel sense of humor," Falon continued to stroke her hair sweetly, "Silly me, I had nearly forgotten there must be a name behind your title, Inquisitor."
She swallowed hard. How dare he speak of her mother. But she would not dignify him with a response. He tilted her head back so she was forced to meet his empty black gaze. He kept looking at her with such bizarre tenderness, it both infuriated and unsettled her.
"Oh, look at your little nostrils flare! Just like a little rabbit," A deep, fond chuckle rumbled in his chest, "Oh no, that's right! A thousand pardons, da'Hale."
He stood, effortlessly pulling her upright with him. Arm around her shoulder, he led her to a long dining table; pulling out the seat just to the left of the table head, he gently pressed her down into it before sitting beside her. With a clap of his hands, reanimated corpses entered, carrying obscene amounts of food and placing trays, bowls, and tankards down the whole length of the table. Halesta eyed it all in vague horror, wondering where it had come from, and why there was so much. Were they to be joined by others? More enemies?
"You must be hungry, little one," Falon filled a golden chalice, placing it in front of her before filling his own.
She flicked a withering glance at her host. She wasn't a fool. He took a long drink from his goblet, lowering it with a pleased smile.
"Oh, come now. I promised your Dread Wolf that I would not kill you, and we gods keep our word."
"You didn't say you would not kill me," By force of habit, she thrust her chin out defiantly, squaring her shoulders and sitting up straight, "You said you would keep me alive long enough for him to say goodbye. There's a lot of room for interpretation there."
"Oh, how very clever!" Falon'Din leaned forward, resting his sharp chin atop his fist.
"I've known enough gods to learn their fondness for half-truths and abstractions."
"Ha! Ah yes, our Fen'Harel loves to dance around the meat of it, doesn't he," Humming dotingly, he tilted his head.
Lightly slapping his hands on the table, he moved to refill his cup, chucking at her start at the sudden movement.
"Nonetheless: I have no intention of poisoning, or otherwise dispatching you, any time soon, little fox," Pushing her chalice further toward her, "I am far too curious how a slip of a mortal like yourself came to play a role in all of this, and what that role may be."
Slowly raising her cup to her lips, never taking her eyes off her host, Halesta allowed the wine to barely brush her lip. Softly inhaling, searching for a hint of any harmful or dangerous herbs or tonics meant to loosen her tongue or render her defenseless. Still as stone she sat, waiting for a tell-tale tingle on her lip as the scents fell to rest on her palate. Falon’Din merely watched, smiling curiously and giving her another once-over. Satisfied that the wine was as safe as it could be, given her circumstance, she took a sip and observed him. He was a finger or two shorter than Solas, and (if possible) even more sharply featured. Thinner, as well; though his shoulders were still broad. Pallid skin, almost sickly, exaggerated by long black waves and dark fathomless eyes. She could only imagine how terrifying he would be when angry. She was rather surprised he hadn’t killed her already for spitting at him.
“There, now. Are you satisfied I haven’t poisoned you?” She merely arched a brow in reply, he smiled brilliantly.
“I have a friend who would enjoy this vintage,” It was an offhand remark, unnerved by his ceaseless staring.
“Our little Wolf?” Falon leaned forward, looking like an Orlesian noble thirsty for gossip.
“Do you really think Fen’Harel is the only person I know?” She caught herself, reeling in her composure as she squirmed in her chair.
He tossed his head back, a low, rumbling belly-laugh rolling from between bright, glistening teeth. For the briefest moment, there even appeared to be a tear at the corner of his eye. When he calmed down, he looked at her again, and Halie had the strange sense he only now actually saw her. She wished he didn’t.
“You’re right, of course,” Reaching over, he plucked a grape from a nearby tray, “So then, who is this wine aficionado friend of yours? A lover?”
“No,” Rolling her eyes as he popped the grape in his mouth, “A friend. One with whom I share a bond of mutual affection, exclusive of romantic, sexual, or familial relation. Friend.”
“Careful with that sharp tongue of your, love,” He warned, though still smiling, “Tell me, what about your parents?”
“Dead,” She took the new grape he offered her, first smelling it delicately.
“Siblings?” She hesitated a moment, then swallowed.
A slow grin broke over his face, having caught interest in her reaction. She mentally cursed herself; felt her nose twitch, another curse. Falon’Din was leaning forward again, offering her another grape as he watched her face intently.
“Ah, but not all of them!”
“That depends on your definition of sibling,” Her lips pursed, gesturing a refusal of the proffered fruit, “You call Fen’Harel ‘Brother’ , though it seems backhanded. More of a tongue-in-cheek remark on your so-called shared status.”
“You’re a clever little thing, aren’t you?” His smile was tense, and she had the impression she was skating on thin ice.
“Not particularly, no,” Half-shrugging, she considered the grape still in his fingers before gently taking it, “Not clever enough to not be in this situation, right?”
Popping the fruit in her mouth, she watched him, all too aware of how helpless she was. Falon’s smile relaxed a bit and he chuckled appreciatively under his breath. Leaning forward, once again wrapping a loose curl around around his finger, he breathed in her scent. He was uncomfortably close, and without an audience to play to; she knew something horrible was coming.
“There is a great power in you. I can almost taste it,” Low purring, sending fear prickling over her skin, “You don’t even know it’s there, do you? Well, don’t you worry. We’ve got all night for me to root it out. And if you’re a good girl and don’t fight it, you may even enjoy yourself….”
Chapter 3: Healing, the Natural Way
Solas helps Halesta escape....
Just a heads-up: How and why Halesta still has the power of the Anchor will be addressed later, but for now, just know that she managed to save the Orb, but refused to return it to Solas.
Var lath vir suledin = Our love will endure
Dalen = Little one
Halesta sat alongside the comforting wolf statue, clenching white-knuckled to a stone paw, measuring her breaths. Somehow, she had survived the night. Somehow, she had been so careful, remained so steadfast: secrets kept deep, strength hidden, tears denied from falling. Of all the torture, of all the abuse she had lived through before.... But, no. This was not the time or place to collapse. She was still in arms of her enemies, and she would die before showing weakness to him . Still, she fought the steady, morbid emptiness that consumed her.
“How long does our Wolf intend to keep us waiting, little one?” He was there again petting her curls, she wanted to vomit; instead she said nothing, remained as still as she could.
“I’ll tell you this, Halesta,” Falon strode away on long legs, leaving her to stare blankly at the Eluvian, “He has always been this egocentric, this self-important, as long as I’ve known him.”
Liar. Fool. I know about you, Falon’Din. She bit her tongue, memories of the previous night tearing violently though her thoughts. Nausea rocked her slight form like an earthquake, she felt as though her brain rattled in her skull. She swallowed gently, forcibly relaxing her hands. Closed fists are a sign of insubordination , Eliana’s voice murmured soothingly in her mind. She closed her eyes; the slow blink Solas had taught her. A small act of rebellion, a moment to center herself. Slowly opening her eyes. There! Movement behind that rock. The brief shine of bare scalp, the flick of an ear. She returned her gaze to the mirror’s dizzying swirl, unfocusing her eyes again before Falon turned around. He moved toward her again, lifting her chin to look up once more into his dead eyes.
“He thinks he is the most important piece on the board,” Bending over her, curtain of black hair blinding one eye, “Insufferably proud and so sure of his superior wisdom. But I’m sure I needn’t tell you that, hm?”
It took everything she had not to flinch away from her captor, too far above to follow her gaze. She found Solas with her uncovered eye. Another long, slow blink; she took a deep breath and calmed herself. With the air’s slightest shudder, she heard battle magic hit the barrier cast around her. A soft smile fell over her mouth, a wave of serenity sweeping over her body. When Halesta stood, she felt in control of her power. Solas dropped an invisible force atop the god of Death like a stone. Next he was dragged across the floor by some unseen force, tossed irreverently into a dragon statue. When she stood, she knew exactly what to do.
As if in slow motion, she watched as the scars on her arm lit green beneath her shirtsleeve with the power of the Anchor. A quick flick of her wrist froze the god up to his waist. Fen’Harel spun, Devouring Veil snapping Falon’s focus away from her. It was a familiar action, like sliding fingers into a falconer’s glove, allowing the power twine itself around her hand, pull and snapping the force like a whip. She knew even as she cast it, the Rift Vortex would only throw Falon’Din off balance for a moment–– But Solas was already interlacing his fingers with her other hand, leading her across the floor and through the Eluvian….
Exhaling first, he allowed himself a moment to look her over, relieved to find her in one piece. He ran his fingers over her, briefly cradling her head and neck before smoothing his hands down her arms. She shuddered, near imperceptibly flinching away.
“No time. Come,” Holding her hand, it was as though he had never let it go.
He began dragging her across the Crossroads to the next Eluvian, but she resisted, attempting to stop him. Throwing her over his shoulder and ignoring her objections, he passed through one mirror, and then the next. He couldn’t recall if he had ever before been so grateful for her small size as he was through the next few panes of glass. He finally was able to stop to breathe, struggling to stay as quiet as possible. She made to comment, but he covered her mouth, raising his eyes and listening carefully .
“You always were a coward, Brother, but I’ll grant you your head start,” Distantly, Falon’din called out; his voice echoing throughout the floating fragments of the library. “And be sure to tell my little fox: she can run and she can hide, but eventually I will find her.”
They stood still for a long moment, his hand still clasped over her mouth. With the abrupt inability to sense their pursuer, Solas relaxed, allowing Halesta to step away from him. Surprised by her behavior, he studied her. Her hair was shorter, framing her face in a silvery opal halo, cut just below her jaw; but otherwise she appeared much the same as when they last met. Aside from the evidence of her recent trauma, that is. The minor cuts and bruises smattering her skin, her blackened eye, split and swollen lips, the way she held herself tightly, avoiding his attempt to make eye-contact.
“What has he done to you,” Whisper strained with desperate horror, he reached out to stroke her face, but she pulled away.
“I’m fine,” She still refused to meet his eye, turning away, “I told you not to come for me, Solas.”
“You act like I had a choice.”
“You’ve left me in dire situations before,” Whipping her head around, spitting venom, “It didn’t bother you then. I don’t need you to save me .”
He felt the suffocating anger and frustration spread through his chest, rising thick in his throat. No, she is right. And it is not her fault, she cannot understand, she does not know. A deep breath to calm his nerves before attempting once more to place a hand on her shaking shoulder.
“How did he manage to take you, anyway?” She stiffened at his touch, but allowed it, keeping her face turned away and hidden behind a thicket of curls.
“Does it matter?” Wavering weakly, the tears audible in her voice.
He turned her to face him, tenderly lifting her chin and brushing the hair back. Her eyes were closed tightly, tears flowing unrelentingly over red, puffy skin, and lips parted in silent sobs that racked her body. Oh . Whatever Falon’din had done to get her, it had been unspeakable. Pulling Halie into his arms, fury and hatred for his once-kin roared anew in the very depths of his soul. He will pay for this. I will make him suffer.
“Shh, I have you. We’re still not safe here,” How dare he so selfishly involve her in this, “We will find somewhere he will not think to look, and you will tell me what happened.”
She didn’t object, merely allowed him to lead her through still more Eluvians. Eventually her sobs faded, and the only evidence of her presence was her hand tightly clinging to his.
She didn’t recall seeing Solas grab the bag of supplies, though, admittedly, she hadn’t been paying very close attention. They were hunkered down in the middle of unfamiliar, rain-drenched woods in some area of the half-fallen Veil, tending to a fire inside the crumbling ruin of a chapel. She sat across from him, curled neatly into herself, nibbling at the crust of bread he had given her. The occasional floating rock or tree made for poor visibility, and there was the unshakable feeling they were being watched; Halesta kept impulsively looking over her shoulder, waiting to be caught.
“Relax, Dalen,” His attention still on the flames, “There is no one near, and I’ve set up wards for any passing Spirits or creatures.”
Haunting, the sight of him leaning over the fire in his undershirt, sleeves pushed up to his elbows, deft hands carefully rearranging tented kindling...the ease of his company. They had been here just five years ago, before all of the truth came out, before the betrayal and spying and their secret war. She felt as safe with him now as she had then, finding the same comfort in his proximity, his touch, the sound of his voice. She hated him .
“How are our friends?” Flickering glance, appearing pleasantly neutral, “Master Tethras, Master Pavus, The Iron Bull?”
“They’re well,” She refused to volunteer information, despite his probably already knowing.
“And Laleal? Are she and Sera thriving?”
“Happier than ever.”
“Abelas?” Coyly looking up through his lashes, tone rich with insinuation, “and Lady Trevelyan?”
She took a deep breath, closing her eyes as she attempted to relax the knotted muscles of her jaw. Her nostrils had flared again, earning another silent curse. Of course he knew. Why should she have supposed otherwise? His spies were everywhere.
“ Revas and Ser Dylis are well, also,” She failed to smooth the sneer that curled her lip.
“Revas. So, he found a new name after all,” Something crossed his face that she couldn’t name, “Good. I am glad.”
It was less of a question than an accusation. His brows rose and fell briefly with churlish concession, a half-shrugged caught and aborted. She watched him shift uncomfortably, taking this as a score settled for his pointed inquiry into her personal life. They settled into a tense silence, each sizing the other up.
“You cut your hair,” His smile was friendly, but there was something of an apology around his eyes.
“It’d suffered too much damage,” Chin on her knees, bitterly averting her gaze, “The past caused too many split ends.”
“It is nice.”
“You liked it better long,” A scolding look, calling him out.
He ducked his head a bit, having the grace to look ashamed. For a while, the only sound was the snap of the tinder and her chewing the coarse bread. She could feel his eyes on her like touch: grazing across the cut on her cheek, brushing softly over her broken lip, coming to rest on the dark bruise around her left eye. How dare he look at her so tenderly, so heartrendingly, after leaving her at the Crossroads nearly two years before. She felt the tears burning, trying to well up again. He had turned his back on her. “Var lath vir suledin!” “I wish it could, Vhenan.”
“How did Falon’din capture you?”
Shrugging half-heartedly, she reached for the leather cord wrapped around her wrist. She looked ridiculous when she tied it around her head to keep her hair from her face; she didn’t care. She didn’t feel compelled to impress him anymore.
“He came through the Eluvian. We were eating dinner––the few of us that remain, I mean. He burst into the Hall with a dozen or so of his corpse guard. Threw Cassandra against a wall like a ragdoll. From what little I saw, she ought to be fine, aside from a few broken ribs. Cullen cut down as many of the dead as he could, but I was gone before he even got close. I’m kind of thankful for that. I couldn’t bear it if any others had gotten seriously hurt on my behalf….”
His gaze was steady, absorbing her words as she spoke.
“I know we’ve not exactly been on speaking terms for awhile now,” Halie looked up sternly, fixing him with bitter disapproval, “But a heads-up that you lost control of the Eluvians would have been appreciated.”
“You have my sincerest apologies. To be frank, I was not aware of the partial breach until after I was first contacted by Falon. My people are working to rectify the situation, I assure you.”
“Well, goody for you,” Unconsciously touching her battered face.
Shying away when Solas moved over to her, reaching out with deliberate slowness, she caught his wrist. She declined his attempt to heal her, telling him they were her wounds to heal, the natural way. He sat back on his heels, his face a mask of sincere confusion married with concern that brought to mind a scolded pup. She nearly laughed at the thought, but it turned too quickly to melancholy, like milk souring upon leaving the teet.
“What did he do to you, Halesta?”
His breath broke with anguish. Sea-storm eyes, more aching than she had ever seen them–– Even when he took her Vallaslin and then turned her away. Even when she stood facing him at the Crossroads, having claimed his power for herself. Var lath vir suledin….
“Nothing,” She looked out into the dark rain, hesitating. “I don’t want to talk about it.”
His sigh was heavy, and though she knew it was the simple manipulation of her heart, she thought it sounded slightly like Vhenan.
He heard her muffling the crystal around her neck, creeping slowly from her bedroll. She was still too unnerved to stray too far, and with the wall of rain trapping the sound, eavesdropping was no difficulty.
“Dorian!” It helped that she whispered quite loudly, as well, “Dorian, I’m here.”
“My lamb! I’ve only just received word,” The voice of the Altus was easily identified, “Are you okay? Everyone is worried sick, half certain you were dead!”
“We––I got away. I’m okay. Safe-ish. For now. How’s Cassandra?”
“A few broken ribs and worrying herself to death, but she’ll live. Where are you?”
“I...don’t actually know. The Crossroads, somewhere. But I’m okay.”
“Praise the Maker! I swear, I’ll never forgive myself for not being there when you were taken.”
“You would only have gotten hurt, my Peach, and I rather prefer you healthy. Please let the others know Fen’Harel has lost partial control of the Eluvians.”
“ That was already abundantly clear,” Hidden by the dark, Solas scowled at Dorian’s tone, “Leliana is livid . She’s already got her people searching for you, and she’s established her replacement––”
“Hey! Hey. I’m not in immediate danger, but I don’t think it’s a good idea to share, ah, sensitive information. At least not at the moment.”
“Ah. Yes, of course. One never knows who might be listening in ...” The inflection was meaningful, though Solas could only guess as to what.
“Oh hush, you. It’s...it’s so good, hearing your voice. I miss you, Dor,” Her voice caught, and there was a long pause.
“I miss you, Hals. I love you, you know.”
“I know. I love you even more,” Another moment of hesitation, “I have to go. I’ll update you as soon as I can. Ple...Please be safe. We can’t trust anyone these days.”
“Of course, my Pearl. Promise you’ll come back soon. Preferably alive?”
“I promise, Dor. Kisses.”
She didn’t move for several minutes, struggling to regain control of her emotions. Before, Solas had felt a small satisfaction when she had pulled her pallet near his. Now he better understood why: she was afraid . He felt a pang in his chest at the realization; she climbed quietly back into the blankets behind him.
“You did not tell him that I am with you.”
She sighed, irritated by his eavesdropping, but seeming to understand. He heard the shift of cloth before feeling her bump against his back.
“Out of the hands of one enemy and into another’s?” The distance of her voice indicated she was facing away from him, “It didn’t seem like the best idea.”
“So,” Uncertain, he paused. “So, you trust me?”
“You came to save me, didn’t you?” Her voice broke again, before the static rain settled into the silence.
Chapter 4: On the Safest Ledge
A short chapter consisting of an unnecessary amount of time arguing where to go, what to do: all while in the shelter of a half-rubble ruin while the rain keeps on.
Don't worry, it's gonna get more interesting soon.
I named the chapter after the song "On the Safest Ledge" by Copeland which, while not necessarily relevant to this chapter, is (in my opinion) a great Solavellan song.
Thank you to everyone who is reading and joining in on my fresh attempt to actually re-enter my fanfic passion. I hope and pray I don't disappoint this time!
Ir abelas = My apologies / I'm sorry
Hahren = Elder; used as a term of respect by the Dalish (+/- by city elves for the leader of an alienage)
a serannas = My thanks / thank you
Ma bellanar serannas = My eternal thanks/ my infinite gratitude (idk I tried okay)
She awoke with grim uncertainty, the memories of the past few days coming to rest with firm swiftness over her conscious mind. Sleep had been restless, vivid, vicious memories of her hours in the hands of the sadistic Falon'Din had massacred any hope of respite. Never had she felt so fragile, and that she should wake in the clutches of the Dread Wolf... How pathetic, how weak. Oh! That reminded her.
A quick search found Solas sitting cross-legged a few metres away, hunched over what appeared to be a patch of dirt in place of some missing pavestones. The sky was comparatively lighter than before, but the rain still came in heavy torrents. Quietly climbing to her feet, she tiptoed to peer over his shoulder. At first glance, there was nothing to see: a smoothed surface of dirt, a few chips of stone, a twig or two. But she knew Solas better than he would have liked. It was a map, of sorts. Tentative and largely estimated, but it was there.
Solas started slightly in surprise, turning to look and finding their faces uncomfortably close. Quickly returning his attention to the ground, his sigh a mixture of relief and irritation.
"Very little. These things change so erratically, it is difficult to establish a direct path."
"Direct path to where?" She came to sit close beside him, but careful that their knees shouldn't touch, "Where we goin'?"
"Well, the first order of business is to return you to Skyhold."
"Oh, yes, of course. Bring me back to the first place Falon would look for me," Nodding with mock seriousness, "Brilliant."
Visibly stiffening, he sighed deeply, pinching the bridge of his nose. He shifted then, adjusting his position so that he bodily faced her, leveling her with a exasperatedly stern stare.
"Don't get me wrong, I'm sure you want me around about as much as I want to here," Trying her best to remain reasonable, "But unless you actively want me dead, you won't take me back to Skyhold."
She looked past him: expression disquiet, voice wavering.
"I will not allow him to take me alive again."
"What do you suggest I do, then?" He gazed at her with fresh concern, "As it is, you are technically held captive by your enemy."
"Pfft, I have no objections to being held captive by you," Grinning when he flinched at her light flirting, "And anyway, I have a new enemy now. A far greater enemy–– Oh, no offense."
“While my pride is rather wounded,” The corners of his lips curling down, “I suppose I will not hold it against you.”
“You can hold anything you like against me,” Fluttering her lashes playfully, earning another reproachful look.
“Honestly, Halesta. Can you not be serious for five minutes?”
“I was serious all day yesterday, and it wasn’t any fun at all,” She got up, bumping his shoulder with her hip and went to dig through his bag, “And anyway, I can’t be serious on an empty stomach. I take it we’re out of bread. It’s too much to hope for some tea, I guess?”
“You know perfectly well I hate tea,” Grumbling back over his shoulder, “And yes, I am afraid last night’s bread was all of our food. We will have to procure some more.”
“Who only packs half a loaf of stale bread for a field mission?” Finding tightly-wrapped package of tea, she blew his tin cup clean of dust before pattering over to fill it with rain water.
“My apologies. You see, I was in a state of distress,” Scowling side-long at her, “As someone I care very deeply for was in danger of her life. I was obviously not thinking clearly.”
“....‘Care very deeply for’?” She was sure her glottal scoff very attractive, “You’ve mistaken your sense of guilt and misguided obligation for sentiment.”
“Speaking of, I do not believe I received a ‘thank you’,” He was glaring at her, but there was a teasing glint in his eyes.
“Thanks for what, exactly? Causing all this in the first place? Screwing up and only tearing down part of the Veil, thus releasing one very pissed Elvhen god? Leading Falon’Din to think I offer some sort of retributive advantage against you? Or were you referring, specifically, to ignoring my demand that you not come to my rescue, and putting yourself in very serious danger, all for the sake of playing Knight in Shining Armor? Well, ir abelas, Hahren! Ma bellanar serannas.”
Huffing with cheeks burning, she maintained eye-contact with an infuriatingly composed Solas. Aside from the arch of a brow, he was looking at her as if she had rattled off a grocery list. Finally, the plush curve of his lips curled smugly into a crooked smirk.
“You did not want me to come,” The low, satisfied timbre nearly raised goosebumps over her skin, “Because you worried for my safety?”
Rolling her eyes and returning to her tea, she tried to crush the loathsome swell of fluttering in her stomach. The necessity of his company, with the weight of all that remained unresolved between them, was cruelty enough. The last thing she needed was the rekindling of all those early, dizzying, distracting emotions; the ones to blame for this exact situation in which they found themselves. Bringing her knees to her chest, she sipped spitefully at the bitter, musty tea she pilfered.
“Ah, so there was tea,” Glancing back at him, she relished the furrow creasing his brow.
“It’s old. I’m surprised it wasn’t molded,” Taking another sip, she caught the familiar notes of coriander and white poppy, “Hey! This the tea I gave you!”
“Is it? Hm,” Pretending at ignorance, poorly, “Oh, yes. One of your Lark’s Day gifts, if I recall?”
“So,” Her turn to arch a brow and smile unctuously, “Why’d ya keep it?”
“It appears I should be more thorough in tidying my old equipment of litter.”
Well, there was no denying his barb had cut. She shrugged it off with a sigh and returned to staring mindlessly into the rain. Foolish as it was, she couldn’t help but resent the wood for its scents. Evergreen, cedar, wet bark, damp soil, petrichor; all of her favorite scents tainted with their association with him . He still smelled like these, as well as old books, but now there was the addition of oiled leather, armor polish and cold metal. It wasn’t unpleasant, she sat musing with no little chagrin. It was even somewhat exhilarating, the reminiscent scents of battle spurring a quickening to her pulse. Ugh, the insufferable bastard!
“Aside from the remaining question of what to do with you,” Breaking her increasingly dangerous train of thought, he gestured vaguely to his makeshift map, “And where I might safely refresh my supplies, I believe I have formulated a possible solution to my Falon’Din problem.”
“You mean our Falon’Din problem,” Ignoring his disapproval as she crawled her way over, “So, what’s the plan?”
“Initially, my concern is to locate a place for you to hide––”
“Thanks but no, I’m coming with you,” Deadpan, not even bothering with her defiant chin-lift, “And you’re a fucking idiot if you think otherwise. This is our war, Solas.”
It had been a long time since she had seen Solas truly angry. So long, in fact, she had almost forgotten altogether than he could be. He was instantly in her face, hands poised to grab her shoulders, to shake her, but remained in the air at her sides without actually making contact. There was something she couldn’t read in his face, something he felt she should already know but that he wouldn’t say aloud. She tilted her head thoughtfully, studying his face.
“I cannot, I will not allow you to be harmed because of my foolishness.”
“It’s way too late for that, Solas, and you know it. Besides, if you did somehow manage to talk me into curling up and hiding away, turning my back on my family and friends and my People ,” Surprised by her own calm, she rose up on her heels to face him, nose-to-nose.
“How long do you think it would take for Falon to hunt me down? He’s convinced he can use me against you: so, to what lengths do you think he would go to find me? How many of my loved ones will suffer and die in his search for me?”
His breath slowly evened, eyes scanning her face for some answer he wouldn’t find there. Bewildered, he watched as her a hand raised toward him; she hesitated a moment, unsure, before pressing her palm over his heart.
“The safest place for me, right now, is with you,” Unsure where this had tenderness come from, skin burning where he placed his hand over hers, “Where we can fight together.”
The realization of their proximity was at once overwhelming, she couldn’t bear it a moment longer. Anyway, it was crucial to distract him from any further disputes about her coming along.
“Now! If you can figure out a quick way to get us to the Hinterlands,” Halesta jumped to her feet without warning, all light and smiles, “I think I have a solution for our lack of supplies.”
Dusting her hands off on the worn leather of her leggings, she nearly skipped to rinse the tin mug under the wash of the overhanging roof. On a silly impulse, she stuck her head beneath the falling stream, dousing her curls. Stepping back and tousling her hair, she ran her hands over her face, enjoying the small pleasure of water on her skin. It wasn’t until she saw the bemused expression Solas wore that it occurred to her how it might have seemed a strange thing to do.
“I believe we can reach the Hinterlands by mid-afternoon,” The hint of a smile in his voice, “Though, I’m afraid we’ll be arriving in a storage room of the Forest Villa.”
“That, actually, could not be more perfect,” Droplets falling from her lashes, Halesta grinned.
Chapter 5: Your Honor
Halesta leads Solas back into old Inquisition territory, knowing just the friend to visit for help before they officially set off.
This chapter was almost muchhhhh longer, but I've decided to split it in two, because I'm sick, and it came on just before I could finish pt. 2, so....
The title and song lyrics mentioned in this chapter are from the Regina Spektor song, Your Honor, which is a nod to the character featured in this chapter.
Aura Lavellan belongs to one of my very best friends, wrenbee (on Tumblr), and this chapter was basically an excuse to write her a bit. Regina Spektor is the inspiration for her voice.
Andaran atish’an = "Enter this place in peace." A formal elven greeting
Aneth ara = A sociable or friendly greeting, more commonly used among the Dalish themselves rather than with outsiders.
Lethanavir = Friend to the Dead, another name for Falon'Din
The sun was a bit lower in the sky than he had hoped, but sundown was still far off. The storage room had been cluttered, but Halesta had easily picked the lock so they could climb out with little discomfort. Despite her assurance that the ( officially disbanded) Inquisition patrols were rare these days, she still carefully locked the storage door behind them. Better safe than sorry , she had shrugged; he had the impression her caution had less to do than a scout noticing an unlocked closet. The Forest Villa had been eerily devoid of life, and while Halie seemed to enjoy the cool emptiness, Solas was all too pleased to walk in the warm day air. The Villa and Hafter's Woods already bordered on the very outskirts of the Hinterlands, but it seemed they were headed into the midst of the wilderness.
They kept to the edge of the château’s lake until it broke off into its tributary, then continued to follow it upstream into the thickening wood. Just as he was going to ask if she was lost, he felt it hit him. Like falling from a height into still water, the magic momentarily resisted before allowing him to submerge. The air was thick with wards and spells, and the why became evident as a small cottage came into view. It seemed familiar almost, though he was certain he hadn’t been here before. Settled in a clearing, at first glance it appeared more peat roof than building, but approaching further, white stucco walls peeked from behind their lining trellises. Lovingly tended flowers bordered the stepstone front path, with fruits and vegetable patches hugged the yard’s far side, with a sturdy fence encircling it all.
Standing in the open door, wiping her hands with the apron tied around her waist, was a small Dalish woman. She was a few marked inches taller than Halesta and willowy, fair complexion was olive in tone, hair was dark and her features more angular–– But she had the same messy curls, and wide, almond eyes, that same look of polite suspicion; except for the sage irises, they might have been Halie’s. She watched their advance with a strangely tense ease, like when one stumbles upon a deer. There was that same quality about her, as though she was beginning to run even while she remained perfectly still. As they neared the gate, Halesta gestured for him to fall back a bit.
“Hals?” The woman’s voice was lower, lilting softly melodic, but firm; eyes flickering over to where Solas stood patiently, perfectly aware that something was unusual.
“It’s me,” Halesta gently leaned on the garden gate, fingertips nervously tracing the woodgrain, “I’m sorry for showing up like this, but you’re the only person I can trust to keep a secret for a bit. I’m sure you’ve already heard I’m ‘missing’ or whatever, it’s complicated, but––”
Suddenly, the woman was rushing over, unlatching the gate and throwing her arms around her equally earnest friend. Their foreheads touching, they whispered indiscernibly, each touching the other’s face and hair adoringly. After a long moment, Solas gently cleared his throat, still standing back with his hands clasped behind him. With an embarrassed Oh! and a sheepish glance to her companion, Halesta waved him over.
“This is Aura,” Halesta kept one hand around the woman’s waist, gesturing towards her with the other.
“ Aneth ara , Aura,” Putting on his most charming smile, “I am––”
“I know who you are, Solas,” She eyed him knowingly, though her composure remained polite, “Andaran atish’an, I suppose. Come on, then. I’ll put on some tea.”
He was less surprised the more he thought on it: she was obviously very close to Halesta, so of course she would know something about him. None too flattering somethings at that, he was certain. He ducked slightly entering the door; not that he was too tall, but it, as well as the ceiling inside, felt low enough to graze his head. Perhaps it was due to how fitting it appeared for the two petite women. The cabin was cozy with its exposed beams and stone hearth and sunlight flowing in gently from the windows. Halie threw herself lazily into an overstuffed couch before sitting up straight, eyes wide with recall.
“Oh, Aura, your sofa! I’m so sorry! I just plopped myself down without thinking what a mess I am!”
“Silly girl, I garden all day,” Musical voice drifting in from the next room, “You think I don’t have a spell and three tonics for just that reason?”
Aura breezed back into the room on light feet, almost hesitating as her eyes fell again on Solas, maybe having forgotten he was there. Setting the tray on the ottoman, she settled onto one leg, fingering mindlessly at the wooden carving pendant hanging around her neck. Brows raised meaningfully, he struggled to understand until she gestured at the chair behind him; he took his seat.
“Would you like your tea now, Hale, or would you rather have a bath first?”
“Well, I have been in in these clothes for half a week,” Shifting uncomfortably as she looked herself over before smirking wickedly at her friend, “But I don’t want to abandon you to Solas’s lacking social graces.”
“I can handle myself,” The woman glanced at him wryly before handing Halie a cup and saucer, “Here, take your tea with you and enjoy your bath. You know where my clothes are.”
“Speaking of which, we desperately need some supplies from town, but we can't really risk being seen––” Raising a hand, Aura tenderly cut her off before nudging her towards the back of the house.
“I need to make a trip to Redcliff anyway. We’ll deal with your shopping list after your bath. You need a chance to relax, there’s no point in arguing.”
Sitting easily in the adjacent chair, Aura spared him a brief, inscrutable glance. The faint sound of the water pump and spilling water was the only noise as she tended to the tea. Even stirring in the honey, the spoon never clinked against the porcelain. She offered him his cup and saucer with barely a nod in his direction.
“I apologize for my imposition,” Holding the set gingerly, it seemed tiny in his hands, “But might I bother you for water instead? I, ah, do not often indulge in tea.”
“Oh, I’m afraid I haven’t any water,” Deadpan and without so much as batting a lash, even as the sound of the bath drew in another room.
“Ir abelas,” Feeling strangely chastised, though this woman couldn’t be older than Halesta; a mere child compared to him, “You seem to be very close with the Inquisitor.”
“She’s not the Inquisitor anymore,” Aura glanced at him sidelong, a small smile threatening to tug at her lips, “But you know that.”
“Yes, of course. Old habits….”
“Mm,” Smiling briefly into her tea with some unspoken jab, “I’m of the Lavellan clan. We were playmates as children: Halesta, Laleal, Gal, and I. We might even be cousins, but who keeps track, simple-minded as we Dalish are.”
Nearly spitting his tea, he took a moment to compose himself. Evidently, his opinion on the Dalish had been a topic of discussion amongst the two. It was likely the more flattering tales Halie had told her about him.
“I am sure you think the worst of me, and with good reason,” She was attentive, but once again worrying her fingers over another of her necklaces, “There is nothing I can say that will reassure you of my regard for Halie–er, Halesta.”
Aura’s small smile was almost fond. She looked him over once again, yet more appraisingly this time.
“I trust her. If she’s got you in tow, I’m confident she’s got a good reason,” Looking out the far window, her smile acquired a hint of bitter melancholy.
“After the way you left her before…. Well. Someone should be worried for you , if you hurt her again. All we that love her could threaten your life, but Hals will be the one to take it. There’s only so much a heart can bear, Solas.”
While Solas took his turn in the bath, they had moved into the kitchen. On tiptoes, Aura tied up herbs to dry while Halesta attempted to be useful, busying herself with washing and peeling some root vegetables for stew. Aura had already singing to herself since before she had returned; her soft, soulful style, hauntingly beautiful and almost delicate in its melancholic rise and fall. She closed her eyes, the song washing over her senses. Faint scent blooming plumeria and the first pale light of day, underlaid by tangled roots of dark cedar, walking home at dusk alone with pockets full of smooth pebbles.
“You tell me that you love me, and you never do lie...and you fight for my honor, but I just don't know why….You fight for my honor and I don't understand….”
“Halie, you’ve peeled that potato to nearly nothing,” Starting at the gentle tap at her shoulder, she laughed, abandoning her task to wrap her arms around Aura’s waist.
“Sorry! I got lost in your voice. I wish I could carry a tune,” Her friend chuckled, blushing modestly, “Thank you again for letting us impose on you. Coming out of nowhere, asking you not to tell anyone, sending you to the market for us? I am a terrible friend and an even worse guest.”
“Hardly! It’s nice to have someone to fuss over while Thom is gone,” Affectionately pushing Halesta’s hair out of her face, “And I am so relieved to see you, knowing you’re okay. Though, I will admit, I’m a little concerned about whatever it is you’ve got yourself into this time.”
“Ha! Me too,” Unthinkingly glancing at the door to the hall, “I’ll tell you all about it before bed. Do you mind if I sleep with you?”
“I insist on it,” Her smile teasingly stern, but slowly fell as her eyes followed Halie’s, “But, are you sure you know what you’re doing? I mean, with everything that’s happened and not to mention he’s, well, him? ”
“Yeah, no, not really,” A daunted sigh, “While I’d like to think I’ve learned my lesson by now, it’s not easy being near him again. But the danger here is bigger than both of us, you know? And can I really, in good conscience, let him go gather whatever immense power he needs to stop Falon? Without being there to keep him in check?”
She stepped back, lifting herself to sit on the woodblock island, Aura offered a sympathetic look before beginning to chop the carrots. About halfway through the first carrot, she set down her knife and turned to meet Halie’s curious gaze with wide eyes.
“––Falon?” Exhaled with wavering breath, “Falon’Din? Lethanavir?”
Somber nod, Halesta looked away, “The very same. He, er, abducted me.”
“I, I have so many questions,” Fiddling with an amethyst pendant, eyes flitting back and forth blindly.
“Our History, our tales of Lethanavir...to call them mistaken or lies would be understating,” Stumbling over her whispered words, face drained of blood, “He’s a monster , Aura. A psychopathic horror.”
The sound of footsteps down the hall drew their attention and, in a glance, they silently agreed to discuss it further when in private. While Aura returned to preparing dinner, Halie looked to see Solas appear in the door. The sight of him, a shirt tossed over one shoulder and sporting a pair of Thom’s old trousers, sent her into uncontrollable laughter; waistband barely clinging to his hips, precariously held up with the help of some rope, and awkwardly high-water length of the legs. Unable to help herself and gasping for breath, she grabbed hold of the giggling Aura for support. Rolling his eyes, he bent to roll the pant cuffs, but a smile was creeping in at the corners of his mouth. Upright, he pulled the overlarge shirt over his head; Halesta allowed herself only the briefest of glances at the smooth skin of his muscled stomach, refusing to be caught staring. Aura subtly bumped her elbow, brows high and eyes wide, appreciative simper safely hidden from notice behind Halie.
“You look almost like your old hobo self again,” His crooked grin in response nearly tipped her off the counter.
“Oh? Dorian and Vivienne would not approve?” Their teasing came so easily, she barely noticed; Aura snorted a laugh.
The evening continued on like that for some time, light-hearted topics and laughter. Unsure whether it was the cozy familiarity of the cottage, or Aura’s quietly tactful playfulness, but Halie found herself in wonder at the relaxed simplicity of it all. A list was made of supplies needed from the market, jokingly suggesting ever more absurd luxuries. Asking after Thom, they turned their hostess a lovely shade of crimson. They discussed gardening, and how Hals couldn’t so much as grow weeds. Solas lavished Aura with compliments on her cooking, eating like a man who had previously only knew the taste of stale bread.
“So, no frilly little cakes for you lately, then?” Speaking without thinking, she realized her mistake before her spoon reached her lips; an awkward silence falling over the table.
“Frilly cakes?” Attempting to salvage the situation, Aura chimed in, “Have you been to Le Masque du Lion Café, in Val Royeaux? Theirs are the best. Berry ones are my favorite.”
“It has been years since I last had one,” A wince briefly passed over Solas’s smile, but he parried gracefully, “Though I must say, the kitchens of the Winter Palace were superb. I prefer the spicy fudge best.”
“Hm,” Halie fought the urge to smile; spoon remaining in her mouth for a moment too long, earning a knowing glance from Aura.
Dinner finished quickly after that, and talk turned to sleeping arrangements. Solas was assigned the guest room, guided upstairs by their hostess while she stayed behind to wash the dishes. Aura reappeared, and with a small smile, quietly joined in the cleaning. Lowering the lanterns, they headed up to bed. As she followed her friend down the short hall, Halie noticed Solas had fallen asleep with the door left open.
Chapter 6: Pirouette
Solas's point of view as he and Halesta experience a glimpse of what domestic life could have been for them, and he witnesses the unconscious guilt, emptiness, and horrors of her recent memory.
This chapter is named after the song "Pirouette" by Made In Heights.
• Gentle TW for implied past abuse/torture. •
Another huge thank you and love to my Wrenbby for letting me borrow her Aura, and to Jo for keeping me going and motivated! I love both of you to death.
da’halevune = Little moonfox (Solas's petname for Halesta)
Ar lath ma = I love you
Hahren = Elder; used as a term of respect
Aura had left before they woke. He made breakfast, revelling in the simple joy of preparing food in a home kitchen. When Halesta finally ambled down the stairs, on the table was porridge with brown sugar and blackberries, a small ramekin of cream on the sides; Solas secretly relishing her astonished delight to see her favorite meal. Sitting down to join her, he took in the charm of her bedhead, the faint rouge of her freshly washed cheeks beneath her slowly healing wounds, the dark circles beneath her eyes….
“Still unable to sleep?”
“Oh, you know,” A light, dismissive laugh, “I never did get the hang of it. Who needs rest when one has the constant pressure of impending doom to drive them?”
Solas ignored her attempt at humor, “More nightmares? Or still seeking to avoid any chance of happening across me in the Fade?”
“Whichever,” Shrugging, she offered a noncommittal smile, “So, hey, you still haven’t told me our plan.”
“Ghilan’nain’s Orb,” Frowning slightly, he allowed the change of subject, “The demesne of its power is essentially opposite to that of Falon’Din.”
“Creation and demise,” Nodding thoughtfully at her bowl, “So they should cancel each other out, kinda?”
“Plainly put, yes,” He smiled, feeling strangely proud of her, “Though it is, of course, more nuanced than that.”
“Yeah, well, I only just mastered heating my own bathwater, so,” Wrinkling her nose, mistaking his vague correction for condescension.
“You are far more talented than that , da’halevune,” Not noticing his tongue slip, “You have proven that, both with Falon and before, when you confronted me at the Crossroads.”
“If you say so,” Clearly finished with the topic, she carried her dishes to the sink.
Having the house to themselves for the day was, he felt, somehow surreal. They both seemed to be subconsciously avoiding any behavior that mimicked the comfort of a domestic life, each keeping the other at a distance. This could have been us, could have been our life together — The thought was too fantastical, too bitterly regrettable to entertain.
She flitted about on some unfathomable mission; perhaps Aura had left a to-do list for her. Solas let her be, instead diverting himself by skimming through the books neatly arranged atop the mantle. Most were on various household magics, potion recipes, gardening almanacs, etc. There was the occasional indulgent romance or collection of poetry, but one distinct novel caught his eye.
Varric had apparently written a new tale of adventure, clearly based (very) loosely on the Inquisitor. An elven woman of modest origins, overcomes her difficult and mysterious past and, despite all odds, saves her mythical land from the destruction wrought by her former lover; a lover whom, despite his betrayal, she still sought to redeem. The dedication delivered a fresh, piercing sensation to his chest: ‘For a brave and compassionate little fox...and the fool too proud and misguided to let her love him.’
He was certain it had only been a few minutes, yet found himself seated, having at some point begun and read over half of the book. The cottage was silent in the afternoon sun; slow moving world embalmed in honey gold. Through the window was a rare sight. Wading barefoot in the stream, Halesta wore a dress of some light material dyed the color of pale moss. The warm light caught in her opaline curls, one side pinned back from her face, like a crooked iridescent halo. She must have felt his eyes on her, looking up as though waking from a dream before offering him a soft, slow smile. He wandered out of the garden gate and across the lawn towards her, watching as she occasionally gathered a stone from the cold, flowing water.
“Are you hungry?” Sitting on the grassy bank, “Time escaped me. I did not realize how late it is.”
“I'm okay, but I can make you something to eat,” Offered with genuine amiability, “What were you doing in there, anyway? Napping?”
“Reading,” She came to sit beside him, smooth rocks hammocked in her skirt, “And no, thank you. I can wait until supper. May I ask why you have been collecting pebbles?”
“For Aura's garden,” Then, with the same soft smile, noting his curious gaze, “A Dalish thing. She'll place them around her vegetables; it's considered good luck.”
Lifting one into the sunlight, she regarded it briefly before handing it to him. On closer examination, it was striated with different bands of color. She had been gathering agate. He nodded his understanding, knowing better by now than to comment on her heritage.
He followed her inside and watched as she stacked them into a small pyramid in the center of the table. Speaking seemed unnecessary, anyway; in strangely melancholic silence, they fell into sync as they began preparing supper. Preparing vegetables, roasting some salted ram meat, setting the table. The sun had just set when their host returned, cheeks flushed from the walk. Solas observed Aura as she entered, light on bare feet, a cautious fluidity to her to steps.
Greeting them with a mere smile, she somehow inherent perceived their slow, deliberate movements, their poignant silence. In a seemingly effortless manner he now thought of as distinctly Lavellan, the dark-haired woman set down her bags and removed her cloak without making a sound. As though feeling his stare, she turned her focus to him. Secrets and strange wisdom, gentle intensity and elegant patience within her leveled eyes. For a long moment, he felt it; like a weight, like she could see into him. As quickly as it had come, it passed: Halesta wrapped her arms around her waist, pressing a kiss to her cheek.
“The rest of your things are on the cart in the shed around back,” Aura turned, kissing Halie’s cheek in turn, “I got everything you need, excepting the tonics; I can make those myself.”
“How about you eat first? Solas made dinner,” Nudging her friend gently towards a chair.
“Oh, you cook?” Pretending surprise, teasing.
“Mhm,” Setting the platter down gently before them, “He made breakfast this morning, too.”
“Halesta helped with dinner,” Shyly…. How strange.
“Oh, that’s a bold-faced lie,” Aura grinned, pointing her fork at him for emphasis, “Hals doesn’t cook. She’s completely helpless in a kitchen.”
Turning to Halesta with an arched brow, she took a bite and half-shrugged concedingly. He didn’t mention it again, letting the conversation turn to who Aura had seen in town, what they had done with their day, happy chatter over the little stack of agate in the center of the table.
• • •
He and Halesta had turned in early while Aura stayed up to mix potions, toxics, and poultices for their trip. As was typical when so close in the corporeal world, she was easy to find in the Fade. That she hadn't had a restful nights sleep in an unimaginably long time was primarily evident to Solas due to her inability protect her unconscious mind. She lacked the energy to maintain the lucid tether necessary. Another dead giveaway was a little trick she seemed to have inherited from her mother; Solas wondered if she was even aware of the ability to share her memories thus. He witnessed the events as though he had lived them himself. Seen as though through his own eyes, heard as though through his own ears. Felt as though through his own skin.
He witnessed the first time Abelas came to her, kneeling on the ground before her, swearing his unwavering fealty to her. The first time Halesta kissed him, drunken and morose. The uncertainty on the Sentry’s face, unwilling to give in until she was pleading, teary eyed, for a distraction from the pain. The first, second, fifth, dozenth time she took him to her bed, sobbing furiously against his skin as she met his thrusts. The time she mistakenly let fall the wrong name from her lips, and the tenderness of the his kiss before she could apologize. When he began telling her, “Ar lath ma,” and how she only ever replied in Common, “I love you, too,” and the weight there, the unspoken understanding.
He beheld the first moment Halie laid eyes on Ser Dilys, their easy flirting. He felt the the difference of their first kiss: the delicate, playful cushion of her lips, how it contrasted to the firm urgency of Abelas. The elastic pressure of curves and muscle entwined with Halesta’s ropey, sore limbs. The heat of Trevelyan’s tongue and slender fingers. Sitting back and watching her lovers bring each other to ecstasy for her pleasure. Having her flesh adored, fawned over, devoured by them both in vain attempt to fill the aching chasm in her chest. Surrendering her body to every debauched suffering and delight while inside she bordered on entirely numb.
Then the face of Falon’Din, and a sudden, blinding flash of pain…. Unfathomably excruciating agony, such that survival seemed impossible and death so distant, but so blessedly welcome. And finally, the worst of it: a nauseating, probing invasion of places in her soul so sacred, never meant to be exposed. A trespassing so unforgivable, impossible to sanitize, unable to be washed clean––All the while, suffering blindly, unable to see her tormentor or his cruel actions. Solas woke with a start, desperately scanning the memory for what Falon had done, fighting back the bile that rose in his throat.
Halesta appeared in the doorway almost instantly, eyes red and swollen from recent tears. She had bit her lip hard enough that it was bleeding. He could never have imagined she had endured such... such––
“I-I’m sorry to intrude, Hahren,” She didn’t meet his eye, “I can’t sleep.”
“Nightmares?” His voice broke, though just a whisper, and he reached his arms to her.
“No,” Her movements were hesitant and shaky, “Memories, mostly. And guilt.”
Placing her hands in his, palms still sticky from wiping the tears from her face. He raised a hand to lift her chin, she flinched away slightly at the gesture and something shattered like glass in his chest. Still, she let his hand caress her jaw, raising her gaze to meet his. The look in her eyes…. Unable to resist the urge, he pulled her into his lap, cradling her as he hummed her mother’s lullaby.
Chapter 7: Hurt Me
They've only just set out on their mission, but Solas and Halesta are already at each other's throats. Jealousy tips Solas's hand, and he lets slip that, however unintentional, his current betrayal has Halesta finally may not be able to forgive. Advisory for strong language.
Important Update: I'm sorry that my updates are so inconsistent and slow—Due to some current computer issues, I am writing and posting entirely from my phone 'xD
Which will probably also mess up the formatting? So I'm super sorry about that, too.
The chapter is named after the song "Hurt Me" by Låpsley
Ma'dirth quenathe = "You know why" Vhenan = "My Heart" Lethanavir = "Friend of the Dead", another name for Falon'Din. Banalhan = The Void, place where the Blight is believed to have originated Da'len = "Little one" (In this AU, Solas regularly uses the term as an endearment)
They had risen before dawn, packing their gear in an awkward silence, and with some unconscious urgency. It seemed Aura hadn’t slept at all, though Halesta couldn’t be certain, having fallen back to sleep before she joined her in bed...in Solas’s arms, no less. Despite wearied movements, her sage green eyes were bright as she presented them with a hearty breakfast. She had placed a generous parcel of travel rations next to their bags: various breads, dried meats, jars of pickled vegetables and fruit preserves. She had also prepared a sturdy case of various potions, tonics and poultices, as well as any numerous dried herbs they might require. Such tender care and thorough consideration from her friend brought tears to Halesta’s eyes.
“You have outdone yourself, Sweetpea,” Clinging to Aura tightly, praying she would live to see her again, “I can’t thank you enough for everything you’ve done for us.”
“Oh hush,” Aura smoothed her hair, placing a kiss on her forehead, “You’d have done the same for me.”
Finishing breakfast and apologizing for not helping with the dishes, Solas and Halie completed gathering their things, pointedly avoiding eye contact while lifting heavy rucksacks onto unpracticed shoulders. They said their farewells, Hals suppressed a giggle at Solas’s wide-eyed surprise when Aura hugged him. She kissed both of her friend’s cheeks and hugged her tightly, slyly slipping three small slips of paper into her hand.
A quiet Ah!, and Aura was loosing the knotted scarf holding her mess of dark curls at bay. It had always been one of Hal’s favorites, a lovely pale blue with golden stars peeking between embroidered gray trees; she winked, tucking it neatly into Halie’s bedroll, for good luck. Another tug at her heartstrings, another fleeting kiss on the cheek. If they didn’t leave now, she probably never would. With one last wave goodbye, they walked through the garden gate and out into the pre-dawn fog.
They walked quickly through the Crossroads in stale, awkward silence–– Just as well, since Halesta hardly had the breath to spare, struggling to match her companion’s long-legged strides. They had only travelled an hour, passing through a mere three Eluvians, before emerging onto a small platform. It was an altar of some kind, encompassed by pungent marshland; it was all very reminiscent of the altar to Fen’Harel in the Crow Fens….
“Are,” Hesitating, she turned a circle to examine her surroundings, “Are we in Ghilan'nain's Grove?”
“Hm? No,” Solas sealed the Eluvian before turning to squint up at the sun.
Without further explanation, he sat and began rolling up the hem of his breeches, removing his sweater and tucking it away securely into his bedroll. She followed his lead with a slight edge of irritation; tugging down her leggings and balling them up with her own sweater, exchanging them for the scarf Aura had given her. If the warm humidity was any means of judgement, he was being honest about this not being the Fens. Despite his attempt at subtlety, she caught his arched-brow glance at her bare thigh as she tucked the excess length of her tunic into her belt. She returned the look with a sneer, taking an extra moment to secure the multiple daggers she had felt so naked without. Sliding the cord securing the final sheath beneath the tunic collar, the knife fell concealed between her breasts.
“I don’t suppose you’re going to tell me where we are or why we’re here.”
“We are in the Nahashin Marshes, in the northern west of Orlais,” As brusque as his well-mannered natured allowed, “We are heading to Seralt, where a secure Eluvian can be found. That will take us to Mount Ambrosia.”
“Why couldn’t we just go through the Crossroads?” Bitterly, trudging behind him through the thick, muddy water, “Instead of subjecting ourselves to these damn mosquitos.”
“It is best if I limit your presence in the Crossroads, at least for the time being.”
“It’s ‘best if you limit my presence’, huh?” Nearly whispering now, hissing through her teeth at his back, “Once again, just a pawn in someone else’s fucking game.”
He turned on her so suddenly, with such vicious frustration, she nearly lost her balance.
“ All morning you have been nothing but cold and vitriolic, as though last night–– What precisely do you believe I gain from your being here, hm? Do you believe this trip is somehow less difficult, having to take roundabout routes and extra precautions for your safety? Perhaps you believe I prefer to be out of contact with my Agents, wandering with you through a mosquito-ridden swamp?”
“Then why are you?! Why is the ‘mighty’ Dread Wolf allowing me to burden him so? Why not just drag me through the Crossroads––or are you still trying to keep your precious ancient secrets to yourself!”
“ Ma'dirth quenathe, Vhen–! ” Catching himself, searching her face for a moment before letting out a long sigh; turning to continue, but waiting for her to match his stride.
“Lethanavir. You, ah, the Dalish tales say how he leads the dead to the Beyond, and how he led the Ancients on their journeys in Uthenera. There is a kernel of truth to it; Falon’din and Dirthamen mapped the most distant, remote paths of the Fade, and even a few of the Void’s shifting trails. Ah, how to explain....”
Finding a small ait, slick with mud but no longer sinking, he once again turned to her. Briefly pinching the bridge of his nose in thought, he finally looked at her, and for a moment she saw that old glimmer in his eye, that joy of sharing knowledge with a willing listener.
“When a fly is caught in the web of a spider, the silk reverberates,” Brightening when she nodded her understanding, “Another, similar spider may move across the silk without too much movement, but the first spider will likely still know it is there."
“Okay, and in this scenario, the Crossroads is like a...communal web?”
“Yes, very good. He and I, if we are paying attention, can tell when the other is in the Crossroads. Yet, since my Eluvian network is currently compromised, it is theoretically easier for Falon’Din to target our position,” He straightened up a bit, brow furrowed and running a fingertip over chapped lips, “Unfortunately, your radiance only serves to his benefit.”
“Have I ever told you how poorly phrased and timed your compliments are?”
Smirking up at him playfully nearly rewarded with her with a smile, but he quickly returned to his previous disposition of sullen vexation. Trudging onward again, she was left splashing in effort to catch up.
“That is not what I meant. Surely you recall Cole’s mention of your, how did he put it, ‘shining’?” Pointedly avoiding eye contact, “ ‘Too bright. Like counting birds against the sun.’ According to my sources, you shone brilliantly in the Fade even before the Anchor.”
She stopped dead, “I don’t believe you were present for that conversation.”
“With Cole. I remember sitting alone with him, on the parapet at Skyhold, just before sunset,” She crossed her arms, despite the struggle of the weight on her back, “You weren’t there.”
“Cole often repeated himself,” The half lie was almost believable, but she knew better by now.
“Bullshit. And who are these so-called sources that saw me in the Fade, before the Conclave?”
“It is not my place to say–”
“I swear on my life, if you ever claim to have always been honest with me, I will––” Gripping her curls with both white-knuckled hands, she could feel the molten fury burn under her skin, hear the deafening roar of her pulse in her ears.
“Lying by deflection is still lying. Lying by equivocation is still lying. Lying by omission is still lying, Solas! ”
She stormed off in the direction they were headed, thinking to herself that if he were to leave again, she wouldn’t care.
Despite all his reasoning, knowing that he most of all, had no right...Solas couldn't help but dwell on the images he had seen the night before. Not the torture she had endured at the hands of his kin— That part had been vague; the impression of emotional and physical anguish, instead of the experience itself. It was too much, he wasn't prepared to think on it.
It was the pleasure, the adoration she had drowned herself in his abandonment. The Trevelyan woman, Ser Dilys, somehow bothered him less. Not because they were of the same sex, he was not ignorant. It was their relations. While brimming with affectionate ecstasy, their relationship was a companionable dalliance, without promises or attachment. Abelas was the one that fanned the flames of ire burning in his stomach. Abelas was actually in love with his Vhenan. Facing her on the battlefield, it would Abelas fighting at her side. He would ease the wounds Solas left, healing slowly but with time, replacing him altogether.
He watched her hands as she sat across from him, methodically tearing a wilted lily pad into the tiniest of shreds. He had never seen her hands before the Anchor. They were strangely lovely, small and appearing almost delicate. But they had never been the hands of a "Lady", always covered in calluses, little bruises and cuts, dirt and blood beneath the nails. Now, her moonsilk skin was mismatched. The vicious scars marked her left hand and continued up the arm, which only remained due her baffling mastery of the Orb. His eyes traced the raised cicatrix as it whirled and wound its way across her fingers in patterns that mimicked the Orb, his gaze trailing it up to the elbow before it disappeared beneath the sleeve of her tunic.
“What,” Caught staring, he was met with a flat, vaguely distant expression ; had she been thinking about...him? Abelas?
“Do you remember sitting at my desk, tearing at the corners of any paper within reach?” He smiled softly at the memory, “Missives, my notes, even a book or two, when I didn't notice in time. You often appeared to be struggling to puzzle something out, something you knew was right there yet failed to see.”
“Yeah,” Quickly discarding the leaf and stilling her hands, “What about it?”
“Nothing, I suppose. Just a memory,” Reacting tersely in response to her continued sour temper, “It is strange, now I think of it, to see you without your journal.”
“It's not like I had time to grab it or anything. I was hauled off in the middle of supper, remember?” Pouting slightly at her lap, “Didn't even get to dessert. It was blackberry cobbler.”
“It is certainly full by now,” Nibbling at the last of his midday snack, “All those sketches, scribblings on the Ancient Elvhen, all the notes from your mother and Laleal and Felassan. And Abelas now, too, no doubt.”
He didn't need to look up to know he had said the wrong thing, to feel the furious glare boring into him. When he did, there was not the flushed and twisted snarl he expected. She looked back at him with horrifying composure, face as hard and cold as stone. He hadn't merely spoken out of turn: he had crossed a deep line in the shifting sand between them.
“I'm going to let you in on a little secret, Solas. There is honor amongst thieves. Thieves, liars, spies, saboteurs, assassins,” Her tone was measured, calm, void of emotion, “We all share one rule. If your enemy is not an immediate threat, personal things are off-limits. There are some things you allow one to keep for themselves.”
“I could not be sure you were not an immediate threat—”
“We were fucking , Solas! Fendehis, I had told you I loved you! ’ She was standing now, fists clenched at her sides, “I know now that was your modus operandi, but it's not mine.
“ I didn't use you ,” She was pacing now, increasingly frantic, “ Banalhan , if I had simply followed my orders, killed you like I was supposed to , I could have saved myself—shit, saved all of Thedas — so much grief.”
“Da'len,” Reaching out, attempting to calm her, to apologize.
“And, Abelas ? What does he have to do with any of…” She froze for a long moment before slowly turning to him, marred hand raised over parted lips, eyes finally brimming with fresh tears.
“You saw my dreams last night. You spied on me, at my most vulnerable,” Wide-eyed and breathless, grasping vainly for disbelief, “You offered me comfort after witnessing all of that, and now you throw it back in my face?"
Before he could reply, or move, or even think, a bolt of lightning jolted through him. He recovered only enough to see her Fade-Stepping away. Halesta had vanished from sight by the time he managed to fully regain his facilities.
Chapter 8: In Your Corner
Feelings are felt, despite all the reasons they shouldn't be.
Solas and Halesta make their way out of the Marsh,
and Solas gets to witness one of Halesta's long-dreaded visions.
The title of this chapter is named after Ella Vos's song, "In your Corner".
They hadn't spoken in two days. Travelling in silence, neither sparing so much as a glance at the other...at least, that was the mutual act they were putting on. When Solas had finally caught up to her after her storm-off, she had slowed, allowing him to take the lead, but made a point not to look at him directly. He seemed as though he had already adopted her cold-shoulder method, whether as an apology or childishness, she wasn't sure.
Regardless, Halesta was certain she was winning their cold war. From the corner of her eye, she caught the twitch of his ear at any little noise she made, and his glances back over his shoulder, checking she was still in tow when she had been too silent for too long. He had even been bold enough to stare at her from the gloom when they had made camp; a few times she thought he was going to say something, though the words never came. It was becoming frustrating, at this point. Her anger was half gone by the second morning, and only continued to subside throughout the day. It had become a battle of will, who would be first to break the silence? Not her, that was for damn sure. Bless Aura for having packed a small embroidery kit so she had been able to endure the previous night, something to focus on apart from avoiding Solas's heavy gaze.
She hated this damned swamp. The mosquitoes were relentless. They had already encountered two Gurguts, a Wyvern, and a nest of giant spiders. And then there was the disturbing precaution of making certain her feet were entirely dry once dug in for the night, lest any fungus or water rot set in. Admittedly, she did find herself enjoying the various serpents and frogs along their path; occasionally picking up a specimen and carrying it for a bit, taking in unique patterns or curious adaptations, before returning it to the isles of thick mud.
Just as she was considering giving in and asking Solas how much longer he intended to torture her with this swamp, a small farmhouse rose up on stilts before them. They both slowed cautiously, falling naturally into a defensive formation. A short, round human strode through the marshy pens surrounding the house and nearby barn, pouring grains from a sack into troughs for squealing Tuskets. She could see Solas glance at her questioningly in her periphery as she plucked up, striding confidently past him.
“Pardon, Messere?” Putting on her best South Orlesian accent, she called out, waving sheepishly.
“Oh, hello there! Well aren’t you two a pretty pair!”
The man was only about Sera’s height, with a wide, merry face and a gnarled red nose. While the general area was not known for its high opinion of elves, this man had the air of a family friend: warm and welcoming, and probably always ready with a caramel candy. He leaned against the fence she approached.
“What are two elves doing walking around in the Marshes? It’s mighty dangerous, don’t y'all know better?”
“We are on our way to Serault, Messere,” Solas spoke up, his voice close behind her, “Would you happen to know how far it is from here?”
“It’s two, three days a walk west, but ‘least you can take the highway from here, ‘nstead a wading through the marsh.”
He pointed off toward his barn, and there behind it, Halie could see the crumbling pavestone path. It was little more than a relic of packed dirt, remnants of what once might have been a fine road: a supposition she'd be more inclined to believe, did it not head toward Serault. The sun was a blinding citrine, low in the sky, dark clouds billowing up over it ominously. A storm. Turning back, she saw Solas hunched over, scratching a Tusket’s chin affectionately.
“I’ve never heard of anyone keeping Tuskets,” Cocking her head curiously as she looked into the man’s grinning face.
“Y’all must be from a city, then,” He chuckled warmly, “Grounds too soft for Druffalo out here, so Tuskets easier keepin’. Leather s’not as thick, but we make do.”
“Thank you for your help, Messere,” Solas bowed, then placed a guiding hand on Halesta’s shoulder, “We should try to make some time before the sun sets.”
“Mister, you and your wife––”
“I’m not his wife––” “We’re not married––”
“Oh….” The man appraised them with pursed lips and a new skepticism; she could feel the situation beginning to turn from their favor.
“Well, I mean,” Now all demure and fluttering lashes, praying that Solas would keep up, “Not yet , that is...”
She leaned conspiratorially towards the elderly man, whispering loudly enough for Solas to overhear: “You see...we’re eloping!”
The old man turned a bright shade of red, grinning wide at her with the handful of teeth left in his mouth, and clapped his hands together with a cheerful whoop!
“Good for y’all! Your families being stubborn?” Crossing his arms, leaning in indulgently.
“Mamae and Papae say I shouldn’t marry the competition,” Sighing dramatically, “Merchant families, you know how it is.”
“Oh, sure!” He clearly didn’t, but was enjoying the gossip, “But the two of you seem old enough to make decisions for yourselves.”
“That is what I told them,” Solas nodded solemnly, catching her eye with a slick wink, “They would not hear reason.”
“So we’re heading to see my cousin in Serault, she’s a Chantry sister at the Bans there,” Fawning shyly, laying it on thick.
“I love a good love story,” The old man placed a hand over his heart, “Y’all oughta stay in the barn tonight, get a fresh start in the morning.”
“Oh Messere, you are too kind,” Solas played his part better than Halie had expected, “We could not impose on you--”
“Nonsense! I insist! Missus Adelaide’ll have supper ready soon, she’ll bring it out,” Opening the gate to the barn and ushering them through, “Y’all make yourselves comfortable in the loft in the meantime.”
“Oh! Merci beaucoup, Messere,” Placing a swift kiss on the man’s ruddy cheek, “Merci!”
“My pleasure, little Miss,” He took her hands warmly in his and shook them, “I’m Bissett.”
“Camille,” Dipping into a small curtsy.
“I am Kais,” Solas shook his hand.
“Well, Kais and Camille, we’ll see you through tonight safe and dry,” Briefly clapping a hand on Solas’s shoulder before heading back toward the pens, “I’d better finish tendin’ to the Tuskies.”
“I suppose we should ‘make ourselves comfortable’, then,” Solas cocked a brow at her, a hint of a smile on his lips as he gestured for her to lead the way up the barn ladder.
“Shut up,” She hid her smile as she climbed the rungs, “And you’re welcome.”
“For agreeing to marry me?” He teased below her.
“Worst mistake of Camille's life,” Muttering as she took the bag he passed up to her, struggling to reign in her amusement, “And no, for getting us a dry place to sleep through the storm.”
“Kais and I have made worse mistakes,” Softly behind her, following her into the dark warmth of the attic.
And just like that, nearly three days of bitter silence evaporated. It was a small victory, in its way, but Halesta still couldn't help feeling a little defeated.
By the soft flicker of lamplight over her sleeping features, Solas watched her idly, musing back over their pleasant evening. Halesta had snuck out back and returned soaking wet, her dripping hair dark and deflated with water. She had laughed at his reaction when she reappeared trailing droplets: that beautiful, rolling laughter which never failed to make his heart rise in his chest.
"The humidity is driving me nuts, so I improvised a bath," She had said, smiling sheepishly, "Feeling my hair stuck to my face, like I've been entirely covered in syrup. I was desperate."
Madame Adelaide looked precisely how he imagined the wife of the enthusiastic Messere Bissett. She had been friendly and welcoming, her manners unimpeded by her inherently shy nature. She had brought them a hearty stew and coarse grain bread, and told them in a fragile little voice not to hesitate to ask should they need anything. The time had passed in a warm molasses haze, slow and easy and vaguely sweet, even as the sky rumbled and let fall its deluge. Now, finally, he nodded off to the rhythm of Halie's slow, shallow breathing.
Passing into the Fade, he was surprised and a bit disappointed to find the wall still rising before him. They had such a pleasant evening...yet, he couldn't blame her for protecting herself from him, he'd hurt her too many times. And it was rather impressive, her ability to maintain such a solid, unwavering barrier in the Fade. Doubly so, when one considered that she was not a natural Dreamwalker, and most of her magical ability remained untapped. So, for the third night in a row, he stood at the foot of her rampart as history reenacted itself in the distance.
It didn’t escape his attention that the same apparition that had appeared intermittently the past few nights was once again standing at the edge of his vision. It seemed only interested in observing, watching as he paced nervously, on both two feet and four. It was a curious thing, not immediately similar to any other spirit he knew, though not apparently a demon. In fact, it vaguely reminded him of the Seeker Cassandra: appearing to wear armor, sword planted in the ground between its feet and hands resting on the pommel. His curiosity finally piqued, he approached it. With an air of detached interest, it watched him with indeterminate eyes in a inconsistent face.
“Rebel Pride,” It nodded its head graciously, its voice resounding more in his mind than his ears.
“Please, call me Solas,” It stood tall, nearly eye-level with himself, “What are you called?”
It seemed to smile wryly, “We are not called.”
“Fair enough. What are you, then?”
“We are many things. Heartbreak, tearful struggle. We are unrequited. We are reluctant duty. We are forgiveness,” It tilted its head thoughtfully, very like Halesta, “Your tether says we are wistful, names us Suledin.”
“My tether…” It means Halesta, he assumes, “Do you know the meaning of the name she gave you?”
“We know the Elvhen, yes.”
He appraises the specter for a moment. Perhaps it is a mere spirit, but it carries a concerning amount of pain.
“And you feed from her?” In his mind, it seems to chuckle patronizingly; the sound of waves lapping gently against the shore.
“Only as much as she feeds from us. She and we are born of the same star. What is your word for it? Friends. ”
It seems to look up, past him, “Oh, no.”
It disappeared as he turned to see, what looked to be a bolt of lightning, striking with a loud crash down behind the wall. White light, thick and rolling like fog over the wall, washed over him with piercing pain—
Sitting up with a gasp in the dark of the loft, the pain continued to echo through his head. Panicked, he looked at Halesta. She was still asleep, though her knitted brows and white-knuckled grip on her blanket suggested she felt it as keenly as he had. For a moment, Solas floundered, clouded and confused as the headache slowly ebbed away. He'd never seen anything like that, a white lightning strike in the Fade….
“Hey,” A soft, strained whisper cleared his mind.
“Are you hurt?” Scooting over to place his fingers to her temples, “What happened?”
“You know about the visions,” He could hear her pursing her lips at him in the dark.
“Yes, but I have never witnessed you receive them,” Pressing magic through her skin, hoping to ease the migraine before it could intensify, “I don't understand why it is so painful.”
“Because they're not meant for me,” She turned her face toward him, her breath warm on his hands, “I'm not a Seer. They didn't hurt Mamae.”
“Then why do you recieve them?”
“I wish I knew. It never happened before she died.”
They sat silently for a moment. Her fingers gently curled around his wrist, her sigh of grateful relief against his skin. Clearing his throat, Solas hoped to distract from his speeding pulse.
“So,” Voice a little deeper than intended, “Am I allowed to inquire as to what you saw?”
“Oh, er. Yeah,” Slightly uncertain, “It was Falon’Din. There was someone else with him, but they weren't quite solid? I don't know.”
Solas swallowed hard, “What did they look like?”
“I-I can't remember,” Pinching the bridge of her nose, straining, “My head—”
“Do not strain yourself, Da'len,” Refocusing on the spread of his magic, “Just relax.”
He rubbed little circles in the tender skin of her temples, rewarded with another sigh. He was grateful the lantern had burned out, the dark hiding the tenderness in his eyes as they skimmed her silhouette. No matter how he had hurt her, or how angry she might be, some part of her always remained trusting. He didn't deserve her.
“I met a friend of yours,” Half expecting she had fallen back to sleep, “Suledin.”
“They 'were not called’,” Sheepish again, as though expecting to be scolded, “I thought it a suitable name.”
“I thought so, as well,” Chuckling quietly, “They called me 'Rebel Pride’. It was a first.”
“They understand Elvhen, but I don't think it's their, uh, mother tongue, you know?” She hummed to herself in amusement.
“What is funny?” Peering curiously over at her face.
“Nothing, really. I'm just thinking about my situation, stuck in a feud between ancient Elvhen gods with ominous, almost fanciful names, like ‘Fen'Harel’ and 'Falon'Din’. And here I am, just Halie.”
“There is nothing 'just’ about you, Halesta,” Half-hearted chastisement.
“Yeah, whatever. You know, I don't think Falon even knows your real name,” He saw a glint of light as she looked up at him, “He only ever referred to you as Fen'Harel. Is Falon'Din his real name?”
“I do not believe so. I would be surprised, anyway,” He paused a moment, “...You didn't tell him my name?”
“Of course not!” She sat up urgently, nearly nose-to-nose with him, “Do you think I would do that to you?”
“Not on purpose,” He placed a hand on her shoulder, trying to get her to lie back down again, “Never on purpose. Ir abelas, I meant no offense. Falon can be...very clever.”
She resisted, looking at him with desperate insistence, “I would never let him hurt you.”
“I wish I had been more careful, I never should have let him hurt you,” Cradling her cheek, heart aching, “I will never forgive myself.”
She started to respond, but flinched, clutching her head. He eased her back down, replacing her fingers against her temples. Still, she didn't take her eyes off his, searching his face painfully for something, he only wished he knew what.
Chapter 9: Bury a Friend
Falon'Din muses on Halesta's role in all of this, and considers the further manipulation of his Twin.
Chapter named for Billie Eilish's song, 'Bury a Friend"
Dirthamen had a fragile, melancholy sort of beauty: the kind that brought to mind a stark winter landscape, like nature stripped to its bones. Despite his semi-translucent nature, Falon’Din could still make out the deep brown of his Brother’s skin, the sun-bleached wheat of his furrowed brow. The dark, skeptical grey-brown of his eyes.
With a sigh, Falon stretched his neck, rolling his head from side to side before straightening up. He briefly mused sitting so solidly on his makeshift throne before slouching languidly, a leg tossed imperiously over the stone armrest.
“Aside from the sighting in northwest Orlais,” The listless older elf offered without emotion, “None, Ma Nadas.”
“Mmn,” Dismissing the slave with a wave, he turned to the shade of his Brother.
“What is it, then,” As usual, Dirthamen’s questions emerged as more statement than inquiry.
“If I had to guess, they’re headed to Andruil’s old mountain palace. It’s the only remotely significant location in the area,” Dirth listened with his signature morose detachment, “I wonder why….”
“I doubt anything of value would be there anymore,” His Brother somehow managed to make even a shrug impart dignity, “And it would make for a poor choice of hiding place.”
Falon frowned. He disliked frowning. He disliked struggling to anticipate the movements of his prey, and of his adversary. That they continued to work together confused him, and that only served to deepen his frustration. Perhaps he had been relying too much on the movements of the Wolf, and not paying enough attention to the mind of that clever little fox.
“Da'Hale continues to prove herself the answer,” Smiling to himself, a plan forming in his mind.
“You plan to continue torturing that poor child?” Dirthamen’s ghostly form rounded on him with arms crossed, the hint of disapproval in his voice.
“You think my initial methods were too cruel,” Rolling his eyes; Dirth had always been tender-hearted.
“Yes, I do. Further still, you forget,” Chastising only more effective in his eternally composed manner,
“She is mortal. A mere child, and exceptionally more fragile than we. It would take no effort for you to kill her by mistake. What is it about her that fascinates you so?”
It was a valid question. She puzzled him to no end: what was it that Fen’Harel found so…special? She was strangely powerful, though her clumsy and panicked attack implied she didn’t understand just how much, or how to use it. She was intelligent enough to refuse to return to Tarasyl'an Te'las, despite it predictably having been Fen’s intention. Dirthamen may be correct. He needed more face time with this Halesta, and it’d likely be easier if it were on more… amicable terms.
“You’re right, as usual,” Sighing, he let his head fall back, looking up at Dirth with the innocent sort of pleading he knew worked best.
“You want me to help you trap her again.” His Brother’s delicate pursed lips showed his feelings clearly regarding the girl.
“No, not trap. Just a chance to talk to her,” Sitting up, taking the thin impression of Dirth’s hand in his own, “Preferably in a situation that she might listen.”
Dirthamen sighed, his shade pulling away to pace away. He walked the entire length of the ancient Dwarven feast hall, clearly arguing with himself. Falon needed to look more contrite, more eager to be doing the right thing. It was clear that his centuries trapped in the Fade had only cooled any anger Dirth may have felt toward Fen’Harel; Falon needed to manipulate his closest of Kin to cooperate.
“My Brother,” Standing, he hung his head with shame, “I wish that it had been you that was freed first. Then this could all be done with the least possible regret.”
Dirthamen visibly flinched, turning to scrutinize his Brother for any signs of insincerity. Whether or not he found them remained to be seen; he sighed defeatedly before finally turning to face Falon.
Chapter 10: Tied to Me
Having passed through Serault and into the dark Tirashan forests, Halesta falls back into old habits without reluctance, but Solas begins to finally face that he may have lost her for good.
This chapter is named for the song by William Fitzsimmons, "Tied to me".
The Applewoods are the forest at the edge of the Tirashan, and serve as the western border of the marquisate of Serault.
As defined in the text-based game, Dragon Age: The Last Court:
- The Greenwood are the tamer area of The Applewoods that "teems with game"
- The Deepwoods are the depths of the Applewoods that "teem with things quite sinister"
As unsettling as the Applewoods were, Halesta found it a welcome relief from Serault and its altogether different sort of eerie. She chewed thoughtfully on the strip of willowbark she had been gnawing on since the tusket farm: the vision and subsequent headache still lingering at the fringes. The disturbing nature of the Applewoods was magical, which was somehow much less daunting than the air of thick tension and suspicion found in town. She had, of course, been grateful for the bath and night of sleep in a real bed that the inn had provided, but she was glad to have left. Everyone they passed had seemed on edge, glaring daggers at the strangers from outside.
Standing at the border of the Deepwoods, Solas seemed to be considering which direction they should be heading. She thought she could make out the exact point where the sunlight dimmed, and the bark of the trees darkened. The way the Deepwoods met the Greenwoods reminded her of a river meeting the sea; the barest blending of freshwater with salt, but standing back, the clear line of distinction between them. In the distance, the shadows moved with strange perspicacity through the brush, and there was certainty in the knowledge that more than one set of eyes watched them.
"So...?" She peered up at Solas, his eyes closed and brow furrowed.
"Patience, please," Lifting a long finger to quiet her, "I am trying to find my bearings."
"What, do ancient elves have internal compasses like migratory birds? Or homing pigeons?"
He shot her a glare, but his picturing it mentally was enough for it to be delivered half-heartedly. Sighing and shaking his head, he ran a hand over his face.
"If general direction helps at all, we're west by north-west on our current heading," Almost offended when he looked at her with surprise.
"And how do you know that?" Now skeptical, as though she wasn't Dalish and trained as a hunter.
"Angle of the sun over the past hour or so, with the direction we've been moving since leaving town this morning."
Reaching over, she plucked a metallic object from one of the outer pockets of his rucksack and tossed it to him. "Or you can try using this. One of Dagna's charmed compasses. She gave them to everyone for Wintersend. With all the rumor around the Applewoods, I dunno if it'll work here, but anyway."
"I do not recall your being so savvy as Inquisitor," Sidelong scrutinizing glance, he frowned...approvingly.
"I don't recall us being lost much when I was Inquisitor," She grinned, resettling the weight of her pack on her shoulders, "Plus, why do something when you've got twenty other people to do it for you?"
Rolling his eyes, he started off into the gloom while she followed, snickering quietly. Almost instinctively they fell silent, stepping lightly. Perhaps it was just due to the dramatic cast of the canopy, but even the simple sounds of the forest took on a sinister tone: distant sounds of birds cackling forebodingly. There were innumerable microfissures in the Veil here, and she could feel the magic like static against her skin. Nothing so large and threatening as a Rift, of course. Merely glimmers and glints of bright green, twinkling like fireflies in the air.
Halesta rather enjoyed the intensity of it all—at least, until evening set it. The shadows flitting at the edges of her vision slowly thickened, as though solidifying. Even with her hereditary heightened eyesight, it was becoming increasingly difficult to make anything out. They succumbed to tripping over vines and roots, entangled in thorny branches and hanging tendrils and a spiderweb or two. Every so often, a twig would snap nearby, or leaves would crunch on ground they'd already tread. The slow realization crept over her, escorted by a gentle panic: they couldn't stay here. They couldn't camp out here, in the open. This was the Tirashan.
"Um, Solas?" Without a thought, she slipped her hand into his, gripping tightly.
"I know, Da'len. It is just ahead," Instant comfort in his voice, like melting chocolate, "We are almost there."
She peered around him, eyes grasping for the last light, barely able to discern the familiar shape of a large reclining wolf beneath unrelenting thickets. Approaching its pedestal, she nearly shook him: there was no shelter here. Did he expect the crumpling, overgrown statue to serve as some form of mystical protection in a forest that knew no discipline? It was only when he slipped the dagger from her thigh, taking to the knotted weeds at their feet, that she could breathe again. Kneeling beside him, she could make out the large, rectangular, tomb-like stone he was working to free. Another knife in her helping hand finished the job quickly.
She stood back and waited, admittedly surprised to see him slide the stone aside with such ease. Exhaled on hot breath from the gaping dark beneath, the scent of mildew and rotting leaves and deep soil. Solas pulled an orb of pale light from the air, illuminating the first steps of very,
steep stairs before they they disappeared into the abyss. He gestured for her to go first, and her brows shot up. He
be insane. But he widened his eyes, nodding meaningfully.
Luckily (or unluckily) the stair was narrow, allowing her bare fingers to grasp vainly at the slick stone walls as she slowly made her way down. Managing to slip only once, she waited while Solas fumbled somewhere above her, sliding the secret door back into place and sealing them blindly into the dark. There was a brief flash of green as a barrier was cast over the stone, and then a flicker of blue as a ward rose into place over it.
"What're you blocking out?" Her voice was sudden and loud.
"I am not sure, but it was following us rather closely."
She could feel him as he stepped off the stairs, his magic finding them chest-to-chest in its faint glow. They both hesitated for a moment, looking at each other. While deciding if she should ask him to attempt squeezing past her to take the lead, the unmistakable sound of skittering echoed from the void.
" Fuckin' spiders," Turning with a sigh, she took a dagger in each hand, "Great."
She felt the flutter of his hand near her ear, and Veilfire lit up torches lining the passage.
"That should make it easier," Low, breathy chuckling behind her.
"Thanks," Dryly, she straightened up with determination, ready to squash some bugs.
"Well, those were the biggest damn spiders I've ever seen," Halesta shuddered, daintily wiping her blades on a patch of lichen before again more thorough on her tunic, "You made sure to burn all the egg sacs?"
" Yes , Da'len," Solas began clearing a place for their bedrolls and a fire, glancing at her with amusement.
She strode around, holding a torch close to the walls in attempt to glimpse the fading frescos beneath the tree roots and water stains. He rather wished she wouldn't, but any attempt to deter her would undoubtedly fail. He began preparing dinner while he waited for the questions to begin. When she finally came to sit quietly beside him, he looked at her.
"What? Spider guts on my face?"
"No. I was merely anticipating a deluge of inquires," She cocked her head, confused, "About where we are, what this place is, and so on."
"Oh! No," She smiled apologetically, "No, Fel has told me all about these places. I've even been to a few, walked the paths, paid homage."
"Ah," Grimacing slightly at the mention of his old friend, "That saves some breath, then. How is Felassan?"
"He's well. Very happy with Camber, I think," Smiling a little sadly, gaze on the fire, "He misses you. He's scared for you."
"That makes a pair," Placing the pot on the rack hook to boil, "I doubt he misses me. I do not believe he will ever forgive me."
"Don't sell him short. He's full of surprises."
He hummed in agreement, watching the cast iron slowly,
begin to glow. She tucked her knees beneath her chin, hugging her legs; he hadn't even realized they were touching until she began rocking slightly.
"I do have one question I've been meaning to ask since that first chase you led me on through the Crossroads...."
He looked down at her expectantly.
"Did you paint all of those murals of yourself?" Grinning up at him wickedly, bumping his arm with her shoulder, "Freeing the elves, raising the Veil, 'Fen'Harel is the Best', and all that?"
"No," Laughing despite himself, "Most of them are not my work. I was not always the lone painter of Elvhen frescos, you know."
"What about all those paintings of muscular Elvhen butts?"
Nearly choking, a short coughing fit, "Pardon me? No! "
"Mhm," Smiling to herself, patting him firmly on the back as he coughed.
"You cannot be serious, Halesta," Struggling to regain his composure, while she shrugged at him innocently.
"Oh, it was the first thing Dorian said when he saw one!" Abating the flames with a wave of her hand as the water began to boil over, giggling herself to tears.
He took the opportunity to look at her, as he hadn't had much of a chance all day. The fire and laughter had brought a flush to her face, and she had that glint in her eye that always followed a bit of knife work. The bruise by her eye was barely visible now, faded so that one had to know what to look for to find it. She finished the stew he had begun and they sat together, sharing it out of the pot.
He was surprised when she pulled her bedroll so close to his, though he wasn't sure why precisely. They had slept side by side on the bed in the inn, chaste and without implication. She had even joined him in the Fade and, while she hadn't allowed him into her dreams, she had visited him in his own. When he woke, only her cheek rested against his arm, the rest of her body remaining self-contained. It had given him a foolish glimmer of hope, one he had been quick to shove down deep. But it was strange, her lying with him here, staring up at the distant ceiling while he lay on his side, staring at her.
Maybe this is how things were for them now. Maybe this is what was left, after all they had been through, burning through a lifetime of passion and fighting in only a few years. Mortal enemies and lovers, the contradiction only fueling their collapse like a dying star. Perhaps this was how they would end: too tired to fight each other, too comfortable in their mutual heartbreak and bitterness, too proud to concede to the other. More akin to a pair of war veterans than what they once were. His heart sank at the thought. It was torture, loving her in silence, when simply being with her came so easily. But it was too late, wasn't it?
Halie let him stare for a long time before rolling to face him. Her nose grazed the tip of his, no questions in her eyes. His gaze fell to her lips as she wet them, tracing the center crease of the lower. He must have leaned in, as his mouth was just a whisper from hers.
" Solas... "
She breathed his name, as if in warning or reprimand, but didn't pull away, eyelids already closed. He kissed her softly, restraining himself to the barest of pressure, lingering greedily though barely touching. Retreating slowly, he searched her face for some sliver of reaction. When her lashes fluttered open, something flitted behind her eyes (Panic? Fear?) before becoming unreadable.
"Will tomorrow be a long day?" Voice breaking even as a whisper.
"The next few days," He nodded almost without moving.
"We should get some sleep?" Turning up at the end, as if unsure.
"Yes," Sand and gravel in his throat.
He eased back to give her space, and she rolled over, turning her face from him. For a moment, Solas felt glass shattering in his chest—but then she shifted her body back against him. It wasn't an answer, but then again, he wasn't sure what he had asked.
Chapter 11: Sink In
Halesta struggles with the "question" posed to her, Solas nervously anticipates her reaction, and they set off along the peaks of the Hunterhorn Mountains.
This chapter is named for Amy Shark's song, "Sink In".
I am so so sorry for the brevity of this chapter, and the brevity of the next--
I promise, Chapter 13 is going to be a long one, and hopefully makes up for this one.
My eternal and all-encompassing gratitude for those of you reading along, and extra love to those of you leaving me such supportive comments!! ilyall
Refresher Translations, via dragonagewiki
Suledin - "The concept of finding strength in enduring loss or pain; endure"
Vallaslin - "Blood writing; The art of tattooing adopted by some elves to more prominently display their worship of the traditional elven pantheon"
Mir Da'len - "My Little One"
Hahren - "Elder; used as a term of respect"
Eluvian - "Mirror; literally 'seeing glass'"
Slipping into the Fade, she was admittedly relieved to see that Solas had not waited for her. She could feel his impression on the dreamscape like a marble rolling over a bedsheet; he had headed off into his own dreams. There was no need to raise the wall. Instead, she turned to one of her favorite childhood escapes, easily finding the clearing once thinking of it. The spirit, Suledin, was already waiting for her beside her favorite tree, the one with the wide, flat rock propped against it.
"You are distressed," Their layered voices speaking as one.
"More confused, I think," Sighing, she stretched herself lazily across the stone, I don't understand what he wants from me."
"The Rebel Wolf."
"The way he kissed me, the look in his eyes? It was almost desperate...." She lolled her head over to look at the Spirit, "He was asking me for something, but I don't know what it was."
"You did not ask?" Relaxing their posture to lean against the hilt of their sword.
"No, I panicked."
Halesta let her gaze wander, landing on a chubby garden snake curled around a nearby branch, basking in the sunlight of her imagination. She didn't give the creature much thought, distracted by her spinning mind and continued reaffirming that Solas hadn't come any closer. Suledin watched her with the patience and fondness of an old friend.
"He still loves you. He never stopped," Their softly spoken words drawing her attention.
"He told you this?" They smirked at her wryly.
"He is too proud to tell us such things," The Spirit nodded its head meaningfully, "Still, we can see."
"Well, it hasn't stopped him from keeping his distance before," She rolled onto her stomach, sulking, "I just wish I knew what he wants. Maybe it's just the physical release he needs? Could I handle that?"
Suledin didn't respond, merely hummed a little tune she didn't know. Running a hand over her face, she could still feel the barest hint of her long absent Vallaslin. She could still remember the night he took it, the memory crystal clear, as though it had just occurred. Another wave of ache and confusion washed over her. The mental battle between logic and emotion muddled her thoughts. And then, for the first time since in years, a little voice in her head spoke up—her mother.
"Mir da'len, what did I always tell you? Have a plan, but never ignore your intuition. Be present in the moment: do what feels right, when it feels right, and there will be nothing to regret.”
Once again, she was facing certain death trying to protect the world from ruin. How much longer would her luck hold out? Why was she so worried about protecting her heart, when she likely wouldn't live long enough to experience the consequences? She languished in the warmth of the conjured sun until she grew restless, bidding Suledin farewell.
She woke first, to no surprise. It was impossible to guess at the time in this underground temple, but she felt rested enough to rise. Without haste, she rekindled the fire and retrieved the mortar, pestle, and coffee beans. While the coffee brewed, she wiped the mortar clean and began preparing the grits. It seemed like an adequate source of energy if the day was to be as long as Solas had said. She had just added the nug bacon when he stirred, rubbing his eyes in a way that made her chest feel tight.
"Good morning," Low and husky from sleep, tone unexpected and pleasant.
"Good morning, Hahren," She looked over her shoulder to watch him amble over, "I made you coffee. Don't worry, it's mostly sugar and powdered milk."
He sniffed at it with begrudging gratitude, glancing at her curiously.
"You said it'd be a long day," Half-shrugging, she passed him a bowl, "Eat."
"It smells delicious. Meat porridge?"
"Nuhuh. Well, kinda, I guess? They're grits," Tucking into her own bowl, "Ground grain, boiled with salted butter and a little dried milk, and a little bacon in for flavor. Dalish breakfast staple."
"Sensible and delicious," Nodding approvingly; the way he was looking at her made her pulse stutter and she could feel the heat rising in her cheeks.
They finished their breakfast, Halesta had a second cup of coffee, and began packing up. She began pulling out clothes, digging through her rucksack, figuring she'd be wearing whatever she settled on for at least the next couple days.
"Be sure to dress warmly," Offhand comment came from somewhere beside her.
"Well, we will be on the highest mountain in Thedas," A teasing note creeping in, "So certainly something that covers more skin than your wardrobe of late..."
"Excuse me for enjoying my retirement from the public eye," Cheeks flushed and burning, "It's been nice dressing like my old self again."
"It was not a complaint. On the contrary, the occasional glimpse of bare thigh has been quite enjoyable," He was smiling down at his hands, gathering his own clothes, "I am merely saying, it would be a shame to see them frostbitten."
"Who says you'll see them again at all," Kittenish by reflex, coy smirk a knee-jerk reaction, "Frostbitten or otherwise?"
When he looked up at her through his lashes, a shiver ran down her spine. There was a rapacity in his eyes, a wolfishness to his subdued smile that she hadn't seen in a long time.
"I am confident in my odds."
In an instant, she was crimson to the very tips of her ears. He was openly and unapologetically flirting, and why it was affecting her like this, she didn't understand. She didn't know what she was doing, only that she couldn't seem to fight the impulse to play along. What had changed for him? Why now? It didn't seem to track, unless she was right about it just being a need for release. As tempting as it was, the idea of giving in....
Maybe Mamae was right. Maybe she should allow herself a little selfishness, take what little moments of happiness she had left.
Feel first, she decided, reason second.
Two pairs of legwraps, a layer of thermal underwear, a pair of pants, and two shirts later, she was ready to go. Solas appeared not to have bundled up half so much, yet he was still pushing a gorgeous new coat at her (another gift from Aura, she presumed.)
All packed and bags settled on their backs, she allowed Solas to lead her down a series of dark, twisting tunnels off the main chamber. Veilfire torch in hand, he moved confidently, obviously knowing where they were going. It all seemed the same to her, dim and damp, trailing in his wake. When he stopped short, she stumbled, nearly running smack into him as she squinted around for sign of their destination.
Gently, he reached back and placed a hand on her shoulder. The tunnel had opened up before them into a hall of yawning darkness— but slowly, her eyes caught the pale, flickering, aquamarine reflection of the torch along either side of the hall. Eluvians, at least twelve and currently dormant, lined the walls. Taking his cue, she followed slowly as he raised the phantom flame to read the plaques above each one. She let her eyes flicker up to the first one, the Voices of the Well stirring to whisper the meaning of the ancient characters, but quickly looked away. She didn't want to know.
"Watch your step," Not looking down, still scanning the markers overhead.
There was broken glass scattered across the floor. She scanned the Eluvians again. Yes, there were twelve, but it had been their frames reflecting the Veilfire. At least four of them had been shattered, hence the glass. She tiptoed around the shards. Studying the surfaces as she passed them, some remained as normal mirrors; her reflection gliding briefly across the smooth surface like a ghost before disappearing behind another frame.
The air abruptly grew cold, and as she stared into the next mirror she was met with...nothing. Like a thin sheet of ice atop fathomless depths of the blackest lake, the surface seemed to absorb, rather than reflect. Only the warmth of her breath briefly appeared before it, too, was sucked away into the void. She was able to feel the chill radiating from the surface like a winter breeze.
"Take care not to touch, da'len," Called over his shoulder, his voice snapped her from the trace.
Unthinking, she had raised her hand slowly, reaching out towards the blackness. Now, she snatched it back. Holding the hand tightly against her body, she hurried to catch up. Solas had come to a stop at the end of the row, examining one of the endmost Eluvians scrupulously. As she came to his side, she glanced at its opposite, quickly looking again with shock.
It appeared much as the others, except for the veins of telltale red branching up and outward. Dread began to pool in her gut. Familiar crystalline structures had formed on the frame's reflection, glowing faintly and appearing almost to pulsate, along with the vein, in time with her increasing heartbeat. Panicked, she reached back for Solas, grasping without taking her eyes off of the Eluvian.
She saw his reflection turn, his eyes following her own gaze before locking with hers in a similar expression of unease.
Any other time, the callback—coming from
of all people—would have had her laughing herself hoarse. In this case, however, nothing less would have been appropriate.
"Red Lyrium. Fan- fuckin' -tastic," She looked up at him nervously, his eyes having returned to the tainted mirror, "What do we do?"
"What do you mean? We are taking this one, here," He gestured behind him, still staring at the veins of pulsing red.
"Yeah, but it feels wrong just... leaving it accessible like this?"
"It is not the only way through," He looked down at her, adorably baffled, "It is merely the one from here ."
" Yeahyeahyeah , I know," Waving at hand dismissively, "But still. Can't we just, I don't know, break it? Just in case?"
"I am not certain that is wise," Glancing again warily at his reflection, "We cannot determine whether or not it will spread through to this side."
"Yeah, cause this place is obviously a high-traffic area," Tossing him a malapert look, "Don't worry, I understand. It could easily take root and spread through the Tirashan and Serault. I get it."
Sneering at her rose-tinted reflection before pinching the bridge of her nose, she let out a long sigh before turning to Solas and the Eluvian. A quick apologetic shrug, he faced the mirror, tracing a rune onto the dull glass. She committed the motion to memory as the surface illuminated, shifting into a swirling, scintillating liquid. Solas stepped into the Eluvian— And immediately backed out.
"Well, this will be interesting."
Breakfast and mutual banter had been a pleasant surprise. He had been nervous, even in sleep, that her eventual disposition in the morning would be cold or detached or uncomfortable. Instead, Solas had been greeted by a cheerier-than-normal Halie. Well, cheerier and...ruffled? The words "girlishly flustered" came to mind, but to describe Halesta Eliana Lavellan as such— Even in his thoughts, he skirted such a precarious depiction of her. Thankfully, she had returned to her usual self by the time they discovered the tainted Eluvian.
By the time he had hoisted her up, rucksack and all, to the top of the snow pile, he could hardly pass her his own bag for laughing. Stepping back out of the Eluvian had confused Halesta; she hadn't imagined they would emerge into a wall of ice. To be fair, it hadn't occurred to him either, though it made sense. It had been centuries since anyone had cleared the path. Her desperate scramble to crawl from his shoulders onto the ledge above had been near unbearable. He couldn't help it. Despite his laughter, his heart beat for her.
Now that it was his turn to climb up, he realized that the joke was to be on him. The ledge was too high to hoist himself up by his fingertips, and the wall of jagged ice made for a very delicate situation. After some difficulty, he had managed to ascend a few feet, though one of his footholds began to break up quickly under his weight. Halesta reached down towards him, offering her hand. When he hesitated to take it, she huffed and jutted her arm out more insistently as she rolled her eyes.
Wrapping his fingers tightly around her forearm, he could feel the sure strength of the muscle underneath. It was easy to forget her small size hid considerable strength. She helped pull him higher, and he was able to quickly find another foothold....only as the ice beneath his other foot gave way, crumbling down through the surface of the activated Eluvian.
There was a loud crack above him. Raising his gaze to meet Halie's, he was less than a meter from the top, but she had a quick plan forming behind her eyes. The ledge was about to collapse under their shared weight, the sound was a large piece of ice breaking. The large piece of ice they were currently on.
"Okay, on the count of three, you're going to jump for the top. As soon as you land, we're going to roll away from the edge, okay?"
"I place myself in your capable hand," His voice was a tad less confident than intended.
"One. Two..." She nodded, eyes wide, "Three!"
With her sharp pull, he managed to land with his head in her lap. He dragged his legs over the edge and rolled, while Halesta tumbled the opposite direction. Another sharp crack resounded as the ledge started to break away.
Sticking her leg through one of the arm loops, she managed to catch the bag that had been left too close to the edge, as the ground beneath it fell in a miniature avalanche through the Eluvian. Just as the ice had passed through, the mirror's surface stilled and grew dim. Halesta was still gripping at the uneven snow as her lower half dangled precariously over the freshly gaping crevasse they had just created. He quickly pulled her back until both she and the rucksack were on stable ground, before falling in exhaustion with her head against his chest. After a few gasping breaths, she began laughing. Soon, he was chuckling along with her, unable to resist.
"Well, that was ridiculous," She rose to her feet, brushing her hands off on her trousers before offering him a hand, "And it's not even time for lunch yet."
He groaned at the realization, allowing her to help him to stand. They gathered their bags and prepared to set off into the ceaseless snow. He caught her smiling at him as she pulled up her fur-trimmed hood.
He smiled, his energy suddenly returning.
Chapter 12: What Kind of Man
Falon'Din considers the issue of Dirthamen's reluctance, and receives welcome information from his spy.
Once again, I apologize for the brevity of this chapter: it will be made up for in the next!
This chapter is named after the song "What Kind of Man" by Florence and the Machine
Translations of Mangled Garbage:
Vallas - Set, as in the setting of the sun; used here as a name
Ma Nadas - "My Inevitably", referring to the inevitably of death
Lethanavir - Friend of the Dead, another name for Falon'Din
Uthenera - The name of the ancient practice of immortal elves who would "sleep" once they tired of life; immortal; waking sleep; literally "eternal waking dream".
Lathem - Beloved
da'Hale - Little Fox
Ar lasa mala revas - "You are free" or, more literally, "I give you your freedom"
Ma Nadas - "My Inevitably", referring to the inevitably of death
Falon'Din stood with his arms outstretched as Vallas dressed him in fresh robes, his mind on the problem that seemed to be developing with his closest of Kin. Dirthamen seems to have been slowly becoming more solid with each passing day. Were these still the days of their youth, this would be a cause for celebration, not concern. Unfortunately, it seemed that his centuries in isolation had turned Dirth's interests away from his Brother's natural leadership.
Overly sentimental, a bleeding heart so reluctant to assist in Falon's acquisition of strength and prey. The Veil that kept Dirth from his wholeness was continuing to slip away, and his secrets were waiting for him. His secrets and all their power—and there is
power in his secrets. All of Falon'Din's secrets belong to him, as well.
"Vallas," Regarding the servant with gentle fondness, "You've noticed my Brother's increasing strength, no?"
"Yes, Ma Nadas," The listless man pulled a draping sleeve over his master's arm.
"And I'm sure you've noticed his...reluctance, of late."
"I have, Ma Nadas," Vallas ducked his head, but Falon lifted his chin so he was forced to look into his master's eyes.
Lethanavir's eyes traced the cicatrix of his ownership; carved with a heavy hand so spiteful of the man's old age, the Vallaslin creased even the deepest of the skin's wrinkles. Upon first escaping the Fade, Falon'Din had immediately gone to one of his old temples to seek out those sworn to him. Only Vallas, already aged and shrivelled, survived. He had snatched the slave from Uthenera rather unceremoniously, but the old man had recovered with a modicum of grace. So devoted, so obedient.
"I fear my Brother, should he slip the Veil too early, will seek to circumvent our endeavors," He caressed the man's withered cheek affectionately, "I require you to find a way to, ah, delay his freedom. But I must have your absolute secrecy in this, Lathem."
"I am bound to you, Lethanavir," The first hint of emotion, genuine and thick in Vallas's voice as he bowed.
Falon stroked his slave's long, steely hair, "Good."
The fat, plain snake lay coiled in front of the dining hall fire, not even stirring until Falon'Din strode past it to where Dirthamen stood at the head of the table. He slid into the seat and crossed his arms, watching as the snake unfurled itself. It slithered toward him, slowly lifting its head as it began to change shape and color, glittering from dull green to brilliant violet.
"Our Master Lethanavir," The desire demon took its more natural form, mocking curtsey before splaying itself most obscenely across the table, "A pleasure, as always."
"How goes your investigation into my da'Hale?" Falon played bored, as was always best with these creatures.
"She's awfully boring, I must say. The Dread Wolf kissed her, and she spent her dreams debating whether or not she enjoyed it," Exasperated, feigning a yawn, Embrace let their eyes roam his form hungrily.
"That's all very well and good, but nothing we didn't already know," Glancing up at Dirthamen, who stood with solemn indifference at his side, "Or expect. We need more . Her fears, her memories, traumas from her past...."
"Well, there was one thing," Embrace propped themselves up on an elbow, "It was only there for an instant: the taste of anguish, dread, fearful certainty of abandonment and betrayal."
"Spit it out. You're wasting my time."
"It was just the flash of a memory, when he took her slave markings," The creature had lost some of its smug confidence, "I only caught the words:
Ar lasa mala revas.
I didn't see what followed that caused her such devastation, she didn't dwell on it long enough."
There was a long silence, and Embrace looked anxiously from Falon'Din to Dirthamen, and back. The smile that curled his lips was creeping, so sinister that the desire demon felt a chill at the sight. Falon let out a low chuckle of delight.
" This memory is the key," Tenting his fingers beneath his chin, "Draw it out of her, Embrace. I want to know its every detail."
"Yes, Master," The demon nodded, confidence returning twofold.
"Where are they now?" Dirthamen's soft, smooth voice came low, directed at the slave that stood motionless in the shadows at the end of the table.
"They are atop the mountains," Vallas, in his monotonous drawl, "Nearing Andruil's palace, Ma Nadas."
"Very good," Falon grinned up at his Brother, "We'd best be on our way, then. I don't want to be late for my date with the little fox."
Chapter 13: Backbeat (or: The Memorillum)
Solas and Halesta almost close the gap between them, until a misunderstanding leaves Halesta second-guessing herself. She then stumbles onto the palace they'd been searching for, only to fall into a seemingly friendly trap.
Link to some of my concept drawings for this chapter
This chapter is named for the song 'Backbeat' by Dagny.
The Memorillum is clarified in the end notes.
The only real word that should require any translation/definition in this chapter is fully explained in the end notes. Thank you so so much for reading, and I'm sorry in advance for this trainwreck!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
“Why are we here, again?”
Halesta was shivering against the painful shards of minute ice blowing forcefully over the rocks. There was a cave just below them, but it was a precarious climb down the steep sandstone cliff face, and he wasn’t sure if she should risk the descent with the cold stiffening her fingers. Unfortunately, the approaching snowstorm was making forward progress difficult. Solas didn’t recall Mt. Ambrosia as so inhospitable before the Veil.
“For the map,” Shouting over the violent wind, he beckoned her over, “Come here, da’len.”
Squinting against the flurry, she moved close to him. Even through the scent of dust and black sage, the fragrance of her skin overwhelmed his senses: salty-sweet sweat, blood orchids, a lonely violin, lilac and rosewater, and laughter in the sunlight. He took her hands, easing her aching joints and spreading some much needed warmth into her fingers.
They had been creeping along the peaks for a week now, and the cold had only seemed to soften her to him. She had, on more than one occasion when their path permitted, and for seemingly no other reason than to do so, held his hand. He never objected or inquired, unwilling to risk her letting go. At night, they entwined their shivering limbs; she would tuck her head beneath his chin, and her nest of curls would trap his hot breath. Presumably this was all done under the pretense of keeping warm, though neither bothered to voice it, careful not to break the spell.
“There is a cavern a few metres below the precipice. I will go first,” Holding her gaze sternly, “You will very carefully follow, only after I am inside.”
“You’re the boss,” She half smirked and he pulled away; he couldn’t clear his mind for the climb while touching her.
It was a delicate task, but it took mere minutes before his feet found level ground. Signaling for her, he peered up as she found the hand- and footholds he had used. It was almost too late when he realized there was a slight problem: she was far shorter than he, and her reach was insufficient….She slipped––
Solas caught her hand, barely preventing her long fall to a certain death. She weighed little, and had the wherewithal to help him pull her into the safety of the cave. Immediately, his hands were on her, gently tilting back her head to inspect her scraped chin. The sudden scare delayed his realization that she was laughing.
“What exactly is so amusing?” Wanting to shake her from fear and confusion,” You very nearly died , Halesta.”
“Aw, you like me,” Giggling almost hysterically, he wondered if she were in shock, “You caught me! You could’ve let me fall, and you’d finally be rid of me, but you caught me.”
Yes. Definitely in shock. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath, he had to calm himself. It was so difficult not to pick her up, cling to her so tightly as to force the air from her lungs. He had nearly lost her. Sighing, he removed his rucksack and withdrew a handful of caramels, pushing them at her insistently. Halie had stopped laughing and was watching his face curiously; taking the candies without question, she popped one in her mouth as she studied him. Neither spoke for a moment, merely sitting in silence as she ate two more. Gingerly, he prodded at the fading bruise encircling her eye, testing for any wincing sign of tenderness. His fingertips pressed at the ridge of her cheekbone, and the briefest of flinches broke her stare from his face.
“Why will you not just allow me heal it?” Murmuring softly, so close he could feel his own breath against her skin.
She grabbed his hand, holding it against her face. Slowly, confounding, she broke into the most brilliant smile; the warmth that spread through his body at the very sight was enough to nullify the bitter cold of the Hunterhorns. Bringing his fingers to her lips, she brushed a light kiss like an iron brand across the skin.
“You’re immortal; you wouldn’t understand.”
"I am not technically immortal—"
"Semantics—" Waving her hand with a dismissive smile.
"But I would appreciate your trying to explain what you mean," He sat, neither closing nor expanding the scant distance between them.
"I've learned to be a little proud of the struggles and horrors I've been through, and whatever marks or scars or bruises they leave. They mean I've survived, and that makes me feel stronger and more capable," Ducking her head shyly, before glancing up with a grin, "Or maybe that's just poetic rationalization for my masochism."
Stifling the smile tugging at his lips, instead he pressed them gently to the faint bruise. She surprised him by turning her head to place a kiss to the corner of his mouth. Hard and insistent, but quickly softening as she hesitated. Before she could withdraw entirely, he cradled her face in his hands, intending the same tender inquiry he had made in the Petitioner's hall. In an instant, she was half in his lap, fingers curling against the nape of his neck. He nearly lost himself.
He realized how inaccurately he remembered her taste, the slant of his mouth over hers, the scars of her neck beneath his fingers, the heat of her mouth pressed against his— But he knew them all in an instant, like they had been engraved on his soul. It was not the way he wanted to kiss her, to hold her tight and devour her, but the abruptness had knocked the breath from his lungs. He came up for air too quickly, too vigorously: she retreated in a scramble, backing herself against the opposite wall. Panting and flushed, she began her nervous giggling, tugging on a lock of hair. He had scared her away, understanding settled like a crushing weight on his chest.
"I'm so sorry—"
"No! No, I am sorry! I...." He fumbled for words, coming up short.
"Near-death experiences," Halesta hid behind a few ringlets of hair, still giggling, "Really knock the sense right of ya, don't they?"
. It had been an
kiss. Of course.
He ran his hands over his face, feeling a fool. If only the Void would open up and swallow him. She quickly set about preparing dinner, asking him to start a fire for them, her voice an octave or two too high. She kept tugging at that same lock of hair, but the thick air of embarrassment slowly ebbed. By the time it had grown dark outside their little cavern and Halie began yawning, they had returned to what had become their usual sleep routine. She draped herself over him, while he curled his body around hers. How was this so effortless? It was as though she fell into him without thought or reservation. Yet....
"I'm sorry," Her voice gently slicing through the silence, "For kissing you like that. Without any warning or invitation or anything."
He was almost confused. But, if an uncomfortable moment was to be addressed, leave it to Halesta to be the one to bring it up.
"I believe I kissed you ," Breathing evenly as best as he could, "Unsolicited. For the second time in a week."
"What? No," A tinge of uncertainty in her tone, "I thought it was me?"
"You missed," He thought he could feel her temperature rising, "Thus, I kissed you."
"Oh." She stiffened for a second, and anxiety curled in his stomach; nearly starting at the sudden nuzzle of her cheek against his clavicle, "Well, then...thank you."
Her only response was to relax against him, though he could swear he felt the faintest whisper of her lips against his throat. His body mimicked hers, any remaining tension easing from his muscles. They grew still, and he counted her heartbeats until he fell asleep.
She didn't quite understand it, but the compulsory sensation was keeping her from sleep. It tugged at her, urging her to venture deeper into the darkness of the cave, away from the safety of Solas's sleeping form. It wasn't like the sinking feeling she had felt in the Deep Roads: no apprehension about going forth alone, or primal fear at what she might find, or be found by. After several hours attempting to ignore it, and one more of internal debate, she carefully untangled herself from his limbs; deciding to leave Solas a note and head into the tunnel.
It was strange, the way it never grew too dark for her to see a few steps ahead. The lure only became more intense with her progress. It couldn't have been half an hour before she found the wooden door set into the stone. With a few hard shoves, the door swung open into a small bunk room; clearly long abandoned, judging from the layer of dust coating every bedcover. The opposite passage had no door, but led to a palatial gallery. A small shiver ran up her spine.
The Voices of the Well stirred in her mind, whispers indistinct but insistent. She walked down the immense hall, with its ornate pillars and sourceless ambient light, in tomb-like silence. The crystalline arches, laced with stone, echoed with age and were unmistakably Elvhen in origin. Passageways branched out on either side, and she allowed the Whispers to lead her down one. She felt the whole palace had a oddly organic, meandering quality to it. The Voices became louder, more urgent as she came to face two large, embellished doors. There was an engraving, and she paused, waiting for the Whispers to impress the meaning.
A gift from Beloving Sylaise to Brave Sister Andruil, a Memorillum in congratulations of a mighty and successful hunt.
It rang familiar, and curiously, Halesta pushed through the heavy doors. Unsure whether to believe her eyes, she stood stunned by the sight before her. An immeasurable sphere hovered in the air, a hair's width above the ground. Inside were people, dancing and twirling and bathed in warm light: their images were slightly warped, as though seen through water or the bottom of a glass. Entranced and unthinking, she raised her hand to the sphere's surface—
There was the sensation of falling, and suddenly she was there . A grand hall of finery, the people in the center moving in perfectly coordinated steps, a dance similar to those she had practiced at Halamshiral. Gaze moving to the front of the room, she swallowed her gasp. Seated at a long table on a dais were six people that, while never seen before, Halesta immediately recognized. She didn't need the Voices of the Well to tell her it was Sylaise who stood, instantly silencing the room as everyone turned to look. Her bright red hair and gentle face sent a shock of cold fear down Halie's spine. Beside her sat June, looking dull but pleased with Elgar'nan on his other side. Sylaise raised a chalice, mirrored by everyone in the room.
"Tonight, we toast the Huntress Andruil on the success of her most daring hunt yet!"
Andruil smiled smugly, reclined in her chair at Sylaise's elbow. Her dark fingers were entwined with Ghilan'nain's, sitting meekly on her other side. The room applauded and cheered, though a few faces showing a hint of concern. Mythal, with lovely dark brown skin and dragon headdress, sat beside an empty chair at the far end, looking openly displeased. Pale Elgar'nan touched her shoulder, but she shook her head, leaving the room as the music returned to playing. Something occurred to Halesta, as she counted the empty chairs....
"Elvhen dress suits you, Little fox."
The voice at her ear made her stomach sink, magic pricking at her fingertips. She turned slowly, ready to fight this time, but Falon'Din stood politely with his hands raised in innocence.
" Easy , Love. If you act too out of place, you'll break the memory. That would release a lethal explosion of raw Fade magic."
She glanced around the room, heart pounding, breath fast and heavy as fear and fury fought in her mind. He held his pose while she panicked, watching her with a smile that turned her stomach.
"I understand your concern, but I assure you, I came only to talk to you," Lowering one hand as he offered her the other, "I apologize for my abhorrent behavior before, I realized too late that you're no enemy of mine. Please, permit me a dance."
She hesitated, glaring at him defiantly, but they had begun to attract curious glances. Carefully, she placed her hand in his, and he swept her off across the floor.
" You trapped me here," She found the steps easily, leaving her free to look up from her feet.
"Well, not quite. I assumed your curiosity would lead you here, and I took the opportunity," He was deceptively charming, feigning sheepishness, "I needed to apologize to you, and there are things you need to know."
"What makes you think I'm not your enemy?" She looked around, realizing how markedly short she was in this sea of Elvhen.
"What's the saying these days?" He spun her around, catching her easily, " 'The enemy of my enemy is my friend' ?"
"Fen'Harel is not my enemy."
"Yet, you've established a force expressly to work against him," Arching a brow, seemingly good-humored.
"It's complicated," She glared, he lifted briefly her by the waist in a spin before returning her to her feet.
"I can empathize," Smirking as she rolled her eyes, "What? You don't have a monopoly on being complicated."
When she didn't respond and returned to observing the room, he lowered his voice to a purr.
“Your Wolf had slaves too, you know,” His gaze heavy, meaningfully intent, “He was Mythal’s pet, certainly, but he had pets of his own...and he made use of them.”
Halesta's disgust showed before she could regain her composure. Falon frowned sympathetically.
“He fell madly in love with one of mine once,” Carefully, considering her for a moment, “You look nothing at all like her, but there’s something about you that's reminiscent of her.”
“He was narcissistic and lascivious, a hedonist of the highest order; playing his little tricks, revelling in any orders to shed blood. Every time one turned around, he was fucking some pretty new thing– Roll your eyes all you want, darling, but I’m not exaggerating."
"And then she came along. Suddenly he’d eyes only for her," He was watching her carefully, still twirling them across the floor, "Which rankled Mythal to no end, let me tell you. Next thing we know, he’s ruining every dinner or counsel with arguments for freeing our slaves, renouncing our deification."
"Oh, that must have been so inconvenient for you," Halesta sneered in mocking pity.
"He was only worsening our own infighting. She was the one who coaxed him into rebellion," His almost desperate, saddened tone drew her eyes back to his, “She had him making a fuss about it long before the incident with Mythal. That was merely the tipping point."
"In his maddened grief over Mythal, she became jealous. She couldn’t bear his mourning a symbol of the very cause she had been working him against. She attempted to run away...."
He slowed them to a stop, exiting the dancefloor to stand by a long buffet. Falon was looking at the down now, shaking his head regretfully. Halesta found herself wondering at his strange, seemingly sincere show of emotion. She watched his face as he frowned at the marble floor.
"The poor, silly girl. A sentry executed her for her ‘defamation’ of Fen’Harel, of me, and her refusal to go back. In one fell stroke, he lost them both. And his mind too, apparently.”
"Why are you telling me this?"
"Because it's the truth, and you deserve to know it. His hands are no cleaner than the rest of the Evanuris. Excepting myself, probably."
"But you, the rest of you, killed Mythal," Hissing the words as her eyes darted around for any eavesdroppers.
"I can't deny, I'm complicit in that," Handing her a glass of bubbling wine and hanging his head, "Though I didn't commit the act, myself. It was Sylaise who set up the whole thing."
His lips pursed, eyes flitting back and forth in bitter remembrance. She narrowed her eyes, watching him speculatively.
"And why would Sylaise do a thing like that?"
"Don't you know? She wanted to be Mythal, to become the All-Mother," Falon's upset appeared genuine enough, "Mythal was truly like mother to me. I admit, I was still bitter after she had the others attack me for my bloodlust—"
He ducked his head shamefully, "I have a bad habit of getting carried away. But I swear, while I gathered with the rest of my Kin to kill her, I never once held the blade. I couldn't bring myself to do it, though that doesn't make me innocent."
Her head was spinning at all of this, but the acute awareness of someone watching caught her attention. A familiar, ghostly figure was standing not too far away, studying her. He was slightly transparent, but not in the usual way of a shade or spirit; dark brown skin and pale blonde hair brightened his gray eyes. He had been in her vision, and now his name rang like a bell in her mind.
" Dirthamen, " It fell from her lips in a soft breath.
Falon looked up, first at her, then to the figure. Dirthamen bowed, and while his expression was polite, it remained one of detached observation. Falon grinned at her wide-eyed reaction.
"Oh, how rude of me!" He took her hand, leading her over, "Halesta, allow me to introduce my Brother, Dirthamen."
"You're...not here, but you are," Struggling to find the answer that felt just out of reach; Dirth seemed for a second to almost smile, but arched a brow instead.
"I am still mostly trapped in the Fade," Nodding once in approval.
"Our bond allows him to be with me, in a way," Falon'Din stood smiling brilliantly between them, looking his Brother's exact opposite.
Dirthamen glanced at her surreptitiously: a brief but intense look, unfathomably deep with melancholic apology. Before she could fully process the event, he was looking to Falon.
"We should go."
"Ah, well then," Falon’Din turned, placing a kiss to the tender inside of Halesta's wrist, a softness in his eyes, "We shall meet again soon, Love."
Dirthamen bowed again and suddenly, they both had disappeared.
The "Memorillum" is a concept I based on the Trespasser codex entry, Vir Dirthara: Raising the Sonallium.
Basically, it is a compilation of various individuals' memories of a single event, encapsulated in a permeable magic sphere, so that anyone can enter and experience the event, whether they were actually present or not. The multiple sources allow for the best approximate accuracy of the events, and the magic maintains an infinite time loop.
This is totally, 100% made-up by myself, and therefore has pretty much zero Canon to back it up. Sorry to those of you who absolutely hate me for this. Forgive me my sins.
Chapter 14: Slow Dance With You
Halesta finds her way out of the Memorillum with help from Solas, they discuss her conversation with Falon'Din, and Solas opens up for the first time about his own past. Solas's repressed sexual frustrations leads to a steamy nightmare, courtesy of a desire demon. Halesta has a PTSD episode.
Link to some of my concept drawings for this chapter
This chapter is named for the song "Slow Dance With You" by Babeo Baggins
~better known as the song Marceline sings in the Adventure Time episode, "Marcy & Hunson" (season 9 episode 7)~
Thank you all for hanging in there with me!! ❤A special thank you to my lovely friend (and one damn amazing writer), Viking, for allowing me to borrow her character, so I didn't spend countless hours creating my own--Thank you, ilysm ❤
Enara is an original character belonging to Viking_woman, an ancient Elvhen warrior and mage. For the purposes of this fic, Viking has generously allowed me to write Enara as Solas's cousin instead of his sister, as is their relation in Viking's original headcanon.
[More Enara re: thevikingwoman on Tumblr]
Da'len - Little one (regularly used as an endearment in this au)
Da'Halevune - Little moonfox
Ir abelas - I am sorry
Eluvian - Mirror; literally 'seeing glass'
Vara haim-ma, banal'len - "Be gone, demon" (pieced together using DAwiki and lingojam/elvenDAI)
Vhenan - lit. My heart
Ma' lath - My love
*The Memorillum is described in the end notes*
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Halesta carefully scanned the ballroom for the tenth time, they were nowhere to be found. Her eyes slid blindly over the small sea of unfamiliar Elvhen.
"Pardon me, have we met?"
At her side, the unmistakable voice sent a small thrill through her. Turning to see those same sea-storm eyes in a younger face, her breath caught in her chest. Fen'Harel stood in all his glory beside her, hands clasped confidently behind him, smirking down at her with curiosity danced behind his eyes. Oh .
"No," Finally finding her composure, "Not yet."
"But...we will," That same arching brow, "Only, not just now?"
The way he was looking at her, as though she were something entirely new, made her insides feel too light and fluttery. This was not a good situation. She needed to figure out how to get out of this sphere. She broke his stare, scanning the room again for where she had come in, but there was no obvious exit. She glanced to the hall where Mythal had exited earlier.
"What may I call you then, Little one?" There was something bewitching in his tone, his warm breath on her ear, but she told herself she wouldn't look at him again.
"Until we meet, that is."
"Inquisitor," Biting the inside of her cheek so as not to smile at her own joke, "Or Herald, if you like."
"Hm. Well, Inquisitor," Dissatisfied, but still intrigued enough to play along, "May I have the pleasure of your joining me for a dance?"
"I'm not certain it's the best idea," Struggling to remain composed while making such a joke at his expense; she glanced at him sidelong, finding it was easier, "It could lead to trouble."
"You have not heard, Da’len? I adore trouble."
Don't I know it , fighting back a giggle as she returned to searching for an escape, "And at any rate, I'm afraid I may be all danced out."
"After witnessing how Falon was slinging you around the dance floor, one can hardly blame you."
Her head snapped around at that, meeting his knowing smirk with a furrowed brow. She could feel the faint swishing skirt of her imagined dress as she turned sharply.
"You were watching me?"
"How could I help myself? Unthinkable, to take my eyes off of the most beautiful creature in the room."
“I don’t like that,” Eyes narrowing at him in suspicion.
“Being the most beautiful creature in the room?”
Eyes glinting knowingly, he smirked again— infuriatingly, gorgeously —and tucked a loose lock behind her ear. She turned her back again, unable to look at him a moment longer. She was acutely aware of how exhausted she was, and still without any clue as how to escape. And the longer she spent in the company of the youthful Fen’Harel, the greater her risk of breaking the memory.
“Excuse me, Miss, but was that young man bothering you?”
It was that same voice, dark velvet and honeyed cream, but with a deeper timbre, one gained with age and experience. Solas, her Solas , had appeared in his own place. She nearly threw her arms around his neck, but restrained herself; a smile broke over her face. He stood wearing his memory’s clothes, and she allowed herself to gawp for a moment before responding.
“Not terribly much,” Playing along, “He merely wanted a dance.”
"Ah, and I take it the Lady did not care to dance," Smiling more with his eyes than his lips, which lay calm and polite.
"Not necessarily, he just hardly seemed the appropriate partner," She teased, lowering her voice, "Plus, he was distracting me from figuring out to get the hell out of this memory."
Solas was obviously feeling playful, gaze skimming along the figure the memory had created for her to fit in; but she was swiftly running out of energy.
"Yeah yeah, you're gorgeous, you brat," Swatting at him in feigned annoyance, "But seriously, get this 'lady' out of here. I'm tired and there's something important I'm supposed to be telling you."
If only she could remember what that was. The bubbling wine and lack of sleep were clouding her mind, and the warmth of his body so close was compounding the affect.
"It is like all other magic, Da'len," He took her hand and they faced the wall, "It is all about intent. Just focus on your intention to leave, and—" The brief sensation of falling in reverse—"You are free."
They were once again outside of the sphere, though it's warm light shimmered over the floor beneath them. And the orchestra, she could somehow still hear them playing...?
"Now. May I have this dance, my Lady?"
She allowed him to pull her in, gently draping her arms around his neck; though it was such a lengthy reach, only her wrists crossed. His hands on her hips pressed her firmly against him, head resting against his chest; his head bent so that his lips brushed the tip of her ear. He didn't speak, only hummed along with the music, as they slowly rocked back and forth in a small circle.
She let her eyes close, taking in his scent as she did every night before sleep: faintest hint of rich chocolate; heavy rain in a forest of cedar and sandalwood; waxy warm amber: vanilla and lavender blooms, pressed like love letters between the pages of ancient books. Halie hadn't realized she had begun to nod off until one of his long arms was slipping beneath the bend of knees.
"Wait, wait—" Flailing arms and legs not even unseating his hold in the slightest, "It's important !"
"Too important to wait until you've gotten some sleep?" Reproving tone offset by amusement.
" Yes . You could be in danger," Still struggling in vain against his gently solid grasp, " Falon was in the Memorillum!"
"We were all there at some point or other that night, da'Halevune," Purring reassuringly in her ear.
"No. Like, the real Falon was there—"
He nearly dropped her in his urgency to set her on her feet, immediately tilting her chin this way and that, checking for marks or wounds. Even silly enough in his desperation that his eyes darted towards the shadowed corners of the room, pulling her toward him as if in an attempt to protect her from something unseen.
"Did he hurt you again?" Low and hissing, dripping venom, "I swear he will beg for death when I have gotten my hands on him—"
"He's gone," She said with a certainty that, had she been less exhausted, she may have questioned, "He left long before you, the real you, showed up."
Clearly baffled, for the first time since meeting him, Solas appeared as though he should sit down lest he harm himself. She guided him to the far wall, pressing him down to where a bench stood, rather conveniently.
"What did he do?"
"Nothing, actually. Told me how not to break the memory, apologized for torturing me, asked for a dance—"
"He was attempting to manipulate you, you know," Sea-storm eyes, more storm than sea, searching her face wildly, "He is not sorry."
"I know, silly," Reassuring smile, grazing his angular cheek with the palm of her hand, "I am a lot of things, but gullible isn't one of them."
"Ir abelas— of course not," His eyes still scrutinizing her expression for anything left unsaid.
"He gave me the whole 'enemy of my enemy' spiel, told me that there were things I deserved to know," Flapping her hand dismissively.
"Y'know, blahblahblah . Really, he only came here to talk to me, or recruit me. Whichever. It didn't work, obviously, but I thought you should know."
Solas nodded absently, stone-faced, eyes drifting off to double check the shadows. Again he lifted her chin, looking her over once more to be sure, before standing.
"He was alone?"
She hadn't hesitated—or, at least not so that Solas noticed—but there had been something in the look she had shared with Dirthamen. Something that told her he had nothing to do with any of this, not willingly... Something that told her to it was okay to keep to herself. Perhaps she was wrong: but feel first , her mother had said, reason second . And her feelings said that Solas needn't know about Dirthamen. For now.
He scooped her up again, heading toward the doors bearing the plaque that had first led her into the dreamlike Memorillum. She was too exhausted to resist this time, but she did rest her lips so they brushed against his neck.
"Where're we going?"
"First, I am putting you to bed," She heard his swallow hard, his pulse thrumming against her mouth, "You are going to sleep in a bed fit for a self-proclaimed goddess."
"But you're leaving?" Emerging more of a whimper than she would have liked.
"Only for a moment, to check the rest of the palace, and seal the Eluvians," Lightly into her ear, a weak attempt at teasing, "So none can steal you away from me while we sleep."
Chuckling softly against the tender skin of his throat, she dozed off, falling fast into the Fade.
His Lieutenants had been understandably surprised to see him, and noticeably concerned when they realized he was immediately leaving again. They were further surprised at his orders: "To take any and all measures necessary to assure the safety of the former Inquisitor and co." He revealed that Falon'Din had been released, that he was personally looking after the "Herald", that all Eluvians were to be reclaimed and their passphrases and ruins were to be changed.
His highest ranking officer was handed a handful of letters with the orders to hand-deliver them as quickly as possible. Quickly grabbing a few small things from his quarters, Fen'Harel nodded in appreciation before slipping back through the mirror to the cool, vast silence of Andruil's mountain palace.
He found Halesta lying on her back, eyes closed, halo of curls fanned across the pillow behind her. Her hands were folded over her stomach, one placed delicately atop the other, in an almost unnatural manner, like she had been staged for viewing. The pale blue cast of ambient light gave her complexion a pallid quality and, for a moment, he felt he was envisioning her funeral pyre. As he approached, she stretched over the mattress, releasing his unease with a silent sigh of relief.
"You were gone for a long time," Eyelids still closed, speech slurred from sleep.
"No longer than half an hour," Sitting beside her on the large mattress.
"So, who was she?" Her lashes still kissed her cheeks, but he knew she was carefully watching his face through them, "The girl you were so in love with, that you risked turning even Mythal against you?"
"Ah. Is that what Falon told you?"
"Oh, he told me all sorts of horrible stories about you. He called you, oh what was it? ' A hedonist of the highest order', " She chuckled softly, "Told me of all the slaves you had, and how you 'used them well'. Trying to make me see you with fresh shock and disgust."
"And did he succeed?" Her lashes fluttered open, pinning him with a curious look.
"I never knew that man. I know the man he grew to become. I know Solas," A soft, wry smile played at her lips.
"It's not my place to condemn you for things you did 3,000-something years before I was even born. I'm here, now, to make sure you don't repeat any of those mistakes."
He stared at her for a long moment. Largely out of the baffling words that had come out of her mouth; partly because he wanted to kiss her. Though, maybe it was the other way around.
"So," Asking again as she settled back into the pillows, patting the mattress beside her, "Who was this great love of yours?"
"I loved her, but it was not the star-crossed romance Falon believes," Sighing, he settled down beside her, and she placed her ear to his chest.
"You don't have to worry about making me jealous, Solas," Teasingly scolding.
"' Give me not a man whose love would drive him mad. Give me, instead, a man whose love would drive him to revolution...' Remember?"
"It is hardly a concern of jealousy. Enara was my cousin. More akin to a sister, truly, as her parents raised us together after my parents died," He smiled a little as Halie's brows raised in surprise.
"She was fierce and fiery, and far more extroverted than I. A fighter. I had not seen her in years when I discovered she had been, ah, conscripted by Falon'Din. It was unbearable for her, all of the cruelty and senseless bloodshed she witnessed. It was safer for her, for us both, if our meetings appeared as simple trysts, so we allowed them to believe what they wished. Falon was correct in one thing, though: it was Enara who reminded me of what my fate might have been if Mythal had not favored me. Enara helped me to remember the plight of the People."
Given the long silence that followed, he assumed, or perhaps hoped, that Halesta had fallen asleep; but after enough time had passed to startle him, she sat up and looked him in the eye.
"Thank you, Solas."
"Being honest with me. Opening up, for once," She breathed a laugh, curling back up against his chest. "I was beginning to believe 'I saw it in the Fade' was the only answer you were ever going to give me. Now I have a sliver of hope that you just might trust me, after all."
"Why would you doubt that I trust you?"
"It's always been a bit one-sided with us, you have to admit. How many secrets do I have left that you don't already know?" She placed her palm over his heart, "But I know so little about you. You keep all your cards right here."
He sighed softly, his silent reply formed before allowing a second thought: The same place I keep you .
His mind was a fog. Halesta arched wantonly over him, grinding her hips over his hardened cock as it strained against his breeches toward her frilly small-clothes. The stretch of bare skin drawing his eyes up to a delicate matching breastband. Her strength never ceased to surprise, pinning both of his wrists to the headboard above. Wide lilac eyes meeting his own as her wetted lips, flushed and swollen with kisses, parted slightly in innocence. He didn't resist, watching in slack-jawed awe as her small form moved over him.
"Now we can both get what we want...."
Her face began to morph: smile too wide, teeth too long and jagged, eyes black as Void.
"You broke my heart, and now, I get to tear yours from your chest—"
"Vara haim-ma, banal'len!"
Flinging the cackling desire demon back with intense force, only to hear it's continued mocking laughter echo around him as it fled....
He woke with a gasp, sweat dripping from his brow.
"Andraste's tits, Solas," His Halesta chuckled at his side, nodding light-heartedly to the tent in his trousers, "Were you having a nightmare or a sex dream?"
"Both," Rubbing his eyes, burying his flushed face in his hands.
"Wanna talk about it?"
Voice hoarse from sleep but sincere, without teasing. Hearing the shuffle of the sheets as she rolled to face him, feeling the mattress shift weight as she propped herself up on an elbow. Even from between his fingers, he caught the scent of her hair wafting from the gesture. She was slowly driving him mad, and she hadn't the faintest idea.
"Not particularly," Grumbling in frustration, cursing the heat that crossed his face from ear to ear.
"Okay," That soft patience, that incensing understanding.
Unthinking, he suddenly grasped her by the shoulders: his overwhelming desire to kiss that tenderness from her, to devour it as he would devour her— But fear flashed behind her eyes, wide with the sudden shock, searching his face blindly, and as quickly as he had grabbed hold of her, he retreated. She had begun to hyperventilate, even as he released her. Trembling violently, her body froze in the position he had held it, but her gaze was distant. That same pure, unnatural fear pooled in her blank stare, a single rivulet of blood trickling from her nose.
"Halie? Halesta? " Careful not to touch her again, voice desperate and cracking with panic, "I am so sorry! W-what can I do?"
A small eternity of hysterical gasping passed before something of herself returned. Teary gaze still far away, she reached out, clenching his hand frantically.
" Solas— " In a small voice, pleading, brimming with fathomless horror like he had never heard from her.
"I am here, Vhenan," Risking a gentle stroke of her cheek, wiping the blood from her lips, "I swear on my life you are safe. I am right here."
Finally, the glaze faded from her eyes and she looked at him, truly seeing him. In an instant she had thrown herself bodily, sobbing and shivering, into his arms.
"I'm so sorry," Barely discernible through the tears and muffled by his shirt, "I don't know what happened. For a moment, I forgot it was you, forgot where I was? It...Falon'Din...I—"
" Shh , no, no," Face pressed into her hair, "I do not know what came over me, grabbing you like that. Ir abelas, ma' lath. I swear, I will never lay hands—"
"Don't say never," Her fingers digging into the very flesh beneath his shirt, " Please , Solas, don't say never— I want ...."
Stopping short, she buried her face further into his chest. She wants ...what? Him? No. Now was not the time. Pushing any thoughts of implication aside, he pulled her into his lap; cooing comfortingly as he rocked them both back to sleep.
The "Memorillum"is a concept I based on the Trespasser codex entry, Vir Dirthara: Raising the Sonallium.
Basically, it is a compilation of various individuals' memories of a single event, encapsulated in a permeable magic sphere, so that anyone can enter and experience the event, whether they were actually present or not. The multiple sources allow for the best approximate accuracy of the events, and the magic maintains an infinite time loop.
This is totally, 100% made-up by myself, and therefore has pretty much zero Canon to back it up. Sorry to those of you who absolutely hate me for this. Forgive me my sins.
Chapter 15: Secret
Falon'Din consults Dirthamen on the secrets of the illusive Halesta.
This chapter is named for the song "Secret" by Angel Snow
Ma'lin - My blood; my kin
da'Hale - Little fox
Mir mi'durgen - My diamond
Strutting like a rooster into the hall, Falon'Din spun smoothly on his heel to face his Brother while tossing his cloak over his slave's outstretched arm. Dirthamen followed slowly, markedly less enthusiastic, politely declining Vallas's offer to take his coat with soft thanks. Dirth's gentle treatment of the help nearly took the wind out his sails, but his Brother's typical mien of disinterest was a positive sign.
"Well," Dirthamen folded his arms across his chest, "She does not trust you, and never will."
Half-shrugging appreciatively, he flopped into his throne, "Wise girl."
"While she saw through your exaggerations, she did appreciate your honesty. She certainly took your story into consideration—"
"—But she has a forgiving nature, so it is unlikely to distance her from Fen'Harel."
"Ugh!" Falon tossed his head back with theatrical exasperation, snapping at Vallas to bring some wine.
"So we end our night without anything to show for."
Dirthamen shrugged, "At least you have managed to cast yourself in a more sympathetic light. That might work to your benefit, eventually."
"Oh?" A warm, creeping sensation of delight pooled in his belly as he leaned forward keenly, "Pray tell."
"You acknowledged the...distasteful behavior of your past. You showed some genuine regret regarding the death of the slave girl, and of Mythal," An alien tone lingered at the edges of his Brother's voice, something vaguely like intrigue.
"Some small part of her identified with you."
"Well, a small tear in silk is easier to rip than no tear at all," A pleased chuckle prefacing a gratified gulp of wine, "And there's still hope in that memory the demon is hounding."
Dirth hummed in agreement, his countenance seemingly having returned to its default apathy. Falon’Din studied his Kin, still more shade than solid, recalling the look on the face of his little fox when she first laid eyes on Dirthamen. Shock, fascination, awe: only the first of which had appeared when first meeting him . The way his Brother's name had fallen from her lips.... Falon suddenly found himself annoyed.
"The way she reacted when she saw you," Staring nonchalantly at the wine he swirled in its chalice, "Fascinating, no?"
"She has visions. She had seen us in one, but did not recognize me then, as I was still but a shadow," Explanation unguarded, matter-of-fact.
"Visions? And you're only just telling me this now?" On his feet and nose to nose with his Brother in an instant.
"Calm yourself, ma'lin," Dirthamen brushed Falon's hair back from his face with a phantom hand, "I could not know until she was so close. Besides, they are scarce and too vague as to be of any help or consequence—"
"But, where do they come from? Who sends these visions?"
"It is completely unknown: even I cannot fathom it. But they cause her debilitating headaches, and she seems to have no ability to glean any meaning or advantage from them. She feels them a curse."
"How curious," Falon returned to his languid recline, "She becomes more and more tantalizing, my da'Hale...."
Rolling his wrist one last time, he turned up the glass, draining the dregs with a renewed vigor. Falon smacked his lips before flashing Dirthamen an adoring smile.
"You and your Secrets, mir mi'durgen. I would be lost without you."
Chapter 16: Stuck
Halesta deals with some haunting memories in her dreams, then she and Solas bear witness to a glimpse of the horror of Ghilan'nain's true nature. Solas tries to lighten Halie's mood by showing her the opulent retreat of the ancient Elvhen baths, and then they make their plans to head into Tevinter.
This chapter is named for the song "Stuck" by Lost Kings, Feat. Tove Styrke
I'm SO sorry this update took so long, I had some art commissions to do, and then I was stuck cause I needed to work on their interpersonal stuff and so I didn't have a lot of forward momentum to keep me going....Anyway, I hope to make it up to you all very soon!! Thank you so much for tolerating me!!
Probably unnecessary translations:
Vallaslin: Blood writing; The art of tattooing adopted by some elves to more prominently display their worship of the traditional elven pantheon.
Ar lasa mala revas: "You are free." More literally "I give you your freedom."
Da’Halevune: Little moonfox
Hahren: Elder; used as a term of respect by the Dalish as well as by city elves for the leader of an alienage.
Fendehis: Meaning officially undefined as of yet; a common curse.
Eluvian: Mirror; literally "seeing glass."
Later, Solas would estimate they had slept for nearly two days. Well, Halesta had, anyway. Solas had woken every so often to make rounds of the palace, seemly needing the assurance they were entirely alone. He would drift in and out of Halie's dreams with status updates, and she would do her best not to roll her eyes at his anxiety. It was adorable, how worried he was on her behalf. Other than that, he mostly kept to the edges of her conscious.
The Fade brought her memories as dreams. None of them were terribly unpleasant, but they all had a strange edge to them. Like the vague suggestion of an underlying meaning, a leading question only alluded to rather than asked outright. She passed through her time with the clan, the focused images of her mother's face, the day she earned her Vallaslin. Then, seemingly random memories: cities she had travelled and the occasional glimpse of lone, distinctly marked faces therein; scattered Dalish standing out in Inquisiton crowds, made clear in her mind by the colorful bloodwriting on their faces while all others seemed a blur. Had she abandon her people? Is that what her subconscious was trying to tell her?
It had been a while since Solas had last checked in, and she didn't feel his presence nearby. No doubt doing his rounds, she smiled to herself at the thought.
"Ar lasa mala revas," His voice rang as clear as a bell, as a mountain spring, "You are free."
When she turned, she could see herself standing there, in Crestwood, facing Solas. She looked so small beside him. He was looking away from her, expression hardened....
"I am sorry. I distracted you from your duty. It will never happen again."
"Solas…" She watched herself as she reached out toward him, but he had taken a step back, pulling away.
"Tell me you don’t care," She had nearly forgotten how angry she had been; snarling as she charged toward him, despite his towering over her.
"I...cannot do that," He had flinched as she shoved him with such force, he stumbled back a step.
"Tell me I was some casual dalliance,"
Shoving him twice more, Solas simply letting her,
"So I can call you a coldhearted son of a bitch and move on! Coward—"
She closed her eyes instead of watching herself storm off, could hear the weak "I am sorry" Solas had muttered in her wake. She couldn't bring herself to open her eyes again, even as she felt the Fade shift around her. She could feel the solid warmth of Da'assan beneath her, the mount's steady pace.
"Ar lasa mala revas. You are so beautiful," Cole speaking softly some distance behind her, "But then you turned away. Why?"
"I had no choice," Solas had whispered uncomfortably in response.
"She is bare-faced, embarrassed, and she doesn't know," She hadn't noticed at the time the mixture of heartache and disapproval that had mingled in Cole's usually matter-of-fact tone, "She thinks it's because of her—"
" Her voice echoing in the vacant Fade around her....
She woke with a start, skin already burning with fury and confusion. She knew now why he had panicked, had taken her Vallaslin and broken her heart. She understood, and while she still thought he had acted an idiot, she had forgiven him. So why, why did it still hurt so much? Had she abandoned her People by allowing him to take her Vallaslin? Grumbling to herself, she rubbed her aching scarred arm; it hadn't been quite so sore in recent months, but maybe the ancient magic here was affecting it.
"Are you okay?" Solas caught her unawares, looking up to find him standing near the end of the bed.
"Huh? Oh, yeah," Swinging her feet onto the floor, rubbing the crease from her brow, "Yeah, I'm fine."
She teetered over to him, subduing a shiver as his hands gliding up her arms and shoulders, along the arch of her neck, to cradle her face. She let him tilt her chin up, looking her over. She was helpless against the smile that curled her lips at meeting his gaze, or the blush that bloomed up from her chest.
"Bad dreams?" The concern slowly easing from his face.
"Er, no. Not really," Ducking, in case he should see it in her eyes, "More... irritating than bad."
Humming, unconvinced but willing to let it be. He grabbed a blanket from the bed and wrapped it around her before sliding a hand back down to entwine their fingers.
"Come with me," A poorly veiled excitement at the fringes of his voice, "I found the map."
He led her through the beneath the crystalline arches of the massive hall, now a coruscating chapel of prismatic light from the sun shining in from somewhere above. They passed through a corridor, through the large and unwelcoming dining hall, and into a drawing room. At the far side, Solas had left the hidden door open to a dark, cold chamber that reminded her of the prison cells beneath Haven's Chantry. Standing back, he gestured for her to enter first, and she stepped warily into the circular room.
It was horrific : in the seemingly sourceless pallid green glow, Halesta determined they stood in some bizarre laboratory of sorts. The only identifiable aspect was an impressively extensive alchemy workspace. Scattered amongst the macabre, unfamiliar apparatuses and mechanisms stood silhouetted creatures, stuffed and mounted. These hunting trophies were unrecognizable, abhorrent beasts, nearly unbearable to look at, yet aside from the thick layer of dust, they showed little wear or age. Shelves upon shelves lined the walls, holding neatly placed jars: each held ever more unholy specimens, floating in amber fluid, and one she would've sworn was an Elvhen fetus, if she could have brought herself to examine it. She gagged quietly, turning only to stumble into Solas's steady form.
"It is repulsive, I know," Smoothing her hair soothingly, "But over here, at the desk."
Guiding her over to a small, singular table, he shifted aside the scattering of brittle papers. The faded map was unlabeled, but she recognized the coastline of Tevinter, the peninsula of Rivain jutting from Antiva's north eastern shores. The topographic landmarks had changed, but a small x was placed, she knew from modern maps, where the Arlathan Forest met the northernmost base of The Hundred Pillars. It was the only location marked at all, and so discreet that it could have been easily overlooked. Tucked beneath the corner was another small, more vague sketch of the immediate area surrounding Ghilan'nain's secret sanctum.
"This is the one we need," A furrow deepened between his brows, "But it is too fragile to carry. I fear it may be too brittle to risk touching."
"That's an easy fix. Do you have a spare piece of parchment on you?"
"I brought this," Offering a curling stretch of blank paper, "Though I do not feel comfortable attempting to trace the original—"
Closing her eyes, Halesta outstretched a hand over the ancient map, quietly muttering the incantation until the ink illumined. Quickly taking the new sheet and placing it atop the old, she mumbled the rest of the spell until the shapes began to slowly form anew, as though bleeding up through the paper. She blew lightly on the new ink, though it dried almost instantly, and rolled the page back up. Handing it to Solas with a smug grin, she was pleased to see his brow arched in amused disapproval.
"A little trick Viv taught me," Winking, "Comes in handy when you need to forge a signature."
"Why would you need to forge a signature?" Curiosity tinting his disapproval; she just shrugged and smiled.
Despite her disgust, she couldn't help herself from taking another look around the chamber. It was too much. She had known Ghilan'nain was no benevolent deity for long enough now, but this.... This had surpassed even Halesta's most twisted imaginings. Ducking her head, she quickly exited the room, with Solas fast on her heels.
"She was not always so demented," Offered softly, like an apology.
"What changed?" She waited, facing away while he closed the hidden door behind them.
"At a guess? Andruil," Wry, sorrowful, "But truthfully, only Ghilan'nain could know."
He paused a moment, fingers fluttered hesitantly in her periphery before taking her hand again, leading her back the way they came. When they returned to the room, he tucked the map safely away in his rucksack and removed the blanket from her shoulders.
"I have a more pleasant surprise for you," Smile in his voice, placing his hands over her eyes.
Solas led her down the stairs carefully: half-carrying her as she held fast to his wrists, lifting herself free of the stone floor. She made a small, pleasant noise when they stepped into the thick humidity. Just a few more steps, and he released her.
She took in the bath in awe: the large steaming pool lined in carved marble and gold pillars, the faded fresco of Elvhen nymphs frolicking on the ceiling overhead. Spying her bath oils neatly arranged with an ivory comb and folded drying cloth on the lip of the pool, she turned to pin him with a coy glance.
"Is this your way of telling me I need a bath, Hahren?"
"Pardon? No! I merely thought you might enjoy it—"
"I'm teasing," Wrinkling her nose before grinning, "Thank you, truly. It's lovely."
"Unless you require assistance untangling your hair," Trying his best to convey light-hearted indifference, "I'll leave you to it."
Halesta furrowed her brow, reaching up tentatively to touch at the matted and knotted curls. He couldn't help but smile at the way her lips pursed, twisting in annoyance at her eternally difficult mane. Eyes darting to the small cluster of her things before flickering back up to his own.
"Yeah, I guess I could use some help," Still, uncertainty lingered about her as she fingered the hem of her shirt.
Ah. Turning back to the dressing stalls at the base of the stairs, he pulled one of the old curtains free, tearing it easily into two separate lengths of pale cloth. She accepted them with a grateful smile, slipping behind the curtain of the next stall.
Pulling his shirt off over his head and folding it neatly, he set it alongside the towels before wading into the steaming water. He knew he should feel nervous or, at the very least, ashamed of himself: he wasn't exactly subtle with his offer to stay, and she seemed rather hesitant. Perhaps he should go.... He moved back toward the stairs, but she was already emerging from the stall. A vision in the ambient light, reflections of teal ripples dancing over her simple rag clothing and pale Moonskin. She had wrapped one length around her waist in a skirt, while the other hung by tattered straps from her shoulders, falling just below the arch of her ribs and exposing the bare flesh of her stomach.
It was a small eternity, an infinite second of tension, like happening across a wild animal on a dark, empty road. She seemed to hesitate again, though she looked well past him. Then, with a few long, determined strides, almost dancing to the top of the stairs, she dove gracefully into the pool. It was a shallow dive, angled for distance rather than depth. Finally she broke the surface at the far end with a brief gasping laugh, tossing her head back in an arc of prismatic rain.
"The water is so hot!" He exhaled a chuckle of delight at her baffled surprise.
"It is a natural hot spring found inside the mountain," The obviousness in his tone unintentional, "Why did you think it is so much warmer in here?"
"Ancient magical indoor heating?" Laugh light and unashamed, swimming toward him, "I don't know. I was dreading a cold bath, color me pleasantly surprised."
Finding the place where her toes at last touched the bottom, she walked herself the rest of the way toward him. Her hair wet was longer and darker: pearlescent pewter rather than opaline silver, weighted ringlets almost long enough to cover her chest. Her makeshift shirt clung sheer to her skin, doing little to veil the hardened blush of her nipples, dripping rivulets down her torso. The hem of her skirt floated slightly around her thighs, translucent enough to outline the opaque V of her smalls beneath. She looked a little breathless, but had an air of child-like nonchalance. Artless immodesty.
She picked up the comb, placing it in his hand like a wordless order. Solas sat on the stairs while she propped her elbows on his knees, legs languidly kicking to keep herself in place. Setting the comb aside, he instead worked into her curls a slow lather of shampoo. He took his time with this: this small act of devotion, of worship. Her eyes fell close and she was softly humming a tune distantly familiar.
So anciently intimate to be almost excruciating for so simple a act. He had washed her hair countless times, but that was years ago now, a different lifetime. Wild and unruly and still possessing him entirely, her hair, her hair, her hair. Leaning her back slowly, leaving just her resting face above the surface, carding his fingers through the strands to her scalp. Gentle ruffling washed away the soap, rising her hair in tender waves before raising her up again.
He was thorough, massaging the oiled lotion into the heavy waves before daring to raise the comb. Starting at the ends, he carefully untangled each tangled lock, moving slowly upwards toward her scalp. Not until he leaned forward to gather the hair around her face and ears did he notice: the gooseflesh raised on her arms; the smattered flush across her chest; her shallow, shuddering breaths; the near imperceptible ripples, rolling out from her sternum in rapid succession to keep time with the forceful beating of her heart. Lightheaded and weightlessness in his chest, he lowered her again to rinse her hair. This time, her eyes fluttered open, fixed on his face. Lips swollen and red and parted slightly, as though freshly kissed; the rapid rise and fall of her chest.
It couldn't have been a minute, but the intensity had been too much for them both. She ducked underwater and out of his grasp, reemerging several feet away. Solas found himself holding his breath, frozen in place. Had he done something? Overstepped, crossed one of their ever-shifting lines? But after a quick gasp for air, she splashed him. Any skin that had been dry before wading in was certainly soaked now.
She stood perfectly still and blank-faced, wide eyes watching for his reaction; the only hint at playfulness was the slightest telltale flare of her nostrils and an impish glint in her eye. She was merely waiting for him to decide whether to play along or get huffy. What was it about women, that they could be so very many different things at once? He put on his best Disapproving Hahren mein.
Low and dangerous, a lure masquerading as a warning. She cocked her head, angling slightly away in a silent dare. He took a step toward her, she didn't move. Another step met by another big splash, cackling wickedly as she poised to swim away— But when his expression only appeared to harden, she hesitated. Got her....
She saw him lunge and dove, but he had a headstart and reach on his side. Catching her ankle, he pulls her in, but she's quick and small and twists easily out of his grasp by swimming through his legs. He turns around...but she's nowhere to be seen. Fendehis —he had forgotten that little trick.
"Why run, Da'Halevune ?" Purring tauntingly in to the empty air, "I thought you wanted to play?"
He barely had time to register the words before she had jumped on his back, arms locked gently around his neck. Flipping her over his head was nothing, and he opened his eyes under the water, expecting another quick attack...but she merely allowed herself to sink. Floating a few feet shy of the bottom, her eyes remained shut for a long moment; hair billowing around her face, an ethereal vision of serenity, like a death hard won.
When her eyes opened and seeing his concern, she smiled softly, reaching out a hand toward him. She aligned the heels of their hands as though comparing their size, studying the length of his fingers while mirroring the gesture with their opposite hands. His lungs had begun to burn, easily ignored at first but growing increasingly urgent. Even so, nothing seemed to matter outside of this moment of warm, silent weightlessness. This place, with her in it, took on a sense of divine safety, the holy sanctuary of sacred ground. Regardless, he couldn't hold his breath anymore.
Tugging her tenderly against his chest and wrapping his arms around her waist, he returned them to the surface. They both gasped for air, but she seemed to recover more easily than he did, her arms remained draped loosely around his neck.
"I was unaware you are able to hold your breath for so long," Lips murmuring against the skin at her temple, "Quite impressive."
"I've had a lot of practice," Her breathy laughter tinted by something he couldn't quite name.
He continued to hold her, and she made no sign of wanting to be released, even resting her cheek on his shoulder. Bobbing strangely vertical: like an old, hollow log in a clear, calm lake. Despite the warmth of the pool, her wet skin was pleasantly cool against his, her scent bathing him anew. They stayed like this for a few silent minutes, the ache of this moment's inevitable ending already beginning within his chest.
"This is so strange."
Her voice always broke silence gently, like easing a door closed. He didn't want to acknowledge that she'd said it, but he didn't feel he had a choice; he mustered a simple, "Hm?"
"Being with you, here," She shrugged against him, head remaining on his shoulder, "Not the bath—Or, not just the bath. This whole structure. We're in your world. I mean, obviously not this palace, specifically, but.... You know what I mean, anyway, right?"
"Except, this is not my world," Thoughtfully, as he watched the floating tendrils of her hair.
"My world was endless exploring, when the Fade intermingled with the very air I breathed. Even upon receiving an estate of my own, I was rarely there, and never for long. There was too much to learn, to experience."
"You're the leaving kind."
It wasn't an accusation, merely an observation, but something colored her tone that shut him up and made him consider this.
"What about you?" After a moment of silence, more tender than he'd intended, "What kind are you?"
She made a sudden, hollow noise: a laugh or scoff, or perhaps a sob. He wasn't sure what to make of it. She withdrew, just slightly, and did not look at him, even as he carefully studied her the hardened profile of her face.
"Me? I'm the doomed kind," She smiled to herself, but it was bitter, "I don't know. Lately I wonder if I'm anything of my own at all."
He felt his brow furrow, "What do you mean?"
She half-shrugged, only her arms atop his keeping her above water. She had a distance about her, despite his still holding her.
"I only exist when I've got a role to play: an army to lead, a world to save. Outside of that, I don't know if I'm even a person at all."
She didn't allow him the opportunity to reply, not that he knew what to say. She ducked beneath the surface and swam to where she could stand, ringing out her hair as she moved toward the stairs. He followed in slow silence, watching the shifting muscles of her back as she pulled her top over her head, letting it hit the floor with an unceremonious squelch. She did the same with her skirt before taking the towel to her skin. Lastly, she pulled on the long nightshift she had worn down here, carefully easing her soaked smalls off as she pulled the shirt hem down.
He waited until she faced him again before climbing the stairs himself. She rang out the dripping cloth and small-clothes, then blotted her hair while he replaced his pants with the remaining towel. They returned to the room, changing into fresh clothes discussing their plans for Tevinter.
Sitting cross-legged on the bed, still-wet curls draped over the damp shoulders of her tunic, Halesta appeared more herself; the dark cloud looming over her expression seemed to have dissipated. She leaned forward keenly as he brought out his maps, laying his locations of Eluvians over the one they had copied earlier in the day. Eyes scouring the page hungrily before she glanced up at him, he briefly second-guessed his sharing it with her.
"So, unfortunately this is the only Eluvian I am confident of anywhere close to our heading," Pointing to an upside down V symbol marked in blue just north of Minrathous.
"The next closest is, as you can see, well into Qun territory."
"I'll call Dorian," Chirping excitedly, as she fished the crystal from her bag.
"I am not certain—"
"Dorian, my peach!"
"My little jewel, I was beginning to worry! It's been two week since you were in Sahrnia."
"Yes, I know, I'm sorry! We had to climb a mountain," Waving one hand animatedly, "But oh, I wish you could see this place, it's unreal."
"Did you find the map you were looking for?"
"Yes, we've got it right here. Actually, that's why I called. The Eluvian we're using is going to spit us out about—Oh, what do you think, Solas?—An hour north of you?"
"It is a small, overgrown shrine, easily overlooked. He may not be able to—"
"Oh, I know just the one, it's got those archer statues on either side," Solas could hear the Mage grinning smugly on the other end.
"Yes," Unable to mask his irritation, "That is the one."
"Fantastic, Varric and I shall meet you there around dawn."
"Varric's there?" Raising the crystal to her face excitedly.
"Arrived just a few days ago. Said he 'had a feeling' he should be in the area."
"Hey, Little Bit!" Varric's voice came through faintly; then, with markedly less enthusiasm, "Hey, Freckles."
"Master Tethras," Politely.
"Hey Varric! Ah, I can't wait to see you both!"
"Yes, it'll be a relief to see for ourselves what sort of state you're in," It was a pointed statement, but Halie merely laughed in response.
"See you in the morning! Kisses!"
"Kisses!" And with that, the glow faded from the crystal.
"I do not expect your friends are too terribly eager to see me," Frowning at his diverted little Da'Halevune.
"They're your friends, too," She frowned right back, "They're just hurt. Varric even made a point to say hi to you."
"Hm," Standing, glancing at her sidelong, "I suspect that was more for your benefit than mine. Now, I am going to the armory."
She scrambled off the bed after him, "There's an armoury?"
"Have you forgotten who's palace we are in?"