Ellana watched him turn away. He moved towards the second Eluvian, purpose in every step. He would escape through it, disappearing for years until he surfaced again. Ready to execute his final plan to tear down the Veil. Thedas would burn to ashes, its people doomed to perish in the conflagration he ignited.
“I will never forget you”, he told her with an air of sadness that sounded more like resignation.
Ellana exhaled a weary breath, curling the fingers of her left-hand inward. She calmed the wild magic of the Anchor, knuckles flexing. It glowed bright like a star then subsided with a thunderous crack. Solas flinched – stopping, turned around, and looked back. She said nothing when he saw the Anchor recede into the gauntleted palm of her hand.
It flickered beneath the leather and steel, still present but subdued. The agony abated with a thought, leaving her hand hale and whole. She turned it left then right, testing her strength. She wiggled her fingers, the silverite plates clinking. Solas gasped when she made a fist without grimacing.
He stared when she flexed her knees, eyes widening in alarm when she got to her feet without complaint. There was no cry of anguish, no pained hiss of breath. Ellana was calm and composed despite the agony she’d suffered. She returned his startled gaze, brows waggling as she smiled. She saw him glance from her left-hand to her face, the shock as raw as it was unexpected.
She turned away when his mouth fell open to ask a question she wasn’t ready to answer. She took two steps when the grass at her feet turned to stone. She moved around the swards, their myriad thin blade-like leaves stiff, dead, and grey. She managed a few feet more until Solas petrified a patch of shrubs, then a tree when she dared to keep going. His command was like a clap of thunder, loud enough to be heard the next valley over.
Ellana ignored him, slipping passed the frozen Viddasala. The Ben-Hassrath agent’s baleful expression filled her with pity. The Viddasala’s faith in the Qun had meant nothing in the face of Solas’ wrath. She’d been petrified alongside those under her command. Defiant to the last.
Ellana was halfway across the meadow when Solas flung a spell. A bolt of lightning struck the ground, scorching the flagstones black. She’d made it to the landing of the staircase that led down into the avenue of petrified Qunari. An Eluvian stood in the sun, its glassy surface rippling like water. Escape lay that way, through a path of death that by the moment grew more perilous.
She paused, glancing over her shoulder. Solas remained before the Eluvian, resplendent in his gilded armour. He was a glittering pillar of bewilderment, outrage, and disbelief. His grey eyes were hard and flinty beneath his furrowed brows. The bridge of his nose was wrinkled like the snout of a snarling wolf. The line of his jaw was tight, his lips were peeled back to reveal gritted teeth.
He glowered, face like thunder when she tutted. The disapproving cluck of her tongue made a muscle in his cheek jump. She raised a hand, putting two fingers against her lips. She blew him a kiss moments before she vanished from sight. She slid into that space between light and darkness, cloaking herself in shadow.
She ran for the Eluvian, taking the stairs two at a time. Solas neither saw nor heard her passage. He hated the stealthiness of rogues. Her ability to slip away unnoticed, to hide in plain sight infuriated him. Ellana would’ve laughed if she’d seen him scowl, huff, and glare at the very air. She felt the burn of his gaze, a point of heat on her back as he searched for that tell-tale sign of a rogue in-stealth.
She had to make it down the staircase, then across the courtyard to reach the first Eluvian. It would’ve been a clean run if not for the statues of petrified Qunari in the way. Solas was still searching for that glistening distortion in the air. She would be given away the instant he managed to spot her. She wove between the stony Qunari axes, shields, and swords hoping to avoid being cut by a razor-sharp edge.
She would’ve leapt through the Eluvian to safety if not for a thread of silver hair glinting in the sun. It had caught on the hard edge of a Karashok’s petrified pauldron. Solas saw it fluttering in the breeze like the gossamer thread of a spider’s web. A frantic search and he soon spotted that watery reflection of light inches in front of the Karashok. He sucked in an angry breath when he spotted Ellana, several feet from the Eluvian.
He hissed a second incantation, waving a gauntleted hand in the air. The spell came alive in a frigid burst of ice-magic. Ellana spat an elvish curse when a gleaming wall of ice erupted from the ground. It encased the Eluvian in a coat of ice that would never melt unless Solas wanted it too. She sighed, going still, and let the cloak of stealth fall away.
She shimmered into existence, a ghost standing before that icy wall. She glowered at the mirror, frowning when its icy shell steamed in the sun. She reached out to touch it, the tips of her gauntleted fingers crusting with frost. She snatched her hand back when she felt the bite of cold through the leather of her gloves. She shook her hand, sending a shower of icy crystals over the toes of her boots.
She paused when she heard the thud of Solas’ steel-shod feet on the flagstones. She turned around, suspicious the moment she saw him descend the staircase. He came down, taking each step in stride till he reached the bottom. He crept across the courtyard, cautious and watchful lest she turn on him with bow and blade. Ellana neither knocked an arrow to the bowstring, nor drew a dagger when Solas approached.
He paused by the shoulder of the petrified Karashok, holding a shield aloft. He reached for the lower edge of the Qunari’s pauldron, plucking off that thread of silver hair. He twined it about a gauntleted finger, admiring its shine against the gilding of his armour. Ellana arched an eyebrow when he regarded her with an uncharacteristic wariness. Her eyes rolled in exasperation when he gawked at her like a fool.
She jabbed a gauntleted finger at the frozen Eluvian.
“Shatter the ice wall!”
Solas sucked in an angry breath. His eyes narrowed at her tone. It hadn’t been a request but a demand. His reply was a single word, a statement of denial as cold it was brief. His outright refusal annoyed her.
He glanced at her left arm, more confused than afraid. “I severed your hand with magic. The Anchor was killing you. It should have worked. You should be maimed but you are not”.
Ellana lifted her hand in response, turning it left and right again. She wiggled her fingers, seeing Solas flinch as if he expected her hand to fall off and leave a stump behind. She was almost sorry to disappoint him. It would’ve been amusing to see how high he’d jump if she’d thrown that dismembered hand at him. She wondered if he’d have screamed after she’d left a bloody smear across his gilded breastplate.
“My hand is fine. I’m fine”, she replied with exaggerated sweetness. Her voice dropped several octaves till it was as frigid as his ice-wall. “Now shatter the ice around the Eluvian. I’ve got an appointment to keep in Halamshiral”.
Solas took umbrage at her audacity. “No!”
“What do you mean – No?” countered Ellana. She flapped her hand at the staircase behind him. She could see the second Eluvian beyond, shimmering in the sun. It was active and waiting for him to step through it into the unknown. She couldn’t fathom why he was wasting time fraternising with her when he could’ve been reshaping Thedas.
“Don’t you plan to tear down the Veil?”
“All in good time”.
“Not today?” goaded Ellana. “Or right now?” She made a shooing motion. “You could get an early start. I’m sure your agents are waiting for you somewhere else in Thedas”.
“They will be fine without me”.
“Are you sure about that?”
“Yes”, affirmed Solas.
“You don’t want to contact them at all? Or even better. Make a personal appearance instead? It’d be convenient for me. Now be a dear and shatter the ice-wall around the Eluvian before you go”.
“I am not leaving”.
Ellana smiled, cheeks dimpling. “Why not?” she asked, voice tinged with sarcasm. “I thought you were getting ready to conquer the world. Did something not go according to plan?”
“Stop trying to provoke me”.
“You chased me across a meadow, down a flight of steps, and through a courtyard”. She gestured to the Eluvian encased in ice. “You even froze my escape route, out of spite when you could’ve let me go. I’m not trying to provoke you, Solas. I’m mocking you for being an arse and killing a bunch of defenceless plants”.
She pointed at the petrified grass, shrubs, and the conifer with its stiff and spiny fronds.
Solas scowled. “I told you to stop running!”
“Are you serious?” retorted Ellana. She waved a gauntleted hand at the nearest petrified Qunari. “You turned the Viddasala’s henchmen, then her to stone with a look. Did you honestly believe I was going to stand around and speak to you after seeing you do that with my own eyes? I’m not still alive after being Inquisitor for four years because I’m stupid”.
Solas stared at her, horrified. “You think I would have done the same to you”.
“You were willing enough to cut off my hand with magic”.
“To save your life!”
Ellana wiggled the fingers of her left-hand. “So says Fen’Harel, the Trickster. Dalish legend states you’re a liar by nature. So how am I supposed to believe anything you say? For all I know you’re here to kill me”.
“I am not!”
She waved that hand at the stone stairway behind him again. “Then leave me alone. Go back to whatever part of Thedas you’ve been lurking in these past two years. And forget what you’ve seen. I don’t feel inclined to share my secrets today”.
Solas’ lip curled in indignation. He didn’t like the casual dismissal, or the impatient flap of her hand. The arrogance of the gesture reminded him of an Orlesian noble waving away an elven servant. He pocketed the silver strand of her hair, slipping it inside the collar of his hooded surcoat. He would later use it for a binding spell.
“I cannot”, he growled like an irritable mabari. “The danger you represent is real. No one but I could control the Anchor. Or so I thought until you showed me otherwise. Which means that you are more than you appear and that I am not the only liar here”.
Ellana waggled her brows. “Stings doesn’t it? When all your plans are ruined by one tiny detail you overlooked”. She laughed when he glared at her. “The expression of fury on your face right now is priceless”.
“You were never cruel!” hissed Solas.
“I had a good teacher”.
The tension between them was palpable. A tangled chain of memory and emotion bound them together. Solas recalled the kiss in the Fade under a winter sun in Haven. He recalled the kiss on the chilly balcony overlooking the Frostback mountains too. And the confession of love that’d come after, though Ellana had never said the same words to him.
His heart was in his throat when he asked. “You know I love you. I always will. Tell me. Did you ever love me in return?”
“Why does it matter now?” asked Ellana. “It didn’t matter before”.
“It has always mattered!” cried Solas. “Answer me!”
“Why should I?”
“Why, Solas?” she demanded. “You say it matters but it never did in Tarasyl’an Te’las, or that afternoon in Crestwood. Why today? Why now? What has changed?”
“Everything has changed!” he declared. “Today did not go as I intended. Tomorrow might not as well. I need to understand your reasons for revealing yourself to me. You could have returned to Halamshiral, the Dalish huntress I always thought you to be”.
Ellana recognised the stubborn glint in his eyes. “We all have our secrets. Ir abelas. Some things take priority. I need to attend the Exalted Council”.
Solas shook his head, his brows furrowing. “We are not finished here. Only I could have wielded the power of the Anchor without dying”, he stated with certainty. “Or so I had assumed. Who are you, vhenan?”
Ellana’s disdainful snort gave him pause. She raised her left hand high, palm outward. The magic of the Anchor crackled as she willed it to rise in her defence. It glowed, radiant like a star between her splayed fingers. Her warning was frank.
“Shatter the ice around the Eluvian. Or I’ll open a rift and rain demons down on your big bald head”.
Solas contemplated the sincerity of her threat. He was conflicted, unsure of where the lines of loyalty lay between them. They had travelled together as companions for more than a year in the Inquisition. United in their goal to close the Breach, to defeat Corypheus before he brought about the end of the world. Now they were on opposing sides, foes instead of friends.
Adversaries instead of allies.
“Is that how it is to be between us?”
“You made it that way”, she replied without an ounce of haughtiness. It was a cold and simple truth. “You drew a line in the sand. You said I couldn’t change your mind. If you’re so determined to walk the Dinan’shiral alone, then I’ll have to hasten that journey”.
“By endangering us both?” cried Solas.
“I wouldn’t have too”, reasoned Ellana. “If you’d shatter the ice-wall, turn around, and climb up those stairs again. There’s an Eluvian waiting on the hillock above. I know you intended to leave me here, stranded, and in agony after that magical amputation. Yet you linger, indecisive. Why?”
“You know why”.
“Oh, yes. That’s right. Something happened that you didn’t expect”. She smiled, wiggling her fingers again. “Ironic isn’t it? How things don’t always go according to plan”.
Solas frowned when Ellana lifted her chin and looked down her nose at him. There was pride in her bearing and an unmistakable candidness he recognised. The humble Dalish maid he’d loved, so amiable, soft-spoken, and kind was gone. The Inquisitor stood in her place, as hard as granite, and as sharp as an assassin’s blade. She resembled Ellana with her dark skin, silver hair, and leaf-green eyes.
But she was colder, cannier, and more pragmatic.
A true Dalish huntress.
“So what’s it to be? A shattered ice-wall or a horde of demons?”
Solas had little choice but to fall back on what leverage he still had. It was a simple thing to draw on the ragged remnants of their relationship. A series of happy memories soured by a love unrequited. Ellana had taken the rejection – badly. Solas remembered the rage that’d followed, and the bitter disappointment.
The tension between them, an explosive mixture of anger and doubt had festered for days. Ellana hadn’t spoken to him for weeks afterwards. Now Solas reaped the rewards of his dishonesty. The respect she’d held for him was gone. Only distrust remained.
“Vhenan”, pleaded Solas. “Be reasonable”.
“You were a selfish arse not reasonable”, she challenged. “Do you remember? You gave your foci to Corypheus. You handed him the key to the Fade. The existence of the Breach was your fault”.
She was right, though it stung to hear it from the one he loved. He’d had the last known location of his foci relayed to Corypheus, months before they’d met. Too weak to unlock it himself, he’d intended for the magister to die in the attempt. Corypheus had perished in the explosion that’d destroyed the Temple of Sacred Ashes. So had countless others, all innocents summoned there by the late Divine Justinia.
“Hundreds died on that mountainside”, said Ellana. “Templars, mages, priests, chancellors, revered mothers, and cloistered chantry sisters. I almost died with them. Thousands more would be imperilled because of the Breach. Corypheus was the least of our problems when it came to the rifts, the demons, and the risk of possession”.
Solas’ lip curled with indignation. “I made amends”.
“By joining the Inquisition as an apostate mage. How duplicitous of you”.
“It was the right thing to do”.
“Fenedhis”, swore Ellana. “You didn’t side with Cassandra under the guise of an apostate to help resolve the catastrophe you caused. You joined her fledgling Inquisition in hopes that she’d lead you to the foci you lost. If Cassandra died along the way, all the better. You wouldn’t have had to kill her to regain control of it if she’d expired of natural causes”.
Solas was astonished by her skills of deduction. Had he underestimated her? He couldn’t be sure. Few elves in Thedas shared his confidence. Fewer still had deduced his plans for the orb of Fen’Harel, Cassandra, and the Inquisition.
“That is insightful of you”.
“Darling”, cooed Ellana. “I’ve been playing this game longer than you’ve been alive or asleep if we count the centuries you spent in Uthenera. It’s been aeons since I’ve had to intervene in anything outside the Fade. I’d still be in the distant outermost fringes, tucked into a shadowy corner if not for that bastard Sigfrost. I’d have been content to pass the next millennium in complete and utter ignorance of your doings in Thedas”.
She lowered her left-hand, willing the Anchor to calm with a thought. It dimmed to a pinprick of light that sparkled like a diamond beneath her gloved fingers.
“But I can’t”, she complained. “All because of you”.
“Me?” replied Solas, his grey eyes wide with incredulity. He had no idea what she was talking about. “I do not understand”. He stared when he saw the woman he loved not a spirit from the Fade. “Are you like Cole? Did you take mortal form to hide among the shemlen?”
Ellana gaped at him, brows arching in amazement. “You never noticed I was different from the average Dalish elf. Now that’s a surprise considering you’re somniari. Spirits are your constant companions in the Fade”. She licked her lips, snickering when Solas blushed. “Which means you didn’t notice the hints I gave away either”.
She pressed a gauntleted finger against the bridge of her nose, tapping a nostril once, then twice. “That would be too easy. You’re normally observant. Think back on our time together before you left the Inquisition. The clues are there”.
“Who are you?” called Solas with growing trepidation. Everything had gone according to plan except this. The woman he loved. The woman he’d thought he’d known inside and out was finally showing her hand in this game of Wicked Grace. She was calling his bluff with a twinkle in her eye.
“I’ll make you a deal”, she declared, offering Solas an opportunity like it was a pearl plucked from the heart of an oyster.
Ellana jabbed a thumb over her shoulder at the magic wall of ice, silver-white and cold enough to rival a glacier. “You shatter the ice around the Eluvian, let me return to Halamshiral, and I’ll meet you later in a place of your choosing. I’ll even come alone without an escort”.
“Why should I believe you?”
“You said we needed to talk. You were right”.
Solas was unsure of her sincerity. “Will we?”
“Maybe but you might have other ideas”, teased Ellana. “I hope so. You left me all alone in Crestwood after our little spat. I made do with my hands of course, but yours would’ve been better. It was a pity you didn’t stay around long enough to witness how frustrated I was”.
Her lascivious grin left him flustered. It was hard to focus once he imagined the love of his life naked, on a bed of grass. He envisaged her panting beneath the sun, doing pleasurable things with her fingers. His mouth was dry, his blood stirring. Solas hated himself for being so fallible, so easily led astray by his own base desires.
He had to master himself, to remember what was important. He took several deep breaths when he heard Ellana giggle. She delighted in his suffering, the knowing glint in her eye making him bristle. Solas glowered at her. He didn’t like being reminded of the one thing he’d denied himself since Mythal’s demise.
“You will answer what questions I have”.
She shrugged her shoulders with a nonchalance that annoyed him. “Perhaps I will, perhaps I won’t. You’re not my master, Solas. You’re not even my friend. You could’ve been my lover if you hadn’t run away like a craven, tail tucked between your legs”.
“I did not run away!”
“That’s not what it looked like from where I was standing”, said Ellana. “You lied to me in Crestwood, broke my heart, and left me behind to fume in silence. I don’t take it personally, Solas. I understand why you did it. I was a complication you didn’t need, a distraction from your duty to the Elvhen”.
He grimaced at her wording. He recalled the conversation that’d ended their relationship. Ellana was turning the tables, giving him a taste of his own medicine. It was a bitter pill to swallow. Solas was insulted by her callousness.
“That is not what I meant!”
“Isn’t it?” she countered. “That’s what I was led to believe. I was a dalliance at best and at worst a convenient outlet for your desires. Not quite a clandestine lover or a concubine sharing your bed. I’d have enjoyed both roles, if you’d been brave enough to try”.
Solas sucked in a scandalised breath. “What are you suggesting?”
“That depends on what you think I’m suggesting”.
It was difficult to keep his mind out of the gutter. “Many things”.
“Be specific. Go on”, she encouraged. “You can do it”.
Solas shook his head, suddenly worried. “I cannot”.
“Cannot or will not?”, challenged Ellana. “You’re delightfully stubborn when you set your mind to something. I’d love to corrupt you, but I promised Sigfrost I’d behave. He doesn’t approve of my fascination with the Elvhen. We’re supposed to help your kind not be enamoured by you”.
“I fascinate you?”
“You’re an enigma wrapped in a promise with roots sown in the foundations of Thedas, thousands of years ago. A walking contradiction, a living memory of an age long past. If we had the luxury of time. I’d have loved to unravel your secrets, Solas. Layer by layer over several centuries, even millennia if you had no particular place you needed to be”.
“Except in your bed?”
“Our bed. What’s mine would’ve been yours for the asking. If you’d had the courage, but you didn’t. A pity. We would’ve been good together”.
Solas’ heart beat like a drum against his ribs. He couldn’t believe what she was implying. A chance for happiness. An opportunity to indulge in a love he’d denied himself. The promise of reciprocation, of exclusivity ignited a yearning in him.
She flapped her hand at him again in a gesture of dismissal. “We have more important things to discuss. Matters of the heart are inconsequential next to the fate of the world. You have business to attend too. While I should return to the Winter Palace”.
Solas was bewildered by her flippancy. She spoke of intimate things then dismissed them without a thought. It was selfish, rude, and inconsiderate. He was offended by her presumptuousness until something occurred to him. He recalled what’d happened in Crestwood, their parting, and his final words to the woman he loved.
The years they’d spent apart hadn’t lessened the sting of her disappointment.
“You cannot leave yet”, insisted Solas. “We have things to discuss”.
“You’ll have to wait”, corrected Ellana. “I have to go back. Josephine can’t placate the Orlesian and Fereldan nobility forever. She needs me. The fate of the Inquisition will be decided today”.
Solas was hesitant to comply. Ellana saw the indecision on his face, the longer he gawked at her like a startled rabbit. He didn’t quite know what to say. Ellana saw his gaze shift from her to the wall of ice around the Eluvian and back again. Moments passed in a tense silence until he made up his mind.
“You will come to me after the Exalted Council”.
“It could take weeks, even months to resolve this mess with the Inquisition”.
Solas was exasperated by her excuses. “Promise me!”
“You will come to me”, he stated with certainty. “Or I will set Halamshiral ablaze”.
Ellana rolled her eyes. “Let me guess. You plan to turn Empress Celene and her court into a bunch of garden statues”. She nodded to the petrified Qunari around them. “How original”.
He was offended by her sarcasm. “I do not make idle threats. Halamshiral will burn if you refuse. I will have answers”.
“Of course you will”. She considered his point, shrugging her shoulders. “Fine. I’ll meet you after the Exalted Council at a designated time and place. I wouldn’t want all the work I did to stabilise Orlais to be undone by an ancient elven arsehole named Fen’Harel”.
Solas ignored the insult. “How would you find me?”
She ignored his question. “So you’ve chosen a place”. She winked when Solas eyed her as if she might disappear, or burst into flame. “Don’t fret. You have something that belongs to me. Something, I can hear beat no matter where you are in Thedas”.
Ellana laid a gauntleted hand on her bosom, inches above her own heart. She nodded when Solas gasped. “Love has a certain ring to it. Your’s runs deep like a river underground. You’ve loved so little since the fall of Arlathan that I got the lion’s share of your heart. Not even your beloved Mythal means as much to you as I do”.
She smiled, cheeks dimpling. “Does she, Solas?”
He almost choked on his own flustered pride. Ellana was pleased when Solas curled his gauntleted fingers into a fist. His grey eyes glowed a fiery blue. A thunderous crack, a gust of frosty air, and she was showered in snowflakes. The ice-wall shattered into a thousand glittering silver-white pieces. She gave Solas a nod of approval.
The fiery glow faded from his eyes. He regarded her with apprehension, doubtful that she would keep her word. He grew more anxious when she appraised him from head to toe. A casual nod, a smirk of satisfaction, and she grinned at him with a flash of white teeth. She lifted her left hand in a wave of farewell. The parting gesture was as mocking as it was sincere.
“Until we meet again”.
Ellana turned on her heel with a wink and a smile. She paused when he called to her, voice even though she heard the uncertainty. It was almost imperceptible from the normal timbre of his voice. A natural baritone, Solas lacked the Iron Bull’s rumbling bass. His tone was softer, almost velvety when he implored Ellana to wait.
She paused, silver brows arching as she glanced over her shoulder. “Yes?”
Solas frowned, still unsure. “The peak overlooking the Temple of Mythal. I would meet you there where the Vir’abelasan lies in a courtyard of stone. The Eluvian is sealed. There is no way to reach the temple from Skyhold unless I open the way”.
“No. You will find another way to reach me”.
Ellana laughed. “Of course I will. Ma nuvenin, Solas. I will be there in three days”.
“You will keep your promise?”
“To come alone?”
“Of course, I will. My word is my bond. I hold all oaths sacred until they’re broken”. She snorted when Solas’ eyes widened. “Until then”.
She blew him a kiss in farewell, turning around with the swift grace he’d come to expect from her. Ellana was gone in two bounds, leaping into the Eluvian that would lead her back to her companions. Solas was left shaken by the encounter, his plans in disarray. Everything had been fine until Ellana had played her trump card. He stumbled through the petrified Qunari, vision a blur as tears prickled at the corners of his eyes.
He fell against the stony shoulder of the Karashok that’d plucked a strand of Ellana’s silver hair. Solas was breathing hard, chest heaving beneath the gilded plates of his cuirass. He laid a gauntleted hand against the Karashok’s bent arm that held a shield aloft. The Qunari had died facing an enemy he couldn’t have hoped to overcome by physical force alone. Solas gazed into that granite-grey face preserved in imperishable stone.
The Karashok’s eyes were narrowed beneath a pair of thick furrowed brows. His hooked nose was wrinkled in disdain, the curve of his mouth a thin grim line. He looked grave, determined, and ready to face his foe with a focus that seemed unnatural. The prospect of death hadn’t deterred this Karashok from doing his duty. He was petrified like his fellows, another statue in the sun as resilient a perch for the birds as the rest.
Solas pushed away from the Karashok, uneasy as his gaze shifted to the other Qunari. He’d turned them all to stone, one after another without a thought. Now he found their collective silence, their unblinking stares almost unbearable. He ignored them, squaring his shoulders. He lifted his chin, eyes on the horizon, and wove his way between them as Ellana had.
He reached the stairs, confidence in his stride. He didn’t once look back as he climbed his way to the top of the hill. He reached the upper courtyard, when he saw the Viddasala with her spear thrust skyward. Petrified mid-cast, she was as ready for combat as that unfortunate Karashok. The Viddasala didn’t make Solas nervous, but the creature perched on the tip of her spear did.
It was round, grey-feathered, and had a pair of luminous yellow eyes. The owl was as large as a cat and horned like a Qunari with two tufts of feathers on its head. It blinked at him with the languid grace of a nocturnal hunter, head rolling on a short stump-like neck. The owl opened a black beak wreathed in feathers. It hooted at him once, then twice before its head turned on its feathered shoulders.
Solas crept around the Viddasala, the hairs rising on the back of his neck. He reached the Eluvian without mishap though something didn’t feel quite right. He looked back, glancing over his shoulder. He was perturbed when the owl watched him. It squawked, black beak snapping at the air with a sudden viciousness that made him flinch.
Solas turned away, feeling the weight of the owl’s gaze boring into his back. He stepped through the Eluvian believing the bird’s presence was more than a coincidence. He could still hear the owl hooting when he emerged on the other side. The next three days couldn’t pass swift enough.
Abelas and a group of sentinel elves met him deep inside the Temple of Mythal. Solas muttered an incantation, hand waving in the air to activate the spell. The Eluvian darkened behind him, its rippling water-like glass turning black. He crossed the dais to the first step leading down to the landing. He sank onto it with a heavy sigh, head shaking.
The sentinels were unsettled by the sight of their leader so agitated. They’d never heard him swear, or seen him glare at the floor as if it’d offended him. They exchanged worried glances when the Vir’abelasan whispered of trouble unforeseen. Abelas addressed Solas with trepidation, discomforted himself. Something had gone wrong.
Solas was too engrossed thinking about what’d happened in Orlais to notice Abelas. He muttered to himself in ancient elvish, irritated by his own carelessness. He was diligent by nature, perceptive, and meticulous in his studies. Yet Ellana had duped him, concealing her true nature beneath the mask of an elven face. He’d found her odd when they’d first met, then surprising after she’d expressed an interest in him.
She’d found his perspective on the Fade intriguing enough to build a rapport with him too. Their tentative friendship had grown in the weeks afterwards. Solas was as fond of those memories as he was disquieted by them. If Ellana had concealed her nature. What else had she hidden from him?
He wondered if his love had been reciprocated after all.
She could’ve strung him along on purpose.
Their most recent encounter unnerved him. Solas thought on their interaction after the Viddasala’s petrification. Ellana had seen the power he’d possessed. The relentless way in which he wielded the magic of Mythal. She’d not shown the slightest hint of fear despite what she’d witnessed.
Had it been Dalish pride or something worse?
Solas was jolted out of his thoughts. He gawked at the leader of the sentinel elves, brows arched, and mouth agape. He flushed, cheeks pink. The sentinel’s eyes narrowed. Solas was relieved when Abelas ordered his brethren to leave them alone.
He didn’t feel composed enough to address their concerns.
The sentinel elves protested aloud, their voices as discordant as their opinions. Solas watched Abelas contain the hubbub with astonishment. The leader of Mythal’s personal guard barked an order. “Venavis!” The sentinel elves quietened with an immediacy that was comical.
They glowered at Abelas in their silence, sullen as a pack of stray mabari. The tension between them was like a leash pulled taught enough to strangle. Solas felt it tremble at first with fear then with anger. Apologies would need to be made to soothe bruised egos. The sentinel elves wouldn’t be appeased until their concerns were laid to rest.
That was for later when tempers weren’t flaring hot enough to burst into flame. Abelas was infuriated when one stubborn sentinel dared to open his mouth. A muscle in his cheek twitched when the elf in question demanded answers. Abelas’s golden eyes were hard till the sentinel was elbowed in the ribs. Abelas heard his grunt of pain, and saw him turn around to yell at the twit responsible.
The sentinel shut his mouth when he saw an elven woman scowl at him.
“Venavis!” she hissed. “It is not your place to question! Only to obey!” She looked passed him to Abelas. “Forgive my husband! Ilcen does not know when to shut his mouth!”
“Vhenan!” called her embittered spouse. “We deserve an explanation! Something is not right! Fen’Harel is upset! The spirit of Mythal could be at risk!”
Abelas rolled his eyes when Valoya took her husband by the arm. She yanked him from the crowd, uncaring if their brethren saw. She dragged him to the door of the antechamber, growling all the while in ancient elvish. Abelas arched an eyebrow, giving the rest of those gathered a pointed look. The sentinels dispersed, though not one of them was glad about it.
They shuffled from the room, muttering to themselves. Abelas heard the curses, the grumbling, and the rebukes whispered by the spirits of the Well. The dismissal would sour many, and make even more of them resentful. Abelas was aware of the rising dissension, the growing lack of confidence in him. The tether of his leadership was close to snapping.
Abelas ran a tired hand down his face, more ashamed than annoyed. He aired his frustrations to Solas.
“My people are embittered by your refusal. We guided and guarded Mythal. We gave her counsel and served as her protectors. I had once thought we would resume those duties upon your return to us. Was I mistaken?”
“Was I?” pressed the sentinel. “Your continued avoidance of this issue has caused a rift among my people. I must have an answer, Solas. Will we stand beside you when you tear down the Veil? Or will you set us aside when the Evanuris wake in the void and return?”
Solas closed his eyes, brows furrowing as he considered what Abelas asked. He knew that those sworn to Mythal’s service desired vengeance for her death. A grudge was a terrible thing to carry into Uthenera. Solas didn’t doubt the spirits of the Well of Sorrows had whispered of revenge since the fall of Arlathan. Five thousand years was time enough to entrench an idea into the minds of the sleeping.
Neither Abelas nor those of his order would be swayed by words alone. Solas knew he couldn’t undo centuries of conditioning. The broken chains of the Evanuris were still strong enough to bind the last of the Elvhen. Solas opened his eyes to find Abelas awaiting an answer that would decide the course of his life. The sentinel gave him an expectant look, hopeful until Solas returned his scrutiny.
He was silent as the grave.
Abelas broke the stalemate, head shaking in disappointment. “I knew you would do this. I knew yet I tried to convince them otherwise. Fenedhis lasa. You cannot fight the Evanuris on your own”.
“I can”, replied Solas with a certainty that upset him. “I will”.
“So that not another of the Elvhen dies?”
Abelas countered with a stern argument.
“What of the shadows wearing vallaslin residing in the forests? The nomads wandering the wastes without land or property of their own. Or their bare-faced cousins living in the shemlen cities? The poor and the wretched segregated from society because of the shape of their ears. They are not Elvhen, but they are still elves”.
Solas didn’t like where this was going. He eyed Abelas with suspicion. “How do you know about that?” he demanded. “Not one of the sentinel elves has left the Temple of Mythal in centuries. From whom did you learn of the Dalish and the City elves?”
Abelas regarded him with a quiet sense of self-confidence. “From whom do you think? I am certain you saw her today. I know that she was the likeliest cause of your distress”. He smiled when Solas gaped at him in amazement.
“You know of Ellana?”
“I have always known, as have the rest of the sentinel elves”.
Solas was alarmed by the news. “How?”
“The Evanuris were the gods of the nobility. The small folk had their own gods. Did you not once tell Ellana inside the Winter Palace that servants have their own society?” Abelas nodded when Solas gasped. “I know of your comings and goings across Thedas, of your goals as far as she is concerned”.
“I did not disagree with them until you decided the fate of my people”. He took umbrage, golden eyes glinting. “If you will not allow us to avenge Mythal’s murder. Set us free. We are nothing without our mistress, but perhaps with Ellana we can settle the score”.
Abelas noted Solas’ bewilderment. “You are surprised. A novel experience, I am certain for someone of your calibre. It matters not. I have my answer”.
Abelas nodded out of politeness, before turning on his heel.
“Where are you going?” cried Solas.
“To prepare”, he stated, walking away. “I must inform my people of your decision. Our days inside this temple are numbered. If you have forsaken us then Ellana is our last resort. The Lady of the Veil will have a plan of her own to deal with the Evanuris”.