Vain hope: Someone better at this than me takes over before the survivor expires. Notes in case.
Clammy. Shallow breathing. Pulse over-fast. Not responsive. Pupils dilated.
Mage says her scarring "mark" is thrumming with unknown magic.
Wish we could station a templar in here, just in case.
Solas frowned at the words the human apothecary, Adan, had written down and shook his head before he put the note aside.
Adan had been glad to give the care of the elven woman over to him, even though he insisted on coming back the next day despite Solas’ assurances that it wouldn’t be necessary. The notes just proved that the human didn’t have an inkling of what had happened… but then, that was not surprising. As was his wish to station a templar here, even though they would not be much good anyway if the magic thrumming in the woman’s palm indeed acted up. It was of a kind that proved more than they could handle. Their magic-cancelling abilities weren’t much good where the rifts were concerned either, and since both came from the same source, there was not much chance they would be here.
Solas looked back at the elf before him, his eyes narrowed in thought. She was a conundrum - the biggest in all of this. He took her hand into his and closed his eyes, as he reached out with his magic into the mark. His brow furrowed in concentration as he tried yet again to grab ahold of it, to pull it out , inside himself, but to no avail. Sweat drops stood on his forehead as he let out a breath and opened his eyes again, his gaze wandering over the woman’s unconscious face. The magic was too deeply anchored in her, interwoven and battling with her own magic. And he was not powerful enough to extract it. Not yet.
He shook his head and wiped his forehead, adjusting his seat on the cold stone floor. None of this was supposed to happen this way. The whole thing was a disaster. While he had expected, needed Corypheus to open his orb, he had not anticipated him doing it in such a way, nor with quite so many victims. Corypheus was the one supposed to die. The orb was supposed to belong to him.
But now? Nothing was certain anymore.
The orb was gone, and somehow, an essential part of its magic, of his magic, had been captured in the body of the woman lying in front of him. How she had managed to contain the power without dying herself was still a point of fascination for him, and he found himself strangely intrigued. She had to be stronger and more powerful than he had expected anyone to be in this strange world. For now, all he could do was try to contain the mark, and keep it from killing her until he found out more.
Keeping her alive, though, might yet prove to be a challenge.
But for the moment, both the mark and his patient were calm. Unresponsive and unconscious, but calm. So far, the magic of the mark was confined to the elf’s palm, and Solas intended to make sure it stayed that way. It wasn’t easy, and he felt the strain of continuously battling the surge of magic that threatened to burn through her body more than he would like to admit. But he managed to hold his own. That was a feat in itself; not that anyone really cared about the details. The only thing Cassandra and Leliana were concerned with was whether they would be able to keep the woman alive.
The night would probably show if he would actually be able to do that. Until then he would not give them any reassurances. Not yet.
The jingle of keys in the lock on the door made him look up, and he saw a woman with a dinner tray come in. The door behind her closed again as she walked towards him. She put the tray down on a low chest next to the one chair in the prison, and Solas realized only now how late it was, twilight streaming in through the bars in the ceiling. “Thank you,” he said politely as he disentangled his legs and got up to walk over. The human did not even look at him, just gave him a slight nod as she passed him on her way back towards the door.
There was just the slightest glint of light on metal as she walked by that made him look closer. Their eyes met as the dagger was only half-drawn, and both froze. Then, everything happened at once.
“Murderer!” The human’s voice was distorted by grief and rage as she threw herself at the woman laying on the ground, and Solas managed to hurl her backward with a surge of magic just in time to prevent the blade being plunged into the elf’s unconscious form.
“Guards!” he yelled and threw a barrier around both him and the other elf. The doors flew open, heavy wood thudding against the stone walls of the prison as the two guards stormed in. It took them only a second to assess the situation, and as they grabbed the woman at the arms, restraining her, she screamed, “She killed the Divine!” Her face was distorted with rage as she spat in the direction of the prisoner, “That knife-ear! She does not deserve to live!”
Solas let out a breath, straightening as the Seeker came in with a drawn sword. The guards dragged the woman outside and after a look around, Cassandra sheathed her sword again, a frown on her face.
“Does she live?” The question was short, her voice sharp.
“So far,” Solas answered calmly, and she frowned even deeper.
“See that it stays that way, apostate. We need to get to the bottom of this and she’s the only one who was there and lived.”
She glared at Solas, taking a step towards him. “I expect results, do you hear me? She dies, you die.”
Her eyes barely touched his patient before she turned on the heel and stomped out again, the heavy doors falling shut behind her. Again, Solas was alone with the unconscious elf who didn’t even know about the attempt on her life.
Pulse normal, breathing normal.
Still unresponsive; careful drop-feed of prep. Elfroot extract to hasten her recovery.
A lot of thrashing. Mutters about too many eyes. Something about "the grey." Encouraging?
Solas barely looked at the notes Adan had given him before the human left him alone with the elf again. There was nothing in there that was news to him. He had spent the whole night in the prison, running test after test and even trying to find a spirit in the Fade that might help him. All to no avail. And yet, she had stabilized, coming out of the deep unconsciousness into a restless, feverish sleep. But while it was a hopeful sign, it was still too early to say with certainty whether she would live.
Rubbing over his eyes, Solas took up his leather-bound sketchbook and opened it. It was filled with sketches of the patient, mostly of the hand with the mark, detailing how it interacted with the skin. In the beginning, the green glow had made it seem almost translucent, but now it had settled somewhat. He wasn’t sure whether it was from his care or just a natural healing process… assuming this was something resembling healing at all.
With a sigh, he closed his journal again, wrapped the leather band around it and put it away. He still knew less about all this than he liked. None of this should even be possible. She shouldn’t have been able to survive - neither the blast at the temple nor this impossible journey through the Fade. What was it about this elf that had enabled her to do so?
His brow furrowed and he took her hand again, fingertips carefully tracing the greenish scar, feeling it beyond the physical realm. The magic whirled within her, through her, and she shuddered under his touch. When he looked at her face, he found it distorted in an anguished mask. A string of elven words fell from her lips, mostly intelligible, and the arm in his hand twitched as if she wanted to pull it closer to her body. He could make out a name in her feverish mutterings, Nelos , then she gasped and stopped moving again. Solas felt the tug of magic in her palm and closed both hands around it, letting his own magic flow. Deep in concentration, he wove a net of healing energy around her, keeping the wild magic of the mark at bay and battling it back into her palm, away from her heart.
Suddenly, he felt her fingers tighten around his. Startled, he looked up to find himself captured by eyes the color of young leaves. A few locks had escaped her braids and clung to her damp face as she looked at him in confusion.
"What happened?" she whispered weakly.
For a second, he was too surprised to answer. He had not expected her to wake so soon, if at all. She looked exhausted, the shadows under her eyes dark on her pale face, but her gaze was full of a trust he didn’t quite understand. Solas slowly gave her a warm, calming smile. Considering how feverish she still was, she probably wouldn’t remember this even if she made a full recovery, so there was no harm in setting her mind at ease. No need to talk about the breach in the sky or the fact that she was a prisoner, suspect of murder, and that she was lying here on the damp stones of Haven's prison with nothing but his mantle beneath her to protect her from the cold.
“There was an accident,” he said softly, “I am taking care of you.”
Her fingers still held his hand tightly and she tilted her head as if to take a closer look at him, a startling intense focus in her eyes. Slowly, she reached up to him with her other hand, touching his cheek so softly that it was almost a caress. Solas was too perplexed to react, but it seemed she didn’t expect him to. Suddenly, as if she had seen what she needed to, a brilliant smile spread over her face, and for a second, his breath caught in his throat.
He couldn’t remember when someone had smiled at him in such a way last time, so openly and warm. The year he had been awake had been one of mostly solitude. And when he had finally been strong enough to go back into company, he had been met with animosity and suspicion, rarely with respect, and the few smiles he remembered being aimed at him had been careful, superficial. But her smile was anything but guarded, and her eyes looked at him with warmth and trust. It moved him in a completely unexpected way.
“You're real,” she murmured.
The words went straight into his heart. Solas grew very still. After all the months of feeling like he was the only person awake and real, walking through a people of Tranquil, through a shadow-like, grey world… this sentence.
His eyes bore into hers, searching for… something . Could she feel who he was, what he was? Had her connection with the Fade or his magic opened something inside her that made him more accessible to her? But if she recognized him as real, did that make her more real as well?
For a second, he just looked at her, his thoughts whirling, then he put them aside with an effort. She wouldn’t remember this, he reminded himself and forced a small smile on his face as he nodded.
“I am,” he acknowledged quietly, and the elf sighed contently.
"Thank you for caring for me,” she whispered. Her hand sank back down, and her eyes fluttered close again. "So tired…" she murmured and just like that, she slipped back into that feverish sleep.
Solas let out a breath and carefully laid her hand back next to her. He felt unsettled.
The way she had looked at him was still clearly etched into his mind. He hadn't expected any of this to have an impact on him. When he had asked Cassandra to let him care for the prisoner, all he had been thinking about was trying to access his magic. It had been clear that none of those present could hope to match his expertise - even in his diminished state. He had wanted to find out all he could about what it was that had happened to her before she would inevitably succumb to the wild, too-powerful magic she had been exposed to. He hadn’t expected for her to actually live, even less to be so… present.
For two days now he had barely left her side, fighting for her life. She didn't even know him, but she was the first person in a long time who had shown him warmth. They had exchanged not two dozen words, and yet he had already committed every line of her face to memory. He couldn't remember how often he had dabbed her face with a damp cloth, wiping away the sweat, tracing the curve of her brow, the intricate vallaslin marking her skin, the scar splitting her lip and forehead from some old wound. All of his expertise told him that she probably wouldn’t survive. And yet, here she was, fighting for her life with a remarkable strength he couldn't help but admire, unwilling to give up.
Slowly, he reached for his sketchbook again and opened it to a new, blank page. With a few skillful lines, he committed her face to paper, trying to capture the smile she had given him. When he was done, he looked at it for a long, quiet moment before closing the book again. After another deep breath, he returned to trying to nurse her back to health with a new determination.
As he carefully drip-fed her more elfroot extract, he found himself even more invested in her recovery than before. Up until now, she had been one among many, only set apart by the curious circumstances of the explosion and her survival. But her waking moments had made her more than just another patient. She had reached out to him, had seen him… now he could no longer look at her with detachment. She had touched something in him and for the first time, he didn’t just wonder whether she would wake up - he hoped she would.
Less thrashing. Some response to stimulus. Vitals seem solid.
Two attempts so far by locals to break into the chantry to kill my patient.
All this work to save her life, and will they just execute her?
Will inform Lady Cassandra I expect her to wake before the morn.
Adan’s worried words echoed Solas’ fears. Only when the elf’s feverish thrashing had turned into a deep sleep and the fever finally subsided had Solas allowed himself some rest, too, adding some sketches and notes to his book. The guards had warded off another attempt to kill her, and he had heard at least two loud, angry discussions about her fate and whether she should even be allowed to wake. While Cassandra’s stance was clearly to question her before deciding anything else, he knew that this was no cause for relief. If she was unable to give answers the satisfied them, the humans would probably kill her anyway. He did have one theory, however, that might just save her life. And potentially open new possibilities for himself at the same time.
Both Leliana and Cassandra were skeptical when they heard it.
“You really think that she will be able to close the rifts?” Leliana asked, crossing her arms before her chest.
Solas inclined his head, clasping his hands behind his back. “There are no assurances. But it is a distinct possibility. I am relatively certain that the same magic that caused the explosion - or was set free by it - has become embedded in her palm. If it, as I am suspecting it does, acts as a key, it stands to reason that it can close what it opened as well.”
Cassandra narrowed her eyes. “So you’re saying that she is responsible for the explosion,” she said and her voice was nearly accusatory.
“I am not,” Solas retorted, frowning slightly. “I am saying that she was close enough that she came into contact with it. That does not equal guilt.”
“We’ll see about that,” the Seeker scoffed.
“As long as the Breach is open and expanding, it will not matter,” he stated. “The mark is still volatile. While I have managed to keep her alive so far and somewhat stabilize the mark, it is still reacting to the Breach. Every time it expands, the magic in her hand is expanding as well. Eventually, it will kill her if we do not manage to close it. If I am correct, though, this exact connection is what might save us all in the end.”
A low moan made them look at the elf who was still laying on the ground. The way she furrowed her brow and sighed told him that she was on the brink of waking.
“She will wake soon. Then we will know more,” Solas told Cassandra. The woman nodded with a hard edge to her mouth.
"Cuff her,” she said to the guards before she turned back to Solas. “Take Varric and go the rift at the lower ruins, on the way to the forward camp. I will take the prisoner there so we can test your theory. Then we will discuss further what will happen.”
“Chancellor Roderick will not agree to this,” Leliana interjected calmly and Cassandra’s mouth got even harder.
“I don’t care. He does not have the authority to challenge us. And even if he had - what choice do we have?”
Leliana just nodded and after another moment, the women turned around and walked out. “Call me as soon as she wakes fully,” he heard Cassandra order the soldiers standing at the door.
The guards were already fastening the huge shackles around her hands and pulled her upright as her eyes fluttered and she groaned again, the mark flickering and sparking green. Solas took a last look as she swayed, then he left the prison as well. Time to focus on the bigger picture, he firmly told himself as he went to Varric and told him about their mission. But even as they made their way towards the forward camp and the rift below it, he found his thoughts returning to the prisoner again and again. Why was it so hard to stop thinking about the way she had looked so frail in the shackles? He had left her surrounded by human guards with bared blades. It felt wrong.
Solas shook his head as if to clear it.
"What is it, Chuckles?" Varric asked, adjusting Bianca on his shoulder. Solas raised his chin.
"I believe we will meet our prisoner soon,” he said and cleared his throat. “Cassandra will take her to us. There is still something I want to test."
“You’re sure the Seeker won’t kill her?“ the dwarf inquired.
Solas shook his head. “I do not believe it will come to that. No matter her personal thoughts about whether she is guilty, Cassandra will want to know if we have a chance at closing the Breach.”
“Hm,” Varric grunted, giving him a sidelong look. “And what are your personal thoughts about the prisoner’s guilt?” he asked. Solas smiled at the barely veiled curiosity. For a moment, he deliberated whether he should answer, but he saw no harm in doing so.
“I do not think she is guilty.“ He turned his eyes to the dwarf. “What about you?”
Varric sighed and scratched his chin. “I honestly don’t know. I’ve seen enough people be at the wrong place in the wrong time, though, so I’ll give her the benefit of the doubt for now.”
Solas nodded slowly. “In many ways that alone makes you wiser than most, Master Tethras.”
The dwarf laughed heartily. “I wouldn’t go that far, Chuckles, but thanks anyway.” Then his eyes narrowed and he reached for his crossbow. “Looks like the soldiers could use some help.”
The fighting was futile, tiring work. They dispatched spirits and demons, but the moment they had cleared them all and had a second to breathe, another one came through, sometimes two or three at the same time, screeching and clawing and changing as they were pulled through the rift.
“I thought we were to clear the way to the forward camp, but this isn’t working!” Varric yelled as he scrambled for some of his bolts to reload, barely dodging one of the Shades that were raging between them.
Solas did not have time to answer before a fireball exploded around the Shade and it disintegrated with a piercing scream. He threw another barrier around himself and Varric as he turned to see Cassandra and the prisoner charge into the battle.
For a second, he stopped, watching, judging. It was something he did nearly instinctively - evaluating a person’s prowess in battle, the skill of their spells or ability to wield another preferred weapon. Once, it had been essential to quickly assess the danger someone posed in a battle, and considering the current situation, it was a skill that would continue to suit him well. What he saw told him that this was far from the first real battle she had seen. Her stance was defensive, her spells well-aimed and she had her barriers ready to protect those in close combat.
He did not have much time to watch her, though, as another demon was pulled through the rift. For the next few minutes, they all had their hands full, the air filled with screeches and hissing and the clamor of weapons meeting metal and flesh beneath the green glow of the rift that bubbled in the air, bleeding magic and dreams and demons into this reality.
Solas saw the last Shade hiss and disappear and with a few steps, he was at the elf’s side.
“Quickly! Before more come through!” he called, grabbing her hand. It was now or never.
With a quick movement, he pulled her arm up, aiming the mark at the rift and with a sizzling, nearly angry sound the magic connected. He heard her little gasp and even though he only held her hand, he could feel the stream pulling at her, through her and then, the rift snapped and sealed.
Solas stared at the place where it had been, a few green sparks of residual magic dissipating in the otherwise clear air.
It had worked. It had actually worked!
Only now did he realize how close he had been to fleeing and leaving them all to their fate as he searched for a new way to fulfill his plans. But this…
The woman pulled her hand out of his grip and stared at him, her eyes large and full of wonder.
And the whole world changed.