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Solas the Circle Mage

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A low whistle cut through the air, jagged against Solas' sensitive ears. "Where'd you find this one?"

The glitter of metal swam in Solas' bleary eyes. He managed to hold his head upright and force open his eyelids long enough to get the impression of a bulky humanoid figure ahead of him. It was the man who'd woken him into this world of agony with his whistle. But the effort of lifting his head left his neck and eyes quivering with stabbing pain. He let himself sag between the two Templars hauling him forward, down a dark narrow hallway, dragging his legs over the hard stone.

"I know, right?" the Templar on Solas' left replied to the speaker. "We get all the weirdest charges."

"Did you find those other apostates? The knife-eared ones?" the whistling man asked, his voice nearer now that Solas' captors had halted. Solas could barely concentrate on their voices over the white-hot pain burning in his arms and shoulder sockets. The Templars had a firm hold on him and he was too weak to do anything but stay limp and hope they put him down soon. If he'd been just a little stronger he could have flexed his arms and supported some of his own weight—but he barely had the energy to continue breathing, let alone any other movement.

"No," the other Templar on Solas' right, a woman this time, answered. "We lost their track somewhere in the woods to the east. Blighted elves are as sneaky and dodgy as weasels out in the bush."

The whistler grunted. "Not this one, clearly."

"This bastard's barefaced. City elf. Poor sod was barely alive when we stumbled on him," said Left-Templar. He adjusted his grip on Solas, hiking him higher. The excruciating pain made Solas gasp.

"Should've just left him to rot," the whistler said with a cluck of his tongue.

"No, Ser Jeremy," Left-Templar said. "He's an interesting fella, too interesting to leave out to die. Had a strange magical artifact on him, clutching onto it for all he was worth. No stave on him, but my gut says he's got to be a mage."

"How you figure that?" the whistler asked.

Left-Templar explained, "No weapons. No calluses on his hands. And yet he's out deep in the woods in some kind of ancient giant spider-infested ruin. What else could he be? Bugger's just too weak to even call magic now."

"Or speak," Right-Templar added. "I agree with Ser Bartholomew. No ordinary man handles something like the artifact we found with him. This rabbit isn't some peasant. He has magic...or had it, anyway."

With another grunt and a pop of joints, the whistler spoke again, even closer than before. "What in the void is he wearing? Nightclothes?" Solas felt the whistling man's fingers plucking at his shoulder and struggled to roll his head to the opposite side and look at the man.

He saw again the glint of the whistler's metallic armor, dark and crude compared to the fine, thin metals of Elvhenan. The man's face swam into view: a black beard flecked with gray. His eyes were brown. A bulbous nose and thin lips spoke of an unkind nature. A brutish man then, propped up by the Andrastian faith as a pillar of righteousness and given the authority to lord over captive mages. A shemlen whose life had been shaped by fear and superstitions. A shadow and a mockery of a world long gone.

The world Solas had destroyed.

"What's your name, elf?" the whistler asked, tapping Solas' cheek.

How should he answer? He had so many names, accumulated while he was awake and while he slept. Roamer of the Beyond. The Bringer of Nightmares. Lord of Tricksters. The Old Wolf. The Great Wolf. The Lone Wolf. He Who Hunts Alone. The Dread Wolf. Fen'Harel. Pride. Solas.

But his lips lacked the strength and coordination to shape any of those names. Worse, his voice and mouth were dry as dust. Much longer in uthenera and his physical body would've dissolved into dust as well. At that moment he rather wished he'd never woken. Everything hurt.

He let his eyes drift shut. His head sagged forward again.

The whistler grunted yet again and his booted feet scuffed on the floor. When he next spoke his voice was farther away and above Solas now. "Put him in one of the cells and we'll see if he lives. I've got ten royals that says he'll wind up dying tonight."

"You're on," Left-Templar answered with a guffaw.

As they started dragging him again, the pain in Solas' arms reached a crescendo and he gasped once more—and welcomed the blackness that closed over his consciousness a heartbeat later.

____________________________________________________

Solas opened his eyes and found himself standing in the dappled light and shade of a verdant forest in midsummer. Pollen tickled his nose and he saw an apple tree nearby, its branches laden with fruit. His stomach clenched, an unusual sensation that made him frown. He had not felt hunger for a millennia. Uthenera left his body in a stasis so complete he no longer ate or drank but instead clung to magic from the Fade to sustain himself.

He knew this was a dream, but he had no recollection of shaping it. His mind felt foggy, his thoughts and memories dim and scattered. His willpower and his mana core seemed nonexistent, as if he were little more than a spirit or a sleeper with little or no conscious connection to the Fade. Like a…

His thoughts panned around, finding the faint memory of the emotionless, broken ex-mages he'd seen in the dreams of other mages over the ages. What were they called? They weren't weak mages, slaves, or servants, but something else that hadn't existed in Elvhenan.

Tranquil. That was what they were called. Tranquil. He felt as if he'd become one of them, sundered from magic, even if he could still touch the Fade.

Turning away from the apple tree, Solas saw grayish stone off to his far right. As he pivoted to face that direction properly, he gasped. It was a ruin. The walls had collapsed around the entrance and tree roots had interwoven through the gaps, widening the hole. The darkness beyond swelled in his eyes, filling him with a cold sensation and a dreadful fluttering inside his chest.

From inside he could hear ragged breathing and saw a pale shape worming its way forward through the darkness, crawling. Drawn forward almost against his will, Solas strode ahead, picking his way through the collapsed stones, vaguely realizing they were of Elvhen design, not one of the countless newer structures he'd seen favored in his dreams across Thedas. At the entrance of the collapsing ruins, he squinted into the dark, lips parted and hands trembling as he recognized the mosaic in gold and green tiles that'd been set into the walls—the Dread Wolf.

It was his uthenera chamber. It should have been deep belowground, hidden away, but somehow the earth had shifted, cracking long ago to expose the entrance.

He shook his head, a wave of vertigo making him sway. He remembered this place, this scene—but from a different vantage point. Lifting his eyes again to the distant, pale figure on the stone floor in the darkness, Solas felt queasy, knowing the man was himself. This was not someone else's dream or memory. It was his own.

He'd woken alone in his sealed chamber, the foci orb clutched to his chest. It'd woken him after millennia asleep, charging gradually from the stray magic in the air until it jolted him awake, ready for use. Pulled from the Beyond, Solas had woken skeletally thin, with wizened muscles and a body that'd been ready to expire. He should have had attendants—loyal servants who'd gone into stasis to sleep through the ages, wakening magically to fight if the tomb was attacked and to aid him in recovery—but half an hour of lying motionless on his bed with no sign of them had been enough to tell him something had gone wrong.

Without attendants to help him immediately after waking, Solas knew he had little chance of survival. He was just too weak to be able to find food and water without aid.

But his purpose kept him from giving up. He'd mustered up enough strength through sheer force of will to unseal the chambers and crawl out of his uthenera chamber, still clutching the orb. From what little he could discern while crawling on his belly through the ruins, it seemed grave robbers had entered it ages ago, slaughtering his attendants when they woke. He found bodies, little but dust and skeletons now, but there were two different sets of armor among them, a clear sign of intruders. His own chamber had been magically sealed, preventing the raiders from harming him.

He'd managed to crawl outside and into the sunlight, to the apple tree outside. Slowly, laboriously, he ate a few that'd ripened early and fallen from the tree. That little bit of sustenance had kept him alive until…

The sound of hooves pounding the earth echoed through the trees and made Solas whip around, staring through the forest. There was a game trail out there and chance had brought the pair of Templars along it and past the ruins of his uthenera chamber. The memories that followed were hazy in Solas' mind, but he recalled the glint of their armor in the sunlight, the taste of the water they'd given him, and the musty smell of their horses.

"Fenedhis," he cursed and reached outward with his senses and his right hand, willing this dream-memory away in disgust. The raw Fade appeared around him, wet with slimy, stagnant pools and misty with green ether. A pair of wisps darted around each other, circling and humming, like butterflies trying to catch one another in a mating dance. The sight would've made him smile at any other time, but now he watched without really seeing it as he considered his physical reality.

He'd been abducted by Templars, who'd most likely taken him to a Circle tower. He had zero chance of escaping in his current physical state. He pinched the bridge of his nose and huffed to himself with frustration as he tried to remember everything he'd learned and seen in his dreams about Circles.

Then the skin at the back of his neck prickled. Solas recognized the sensation at once for what it was—the presence of a hostile spirit. Raising his head, Solas found himself staring at an elven woman with a long black mane of hair and golden eyes that made him think of honey. Her features were regal with high cheekbones and full lips in a heart shape.

"Fen'Harel," she greeted him with a warm smile. "How good it is to see you again, but how sad that you are trapped and suffering in the waking world. I can help you."

Solas scowled as he regarded the elven woman. "A poor likeness," he declared. "I almost did not recognize her. You should be embarrassed, nuvenathe. Doubly so, for you should know better than to try tempting those who you have no chance of deceiving."

"If my visage displeases you, you have only yourself to blame," the nuvenathe said in Mythal's deep, commanding voice. "It has been so long since you laid eyes upon her that your memory has withered and faded—just as your body and your magic have in the waking world."

Solas felt the sting of the hostile spirit's words and bristled, but he bit back the retort riding on his tongue, already seeing and sensing the mirth in the nuvenathe's eyes. Like all of its brethren, this creature relished toying with physical beings. Even in Elvhenan the nuvenathe had been renowned for their tendency to provoke and antagonize. Yet, of course, in those days their goals hadn't been as hostile as in the post-Veil Thedas. Pre-Veil the nuvenathe, like most spirits, tempted physical beings in order to understand them and further embody their representative emotion or ideal—desire, in this case. Post-Veil they sought to possess physical beings to reach the waking world again.

With a flick of his hand, Solas summoned rock from the Fade ether swirling around them and launched it casually at the nuvenathe. "Be gone," he commanded.

The stone blasted through "Mythal," making her shape blur and dissolve into an amorphous, red-black mist as the nuvenathe dematerialized for a heartbeat. When it returned, again bearing Mythal's appearance, it cackled in a distorted voice. "You will regret turning away my offer, Fen'Harel. Without my help you will shrivel and die. The Templars care nothing for their mage charges. They will use your foci as a paperweight and laugh as they bury your body."

Irritated, Solas launched another stone at it. "Did you not understand my meaning earlier?" he griped. "Away with you!"

The nuvenathe cackled again as it backed away, fading again into red-black mist before flickering as it vanished completely. Alone now in the raw Fade, Solas noticed the wisps still chasing each other and smiled slightly to himself. "Well, it would seem I have passed my Harrowing." He laughed to himself, bitter and dry. "It is a shame my Templar captors were not observing this."

Harrowing. Solas sneered to himself and hoped the nuvenathe wouldn't be correct after all about the Templars killing him while he was still weak.

_______________________________________________

A stinging sensation in his neck made Solas gasp. His eyes sprang open and found near-darkness except for the dull circle of light on the opposite wall from a torch. A figure had crouched down beside him, its hands at his neck. Solas flinched and tried to pull away, but his body screamed with pain and shook, protesting the attempt. He tried to speak but found his lips and tongue were dry and clumsy.

"Apologies," the person crouched beside him said, her voice monotone. "I will provide you with food and water when I have finished drawing blood for the phylactery."

Phylactery. Something like panic fluttered in the back of his mind and he groaned, a string of curses running through his head. The Templars would use a few drops of his blood in a vial to track him, the way they did with all their mage captives.

The tinkling of glass instruments rang in his ears and a moment later Solas winced as the vial glowed a deep, brilliant crimson. The Templars and Chantry forbade blood magic and abhorred spirits and the Fade, but the phylacteries were allowed because they were convenient. Hypocrites.

"I require a name for our records, ser," the woman said in the same monotone.

Solas' stomach clenched and his skin seemed to crawl as he realized this woman was Tranquil. A mage the Templars had mutilated, severing her connection to the Fade and rendering her emotionless and magic-less.

"Your name, ser?" the Tranquil repeated.

Solas remained silent and motionless, though his mind was spinning as he wondered how he would overcome this new obstacle to his eventual freedom. He'd followed Circle mages who'd fled from their towers before via dreams and had seen the way the Templars employed the phylacteries. It was crude tracking, at best, but the idea of these cretins having a phylactery with his blood inside rankled him. Even if they had no chance of finding him with it, Solas would know it existed somewhere—like invisible chains around his hands and feet.

He would not be a captive.

Yet, at present, he had no choice.

Metallic scraping from somewhere outside his cell alerted Solas to the fact that the Tranquil wasn't alone. A Templar stood outside the bars to his cell, arms crossed and his face twisted in a scowl. "Hold off for now on the name, Lyn. I'm not sure he can talk right now. Give him something to eat and drink first."

"Yes," the Tranquil, Lyn, replied. "That is logical." With a rustle and shuffle of her feet, Lyn rose from her crouched position and left his cell for a moment. Her footsteps were slow and quiet, careful but steady. Only a few heartbeats later and she was back, propping him up into a sitting position by leaning him against the cold stone wall behind him. She pressed a flask of water to his lips. Though Solas knew it would make defiance more difficult once they knew his throat was suitably wetted, he drank greedily. When his stomach cramped at the liquid he rolled his head away, gasping for air.

"Don't drown him," the Templar said with a chuckle. "I want that ten royals. This bastard has got to live."

"Yes, Ser Bartholomew," Lyn replied in her monotone. Next a cold spoon with gruel on it pushed past his lips. Solas scowled at the taste—what kind of barbarians considered this acceptable sustenance? The least they could do was infuse it with an enchantment to give him a buzz of pleasure or contentment or—

He grunted, the closest he could come to chuckling in his current state of weakness. Fool, he scolded himself. Enchanting food was something these shemlen couldn't do. He'd forgotten. It was so common in Elvhenan that virtually all meals were enchanted.

"Don't go too fast," Bartholomew warned.

"Yes, ser," the Tranquil answered as she pushed another spoonful into Solas' mouth. Despite the blandness of the taste he swallowed it without a fight. He could almost feel his body coming alive at the influx of new energy.

Bide your time, he counseled himself. Play along. Be docile and unassuming. Eventually he would recover enough physically that he could escape. It might take months, but he would do it. He had to do it to unmake this world and destroy the Veil. To set right the mistakes of his past and save the People.

He'd need the foci to do it, of course. He peeked at the man standing outside his cell quickly out of the corner of his eye and then away again when he saw the man's fixed stare on him. The Templars must have his foci. What would they do with it? Would they have any inkling as to its full potential and danger?

Of course not, he thought and almost let out another little grunting laugh at his own foolishness. Asking whether the Templars understood something as ancient and complex as the foci was like wondering if halla could read or if dwarves could dream and cast magic. These were shadow people, after all. They and their world were a mistake. They weren't real.

When Lyn had spooned the last of the bland gruel into his mouth and Solas had swallowed it down, the Templar cleared his throat and spoke directly to him for the first time. "What's your name, mage?"

For a moment Solas weighed his previous stubbornness, considering defying Bartholomew's request. It'd be satisfying to thwart their work with the phylactery, but the truth was Solas couldn't stop it. They already had the blood in the vial and he was far too weak to escape now or any time soon. His best option was to be compliant and to pretend this Circle really would be his prison for the remainder of his short, shem life.

He started to speak, his voice croaking, "My name…" but he cut himself off, wincing as he realized he was speaking in elven.

"Come again?" the Templar asked, sounding more amused than irritated for now.

Solas had learned the human's common speech ages ago, pre-Veil. He'd picked it up in the wilderness at first after encountering a few traders. In those days he'd learned it as an idle curiosity, a tool he could employ on the off chance he'd need it. Oh, and of course, it came in handy for impressing others at court. Arlathan had always delighted in the rare and exotic, and the shemlen tongue had even greater allure for its savageness. It'd only been in the Fade, post-Veil, that he'd learned it properly. But he'd barely had occasion to speak it aloud before. Until now.

Concentrating with a frown, Solas repeated himself, forcing his lips and mouth to form the unfamiliar sounds of the human's common tongue. "My name is…" He screwed up his face as he made up his mind to lie to them. "Revas."

It would do nothing to stop the phylactery's effectiveness, but this small rebellion would remind him what was most important.

Bartholomew hummed his acknowledgement, then spoke to Lyn. "Did you get that?"

"Yes, ser," the Tranquil answered. Solas heard the scratch of a quill on parchment as Lyn wrote down the runic symbols for the name he'd used.

"So, Revas," Bartholomew said, pronouncing Solas' alias name with care and precision. "Tell me about yourself."

Solas breathed slowly, letting his eyes drift shut to feign more exhaustion than he truly felt even as his mind spun in circles, trying to plan out an explanation these shemlen would believe. Deciding it'd be best for them to dig rather than for him to supply information, Solas asked, "What do you…wish to know?" He had to swallow several times to wet his throat again and still the words came out hoarse and strangled.

"You're an apostate?" he asked.

Solas knew he was far older than most of their initiates and apprentices in this Circle or any Circle would be. Hiding magical talent was difficult or impossible, typically, though in this world of near Tranquility it might prove easier than he'd expect. Yet it was natural then for the Templars to label him as an apostate and assume he'd spent his life evading them. Unfortunately that'd make them warier of him in the long run. They'd expect him to cause trouble.

For the first time ever in his long life, Solas wished he wore vallaslin. If these Templars thought him Dalish they'd envision a very different past for him as a simple wanderer and "savage." They wouldn't see an elven man who'd lived out his entire life as a fugitive trying to avoid the Circles. His thoughts flew as fast as his magic would have had he possessed his full strength. Perhaps he could concoct an intermediate tale for himself…?

He began struggling to speak again, but his voice was hoarse and croaking. Bartholomew motioned at Lyn. "Poor bastard's parched. Give him more to drink."

She obeyed, pushing the flask to his lips. The metal was cold, the water held a faint tang of minerals that made it delicious. After a few swallows Lyn pulled the flask away but Solas leaned forward to follow it with his mouth. Bartholomew laughed good-naturedly. "Like a babe chasing the tit," he observed. "Looks like I'll get my ten royals after all."

Feeling his cheeks flush with heat, Solas turned his head away from the flask, though he remained thirsty. Breathing heavily, he let himself sag as if exhausted. He was exhausted, so it wasn't difficult to let the Tranquil and the Templar see as much. With the food now in his stomach his body felt leaden after so long without a substantial meal. The extra work it needed to do to merely function left him trembling and sweaty. With the Veil in place his body was no better than any of these shemlen. He couldn't draw strength from the Fade and he could feel the cold, ruthless grip of mortality at his throat.

Bartholomew tapped on the bars. "Okay, Lyn. I think he's had enough for now." As the Tranquil rose to her feet, taking the flask and the tray with the bowl of gruel away with her, Solas let his eyes open slightly as he peered up at Bartholomew. The Templar was staring at him, his expression one of bald curiosity. He jabbed a finger at Solas when he met the elf's eye. "Keep kicking, Revas. I expect some answers out of you soon."

The Templar's armored boots clapped away down the hallway with the gentler shuffle of the Tranquil's step behind him. Solas sighed and closed his eyes, eager to slip back into the Fade for the comfort and power it'd give him. At least in his dreams Solas could walk and talk and shape the world with his will. He could still call on magic in the Fade.

Solas probed at that empty, desolate place inside him where his mana core usually waited, as immense and fathomless as an ocean. It was dull and cold now, utterly lifeless. He shied away from it, wincing and swallowing the sudden ache in his throat. How could he have woken so utterly weak and pathetic? He'd been one of the elite, an Evanuris. The most powerful type of mage in Elvhenan. He'd stood shoulder to shoulder with Mythal and Elgar'nan—that insufferable ass—and cracked open the earth in the civil war against Falon'din's forces.

How had it come to this?

Echoing through the hall outside his cell then, Solas heard the metallic screech of a door opening. He blinked, frowning to himself as he wondered if he was to be fed and interrogated by a different Templar now. Yet a moment later he heard a woman's voice rise over the clatter-clank of armored Templar footsteps and the shuffle of what sounded like bare feet over the stone. His exhaustion-addled mind took a few heartbeats to realize the woman was speaking in elven, but as recognition dawned he struggled to sit upright further and turn more toward his cell door.

"Fucking shemlen," the woman cursed vehemently. "Let go of me! Void take you!"

The Templars passed his cell and Solas caught a quick view of their captive. She was elven, as he'd known she'd be, with olive skin and brown hair that'd once been neatly tied up in intricate braids and knots but now had come undone in wisps. She wore armor he recognized as Dalish and in the split second he managed to see her face Solas noticed three things—she wore Dirthamen's vallaslin, she was quite attractive, and she was…oddly familiar.

But what was a Dalish mage doing here?

Tromping immediately behind the struggling, swearing Dalish woman were another two Templars hauling an elven man between them—but unlike his female counterpart this man was unconscious. Solas caught only the impression of his armor and the messy tangle of black hair.

Solas heard two cell doors opening on their rusty, loud hinges. The Dalish woman shrieked louder, slipping out of elven. "Tal! Creators dammit—wake up!"

"In you go, bitch," one of the Templars snarled. Solas heard the distinct sound of a body hitting the floor and then the slap of flesh on flesh. "That's for biting me," the Templar added. "Savage."

The woman spit. "What did you do to Tal?" she demanded.

The cell door swung shut with a groan. The Templars didn't answer her as they clomped away. One of them slapped his gauntleted hand on Solas' cell bars as he walked by, making him flinch and gasp. Solas caught the flash of the Templar's malicious, squinty-eyed gaze through the slot on his helmet as the man stalked away down the hall. Solas frowned after the man but said nothing—not that his throat would allow him to say much anyway.

What are Dalish mages doing here? He wondered again, his curiosity piqued.

From down the hall he heard ragged breathing and the thump of the cell bars and imagined the Dalish woman must be testing their strength. A little noise cut through the air like a whimper when the hinges finished whining and apparently didn't give way. Then a voice called out softly in elven, "Tal? Little brother, are you there?"

No answer came from the other man—Tal, or so Solas assumed. He opened his mouth to reply, to make contact, but then shut it again. He was supposed to be the docile prisoner. The Templars were probably watching somewhere down the hallway and would overhear any exchanges. They might frown upon socialization between prisoners. It was better to stay quiet and give them nothing.

"Mythal protect us," the woman murmured quietly and launched into whispered prayer.

Biting back the desire to scoff at her invocation to Mythal, Solas thought: Mythal could not even protect herself in the end. But of course, that'd been his fault too, to be honest.

Tired of thinking, Solas closed his eyes and let himself fall asleep.

__________________________________________

Nuven'athe: desire/wish with suffix for "embodiment of". Credit to FenxShiral's Project Elvhen. I think the term for desire demon was something else, using the term for sexual desire. I rejected this in favor of desire in a broader, nonsexual sense because the demon in this chapter tempts Solas with a nonsexual desire. Plus we see "desire" demons such as Imshael offer nonsexual temptations, so "nuven" was better suited.

Next Chapter:

The woman laid a hand over her chest and introduced herself while still wearing the same coy smile. "I am Rosa of clan Naseral." When he made no reply and didn't speak, Rosa chuckled. "What's the matter, flat-ear? Did the Dread Wolf take your tongue?"

Chapter Text

The green-black water around Solas' feet sloshed. It was bitingly cold despite the oily bubbles bursting through its surface and emitting swirls of greenish Fade ether. Solas scowled down at it and sighed his frustration as he reached outward with his will, searching for that snap inside that meant he'd connected with the Fade.

Nothing came.

The Fade should have been a place of comfort and security for Solas, now more than ever. The Veil made it impossible for any but the strongest mages to consciously access it while they slept, and most of them were hobbled in their explorations by Andrastian superstition. They feared spirits—hostile, friendly, or neutral alike—and avoided interaction with them as a result. They lacked the ability or the interest to shape the raw Fade or touch the minds of other sleepers.

All of it combined should have made Solas' talents, which had been impressive even to other Elvhen in the court of Arlathan—singular in modern Thedas. It also made the Fade a somewhat lonely place, filled with the shadowy forms of sleepers and their half-formed dreams. Solas preferred the quiet Fade of Thedas post-Veil, though he hated admitting as much to himself. He'd always been comfortable alone or in the company of spirits over people because spirits so rarely surprised him.

Spirits did not betray one another. Most of them didn't even lie. Couldn't even lie. People, on the other hand…

Gritting his teeth at the chill of the water, Solas reached out again. This time he actually extended his hand, willing the water to flash over to a pleasant warm temperature instead. The connection never snapped inside his mind and his mana core was as chilled as the water around his ankles. After a few seconds he let his hand drop back to his side with a whisk of his flesh against the silken robes he wore.

For days now he'd been having this same futile struggle in what should have been his demesne. When he'd first been imprisoned in the Circle he'd still been able to reshape the Fade, the same as he had in uthenera. But after the first day he'd found himself stripped of even that talent. It was…unbearably humiliating. And frustrating.

While in uthenera he'd roamed the Fade freely, slipping in and out of whatever dream he liked, whether it was a sleeper's creation or the recreation of wisps reacting to memories from the waking world. He'd possessed total control over it all and used it to learn and observe Thedas through the ages.

But now he couldn't shape the Fade even in this littlest of ways.

This wasn't supposed to happen after uthenera and it certainly wasn't supposed to happen to someone as powerful as him. Was the Veil at fault? The phylactery blood magic, perhaps? Would Solas truly be no better than one of the Tranquil in this post-Veil world?

What have I done to myself? He pinched the bridge of his nose and closed his eyes. What have I done to the world?

And then screams tore through the air, sharp as knives stabbing into his ears.

Solas jerked awake, blinking into the darkness of his cold cell. His bare feet and legs were sticking out of the thin, coarse blanket the Templars had given him to huddle under. That explained the chill of the puddles in the raw Fade, but what about the—

More screaming came, echoing through the hallway. Solas sat up, clenching his jaw against the stiffness and pain in his muscles as they protested the motion. Through the bars on his cell door he saw a shadow on the far wall and recognized the shape of it as belonging to a Templar. A moment later he heard a ringing noise and felt a wave of…something unpleasant wash over him. His skin prickled and he shuddered.

The anguished scream came again, weaker this time, and an unfamiliar male voice shouted, "Submit, knife-ear bitch."

The only response was the sound of heavy, pained breathing.

The shadow on the wall shifted and Solas heard the slight clank of armor. "Do it again, Ser Curtis," Bartholomew's voice said. He chuckled. "I'd rather not have her singe you to a crisp."

"Submit, Rosa," a youthful sounding male voice said in elven. "Please…"

"I submit," the woman said, her voice strangled with barely contained rage. There was a scuffing noise and then another sharp, loud burst of ringing. The same unpleasant prickling washed over Solas, making him wince. He heard the elven man biting out curses in a breathy voice and the woman whimpering weakly.

Bartholomew grunted. "She submitted. That was unnecessary." The mild tone of disapproval in his voice was unmistakable.

Curtis scoffed. "As if I'd trust a filthy knife-ear's word. She had it coming."

"That may be so, but I'd rather not sour relations with our charges. Wouldn't you agree?"

"A troublemaker like this should just wind up Tranquil straightaway," Curtis retorted.

"That isn't for us to decide," Bartholomew said and his shadow on the wall waved a dismissive hand. "Besides, you know how Knight-Commander Kali is."

"Yeah, yeah," Curtis grumbled. "Lyn, get over here while she's still out of it."

"Yes, ser," the Tranquil replied in monotone as her footsteps shuffled over the stone floor. A few moments later Solas heard the elven woman whimper again and then came the sound of tinkling glassware. "I require a name for the phylactery," Lyn said.

"Your name, knife-ear," Curtis demanded, growling. Solas heard the loud pop of the Templar's joints and guessed he knelt to be closer to the elven woman. She groaned and clothing rustled. Something metallic clattered on the stone. "Did you hear me?"

"Fen'Harel take you, shemlen," she snarled and then Solas heard the wet noise of her spitting at him.

"Filthy flea-bitten savage," Curtis growled with disgust and then came the sharp sound of a slap. The elven woman's breath hitched in her throat but she otherwise didn't cry out.

Bartholomew chuckled. "Maybe you're right about this one, Curt. The First Enchanter isn't going to want to deal with this bitch."

"Hear that?" Curtis asked and another slap echoed off the walls. "It'll be the Rite for you, for sure." Another slap and the woman did cry out now.

Solas watched the shadow on the wall, his hands curling into fists. If only he had his full strength, he could blow away the door to his cell and Fade step down the hall to petrify both Templars. He opened his mouth to call out, but stopped himself as he registered again the shadow on the wall.

This isn't real. These were shemlen and shem-elves, mere shadows of Elvhenan. The elven woman was not Elvhen, not one of his people. He owed her nothing. Though that realization made him snap his mouth shut, it did nothing to ease the lance of guilt and shame that cut through him as Curtis again slapped the poor woman.

Finally the elven man raised his voice, shouting, "Please, I'm begging you—leave her alone."

"Tell us her name, boy, and I'll order Ser Curtis to stop," Bartholomew said in a coaxing tone.

"Her name is Rosa," the elf answered, a note of desperation in his voice.

"All right," Bartholomew said. "Ser Curtis, stop if you would. I believe our dear Rosa has had enough."

Curtis grunted and metal armor scraped over the stone. The elven woman, Rosa, groaned with pain as Curtis' footsteps clomped over the floor and toward the exit of the cell. "Did you get that name, Lyn?" he asked as his shadow joined Bartholomew's on the wall adjacent to Solas' cell door.

"I did, ser. If you would excuse me, I must take the phylacteries to the First Enchanter." The soft scuff of the Tranquil's feet moving over the floor came next as she began walking down the hall. She breezed past Solas' cell, eyes facing forward and a small wooden box clutched between her hands.

The hinges whined as one of the Templars, likely Curtis, closed the cell door. Their shadows remained on the wall for Solas to see as they hesitated outside of it. After a moment of tense silence Bartholomew asked, "So, tell me, how did the two of you meet?" Bartholomew's shadow on the wall shifted beside Curtis. "Are you cousins? Siblings?"

"No," the elven man replied quickly.

Eavesdropping from his cell, Solas cocked his head, biting the inside of his cheek. He was lying, which meant he understood that if the Templars uncovered a familial relationship between the two Dalish they'd separate them, likely sending one to another tower. Solas recalled the woman, Rosa, shouting to the man—what had she called him? Tal? Regardless, she'd addressed him as brother in elven. It was possible she'd call him brother simply because they were from the same clan, but Solas doubted it. The desperation and worry in Rosa's voice, and in Tal's when Curtis had been beating her, suggested strong kinship.

"I'm not sure I believe you, boy," Bartholomew grumbled, low and threatening.

"It's true," Tal insisted, his voice firm. "We are not even of the same clans. Rosa was First to clan Naseral and I am of clan Ghillath. We met on the road."

"And what took you from your clan, boy?" Bartholomew asked, giving no verbal indication whether he believed Tal's story or not.

"We are seeking another clan. Our clans had too many mages, so we struck out in search of one that could take us in as First or Second."

"But didn't you just tell me you met her on the road?" Bartholomew asked, clearly skeptical.

"I did meet Rosa on the road," Tal replied coolly. His confidence under the interrogation made Solas smile. "We do come from different clans, after all. It was chance and by the grace of Mythal that we—"

"None of your heathen nonsense," Curtis interrupted with a snarl.

"Apologies," Tal said, unruffled by the Templar's interruption. "I merely hoped to convey how fortunate and unlikely our meeting was. It made no sense to journey alone so we joined together for protection."

"And attacked a village," Bartholomew said, growling.

"Attacked…?" Tal sounded genuinely confused, but after a moment he said, "Ah! You must mean the blacksmith who tried to cheat us and then chased us out of town when we refused to do business with him."

"Filthy lying savage," Curtis snapped. "We know the truth. There's no use in lying. You and that knife-ear bitch attacked that blacksmith and his neighbors with fire!"

"Ser Curtis," Bartholomew scolded. "Please allow him to tell his story uninterrupted. You know as well as I that the peasants can react poorly to mages of any kind." After a pause, during which Curtis grumbled under his breath, Bartholomew said, "Please go on. I'd like to know what you had to trade with the blacksmith."

Bartholomew's tone, though mild and gentle, was laden with skepticism. He clearly didn't think two wandering Dalish elves—apostates in his mind—would have anything worthwhile to trade. He hoped to find holes in Tal's story and uncover the truth that way, rather than through confrontation. It was a clever tactic and likely to work. Solas hoped Tal had the good sense to not be lying grandiosely. The best lies were always those containing a sizable dose of the truth.

It was a lesson Solas himself knew he'd need to remember when the Templars eventually turned their attention to him again.

"Ironbark of course," the young man replied without missing a beat. He even sounded enthusiastic as he launched into a description. "It's bluish in color, lighter and stronger than steel. It comes from the Brecilian forest, where Rosa's clan hails from and—"

"And where is this ironbark of yours now?" Bartholomew interrupted.

There was a pause from Tal before he said, "We hid it when we realized we were being hunted." He chuckled good-naturedly. "If you're looking to find it for yourself, I'm afraid you'd have to let Rosa and myself free to show you. I can assure you, you'll never find it just tromping through the woods and—"

"Enough," Bartholomew snapped. His shadow on the wall waved a hand dismissively. "Do you take me for a fool, boy? You're both apostates. I'm not about to let you out. The Circle is your home now." He let out a harsh laugh as his shadow gestured broadly to encompass the tower. "You'd better get used to it."

"We are not apostates," Tal shot back, sounding insulted. "We are Dalish. You have no right to hold us here!"

A metallic bang and clatter echoed through the hall. Solas flinched at the unexpected loudness and he heard Tal cry out with surprise as well. The shadows on the wall had moved, with Curtis striking the bars of Tal's cell.

"Your rights ended the moment you attacked that village," he snarled. His feet thumped over the stone as he turned and walked down the hallway, finally coming into view of Solas' cell door. He glowered through the bars at Solas, arms crossed over his chest as he waited for Bartholomew to join him. When the other Templar joined him, Solas feigned a small smile, hoping he would not incur a beating from Curtis, who seemed to be a Chantry-sanctioned brute.

"So, Revas," Bartholomew said, his tone easygoing and friendly. "Feeling up to talking today?"

Smiling, Solas cleared his throat and managed to speak, though his voice was hoarse and croaking. "What do you wish to know?"

"Ah," Bartholomew said with a broader smile. "Much better today!" He clapped his gauntleted hands together with a loud slap of leather on leather. "Ser Jeremy is going to owe me ten royals for sure."

"You bet on this one living?" Curtis asked with a sneer and a shake of his head. "Maker, you're hopeless, Ser Bartholomew."

Still chuckling, Bartholomew turned his attention back to Solas and said, "Tell me, Revas—where did you come from?"

"I was born in a small village north of here," Solas answered, pausing to frown when his voice cracked. That was true enough…minus the fact that he'd been born thousands of years ago in that village. "My father was Dalish," he lied and had to close his eyes as if exhausted to hide his revulsion at it. As if he were nothing but one of these shadow-elves, short-lived and shortsighted and misguided. "When my talent manifested my father hoped to raise me with his clan…" He broke off to cough as his throat ached. He swallowed to wet it.

"But his clan would not take me. The Keeper refused to give vallaslin to one born outside the clan, such as myself." The humans appeared uninterested in this tale. Doubtless, they'd already decided he was lying or they'd heard in his words the couched confession of an apostate.

"You're old for the usual apostate we pick up," Bartholomew commented. "How is it you stayed hidden?" He scoffed then, crossing his arms over his chest to mirror Curtis' closed off body language. "Don't tell me you hopped between Dalish clans. You're barefaced. Don't try my patience."

"I did not," Solas murmured. "I stayed in the wilderness and I was very careful not to cause trouble. I prefer to be alone."

"Well, you're out of luck there," Bartholomew said with a slight chuckle. "As soon as you're strong enough to join the others First Enchanter Braden has decided you'll be joining the other apprentices. And that means it's to the dormitories for you." He paused then, shifting his weight from side to side and asked, "What in the name of Holy Andraste were you doing in that ruin?"

What was it the Dalish legends had said about the Dread Wolf after he'd imprisoned the Evanuris? Something about him sitting in a remote corner of Thedas laughing and hugging himself with glee? That sounded about right. It'd be more believable than the truth to this Templar. What was I doing in that ruin? Sleeping. Dreaming for ages since I destroyed Elvhenan and letting you shemlen take over. You can thank me by fetching another blanket and bringing anything better than gruel to eat.

Pushing those sardonic thoughts aside, he tried to answer. "I…" He swallowed yet again, not having to feign difficulty in order to buy a little stalling time. "I enjoy seeking out old ruins."

"A scavenger, are you?" Curtis asked in a growl.

"A scholar," Solas supplied instead with a frown.

"Uh-huh," Bartholomew said, his tone making it clear he didn't care to tease out the truth in that detail. "And what about the artifact we found you with?"

This was what Solas had worried about most. He had to hide his connection to the foci and downplay its dangers while also somehow convincing these idiot Templars not to destroy it or experiment on it. If one of the Enchanters somehow managed to unlock it the consequences could prove fatal not just for Solas, but the whole tower. After considerable thought on the subject, Solas had decided his best course of action was to let the Templars come to the conclusion themselves that the foci was dangerous to mages and should be locked away. To do that he had to make them assume his withered condition was because he'd handled the foci. But telling them that would make them inclined to doubt. He had to play this carefully…

"Artifact?" Solas repeated dumbly, staring at Bartholomew with feigned bemusement.

"We found you clutching an ancient artifact of some kind." Bartholomew raised both hands and mimed the shape of the foci. "It was about yay big, covered in grooves, and round." He raised both eyebrows. "That doesn't ring any bells for you?"

Solas knit his brow, going silent for a time as he pretended to search his memory. Then, slowly, he started to speak, "I…don't recall. I enjoy seeking out ancient secrets and trying to understand them. I'm certain I would have found something like that fascinating."

"Could the artifact have left him near death like this?" Bartholomew asked Curtis, shaking his head. "Do you think?"

Curtis scoffed. "Does the Divine pray to the Maker? Is the sky blue?" He shrugged. "Answer seems clear to me." Motioning at Solas, Curtis said, "Elf bastard blundered into ruins somewhere and played with something he shouldn't have. Bugger's lucky he isn't dead."

"But what manner of device could this artifact be?" Bartholomew asked, scratching at his scalp. His hair was cropped very short, but it appeared to be a bright red in color.

Curtis spread his hands, palms up, in a gestural equivalent of a shrug. "Honestly, Ser Bartholomew, I've heard of stranger things happening where magic is concerned. They say Blight is a type of magic, right?"

Bartholomew blanched, his expression pinching as if he'd tasted something bitter.

Well, Solas thought, that was pathetically easy.

Looking back to Solas, Bartholomew asked, "Do you remember how you came to be this weak?"

"No," Solas lied and grunted as he struggled to sit more upright. It took effort and made every muscle in his body scream with pain. He shuddered, shaky and sweating, breathing rough and fast. It'd be good to show them again just how ruined he was—all the more reason they should fear the foci and warn the Enchanters away from it.

"What's the last thing you do remember?" Bartholomew challenged him.

"I remember entering the tomb," he replied, feigning an expression of intense concentration. "There were…murals. I examined them." He tried to remain upright, but his shoulders and back had begun trembling with weakness. Slouching, he let out a fast breath through his nose. "I'm sorry. Everything else is unclear."

Bartholomew sighed, rubbing at his mouth and jaw with one hand as he stared at Solas without really seeing him. Curtis had an almost contemplative expression on his face as he scrutinized Solas as well. Finally Bartholomew looked to Curtis and gestured to indicate the far end of the hallway. "Alert Knight-Commander Kali and the First Enchanter."

Curtis nodded and pivoted on his heel, stomping away with a clatter of his metallic armor. Solas winced at the sound, recalling the much lighter armor of Elvhenan with a pang of loss.

Bartholomew tapped a gauntleted hand against Solas' cell door bars, making him flinch with surprise. Bartholomew's eyes were solemn and dark as he gazed at Solas. "I'll send Lyn in with more food for you soon," he promised with a nod. "And you have my thanks for telling us what you could. If you remember anything of what happened to you…"

"I will tell you," Solas promised with a nod. The motion left him a tad dizzy, but his neck muscles were already beginning to strengthen. Good. At least his body showed some sign of recovery.

"Yes," Bartholomew said with a frown. "You will." The deepness in his voice held the threat of violence, yet a second later he flashed a grimacing smile. "I hope you understand that to protect the other mages in this tower, I will be compelled to do anything and everything in my power to ascertain any danger you or that artifact may pose."

Solas withheld a snort. "With all due respect, Ser Bartholomew, I am a threat to no one." He motioned at his withered body, still wearing the dusty, stained robes of uthenera. "I cannot even stand, presently."

Bartholomew's somberness cracked as he grinned. "To be honest I'm stunned any of you elves manage to stand or run with how skinny you lot are—but I see your point, Revas."

Solas kept his face impassive as he thought, And I fail to see how you shemlen don't topple over with how thickset you all are.

Bartholomew went on, "And I have every intention of seeing you recover." Leaning forward slightly, he said, "I have a new bet now with Ser Jeremy—you're going to not only live, but you'll be walking by the end of the month." He clapped his hand on the bars, making Solas flinch again. "Twenty royals this time. Don't let me down," he growled though he was still grinning. "You hear me, Revas?"

"I shall endeavor to make it so," Solas replied with a small smile. Fenedhis, how humiliating. Would Bartholomew and Jeremy bet on him like this the entire time he was here? He could almost hear Bartholomew's hushed words in some distant future weeks from now pressuring him to undergo his Harrowing by a certain date or else Jeremy would win their latest bet.

"Excellent," Bartholomew said and then strode away, calling over his shoulder, "I'll return to speak again with you soon, Revas. Keep kicking."

I'll be waiting with baited breath, Solas thought and rolled his eyes now that the Templar could no longer see him. At least he'd been lucky thus far that Bartholomew was fairly well-mannered and honorable for a Chantry-sanctioned thug. Curtis on the other hand…

The memory of the elven woman's screams echoed through his mind once more and he felt his skin flush hot with rage and frustration. Rage because he would have liked to have petrified Curtis for such cruelty, and frustration for the knowledge that he could do nothing for anyone right now. Still, he vowed that whenever he was strong enough, he'd make a point to kill Curtis. No one—especially not a useless shemlen—should be allowed to beat one of the People.

except she isn't one of the People.

"Fenedhis," he mouthed the curse to himself, not daring even to whisper it. How had he forgotten that these were shadow elves? Shem-elves. He had to focus on saving the real People. His people, the Elvhen, most of whom were still slumbering in uthenera, awaiting his summons.

Waiting for him to tear down the Veil.

Bide your time, he cautioned himself with a deep, calming breath. Be patient and observant and the right moment to strike will come.

As silence descended on the prison cells, Solas let himself sag back to the floor, relaxing. He closed his eyes, ready to slip into the Fade to continue his feverish quest trying to reconnect with his innate powers, but then he heard the young elven man from the cell beside his call out, "Lethallin…"

Letting out a little huff, Solas thought, I am not your kin. Then he replied, "Yes?" He scowled and cleared his throat, trying to reduce the ragged hoarseness of it.

"Your name is Revas?" Tal asked.

"Yes," he lied, eyes still closed as he refused to relinquish his current plan to reenter the Fade.

"I'm Tal," the man—scarcely more than a boy, really, by the sound of his voice—introduced himself unnecessarily. After a moment of silence he spoke again, this time with a note of earnestness. "Forgive me, I overheard your conversation with the Templars. They found you with an artifact? In a tomb?"

Cold washed over Solas and he held his breath an instant as his mind whirled, wondering at Tal's interest. The Dalish were a varied people, fragmented and scattered, but united in that they possessed and sought out secrets from the distant past. Some clans even served as guardians for artifacts like foci. Perhaps Tal's clan had encountered foci before and he'd recognized the description Bartholomew gave as a result. But, frighteningly, there was also a chance Tal or his female companion would realize Solas had not been weakened by the foci but had in fact woken from uthenera. Unlike the Templars, the Dalish knew of uthenera.

He had to be very careful what he revealed.

"So they tell me," Solas answered, trying not to sound as guarded as he felt. "I have no memory of it."

"You mentioned murals," Tal insisted. "What were they of?"

"Mythal," Solas lied. "Or perhaps it was Sylaise…"

"You don't know?" Tal asked, sounding skeptical.

"I was more interested in the mural's construction than its depiction," Solas clarified, lying again. Then, for good measure, he threw in a bit of truth. "I have an interest in painting and I hoped to puzzle out what pigments were used on the tiles."

"I see," Tal said with a note of disappointment. He let out a long, deep sigh.

Silence descended again on the prison and Solas let himself relax, his heart slowing after Tal's pointed questions. What had he been hoping to uncover, anyway?

________________________________________________

Solas had not been at the mercy of his own dreams since childhood, but now he found himself standing in the crop fields surrounding his village, watching as smoke poured into the sky. High overhead, Solas saw the sun setting to the west in a fiery display of stunning colors—pink, purple, orange, yellow, red, and green. Rocks floated like clouds, highlighted by the setting sun and coated in greenery and with Fade ether clinging to them like mist around waterfalls. Ether rose around Solas, twining in invisible streams.

These were not the details of the dreaming Fade, but of Thedas pre-Veil. This was Elvhenan, his home—now only a memory.

The only detail that was wrong in this current reconstruction was the Black City. It hung in the sky, distant and dreary, orange and green lights in its spires like campfires on a hillside. If this had truly been Elvhenan the city would be golden, glimmering like a jewel. It was Anor'Venuralas. The place of the gods and the pride of the seven Evanuris—Sylaise, June, Andruil, Falon'Din, Dirthamen, Mythal and Elgar'nan. Ghilan'nain and Solas himself had only been recognized later, after the city's construction.

The village echoed with screaming and shouting, a mixture of enraged war cries and the piteous keening of their victims. Spirits in the vague shape of humanoid figures—elves—ran through the field. Fireballs cast from their hands torched the crops, devouring them as dozens of ex-slaves took out their wrath on the innocent plants. These men and women were fuzzy when Solas looked at them directly, a consequence of the spirits' simplicity and the fact that Solas had never known any of these rebel slaves personally.

…and because Solas had never witnessed this attack firsthand. He'd forced himself to watch the event with the help of impressions from wisps that'd witnessed it. And he'd seen the effects of the attack afterward: the ashes of crops and corpses and houses. Yet, because the Fade had no direct memories to pull from him in recreating this moment, and most of the people within it, everything regarding the attack would be vague.

Except for many of the victims, of course. He'd known them. Somewhere in the village he knew he'd find a man and woman whose faces and bodies had been recreated by the spirits with exquisite detail. That couple would be standing proud and refusing to run as the rebels swarmed them. The woman, the village's headmistress and crop-master, would proclaim her support for the rebels' cause and try to make them spare her people as noncombatants.

"Burn the crops to send your message to Elgar'nan. What you have suffered is wrong and I regret I took any part in it, but it was never our choice to use slaves. We will not fight you. Take us to your leader and many of us may join your cause…"

But he already knew how this ended. The rebel slaves burned her husband alive and tore her apart. None of the slaves knew that this village, which they'd chosen at random because it was within Elgar'nan's lands, had been Fen'Harel's birthplace. They didn't know that the headmistress they butchered in Fen'Harel's name was Solas' mother. And her husband, burned alive, was his father.

Despair tightened his throat and tugged down on his shoulders even as rage made his fists clench. This never should have happened! I will not sit by and watch this…

Whipping on his heel, Solas stormed into the dark forest surrounding the village. The trees were dark and obscured with green Fade ether. Wisps hummed and sang like birds, playing in the tendrils of ether. The screams and shouts from the village dimmed as Solas walked. The forest here was familiar to Solas from long years spent roaming it as a child. The Fade, reacting to his memory, reconstructed it loyally.

Good, he thought, feeling shaky with relief. If he could not reshape this dream and the Fade in his weakened state, then at least he could alter it with the advantage of his knowledge.

Spirits clamored at the edge of his vision, observing him. When Solas glanced toward their green, translucent forms they warped into ferns or saplings or toadstools, eager to impress him with their reconstruction of the physical realm. Watching them, the corner of Solas' lip twitched upward as he considered whether any of them might be intelligent enough to serve him. Unable to shape the Fade currently, he had no way to try and summon any of his agents.

There was one in particular who might aid him in escaping the Circle tower: Felassan.

Then, suddenly, Solas tensed, feeling a weight spring into the back of his mind. It was the distinctive sensation of another Dreamer nearby. His heart pounded as both alarm and hope churned his stomach. In this sundered world, Dreamers were virtually extinct. The only one he could think of who'd know to seek him in the Fade would be Felassan.

Spinning in a slow circle, Solas scanned the dark forest around him, eyes narrowed and body tight with nervous anticipation. In his weakened state he didn't know whether he would be able to defend himself should this prove to, somehow, be a hostile Dreamer and not Felassan after all.

But in this sundered world? He wanted to snort with derision at himself. A Dreamer in this age would only become a target of demons and wind up dead at the hands of Templars. They'd likely forgotten the frightening power of Dreamers to kill sleepers in the Fade.

"Who are you?" he called to the trees. "Show yourself."

A twig cracked off to his far right and Solas whipped in that direction, glaring and raising his hands in a position for defensive casting—though when he reached for his mana core he felt a spurt of pain and winced. He held himself motionless, still ready to cast despite being unable to do so, as he watched a shadow peel away from the gray, misty forest ahead of him. In the faint light from what was left of the setting sun, Solas saw a lithe figure emerge dressed in Dalish Keeper armor.

Dalish female Keeper armor. This was not Felassan.

Blinking with bafflement, Solas stayed tense as he watched the woman draw nearer. She was crisp in her resolution, indicating a strong connection to the Fade. Her armor glinted in the light and her warm skin tone contrasted sharply with her pale vallaslin. The markings devoted her to Dirthamen. Her brown hair was tied up in an intricate pattern of braids and knots, though a few strands peeked out at the frizzled edges. The low light put her features in sharp contrast, but Solas frowned at the niggling sense of recognition that laced through him.

Her eyes glimmered as she shot him a coy smile. "Andaran atish'an, Revas."

Solas gazed at her, struggling to keep his expression impassive as he made the connection. This was the elven woman Curtis had been beating, possibly Tal's sister.

And she was a Dreamer. This Dalish shem-elf was a Dreamer. Perhaps, Solas thought, he had taken leave of his senses before falling asleep. Or maybe he'd never woken from uthenera but had simply crossed into some sort of…other plane of existence? That seemed more likely than what was currently happening to him, anyway.

The woman laid a hand over her chest and introduced herself while still wearing the same coy smile. "I am Rosa of clan Naseral." When he made no reply, Rosa chuckled. "What's the matter, flat-ear? Did the Dread Wolf take your tongue?"

He stared at her, pulse racing and sweating as he flushed cold and then hot. It's not possible, he thought, his mind spinning in an endless loop. She can't know me. She can't be a Dreamer.

Rosa cocked her head as she gazed at him, the smile easing into something softer now as she motioned at the dreamscape around them. "This is one of the strangest dreams I've ever walked into." She chuckled, wafting a hand casually through the Fade ether. "I usually only see this stuff in the raw Fade."

Remaining motionless, Solas swallowed hard, throat bobbing. He felt inward, stroking his mana core for reassurance and finding only that dull, pathetic ache of emptiness. If she attacked his only option then was to flee the Fade and waken in his cell.

Sighing then, Rosa let her arms flop to her sides in a motion that spoke of impatience. "Did the Templars rob you of your wits?" she asked. "Or did you never have them to begin with?"

Blinking slowly, Solas shook his head and licked his lips. "…excuse me?" He could not keep the slight note of irritation from his tone.

Now Rosa grinned and nodded. "He speaks! Excellent. I may have to plant a tree to commemorate this momentous occasion."

Now Solas' face flushed with heat and he scowled. "Of all the arrogant, simple-minded…"

She laughed and turned slightly to pick absently at the tree trunk she stood beside. "Ir abelas, if I have offended," she intoned with feigned solemnity. Then followed it up with a mischievous grin as she added, "Flat-ear."

Flat-ear? He bristled, hands clenching into fists. "Fenedhis," he growled under his breath. "Have you no manners?" He spread his arms wide, indicating the Fade forest around them. "How would you have preferred I react to your presence, da'len?"he asked, snarling as his mind worked quickly, coming up with more ways to defend himself and correct her rudeness."You could have been a demon," he spluttered. It was a lie, of course, but she didn't need to know he would know the difference so readily…

Rosa snorted as she crossed her arms over her chest and leaned her shoulder against the tree. "Please, Revas. You're a Dreamer. Do I feel like a demon to you?"

Fenedhis, he cursed inwardly. She had him there and Solas' skin prickled with both annoyance and sharp curiosity. For Rosa to recognize him as another Dreamer suggested she'd met others before, perhaps been taught by one. He'd assumed she would be ignorant and inexperienced, considering she appeared to be barely out of her teens and with Dreamers presumably being so rare…

Falling silent, he tried to calm himself with several deep breaths before deciding to try a touch of honesty. "I did not expect to encounter another Dreamer."

Laughing again, Rosa quipped, "Neither did I!" Inspecting her fingernails, she added, "I couldn't sense anything from you in the waking world. You might as well be Tranquil there."

Snarling at her comment, more at hatred for his own weakness than for her observation, he grumbled, "Indeed."

"So…" Rosa said, pushing off the tree and striding closer to him. Her feet were barefoot except for her wraps, moving soundlessly through the leaf litter. The steps were confident, smooth and graceful, but tempered with purpose. He could feel it rolling from her like magic, stiffening his muscles with tension. There was something…odd about her, something he couldn't quite place.

"Yes?" Solas asked her, growling out the single word.

"Imagine my surprise and pleasure when I entered the Fade and felt you, another Dreamer," Rosa went on, circling around him. Solas turned slowly, keeping pace with her and watching her with suspicious, narrowed eyes. "There may be hope after all," she said, smiling at him now genuinely.

Her voice carried a note that suggested she had more to say. A lot more. Solas sensed a proposition on the wind, as clear as the Fade ether still swirling in the air around them. "What do you want from me?" Solas asked her, arching a brow. "That is, assuming you have any goals beyond planting trees to commemorate non-events for your clan and humiliating me in the Fade."

She rounded on him, arms still crossed over her chest. "Tell me something, flat-ear, do you enjoy making nice with the Templars? If that ginger shem returns tomorrow to interrogate you some more and asks you if you'd like to lick his boots, will you do it?"

Snarling at her, Solas shouted, "No, do not be ridiculous."

Now her coy smile had returned. "So you're just putting on an act then?"

Glaring at her, Solas remained silent. Dreamer though she was, he was starting to believe he'd rather lick Ser Bartholomew's boots than aid her in whatever she wanted. Mimicking her body language, he crossed his arms over his chest and wished he could will her away as easily as he once had reshaped the Fade.

Her smile broadened into a grin. "You're putting on an act. I can see it in your face, hear it in your voice. You've got too much pride to submit like this to these Templar thugs." Her gaze swept over him quickly, then returned to his face, a fierce glimmer in her eye.

He felt a cold chill pass through him at the steely intelligence he saw in her eyes. It was…too reminiscent of the Elvhen he'd known. Too real.

"You know nothing about me," Solas snarled, hoping that was true. Her earlier comment about the Dread Wolf still had his guts in cold knots of fear.

Rosa leaned in slightly, her voice a near-whisper, "I know you're lying about the artifact the Templars found you with."

He inhaled slightly but otherwise gave no indication of the shock that shot through him. Sweat dripped down his back and collected at his collar. His scalp itched. Still glowering at her, Solas growled, "I don't know what you're talking about."

"Oh, yes, you do," Rosa rejoined, smirking knowingly. "The artifact they described isn't something you'd just come across in the woods on accident. It's from Elvhenan, a foci used by the gods. They were all lost to Tevinter long ago." She cocked her head, regarding him with something akin to amusement. "So, what were you doing with one? Did you steal one from a Magister or something?" Her brow furrowed suddenly, anger darkening her features. "Or did you find a clan that possessed one and took it from them?"

Feeling his stomach go cold with quiet horror at the direction of this discussion, Solas scoffed and shook his head, quick to find a suitable reply. "Did it truly never occur to you that the shemlen may have missed a tomb? Or the Dalish?" Huffing out an angry breath, Solas stalked away from her a few steps before turning on his heel to glower at her again. "Regardless of what you choose to believe, I have nothing to give you but the truth. Assuming the Templars are correct about this supposed artifact that was with me, I must have discovered it in those ruins. There is no other explanation."

Rosa stared at him, the angry expression easing into one of contemplation as she chewed her lip, eyes narrowed at him. Finally she said, "I believe you."

"What a relief," Solas quipped sarcastically. "A Dalish elf accepting the word of a lesser elf such as myself. Truly, you are correct that we must remember this event by planting a tree."

She snorted, her nose wrinkling as she grinned with real humor. "All right, I had that coming, flat-ear. Fair is fair."

"My name is not flat-ear," Solas growled, sneering in her direction briefly before heading off toward the trees, his stride quick and his shoulders hunched. He felt a flash of cold and saw a blue streak. He halted just in time to avoid colliding with the Dalish woman as she Fade-stepped into his path to block him.

"Get out of my way," Solas snapped. "I have no desire to continue speaking with you."

Rosa held up her palms in a defensive position. "Revas—Ir abelas. Venavis."

Nostrils flaring, Solas continued to glare at her. "Get out of my way," he repeated.

She made a shrugging motion, taking in the Fade around them with a sweep of both arms. "Where are you going to go, Revas? Hmm? Deeper into the Fade, maybe?" She grunted and smiled. The glint in her eyes was bright, catching the light from the moon that now peeked through the canopy. It was that unnerving realness again that made Solas recoil, drawing a step back.

"But you have to wake up some time, right?" she went on, a challenge in her voice. "And then you'll be stuck in that cell, next to Tal and me, waiting for the Templars to decide they're going to make you Tranquil."

Biting the inside of his cheek, Solas glared at her, hating her for being correct. His shoulders heaved as he breathed, feeling a slight wave of dizziness. A reminder of how weak he was and would seemingly remain for some time. "Your point, da'len?"

Now, for the first time, Solas saw Rosa reveal nervousness as she suddenly dropped her gaze to her hands, which she'd begun wringing together in front of her. Her lips twisted and her chin trembled. "It's only a matter of time before they decide to make both of us Tranquil. When they realize we're Dreamers. All they know about us is that we're demon-magnets, more so than the other mages. To them, it's saving our lives because they think we'll just become abominations and they'll have to kill us."

She lifted her eyes to meet his, clenching her jaw. "But I'd rather be dead than be one of those…" She sneered. "…those walking corpses." Swallowing hard, she gestured to the Fade. "I'd rather be dead than lose this. Wouldn't you?"

Watching her, listening to her vehemence, Solas' irritation evaporated. His brow knit as he breathed in the brisk, earthy scent of the Fade forest around him and inclined his head to glance up through the canopy toward the moonlight. The way it cut through the sky in a brilliant display of colors—pink and green—could only happen again if the Veil was destroyed.

Slowly, Solas nodded at her, his voice somber. "I would."

She searched over his face a moment and drew in a deep breath through her mouth. "Then what do we have to lose, Revas? We can help each other—you, me, and Tal—escape these bastard shemlen and their wretched Circle." Blinking then, her lips formed an O-shape as she added, "And we have to nab that foci back from the Templars. Can't forget that."

Now Solas arched an eyebrow. "Pardon?"

"That thing is Elvhen," Rosa said, making a face. "We can't leave it with shemlen." At Solas' silence she groaned. "C'mon, even a flat-ear should appreciate that."

He did, of course, but he wanted to do that alone. He couldn't risk having Tal and Rosa betray him and steal it, yet simultaneously he couldn't demand the orb as a price for his aid in their mutual escape from the Circle because of his cover story. Additionally, as weak as he was, escape wasn't likely any time soon without help from these two Dalish elves. Trapped by his own machinations, Solas pushed that concern from his mind as a problem for the future. Best to show little to no interest in the artifact to avoid tipping her off.

"Why would you help me?" he asked after a moment, letting suspicion creep into his voice. "The Dalish have little love for those outside their clans, such as myself. What do you care if I am made Tranquil?"

Rosa scowled, her nose wrinkling as she shook her head, as if she'd tasted something bitter. "Been eating a lot of sour grapes lately, Revas?" She snorted, eyeing him with amusement. "I came here to see if I thought Tal and I could trust you at all or if you were going to happily kiss Templar ass like a good little Chantry Circle Enchanter." She smirked at his glare. "And," she changed her tone and altered her pronunciation slightly to match his cadence of speech, clearly imitating him, "Did it truly never occur to you that not all Dalish clans are as closed-minded as the one that turned you away?"

No, Solas thought, frowning. It did not. Because they were virtually all as closed-minded as the cover story he'd presented to Curtis and Bartholomew. City elves were not equal in their arrogant eyes. Pompous, pretentious fools, all of them. At least Solas could pity the city elves, but the Dalish just left him angry.

"For what it's worth," Rosa broached the silence again when he made no reply. "I don't have a clan any longer. Neither does Tal. Without our clans, what are we except elves?" Pointing to him and then to herself, she added, "And not to mention you and I are both Dreamers. And all three of us are mages who don't want to be left in a Circle to rot." She shrugged. "Why wouldn't we help each other?"

Accepting the inevitable wisdom of her argument, as well as the unavoidable fact that he stood a better chance of escape with their help than without it, Solas nodded. Tucking his hands behind his back in a loose fist, he squared his shoulders. "Very well," he agreed. "How can I help?"

_____________________________________________

Original posting's author notes:

In portraying the Templars in this Circle, I wanted to make sure we clearly have a mix of good and bad people. As Vivienne says in the game, every Circle was unique, every mage's experience different. And YAY! Now we've introduced Rosa (and Tal a little) properly.

Next Chapter:

First Enchanter Braden shook his head, eyes flicking toward the hall behind Solas, to Bartholomew no doubt. "It would seem I owe Ser Bartholomew twenty royals."

"I am pleased to have proven you wrong," Solas said with a nod and a feigned smile. "Although I lament that my survival incurred debt." He almost cringed at the note of sarcasm that slipped into his voice at the last comment.

Braden stared at him a moment, deadpan, and then grinned. "I can see why Barth likes you, Revas. I think you'll fit in well here."

Void take me first, Solas thought. Aloud he said, "I agree."

Chapter Text

It was difficult to maintain an accurate sense of time in the cell. Solas spent most of his first few days asleep, too exhausted and weak to do more than speak when Bartholomew came by to interview him. His meals were regular, if revolting. He noticed that the Templars fed him more often than they did the Dalish mages in the cells further down. It seemed his good behavior—or Bartholomew's bet with the other Templar, Ser Jeremy, more likely—had proven advantageous for his health.

By the third day he'd forced himself to spend more time awake, trying to stand. His ankles wobbled and his knees shook the first time he managed to rise, and every muscle screamed with agony. Yet, even as Solas' head swam and his vision darkened from the pain, he felt the surge of triumph in this small victory. It was over swiftly as his knees gave out and plopped him back to the floor.

The noise of his fall drew Tal and Rosa's attention and he heard them whispering in elven. Most of the words were too quiet for him to make out, but he heard what he thought was his "name" spoken several times. Either that or the siblings discussed freedom (revas) directly. They often spoke together in hushed whispers through the bars of their cell doors, but rarely to him. Still, he had the sense that these two weren't communicating enough and suspected they used the Fade more often than the waking world.

Ah, the benefits of being a Dreamer...particularly one who could actually reshape the Fade. Unlike him, currently.

By the end of the fourth day, or what he thought was the fourth day, Solas had managed to walk a pace or two before collapsing. His hips were bruised from the falls, his bones aching and muscles trembling, but the pain only made his resolve harden. He would walk again. Run again. Whenever Tal and Rosa decided to enact whatever plan they eventually formulated, Solas needed to be ready because he didn't trust them not to betray him or simply leave him alone.

Rosa had not reentered his dreams since the first time, though she'd promised to return. Solas both dreaded and welcomed another visit. He feared what she'd walk into when she entered his dreams next, however. His dreams tended to be about Elvhenan, and eventually Rosa would figure that out. Yet at the same time, any progress was better than this excruciating and boring waiting as he frantically tried to force his body to recover.

At the end of the sixth day Solas managed to walk shakily from one side of his cell to the other. In doing so he discovered that from the opposite wall of his cell he could see a faint, green light reflecting from the wall further down the passageway. After several unsteady passes back and forth over the cold stone of his cell, Solas realized the light was moving.

A wisp, he realized. The Dalish mages were likely using it to pass messages in silence while awake. A clever tactic, one he could admire for its ingenuity. He made a note to himself to see about approaching Rosa and Tal's clans when he was free, to see if they could be recruited in one way or another. The knowledge Rosa had displayed regarding the foci and now the wisp were…

Impressive? No, that was far too high of praise. It was just more than he'd expected from shem-elves in this shadow realm. That was all.

He was still making slow, shaky circuits around his cell when he heard the door at the far end of their cellblock creak on its rusty metal hinges. The clink-clap of Templar feet clomping over the stone came next, echoing through the narrow hall, along with the quieter shuffle of someone else. Solas reached the wall closest to the door and propped himself upright on it as he waited, shoulders heaving.

Ser Bartholomew and the Tranquil, Lyn, stopped at his cell door. The Templar opened it with a jangle of keys, his mouth already curving in a bright, triumphant smile. "Actually standing today, are you, Revas?" He clapped his hands together, rubbing the palms. "I can almost taste the steak I'm going get with Jeremy's twenty royals now. You're doing better than I thought you would."

Solas made no reply except a slight nod to acknowledge he'd heard, instead focusing on Lyn as she stepped around Bartholomew. The Tranquil woman held his usual meal of gruel in a sizeable bowl in her one hand with a water skin in the other, but tucked beneath her arm was a folded robe in blue and green and tan. Seeing Solas' gaze, Bartholomew reached for the clothes, relieving Lyn of the awkward placement under her arm.

The Templar held it out, fumbling as the breeches slipped from his grasp. "The First Enchanter and I convinced Knight-Commander Kali that this cell was no place for you to convalesce." Grunting, Bartholomew folded the robe over his arm when Solas made no move to take it from him. "You're to join the other apprentices and the First Enchanter will assess you."

Swallowing to wet his ever-parched throat, Solas feigned a smile and dipped his head. "My thanks, Ser Bartholomew." Glancing again at the robe he fought the creep of a blush as he wondered if he could even manage to dress himself at this point. The thought of wearing the enchanter robes twisted his stomach with revulsion, but his uthenera robes were anything but clean by now. He'd done nothing but sleep in grit on the floor since coming here and had soiled them while crawling through the dirt to escape his uthenera chamber. A change of clothes and a bath would be delightful—even if they only came as rewards for his good behavior…

Or my readiness to lick Ser Bartholomew's boots, as a certain Dalish woman put it. Fenedhis. If Felassan or any of his Elvhen friends and advisors could see him now, Solas would never hear the end of it.

"Well then," Bartholomew said and then clapped Lyn on the shoulder, unsteadying her enough that the gruel sloshed in the wooden bowl, a little spilling over the edge. "What are you waiting for? Give him his food."

"A moment, please," Solas said and then, slowly and with caution, eased himself down onto the floor. Once settled, he extended both hands for the bowl and Lyn passed it to him.

The meal was bland and revolting as usual, though it tasted rich and there might have even been chunks of meat within it. Solas ate it with relish, his hands only trembling slightly now. His body buzzed with pleasure at the infusion of sustenance. When he'd finished, Solas gave the bowl back to Lyn and she wordlessly offered the flask of water. But as Solas took his first sip from it, he made a face. That was not water. The mixture of sweetness and alcoholic twang tingled his mouth and flushed his stomach with heat after he swallowed.

Bartholomew chuckled. "Not a fan of wine?"

"Quite the opposite, I assure you," Solas replied, pausing a moment as he tried to gauge how much wine the flask contained. Was it enough to inebriate him in his weakened state? Or could it have been drugged? "It was merely unexpected. My thanks, again."

"Well," Bartholomew said with a shrug. "Had to give you a little extra something. Call it dessert."

Deciding he trusted Bartholomew not to give him poisoned or drugged wine, Solas drank again, deeper this time. After the blandness of the gruel, his taste buds seemed to scream with enjoyment at the sharp taste of the alcohol. It was nothing compared to the exquisite wines he'd consumed in Arlathan, and not even enchanted, but the austerity with which he'd grown accustomed made it mouthwateringly delicious. He finished the flask and returned it to Lyn. "My thanks," he said again to both of them.

"All right then," Bartholomew said and strode toward the cell door. "Help him up, Lyn. Let's get him moving."

The Tranquil woman strode toward him and knelt, reaching for his arm. Solas let her and used the wall to heave himself up with a grunt of effort. His legs shook but bore his weight.

As they started for the door, however, Solas heard the clomp of more Templars approaching down the hall. Lyn paused as Bartholomew raised a hand, palm out in a motion that commanded silently stop. Solas waited, ignoring the burning of his muscles as he willed them to bear his weight without quivering with weakness. His face felt hot all the way to his ear tips. Distracted by the pain, he almost missed the sight of Curtis and another Templar in full armor slipping past Bartholomew to reach the cells beyond Solas' where the two Dalish mages were locked up.

"We'd better wait for them to pass," Bartholomew said and stepped back slightly from the door to call out to the other Templars. "Ser Curtis? Ser Jeremy? You here for the knife-ears?"

"Yep," one of them, not Curtis, replied. "Knight-Commander thinks they'll be hungry enough by now they'll play nice."

"Not that bitch," Curtis' familiar voice growled. The cell door whined as it opened and footsteps tramped over the floor. "Get up, you sodding piece of filth."

The other Templar had apparently gone into Tal's cell and wrangled him up without a fight. "Get moving," he grumbled, shoving Tal into the hall. The young Dalish man walked with his hands tucked close to his sides, shepherded by a tall Templar who stalked behind him. He shot Solas a sidelong look as he passed, his gaze skipping rapidly over him. His pace slowed as he did so, irritating the Templar behind him, earning him another rough shove. "Move."

Tal resisted, twisting at the neck to glance over his shoulder toward Rosa's cell. "Please—can we wait for—"

"I said move," the Templar snarled, pushing him much harder this time.

Tal yelped and staggered, stumbling further down the hall and out of Solas' view. He heard their footsteps echoing as they kept marching gradually down the hallway toward the cellblock exit.

From Rosa's cell came the sudden clap of flesh against flesh and Rosa's voice yelled shrilly in elven, "Keep your hands off me, fucking shemlen dog!"

"Savage," Curtis said, his voice deep and throaty. Husky. As if aroused.

Solas' stomach clenched, the meal he'd just consumed seeming to turn to ice and curdle. His hand not clutching at Lyn for support clenched into a fist. He stared at Bartholomew, watching the redheaded Templar—who'd thus far been fairly kindhearted and sensible for a Chantry thug—and silently pleading with him to intercede. He'd seen nightmarish dreams from mages trapped in Circles where Templars committed all manner of abuses against their imprisoned charges: beatings, starvation, torture, harassment, assault and rape.

He'd seen just that type of abuse in Elvhenan, even as a child in his remote village. In those days it'd been against slaves, made mindless and helpless by their vallaslin—blood writing that bound them to the will of their captors. The cruelty of it had been what drove him into the wilderness, rejecting Elvhen society in favor of spirits. It set him on the path to becoming Fen'Harel, to devoting his life to ending the brutality of those with no power and no voice.

There was a shuffling sound, the scuffle and creak of leather, then Rosa let out a strained noise from deep in her throat. Rage and fear. "Let go of me," she snarled in the human tongue this time. "Void take you!"

Curtis answered in a low voice that Solas' keen ears barely picked out: "I'll take you, all right."

Bartholomew, who'd been watching through the cell door, cleared his throat then, finally intervening. "Ser Curtis," he said drolly. "If you're quite finished terrorizing that rabbit, I'd like to remind you that when the Chant says mages are to serve man, it doesn't mean in that way."

Some of the broiling heat in Solas' blood eased as he heard Curtis grumble under his breath and then their two sets of footsteps thumped out of the cell in a shuffle. "Keep moving, bitch," Curtis said, his face carved in an ugly leer as he lumbered behind Rosa's lithe, nimble frame. Like Tal, Rosa hesitated slightly as she passed his cell door, gazing at him with narrowed, sharp eyes. Her jaw was clenched and her shoulders hunched, her hands fisted at her sides.

Then Curtis pushed her again and they were gone, out of Solas' view.

The rage in her stance wasn't directed at him, but at Curtis, of course. Solas found himself swallowing hard with a cold chill of fear racing through him as he suspected Curtis' behavior would quickly degenerate the moment he was out of Bartholomew's sight…

"Ser Bartholomew," Solas blurted, his voice tight and hoarse.

The Templar turned back to him, arching an eyebrow. "Revas?"

Solas hadn't meant to speak so abruptly and hesitated a heartbeat as varying concerns flitted through his mind, vying for importance. He should say nothing and be pliant, obedient, and the ideal "apprentice." This was a shadow world and Rosa a shem-elf. What did he care if she suffered as long as he achieved his goals? She would probably die anyway when this world burned, when he tore down the Veil.

It matters to me, he realized. He would remember this moment, remember biting his tongue in selfishness and looking the other way just as everyone else in Elvhenan had done with slaves before. If he betrayed himself, even in this shadow world with its shem-elves, what good was he? He'd be the monster the Dalish remembered in their legends.

Fenedhis. He swayed on his feet. His free hand shot out and caught the wall for additional support as he licked his lips and plunged on with what he'd planned to say. "I wonder if you might accompany Ser Curtis and the Dalish woman?"

Bartholomew scowled, but the expression was one of contemplation rather than disapproval. "And why is that?"

"She seems defiant," Solas supplied. "Two Templars may give her pause if she feels inclined to do something foolish."

Bartholomew was silent a moment before he snorted. "Ser Curtis can handle her." He shook his head, laughing for a moment before he sighed. "Maker's breath. Mages telling me how to do my job." Turning on his heel, he strode out of the cell and motioned toward Lyn to guide Solas out as well. "Tell you what, Revas, you worry about walking properly again and I will worry about controlling my charges. I've still got twenty royals on you doing more than the shambling you're doing now in two weeks' time."

Solas remained silent, trying to focus on his legs and feet, the awkward back and forth of walking with Lyn supporting him. I tried, he thought. It was the only thing he could do at this point, as weak as he was. He hung his head and tried not to think at all.

________________________________________

After climbing an obscene amount of stairs and walking a ridiculous distance through the tower, Lyn and Bartholomew took him to a room with dozens of round, brass tubs. The windows along one curved wall of the tower had a layer of condensation over them, blocking the view of the outside but still allowing light into the room. Steam thickened the air and Tranquil walked with their swift, focused stride between the tubs, hauling water. Each tub had enchantments and runes over the side to heat the water on its own.

Most of the tubs had folded partitions stacked alongside them to create a modicum of privacy, if such a thing were desired. Solas saw one such partition had been spread out to shield a tub on the far side of the room. Standing with his back to it was Curtis, his arms crossed over his chest and his face set in a scowl. Closer to the center of the room Solas saw a young elven man—Tal, undoubtedly—in a tub without a partition, another Templar standing watch with an expression of boredom.

Hearing Lyn and Bartholomew enter, both of the other Templars glanced up and the man guarding Tal grinned. "Ser Barth," he greeted him with a grunting laugh. "Out walking that hopeless wretch of yours? What did I tell you about taking in strays?"

"That you hate it when you lose money to me," Bartholomew rejoined with a laugh. He stepped further into the room to the next nearest tub full of steaming water and then waited as Lyn helped Solas shuffle awkwardly forward. As Bartholomew turned round to face the other Templar, Solas realized with a flutter of muted horror that none of them planned to raise the partition and they expected him to bathe in full view of them, much like Tal in his tub. Nakedness had never been something Solas was particularly ashamed of, but he'd never been in a situation that stripped him of any choice in the matter. Now, weak and at the Templars' mercy, he gnashed his teeth together and tried not to feel the burning humiliation spreading as a blush over his face all the way to his ear tips.

Lyn, of course, had no reaction and would not care about modesty as a Tranquil, but Solas saw Tal twist his head to stare in his direction with a curious expression. Solas tried to ignore the way his stomach roiled when he thought he glimpsed a twinge of pity cross the younger man's face. The Templars, meanwhile, seemed content to ignore him as they continued to banter with one another.

With Lyn's help, Solas managed to shed his soiled uthenera robes and bit his lips to silence the groan of pleasure and relief at the steamy touch of the water. He let himself slump in the brass tub for a time, eyes closed and muscles relaxed, all humiliation momentarily forgotten. A distant part of him could almost feel a…strange fondness for Bartholomew now for allowing him this simple pleasure.

And then he froze, scowling down at the clear water without seeing his skeletal calves and thighs as he realized the disturbing direction of his own thoughts. How sickeningly easy it could be to begin focusing on the "kindnesses" the Templars provided. Never mind that he should have been free, rather than locked in a cell like a criminal simply because he possessed magic and these close-minded, simple fools feared that power. He remembered Rosa's screams when Curtis had beaten her, and Bartholomew's casual dismissal of Solas' veiled concern for her welfare around the obviously leering Templar.

He'd seen captives grow senselessly enamored of their captors before. Some slaves he'd freed had rejected his intervention when he removed their vallaslin and lifted the compulsion of blood writing from their minds. Faced with the daunting task of finding their own way forward in the world or falling back into the sureness of servitude, many of them immediately fled back to slavery. The mind could be a tricky thing, trapping a slave long after the physical chains had been lifted.

I will escape this place, he vowed.

Then, abruptly, his lips parted with surprise as, in the bathwater, he realized he was bald. Inspecting his scalp with one hand, Solas found only smooth skin. When he'd woken, he hadn't been surprised to discover his long, thick mane of brown hair missing. His attendants could have shaved it when they laid him to rest, or the extreme length of the uthenera could have made him shed his hair the way a wolf sheds its winter coat. Falon'Din had been hairless as well upon waking from his forced uthenera long after the Evanuris civil war. But, so distracted by his weakness and captivity, this was the first time Solas had realized the true depths of his hair loss.

He had no eyebrows and no sign of stubble on his scalp. Quickly taking stock of the rest of his body, he found himself to be completely hairless. Fenedhis…

The face peering back at him out of the bathwater seemed too long, too lean. His cheeks were gaunt, his lips wizened. Sneering at his reflection, Solas sighed and began scrubbing weakly at his arms and hands, trying to clean away the dirt and accumulated sweat. Maybe his hair would grow back. Falon'Din's certainly had.

"Would you hurry up in there?" Curtis called to Rosa behind her partition. "I don't have all bloody day, knife-ear."

"Apologies," Tal called out, as if Curtis had been speaking to him, instead. "Please forgive Rosa and I. We have rarely had baths with hot water!"

"Dalish savages," the Templar guarding Tal grumbled.

"What harm is there in them getting a little pruny in there, Ser Jeremy?" Bartholomew asked, clucking his tongue. "Can you imagine never having had a warm bath before? They may even thank us for taking them in after this."

"Those two are trouble," Jeremy complained, shaking his head. He had blocky, bulbous features and small eyes. Had he not been a Templar, Solas would have expected to see him drunk in a small-town tavern and glowering, looking for a fight simply for entertainment purposes. "They attacked a village. And they fought when we came after them."

Bartholomew shrugged. "I read your report, Ser Jeremy, but I made a point of asking them about it directly. You and I both know the villagers enjoy persecuting mages. I suspect it was less attack and more defense against the village blacksmith. Have you met the man?"

"No," Jeremy admitted. "But the mayor seemed adamant about the attack as well."

"But he didn't see the start of it, did he?"

Jeremy scowled, shifting from side to side. "No," he said grumpily, crossing his arms over his chest. "Maker, Ser Barth. You're too trusting. You're going to wind up with a fireball scorching your ass."

Solas kept one ear trained to the conversation as Lyn passed him soap from a tray and waited nearby with a towel over one arm and the robes Bartholomew had brought him in the other. He sensed Tal doing the same as the Dalish man continued splashing about in his own tub, just loud enough to seem busy though it was clear to Solas that he was stalling. Over the last five minutes Solas had seen Tal scrub the same patch of his chest three times. Either the youth thought he had an exceptionally dirty chest and collarbone or he just didn't want to leave the tub. Solas could guess why—he was trying to coincide his departure with Rosa's to ensure she wasn't left alone with Curtis.

"You know why we haven't had any rebellions or even much dissent from our charges, Ser Jeremy?" Bartholomew asked quietly, gesturing with his armored hand at the rest of the room to indicate the entire tower. At Jeremy's irritated look, Bartholomew scoffed. "Come off it, man. The answer's obvious. If you treat your charges well, they will return it."

"If by treating them well, you mean bedding half the tower and spoiling the other half…"

Bartholomew stared at Jeremy a moment, his brown eyes narrowing with a flash of danger. Then, abruptly, he grinned and clapped Jeremy on the shoulder. "Very funny, Ser Jeremy. Very funny." He wagged a finger at the other man. "At least my bedroom habits are better than you Fereldeners, making love to your mabari and all."

Jeremy snarled at him. "You bastard. That's not funny."

"Yes," Bartholomew replied, still grinning. "Well, neither was your comment. We shall agree to disagree."

"Fine," Jeremy muttered, though his expression suggested otherwise. Whipping around to face Tal's tub, he commanded, "Get your ass out of that tub right now, knife-ear. You're clean enough."

"Yes, ser," Tal replied obediently and then, unabashed and seemingly carefree, he hopped from the tub and snatched the towel hanging from a small metal rack at the end of it.

Averting his eyes, Solas made a face as he concentrated again on his own bath. From across the room he heard Curtis make a similar demand of Rosa and a few seconds later the elven woman emerged from around the partition, fully dressed and with her hair wet and tangled. In her arms she carried her Dalish Keeper armor and the small slippers she'd been given to wear.

Curtis stopped her, thrusting his arm out to block her. "Put the shoes on, savage."

She glared at him, jaw clenching. "No."

"What was that?" Curtis demanded, edging closer threateningly until he was scant inches from her face.

Solas had gone motionless in his tub, unable to draw his eyes from the scene and completely forgetting to continue his bath. The sight of the Templar thug looming over her, solid and menacing and malevolent in his glittering armor, made Solas' blood flush both hot and cold as his heart began hammered in his chest with the sudden ratcheting of tension in the room. Jeremy and Bartholomew watched the confrontation with only mild interest, appearing as though they had no hurry to intervene if Curtis—or Rosa for that matter—turned violent. Solas cursed them both inwardly as he took in Tal's reaction, seeing the young man had frozen as he stared, still mostly nude except for the breeches he'd just pulled on.

Rosa stood stiff and defiant, unyielding and fearless before Curtis' wrath. "Are you deaf, shemlen?" she bit out, sarcastically. "I said no."

"Little bitch," Curtis growled and raised his hand so suddenly no one hand a chance to react before he'd slapped her across the face. The blow was hard enough to make her stumble slightly, but she didn't cringe back from him. And when she turned her head to face him again, baring her teeth like a snarling wolf, Solas inhaled sharply as memory struck him, as sharp and painful as glass under his skin.

He knew what Rosa reminded him of now—who she reminded him of: Mythal facing Elgar'nan. Solas had witnessed or overheard their bitter arguments many times over the centuries he served as her general. And Elgar'nan had not been afraid of striking her at the heights of his rage. That fearlessness and pride—Rosa shared it. She had the same poise that Mythal had possessed that'd allowed her to stand before Elgar'nan as he raged without flinching. It was the same reckless confidence that she'd carried to her last moments, facing Falon'Din and Elgar'nan in the ferocious surprise attack that led to her death.

Suddenly dizzy, Solas bit back the groan swelling in his throat. No, he chided himself. No. This is a shadow world. She is a shem-elf. How could he be so foolish as to paint Rosa, a weak mortal, with Mythal's traits and likeness?

"Put on the shoes," Curtis repeated, yelling with rage. "We are not savages here. You will wear shoes."

"The only savage I see here is you," Rosa snarled. "And you're wearing shoes. Seems to me shoes don't make the savage." Then, decisively, she shifted the load in her arms to free one arm and plucked the slippers from the top of her folded Keeper armor. Holding them aloft as she glared at Curtis in challenge, she dropped them to the floor. They clapped on the stone, one of them staying put where it landed and the other bouncing and rolling.

"Why you little—"

Before Curtis could strike her again, Tal was suddenly in the way, having Fade-stepped into that position. Bartholomew and Jeremy both shouted with alarm, drawing their swords with a harsh, metallic ringing. Twin pulses of energy swept the room and the Templars' swords flashed blue with their magic-suppressing power as they sprinted across the room, weaving around the tubs. "Stand down!" Bartholomew shouted.

Curtis had stopped mid strike, surprised. He staggered backward, hand fumbling at his waist for his sword. "Knife-ear scum," he snarled.

"Please," Tal shouted, both hands raised palm outward in a ceasefire motion. "Please," he repeated. "I'm not attacking anyone, I just wanted to—"

"Are you trying to get yourself killed, brother?" Rosa hissed at him, trying to grab his hands and pull them down.

As if realizing his hands were in a position that lent itself well to casting, Tal abruptly tucked his arms down at his sides. He glared at Rosa over his shoulder. "I could ask you the same thing!"

"All right," Bartholomew growled, knocking Curtis aside. "Enough, boy. Go finish dressing." Slapping Curtis on the shoulder, he said, "Take charge of the knife-ear boy. I'll handle the girl."

Curtis shook his head, frowning. "Ser, I have—"

"You have your orders, Ser Curtis," he retorted. "Go."

With a last foul glare aimed at Rosa, Curtis stalked forward and snatched Tal's arm in what looked like a crushing grip. Tal yelped with surprise, but allowed himself to be dragged back toward his tub in the center of the room.

"Ser Jeremy," Bartholomew said. "You will handle the other elf." He jerked his chin toward Solas. "His name is Revas. Think you can handle him?"

Jeremy snorted and gave no answer as he clomped away, heading for Solas' tub with a stormy expression on his face. "Hurry up, skeleton," he ordered. "And don't expect me to hold your hand while you get dressed the way Ser Barth would."

Behind Jeremy, Bartholomew scowled with disapproval for a moment before facing Rosa again. Solas made a concerted effort to continue washing even as he tried to covertly observe the ongoing drama across the room. Meanwhile Curtis began ushering Tal from the room, even though the young elf had not yet finished donning his enchanter robes. Tal seemed to be walking oddly too, uneven and awkward. Solas saw he wore the shoes the Templars had provided them, though he apparently found them uncomfortable at best.

But it was Bartholomew and Rosa who drew Solas' full attention again when the Templar suddenly grabbed her Keeper armor from her. "You have no need of this anymore," Bartholomew said and twisted at the waist to snap his fingers at one of the Tranquil lingering in the room. "Take this and dispose of it."

"No," Rosa protested, her voice taking on a shrill note. "That is mine. There's no reason you need to—"

"This means something to you, does it?" Bartholomew asked, holding the armor tucked under his arm tightly. "No accounting for taste, I see."

Through clenched teeth, Rosa said, "Please."

"Put on the shoes," Bartholomew ordered her with a grunt.

Stiffly and shaking with anger, Rosa stooped and snatched the shoes up from the floor. Her cheek was red, likely bruising from Curtis' blow. She hiked up her skirt, revealing foot wraps around her calves. With a little effort she donned the shoes and stood upright again, staring at Bartholomew expectantly.

"Very good," Bartholomew praised with a cold smile. "That wasn't so hard now, was it?" Then he snapped again, pointing at the Tranquil who'd walked over to take the armor at his previous command. As Rosa looked on, her teeth gnashing and her shoulders quaking, Bartholomew passed the Keeper armor to the Tranquil and said, "Destroy this."

"Please," Rosa growled again. Her chin wrinkled and Solas thought he saw a glimmer of moisture in her eyes. "You said you'd give it back if I put on the shoes."

Bartholomew snorted and shook his head. "I most certainly did not say that. I asked you to put on the shoes and you obeyed. It's the first smart thing I've seen you do since you got here."

"I didn't get here," Rosa snarled. "I was abducted and imprisoned…" She shook her head. "We are Dalish. You have no right to do this to us. We are not apostates." Then, suddenly, she choked. "Please, there's no reason to destroy my armor…"

"And there's no reason to keep it," Bartholomew retorted. "The Circle is your home now." To the Tranquil he made a dismissive motion. "Take this away and burn it."

The Tranquil dipped her head in a slight bow. "Yes, Ser." Her feet whisked over the stone as she walked away and left the room.

"Fucking shemlen bastard," Rosa cursed at him, her voice quavering. "Dread Wolf take you."

"You need to improve your attitude, rabbit," Bartholomew snapped at her. With a waving motion of his hand, he said, "Get moving."

Rosa stormed past the Templar and he followed, both of them leaving the room. Solas averted his gaze, trying to ignore the little spurt of sympathy that made something in his chest burn.

_____________________________________________

"Welcome to the Hasmal Circle," First Enchanter Braden greeted them. He was human, stocky and well built despite what Solas assumed was a cushy life trapped in this tower. Although his brown hair was still dark he'd begun to go gray at the temples.

They sat in a small office, all three elves crammed into the space as Jeremy, Curtis, and Bartholomew stood just outside the threshold in the hallway to guard them. Braden's blue eyes swept over their group, assessing them when all three elves stayed silent. "Well," he said with a smirk. "Don't everybody speak up all at once."

"Ser," Tal said, broaching the silence and swallowing hard, audibly so. "There's been a mistake." He jerked his thumb to indicate Rosa. "We are Dalish."

"I can see that based on your tattoos," Braden said, still smiling lightly. "But I'm afraid there's been no mistake. Knight-Commander Kali told me she received word of an attack against a village a few miles away on the Minanter River by some Dalish apostates." He shook his head. "We cannot ignore such a thing simply because you bear facial tattoos." He paused a moment and then steepled his hands, leaning forward onto his desk. "Perhaps if your clan comes forward and claims you…"

At that Tal's shoulders fell. Rosa, meanwhile, sighed.

Solas pretended to find his hands interesting as he struggled to keep his face impassive. So much for you both helping me escape. But of course he could hardly blame them trying to find an easy way out by invoking their heritage. They were right that they shouldn't be here.

"I see by your reactions that I shouldn't expect a clan to come forward to claim you," Braden commented with a chuckle. "Again, the Templars have kept me informed. There's no need for you both to be dishonest with me. I know you claim to be from different clans, cast out in search of a new one. That makes you apostates." He paused a beat and then said, "Wherever did you hope to go so far north? This is perilously close to Tevinter. I didn't think there were any Dalish clans around here."

"That's the way we like it," Rosa said. "Hiding right beneath your big shemlen noses."

Tal elbowed her, frowning. "Rosa…"

Braden frowned, a touch of anger warping his features. He did have a sizable, generous nose. Except for his nose he might've been a handsome man. "I take it I'm wrong and there are clans this far north," he surmised, no hint of anger in his voice though it still lingered in his gaze.

"In the last Arlathvhen," Tal began, then paused, licking his lips as he explained, "That's a meeting of all the clans every ten years. In that last meeting we learned of a clan roaming the Free Marches that is in need of a First and a Second."

Braden arched an eyebrow. "First and Second what? Enchanters?"

"Apprentices to a Keeper," Tal supplied. "Rosa and I come from clans with too many mages. Rosa was First in her birth clan. I wasn't even that." He shrugged, a self-deprecating motion. "My Keeper never liked me much. He'd never take me on as his apprentice. So when another gifted child was born he asked me to leave."

"Just like that?" Braden asked, looking genuinely empathetic. "My sympathies…Tal? Is that how you say your name?"

Tal nodded. "Yes, ser."

"Well, Tal, I've run across others like you who were cast from Dalish clans, but they were usually children." He rested his chin on his steepled hands. "You both are a bit of an enigma, but I'm going to treat you like any other apprentices." He pointed at his desk in a gesture to emphasize his words. "From now on you'll serve as apprentices. Myself and some of the other enchanters will assess your skills and talent tomorrow and depending on what we find there you'll be assigned to several classes for additional training and lessons. You are to behave respectfully and conscientiously. Obey the Templars and your betters at all times and you'll be enchanters yourselves in no time."

"I cannot wait," Rosa intoned under her breath.

"Check the attitude," Braden snapped. "Or Andraste help me, I will ask Knight-Commander Kali to lock you in solitary confinement. Repeated insubordination is punishable by a year in solitary confinement with rations." He glared at her and then quickly toward both Tal and Solas. "Is that understood? I refuse to let this Circle degenerate into chaos and rebellion the way others have since Kirkwall."

Kirkwall… Solas blinked, struggling to place that specific reference. As he'd drawn closer to waking his dreaming had grown somewhat…fragmented and unclear. Jumbled. He knew rebellion had been brewing in the Circles for some time and he'd touched the dreams of mages who'd fled Circles that'd failed, such as the Ferelden Circle that fell during the Blight.

Ah, he remembered the reference now. An apostate had blown up the Chantry there and incited rebellion against the Circle. Bartholomew's comments on rebellion in this Circle took on a sudden, larger meaning and Solas concentrated on maintaining an impassive expression as he realized how…fortuitous this could be. He'd picked the right time to be captured as an apostate it seemed. Inciting rebellion had been one of his specialties in Elvhenan, much to the Evanuris' irritation.

When it became clear that Braden expected some type of response from them all, Tal nodded and Solas did the same. Rosa's lips pinched into a hard line as she hesitated a moment longer before doing the same.

"Good," Braden said and then tilted his head up and called out to the hall. "Please escort our Dalish mages to the apprentices' quarter." Pinning Solas with a look, he added, "But please leave Revas."

Solas waited as Jeremy and Curtis stepped in and took charge of Tal and Rosa, shepherding them both out. Solas sensed Bartholomew lingering outside the office, alert but not on edge. None of them expected Solas to present any danger.

"You wished to speak with me alone, First Enchanter?" Solas asked, inclining his head forward slightly to show the other man respect. Feigned respect, of course. He wanted to force a smile as well, further disarming the First Enchanter if he could, but his body ached too much with the stress of walking here. The bath had helped, but walking up even more stairs from the room with the baths had left him shaky and quivering with pain. He suspected Braden and Bartholomew could both see it in his ashen skin and in the moisture of sweat Solas could feel beading at his temple and on his scalp.

"Yes," Braden said and leaned his elbows on his desk again as his eyes narrowed, observing Solas as if he were a tool or a rune that he hoped to puzzle out. "I understand you have no memory of how you came to be in your weakened state?"

"No," Solas confirmed, lying smoothly.

"And you don't remember the artifact the Templars found with you when they brought you in?"

Again Solas lied. "No." When Braden narrowed his eyes, clearly suspicious, Solas finally managed to dredge up a false smile as he added, "Though, I do wish I recalled it. I have spent much of my life seeking out such lost relics. I am a scholar."

Now Braden arched an eyebrow. "Is that so? Well…" He spread his hands in a welcoming gesture. "You've come to the right place then." Sitting back in his seat, Braden sighed. "As I told the Dalish, you're…not exactly our usual apprentice. For one, you're easily old enough to be one of the Senior Enchanters."

You have no idea, Solas thought and bit his tongue to keep from chuckling, though he knew it'd come out more of a grimacing grunt.

"In addition," Braden continued, unaware of Solas' amusement, "you've come with a most unusual artifact and in wretched physical condition." He laughed, a dark and dry sound. "Frankly, I'm stunned you survived. I checked in on you during your first few hours with us, and I can honestly say I did not think you would make the night." He shook his head, eyes flicking toward the hall behind Solas, to Bartholomew no doubt. "It would seem I owe Ser Bartholomew twenty royals."

Apparently Ser Bartholomew placed wagers the way some men consumed wine or sought out carnal pleasures. Solas kept his expression impassive, struggling as his own emotions vacillated between something akin to gratitude for Bartholomew's steadfast care and annoyance at his monetary incentive. Not to mention the casual cruelty he'd displayed in punishing Rosa by ordering her Keeper robes destroyed. Tal, in comparison, had walked out of the bath with his Keeper robes still in hand.

"I am pleased to have proven you wrong," Solas said with a nod and a feigned smile. "Although I lament that my survival incurred debt." He almost cringed at the note of sarcasm that slipped into his voice at the last comment.

Braden stared at him a moment, deadpan, and then grinned. "I can see why Barth likes you, Revas. I think you'll fit in well here."

Void take me first, Solas thought. Aloud he said, "I agree."

"So," Braden said with a clap of his hands. "Tomorrow I and some of the other enchanters will assess you for skill, talent, and training. We might as well get that over with at the same time we deal with the Dalish. Then, depending on—"

"That may not be possible," Solas interrupted him with a halting gesture. His hand trembled and, frowning, Solas let it drop into his lap. The impact seemed to hurt as if his legs were bruised. He winced with the pain.

Braden cocked his head. "And why is that?"

Letting out a long breath, Solas averted his gaze. Staring off into a cobweb at the far corner behind Braden's desk as he admitted, "I have not been able to summon magic since waking…in the ruins, I mean." He swallowed, feeling heat creep up his face at his slip, since waking. These shemlen wouldn't catch the mistake, but he was thankful Tal and Rosa weren't present to overhear.

Braden's eyebrows shot up into his forehead. "Truly? Not even a spark?"

"Winter magic was my affinity," Solas informed him. "But, no. I…" He shook his head, unable o meet the other man's gaze, as if he'd done something shameful. Lacking magic was not something to be ashamed of in this shadow world of Tranquil, and yet the attitudes of Elvhenan and the memory of what he'd been resounded within him and made the discussion agony. His chest constricted, tight with something akin to grief. What if he never recovered?

"Not even a barrier?" Braden asked, the note of shock impossible to miss.

Now Solas did manage to shoot the other man a glare. What part of NO did he not understand?

"Apologies," Braden said sheepishly. "I'm just…surprised. I have never heard of such a thing. Mana burnout is common of course, but you have been here recuperating for about a week now. I should think mana burnout would have resolved at this point."

"I have experienced mana burnout before," Solas told him with a shake of his head. "This is not it."

"The current theory the Templars have is that the artifact you were found with was what did this to you," Braden said, his look grave. "Does that sound feasible to you? You said you are a scholar of such relics…?"

"I am, yes," Solas said, forging a swift lie in the hopes that Braden and the Templars would include him in any research they conducted on the foci—if only so that he'd know where they kept it. "I have spent most of my life wandering the wilderness in search of forgotten ruins, much like the one I was found near. My specialty is Elvhen ruins in particular."

Braden made a humming noise in the back of his throat, considering. After a time of silence he sighed and said, "I'd like to examine the artifact myself with several of the senior enchanters, but if it can cause this level of harm…"

Unable to let the opportunity pass, Solas said, "If you should examine it, I would be delighted to lend whatever assistance I can. I have forded into many ruins in my time and I can read ancient elven to a certain degree." That certain degree was at a master level, of course, but Braden couldn't know that.

The First Enchanter nodded. "It's locked away in storage now, but if Knight-Commander Kali feels it suitable, I will summon you for your help, certainly. We'd appreciate whatever help you can provide." He drummed his fingers on his desk and was silent a beat before saying, "Well, it has been a pleasure meeting you Revas, but for now, until you recover your magic, I think it best if you rest and recuperate in the apprentice quarter. Ser Bartholomew? Please escort him there."

_______________________________________________________

Next Chapter:

Rosa's hands started wringing and fidgeting in front of herself. "I'm sorry," she blurted. "I didn't mean to make you uncomfortable. It's just…" She cut herself off with a grimace. "I did not expect a…city elf to know anything of spirits or demons. My clan was more familiar with them than most."

Unusual indeed, he thought but said nothing. Why did she care what he knew of demons or spirits, anyway?

"How would my knowledge of such things be at all beneficial in our escape?" he asked her pointedly, gesturing to the window. "Other than summoning wisps, perhaps. But if you are hoping that I may assist you by summoning demons or participating in blood magic I—"

"No," she interrupted, shaking her head vehemently. "No, no, nothing like that." Her cheeks were abruptly red. "I just wanted…I hoped you…can you…" She heaved out a long breath, her shoulders sagging. Slowly, she shook her head. "Forget it."

Chapter Text

She entered his dream again that night. Luck seemed to be both for and against Solas, as his dream tonight wasn't of Elvhenan, but of the room with the tubs. He relived again the moment his aching, skeletal body slid into the hot water and it caressed him with the tender, gentle touch of a lover. Spirits had adopted the forms of Templars and Tranquil, glittering in their armor and clearly made to resemble Jeremy, Bartholomew, and Curtis. Tal was present as well, splashing like a child in the tub in the center of the room.

When Solas felt her presence as a weight in his mind, he tensed and hunched forward in the tub, his skin burning with something other than the heat of the bath. The dream had of course rendered him naked and that was the last way he wanted to encounter Rosa—or anyone, really.

Closing his eyes and reaching outward, Solas willed the Fade to change, to connect with his inner core. He felt an echo of that connection and his heart hammered, leaping with joy and relief, but the Fade remained unchanged. Yet, with deep concentration and his huge effort, Solas managed to conjure himself clothing. Now he sat in the tub wearing the enchanter robes he'd dressed in after the bath. They were soaking wet and heavy as he stood up and gazed round the room, searching for Rosa.

He found her leaning against the doorway behind him, observing him, arms crossed over her chest. "You're getting better," she said, grinning. "You changed something. Excellent."

"Yes," Solas muttered with a huff. "How reassuring that I have earned your approval."

"Too proud to ask for help, Revas?" she asked, pushing off the doorway. "I could have conjured you clothes."

"Hardly," he grumbled. He remained standing in the tub, water dripping from his robes as Rosa strolled deeper into the room, weaving around the tubs.

Near Tal's tub she raised a hand, wrinkling her nose as she willed the spirit representing Tal to don clothing. "Really, Tal, no one wants to see that," she said, smirking.

The spirit beamed at her and waggled his eyebrows. "You sure?" it asked in a perfect rendition of Tal's voice.

Rosa snorted. "Good job, elgar. You've captured him perfectly."

Staring between the spirit rendition of Tal and Rosa, Solas narrowed his eyes as he caught the small similarities between the siblings. Tal had black, curly hair, cropped close. His eyes were darker than Rosa's, but there was something similar in the shape of their cheekbones and lips. Tal had a longer face and skin nearly as pale as Solas, giving him a distinctly elven appearance despite his obvious youthfulness. Rosa, however, had a more oval face, a neat nose, and olive skin to match her brown hair. In the dreaming she had it tucked up into the knots and braids Solas had seen her wearing when the Templars first dragged her to her cell.

"Your brother has more sense than you do," he scolded, intending to warn her against her willful defiance around the Templars, but Rosa's head whipped around to glare at him, her eyes narrowed and full of dark alarm.

"Who says Tal is my brother?" she asked, her lips parting in a hard, humorless smile. She gestured to spirit-Tal and said, "We look nothing alike and we are from different clans. How could he possibly be my brother, flat-ear?"

Forcing himself not to grimace as he stepped out of the tub, his robes clinging to him and dripping in a wet mess, Solas regarded her as impassively as he could. Internally, however, he cursed himself for such a slip. His only evidence for their familial relationship was that they had called one another brother and sister in elven. He weighed the prospect of lying to her to preserve that secret knowledge before dismissing it. What harm could it do if she knew he understood at least some elven?

"It is not merely the Dalish who remember our language," Solas told her gruffly. "I may be a flat-ear as you contend, but I am no fool." He narrowed his eyes, glaring at her in challenge. "If you truly mean to aid me in escaping and expect me to do the same for you both, you're going to have to trust me."

She watched him in silence for a time, as did spirit-Tal before it lost interest and began splashing playfully in its tub. The spirits wearing Jeremy and Bartholomew's shapes guffawed and gestured mockingly toward Tal and then Solas, no doubt miming how the dreamers expected the Templars to act in reality.

Finally Rosa nodded and dropped her gaze to the floor. "Sorry, flat-ear. I should have suspected as much." The edge of her mouth twitched up and then down again and, oddly, Solas recognized the little motion. He'd seen it before, somewhere, and knew it to be a tell. A suspicion churned in his gut: Rosa had already guessed he knew elven.

His heart hammered on his breastbone. Be cautious, he warned himself. Mythal had spent centuries manipulating him when he served as her general and he had never quite gotten the better of her. Comparing Mythal and Rosa made him feel queasy as one woman was real and had served as a maternal figure and mentor to him, while the other was….a pretentious shem-elf who seemed bent on vexing and irritating him in equal measures.

"Now," Rosa said, grinning. "What was it you were going to say before? That Tal has better sense than me?" She indicated the spirit-Tal, still chasing bubbles with both hands in the tub with the single-mindedness of a child at play. "You're right, of course. Though not this Tal, obviously. Elgar, please, you're making a real mockery of him." She wafted a hand through the spirit's head, but it ignored her, still focused on the water.

"You cannot keep antagonizing the Templars," Solas chided, tucking his hands behind his back in a loose fist. "You will only get yourself killed or provoke them into making you Tranquil."

"You think I don't know that?" she retorted, hissing the words quietly. Her eyes were locked on the floor off to Solas' far right. An angry little crease formed between her brows.

Scowling, Solas said, "If you already understand this, then why have you continued to act as you do?"

The look of anger warped into something that was both frustration and…was it fear? Then she shook her head, adopting a coy smile instead. "Maybe I like the danger? Maybe I'm protecting Tal? Or you? The more they focus on me being a problem, the less they look at the both of you."

Solas scoffed. "If any of that is true than you are a greater fool than I initially believed."

She laughed, a genuine sound that stirred something inside Solas with a fluttery sensation. He quashed it, refusing to consider it in favor of the irritation still coiling inside him. Didn't this foolish Dalish woman understand anything?

"I hardly see anything amusing in this," Solas snapped, motioning at the room full of tubs and Templars around them. "The more trouble you cause our captors, the more likely they are to make you suffer. You will not protect your brother this way. More likely, you will only attract attention to the fact that he so obviously cares for you. He will leap to your defense and their solution will be to remove him, or you, from the tower when his behavior reveals he has too great an attachment to you."

Rosa had sobered. She shook her head, snarling to herself. "Fucking shemlen bastards. The Dread Wolf take the lot of them."

Ignoring her curse using his name, Solas pressed on, "Surely you can see that is the way events will play out unless you improve your behavior. Swallow your pride, da'len, and follow Tal's example."

Still staring at the floor, Rosa answered through gnashed teeth, as if the words caused her pain. "I…will try." Her stance, shoulders squared and body stiff, hinted at tension within. The Fade seemed to darken around her, shadows coalescing.

The sense of Rosa, of another Dreamer in the Fade, had intensified inside Solas' mind as well. It was as if she'd grown more powerful, her consciousness heavier. Solas stared at her, cocking his head to one side as he examined her with a furrowed brow, contemplating.

Spirit-Tal in the tub stopped playing and twisted to stare at her. He reached out and laid a hand on her forearm in a little gesture of comfort. When he spoke there was a placating, pleading tone to his voice. "Calm, asamalin. Calm…"

"Yes," she agreed in a low voice and seemed to shake herself, rolling her shoulders in their sockets and lifting her gaze to meet Solas'. "Tal and I must escape from this place as soon as possible. We'll try to take you with us when we go, but you're so weak…" She broke off, sighing as real sadness washed over her features.

"I understand," Solas told her with a nod, keeping his voice and expression deadpan. He could hardly fault her and her brother for trying to save themselves if the opportunity arose. But all the same… "However, I would be grateful for any assistance you can give."

"Same here," Rosa said with a shrug. She tapped the edge of spirit-Tal's tub and then started walking slowly toward Solas, one corner of her lips curling up in a smile. "So," she started, stretching her arms wide to indicate the Fade dreamscape around them. "On that note, any ideas? I mean, other than me playing the demure Dalish damsel to the Templar thugs, of course."

Solas shot her an irritated look, unhappy with how she'd made light of his warning that she temper her defiance. Pushing that aside, he thrust out his chin slightly as he said, "How familiar are you with the growing dissent within the Circles?"

Rosa laughed, cocking her hip out to one side as she moved to stand a few paces shy of him. She wore her Keeper armor in this dreamscape, despite it being taken from her in reality. Solas swept his eyes over her for a fraction of a second before returning his focus to her face and feeling that same fluttering something with a spurt of panic. How could he be so easily distracted? Shem-elf, he reminded himself. Shadow world.

"Considering Tal and I have been wandering the wilderness of Thedas for nearly two years?" She grinned at him. "How much do you think we know about shemlen affairs?"

Good, Solas thought. The less she and Tal knew, the more they'd need to rely on his knowledge. Aloud he said, "Nothing, I suspect. Or very little." Pausing a beat, his brow knit as he considered Rosa's admission. "You and Tal have been clan-less for nearly two years?" He kept his eyes glued to her face, refusing to give in to the temptation to examine her body again—for assessing her age, he told himself, nothing else.

Of course, considering he'd never seen a natural aging process in the waking world, Solas suspected he'd never be able to judge accurately. Only in dreams could he see elves or shemlen age, and only then if he revisited the same sleeper's mind multiple times throughout their life. And even then he had to consider the possibility that the sleeper's mind, and the Fade through it, could be warping appearances in the dream.

Her hands went to her hips. "Off topic, flat-ear," she chastened him with a cluck of her tongue, though her eyes were bright and playful. And…real. Perhaps it was because she was a Dreamer?

Pushing his thoughts aside, Solas frowned, feigning more annoyance at her comment than he actually felt as he returned to the subject at hand. "Not long ago, a possessed apostate destroyed the Kirkwall Chantry and incited rebellion there." At this description Rosa arched a brow but didn't interrupt. "As such, a few other Circles have also rebelled—or so I have gathered here and there." Pointing behind her to indicate the spirit-Bartholomew, Solas said, "My adoring keeper has mentioned minimizing sour relations with the mages several times. You may have noticed."

"Your adoring keeper," Rosa repeated, chuckling as she turned to look. "The ginger. Yes." Rounding to face Solas again, Rosa grinned. "How do his boots taste, by the way? Is it iron or silverite in his armor, do you think?"

Solas scoffed, just barely managing not to roll his eyes at her playful taunt. "Off-topic, da'len," he told her, imitating her tone and cadence of speech to be sure she understood he mocked her…although lightheartedly.

She laughed, flashing her teeth in a bright smile as she pivoted and stalked toward the two spirit-Templars, her stride confident and authoritative. "You're right that I have heard Ser Ginger jabbering about keeping the mages civil." Glancing at him over her shoulder, she asked, "So the Templars are seeing the mages with more fear these days?"

"And the mages in turn have grown bold and begun to push back at their captors." Solas took a few steps forward, grimacing at the dampness of his robes. Trying to concentrate on Rosa and their discussion while also testing his tenuous grip on the Fade, Solas willed the moisture from himself. This was the Fade, after all, there was no reason for him to feel wet. No reason for him to wear the enchanter's robes he'd fallen asleep in. He should be able to will himself into any clothing, any form he wished.

Still gazing at him over her shoulder, Rosa's eyes glittered with eagerness. "And we can take advantage of that." She eyed him, her hands twitching at her sides and her lips parting suddenly as if surprised. "What are you…" Trailing off, she shook her head as if dizzy.

The spirits in their various guises had stopped going about their playacting and now watched Solas. Their shapes flickered, growing momentarily translucent.

Drawn from his reverie trying to reshape his own likeness in the Fade, Solas gave up and shot her a puzzled look as he registered the strange fluctuation around them. "Is something the matter?"

Her eyes narrowed, scrutinizing him. "How powerful were you?"

The question sent a chill through him, icing his blood. "No more than you," he lied, as nonchalant as he could manage. Then, with feigned confusion but real suspicion, he asked, "Why do you ask?"

She gave a sharp shake of her head. "Just curious, flat-ear." Grinning at him, she changed the subject as she asked, "Your specialty is tomb raiding and scavenging Elvhen ruins then?"

"Yes," Solas lied, nodding. "Though I fail to see how my expertise in that area will aid in mutual escape."

Ignoring his comment, Rosa strolled past the spirit-Templars, one arm extended to waft through them. Their shapes flickered, like candles nearly extinguished by a harsh wind. "You've never run into a foci before?"

"You said such things were rare or lost to Tevinter," Solas reminded her, spreading his hands in a gesture of openness. "So, how much do you think I know about such relics?" he challenged her, watching intently to observe her reaction. The way she reminded him just slightly of Mythal had him tense and on guard, expecting manipulation.

Confirming his fears, Rosa shot him a coy smile. "More than you let on."

"You'd be wrong," Solas snapped, hoping to convince her with conviction borne of irritation. "I had heard of such things, but only in passing." He motioned at his body, though here in the Fade he was far more robust than in reality. "If I understood the danger of what was in that tomb, do you truly believe I would be so foolish as to ford into it? I can barely walk, da'len. You have no idea what agony I have suffered since I handled it." His cheeks were hot with humiliation at his own weakness, no need to feign that.

Her coy smile didn't change. Her eyes—were they brown? Violet?—twinkled with amusement. "Ir abelas…flat-ear."

Ignoring her bait, Solas crossed his arms over his chest and let out a huffing breath as he asked, "I presume you intend to go after the artifact during your escape? Does such a diversion seem wise?" His heart thundered in his ears when he thought of Rosa and Tal trying to escape without him and snatching the foci for themselves in some ill-advised quest to reclaim it for the elven people.

…The Dalish elven people.

It belonged with him, with the Elvhen. Not these shem-elves.

The coy smile remained in place. She took a breath inward. "We shall see when the time comes. If it's a choice between escaping with our lives or leaving the foci here? I would leave it. I have no intention of dying for it…" She seemed to shudder then, turning away from him as she added, "I hope."

Hope? He frowned in bafflement at that comment. "Excuse me?" he asked, shaking his head.

She had started walking toward the windows along the far wall and tossed an explanation over her shoulder without looking at him. "I hope we can escape and take it with us. That's what I meant."

Somehow, Solas found he didn't believe her.

Striding after her, Solas took up a position at her side, staring at the opaque window, covered in a thick coating of condensation from the humidity in the tub-filled room. "It may take a long time to foster enough dissent in the tower that we can instigate open rebellion," he murmured, speaking more to himself than to Rosa. "It may be months, in fact."

She nodded, her attitude and demeanor abruptly somber. "Plenty of time for you to recover your strength." Her lips pinched into a hard line and then she twisted to stare at him, asking, "What knowledge do you have regarding spirits and demons?"

Taken aback and wary, Solas kept staring out the window; trying to remember what little he could of the landscape he'd caught brief glimpses of while the Templars carried him to the tower. Green, verdant forests and lush grass, all of it fertile with summertime growth. He longed to smell the rich scent of cedar trees and pollen. The memory of it now kept his heart from racing overmuch as he decided to answer with more truth than deception. "A great deal."

He heard her slight gasp and then—unexpectedly—she reached out and grabbed his arm. Solas tensed, stiffening and pivoting to withdraw from her a step, frowning at the closeness. Had he miscalculated? Rosa moved with him, as if she hadn't noticed his alarm, and when Solas' gaze leapt to her face he saw her eyes were wide and her lips parted in a broad, genuine smile.

"Truly?" she asked. Her hands on his arm squeezed. Solas felt the warmth through his sleeve. It seemed to race straight to his cheeks, heating up his scalp and ear tips with it.

"Truly," he confirmed and this time withdrew from her more forcefully.

Rosa's gaze flicked over him and then searched his face as she seemed to recoil. Her hands started wringing and fidgeting in front of herself. "I'm sorry," she blurted. "I didn't mean to make you uncomfortable. It's just…" She cut herself off with a grimace. "I did not expect a…city elf to know anything of spirits or demons. My clan was more familiar with them than most."

Unusual indeed, he thought but said nothing. Why did she care what he knew of demons or spirits, anyway?

"How would my knowledge of such things be at all beneficial in our escape?" he asked her pointedly, gesturing to the window. "Other than summoning wisps, perhaps. But if you are hoping that I may assist you by summoning demons or participating in blood magic I—"

"No," she interrupted, shaking her head vehemently. "No, no, nothing like that." Her cheeks were abruptly red. "I just wanted…I hoped you…can you…"

Solas arched a brow, losing patience with her uncharacteristic, nervous spluttering. "Speak plainly, da'len. What do you wish to know?" He'd never been able to shut down anyone who searched for deeper understanding or knowledge, regardless of whether it was inane, arcane, or extravagant in his estimation. Even if he might consider it a bit of a timewaster as in this case.

She heaved out a long breath, her shoulders sagging. Slowly, she shook her head. "Forget it."

Irked at her dismissal of the inquiry, Solas frowned, but decided to let the topic drop. Whatever it was. "All right," he said with a nod. "But I hope you have no intention of summoning demons or conducting blood magic yourself…?" He let the question hang, hoping to lure a solid answer out of her.

She wrinkled her nose as if repulsed. "I said my clan was knowledgeable with spirits and demons. I didn't say anything about blood magic or summoning the damned things out of the Fade to fight." Her features warped with anger. "What kind of fool do you take me for, flat-ear?"

"I honestly can't say," Solas replied curtly. "As I barely know you." And yet, he couldn't help but notice she hadn't denied that as an option...

"Then that makes two of us," Rosa returned.

____________________________________________

The next day, aching and sore from his extended and grueling walk about the tower, Solas found himself seated in a wooden bench along the stone wall of what was apparently a practice hall for mages. A half dozen others were seated along the walls on additional benches, watching as first Tal and then Rosa took turns being scrutinized by the Circle's enchanters. They stood on a small platform, surrounded by lyrium runes that would absorb and negate magic, allowing the mage within the circle to demonstrate spells such as fireballs without risking hurting anyone or setting something afire.

Tal seemed to be quite talented, with an affinity for fire. Though the enchanters were conservative in their reactions and any praise, Solas didn't miss the way their eyes widened when the youth shot each rune in the circle around him with an immolation fireball in rapid succession, as if testing the boundaries and limitations of the marks. Solas suspected that was exactly what he was doing. Just as the enchanters were assessing their Dalish "apprentices," so too were the Dalish mages testing the mettle of their captors and "peers" within the Circle. How strong were their runes, enchantments, and wards? Could they be overwhelmed with a big enough fireball or a strong enough chain lightning spell?

Tal had no luck breaking the Circle enchanters' runes, however. But his show of fireballs did reveal how deep his mana reserves must be. There were eight runes in total to complete the circle of protection, each flaring as the fireballs Tal cast tested them. For a mage to strike all of them with enormous fireballs so quickly, one right after another…

Solas had seen far more impressive stunts in Elvhenan, of course, but watching the enchanters' wide eyes and slightly parted lips as they tried to cover their surprise revealed this was far more power than they'd expected to see. Solas sat forward on his bench, slumped to rest his elbows on his knees to try and ease the awful burn and ache of his back muscles, and kept one hand over his lips to hide his own quiet amusement.

When it was Rosa's turn she led with a different affinity: storm magic. She spun the simple wooden stave they'd provided her for this exhibition with practiced efficiency. Purple-white energy crackled, flashing as it lit up the room. Solas felt the familiar tingle of magic over his skin and shut his eyes with longing. His chest ached; tight with emotion as he worried he might never again feel his own magic stir.

When he'd put up the Veil, trapping the Evanuris in the Fade inside the Black City- Anor'Venuralas, as it was known to the Elvhen—Solas had almost been imprisoned there with them. It was only the Anchor he wore on his right hand that had saved him, letting him tear his way through the Veil and fall from the Fade. But he'd been near-death, so weak he had virtually no memory of those final moments. He recalled his closest friends and advisors rushing to him, kneeling to grasp him, to try and shake him awake. They must have been stunned themselves by the newly formed Veil, which strangled all mana regeneration by sundering them from the Fade. Yet, somehow, Felassan had managed to remove the Anchor from him, returning it to his foci, and arranged for him to be carried to safety. He had no memory of them creating his uthenera tomb, and only learned where his body had been laid to rest many years later when Felassan and others joined him in the dreaming.

He'd initially wondered if it was the combination of the Veil and the long uthenera that'd left him so devastated, but now he suspected it'd been physically erecting the Veil that'd weakened him so. A few of his other agents had recovered after uthenera or woken with minimal effects other than the smothering presence of the Veil. Solas could only hope his own magic and body would gradually adjust and recover.

He felt his eyes sting as he wondered if he would ever see Felassan again. Would he ever be able to shape the Fade once more, or would Felassan and Solas' other allies currently awake in this shadow realm be left confused and adrift, with no idea what had become of their leader?

He was the last Evanuris, the only one who could tear down the Veil and smite the weakened false gods. He was also the only one who could reshape the world in the chaos to follow.

And here he was, aching and weak and squandering his time in the Hasmal Circle. And, as if that weren't bad enough, he was unable to conjure even a spark or shape the Fade.

The sharp clattering noise of Rosa's magic drew him out of his reverie as he saw her casting at a stone dummy outside the circle. He expected it to be winter magic, but instead he saw she'd summoned greenish stone directly from the Fade at the end of her staff and then hurled it in a violent thrust at the dummy. Solas flinched with surprise when it shattered the stone figure. Bits of glittering green stone flew about the room everywhere, bright and beautiful.

The enchanters gasped and Braden shot to his feet. "Stand down!"

Rosa stared at him, brow furrowing. "What? Why?"

Braden glared at her as he gestured toward the cracked stone figure, spluttering. Finally, as it became clear Rosa was apparently confused and not trying to attack them, he said, "Please refrain from spells that will destroy Circle property."

Rosa slammed the butt of her staff down. Lightning crackled at it, flicking in sharp white lines from her fingers. She shook her hand out. "You cannot be serious. What's your problem? Have you never seen that spell?"

"Bigger spells are strictly for use in the larger space of the auditorium," another enchanter explained condescendingly. Under her breath she added, "That should be obvious."

Others muttered "Savage," under their breath.

Still, Solas couldn't help but notice they hadn't exactly answered Rosa's question. Now he was wondering the same thing. Had they never seen that spell? He stifled his own surprise at seeing Rosa use the spell. Even knowing he'd been wrong about her and this shadow world before, he hadn't expected that particular spell to have survived post-Veil. Seeing Rosa use it made him assume it wasn't as rare as he'd thought, but perhaps this was another way Rosa broke the mold.

On the platform, Rosa wrinkled her nose with disgust. "You put me up here like I'm a halla you want to trade and ask me to show you what I can do—and now you're upset with me for doing what you asked?"

"This is a test of your basic abilities," Braden explained with a note of exasperation. "I will not put you up there and ask that you show me you can hold onto a static cage for ten minutes or sustain a blizzard for an hour." He made a sort of shoving motion with his hands, emphasizing his frustration with her perceived stupidity. Or was it to cover his intimidation when confronted with an unfamiliar and powerful spell from a woman he considered inferior?

Rosa sneered at him. "Maybe you're not aware of this, shemlen, but this is my first time being in one of your Chantry's Circles. I'm a little hazy on the rules."

"Your companion certainly seemed to grasp them," another enchanter bit out sarcastically.

Rosa's glare transferred to this other man, her eyes fiery. "That is because Tal is being modest. I don't do modest. My name in elven means to stand tall." She squared her shoulders and flipped the stave almost idly, as if considering calling more chain lightning. "You asked to see what I can do, so I showed you. I didn't hold back. If you wanted me to, you should have said so."

The strange, weighty sensation had begun pressing into the back of Solas' mind again, just as it had during the dream the night before when Rosa had grown broody at his reprimand regarding her defiance. He sat upright on the bench, grimacing against the pain from his muscles as a niggling, half-formed thought dug into his mind like a splinter. There was something…odd about Rosa…something more…

Solas' gaze found Tal sitting on the benches lining the adjacent wall. The young Dalish man was biting the tips of his fingers, his eyes darting back and forth between Braden and his sister. His leg bounced up and down in a nervous tic. Solas expected that at any moment the young man would leap to her defense…again.

But then: "Very well," Braden said snappishly. "I will be precise from now on." He motioned to the shattered stone figure. "Fire mine it."

"With pleasure," Rosa told him, grinning wide and hard. With a wave of her hand a fire mine appeared beneath the broken stone. Clenching her fist, Rosa set it off with a slight rumble and a flash of orange-red flames. Without being asked, Rosa motioned with her other hand and swiftly froze the flames with winter's grasp.

"Barrier," Braden called out next and Rosa complied at once. Her skin was flushed with the exertion of casting, her eyes bright with fierce joy. The circle of protection kept her movement fairly minimal, but her feet were nimble as she spun and slid with grace. None of the enchanters had apparently cared that she'd forgotten to wear shoes. She moved with the confidence of a mage who'd seen combat and knew that her body work was as important as her magic.

Solas had never envied another person for his or her magic before. He'd always been so powerful that envying another's magic was simply not possible. Yet now, in this post-Veil world as little better than a Tranquil, he found his stomach roiling with that unpleasant sensation: envy. He longed to feel magic caressing its way through him, to feel the joy of seeing his will made manifest. Even just being able to spin and move physically like Rosa and Tal would be rewarding.

I'll recover, he vowed yet again. I have to.

_______________________________________________

After the enchanters had assessed Tal and Rosa, Braden assigned all three new "apprentices" to be evaluated as far as their level of education next. The enchanter accompanying them was an elderly elven man who introduced himself as Parahel. He was soft spoken and stooped at the shoulder, his skin worn and wrinkled. Like Solas he had a bald scalp, but Solas could see pale stubble against the other man's pate that revealed he chose to be that way.

An unfamiliar female Templar acted as escort, stiff in her armor and aloof as she followed her charges. The going was slow as the group had to move at a pace limited not by the elderly Parahel, but Solas, to his shame. With his cheeks aflame with humiliation, Solas struggled to keep up with the elderly enchanter, but every step was an agony as they descended stairs and walked through long, rounded hallways lined with small classrooms.

Parahel chose one at length, ushering them inside. His brown eyes lingered on Solas, crinkled with sympathy. "Will you make it, da'len?" he asked in a voice made gruff with age.

Da'len, Solas thought and would have laughed if not for the distraction of pain through his legs and back. He used one palm to prop himself up with his skin scuffing along the stone wall of the corridor as he shuffled. Sweat beaded along his temples and forehead, as well as down his back. He tried to answer the old man but could only puff out a weak, "Yes."

Parahel's gaze shifted to the Templar woman trudging a few paces behind Solas. His eyebrows shot up, wrinkling his forehead. "Ser Laura?" he asked in his reedy voice. "Could you perchance lend this poor man your arm?"

With a little annoyed huff, Ser Laura strode abruptly forward and snatched Solas by the arm. Her grip through the metal of her armor was bone bruising in intensity and Solas hissed with pain through his teeth. Biting back any complaints, Solas let himself be half-walked, half-dragged inside the classroom.

Red-faced and doused with sweat, Solas saw both Tal and Rosa seated in the first row of small desks, staring at him. Tal's expression pinched with sympathy and he looked away, as if trying to minimize Solas' humiliation. But Rosa's face bloomed abruptly red and she shot up from her desk and stalked to intercept them. "You're hurting him," she protested to the Templar.

"Sit down," Ser Laura growled irritably.

"Let me help," Rosa countered, reaching out as if she hoped to pry Ser Laura's armored hand from Solas' forearm.

"Sit down," Laura repeated, snarling.

Solas' head swam as he struggled to catch his breath. This would be so much easier if no one paid him any mind. He didn't have the strength or the breath to pull away from Laura to reject her help in favor of Rosa. Even if he had possessed the energy to do it, he wasn't certain it was the wisest choice. Although he suspected Rosa might handle him with a gentler grip, he didn't much care at this point and he didn't want to be associated with her willful defiance.

Rosa refused to back down, but she did give way as Ser Laura deposited Solas to the next closest desk. Solas sank into it and slumped with exhaustion, shaking from the pain of his wizened muscles being overused. Resting his elbows on the desk, he hung his head and tried to catch his breath, waiting out the pain.

Ser Laura started to walk from the room, glowering at Rosa as the Dalish mage darted to stoop beside Solas' desk. He felt her hands on his shoulders and would have flinched away if he had the strength and presence of mind—but void take him, he had none. A heartbeat later he shivered as the cool brush of healing spirit magic washed through him. Before he could stop it, a groan wrenched its way from his throat.

"Hey," Laura barked from the doorway. "Knock it off." Solas couldn't see her, but he could guess from the warning note in her voice that she had her hand on her sword hilt, ready to draw it and cut Rosa down.

"It's healing magic," Tal protested plaintively. "She's trying to help him."

Rosa, for her part, ignored the Templar's warning. Her hands were still on him, the magic continued to flow. Solas shook with relief as the pain faded. Shamelessly, he leaned into her touch, absorbing the caress of magic like a starving man would inhale the scent of cooking food. "Ma serannas," he thanked her, biting back another groan of relief.

Laura grunted, apparently willing to let this affront slide. Her footsteps thumped over the floor as she left the room to stand guard outside it.

Parahel's softer tread followed, his robes rustling. "Tell me," he said, ignoring the ongoing healing magic. "Are any of you literate?"

"Rosa and I are," Tal answered brightly. "In the trade tongue and elven."

Solas barely registered the young elven man's words through the haze of healing magic enveloping him—but Rosa reacted. She stopped casting, her hands pulling from Solas as she whipped around and spoke to Tal in a scolding voice, using elven. "Elgar'nan take your wagging tongue, brother! You can't tell these people everything about us. Pretend to be a dunce. We'll learn more that way."

Now Solas held his breath, his heart hammering with more than just the lingering effects of the excruciating walk to this classroom. Rosa's comment had been the sort of thing he might use to reprimand Felassan or some of his other agents from revealing too much, minus the reference to Elgar'nan.

Watching Tal's reaction covertly without lifting his head, Solas saw the young man wince. "Ir abelas," he murmured.

It wasn't common for the Dalish to read and write elven—or to read or write in the human's trade language either, for that matter. Rosa had said her clan had some familiarity with spirits and demons as well, yet another oddity. He made a note again in the back of his mind to remember their birth clans: Naseral for Rosa and Ghilath for Tal.

"What's this now?" Parahel asked, frowning.

"Nothing, hahren," Tal replied with a sheepish look. "Rosa is just…"

"I was telling him that elven is a dead language," Rosa covered quickly. "I doubt we will have occasion at all to study it…?" The lilt in her voice suggested her desire for an answer, as did the way her eyebrows leapt into her forehead.

Parahel smacked his lips, pursing them as he hummed in the back of his throat. "We do on occasion study written elven," he admitted. "At least as it applies to magical items, enchantments runes, and spells, usually in fragments at best. I'd be interested to see what wisdom the Dalish may have collected on the subject."

"Thank you," Rosa said as she plopped into her original seat. Solas didn't miss the glare she shot at her brother, the silent warning to bite his tongue.

"And what about you, da'len?" Parahel asked, turning his gaze on Solas with an expectant look.

Mind still hazy with pain and distracted by both the intriguing hint of secrets in the air and the pleasantness of Rosa's healing magic, Solas blinked stupidly for a beat at the old elf. He had to make the same calculation Rosa and Tal had been faced with: how much should he reveal of himself? Licking his lips and swallowing to wet his throat, Solas opted to be honest. Partially, anyway.

"I can read the common tongue," he said. "But my penmanship may be somewhat lacking." In truth, he'd never had to write in the shemlen tongue before. As with almost everything else he knew about this shadow-world, Solas had learned in the dreaming by taking knowledge from sleepers or conversing with them. In the Fade he'd never had to write in any language…

Parahel nodded. "Better than most of my pupils, as I expected." He lifted a hand, index finger raised as if interrupting some invisible speaker. "But there is often a great distance between what one claims to know and what one can actually demonstrate. Pride is an evil thing, as the Chant teaches us. It is our enemy in the classroom as it closes minds and stills questioning tongues."

Pride is an evil thing. The words reverberated through Solas' skull and he pinched the bridge of his nose, resisting the desire to sigh with annoyance. Good thing his name wasn't Pride right now.

Parahel turned and shuffled toward the front of the classroom where a desk waited with a pile of parchments dyed in a gray color. Collecting the rolls under his arm with one hand and then scooping up three sets of quills and inkbottles, Parahel returned to the desks and passed each of his new apprentices one parchment roll, a quill, and an inkbottle. "Tal, you'll be first," he announced. "Please write out the sentence, Hello, my name is Tal."

Solas fought to keep the scowl off his face as he found himself looking down at the crude instruments of this age. In Elvhenan he'd used ink drawn directly from the magic of the Fade so that with a casual wave of his hand he could erase it. He'd been able to write directly into the wood or stone of his desks using a finger, or even just his thoughts, enchanting the words as he went to ensure the reader received the correct meaning and emotion from them. He could will the words to light up when they felt a reader's eyes on them, or infuse it with his actual memories. How did these shemlen or the shem-elves manage anything in this Tranquil world with so little magic and so short a time?

"Revas," Parahel said, drawing Solas from his reverie. He winced as he lifted his eyes to meet Parahel's. The old man motioned at the desk in front of him. "Please prepare your parchment and ink. Your sentence will be, I live in the Hasmal Circle. Do you understand?"

"Yes," Solas replied and, slowly, unrolled the parchment to do as the old man commanded. A quick sidelong gaze revealed Tal had finished his assignment and Rosa was just completing hers. Concentrating on his own work, Solas' brow knit as he imagined the common language words in his mind, reaching back to his distant memories of first learning the tongue in the Fade centuries ago. He took the quill in hand, finding it clumsy, and dipped it into the ink, but as he placed the tip to the parchment and began to write, his traitorous wrist shook. The ink dribbled and blurred the shaky characters together. Redoubling his efforts, and red-faced with shame at how long it took him, Solas completed the phrase. Unfortunately it was barely legible…

Parahel walked by Tal's desk, nodding with approval. To Rosa he hummed, leaning toward her and pointing at some of her letters. "This is crooked. Your stroke here is too close to this letter."

Rosa dipped her quill in the ink and swiftly wrote out the phrase again. It took less than two breaths to complete. Solas felt his face flushing hot with frustration, knowing he would never be able to manage that in his current state. There was no sense in raging at his unfortunate situation, but Solas had always been a good student, eager to please and thrilled with learning. To not even be able to write out a simple sentence now was…

He cradled his head in his hands and waited for this mortifying charade to be finished.

________________________________________________


Elven used

Elgar: spirit

Author's note from original posting: Poor Solas ate a lot of humble pie this chapter...and all the chapters so far, really. My beta said he has "Fade-dysfunction." Yes, she made a boner-joke at the Dread Wolf's expense. Things will start getting better for him gradually, but not for a while.

Chapter Text

Because of his weakness, Solas found the enchanters and Templars were happy to allow him to sleep late and rest often. Rosa and Tal, however, quickly joined an assemblage of classes and completed a revolving list of chores with the Circle's other apprentices. As a result, Solas found himself rarely crossing paths with the Dalish siblings as he remained in the apprentice barracks.

Most of the other apprentices were children or teens, studying and preparing for their Harrowing. Typically they were quiet, wide-eyed and fearful of their Templar captors and the senior enchanters. In Solas' estimation it seemed that fear of the senior enchanters was unmerited. The senior enchanters, although strict, had done nothing in Solas' view to inspire dread. The Templars, however, were another story.

Only two days after the assessment with Parahel, Solas was ambulating through the large dormitory hall lined with cots to strengthen his muscles when he heard a yelp from out in the hall followed by the splatter of water. With his joints aching and muscles straining to stand without shaking, Solas stared at the open doorway, frowning to himself as he debated whether he should investigate. Due to his weakness and ongoing recovery, he was often left alone to "exercise" or rest. Enchanters checked in on the dorm occasionally, but typically had little interest in him. His most frequent guests during the day were apprentices shuffling in to do their chores, or Templars scanning for illicit activity or contraband.

Then, into the silence, Solas heard a gruff male voice say, "Watch where you're going, gutter trash."

A moment later he heard a small, androgynous voice answer, "Sorry, Ser Jeremy."

A slapping sound followed and more clattering came over the floor, making Solas wince as he wondered what else had fallen. "You clumsy little shit," Jeremy said, laughing meanly. "You'll watch where you're going next time, won't you?"

"Yes, ser," the apprentice replied, voice warbling.

The thump of Templar boots retreated down the hall and Solas remembered to breathe again. Despite the quaking in his body and the ache of his muscles, he strode for the door in as even and quick a pace as he could manage. Outside in the dingy hall he saw a young apprentice no older than twelve had knelt down and was gingerly grabbing at a wooden bucket, sponge, and numerous dirty rags that lay scattered over the floor.

Swallowing against the pain still wracking him, Solas went to help the boy, but the apprentice reacted with horror. He sniffled, trying to hide his face and keeping his eyes averted as he pleaded with Solas to leave him to clean up the mess alone. "Was my fault, ser. I'm clumsy, like he said."

"Are you clumsy or did he run into you?" Solas asked pointedly. When the boy shot him a quick look of abject horror that he quickly stifled, Solas had his answer. He sighed and leaned his wizened, weak body against the doorway. "Do not be so hasty to accept abuse hurled on you by others. You must never tear yourself down or you will be doing the work of your enemies for them."

"But…" the boy's brow furrowed, his eyes dark with fear. "Ser Jeremy isn't my enemy. He's here to protect me. From myself—and from you and everyone else with magic."

Solas stared at the boy, his blood boiling even as his stomach curdled with nausea to hear the poor boy's internalized self-hatred of his own gifts. Though the boy appeared human, there was a good chance he had elven blood in him. He had the gift, after all. Magic was the birthright of the People. And regardless, the boy was an innocent whose only crime was being born with magic in a world that despised it.

"Tell me something," he said quietly. "Do you remember your family? Did you have a family before you came into your magic and the Templars took you away?"

The boy blinked at him and suddenly tears flooded his eyes. Red-faced and ashamed, he bowed his head. "I miss them. I'm not s'post to talk about them…" He screwed up his face. "The Circle is my home now."

Repeated like a mindless drone, Solas thought and felt his chest tighten with both anger and pity.

"Did your mother or your father treat you like Ser Jeremy?" Solas asked.

"No," the boy blubbered, clapping a hand over his mouth to hold back the sobs that clearly threatened to escape.

"But they protected you, did they not? Da'len, Ser Jeremy is not a protector. He is a bully, a thug, and his ilk have trapped us here with a lie that we and our magic are dangerous and cannot control ourselves without them. Sometimes it is true that people with magic misuse it and hurt others, but when I look at you I do not see someone who intends to harm those around him." He eyed the boy, pausing a moment to let his words sink in. "Would you hurt your parents, da'len?"

The boy frowned. "No…" Wiping at his nose, he shook his head. "What does that thing mean that you keep saying? Dalen?"

Solas sighed, the pain of his prolonged standing, even leaning against the doorframe, had begun to catch up to him. His thighs quivered and his bones seemed to throb. It was time to rest, but he resisted, forcing himself to smile with encouragement at the boy. "It is an elven word. It means child. And no child should be treated cruelly the way Ser Jeremy just did with you. He is the one who puts us in danger here, not you."

The boy stared at him, his face creased with confusion. "But the Chant says…"

Void take the stupid Chant, Solas thought but pinched his lips together to keep from saying it. Instead he forced his voice to remain even and calm as he said, "The Chant does not say magic and the people who possess it are evil. The Chant merely warns against it being abused by bad men." Or women, he amended internally, considering the likes of Andruil who'd enjoyed using it to maim and torture.

He finished by adding, "Magic is like any other tool or weapon. If you learn and respect it and use it responsibly there is no reason you should have been locked away in this tower. Do you understand, da'len?"

Now the boy nodded solemnly, but his brow knit as his eyes narrowed. "The Templars wouldn't like hearing that."

Solas smirked. "No, you're right. They wouldn't. So, for now, keep it inside." Clenching his fist, Solas laid it over his chest to indicate the heart. "Remember the truth in here, where it will best serve you."

The next day, at roughly the same time, Solas heard Ser Jeremy browbeating and bullying a different apprentice. Once more, Solas went to the hall to render aid and reassurance. This time it was an older boy who shook with barely restrained rage as Solas tried to offer comfort, but the apprentice seemed deaf to it.

The younger boy struck Solas as the type who would be cowed by his captors and their warped interpretation of the Chant until he asked to be made Tranquil rather than endure his Harrowing. But the older boy, seething as he was, would endure through his Harrowing out of stubbornness and, if he survived, would be the type to turn to demons and blood magic to rebel. Both outcomes, for the timid and the rebellious, were tragic. The younger boy, if he chose to become Tranquil, would lose his magic and all connection to the Fade and live as little more than a mindless drone, serving the Circle. But the other boy would only rise to reinforce this shadow-world's hatred of magic as he turned his gifts into the realm of abuse.

Solas wished he could crack open the tower with his power, scooping out the captive mages and casting the Templars aside like thorns from a rose stem. He'd tear a crevice in the earth itself and bury this miserable place.

Except he couldn't because of the Veil…and because he couldn't draw any magic. Yet. Still, it was entertaining to imagine, to remember. As long as he recalled Elvhenan, it hadn't really faded completely. He had to cling to that, to keep hope kindled as he waited for his body and his magic to recuperate.

_____________________________________________

Every meal the apprentice mages had was in a large hall that was typically closed up before and afterward to prevent congregation and loitering. Gossip among the apprentices told Solas that the Templars had banned large meetings of mages, particularly among the enchanters and senior enchanters, who had the most sway and clout. Other towers had the mages relegated to quarters almost entirely, only letting them emerge for classes and chores. This tower, the Circle of Hasmal, was comparatively "free," although no one knew how long that would last considering the ongoing unrest.

For the first few days of his time spent in the apprentice barracks, Solas found he was too frail to make the journey to the dining hall without becoming a weak, shaking mess who could barely stand from the pain of overextended muscles. Fortunately the mages and enchanters who oversaw the apprentices ensured meals came to him. Typically it was an actual mage who brought him his meals on a tray, complete with a flask containing wine. Solas thanked them heartily, sincere in his gratitude, and always acquiesced when they suggested he ambulate through the halls after eating to work his strength up.

So it was by the fifth day of his tenure in the apprentice dormitories that Solas felt strong and stable enough on his feet to make the journey up the stairs toward the dining hall. The apprentices ate in shifts, the youngest eating an hour before noon and the oldest eating a half hour afterward. Mages followed at noon, and then enchanters and Senior Enchanters thirty minutes after that. The Templars, apparently, did not use the dining hall, though they maintained a strong presence while their charges ate.

He made the trip from the dormitory and up several flights of stairs with only a moderate ache in his muscles. By the time he accepted a tray of food from a line of Tranquil serving as cooks, all the other apprentices had filed into the dining hall, leaving him with few places to sit along the three long tables. He eyed a spot close by, eager to sit as his thighs were flicking with little spasms, but didn't make it that far before he spotted a familiar elven man trotting toward him.

It was Tal, smiling brightly. "Revas! You made it! C'mon, let me help you." Without waiting for Solas to reply, Tal took the tray from him and ushered him deeper into the room and toward the middle long table. Solas saw Rosa sitting there with a few empty seats around her and an unattended tray across from her where Tal must've been sitting. Apprentices on either side of the Dalish siblings had left a noticeable gap between themselves and the elves. They also shot them wary glances, although a few wore curious expressions.

He heaved a sigh of relief as he settled in the chair Tal pulled out for him and tried not to slump in it. Tal set his tray down in front of him and gave a small bow, grinning. "Your meal, hahren."

Solas shot him a frown.

Across the table, Rosa laughed. "Tal, you suck-up. You've gone and confused Revas. You have to call him flat-ear." She winked in Solas' direction. "Don't mind Tal, he didn't get the message that Dalish are rude savages. Clan Ghilath is such a disgrace to the People."

Tal flopped back down into his seat, making the trays and their silverware clatter. "And clan Naseral is any better?" he retorted with mock-insult, thrusting his chin into the air with an exaggeratedly haughty demeanor. Pinching his nose and speaking in a high-pitched tenor, Tal said, "Mythal have mercy that you should sully yourself with this shemlen food, Rosa. Those Tranquil certainly didn't praise Sylaise when they baked this bread." He picked up the small loaf and sniffed, scoffing as if offended.

Rosa laughed and immediately pinched her nose just as her brother had and began speaking in the same mocking voice, "Dread Wolf take them for feeding us this poison!"

While the siblings bantered Solas focused on spooning the rich stew into his mouth. It was far tastier than the gruel Bartholomew and Lyn had fed him in the dungeons. He chewed on a bit of meat, finding it tender and flavorful and hearty. He was always ravenous since waking, a likely side-effect of his ongoing physical recovery. He chastened himself slightly for his enjoyment when he realized he hadn't wished this meal were enchanted. This shadow-world had been tainting him, wearing his memory thin as the Veil.

"So," Tal said at his side. "How have you been getting on, Revas? Heard any interesting gossip?"

Swallowing the mouthful of food, Solas shook his head. "Sadly, nothing of import."

"And how have your dreams been of late?" Rosa asked him, cocking her head. The coy smile in place over her lips made Solas' own mouth quirk upward slightly.

"I have made…some progress," he hedged. It was true that he'd managed to alter a few minor things in the previous night's dream, thwarting a nightmare brought on by a weak fear demon that'd come to visit him. He'd been lucky the last few nights that Rosa hadn't entered his dreams as he kept dreaming of Elvhenan. Last night it had been Falon'Din's arcane warriors slaughtering innocent villagers, a scene he'd stumbled upon in long ages past, emerging from the wilds to stop them and save the town. The night before that he'd relived the end of the Evanuris' civil war—the moment when he and the other Evanuris cornered Falon'Din and forced him into uthenera to end the reign of terror he'd begun inside Dirthamen's lands.

Thinking about Falon'Din made the stew in his mouth suddenly tasteless. Falon'Din, he thought. What an ass. That ruthless monster could still ruin his day even trapped in the Black City beyond the Veil. Frowning, he pushed those thoughts aside and forced himself to continue eating.

"Gristle?" Tal asked, apparently seeing Solas' expression of distaste.

"Yes," Solas lied between spoonfuls. When he'd finished the meat and vegetables in the stew he broke the bread and began using it to sop up the remaining gravy. It was a trick he'd not thought of before one of the mages who'd been bringing his meals pointed out the idea. That mage had also commented with a laugh that he ate like a lord: clean and precise, taking his time, and eating in a certain order. Her observation had made Solas flush with embarrassment, consciously trying to amend his behavior for fear of the others seeing through his cover story. He was grateful it'd been a stranger to make the comment so that he could be sure not to give that impression now in front of a clever elven observer like Rosa.

How would a wandering apostate with little formal education eat his meals? Solas made an effort to eat from the green beans and the vanilla pudding both, instead of eating the dessert last. He also made an effort to eat faster, as if pressed for time. As lunch would be ending fairly soon, he was pressed for time, but had never acted that way before, a consequence of having previously been immortal. A bit of pudding dripped into his green beans and he forced himself not to grimace. He never mixed food on his plate. His mother would have rapped his knuckles with spirit magic for such a lowbrow mistake. He'd been born to Elvhenan's middle class, and in that distant age—before Solas had destroyed it all—they were far more cultured than modern Thedas' middle class.

Who would've thought just eating would be so taxing?

"Well," Rosa said, tapping her fingers on the wooden table beside her tray. "Since you're obviously hungrier than me, how about you take my bread, Revas?"

Solas glanced up at her, a spoonful of pudding halfway to his mouth. After the moment's hesitation he ate the pudding and slowly returned the spoon to his tray. "I appreciate the offer, and I thank you for it, but this will be plenty." He took the fork in hand to spear a few green beans but then thought better of it and decided to try the spoon instead. It'd be clumsier and would make him appear less educated…right?

"I have some gossip," Tal said then, beaming. "I heard Parahel telling one of the apprentices not to worry about some hoity-toity visitor that's coming to visit the tower. When I asked about it he told me the visitor was a Seeker of Truth who's been in the Free Marches." He leaned over the table, his voice dropping into a near-whisper, aimed clearly at Rosa. "A Seeker of Truth. What if she could help us, Rosa? She could force them to let us go."

"Because you are Dalish?" Solas asked.

"Well," Tal said, suddenly sheepish. He dropped his gaze to his tray and cleared his throat. "Yeah. I know that wouldn't help you, Revas, but…" His brow knit and his eyes shot to Rosa, the worry obvious.

Rosa, for her part, glared at Tal. "Why would some visitor have that kind of power?" She shook her head. "You're dreaming, Tal."

"Her title is Seeker of Truth!" he protested. "Sounds to me like it's her job."

"Whoever and whatever she is, I don't think she'd come here to help solve our problems." Anger sparked in her eyes and she lifted her loaf of bread and bit into the end of it, tearing off a hunk in a way that made Solas think of a wolf. Why hadn't he thought to bite straight into his bread loaf? He'd been tearing into his…in a way that he supposed could be described as dainty.

Focusing on their conversation, Solas added, "I suspect Rosa is correct. This Seeker will undoubtedly have come on some other mission. She will have no interest in the Circle's inner workings."

"Shame," Tal grumbled, poking at his pudding with a fork.

"Many such things in this world are," Solas opined.

Rosa scoffed after she'd swallowed her latest mouthful of bread. "Look at us losers, sitting here feeling sorry for ourselves." Lowering her volume, she gestured at the hall around them. "This place isn't the Dread Wolf's prison for the Creators." She ignored Solas' involuntary snort at her description, much to his relief. "We can get out. We just have to find a way, or fight for it. Elgar'nan's fiery butthole, I refuse to sulk, okay?"

Elgar'nan's fiery…

"…excuse me?" he asked, shaking his head in bemusement.

"I said I'm not giving up," she snarled, lip curling to expose sharp white teeth. Her shoulders had hunched and her hand on the bread had clenched, making the loaf crack and crumble onto her tray. Her eyes narrowed, flicking between Solas and Tal. "And neither of you are giving up either. Got that?"

"Calm," Tal told her in a hushed voice, both palms raised to pat the air, as if he could hold her down without touching her. "Calm, asamalin…" the plaintive note in his voice niggled at Solas' memory. He'd heard this exchange before…

"I am calm," she snapped, nostrils flaring and fist clenching even tighter on the bread until it crumbled and fell apart, dropping into her pudding. The pale cream splattered onto her robes and over the table, making both Solas and Tal flinch. Rosa bit out a curse. "Fenedhis! Elgar'nan take this fucking shemlen shit." Switching to elven, she snarled, "Elgar'nan's fire, I vow I'll kill every last one of them standing in my way…"

Her voice had changed pitch and cadence slightly and in the back of his mind, Solas felt the same weighty sensation as he had in the Fade. As a Dreamer, Rosa was strong enough that Solas had been able to sense her power that way before in the Fade, but feeling her so clearly in reality? This was…odd…

"Calm," Tal repeated, the pleading note becoming one of desperation as he turned his head every which way, surveying the apprentices around them to see how many had overheard her outburst. The nearest apprentices had taken note, twisting to stare or glower at the three elves.

In elven Tal said, "Find control, sister. Breathe. Remember the…" Breaking off, he thumped his chest with his fist.

Rosa's eyes widened as her hand that hadn't been crushing the bread flew to her high collar and began digging at it. A second later her nimble fingers produced a leather band and tugged out a pendant that she clutched in her fist. Her breathing slowed and her eyes drifted shut.

Shoulders slumping with relief, Tal looked to Solas with his cheeks blooming red. "Ir abelas," he apologized. "Rosa has a very violent temper and in times of stress it…" He shrugged. "It gets the better of her."

Solas stared at the young elf, his jaw clenched and his lips pinched tight. The weight in the back of his mind had faded again. A quick sidelong glance to Rosa revealed she had begun calmly trying to wipe up the pudding she'd splattered onto herself. She used one hand to scoop it up and then licked it clean from her fingers as she had no napkin. The other hand, however, still clutched the pendant. From what Solas could see of it, the pendant was a black feather, possibly from a raven, with leather strips woven over a small block of wood with beads strung from it.

"And the pendant?" he asked, brow knitting. He suspected it was enchanted but couldn't be certain without touching it himself. The unspoken question lingered in the air between the three of them: What kind of temper required an enchanted device to bring it under control?

"A gift from my mother," Rosa replied quickly. "Thinking of her always helps." Her violet eyes were bright as she smiled, the expression soft and seemingly sincere.

Curious despite himself—and eager to avoid another potential outburst—Solas asked quietly in elven, "Did you and Tal share a mother?" It was the easiest explanation for why these two seemed to know so much of each other's separate clans, assuming that story was true. It also would account for how they'd known about one another at all. Children sired by a father who moved from one clan to another would have no way of knowing one another, but a mother would likely take her children with her.

The siblings exchanged a glance and then Rosa replied stiffly, "We don't talk about our families. Dalish have suffered from revealing too much to outsiders in the past."

"Even harmless flat-ears such as myself?" Solas retorted sharply, though he managed to smile in what he hoped was a friendly way to try and blunt the comment. He was as much irritated with himself as the siblings. He'd hoped to avoid confrontation by discussing something innocuous, but apparently he'd erred.

"Rosa," Tal muttered, "I don't see why—"

She made a hissing sound through her teeth at her brother, eyes narrowing in reproach. To Solas she said, "Yes, to any outsider. My clan was almost annihilated once because one of the children was fool enough to let slip that we were camped along a cliff beside the river when we were trading with the shemlen." Her hand clamped down harder on the pendant as her shoulders started to shake with barely repressed emotion. "She told one of the flat-ears," Rosa clarified at his confused frown. "So, although I'm sure you would never hurt our clans, Revas, we cannot take such risks."

In other words, Solas thought, keeping his expression impassive, you do not trust me. It wasn't surprising to hear, but it was frustrating as it only buoyed his suspicion that Rosa and Tal would betray him if they had the chance. How many times already had they tried to find an easier way of escaping the tower by virtue of their Dalish heritage negating any obligation to be become part of the Circle? He couldn't blame them for trying and almost wished he wore fake vallaslin like his agent Felassan so he could claim the same.

Tal flashed him a sheepish smile and cleared his throat. "Well, perhaps we could talk about something more—"

A Senior Enchanter clapped at the entryway to the dining hall, cutting Tal off as the man shouted, "All right, mealtime is finished. Apprentices, please return to your studies and duties."

Apprentices all around them hopped to their feet, leaving their trays to be cleaned up by the Tranquil flanking either side of the hall. Solas heaved a sigh, realizing this meant another long walk for him back to the dormitories. Tal and Rosa, meanwhile, exchanged a dark look with one another.

"Something wrong?" he asked, unable to pass up the curiosity bubbling inside him. Anything that offered a distraction from the oncoming pain of the long walk would be helpful.

"It's Ser Jeremy," Tal answered, licking his lips. "Sometimes he's stationed outside and I think he delights in picking on apprentices."

Solas made a noise of acknowledgement in his throat. "I've witnessed him bullying some of the children."

"He does it constantly," Rosa growled as she got to her feet. "He's a real ass." The pendant swung free, flopping against her robes and catching Solas' gaze. Aside from the feather, it was a wooden block with leather straps woven over it. Beads had been layered over it as well, most of them glinted in the light, making Solas suspect they were made of metal. The feather hung free from one end, the shaft painted in a deep, glimmering red.

"Dread Wolf take him," Tal muttered bitterly, making Solas wonder if the young elf had experienced Jeremy's bullying directly. "And Ser Curtis, too."

On that we are agreed, he thought. With a grunt, Solas hefted himself upright, glancing down at his tray with a twinge of shame at how difficult it'd been to try changing his eating habits. They began to shuffle down toward the exit, following the line of apprentices ahead—all of them in their teens.

At the end of the table Solas waited for Rosa to take the lead. She winked at him as she passed and, deciding she should walk with her brother, Solas stepped to the side to allow Tal past as well. But Tal seemed to take his repositioning as a subtle request for help instead and sidled up to Solas, grabbing his forearm. "I got you, flat-ear," he said with a chuckle.

"I can manage on my own," Solas insisted, though he didn't try jerking his arm away from the young elf. That'd destabilize him for sure and Solas had no desire to go tumbling face-first to the stone floor.

"Don't be as stubborn as Rosa," Tal said with a snort. "You'll be shaking like a leaf if you don't let someone help you."

"I assure you, I am much recovered from—"

Ahead of them, a male voice boomed, "Hey you, knife-ear. You stained your robes, savage."

Tal cursed under his breath and Solas didn't need to lift his eyes to gaze at the dining hall entrance to know why. He'd recognized the voice's owner: Ser Curtis. The Templar stood at his post, hands at his waist as he surveyed the passing apprentices. His cold blue eyes had settled on Rosa and narrowed with malicious intent. Solas didn't miss the way they slid over her, leering.

Rosa glowered at Curtis but then seemed to steel herself, averting her gaze as she walked past. Her tread was stiff but even, her shoulders hunched. She slid toward the far wall, where another Templar—a woman—stood guard. The other apprentices pretended not to have heard Ser Curtis' taunting. The line kept moving through the hall and for a heartbeat Solas thought perhaps the incident would pass without escalating…but then Ser Curtis stalked from the wall and grabbed at Rosa's arm.

"Hey! I'm talking to you, bitch. I want to know how you got those suspicious stains on your robes. Eh?" He dragged her, stiff and resisting, back toward the wall where he stood guard.

"Let go of me," Rosa snarled, slapping at his armored hand. The pendant bounced as she struggled.

Tal and Solas had slowed their pace to a crawl, holding up the line behind them. Apprentices began shuffling and scurrying around them, determined not to draw Curtis' ire. The female Templar wore a bored expression on her face and didn't seem inclined to interfere, but when Solas met her stare the woman gestured at him with a wave and said, "Move along, apprentices."

Curtis gave Rosa a little shake to try and still her struggling. "Hold still. I need to get a good look at those stains." He gripped her by the shoulders hard enough that she flinched before grimacing, her teeth gnashing behind snarling lips. Curtis leered closer to her, sniffing at her almost like a dog. Rosa strained backward, her face pinched with revulsion.

"Been fraternizing with the knife-ear boy?" he asked with a lascivious sneer. He poked at the whitish stains left by the vanilla pudding she'd splattered onto herself and Solas' felt his stomach acids curdle when he realized just what those marks could be construed to look like: Male seed.

"Get your hands off me," Rosa yelled, red-faced and shaking with fury.

"Please," Tal called, aiming his protest at the female Templar across the hall. "It's the sodding pudding…"

The woman smirked, snickering under her breath. "Ser Curtis," she called. "If you've quite finished harassing the little rabbit, I'd like to remind you that they did just have lunch with vanilla pudding."

"She's a horribly messy eater," Tal explained, nodding almost frantically to sell the story. "We aren't used to eating such fine foods or using silverware." He blinked and Solas could almost see the gears spinning desperately in the young elf's mind. He would say anything to save Rosa, no matter how self-deprecating or untrue. "She thought it was paint, actually…"

The female Templar snorted, shaking her head. "Ser Curtis," she said again, a little sterner this time. "Let her go."

With a quick glare at his fellow Templar, Curtis released Rosa, but the Dalish woman didn't step back from him. She glared at him, standing her ground with her hands clenched into fists at her side. Beside Solas, Tal muttered a curse under his breath. The young elf's body was taut, his grip on Solas' arm tight enough to hurt as he watched the scene. Why was Rosa such a confrontational fool? Did she have a death wish?

"Asamalin," Tal called to her, hissing the elven word for sister in a half-whisper, undoubtedly worried the Templars might, against all odds, know the language. "Control…" He thumped a fist against his chest, edging away from Solas as if he planned to lunge in and intervene.

A slight tilt of her head was the only indication that Rosa had heard him and immediately her hand flew toward the pendant on her chest. Unfortunately, Ser Curtis saw it and slapped her hand away, grabbing the pendant. The leather cord snapped taut, hauling Rosa forward. Her supple body, lean and lithe in the mage robes the Circle had provided, curved toward Curtis like a lover for a heartbeat before she kicked and struggled, wrenching as far from him as she could.

"Unhand me!" she growled.

"Maker," Curtis grumbled, sneering at the feather and the beaded pendant. "What kind of trash is this?" He sniffed at it, wrinkling his nose with disgust. "Is that…blood?"

"No," Tal said, stammering. "No, it's bloodstone pigment that—"

"Enchanted," Curtis pronounced, sneering.

"Contraband," the female Templar declared with a sigh. "Hand it over, mage, and Ser Curtis will let you go on your way."

"No," Rosa growled, jerking and twisting, trying to free herself. Her hands gripped Curtis', trying to pry them from the leather strap. "You can't take it from me…"

"Please," Tal stammered. "It's all she has left of her clan…"

Staring, mute and helpless, Solas found his mind spinning as questions kept leaping into his thoughts, half-formed. The way Rosa had lingered close to Curtis despite being released. Her insistence that she did understand how unwise it was to antagonize their captors, but in the moment she showed no restraint or self-control at all. The vehement rage that'd swept over her during the meal when he and Tal and expressed a lack of hope that a Seeker of Truth would help them. That sense of her in the Fade and again in reality, heavy in his mind. And now the pendant…

The answer toyed with him, just out of reach, but he felt certain he should see it. This was like smelling smoke. He need only follow the breeze to find its source and surely there'd be flames. A solution. An explanation.

Curtis used his other hand to draw a small knife from the belt at his waist. The ring of the metal and the glint of it in the light seemed to spark Rosa into a frenzy. She shrieked, struggling anew, lashing out at his face. Her hands clawed him across the cheek and Curtis winced, letting out an incoherent shout of pain. Rosa twisted, spinning as Curtis' grip on her slid off. The fabric of her robes screamed as it tore at the neckline and shoulder. Then Rosa slapped at a seam in his armor at the side—her hands gleamed blue with raw force.

The contact sent Curtis flying a few meters away, tossed like a ragdoll. Both Tal and Solas stumbled back with surprise. Solas caught himself against a wall, nearly tripping over another apprentice who'd stopped to gawk at this scene. Tal, however, shouted as he ran to Rosa, throwing his arms around her and calling out in elven.

"Calm, calm, calm," he chanted at her. "There is no need to fight here, rogathe. Patience, patience, or they will kill you. Please, for me, you must stop!"

The female Templar drew her sword and Solas winced at the prickling sensation that swept over his skin as she drew on her power. "Stand down," she growled.

Tal clung to Rosa as he stared at the Templar, both siblings breathing hard. "Please," he begged. "She didn't mean to hurt him. The pendant's important to her. Please…"

Curtis had righted himself by now. He spat at an apprentice lingering nearby. "What are you looking at, twit? Get moving." He shoved the gawking boy down the hall. Most of the apprentices shuffled by without stopping, allowing the commotion in the hall to decrease—along with lessening the number of witnesses and potential magic-users the Templars here might have to combat.

Picking up his knife from where he'd dropped it, Curtis stalked his way toward the siblings, his boots clamping on the floor. "Little knife-ear bitch…"

Solas lunged forward without considering his own actions, placing himself in Curtis' path and raising both hands in a position that was prayer-like, both palms against one another. He wanted to be certain they could not mistake his posture as one for casting as he called out, "Please listen to the boy. There is no need for violence over—"

Curtis advanced on him so quickly Solas had no time to brace for the blow that came next. He grunted with pain and the world spun—then he was on the floor, blinking in bafflement as he tasted blood in his mouth. Above him he heard the scuffling sound of the siblings' feet over the stone and Tal started to plead again, anger and desperation roughening his young voice. "Please, ma'am! Ser Curtis has done nothing but beat and harass Rosa since she got here!"

"Ser Curtis," the woman scolded. "Stand down."

"She attacked me!" he spat.

"And I suspect the boy's telling the truth. I know you," she said, the words carrying an unmistakable threat.

The hallway quieted except for the noise of harsh, fast breathing from Tal, Rosa, and Curtis. And Solas himself. Gradually, so as not to overstress his already aching muscles, joints, and bones, Solas heaved himself to his feet, swallowing the groan of pain. He wiped at his mouth once he was upright and not swaying too much on his feet. Probing at the source of the blood in his mouth with his tongue, Solas found his lower front teeth had cut into his lip.

"You three," the woman commanded, gesturing at Solas as well. "I'm escorting you to the Knight-Commander." Both eyebrows climbed into her forehead. "Will you come along peacefully?"

Solas snorted, grimacing at the coppery taste of blood in his mouth. "I can do nothing else," he said ruefully. "I cannot conjure magic."

The woman blinked at him, her gaze sweeping over him critically. "You're that strange fellow Ser Bartholomew was talking about then? He calls you trustworthy."

Curtis scoffed. "There's no need to waste Knight-Commander Kali's time on this ridiculousness."

The woman smirked at him. "I disagree. If even Ser Barth's trustee over here thinks you're being unfair to the rabbit-girl…" She clucked her tongue as her eyes flew to Solas again and she grinned. "Look at that, Ser Curtis. You made Barth's prize bleed, too. He's going to ream you."

Curtis refused to give in just yet. "The pendant the bitch is wearing is enchanted. It could be blood magic or some kind of binding for—"

"How about we let Knight-Commander Kali decide?" At Curtis' silent but seething look, the only acknowledgement this woman would get for acceptance, she nodded and turned to look at the three mages again as she sheathed her sword. "Follow me, rabbits. Ser Curtis, you can take up the rear."

_________________________________________________

Knight-Commander Kali's office was deeper in the tower, down several flights of stairs. Solas soon fell behind, huffing and puffing to his shame and quaking with pain. His skin was damp with perspiration, his throat dry from heavy breathing. The woman escorting them—other Templars in the hall called her Ser Jade—seemed inclined to wait on him patiently. Her brows drew together with sympathy whenever she looked back at him.

How humiliating, Solas thought. He had tried not to spit the blood in his mouth out onto the stone floor, but the taste proved foul and swallowing it he knew would only make him queasy. So, red-faced with embarrassment, he tried to covertly spit whenever they were rounding corners so that the Templars might not catch him. Whether they would care or not, he wasn't certain, but he longed for a handkerchief yet dared not ask for one. The censure of blood magic might have made them paranoid of any method of preserving blood, whether dried or fluid. Best not to remind them that he was bleeding at all if he could help it.

They had to sit in a waiting area outside the Knight-Commander's office for several minutes. During that time Solas could do little but slump in his bench seat, shuddering at the cold touch of the stone wall behind him through his robes. Everything hurt. Beside him sat both Tal and Rosa. Tal had wisely withdrawn from Rosa, perhaps anticipating that his display of protective affection would again call into question the true nature of their relationship. How much longer would the Templars believe he and Rosa lacked a familial relationship? Given that they had little resemblance to one another, that claim could hold out—but not with the two of them acting so close.

Ser Curtis and Ser Jade waited in the landing outside the office without sitting. They were straight-backed and stern, clearly on duty. Professional, for the moment, but Solas could almost feel the seething fury beneath Curtis' otherwise impassive demeanor.

But then again, perhaps that came from Rosa. The Dalish woman sat with her hands clenched into fists on her thighs, her face set in an angry snarl. The pendant hung about her neck, as if she wore it with pride, defying her captors. Occasionally Solas saw her palm it and suck in a deep breath. Tal fidgeted whenever she moved and sometimes it appeared he might speak to her, but then seemed to think better of it and clamp his mouth shut once more.

And then the office door opened and a middle-aged woman, tall and with a broad-shouldered build, stood in the entryway. She arched one eyebrow at both Jade and Curtis before her eyes slid to the mages behind them. "What's this about?" she asked gruffly.

"Ser Curtis waylaid the Dalish woman behind me, ma'am. He made some…rather unsavory accusations regarding her robes being stained. I thought it of little note, but the issue escalated when he discovered she's wearing contraband. It dissolved into a brawl afterwards."

The Knight-Commander grunted, motioning toward Solas and Tal. "And why did you bring the other two?"

Ser Jade inhaled sharply, squaring her shoulders. "The men claim Ser Curtis has mistreated the woman since her arrival in the Circle. Considering…previous circumstances, I thought it best if I brought this matter to your attention."

"You hope to curtail Ser Curtis' behavior," Kali said, cutting through Ser Jade's tactful phrasing.

Curtis shook his head, standing stiff and at attention. "I respectfully disagree with Ser Jade's take on this scenario. The Dalish woman has caused nothing but trouble since we caught her. She bit me, Knight-Commander. I recommend we make her Tranquil."

"I'd rather not rush to that conclusion, Ser Curtis," Kali said with a frown. Sighing, she shot another look past the two Templars and then waved a hand dismissively at the whole situation. "I don't have time for this. Seeker Pentaghast will be here in only a day and the last thing I need is to play mother hen. If she finds Templar corruption in this tower, I will personally see to it that anyone who causes trouble is demoted or expelled from the order." She stabbed a finger at Ser Curtis. "As such, you will behave with the respect and aloofness expected of a Templar in service to the Maker. You will not manhandle any of the mages, especially the women and the elves. You will not waylay mages or Tranquil unless the matter is serious. Stained robes are not something Seeker Pentaghast will care about. You shouldn't care about them either."

"The matter is serious!" Curtis blustered. "She has contraband!"

The Knight-Commander scowled, huffing out a sigh. She snapped her fingers and pointed to Ser Jade. "Bring her to me."

Jade dipped her head in obeisance and turned on her heel, striding to Rosa and motioning for her to get up. Glowering with fury, Rosa did as beckoned. Solas watched her, struggling to remember to keep breathing rather than holding his breath with the mounting tension. Feeling his heart pound, he lowered his head and closed his eyes. This is a shadow-world, he reminded himself, preparing to hear the Knight-Commander exact some unpleasant, unfair punishment on Rosa and knowing he could do absolutely nothing about it.

"This is the pendant?" Kali asked.

"Yes, Knight-Commander," Ser Curtis replied, a faint snarl underlying the words. "When I touched it I felt some kind of magic within it."

There was a moment of silence and then Solas heard the slight tinkling noise of the metallic beads on Rosa's pendant clinking against someone's armor—the Knight-Commander he assumed. A second later, Kali grunted. "I don't feel anything, Ser Curtis."

"There's blood in it," Curtis insisted. "I'm sure of it."

Now the Knight-Commander hummed. Then, suddenly, Solas heard the slick metallic shink of a knife and immediately Rosa cried out, "No!"

He opened his eyes, unable to help himself and expecting another brawl, but instead he saw the Kniight-Commander holding the pendant aloft in one hand while the other brandished a blade at Rosa's throat. Kali looked to Curtis, one brow arched. "Satisfied, Ser Curtis?" she asked.

"No, Knight-Commander. I believe it should be destroyed."

"Please," Rosa said, her voice strained as if with physical pain. "I can't…I need that. You don't understand…"

Kali shook her head, clutching the trinket into her armored hand. "I'm sorry, miss. Ser Curtis is right that this is contraband. I know there are ways to hide magic from us—little cantrips to nullify it just long enough to pass inspection by a Templar. I am no fool. Ser Curtis is trustworthy enough to know a threat when he sees one." She extended her hand holding the pendant to Curtis. "Please destroy this—but remember my warning. I will be watching."

"Yes, Knight-Commander." Curtis took the proffered pendant, sneering briefly at it and then whipped around and strode out of the landing toward the stairs.

Rosa watched him go, her hands wringing in front of her and her eyes stormy. At Solas' side, Tal's leg was bouncing with anxious energy. He leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees and covering his face with both hands, as if afraid of whatever would come next.

"You're Ser Bartholomew's charge?" the Knight-Commander said suddenly, drawing Solas' attention. He nodded demurely, swallowing a bit of blood-tainted spittle and forcing himself not to grimace.

"That was another reason I brought them to you, ma'am," Jade added, also motioning at Solas. "Ser Curtis lost his temper and struck him for trying to defuse the confrontation. Both men rose to her defense and as Ser Curtis seemed to lack restraint…" She shifted uneasily from one foot to another. "I thought it best to remind him of the consequences of past actions."

Curtis had obviously been in trouble before, making Rosa's predicament with him less her fault and more the Templar's in his peers' eyes. It was one small mercy in all this.

Kali nodded. "I appreciate your judgment in this, Ser Jade." Glancing toward Solas again, she said, "Are you recovered, apprentice?"

Solas cast a swift look to Rosa, who now stood off to one side of Jade and Kali, forgotten for the moment and wearing a stricken expression. One hand lay on her robes over her collarbone, where the pendant would have rested had it been there. Pity wormed in Solas' gut but he quashed it and focused on the Knight-Commander. He had to worry about his own wellbeing in this existence, and that meant fostering the good humor he'd accumulated so far by…as Rosa put it, licking their boots.

Smiling, Solas said, "I am able to walk now; a significant improvement. You and your Templars have my sincerest thanks. I would have died had you not found me." It was true, as much as he hated to admit it to himself. He'd been fairly treated so far—mostly, aside from the fact he was a prisoner.

"I'm glad to hear it," Kali said with a nod. "But First Enchanter Braden told me you currently possess no magic." Cocking her head, Kali's brow knit. "I find that…intriguing. Braden has been asking me for permission to begin investigating the artifact you were found with. I'm considering granting his request." Clearing her throat, she said, "I am particularly interested in whether your condition proves permanent."

Solas kept his expression deadpan, though inside he railed and cringed against the possibility. Licking his lips, he opted for partial truth as he said, "I hope that I recover my ability to use magic, just as I have gradually regained some measure of physical strength. I still have dreams, so it seems clear I have not been sundered from the Fade, so I will retain the possibility of regaining magic."

"You still dream?" Kali asked and grunted with interest. "I had not expected that." Was it Solas' imagination, or did she sound…disappointed?

"Well, it sounds like I might end up owing Ser Bartholomew twenty royals," Kali muttered, sighing.

Solas felt his jaw fall open, gawking a second before he snapped it shut again. He had not been expecting that. Apparently Bartholomew had been betting on whether Solas would recover his magic as well.

With a dismissive wave, the Knight-Commander ordered Ser Jade to remove the three of them from her sight. The door to her office slammed even before Solas had managed to get to his feet again. "Follow me," Jade instructed and started descending the stairs. "Make sure she comes along too," she tossed over her shoulder, doubtless meaning Rosa.

Tal scurried around Solas to usher Rosa toward the stairway after Jade, but as she began stepping down, the young man whipped around and gripped Solas' forearm. Blinking with surprise, Solas stared at the other elf's face and found himself wrestling with the twinge of recognition that twisted inside him. Tal's features were distinctly elven. Whatever his bloodline, it seemed clear he was purer than most, his facial structure immediately making Solas think of Elgar'nan, Dirthamen, Falon'Din, and his friend Felassan—not to mention Solas himself who possessed similar features. Fleshed out more fully and born in Elvhenan, Tal would've blended in well with Arlathan's court.

He is not Elvhen, Solas reminded himself. This is a shadow-world. These shem-elves are not my people….

Tal's brown eyes narrowed and his brow furrowed as he whispered, "I need to talk to you. Alone."

Eyeing the youth speculatively, Solas aimed for levity as he said, "That will prove difficult considering our current living arrangements." The dormitories weren't exactly conducive to private conversations." The desperation burning in Tal's eyes made Solas regret his lighthearted quip. Shoulders slumping, he said, "I am open to any suggestions you may have."

Tal nodded, relief and anxiety alternatively relaxing and then tightening his face. "Come with me to meet in Parahel's classroom after lights out."

The apprentices were locked inside the dormitory after lights out. Solas arched his brow. "I will see what I can do."

"Don't worry about the door," Tal said, as if reading his mind. "I will manage it." Squeezing Solas' forearm, he tugged him gently toward the stairs and in a loud voice said, "Let me help you walk, hahren."

"Flat-ear," Solas quipped. "Can you get nothing right, da'len?"

Showing none of the desperation of seconds ago, Tal let out a loud laugh. Watching Rosa several steps ahead of them, Solas expected her to turn and react to his joke as well, but she showed no sign she'd even heard. How important was the pendant after all?

Her words from the last dream she'd shared with him popped into his mind, discussing the foci: "I have no intention of dying for it…I hope." As if she had no choice, no free will…like...like a...

LIke a spirit.

And then the suspicion leapt into his mind and he bit his tongue to keep himself from gasping. Could it be…? He gripped Tal a little harder, almost certain now that he knew what the younger man wanted to speak with him about.

___________________________________________________

Elven used:

Asamalin: Sister

Next Chapter:

Rosa scoffed, slashing a hand at him dismissively. "You've done little but lie about yourself from the moment we met."

Now Solas stammered a second with shock before clamping his mouth shut and gnashing his teeth, trying to think how he should react to that accusation. Denial? Probably, but it had to be a convincing denial, not an unthinking dismissal that'd hint at his fear of discovery. Part of him wanted to find out what she thought he was lying about, but that seemed unwise. Best to just leave it be.

"Your brother warned me you were slow to trust, but this is pure idiocy," he growled, and then mimicked her earlier gesture with a cut of his own hand in her direction. "Furthermore, your insistence that I am the one lying when you are the one hiding something as problematic and dangerous as [SPOILERS]." He snorted, shaking his head with derision. "I do not know whether I should find this amusing or insulting."

Chapter Text

After the usual squabbling over the single water closet in the apprentice barracks had finished for the evening, a Templar came by to lock the door for the night. Solas lay in his bunk, listening to the apprentices whispering and shifting in their beds as long minutes passed. It seemed more than one apprentice defied Templar and Circle edicts against fraternization as he heard bare feet slapping over the stone floor as people switched or shared beds.

The idea of these near-children in this cramped, absolutely not private space engaging in silent, secretive sexual exploration made his stomach twist with something akin to pity. …And, shamefully, a little bit of longing as it reminded him of his own first fumbling experiences growing up. Of course those days had been tainted forever by the trauma of living under the Evanuris and the constant fear that he would be discovered. Born to the middle class, his talents as a Dreamer had made him too powerful to remain there. All children with such gifts were taken from their homes and raised in the upper class, whether they wanted that or not. Solas had hidden his abilities rather than be taken against his will from his parents and his home. But he'd been lucky compared to the less talented children, who were deemed to belong to the lower classes. They often wound up as slaves and there was no hiding lack of talent.

Pushing those dark memories from his mind, Solas felt the Fade tugging at him as exhaustion crept up on him. His body was tired, achy from exertion, and sleep promised relief that he would have gladly welcomed, if not for his promise to try and meet with Tal. Solas had to keep pinching the sensitive skin of his inner arm, using the spurt of pain to keep sleep away.

Eventually the other apprentices quieted. The whispering faded and rustling in beds became rare as everyone settled into sleep outright. Finally, just as Solas was about to give in to his own fatigue, he heard the slight rustle of someone passing his bed. Opening his eyes and blinking against the dark, Solas propped himself up with one elbow and, through the faint light of the barrack windows, saw a lithe elven form tiptoeing toward the door.

Smiling to himself, he couldn't help but appreciate Tal's stealth and silence. The Dalish certainly knew how to train their children to pass unseen. Even a mage like Tal had the surefootedness of a rogue. Solas had taken centuries to hone his own talents in that area, as it hadn't been something his parents or teachers taught him growing up in a village.

When Solas heard the slight metallic clicking of someone picking a lock, he slowly pushed aside his coverlet and rose from his cot. His muscles protested and his head swam for a moment, making him breathe louder than he liked, but he overcame it and pressed on. He was louder than Tal had been, but none of the apprentices woke as he passed their beds and moved to stand over Tal's kneeling form at the door.

Tal lifted his head long before Solas reached him, a sure sign that his keen ears hadn't missed his approach. In the darkness, Solas could just make out the thin shape Tal used in the door lock and smiled with amusement as he recognized it: a knife from dinner. The utensil was dull, but narrow enough that with some filing and reshaping it would make a passable lock-pick.

After a moment of frustration, jiggling the knife about in the lock and letting out a huffing breath, the door mechanism clacked gently. Tal froze and Solas held his breath, straining his ears to listen to both the apprentices and the hall beyond the dormitory. After a minute passed with no sound, Tal slowly eased the door open just wide enough to allow their slim bodes through, shuffling sideways.

In the hall outside a wall sconce glowed green, lit by magic. It was dull and diffuse, but still bright to their night-adjusted eyes. Solas winced, blinking as moisture beaded in his eyes. Tal did the same, wiping brusquely at them. Then, casting a quick look at Solas, he extended his arm. It was a silent offer of aid.

Frowning with reluctance, Solas gripped the younger elf's proffered arm. He could be quieter if he had support. Tal nodded at him, his expression solemn though his lips twitched upward slightly. They began a slow, cautious walk down the hallway, their ears listening for any sign of Templar patrol.

When the sound of boots clomping over the stone reached them, Tal quickly pulled Solas into a shadowed alcove between two large bookshelves lining the hall. Smashed together in the shadow of the tall bookshelves, Solas held his breath as the glittering, armored form of the Templar plodded by them. The man's shoulders were slumped and his head hanging—a posture of boredom. He didn't expect to encounter any trouble this late at night, especially not in the apprentice's wing.

As the Templar's footsteps receded, Tal took Solas' arm and led him away from the bookshelves, further down the hall until they'd reached the closed door of Parahel's classroom. Again Tal knelt, producing the knife to pick the lock. Stiff with tension, Solas stood out of the alcove of the doorway, craning his head to look up and down the hall, listening. Except for the gentle metallic clicking of Tal's efforts with the lock, the tower was as silent as an uthenera chamber.

Then, finally, Tal unlocked the door and inched it open, slipping inside. Solas followed and moved to pull the door closed after him, slow and as silent as possible, but Tal was already there, doing it for him. One hand was up, palm out, and glowing faintly green-blue with magic. Solas shivered with longing as the sensation caressed his skin, waking the long memories of working his own magic, many times more powerful than this Dalish youth's.

With the aid of his magic, Tal softened the clack of the door as it latched shut and then heaved a sigh. "We'll have to whisper," he said, voice raspy and low. "I'd cast a sound deadening spell, but I'm afraid the Templar on patrol might sense it. So, as long as we keep it quiet this is the best chance we have at a private conversation."

"This is about Rosa," Solas guessed. He made his way over to one of the wooden desks and eased himself into it with a quiet grunt of effort.

"Yeah," Tal admitted. He rubbed his hands over his face, his posture of defeat like a man facing execution. Then, shaking his head and upper body, he pivoted to face Solas and crossed his arms over his chest. "Rosa told me you have knowledge about spirits and demons. You're a Dreamer, like her."

"Yes," Solas agreed and then left it at that. If his suspicions about Rosa were correct…it was fortuitous that these two siblings should encounter him of all people. His skin dimpled with gooseflesh at the thought but he quashed it. He would not jump to conclusions and risk offending them or exposing how unusual his knowledge was for this post-Veil world.

"Okay," Tal said, nodding. He put his hands together, palm-to-palm, and then brought them up to his lips in a motion of deep thought. His brow furrowed after a few moments and he dropped his hands to his sides. "I need to tell you about why Rosa is clan-less for you to understand."

"I am listening," Solas encouraged.

Tal strode closer and took a seat in the desk beside Solas as he began his tale. "You remember we said that we left because there were too many mages in our clans?" At Solas' nod, Tal blew out a breath and smirked. "Well, that was only true for me."

Solas hummed in acknowledgement, accepting without indicating judgment for the half-truth.

"Do you remember at lunch she…" He broke off and groaned under his breath, averting his eyes and grimacing as if in pain. "Let me start over." Drawing in a deep breath, Tal turned back toward Solas with narrowed eyes. "Do you believe in the shemlen's Maker? And Andraste?"

"I am agnostic," Solas revealed. "I believe in cause and effect, that wisdom is its own reward." He pinched his lips together, determined to reveal nothing regarding the Evanuris without provocation from Tal. This secret meeting was not the time or place for such a discussion since it would inevitably devolve into an argument.

Tal's look of relief was palpable. His eyes shut and he puffed out his cheeks as he exhaled. "Good. I didn't think so, but I had to be sure." Opening his eyes again, his hands on his thighs curled into fists as his gaze scrutinized Solas, searching him. "What do you think of…I mean…" His eyes flicked around the room, as if searching for an answer to his as-yet unasked question there. Then his attention returned to Solas' face as he blurted, "You said a possessed apostate blew up something in Kirkwall, right?"

Solas blinked at the abrupt change, but the suspicion in the back of his mind had begun to swell with mounting confidence at this question. He nodded. "Yes."

Tal leaned closer to him, whispering, "What do you think of that? The mage, I mean. The possessed one. Do you think he deserved to be executed like the shemlen religion does? Or…?"

"I believe his actions were regrettable, but there are times when violence is necessary to bring about change." Solas motioned at the classroom, indicating the rest of the tower. "The Circle of Magi is a flawed system that leads to corruption and persecution. It creates more misery than it prevents." Pausing when he saw Tal fidget as if with nervousness or impatience, Solas smirked slightly at the younger man. "But I know you are not asking what I think of his actions. You wish to know my opinion on possession."

Tal winced, cringing back from him. Both hands wrung in front of him and one leg bounced with anxious energy. He looked about the room, as if searching for some hidden observer who might overhear them, though of course there was none. Finally, he faced Solas and swallowed hard. "Yes. I want to know what you know about possession."

That clinched it then. Rosa's unpredictable and volatile temper, her overly weighty presence in the Fade and at lunch that day, and her foolish confrontational nature with the Templars made sense now. She was possessed, and if the Templars discovered that truth they'd kill her.

No wonder they are desperate to escape the tower, Solas thought.

Solas was silent a moment, considering how he should answer. Possession hadn't been all that common in Elvhenan because spirits—hostile, neutral, and friendly alike—had resided in the physical world without the Veil as a barrier. Only the very weak or uneducated succumbed to the temptation of a hostile spirit's seduction and trickery. And, of course, most spirits had no desire to possess a living body because they were already in the waking world. They were more likely to want to interact with the Elvhen than possess them. Sometimes that interaction was violent, but typically it was benign, even from the likes of spirits that represented such emotions as rage or pride or fear.

In this shadow-world post-Veil, possession of mages was sadly common and misunderstood, at least from what Solas had seen through dreams. The Chantry and Templars had no desire to learn about it or consider other approaches beyond slaughtering the unfortunate mage involved. The general consensus among humans was that possession was permanent, but Solas knew that wasn't true if one understood the nature of spirits. The Chantry and Templars would also identify Rosa as an abomination, regardless of the fact that she wasn't overtly hostile and seemed to be in control over the spirit within her…most of the time. They would still kill her without question or hesitation. And it wasn't just the Templars. Many of the mages within the tower would gladly help them out of fear of Rosa's possession.

Slow and quiet with caution, Solas said, "I believe I know why you are asking, da'len." At the informal term Tal's mouth fell open as if to protest, but then snapped shut again as he waited for Solas to go on. "Rosa's recklessness made little sense to me, until now."

The horrified expression twisting over Tal's face seized Solas' heart with sympathy. "It's not what you think," he stammered, shaking his head. "She wasn't tricked and it isn't a demon. She is not an abomination…"

Solas raised one hand in a placating motion. "I know, da'len. She made the conscious choice to allow the spirit to possess her." At Tal's anxious hand wringing, Solas reassured him, "Your secret is safe with me. Better still, you were right to bring this to me. I may be able to help her."

Tal's shoulders slumped and he began shaking. In the pale light from the moon Solas could see moisture glinting in his eyes. "Praise Mythal," he whispered breathily. "I hoped you would, but if I was wrong…"

Admiration warmed Solas' skin, making him smile fondly at the youth. The danger Tal had taken on his sister's behalf, defending her and trying to keep her calm as he hid her secret, was no small thing. And now entrusting their secret to a "flat-eared" stranger prompted Solas to reach out and grasp Tal's shoulder, squeezing. "I cannot promise my efforts will succeed," he cautioned. "But I will promise to do everything within my power to help."

"She doesn't trust you," Tal blurted, scowling. "She said she wanted to tell you, but she's very wary and she's convinced herself you would believe her an abomination, or turn her in to the Templars to further gain their trust…"

Shaking his head, offended at the very idea, Solas scoffed. "I do not understand how your sister can have such low expectations of me. Is it because I do not wear vallaslin?" he grumbled. "Because I am not Dalish? Or is the spirit influencing her mind?"

Tal turned his head slightly, shooting Solas a sidelong look as his lips quirked up and then down, as if he couldn't puzzle out how to feel about that comment. When Tal remained silent except for that odd, coy stare, Solas bristled. "What?" he asked, a little snappishly.

"Ir abelas, hahren," Tal intoned with a respectful dip of his head. "I did not mean to offend with what I said. Rosa is…slow to trust, especially when…ah, she doesn't know the other person well. That is all."

Somehow, Solas didn't think that was all of it in the least. Smoothing his expression and his somewhat wounded ego, Solas changed the subject. "I presume the pendant that the Knight-Commander took from her today was enchanted with a binding spell to help Rosa in keeping the spirit under control?"

The younger elf nodded solemnly. "That was why I took this risk. The next time she starts to lose control over it, the spirit will manifest visibly." He sucked in a shaky breath. "And the Templars will kill her."

Nodding his understanding, Solas glanced toward the closed door of the classroom. "Then we have little time. Do you know what type of spirit resides within her?"

Tal shrugged. "I'm not sure. She doesn't talk about it much, but she has called it Rogathe, before."

The elven term translated as bravery, courage, or daring. An uncommon spirit, like compassion, and easily warped into something like pride or bloodlust. Had the spirit come to her to bolster her because she lacked courage, or had it seen its virtues mirrored in her? With a contemplative frown, Solas asked, "Was Rosa prone to fear or…" he drifted off, uncomfortable saying cowardice because of its inherent nature as an insult. Settling on a better word, he said, "Timidity?"

Immediately Tal snorted and clapped a hand over his mouth as if to hold back laughter. Composing himself again, he let his hand drift back to his lap as he said, "Rosa's name means to stand tall. She was well-named. She's always been defiant and brave. She was beloved as Naseral's First even ten years ago when I first met her at the Arlathvhen. Her…" he paused a second before saying, "Her Keeper told me she made Rosa First when she was only seven because she faced down a bear to rescue her pet fennec." He grinned, the pride he felt for his sister's bravery showing clearly in his face. "A bear, Revas! And she was seven!"

Somehow, Solas wasn't the least bit surprised to hear this tale. He could imagine a childlike version of Rosa standing her ground defiantly in front of a rampaging bear, unflinching and unafraid. That was the sort of bravado that would attract a spirit of bravery.

"Then the spirit was drawn to like qualities within her," Solas surmised aloud. "That may make our task easier." If Rosa had summoned the spirit into herself to bolster her weaker nature, the spirit would prove very reluctant to leave because its purpose continued unfulfilled. But if it had become part of her for some other task and now was merely trapped within her it might prove fairly easy to make it leave. "Can you tell me how she came to be possessed by the spirit?" Solas asked after a contemplative moment.

Tal's gaze dropped to his lap. "I don't know exactly. She won't tell me." He shrugged. "All I know is that her clan exiled her for it and it broke her heart. Whatever happened…" He blinked, his lips twisting. "It was bad. People died. That's all I know."

Nodding in somber silence, Solas tucked that curiosity aside for later. It seemed he would have to discuss this with Rosa directly. How and why the possession had happened in the first place were vital to ending it. "Can you convince Rosa to seek me out in the dreaming?" he asked. "I must speak with her about what happened in order to help her…" Frowning with difficulty, he selected the best word he could for what he hoped to achieve. "…decouple from the spirit."

Now Tal smirked. "I expect she's already in the Fade looking for you, probably to pick your brain about this very same thing. Not like she has much other choice now with the pendant gone."

Solas arched an eyebrow. "You said she did not trust me."

A coy smile, much like Rosa's, worked over Tal's lips. "That's what she says…"

Baffled and irked, Solas sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose. It seemed both siblings were determined to vex him. From Tal's tone, he knew Tal implied his sister was disingenuous somehow, but whatever the other elf truly meant wasn't clear. "We should return to the barracks," he said.

"Yep," Tal agreed and sprang upright, extending his arm to Solas. "I'll lead the way, hahren."

Shooting Tal a slight smile, Solas rejoined, "Don't you mean flat-ear, da'len?"

Tal shrugged as Solas took his arm and heaved himself upright. "Consider it an honorary title. You're half-Dalish, aren't you?"

"Yes," Solas lied, keeping his cover story in mind.

"Remind Rosa of that then," Tal suggested, his voice growing quieter as they shuffled toward the door. "And make sure you tell her I trust you. She'll come around pretty quick then."

"For her sake," Solas muttered. "I should hope so. We have little time."

__________________________________________

When Solas opened his eyes in the Fade he found himself laying on the side of a grassy slope, staring up at the underside of the forest canopy high overhead. Stars glittered, cold and distant, but beautiful. The air was motionless, laden with an earthy scent of leaf-litter and soil. Pollen tickled his nose.

Was this his dream or Rosa's?

Sitting up, Solas peered around him through the dark, trying to recognize the forest. There was no sign of Fade ether, though pale mist clung around the hollows beneath his slope and about the trunks of trees. Fireflies danced on a hill across the trough, making him think of wisps momentarily before he recognized them as benign insects.

This was modern Thedas, he decided. That suggested this was Rosa's dream. Had Solas slipped into her dream, or had she called him into it? If Solas had managed to enter Rosa's dream than it was a pleasant and much-welcome surprise, suggesting his talents were recovering faster now. Soon he might be able to find Felassan's dreams again…

The sensation of being watched made him stiffen and almost simultaneously Solas heard the gentle crunch of underbrush and fallen pine needles further up the slope behind him. Shooting to his feet with the speed and grace of a fully recovered body—granted by the Fade and the power of his will—Solas stared through the dark to see Rosa's lean form.

She wore only a pair of tan breeches and a white tunic likely made of halla leather. Her violet eyes narrowed as she stared down at him, one hand grasping a pine tree bough absently. "Trouble sleeping, Revas?" she asked. "I've been waiting for you."

"Did you draw me here?" Solas asked her quickly, eager to know for sure whether his own talents were beginning to manifest or if this was all her doing.

"I think you did this as much as me," she told him with a shrug, picking at the tree bark. "This is my dream. I chose it when I couldn't find you. Got tired of waiting. I think you slipped into it."

He felt a tremor of relief pass through him, cool and calming. I will recover, he thought, eyes fluttering shut.

"I…" Rosa began, her voice wavering. "I have something I need to ask you about."

Opening his eyes again, Solas squared his shoulders and took in her stiff posture and pinched facial expression. One hand lay at the base of her throat, fingers scratching at the tunic there, as if searching for the pendant. It wasn't there, of course. "I know," he told her with a nod. "Tal told me."

She jerked, as if his words had physically impacted her. "He what?" she asked.

"I know you are carrying a spirit inside you," Solas told her, keeping his voice soft and gentle. "Tal believed I can help you—and he's right." Clenching his jaw, Solas shook his head. "You asked me before what I knew of spirits and demons. You should have brought this up then, da'len."

"Yes," she snapped, frowning. "I did ask you about it. And you immediately assumed I wanted you to summon demons and perform blood magic as part of our escape. That is exactly what one of these Circle mages would say if Id asked them." She snapped off a small sprig of pine needles and tossed it to the ground with more force than was necessary, glaring at him. "What was I supposed to think, Revas?"

"A Circle mage would not have admitted to knowing much of spirits," Solas protested, though he could feel his cheeks burning. She had a point. In his effort to hide how unusual he was for this age, Solas had parroted Chantry rhetoric in their exchange. Considering what he knew about Rosa now…of course it would taint her opinion of him.

Rosa scoffed, slashing a hand at him dismissively. "You've done little but lie about yourself from the moment we met."

Now Solas stammered a second with shock before clamping his mouth shut and gnashing his teeth, trying to think how he should react to that accusation. Denial? Probably, but it had to be a convincing denial, not an unthinking dismissal that'd hint at his fear of discovery. Part of him wanted to find out what she thought he was lying about, but that seemed unwise. Best to just leave it be.

"Your brother warned me you were slow to trust, but this is pure idiocy," he growled, and then mimicked her earlier gesture with a cut of his own hand in her direction. "Furthermore, your insistence that I am the one lying when you are the one hiding something as problematic and dangerous as possession…" He snorted, shaking his head with derision. "I do not know whether I should find this amusing or insulting."

"Both, probably," Rosa suggested, the coy smile hard and humorless on her lips. Then her gaze dropped to her feet. "Ir abelas. You do not deserve my suspicion and you're right. I cannot accuse you of falsehood when I have held back so much myself."

Looking up at her, Solas saw she'd begun to shake. She wrapped her arms over herself, as if cold. Sighing, Solas said, "I promised your brother I would help you. To do that, I need to understand what led you to accept the spirit into yourself."

She nodded without looking at him. "You need to understand its purpose, yes."

Surprised by her knowledge, Solas' brows rose up into his forehead. "That is correct. The spirit will strongly resist returning to the Fade if it feels it has not fulfilled its purpose."

Still nodding, Rosa said, "I call the spirit Rogathe. I have known it since I was a child. It used to visit me every night and tell me stories of the brave and heroic things it'd seen in others' dreams." Her voice grew more lighthearted as she spoke, wistful with memory. "I'd tell it silly, inane things about clan life. I can't imagine Rogathe found any of it entertaining, but it never complained and it would try to guide me on how I could help the clan." By the end of this explanation she was smiling.

Hearing of another enjoying the company and wisdom of a spirit, even in this shem-world, warmed his heart and brought a genuine smile to Solas' lips. But a shadow lingered on the edges of his mind, knowing this story had a less than ideal ending and could yet become a tragedy if he failed to save Rosa and Rogathe.

Clearing his throat, Solas prompted her with, "Your clan did not approve, I assume."

Now she surprised him by laughing. "Au contraire, flat-ear. Don't you remember that I told you my clan was unusual? My Keeper knew of Rogathe and approved of it wholeheartedly."

Still grinning, Rosa lifted both arms and shut her eyes. The Fade shimmered around them and Solas shuddered as the malleable dreamscape altered around him. In the blink of an eye night had become day and Solas saw a brownish cliff-face rising up a few miles distant. Behind him he heard the gentle roar of rough water and pivoted on his heel to find a rocky, fast-flowing stream. Peering to the right, downriver, Solas saw aravels arranged in a wide half-circle.

Rosa walked up to his side and gestured to the river. "Behold, the Fehorn. And over there," she pointed to the encamped aravels. "Clan Naseral. My clan."

Cutting a look of mock-irritation at Rosa, Solas said, "Did you, or did you not, tell me earlier today that you could not tell me anything about your clan?"

She blew out a breath, rolling her eyes. "Yes, I did. But that was before Tal blabbed about Rogathe. There's no point holding this back now." She swallowed then, crossing her arms over her chest and staring at the river, her eyes dark and stormy. "But I…find it hard to speak of them." The fingers of both hands idly stroked along her biceps where she held herself. "But here…I don't have to tell you. I can show you." Grimacing, she muttered, "Not that that will make it any easier, really."

"I assume you joined with Rogathe because of something traumatic that happened to your clan," Solas guessed, his voice soft. "Is that correct?"

She nodded, a muscle at her temple feathering. Her eyes drifted shut and Solas felt the Fade ripple again, reacting to her power and will. The bitter churn of envy rolled his stomach but he quashed it, reminding himself of the tiny triumph he'd uncovered earlier, learning that he had willed himself into Rosa's dream rather than the other way around.

"There," Rosa said, the single word breathy. Her brow knit and her eyes were dark as she strode past him, walking closer to the aravels. Solas moved after her, picking his way cautiously over the rounded river rocks making up the bank. Rosa pointed toward the tree line and Solas saw humanoid figures, indistinct and shadowy, charging out of the trees.

The Dalish camp had come alive with figures as well, of varying shapes and sizes. Screams and shouts echoed as the elves reacted to the sudden surprise attack. Hunters and warriors ran forward, weapons lifted and bows drawn with arrows nocked. Elders scooped up children and rushed to the aravels, pushing them inside. The elves clashed with the bandits. Halla bleated and screamed as they were cut down or chased away. The clan and the attackers appeared to have about equal numbers, but the bandits had surprise on their side.

Solas flinched as he saw the first elven warrior fall. In the Fade the memory was surprisingly clear and sharp, a mark of Rosa's notable talent as a Dreamer as well as the impact that this event doubtless had on her. Solas saw the crimson spurt of the first elven casualty as a splatter over the pale river rocks and sand. He heard the shrieks of horror and grief as the dead elf's comrades threw themselves forward with greater ferocity to avenge him.

A bandit fell, his arm severed in one powerful blow by a Dalish woman, but a human archer from the trees shot her in the thigh. Another bandit surged for her, roaring and hefting up a great-axe, ready to cleave her head from her shoulders, but then a fireball slammed into him. As the bandit screamed with panic and pain, Solas' gaze shifted to deeper in the camp where a familiar figure in Dalish Keeper armor—Rosa—stood stiff and defiant, wielding an intricately carved wooden staff. Some of it was made of ironbark, the blue brilliant in the sunlight overhead.

Spinning the stave, Rosa conjured chain lightning, making three bandits racing for her stumble as their muscles seized. With a wave of her hand, she cast barriers over her fellow Dalish, aiding the fighters. When a bandit drew close enough to strike at her, Rosa let out a wordless, ferocious shout and lunged for him using her staff as a spear. The ironbark blade at the end of it skewered the bandit through the stomach, cutting clean through his armor. Blood spurted, splashing over her and onto the rocks.

Beside him, overlooking the scene and shaking like a leaf caught in the wind of a storm, Rosa said, "Our Keeper was in the shemlen city. We traded with them once a season. She took our Second with her—just a child." Rosa's head and shoulders drooped. "Our Second told a flat-ear in the city about our campsite. Somehow, these bandits found out. They must have scrambled to reach our camp before our Keeper returned, to attack when we were weakest." She stopped, sucking in a wet breath as she covered her face with both hands.

Fighting the building burn of rage and helpless frustration inside him as he watched the scene unfold, Solas found his throat closed against anything he might say. What could he tell her that would not seem like an empty platitude? He had seen his share of carnage and slaughter, of course, but could not reveal or share it without exposing himself. The back of his eyes stung and he gnashed his teeth as he saw more and more Dalish fall, either dead or with severe wounds.

A few of the bandits had forged deeper into the camp and began raiding the aravels. A child screamed with terror and Solas' fists clenched as he saw a man drag out a girl of about five, soaked in the blood of the elder who'd been protecting her.

"We were too few," Rosa said at his side, glaring out at the unfolding attack and shaking again. This time Solas knew it wasn't grief. Her face was red and her eyes narrowed. The muscle at her temple feathered rapidly and her nostrils flared. The weighty sensation swelled in the back of his mind again and this time there was no mystery as to its source. It was Rogathe stirring within her.

"They would have killed us all," Rosa went on.

On the riverbank turned battlefield below, Solas saw Rosa spear another attacker and hurl a Fade stone at yet more of them. Her teeth were gritted together, her armor and face spattered with shemlen blood, her stave slick with it. And then one of them crashed into her from behind and stabbed a dagger through her shoulder. His body weight crushed her to the ground. Rosa screamed, more with rage than fear or pain, craning her neck up to look at the aravels—at the children of her clan.

"Or worse," the real Rosa beside him growled in a deep voice. "They would have taken us as slaves."

"Fenedhis," Solas swore, feeling his heart hammer against his breastbone. He wanted to petrify every last one of them, to cast a firestorm so intense that there'd be nothing left of them at all—not even ash.

"I had no choice," Rosa snarled. "I was too weak. Too frail. Rogathe was watching from the Fade and it lent me its strength. It wanted to help me, help us."

Memory-Rosa cried out in elven, but the words were lost over the rush of the Fehorn river. She shook and then slumped, going limp as if passing out from blood loss. The bandit on her back, with his blade still piercing her shoulder, cackled and yanked on her hair. "A mage," he shouted. "No good, this one, even if she's pretty." Ripping out his dagger from her shoulder, the man brought it to Rosa's throat—

And then a bright light swelled, so sudden and unexpected that it made Solas' eyes smart and he hissed, shielding them. Blinking away moisture, he stared down now and saw Rosa was upright; her arm outstretched to the man who'd stabbed her. She held his face in her hand, her grip crushing. Blood welled around her fingers a heartbeat before the bandit's head exploded. Bits of gore flew out in a wet spray and his body collapsed to the ground, limp as a boneless fish.

Bandits rushed at her, weapons glinting bright in the blinding light that emanated from her body. She turned her head and a wave of green-white energy shot out with a boom that echoed from the cliffs and the trees. The nearest bandits fell away from the mindblast, shrieking in agony as the trauma of it ruptured major arteries and made them bleed out. They fell to the river rocks, blood pouring from their bodies.

"You have no honor," Rosa shouted at them, her voice impossibly loud and deep. "You have no valor. You must die for your crimes, cowards. You will die by my hand." She Fade-stepped to reach the nearest bandits who hadn't been caught in her mindblast and summoned a Veilstrike with a punching motion. The two men caught in it smashed against the river rocks and Solas heard the audible crack of their bones breaking.

Arrows fired from bandits near the tree line seemed to hit a wall a meter shy of Rosa, dissolving into ash as if incinerated by her light. They succeeded only in drawing her ire and Rosa whipped around to face them and used both arms in a swirling motion before clenching her fists and punching downward, unleashing a firestorm. Fiery Fade rocks hurled down, shrieking as they hit the bandits. Trees caught fire, popping and crackling as the brimstone smashed into them. The bandits shrieked with horror as one by one the fiery stones hit them, burning them to a crisp or smashing them into reddish pulp.

With every last human dead, Rosa stood erect and stiff, the blood on her armor flaking off and flying away as ash. Her eyes glowed white as she turned to survey the clan. A handful of elders, children, and warriors remained alive enough to watch her, scattered about the camp. Some gawked with horrified awe, while others simply sobbed. From the aravels, the children cried.

Rosa blinked and the brilliant halo of light faded from around her and then vanished. Diminished now, she swayed on her feet and collapsed.

"They were comfortable with spirits," Rosa said at his side. "But possession?" She shook her head, gaze dropping to the sand at their feet. "Mamae…" She frowned and made a choking sound before starting over. "My Keeper, when she and the others who'd gone to trade returned, she said Rogathe would become a demon. She said I would become a mindless beast seeking blood, unless I could get Rogathe to leave me." Her shoulders shook and her voice cracked. "But it wouldn't leave me."

"It's purpose has become to protect you," Solas murmured somberly. His throat was thick with a lump he couldn't swallow. "Ir abelas, da'len."

"It offered me strength," she whispered, staring straight ahead as the aravels and the river grew fuzzy. This was the end of her memory as it was clear she'd passed out on the battleground below. "It promised to help me fight. I felt its good intentions. It wanted to save me, preserve me and my clan. I would be dead if not for Rogathe, but…"

"Now you will be killed by the Templars unless we can convince it to leave you," Solas finished with a slow nod of understanding. His fingers twitched at his side as he gazed at the woman beside him, so clearly needing comfort…

The pain in her eyes, in her body language, it was as real and undeniable as any he'd seen in Elvhenan. He'd seen that pain in the faces of Elvhen men and women whose families had been butchered by Falon'Din's arcane warriors. How could he repeat the same foolish denial when it was so clearly incorrect? She is real. And that meant everyone in this post-Veil world was. He felt nauseous, his muscles quivering and his skin dimpling with gooseflesh. What a fool I am…

And then he reached for her, wrapping an arm around her shoulders and drawing her into what he hoped was a comforting embrace. She didn't resist, leaning into him and letting out a shuddering breath, hot against his skin through the thin robes he wore. Gently patting and rubbing her upper back, Solas murmured, "Ir ableas, lethallan. For your loss."

She was silent for a time, leaning against him, shoulders heaving with each breath. Then, slowly, her hands moved to his chest with a light touch as she stepped backward. Solas followed her lead, releasing her and retreating slightly until her hands fell away from him. They stood far enough apart that they could reach out and touch if they wished, but the distance seemed unfathomably vast with the horror and grief of the slaughter below fading.

It had been literal ages since he had embraced another or tried to offer comfort—in or out of the Fade. His cheeks felt warm, wondering if she thought him awkward or stiff or unfeeling. Dismissing those thoughts, he tucked his hands behind his back, willing himself to take command. To feign confidence until he felt it genuinely. He had far more important things to be doing just now than worrying about whether he could still give acceptable, comforting hugs.

"No matter what happens," Rosa whispered, staring off into the distance with her violet eyes glazed. "I still have Tal. And…" She frowned, giving a quick shake of her head. Whatever she'd been about to say, she seemed to have thought better of it. Blinking, her gaze shifted to him, refocusing. "Will forcing Rogathe to leave me cause it harm or turn it into a demon?" she asked, a look of pain flashing over her features. "I don't want to harm it."

Solas tilted his head, startled again at how much understanding she possessed of spirits despite the Veil, which he'd expected would make such insight unlikely or even impossible. Her clan must have preserved some of the ancient knowledge from before the Veil. As badly as the Dalish had done in remembering history, their oral storytelling did carry seeds of truth on occasion. This must be one of them.

"What?" Rosa asked, frowning at his silence. "Why are you looking at me like that?"

"You surprise me," he admitted and then looked away, clearing his throat and hoping to gloss over his reaction. "But, more importantly, in answer to your earlier question, forcing Rogathe to leave you against its will would likely corrupt it, yes. Rogathe must feel its purpose has been fulfilled."

Hesitating a moment, Solas twiddled his thumbs behind his back where Rosa wouldn't see it as he considered how best to phrase the next part. Rosa stared at him expectantly, apparently unsurprised by his pronouncement so far. Dropping his gaze to the rocks and sand at their feet, Solas said, "My fear is that Rogathe has already been…warped by its time with you in this world."

She nodded, her eyes falling to the ground as well. "I was afraid of that." She swallowed, hard. "I tried to stay calm all the time I was traveling. The pendant helped." Frowning, she flashed a grimace, revealing bared teeth. "But it's gone now…"

"Which is why we must be swift," Solas pointed out. Drawing in a deep breath, he asked, "Can you unleash Rogathe? I would like to speak with it directly."

Her violet eyes flicked to his, dark and wary. Lips pinching in a hard line, she said, "I've never tried before…"

Dipping his chin, Solas spoke in a somber voice, "Please. You may never manage to convince Rogathe alone. Allow me a chance to speak with it. I may be able to reason with it."

Rosa's shoulders slumped and then squared again, as if she fought an inner battle with exhaustion or grief. Likely she did, but the struggle didn't reveal itself in her expression. Her eyes remained glued to him, steely with determination but stormy with fear. "I'll try," she murmured with a nod. "But I've never called Rogathe deliberately before. It stirs when I get angry or frightened—or when I feel hopeless. Today at lunch, when you and Tal sounded like you were giving up…" She broke off, closing her eyes. "I almost lost control."

"Yes, I remember," Solas said, chuckling slightly when she shot him a glare. "Your behavior makes a great deal more sense to me now, lethallan. Before learning of Rogathe, I thought you mad."

Rosa grinned. "You think Rogathe makes me like this?" She laughed, tossing her head back. When the loud peals of laughter tapered off, she said, "Sorry to disappoint you, but I was born this way." Gesturing at herself, she smirked at him as she added, "Flat-ear."

Snorting, Solas pushed down hard on that same annoying…something that bubbled within him at hearing her laughter. Cocking an eyebrow, he said, "I certainly hope Rogathe bares some responsibility for your bullheadedness." Lowering his voice slightly, Solas said, "But I suppose there is only one way to know. Call Rogathe. Reach inside yourself and draw it out."

Inhaling sharply, Rosa pivoted to face him full on and shut her eyes. Her hands were crossed under her breasts, uplifting them marginally. Solas swallowed as his eyes dropped to admire her breasts and then the rest of her shapeliness in the relatively formfitting tunic and breeches before he shook his head and refocused his full attention on Rosa's expression. Still, a touch of heat sprang into his cheeks, a brand of shame at how easily he could be tempted to distraction.

A consequence of spending millennia asleep with no physical contact at all, he thought. That had to be it, of course. Now that his physical body was once more firmly tied to his spirit and currently recovering, it was inevitable it would begin influencing his mind in such a way. A shame, really, that he had virtually no privacy to abate that particular physical need…

Stop thinking about it, he admonished himself. Fenedhis.

Rosa's brow knit, her head turned and tilting a little to one side. Lips puckering and then pursing into a thin, hard line, she said, "I can feel it, but Rogathe is distant. Sleeping." Her eyes popped open and then narrowed at him. "We have to wake it. Make me mad."

Solas smirked at her. "Ma nuvenin," he said, his mind panning about for something to quickly incense her without making it into a personal attack that'd be unfair and unseemly and likely untrue. A dozen different ways to reprimand her for her foolish and reckless behavior with the Templars leapt into his mind, but he held back, trying to find a better topic.

And then it hit him. Clearing his throat, Solas spoke in a solemn tone, "There is no way we can escape the Circle, Rosa. The Templars will kill you, Tal, and I, or worse, they will make us Tranquil. It would be best for us to give up." He had to stop, frowning as he wrestled with his own voice, trying to keep the ire out of it. This was something he definitely didn't agree with. "Better for us to live in the Circle as mages serving the Chantry than to be killed or be made Tranquil."

Rosa gnashed her teeth together, her hands curling into fists at her sides. Her shoulders hunched as she shut her eyes, her breathing growing faster and her skin flushing red.

Success, Solas thought, but kept the smile tugging at his lips from taking shape. He could feel the same weighty sensation growing in the Fade and cringed as it swelled, buzzing in the back of his mind like a hornet. It was possible Rosa would be able to bring Rogathe right to the edge of her consciousness but still come up short…

Then, suddenly, Rosa's eyes snapped open and Solas let the slight smile spread over his lips now as he saw her violet irises flash over into brilliant white. Light spilled out from her ears, nostrils, and her mouth. It even lit the whorls and dots of her vallaslin as if they were cracks in her skin.

Fitting, Solas thought, his smile warping into a smirk. Rosa had been marked for Dirthamen, the Dalish false-god of secrets. She certainly had her fair share of secrets.

"Rogathe, I presume?" Solas asked with a respectful nod.

Rosa blinked at him. With her eyes a uniform shade of dazzling white, he had no way to discern whether she—or, more correctly, Rogathe—was looking at him or through him or around him. Still, he felt the spirit's gaze on him like heat thrown from flame. Then, the spirit offered him a closed-lipped smile. "Hello, Revas," it said in a voice far deeper than Rosa's. "Or should I call you Pride?"

_______________________________________

Author notes from original posting:

I recently acquired Katy Perry's "Dark Horse" and listening to it kind of makes me think of Rosa. Because Solas just was not ready for her. I worried her secret came out here too quickly, but she has a lot more Solas doesn't know about. There's a big one I won't reveal until the very end that I hope will really come out of left field, though I also hope this one took most people by surprise...or maybe everyone. I struggled with when Solas would see it and after her outbursts at their meal and the drama over the pendant I thought he should recognize it. He's a smart cookie.

Next Chapter

"Who are you?" Rosa asked, shaking her head.

Pushing off from the table to scoot his chair out a bit, the dwarf hopped to stand atop it and bowed, uncaring at the wide-eyed stares his antics drew from the rest of the dining hall. "The name's Varric Tethras," he introduced himself. "Rogue, storyteller, and fellow prisoner." Dropping back into his seat, Varric turned to Rosa first and asked, "And you are…?"

"Still not interested in lyrium," Rosa rejoined, shooting him a suspicious glare.

Chapter Text

Rogathe, inside Rosa, stared at Solas, awaiting his reply. Uncertainty stilled Solas' tongue. He wasn't certain whether the spirit had the ability to read him well or at all while inside Rosa. Depending on its age, it might know his identity simply by remembering him. Sharing Rosa's body hid and shielded it from reading him in the physical plane. Yet Solas realized he could be wrong yet again in how much it could ferret out simply by being in his presence.

But the true concern here was whether Rosa would remember any of this. He had little experience with possession as it'd been relatively rare in Elvhenan. It was a phenomena brought on by the Veil primarily. Because he wasn't sure, Solas decided it'd be best to elude the spirit's question.

"I have been called many things," he told it, smiling politely. "But I understand Rosa and her clan called you Rogathe. You are a spirit of bravery?"

It nodded. "I am," it answered, voice gruff. "And you are afraid."

"I believe a better term for what I am feeling would be anxiety," Solas admitted, still smiling. "But I'd prefer if we discussed Rosa and yourself rather than me."

"Rosa has many fears, but not as many as you. It is a weakness unbecoming of one such as you, so advanced in age." Rogathe-Rosa turned on her heel and lifted her arms, as if trying to embrace the Fade.

Solas felt the tremor pass through the dreamscape and shuddered as it rolled over him. A moment later he saw the stone walls of the tower had risen around them in the Fade. They stood in a room filled with countertops as working spaces and shelves lining the walls, each filled with magical trinkets. First Enchanter Braden stood over one such counter just a few steps away from Solas, hunched over an orb with whirling grooves over its grayish surface.

The foci.

"So many of your fears aren't things you can fight," Rogathe said as it strode through the room of magical trinkets. Its gait was slightly slumped, as if relaxed…or bored. "I dislike abstractions," it complained with a growl that was almost comical as Rosa's feminine voice cracked a bit in delivering it. "But this one is concrete." Rogathe gestured toward the Fade-construct of Braden fumbling with the foci. "I like that. It's simple enough, isn't it? You must fight your way to reclaim what is rightfully yours. Rosa and I and her brother will aid you."

"Currently, as I lack the strength to fight and win, engaging them would be foolish and would only bring on my death," Solas said patiently. He remained where he'd been earlier, when Rogathe had used Rosa to reshape the Fade into its present state. Now that meant he stood beside a wall with a shelf loaded with magical items. To his right Solas saw the pendant Rosa had worn to keep Rogathe contained. Beside it, however, he saw the black lacquered wolf jawbone he had worn as part of his ensemble with the wolf headdress while interacting with troops in Elvhenan.

He started to reach for it and then hesitated, letting his hand fall back to his side as he frowned thoughtfully. If Rogathe could read his memories and thoughts even from inside Rosa—as it seemed he most definitely could—perhaps that explained some of the Dalish woman's contention that he'd been lying.

"You possess the strength," Rogathe insisted, scowling. "You are an Evanuris. The Fade trembles at your every whim. You shine with the brilliance of the sun. Spirits bend to your will. Fade ether runs in your veins as blood."

"I am no more capable than Rosa is," Solas hedged, deliberately leaving Rogathe's comments unacknowledged. If Rosa recalled this conversation…

"Nonsense!" Rogathe shouted, thrusting one clenched fist up into the air as if in rallying cry. "With enough effort and bravery, you can overcome all. If you will it hard enough. If you are brave enough."

Solas sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose with frustration. Rogathe was, as he'd feared, a fairly simple spirit. It emulated bravery and pushed those who interacted with it to face their fears. If warped it could grow into a fear demon, recreating sleepers' horrors in the Fade as nightmares to encourage them to overcome them without understanding that in the Fade that served no purpose except to terrify. Yet Rogathe could also become a mindless thing of carnage that would force Rosa into battle regardless of how stupid or hopeless. It could also warp into a pride demon if its host proved powerful enough. But, thankfully, for the moment it seemed untainted…although foolhardy.

It seemed to be a younger spirit, formed after the Veil. As such, Rogathe had little experience or understanding of the waking world. It didn't understand that a mouse could not defeat a dragon using will and bravery alone. Undoubtedly it had been learning since joining physically with Rosa, but not enough, apparently, to comprehend that physical strength impacted the outcome of a battle as much or more than willpower. It favored brawn over wits, bravery over cunning. And, considering its host was a Dreamer capable of reshaping the Fade with ease, it wasn't going to learn how vastly different the waking world was all that quickly because Rosa spent a great deal of time dreaming.

Switching topics, Solas asked, "You have seen the Templars, have you not?"

Rogathe snarled with disgust. "Of course. They are cowards. They herd together like prey animals, bristling with their fear of magic and of me and my ilk. They are bullies and savages, high on imagined glory." Rosa's voice dropped an octave, cracking again at the ferocity of Rogathe's vehemence. "I will rend them apart, scatter their essence. They will rue the day they laid hands on Rosa!"

"Do you understand that if the Templars discover you are within Rosa they will kill her?" Solas asked, voice sharp and eyes locked on Rogathe-Rosa across the dreamscape.

"I know this," Rogathe replied with a nod. Its lips curled in a sneer. "The cowards dare threaten my charge!" With a violent slash of one arm, Rogathe sent out a flash of white light that caught the Fade-construct of First Enchanter Braden in the back, making him yelp and stagger, dropping the orb onto the countertop with a metallic thud.

Ignoring the bluster, Solas pressed on. "Your purpose is to protect her, is that not correct?"

"That is my purpose," Rogathe answered, glaring at Braden as the Fade-construct cowered. "I must protect Rosa with my bravery. I once watched over her clan as well. But she is alone now, except for Tal and I." It lifted its head and Solas felt its stare land on him, the intense white light from what had once been Rosa's eyes seeming to scald him. "And there is you. We did not expect you."

Let's not talk about me, Solas thought and restrained the urge to frown, keeping his expression impassive. "By remaining in Rosa physically you are endangering her, Rogathe," he said, gently. "You must release her and return to the Fade. The Veil is thin within the tower. If she needs you it will be easy for you to return to her."

First Enchanter Braden burst upright then and sprang toward the door, shoulders hunched with fear. Rogathe's blistering stare followed him, its head swiveling gradually. Its lips curled in a snarl, revealing the glimmering ivory light emanating from Rosa's every pore. "I am no coward who would abandon my charge when faced with danger."

"There are things about the world beyond the Veil that you do not understand, Rogathe," Solas said, a note of pleading entering his voice. He stepped closer to the possessed woman, moving with slow, cautious steps. "You must have noticed some of them by now."

Its brow furrowed. "I have…" it hedged. Cocking its head, it added, "I have seen you, Tal, and dozens of others slink and cower before these cowardly Templars. I know you are no coward, yet you do not fight. You do not act with bravery. I have felt you and Tal holding Rosa back. Why do you deny her? It is her nature to struggle and fight." It frowned, shaking its head. "She is a spirit of honor and courage. I will not let her be chained or destroyed."

Of course, being young and simpleminded, Rogathe also lacked an understanding of deceit. It saw Solas and Tal and all the other mages' self-restraining behavior as incomprehensible. Pushed far enough, it might turn against Solas and even Tal, believing them cowards. For now, however, it seemed to hold them as merely baffling. That was another positive sign that Rogathe remained untainted by Rosa and the physical plane. If and when Rogathe learned the value of deceit and manipulation as a means to preserve Rosa's life, then it could become a pride demon. At that point it could refuse to leave Rosa out of selfish reasons, finding life beyond the Veil more stimulating than inside the Fade. Currently, however, Solas' challenge would be to convince Rogathe that it endangered Rosa more than it protected her. Unfortunately, it seemed Rogathe interpreted leaving Rosa as a betrayal of its purpose and of itself and its nature.

"But the Templars will be less likely to harm her if you are not with her," Solas told it evenly.

"I will always be with her," Rogathe snapped, glaring.

"Physically," Solas corrected. "You will of course watch over her from the Fade. I misspoke earlier. It is only your presence within her that places her at risk." Licking his lips, he changed tactics. "You understand that if she dies her spirit will not join you in the Fade? She will be lost to you. Forever. If you wish to preserve her, you must withdraw from her while she is in this tower. Come to her again only if she calls."

Rogathe scowled, staring at Solas with what might have been a contemplative look on its face. Sadly, because the spirit manifested with so much light, peeking from Rosa's eyes, nose, mouth, vallaslin, and ears, it was difficult to gauge what was happening in its mind. Whatever it was, however, Solas was confident it would be honest whenever it expressed its thoughts.

Finally, Rogathe nodded. "I concede there may be wisdom in your words, Pride."

"Please," Solas said, lifting one hand in a stop gesture, palm facing outward toward Rogathe. "Call me Revas." Swallowing, he bit back the question riding on his tongue: Will Rosa remember our conversation?

Rogathe gritted its teeth, the brightness of it bringing moisture to Solas' eyes. "But that is untrue."

"You understand that Rosa, like all mortals—and myself—is not a creature bound to one ideal the way you and other spirits are?" Solas asked in a patient, lecturer's tone.

Rogathe shifted from one foot to the other, cocking its head. "I have observed that, yes."

"Well," Solas went on, smiling. "I have chosen a new name to remind myself of the ideal I wish to achieve above all others. Revas. Freedom. To that end, you have my word I will lend whatever strength I possess to protect Rosa and her brother." His stomach clenched on itself as he wondered whether he was lying to the spirit now. If Rosa remembered this conversation once Rogathe slipped away, could Solas truly risk allowing her to live if she figured out who he truly was? He had no way of knowing if she and Tal would join him if he tried to recruit them to his cause. Considering their heritage as Dalish, it seemed highly unlikely.

The safest course of action was to kill her…

"So Revas is as true as Solas," Rogathe finished for him with a grunt, indelicate and awkward in Rosa's mouth. It pinched its lips together, brow furrowing. "The world beyond the Veil is a baffling place," it complained. "That is why I am willing to do as you say. That, and I know you have more experience and wisdom than I." It nodded, seemingly satisfied. "A warrior must know when to yield to the advice of a veteran."

Smiling, Solas dipped his head in a deep nod of respect. "Ma serannas," he thanked the spirit.

"And," Rogathe went on, "I know Rosa has seen more danger in this tower than Tal. If that is because of my influence on her and because I endanger her…" It let out a huffing breath. "Then it is my duty to leave her, physically."

Nodding somberly, Solas smiled with relief. "I am pleased you agree, Rogathe." Clenching his jaw and averting his gaze to the floor then, Solas asked, "Before you leave us, I wonder if you might know whether Rosa will recall any of this conversation?" His mind spun quickly, finding a lie he hoped simpleminded Rogathe would believe. "If she is aware beneath the surface I will have no need to summarize or explain what transpired."

Rogathe's mouth worked, twisting. "And if she recalls it she will tell you so."

Solas' hands curled into fists at his side for a split second before he forced himself to relax again, to hide his unease and tension. "Please, Rogathe. I am somewhat unfamiliar with physical possession. I would like to learn more of how such a thing functions."

"In your time spirits had little need to take a body because they did not have to cross the Veil," Rogathe said with a knowing nod. It wasn't a question. The spirit knew who he was and what he had done, even if it hadn't seen any of it directly. "Pride takes great joy in learning, yes. And it is a brave thing to seek out the truth, no matter how hard it is."

Its eyes narrowed, somehow making the brightness of its white glowing eyes even harsher. "That is one of your biggest fears as well," it commented. "To accept the truth of this shadow-world you created." Rogathe squared its shoulders and strode closer to him, authoritative and confident. It walked with the swagger of a warrior, militant and efficient, with no concern for how loud its bare feet thumped over the wooden floor.

Solas' spine stiffened as he watched Rogathe draw nearer. "Do not concern yourself with my fears. It is not something you can fix, Rogathe."

"Not I, no," Rogathe agreed and grinned. "It is you who must be brave. None can do it for you. But you already know that, just as you already know the truth of this world." Abruptly, Rogathe snatched his hand, making Solas flinch slightly and tense though he didn't pull away. He watched as Rogathe brought his hand to rest over Rosa's chest, over the beating of her heart. "It is real. She is real. Tal is real. The cowardly Templars are real. The mages in the tower are real. All of them are real. As real as you, Pride."

Snatching his hand away from Rogathe-Rosa, Solas repeated his earlier question, harsher now: "Will she remember this discussion?" His heart thundered in his ears, an unceasing wave beating on the shores of his own inner sea.

Rogathe stared at him blankly. "She sleeps." It tapped its chest. "In here. But I cannot say if she dreams this."

It wasn't a firm no, but it was better than the alternative. Solas nodded and let out a breath he hadn't realized he was holding. His heart quieted and the constriction in his chest eased. "My thanks, Rogathe."

"What I can say," Rogathe began, raising one finger as if to interject a new point, "is that Rosa is brave. She drew my gaze years ago when she faced a bear to save another creature from death at its claws. Since then I have seen her dive into an icy river to save a drowning child and fight bullies at the Arlathvhen who taunted Tal. I have seen her fight, fearless and ferocious and proud, to protect her clan even at the cost of her own life. And I have seen her accept her clan's punishment and walk alone into the wilderness without a word." It paused a beat and then added, "After such hardship, I should think that accepting the ancient truths of an old wolf would not be so great a challenge."

Rogathe stared at him hard, eyes narrowed. Solas felt the challenge in its gaze as a heat licking his skin and rippling the Fade. Although he had only witnessed the memory of the bandit attack here in the Fade, Solas had no doubt that Rogathe spoke the truth regarding Rosa's other exploits of bravery. But as for its proclamation about ancient truths and an old wolf

No. How brave Rosa or anyone was had little to do with how trustworthy they'd be if they learned his true identity and purpose. As a simpleminded spirit, Rogathe couldn't understand that. If anything, Rosa's bravery made it more likely she would choose to oppose him. What could be braver, after all, than pitting oneself against a being feared and reviled as a maleficent god?

"I appreciate your advice," Solas said, smiling politely. "And I shall bear it in mind. I hope we meet again, Rogathe."

The spirit smiled, tightlipped, and its eyes fluttered shut, closing off the light glowing from it. Then the light dimmed, flickering. Rosa's body blurred with it and she swayed on her feet. The Fade seemed to shrink in on itself, darkening as her consciousness diminished. Solas felt his own body react, skin prickling with gooseflesh and flushing warm.

Then Rosa gasped and fell forward. Solas darted in to catch her, both hands on her shoulders, but her body passed through his palms. Alarmed, Solas pivoted to search for her, eyes wide, only to relax again as he realized what'd happened. She'd disappeared from the Fade, snapping awake.

I must see if she remembers any of this, he thought with a sharp inhalation. And I must know if Rogathe has left her.

Closing his eyes, Solas willed himself awake.

____________________________________

Sitting upright suddenly in his bunk, Solas clunked his forehead on the underside of the cot above him. Hissing with pain, he rubbed at the skin, blinking as he got his bearings and the effects of the blow faded.

The apprentice barracks were silent except for the soft rustle of mages turning over in their sleep and the dozens of little puffing noises as they all breathed. Yet, over those quieter sounds, he also heard a more ragged breath somewhere further down the line of bunks. It had a vaguely feminine quality that immediately made him suspect it was Rosa.

Tossing aside his covers, Solas pulled himself out of the bed, grimacing with the aching pain that stabbed through his muscles as he did so. His bare feet whisked over the floor and his robes rustled softly as he moved through the darkness, making his way to the bed where he'd heard the rough breathing. Through the dimness he made out a shape sitting upright in the lower cot of a bunk, curled forward and holding its head as it rocked back and forth. It was small in shape, lean like a human child would be, but also the right shape to be an elven woman.

Hearing him, it turned round to look at him and Solas saw moisture glittering in dark eyes, surrounded by a halo of hair that appeared black in the dimness. Even in the lowlight Solas recognized it was Rosa, as he'd suspected.

"Rogathe," she rasped quietly. "I felt it try to leave me," she said, using elven.

Kneeling at her bedside, biting back the grunt of pain as he did so, Solas said, "It agreed to leave. Has it not done so?"

"I can still feel it," she said and then asked, her voice small and wavering just slightly, "It's not a demon, is it?"

Solas shook his head in the negative. "Rogathe is a spirit of bravery that thinks very highly of you. It is not a demon." He frowned, watching her through the darkness. "It should have left you, lethallan."

The covers in the bunk above Rosa rustled as the apprentice there sat up with a gasp. "What? What is that?" Solas recognized Tal's familiar voice and saw the young elf's shape sitting upright in the bunk, whipping his head about with confusion. "No," he mumbled. "No more halla milk."

As Tal flopped back to the cot, groaning drowsily, Rosa snorted quietly in the dark. Her lips spread wide with amusement, though her voice was a touch too soft when she spoke. "Oh Tal."

Glancing to the nearest window, Solas saw the faint hint of bluish light from dawn. It wouldn't be long now until they had to rise for the day.

Licking his lips, Solas whispered, "We will try again tonight." An idea had crept into his mind, as sharp and jagged as lightning. With Rogathe ready and willing to slip back into the Fade, Rosa should be free of it. Yet she wasn't. The only one left to hold it there was Rosa herself.

She looked at him and her jaw clenched as she nodded. There was no hint of hesitation or uncertainty, no slouch of weariness or defeat in her shoulders. But her eyes, though dark in the blackness of the barracks, were unguarded. Her lips curled in a small smile. "Ma serannas," she thanked him.

Solas gripped the edge of her bed, hauling himself upright again with a strangled grunt of pain. As he strode back to his bed, his thoughts returned to Rogathe's comments about Rosa's bravery. Though this attempt had failed, she had no reservations about another. He knew she would keep trying; keep fighting, no matter how futile. If she could be recruited to his cause, if she could prove loyal, she'd make an ideal agent with such a mindset…

No, he scolded himself. Fenedhis, have you lost your senses? The image of Rogathe's brilliant face flashed before his mind's eye as Solas tucked himself back into his cot and settled down once more. He recalled the light blazing through the delicate dots and stripes of her vallaslin and reminded himself she was Dalish and every clan he'd visited in the dreaming had scorned him. Why should clan Naseral and this woman be any different? Because a foolhardy, young, and simpleminded spirit vouched for her? Because she reminded him of Mythal? Because he found her intriguing and attractive?

Stop that, he ordered himself and rubbed at his face with frustration. That was only his traitorous body; hungering for a treat he had not enjoyed for…he realized he didn't know exactly how long it'd been. Swallowing the groan of irritation building in his throat, Solas closed his eyes and let the Fade take him.


Now that he could walk without being in intolerable levels of pain, the mages who assigned the apprentices with daily chores and who had been bringing Solas his meals, now put him to work. That morning, despite his slow pace, he was instructed to dust bookshelves in the library. Afterwards, the mages encouraged him to rest and read whatever he liked. They anticipated he would soon join with the other apprentices in studying.

So it was that, with a long broom and a feather duster, Solas found himself in an enormous circular room, two stories tall and covered wall-to-wall in bookshelves. Despite expecting the books to be inaccurate, droll, or even infuriating, Solas couldn't stop the swell of emotions that rose within him at the sight of it.

The massive space was cavernous but warm, decorated with painted frescoes along the ceiling and over several paneled wall sections where plush chairs in pale gray leather. Braziers sat in strategic points around both the first and second story, lit with magefire that glowed white-yellow, providing an impressive amount of illumination for reading. A few doorways led off to halls or classrooms along the second floor where mages and enchanters would likely retreat to study or read or conduct special courses.

Though this was nothing compared to the library construct Solas' father had worked in as an archivist, managing the network of spirits in charge of serving patrons, it still brought on nostalgia. An ache began in his chest, burning and sharp, at the reminder of all that had been lost in Elvhenan—at his hand. He wondered what the construct looked like now, if it had even survived the Veil at all.

Sighing, he put those thoughts from his mind and set to work. The musty smell of old books filled Solas' nose as he began dusting in a circuit around the first floor. His muscles ached from use already, but it was tolerable and scanning the titles on the spines of the books gave him a pleasant distraction. He worked slowly but methodically, pausing often to pull a book from the shelf and page through it.

Mages came and went as he worked, paying him little mind, which suited Solas well enough, but as he reached the second floor, he heard whispered voices from a classroom. Continuing to work, he made an effort to be extra quiet, hoping to covertly overhear the discussion, but the closed door muffled most of it. In spite of it, however, he made out male and female voices repeating Kirkwall several times. It seemed clear these were mages or perhaps even enchanters or senior enchanters discussing the events of Kirkwall.

Promising, he thought before continuing to the next bookshelf. From the first floor he heard a voice call out, "Revas?" It was the mage who'd assigned him this chore, come to summon him to lunch. Leaving his tools where they were for the present, Solas slowly and cautiously made his way down the stairs, clinging to the railing the whole way. His muscles quivered with the effort by the time he reached the bottom but he followed the mage out and down several flights of stairs without complaint. She took the journey at a relaxed pace for his benefit, casting him constant looks over her shoulder. Solas pretended not to notice, concentrating on walking through the mounting pain in his legs and arms from all the use over the last few hours.

As with yesterday, Tal found him after he arrived in the dining hall and helped him carry his tray to their spot. Rosa smiled at him, tightlipped but genuine as he approached. "Revas," she said. "Later than usual. You're going to have to wolf your food down to finish before they chase us out of here."

Indeed, he saw their trays were mostly empty except for bread crusts and crumbs. He hummed in his throat to acknowledge her and then set upon his food, biting ravenously into his sandwich as Tal sat next to him.

"Ma serannas, hahren," Tal told him, wearing a somber smile over his lips. Still chewing his meal, Solas arched an eyebrow in silent question. Tal chuckled, his deep brown eyes sliding to Rosa quickly before he explained, "For helping Rosa."

Swallowing his mouthful, Solas shook his head. "There is no need to thank me." He sighed. "I was not successful."

"But next time you will be," Tal said with a grin. "I know it."

Rosa snorted, smirking at her brother. "Please forgive Tal's gushing. He's an optimist."

"You do not believe we will be successful?" Solas asked her, restraining a frown.

"I never said that," Rosa said, lifting both hands palms up in a motion as if to ward off an attack of words. "I just never count my halla before they're born."

"Please forgive Rosa's grumpiness," Tal said in a playful tone meant to lightly mock his sister. "She's a pessimist."

"Realist," Rosa corrected him, index finger raised to note her point. "Sometimes that means I get to be pleasantly surprised, you know. Halla frequently have twin fawns. So it all equals out." She shrugged and then began idly pushing a bit of bread crust around on her tray. "But…ma serannas, hahren," she added with a soft exhalation, eyes drifting shut and shoulders slumping with relief. "If you succeed tonight I will owe you a life-debt."

Unsure of what to say to that, Solas redoubled his efforts to finish his meal after merely nodding in acknowledgement to Rosa.

"Yes," Tal piped up, beaming beside him. "Perhaps we can help you find a clan to join someday…"

"Keep your voice down," Rosa scolded softly, glancing around quickly. None of the other apprentices seemed to care, luckily, and Tal hadn't spoken all that loudly. Satisfied that they weren't in any danger, she faced forward again, her violet eyes darting back and forth between Solas and Tal. Then, with that now-familiar coy smile spreading over her mouth, she thumped her fingers over the wooden table and announced, "It's time to liven things up a bit before they drive us back to chores and the useless classes. How about a game? Or storytelling?"

"Sick of hearing about Andraste already?" Tal asked, waggling both eyebrows at her.

Rosa scoffed, nose wrinkling. "Sylaise help me, yes." Rolling her eyes, she groaned for theatrical effect.

"It's an interesting story," Tal said with a shrug. "I'll give it that much."

"It wouldn't be so bad if they told the full story," Rosa said, grinning slyly. "Like the part about Shartan and Andraste. My favorite is when Shartan gives Andraste his sword."

Having consumed his sandwich and most of the buttery peas that went with it, Solas decided to contribute to the discussion. Shartan had been one of the momentary bright points of the People's history. Watching it from the Fade had given Solas a thrill of triumph…and more than a little personal satisfaction as he had had a hand in guiding the elven slaves through dreams into rebellion against Tevinter. Clearing his throat, Solas said, "I believe you're mistaken, lethallan. It was Andraste who gifted Shartan with her sword."

Both Rosa and Tal glanced at him, expressions of amusement coloring their faces. Tal blushed and stared down into his tray while Rosa sniggered under her breath. Staring at them, Solas realized he'd misinterpreted the lilt of their conversation. Rosa had purposefully mismatched things in connection with Shartan's sword.

Biting back a groan at their antics, Solas shook his head and returned to eating his peas. "Very funny, da'lenen," he said dryly.

"The People have way better stories than these shemlen anyway," Tal said, leaning back in his chair. With a sweeping gesture of his hand, Tal launched into a story, his voice dropping an octave. "Once, long ago, there were no dwarves and no shemlen. Only the People walked the world, and the first of us—the greatest of us—were the Creators."

Solas listened politely, but inwardly he let his thoughts, and his gaze, wander to Rosa. Rogathe should have left her the previous night. The fact that it hadn't suggested Rosa kept it trapped. Unconsciously. He watched her face as Tal's story went on. Solas had heard this tale before, although slightly altered he suspected, all the way back in Elvhenan. It was an explanation myth, a legend to account for the dwarven people and why they were so different from the Elvhen. Even back in Elvhenan Solas had thought it ridiculous. Dwarves were not created from elves, not shaped by the Evanuris…

"In those days," Tal went on, "the People lived underground as well, digging in the earth for riches and metal. One day, great Mythal, protector and mother of the People, went to visit one of these belowground cities. There she met with—"

A gravelly voice cut into Tal's tale, saying, "Mind if I cut in?"

All three elves turned to stare at the newcomer—a stout dwarf with strawberry blond hair and a jaw covered in bristly stubble standing beside their table on Rosa's side. Tal's mouth went slack as he reacted first, his cheeks flushing red. "I'm sorry, I didn't see you there," he stammered.

The dwarf shrugged good-naturedly. "Eh, I get that a lot." He sat next to Rosa without being asked, setting his tray down with a clatter.

Rosa frowned at him, apparently disapproving of his abrupt insertion into their group. Solas kept his expression neutral, though he couldn't stop himself from sneaking quick, curious glances at this dwarf. Because dwarves were dreamless, having never known the Fade—at least within Solas' lifetime—he knew very little of them or their history. Encountering them in Elvhenan had been fairly rare as well. With only a few exceptions, Solas had hardly even spoken to a dwarf previously.

"Sure, go ahead and make yourself at home," Rosa quipped. "But if you're here to hawk lyrium then—"

The dwarf cut her off with a guffaw. "Hardly, Violet. I'm here because you three by far look like the most interesting people in the room."

"Violet?" Rosa repeated, her expression warping with bemusement.

Solas remained silent, eyeing the dwarf as he spooned more peas into his mouth.

"How's that?" Tal asked. "Because we're Dalish?"

Now Solas frowned, chuckling dryly. "That cannot be the answer, lethallin, as I clearly forgot to don my vallaslin this morning."

The dwarf laughed, grinning at Solas a moment before he pointed one meaty finger in his direction. "You got that right, Chuckles."

Chuckles? He smirked at the moniker and returned to consuming the last of his peas.

"Okay," the dwarf said, clapping his hands together and rubbing them as he looked over each of the elves around him. "You three are the most interesting bunch of this lot because you're adults." Motioning at the other tables and the apprentices nearby—nearly all of whom had stopped their meals and conversations to stare at the dwarf—he added, "Everyone else in here are just kids. But you three?" He quirked an eyebrow. "There's a story here and I intend to hear it."

"Who are you?" Rosa asked, shaking her head.

Pushing off from the table to scoot his chair out a bit, the dwarf hopped to stand atop it and bowed, uncaring at the wide-eyed stares his antics drew from the rest of the dining hall. "The name's Varric Tethras," he introduced himself. "Rogue, storyteller, and fellow prisoner." Dropping back into his seat, Varric turned to Rosa first and asked, "And you are…?"

"Still not interested in lyrium," Rosa rejoined, shooting him a suspicious glare.

Varric sighed. "Let me guess, your clan told you all surface dwarves are lyrium smugglers? Hate to break it to you, but it's not always true. Granted…" He grimaced. "I have my fair share of Carta contacts, too. But point is…" He drifted off, scowling. "Never mind." Gesturing toward Tal next he said, "How about you, Stoic? What's your story? You and Violet come from the same clan or…?"

"I'm Tal," he replied. "That's Rosa." He pointed to his sister and grinned when she glared at him. Then he indicated Solas next. "And this is Revas."

"A pleasure," Varric said to them, nodding toward each elf. "Now, how's about you finish that story you were telling?"

"Oh, that one?" Tal's face was beet red and he suddenly stared down at his tray in fascination, picking at a chip in the corner of the ceramic. "Not that old thing, really."

"Why not? A Dalish story about dwarves? Sounds interesting to me. I collect stories, you know. Daisy was full of them. Oh," he broke off, shooting them a sheepish look. "Daisy was a friend of mine, a Dalish woman." He elbowed Rosa. "Like you. Kinda." Rosa's only response was to narrow her eyes and so Varric puffed out a breath, seeming to give up. "Never mind. Anyway…if you won't tell me the Dalish story, why not tell me how you three came to be the oldest and oddest apprentices in this tower?"

"That tale is simple, Child of the Stone," Solas said, smiling tightly. "Myself, Rosa, and Tal were captured recently by Templars."

"Together?" Varric asked, quirking an eyebrow. "Because that's the interesting part. I've known enough elves to know city elves and Dalish aren't big on each other. So, what makes you three different?"

"Nothing," Rosa interjected, frowning. "Just mutual hatred of imprisonment."

Varric grunted in a dry laugh. "Well, count me in on that."

"You're no mage," Solas pointed out, staring at the dwarf with curiosity. "Why are you imprisoned in this Circle?"

Varric rapped his fingers over the table, his mouth pinching into a hard line. Twisting at the waist, he turned to search over the rest of the room in a swift, furtive motion. Rosa and Tal exchanged meaningful glances while the dwarf's head was turned before shooting the same look at Solas—a mixture of intrigue and suspicion. All three of them cleared their expressions as Varric faced them again and haltingly explained.

"I'm not trapped in this Circle, exactly. I'm…uh, kind of a…hostage, I guess, more than a prisoner." He flashed a tight grin. "See, I'm from Kirkwall and I had a close friend involved in the chaos there."

Solas let his surprise show, both eyebrows lifting into his forehead. Rosa and Tal, meanwhile, wore deadpan or solemn looks in response to this news. Varric kept his tight smile in place as he continued: "And that brought me to the Divine's personal attention." He winced. "And so she sent her pet Seeker, Cassandra Pentaghast, after me."

"Seeker Pentaghast?" Tal interjected, beaming. "The Lady Seeker the tower's been whispering about?" His voice took on a note of reverence. "The Seeker of Truth." Leaning closer to Varric, he asked quietly, "Rosa and I shouldn't be here. We're Dalish, on our way to join another clan. Can the Seeker help set us free?"

Rosa started to interrupt, shaking her head vehemently. "Tal, don't start," she warned. Her violet eyes landed on Solas and stayed there, crinkling with something like concern.

She fears Varric will be able to influence this Seeker into setting them free, he realized. Such good fortune would be a wonderful surprise and boon for the Dalish siblings, but it didn't help Solas any. Rosa had apparently been genuine in her claim that she would owe him a life-debt. It seemed she had no intention of leaving him alone in this tower, even if it endangered herself.

Of course she has no fear of endangering herself, he thought with a flash of irritation. Rosa and Rogathe would consider leaving the tower on a technicality and with the Seeker's mercy as a cowardly retreat that left their comrade behind.

Varric had produced a silver flask from a pocket in his coat and taken a long swig of it while Tal and Rosa spoke. With a loud, satisfied ahhh and a smack of his lips, he refocused on the three of them with a hard grin. "Let me get this straight, Stoic. You want me to try and convince Seeker Pentaghast to knock some heads around and set you free?"

Tal fidgeted, eyes flicking between Rosa and Solas and then back to Varric. He grimaced. "It was a stupid idea, I'm sorry I—"

"Let me tell you about the Lady Seeker," Varric said, smirking as he rolled his wrist, making the fluid in the flask slosh about. "For weeks now she's been dragging me across the Free Marches, interrogating me about my friend and what happened in Kirkwall. That's the only truth she cares about right now, but she'd probably be thrilled to knock some heads around just for the fun of it."

"So…she might help us?" Tal asked, tight with uncertainty.

"Tal," Rosa growled, shaking her head. To Varric she spoke sharply, "We don't want the Seeker's help."

Ignoring Rosa and speaking to Tal, Varric said, "She might help you, or she might just bust your balls and stab you in the book if you don't cower enough for her." He scoffed. "The woman's a harpy."

Stab you in the…book? Solas wondered but kept his thoughts to himself.

"Then we definitely don't want her help," Rosa repeated, staring at Tal in silent reprimand.

Her brother cringed at the look, then shrugged and glanced to Solas with an awkward smile. "Worth a shot, right?"

"Perhaps," Solas hedged, though he managed to work up a smile to reassure the younger elf. "I cannot fault you for trying."

"So," Varric said, drawling out the single word as his eyes jumped from one elf to another, sparkling with amusement. "I still smell that story here. Care to share?"

"I'm sorry, dwarf, but that smell you mentioned is probably us," Rosa grumbled with a dry smirk. "Not some juicy story. The Templars don't exactly let us bathe as often as we'd like."

Unable to resist, Solas stared at her with feigned shock. "The Dalish bathe? I was not aware of this."

Rosa snorted, though her violet eyes warmed with amusement, aware he was teasing. "Ha-ha, flat-ear." Varric was laughing with delight while Tal sniggered quietly.

Enjoying their levity, Solas decided to continue in the same vein. He pressed closer over the table, ignoring the protests of his back muscles with the motion, and asked quietly, "Tell me, da'len, do they bathe with the halla? Or indulge in great luxuries such as soap?"

"Oh, yes," Rosa answered, smirking as she shifted slightly in her spot to better face him. "We most certainly do bathe with our halla. They help scrub our backs. So difficult to get some spots otherwise."

"I should think that would prove painful, da'len," he said with a closed-lipped smile to answer hers. "Considering their hooves."

"Well," Rosa said with a wink. "Sometimes we ditch the halla and take a friend instead."

Fenedhis, he cursed inwardly. Her salacious tone had made him flush with warmth and pushed a faint image of something…erotic into his mind. Clearing his throat, he dropped his gaze to his tray and murmured, "Fascinating, da'len—though I suspect not very efficient for achieving cleanliness."

Now Rosa made a face of mock-scandal, covering her mouth with one hand and gasping through her fingers. "I said a friend, Revas. Mythal preserve me, what were you thinking of?"

Scoffing, Solas frowned, using irritation to mask his embarrassment. "Are you quite finished?" he groused.

"Are you?" she rejoined, smirking at him a second before slowly, deliberately, adding, "Flat-ear."

"Are they always like this?" Varric asked Tal, flashing a lopsided smile. "Or is this just for my benefit?"

Tal's eyes were locked on the silver flask Varric had left on his tray. "Both, probably. Any chance you'd be willing to give me a taste there? They don't give us wine until dinner and it tastes like the Dread Wolf's piss."

Solas winced at the curse, breaking his long stare down with Rosa, who seemed to delight in his unease. He tried to minimize his reaction, knowing she would see it and likely take advantage of it later. At least the lighthearted and facetious nature of this conversation had kept Rosa calm through the meal.

Laughing, Varric grabbed up his flask in his meaty hands. "I hear you there, Stoic. No Chantry-sanctioned institution has ever served a decent wine that I've seen. You can—"

"Mealtime's finished," a voice shouted from the doorway, followed by a loud clapping as the mage who'd come to shepherd the apprentices out of the dining hall tried to ensure he had everyone's full attention. "Please return to your afternoon classes and chores."

"Looks like our time's up," Varric said with a sigh. He tucked the flask back in his coat and shot Tal an apologetic smile. "Sorry, Stoic. Don't want to get you in trouble."

Rising to his feet with Rosa, Tal shrugged. "Thanks anyway, Darric."

"Varric," the dwarf corrected, pushing back from the table just enough that he could prop his short legs up on it, crossed at the ankle as he reclined in a seat that was very much too big for him. "Varric Tethras. I take it you haven't read any of my books? Hard In Hightown? The Tale of the Champion?"

"You're an author?" Tal asked, eyes widening and mouth spreading wide in a grin. He glanced to Rosa. "Now I know why he wanted to hear our story so badly."

Grunting with effort as he rose from his own chair, Solas smiled at the dwarf and gave a dip of his head in respect. "A pleasure meeting you, Master Tethras. I will make an effort to find and read your works." Tale of the Champion, he thought, interest gnawing at him inside. If the tower's library held that particular book he could find it and read it today even and possibly gather fresh intel on the incident in Kirkwall from a new perspective—someone who hadn't ever dreamt in the Fade.

Now Varric grinned, beaming with satisfaction. "Great, Chuckles." He winked. "Always a pleasure to meet new people, especially if they turn out to be fans."

As they reached the end of their table Rosa was the one to extend her arm out to him, a silent offer of support. Solas stared at her proffered arm, his jaw clenching as ego fought with practicality. His arms and legs did feel heavy, shaky with weakness and fatigue, but he was strong enough to walk unassisted now, albeit slowly. Tal pressed close behind him as Solas' pace faltered with his indecision. "What's the holdup, Revas?"

Rosa arched an eyebrow at him, her lips quirking in a half-formed smile. "C'mon, flat-ear. It's the least I can do."

Letting out a breath in a sigh of surrender, Solas grasped her arm, leaning some of his weight on her. As they started walking for the door in a steady shuffling pace, following the line of other apprentices, Rosa leaned close to him and whispered, "I'm hoping that sodding nughumper Curtis isn't waiting at the door this time, but if he is…"

Her breath was hot where it fanned out on his neck, brushing his earlobe. It was close, intimate space, but not so close as to be inappropriate. Still, for Solas, unable to recall the last time he'd been so close to an elven woman, it was enough to set his heart pounding and his blood afire. He swallowed hard and tried to convince himself not to consider how warm the side of his body facing her was, or how she smelled vaguely of lilac and vanilla somehow. He tried not to feel the sudden sweat that broke out over his body.

"If he is…?" he prompted quietly, staring straight ahead at the approaching doorway as they drew nearer to it. His thoughts buzzed like bees, fragmented and bumbling.

She chuckled. "If he is, well…" As he glanced at her Rosa shot him a playful look that didn't quite touch her eyes. The tension in her radiated through the air. Solas could feel it in her forearm. "You're pretty tall for an elf," she commented. "Even if you're naught but skin and bones, I'm hoping he won't notice me."

"Hiding behind my robes, da'len?" he teased only to grimace a moment later as he saw her brows knit and her mouth twist. Her cheeks and eyes darkened and he felt her muscles snap taut in her forearm. "Ir abelas," he quickly apologized, throat going dry. "I did not mean—"

"It's fine," she cut him off, sucking in a shaking breath. "I know you're teasing…but…"

"Rogathe does not," Solas guessed with a nod. Changing tactics, he said, "Regardless, I must thank you for your aid. I cannot walk with any speed on my own." It was the truth and something she and Rogathe needed to hear, so they could cleave to him with the certainty they were helping him, not avoiding confrontation out of "cowardice." They passed through the doorway exiting the dining hall and into the hall. Templars stood guard off to their left and right, watching with cold stares as their charges filed past.

Solas let out a breath he hadn't realized he'd been holding when he saw none of the guards was Ser Curtis. Rosa's posture loosened up beside him and her lips spread in a small smile as she too, apparently, noticed Curtis' absence. "I'm not sure if I'm helping you as much as you're helping me," Rosa murmured quietly.

"Pardon?" Solas asked, brow knitting with confusion.

She shook her head, the loose strands of her brown hair flopping against her neck and temples with the motion. "Don't worry about it," she said, gazing forward. "It's nothing."

Solas found he didn't believe her. Opening his mouth, he started to protest her dismissal when suddenly a voice called out from just ahead of them: "Revas? Apprentice Revas?"

The apprentices ahead of them parted for a Senior Enchanter trotting through the throng toward them. The Senior Enchanter's eyes landed on Solas and widened with recognition as she picked up her pace. Rosa pivoted slightly, moving Solas closer to herself as she leaned in and asked, "Where did they put you to work?"

"The library," he replied, frowning with puzzlement. "Dusting the books. Why do you—"

"So I can find you if something comes up," she answered, grinning. Her other hand, the one not helping support him, rose to clasp his forearm and give it a firm squeeze. "See you soon." Then she broke away, moving to fall into step with Tal, who seamlessly moved to her side with the confidence and surety of a longtime comrade.

"Apprentice Revas," the Senior Enchanter said, drawing Solas' attention forward again. He saw a middle-aged woman he vaguely recognized as having been present when Tal and Rosa underwent their magical assessments. She appeared slightly winded, as if she'd been running to fetch him. Solas stomach clenched, fearful of whatever he was about to learn.

"Yes?" he replied.

"Come with me," the woman said. "The First Enchanter and the Knight-Commander have summoned you."

_____________________________________

Elven used

Da'lenan: children

Next Chapter:

"So you are a scavenger," the Seeker said, not bothering to hide the slight curl of her upper lip in disgust.

"A scholar," Solas corrected her with a slight frown, feeling a mild sense of déjà vu at the exchange. Hadn't he had to correct Ser Bartholomew the same way? "I have spent much of my life wandering alone in the wilds, seeking secrets from the past."

"By spelunking in old ruins?" the Seeker clarified, the disapproval radiating from her in waves.

Varric's voice echoed through Solas' mind as he stared at the Seeker. The woman is a harpy.

___________________

Author note: In posting these here, I reread all these chapters and just laugh and laugh at the funny bits. I *adore* the Varric-Cassandra dynamic and rereading this just reminds me of that. The woman is a harpy! And the flirtation between Solas and Rosa kills me.

Chapter Text

The Senior Enchanter led Solas to Knight-Commander Kali's office again, his second visit in as many days. She rapped on the door with a little knock and Kali's voice called out from within, "It's open."

The Senior Enchanter pushed down the latch and then used her shoulder to force open the heavy wooden door, striding into the room ahead of Solas. "I brought him as you asked," she said.

Entering the office, Solas saw a wide room with squared corners along the interior that widened into a flange where the exterior wall curved with the tower's circular shape. A window behind the Knight-Commander's broad red-tinted wooden desk provided illumination. Two chairs sat in front of the Knight-Commander's desk and a few others lined the walls. The Senior Enchanter moved to sit in one of these, beside a bookshelf brimming with dusty tomes.

Sitting in the chairs in front of Kali's desk were two humans, a man and a woman. The man Solas recognized as First Enchanter Braden, with his bright blue eyes, brown hair, and distinguished air aided by the graying at his temples. The woman, however, was unfamiliar. She wore armor reminiscent of a Templar's, complete with their sigil of the flaming sword. Her hair was black and cropped short, with striking features and a strong jaw, marred by a reddish scar. Her brown eyes swept over him and narrowed with concentration.

"Ah," Braden said then, motioning to Solas. "This is the apprentice we mentioned, by the name of Revas." Smiling to Solas, Braden asked, "Are you comfortable standing? You're welcome to sit beside Elyssa."

Guessing the First Enchanter referred to the woman who'd led him here, Solas glanced in her direction and spotted the open chair for future reference before quashing the achy pain pulsating in his legs and back. He tucked his hands behind himself, squaring his shoulders. "I can stand for the time being."

"Revas," Kali said from behind her desk in her gruff, authoritative voice. "This is Seeker Pentaghast, Right Hand of the Divine."

Solas dipped his head in greeting, smothering his surprise at hearing the woman's full title. "Lady Seeker."

"Revas," she said, shifting position in her chair as if about to rise to her feet, but stopping short. Her eyes narrowed at him in scrutiny. "Knight-Commander Kali and the First Enchanter informed me of the unusual circumstances of your arrival to this tower. I wanted to hear your version of events."

Solas fought to keep his expression neutral even as sweat doused his body, hot first and then cold. Stalling for time, he looked to the First Enchanter and Knight-Commander with confusion. "My version of what events, may I ask?"

Kali grunted. "What do you remember of the ruins and the artifact where we found you, apprentice."

Brow furrowing, Solas glanced to the Seeker again and asked, "Forgive me, Lady Seeker. I'm afraid I do not recall much of the circumstances around my…" He drifted off, struggling to find a better word to describe the Templars' abduction of him.

"That's fine," the Seeker said and Solas thought he detected a hint of impatience in her voice. "Just tell me what you can remember, apprentice." She paused a moment, lips pursing as if she were holding something back before she spoke again. "I have come to the Free Marches on behalf of the Divine for a variety of reasons, one of which is to investigate the Rite of Tranquility."

Now Solas felt cold, as if his blood had frozen in his veins. "Am I to be made Tranquil?" he asked quietly.

"No," Braden said quickly. "No, not at all. There is no reason for the Rite to be considered for you, Revas." He smiled, warm and reassuring.

Solas felt his shoulders slump and his muscles shake with more than just the constant ache of his ongoing weakness. The Seeker shifted once more in her seat, as if impatient or embarrassed as she hurriedly explained, "I apologize. I did not mean to imply you would be considered for the Rite, Revas. I ask because Knight-Commander Kali and the First Enchanter have both told me you lack magic since your encounter with the artifact in the elven ruins where you were found."

"That is regrettably true," Solas answered with a nod, mind spinning at this line of questioning. His heart rushed in his ears and his spine burned, stiff with tension. In letting the Templars and mages here in the Circle believe his orb to be capable of sucking the magical talent from him to cause his current physical state, he had inadvertently drawn more attention to it. He cursed himself for not seeing this possibility earlier. Of course the Templars would be delighted to learn of a new tool they might use to neuter their charges. It didn't matter that his foci couldn't do what he'd allowed them to believe it could. They would study it and try to unlock its secrets and, in their clumsy fumbling, could end up destroying the whole tower and tearing open the Veil in a dangerous, foolhardy, and doomed venture. The Veil would fail then, unraveling over time with no one left alive—as Solas would inevitably be killed in the initial blast—who understood what was happening.

Eventually, once the Veil failed entirely, the Evanuris would waken and spill out into this world…

Shuddering at the thought, Solas shook his head and stumbled back toward the chair along the wall. "I apologize," he said in a gravelly voice. "My strength is not what it once was."

Kali grunted. "No need to apologize, apprentice." To the Seeker she said, "He may not possess magic currently, but Revas has told me he retains his connection to the Fade. It seems likely to me then that he will one day regain his magic."

Braden nodded sagely. "I agree with the Knight-Commander. In addition, because Revas still dreams, he remains vulnerable to possession." He shook his head, frowning. "Whatever the artifact is that he found in that ruin, it is not something we can hope to use as a substitute for the Rite."

"You still dream?" the Seeker asked Solas, her brown eyes sharp and critical as she observed him.

Solas had slumped over in his seat, breathing deeply to remain calm and think. Fortunately he knew the people around him would see his discomfort as a sign of his physical frailty rather than emotional distress—as long as he could feign an unruffled composure, anyway. "I do, Lady Seeker," he replied coolly. "First Enchanter Braden is correct, I believe. The artifact cannot be used as a means of replacing the Rite. It would not afford the mage any protection from demons."

The Seeker huffed, frowning. "For some time now Most Holy has been interested in learning more of the Rite. I cannot help but wonder if this artifact may prove the key, once we have studied it and understand its uses, of course."

The Seeker, the mages, and the Templars here had about as much chance of understanding the foci as an ant had of learning how to bake a loaf of bread. Solas' guts seemed to twist themselves in knots, writhing with dread.

"I've been tempted to grant Braden and his Senior Enchanters access to study the artifact," Kali said with a contemplative scowl. "But it's seemed far too dangerous until now." Her gaze landed on Solas and her expression warped with something akin to sympathy. "With all due respect, Seeker Pentaghast, you did not see the state Revas was in when he was first brought here. Most of the Templars had a betting pool on him dying the first night. He could not walk or even stand for a week."

"I could not even speak," Solas interjected, voice sharp. As the others' eyes fell on him, Solas debated falling silent or protesting their plans to study the orb unless he was present. The latter would prove invaluable if they agreed to involve him, but it could also be disastrous if they questioned his motives. Steeling himself, he pushed through the fear, knowing he had to take the risk.

"The artifact is obviously very dangerous. If it is to be studied at all, I'd ask that I be included."

"You?" the Seeker asked, quirking an eyebrow. "That seems unwise."

"I am an expert on such relics," Solas explained, licking his lips. "That was why I was in the ruins to begin with."

"So you are a scavenger," the Seeker said, not bothering to hide the curl of her upper lip in disgust.

"A scholar," Solas corrected her with a mild frown, feeling a slight sense of déjà vu at the exchange. Hadn't he had to correct Ser Bartholomew the same way? "I have spent much of my life wandering alone in the wilds, seeking secrets from the past."

"By scavenging old ruins?" the Seeker clarified, the disapproval radiating from her in waves.

Varric's voice echoed through Solas' mind as he stared at the Seeker. The woman's a harpy. He clenched his jaw to keep himself from smiling with dry amusement. "It is not as repellent as you imagine, Lady Seeker. I leave food out for the giant spiders and they are content to live and let live. And I also, of course, set wards." Pausing, he sighed. "Obviously I cannot engage in such activities as I am now, but I may have valuable insight that I would be happy to provide."

"And you would place yourself in that kind of risk again?" the Seeker asked, eyes widening slightly. "Even knowing what it has already done to you?"

Was that…admiration he heard in her voice? Solas pushed the thought aside and smiled at the Seeker as he nodded. "I have apparently engaged with the relic once already and survived, although I have no memory of what happened."

"But surely it would kill you this time," the Seeker said, gaze sweeping over him in what was an obvious survey of his wizened, lean form. The wrinkle that formed between her brows made it clear she didn't find what she saw pleasing or reassuring.

"If the relic did indeed draw away my magic as the Templars currently believe," Solas said, still wearing the polite smile, "then only a Tranquil or someone stripped of magic such as myself would be the logical choice for handling it."

"But what it has done to you physically," the Seeker pointed out with a frown. "No. You would surely not survive." Looking to the Knight-Commander, the Seeker announced, "You must not allow this man to be exposed to this device again."

Fenedhis, Solas cursed internally, frowning. That did not go as planned.

"It generally goes against our policy to allow apprentices close to artifacts like this," Kali said with a frown. "And I'm not convinced letting anyone touch it or probe it—with or without magic—is wise." She nodded to the Seeker. "I'm inclined to say we should not have anyone touch the Maker-damned thing, but if you really want to investigate it, Seeker Pentaghast, I can ask one of the Tranquil bring it up for you to inspect."

The Seeker shook her head. "No, that will not be necessary." She sighed. "It seems that this is another dead end and not an alternate to the Rite as I'd hoped." Turning slightly in her chair, she gestured toward the senior enchanter, Elyssa, as Braden had called her. "If you would please escort Revas out, I'd like to return to my primary reason for visiting."

"Of course," Kali said and snapped her fingers, pointing at Elyssa. "Please see the apprentice out."

Elyssa rose from her seat and grabbed Solas by the arm. He leaned on her heavily as he got to his feet, biting his tongue to keep from grunting with the effort. His joints popped and his muscles strained, but his strength was such that his knees bore his weight. He let Elyssa guide him from the room, gradually regaining his control over his legs and shakiness.

As they reached the large wooden door and Elyssa pulled it open, Solas heard the Seeker launch into a discussion, apparently not content to wait for him to be fully out of the room. "I will require all the correspondence you have regarding the Champion of Kirkwall. I have reason to believe he may have passed through here a few months back and I am looking to find him. I'm also curious if you have any information on an enchanter named Bethany from the Kirkwall Circle."

The wooden door clanged shut with a hollow echo then and Elyssa ushered him toward the stairwell. "You are to return to your chores for the rest of today," she instructed him in a stern voice. "If the Seeker calls on you again someone will come find you."

"Of course," Solas replied, still gripping her arm as he navigated the first steps, gritting his teeth at the spurts of pain running through his thighs. Inwardly, his mind was awash in a tumultuous mixture of emotions. Fear gnawed at his stomach with cold teeth while hope made it flutter as if he'd swallowed wisps. Would the Seeker change her mind and order the Knight-Commander to allow study of the orb?

If they did, he knew with certainty that he would not be allowed to participate. These foolish Templars and the ignorant mages didn't know that in turning him away they could be sentencing everyone in the tower to death. In their fumbling, they might manage to unlock it, bringing on disaster. At least it would be a sudden, swift explosion and not the lingering suffering that would happen later once the Veil was gone and the Evanuris escaped the Black City. And at least Solas could take solace in knowing that he would already be dead so he wouldn't have to live in such a miserable existence.

He sighed as they reached a landing, shoulders slumping with more than just exhaustion and pain. Elyssa shot him a worried look. "You okay?"

"Well enough," he answered cagily and feigned a smile. The memory of Rosa sitting across the table from him during lunch the previous day snapped into his mind. Her outrage at he and Tal for their glum attitudes, for even the barest hint that the trials facing them were daunting or that they could give up.

Clenching his jaw, he thought: No. His hand not clasping Elyssa's forearm curled into a fist as determination hardened inside his chest. No matter how hopeless things appeared, Solas would never give up. If he could not safeguard the foci from experimentation by the mages directly, he'd have to come up with some way to discourage them indirectly. As a Dreamer, that should have been easy because he could touch their minds as they slept, influencing their decisions or guiding them.

Except he could barely alter the Fade in his current weakness and he could not afford to wait in the hope that his powers returned. If the Knight-Commander and Seeker decided to allow study of the orb tonight, then Braden and the other senior enchanters could be poking at it tomorrow.

That left him with only one viable option: convincing Rosa to act in his stead without somehow revealing his connection to the orb.

Wonderful, he thought with a grimace.

___________________________________________

In the library Solas returned to dutifully dusting the titles, but now he kept an eye out for Varric Tethras' works while his mind twisted around the challenge of bending Rosa to his will without revealing himself overmuch. She'd accused him multiple times of hiding the truth or lying outright regarding the orb. What could he possibly say to her to strip her of that stubborn suspicion while also convincing her of the orb's danger?

About an hour before dinnertime, Solas found Varric's books on the second story. He stroked the book spines, reading the names, and frowned as he saw no sign of The Tale of the Champion. Considering it was his newest work, might it be hidden away in someone's room for reading? Or, possibly more likely, had it been banned by the Templars due to the fact it concerned the rebellion in Kirkwall?

He was absorbed with these questions when he heard the floorboards creak near the stairs to the second story and tensed. Pivoting around to see who had ventured up here—the library had been quiet most of the afternoon—he saw Rosa's lithe form. Frowning at her with disapproval, he waited until she had drawn closer and quietly asked, "What are you doing here, lethallan? If the Templars find you—"

"You think I'm afraid of pissing them off?" she asked with a small snort.

Solas smirked with dry amusement as he shook his head. "I suppose that was a foolish thing for me to ask you."

"Absolutely foolish," she agreed, a playful gleam in her violet eyes. "Like asking that dwarf Varric to describe a dream. Or asking that scumbag Curtis to mind his manners."

Solas' lips quirked downward. "Has he continued to trouble you despite the Knight-Commander's warning?"

She shrugged, eyes roving over the bookshelves to his right, scanning the titles. "Haven't really run into him since yesterday, but he's the sort of deranged, cruel bully who won't be happy until he's crushed my spirit." Her lips curled in a hard, humorless smile. "And he won't manage to crush me, so there's only one way things end for him and I."

Solas' breath stilled a moment as he interpreted the look on her face and the dire note of her words. In little more than a whisper, he said, "If you kill him you will only ensure your own death, leaving Tal and myself alone."

Rosa's gaze locked with him. One corner of her lip curled up slightly and then wavered. The violet color of her eyes seemed to darken into a brown; stormy with an emotion he couldn't quite read. Then the coy smile spread over her mouth and Solas averted his eyes, frowning at it.

"What?" he asked, his tone a little sharper than he'd intended.

Shifting her weight from one foot to another, Rosa ignored him as she reached out one hand to absently brush over the books on the shelf across from her. Solas quashed the bristling irritation that laced through him at her silent dismissal. His mind gnawed on itself, trying to puzzle out what might be on her mind—just why she held back or didn't trust him now. He needed to obtain a better grasp on reading her, manipulating her, or she'd see straight through him when he tried to convince her to dissuade the mages from investigating the orb.

"You look troubled," she said with a small hum, her gaze still on the books. "Why did the senior enchanter draw you away after lunch?"

Spine stiffening, Solas' eyes moved to where Rosa's fingertips traced the lettering on a scuffed, worn tome. He licked his lips, trying to find the right words. "The Seeker apparently is interested in alternatives to the Rite of Tranquility," he explained. "She hoped that the relic I was found with could offer such a substitute."

Rosa's eyes snapped back to his and narrowed. Her brow knit and lips pinched. "And what did you tell her, Revas?"

"The truth, of course." Resisting the instinct to hunch his shoulders slightly with the tension crawling over and through him, Solas feigned impassiveness though he sensed something dark and cold underlying Rosa's question. "That I remain connected to the Fade so the orb is not a viable option."

Rosa's hand fell from the books as she turned away from him and strode to the railing. Leaning against it, she peered down into the library's first floor, surveying it quickly. Solas waited, watching her and still clutching the feather duster in one fist. His thighs were beginning to burn with the prolonged standing so, when Rosa didn't return immediately, Solas walked to the railing as well. Resting his left hipbone and his corresponding elbow against the wood, he faced Rosa and asked, "What is the matter, lethallan?"

She shot him a sidelong look, blank and unreadable. "Do you really believe the foci robbed you of your magic? Your strength?"

A nervous fluttering started in Solas' stomach. "What other explanation is there?" he asked. "I wish I could remember what happened to me, but I do not."

"And you have no memory of the foci?" Rosa asked pointedly, her voice somber and hushed.

"No," Solas lied, staring at her, willing her to believe.

She turned slightly, her stance mirroring his. "That's a shame, Revas," she said and the coy smile spread over her lips. "A real shame. If you remembered it at all then you could tell me what its magic felt like, how much power was stored within it…what danger it might pose to fumbling Seekers and Circle Enchanters…"

The insinuation hung in the air between them, the dark invitation from Rosa to himself: Admit the truth. Her violet eyes drilled into him, narrowed with raw suspicion. Solas' blood rushed in his ears, so loud it drowned out everything else. Without him even mentioning his fears, Rosa had zeroed in on the issue at hand. How much did she truly know and how much was a guess? In a tight voice, he asked, "What do you know of relics such as the foci?"

She shrugged, her tightlipped smile parting to show her teeth. Solas thought of a wolf, a predator catching the scent of blood. His blood. "More than you," she said, almost purring. "Or so you would have me believe…flat-ear."

"Whatever delusions you labor under regarding myself, we have more pressing concerns." His palms were slimy with sweat. Solas brushed his hand not grasping the feather duster over the railing, leaving a streak of moisture that evaporated quickly. Glaring at her, Solas added, "Have I not proven you can trust me, lethallan?" Edging closer he said, "Tell me what you know."

Surprising him, Rosa also moved closer, the railing quivering slightly under her weight. Solas refused to inch backward, despite feeling the warm, moist puff of her breath over his cheeks. The wide, dry smile stayed over her lips, displaying bright white teeth. "You first."

She smelled faintly of flowers, but with an underlying musk of sweat that stirred something primal deep within. Ancient memories of warm bodies pressed against his own, of lips that tasted sweet and skin that was deliciously salty. Longing coiled in his belly but he squashed it, focusing instead on irritation as a flash of angry frustration scalded his blood.

Nostrils flaring, Solas spoke through gritted teeth as he said, "I know that without my aid you will be killed by the Templars the next time your temper gets the better of you and Rogathe stirs."

She flinched, nose wrinkling and lips twisting as she drew backward a step, leaving the railing behind. "You said you would help me."

"And I have. I will continue to do so," he said quickly, the anger cooling now that she had retreated slightly. Now that she wasn't close enough to pick up her scent, to touch, or to send his thoughts spiraling to some forbidden place. "But I grow weary of your constant doubt of me. You must trust me, lethallan."

"If you wish to earn my complete trust then stop lying to me," Rosa growled, glaring.

Solas scoffed. "Why do you insist on claiming I am untruthful? Do you enjoy antagonizing me, perhaps?" Softening then, he tried a new tactic. "Can you explain why you believe I am lying? Perhaps we can overcome this misunderstanding."

Her jaw clenched as they stared at one another, seconds ticking by in thick silence. Then, suddenly, Rosa let out a breath and turned away, staring out over the library's first floor far below them. She gripped the wooden railing with both hands, the knuckles flushing white. "My clan has a…legend," she said softly.

Unable to resist, Solas quipped, "I am shocked, lethallan."

She snorted and then shot him a glare. "Are you going to let me talk or not, flat-ear?"

"Ir abelas. Yes." Solas bit the inside of his cheek and stared at her, waiting for her to continue.

"My clan was called Naseral—dreaming soul—because…" She frowned, shaking her head briefly and then starting again. "…Because many generations ago it is said our ancestors stumbled upon an uthenera tomb." Her gaze slid to him and Solas didn't dare breathe, willing himself to be stone, stoic and unreadable.

"It was untouched," she went on, hissing out the final word. "You understand the significance of that?"

Nodding slightly, Solas hedged, "Yes. Uthenera was the endless dreaming sleep of the ancients."

"Yes," she agreed. "It was. When we were immortal. When we ruled Thedas. When we were free." Her voice had softened with awe and reverence. Solas watched her; still hardly daring to breathe for fear that she would read the truth from him. This was just the sort of insight he'd feared she could have from her clan.

"Anyway," she went on with a little sigh. "We dedicated ourselves to guarding it. We wanted to preserve it and the…sleeper within."

"Did you?" Solas asked, staring off at the ground floor, as if he could see what she described below. And, in a way, he could. He had seen his own uthenera chamber, after all, and numerous others before the fall of Elvhenan. He hoped Rosa would see his behavior as merely wistful, the same longing she had displayed when mentioning the lost Elvhen empire and the People's immortality.

Rosa chewed her lip, saying nothing for a long moment. Slowly, she nodded. "We did—or so our legends say. The sleeper within eventually woke, along with some servants. The clan took them all in." She swallowed suddenly, hard. "It was long ago," she said, her voice strained. "But…" She frowned, her voice catching. "The tales are too detailed not to have some truth in them."

As covertly as he could, Solas edged his upper body backward, ignoring the aching pain it brought on, trying to get a better view of Rosa's form as realization dawned. Clan Naseral was descended from Elvhen fairly recently and now that he knew what to look for, he saw it in Rosa. She was taller than many of the other elven apprentices, and had a curvier frame due to her broader hips. Her features, however, seemed to be all modern elf—an oval face, large eyes, and a petite nose. Yet beneath it, Solas thought he saw something regal, a shadow of the greatness that'd been lost. She had reminded him of Mythal, after all, on more than one occasion.

And this new knowledge also explained some of the unexpected aspects he'd seen from Rosa. The fact she was a Dreamer who hadn't succumbed to demonic possession and seemed comfortable in the Fade. Her clan's permissible attitude to spirits. The way she'd used Fade rocks to smash the target dummies during her assessment by the enchanters. This was why she had so defied his expectations…

"And one detail from our legend sticks out in my mind," Rosa went on, jerking her head to glare at him in silent challenge. "My Keeper says when the sleeper awoke with his servants he was as weak as a newborn babe…"

Solas' stomach clenched with cold horror. Reacting swiftly, he frowned and then forced out a sardonic laugh. "You mean to suggest that I am like the sleeper from your foolish Dalish legend?"

"If the armor fits," she said, her eyes flitting over him. "Then perhaps it isn't foolish, is it?"

Still scowling, Solas asked, "And what of my inability to call magic? Was your sleeper afflicted similarly?"

Now Rosa's brow knit and she shook her head in the negative. "No. He still possessed his magic."

"Then it seems obvious that your preposterous theory is flawed," Solas muttered. In a gentler tone, he added, "Though now I understand your suspicions regarding me."

She huffed, shoulders heaving with the motion. "And I don't understand why you won't just come clean with it." Her nails rapped over the wooden railing. "You demand I trust you but you don't—"

The door to the library creaked on its old hinges as it swung open, admitting a trio of senior enchanters. Baring her teeth in a grimace, Rosa grabbed Solas by the shoulder, pulling him away from the railing and out of sight. Solas followed her lead, mimicking her stance as she ducked low, using the railing to hide herself. Rosa tugged him around the circular space of the library and toward a darkened hallway that Solas knew led to an alcove where cleaning supplies like his feather duster were stored.

Craning his head to check behind them, Solas saw motion on the stairwell across from them and heard the soft clatter of the enchanters' feet on the steps. His body protested their awkward, crouched positions as they scurried for the alcove. His knees and thighs quivered under the strain, aching with hot lances of pain. He was about to collapse when they reached the alcove and Rosa helped him inside where they would be impossible to see unless the enchanters walked right up to their hiding spot.

Once there he struggled to control his breathing, his head somehow feeling both too light and too heavy. Pressing his back to the stone of the wall alcove, he tried to keep his legs from shaking or giving out completely. His heartbeat throbbed in his throat and through his temples.

Rosa watched him, her brow knit and her eyes dark with concern. Her lips parted slightly as if she would say something, but then snapped shut. In the same instant she reached out, stooping slightly, and placed her palms just above his knees. Solas flinched at her touch, startled, and moved to shake her off only to stop and sag with relief as cool magic washed through his legs. The undersides of her palms glowed, the light smothered by his legs so it wouldn't be visible outside their hiding spot, and Solas had to swallow the groan of enjoyment at this respite from his constant pain. He let his head fall back against the cold stone, his breaths slowing.

On the second floor now came the scuff of the enchanters' feet as they entered a classroom, speaking in hushed tones.

"Can you believe it?" asked a woman who might have been Elyssa. "An attempt on Divine Justinia's life?"

Rosa's violet eyes locked with his and widened as they listened in silence. The flow of her healing magic continued on him, soothing his pain and lending him the strength to remain standing. He concentrated on hearing the enchanters.

"And by a sodding mage?" a man answered with an angry scoff. "At her own party, no less."

"There's no way a mage would get into a place like that," another man said, so enraged that his gravelly voice shook. "Someone let him in."

Rosa nodded in silent agreement with the angry enchanter. Solas agreed as well. It was an astute observation, if the other details were accurate. His stomach flip-flopped with the delicious thrill of danger and excitement melding into one. This kind of chaos was just what he and the Dalish siblings needed to unite the mages into open rebellion within this tower.

Their voices quieted, becoming almost indiscernible as they headed into the classroom. Still, Solas' keen ears made out the woman's voice as she asked, "But who would do such a thing?"

"Who do you think benefits?" the angry man snarled back at her. "The Templars, of course."

"Do you think the Divine was in on it too?" the other man asked.

The classroom door clattered shut then, making Solas flinch at the loudness of it. Rosa let out a breath and her hands tightened their grip on his knees before she pulled away, ending the soothing wash of her magic. Solas braced against the wall, refusing to give in and let himself slide down it to rest as the pain walloped him all over again.

"Interesting gossip," Rosa whispered, smirking at him. "Wouldn't you agree?"

"I would," Solas answered.

Still staring at him, Rosa's levity faded and she sighed. "Look, about earlier. Forget it, okay? You're helping me, and I can overlook…things." She shrugged. "I can trust you. Or try to, anyway." Solas wasn't certain if she was speaking to him or to herself there.

"I appreciate that," he told her with a small smile. "Ma serannas…" Drawing in a breath then, he said, "But…I must ask a favor of you."

She cocked her head to one side, the coy smile leaping to her lips again. "And that would be…?"

He licked his lips and came right out with it. "I fear the Seeker and Knight-Commander may decide to pursue some ill-advised experimentation on the relic I was found with. If they were to mishandle it…" He gnashed his teeth, shifting his position as his legs screamed with pain, demanding he sit.

"The consequences could be dire, right?" Rosa asked him, arching an eyebrow. Then, chuckling quietly, she dropped her gaze to the floor between them. "I'd like to ask you how you know about that and how bad it'd be if they mishandle it, like you said." Grinning, she met his eye again as she added, "But I just said I'd stop needling you like that, so…"

Solas sighed, weary and aching with pain. "I will never ask that you not follow your curiosity, Rosa. I may not have answers, however, as in this particular case. I do not know for certain, but I…suspect. I have wandered the Fade and seen much there." That was close enough to the truth to be accurate, yet cagey enough to hide vital details. "And as for how devastating their actions could prove?" He clenched his jaw. "You know as well as I that the ancient elves were powerful. I imagine this relic could easily kill dozens of mages." Keep the number small, he thought, heart pounding. Just large enough to be alarming, to motivate her.

Rosa wrinkled her nose. "I don't much care if a few shemlen senior enchanters fry." She hesitated a beat and then grinned, eyes bright and feral. "But you know me. I can't back away from a challenge. So, what is the favor you need me to do? Break into the storage room? Kill the Templar guards to let you get past? Steal the foci?"

Solas frowned. "Nothing so destructive or foolish as that. I merely need you to touch their dreams and ensure they remain convinced that the foci is too dangerous to study. Can you manage that?"

Reaching out to him, Rosa tugged on his forearm. "Sit down, Revas. I can see you're shaking like a leaf."

Stubbornly, Solas locked his knees, refusing as he stared at her. "Will you do what I've asked, lethallan?"

She smiled at him, genuine warmth sparkling in her violet eyes. "Only if you sit down and rest, flat-ear."

Heaving a sigh of relief, Solas slid down the wall and let himself sit, stretching his legs out as far as the narrow alcove allowed. As he caught his breath again, rejoicing at the small reprieve of pain, Rosa sat as well. Flexible and in the peak of her short, mortal life, she easily folded her legs up, only to grumble under her breath with frustration when her robes snapped taut around her.

"Damn this tight fabric." Repositioning, she mirrored his position, stretching her legs out. Her bare feet poked out next to him and, as she saw him looking, Rosa wiggled the toes. "What are you looking at?" she teased. "I'm a savage, remember?"

Ignoring her playfulness, Solas said, "When you influence their dreams you must use a subtle hand. You cannot bludgeon them or they will go mad. Do you understand?"

Rosa's smile changed into a smirk and again she tilted her head at him, seemingly at the edge of laughing at him. "I can be subtle."

Now Solas snorted. "You? Subtle? You do not even know the definition."

"No," she said, grinning now. "I know what subtlety is." Leaning closer to him in the narrow alcove, she murmured, "It's tiptoeing around your Keeper's aravel just before dawn under the light of the full moon, knowing she can hear a mouse burp from twenty feet away."

Her left hand moved slowly to his hand where it rested against his thigh and hovered in the air above it, fingers outstretched. Solas glanced at her motion and then back at her, arching an eyebrow. "I believe that is stealthy, not subtle, da'len. Try again."

Undaunted, she said, "It's a long look across a fire over a meal." Her index and middle finger touched his hand, just barely. The fingertips seemed hot enough to scald Solas but he didn't pull away. He didn't have a snarky retort this time, however, either.

"It's a casual touch that lingers just a bit longer than needed," she said as her fingers walked up from his hand to his wrist and then his forearm. Every little touch, innocent as it was, made Solas fight the desire to fidget with distress. She was close enough again that he could smell her faintly floral scent with that underlying musk that stirred those long dormant urges inside him, making them catch like tinder at a spark. His heart thumped in his chest, so loud she should be able to hear it as he fought to regain some semblance of control.

This is a shadow-world and she is not one of my people. The thought kept repeating in the back of his mind, a desperate mantra. He was like one of the lyrium-addicted Templars, vainly fighting to stay sane. I cannot afford any dalliance or emotional entanglement…

"You…" Solas swallowed hard, and cleared his throat as she drew nearer still. He forced himself to speak, tabling the wild heat of desire that'd leapt up at the thought of kissing or touching her. "You've proven your point, lethallan. You should return to your duties before someone notices your absence."

Her hand lay on his shoulder now, motionless. Her violet eyes crinkled as she grinned at him. "Oh," she drawled, clucking her tongue and then switched to a mock-pout. "You're no fun, Revas."

"Flat-ear," he corrected her automatically and smiled.

"Flat-ear," she agreed and shot to her feet with a swiftness and grace that had him flushing red with envy. Standing over him now, she smoothed out her robes and squared her shoulders, steepling her hands in front of her. She shot him a quick glance and asked, "Do I look like a good Andrastian now? Tell me, honestly."

Solas chuckled softly. "Honestly? You look perfect."

She arched an eyebrow at him, a twinkle of amusement gleaming in her gaze. "Vallaslin and all?" She shook her head, grinning. "If only you were always such a terrible liar."

"Away with you," he scolded lightheartedly.

She nodded and darted out of the alcove, pausing to look back and say, "I'll see you tonight."

Solas remained motionless, listening as the quiet shuffle of her feet disappeared. He closed his eyes with relief and hung his head as soon as he heard the clatter of the library door opening. He could still feel the weight of her palm on his shoulder, still smell her scent in the alcove.

Best return to my duties, he thought. Responsibility was always the finest distraction.

Clutching the feather duster he'd set beside him when he'd first taken a seat, Solas heaved himself up to his feet with a strangled grunt of effort. Then, on unsteady, quivering legs, he left the alcove to resume dusting. From inside the classroom where the senior enchanters remained with the door shut, Solas occasionally made out the sound of heated voices lifted in argument.

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Next Chapter:

Rosa interrupted him, pivoting to clasp his bicep in her hand with a firm grip, startling him into complete silence at the surprise of her touch. "Rogathe is a spirit of bravery. It will leave when I calm my fears."

Struggling to focus beyond the warmth of her touch, radiating even through his tunic, Solas nodded. "You intend to shape the Fade to calm your fears?" he asked, guessing. She could alter her own mood or mind with the right dreams, convincing herself to let go of the spirit. It seemed a likely solution.

She tilted her head. "Yes," she said with a half-shrug. "You think it will work?"

___________________________________________

Author's note: The jig's up Solas. She's onto you. But, honestly, you're into that.

If anyone has read Dragon Age Asunder then the gossip of the enchanters in this chapter should clue you in to where we are in the timeline. For those who haven't read it, or those who have and can't remember what all this means...the Circle rebellion happens within just a few weeks or so of the attempted assassination of Divine Justinia. So yeah, shit is going to start moooooooving in the mage-Templar war.

Chapter Text

"So, Chuckles," a now-familiar gravelly voice called from the table as Solas walked at his slow, pained pace to take his seat beside Tal. "Did you get a chance to read any of my books yet?" Varric held a leg of chicken in one meaty fist as he flashed a lopsided smile in Solas' direction.

"I'm afraid not, Master Tethras," Solas admitted, sighing and sagging into his chair as he sat.

Rosa, sitting beside the dwarf, stared down at her plate, engrossed in stabbing at the medley of vegetables there with a fork. Her gaze flicked once to him and her lip twitched upward in a small smile, but otherwise she seemed absorbed with eating. Tal, meanwhile, was content to use his fingers, tearing strips of meat from his own chicken breast with the fervor of a starving man. Noticing Solas, Tal wiped at his mouth and smiled in greeting as he rushed to swallow his mouthful. "Revas! Great to see you."

Solas nodded to the younger man, returning his smile. "How are you, da'len?" he asked.

Tal grinned. "I'm having more fun than the Dread Wolf did when he tricked the Creators."

Solas winced at the description. Tricking the Evanuris had been decidedly not fun. More like nerve-wracking, terrifying, and devastating as it'd very nearly killed him and had killed countless others. Forcing himself to stifle his initial reaction, Solas asked, "And what is so amusing you?"

"I am, of course," Varric put in, smirking as he took a big bite of his chicken leg.

Tal laughed at him. "Oh, you're definitely part of it, Varric," the younger elf said with a nod of appreciation. "But more so, it's just our classes." He sobered abruptly, looking between Solas and Rosa. "My clan never valued me because my Keeper never liked me. He told me he would never name me his apprentice, even if he had no other choice."

Rosa snorted. "He was an ass, Tal. Better not to dwell on it, or anything from the past."

"I know, I know," he replied in a tone that suggested he and Rosa had discussed this topic countless times previously with Tal's sister reassuring him the fault hadn't been his. Focusing more on Solas now, Tal added, "But, point is, I never learned anything from him. It was Father and then Ghilath's First who took pity on me and taught me the basics. Enough that I didn't shoot sparks out when I sneezed."

Varric laughed. "You shot sparks out when you sneezed, kid?"

"Only once," Tal admitted with a sheepish look.

Varric laughed harder now, slapping the table with one meaty hand. "Wow, I need to write that one down." Apparently meaning to make good on the idea, he began fishing inside his coat, producing a leather-bound journal and then a small self-contained inkwell and a quill feather.

Solas arched an eyebrow but remained silent at this exchange. It seemed that, despite not being a Dreamer like Rosa, Tal was still remarkably powerful. Long before he'd become the Dread Wolf, Solas had volunteered as a teacher at various remote villages similar to his own whenever he tired of wandering alone in the wilds. In his experience it was only the most powerful children who had such notable accidents. In the middle class villages Solas had seen relatively few of that caliber, but later, when he served Mythal and tutored some of her descendants, adopted children, and the nobility's heirs, he'd seen far more such incidences. How common was it with the Veil in place?

Glancing briefly across the table at Rosa, he wondered again how they had come to be related. Unfortunately neither brother nor sister had made much mention of their parents. Were they full siblings? Half? Surely not adopted? If Tal shared the Naseral clan's Elvhen Dreamer blood it'd go a long way in explaining the youth's magical strength and his surprisingly Elvhen features.

Clearing his throat as he gave in to his curiosity, Solas asked, "You said your father was the first to teach you magic? Your father was a mage then?"

Tal opened his mouth to reply and then snapped it shut again, frowning. His lips pinched in a thin line before he said, "Yes. Didn't know him very well though." He swallowed and began picking at his chicken, pulling off another strip. "He's dead."

"Ir abelas," Solas told him. "For your loss, da'len." He knew what it felt like to lose his father. And his mother. The old pain still tightened his chest at the memory. After his parents were slaughtered in the slave uprising within Elgar'nan's lands, Solas had had to proclaim the rebellion a triumphant success to further his cause as the Dread Wolf. Fen'Harel had no parents, no family, no birthplace—but Solas did. Fen'Harel could shed no tears for the innocents killed foolishly in his name—but Solas did, in private.

Facing his own tray of food, Solas almost missed the hard stare Rosa was giving Tal across the table. When his gaze fell on her the Dalish woman seemed to deflate, dropping her eyes back to her plate and stabbing another carrot. With a sidelong look at Tal, Solas saw the youth had tensed, withdrawing into himself, seemingly with grief at the reminder of his deceased father—but somehow Solas didn't quite believe it. What am I missing?

Then Varric broke in with a sigh. "Sorry to hear about your dad, Stoic. Unfortunately we all have to face it sooner or later. I lost a brother, actually. Granted he was an insufferable ass who tried to kill me, but that didn't make it any easier." He hung his head, screwing up his face as he began digging inside his coat, looking for something else.

"Sorry to hear that, Varric," Tal commiserated, smiling sympathetically. "I'm lucky. I still have my—"

Rosa cut him off. "Tal," she scolded in reprimand, violet eyes narrowed. "We don't discuss the past."

"See, there's that story I got wind of at lunch," Varric said, brightening now as he produced the same silver flask from earlier in the day. He drank noisily from it, exhaling with satisfaction afterward. Extending it to Tal, he said, "Here you go. Drink's on me."

"There's wine now," Rosa pointed out as she frowned with disapproval. "That's enough alcohol for one evening, Tal."

"I'm sorry," Tal snapped, glaring at her. "I missed the part where you're my Keeper now." He reached for the flask, smiling politely to Varric as he took it.

"I am your elder," Rosa grumbled, her voice dropping into a deeper tone of warning. "Praise Mythal for that. Because if our positions were reversed you would…" She stopped, huffing and piercing more vegetables with greater force than was necessary, apparently taking out pent up frustration.

"Fenedhis lasa," Tal growled, tossing back the flask, taking a big gulp of it without letting the metal spout touch his mouth. As he passed it back to Varric, he said to Rosa, "Void take your paranoia, asamalin."

"Whoa," Varric said, head swiveling back and forth between the siblings. "Unresolved issues much? Look, Violet, if me sitting with you three makes you uncomfortable all you need to do is ask me to leave."

"No," Rosa said to the dwarf around her mouthful of vegetables. "Never mind. That wasn't about you."

"Whatever you say, Violet," Varric said with a shrug as he replaced the flask into his inner coat pocket. Picking up his chicken again, he bit into it with gusto.

Eager to change the subject, Solas spoke up, "I had hoped to read your account of the events in Kirkwall, Master Tethras, but sadly I saw no sign of it in the library."

Varric gave a grunting, rough laugh. "Can't say I'm surprised. You do know you're in a Circle tower, right?"

"Indeed," Solas said with a nod and a tight smile. "But it occurred to me it may be tucked away in one of the other mages' rooms. I had hoped you would know if it has been banned from the Circles in general or if I should investigate further with the assumption it is here but simply missing."

"If it has been banned by anyone, my publisher hasn't told me about it," Varric said with a shrug of his broad shoulders. "But you know, it could be in one of the Templars' rooms too, Chuckles."

Solas raised an eyebrow. "I imagine the events you recorded in Kirkwall would hold less interest within their order. The Champion supported the mage rebellion, did he not? I doubt many of the Templars consider such a tale worthy of their time."

Varric chuckled as he shook his head. "You'd be surprised. Seeker Pentaghast has read it, and not just so she could grill me about it. Sometimes when she questions me…" He smirked. "I get the feeling she's got some kind of crush on him."

"The Seeker?" Solas asked, unable to hide his mixture of amusement and surprise. Having met the woman personally, Solas found it difficult to picture her doing anything that'd tip Varric off to some underlying emotion other than duty. And yet…he'd also briefly caught a glimpse of something else beneath her demeanor—admiration for him when he volunteered to place himself in supposed danger to protect others.

Tal chimed in too: "Truly?"

"Yeah," Varric said, his brown eyes laughing at their reactions. "You can't make this shit up. That's how you know it's true."

"You said the Seeker came here on the Divine's orders?" Rosa asked Varric.

He nodded. "Sure did." Grunting, he leaned back in his chair, the half-eaten chicken leg gripped in one hand. "Why do you ask?"

Rosa's gaze slid to Solas' and stayed there for a second, reading him as he did the same to her. The gossip they'd overheard in the library from the senior enchanters had suggested the Divine could be so determined to quash the rebellion that she'd even stage an assassination attempt on herself with the Templars' aid. Rosa's lips parted to answer Varric and then she frowned, shaking her head. "Just curious," she answered cagily. "I wondered where the shemlen's precious Divine stands in all this mess."

"Eh," Varric said with a shrug. "The impression I get is that Divine Justinia is just trying to strike a balance and keep the peace. But she's…" He frowned, likely struggling to find the correct terminology. "…more proactive than the previous Divine."

"Do you believe that is better for mages and the Circles?" Solas asked, smiling politely. "Or do you believe it will be worse?"

"Honestly?" Varric said, both brows lifting into his forehead. "I haven't a clue." He brushed his free hand, the one not holding the chicken leg, over his bristly jaw, coated as it was in stubble.

Unable to help himself, Solas shot Rosa a searching look and found her staring back at him, her lips pinched in a tight line. She believes the Divine was involved in her own assassination attempt. The thought made Solas' stomach clench, tight with nervous tension and something akin to excitement. Regardless of the Divine's stance on the burgeoning mage-Templar conflict, the attempt at assassination was yet another escalation. Solas and the Dalish siblings needed that…

But if the Divine proved to be solidly against the mages in perfect agreement with the Templars, then the mages might be too cowed with fear to revolt. Particularly in towers like this one, which seemed to be fairly lackadaisical in its restrictions and seemed to have a Knight-Commander capable of seeing reason.

They continued their meal with Tal and Varric doing most of the talking while Rosa and Solas stayed focused on finishing their food. It wasn't long before a mage appeared in the entryway of the dining hall to usher all of the apprentices back to the barracks for the evening. The usual squabbling over the water closet came and went as the apprentices went through their bathing rotations.

Solas' bathing day was set to be tomorrow evening and he watched the proceedings around the baths with interest, feeling his own skin prickle with accumulated sweat and grime. Tranquil hauled in much of the water in wooden buckets and then allowed the runes along the side of the tub to warm it. Apprentices shared the tub typically, two to four of them at a time segregated by sex, though the older apprentices, post-puberty, no longer shared a single tub. The rest of the apprentices passed the time before lights out and sleep by studying, reading, or conversing quietly.

Solas spent his time perusing his way through a copy of Varric's Hard In Hightown while covertly observing the bunks Rosa and Tal shared. The Dalish siblings showed little interest in the prospect of a bath from what he could see. Instead it seemed they were quietly talking in elven. They were too distant—and the barracks around him too loud and chaotic—for him to overhear anything that was said. Whatever they discussed, it seemed by Tal's frequent frowning and unhappy looks toward his sister that their earlier bickering had not yet ceased. Curiosity stirred inside him, wondering at what had created such a wedge between the siblings.

At lights out, Solas tucked his copy of Hard In Hightown beneath his pillow and quickly slipped into sleep. When he opened his eyes in the Fade, he found himself standing on a pale stone floor in a brightly lit space with bookshelves lining either wall and extending as far as the eye could see. His heart sank and his chest tightened with old grief and loss as he recognized the Elvhen library. Orange-red spirits hovered in the distance, moving over the rows of titles. The memory of magic tingled over his skin, its song caressing his ears.

Turning gradually in a circle, Solas saw he stood on an island floating in the void, the diffuse golden light permeating everywhere around him from runes and wisps along the floors and ceilings. A bridge of pink and green stretched to the next nearest island, shimmering. Solas knew that, had this been real and not a Fade-constructed memory, if he walked over to it he could alter the bridge's appearance to suit his whim with but a thought.

It was a beautiful dream, one he'd happily linger in despite the pain of ancient grief. Yet to someone like Rosa, it would appear truly bizarre and she'd know that with as weak as he'd been he hadn't fancifully imagined this dream into being. He couldn't let her see it…if he could change it, anyway.

Closing his eyes, Solas reached outward with his senses, ignoring the ache that started up from his vacant mana core, and willed this dream away. The Fade had been sluggish with him since coming to the tower, failing to react to him at all for the first week or so. Now, however, he felt the caress of magic diminish as the dream changed and shuddered with loss even as his heart surged with triumph. He envisioned the forest that he'd explored around his village's land instead, but imagined it without the telltale presence of the Fade—no green ether, no wisps playing in the canopy, and no sign of the brilliant colors that'd typically be in the sky.

Opening his eyes after a time, Solas saw he'd been successful, but he swayed as pain streaked through his temples. Hissing through his clenched teeth, Solas stumbled down to his knees in the loamy earth. Breathing raggedly, he blinked away the moisture in his eyes and clutched at the thick moss beneath his hands as he waited for the agony to pass. It was similar to pain brought on from drinking or eating something cold too fast, but this was a new, unfamiliar ailment that'd only begun plaguing him in the last week since he attempted to reshape the Fade in larger increments. This was his biggest effort yet and, as such, it hurt the most.

Yet, when he could breathe and focus again as the pain receded, Solas found himself staring at the verdant forest. Golden sunlight filtered through the canopy and birds sang from the trees. Toadstools were scattered over the forest floor, sprouting from thick leaf litter, and brown half-circle mushrooms protruded from the tree trunk he'd collapsed beside. Ants scurried around his fingers and one had crawled up his arm under the sleeve. Rolling it up, Solas flicked the little insect away as he got to his feet.

It was only a few minutes later that he sensed the presence of another Dreamer, like eyes on him from behind. Whipping around, Solas saw Rosa leaning against the mossy tree covered in mushrooms. She wore her Dalish Keeper armor and had her arms crossed over her chest, a tight smile on her lips as she regarded him.

"Andaran atish'an, flat-ear," she said with a dip of her chin. "A lovely forest you've dreamt up for us."

"Lethallan," Solas replied, also giving her a nod. He tucked his hands behind his back. "I assume Rogathe has not slipped away from you over the course of the day?"

"Nope," she agreed, her eyes dropping to the leaf litter. "But I've had some time to think about what went wrong. You said Rogathe was ready to leave me. It could let go and return to the Fade, but it didn't. That means I kept it here." She tapped her breastbone with a sigh.

Solas chewed the inside of his cheek as he nodded. "Yes." He refused to reveal how much it impressed him that she'd managed to deduce this for herself. "I suspect it is unintentional. Rationally, you understand that Rogathe places you in greater danger than you would be in without the spirit's presence. Yet, unconsciously, you cling to Rogathe, craving its power."

"No," she growled, pushing off the tree. Her hands fell to her sides, fisting. "It's not that. It can't be or else I would have tainted Rogathe, wouldn't I?"

Solas watched her, breathing slow and deep as he contemplated his next words. The air in the woods smelled musty and moist, ripe with life. It reminded him of his much younger self, relatively free and careless save for the need to hide the true strength of his innate powers. As gently as he could, Solas said, "I did not mean to suggest you desired Rogathe's strength out of selfishness or with a mind tainted with carnage."

Her brow knit, eyes narrowing with confusion rather than hostility. "Then…" She made a strangled noise in the back of her throat as her features warped. "Ah. I see." Staring down at her hands, which had begun fidgeting in front of her, Rosa said, "You're saying I'm afraid. Of the Templars. Of being trapped in the tower forever. Of losing Tal…" At the mention of her brother, Rosa cut herself off. Her mouth twisted and she let out a quavering breath.

"Precisely," Solas said. "You cling to Rogathe the way you would a good staff, or a blade hidden up your sleeve. It is senseless to disarm oneself of an invisible weapon when surrounded by hostility." He nodded, keeping his voice even and calm to ensure she knew he intended no mockery and that her situation was nothing to be ashamed of.

"I didn't think I was clinging to it," Rosa murmured and her mouth twisted with frustration. Groaning, she rubbed at her face. "How do I let go, Revas?"

Solas smiled at her, warm but closed-lipped. "I'm afraid I cannot help you with that, lethallan." Shifting on his feet, he took a slow step closer to her, his hands tucked behind his back like a lecturer. "I suppose if you were not a Dreamer I could have entered your dreams and manipulated them to influence your subconscious. But, as you are decidedly not a mindless, idle sleeper, I am unfortunately unable to render any assistance."

She shot him a questioning look. "Are you saying you can shape the Fade again? Are your powers returning?"

"Somewhat," he hedged, moving around the opposite side of the tree from her and flicking casually at the mushrooms growing there. "But not enough to be reliable, unfortunately."

"So," Rosa said, smirking. "It'll still be on me to safeguard your orb."

Solas' fingers grazing the slick, slightly slimy surface of the mushroom stilled as he processed her terminology. Your orb…

"It is not mine, Rosa," he said firmly. He could just see her watching him around the girth of the mossy tree trunk. "No more than the Fade is mine."

She snorted and made a sweeping gesture to encompass the Fade. "We're Dreamers, Revas. We might as well own the Fade. Bad example."

"We do not own it," Solas retorted testily, glaring. "As for the artifact, I found it, presumably, within the ruins. If they were some type of uthenera tomb as you suggested, then perhaps the sleeper perished in earlier raids and left this foci unguarded as a result. These relics may have been given to all ancients who entered uthenera."

Her features eased into an expression of contemplation. After a moment, she shrugged. "Could be. I can't say one way or another. Either way, I take it I'm still in charge of scrambling people's dreams to ensure the foci remains safe?"

Clenching his jaw, Solas nodded. "There is no need, however, to scramble anything unless they decide to study the orb." Pausing a moment, Solas circled back around the tree to be closer to Rosa, watching her expression for hints as he asked, "Have you ever influenced another through dreams before, lethallan?"

She arched a lone brow at him; her lips curling in that coy smile he'd grown to both hate and love. "Have you?"

More times than I could count, Solas thought. Of course, in Elvhenan other Dreamers girded their dreams to ward off such attacks. Lesser Dreamers and their servants or allies lacking the full gift had to use herbs to keep themselves from the Fade or risk falling prey to those more powerful or cruel. While in service to Mythal Solas had killed more than a few in their sleep, or driven some insane after only a night or a nap. But to reach such capability Solas had had to train alongside Mythal, observe her methods to perfect his own. How had Rosa managed such a thing?

She must have known another Dreamer.

"I have not," Solas lied. "But I know from Tevinter tales such things can be done. I have studied ancient texts and walked the Fade speaking with spirits to glean some measure of understanding regarding what is needed." He stared at her, trying not to frown at the coy smile she still wore. "It is a delicate task, one I am uncertain you are…suited for."

She cocked her head, smirking at him. "Well, then I suppose you'd best do it yourself, flat-ear. If you can't trust me to do your dirty work you'll just have to wait until your talent returns in the fullness of time."

Frowning with irritation, Solas huffed. "I cannot. You know this."

"Do I?" She inched closer, getting into his personal space. Solas refused to recoil or cringe backward. Even in the Fade she carried a potent scent that sent his stomach roiling and his blood flushing with heat.

Her violet eyes drilled into him with challenge. "The only thing I know is you're very much afraid of what will happen if the shemlen interact with it. So afraid, in fact, that you'd risk sending someone like me off to do it, even though it's clear you consider me some kind of blundering bull in a fine porcelain shop. Better to smash their minds than allow the foci to be studied or misused, apparently. But we've already gone over the fact you don't feel I'm qualified." She shrugged, her smile turning hard and humorless as she crossed her arms over her chest. "At this point you just have to trust me."

"This was not about whether I trust you or not," Solas snapped, glaring at her. He'd wanted to fish further information out of her, to learn how much she knew about her powers as a Dreamer—and how she'd learned it in this post-Veil world where their kind was all but extinct. He'd also wanted to ensure she could act with the precision needed to accomplish the goal and still remain safe herself. Clinging to that sentiment, he said, "I merely was concerned for…" He broke off, averting his gaze as he realized how…personal that sounded.

"For what?" Rosa asked. Her arms fell to her sides and she took a step closer to him. "For the foci?" she prompted. "For the First Enchanter? The Knight-Commander? The Seeker?" She walked around him like a circling wolf, looking for the best spot to nip at her prey.

"For you," Solas growled, still glaring as he pivoted to face her, but as their eyes locked with one another he felt his irritation drain away.

She stared at him, frozen a moment as her violet eyes skittered over his face. Solas remembered her hand on him in the library and felt his body flush with warmth, his heart skipping a beat as it picked up its pace. The daringness of her, the gleam in her gaze, reminded him powerfully of Mythal with a rush of dizziness. She was too real. The desire to reach out and touch her, squeeze her shoulder or brush his fingers on her cheek was nearly unbearable, making his hands twitch. It would be so easy to do, here in the Fade, where he was whole in body and not wracked with pain. Here in the Fade where everything was so much easier…

Then Rosa broke the moment as she scoffed, withdrawing a step and smirking at him. "Careful, flat-ear, or you could give me the wrong impression."

Solas felt his lips quirking up and then down as he struggled to maintain a pseudo-neutral expression and failed. "I know with certainty that I have already inadvertently given you many false impressions," he wisecracked, finally letting himself smirk back at her.

Rosa lifted both hands, palms out in a gesture of stop. "No, no, no, Revas," she said with a chuckle. "You're supposed to ask me what wrong impression you might give me." She winked at him. "Don't you know anything?"

Letting out a short laugh of his own, Solas shook his head. "It would appear I do not." He opened his mouth to ask that question, to play along, but snapped it shut again. He could guess where that would lead and didn't want to encourage either of them. This…flirtation could not be allowed to progress unchecked. It was too dangerous. For him, for her, and for both of them in achieving the ultimate goal of escape from the Circle.

Whipping around elegantly in a single motion, Rosa strode through the leaf litter a few steps away before turning to look at him over her shoulder. The dappled sunshine glinted from her armor and made her mischievous gaze all the brighter. "Don't you know how to play the game?"

Solas arched a brow. "I was not aware we were involved in a game." He hesitated a moment, frowning. "Unless you're referring to the Orlesian national pastime of courtly intrigue?"

This drew a scowl, complete with a wrinkled nose from Rosa. "Ugh. Not that old shemlen nonsense. We Dalish don't have time for that rubbish."

"Well," Solas said with a slight nod. "It is indeed difficult to practice courtly intrigue when one lacks a court. Or a kingdom."

"Mythal have mercy," Rosa grumbled, rolling her eyes. "You should have been named Abelas, flat-ear. You're a real killjoy sometimes." She proceeded to walk further into the woods, passing between light and shadow, her back to him.

Solas watched her go in silence, distracted by the sway of her hips until he recalled that they had not resolved the most pressing issue, other than the foci: Rogathe.

"Where are you going?" Solas called out to her.

She shouted to him over her shoulder. "I have a long night of dream stalking, Revas."

He started to jog after her, the leaves and moss crunching and rustling underfoot. When he had closed the distance enough that he could reach out and lay a hand on her shoulder—though he did no such thing—Solas said, "Please, don't go yet, lethallan. We must find a way to decouple you from Rogathe to keep you safe."

She halted mid-step but kept staring straight ahead through the tranquil, verdant forest. Her shoulders heaved once and then she flexed, stretching slightly. "I have an idea of why I've trapped Rogathe."

"What do you believe?" Solas asked.

She shot him a sidelong look, her jaw clenching. "I'm not going to tell you."

"And why is that?" Solas asked, voice sharp with annoyance.

Her shoulders rose and fell as she huffed out a sigh. "You've made it clear you don't trust me countless times, Revas, and I let you do it. Why do you refuse to allow me the same consideration?" She turned her head, narrowing her eyes at him in criticism.

Frowning, Solas started to protest, "I am simply attempting to safeguard—"

Rosa interrupted him, pivoting to clasp his bicep in her hand with a firm grip, startling him into complete silence at the surprise of her touch. "Rogathe is a spirit of bravery. It will leave when I calm my fears."

Struggling to focus beyond the warmth of her touch, radiating even through his tunic, Solas nodded. "You intend to shape the Fade to calm your fears?" he asked, guessing. She could alter her own mood or mind with the right dreams, convincing herself to let go of the spirit. It seemed a likely solution.

She tilted her head, eyes still narrowed. "Yes," she said with a half-shrug. "You think it will work?"

"I believe it may, yes. The Fade could provide a catharsis through dreams, as effective as any meditation. But should that not work, please, do not hesitate to ask for my help with this." Smiling tentatively, Solas reached for her hand on his bicep and clasped it in one of his, squeezing before deliberately retreating backward a step. "Dareth shiral, lethallan."

Her smile now was soft and genuine. "And you as well," she said before smirking as she added. "Flat-ear."


With the library dusted the previous day, the mage who assigned the apprentices chores decided to challenge Solas with a more physically taxing duty: sweeping. So it was that Solas returned to the library with instructions to sweep the upper level, classrooms, and then the first floor and stairs. He collected the wooden broom with its rough bristles and the accompanying dustpan from the alcove where he and Rosa had hidden the previous day and proceeded to the nearest classroom to do as bidden.

This early in the morning the classroom, typically used by enchanters and mages for more advanced study rather than by apprentices learning the basics of magic, was abandoned. A few wooden desks took up the middle of the room with bookshelves and workbenches along the walls. Solas walked to the small window on the far wall and stared out through the glass, which had an uneven patina of discoloration rendering it opaque. He saw green, distant and far below, warped and unclear by the glass. The day appeared to be cloudy, gloomy with the promise of rain.

Was it still summer? Or had the world transitioned to autumn while he was trapped in this tower? When he leaned to one side he thought he saw a speck of yellow coloration that could have been a tree or perhaps a stretch of dried grass or sand that'd caught the sun…?

Sighing, Solas scrubbed at his face with frustration, looking down at his apprentice's robes draped over his wizened body. As he did each morning, he also reached inward, poking at his mana core and finding it depressingly, achingly, empty. As usual.

Swallowing hard, Solas buried the press of emotion, refusing to pity himself. Clasping the broom, he set to work. The tediousness of the motion quickly made his arms throb and a few muscles in his sides, abdomen, and particularly his back burned with the use.

Halfway through the room he slumped into a desk and let his muscles relax for a time, breathing much faster than he cared to admit. Sweat gathered at his collar and ran down his back. He fantasized about the bath he was scheduled to receive tonight with a deep sigh. When he felt comfortable enough to continue, Solas set to work again.

By lunch he'd finished the upper level and was sweeping his way down the stairs when he heard authoritative footsteps stomp through the doorway behind him. Puffing, Solas turned carefully on the stair he stood on and saw Ser Bartholomew striding through the lower level, heading for the stairs. The Templar's eyes were locked on Solas, narrowed. Something in the human man's demeanor set Solas' already tired, aching muscles rigid with apprehension.

Smiling politely, Solas said, "Ser Bartholomew. What a pleasant surprise. How can I help you?"

Ser Bartholomew halted at the base of the staircase, standing at attention. "Revas," he greeted with a slight dip of his head and the barest hint of an upward tick of his lips. "I've been instructed to escort you to meet with Knight-Commander Kali."

Solas didn't bother to hide his surprise at this news. Had the Templars and the Seeker changed their minds about allowing him to study the orb? Or was this something else entirely? His chest tightened and his skin went cold with dread. He wanted to question Bartholomew but decided against it based on the Tenplar's stiff stance. This was not the time to make idle chitchat—it was a time for obedience.

"Certainly," Solas said and carried the broom and dustpan down the last few steps to the first floor where he could lean them safely against a bookshelf.

Ser Bartholomew moved in close to him as he stowed the cleaning tools, his armor clanking. "Do you require assistance in walking?"

"I can manage very well now," Solas said with a genuine smile now. Doubtless, Bartholomew needed to know about his health so he could collect on the innumerable bets he likely had going with others on the topic.

Sure enough, Bartholomew grinned. "Maker! You resilient bastard, Revas. You just won me fifty royals from three different people."

Smirking at the Templar, Solas said, "I believe you may have a bit of a gambling obsession, Ser Bartholomew."

The ginger cocked his head, still grinning as he laughed. "Care to put a wager on that?"

As Solas chuckled, Bartholomew led him out of the library. Following at the swift clip Bartholomew set made Solas sweat anew, but he pushed through the discomfort. His own exchange with the Templar ran through his mind as they walked and the more Solas contemplated it, the more he cringed at his own reaction. When had he started to find Bartholomew's betting amusing? When had he begun to see the Templar as friendly instead of a jailer? Bartholomew was the friendliest of the Templars that Solas had yet encountered, seemingly with no fear of interaction or attachment to his charges. The others all at least attempted to pretend they were aloof and stoic around their captives, but Bartholomew, while far from perfect, seemed overall to be a decent man.

And somewhere, deep inside, he had to wonder if Bartholomew's gambling addiction hadn't been what saved Solas' life. Would Ser Jeremy or that cretin Ser Curtis have remembered to feed Solas so regularly? Would either of those men have convinced the Knight-Commander to let him out of the cells? The answer was obvious and resounding: No. He would have died alone, cold, and starving in his dank cell.

So, although Bartholomew was just another Templar jailer…was there truly harm in feeling something...pleasant for him?

He isn't real, the mantra repeated in Solas' mind. None of them are real.

Except Rosa—and Tal, perhaps.

But if they are real, if their struggles and emotions and lives matter…why not Bartholomew's? The annoying voice in his mind needled him, gnawing at the subject like a wolf on a bone, seeking the last bits of marrow.

Every answer he could provide to that question rang hollow and untrue. Because Bartholomew is not elven? Because he possesses no magic? Because he is a Templar? Because he is Andrastian? Those distinctions became meaningless the moment he admitted that Rosa and Tal were real and as deserving of life as any of the Elvhen slumbering in uthenera.

Fenedhis, he cursed to himself. Stop. Thinking. Now.

His legs were shaking by the time he reached the Knight-Commander's office, still following behind Bartholomew. In the waiting area outside Solas blinked with astonishment as he saw both Rosa and Tal already seated in the wooden chairs along the stone wall. The Dalish siblings looked up at him as well. Tal appeared bewildered, eyes springing wide as he recognized Solas and then his brow furrowed as if with confusion. Rosa, meanwhile, cast only a quick glance in his direction before dropping her gaze to her lap and picking at a loose thread in the embroidery around her belt.

"Have a seat, Revas," Bartholomew told him with a grunt. "The Knight-Commander will summon you inside when she's ready."

"Of course," Solas replied with a curt nod. He walked over, shuffling with his aching thighs, and plopped down in the seat beside Tal. "Good afternoon," he greeted them both.

"Do you have any idea why we've been summoned?" Tal asked him, twisting in his chair. The young elf's brown eyes drilled into him, intense in their need for an answer. He fidgeted with his hands in his lap, glancing briefly toward his sister. Rosa, for her part, continued to ignore them both.

"I'm afraid I do not," Solas said with a tight smile. Trying to ease Tal's tension, Solas aimed for levity by quipping, "Have you been making trouble again, lethallin? Imbibing too much drink with Master Tethras, perhaps?"

Tal scoffed, then chuckled. "I wish." Then, licking his lips, Tal switched to elven, "My sister knows why we are here."

Rosa's head popped up, her eyes narrowing in silent warning aimed at her brother. "Stop that," she growled under her breath, shooting a look toward the hallway a few meters away where Bartholomew stood watch. "Speak common. Our old life is over."

Ignoring her reprimand, Tal went on, "There are secrets between you and my sister, lethallin." He leaned closer, deliberately ignoring Rosa's silent glares. "Tell me what you know."

A quick look at Rosa revealed she'd clenched her jaw and now stared into her lap, absorbed with picking at her robes again. Considering Rosa could have shared their plans with Tal via dreams, her decision not to do so seemed deliberate to Solas. He would honor it to be safe, though the mounting strain between the siblings made his palms sweat with nervousness. Did Rosa not even trust her own brother, or was she trying to protect him with ignorance? Tal seemed guileless and easygoing, traits that were admirable, but also foolhardy. Already Solas had seen Tal seemed to have trouble keeping secrets and was far quicker to trust. Yet, surely, Rosa didn't think her brother would betray them to the Templars?

Not purposefully, anyway.

Keeping his voice low, Solas said, "I know nothing. This is a subject you should discuss with your sister."

"Okay, enough of that jabbering," Bartholomew snapped from his position in the hall, only half-visible. Solas and Tal could see Bartholomew's shoulder, his armor shiny enough to gleam despite the relatively low light of the windowless waiting area.

"Warned you," Rosa said in a singsong voice as she snatched a loose thread from her robes, breaking it with a slick snapping noise.

The thump of armored boots came from just beyond the closed doorway of the Knight-Commander's then and a moment later the door opened with a creak of rusty hinges. Ser Jade strode out, her jaw clenched and her expression pinched. She nodded toward Bartholomew and then headed for the stairwell with a stiff set to her shoulders. Behind her, framed in the entranceway, was the thickset, armored form of Knight-Commander Kali, looking equally unhappy as she surveyed the three awaiting mages.

"You three," she ordered gruffly, motioning at them. "In here, now."

Solas waited as Rosa and Tal took the lead, knowing his pace would be slowest. He followed the siblings into the Knight-Commander's office, noting that Ser Bartholomew stepped inside after him and shut the heavy wooden door with a creaking thump. Blinking with surprise, Solas also saw that Seeker Pentaghast was seated beside the Knight-Commander's desk, her gauntleted forearm resting on the wood in what he suspected was a deceptively relaxed posture. The Seeker's brown eyes swept over all three of them, skipping over Rosa and Tal to linger on him. Solas nodded at her, smiling politely but saying nothing as the Knight-Commander stomped her away around the desk and began official introductions.

With a sweeping gesture at the Dalish siblings, Kali said, "Seeker Pentaghast, I'd like to introduce you to apprentices Rosa and Tal. I believe you've already met apprentice Revas."

The Seeker turned her attention to the Dalish elves and dipped her chin. "Greetings." Her voice was cold and hard, her eyes steely.

"Hello there," Tal answered, smiling in his usual friendly way. Authority didn't seem to phase the youth, though Rosa at his side appeared tense.

The Seeker stared at him a moment, something like curiosity glinting in her eyes. She tapped her fingers on the wood of the Knight-Commander's desk and then turned her head to regard Kali. "Knight-Commander, I wonder if you might explain to them why they're here."

Kali scowled but nodded, looking to the three of them. Solas tried to keep his heart from pounding with dread and struggled to ignore the cold sweat collecting on his chest and back. Was his head shiny with it? Fenedhis, he thought. And forced the worry from his mind. He didn't need that kind of stress. His magic and his body had already betrayed him enough.

"We are conducting an investigation," Kali said in her deep, authoritative voice. "There was…an unusual death last night."

"A death?" Tal asked, lips parting and eyes springing open wide. "One of the mages? Or an apprentice?"

"A Templar," the Seeker said, almost barking the two words. Her eyes drilled into all three of them, scrutinizing their reactions.

Solas held his breath as realization dawned. His chest tightened and his pulse throbbed in his head. He stared at the Seeker and let his surprise show itself, though he said nothing. With an iron will, he refused to let himself glance over at Rosa.

"A Templar?" Tal parroted, gawking with disbelief as he looked between the Seeker and the Knight-Commander. "Seriously?"

"Sadly, yes," Kali replied with a grunt, her features twisting in a scowl. "I'm sure about now you three are wondering why this involves you." Leaning back in her chair slightly, her brown eyes darted to Rosa and remained there. "I called you three here because I know you lot were recently acquainted with the Templar who died: Ser Curtis Bardon."

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Next Chapter:

Rosa crossed her arms over her chest and cocked one hip out. "I understand you're supposed to be a seeker of truth. I don't know what you shemlen think that means, but to me it means understanding the full context. You want to know why I'm not broken up about hearing Curtis is dead? Why I haven't said anything? It's not about the damned pendant or him being harsh as you put it."

"Then what is it about?" the Seeker asked, her lip curling slightly with exasperation.

Emboldened, Rosa went on in a fiery voice. "The truth is in everything you didn't hear about—what I'm sure no one told the Knight-Commander about either. Tell me, Seeker, did you hear about the way Curtis beat me in the cells when I was first brought in? Or about the way he groped my ass and pinched my breasts? And after talking with some of the other apprentices I know that wasn't uncommon behavior for that asshole."

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Author note: Did anyone guess what Rosa would do to "face her fear"? I hinted at it with this chapter's quote and everything! I do delight in trying to surprise everyone! Let me know if I got you! ;-) I also LOVE the slow-building flirtation.

Chapter Text

"Ser Curtis is dead?" Tal asked, shock making his voice thin. "How did he—"

"That is not what we are here to discuss at present," the Seeker cut him off with a dismissive wave of one armored hand.

The glint of that metal armor made Solas' spine stiffen, recalling Bartholomew's presence behind him. Bartholomew evened the odds in this group between magic users and melee weapons: three on three. And, because Solas was currently near-Tranquil, the actual odds were two against three. Solas could almost smell the tension suddenly and shifted his weight from one foot to another, trying to release some of his anxiety with the tiny motion.

Unfortunately it drew the Seeker's gaze, narrowed and suspicious. "The Knight-Commander has told me you three were involved in an altercation with Ser Curtis just two days ago." She paused, letting the words sink in, one eyebrow cocked. "I find this a peculiar coincidence."

Drawing in a breath, Solas calmed himself by letting his memories spool quickly over his mind's eye. This is nothing compared to facing Elgar'nan, Falon'Din, or Andruil, he reminded himself. The icy sensation in his stomach dissipated and his heart slowed. His body relaxed.

"Yeah," Tal agreed with the Seeker, sounding genuine in his bafflement. "It is a weird coincidence." He blinked at the Knight-Commander and the Seeker, shrugging. "But I still don't see why you summoned us…?"

Quashing the desire to cringe at Tal's naivety, regardless of whether it was real or fabricated, Solas decided he was composed enough now to risk speaking. Clearing his throat, he asked in an even voice, "Surely you aren't suggesting we are involved?"

Tal twisted to glance at Solas, frowning with what appeared to be real confusion. "How could we be? I mean, we're locked up every night in the barracks. It's impossible." He broke off chuckling with a note of anxiousness. "Fenedhis, I don't even know where the Templars sleep, or where any of them are stationed…"

Solas didn't miss the way the Seeker looked to Kali at Tal's comment 'Templars sleep,' and he restrained the cold shudder of dread that washed over him. Tal could have just been rambling and truly possessed no knowledge of how Curtis was killed, but Solas doubted it and the Seeker appeared to as well. Now they had to be wondering if Tal had more knowledge of Curtis' death than he should have. He clenched his jaw, hoping Tal hadn't just accidentally implicated himself.

The Knight-Commander shook her head. "We are still investigating at this point, apprentice. However, we must pursue all possibilities, no matter how remote." Pausing a moment, she reached for something below her desk and Solas heard the hollow grinding noise of a drawer opening. A moment later she produced a leather-bound logbook and flipped it open. Even upside down and from several meters away, Solas could guess she was reading over the account of two days ago when Curtis and Ser Jade had hauled the three elves up here regarding the pendant.

"I've not heard anything from you," the Seeker said, motioning toward Rosa.

Rosa thrust out her chin, her jaw muscles snapping taut and her violet eyes dark. "What would you have me say?" she asked. "Did the Knight-Commander tell you about why we had an altercation with Ser Curtis?"

"You possessed contraband," the Seeker said gruffly, glaring somberly with disapproval. "Ser Curtis was rather harsh when he attempted to remove it."

Rosa crossed her arms over her chest and cocked one hip out. "I understand you're supposed to be a seeker of truth. I don't know what you shemlen think that means, but to me it means understanding the full context. You want to know why I'm not broken up about hearing Curtis is dead? Why I haven't said anything? It's not about the damned pendant or him being harsh as you put it."

"Then what is it about?" the Seeker asked, her lip curling slightly with exasperation.

Emboldened, Rosa went on in a fiery voice. "The truth is in everything you didn't hear about—what I'm sure no one told the Knight-Commander about either. Tell me, Seeker, did you hear about the way Curtis beat me in the cells when I was first brought in? Or about the way he groped my ass and pinched my breasts? And after talking with some of the other apprentices I know that wasn't uncommon behavior for that asshole."

The Seeker and the Knight-Commander stared at Rosa with uncomfortable expressions, struggling for neutrality. Solas dropped his own gaze to the floor, feeling heat creep across his face. He was speaking before realizing he was doing it, his voice soft but with an undercurrent of cold rage. "What she says is true. You will find we feel no pity for Ser Curtis. I suspect his behavior was not restricted solely to Rosa. Whatever the circumstances of his death, I expect you will discover he had a plethora of enemies within this tower."

"Seeker Pentaghast," Kali said, her voice strained as if with pain. Her cheeks were beet red, her eyes furious. "I cannot verify any of what these two—"

"Three," Tal interrupted, edging closer to his sister. "I witnessed that sick bastard fondling her. I begged him to stop—" He cut himself off with a choking sound. He was shaking, his composure hanging by a thread. His hands curled into fists at his side. "I dawdled in the baths so I could walk with her, to try and protect her, to keep her from being alone with him. If I hadn't been there—he could, he would have…"

The Seeker held up a hand, palm out, in a motion commanding silence. Her expression was hard, brow furrowed and lips twisted downward. Yet her eyes had crinkled with a softer emotion—sympathy. "I believe you, apprentice." Her gaze transferred to Rosa and Solas next. "All of you."

Rosa's expression, which had been steely and clouded with quiet rage softened now. Her arms fell to her side and she nodded to the Seeker. "Thank you."

Huffing, the Knight-Commander interjected irritably, "If we've quite finished with vilifying Ser Curtis, I'd like to continue." She had produced an inkwell and quill while they spoke and now held it poised over the parchment in her logbook. "Seeker Pentaghast, what do you wish to note about this interview?"

The Seeker slid back in her seat without breaking eye contact with Rosa. Then, abruptly, she switched her hawk-like gaze to the Knight-Commander. "I believe much of what these three had to say regarding Ser Curtis' misbehavior toward female mages should be recorded and investigated. As you said earlier, all possibilities must be pursued and, based on this new testimony, I suspect Ser Curtis may have had more enemies than we are aware."

The Knight-Commander scowled but began writing, the quill scratching as it traced over the parchment. To the three elves the Seeker indicated the door. "You are all free to go."

As Solas turned to leave he saw Bartholomew's pinched lips and tight expression and wondered what went on behind the other man's stoic mask. Did he recall Curtis' cruelty, or had he blinded himself to it? Had he wanted to speak out but feared reprisal from the Knight-Commander? Solas couldn't be certain.

Out in the hallway they were silent as they trudged down the long circling flights of stairs toward the lower levels, which held the dining hall and the apprentices' barracks. Solas' aching thighs and stiff knees distracted him. Even grasping the bannister running alongside the stairs did little to help him keep up with the nimbler Dalish siblings. Still, he was close enough to the bottom that he saw it when Tal suddenly lunged for Rosa, snatching her forearm, and pushed her into a wall beside a bookshelf. A heartbeat later Solas heard a gentle whump-pop of a spell and felt magic caress his skin. The air shimmered in a bubble overtop the siblings.

Tal's lips moved, his face twisting with anger and pain, but Solas couldn't hear a single word of it. Solas' mouth fell open before he could stop it as he recognized the spell—sound deadening. Clutching the bannister, Solas hesitated at the edge of the casting, his skin tingling with the nearness of it. He knew Tal well enough to recognize the youth's magic, the unique feel of it like a personal scent or a fingerprint. Tal had cast this spell to gain a moment of privacy to confront Rosa—likely about the fact she'd killed Curtis—and Solas wanted to respect their desire for privacy even as curiosity twisted inside his stomach.

Tal seemed to be yelling at her, as agitated as Solas had ever seen him. He loomed over Rosa as much as his slight height advantage allowed, inside her personal space and with both hands on her shoulders, gripping tightly. He gave her a little shake and Rosa slammed a palm down on his chest, pivoting to one side simultaneously, freeing herself from his grasp. Her posture was defensive and angry as well. She slashed with a hand in a gesture that seemed to indicate Solas. Confirming that, Solas saw Tal's brown eyes fly briefly toward him before refocusing on his sister and shaking his head. It seemed that whatever Rosa had to say, Tal didn't much like it or possibly didn't believe it.

Rosa whipped around and started to walk away, but before she could reach the edge of the sound bubble, Tal grabbed her again. They had another heated exchange with Tal doing most of the talking, but with the youth's back to Solas he had little chance of understanding it. Yet, it seemed that whatever Tal said this time finally had an effect on Rosa. Her posture eased and her expression softened until her eyes grew a touch too bright, as if with unshed tears.

Then she pulled him into an embrace, throwing her arms around his neck and burying her face in his shoulder. Tal reciprocated, wrapping his arms around her shoulders in turn, eyes closed as he leaned his head against her. It was a personal gesture, a scene Solas felt he was intruding upon, but he found himself unable to turn away as the emotional impact of the sibling reconciliation settled on him. Solas had been an only-child, as so many in Elvhenan's middle class were, and seeing Rosa and Tal's connection made something inside him ache with envy that he had never known this type of relationship. He had forged countless strong bonds of friendship in his long life, with physical beings and spirits alike, but the idea of sharing blood and a full history with another person…

He shook off the thought, frowning to himself as he finally managed to pry his gaze away and stare at the cold gray stone beneath his slipper-bound feet. Only a few moments later the caress of the magic over his skin faded and Solas glanced up in time to catch the last glimmering sparkles of the spell fade away. Tal and Rosa stood a few meters from him, as if waiting on him to reach them.

"Come along, Revas," Tal said with a grin that almost reached his eyes, but wasn't quite enough to hide the slight redness of them that hinted at recent upset.

"Yeah, flat-ear," Rosa added, smirking. "We're going to miss lunch." Like her brother, Rosa's eyes had a red-rimmed, bloodshot quality that belied her jovialness.

"And whose fault will it be if we do?" Solas mock-chided before scoffing with feigned annoyance. "Mine, I suppose?"

"Yep," Rosa said as she fell in line beside Solas, extending her arm to help him walk. "Who else's fault would it be?"

Solas accepted her arm, glad for the support as they took off at a fast clip for the dining hall.


 

In his deep storytelling voice, Tal said, "Once, long ago, there were no dwarves and no shemlen. Only the People walked the world, and the first of us—the greatest of us—were the Creators."

"Wait up a minute, Stoic," Varric said, lifting one meaty palm with the palm outward to halt Tal's story. The other hand remained clasped about the quill, hovering over the parchment to take down notes. "Remind me who these characters are? I'm a little fuzzy on the elven pantheon."

Solas stabbed broccoli with his fork and ate it, chewing the fibrous vegetable and saying nothing as he feigned disinterest. He wasn't the least bit curious about Tal's tale, but he was intrigued with observing Rosa's reactions to it and found himself wishing she would engage with the storytelling. Her clan might have preserved a more accurate history and very different tales because of its recent Elvhen ancestry. But, so far, Rosa seemed preoccupied with using her spoon to scoop up what was left of the cheese sauce used on the vegetables.

Killing Curtis and Fade walking had likely left her drained. Solas knew from personal experience how famished one could be after a night of haunting others' dreams.

"They're gods," Tal corrected the dwarf, though his voice held no heat. "For this story you only need to know who Elgar'nan and Mythal are, really. Elgar'nan is the All-Father, the first elf to ever walk the earth. He was the son of the sun and the earth, created where they joined. Mythal is the All-Mother, the second elf to ever walk the earth and Elgar'nan's wife. She was born of the sea. She's the protector and the merciful one."

"Except when you're an asshole," Rosa cut in. "Then she's all rage and fury, just like Elgar'nan."

Solas bit the insides of his cheeks to keep from smiling.

Varric grunted, writing quickly with a scratch of the quill. "Sounds about right. The strong, angry dad and the righteous, wise mother. Classic literature theme right there."

"Anyway," Tal went on. "In those days the People lived underground as well. The People there dug deep into the cracks left after Elgar'nan's battle with his father, the sun. They sought riches and metal and created enormous cities as they mined it. One day Mythal went to visit one of these belowground cities. There she met with the nobleman in charge of it and asked for tithes in tribute that she might share the great beauty of the belowground cities with the surface folk. But the nobleman was selfish and he believed Mythal asked too much. He held no respect for the Creators and all they had done in shaping the world and fighting the evil Forgotten Ones. So, he decided to trick her. He—"

"Is this the tale about the trickster wolf god?" Varric asked, rubbing his face with his free hand, making the stubble scrape against his palm. "Because I'm pretty sure Daisy told me that one."

Solas withheld a sigh and switched to using his spoon on his stew.

"No," Tal answered with a shake of his head. "This is the story of how dwarves came to be."

Varric chuckled dryly. "I'm pretty sure I know how dwarves are made, Stoic. I'll tell you how it works when you're older."

Rosa snorted. "Are you kidding, Varric?" She used her spoon to point at Tal. "He'll try to seduce a halla if he thinks he has a shot with it. I'm surprised he hasn't made a move on you or Revas yet."

Solas choked on his latest mouthful, coughing and grimacing. Catching his breath, he saw Rosa grinning mischievously at him while Varric wore an amused smile. Solas fumbled for a napkin, wiping at his mouth and trying to ignore the hot blush stealing over his cheeks.

Tal, beside him, shrugged. "Guilty as charged, I guess. But this isn't the sort of place that inspires much flirting." He swirled his spoon through his own stew as he added, "Besides, I don't see any halla around here, so my options are pretty limited."

Now Varric guffawed, slapping his meaty hand on the table with enjoyment. "All right, Stoic, stop trying to kill us all with laughter." He took a swig from his flask and sighed with satisfaction as he put it back down. "On with the story. I want to hear how elves think dwarves were created."

Leaning forward with fresh zeal, Tal resumed the tale. "The nobleman found simple crystals that had little or no value and painted them so he wouldn't lose anything to the surface dwellers. Then, when he handed it over to Mythal, he demanded she give his people greater tithes of food in exchange. It was many times more than what the meager gems were worth, even had they been real. Mythal understood that he hoped to feed his people—after all, we cannot eat stone, cannot drink it—but she saw through his ploy, for she was wise beyond the nobleman's meager understanding.

"So, in her generousness, Mythal confronted him and said that if he provided what they'd originally agreed upon—real gems this time—she would give him more food for his people. But the nobleman was affronted and humiliated that she had seen through him, so he rejected her offer. Then he set his entire city upon her, hoping to slay her. Overwhelmed, Mythal tried to flee but could not. The nobleman found that even with all the warriors of his city, he could not slay her."

"Because, of course, you cannot kill a god," Varric supplied. "Convenient, for the gods anyway."

Tal nodded. "The nobleman locked her away then, to keep her from fleeing to the surface. But Elgar'nan saw Mythal in a dream and learned the truth. He was so incensed that he used magic to become a dragon and descended deep into the underground to punish not just the nobleman, but the whole city and all those who lived beneath the earth."

Varric whistled. "Somehow I think incensed wasn't a strong enough description. Guy sounds like he lost his shit."

"Elgar'nan was perpetually pissed off," Rosa put in, smirking. "His name in our language literally means spirit of vengeance."

Solas mulled over the stew in his mouth, watching the two elves and the dwarf as they talked and trying not to picture the actual man these three spoke of. Solas had been born in Elgar'nan's lands, the last Evanuris to be discovered although Ghilan'nain was actually younger—not that age mattered in those days. Elgar'nan had been a distant figure in his youth, a literal god when he was a child, but his parents had known otherwise and whispered the truth to him when he was old enough to understand it. Elgar'nan was very old, born of the Fade and very powerful, but he was no god and as flawed as any Elvhen man or woman. Much later, after coming to Arlathan's court, Solas had seen the man, resplendent in his armor but ever-scowling. Only Mythal seemed to be able to ease that expression. His affection for her must have been vast, but it hadn't stopped him from banding together with the other Evanuris, particularly Falon'Din, and killing Mythal for harboring Solas' armies and keeping his secrets.

"Good to know," Varric said, chuckling as the quill scratched some more. Slowly, as if in time with the quill, he repeated, "Note to self: Never. Piss. Off. Elven. God."

Too late for me on that account, Solas thought but kept his expression deadpan as he continued eating. He'd angered and offended and challenged all eight other Evanuris, including Mythal on more than one occasion. Idly, he considered how entertaining it'd be to tell Varric what a thrill it was to humiliate men and women who styled themselves gods. Why yes, you have not lived, Master Tethras, until you have publicly refused an invitation from Andruil and Ghilan'nain. Or bested Dirthamen in a game of wits and watched with glee as the tales of his resulting temper tantrum spread far and wide.

"Sounds about right," Tal said with an approving nod before launching into the rest of his story: "Elgar'nan slew the nobleman and ruined the city, killing everyone within it. This allowed Mythal to escape her place of imprisonment and as Elgar'nan raged, intent on destroying every last elf living belowground, the All-Mother embraced him and urged mercy. She said that the nobleman and his people and his city had already paid the punishment needed. The others living belowground would know better than to repeat the same mistakes.

"But Elgar'nan's pride had been wounded at the insult to his beloved wife, and he would not be pacified. So, to save the remaining elves, Mythal cast a powerful magic upon them. She made them small and stocky, so they could hide in cracks far too small and deep for Elgar'nan to reach. She sundered them forever from the Fade, to protect them from Elgar'nan's wrath even in dreams, so that he could never find them. In her great wisdom, she knew also that these new creatures would need a way to guide themselves in that vast darkness without sun or moon or stars. So Mythal gave them an innate ability to know the stone, to craft and shape it, much the way sleepers navigate and shape the Fade."

"And so it was Mythal created the first dwarves, or, as we call your kind, durgen'len. Children of the Stone," Rosa said.

"Well," Varric said as he set the quill down. "Seems as good an explanation as anything." He leaned back in his chair, crossing his arms behind his head and kicked his feet up on the table, taking advantage of the fact that his seat and the table were both too large for him. "But your All-Mother must have missed me on the Stone sense bit." He chuckled. "I'm just as lost and confused as any of you would be underground."

Solas said nothing, though he doubted Varric was being truthful. The handful of dwarves Solas had encountered in Elvhenan were always expert navigators belowground and seemed to see every rock as unique, knowing its qualities, strengths, and faults at a mere glance. Then again, perhaps the dwarves had diminished in this miserable post-Veil world just as the elves had. He wanted to ask, but couldn't find a way to do so without revealing he was a Dreamer—too dangerous a revelation in the Circle tower.

"So," Rosa said, dragging out the single word as she scraped her fork along the leftover brown sauce of her stew. "Varric. Do you know how long you and the Seeker will be hanging around our tower?"

"Looking to get rid of me, Violet?" Varric asked, arching one bushy eyebrow. He clucked his tongue. "And here I thought we were starting to bond."

"I like you," Tal rejoined with a playful leer.

"See?" Varric said, motioning at Tal. "I can't be half bad if your clansman is flirting with me."

Solas resisted the desire to roll his eyes, knowing full-well the underlying reason Rosa would ask about Varric and the Seeker. She hoped that the Seeker would leave soon and end the investigation into Curtis' death. Of course, Solas worried what would happen when the Seeker did leave. Would the Knight-Commander simply pile the blame on the three of them, even with little or no evidence that Curtis' death was their fault? Though the Seeker had seemed swayed by Rosa's story of abuse at Curtis' hands, it was also an obvious motive for murder. Better to have professed ignorance and dispassion, but Rosa was clearly not one to shy away from truths like that—not when they had a connection with her fears.

"It's not that," Rosa said with a shake of her head and a lopsided smile. Her gaze slid to Tal, silently asking for aid.

With a slight nod, Tal said, "We're just curious, Varric. The Seeker has the tower on edge. We're just wondering when things will go back to normal—even if we're dreading it because it means you leave."

"Okay, okay," Varric said with a sigh, smirking as he changed position, dropping his booted feet back to the floor. "Honestly? I haven't a clue. The Seeker told me Hasmal was just a quick stop. She's looking for the Champion of Kirkwall and the Hero of Ferelden and apparently she heard a rumor that Hawke passed through here. That should've been dealt with by now, so I can't even guess what's keeping her at this point."

He shrugged his beefy shoulders and grabbed his flask from his tray, palming it as if considering taking a long swig. His gaze stayed glued to his food tray, glazing over in the beat of silence before he blinked and looked between the three of them, skipping over Solas because he'd said little and feigned only mild interest. "My guess is she's run into a distraction or something along those lines. If something popped up here related to the shit that went down in Kirkwall you can be sure she'd be on it like darkspawn on an Old God."

Solas frowned at that. Could the Seeker have taken upon herself the duty of investigating Ser Curtis' death because she felt it was somehow related to the simmering tension between mages and Templars? Fenedhis…

Before any of them could remark on Varric's comments regarding the Seeker, a mage appeared in the dining hall entrance and clapped her hands loudly, shouting for the apprentices to file out and return to their usual duties. As usual, Varric let out a long sigh of satisfaction and propped his feet up again, smiling smugly at the three of them. "That's the cue for my afternoon nap. See you folks at dinner."

"Looking forward to it, Varric," Tal said with a bright smile.

As Solas rose to his feet, shuffling out with everyone else, Rosa nimbly hurdled her way over the long tables, managing to only clatter a few trays in the action. Solas halted, staring at her with mild disapproval even as his lips twitched up in a small smile. How he envied the ease and grace of her strong, lithe body. Envied and…appreciated it.

Heat leapt into his cheeks at that thought. To hide it he scowled, feigning greater irritation with her than he felt as she squeezed into the narrow aisle beside him between one long table and the next. "Was that truly necessary, lethallan?" he asked her grumpily.

She extended her arm out to him. "Yes," she answered. "Because otherwise Tal would beat me to it." As they started walking again the hall filled with the rustle of the apprentices' robes and slipper-clad feet as well as the quiet hush of their conversations. With a playful gleam in her violet eyes, Rosa said, "Surely you've noticed how hard he's been trying to seduce you, flat-ear."

Solas let out a longsuffering sigh as he accepted her arm. "How unfortunate for him then that I am immune to all his boyish charms." Gripping her tighter, Solas pressed close to speak quietly into her ear. "What of Rogathe?"

When she twisted her head around quickly, Solas found himself near enough that he could feel her breath pluming over his cheeks, smell the lingering scent of her meal on her lips. It should have been less than appealing, yet somehow it flooded Solas' mouth with saliva and sent his heart racing, stomach clenching.

"Gone," she said, the coy smile spreading over her lips. Solas' eyes locked on those lips with longing. He felt Rosa's amusement as a sort of warm-tension in the air around them—not unlike magic—and recognized it as the spark of connection, of attraction. He'd thought such interpersonal, passive magic impossible with the Veil present, but as with so many things since waking he realized he was wrong. Perhaps it was only that Rosa was a fellow mage and Dreamer, and had recent Elvhen ancestors that he could feel such a powerful desire? Or maybe it was simply his own body, betraying him and misleading his mind in this quickened world—

"Are you still puttering about in the library?" she asked, edging backward slightly to direct her words more into his ear. Her hot breath caressed the skin of his jaw, ear, neck, and part of his scalp. He swallowed, desperate to quash that obnoxious flutter of zinging want rising inside. He was no overeager youth, newly blossomed to sexual urges. He could control himself. Would control himself.

"I am," he answered, pleased with the evenness of his voice and not bothering to correct her that he'd moved onto sweeping the floors. "But I'd advise you not to seek me out."

"Oh?" she asked, lighthearted and innocent.

They'd reached the exit, shuffling forward in the long line of older apprentices and rounding the corner out into the hallway. Two Templars stood watch, stoic and solemn as statues, but Solas could feel their eyes roving over the apprentices, silent and watchful. He made an effort to shamble, walking with a noticeably unsteady gait to ensure the Templars couldn't doubt his reason for walking so close to Rosa, clinging to her for support. A quick glance over his shoulder revealed that Tal had fallen back, walking with two other elven apprentices, both several years younger.

As soon as they were safely past the watching Templars, deeper into the hallway, Solas pressed closer to Rosa again to speak quickly into her ear, his voice low. "After what you've done you should know how foolish it would be for you draw further attention to yourself with disobedience."

Her head whipped in his direction, eyebrows arching and mouth falling open a second before snapping shut again. Under her breath, she hissed, "And what have I done, exactly, Revas?"

Solas frowned at her, lips pinching into a hard line and his jaw clenching. They'd reached a stairwell, the gentle whisk and rustle of the apprentices' feet still echoing through the hall along with muffled, indistinct conversations. It was unlikely anyone would overhear anything Solas said as long as he spoke quietly enough, but he couldn't take that risk. Licking his lips, he remained vague and cagey. "You faced your fear."

She tilted her head, smiling at him tightly. "I don't understand what you're trying to imply."

They started up the stairs together, Rosa gripping the bannister while Solas held onto her arm, using it as a railing. He swayed only slightly, his balance much recovered though his muscles kept up their continuous ache. That pain only seemed to increase with the hot flash of irritation that laced through him at her words. She is baiting me, he realized.

And she didn't trust him, at least not completely. If she had, she would have told him what she planned to do regarding Curtis, and she wouldn't be coy about it now.

But he had no one but himself to blame for that. He hadn't trusted her with the truth—couldn't trust her with it. Turnabout was fair play, as the common phrase went.

An impasse, then.

Shoulders deflating as he sighed, Solas finally answered her with: "Nothing, lethallan."

Rosa clucked her tongue as they reached the top of the staircase where the hallway divided. Here their paths parted, with Rosa heading down one hallway and Solas moving to the library in a different direction. "Well, in that case, I shall see you tonight," she said and stepped away from him, separating.

Solas nodded in her direction. "Dareth shiral."

She winked at him as she strode away. Solas lingered longer than he needed to, watching the sway of her hips and feeling an itchy sensation in his fingers, longing to touch her. Then, when he noticed Tal and the two elves accompanying him glance in his direction, he pivoted and walked in as steady and dignified of a pace as he could manage. Yet, he hadn't turned away quick enough to miss the way Tal smirked knowingly at him.

Pushing the image of the youth's smirk out of his mind to avoid the rush of heat from embarrassment at how easy he was to read, apparently, Solas returned to his duties. The thought that Rosa might sneak away to visit him kept popping back into Solas' mind, making him tense at every little sound in the library as patrons came and went. His heart was constantly hammering at his throat, his skin slick with sweat beneath his robes. It didn't help that the sweeping made his muscles twitch and ache, burning from exertion.

Fenedhis, he cursed as he wiped at the sweat accumulating at on his brow. He really needed that bath tonight.

Through the nervous tension and physical pain plaguing him, Solas noticed the number of Templars doing sweeps through the area had increased. The library had been a dull place the previous day, but now it seemed as though the Templars had designated it a hot spot of mage activity and scoped it out as such. Every fifteen minutes or so a Templar made a pass through the first floor and then ascended the stairwell to check in on the classrooms there. The men all appeared tense and glared at Solas with suspicion and barely concealed contempt.

By the time the mage who'd assigned his chores arrived to summon him for dinnertime, Solas had counted ten Templar passes through the library. He was relieved to be finished for the day as his arms and some muscles along his sides and back throbbed from overuse due to the sweeping. The mage escorting him lent him her arm in sympathy and kept her pace slow. Solas decided to question her about the increase in Templar patrols, to see if she had noted the same thing.

"I have," she replied with a nod, her expression pinched. "Rumor is there was a death in their ranks last night." She paused, shooting him a sidelong look. "An unexplained death. And, naturally, they suspect us. Because of course they do." The bitterness in her voice was unmistakable.

"Our talents frighten them," Solas agreed evenly. "They fear what they do not understand."

The woman stared at him, her eyes bright now. "You just came in a few weeks ago, right?" she asked and at his nod, she pressed on. "What was it like out there? I haven't left the tower since I was ten and my magic came in."

Judging by her youthful skin and the lack of gray in her hair, Solas guessed this woman was about thirty. He smiled at her politely. "What would you like to know?" For the remainder of their walk to the dining hall he regaled her with as many tales from beyond the Circle as he could believably claim to have knowledge of. He told her of villagers growing their crops, raising their children in peace. Of merchants crossing the Waking Sea to sell their wares. Of lovers in small towns, fiery and passionate, brave enough to fight and die for each other when the Blight swept through. Of lying beneath the open sky and watching the stars roll by overhead.

He purposefully left out the darker aspects: bandits lurking on the major roads, hungry bears roaming the hills, elves starving in alienages, and corrupt nobles getting innocent citizens killed in pointless land squabbles. It was a deliberate oversight, feeding her only pleasant things to inspire her with a desire to escape. To see the wondrous world beyond the tower with her own eyes. The glimmer of awe and wonder in her eyes told him he'd succeeded.

By the time he sat at his usual spot beside Tal, he must've worn a smug expression with his triumph because Rosa immediately commented, "Well, you look like the halla that got into the good grains." She grinned at him as she stabbed at the gravy-smothered slice of chicken on her plate. "Spill, flat-ear."

He wasn't about to admit to stirring discord in the tower aloud, so Solas merely smiled at her as he gripped his own silverware and changed the subject. "I suspect this will disappoint you, lethallan, but I was only contemplating the latest chapter I read in Master Tethras' book, Hard In Hightown."

"Oh yeah?" Varric asked, grinning. "What chapter was it?"

Solas supplied an answer quickly, choosing a section that he remembered as being amusing. His reward was seeing Varric's brown eyes crinkle with real enjoyment at hearing the praise. After a time discussing the novel with the three of them the dwarf seemed to finally shake himself and switch topics as he leaned closer to the table as much as his short body would allow and said, "By the way, I chatted up some of the Templars over the last few hours and heard some interesting gossip."

"Is that so?" Tal asked, arching an eyebrow.

Varric wriggled in his chair, smirking with amusement as he settled in to repeat the rumors. He also dug into his coat, producing the now-familiar silver flask of hard liquor. It seemed that, aside from storytelling and gambling or gaming, drinking was Varric's favorite pastime. Not that Solas could judge him particularly harshly for that, considering his own affection for wine…

…Though Solas always imbibed very carefully, post-Veil. Wine did tend to loosen tongues and inhibitions, two things he could not afford to risk in his present situation.

He sipped from his glass, enjoying the sweet, fruity flavor even if it was awful compared to Elvhenan's lowest, cheapest fare. The delicious, soft burn of it warmed his stomach even as Varric's words made his blood run icy a few moments later.

"Turns out a Templar died under some weird circumstances last night," the dwarf said with a grunt, watching their expressions. All three elves feigned surprise in varying intensities: Tal gawked while Rosa's brow hitched up and Solas widened his eyes. "Anyway," Varric went on. "Turns out the guy was from the Kirkwall Circle. He transferred here about three years ago, two years before everything went to shit."

Fenedhis, Solas thought, meeting Rosa's gaze from across the table. One corner of her mouth quirked up in a nervous tic and then she snatched her glass, sipping her own wine. This news explained the Seeker's interest in it. It was a coincidence only, but it was natural for the Seeker to see a larger pattern in it.

"What were the weird circumstances?" Tal asked.

"The guys I talked to said the poor sod died in his sleep. No one saw anything unusual at all." Varric shook his head and let out a long sigh, his gaze falling to the table between them, his brows knitting. "My guess—and theirs, I'd bet—is that it's blood magic." He finished unscrewing his flask's cap and took a long swill, tossing his head back. When he'd swallowed again he scowled. "Damn blood magic. Every Maker-damned time."

"Can blood magic do that?" Rosa asked. Solas speared more chicken with his fork and ate it while still watching Varric, Rosa, and Tal. He kept himself from looking overmuch at Rosa, certain that he could give something away if he wasn't careful. He wondered if Rosa's question was genuine curiosity or something more along the lines of gloating over the fact their captors were bewildered at Curtis' death. He hoped it was the former and not the latter.

"I don't know," Varric said, shrugging. "Probably? Seems to me blood magic can do anything, mostly bad."

"It's probably not blood magic at all," Tal said. "More like poison."

"I imagine they'll look into that," Varric said, taking another swig from his flask. "But after Kirkwall and with the dead guy's connection to the Circle there, you know they have to investigate the blood magic angle first."

"I suppose that's sensible," Solas put in with a nod.

"But what's more likely to happen is they'll just pick a scapegoat and kill that person, regardless of the truth," Rosa grumbled. "Even if the truth is something stupid like this Templar had a weak heart and just died in his sleep."

Varric grunted, scowling as he shook his head. "Can't disagree with you there, Violet. I've seen one too many Templars jump to conclusions like that and the mages are always the ones suffering for it."

"But the Seeker's different," Tal said, pressing forward as a note of urgency entered his voice. "She's not like the other Templars. She cares about the truth. She has to. It's part of her name."

Varric laughed, shoulders shaking. Rosa eyed her brother with an unreadable expression, somewhere between amusement and…irritation? Solas, meanwhile, remained as deadpan as he could manage, drinking again from his wine.

When Varric had recovered from laughing, he said, "Your naivety, Stoic, is absolutely charming, but it's just not true. Take me for instance. I've been called a nug-humper so many times in the merchant's guild that it might as well be my middle name. Varric Nug-Humper Tethras. But, name or not, I've never humped a nug. Not once." He cringed with revulsion and then laughed again. "Same's true for the Seeker. She'll seek all right, but she's as flawed as anyone else and might never find it. Trust me on this. She stabbed me right in the book, just to make a point."

"Stabbed you in the book?" Tal asked, sounding sullen.

Varric waved a hand at him, dismissively. "Yeah, not going to get into that right now. Point is….eh…" He scratched at his chin, making a dry scraping sound. "Ah, forget it, Stoic. Keep thinking the best of her, I guess. Not like she's going to blame any of you…er…" He broke off, frowning. "Shit."

"What?" Rosa asked, eyeing him warily, as if he might be a wasp that'd sting her.

Solas wondered if her intuition might prove correct as a moment later Varric winced as he explained quietly, "I…may have known a Dalish blood mage. So, the Seeker's going to associate…uh…"

"Fenedhis," Tal said, gulping as he looked at Rosa, then back at Varric again. "Truly? You knew a Dalish blood mage? It wasn't something we did in my clan."

Solas covertly glanced at Rosa, trying to read her reaction and seeing nothing. Her silence at Tal's comment, however, made him wonder if clan Naseral didn't have much of a stigma against blood magic, just as it wasn't afraid of spirits.

"Yes," Varric said, grimacing. "I definitely knew one all right." He covered his eyes with one hand and groaned. "Dammit, Daisy."

Eager to calm Tal, Solas said, "I'm sure there's nothing to worry about. Clearly, we are not involved. Nefarious use of magic is not restricted to any race or nationality, a fact we know the Templars will not forget any time soon."

Varric snorted dryly. "Well said, Chuckles." He blew out a breath and shook his flask, revealing by the musical tinkling noise how little liquid remained. "Damn. Running low on the whiskey. Again."

"A travesty," Solas lamented with a friendly smile as he raised his wine for another small sip.

Varric sighed. "You don't know the half of it. I have another nasty bit of gossip, actually." Leaning close again, he said, "A few days back a mage from the White Spire tried to kill the Divine. With blood magic. The Seeker is pissed."

Well, Solas thought, that rumor's been confirmed…


Next Chapter:

Blushing, Tal stammered a moment before recovering. "Yeah, okay. Anyway, Shila was everyone's favorite. She was beautiful and gifted at anything she tried, while I was clumsy and awkward and our Keeper wouldn't train me as Second. Ever. Anyway, she used to take pity on me and share some of the knowledge our Keeper taught her, even though it made her uncle furious. Then, one night after a bonding ceremony when everyone was drunk off Orlesian wine, Shila asked me to sneak off with her into the woods. She told me she was going to give me another lesson in magic." He broke off, waggling his eyebrows suggestively. "Turned out it wasn't that type of magic. And that was my first time."

Rosa snorted. "Maybe your first time with a woman."

Solas clamped his mouth shut and pretended to ignore that comment. A few times he had enjoyed male company over the years, but he far preferred female partners. Or spirits, truth be told. Now that would be something to tell them in this game. Once, I joined half a dozen nuvenathe—you would call them desire demons—for a weeklong tryst involving endless sex and magic.


Author's note: I have always thought the codex entries you find about dwarves fearing the surface because of Elgar'nan's fire was fascinating. Yet we don't have a myth for it. So I made one in this chapter. Because we don't have any other humanoid species on Earth anymore we don't have any creation myths for other races, so it's fun to explore.

Chapter Text

The roaring sigh of water moving in waves crashed on Solas' ears. When he opened his eyes he found himself standing in knee-high water that sucked at his ankles. The shore was made of rounded stones, pebbly and worn smooth by the constant action of waves over them. The sky was overcast and clouded. Drizzle and sea spray whipped over him with the wind. It was bitingly cold, promising a harsh, icy winter. The water, in contrast, was merely chilled.

Stumbling out of it, Solas scowled with confusion as he tried to discern whether this was his dream or someone else's. Hills rose sharply behind him, dotted with bushes that'd lost their leaves, along with tall pines. The hills cut off in cliffs, revealing rain-slicked rocks, raw and exposed to the elements. The scene was unfamiliar to him, but the Fade was more than capable of crafting a new scene as a sort of amalgamation of all the landscapes he'd seen over his long life. Yet, there was no sign of Fade ether and the sky held no trace of the brilliant, fractal colors that'd been a constant in Elvhenan. That suggested this was a dream inspired by post-Veil Thedas.

He sensed another Dreamer a fraction of a second before Rosa's voice called out from atop the steep hill behind him. "Revas!"

Pivoting in that direction, Solas saw Rosa striding down the hill toward him. As per her usual, she wore her Dalish Keeper armor, despite the fact that in the real world it'd long since been destroyed. Rather than let his gaze linger on her form with appreciation the way he wanted to, Solas made himself look down as he picked his way out of the surf.

The dream had rendered him in his apprentice robes and now they were sopping from the waves. Solas started to shiver in earnest from the bitter wind and his drenched state. Concentrating inward, Solas willed the chill and moisture away. This was a dream, after all. There was no reason for him to be cold and wet. The effort of changing his image in the dream made his head swim and his body break out in a cold sweat. He was still breathing a touch too fast as Rosa reached him.

Her eyes swept over him with approval, a smile curling over her mouth. "Good job," she praised and he noted that she appeared dry despite the drizzle so she had done similarly. "Is it getting easier?" she asked.

Torn between feeling irritated at her praise for something so trivial and being friendly because he knew she was genuine and not patronizing him, Solas merely nodded. His cheeks felt too hot, however, so he suspected he'd be flushed. Too much pride, he scolded himself and tried to push it aside. Rosa was not trying to mock him.

"All right," she said, clapping her hands together as she started walking along the shoreline. "Now that we can finally talk in true privacy—I'm guessing you want to know about what the Knight-Commander and the Seeker are thinking regarding the foci." With her shoulders square and her back straight, she watched him with that confounding coy smile, waiting for him to follow her or to speak—possibly both.

Solas decided on doing both as he started walking just a step behind her, the smooth rocks clattering and shifting with each step. "You would be correct, lethallan. What have you found?"

"Neither the Seeker nor the Knight-Commander have any interest in the foci," she said, confident and assured, the coy smile over her lips. "They think it's too dangerous to tamper with, magic or no. I took the liberty of reinforcing that idea in their dreams, so I think you have nothing to worry about, but I'll keep tabs on them anyway." She paused, the coy smile widening. "Also, I know where they've stored the foci and where they keep the key to its storage room."

Solas nodded, smiling at her even as his chest tightened with apprehension. She'd considered this, planned it along much farther than he'd asked her to. That kind of forethought could suggest she planned to make a move for the orb herself. "Very good," he praised and then decided to take a risk. Licking his lips, he said, "Show me."

Now Rosa cocked her head, eyes narrowing though the smile remained in place. "So impatient, flat-ear." She arched her eyebrow at him. "What's the rush?"

"There isn't one," Solas hedged, unable to keep himself from frowning. "I was merely…curious."

She crossed her arms over her chest and clucked her tongue. "C'mon now, Revas. After all this you still don't trust me?"

Heat leapt into his face, scalding all the way to his ear tips. Solas averted his gaze, scowling. "Perhaps I do not. You did, after all, refuse to trust me with the truth of how you planned to coax yourself into finally releasing Rogathe. By killing Ser Curtis you've placed all of the mages in this tower—but the three of us especially—in danger."

"I didn't kill him," she protested, grimacing. At his disbelieving stare, Rosa added, "How could I have killed him, Revas? I never left my bunk." She shook her head, lips curling with anger and stammered out, "How could you think I did it? Put us in danger like that and—"

"Are you quite finished with this charade, da'len?" Solas asked as he stared at her, flat and cold. She fidgeted and averted her gaze, looking out at the water. After a long beat of silence, during which only the roar of the waves sighed between them, he cleared his throat and said, "You do not truly expect me to believe Ser Curtis died in his sleep. Your fear of him was what kept Rogathe inside you, so you killed him."

"I never laid a hand on that Templar bastard," Rosa said, glaring at him. "How could I have killed him? What, in my sleep?" She cocked her head. "Is that what you're saying?"

Solas was about to open his mouth to lay out the case—which was pathetically obvious to him—but he froze as realization dawned. This was a trap. She wanted him to reveal that he knew she'd killed Curtis via the Fade, specifically. The secrets of Dreamers should have been lost in this age, virtually extinct as they were. Solas had been so fixated on puzzling out how and what Rosa knew about her own heritage that he'd forgotten she must be doing the same with him. And the moment he explicitly revealed what he knew she would have another arrow in her quiver to use to poke holes in his cover story. He couldn't allow that.

"…perhaps I was mistaken," he murmured, demure and evasive as he quickly recovered, thinking aloud. "Surely you would not kill an unarmed man, asleep in his bed in cold blood. Rogathe would never approve of such." Except that is not how it happened, is it? He thought. You sought Ser Curtis out in a dream and fought him in a fair fight.

Rosa shook her head, lips drawn back in a snarl of disgust. "No, not at all. Rogathe would spit at my feet and call me a coward if I did something like that." The way she held her hands in front of her, fidgeting anxiously, told Solas she was troubled. Seeing his eyes on her, Rosa tucked her hands behind her back and scowled at him. "I…I don't know what happened, but I didn't kill him."

But you did, Solas thought, though perhaps not intentionally.

"Very well," he said, deciding it was best for the both of them to drop this subject and pretend it hadn't happened. That way Solas wouldn't reveal that he knew such lost, deadly arts and Rosa wouldn't expose what she'd done as she seemed determined to deny it out of shame or regret.

"Well," Rosa said, spinning around to face away from him. The rocks clattered under her foot, the sound musical. "Now that you're done accusing me of killing unarmed men in their sleep, I'll leave you to the miserable coastland." With a wave of one hand at the roaring sea, she indicated the dreamscape with its constant hazy drizzle and pounding waves.

"Rosa," Solas interjected, scrambling forward and laying a hand on her shoulder. "Please, will you show me where the foci is being kept and how to reach it?"

Rosa halted at his touch and as the wind whipped at the few loose strands of her hair Solas caught the scent of soap from her bath and shampoo from her coiffed hair in its intricate braids and knots. Longing coiled inside his stomach as heat bloomed and threatened to sink lower. He wanted to curse with frustration at it. His traitorous body should have been satisfied when he took a few moments in the bath that evening to…relieve that particular physical need. But apparently not, as those desires kept popping into his mind when he was close to her.

The Dalish woman turned slightly to stare obliquely at him, her violet eyes sharp with her keen intelligence. Her pale vallaslin stood out in stark contrast against her olive skin tone. Before he could stop himself, Solas found himself imagining how beautiful she'd be without Dirthamen's markings marring her face. He wondered how warm her skin would be against his hand, how satisfying it'd be to indulge in the thrill and danger of pursuing her.

As if she could sense his longing, Rosa's lip twitched up in that confounded coy smile as she said, "I suppose I could be convinced. But there will be a price."

Solas felt his stomach clench with both apprehension and anticipation. "Name it, lethallan."

Rounding to face him properly now, Rosa tucked her hands behind her back in a motion of authority, mimicking the one he often adopted. Whether she deliberately mocked him or not, Solas couldn't be certain, but her eyes narrowed and her voice was stern as she said, "I need you to convince Tal to do poorly in his classes."

Solas stared at her a moment, then frowned. "That is…" He dipped his head slightly, trying to find the right way to phrase what he wanted to say. "…an unusual request."

Lifting a hand, palm out, to the roaring surf, Rosa willed it to quiet. The waters obeyed, frothing and surging as they rubbed over the smooth stones of the beach, but doing so quietly now. Edging closer and keeping her voice low as if she feared being overheard, Rosa explained, "Parahel and the other mages and enchanters have recommended him for the Harrowing."

Solas clenched his jaw. "So soon?"

With a scowl, she shook her head. "No reason for them to wait when Tal excels in everything. He's already older than most of the apprentices who undergo it—same as you and me—but unlike us, Tal's 'mature.'" She used her fingers as air quotations for sarcastic emphasis around the word mature. "They induct apprentices when they've reached a certain age and show enough promise and mastery of their talents that the mages think they'll have a chance of surviving that damned stupid ritual."

"And Tal is unreserved in his desire for learning," Solas murmured, nodding with understanding. He recalled clearly the way Tal's face had been bright with joy as he described his classes, saying that his Keeper had not trained him. It made Solas' guts churn with displeasure at the thought of discouraging that joy. Knowledge and its pursuit had been one of his greatest pleasures, pre and post-Veil alike. Seeing that same enjoyment in a youth like Tal filled him with warmth—but he understood Rosa's concern.

"Exactly," Rosa said with a sigh. She rubbed her face with both hands, shoulders slumping. "He's always been like this. Friendly and…" She huffed. "Naïve." Her violet eyes locked with his, fiery with determination. "I don't want them to go through with his Harrowing. I've heard too many horrified apprentices whispering about it."

"You doubt your brother would be able to resist possession?" Solas asked.

"No, that's not it," she said quickly with a sideways slash of her hand. "I'm afraid he'll linger too long and be killed by the Templars. He has vivid dreams and I've taught him a bit about demons and spirits, but his clan was…narrow-minded. Particularly his Keeper. I'm confident he'd pass the ritual, but he might not do it speedily. He's a heavy sleeper, worse than me. He'll get lost, meander, and could forget his purpose. And the Templars are sure to assume the worst and just butcher him."

Her hands curled into fists at her side. "It's not as if they exactly want more mages. Tranquil are more valuable. They do enchantments and work like slaves. What are we mages but a bunch of unruly children to those tyrants?"

Arching his brow, Solas asked, "And you cannot make Tal understand this danger yourself?"

She frowned. "No. He calls me paranoid and doesn't see any reason not to undergo the ritual, especially if it will aid us in plotting the escape."

There was value in having full status within the Circle. After his Harrowing, Tal could gain access to the other mages and earn their trust. He could spread rumors and report back to Rosa and Solas everything he learned. And, as Rosa had noted, Tal seemed particularly suited for such a task. Unlike Solas and Rosa, Tal was gregarious and drew others to him with ease. Yet, even knowing Rosa only a relatively short time, Solas sensed there was something greater underlying this request. A quick survey of the tense set of her shoulders, however, warned Solas not to delay his acceptance or risk prying.

"I cannot promise to completely sway him," Solas cautioned. "But I can try. You will have more power to steer his fate than I, lethallan." Lacking most of his talent with reshaping the Fade, Solas had little chance of influencing the other mages or the Templars of the tower.

She turned her head slightly, letting the wind tug at her hair, whipping her with sea spray. She winced against it. "It's Tal I want to influence, really. I can pull Tal into your dream for you and leave him to talk with you," she said, speaking quietly enough that Solas had to lean closer to make out the words.

Nodding somberly, Solas said, "If that is your wish. Will your brother listen to me if he knows you are the one who asked me to speak with him?"

She chuckled. "He'll listen. But will he hear?" She wagged a finger. "That is the question you should be asking, flat-ear."

The phrase she'd used reminded Solas of his friend Felassan. It was the same sort of thing he would have said in this situation—had said actually, when Solas tried to convince some of his own freed slaves turned rebels that he wasn't a god. He smiled softly, half at the memory of his friend and half for Rosa and her predicament. "Then I can promise to speak to him, but I cannot promise he will hear what I have to say. Is that fair enough?"

She shrugged. "As good as. Wouldn't be right for me to expect you to work miracles. You're not Mythal or Sylaise—or Dirthamen." She gestured to her own vallaslin at the last name.

Solas clenched his jaw but forced himself to remain silent at that comment, though his stomach seemed to broil with acid. He swallowed it down. Considering Rosa's background and her suspicions regarding him, Solas knew it was in his best interests to hide his revulsion for the false gods. Instead, he aimed for levity with dry humor as he said, "Ma serannas, for that consideration."

"You're welcome," she replied with a smirk. "I'll show you what I know about the foci once you've worked Tal over a bit. Sound good?"

Quashing his disappointment at hearing Rosa intended to make him wait, Solas nodded. "Very well. When do you intend to begin?"

"Tomorrow," she said, her voice clear and confident. Gesturing at the scene around them, she said, "In the meantime, I have a lot of dreams to haunt tonight." Her smile was sly and dark. "A lot of dissention to sow. This tower is ripe with it, just under the surface." Violet eyes glittering, she lifted a hand, palm out, to the waves and Solas felt his skin tingle with the magic of her will as the water went still and the wind died down around them. "Think you'll ever be able to help me?" she asked without looking at him.

Solas swallowed the nervous flood of saliva that filled his mouth, trying to hide his unease. He had to caution her from provoking the tower into upheaval too quickly. "You must tread lightly, lethallan. Allow the dissent to grow slowly, naturally. It will be real then and not easily crushed when the Templars respond with brute force, which they will."

She wrinkled her nose at him as first a smile and then a frown warped her face, making it difficult to read. Then, apparently settling on a genuinely amused toothy smile, she said, "You sound like my…" She broke off, biting her lips as though holding back the words. Then she finished in a different way: "You sound as though you've done this before."

Fenedhis. He countered swiftly with a lie. "I have not. But I have seen it in the Fade, in Tevinter ruins. I have also sought out many spirits of wisdom for their guidance on the matter."

"And why would a lonely elven apostate seek out such knowledge?" she asked, flashing that coy smile again.

Solas scoffed, covering the panic fluttering in his gut with derision. "Have you no appreciation of knowledge for its own sake? Have you truly never indulged your curiosity?" Seeing her continued amusement in the twinkle of her violet eyes, Solas decided to alter tactics and distract her with anger. Insulting the Dalish should do it.

"Perhaps the Dalish have no desire to learn of the world beyond their small clans and small minds, but I do. I would see such ancient knowledge reclaimed and used, rather than sit idly by repeating foolish stories and playing like children or simpletons in the mud while the world passes me by."

She arched a brow at him, her jaw clenching slightly before she grinned. "How can you possibly disparage playing in the mud? You mean to tell me you've never wrestled in the mud, all lathered up and downright filthy, surrounded by friends?" Clucking her tongue, she let out a mock-sigh. "Oh, flat-ear, you haven't lived."

So much for rankling her, though he had altered topics. Solas huffed irritably, feeling his cheeks flush hot with embarrassment. "Mock if you like," he grumbled. "That does not make my criticism any less accurate."

Yawning into her hand, Rosa made a dismissive motion at him. "Well, Revas, it's been a blast, but I really must be going." Whirling about on her heel in a graceful pirouette that set Solas' frowning with envy knowing she could match that elegance outside of the Fade while he could not, Rosa began striding away. The rocks clattered underfoot and the wind sighed gently. Over her shoulder, Rosa called to him, "See if you can do something about this dreary dream, will you?"

"Indeed," Solas mumbled, sighing as he felt the weighty presence of the other Dreamer vanish from the Fade.

Rubbing at his face, he turned to regard the Waking Sea and focused his mind, reaching out to it with his inner senses. The aching, cold emptiness of his mana core echoed inside him, mocking and bitter for its reminder at how weak he still was—yet he felt the Fade click inside his mind. Grasping at it left him woozy and set a sharp pain in his temple, but he pushed through it, stubbornly.

Rise and fall in waves as before, he commanded it. Return to normalcy.

The sea began to move, rising in a spray of white bubbles and froth. It hissed and gave a dull roar as it splashed over the rocks, surging up to caress his feet and ankles before falling back. Seeing the Fade had obeyed, Solas released his hold on it and locked his knees to keep himself from falling as the pain battered him. He breathed through it, sucking air through his teeth until it passed.

Returning the Waking Sea to normalcy was a pathetically small accomplishment, yet seeing the waves rising and falling in a steady rhythm warmed him from within with the tiny triumph.

Soon now, he promised himself. Soon he would be able to aid Rosa in fomenting dissent in the tower via the mages' dreams and uncover where the foci had been stored and how to reach it all on his own. Soon he would not need to rely so heavily on the very dangerous and unpredictable Dalish woman.

Soon.


The following morning found Solas assigned not to the library as usual, but to a class held only twice a week for beginners in reading and writing. The mage teaching it was a middle-aged elven woman with a soft, gentle voice and seemingly infinite patience as she toured about the classroom adjusting her students' grips on their quills or guiding their hands through the strokes. She taught both common language letters as well as the dwarven trade runes that were often used in small illiterate hamlets.

Most of her students were young, mere children or pubescent tweens. Solas was the sole adult and he felt the children staring at him throughout the duration of the class, curious and baffled at his presence. He studiously ignored them, focusing on improving his penmanship now that he had enough muscle strength to achieve a measure of elegance with the script. The letters were blocky and ugly compared to the flowing pattern of the elven he'd spent his life using, but even after one lesson Solas had improved significantly.

Before the class dismissed for lunch, Marene, the mage teaching the course, stopped him to chat. "I hope you don't mind attending this course," she told him, sounding slightly sheepish.

"No," Solas answered her with a friendly smile. "Of course not. My penmanship is atrocious. I did not learn it properly as a child and had almost no occasion to use it as I wandered the wilds."

"Wandered the wilds," the elven mage echoed, wistful now. She let out a sigh, thick with longing. "I was born in Hasmal, in a slum, but my mum got me out of there when I was young and to a little village outside the city. I remember playing in the woods, hearing the farmer's druffalo lowing." She chuckled. "I used to pick daisies on the hill behind our little hovel."

Solas smiled now with a touch of sadness, pitying this woman for her loss of freedom. "I will miss traveling," he hedged but withheld saying more, unsure just yet how Marene might react.

"I'd bet," she answered, nodding. Then, seeming to shake herself, she changed topics. "I suspect you'll be finished with the penmanship class very quickly. And, after today, I don't think there's any point in making you participate in the reading portions of this class."

Solas dipped his chin in silent agreement. Each student had read passages from a long, boring legal document to prove he or she could read. Solas had managed that portion of the class with exceptional ease, his pleasant, lilting voice making the children and Marene stare at him, looking somewhat enraptured. Solas had been told many times while at Arlathan's court that he possessed a perfect voice—clear, clipped, and musical. It suited an aristocrat—or an Evanuris—far better than it did a wandering, homeless and coinless apostate.

"I've heard from Braden that you lack any magical expression," Marene said suddenly, her brow furrowing with confusion. "Is that still the case?"

Solas hesitated a moment before answering as he reached inward, probing that empty place. He sighed, shoulders slumping, as he felt nothing there, as usual. "I'm afraid that is correct, currently. It is my hope that I will eventually recover my talents."

Marene nodded, though she pressed a finger to her chin, as if with contemplation. "I wonder if you would benefit from joining some of the classes for the youngest apprentices. Most of them have unpredictable magic, very weak. Enchanter Varian teaches that class. They begin very small, with exercises to coax the magic and then control it."

I know how to control my magic, Solas thought and chewed at the edge of one lip to keep from scowling. To remain civil, and with the certainty that Marene didn't intend to slight him, but to help him, Solas said, "I suppose there would be no harm in taking such a course."

Marene grinned. "Excellent. I shall speak to Varian for you."

Solas left the classroom, shoulders hunched and pinching the bridge of his nose as if he could feel a nosebleed about to come on. There was no shame in being weak in the arcane in this post-Veil world that so despised magic, yet Solas could not shake the humiliation that rode over him like a jockey whipping at its exhausted mount.

His face felt as though it were aflame every time he pictured himself in a room full of very young apprentices, all brand new to their magic and blundering with it. The penmanship course had been bad enough, but at least Solas knew he actually had some purpose being there as he hadn't written hardly anything in the humans' tongue previously. The thought of enduring the class for the weakest, youngest apprentices made his stomach churn. He had been a teacher once for just such students in Elvhenan. Now, to be unfairly foisted back into the role of student when he was an Evanuris?!

Those brooding thoughts kept his mood cloudy through lunch, making the lumpy, cheesy pasta on his tray seem tasteless. Tal and Varric chattered as usual, and Rosa chimed in on occasion—though Solas felt her eyes on him far too often for comfort. Eventually she said, "Why the long face, flat-ear?"

Flat-ear, her voice teased and stabbed at him. She'd meant it playfully, of course, but Solas heard it as a reminder of how broken he was and how wretched this world was. Frowning down at the cheesy mass of noodles he poked at with his fork, Solas rejoined, "Perhaps it has escaped your keen notice, but I have always had a long face."

Rosa blinked at him, then smirked. "Someone's grouchy. All right, Revas, let me try that again." She cleared her throat and laid a hand over her chest as she pitched her voice higher. "Why ever are you such a sourpuss today, hahren?"

"Is it the food?" Tal asked, stabbing his noodles with a fork. "I mean, how dare they not use halla milk to make this cheese."

"No," Varric added with a broad grin. "It's the bad wine. Gotta be. I know I'd be crying into my pillow every night if all I had to drink was that shit."

Solas rolled his eyes at them and said nothing, refusing to engage in their antics. He ate another forkful of cheesy noodles and heaved a quick, short sigh as he chewed, struggling to appreciate the rich taste. He'd never eaten this manner of food before. It was Orlesian and seemed entirely too rich. Even the highest nobles of the upper class of Elvhenan would have found it excessive.

"Enough, enough," Rosa said, waving a hand at both Varric and Tal. To Solas, she pointed at him with her fork, like a mother scolding a naughty child. The thought made Solas seethe, his cheeks blooming with heat. "And you, flat-ear, I won't let you ruin lunch."

"I fail to see how my silence ruins anything," Solas grumbled.

"You're ruining it for yourself," Rosa explained, cocking her head to one side. "And I simply cannot allow that. So, it's time we played a game and got you to lighten up."

"No," he growled, pushing more noodles into his mouth. If there was one thing this Orlesian meal could do, it was put meat back on his bones. Though, Solas had been pleased to see his thighs appeared far less skeletal in his bath the previous night.

"Don't be like that, Revas," Rosa chastised. "You haven't even heard about the game yet and you're already judging it. Aren't you the one who's always going on about how small-minded we Dalish are?" With a wave of her hand she indicated Tal sitting beside him in her description as well. "This is your chance to prove to us how clever and knowledgeable you are."

Solas sighed, giving in. "Very well. What game did you have in mind?"

"It's called Big Liar. We used to play it while drinking but…" She shrugged as she motioned to the glass of water on her tray. They wouldn't have wine until evening. "Anyway, the rules are simple. Each person tells two stories. One is true. The other is a lie. Everyone else has to guess the true story. When people guess incorrectly, the speaker gets a prize. If everyone guesses correctly, the speaker gets punished."

"And it doesn't have to be a story, necessarily," Tal added. "At least that was how my clan played it. You can say obscure facts—or lies—instead of a story."

"So, you're saying I can tell you the sky is blue or nugs taste like chicken and that counts?" Varric asked, arching a fuzzy eyebrow.

"Exactly," Tal agreed with a bright smile. "That is, as long as Rosa and everyone else agrees."

"I'm fine with it," Rosa said, shrugging before her expression and voice twisted with mischief. "But this game is always better if the stories are personal." She set her fork down with a metallic clatter on her tray and met Solas' eye. "You game for this?"

"If I must, da'len," he said.

"You must," Rosa said, smirking.

In spite of himself and his sullen mood, Solas smiled. Offering obscure facts was something that'd interest him. But, there was one matter to address first. Clearing his throat, he spoke in elven. "You will have an unfair advantage with Tal as siblings."

Rosa snorted and Tal flashed a lopsided smile. Varric was the one to speak. "Eh, didn't catch that one, Chuckles."

"He just volunteered to go first," Rosa said before Solas could react. He frowned at her with disapproval and the Dalish woman winked at him, replying to him in elven, "Isamalin and I will play honest and fair. There's plenty we don't know about each other." Breaking off, she shot Tal a playful look. "Isn't that right, Tal?"

"Yes, yes it is," he said in a mock-solemn voice, as though taking a very solemn vow.

"Enough chatter," Varric scolded with a mild frown. "Let's start. Revas?"

Pinching his lips tightly together, Solas considered what he'd tell them. Hundreds of obscure facts circled about his mind, but most of them were related to Elvhenan or the Fade—subjects that his audience, particularly Rosa, could question just how he'd come to know such things. To stall for time, he asked, "We did not discuss punishments or prizes."

"Normally it's booze," Rosa answered with a shrug. "But since we're short on that, how about food?"

"Or favors," Tal suggested, winking in Solas' direction.

There'd been a time, long before he was the Dread Wolf, that Solas had been thrilled to engage in high stakes betting. Nobles traded slaves, sexual favors, magic, spells, exotic food, secrets, and countless other treasures in games of wits. Solas had grown quite adept at winning in such events, and had used it at first for his own selfish enjoyment—though he never accepted slaves and if he did win them, he promptly freed them.

His heart picked up its pace just at the thought, remembering that he'd more than once won sexual favors in such games, but he smothered the idea now. He'd long ago grown tired of the frivolous opulence of Arlathan's court, rife as it was with casual cruelty to those of the lower classes. As such, he'd sworn off gambling, refusing to be a part of it. But now he was not an upper class noble at court, seeking conquest and the thrill of victory. Now he was just Revas, lowly and weak, passing the time in camaraderie.

Still…he had to be cautious. Because he was not just Revas. He wasn't even just Solas.

"Very well," he hedged, not bothering to hide his wariness. "But I must know what is at stake beforehand."

"If you win by tricking us you get to pick off the losers' plates," Tal suggested. "Whatever you want. No holds barred. And if we win—meaning all of us guess right—we get to take whatever we want from your tray. Sound fair?"

"Hold on a minute," Varric said, chuckling as he screwed on the cap to his whiskey flask and tucked it back into his coat. "There we go."

"Damn," Tal said, laughing at the dwarf. "That was just what I wanted from your tray!"

"Exactly," Varric said, chuckling. He wagged a finger at Tal. "I'm onto you, Stoic."

"Okay, okay," Rosa said with a wave of both hands, impatient to begin. "Go already, Revas."

"There are extensive elven ruins beneath Hasmal," Solas said quickly, dropping his volume until his audience leaned closer to hear him better. "That is my first story. The second is that all high dragons are—"

"Oh, c'mon," Rosa interrupted him, huffing. "This isn't any fun if you don't tell personal stories."

"Let him play the way he wants," Tal reprimanded.

"Thank you," Solas said with an appreciative nod. He shot Rosa a little glare before he finished. "All high dragons are female."

Varric sighed and rubbed one hand over the stubble over his chin. "I have to agree with Violet now. Chuckles—how about I show you how it's supposed to be done and we'll come back to you."

Solas frowned, sitting back in his seat and crossing his arms over his chest. "Very well then, Master Tethras. Impress me."

"All right," Varric said, clapping his hands together and rubbing them. "First story. I have a crossbow named Bianca. She's not just any crossbow, either. She's a repeating crossbow. Lets me fire continuously. I found her in a wreck off the coast around Kirkwall, in a crate that was enchanted so it wouldn't sink even though it was heavier than a herd of brontos. Knew she was a one of a kind from the moment I laid eyes on her." He sighed, as if with contentment or longing.

"A repeating crossbow?" Tal asked, arching his brow. "I can't help but notice you don't have it right now."

"It's not as if the Templars would let me carry her in here," Varric said.

"Hush, Tal," Rosa said. "It's time for the second story."

Nodding to her, Varric said, "A while back, the Champion—Hawke, that is—was low on coin. So, he went to my bastard brother, Bartrand, looking to join his expedition into the Deep Roads. This was back around the end of the Blight, when we knew the Deep Roads would be relatively empty of Darkspawn. Bartrand, being the nug-licker he was, turned him down flat and sent him packing. See, thing is, Bartrand ran our business on the outside, but it was me who actually did everything. Anyway, so I was waiting outside and when I saw Hawke, I could guess what'd happened. I was going to go up to him, introduce myself, but about then some pickpocket decided to step in and rob Hawke. I saw it was my moment of opportunity and shot that bastard clean through the shoulder so Hawke could reclaim what'd been stolen." With a grin, he leaned back in his seat, kicking up his feet. "And that was how I met the Champion of Kirkwall."

Solas suspected there was more to that tale, but Varric either didn't wish to go into it or he was lying. The smug look on the dwarf's face suggested that he was proud of his tales and confident none of the elves would see through him. Solas kept his mouth shut, weighing the stories in his mind with what he knew of the dwarf so far.

"Classic trick," Tal said, humming as he stared Varric down. "You fake us out by telling one story that has elements of truth but a few falsehoods while the other is all true. It's a bait and switch."

Varric grinned. "That so, Stoic? You gonna call me on my bullshit?"

"The crossbow story is the lie," Solas announced, reaching a conclusion. He suspected Tal's read of the dwarf was correct. Varric had likely spun truth into both tales, but embellished one with falsehoods. The crossbow tale seemed the most suspicious in that light.

Rosa nodded. "I agree with Revas. The crossbow story is fake."

"I still think it's a bait and switch," Tal said. "We know about Bartrand and we know about Hawke. Those are all true, but just one lie in there could make the story a fake. It's a trick." Tal grinned, beaming with confidence. "It's the second tale. That's the fake. The crossbow is real."

Now Varric dropped his feet from the table, his eyes flicking between the three elves as his knowing smile spread wider. "Well," he finally said, grinning. "I got Stoic at least."

"What?" Tal asked, his mouth falling open. "Fenedhis. Dread Wolf take me and my stupid brain."

Solas grimaced at the curse but cleared his expression immediately when he saw Rosa's gaze on him, the coy smile in place.

Groaning, Tal pushed his tray toward Varric. "Fair's fair. Take what you want."

Looking smug, Varric snatched Tal's bread roll from the tray and bit into it. His smile remained in place as he chewed. After swallowing he said, "Turns out Stoic's right, but he was wrong about which story I was baiting and switching. I do have a repeating crossbow named Bianca. I just didn't find her on a ship off the coast of Kirkwall." He winked at Tal as the young elf groaned again.

"Loser should get the next round," Rosa suggested, jerking her chin toward her brother. "Go for it, isamalin."

Grunting, Tal shifting in his seat, leaning forward to rest his elbows on the table. "Back in my clan our First was a girl about my age named Shila. Our Keeper was her uncle—a real prick. He hated my guts because he wanted to bond with my mother, but my father was such a funny, suave—"

Rosa interrupted him sharply, "Stay on topic, isamalin."

Blushing, Tal stammered a moment before recovering. "Yeah, okay. Anyway, Shila was everyone's favorite. She was beautiful and gifted at anything she tried, while I was clumsy and awkward and our Keeper wouldn't train me as Second. Ever. Anyway, she used to take pity on me and share some of the knowledge our Keeper taught her, even though it made her uncle furious. Then, one night after a bonding ceremony when everyone was drunk off Orlesian wine, Shila asked me to sneak off with her into the woods. She told me she was going to give me another lesson in magic." He broke off, waggling his eyebrows suggestively. "Turned out it wasn't that type of magic. And that was my first time."

Rosa snorted. "Maybe your first time with a woman."

Solas clamped his mouth shut and pretended to ignore that comment. A few times he had enjoyed male company over the years, but he far preferred female partners. Or spirits, truth be told. Now that would be something to tell them in this game. Once, I joined half a dozen nuvenathe—you would call them desire demons—for a weeklong tryst involving endless sex and magic.

"Quiet, you," Tal told Rosa with a playful frown. "My second story is about my vallaslin. See, my mother devoted herself to Sylaise. Makes perfect sense for her, because she's our clan's hearth keeper and serves as the midwife and she's a fabulous cook. Anyway, once I'd reached adulthood and proved I could provide for the clan as a hunter even if the Keeper would never let me be his apprentice, it was time for my vallaslin. I knew the Keeper would be an ass about it, but what could I do? I performed the ritual fasting and prayer. I agonized over which god I would devote myself to. Mother thought I would choose Sylaise, just as she had. I decided I would choose Sylaise too and when I told the Keeper, he set to work tattooing me. But I soon realized it wasn't Sylaise's mark he was putting on my skin."

Rosa covered her mouth with her hand. "That son of a bitch."

Solas didn't miss the genuine anger clouding Tal's eyes as he went on. "We are not allowed to speak during the process," he explained to both Solas and Varric. "But when it was finished and I looked in the mirror, I saw that he had placed Mythal's mark on me instead." He brushed a hand over his face to indicate the tattoos, which were indeed Mythal's. "I asked him why and the Keeper spit in my face and told me I couldn't wear the same vallaslin as my mother. So, he had given me the same markings my father wore." He shrugged. "I didn't mind too much after a while. Mythal is the All-Mother, after all. It's a great vallaslin."

"Even if you did not pick it, I agree," Solas said, nodding in respect to the younger man. "It suits you." He bit his tongue to prevent himself from adding something more regarding Mythal.

"Well," Tal said, spreading his palms in a gesture of openness. "I could be lying, remember?"

"Frankly," Varric said with a shake of his head. "I hope you are lying about the second one. Shit. I'm not Dalish, but…wow."

"So, which is the lie?" Tal asked, eyeing the three other people sitting around him. "My first time, or my vallaslin?" Then, with his mouth shaped into an O shape, he jabbed a finger at Rosa and said, "You guess last. You know me too well and I don't want you tipping Revas and Varric off."

"I'd never do something like that to you," Rosa murmured, though her eyes held a glint of amusement. "But I'll hold my guess for last."

"The first story is the lie," Varric said, making his guess. "Too much emotion in that second one to be fake."

Clenching his jaw, Solas watched Tal's face as he smiled at the dwarf, eyes crinkling slightly. There had been true emotion in the second tale, but Solas had seen Tal react convincingly before. It was the youth's earnestness that so often disarmed others around him. Tal possessed an easygoing demeanor that belied the keen intelligence underlying it. Rosa claimed her brother was too trusting and naïve, but Solas wasn't so sure. As with Varric's story, Solas suspected Tal had used tales that carried more than a bit of truth within them in both instances. He also knew both had at least one correct detail: the Keeper's hatred for Tal.

Odd that his clan's Keeper would despise him, Solas thought, brow furrowing with concentration. So many others seemed drawn to Tal's natural, innocent air of charisma. Yet his own Keeper had not been one of them. And, assuming it was the truth, Tal had let slip why that was the case: the Keeper had apparently resented Tal because of some past history with his father.

"Hurry, Revas," Rosa urged him, shifting in her chair to glance for the doorway. "I think they're about to send us back to work."

Making his decision, Solas drew in a breath and said, "The second story is false. I can believe your Keeper was cruel and refused to train you, but I do not believe he would go so far as to deny you your chosen vallaslin."

Tal's eyebrows shot up with surprise and his lips parted slightly. "Well," he said, schooling his expression again. "We'll see. What about you, Rosa?"

"The second story is the lie," she said, smirking. "You can't fool me, Tal."

From the doorway then a mage's voice called to the apprentices, ordering them to return to their classes or afternoon chores. The three elves and Varric remained seated, hunkering closer to the table as chairs scraped over the floor and feet shuffled. The dwarf was the one who asked in his gravelly voice, "So, who's right, Stoic?"

Tal grinned. "Sorry, Varric. They were right. My Keeper was a bastard, but he'd never give me the wrong vallaslin." His smile widened with mischievous glee as he scooted back from the table and rose to his feet. "In fact, I was the one to spite him. I chose Mythal to remind him of my father, who he hated so much. It was so hard not to smirk at him while he tattooed me, scowling the whole time."

Varric let out a grunting, dry laugh. "Well played, kid."

"I'll claim my prize from your tray at dinner," Tal promised, still grinning.


 

Elven Used (all props to FenxShiral's Project Elvhen!)

Isamalin meaning "brother." (More properly: isa'ma'lin but I like to mash the words together)


 

Next Chapter

Clearing her throat, Rosa leaned closer to the table to rest her elbows upon it and spoke in a hushed, melodic voice. "Before I left my clan, I was First to the Keeper. My clan lives in the Brecilian forest, so isolated that we only ever traded with shemlen once a year, and to get to their settlement we had to walk for a week from our usual hunting grounds. One night, in the middle of our journey to the shemlen city, we camped in the midst of some ancient ruins from before the fall of Arlathan. That night, as I slept, I dreamt of two ravens cawing to me from where they perched atop the white stone columns. At first I couldn't understand them, but then I felt their words inside the cawing, like whispers carried through my bones. They called my name," she altered the pitch of her voice into a breathy rasp, "'Rosa, Rosa. Do you wish to know a secret?' I was just a child then, not even ten summers. Of course I wanted to know a secret!"

"Anyway," Rosa went on and Solas caught the abrupt darkness that screened her eyes—but only for an instant. "So I tell the birds I'm listening and they caw back to me, 'You have a brother, but you will never know him.' And I told them they were daft and walked away again."

Chapter Text

As was becoming tradition, Solas accepted Rosa's proffered arm when they reached the end of their long table, shuffling out of the dining hall with the other older apprentices. Although he hadn't worked his muscles the way he had the previous few days, he was still glad to lean slightly on her. She steadied him as they approached the entryway and Tal, once more, had fallen behind to converse with the same teenage elven apprentices. Whether that was to give Rosa and Solas some distance or to covertly seek gossip and to learn more about ongoings in the tower—such as the investigation into Curtis' death—Solas couldn't be certain.

With that in mind, he leaned close to Rosa and murmured in elven, "Your brother is a consummate actor."

She chuckled, her eyes flashing as she gave him a sidelong look. "You bet he is. Good job seeing through him in the game. Tonight we can play with wine." Her smile widened.

"I will look forward to seeing if you can match Tal's skill," Solas told her and blinked, surprised as he registered the silky, flirtatious undertone in his own voice.

Rosa's violet eyes crinkled with amusement, her skin tone warm with what might have been a flush of excitement. Her lips curled in a toothy grin. "And I will look forward to besting you."

Her breath was warm against his cheek, fanning over his skin as she spoke. He could smell the lingering scent of her, still clean from their respective baths the previous night. The thought of pulling her closer, of stealing a kiss made his fingers on her arm twitch as the thrill of both delight and danger set his heart racing. Yet he pushed that thought away as ludicrous and felt hot with a flash of irritation at himself. How could he have allowed himself to grow so infatuated and easily distracted? A product of boredom and austerity—it must be, surely…

And then, suddenly, he registered motion off to his far left and heard the harsh clank of metallic armor. Turning his head, Solas saw the glimmer of Ser Jeremy's armor as the human bore down on them, glaring. "No fraternization," he growled when he was within arm's reach of them.

Deciding to act demurely, Solas released his grip on Rosa's arm and took a small step back from her. Yet he didn't adopt a hunched posture, instead his shoulders and back stayed straight and erect, his muscles holding him without shaking. He averted his gaze from Ser Jeremy, knowing that if he met the Templar's eye he'd likely sneer at him or glower, giving away the broiling resentment scorching him from within. His cheeks were aflame regardless and that was bad enough. He knew from long experience at Arlathan's court that even the subtlest sign could spur a bully on. He'd seen it well enough in Elgar'nan, Falon'Din, and Andruil, the three most hotheaded Evanuris.

"Better," Ser Jeremy said with a malevolent snarl. "Now, get a move on. You lot are holding things up." He slapped Solas' shoulder hard with his metal gauntleted hand. The pain and force of the blow made Solas stagger forward, barely managing to withhold a yelp of both surprise and discomfort.

Rosa rushed to catch him, wrapping an arm around his shoulders and shuffling with him forward. "Shemlen filth," she snarled under her breath. She was stiff at Solas' side, shifting as she glanced to their right to where another Templar stood guard, also glaring in silent reprimand and unity with his fellow. They would receive no pity today in the wake of Curtis' mysterious death.

"Hey," Ser Jeremy called, tromping along behind them. "I said no fraternizing. The bald twig can walk on his own."

Rosa's grip on Solas only tightened. She didn't look back and didn't stop pushing forward. Solas moved with her, feeling his pulse throb in his throat. "You'd best let me walk on my own," he murmured to her quietly.

"No," she growled. "I saw how hard he hit you."

"He will only hit me again if you do not—"

"Hey," Ser Jeremy shouted, stomping toward them. "You deaf, knife-eared witch?" The Templar's cold metal hand landed on Solas' shoulder and tugged him sharply away from Rosa. He bit back his strangled cry, clenching his jaw and willing himself not to look at Jeremy, not to give him anything to fuel further abuse.

But then, abruptly, Ser Jeremy's crushing grip slipped from Solas' shoulder and the world spun momentarily as he whipped around, stumbling backward, and saw Rosa had inserted herself between him and Jeremy. She faced him, shoulders square and back ramrod straight, her chin tilted up to glower at the Templar despite his greater height. Her shoulders heaved with each breath and her hands had curled into fists at her sides.

"Can't you see I'm helping him walk, brute?" she demanded, her voice fiery with defiance.

The hallway had gone still with shock. Apprentices stared, gawking. A few of them continued to scurry by, eager to escape the confrontation unnoticed. Solas took in the angry looks on some of the apprentices' faces—mottled red with rage, narrowed eyes wishing death upon Ser Jeremy. The air felt charged, thick and alive with tension…and magic. Tal was among them, but unlike them he appeared pallid and twitchy, brown eyes frantic as they darted around between Jeremy, Rosa, and then Solas.

"You know what I see here, bitch?" Jeremy snarled at her and then, with a metallic clank of his armor, he slapped her across the face. "Insubordination."

She stumbled from the force of the blow and Solas lurched forward to catch her, but Rosa pushed him away, regaining her balance almost immediately. Rounding to face Jeremy again, she spat blood off to one side and assumed the same proud, defiant posture. "Hit me if you like," she snarled. "If that makes you feel better about your lot in life as a thug. Who knows? Maybe you'll finally get a promotion if you bully enough apprentices into crying. But you'll never break me."

"Shut it," Jeremy yelled and slapped her again, harder this time.

Rosa staggered again and this time Solas caught her and, with as much force as he could muster, he tried to haul her backward and out of Jeremy's reach. "Please," he begged her, his breath hissing. "Do not foolishly antagonize—"

"Not foolish," she protested, clawing at the blood dribbling from her mouth where she'd bitten her lip or her tongue. Solas couldn't be sure which it was.

Jeremy closed on them rapidly, snatching Rosa by her braided topknot at the back of her head. She grunted through gnashed teeth and though Solas tried to cling to her, Jeremy easily ripped her away from him. Solas staggered with how abruptly she'd been pulled away and had to reach for the nearest wall to catch himself. Dimly, through the surge of mounting fear and rage inside, Solas felt a burning ache in his left shoulder where Jeremy had hit him.

"I'll show you what happens to insubordinate spellbinders like you, witch," Jeremy snarled. He jerked on her hair again and she made a strangled noise of pain, refusing to cry out. Turning round, he addressed the gawking apprentices. "See this? You cause trouble, this is what happens." He spat at Rosa, his face an ugly, twisted mask of derision.

"She was just trying to help Revas," Tal said, voice breathy and tight through gnashed teeth.

"Yeah," another apprentice said. "Leave her alone." Others began to repeat the same, their eyes angry and their voices sharp with outrage.

And, in the space of a heartbeat, Solas saw the mood turn as Jeremy and the other Templar a little further down the hall assessed their surroundings and realized they did not have the upper hand. There were dozens of apprentices loitering in the hall, staring, and many of them seemed just as anxious and angry as Tal and the others who'd spoken out. Solas felt their magic swell, invisible and yet powerful, like heat thrown from a fire. His skin prickled with gooseflesh as awe washed over him. These same apprentices had been willing to watch Rosa be manhandled mere days ago by Curtis. Now, as if a switch had been thrown, they seemed aware of their own power for the first time. Rosa's nighttime Fade-walking was working.

"What are you looking at?" Jeremy demanded, lips curling with derision—but his eyes were wide with fear. "Get moving, the lot of you!"

"Let her go," Solas snarled, his own hands closing into fists.

"Ser Jeremy…" the other Templar guard called from further down the hall, his voice tight with tension. It was a warning.

"Fine," Jeremy grumbled. He jerked Rosa around by the hair and pushed her toward a group of apprentices who caught her with wide open arms. "Have it your way." He stabbed a finger at Solas. "But you—no fraternizing. You hear? Next time it'll be solitary confinement." He clapped his metal gauntleted hands together in a loud clatter and ordered the apprentices, "Get going!"

The apprentices started moving once more. Solas watched Rosa walking with the gaggle of other apprentices, all of whom wore concerned looks. A few tossed angry glares over their shoulders, doubtless at Jeremy, though he was no longer visible after they'd rounded the bend and headed for the stairs. Tal jogged forward to join them, moving to offer Rosa aid, but she pushed him away, shaking her head. Blood stained her chin like a goatee and her left cheek was already swelling, puffy and discolored.

Solas stayed out of her group, ignoring the ache in his shoulder and the shakiness of his legs as he wondered how much of what she'd done had been to protect him and how much had been to rile up the apprentices. It seemed losing Rogathe had done nothing to dull her desire to face danger headlong. Her words echoed in his mind: You will never break me, and the image flashed before his eyes again—proud and defiant before the armored Templar, challenging his brutality with her bravery. It still seemed foolish to Solas, but he'd seen Mythal do the same with Elgar'nan and admired her for it. Adored her, even.

No, Solas scolded himself, emptying his mind, Stop that. Still, when he thought of Rosa facing down Jeremy, of using her brash bravery to manipulate the apprentices and to protect him…something warm rose within him. He didn't dare consider it.

The tactic she'd used had been foolhardy. Solas far preferred cunning, the way of the unseen trickster. Of course, that path had made him into the monster and villain the Dalish remembered. Falsely remembered, that was.


With no standing chores or classes to attend, Solas sought out the apprentice barracks to receive new instructions from the mage overseeing the apprentices. His new assignment was to join a class focused on physical training, with the hope that it would aid in his bodily recovery, increasing his strength and stamina. Following the other apprentices enrolled in the course, Solas found himself in a large, open hall, lit with braziers that cast a deep orange glow and smelled vaguely of incense. He was given a mockup of a mage's staff and took his place in line with the other students to go through the motions of common spells. That meant twirling the heavy wooden stave or holding it just so, parallel to the ground, for prolonged periods. Soon he was drenched in sweat and shaking so uncontrollably he had to sit down.

But, rather than give up for the day, Solas took up the stave again as soon as his arms and legs felt suitably rested and returned to the same exercises. The mage teaching the class and the other students all seemed to smile with encouragement at him, silently approving of his determination. With their support, silent though it was, Solas pressed on until exhaustion made his limbs numb and seemed to have transformed them to lead. But the workout was perfect for clearing his mind and kept him from thinking of Rosa or remembering Mythal, which he was thankful for. Better still, he knew he needed the exercise, though he also knew it'd prove to be agony later.

So it was that come dinnertime he had to lean heavily on the teacher, who agreed to escort him to the dining hall. The mage, a youthful looking brunette with very little gray in his hair, had introduced himself as Roth and proceeded to compliment Solas on his form while in the class.

"My thanks," Solas told him, breathily and struggling to smile through his pain.

"It's clear you've experience," Roth went on as they walked down the hallway, passing Templar guards as they rounded a corner. Solas kept sneaking quick glances at them; worried one would be Jeremy, out to bully him further. But they ignored him.

"I was not always unable to cast," Solas told Roth. "Nor was I always weak."

"I understand that," Roth replied, a note of annoyance creeping into his voice. "You misunderstood my meaning, ser. The Chantry wants us taught to fight, but never expects us to use it unless they call on us for an Exalted March or a Blight. My students do well enough, but their motions are slow and unhurried. They've never seen combat."

Solas shot the mage a curious look. "And you have?"

Roth nodded. "I was a teen when the Fifth Blight took Ferelden. I'd just passed my Harrowing, and many of the Senior Enchanters then were desperate to fight. I was young and cocky, so I leapt at the chance to join them." He shuddered, the motion passing from him to rattle Solas, who still leaned heavily on the other man. "I still have nightmares about it. But it gave me the experience I needed to better teach the apprentices." He frowned, pursing his lips as he looked at Solas. "But, where did you learn to fight?"

"I was trained by the Dalish," Solas lied. "Most of my experience is in fighting bandits and beasts." Quickly, he turned the conversation back to praising Roth. "I never did anything so noble and valiant as defending Thedas from Darkspawn."

Roth grunted, seeming to swell with the praise, as Solas had intended. "Well, it was the least I could do. Not much point having magic if there isn't a use for it, right?"

"I couldn't agree more," Solas answered, smiling.

"Anyway," Roth said, shrugging. "I wondered if eventually, when you've recovered your strength and passed your Harrowing, if you might be inclined to start another class like mine. I always have more students than I can handle—apprentices and mages."

The idea was intriguing, and Roth couldn't have known just how perfectly suited Solas was to it—considering he'd taught courses to Elvhen youth pre-Veil. He nodded, smiling genuinely even through his ongoing aching pain. "I would be honored," he replied.

"Good," Roth said with a nod. "I'll recommend it to the First Enchanter."

The dining hall was abuzz with chatter and the clinking of utensils on bowls as dozens of older apprentices gobbled their evening meal. Without being asked, Roth helped Solas grab a tray and carry it to his seat at the long table, bidding him a warm goodbye before taking his leave. Like all fully-fledged mages, Roth didn't eat until later as the dining hall was too small to accommodate so many at once.

As Solas slumped into his seat he saw Rosa, Tal, and Varric all watching him with varying amounts of amusement or curiosity. It was Tal who spoke first, as usual. "So, make a new friend, Revas?"

"Perhaps," Solas hedged.

"Who was he?" Rosa asked. Her cheek held a yellowish bruise but otherwise appeared normal. No doubt she'd mostly healed herself with magic after the beating she'd received from Jeremy.

"A teacher," Solas said and frowned at her, annoyed at the probing. He had yet to try and eat anything from his tray and any movement at all took immense concentration as he had to fight off shakiness and a wall of pain. Tonight the meal was baked fish of some kind, breaded and with a dipping sauce. Steamed broccoli and cinnamon-caramel apple slices completed the ensemble…with wine of course. Solas stabbed a broccoli floret and grimaced with the pain the effort brought.

"It's Roth," Tal supplied, speaking to Rosa and Varric. "He teaches the apprentices footwork and fighting. He's a veteran of the Blight."

Rosa arched a brow. "Interesting."

"Ah," Varric said with a grin. "Young love."

Rosa snorted, wrinkling her nose at the dwarf. "Hardly."

"Rosa is a purist," Tal said to Varric with a wink in his sister's direction. "A true Dalish woman knows she can never sully herself with a shemlen."

"Oh, shut it, Tal," Rosa scolded. "You know that's not true."

"Yeah," Tal rejoined, laughing. "It's worse. Clan Naseral thinks even city elves would sully their precious pureblood." He looked to Solas and flashed a sheepish grin. "Sorry to break it to you, Revas."

Solas restrained his desire to frown, irritated at the pretentiousness of the Dalish as usual, but he kept his lips locked as a quick glance at Rosa revealed she was blushing.

"Seriously, Tal," she growled. "Shut up."

"Well," Varric interjected, clearing his throat and smirking. "This is awkward. But, not shocking. We dwarves know all about purity. Just ask Orzammar," Varric muttered, frowning.

"How so?" Solas asked, genuinely intrigued, and eager for a change in subject.

Varric grunted, scraping at his breaded fish with the butter knives they'd been provided for dinner. "Guess you probably haven't heard, but the population is dwindling, at least in Orzammar. There's a…fertility problem. Too few children born, despite everyone's best efforts."

"Why's that?" Tal asked, a concerned look warping his features, as if he expected the dwarves to suddenly evaporate during his own lifetime.

Varric shrugged his beefy shoulders. "No one's sure, but most of Orzammar blames the Blight. Anyway, let's talk about something else." He blew out a breath, scrubbing over his stubbly face a moment before motioning toward Rosa and Solas. "I already paid Stoic my penance for losing earlier. I think it's time Revas tried again."

"Very well," Solas said with a slight nod. Pinching his lips together, he panned through his mind, seeking something safe he could share with them. Telling two outright lies was a possibility, but he'd have to pick one as "true," and then remember it as part of his cover story. Eventually he could become ensnared in his own web of lies. The best way to avoid that was to stick as much to the truth as possible, but to remain vague and cagey.

Clearing his throat, Solas began. "Some years ago, as I wandered the wilderness, I stumbled on a village assailed by bandits. I had intended to stay in the village if they proved friendly and willing to trade in herbs or furs, but it was clear that there would shortly be no village at all unless I acted. It was also clear that these bandits were far from the ordinary highwaymen. They were well-armed and militant in their discipline. I knew the fight would be difficult, but I could not sit idly by and allow the villagers to be slaughtered."

Tal whistled. "Such confidence, hahren! Not to mention courage. How many were there?"

This was the downside of telling his tale so altered. Solas' audience didn't understand the truth about him—that he'd encountered not a handful of bandits, but a contingent of arcane warriors devoted to Falon'Din—and defeating them had been easy. Yet it had also exposed him as a very powerful man who should have been in the upper class of Elvhenan's society, not wandering the wilderness. The villagers, believing he must be a nobleman serving Dirthamen, the Evanuris who ruled their lands, had pleaded with him to take their case to the other Evanuris and rise to their defense against Falon'Din's warriors. Touched by their suffering and determined to stop Falon'Din, Solas had given up his lonely life of solitude and peace to set out for the glorious city.

"By the time I arrived the village men had killed and wounded several of the bandits," Solas explained to scale the story down to a level his audience would believe. "There were only nine or ten men by then. I had the element of surprise as I'd been watching from the hills surrounding the village."

Dropping his gaze to his lap to feign humility, Solas said, "Before losing my talents and entering my current frail state, I was quite talented. I managed to kill half of them before they knew where to let fly their arrows or charge on the offensive. The rest I dispatched soon after, though I was severely weakened afterward. If the villagers had wished, they could have killed me, but fortunately they were grateful instead. I stayed with them over the winter with free room and board as a reward for my good deed."

"Not half bad, Chuckles," Varric said, scratching at his chin. "Not sure I believe it as I've never seen you in action, but I could see it being true."

"I never ran into so much trouble on the road," Tal put in with a shake of his head. "But then again, if it'd been me and Rosa we wouldn't have gotten close enough to intervene. The most important rule to surviving in a shemlen-ruled world is to avoid them at all costs." He shrugged, smiling sheepishly. "That was how we ended up here. Got sloppy and walked into a shemlen settlement."

"Yeah," Rosa agreed with Tal, shooting him a brief irritated look. "Because you insisted we should trade." Turning to Solas, she said, "Good story." Rosa wore the coy smile over her lips, her violet eyes glinting. "On with the next one, flat-ear."

"When I was but a child, slavers from Tevinter came through our small village. We lived not far from here, so we were quite close to the border with the Tevinter Imperium. As you might expect then, it was relatively common for us to see slavers. But, unlike in other areas where the slavers attacked or stole their victims primarily, these men preferred using coin. They took children from families too poor to feed them, targeting elves first and foremost, of course."

He stopped, drawing in a breath as he heard the bitter, cold rage cracking his voice and had to smother it and recompose himself. "When a family refused to sell, as many did regardless of how poor and starving they were, the slavers then resorted to snatching children away. One day, fortune was not with me and I was nearly taken. I was in the woods, picking mushrooms for the evening meal with other children from my village when three slavers found us."

Sneaking a swift look at Rosa, Solas saw she scrutinized him with narrowed eyes, sharp as knives. Yet her lips had parted slightly and her shoulders had hunched, revealing the underlying emotion that must be winding her up within. Varric and Tal were both silent, enraptured as they listened.

Solas went on, "I was the first to flee, but the slavers took a friend of mine who was not so quick to act. From a thicket nearby I watched as they bound her. I bade the other boy with me to flee to our village and seek help. Once he left I tried to follow them, because I was determined to save her. I was furious, enraged beyond sense. I drew too close and the slavers tried to take me as well. When they laid their hands on me, I froze them. It was the first time I had used magic. It was enough to frighten them off, but I never did manage to save the girl, to my shame."

"Shit, Chuckles," Varric said, shaking his head. "I should have called you Hero."

"He could be lying about both stories," Tal suggested, flashing a teasing smile at Solas. "People cheat at this game all the time."

Solas frowned at Tal, unhappy at how close to the truth the younger elf was. Both stories had elements of truth within them, but both were also heavily altered from what he had actually experienced. The bandits had been arcane warriors and Solas had killed them easily, without any mana burnout or weakness afterward. And the tale from his childhood had been a reimagined version of Elvhenan's forced class system, which stole children away from their families if they had too little or too much magical talent. There had been no slavers involved, no Tevinter, and Solas had not valiantly tried to save the girl they'd taken away to the lower classes where she might truly become a slave eventually. Although Solas could have stopped the officials—nobility serving Elgar'nan—with his immense magical strength even as a young child, he knew that doing so would expose him. Then the nobles would take him away. To save his own skin, Solas had done nothing, seething inwardly at his own helplessness and selfishness as a growing weight of shame settled over his shoulders. Centuries later it would be one of the countless experiences that drove him to become the Dread Wolf.

"I'm going with the second story being the truth," Tal announced. "But I've been wrong every time, so…" He grimaced and shrugged. "I should just give you my wine ahead of time, Revas."

Now Solas smiled at him, chuckling. "If I am lying about both stories, then I can pick and choose who wins. Perhaps I will take pity on you."

Tal raised his glass of wine in a mock toast. "Or maybe I'll get smart about this game and drink all my wine before I lose!"

"I'm going to go with Stoic on this one," Varric said, still rubbing thoughtfully at his chin. "Felt grittier to me. But then again, maybe that's because I knew an ex-Tevinter slave." He sighed, frowning. "Hard to hear about that sort of shit and not feel like you just took a punch to the gut."

Now only Rosa's guess remained. Solas met her gaze, trying to keep his expression impassive. Her violet eyes flicked over him, assessing him. Like Varric, she had one hand over her chin, holding it as she wore a thoughtful look on her face. Finally she dropped her hand away from her chin and reached for her wine glass. Sloshing the liquid inside, she stared into it as she said, "The first story is the truth."

"Are you certain?" Solas asked, a teasing lilt in his voice.

Tal groaned. "Rosa's always right. Damn, Varric. Hurry, drink your wine before Revas gets to claim it."

Snorting at Tal, Rosa's lips quirked in her infamous coy smile. "Honestly, I'm just trying to play the part of the rebel here. I'm going against the grain. I have no idea which is true—if either of them are."

Solas rolled his eyes. "Ma serannas, da'len, for your vote of confidence as to my integrity."

Her eyes danced with amusement. "The best players are the ones who lie and do it well," she told him and winked. "It's not an insult."

"So," Varric said, clapping his hands and leaning closer to the table. "Which is it? Don't leave us in suspense, Chuckles."

The first story was truer than the second, with fewer alterations and lies. So, with a tight smile, Solas said, "Rosa is correct."

"Ugh," Tal whined. He pushed his wineglass toward Solas. "Take it. Just take it, you monster."

Varric sighed as well. "We just can't win, Stoic."

Smirking with triumph, Solas ignored Tal's proffered wine and instead used his spoon to scoop out the cinnamon caramel-apple slices. He did the same to Varric, who grunted and said, "Well, losing to Chuckles isn't as bad as I thought it'd be."

"Speak for yourself," Tal complained, huffing. "Those apples were what I was really looking forward to."

"Revas needs the energy more than you do, Tal," Rosa teased. To Solas she winked. "Eat up, flat-ear. Put some meat on your bones."

Chewing on the apples he'd won from Tal, Solas had to stifle his chuckling or risk choking, though he could do nothing to prevent the flush of warmth that passed through him. It only intensified when he realized she was smiling at him with something…carnal glinting in her eyes. Pretending he hadn't noticed and thought nothing of it, Solas quickly dug into his fish, shoveling several forkfuls into his mouth in rapid succession.

"All right, Violet," Varric said. "You've won every round so far. Now it's your turn. Tell us a story."

Clearing her throat, Rosa leaned closer to the table to rest her elbows upon it and spoke in a hushed, melodic voice. "Before I left my clan, I was First to the Keeper. My clan lives in the Brecilian forest, so isolated that we only ever traded with shemlen once a year, and to get to their settlement we had to walk for a week from our usual hunting grounds. One night, in the middle of our journey to the shemlen city, we camped in the midst of some ancient ruins from before the fall of Arlathan. That night, as I slept, I dreamt of two ravens cawing to me from where they perched atop the white stone columns. At first I couldn't understand them, but then I felt their words inside the cawing, like whispers carried through my bones. They called my name," she altered the pitch of her voice into a breathy rasp, "'Rosa, Rosa. Do you wish to know a secret?' I was just a child then, not even ten summers. Of course I wanted to know a secret!"

Tal laughed at her animated expression, as did Varric. Solas smiled as well, but his body had gone cold, coated in sweat. The pale vallaslin on Rosa's face marked her for Dirthamen, and the two ravens speaking to her in the Fade immediately reminded him of the other Evanuris' enslaved spirits—demons, rather. Fear and Deceit had served their master, bound by magic and blood, for countless centuries. And, although their master was now trapped in the Black City with his brethren, Solas never knew what became of the ravens. Had they been trapped in the waking world when the Veil went up, or had they been caught within the Fade? Could they still hear their master and heed his call?

"Anyway," Rosa went on and Solas caught the abrupt darkness that screened her eyes—but only for an instant. "So I tell the birds I'm listening and they caw back to me, 'You have a brother, but you will never know him.' And I told them they were daft and walked away again."

Tal snorted, grinning. "That one's the lie, and I haven't even heard the second one."

"Oh, ha-ha. We'll see about that, considering your record so far." Rosa spooned a bit of the cinnamon caramel apple into her mouth and chewed, slow and deliberate as she smirked at her brother.

"Enough you two," Varric scolded lightheartedly. "Time's short. On with the story."

"All right, I can't compete with Tal's vallaslin story—lie though it was—but I have one of my own. I was fasting and meditating out alone to cleanse myself and decide which Creator I would devote myself to. While I was out there, in the lonely darkness, staring up at the stars, I saw something I can't explain. It was like a flock of birds, but instead of birds it was blinking lights, so high up they were like stars. They marched across the sky in formation, making triangles and diamonds. And then the blinking lights upfront stopped and waited for the ones behind to catch up. I sat there stunned, my jaw hanging open, until the lights grew too dim to see. To this day I don't know what they were."

Solas cocked his head, considering both tales as Varric and Tal did the same. The first story seemed less outlandish than the second, yet that could be a trap. Varric wouldn't be in on the joke regarding the two ravens' message to her about Tal, but that might not harm his chances of guessing correctly. Solas recalled the darkness in Rosa's eyes as she'd recited the last portion of her raven story and felt certain she had altered it much as he had with his. Perhaps the ravens had had something else to say?

"First story is the real one," Varric pronounced. "The second one is just too weird. You sure you weren't delirious from lack of food out there, Violet?"

She shrugged. "Can't say." Jerking her chin toward Solas, she said, "What's your guess, flat-ear?"

"The first is the truth," he said, the words clipped and precise. Except I know you will say it's not. He narrowed his eyes at her, adopting a coy smile of his own. He would lose this round, but that would allow him to demand a rematch later and probe her in private regarding the raven story.

Tal snorted, shaking his head. "The second one is the truth," he said. "Just you wait. I can see right through you, Rosa."

Rosa sat back in her seat, grinning wide. "Revas and Varric lose. Tal wins—for the first time."

Varric clucked his tongue with disappointment. "Really? Shit. I'm way better at cards."

"Your story fooled me," Tal consoled him with a reassuring smile. "That's something. Don't feel bad. Rosa cheats."

"Cheating or not, I fooled Revas," she said, beaming. She dusted off her hands with a clap of each palm, a gesture to emphasize how proud she was of a job well done. "That makes me happy."

"I will, of course, demand a rematch, lethallan," Solas murmured, smirking at her.

"Demand all you want," Rosa chuckled. "It won't change anything. I bested you."

"Yeah, and now she'll never let us hear the end of it," Tal grumbled. "Didn't your mother ever tell you gloating is unbecoming?"

Rosa shrugged. "I'm a poor student." Reaching across the table, she snatched Solas' wineglass and took a long swig from it, her throat bobbing. When she'd finished she sighed contentedly and set it back on the table, smacking her lips with enjoyment. Then, looking at Varric, she said, "I'll spare you, dwarf. Since you lost all three times. Let it never be said that I was cruel."

Varric chuckled. "How magnanimous of you."

When a mage finally called for dinner to end, Solas heaved himself up again, groaning and wincing as his muscles and joints screamed anew with agony. He hobbled his way down to the end of the long table where Rosa was waiting for him, arm proffered. But Solas shook his head and tried to push past her. "I have no desire to face another incident should Ser Jeremy be on duty."

Rosa huffed with annoyance. "You stubborn old goat, you can barely walk." She walked alongside him, edging closer and continuing to offer her arm.

Solas knew his face was set in a harsh grimace of pain, but he resisted, trying to disguise his agony with levity. "Goat? I have never been called that before."

"Well, maybe I should have called you a halla. You're pale enough right now to pass as one in that respect." When he still made no move to accept her help, Rosa sighed and laid her hand over his back, between his shoulder blades. Before Solas could question her, he felt the tingle of magic caress his skin and the cool touch of her healing spell washed over him. He shuddered, biting his tongue to keep from groaning with relief as some of the pain slipped away.

"Ma serannas," he breathed, thanking her.

She made a humming noise of acknowledgement and they walked in silence out of the dining hall. The Templars on duty today paid them no mind, much to Solas' relief. Once they'd rounded the corner and were out of sight of the guards, Solas let himself lean closer to Rosa and she responded by ducking under his arm to support him. The flow of her magic went on, unabated. Solas sopped it up like a sponge, relishing its caress and comfort.

Then, Rosa murmured under her breath, "So, you know how to fight."

A lance of anxiety made him tense as he realized Rosa was analyzing the stories he'd told of himself in their game. "As do you," he retorted. "And I had the element of surprise."

"Uh-huh," she replied, grunting.

Two could play this game.

"What did the ravens actually tell you?" Solas asked her, his voice tight with tension from both his body and the guarded conversation.

Rosa jerked her head, staring at him with narrowed eyes. "That story was a lie."

"How unfortunate for you that I am not deceived," Solas told her, letting his own imitation of her coy smile spread over his lips.

They'd reached a junction in the hallway where their paths would part—her to help haul water for the evening baths and he to rest in the barracks. Rosa pulled away from him, her magic fading and leaving Solas shaky with pain and weakness again. But, before striding down the other hallway with the smattering of their fellow apprentices also heading that way, she said, "I'll see you tonight, flat-ear."

"I would not miss it, lethallan," he answered, struggling to smile through his pain.


Elven Used

Ma serannas "My thanks." (I frequently forget to list this as it was used in-game a few times and I foolishly assume everyone knows what it means)

Lethallan/Lethallin "cousin" used to denote friendly fellow elf. Lethallan is female, lethallin is male.

asamalin/isamalin "sister/brother" these I use often and always forget to define.


Next Chapter:

She drew closer again, reaching for Tal and laying her hands over his shoulders. When she spoke now it was earnest and impassioned. "We are of the People. We do not belong in a Circle tower, caged and locked away by the shemlen. We are Dalish, the last true Elvhen. We do not submit. We endure." She gave him a little shake. "Together."

Tal frowned at her. "You really think that just because I'm not afraid of joining the Circle, of undergoing the Harrowing, that I've forgotten who and what I am?" He gestured to his face, tracing a forefinger over the branches of Mythal's vallaslin over his cheeks and forehead. "You think I chose this vallaslin idly?" he growled and then shook his head. "This is why I need to be the one to undergo the Harrowing. I'm the only one between us who understands you can be more and not betray your people."

"That isn't what this is about," Rosa insisted, her voice growing angry. "Elgar'nan's fiery butthole, I'm not afraid of the Harrowing. I'm afraid of losing you."

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Screams rent the air, high-pitched and bloodcurdling. Solas' eyes shot open to see a village in chaos, homes aflame and elves running or hurling magic. It was not his birth village, but the one he'd witnessed Falon'Din's arcane warriors attacking. Smoke coiled into the sky as mage fire licked its way up the thatch roofs of the houses. A hut collapsed with a roar of flames. A woman screamed piteously as an arcane warrior ran her through with his spectral blade.

And, high overhead, the Black City loomed, like a spider watching from its web.

Pinching the bridge of his nose, Solas pivoted on his heel and strode toward the forested hills behind him. The daylight sunshine was cheery despite the carnage behind him. Fade ether wafted up about the grasses and when Solas stared up at the sun he could see the telltale crystalline colors of the restored Fade—further proof this was Elvhenan. He knew he could try and alter the scene before Rosa walked into it, but doing so would be excruciating. He hoped that by retreating further from the village he could force the Fade to adopt a forest scene instead—but he might not have the time.

As if summoned by his thoughts, Solas sensed another Dreamer's presence. Drawn by a phantom sense of being watched, he whipped around to gaze at the hills off to his left and saw Rosa standing atop a black, flat topped rock. Her arms were crossed over her chest as she gazed down on the burning village below, violet eyes narrowed and brow furrowed. Could she see the villagers were all elves? Could she tell that the mages attacking them were arcane warriors wearing Falon'Din's vallaslin?

Solas' blood seemed to have turned to ice in his veins.

Gritting his teeth, Solas reached for the Fade and felt it connect within him, acknowledging him. He willed the entire dream to vanish, like rubbing away ink on parchment or pulling vallaslin from a slave's face with a spell. He felt something shift and his skin tingled as the Fade acquiesced to his will. And then agony swamped him, as if Elgar'nan's fire itself had exploded within his temples.

Letting out a strangled cry of pain, Solas stumbled backward. Oily, slick Fade puddles splashed as he fell. Sandy, wet soil mushed beneath his knees as he curled into himself, both hands holding his head. He rocked in place, sucking in ragged breaths as he waited for the suffering to pass.

Dimly, through his agony, he heard a sharp whine-pop and sensed magic around him, prickling his skin. Then, abruptly, he felt a cool hand lay over his scalp and healing magic caressed him, forcing away the pain in his temples. He withdrew his shaking hands from his face and opened his eyes enough to confirm that it was Rosa standing over him, her palm and her magic easing his pain. The raw Fade lay around them, littered with gray and green stone, tawny sand, and water bubbling and dripping amidst the Fade-ether and rocks. A few wisps darted about in the distance, no doubt agitated by the abrupt transformation of the dreamscape.

"Ma serannas," he said, groaning. He let his eyelids flutter shut, savoring the relief and pleasure of her magic unabashedly.

She smiled, but it was tight and lopsided, failing to reach her eyes. "You're tough, Revas. For a flat-ear, anyway," she said, likely trying to tease him—but her tone was off. "I'd like to ask you about whatever it was I just saw, but I know you're going to refuse to talk about it."

"It was the remnants of a memory I once witnessed while dreaming in the ruins of a village," Solas lied. "The village died in a brutal attack."

Her fingers twitched against his scalp and the cooling magic flowed on as she hummed in the back of her throat. "Seemed too sharp to me to be a Fade-based memory."

Fenedhis, he cursed inwardly, though her comment was anything but surprising. Rosa had revealed herself to be well-educated and clever countless times over. Of course she'd know a Fade-remnant would be blurry and unclear.

Deciding silence was better than refuting her unspoken accusations, Solas changed subjects. "Where is Tal? I was to speak with him, as per our bargain."

"Yep," she agreed and took a step back from him, her hand falling from his scalp and ending the flow of blissful healing magic. "If you're ready, Revas."

Without the magic cooling him, washing away the pain, Solas wobbled a bit in his spot as dizziness made the raw Fade swirl around him. Gritting his teeth, Solas powered through it and rose to his feet. Slimy water and coarse sand coated his calves, knees, and feet. Swaying once he was upright, Solass drew in several deep breaths until he'd found his equilibrium. His temple throbbed in time with his heart, but the pain had diminished greatly and continued to do so.

"I am ready, lethallan," he told Rosa with a small nod, though that brought on a spurt of pain and made him wince.

She regarded him skeptically, one brow raised in silent question. Then, smiling warmly, she shut her eyes and dipped her chin in what Solas took to be concentration. A heartbeat later the Fade shimmered about them, transforming from the gloomy, gray-green rock and sand plain to a lush, hilly forest of broad-leafed trees. Solas heard the gentle babble of water behind him and turned to see a small gully there where a creek trickled. Across the gully Solas saw Tal laying on the hill, surrounded by ferns. A boy about his age rested with him, relaxed and reclined in a way that suggested intimacy.

Apparently sensing them, Tal shot upright. His cheeks were pink but he recovered from his embarrassment quickly as he called to them. "Rosa!" he shouted. "You're late! I was just starting to think the night was mine to enjoy." He gestured to the boy still reclining in the grass and ferns. Then, smirking, he waved to Solas. "Revas! What a surprise!"

"Tal, come over here," Rosa said, chuckling under her breath.

The young elf let out a longsuffering sigh and trotted down the hill to hop over the creek and scramble up the embankment to reach Solas and Rosa. He wore a sheepish look as he smiled at them both. "Hiya," he said to Solas.

"Greetings," Solas answered with a dip of his chin. "And ir abelas, for disturbing you. Rosa insisted that I—"

"Wait, stop, stop." Tal held both hands up, palms out, to silence Solas. "Don't say it. Let me guess." His brown eyes shot over to Rosa and his lip quirked up, irritation flashing over his features. "She wants you to rag on me about the Harrowing and how I'll get myself killed playing nice with the mages and Templars. Is that it?"

Solas pinched his lips together unhappily. "In so many words, lethallin."

Rosa scoffed, shaking her head with disapproval. "Hear him out, Tal. He agrees with me."

"Does he?" Tal asked, glaring at her and then at Solas. "Truly? Or have you strong-armed him in some way?"

"I would never do something like—"

Solas interrupted her; unable to hide his amusement at how accurately Tal had read the situation. "She has indeed manipulated me into doing this, but I do share her concerns and would have volunteered willingly to speak with you regardless."

Rosa snorted, frowning at him. "You bastard, Revas," she grumbled, but only halfheartedly.

"You wish Tal to listen to you? To me?" Solas asked, a bit snappishly. "Then speaking honestly is the best way."

"Damn straight, Revas," Tal agreed, smiling and nodding his agreement.

Rosa groaned, rolling her eyes. "Fine, fine. Whatever." She strode closer to Tal and laid her hands over his shoulders, slow and deliberate, then squeezed. "You know I care about you. You know I'm not trying to control you or change you or make you miserable. I only want to protect you. Now and always. So, please, listen to me—and Revas, too—when we tell you that you must try to avoid the Harrowing. There's no advantage in—"

Tal shook his head and backed away, averting his eyes. "You don't get it, asamalin. You were always adored in your clan. You were First. You were Naseral's future. But me?" He snarled, glaring away to one side. "I spent my whole life being ridiculed by my clan's Keeper and all of his cronies and friends who sided with him against Father. I woke up every Creators-damned day knowing I had no place in the clan, that I would never be Keeper even though I was stronger than both the Keeper and his First. I knew eventually another child would be born with magic and then the clan would shun me."

Hearing the young elf's anguished retelling of what clan life had been like, Solas winced. Something tightened in his chest, aching with sympathy—and a bit of empathy. Solas had grown up knowing he'd also never truly belong in his village. He'd been a recluse and loner even in childhood, because he knew he had to hide the true depths of his powers. He had to feign mana burnout, discipline himself never to accidentally reshape reality, or to allow a spell to go off at full strength. It was exhausting. And, underlying that struggle, he'd always known one day he'd have to leave his village, to protect them by hiding his origins from the upper classes and the Evanuris.

Rosa frowned at her brother, reaching for him again. "Tal—please, just stop for a minute and listen…"

"No," he snapped, withdrawing another few steps from her, out of her reach. "You listen, Rosa. The mages here are the first people to ever treat me with real respect. They see a future for me. Parahel and Varian and Adwen talk to me about how great it'll be when I pass my Harrowing, all the wonderful things they'll teach me. While we're stuck here, why not make the most of it? Is that so bad?"

Rosa stared at her brother, eyes narrowed and lips puckered. Her chin wrinkled and her eyes were bright, her cheeks red. She sucked in a breath and the forest around them seemed to sigh as the wind stirred the canopy overhead. The sky darkened, as if with storm clouds as the Fade responded to the brooding emotions from the siblings.

In a deep, somber voice, Rosa said, "I see a future for you too, isamalin. I have always seen a future for you, from the moment we met at the Arlathvhen. I saw greatness in you, and I loved you. I pleaded with mam—" She broke off, choking as she shot Solas a quick glance, as if recalling his presence, then started over: "I begged my Keeper to let you join us as Second, even though we'd have four mages then. What do we care for shemlen restrictions?"

"You never told me this before," Tal grumbled, the suspicion in his voice unmistakable.

Rosa frowned. "Why would I? She said no. Emphatically." She pinched her lips together in a bitter expression.

"Because of lenalin," Tal muttered.

Solas frowned with confusion at the word. It meant father, or male parent, but in Solas' experience it was only used in formal situations and therefore wasn't all that common to hear. Usually an elf would use the more familial and informal babae or baba. Solas himself had called his father babae. He filed away this interesting distinction as the conversation went on.

"No," Rosa objected. "Because your clan was in fucking Orlais."

Tal scoffed, clearly disbelieving. "She could have taken me in during the Arlathvhen. She didn't. Don't fool yourself, Rosa. It was because—"

Rosa made a hissing sound, cutting the air with a sideways slice of her hand to silence Tal. "That's not the point, isamalin. The point is that even though Ghilath didn't appreciate you the way they should have—because they are idiots—Naseral would have and some other clan still will."

She drew closer again, reaching for Tal and laying her hands over his shoulders. When she spoke now it was earnest and impassioned. "We are of the People. We do not belong in a Circle tower, caged and locked away by the shemlen. We are Dalish, the last true Elvhen. We do not submit. We endure." She gave him a little shake. "Together."

Tal frowned at her. "You really think that just because I'm not afraid of joining the Circle, of undergoing the Harrowing, that I've forgotten who and what I am?" He gestured to his face, tracing a forefinger over the branches of Mythal's vallaslin over his cheeks and forehead. "You think I chose this vallaslin idly?" he growled and then shook his head. "This is why I need to be the one to undergo the Harrowing. I'm the only one between us who understands you can become something more without betraying your people."

"That isn't what this is about," Rosa insisted, her voice growing angry. "Elgar'nan's fiery butthole, I'm not afraid of the Harrowing. I'm afraid of losing you."

"How do you think I feel?" Tal shot back, motioning angrily. "Every time you spit in a Templar's face, or stand there and challenge them into beating you? You think that's easy for me to watch? Let me help. Let me be the one in danger, asamalin. If I become a full-fledged member of the Circle, I'll have greater power. I can—"

"It's too risky," Rosa cut him off. "And it's not necessary. The rebellion will come. We just have to wait it out." She drew in a deep breath. "Tell him, Revas. Please."

Nodding in agreement, Solas said, "If you undergo the Harrowing you could be killed by the Templars simply for taking too long to complete the ritual. Rosa is correct to be concerned. There is also the added consideration of Ser Curtis' death. You recall that Varric said he knew a Dalish blood mage? The Templars may take advantage of your Harrowing to eliminate you simply for that coincidence."

Rosa interjected, "You can't trust the shemlen or the Chantry folk. What happens when they decide all of us must be blood mages?"

"It's a small risk," Tal insisted heatedly. "You blow it out of proportion. See, I'm not afraid of people letting me down the way you are—because I've spent my whole life being let down and I got over it." He shrugged. "But in your heart, you're still Naseral's First. You're still the future of the People, and when your Keeper banished you, it changed you. It turned you paranoid and cynical."

Rosa flinched back from him as if he'd slapped her. They stared at each other, glaring and tense, reminding Solas of two cats in the standoff after the initial alleyway brawl. He shifted uncomfortably, all too aware that this conversation was personal and not intended for his ears. Yet, it was also fascinating watching them and if he attracted attention to himself the confrontation was sure to end, or at least he would find himself cut off from it.

"Of course it changed me," Rosa snarled under her breath. "It taught me that the smallest, simplest missteps can get people killed. It taught me that in an instant, I can lose everyone and anything I hold dear." She made a strangled noise in her throat, a sort of half-sob. "You're all I have left, Tal."

"And you are all I ever had, aside from mamae," Tal retorted somberly. "Let me help in the escape in my own way. Stop fighting me. Please."

Seeing an opportunity to help the siblings, Solas cleared his throat. "If I may make a suggestion, there might be a way for Tal to undergo the Harrowing with our protection, Rosa."

Both brother and sister glanced to him with expressions of bemusement creasing their faces. "What?" Rosa asked.

Solas smiled at them both and then focused on Rosa. "You could manipulate the Templar leadership, influence their opinions of Tal specifically. It should not prove exceptionally difficult for one of your talent."

"And what if he takes too long still to finish?" Rosa asked, frowning.

Tal scoffed. "C'mon. I can handle a demon. Have a little faith in me, asamalin."

"We can aid in that as well," Solas suggested, still smiling his encouragement. "Assuming we can slip away from our duties when he is taken for his Harrowing, we can easily enter the Fade and lend our assistance."

"I don't need it," Tal protested, scowling. He glanced back over the creek in the depression separating their hillock from the one where an elven boy still sat amongst the ferns there and sighed out his irritation. "I may not be a Dreamer, but Father taught me all I needed to know about demons."

"I still don't like it," Rosa grumbled, though her expression was one of contemplation as she gazed back at Solas.

Tal groaned, rolling his eyes. "You're not even listening to me, are you? By Sylaise, I hate it when you act like you're my damned Keeper."

"I was First," Rosa reminded him with a glare. "I was taught to be a leader. Clan or not, it's who I am." She huffed out a breath, squaring her shoulders. "And I say it's settled. Revas and I will protect you from the Fade."

"Yes, mamae," Tal grumbled, crossing his arms over his chest as he glowered at his sister.

"Good then," Rosa said and nodded, pretending she didn't notice his irritation. She motioned toward the elven boy sitting amongst the ferns across the trough. "I think your friend is waiting on you, isamalin. Try not to let that spirit seduce you too easily. Wouldn't want to shame yourself in front of all the wisps. What would your mamae think?" She clucked her tongue, smirking at him a moment before adding, "Revas and I will see ourselves out."

"Mythal save me," Tal groused, still glaring. "Overprotective, meddling Dreamer, paranoid…"

"Ar lath ma to you too, little brother," she wisecracked, walking to stand closer to Solas, who tried to maintain an impassive expression to avoid drawing attention to himself. He watched, trying not to feel the twist of envy in his gut, as Rosa waved a hand casually and the Fade rippled. The lush forest and the babbling creek between the hills—along with Tal and the elven boy—vanished. The magic caress of it tingled Solas' skin and he repressed a shiver of longing.

"You miss being able to do this?" Rosa asked as the raw Fade came clear around them once more.

Solas scowled. Apparently he hadn't managed to disguise his emotions very well. "Do spirits inhabit the Fade?" he asked in turn, his voice dull and flat. "Does the Divine sing the Chant?"

"Are elves oppressed and enslaved?" Rosa added, arching an eyebrow at him. "Is the Dread Wolf a trickster?"

"Is this line of rhetorical questioning trying my patience?" Solas asked dryly, returning her raised brow look with one of his own. "Stay on task, lethallan. Show me what you know about where they keep the artifact."

Rosa put her hands on her hips and shook her head at him with disapproval. "You're no fun, flat-ear. Straight to business it is."

Whipping around, her heel grinding into the tawny sand underfoot, she lifted both arms up as if in supplication to the Black City high above, and once more Solas felt the Fade ripple as it submitted to her will. This time it transformed into the familiar gray stone of the Circle tower and Solas found himself standing beside a flight of stairs. The landing they stood on was grungy and dark, lit only by a glow lamp at the far end of the hall. Rooms lined the left side of the corridor, each numbered with runes.

"I do not recognize this level," Solas said, turning in a slow circle to get his bearings. The corridor doglegged at the landing, heading off to a sturdy looking wooden door with rusted hinges. Shelves and hooks lined the wall leading up to the door and Solas saw several tufted Templar helmets hanging from the hooks while on the shelves were armored gloves and gauntlets. "This is a Templar level of the tower," he guessed.

"Yep," Rosa said, strolling along the corridor with the closed doors marked with runes. "Specifically, this is the second level of the tower, just above the dungeons and the assembly room at the base." She trailed her fingers along the wall, then lifted them to trace over a rune as she stopped beside the second door down the hall. "Here," she said, patting the sturdy old wood. "This is where they locked away the foci."

Solas turned and strode to observe the door, swiftly memorizing its position. "And the key?"

She shot him that coy smile of hers and Solas fought the sudden urge to frown when he realized his first inclination had been to return it with real warmth and affection. When had he started adoring that smile? It should make him wary, but somewhere along the line he'd started wanting to see more and more of it. Rosa was far too clever, knowledgeable, and stubborn for him to be so unguarded.

And too beautiful.

Fenedhis. Stop. Thinking. Now.

"They keep the keys in the break room," she said, gesturing to the dogleg near the landing on the stairs where the other door stood closed with the hangers and shelving beside it. "Follow me." She scooted by him in the narrow hall, turning sideways to shimmy past him—and Solas was almost certain she deliberately brushed against him, closer than she needed to be. He felt the softness of her breast graze him juxtaposed with the hard flare of her hipbone a heartbeat later. He picked out her scent, lilac and vanilla, and his mouth flooded with saliva as his ever-traitorous body reacted with raw sexual want.

His hands flexed open and closed as he followed her, scowling now that she couldn't see his expression. Fenedhis, how he craved to touch her, kiss her, taste her. To clear his mind, Solas reached inward and stroked his depressingly empty mana core. The ache of that nothingness immediately froze the fire of his ardor and quashed his libido like an ant beneath a high dragon's clawed feet.

At the door to the break room, Rosa said, "Ah, here we are." Lifting both hands, she made a push motion at the air in front of the massive wooden door and it swung open, sudden and forcefully. Air wafted Solas' face and the hinges squealed. The metal door handle clattered loudly against the wood.

"Was that truly necessary?" Solas asked her.

Rosa flashed him a toothy smile over her shoulder. "Absolutely. I'm practicing." Rolling her shoulders, she strode forward over the gray stone, her bare feet slapping on it in a delightful sound that seemed to tickle Solas' ears.

Inside the break room Solas saw several long tables lined with chairs. Red tablecloths covered them, each emblazoned with the Templar heraldry. On one wall a tapestry of Andraste's pyre, surrounded by her most notable disciples, hung in full glory. Lengthways down the rectangular room was an arched doorway leading to what Solas suspected was a kitchen or storage room, possibly both. Though the room was sizeable, Solas knew it couldn't possibly sit all the Templars at once. Perhaps they ate in shifts just as the mages did?

"Are there multiple Templar dining rooms?" he asked Rosa. She seemed very knowledgeable of the tower's layout, as he'd expect from a Dreamer who'd been stalking others' dreams.

"Yep," she answered, walking to the wall where the tapestry hung. "But this is the only one on the second level." She snatched the edge of the tapestry and clenched her fist. "Love the artwork," she quipped, chuckling. "But the artist didn't get the fire right. I think I can improve it." A flicker of flame appeared in her fist and licked its way up the woven fabric, quickly dissolving it into ash.

Solas watched Andraste burn in the real fire with a small smirk curling over his lips. "I am truly offended by your wanton destruction and lack of respect for Andraste, da'len."

"No you're not," Rosa said without looking at him. The tapestry fell in tatters, still burning, from the wall, revealing a small hook that held a large iron loop of keys that'd been hidden behind it.

"There you are," she said, snatching the ring. The keys jangled musically as she pivoted round and walked back to him, extending the keys. "Care to guess which one it is?"

There were about ten keys on the ring, a few more than there were doors out in the hallway. Solas frowned as he gripped the iron ring and began looking over each key. A quick inspection showed that most had a rune engraved into their handles. Solas found the one matching the room Rosa had indicated and held it up.

Rosa inspected his selection quickly and nodded with approval. "Very good, flat-ear." She grabbed the keys back and grinned at him. "Here." In her other hand she conjured a cookie with a swirl of green Fade ether. "You get a cookie."

Solas flashed her a dry look. "You have the entirety of the Fade at your disposal and you use it to shape a cookie?" He shook his head with mock-disappointment. "Is that truly the best you can do, da'len?"

She shrugged, the coy smile spreading over her lips again. "I'm not very creative when it comes to food." With a flick of her wrist the cookie vanished into Fade ether and simultaneously she edged closer to him, pressing into his personal space and spoke in a low, sultry whisper, "But I promise I'm creative in other ways."

Alarm bells screamed in Solas' mind even as his stomach leapt into his throat and his heart galloped in a frantic pace. Her scent flooded his nose; her violet eyes stared into his in expectation, glittering with warmth. Pull away, a panicked, desperate voice boomed in his skull. Run! Disengage!

But his body seemed to have a will of its own, refusing to move or back down. He was frozen, like a deer staring down a wolf in the foolish, instinctual hope that motionlessness would render it invisible. He had the presence of mind to find that amusing—the Dread Wolf Solas becoming the Timid Halla Revas. What a role reversal!

And then Rosa turned her head slightly, her brow furrowing with concentration, and Solas felt the Fade react, changing around them suddenly. He had a moment to register that they seemed to be in a flat meadow surrounded by budding springtime trees several meters out—and then Rosa pushed him. The motion was so swift and unexpected that Solas had no defense and fell backward, landing on his rump with a splash in a mud puddle.

Rosa stood over him, laughing with delight. "How's this, flat-ear?"

Grimacing at the cold, sticky mud coating his backsides, legs, and forearms, Solas frowned. "I preferred the cookie."

"What did you expect?" she asked, hands on her hips as she circled around the slight depression marking his mud puddle. "I am Dalish, after all. We're savages who love to play in the mud." She stopped and wriggled her toes in the grass and dirt at the edge of the mud hole.

"I had hoped that at your age you would have grown out of it," Solas quipped. "Clearly I was mistaken."

"Itching for vengeance, Revas?" she asked, waggling her eyebrows at him. Then, inching closer, she leaned precariously over the puddle and extended her arm out to him. "Here, I'll give you a freebie. I'll help you up and you can pull me in after you. Then we're even."

"No." With a grunt, Solas ignored her proffered hand and hauled himself to his feet.

Rosa snorted, sounding disbelieving. "No?" she repeated. "You're really going to let me get away with it?"

"I prefer to bide my time and plot revenge on my own terms," Solas told her dryly. "I do not accept handouts." With a frown of concentration Solas willed his dream-self clean and made the mud transform into flowers and long grass instead. For the effort he suffered a streak of sharp pain through his temples and gnashed his teeth as he trudged out of the depression.

"Going to keep me in suspense then?" Rosa asked, smirking as she walked heel to toe in a delicate sashay around the edge of the former mud puddle. "Do your worst."

Oh, he thought with an inward sigh, I've already done that. Creating the Veil, destroying Elvhenan, robbing the People of their immortality to lock away the Evanuris, and sentencing them to a glacially slow extinction. He wanted to be irritated with Rosa's playful, childish prank, but when he recalled how truly young she and all her kind were…how could he be short-tempered about it? Rosa would live and die in an eye blink because he had robbed her and all of Thedas of the Fade.

The only justice in it all was that now that he was awake as well, Solas would share her fate as a mortal. The cold, iron grip of mortality seemed to strangle him. Brushing a hand over his chest and abdomen as if dusting himself off, he could feel his fully fleshed out muscles, strong and toned as they'd been before uthenera. But it was only an illusion, a projection of the Fade and his memory. He could forget here that time was not infinite, that every day that passed trapped in the Hasmal tower was one closer to him dying unfulfilled and unredeemed.

And with his death the elves would truly be doomed. Just as he'd been the one to destroy them, only Solas could save them. The last Evanuris and the only one to truly understand the Veil.

The weight of his thoughts smashed into his shoulders, making his bones feel leaden. A glance toward Rosa only made the knifelike pain in his chest intensify. She was a beautiful spirit, regal and yet playful with youth, and such an enigma in this post-Veil world as a Dreamer and a friend to spirits like Rogathe.

When she raised her head from staring down at the wildflowers he'd conjured to replace the mud, her bright smile and keen eyes made ancient memories of Mythal flash through his mind's eye. He'd glimpsed such jovialness from her when she played with her children, an all-too rare occurrence as she inevitably shunned her offspring as they aged and revealed they possessed a lesser magic talent than either parent. Even Evanuris were subject to the harshness of Elvhenan's magic-based class system.

Sensing his brooding, Rosa's brow furrowed. "Revas?"

Shaking his head, Solas pushed aside the dark swell of loss and grief—and responsibility—riding him. Forcing a smile, he said, "I'm tired, lethallan. Perhaps we might part ways for the night? I need my rest."

Rosa clucked her tongue. "Ma nuvenin, flat-ear." She nodded to him, a warm smile playing over her lips. "Pleasant dreams to you, and may the Dread Wolf never catch your scent."

Solas sighed, restraining his reaction to those words. "Thank you. Good night."

After Rosa had vanished from the dream and the weighty sensation of her in the Fade had diminished completely, Solas rubbed his face with both hands and groaned. If you only knew the truth, Rosa.


 

The following morning found Solas assigned to clerical work within the library now that the mages supervising him had heard from the penmanship course teacher, Marene, that he could read superbly. Solas' every muscle ached with pain from overuse the previous day in Roth's physical conditioning class, making him move stiffly as he hauled books about. His morning was slow and tedious, moving books to shelves and then making notations in the library ledger regarding what was present and what wasn't.

The physical pain only seemed to exacerbate the emotional anguish he'd felt descend on him during the dream the night before. The library, no matter how much smaller and simpler, still reminded him painfully of the Elvhen halls of knowledge where Solas' father had worked. Solas had spent years of his childhood perusing the library, seeking out the most obscure knowledge he could and absorbing his father's proud praise later when he recited it at evening meals or bedtimes.

He remained silent and withdrawn at lunch, despite efforts by all three of his companions to draw him out. At supper, however, Varric insisted on a drinking game.

"Because you look like you need to get drunk, Chuckles—badly," the dwarf explained as he thumped down an earthenware carafe in the middle of the wooden long table. All four of them had the usual glass of wine provided to them for the evening meal, but somehow Varric had managed to work his charm on someone, likely a Tranquil, in the kitchen and acquire a full carafe.

Tal whistled. "I'm impressed, Varric."

Solas, meanwhile, scowled. "I can assure you, Master Tethras, inebriation will not help me in any way."

"Sure it will!" Varric pulled out his flask of whiskey and shook it, as if to check how much remained. Grunting at the full sound of its contents, he grinned and began unscrewing the cap. "I promise you'll love this game. It's not a competition and it's stupid simple. It's called I Never. We each take turns saying something we've never done. If anyone else in the game has done it, they drink."

"No," Solas repeated. "I have no desire to—"

"Oh, c'mon," Rosa interrupted him, smirking with a glint of amusement in her violet eyes. "What harm can it do, Revas? You could totally use it and you know it. I watched you walk across the dining hall today and I can tell you're hurting more than a shemlen after we play Fen'Harel's Teeth with them…" Her expression darkened with something hard and savage. "Assuming we don't kill them after we're done playing it."

"Charming," Solas growled, glaring at her.

"Fen'Harel's Teeth?" Varric asked, arching an eyebrow. "What is—"

"Don't ask," Tal cut him off with a sheepish look as he reached for the wine carafe and tipped it to refill his glass to the top. "But I want to play, even if Revas refuses. This stew tonight is pretty nasty. Washing it down with a ton of wine sounds like a fabulous idea to me." He motioned to Varric. "Care to start?"

With a lopsided smile, Varric shrugged his shoulders and cracked his knuckles, as if warming up for a physical challenge. "Don't mind if I do." He fingered his flask a moment, his expression contemplative as the three elves watched him. Then, with a snap of his meaty fingers he said, "Ah-ha. I got one that'll do all three of you in for sure. I've never taken lyrium."

Tal immediately took a swallow of his wine and smacked his lips with enjoyment when he'd finished. "Guilty as charged."

But as the seconds passed and neither Solas nor Rosa made a move for their glasses, Varric lifted a brow in disbelief and gave a dry chuckle. "This only works if you're honest, you know."

"My clan didn't trade often enough with humans to bother keeping much lyrium," Rosa said with a shrug. "And I've never needed to use it."

"Huh," Varric said with a grunt and then gestured at Solas. "What about you, Chuckles?"

"I am not participating," Solas grumbled. As if to further emphasize his point he began shoveling more spoonfuls of stew into his mouth. A heartbeat later he felt a sharp pain in his shin and looked up with a frown when he realized Rosa had kicked him. "Da'len?" he asked her, shooting her a sour face.

"Ir abelas, flat-ear," she said, smiling coyly. "I was trying to kick you free of the mud you seem to be stuck in."

Glaring at her, Solas slowly reached for his wineglass and took a deliberate sip, small and quick. Returning it to the table, he said, "You may choose to believe that is my answer if you wish."

"Sourpuss," she said with a snort. Turning slightly in her seat toward Varric, she said, "I'll go next because Tal wants to be the one drinking."

"Go for it," Varric said, smiling at her.

Gripping her chin in a thoughtful expression, Rosa hummed in the back of her throat before finally announcing, "I've never slept with a woman."

As before, Tal snatched his wineglass and drank almost instantly, slurping greedily on his now near-empty glass. "Don't know what you're missing, asamalin," he teased, grinning mischievously.

Varric raised one forefinger as if in objection, clearing his throat to ask, "Is that elven women or just female?"

"Female," Rosa said, chuckling. "You really had to ask?"

"Yep," Varric said, also taking a generous sip from his flask. "Details are important, you know."

Now Rosa faced Solas, as did the other two, expectantly. Solas' brow furrowed as he finished swallowing his latest mouthful of food and sat back in his chair to slowly cross his arms over his chest. "I have said repeatedly I am not participating."

Rosa pointed at his wineglass. "You drink or I'm going to conclude you like men." Pausing a beat, her lips curled in a roguish grin. "Or you're a virgin."

Solas scowled, scoffing. "Really? Have we regressed to behaving like twelve-year-olds now? A game such as this should be enlightening, not juvenile. You are reaching for the lowest fruit on the tree, da'len."

Rosa laughed, violet eyes twinkling with amusement. "Seeing you get frazzled about this is so worth it."

Tal and Varric both seemed to agree with her, sniggering under their breaths. Solas glowered at them both, still refusing to reach for his glass, but then Rosa leaned closer and spoke in a sultry voice as she asked, "So which is it? Men? Or are you a virgin after all, flat-ear?"

Huffing irritably, Solas grabbed his wineglass and took a sip, then returned his attention to his bowl of stew to resume eating.

"My turn," Tal said, holding his wineglass and sloshing the red fluid about with it in a circle as he said, "This one's for you, asamalin. I've never been betrothed."

Now Solas stared at Rosa with surprise as she sighed and grabbed her glass, taking a long sip from it. Setting it down again she made an irritated face in Tal's direction. "Happy, Tal?"

Her brother snickered. "Exceedingly." He elbowed Solas, who frowned at him with annoyance. "The look of shock on your face, hahren!"

Varric grunted with interest, turning to regard Rosa with a quizzical expression. "So, you were betrothed?" At her slow nod the dwarf said, "Huh. How did that work, exactly? He call it off or did you?"

"My Keeper did," she replied with a casual shrug, staring down at her stew bowl. "When she sent me away…because we had too many mages."

But of course that hadn't been the reason. Her pinched expression and downcast gaze made it clear she had no desire to continue discussing it. Watching her, Solas wondered if Rosa's betrothed had perished in the bandit attack on her clan or if he had simply stood by and watched as she walked away into the wilderness in exile. Either way, it made a sharp pain in his chest twist with sympathy.

"Bummer," Varric said, shaking his head. "Sorry to hear that. Doesn't seem fair." His brow knit as he looked between Rosa and Tal a moment and then said, "You know, I've been meaning to ask you two how you know each other but are from different clans."

"Met on the road," Tal said, smiling tightlipped. "But enough on that." Jerking his thumb toward Solas, he said, "It's your turn, Revas. Are you sure you don't want to play?"

Glancing between the Dalish siblings with resignation, Solas let out a breath as he said, "I've never worn vallaslin."

"Now who's going for low hanging fruit, flat-ear?" Rosa teased as she took a big gulp of her wine.

Tal, sitting beside Solas, did likewise and smacked his lips afterward, smiling smugly. "Me, I'll go again. I got one."

Varric laughed. "Go for it, Stoic." He motioned one meaty hand at the young elf encouragingly.

Tal leaned closer to the table, grinning at Rosa. "I'm going to get you plastered, asamalin."

"Do your worst," Rosa taunted him, returning his grin with her own.

Still staring at her in playful challenge, Tal said, "I've never been First to the Keeper."

Rosa grunted and shrugged, taking another drink from her glass while Varric and Solas of course made no such move. When she'd finished the glass she set it down a little roughly and frowned. "Stuff tastes like the Dread Wolf's piss."

"All right," Varric said, shifting in his seat and rattling his flask to make it slosh. "My turn. And yes, I'll be going for the low-hanging fruit too, thank you very much. I've never slept with a man."

Tal snickered as he lifted his glass to his lips for yet another liberal sip of wine, emptying it and immediately reaching for the carafe of wine. "I think—" He broke off and hiccupped before finishing. "I should take two drinks for that one."

"Halla stags don't count, Tal," Rosa said with a snort as she too reached to refill her glass from the carafe and took a drink.

"That joke is hilarious," Tal told her sarcastically, making a disgusted face as he lifted his glass to his lips for a second drink. When he'd finished he nudged Solas with his elbow. "That wine isn't going to drink itself, Revas. C'mon now and be honest."

Solas frowned, eyeing the last bit of crimson liquid in his glass. His ear tips heated up with embarrassment as he felt the others' expectant gazes on him. What a foolish, juvenile…He could lie, of course, but…Snatching the glass, he downed the last of the wine as casually as he could and then instantly returned to eating, hoping Rosa and the others would keep their ribbing to a minimum.

"I knew it," Rosa said, laughing in a way that could almost be described as cackling. "Can't be too picky when you're a lonely wandering apostate, eh?"

Varric laughed as he spoke in an aside to Tal, "Maybe there's hope for you and Chuckles after all, Stoic." As Solas scowled and did his best to ignore their antics, Tal winked at Varric and snickered under his breath only to feign innocence when Solas shot him a glare.

"All right," Rosa said, flexing her hands out to crack the knuckles. "It's my turn now and Tal, you have this coming for picking on me earlier." She laid a hand on her chest, straightening her spine and clearing her throat. "I've never been hogtied and pelted with halla dung."

Solas arched an eyebrow with surprise.

Tal sucked in a breath through his teeth, his lips quirking as he reached for his glass. "Ouch. Yeah, that sucked." He tossed back what was left in his glass and returned it to the table a bit harder than was necessary, thwacking the wood with the base.

Varric grimaced. "Sounds like there's a story there. I'd ask, but…"

"Nah," Tal said, waving a hand sloppily in Varric's direction. His brown eyes were a tad glazed over with the first effects of his liberal drinking. "I don't mind telling it. See, it was during the Arlathvhen and my father had just been chased off by the other Keepers for being a smartass or something and—"

Rosa made a dry, grunting noise in the back of her throat, interrupting him. "Tal…" she said, the note of warning unmistakable in her voice. Her violet eyes were dark, flashing with warning.

Solas peered at her, intrigued despite his earlier sullenness. What was she trying to hide? Tal did seem perilously close to revealing that he and Rosa were siblings and not merely traveling companions—though Solas suspected Varric had already guessed as much. The dwarf seemed to be too socially savvy to have missed the unacknowledged familial connection between these two. He also likely knew better than to reveal or guess at it because the Circle would split the siblings if it found out.

Tal blew a raspberry and rolled his eyes. "Yeah, yeah," he grumbled back at her. To Varric he said, "My Keeper over there says I can't tell the story. Dalish secrecy and shit." He jerked his thumb at Rosa and frowned grumpily. "Sorry."

"That's okay," Varric said with an easy shrug. "I think I get it anyway. You had a rough time with your clan, Stoic."

"It wasn't so bad before my father left," Tal said, sniffing as he fingered his wineglass. Across the table, Rosa shook her head sharply, making a face of disapproval and Solas didn't miss the way Tal's brown eyes flew briefly to her at the motion, but he seemed determined to ignore her as he went on, "I wanted to go out and find him for years, but he doesn't have time for me—even now." He scoffed before slurping again on his glass.

Solas frowned, cocking his head to one side. Hadn't Tal told him that his father was dead? Glancing toward Rosa, who wore a taut expression and stared at her brother with an irritated look, Solas debated saying nothing for a heartbeat. Before he could make up his mind, however, Varric did it for him. "Didn't you say your father had passed away, Stoic?"

Tal stared at he the dwarf, his mouth ajar a beat before his brow furrowed with bemusement. "Uh…" He broke off and snickered, lifting his glass in a toast. "Yep. And so he is. Falon'Din guide his soul and all that."

Solas chewed the inside of his cheek to keep from chuckling at the drunken youth's poor attempt to cover up his error. Varric, apparently unoffended by realizing Tal had lied to them, shook his head and flashed a lopsided smile. "I think you've had entirely too much to drink."

"Truer words have never been said," Rosa grumbled, heaving a sigh as she rested her elbow on the wooden table and then used her palm to support her chin.

"Well," Solas said, smiling and letting a note of smugness enter his voice. "I feel rather vindicated. This foolish game was your attempt to inebriate me, Child of the Stone, but it appears to have backfired rather spectacularly as I am the least intoxicated of all of us." He ticked the edge of a blunt nail against his empty wineglass for further emphasis.

"That's only because Violet and Stoic decided to turn against each other," Varric said, crossing his arms over his chest. "And honestly, I think I drank less often than you did, Chuckles."

Solas was about to protest that he had a massive advantage in height and therefore likely could drink more and be less affected, but then a mage shouted from the door to dismiss the apprentices from dinner. The three elves bid Varric farewell for the night and soon Solas found himself accepting Rosa's proffered arm—ostensibly for physical support. They walked a tad crooked or unsteadily, having consumed more alcohol than usual at dinner with the game, but not enough to have truly disrupted their locomotion.

As they walked together, Solas noticed that Tal had slipped back to walk with the same young elven apprentices as he usually did. The youth's face was red, flushed from the wine and bright as he laughed with his companions. Ah, he thought. To be young and carefree. Even in the Circle, Tal apparently could be easygoing and untroubled. Had there ever been a time Solas had not been troubled?

"You're brooding," Rosa said at his side as they rounded the corner and exited the dining hall. "What's eating you, flat-ear?"

Solas started to shake his head, to dismiss her concerns, but a glint and a flash of movement down the hall drew his attention then. Rosa noticed it too, her head swiveling toward the disturbance as they saw two Templars plodding their way through the crowded hall, shoving apprentices aside. They ignored glares from the young magic users around them, unafraid and brusque with their authority. They both wore helmets, making them impossible to read, but seeing them made Solas' stomach clench. He knew in his gut that they had come for Rosa.

She seemed to guess it too as her hand found his and squeezed it tightly, the palm sweaty. "Thank you for helping me," she said in elven, whispering roughly as her violet eyes flicked between him and the approaching Templars. "If I am killed or made Tranquil—watch Tal." Her gaze drilled into him then, sudden and fiery and fierce with need. "Promise me?"

"Ma nuvenin, I promise," he said quickly. Licking his lips, he added, "I will help you if I can."

The Templars reached them and as Solas and Rosa parted, stepping away from one another and hoping to give way so the men could pass by, one of the men said, "Apprentice Rosa?"

She jutted out her chin, clenching her jaw as her eyes flashed with defiance. "Yes?"

Solas recognized the Templar closest to himself, seeing Ser Bartholomew's familiar brown eyes through the slot in his helmet. He tried to let the knowledge that Bartholomew hadn't been excessively cruel or abusive calm his thundering heart and the cold fear clutching at his throat. Apprentices continued to file past, but more than a few had stopped to stare, glaring or gawking. Tal was one of them, standing behind Solas and Rosa, stiff with tension and pallid with his fear.

The other Templar accompanying Bartholomew seemed unfamiliar as he stepped forward with his hand over his sword hilt. "The Knight-Commander has summoned you for questioning. Will you come willingly?"

Rosa's eyes slid over both Templars, assessing them with cold fury. "Looks like I don't have much choice." She shrugged. "Sure."

The unfamiliar Templar jerked his head at Bartholomew. "Lead the way." With a stern nod, Bartholomew turned on his heel, starting down the hall as his companion snatched Rosa by the arm and jerked her with him. She bared her teeth with what Solas took to be both pain and quiet rage as he dragged her away. The apprentices in the hall parted, staring or cringing backward.

Just before the Templars reached the stairwell to descend lower toward the Knight-Commander's office, Rosa tossed a last look over her shoulder. Her eyes moved between Solas and Tal for that last split second, willing him to remember his promise.

Solas vowed to himself that he would do more than that.

As soon as Rosa had vanished down the stairwell with her captors Tal stumbled forward to his side, his breath rough and unsteady. "We have to do something, Revas!" he hissed between clenched teeth.

Solas nodded. "I fully intend to." Shooting Tal a sidelong look, he said, "Do they provide you with lyrium in any of your courses? Do you know where it would be stored?"

Tal's expression brightened. "Yes." He leaned close, his breath smelling of wine as they started to walk together toward the barracks. "I will sneak out after lights out and bring it to you."

That will have to do, Solas thought and nodded. "My thanks." Then, clasping the younger elf's arm, he tried to reassure him. "We will ensure her safely through whatever trial awaits, lethallin."

Tal nodded at him; his smile tightlipped and his eyes dark though they crinkled with what Solas took to be real emotion—affection. "Ma serannas." He paused a beat, squeezing Solas' hand on his arm. "Falon."

Solas smiled at him. "Falon."


Elven Used (all props to FenxShiral!)

Falon: meaning "friend." Only used with true friends, rather than casual acquaintances.

Asamalin/Isamalin: Sister/Brother

Lenalin: meaning "male parent."


Next Chapter:

"Did you kill Ser Curtis?" one of the Templars behind Ser Ginger asked in a gruff voice.

They certainly waste no time getting to the point, she thought. Instead of answer she closed her eyes and felt within herself for her core, as bright and shocking as the torch one of her captors had brought into the utter darkness of her cell. The Fade brushed against her as well, beckoning with the promise of sleep. Within it she could feel Rogathe, pressing against the Veil, sensing her. Waiting.


Author's note: As you can see, starting next chapter, Rosa will provide narration sometimes. She has a lot of secrets, so I use her narration sparingly at first, but as her point of view enters the picture you will catch more and more clues. There's a LOT Solas still doesn't know about her and Tal. A lot that I hope will surprise you, too!

Chapter Text

Solas remained awake after lights out in the apprentice barracks, sitting upright in his cot in the darkness and waiting for Tal to bring him lyrium. His heart pounded in his chest and his palms were coated in sticky sweat. Repeatedly he touched his mana core, brushing over it like a man checking his blade for nicks and cracks. Unfortunately he felt virtually nothing within, as usual. That place inside him, which had been overflowing and thrumming all his life previously, now ached with hollow emptiness.

Lyrium was a crutch for weaker mages. Solas had only used it during the heaviest battles during the Evanuris civil war and his own rebellion. He'd aided Mythal when she attacked and killed a Titan to mine its blood and distribute to her people, but he and the other Evanuris had almost never touched the stuff. But now…what choice did he have?

His memories of imbibing in the substance were less than pleasant. It had an effect far worse than alcohol on his physical form, making him clumsy in the immediate aftermath of drinking it. In his first experience consuming it, Solas had been unprepared for its effects and could not physically aid his fellow Evanuris in subduing Falon'Din. Instead, he had acted as a reserve of mana to the others, letting them draw from him like a living foci. Mythal had intentionally allowed him to make such an error, as a way to humble and humiliate him into remaining subservient to her. It had acted as a reminder that he needed her guidance and training to reach his full potential. Solas had heeded that, though with more than a little teeth gnashing at his wounded pride.

Would it still affect him similarly? Would it strengthen his connection to the Fade and enhance his magic or just make him lose his grip on the physical plane? Could he take that risk or was it wiser to ask Tal to drink the lyrium and then draw from him?

But Tal cannot reshape the Fade, Solas thought and scowled through the dark. Mana wasn't what he needed now. It was the Fade.

His thoughts splintered and broke off as he heard the door to the apprentice barracks creak slightly and saw the faintest shadow moving against the darkness toward his bunk. Despite the direness of the situation, Solas smiled at how stealthy young Tal was. It was uncanny, almost as if he knew the forgotten stealth magic of—

"I've got them," Tal whispered, ducking into the tight space of Solas' cot. With a wave of his hand Solas heard a slight whump noise and felt the tingle of magic work over his skin. Tal had cast a sound deadening spell over them to ensure none could overhear. Only then did Tal pull the slender blue glowing vials from his pockets. "It's tiny doses," he explained. "From Varian's course."

Solas took one of the vials, feeling over it. The blue glow peeked between his fingers, pricking his eyes with its intensity. "Thank you," Solas said. He wondered where this had been stored and how far Tal had had to wander to get it, miraculously evading Templar patrols. "How many did you bring?"

"Four," Tal answered.

Slow with caution, Solas unstoppered the vial and the rich, heady scent of Titan blood made him dizzy already with memory. "Leave two with me and take two for yourself," Solas instructed, deciding he needed to cover all angles. He might need to draw magic from Tal in the Fade. "Drink them and sleep. I will draw you into my dream."

"Then what?" Tal asked, his face lit by the blue glow.

"Then I will do whatever I can to aid Rosa."

Tal nodded. "See you in the Fade," he said and left the cot. The sound-deadening spell ended with him, the caress of magic evaporating. With it, Solas heard the gentle breathing of the other apprentices and the quiet tap of Tal's bare feet as he returned to his cot. A second later he saw the blue glow as Tal produced his own lyrium bottles. The light disappeared quickly, indicating Tal had consumed it and bedded down to sleep.

Drawing in a deep breath and shutting his eyes tight, Solas raised the vial to his lips and downed it like a shot of potent alcohol in two swallows. The taste was sharp and biting, the liquid unnaturally warm and thick. It seemed to tickle as it flowed down his esophagus and curdle in his stomach. Heat spread through him and his head went light. His limbs seemed to go hollow, his muscles numb. Recalling ancient lessons from Mythal, Solas concentrated on the sensation of breathing, on the feeling of his clothing brushing over his skin to ground himself in the physical plane just a moment longer.

Blinking blearily, Solas struggled to pull out the cork from the next vial and lifted it to his mouth—only to feel the cold touch of the glass against his left cheek. Fenedhis. He was apparently still badly affected by the stuff despite the Veil and his own weakness. With his other hand, shaking and unsteady, he pushed the vial to his lips and tipped it up.

Now euphoria flooded him and he groaned, collapsing onto his cot as his body's strength seemed to give out. His head spun, his spirit seeming to rise from his body and hover somewhere a few inches above. The Fade opened wide like a hungry maw, ready to swallow him whole.

And in that last instant when he was still distantly aware of the apprentice barracks around him, Solas felt his mana core ignite like sparks meeting dry tinder.


Solas opened his eyes and laughed with elation and relief. The raw Fade waited around him: green mists swirling about slimy pools, black-gray rocks and statues of Andraste littered the swampy plain. Wisps darted about a few meters out, curious but cautious, drawn to the weakened Veil of the Hasmal Circle tower.

Inside himself, Solas felt the fullness of mana and closed his eyes with pleasure at its warmth and satisfaction. It was as if he had been starving, hungry for days on end but never dying. Now, miraculously, he'd been fed and had a full belly. The gnawing emptiness inside had at last abated.

Reaching out with one arm toward the nearest clump of weeds, Solas clenched his hand into a fist as he summoned winter's grasp and grinned as ice and frost instantly formed over it. His mana core rippled inside him, like a muscle stretching, sending pleasure flowing through him. He'd felt the impact of the spell, but it wasn't enough to drain him.

As wonderful as this was, Solas knew it wasn't the result he truly wanted. Relaxing his shoulders, he closed his eyes and dipped his chin to his chest as he reached outward with his inner senses. The Fade connected somewhere inside him, touching his core and awaiting his will. Solas concentrated on imagining Tal: the sound of his laughter from dinner, his playful nature and stealth as he'd moved through the dark.

The Fade changed around him, the sensation washing over him with a wave of dizziness—but no pain. Opening his eyes, Solas saw the young elf standing a few paces away, stiff and wringing his hands together in front of himself. He showed no sign of shock when Solas appeared before him, merely nodded in greeting. "Revas," he said.

"Tal," Solas answered back with a dip of his chin as he took in the changed Fade, which had reacted to the young elf's presence. They stood in a small clearing at the edge of a steep, rocky slope leading upward. Pine trees grew tall and proud around them. "The Frostbacks?" Solas asked.

Tal nodded, still wringing his hands. "Where I met Rosa last year, before we both set out for the Free Marches." He sighed. "The last place I saw my clan."

Solas started to answer and then winced as he felt the Fade shiver around them. Tal seemed to have noticed it as well, pivoting about to look around, his brown eyes wide. "What was that?"

Solas didn't answer for a moment as he felt the heavy weight of another Dreamer and took in a sharp breath as his eyes found an unclear shadow a few meters away in the shade of an enormous pine. "Rosa?" he called out, certain it must be her.

The figure moved slightly, perhaps looking in his direction, but it was impossible to be certain. Tal, finally registering the shape and the presence as well, darted forward and shouted, "Asamalin!"

But the form lost coherency and vanished into mists before Tal could reach it. His shoulders slumped as he surveyed the dreamscape and saw no trace of her. "Creators damn it."

Solas had closed his eyes again, trying to draw Rosa to them if she was present in the Fade. He imagined her coy smile, the pride and defiance in her stance as she faced off with Ser Jeremy, and the musical quality of her voice. The Fade seemed to strain, wanting to acquiesce, but when Solas opened his eyes he saw no sign of her, though the Fade had changed. Now it became the stone walls of the Circle, where Tal and Solas stood in the dining room where wisps had formed into mages, all eating and chattering as they tried to recreate reality.

Solas let out a breath of frustration and started to turn to address Tal when he realized one of the spirits that'd adopted vague shapes to fill the chairs in the dining hall wasn't like the others. It was white and sat where Rosa usually sat in reality when they ate meals. Now, as Solas stared at it, the spirit rose to its feet and hopped over the table, lithe and graceful exactly as Rosa had been when she had done the same once.

"Pride," it greeted him in a disembodied, echoing voice that was clearly a mimic of Rosa's. It stood erect and stiff, crossing its arms over its chest. "We meet again."

Tal, standing several meters away and still spinning to take in the dining room, now stared between Solas and the spirit. "Is this…?"

"Rogathe," Solas said, smiling tightly in greeting. "A pleasure to see you again, although I wish it was under different circumstances."

"You are afraid for Rosa," Rogathe said, motioning toward him and then to Tal as well. "And you share the same fear."

"She was taken by Templars," Solas explained. "I believe they are investigating Ser Curtis' death and feel she is responsible. My hope is to touch the dreams of those who decide her fate and convince them she was not involved."

"Rosa was already doing that," Tal said, striding up to Solas' side. He shook his head, wearing a look of worry and consternation. "I don't understand why they would've taken her."

"There are times when no amount of subtle manipulation through dreams can prevent such actions," Solas told Tal. "It may also be possible they suspect her involvement through blood magic or—"

"These shemlen know nothing of what she can do," Tal snarled, cutting a sideways slash with his hand in dismissal of Solas' points.

"Perhaps," Solas hedged. "But we must assume the worst until proven otherwise." Pinching his lips together, he considered a moment, eyeing Rogathe's brilliant light as the spirit regarded them, arms still crossed over its chest. He hummed in his throat. "If we are Templars and we suspect an apprentice of murder using blood magic or something else rare and deadly, what course of action do we take to establish guilt?"

"They are cowards," Rogathe snarled. "But Rosa remains unbroken and unbowed. She has not called out to me, though I have felt her enter the Fade several times."

"We just saw her a moment ago," Tal added, pointing to the stone wall where the pine tree had stood before the dreamscape transformed. "Do you think they drugged her to keep her out of the Fade?"

"Possibly," Solas said. "But I doubt it. Such arts have been lost to all save the Dalish and some Tevinter scholars." And survivors from Elvhenan, such as myself.

"They are cowards," Rogathe repeated, sounding angrier this time. "They will use tactics befitting the bullies they are."

Solas nodded, smiling tightly at the spirit with approval. "I believe you are right. They may wish to keep her from the Fade, but more likely they simply hope to wear her down with sleep-deprivation. That is why we saw her shadow and sensed her so briefly. She has not been blocked from the Fade, merely prevented from sleeping."

"But why?" Tal asked, his lips curling with a snarl.

"Because they lack the courage to fight her!" Rogathe growled.

Ignoring Rogathe's simpleminded bluster, Solas added a different interpretation. "They will hope to extract a confession."

Tal's expression warped with concern and he began wringing his hands in front of himself again. "Is there any way we can help her if that's the case?"

"Not you, unfortunately," Solas murmured, frowning. "But Rogathe and I can, yes. As she tires her mind will partly cross the Veil while still awake. We may watch her directly then and communicate with her—bolster her resolve should she weaken."

"Shemlen bastards,"Tal said, hands clenching into fists at his side. "They're going to torture her."

"Rosa will defeat them," Rogathe said, sounding confident. "When she needs me, she will call and I will aid her. Together we will rend them asunder, scatter their essence to the Void. Then we will part the stone walls of the tower and find you both in the waking world and—"

Tal interrupted the spirit with a snort. "Part the walls? Scatter their essence?"

"You doubt me?" Rogathe asked, bristling. It took a threatening step forward. Ready to face off with Tal.

Stepping to intervene, Solas held up a palm to Rogathe. "He meant no offense, elgar. Tal does not understand the Fade as you and I do and does not comprehend your meaning."

Rogathe shot Solas a skeptical glance but then seemed to nod with agreement. "Yes, he is young and foolish. We must protect him, Rosa and I."

Tal scoffed, shaking his head but fortunately saying nothing to further rile the spirit.

"Ma serannas," Solas told it with a polite smile. Relaxing and drawing back a step, Solas said, "Tal and I must set to the task at hand. Rogathe, would you do us the favor of watching for Rosa and seeking us out should she come to the Fade more permanently?"

"Of course," Rogathe said.

As Solas bid the spirit goodbye and refocused on Tal, he felt a wave of dizziness set the dreamscape swirling about him. Grimacing, he said, "Tal, I may need to draw strength from you. Mana, specifically."

Tal stared at him, his jaw clenched and eyes narrowed with a tense, somber concern. "Whatever you need, Revas, I will help you. I won't lose my sister. Not now."

Solas managed to draw up a reassuring smile. "At least we can take comfort in knowing Rosa is stubborn enough that she will not break any time soon."


In the darkness of her cell, Rosa had no way to tell when night transitioned to day. Her body told her with its hunger that it must be close to daybreak, but that could have been misleading because the Templars had kept her awake all night with a constant vigil.

They'd left her chained to the wall in the dark, her hands bound together with the cold iron shackles. When she even thought about magic she saw blue runes light up over the shackles and chains and realized they'd been set there to nullify magic and prevent her from using her powers to escape. Every few minutes a Templar would march down the hallway outside her cell and reach in to shake her awake. She frequently gasped and shot upright, drawing as far away as she could—never far enough that they couldn't reach her thanks to the short chain on her shackles. The light of their torches was the only thing for her to see by.

Endless dreary hours passed this way. Sleep called to her repeatedly and she would just begin to touch the Fade when the Templar would waken her again. She cursed under her breath and vowed to gut each guard who woke her.

Eventually sleep grew more distant to her mind as hunger gnawed on her instead. Her stomach seemed ready to wear a hole in itself, twisting and clenching inside her. The thought of asking the Templars for food swam through her mind repeatedly, but she dismissed it. She was Dalish—the last Elvhen. She would not beg or plead and she would never break. She and Tal had endured five days with minimal food and water immediately after being brought to the tower, after all. But enduring with Tal had been far easier than managing on her own.

Still, Rosa knew she would do it.

And then, at long last, a change in the usual routine. A trio of Templar guards appeared at her cell with a torch that made her eyes stream with moisture at its blinding brightness. They entered her cell and one of them—the redhead who'd had the gambling problem and protected Revas—unlocked her chains and ordered her to use the chamber pot along the opposite wall. Rosa did as they'd ordered, eager to relieve her bladder and wholly uncaring that the Templars would see a bit of her leg when she hiked up her robe and squatted.

When she'd finished Ser Ginger offered her a water skin and a dry loaf of bread. But when she reached for it, he pulled back and clucked his tongue.

"A few questions first," he said and Rosa snarled at him, readying herself to go without the food or water. She'd dock her ears before she submitted.

"Did you kill Ser Curtis?" one of the Templars behind Ser Ginger asked in a gruff voice.

They certainly waste no time getting to the point, she thought. Instead of answer she closed her eyes and felt within herself for her core, as bright and shocking as the torch one of her captors had brought into the utter darkness of her cell. The Fade brushed against her as well, beckoning with the promise of sleep. Within it she could feel Rogathe, pressing against the Veil, sensing her. Waiting.

"Answer the question," Ser Ginger snapped.

"No," she growled, deciding she could at least tell them that much.

"Have you ever practiced blood magic?" the gruff-voiced Templar asked.

"No," she repeated, rolling her eyes.

"She's lying," the Templar with the torch muttered. "Filthy knife-ear."

Ser Ginger grunted and fumbled with something at his waist, pulling out a small trinket on a chain. As it swung to and fro, Rosa recognized it and suddenly felt nauseous. It was her pendant, meant to bind Rogathe within her and keep it controlled. "Care to tell us what this is, wretch?"

It was blood magic, albeit a harmless and simple spell. Her Keeper had aided her, showing her what to say and do. The raven feathers had been chosen for their ties to Dirthamen, the Creator Rosa had dedicated herself to with her vallaslin. Her Keeper had sliced her own fingers to supply the blood for the spell, wary and reluctant but resigned that she must make the pendant. She'd forbidden Rosa from actually casting the spell because they both knew it would weaken her connection to the Fade. Her Keeper hoped that if Rosa maintained a strong connection to the Fade as a Dreamer it would one day allow Rogathe to return to the Beyond. Her foresight had proven correct, but now it seemed the spell would damn Rosa anyway.

"There's a spell on this," Ginger said. "But the First Enchanter can't identify it. If he can't identify it…"

"Must be blood magic," the gruff-voiced Templar said. "That's the only shite the First Enchanter don't know."

Sweating and with her exhaustion and hunger forgotten with the cold grip of fear, Rosa snorted. "Idiots. I'm Dalish. We remember all kinds of spells you shemlen have forgotten."

"Rubbish," the torchbearer said. "She's not ready to talk, yet, Ser Bartholomew. Chain her back up."

"Agreed," Ginger said and twisted to pass the water skin and bread loaf back to the gruff-voiced Templar. A moment later he approached Rosa, stiff and ready for a fight.

Baring her teeth at him and with her hands clenching into fists, Rosa let herself be dragged back to the shackles and secured. As the Templars left, taking their light and the food and water with them, Rosa sighed and pressed her forehead to the cold stone in front of her. Shaking the shackles a bit to rattle the chain, she considered her options and found, of course, that none of them would truly work. Still, it was a pleasing distraction to plot out how she would summon Fade rock and smash her restraints, then call Rogathe into her and escape in a torrent of carnage and Templar blood.

But she knew she wouldn't actually manage to escape and even if she could make it, she'd never be able to leave without Tal and Revas. Even if she'd wanted to take the despicable and selfish route of abandoning them, Rogathe would not allow it. She would die; assaulting the whole tower until eventually mana burnout rendered her a shaking, pathetic mess that the Templars could easily slay.

Worst of all, if she actually did die in that spectacular fashion the Templars would investigate both Tal and Revas next.

I brought this on myself—on Tal and Revas, too. It was her fault, her foolishness that'd put her here, as much as she wanted to blame the Templars. To release Rogathe from herself she'd sought out Curtis in the Fade and set herself against him in the arena of dreams. She let him attack her with his fists, with his words. She let herself face his depravity and cruelty without flinching from it and then had conjured a sword for him from Fade ether and demanded that he fight her. It was just a dream, after all. They could not harm one another and she could always manipulate him afterward to instill a deep, primal fear of her into his sub-conscious…

But when she struck him down with her magic something strange happened. His sleeper self had not vanished as she expected, but had scattered like a spirit. Glimmering white-green, it shot off into the Fade and disappeared as if a wisp had taken his form all along. Rosa had thought nothing of it at the time, especially when she had also felt Rogathe slip out of her body almost immediately afterward. But the next day when she and Tal were hauled to the Knight-Commander's office and she began to suspect she'd made a terrible mistake.

And then Revas had seemed so certain she had killed Curtis that she realized he knew what had happened, somehow. She wanted to ask him, to probe him for whatever secrets he knew, but he'd been cagey and evasive. Utterly useless and holding back something, as always.

There was nothing she could do about it now. Drawing in a deep breath, she closed her eyes and steeled herself for whatever was to come.


"Where's Violet?" Varric asked at lunch when Solas and Tal sat down together on their side of the table opposite the dwarf. His brown eyes narrowed and his brows arched with concern as he must have taken in the sullen mood from both elves.

"Templars took her," Tal answered, shoulders sinking. He had a pallid skin tone after the long night he'd spent as Solas' Fade-walking companion and backup mana reserves. He'd been dogged in his resolve to help, though it was clearly taxing for him, as Solas dragged him from one sleeper's dream to the next.

Solas, meanwhile, felt rejuvenated. For the first time since waking from uthenera he'd felt magic swirl in his core and altered the Fade substantially without hesitation or pain. Even his body seemed recovered, with only a slight ache from his overuse of muscles the last few days. His mind, however, was foggy and his thoughts scattered. Drawing magic strength from Tal had let Solas taste the younger man's mana in a way he'd not been able to before just being near his spells and the experience had been…odd. Invigorating, of course, but also…familiar. He'd expected elves in this post-Veil world to be somehow different from their Elvhen ancestors, but Tal's magic felt the same.

"Why would they take her?" Varric asked, shaking his head in consternation, though there was also a glint of worry in his eyes.

Tal shot Solas a sidelong look, apparently seeking help or permission and deferring to him now that Rosa wasn't here. Solas took the initiative and explained, "The Templar who died under unusual circumstances a few days ago was not on friendly terms with her. I suspect they have run out of clues and hope to uncover more by broadening their search."

"The guy was a real asshole," Tal put in, snarling. At Varric's raised eyebrow in silent question, he elaborated. "He groped Rosa. Bullied her. Threatened her." Tal motioned at Solas and toward Rosa's empty seat. "The three of us were involved in a complaint against him just before he died."

Varric's jaw clenched. "Well…shit." Glancing toward Rosa's seat off to his right, he sighed. "I hope she's okay and can convince the Templars she had nothing to do with it." He rubbed one meaty hand over his face. "I can't help but feel like this is somehow my fault. They probably think it's blood magic because I knew a Dalish blood mage—though Daisy wouldn't hurt a fly."

"Is the Seeker responsible for my s—" Tal broke off, scowling. Solas kept his expression deadpan, hoping to disguise Tal's near admission of his familial relationship with Rosa. Eventually Tal started over again. "Is the Seeker the one who ordered Rosa be taken in, do you think?"

Varric was still stroking at his chin, his expression contemplative. "Could be," he admitted with a shrug. "I'll see what I can find out and let you know."

Tal let out a breath, nodding as he poked at his sandwich, his body language despondent. Solas nodded to the dwarf with appreciation. "My thanks, Master Tethras. The Templars of this Circle have proven mostly fair in my experience—short of a few, including the man who died. We can only hope that they will come to the obvious conclusion that Rosa could not possibly be responsible."

"Yeah," Tal grumbled. "Since we're locked in our barracks every night. I mean, seriously. How could anyone believe she could have killed him?" He glared down at his food and muttered, "Not that he didn't deserve it."

Under the table, Solas dug his heel into Tal's shin, making the younger elf squirm and huff at the hidden rebuke.

"Yeah," Varric agreed, his eyes glazing slightly and his lips quirking downward. He dug into his vest and pulled out his whiskey flask. "I can believe it. Hawke and I saw plenty of Templar abuse in Kirkwall and since the guy who died was a transfer from there…" He grimaced and took a long swig from his whiskey.

After lunch had concluded Solas walked with Tal, laying plans for a repeat of the previous night's exploits. Solas, still assigned to the library on clerical duty, planned to slip off into a quiet room and drift off into the Fade to search for Rosa during the day as often as he could manage without arousing suspicion. Then they would steal more lyrium for tonight and reenter the Fade together.

Tal looked exhausted at the prospect, but when Solas questioned him the young man insisted he would endure. "Whatever I can do to help her, I will," he said, his face fierce with devotion. "Ever since we met at the last Arlathvhen, she's been the one to protect me. I want to help her for a change."

Solas smiled at him. "Then that is what we will do, falon."

Tal beamed at him, his bright brown eyes and warm smile seeming to burn away his despondency. "Falon," he echoed.

Perhaps it was just a trick of the light in the hall, poorly lit as it was, but in that moment Solas felt a wave of dizziness and déjà vu disorient him. Tal reminded Solas forcefully of some of Mythal's children and grandchildren—young, eager to please, keenly intelligent, charismatic, and guileless. Solas had spent a century or so training a handful of them while he served Mythal as a general. Many of those children had grown up to join his cause and oppose the nobility.

Solas gripped Tal's arm harder, breathing deeply and blinking to try and shake off the strange sensation. For a heartbeat he'd sworn he was back in the brilliant white stones of Mythal's noble estate, walking through the narrow corridor leading to her crystal gardens with one of his students. The temporal distortion—losing his sense of the present—had him suddenly bathed in sweat and breathing hard enough that Tal immediately noticed his distress.

"What's wrong, Revas?"

"The lyrium," Solas ground out through gnashed teeth as he slowly refocused on the present. That was what was wrong. He hadn't yet recovered from the effects.

"Drink lots of water," Tal advised. "It helps." He patted Solas' hand as they reached the dogleg in the corridor where they'd part ways for the afternoon. "I'll see you tonight."

"Likewise," Solas answered with a nod, swallowing as the world around him seemed to re-solidify. He shambled his way down the hall, following the other apprentices who had to travel this way for their classes or chores, hugging the wall so he could reach out and support himself should he need it.

Fenedhis, he cursed and hoped tonight wouldn't be so bad. But, as a positive, at least he could still feel a slim bubbling of mana in his core, warm and secure. With luck that would remain inside him long after he'd recovered from the effects of the lyrium.

In the library, Solas quickly catalogued and replaced several books that'd been returned while he was away at lunch and then slipped into one of the empty classrooms on the second level. Closing the door, he settled into a desk near the back of the room where it was darkest and lay his head down on the wooden surface. It smelled faintly of cleaning chemicals and musty wood, a pleasant scent.

In only a few moments his eyes grew heavy and the Fade drew him in like a welcoming lover. As with the previous night, Solas opened his eyes to the raw Fade, a clear sign that his connection to it was stronger than it had been since he'd arrived at the Circle. Closing his eyes, he imagined Rosa—her scent of lilac and vanilla, her melodic voice, her keen violet eyes. He felt the Fade twist around him, trying to draw her to him, but it seemed to bounce back, finding nothing.

Sighing, Solas opened his eyes and crossed his arms over his chest as he surveyed the raw Fade around him. Slimy Fade rocks jutted out of the tawny sand a few meters out of reach. Water trickled, condensing from the air itself into oily puddles. A statue of Andraste stood off to his far right, the cold gray stone in pristine condition despite the water dripping over its surface. The ancient rebel woman had her arms held up in supplication to the Maker, but in the Fade it appeared as though she was beseeching the Black City.

Solas wrinkled his nose with disgust at the thought. There'd been plenty of elves in Elvhenan who'd done exactly that. He could still remember the chants of the elves, singing in obeisance and praise to the Evanuris in their Golden City high overhead among the clouds.

Now that city was their prison and the Evanuris' own power fueled the Veil.

With his thoughts turning back to his cause as Dread Wolf, Solas again closed his eyes and reached out for the Fade with his mind. This time the woman he conjured in his mind wasn't Rosa. He envisioned her brown eyes, brown hair, and smooth cinnamon skin as well as the taste of her mouth and the sound of her voice as she called his Evanuris name: "Fen'Harel enansal."

This time when the Fade twisted and reworked itself around him Solas felt the heavy presence of another Dreamer and smiled with triumph as he opened his eyes to see the woman he'd been thinking of: Zevanni.

Zevanni was lean and supple, small-bodied but muscular. Her hair was tied up in a tight topknot, but her features were shadowy, as was her overall form. Even so, Solas could tell she wore leather armor and a bandanna, plain and unremarkable, as she circled around a man slumped on the tawny grass and sand at their feet. The man wore the blue and gray armor of a Grey Warden and, unlike Zevanni, his form in the Fade was crystal clear. The Fade had changed to reflect Zevanni's dream or her current whereabouts—which would be Tevinter as of a few months ago. Solas saw tall grasses swaying and felt a hot breeze caress his skin. Off in the hazy distance he saw the gray-green of olive trees.

Sensing his presence, Zevanni looked up. "Hahren," she greeted him, her voice muffled and warped. She raised a hand toward him in a stop gesture and then spoke in hushed elven. "Please, come no closer without reshaping your form." Indicating the Grey Warden with a jerk of her chin, she said, "We must hide our appearances from this one."

Solas nodded, his heart flushing warm with pride at Zevanni's dedication. He'd sent her to Tevinter after she'd woken from uthenera a few months prior with orders to seek knowledge and ancient relics, anything that might help their cause while he tried to plot their next move. She'd been as weak as he physically, but she'd been obedient and determined, reaching Tevinter less than a month after waking and setting to work. The last he'd spoken with her, Zevanni had said she'd heard rumors of a Tevinter cult with interesting, ancient knowledge. Now it seemed she had a new clue—the Grey Wardens. Curiosity bubbled inside Solas' chest.

Willing himself to change shape, Solas envisioned Ser Bartholomew and let the Templar's appearance settle over him like a blanket before he strode closer to Zevanni. "What have you learned?" he asked her in elven, eyeing the slumped Grey Warden.

The bandanna over Zevanni's mouth moved and Solas could tell by the shape of her eyes that she grinned. "This little bird has been seduced by the song of a Darkspawn magister. You know, one of the original seven who slaughtered hundreds of elven slaves to open a portal to the Anor Din'Venuralas." Zevanni used the mocking term all of Fen'Harel's agents used when referring to Anor'Venuralas, the "Golden City."

Solas' brows shot up into his forehead and his eyes sprang wide with surprise. Few things could shock him after such a long life, but he had not expected to discover one of the magisters who'd begun the Blights. "Interesting," he said.

"What brings you, hahren?" Zevanni pivoted to face him more directly as the Grey Warden groaned and raised his head behind her, features twisted with misery. A reddish glow emanated from his form and Solas recognized it as the influence of Blight magic. His skin prickled with revulsion.

Unexpectedly, Zevanni spoke again, asking, "And what happened to your hair?"

Ignoring that question in favor of returning his focus to his current predicament in the Circle tower of Hasmal, he said, "I have woken from uthenera recently, but with some…complications."

"Such as?"

Solas eyed Zevanni a moment, weighing his next words. He trusted her implicitly as she'd been an instrumental part of his rebellion in Elvhenan. They'd been lovers periodically, slaking lust and easing frustration with the sex, but had never been emotionally entangled. Even so, Solas remained wary of letting any one agent draw too close to him personally. Revealing weakness was always a dangerous thing, but all of his agents understood that without Solas there could be no restoration of Elvhenan, no destruction of the Veil.

Still…to have been an Evanuris and now to barely have any magic at all…

Deciding to be vague and cagey, Solas said, "I was too weak upon waking to fight the Templars who found my uthenera chamber. I have been trapped in the Hasmal Circle tower in the Free Marches for the better part of a month."

Zevanni's eyes shot open wide and she let out a dry, unbelieving laugh. "Truly?"

"Yes," Solas replied, letting irritation creep into his voice. "There is some hope of escape, but it will take time. I am also…struggling to adjust to the limited magic of this world." That was one way to put it.

Now Zevanni's brow furrowed. "Ir abelas, hahren. Are you in danger? I can reach you in perhaps a week. We are not far from the Free Marches and there's enough time before winter that we can reach you…"

"Who is with you?" Solas asked. He knew several of his agents had been coming awake in the last year, triggered by runes around his tomb that would have only activated as his foci neared full charge. It could be enough by now that they'd be able to form a sort of mercenary group of their own, a little band of Elvhen survivors that could feasibly attack the Hasmal tower on his behalf…but at great risk.

"Var," Zevanni replied. "But he cannot touch the Fade and has been distraught with the loss of his magic."

Solas winced. He could empathize with Var a great deal. "Has he tried lyrium?" he asked.

Zevanni nodded. "Yes. It barely brings him any mana. The Veil is just too much for him. I've begun trying to train him as a rogue, but he's still adjusting."

"Anyone else?" Solas asked.

"I've touched Lyris and Mathrel's dreams. They are well, attached at the hip as always. Felassan was there to care for them when they woke. He is in Orlais, currently—I think. He has been difficult to reach in the dreaming. Too busy sweet-talking those insufferable shem-elf Keepers, I suppose." She squared her shoulders as she switched topics. "I've also recruited a half dozen shem-elves—Dalish specifically. We form a band of about fifty. What are the defenses of the tower?"

Solas shook his head. "Far greater than you could hope to defeat with that number, falon."

The Grey Warden groaned behind Zevanni and she pivoted, thrusting out a hand and murmuring something under her breath. A green glow of energy flowed out from her hand to encircle the Grey Warden, making him sag again.

Facing Solas once more, Zevanni crossed her arms over her chest. "You have some hope of escaping without our aid, hahren?"

"I do," Solas said and smiled slightly and began to tell her of the Dalish siblings. When he'd related everything of note to her, Zevanni cocked her head and he saw her cheeks bunch up over the bandanna, her eyes crinkling. "What is it?" he asked and frowned at the wariness he heard in his own voice.

"You fancy the shem-elf Dreamer, hahren," she said. It was not a question.

"I see her as a valuable ally," Solas told her, stiffly. "Nothing more."

Zevanni shrugged casually, nodding. "Ir abelas, hahren, if I have incurred offense." Turning away from him, she strode through the grass, setting it crunching underfoot as she circled round the Grey Warden like a shark. "If I can aid this shem-elf Dreamer, I will, but I'd encourage you to consider recruiting her to our cause if you think she's trustworthy."

"I have yet to determine that," Solas hedged, shifting his weight from one foot to another with mounting discomfort at this topic.

Zevanni went on, "The shem-elves I've taken in don't know who they serve, but they've proven ideal for my mission in Tevinter. Best of all, should things get fucked and they die—no loss, really." She shrugged. "It's not as if there aren't thousands more shem-elves. It's not like we can save all of them when we destroy the Veil so they're going to die anyway. Might as well spare the Elvhen survivors." Her brown eyes narrowed and her voice was slightly breathy with excitement. "And this one in the tower with you is a Dreamer. Better still. She can be sacrificed rather than one of our own."

Solas fought down the angry tension that had snapped his muscles taut at this discussion. Breathing deeply at the warm, dry air of the Tevinter dreamscape, Solas forced himself to remain impassive though he wanted to disagree with Zevanni and react with the disgust that was currently curdling his stomach acids. Zevanni was right. He should be thinking of Rosa this way—as a tool to be recruited and used to achieve his greater goals.

No, another part of him, deeper and passionate, railed against those cruel, callous thoughts. She is real. She is sentient. When he thought of her as a tool, as a thing, he was no better than the Evanuris he'd locked away in the Black City. He would be the monster the Dalish remembered him as if he fell to that line of thinking. And yet, simultaneously, Zevanni was right and he knew better than to chastise her. It was cold, but also practical that the shem-elves of this doomed world should be used like pawns as they moved forward in order to preserve Elvhen agents.

We cannot save all of them, Zevanni had said. That was true…but some would survive. They had to, for there were too few Elvhen survivors to repopulate on their own. They would need Dalish and city elves to infuse new blood into their midst.

"You make a very interesting point," Solas admitted. "I shall bear it in mind." Yet inwardly he cringed back from the prospect. Recruit Rosa and Tal? For the sole purpose of sacrificing them? It seemed unfathomable. To Zevanni he finished by saying, "For now my concern is with formulating contingency plans. The Templars have locked away my foci. I must reclaim it." He smiled, hard and fierce. "I wonder if you might travel south to Hasmal and lie in wait until opportunity presents itself…?"

Zevanni's cheeks bunched and her eyes crinkled, telling him she grinned again. "For you, hahren? I would do anything." Gesturing to the Grey Warden still slumped over on the ground, breathing raggedly and giving off that disturbing reddish glow, Zevanni said, "Care to join me?"

"Of course, falon."


Rosa's mind drifted, scattered and unfocused. The Fade seemed to press against her, always at the edge of her awareness as extreme exhaustion, hunger, and dehydration took their toll. Her stomach had seemed to gnaw a hole in itself for hours and hours at first, but now thirst had risen with exhaustion to be her greatest misery. Her tongue felt too big for her mouth and she had a throbbing headache.

The Templars had continued their campaign of sleep-deprivation, coming by to shake her awake every few minutes. It no longer fully stirred her however and she had begun to lose her sense of what was real and what was the Fade and had tried several times now to will away the cell and her shackles only to realize she wasn't fully in the Fade and could not do it. Still, those brief, confused snatches of sleep reenergized her enough that she managed to focus whenever the Templars came by to offer food and water only to take it away when she proclaimed her innocence.

To keep her spirits up, Rosa began to hum and then to sing into the blackness. It was a meandering tune, beautiful and trilling, wordless. Rosa had heard this song from wisps in the Fade as a child and had spent years trying to reproduce it in the waking world with her own voice and to set it to words.

"Can you feel the fire in these eyes?" she sang, her voice rising and falling rhythmically. "Keep me in your sight. Fear the fire taking flight, roaming through the night." She broke off, chuckling as she heard the groan of the rusty hinges on the door somewhere down the hallway. Swallowing to wet her throat, she continued as if she couldn't hear their booted feet clomping on the stone. "Fear the fire, deep inside. Fire; let's ignite. Under my even skies."

When the Templars reached her cell they slammed their armored gauntlets on the bars, creating an ear-splitting racket. One of them shouted, "Shut your mouth, mage filth."

Rosa flinched despite herself at the loud noise of their gauntlets on the metal, then rolled her eyes with irritation aimed more at herself than the Templars. This would be the third time now they'd come by with food and water to tempt her and then denied it to her when she told them she was innocent. Her hands opened and closed, tugging against the shackles as she pressed her forehead to the cold stone in front of her again, shielding her eyes from the harsh light of their torch.

"Look how she fears the light," one of them, a woman this time, snarled. "This knife-ear savage has never known the Maker or Andraste."

Sadly, that wasn't true. Rosa had endured lessons every day where she pretended to study the Chant of Light with a dozen other apprentices, all mere children. But when the instructor had demanded she recite portions of it, Rosa had refused. The old woman teaching the course had slapped her across the face with every refusal, but Rosa remained resolute. She would not bow to the shemlen religion or their holy woman. Unlike Tal, who had chosen his vallaslin more on a whim and didn't mind reciting the Chant to please his teachers, Rosa had devoted herself wholly and passionately to Dirthamen.

"No food and no sleep for almost thirty-six hours?" one of the men asked.

"Yes," the female Templar replied. "As per the Knight-Commander's standard when dealing with dangerous mages."

The man grunted. "Prudent, I suppose." Stepping closer, he reached out and jangled the chain connecting Rosa's shackles to the wall. "Apprentice Rosa, I'm Knight-Captain Brycen. I've been sent to fetch you for interrogation. Are you able to walk?"

Rosa lifted her head from the wall and blinked at him, her eyes streaming with moisture from the torchbearer behind the Knight-Captain. Brycen stared at her, stolid and cold, little better than a statue. He was around middle-aged, she guessed as his hair appeared to have gone silver but his face held a youthful look still.

"Not with these chains," she wisecracked, baring her teeth in a hard, humorless smile that she knew would look more like a snarl.

Brycen grunted and then turned, snapping his fingers at the female Templar behind him, who promptly handed him her keys. In a few moments Brycen had unlocked her shackles and freed her. He stood back as she rose shakily to her feet, his hand on his sword hilt. Even through her exhausted, thirst and hunger-dulled senses Rosa knew he and the other two Templars were anxious about her and expecting trouble. They really did believe she'd killed Curtis.

Fenedhis. That was just what she needed.

The Knight-Captain and his lackeys escorted her out and Rosa's heart pounded frantically in her chest even as her cramped leg muscles seemed to sing with joy at being stretched. She rolled her neck muscles as they walked and flexed her hands, enjoying the way the Knight-Captain and the other two Templars tensed with her every move. It didn't matter that she'd been starved and deprived of both sleep and water, the Templars feared her natural power more than any physical weapon. It didn't even matter to them that she lacked a staff.

It was that thought that wiped away her satisfaction as she realized the implications. They thought her a blood mage, that much was obvious after they'd paraded her pendant in and questioned her about it. But, on top of that, their intense fear of her despite the lack of a staff to channel her magic suggested they thought her dangerous in some additional way because even a blood mage would need a weapon of some kind to draw blood. Did they think her possessed then? An abomination? Had they puzzled out the type of spell on the pendant after all?

Trying to keep her heart from racing overmuch, Rosa steeled herself as the Knight-Captain led her through the tower and up countless flights of stairs to a large, circular room. An enormous Chantry sunburst symbol had been painted onto the stone of the floor and stained-glass windows encircled the room on two-thirds of it. The stone walls were somber and thick and, through her exhaustion and resulting nearness to the Fade, Rosa could feel the cold, wild fear and abject terror permeating this room. Spirits pushed at the Veil, clamoring. Over the scuff and clank of the Templars' feet and armor Rosa could hear the simple wisps singing. But the happy song she'd heard from them as a child in the Brecilian forest had been warped into a minor key, shrill and discordant.

She had seen this room before when she stalked the dreams of mages who'd recently undergone their Harrowing.

A chill ran down her spine as Brycen shoved her toward the center of the room. "Don't give us any trouble now," he warned her.

Rosa moved into position there, well out of sword range of the three Templars who'd escorted her here as she scanned around the room, taking everything in. There were probably a dozen Templars in this room, standing along the curved walls, evenly spaced from one another. Each one wore full armor, including their feathered, face-obscuring helmets, and they had drawn their swords and held them blade down, resting against the stone floor. In addition to the Templars Rosa saw three senior enchanters and the First Enchanter standing closer to her, the four mages forming a square. They stood with their eyes downcast and their hands clasped in front of them as if in prayer.

Rosa crossed her arms over her chest and swallowed to try and wet her dry throat. She quashed the cold, strangling grip of fear at her neck, but it seemed to sit in her throat as if she'd swallowed a lump of ice. I will make it through this or I will die quickly and nobly, she vowed to herself.

"Apprentice Rosa," Brycen called to her from his spot near the closed door to this room. "You have been taken into custody as a suspected maleficar for practice of blood magic. We are convened here to determine your guilt or innocence. How do you plead?"

"How do you think?" she demanded, hands falling to her sides to clench into fists. "Innocent! I have never practiced blood magic."

Brycen dipped his chin slightly. "You are also a suspect in the suspicious death of Ser Curtis. How do you plead?"

Rosa scoffed, raising her voice to shout, "Innocent, of course! Perhaps you could explain to me how you think I killed a Templar that night when I was locked in the apprentice barracks and never left my bed!"

"A blood mage could easily manipulate the minds of any witnesses," Brycen said, dismissing her argument in his gruff, stolid voice. "Or perhaps poison. You are a Dalish savage and familiar with poisons, are you not?"

"I was First to the Keeper," she snarled. "I was taught to use healing herbs." That wasn't true, exactly. Rosa had learned herb-lore in both healing arts and poisons as every member of clan Naseral did. Yet, compared with the hunters who would actually use poison on their arrows and blades, Rosa had little experience in it.

"Unimportant," Brycen snapped. "You—" He was cut off by the rusty, screeching groan of the door opening as a new figure in armor stormed into the room. Brycen glared at her a moment before sobering and greeting the newcomer. "Seeker Pentaghast. The Knight-Commander did not expect you to—"

"I know she did not expect me to attend," the Seeker cut him off with an impatient wave of one armored hand. "But I expect justice to be carried out. Fairly." Unlike the Templars, her armor held the sword symbol in a deep blue. Rosa narrowed her eyes at the Seeker, remembering her from both her dreams in the Fade and the brief interrogation the day after Curtis' death.

Rosa let herself show her surprise as the Seeker settled into position beside the Knight-Captain and squared her shoulders. The other Templars in the room and even the enchanters all seemed to stiffen—a sure sign of the Seeker's absolute authority. This woman served the Divine and she outranked everyone in the tower. Rosa felt the strangling hold of fear at her throat ease slightly. Maybe she would live through this after all…

"Apprentice Rosa," Brycen went on then, glaring coldly at her. "To establish your guilt or innocence in the charges levied against you, the Knight-Commander and First Enchanter have agreed you must undergo a trial by combat. Should you pass this trial you will be given the choice to become Tranquil or undergo your Harrowing."

Rosa gawked at him, then gnashed her teeth. They had starved her, dehydrated her, and kept her awake for the better part of two days. After all that they expected her to fight in some kind of trial and to pass her Harrowing? They want you to perish.

Too bad she wasn't about to give them the satisfaction.

"Is this agreeable to you?" Brycen asked.

Rosa spread her hands in a gesture of indifference. "Not exactly like I have a choice, so…" She motioned at herself. "Bring it."


Elven Used (All props as always to Project Elvhen by FenxShiral)

Elgar: "spirit"

Anor'Venuralas: the Elvhenan name for the Golden City. Literally means "place of the gods."

Anor Din'Venuralas: Fen'Harel's rebel name for the Golden City. Means "place of the false gods."


Next Chapter

The voice came again, speaking in elven, "A pleasure to meet you, child of Dirthamen. Fear not, I have no intention of trying to possess you."

Spinning about, searching for the demon, Rosa gnashed her teeth and let fire ignite in her palms. "This is a trick," she snarled, more to herself than to Revas. "It's always a trick with demons."

"This is a very ancient being," Revas told her, his voice soft and dry, almost reverent. "I had expected a simple demon. This creature is not one who can be easily defeated."

She shot him a frown. "Are you trying to tell me I'm about to wind up dead?"

Revas hesitated, his blue eyes strained. "I am…uncertain." She sensed hidden knowledge, something he was holding back—as usual. No time to press him, though.


Author's note: As you can tell from the preview, something innnnnnteresting is going to happen next chapter, narrated from Rosa's perspective. And, if anyone reading this has also read my other story, Pride Didn't Go Before the Fall, you'll recognize Zevanni. She plays an important role in this story!

Chapter Text

"Remain motionless," First Enchanter Braden called out to Rosa. Glancing at where he stood off to her right in the square shape the four enchanters made around her, Rosa obeyed, though she flashed a dark, tightlipped smile to cover the throbbing pulse at her throat. Her guts twisted with anxiety.

The four enchanters each extended their arms out, summoning a rune trap that they aimed at her feet. Rosa tensed as she felt their magic sliding over her, tingling her skin. Her magic reacted to it, roiling and frothing inside her. She went lightheaded and yelped with alarm, realizing too late what the runes were doing. It was a mana trap, sucking her core dry.

"Fenedhis," she snarled. "You shemlen bastards!" Scrambling backward, she tried to leave the rune circle but seemed to hit a wall. Spirit magic slapped at her skin, repelling her. "Dread Wolf take you! How am I supposed to fight in this fucking trial if I have no mana?"

"The accused is not to speak during the trial," Brycen shouted.

"If you're going to kill me, just do it," Rosa roared as she pivoted about, casting dispel repeatedly at the runes. "Give me a swift, honorable death!" She felt the runes flicker, weakened, but already her mana had shrunken enough that she had begun to feel hot and clammy, dizzy and clumsy on her feet.

At a wordless signal from Braden the enchanters released the rune spell, letting it fade away. Rosa stumbled out of it, breathing hard and fast, her mind spinning. She saw the enchanters back up rapidly as the dozen Templars from their positions evenly spaced around the circular walls surged forward to form a ring of bodies around her. Their swords glowed blue as they channeled energy and Rosa felt cold air waft on her, a wind only she could see or feel as their magic nullification washed over her, making her queasy as it clashed with her mana core.

Baring her teeth, she spun in circles, arms lifted to cast and her heart racing. "This is a fucking execution," she shouted. "Not a—"

One of the Templars in the circle around her lashed out with his fist. Rosa ducked but caught the blow on the side of the head. She stumbled away from him; panic flapping its erratic pattern deep in her skull. Survival instinct took over and she cast a barrier, even though doing it made her mana core ache. Reaching for the Fade, she felt mana surge into her and felt Rogathe pressing against the Veil, eager and willing to enter her—and yet, simultaneously, she sensed other presences, sentient and so close she could almost see them through the narrow gaps between the circle of Templars. No, endure, a voice other than her own whispered into her ears. Do not call Rogathe.

Tal, she thought. Revas.

One of the Templars channeled his power with a sharp whump noise and Rosa's barrier splintered apart. Breathing hard with panic, she cast another and whirled to face off with the nearest Templar. Reaching for the Fade again, she summoned stone despite lacking a staff and launched it at the Templar blocking her path. It smashed into him and he cried out, stumbling backward as bits of greenish stone clattered in tiny pieces to the floor.

Seeing the opening, Rosa Fade-stepped forward in a blur of blue with a whine-pop. The Templars to either side of their comrade who'd been knocked out of line swung at her with their blades, but they passed through her harmlessly. Rosa burst from the circle, coming out of the Fade-step with a flourish of her arms and then whipping about to dart for the door—only to yelp and drop to the floor as a fireball flew at her from one of the enchanters.

Rolling as she hit the ground knocked the wind out of her. Coughing, she scrambled to her feet and Fade-stepped again to collide with the closed door to the Harrowing chamber. Clasping the door handle, she tugged once, twice, thrice—nothing. Gnashing her teeth and cursing, she realized it must be barred from the other side. Behind her, she heard shouting and the clank of Templar armor as they rushed after her.

I'm going to die here. Again she reached to the Fade, feeling for Rogathe and finding it—only to sense the shadowy presences once more. No, a voice pleaded. Wait.

Whipping around, she saw Brycen, two of the enchanters, and four other Templars closing in on her, swords and shields drawn and at the ready. Shoulders heaving, Rosa fought off a wave of dizzied panic as her mind churned. Why would they offer her a choice if they only meant to execute her?

Then, suddenly, she saw a flash of metal and motion, streaking at her too fast for her to dodge. She had enough time to lift a hand, shielding herself, and then white-hot pain exploded in her right palm. Crying out, she registered the throwing knife embedded in her hand and gritted her teeth as tears of pain blurred her vision. Crimson rose from the stab wound, dribbling.

And that was when she realized the Templars and the enchanters and even the Seeker had all frozen in place, tense and watchful. They should have swarmed her and taken advantage of her distraction. Instead they hesitated, and although she could feel the fear in the air, driving all the wisps clamoring at the Veil wild with excitement, she knew their fear had not stopped them. They were watching her.

The blood. Trial by combat. The Templars believed that any mage would resort to blood magic when cornered, but if Rosa was truly innocent she wouldn't. And how could she? Rosa knew no blood magic spells and had been warned away from them long ago to ensure her connection with the Fade remained as strong as possible.

Somewhere in the back of her mind, Rosa felt those other presences in the Fade flush warm with approval and relief. Yes.

Cradling her injured right palm, Rosa snarled out at the Templars facing her. "Is this what you wanted? To make me panic and draw blood to see if I would use it?" They stared at her, their magic-annulment powers making her skin bristle. Gritting her teeth against the pain, Rosa tore the blade out from her hand with a strangled cry and dropped it with a splatter of blood to her feet. She could feel the Templars brace, no doubt certain she was about to draw mana from the blood.

"Sorry to disappoint you," Rosa growled out as she clasped her injured hand in her good left one and closed her eyes, drawing from the Fade to heal herself with spirit magic. The hot throbbing in her palm eased and her shoulders sagged.

The Seeker's voice rang out from across the circular room. "I've seen enough, Knight-Captain. This apprentice is not a blood mage."

"She escaped the trial circle," Brycen shouted, red-faced and bristling. "That's impossible without blood magic! The enchanters drained her mana."

"I did not see her bleeding in the trial circle," the Seeker retorted.

One of the enchanters, probably the one who'd shot a fireball at her, said, "The Knight-Captain is right! She broke the trial circle with an unknown spell and had far too much mana. She should have been drained!"

"I'm Dalish," Rosa shouted back at him through gritted teeth. "We know a few tricks you in the Circle have forgotten, but not blood magic. I drew from the Fade."

"I've seen her use that spell before, Lynden," Braden said to the other enchanter. "And so have you—during her assessment."

"If she knew any blood magic, she would have used it," the Seeker insisted in her strong, accented voice. "That was real fear. The goal of the trial is to deceive the mage into revealing her true nature. This was successful. The apprentice is not a blood mage." Her words held the authority of an official judgment and Rosa saw the Templars closest to her relax, their postures easing and their weapons and shields lowering.

Brycen scowled. "Very well, Lady Seeker." He snapped at the nearest Templars and motioned to them. "Return the suspect to the center of the room."

"I can walk by myself, thank you," Rosa snapped, glaring as she strode back toward the center of the room. To her shame she felt her legs shaking with the effects of shock and exhaustion. Stubborn and refusing to show weakness, she straightened her back and squared her shoulders as she watched the Templars fall back to their positions along the walls. She met the Seeker's gaze as the human woman took her spot near Brycen and smiled her thanks. The Seeker remained aloof, but Rosa thought she saw a softening in those brown eyes.

"As the trial has determined you are not a blood mage, there is still the matter of your future here within the Circle," Brycen said, his voice echoing from the walls. "Do you choose to undergo your Harrowing here and now or do you submit to us to become Tranquil?"

"Fuck your Rite," Rosa snarled, glaring. Arching an eyebrow as Brycen sneered and the Seeker frowned, Rosa asked, "Is that answer enough for you?"

"Then you submit to your Harrowing?" Brycen asked.

Rosa motioned at the four enchanters standing around her and the rest of the room. "Doesn't look like I have much of a choice. I'd rather be dead than Tranquil."

Brycen shot the Seeker a quick sidelong look and in that instant Rosa felt another chill run along her spine. They're not finished with me yet, she thought and recalled her suspicion earlier that their fear had been as much blood magic as possession. Yet they'd not mentioned that. Perhaps they knew a spirit or maybe even a clever demon could hide within her without revealing itself and so they'd need to trick her to deceive the spirit.

Regardless, Rosa had nothing to hide. Not anymore.

Well, except her brother. And that she was a Dreamer. And that she did accidentally kill that bastard Curtis. And...Fenedhis, she thought to herself, shut up.

"Begin," the Seeker called out.

This time Rosa didn't react much when the enchanters extended their arms and cast another rune circle around her. This one she recognized from watching mages' dreams—it was a binding circle to trap a demon-possessed mage. Rosa sat down on the hard, cold stone floor, making herself comfortable in the circle as the First Enchanter brought out a large vial of bright blue lyrium and poured it into a wooden bowl.

Watching calmly from her spot on the floor, Rosa smiled slightly, fighting down the twist of nervousness inside her. She'd watched multiple dreams from mages who'd passed their Harrowing recently and knew this was not usually how the ritual went. Normally only the First Enchanter would be present from what Rosa had seen and he would bring the bowl to her to touch or sip from. The special ritual lyrium would draw her spirit immediately through the Veil and to the Fade. Most mages needed it to consciously enter the Fade without sleep. The Templars and the First Enchanter needed the apprentice to slip into the Fade here, at this predetermined place because a demon would be waiting, lured by them earlier. But Rosa could have slipped into the Fade any time she chose, conscious and alert. Of course, the Templars and the enchanters didn't know that about her and couldn't be allowed to discover it.

At any rate, something different was happening now. The liquid sizzled and hissed as it bubbled in the bowl and a mist rose from it, reminding Rosa of Fade ether only blue and glowing. Braden wafted at it, as if trying to get a big whiff. Gradually the lyrium mist spread out, moving almost like a conscious thing as it spread to the next two enchanters in the circle. An older man, dark skinned but with blue eyes—Lynden, the loyalist who'd hurled a fireball at her—snuffled as he inhaled the mist as well, swaying on his feet. The Templars along the wall behind the enchanters shifted, their armor clanking as the lyrium mist reached them too. The Seeker and Knight-Captain Brycen both showed no reaction except a flare of their nostrils as the mist reached them.

Finally, when the lyrium mist had finished circling the room, flowing from one enchanter to the next and over all the Templars, it flowed toward Rosa herself. As she breathed in the lyrium, Rosa grimaced at the sharp, almost metallic scent. It was like…blood? Dizziness made the room spin and her exhaustion crashed into her like a brick wall. All thoughts fled from her mind and her body went limp as every anxiety and fear leeched away from her. She could feel the Fade caress her; reaching out like an old friend or lover. Sighing, she fell backward, blacking out as the Fade took her in.


Rosa opened her eyes to see the velvety black of the night sky with stars scattered over it. An overlay of barren tree branches obscured her view, rustling dryly in the wind. A chill nipped at her skin and she heard the croaking caw of ravens from somewhere just out of sight.

Sitting up with a grunt, Rosa rubbed at her face. The scent of dead leaves and blood tickled her nose. Perturbed, she saw the crimson stains on her halla-leather tunic and breeches. Memory trickled back into her as she saw the pinkish line of the new scar in the palm of her right hand.

"Fucking Templars," she grumbled as she got to her feet and surveyed the dreamscape around her. She stood in a forest, likely the Brecilian forest where she had been born and lived until being banished from her clan. It appeared to be late autumn, around the time she'd been banished two years ago, but Rosa couldn't hear the roar of the Fehorn river anywhere nearby so it seemed unlikely that the Fade had chosen to recreate the bandit attack.

Hoarse cawing from behind her made Rosa spin around to see two ravens on a low-hanging branch. They sat side-by-side, feathers ruffled as they regarded her with glinting eyes. Concentrating on them, Rosa sensed the presence of a Dreamer and the other was…just a sleeper. Revas? She wondered. Tal?

"Andaran atish'an," she greeted the ravens with a nod and a smile. One stared at her in silence while the other bird cawed; its beak open and its pink little tongue flicking like a worm.

Chuckling, she started to walk toward the ravens when the sound of crunching leaves underfoot made her whip around, hands raised to cast defensively—only to see First Enchanter Braden and Senior Enchanter Lynden approaching through the darkened forest. "Hold," Braden shouted. "We are friends."

Rosa blinked at them, concentrating for only a moment before deciding these were more sleepers and not spirits or demons masquerading. "What are you doing here?" she asked, shaking her head. "This is supposed to be my Harrowing."

"We should not speak to her," Lynden growled to the First Enchanter.

Braden shot Lynden a sour look before addressing Rosa, "Your Harrowing will naturally be different from the vast majority of rituals because you are also being judged for crimes against the Circle. The raw lyrium I poured sent all of our spirits through the Veil in the Harrowing chamber. Our task is to…" He frowned, appearing to struggle for words.

"Observe your Harrowing firsthand," Lynden supplied in a grumble.

"Yes," Braden agreed, nodding. "As such, you are bound in the physical realm with a binding circle rune should you fail."

Meaning if I were to get myself possessed by a demon and wake up I'll be trapped.

Humming in the back of her throat, Rosa shrugged. "Observe away, First Enchanter." Searching around again and seeing nothing but dark, misted forest around her, she asked, "So, where's everyone else?" She suspected she already knew the answer to that question. They had slipped into the Fade and now were caught in their own dreamscapes, different from her own. She could summon them as a Dreamer, at least those she had met—the Seeker, Brycen, and the other two enchanters whose dreams she'd stalked before—but doing so would reveal far too much to her audience.

"That is not for you to know," Lynden scolded. Braden cut an irritated glance at the other enchanter but otherwise said nothing.

"Fine by me," Rosa said and shrugged again. "My job is to find and defeat a demon that wants to possess me, right?" At the enchanters' impassive stares and silence, Rosa smirked. "Ah, right. You can't talk to me. I'm still on trial." Turning her back on them, she began walking toward the low-hanging tree branch where the ravens remained perched, watching her. As she passed under them both birds left their spots, fluttering in a flurry of black feathers. One landed on her shoulder, its talons clutching at her tunic with a gentleness that made it clumsy as it tried to balance without harming her. Even in the poor light she could see it had brown eyes the same warm shade as her brother's.

"Hello, Fear," she teased it and then pointed at the other raven flapping overhead. "And that must be Deceit." Also known, possibly, as Revas. "Dirthamen be with me, right?"

The brown-eyed raven on her shoulder cawed and she stroked his shiny black feathers as she continued to walk, bare feet crunching on the leaves. Braden and Lynden followed her some paces back, well out of reach. Their voices murmured together as they apparently observed the Fade around them, pointing out rocks or leaves or mushrooms that could be spirits in disguise. This might be her Harrowing, but they were scholars and conscious exploration of the Fade was rare for them, meaning they had to make the most of it. If they wondered at her fearlessness, walking brazenly through the trees with a raven on her shoulder and ignoring the flash of wisps darting about deeper into the dreamscape forest, they made no comment.

After a few minutes Rosa saw a wall of mist ahead. The raven flying overhead disappeared into it without hesitation, but Rosa paused to consider the mist and stretch out her senses. She felt the presence of other sleepers, not as heavy or pronounced as that of the other Dreamer in the Fade with her, but still noticeable. And beyond that, at the edges of her senses, Rosa felt a demon. It was enough already to make her break out in a sweat, a sort of prickling passing over her.

Demons and Dreamers, she thought and flexed her hands at her sides into fists. As intertwined as mages and Templars. To the demon she would be a beacon, shining and brilliant as Rogathe was to her. Where was Rogathe anyway? She'd felt it earlier, during the trial…had Revas banished the spirit for fear it'd endanger her with her audience in tow?

Sucking in a deep breath and rolling her shoulders in their sockets, Rosa strode into the wall of mist—and into the dazzling, blinding light of a windswept desert. Sand slid beneath her feet, sending her into a crouched stance as she caught herself with one hand. The action jostled the raven on her shoulder, making it caw and flap as it struggled to keep its balance. Braden and Lynden followed after her, shielding their eyes against the brightness of the sun.

Rosa squinted out into the desert and saw nothing but dunes rising and falling for as far as her eye could see, although blowing sand obscured the land behind her and to the left, marking the barrier between dreams. Ahead she saw inky black clouds, ominous and ugly, scudding their way along a craggy set of mountains. Green Fade ether coiled in the sky, though it appeared thin and tenuous with the force of the sun cutting through it. Glancing over her shoulder, Rosa saw the Black City high above, a few lights glittering like campfires in its jagged windows. Closer she saw the second raven, flapping as it made tight circles over her head.

Facing forward again, Rosa blew out a breath. Her inner senses could feel the demon out there in the plain at the foot of those ugly mountains and beneath the black clouds. Reaching up to the brown-eyed raven on her shoulder, Rosa stroked its feathers and smiled. "Guess we're going for a walk, Fear."

The raven let out another dry caw, as if in agreement. Overhead, the second raven took off for the ominous black clouds. Rosa followed.


Solas knew he had little time. Dawn would be coming swiftly and, with it, a Templar and a few Tranquil would unlock the apprentice barracks and provide bread for the morning meal. Pulled from the Fade, Solas and Tal would be unable to assist or protect Rosa in whatever trial came next.

And, if Solas' senses were correct, he already knew it would not prove easy. He had expected the demon awaiting its apprentice sacrifice in the Harrowing ritual would be a common hostile spirit embodying rage, fear, or pride. Rosa would dispatch it with ease, as she had managed to break the Templar circle around her in the waking world. But, as he flew over the tawny sand of this dreamscape, he felt his stomach clenching cold with dread as he recognized the feeling and aura of the hostile spirit ahead.

Below him, jogging over the sand dunes, Rosa made good time, drawing steadily nearer to the brown-black mountains. Light flickered on the undersides of the clouds gathered over where the demon waited and Solas felt the rumble of thunder in his chest. Wind whipped past him, rough and hot, as if it wished to set him aflame.

Being a raven was…exhausting. He'd chosen this form at Tal's suggestion, agreeing with the younger man readily as he recalled Rosa's story in their game of Big Liar involving two ravens. Flying made his stomach do flips and summersaults inside him with vertigo as he had to fight the instinctual fear that he would fall. For comfort he reached to his mana core, petting it the way a Templar would affectionately tend their blade. It was small and lethargic, but still present despite the fact that he'd consumed only one vial of lyrium before sleeping for the night. The knowledge gave him confidence, but he knew he had incredibly limited abilities.

Watching Rosa through the thin Veil in the Harrowing chamber earlier had required Rogathe's aid. The spirit had lent Solas its eyes to peek through the Veil and glimpse the real world. Through Rogathe the Fade had transformed to reflect what was happening in the Harrowing chamber in real time. Tal had spent most of his time gawking at it and biting at his nails with anxiety.

As it became clear that Rosa had passed her combat trial without calling Rogathe or using blood magic, Solas quickly realized the Templars and the Seeker intended on performing a different ritual to allow them to witness her Harrowing for themselves. Rogathe would become a danger to Rosa, drawing Templar suspicion at its familiarity with her. Solas had used much of his strength to alter the Fade and banish Rogathe away, though the spirit would inevitably return to be near Rosa, like the faithful companion it was. That was yet another reason this needed to be done swiftly.

Peeking downward, Solas let out a little puff of air in annoyance as he spotted Seeker Pentaghast and Knight-Captain Brycen walking in the depression between two dunes ahead. Rosa was on a course that would ensure she met with them.

Hoping to steer her around them, Solas wheeled about and circled off to the left. He knew Rosa saw the action and changed course, walking around the next dune rather than ascending it. Solas flew on, encouraging her to walk parallel to the mountains for a few minutes and wishing irritably that he and Rosa could reshape the Fade to shorten the distance. It was all an illusion anyway, a dreamscape created by the demon to tire Rosa out and increase anxiety for the confrontation to come.

He really hoped he was wrong about the identity of the demon.

Braden and Lynden, tailing Rosa, ignored her course correction and jogged up the dune to get a better vantage point. Solas cawed his frustration and wheeled back toward the enchanters, tilting his head to observe the inevitable meeting as the Knight-Captain and the Seeker noticed the two enchanters and called out to them.

"Apprentice," Braden shouted to Rosa. "Come here and join us."

Rosa lifted her gaze up to Solas and made a shrugging motion. Tal cawed on her shoulder in protest, flapping his wings. Rosa tickled his chest as she walked, speaking in elven. "You make an excellent raven, little brother."

Solas circled overhead, observing as Rosa joined the enchanters, the Seeker, and the Knight-Captain, arms crossed over her chest and hip cocked out to one side. "I thought you weren't supposed to talk to me."

"The bird on your shoulder," Brycen said in a snarl. "Remove it."

Rosa frowned, reaching up to ruffle Tal's feathers. "Why? He's harmless."

"It could be a demon," the Seeker said, jaw clenched and eyes narrowed.

"They often present themselves in humble guises," Braden agreed with a sage nod. "Best destroy it."

Now Rosa shook her head, her lips curling with a sneer. "Do you shemlen truly know so little?" Pointing up toward where Solas still circled, she said, "In my people's legends two ravens are a sign of our god Dirthamen. The tattoos on my face honor him. My knowledge of that shaped these harmless spirits into ravens."

"Your heathen beliefs have no bearing here," Brycen growled, taking an aggressive step forward. "Destroy the bird or I will slay you and you will fail your task."

Rosa's brow knit and her jaw clenched. "I won't destroy an innocent, harmless spirit. If it was a demon it would have talked or tried to trick me by now."

"Merely remove it from yourself and let us continue on," the Seeker interjected before Brycen could insist otherwise.

"Fine," Rosa said and reached up to grab Tal—but he flapped and fell backwards, off her shoulder and to the sand. He hopped and flapped clumsily, retreating over the tawny sand, trying to fly. Facing the humans again, Rosa asked bitterly, "Happy?"

"Hardly," Brycen growled.

"It will do," the Seeker said, overruling him. She turned and pointed to the ugly black clouds in the distance. "It would appear the demon waits there. Let us continue on."

"Lead the way, apprentice," Braden instructed her.

With an angry, stiff gait, Rosa walked on and Solas made a wide, lazy circle to search swiftly for Tal. He found the elf-turned-raven hopping and flapping along some distance behind Rosa and the humans, clearly trying to take flight and failing. Solas rolled his eyes and would have smiled his amusement had he had lips to do so.

Turning back to the clouds, he flew after Rosa, his pace quickening. They were nearly out of time.


As Rosa entered the shadow of the black clouds, she saw sandstone blocks and columns—signs of a ruin. Passing the nearest column, she examined the runes over it and blinked with surprise when she recognized the script as not dwarven or Tevene or human of any kind. No, this was elven, and so ancient it was unreadable to Rosa. She'd seen script like this on ruins in the Brecilian forest…and in the uthenera tomb her clan had guarded for generations.

What kind of demon was this? Closing her eyes and reaching outward, Rosa let the sensation of the demon wash over her. Much closer now, its aura gripped her like a giant's hand, crushing and claustrophobic. She wheezed as she struggled to breathe and calm her suddenly pounding heart, but each breath held a foul taste of metal. Her skin prickled and heat licked at her skin, intense and at the edge of burning.

A powerful demon, unlike any she'd felt before with one notable exception…

She laid a hand on the column and murmured, "Dirthamen guide me. Mythal protect me. Elgar'nan…" She smiled tightly. "Lend me your fire."

Overhead, the raven that'd been guiding her cawed with impatience. Rosa let her hand fall from the column and steeled herself, stiffening her spine as she strode into the ruins. The four humans trailed behind her, slowing their pace as they anticipated the demon to appear any moment now.

Rosa reached a mostly intact wall of yellowed sandstone bricks and picked her way around it. Above, the raven suddenly wheeled about and cawed, a frantic note in its hoarse voice. Rosa stiffened, moving forward haltingly and calling her magic as she rounded the wall.

As she stepped into the shadow of the wall, the Fade trembled and a wave of dizziness assaulted her. Simultaneously, the earth began to rumble, low and deep. Sand hissed as it shifted and the half-collapsed sandstone wall to her left abruptly changed shape, rising out of the sand and high into the air, cutting off Rosa's view of the four shemlen behind her.

Scrambling away from the wall, Rosa lifted her hands in preparation to cast, sweat dousing her. Sand and rocks shifted underfoot and the wind made them hiss and sigh. Dust impacted her face and tried to get into her eyes. Rosa willed it away without thinking about it, creating a pocket around herself where the wind was calm.

"Aneth ara," a silken voice called to her with the wind. It was androgynous but clear and crisp. The accent of its words reminded her, oddly, of Revas and of—

As if her thoughts had summoned him, Rosa saw the raven dive for her and then, in a cloud of purple-black magic that made her skin tingle pleasantly, Revas stood beside her. His blue eyes were wide; his lips parted as he reached out and grasped her bicep. "Something is not right, lethallan," he started to say, but Rosa cut him off.

"You can't be here like this. They'll see you." She twisted to search for the humans only to realize that the sandstone walls had risen in a rectangle around her, cutting her off from their sight and creating an impromptu arena. "Fenedhis," she cursed.

The voice came again, speaking in elven, "A pleasure to meet you, child of Dirthamen. Fear not, I have no intention of trying to possess you."

Spinning about, searching for the demon, Rosa gnashed her teeth and let fire ignite in her palms. "This is a trick," she snarled, more to herself than to Revas. "It's always a trick with demons."

"This is a very ancient being," Revas told her, his voice soft and dry, almost reverent. "I had expected a simple demon. This creature is not one who can be easily defeated."

She shot him a frown. "Are you trying to tell me I'm about to wind up dead?"

Revas hesitated, his blue eyes strained. "I am…uncertain." She sensed hidden knowledge, something he was holding back—as usual. No time to press him, though.

Chuckling echoed over the ruins, making Rosa tense and pan about the arena, moving to be back to back with Revas. "Come out, bastard," Rosa snarled under her breath.

Then, in the center of the arena, Rosa saw a shadow spreading over the sand, bubbling up like tar. It rose from the sand, forming an amorphous blob. It glittered even in the shade of the black clouds overhead. Rosa stared, her mouth hanging open. "What in all the great Beyond is that?"

The black blob chuckled again, its voice disembodied as it echoed from the sandstone walls of the ruin. "Is that any way to speak to your betters, child?" it asked.

"Dread Wolf take you," Rosa shouted at it and launched a fireball at it with a wordless shout.

But the demon only parted to let the fireball pass harmlessly through its middle, sizzling as it shot past. It reformed then, unharmed, and laughed louder this time, as if with genuine amusement. "You do not know how truly entertaining that curse is," it said enigmatically. "But I tire of this. Be gone, Prideful One, my business is with the child of Dirthamen."

Prideful One? She knew why it called her a child of Dirthamen—she wore that truth on her face—but why would it adopt a moniker for Revas? Filing that away to consider in the unlikely event she survived this, Rosa threw up a barrier over herself and Revas and nudged him with her elbow. "Ready to kick some ass, Revas?"

Oddly, Revas ignored her and called out to the demon, "What do you wish of us?"

"I wish nothing of you, Prideful One," it replied smoothly, the black, tarry surface undulating like water. "My business is with her." The Fade rippled around them and Rosa felt the sand beneath her feet begin to shake. She tossed up another barrier with a flick of her hand, casting it in a wide circle to include Revas—only to realize he had vanished.

"Shit," she cursed, spinning around as her throat seemed to close with horror. "Revas?" she called. "Revas?!"

"I have pushed him from the dreaming," the demon said. "He is diminished and useless to me."

"I'll kill you," Rosa promised, reaching inward for mana as she prepared to cast firestorm on it—but the demon let out a pulse of energy that impacted her like a stiff wind. Rosa yelped and rolled sideways, aborting the firestorm.

"Calm yourself, child of Dirthamen. I have no desire to harm you. We need each other, you and I."

"The only thing I need from you is to kill you," Rosa yelled, baring her teeth.

"Incorrect," it said and pulsated, its surface rippling. "As you have no chance of defeating me, you will require my aid in deceiving the humans accompanying you."

"I can take you," Rosa said, blustering.

"You know this is untrue. You can feel my power. Dreamer though you are, you remain alone and restricted by the Veil. Attack me all you like, you will never do me significant harm and I have chased away my simpler brethren. You will never pass your Harrowing in a timely manner without my assistance. Fortunate for you, child, I intend to help you. I will fight you and appear to lose to your prowess in full view of the humans following you. This will ensure you pass your Harrowing."

"I don't believe you, demon!" Rosa shouted at it, shaking with adrenaline. Her hands opened and closed as she considered launching more fire at it.

"There is a price for my help, of course. A choice," the demon said.

Rosa sneered at it, slipping back into common. "Of course."

"You have three options, child, and none of them are possible in this moment. You will make your choice later, outside the dreaming. First, you may choose to do nothing to repay me for my aid. In that event, I will administer punishment. I will whisper a secret you hold dear to the Templars."

Now Rosa's stomach tightened, making her feel nauseous. "What secret?"

The demon chuckled, velvety and smooth. "Truly, you are a child of Dirthamen. You know I will not tell you. That is the difficulty of the choice facing you no matter what decision you make. Yet I will tell you that the secret I reveal will bring you suffering, but not death."

"What are my other choices?" Rosa asked, sidestepping along the sandstone wall, straining her ears and her senses for some sign of the humans on the other side of it. She thought she heard the clash of steel and shouts, the sound of fighting. Had the demon sent some distraction to the shemlen?

The demon rippled again, its shape shifting from a round ball to an oval blob and back once more. "You may repay me in blood. I will accept a vial of your blood in three days' time. You are to leave it in the—"

"No," Rosa snarled, shaking her head. "I know what you want. The answer will always be no."

"Then perhaps you will choose the third option." It pulsed, another hot wind impacting Rosa's skin.

Gritting her teeth, Rosa cast a wall of force, an invisible shield to serve as a windbreak. Dust and sand broke over the invisible windbreak, like pebbles disturbing the smooth surface of a pond. "Speak!" she ordered it.

The demon said, "I desire a vial of blood from the Prideful One."

"What?" Rosa asked, stunned into staring stupefied.

"I require his blood. You are to leave it in the quarters of the Templar you slew in the Fade, where the Veil is thin enough that I may claim it without being summoned."

Rosa scoffed. "Are you daft? No." Pausing a moment, she frowned and switched back to elven. "Why are you after Revas' blood?"

The demon chuckled. "That is not your concern. Unless you desire to enter another exchange to pay for the knowledge."

Of course, she thought and dropped into a battle-ready crouch. "I've heard enough from you," she shouted. "Let's do this, demon!"

The tarry blob stretched, reshaping itself. "You understand my terms? You understand the choice you must make? Pay in blood or I will use your secrets against you."

"I understand you'll try to trick me," Rosa snarled, her feet scuffing on the pebbly sand as she skirted around the demon and along the sandstone wall, ready to bolt. "And that I will never pay you in blood."

The demon cackled, light flashing from its depths as its black color began to transform. "You are a stubborn one, child of Dirthamen, but no matter. The bargain is struck and if you will not submit the payment in blood there is always the other."

Rosa's stomach seemed to fall out of her and to the sand below as she realized what the demon meant: Tal. "You will never have him!"

"Such confidence, child. But it is mere bravado. I can smell your fear like rot on carrion. He is no Dreamer. He can be deceived far easier than you and his blood will suffice." The demon warped with a wet, slurping noise that became a slick growling. The blackness of its shadowy form brightened until it was a fiery red, orange, and yellow. A triangular head took shape with twin glowing coals for eyes. Smoke rose from its skin as it regarded her, its aura crushing and hot and acrid to Rosa's inner senses.

It had become a rage demon, but in appearance only.

"Consider carefully your choice," the demon counseled her, its voice a growl now. "Is your precious blood so valuable that you would suffer for it under the Templars' thumbs? Is your affection for the Prideful One so great that you would sacrifice the child of Mythal? The Prideful One is weak and you could take what I require with ease."

"No," Rosa repeated through gritted teeth, mind spinning. Tossing up another barrier over herself, she concentrated on winter spells and felt her blood flush with cold as her mana responded, eager and brimming. Yet, curiosity made her pause. "Before I send you back to the Void, demon, what do I call you?"

The false rage demon laughed in its hollow growl. "Your ancestors called me the Formless One. But for you, child of Dirthamen, I shall be Raselan."

The name could be translated as agent of shadow.

"Well then, Raselan," Rosa said, grinning hard at it. "It's been a pleasure, but it's time you returned to the Void."

With a shout, Rosa Fade-stepped through the mock rage demon, freezing it as she passed. Whipping around with a flourish, she clenched her hand into a fist and jerked downward, casting winter's grasp. Frost coated the demon's skin, slowing it and turning it mostly white. It cackled, seemingly unperturbed by her attacks, and flung its own arms about, sending out another pulse through the Fade.

Feeling the ground tremble, rumbling even in her chest, Rosa refreshed her barrier and flung a fireball at the demon, Fade-stepping again to freeze it immediately after. As she popped out of the Fade-step, she blinked as she saw a wall of dust dissipating where the sandstone wall had been moments ago. Dark shapes appeared through it and she heard the humans exclaiming at the sight of her.

Apparently Raselan planned to make good on its promise to fight her in full view of the humans. Of course Rosa still suspected there'd be a hidden trap beyond what the demon had said of their "bargain." Spinning about, she launched chain lightning at the demon and then, with a thrust of her palm outward, she sent an ice spike through it.

The demon uttered another of its growling laughs, but did not speak as it hunched up, its core flaring brighter as it erupted into flame. Sparks shot from it and caught on the sand, igniting. It had summoned a barrier over itself, shimmering faintly blue.

Rosa dispelled it with a gesture and the demon gurgled, sinking into itself like a half melted, molten puddle. Yet it had not died so Rosa fought on, reaching deep within herself for the mana to sustain a blizzard spell. As the air temperature plummeted and snow began to freeze out of the air, Rosa sent another ice spike at Raselan. The demon shuddered, frost gleaming white-blue over its skin, but the fires inside it had not yet cooled.

Summoning Fade rock, Rosa flung the stone at him—small though it was without a staff to amplify it—and grinned with triumph when the blow knocked the demon over. But, suddenly and with a swiftness uncharacteristic of a rage demon, Raselan recovered and streaked toward her. The frost over its body evaporated in a white mist, leaving only the brilliant yellow of hot flames that shot out at Rosa.

With a yelp, Rosa ducked and rolled, then popped upright and Fade-stepped through Raselan, freezing it once more. Safely away from it, she intensified the blizzard spell, feeding it more mana even though the drain left her dizzy. Throwing up another barrier over herself, she whirled to face the demon—only to see that it had closed on her and was leaning close to spit fire at her.

Fade-stepping again to evade it, Rosa used winter's grasp once more and, puffing out a breath with effort, unleashed a mindblast. The spirit energy shattered the frost layer over the demon, making it slump into a molten puddle, burning at the edges. The acrid stink of something metallic or chemical burning made the inside of Rosa's nasal passageways sting. Her head pounded, her mana core throbbed in time with her heartbeat and her body broke out in a chilly sweat, muscles trembling.

I'll hit mana burnout if I push it any further...

Grunting, she cut off the blizzard spell at last and strafed sideways, cautious and hoping to keep distance between herself and the demon until she'd managed to regenerate enough mana for a new onslaught. She let her barrier decay, glinting and shimmering as it failed. Her shoulders heaved with each deep, fast breath, precious seconds ticking by.

Raselan, in its rage demon form, had diminished, going mostly brown and deep red. In a normal rage demon that'd be a sign it was tiring and would soon perish. But this was decidedly not a typical rage demon, so this could be part of a trap somehow. Rosa clenched her jaw and steeled herself for the end of this fight, whatever it might be. Behind her, through the smoke and haze of dust, she was vaguely aware of the shemlen watching her, mute but tense.

As Raselan hauled itself up, flexing, and rotated on its puddle-like lower extremities—or trunk, perhaps—Rosa let out a shout and sent another glimmering ice chunk flying at it. The demon stumbled at the impact and Rosa followed it up with Stone Fist, hurling Fade rock at it. The demon shuddered at that, bubbling and burning as it began to dissolve into the sand. Refusing to assume it was finished, Rosa advanced a few steps and used winter's grasp again, coating it in frost as the molten puddle froze. It sizzled a moment and then dissolved, vanishing into green Fade ether.

In the silence that followed, Rosa breathed hard, shoulders heaving. Her mouth was dry and her head still throbbing. She wiped at her brow and blinked through a wave of dizziness. The black clouds circling overhead vanished, revealing the blue sky tainted only with wisps of green clouds and the Black City. Behind her, Rosa heard the shemlen bickering about something but didn't care what they said. As tired as her body was, she knew she needed to force herself awake and out of the Fade or risk being executed for "taking too long."

Sighing, Rosa pivoted round to the shemlen and forced a smile to her lips as she strode toward them. "So…what now?"


Next Chapter

"Hey," Tal said and smacked his lips, wagging his eyebrows suggestively. "The last I checked, our people were losing the numbers game with the shemlen. So I rather think the People need more incorrigible elves like me." Grinning, Tal looked to Solas. "Wouldn't you agree, falon?"

Letting the tension leave his shoulders, Solas chuckled. "I do indeed, falon. I wish you luck."

"Luck," Tal repeated, scoffing playfully. "Luck is for lesser men."

Rosa laughed, reaching over to slug her brother on the shoulder. "Too bad you share your bed with more men than women, isamalin. The last I checked, that didn't help with our numbers."

"On that I must concur as well," Solas added, smirking.


Original Author notes: So, ladies and gents, I'd like to introduce you to the Formless One, also known occasionally as Raselan. If you guys are anything like my beta, you're rather startled at this unexpected twist. Anyone have an idea why it wants her blood? Guesses as to what will happen next? Drop me a line!

As I've said, Rosa and her brother have a lot of secrets. :)

Chapter Text

Solas spent another lunch with Tal and Varric, the three of them subdued with Rosa's continued absence. Tal looked gray and pallid, with rings beneath his eyes from exhaustion and stress. Ignoring Varric, Tal immediately spoke to Solas in elven as he sat down. "She vanquished the demon. I only caught the end of the battle before I woke. I don't know if that means she passed."

Varric watched them, one brow arched with interest though he said nothing.

Solas nodded to the younger elf. "Thank you."

Chewing on a hunk of chicken, Varric said, "So, I take it you two know something about Violet?"

"No," Solas lied and then, at Varric's look of annoyed disbelief, he hedged, "We caught glimpses in the Fade. But it is unclear. We do not know anything with certainty."

"Ah," the dwarf said with a somber nod. "I get it. Talked with enough mages over the years to know the Fade is less than reliable. Or safe for that matter."

Tal chuckled tiredly. "Tell me about it."

Indeed, Solas thought, suppressing a frown as he recalled the Formless One's dismissal of him, something that should have been impossible for it to do. Solas' own weakness shamed him. In Elvhenan, at full strength, he should've been the one with the power to dismiss the Formless One with will alone. Instead, one moment Solas had been in the Fade at Rosa's side, hoping to outwit or bargain with the demon, the next he'd been weightless in the dark only to sit bolt upright in his bed. Although he'd tried to return to the Fade immediately, the blue light of dawn was already peeking in through the windows of the apprentice barracks. Before he could slip into sleep the Tranquil and a Templar came by to release the apprentices and offer up breakfast.

Since then Solas had been trapped in classes as, beginning that morning, the mage who oversaw the apprentices recognized upon seeing him that his magic had returned. Instead of visiting the library for clerical duties he'd endured a lesson on Chantry rhetoric and history, then moved on to assessment by the First Enchanter. His mana reserves were pathetic, near-drained after only a spell or two, but with a pause of a few moments they'd recover. He hoped desperately that his miserable mana reserves would increase, much as his body was recovering, but for now this was better than nothing.

All through his assessment that morning, Solas had been distracted with wondering what fate had befallen Rosa—particularly what the Formless One wanted with her. He could not believe that such an ancient and powerful being would routinely prey on apprentices trying to pass their Harrowing. The First Enchanter and his brethren wouldn't summon a creature so powerful or unfamiliar. They'd seek out a relatively simple demon of rage, pride, fear, or envy.

The Formless One was none of those things and all of them. It had served the Forgotten Ones in Elvhenan as an agent of chaos, death, and disease. Solas assumed it still served them, though now it would at best hear only whispers from its masters, who'd been locked away in the Black Mirror within the Crossroads. If the Formless One still served the Forgotten Ones, Solas expected it'd try to coerce him into freeing its masters. Yet, seemingly, it had no interest in him. What had it told Rosa and why did it have such an interest in her?

The First Enchanter appeared fatigued during the assessment, but gave nothing away of what he'd seen that predawn morning in the Fade as he pronounced Solas well-trained and talented. He expressed curiosity as to who had trained Solas so thoroughly. Solas lied and claimed he'd been trained by the Dalish. That answer seemed to satisfy the First Enchanter and the other senior enchanters who were curious about him. Unlike Rosa, who'd been rather confrontational, Solas' demure and polite demeanor made the other mages friendly and encouraging.

Braden had recommended Solas undergo his Harrowing soon, once he'd had time to be fully reviewed by the mage instructors in matters of history, religion, and magical technique. Solas suspected that meant he'd remain an apprentice for about a week so that all the instructors could get a good read on his abilities and temperament.

"We won't see her if she passed," Tal mused aloud, not bothering to disguise what he said in elven.

Solas nodded. "That is true."

"Passed what?" Varric asked, picking over his chicken leg.

Solas exchanged a quick look with Tal and then said, "We believe she underwent her Harrowing."

Varric's eyes widened and he grunted with interest. "That's the one you mages have to go through to become members of the Circle proper, right?"

"Yep," Tal answered. "We have to face a demon and defeat it."

The dwarf shook his head, whistling. "Sounds like fun. But my money's on Violet. She's tough. I get that sense about her—and I know people."

"Yeah," Tal said, brightening somewhat. "I figure when it's my turn, I'll just talk the demon to death. But Rosa probably beat the stuffing out of the one she met." He sighed, poking dejectedly at his own chicken. "Trouble is, we won't know because the apprentices and the mages don't really comingle unless it's in a class."

Varric wiped the chicken grease off his mouth on his sleeve and then grinned at Tal. "Oh, I'm sure there's ways around that particular problem, Stoic. Seems to me the Seeker and the Knight-Commander think the mages have the full run of the tower come night. Supposedly."

"No we don't," Tal said, frowning. "We get locked in the barracks every night."

"Perhaps the Seeker and the Knight-Commander mean it is only enchanters and mages who have this supposed full run of the tower," Solas suggested. "The tower is certainly labyrinthine. I would undoubtedly become lost in an unfamiliar section of it or a level I was not accustomed to. I suspect the apprentices all feel this way, but the mages see far more of the tower and have greater freedom." He paused, smiling with enjoyment as the idea grew within his mind. "If certain…little-used and hard to find passageways exist, it is far more likely the mages and enchanters are the ones using them. As to what they use them for, that is truly anyone's guess."

"Sex," Tal suggested smirking. "It's always sex." Looking to Varric, he grinned. "You can tell your Seeker that the next time she complains about nefarious mages and secret passageways. I mean, does she really want to disrupt the tiny bit of fun we mages get to partake in?"

Varric chuckled dryly and then, deadpan, he answered, "Yes. She definitely does."

"Well," Tal said, grabbing his chicken and preparing to take a bite. "If you get wind of any of these secret passageways, I want to know where they are. I'd love to see Rosa and make sure she's all right."

As would I, Solas thought.

"I got nothing on secret passageways used by mages plotting rebellion," Varric said as he returned what was left of the chicken leg to his tray and snatched a napkin to wipe off his fingers and mouth. "But I did hear that the Seeker got a raven in from the Divine. Seems there's trouble in Orlais."

"Did the nobles run out of cheese and wine?" Tal asked, scoffing. "Scandalous."

Varric laughed. "That's probably part of it—but, sadly, no. There's apparently some kind of rebellion in Halamshiral. An elven rebellion."

Solas shot Varric a look of interest as he chewed his own meal, focusing on the vegetables. Tal, meanwhile, snorted again. "Good on them. Killing shems is fun. My clan used to do it every chance we got."

Now Varric's lips twisted with displeasure, apparently trying to mask minor offence. Noticing it, Tal added, "Don't worry. They always deserved it. Bandits and poachers and ruffians who thought killing Dalish was some kind of sport. We made sure they learned otherwise." Frowning into his tray, he added in a quieter voice, "Of course, it was usually the last thing they learned."

"Did your clan come under attack a lot?" Varric asked.

Tal nodded grimly. "We lived in Orlais and the Dales. So, yeah. If humans want to hunt Dalish, they go to the Dales because they think most of us still live there."

Varric clucked his tongue, making a face. "Sorry to hear that, Stoic. Sometimes it feels like us nonhumans really have a target painted on our backs."

"You said it," Tal agreed glumly.

Elven rebellion in Halamshiral, Solas thought, noting it as something to pass along to his agent Felassan, who was still in Orlais.


After dinner—during which Varric informed both Solas and Tal that he'd seen Rosa eating with the mages—Solas moved into Rosa's abandoned bunk to be nearer to Tal. While the other apprentices went through the usual nighttime routines and squabbling over the water closet and bath, they sat together on Rosa's bottom bunk and spoke quietly in elven. Although Tal looked exhausted and eager for sleep, Solas decided to press him for clues regarding the demon. He couldn't help but wonder if Tal had overheard something though he claimed not to have seen the fight.

"The demon Rosa faced was not what I expected," he said, reclining with his back against the cold stone wall. "I do not believe she could have truly defeated it."

Tal stared at him, features clouding with something akin to anger. "Are you saying you think she struck a deal with it?" he asked, a note of insult in his voice. "Because she was willing to let Rogathe possess her?"

"No, no," Solas quickly said, shaking his head and raising one hand up in a motion of stop. "Nothing like that," he said, slipping into common because he knew Tal sometimes seemed to stumble over the elven words when he became emotional. It was definitely his second language and not his milk tongue. The same, Solas had noted, could not be said for Rosa.

Tal cocked his head, perplexed. "Then what?"

Licking his lips, Solas spoke slowly and quietly. "You know that your sister and I are both Dreamers. As such, we are sensitive to demons, more so than most mages. The demon waiting for her in the ruins was…a relic. Of the ancients." At Tal's continued expression of bemusement, Solas sighed and changed tactics. "It was akin to a god among demons."

Tal's brow furrowed. "Really?"

"Yes," Solas confirmed with a somber nod. "Defeating such a beast would be impossible for a single mage, but I don't believe the demon sought to kill or possess her. In fact, it said as much to us both."

Tal scowled. "Except it had to be lying. Demons are always lying."

"Not necessarily. A being as ancient as this one is as cunning and multi-faceted as any mortal. I am certain it wanted something of her, of course, but I cannot hope to understand what as I doubt Rosa will tell me." He paused a moment, eyeing the younger elf who stared at him blankly, but his eyes were keen and sharp. Either he was listening as a dutiful student or he was struggling to hide inner knowledge. Tal was a consummate actor, so Solas couldn't be sure which it was. "Do you know why a demon older than the fall of Arlathan would be interested in your sister?"

Tal puckered his lips as if he'd tasted something bitter and then flashed a lopsided smile. "Nope."

This time, despite the fact Solas knew Tal could be deceptive, it seemed obvious the youth was lying. The micro-expression of lip puckering and the fluttery, evasive look in his brown eyes gave it away clearly enough. Solas hesitated, considering pressing Tal further but decided against it for now. If Rosa wouldn't tell him, well, then he'd have to try Tal again.

"Pity," Solas murmured in common. "I do so despise mysteries of this nature."

"Me too," Tal commiserated, making a face that was both frown and smile somehow. "But maybe Rosa knows? I'm sure you can get the truth out of her." He winked at Solas and then sighed as he scooted out of the bunk and stood upright, stretching. "I'm going to bed, Revas. See you in the morning."

"And you, falon," Solas returned and found, with a warm smile, that he meant it.

It was only a few minutes later that a Templar toured through the barracks and then shuttered them inside for the night. Solas was asleep and slipping into the Fade before the lights were doused, his last thoughts of meeting Rosa in the Fade to uncover what the Formless One had wanted from her...

The crackling sound of flames filled Solas' ears and the scent of wood smoke tickled his nose. Opening his eyes, Solas saw that he stood in the deep shadows at the edge of a small clearing in a pine forest. Snow crunched under his feet as he turned round and saw the orange light of a campfire, a few meters away in the clearing. He heard quiet voices and recognized the two dark shapes sitting beside the fire—Rosa and Tal. His inner senses told him these were not spirits or demons, but sleepers, and one of them had the weighty sensation that marked a Dreamer.

Slowly, Solas made his way through the trees to join the siblings at the fire. Rosa looked up first, flashing him a bright smile. "Aneth ara," she greeted him with a laugh.

"It is good to see you, lethallan," Solas said, returning her smile as he sat at the campfire. A tripod of sticks had been erected over it and supported a pot that boiled with some kind of stew. It smelled of herbs, onions, and rabbit. "I see you have not spared on any detail. Whose dream is this?"

"Mine, of course," Rosa said, shrugging as she lifted her hand and conjured a stick from Fade ether to poke at the fire and the cooking pot. "The Templars starved me for a day and a half, you know. After the Harrowing was over they gave me some bread and water, begrudgingly congratulated me on not dying, and then sent me off to bed. Needless to say, after my fight in the Fade, the bread was just a cruel tease. So, I dreamed up this fabulous meal. You know, because now I'm Circle royalty compared to you lot."

Setting the stick aside, she straightened her back and thrust her chin in the air with a mock-haughtiness that made Solas smirk and Tal laugh. "You both are now to address me as Mage Rosa. I get to sleep in a room with only three other people now. A real upgrade. I might as well be a shem-noble." Laying a hand over her chest, she sniffed arrogantly. "I will set your coattails afire from now on if you do not scrape and grovel to my satisfaction."

"Oh, forgive my intolerable manners," Tal said, hopping up and bending over double to bow exaggeratedly. "Madam, please spare me your wrath for my uncouthness."

Rosa laughed at him and, with a push at the air, she sent a splash of water conjured from Fade-ether into his face. Tal fell backward, spluttering and glaring a moment until he started to laugh with her. Solas watched them, smiling warmly and shaking his head.

"I am grateful you triumphed and passed your Harrowing," Solas said with a nod to Rosa as the siblings' laughter eased. "But I am concerned at the cost. That demon was not one you could have defeated without an army at your disposal."

Rosa sobered, staring at him across the fire. The orange light glittered in her violet eyes, casting harsh shadows in the contours. "You seem to know a great deal about it, Revas. What can you tell me about the demon?"

The coy smile spread over her lips and Solas bit back the desire to scowl with displeasure. Focusing on the fire, he admired the color of the tongues of flame and inhaled the scent of the cooking stew as he panned through his mind and memories, seeking something safe to say. Pinching his lips together, he said, "Surely you could sense the demon's power, lethallan? You are not so arrogant or foolish to believe you could have defeated it?"

"You didn't answer her," Tal observed, brow furrowing. "How do you really know Rosa didn't defeat it? Neither of us saw the battle…"

Solas clenched his jaw, gaze flicking between brother and sister. They had allied against him, apparently. Unless he could come up with a convincing way that he knew of this demon, he'd have to relent in this line of questioning or reveal that he was not the half-Dalish wandering apostate he'd claimed to be. Rosa had already long since suspected as much, but Solas couldn't risk revealing it for fear that once she saw that truth she'd unravel the rest of his past.

And with that thought cold dread seized him by the throat with an iron grip as he wondered what the Formless One had already told Rosa. He could almost hear its sharp, disembodied androgynous voice saying, 'You keep unusual company, child of Dirthamen. Did you know your companion is a trickster? The Dread Wolf himself?'

Thinking quickly, despite his dread, Solas said, "I have encountered powerful demons before in ancient ruins. Some were bound as guardians; others merely roamed the Fade freely. They can be deadly creatures, but more likely they are tricksters seeking entertainment and amusement. There is usually no harm in merely speaking with them and most do not attack on sight." This was true for the most part, which lent him the confidence and clarity of his explanation.

Continuing, he added, "I have not encountered this specific demon, but I recognize its ilk and know I would be no match for it in single combat." That was a lie in both aspects. He had met the Formless One before, numerous times in fact. And, at full strength, he could have held his own against the Formless One and even one of its masters the Forgotten Ones, though the fight would be challenging even for him. The Evanuris had been unable to completely eradicate or control the Forgotten Ones despite combining forces, after all.

Rosa still wore the coy smile, but now Solas thought he detected a tightening around her eyes that wasn't from humor. Stress? He wasn't sure. Tal, meanwhile, simply appeared intrigued with his palm cupping his chin as he leaned his elbows forward onto his knees.

"So," Solas went on, slow and careful, "I have some measure of experience interacting with these beings. If one is cautious, they can be informative wellsprings of ancient knowledge, being immortal as they are. Generally speaking, the older the spirit, the stronger it is. This one was very powerful. Wouldn't you agree, Rosa?"

She nodded once. "I would."

Digging in now, Solas said, "I was present when it told you it had no desire to possess or harm you. Naturally, then, I suspect it offered you a bargain in exchange for its help in deceiving the humans observing your Harrowing."

Rosa scowled, nostrils flaring and brow knitting as she turned her head away, staring into the darkness of the snowy woods off to the side of their dream-camp. The silence dragged on, thick and heavy.

Sitting beside his sister, Tal shifted and cleared his throat, casting a glare Solas' way. "Way to dampen the mood, Revas."

Solas bristled. "If you are not concerned by the matter at hand then it is clear you do not understand it. The demon has the power, will, and knowledge to be truly dangerous in both the waking world and the Fade. Its interest in Rosa is alarming, to say the least." Pinning Rosa—who still wouldn't meet his eye—with a glare, Solas added, "Do you have any inkling as to why this ancient demon would target you? I doubt it stalks apprentices undergoing their Harrowing regularly."

Now her head turned slightly, her violet eyes pivoting to land on him and narrow. "Tell me something, Revas." Her lips quirked downward. "Why did the demon call you Prideful One?"

The lie came easily to Solas' lips. "In my youth that name would have been an apt moniker. I was hotheaded and brash. I suspect the demon was—"

Tal cut him off. "Rogathe called you Pride too."

Forcing a polite smile onto his lips, Solas glanced to Tal and nodded to acknowledge him. "Yes, it did. For the same reason, I suspect." He swallowed, aware of the sudden sweat that'd broken out over his back and around his neck. It made him itchy but he refused to scratch. Tal was very observant and had a fantastic memory, at least when not mildly intoxicated. He filed that away as an important side note: Do not underestimate Tal.

Rosa's expression with the tight, coy smile, told Solas he hadn't convinced her. She shifted in her spot, pulling one knee up to her chest and wrapping her arms around it. "All right, Prideful One. You want to know what the demon asked for?" She snatched up the stick she'd used to prod the fire earlier and it transformed into a dagger. With a grunt, she stabbed it down into the dirt beside the fire. "It wanted a choice. I repay it for its help or it punishes me in some unpleasant way involving the Templars."

"What choice?" Solas prodded, leaning closer despite the blazing heat of the fire. "How did it wish to be repaid?"

She fingered the handle, which was inlaid with the bluish hue of ironbark. "You don't need to know that. The decision is mine to make."

"It targeted you," Solas reminded her. "Why?"

She glared at him, gripping the handle of the dagger in the sand as if considering using it on him. "Why do you know so much about ancient demons?" she countered in a growl.

"I've told you," Solas retorted. "I have—"

"Why do you know so much about the dreaming?" she continued, gesturing at the Fade around them, her volume rising even as her tone dropped with anger. "Why are you so frightened of the foci even though you claim you know nothing about it?"

"Because I can recognize a threat when I see one," Solas snapped. "And I know about the Fade because it is my birthright as a Dreamer, just as it is yours!"

"No," Rosa said sharply, shaking her head. "We aren't born knowing it. Who taught you? You said you were a wandering apostate. You expect me to believe you're self-taught?"

Baring his teeth in frustration as he felt heat lick up his cheeks all the way to his ear tips, Solas made an upward slashing motion of one hand to indicate her. "And what of you?" he demanded, scoffing. "I have told you I studied Tevinter texts and spoke with spirits to learn what I know. How did you come by your extensive knowledge?"

Tal groaned suddenly, rolling his eyes. "Would you both just kiss already? I'm sick of listening to this Dreamer mage pissing match."

Solas glared at the younger man, lips parted slightly with surprise even as his eyes narrowed and brow furrowed in a glare. Rosa simply glowered at her brother with disapproval. Breaking the silence, Solas asked, "Pardon…?"

Ignoring Solas' question, Tal stabbed a finger at Rosa. "Asamalin, let Revas be. He's helped us repeatedly and doesn't deserve your suspicion."

Rosa snorted and muttered under her breath, "Mythal preserve me…"

Turning to regard Solas now, Tal pointed to him as he said, "And you, Revas, leave Rosa alone. She's right that whatever the demon wanted is her business." He shuddered then, as if cold, and wrapped his arms about himself. "I only hope that it's not waiting for me when my Harrowing comes."

Beside him, Rosa averted her eyes, staring into the fire with a troubled expression. Solas watched her, suspicions churning inside him. Why did the Formless One target her? The question dug into him like a barbed arrow or like caustic spirit magic, damaging him long after the event was already finished. If he knew anything about the Forbidden Ones and the Forgotten Ones it was that dealings with them always had consequences. Rosa was in potentially grave danger and her refusal to seek his guidance on the matter could very well get her killed.

Abruptly, Rosa cleared her throat and spoke into the sullen silence that'd descended over them, addressing Tal. "Isamalin, if you meet this demon…you must not give it what it asks. It will punish you, but you mustn't…" She broke off, swallowing as her voice cracked.

"Punish me?" Tal asked, arching an eyebrow. After a beat he put on a lascivious leer. "Will I like this punishment? Is it naughty?"

"By Sylaise," Rosa said, laughing. "You are incorrigible."

"Hey," Tal said and smacked his lips, wagging his eyebrows suggestively. "The last I checked, our people were losing the numbers game with the shemlen. So I rather think the People need more incorrigible elves like me." Grinning, Tal looked to Solas. "Wouldn't you agree, falon?"

Letting the tension leave his shoulders, Solas chuckled. "I do indeed, falon. I wish you luck."

"Luck," Tal repeated, scoffing playfully. "Luck is for lesser men."

Rosa laughed, reaching over to slug her brother on the shoulder. "Too bad you share your bed with more men than women, isamalin. The last I checked, that didn't help with our numbers."

"On that I must concur as well," Solas added, smirking.

Tal grunted and shrugged. "I'll get around to the numbers thing along the way." He elbowed Rosa, chuckling dryly. "Just like lenalin."

Rosa groaned, making a face of disgust. "How about no."

"Oh asamalin," Tal said with a theatrical sigh as he leaned into her and wound one arm over her. "You're no fun at all. You and Revas both."

Only half-listening to their bantering, Solas considered the tiny, precious mana coiling in his core and the promise it represented that he would recover, was recovering. As pleasant and intriguing as spending time with the Dalish siblings was, Solas had vital and important things to do elsewhere. He remembered Zevanni and the Grey Warden she'd been interrogating in the Fade, learning the tantalizing news of a darkspawn magister that'd been freed from his sealed tomb and now headed a Tevinter supremacist cult. The magister might possess interesting knowledge or may have hoarded precious magical relics Zevanni could plunder—but there was a growing thought spinning within Solas' mind.

He wasn't strong enough to unlock his own foci safely to gain access to the Anchor, which would allow him to enter the Fade physically with ease. Even if he could manage it currently, Solas couldn't be certain channeling so much mana after having so little wouldn't kill him. His body was mortal with the Veil in place, holding back the restorative nature of the Fade and its magic. He couldn't take such a risk with his life. If he died then his agents would have no hope of saving the Elvhen people or restoring the Fade by destroying the Veil.

But a darkspawn magister would likely have the knowledge and power to unlock the orb. He'd understand it as no other human could in modern Thedas, because in ancient Tevinter Elvhen artifacts had still been commonly used, though they were rebranded first. And—knowing the magister was probably sadistic and villainous—he'd probably be overjoyed at the prospect of unlocking the foci in some nefarious plot…

And there was the ongoing need to check in with Felassan, who had been spotty with communication for years now. According to Zevanni, Felassan hadn't made contact with her in quite some time and wasn't in the Fade whenever she'd looked. Could he be avoiding Zevanni and Solas himself? Or was he just busy and distracted and far away from both of them? The vast distance between Tevinter and Orlais might be enough that Felassan couldn't check in without the advent of lyrium to enhance his connection to the Fade. He'd been a strong Dreamer in Elvhenan, but the Veil had weakened him more than it had Zevanni.

Feeling a prickle of unease, Solas rose to his feet. "If you'll excuse me," he said to the siblings. "I fear I must bid you both goodnight."

Tal smiled at him, yawning. "Sure. See you tomorrow morning, Revas."

But Rosa's eyes narrowed with suspicion and lingering animosity from their heated exchange earlier. "Where are you off to?" she asked.

"You asked once if I would ever aid you in managing the mages' dreams as we try to stir rebellion," Solas reminded her, smiling slightly. "I have begun recovering and now I intend to make up for lost time."

"Sure," Tal groused. "Now you feel great in the Fade. Probably because you had to draw all my mana out the last two nights."

"Ir abelas," Solas apologized with a sympathetic grimace. "I had no choice."

"Well," Tal said, smiling and winking at him. "I forgive you, even though there's nothing to forgive."

"I'm pleased to hear it," Solas replied and nodded to the younger man and then to Rosa. "I will see you both tomorrow, either in the dreaming or—"

"When's your religious class?" Rosa interrupted him.

"In the morning," Solas answered, trying to ignore the lance of irritation that cut through him at her repeated delaying of his departure. Did she suspect him of something nefarious?

"First or second class?" she asked, seeking clarification.

"First," he told her.

She nodded. "Maybe I'll stop by and steal you away sometime. You can't say no to a full-fledged Circle mage, lowly apprentice flat-ear." She smirked, though the amusement didn't quite reach her eyes.

"Indeed," Solas told her and then motioned at the dark woods. "I shall take my leave now."

"Dareth shiral," Tal called after him as he began walking into the forest.

Rosa piped up as well with: "And may the Dread Wolf never catch your scent."

Solas' step faltered at her words for a beat before he resumed, scowling and shaking his head as a cold sweat broke out over his body. What did the Formless One tell her?

Perhaps after seeking Felassan he would risk trying to find the demon to see if he could puzzle that out.


Solas found Felassan in a simple dream that recreated his campsite, complete with a small fire and the sharp scent of herbs used in Elvhenan to induce deep dreaming. He sat against a tree that had mostly shed its leaves, green Fade-ether twining up from the ground around the fire and Felassan himself. With his hood up and his head slumped down so that his chin could rest against his chest Solas could see nothing of the other man's face.

Felassan had struggled since waking to connect with the Fade confidently and it showed in the minimalist nature of his dreams. From just outside the hazy circle of light from Felassan's campfire, Solas could see the other Elvhen man's pack and basic survival gear and cooking supplies. A hunting knife sat on a stone off to the right of the fire, the bloodstains on it glinting in the orange-green light. It was oddly coincidental how similar Felassan's dream was with Rosa and Tal's. Solas could smell the leftovers of cooked meat in the thick air of the Fade and bit the inside of his cheek as distracting thoughts of Rosa and Tal flitted through his mind, wondering again about the Formless One's interest in Rosa.

Felassan drew in a breath, just loud enough for Solas to hear over the gentle crackle of the fire. "Is it the Wolf that prowls through this dream?" he asked in a light, almost playful voice. "Or is it the man?"

Solas smiled slightly, though there was no chance Felassan would see him where he still lurked in the dark. When Felassan was jovial he usually had good news to report.

Striding out into the flickering orange-green light of Felassan's campfire, Solas tucked his hands behind his back in a loose fist—a posture of authority. "Do not ask questions you already know the answer to, da'len," he said. "What progress have you made with the eluvians?"

Felassan raised his head, his eyes glittering in the firelight. He wore Mythal's vallaslin, although his tattoo was a fake as he'd made the ink himself with no blood—although he had sought out a Keeper to apply the tattoo. The vallaslin was a strategic choice in camouflage to ensure Dalish clans were more receptive of him.

"I have seen to it that clan Virnehn uncovered a hidden entrance in the Dales." His lips curled in a smug smile. "They, of course, leapt at the chance to uncover a few bits of broken pottery and some dusty old Elvhen bones."

"Naturally," Solas said, nodding. He'd heard reports about clan Virnehn before and knew Felassan had been ingratiating himself to them and working with these Dalish elves for years. It was long, tedious work but with a huge prize as its goal. Coming to that point, Solas asked, "And what of reactivating the eluvian network?"

Now Felassan's lips parted as his smile became more of a grimace. "Therein lies the problem. Thelhen may be obsessed with uncovering the past, but he's as stubborn as a halla and as stupid as a sack of rocks." Smirking, he added, "Sadly, he's not as useful as a halla so he doesn't make up for it that way."

"Stay on topic," Solas chided him gently. Felassan had complained bitterly more than once about this particular Keeper—Thelhen.

Felassan's brow furrowed slightly, the only sign he was irritated by Solas' scolding, but he moved on swiftly. "Thelhen believes with every fiber of his being that shemlen are what stole our immortality. As a result, he refuses to interact with them. I've repeatedly played retriever for him to obtain items he requires that can only come from the humans, but it's taken an infuriating amount of time. Truly, I watched empires crumble faster than Thelhen's plans and spellcrafting coming to fruition."

Solas resisted the desire to frown at that comment. Empires crumbling…

Felassan shifted his back against the tree, sitting more upright. "Furthermore, the old fool refuses to believe me when I tell him that summoning a powerful, ancient demon is, in fact, a very stupid thing to do."

Solas arched an eyebrow. "He intends to summon a demon to gain access to the eluvians?"

"Yes," Felassan confirmed. "And if he manages the summoning correctly, my guess is he'll pull a very ancient someone from the Fade." His smile was hard and humorless. "Of the type that consorted with certain so-called friends of yours."

"And which friends would that be?" Solas asked as he knelt on the opposite side of Felassan's small campfire.

Felassan's vallaslin moved as the muscles around his eyes tightened with amusement. "I believe these friends of yours are presently idling away their days in permanent exile in the Void."

"Ah," Solas said, humming in the back of his throat. "Those friends. How interesting." The "friends" Felassan meant were the Forgotten Ones rather than the Evanuris. As the Forgotten Ones were locked away, that meant Felassan suspected that Keeper Thelhen would wind up summoning one of the Forbidden Ones. How…coincidental. Perhaps the Formless One's interest in Rosa somehow related back to this?

"Yes, that's what I thought. I'm inclined to let Thelhen learn his lesson the hard way." Felassan grinned. "It would be an entertaining, though messy, way to test exactly how strong Thelhen's spirit-trap runes are. Don't you think?"

"Yes," Solas agreed, but frowned. "Except that we need the Keeper and his clan, da'len." The diminutive da'len lingered in the air between them, a reminder to them both that although Felassan had noticeably aged in appearance since waking post-Veil, it was Solas who was the respected elder here by several centuries at least.

Felassan clucked his tongue. "Yes, except for that annoying detail, hahren. How could I have forgotten?" Felassan would need members of clan Virnehn to accompany him through the eluvian network whenever they finally obtained the missing keystone from the Fade. Solas knew Felassan had hoped to combine magical strength with several other Dalish elves to force the old magic of the eluvians to switch on without a keystone—which was, apparently, in the hands of one of the Forbidden Ones—but apparently the other clans in Orlais had refused.

Dipping his head slightly, hiding his face and eyes beneath the shadow of his hood, Felassan cleared his throat and added, in a tighter, more hesitant voice, "There is another matter as well. My ward, Briala, has been fighting to improve the lives of the city elves in Orlais. There's been some shenanigans by the shemlen over the Orlesian throne and—"

Solas made a cutting motion with his hand. "I have no interest in Orlesian politics unless they aid us in some way with regard to the eluvians." He narrowed his eyes at Felassan across the fire, letting the other Elvhen man see his irritation. Felassan had used Briala's spying tidbits over the years to aid the Dalish clans, protecting them from nobles out joyriding for instance. She had been helpful in that respect, but beyond that Solas saw no reason to listen to drivel about Orlais.

Felassan raised his head again, his own eyes narrowed slightly though his mouth curled in a tight smile. If Solas hadn't known the other elf for centuries—having even taught him as an adolescent—he might've mistaken it for politeness. Instead, Solas saw masked disapproval and annoyance.

"You disagree?" he asked, voice sharp.

"I said no such thing." Felassan's smile widened as he apparently sought levity. "But I may have thought it rather loudly."

"Then I would advise you to change those thoughts," Solas said, cutting his agent a warning glare, refusing to be swayed by Felassan's dry humor. "Lest I find myself questioning whether you have forgotten your purpose and become distracted by this shadow world."

"I will never forget my purpose, hahren," Felassan said, brow furrowing and voice earnest, though tight as well. Solas could almost feel the tension thrumming in the Fade between them. Felassan knew the price of disobedience would be severe.

…Assuming Solas had the talent currently to administer it. Solas' chest constricted at the thought, realizing that he could not risk revealing his weakness or present position to Felassan. Doing so might only encourage the other man to disobey, knowing punishment would not come and that Solas could not come after him all that quickly.

Felassan spoke again, haltingly. "But, I wonder if it is not possible for me to take action to better the lives of the shem-elves…when it does not conflict with my mission, of course."

Clenching his jaw, Solas averted his gaze to stare off into the Fade-ether twining about the barren tree branches at the edge of the campsite. He recalled Rosa's violet eyes, sharp with intelligence and wit and pain in the dreams he'd shared with her. He pictured Tal's long-featured face and catlike grace and his humor, all of which would've fit in so well in Arlathan's court. He heard Rogathe's voice repeat, "All of them are real."

Relenting, Solas let his shoulders slouch slightly and saw the immediate brightening in Felassan's mood in response. "I agree, da'len." Shifting slightly, he leaned closer and dropped his voice into a conspiratorial range. "In fact, I may be able to provide you some aid in this matter." He smiled slightly. "I have learned there is an elven rebellion within Halamshiral."

Felassan's brow arched in response. "Indeed?"

"I do not know how old this news may be," Solas hedged. "But I suspect it may be valuable to your ward and, assuming it does not delay you, I see no harm in sharing it."

Now Felassan grinned. "I would never have suspected that Fen'Harel of all people would delight in rebellion!"

Solas chuckled. "Yes, I am the very image of peace and prosperity."

"As I'm certain Elgar'nan and Falon'Din would agree," Felassan quipped. "If only we could consult them via the dreaming." He hummed in the back of his throat. "I do wonder what ever happened to our illustrious, so-called Creators?"

"Nothing they did not dearly deserve," Solas answered, almost growling. With a sigh, he stood upright, preparing to take his leave. Facing Felassan, he sobered as something in the other elf's stare—or something unseen but sensed passed between them in the Fade—made his stomach clench cold with dread. "Do not stray from your purpose, da'len," he warned again, his voice deep and dark. "We cannot waver in what must be done and time is ever against us without the Fade."

Felassan's tight smile returned. "Waver?" He snorted. "I do not know the meaning of the word."

"Do not jest," Solas warned him, glaring. His stomach remained cold and taut.

Sobering, Felassan stared at him, unflinching. "Did I waver, hahren, when we erected the Veil? Did I waver when I knew we must let Mythal die or be routed ourselves?" He broke off, sucking in a shaky breath as his eyes drifted to the fire, a touch too bright. "She was like a mother to me, but I knew you were right. We could not save her without abandoning our cause and our cause was just…"

Is, Solas thought, sensing something hidden underlying Felassan's words. Our cause remains just. He wanted to speak it aloud, but hesitated, unwilling to admonish Felassan further for fear of alienating him. He'd already spent so long awake with the strangling grip of mortality at his neck that it could have dulled his memories of Elvhenan, of the world whole with the Fade. It could have changed his heart. And Solas had spent almost all of it asleep, unable to do anything but touch base with him via dreams occasionally.

"Ir abelas, da'len," Solas told him, his voice softer now as he pushed those darker thoughts away. "I know it is difficult, but the time is nearly upon us. Our struggle will soon be finished and there will no longer be any need to concern ourselves with the plight of the shem-elves."

Felassan nodded. As you say, hahren. It will be done."


Elven Used:

Lenalin: "male parent"

Dareth shiral: Be safe/safe journeys

Asamalin/Isamalin: Sister/Brother


Next Chapter:

Rosa leaned closer to him, her lips drawing back from her teeth in a savage flash of something akin to anger, but not directed at him. "The demon wanted your blood; I don't know why. But do you know what I told it?"

Solas turned his head slightly, staring at her obliquely, barely daring to breathe. His throat seemed to have seized up; gripped with cold dread and…something else he didn't dare name. It thrummed in the Fade between them, warm and fluttering and fierce and defiant. He wasn't certain what was his emotion, hers, or both.

"I told it I'd never give it what it wanted, Void take it." Pressing closer still, Solas felt the breath of her words brush over his skin and his heart started pounding frantically. Despite this being the Fade, her shoulders felt firm beneath his hands, her scent washing over him and stirring that foolish, delicious longing within him. The taciturn survivor within him screamed at him to pull away, to reject her. Clashing with his raw want, it left him motionless and dumbfounded, though his eyes dropped repeatedly to her lips and then to her eyes, still seeking permission for a kiss he could never take.


Original author note (responding to a reviewer from FFnet):

Many thanks again to [] for your review! Yes, Solas isn't as good at keeping his secrets secret here for several reasons, I'd say. First he is so freshly woken he's flying by the seat of his pants, definitely! But I also had to have him consider his surroundings. The Circle will NOT tolerate him being a Fade-expert the way the Inquisition would, so he has to keep that under wraps early on. In the Inquisition he can come forward with that as an asset because of the Breach. A Fade-expert is suddenly just what the DR ordered there. But in the Circle it's just going to draw Templar ire.

And then, of course, there's Rosa, who he is just not prepared for! I always felt like in Inquisition if we could have just pressed him a bit more at several key points his story there would have started to look really thin or outright crumble. In The Masked Empire Briala basically does that with Felassan, needling him, and he ultimately breaks and admits he isn't Dalish. So, in making Rosa, I wanted a character who would ask those tough questions from him, like Briala. That's my thinking process behind this, anyway.

Writing this prequel meant taking on Felassan, and, oddly, I've felt really anxious about it! Returning to The Masked Empire, I began to get a sense that he's grown tired of what he's doing. I also got to thinking about the events of The Masked Empire from Solas' perspective and decided...Fen'Harel had probably been disappointed in Felassan for a while. Felassan basically reveals the power of the eluvians to Celene and Gaspard, who both dream of using the mirrors for themselves. I suspect Solas didn't appreciate that. So, I presented that here.

Anyway, how about that next chapter preview, eh? Are you guys ready for some ROMANCE? Hahaha!

Chapter Text

The next day passed uneventfully as Solas attended his various classes, but in the afternoon he joined a course that actually practiced magic and the day grew more exciting from there. He shared the course with Tal and two dozen other apprentices, all of them learning basic-level spells in the four schools of magic.

Tal had clearly been one of the favorites and his face beamed as he twirled his stave and cast spell after spell at the instructor's command. Though Tal had said his Keeper never trained him, Solas saw little evidence that the youth hadn't been tutored early and often by someone throughout his life. Other apprentices, far younger and timid, watched him with the same awe and timidity they reserved for their teacher.

Solas tried to be demure when the instructor had him mount the podium for individual assessment, but his long years of experience quickly took over. The joy of magic sang through his blood, even though the mana reserves within him were puny, and Solas' mind narrowed down to a razor's focus of himself, the stave, the dummy he aimed spells at, and the teacher's instruction.

"Winter's grasp," the teacher, a human woman named Yvette, shouted.

Solas acted even before she finished speaking, clenching a fist and spinning the staff. He held it up, balanced on his arm and on his back, and barely felt the stiffness and aching of his muscles through the pounding delight of magic. A layer of white frost gripped the dummy and fog rose around it as the cold reacted to the warmth of the room.

"Immolate!" Thrusting out a hand, Solas called fire, switching without hesitation between the opposite schools. An orange-red glow formed beneath the dummy for an eye blink and then burst into flame, which Solas swiftly doused with an idle wave of his hand.

"Mindblast!" Solas reached within himself to draw out the mana for the spell and then, suddenly, paused as a wave of dizziness made him sway on the podium. He was low on mana. He sucked in a breath, eyes closing as he tried to regain control and come out of the fugue of spell casting.

"Mindblast," the teacher repeated, but her voice was gentle.

Feeling his mana recovering, Solas reached inward again and hunched up as he let the mindblast explode outward. The podium's runes absorbed the energy of the spell, dissipating it with a slight hiss as the runes activated. Distantly, Solas heard the other apprentices whispering with approval, apparently impressed despite his pause.

"You recover remarkably fast," Yvette said with an approving nod at him. "And you have brilliant control."

"My thanks," Solas told her blankly, still staring at the dummy and maintaining a battle ready stance.

"You've seen combat," Yvette added. "That much is obvious as well."

Now Solas made an effort to relax and clutch the stave as a walking stick instead as he stared at the teacher and tried not to frown at how easily he'd let her read him. "The life of an apostate ensured I saw combat more than I'd like," he hedged. "Bandits, wild animals…"

"Templars?" Yvette asked, arching an eyebrow.

"No," Solas answered truthfully. "I have never fought Templars. I was very cautious and stayed in the wilds so as never to encounter them."

Yvette's gaze held something dark and…intriguing. She grunted and edged closer to the podium, speaking conspiratorially, "I can't help but be curious how you'd stand up to one of them."

"Poorly," Solas said with a frown, also quietly. "At least in my current condition."

"Well," Yvette said, withdrawing back a step. "I suppose we'll never know now, will we?" Yet her tone suggested otherwise.

Solas nodded to her politely.

Yvette turned from the podium then to the other apprentices, all standing about the training hall and individually practicing the motions of spell casting. "Tal," she called and when the young elf glanced up from his spot sparring with a young boy of no more than twelve, Yvette motioned for him to come to her.

Tal smiled at his partner to excuse himself and then trotted through the ranks of apprentices to the podium at the front of the class. "Yes, ma'am?"

Yvette gestured to Solas, who still stood on the podium. "I'm curious to see how the two of you stack up. If I'm reading Revas right, he's seen more combat than you but has limited mana. I've always wondered whether power or experience gives the greater advantage."

Seen more combat than Tal…you have no idea, Solas thought sourly as Yvette directed him to stand facing Tal at the front of the training hall and quickly laid out more runes to blunt their magic. Then she ordered the class to watch and learn from the sparring and laid out ground rules. "Spells at no greater than half strength and nothing we haven't covered in this course. We don't want to actually harm one another. All schools are allowed."

Solas assumed a battle ready position within his own circle of runes while Yvette was still speaking, assessing Tal with the eyes of a long time veteran. The younger elf rolled his head about to stretch his neck and performed other slight warm up actions, occasionally shooting Solas a cocky, playful smile.

Yvette went on with the ground rules, switching to the end goal. "You lose if your barrier decays from damage or mana burnout and is not immediately refreshed. Go!"

Solas and Tal both tossed up barriers simultaneously, but Solas was the faster with activating his first offensive spell—winter's grasp. Tal's barrier rippled and shimmered, absorbing the magical attack with ease. With a grunt, Tal hurled a fireball at him.

Knowing his barrier was weak due to his own pathetic mana reserves, Solas sidestepped to the edge of his rune circle, almost leaping out of it. The fireball brushed his barrier, making it ripple and weaken a bit faster, but the blow was glancing, reducing the damage. Yvette and the class gasped audibly and Solas was vaguely aware of her rushing to douse the area where Tal's fireball had landed.

"Tricky," Tal said in elven with a cluck of his tongue, grinning. "Hahren."

Solas let his barrier decay as he twirled his stave, sending chain lightning arcing toward Tal. Tal tried to dodge, but less artfully than Solas had and the lightning still caught his barrier head on. The energy of Solas' spell destroyed the barrier and both mages quickly refreshed their barriers to show they were still in the game.

"No more nice Dalish," Tal announced, laughing. Spinning round, Tal channeled energy through his staff, flinging smaller fireballs in rapid succession at Solas.

The constant barrage ensured Solas couldn't possibly dodge them all and his barrier absorbed blow after blow, buzzing and shimmering as it dispersed the magical energy. Solas could feel it weakening dramatically and refreshed it with a flick of one hand, but embedded it with a passive spell to absorb stray mana from Tal's attacks, rather than lose it to the Veil. Technically that was cheating as it wasn't a basic-level spell Yvette taught in this course, but what was the value of experience if he did not use it? With that extra energy incoming Solas summoned winter's grasp again, freezing Tal's barrier and shattering it.

Tal's mouth fell open, gawping and then laughing as he put up his own barrier. "Strong one," he complimented.

"Ma serannas," Solas replied with a nod as he spun his staff and sent a bolt of lightning to strike hard at Tal. The energy crackled, sparking off his barrier, making it flicker as it rapidly decayed.

Tal used winter's grasp just as Solas had moments ago, but his spell broke over Solas' barrier, having minimal effect. Solas grinned with triumph at the younger elf, unable to keep his reaction in check as Tal frowned with bemusement. As winter magic was Solas' affinity, he'd long ago mastered a spell to make him near-immune to offensive attacks using that school. Apparently those inactive, idle spells Solas used to repel winter magic attacks weren't something Tal had learned yet—if they'd survived at all to the present age.

A quick glance at Yvette and the other apprentices, however, soured Solas' mood immediately as he remembered suddenly where and when he was. Yvette and Tal and all the others knew he was supposed to be incredibly weak. They'd seen as much when Solas drew near mana burnout on the podium. They didn't know the tricks for siphoning mana from an opponent's attacks to compensate and would be flummoxed by his current strength in combat. And, while impressing others with magic was something Solas was very much accustomed to doing, he also knew when to be cautious. There was incredible value in never letting others see your full abilities.

I must lose, he realized and altered his stance slightly as he made up his mind. He let the stray magic of Tal's attacks go to waste and made no effort to dodge.

Grunting with effort, Tal began another barrage of fire, then switched to chain lightning. The rapid combination was too much for Solas' barrier without the magic-conservation spells and it broke apart, popping like a bubble. Solas refreshed it, using more mana than was necessary to purposefully drain his reserves, and then countered Tal's attack with a fireball of his own.

Tal dodged, cursing under his breath, though his expression was alive with enjoyment. Twirling his staff and then pivoting around on one ankle, Tal sent more chain lightning at Solas.

Deliberately taking the attack head-on, Solas felt his barrier fray and then burst. Refreshing it once more, he found himself suddenly swaying on his feet. Tal, meanwhile, let out a wordless shout and clenched his fist, using winter's grasp. Solas' barrier still withstood the attack better than Tal would've handled the same spell from Solas, but it was decaying rapidly. The room spun and Solas' body was doused with the sudden panicky sweat of mana burnout.

"I concede," he announced as his barrier dissolved.

Yvette clapped her hands. "Well done, apprentices! Well done." Turning toward Tal, she said, "Your footwork was a bit sloppy several times. I can see your passion when casting in fire school and it shows in your footwork. It's too jerky, too fast to be sustainable. With winter school it's too slow though, so do keep that in mind."

Tal nodded to her respectfully. "Thank you, ma'am."

Glancing to Solas, Yvette smiled. "Your footwork was excellent, Revas. My only advice is to focus on some mana conservation exercises. I think you could have lasted longer. You seemed to pace yourself well at the start, but overextended yourself at the end."

How observant you are, Solas thought as he dipped his head to her in acknowledgement.

As Solas returned to his spot amongst the other apprentices, Yvette moved to clasp Tal by the shoulder, giving him a slight shake—a gesture of encouragement. "I have no doubt that you're ready for your Harrowing, Tal. Andraste guide you. I feel in my heart it will be soon."

Tal smiled warmly. "Thank you, ma'am."


Solas retired to his bunk that evening exhausted and sticky with sweat. His bath day wasn't scheduled for another two days so he had to make do with a sponge bath after most of the other apprentices had bedded down for the night. Since Rosa had left he'd started sharing his bunk with Tal, who slept above him in the loft bed. The younger elf had an amusing habit of talking in his sleep and as Solas got comfortable beneath the covers he heard Tal mumble, "Get your own cheese."

Swallowing his chuckling at Tal's sleep talking, Solas closed his eyes and slipped into the Fade. He found himself standing in the raw Fade, dripping and obscured with green ether that twined about his legs. A wisp darted about along a line of boulders beside a statue of a cloaked figure that might have been Dirthamen or perhaps one of Andraste's followers, Solas wasn't certain.

Solas had intended to try and summon the Formless One to him tonight, to question it and see if he could learn something about its interest in Rosa and the Forbidden Ones' greater purpose in Orlais. Felassan had said that the Forbidden Ones had somehow managed to possess a keystone controlling the eluvians, a fact that Solas suspected was anything but accident or coincidence. Far from it—the Forbidden Ones doubtless hoped to strong arm Solas into helping them somehow.

Yet, when he reached outward and focused his senses, Solas blinked with surprise as he realized the Formless One was nearby. Had it sought him out? Cautious and slow, Solas set out walking through the ankle-deep puddles, following his inner senses toward the powerful demon.

The greenish hue of the sky flickered occasionally with lightning, humming and groaning. Magic in the Fade ether around Solas made his skin dimple with pleasurable shivers as it connected with the modest amount of mana residing within him. The wisp he'd seen flitting about the statue earlier had followed him like a curious animal, sensing that he was nothing like the usual sleepers it encountered. Others soon joined it, flying along to either side of him, trilling their gentle song at varying paces—sometimes energetic and fast, other times soft and slow like a lullaby.

The Fade changed gradually as he walked on. The gray-green rocks forming the jagged uneven walls of the canyon around him disappeared as the dreamscape widened into a broad plain of tawny sand littered with boulders and slimy puddles. Rocks hovered in the sky, dripping water in steady streams. Ahead, on the flat plain, Solas saw a wall of green-gray mist and knew it marked the edge of a dream. He also sensed a Dreamer beyond that haze.

Rosa.

The Formless One had sought her out again? Or was it vice versa?

Deciding to conserve his mana for fear he might have to fight the demon, Solas strode forward at a jog rather than Fade stepping or altering the dreamscape. Passing into the haze and out the other side, he immediately felt a biting chill descend on him. Wind whipped snowflakes at his body and face, tugging on his apprentice robes. Teeth chattering, he squinted through the force of the gale and saw black pine tree through the whiteness. He stood on a mountainside, the hill angling downward ahead of him.

Willing away the effects of the cold and wind in this dream, Solas relaxed once more as a protective bubble around him formed like a barrier. Picking his way downhill, Solas entered the trees, leaving the wall of mist behind him. The weighty presence of another Dreamer was somewhere ahead, the Formless One with it. Both beings would sense his presence by now and could flee if they chose.

Distantly, as Solas neared them, he heard voices carried on the wind. The Formless One's androgynous voice was the more distinctive, loud and sharp, crisp and clear despite the distance and warping of the Fade. Solas heard snatches of phrases in elven: child of Dirthamen…pay in blood…secret I possess…the Wolf…

Dread opened its cold maw wide inside him. No, he thought. It would not reveal me…

And then, just as Solas saw a flash of murky blackness through the whiteness, the Dreamer's presence vanished from his mind. Fenedhis, he thought, snarling to himself. No matter, he had come to face the Formless One, not Rosa. He couldn't spare the moment to consider what he'd do if the demon had revealed his true identity, couldn't afford to let fear and panic grip him.

As if it sensed his thoughts—which it probably had—the demon appeared before him. It spread out over the snow like a stain over a tablecloth, bubbling and foaming as it gradually rose from the ground. Hovering as a foggy cloud that resisted the fierce wind, the demon laughed. "Solas," it greeted him, speaking in elven. "Fen'Harel. A pleasure to see you, alone and weak. Tell me, why do you seek me out? You know you are no match for me. Should I wish it, I could smite you."

Solas smiled, amused by its bluster, and didn't bother answering the demon aloud. They both knew why Solas had enormous value alive and none dead save vengeance. "I have come in search of knowledge," Solas told it, skipping pleasantries. He tucked his hands behind his back and paced before it, the snow crunching underfoot. "The elven woman you stalked during her Harrowing. Tell me why you sought her out? What value is she to you?"

There was little point in hiding his motives or playing coy. The Formless One would easily read the truth from him in his current weakened state. Solas had the knowledge and the power to hide his thoughts from spirits and demons, but doing so took control and mana he simply did not possess currently. It put him at a huge disadvantage and both he and the demon knew it.

The Formless One glittered, white snow reflecting from its intermittently reflective surface before it seemed to grow more diffuse, closer to a cloud than tarry water. Long years of interaction with various ancient, sophisticated demons like the Formless One allowed Solas to guess what the demon felt by observing it and sensing the Fade. Now he detected the thrill of excitement from the demon and hoped he hadn't miscalculated in approaching it.

"You know I will not tell you, Wolf." It glittered again, pulsing as it expanded and contracted, as if breathing.

"Perhaps we might reach some understanding or exchange?" Solas proposed. The Formless One had always enjoyed bargains and choices, much like its fellow Forbidden One, Imshael. Sometimes, if one played the demon well, it was possible to trick it and in so doing, learn something of value without a fair trade.

The Formless One cackled. "You have nothing I desire, trickster. Although, I may be more amenable to a bargain in two days time."

It was dropping hints like breadcrumbs, luring him. Solas smiled tightly. "Is that so?"

"Yes," The Formless One said, rippling as the wind howled past it. "But you will not like my terms."

Sighing, Solas played along. "And how can you be so sure of that? What are your terms?"

And then, suddenly, before the Formless One could speak again, Solas heard the loud bang of thunder. Flinching, he panned about with his senses, looking up in the sky for a half-second before stiffening and gazing back at the Formless One, instinctually fearing an attack. But the Formless One was silent, glittering as it expanded and contracted in its regular rhythm.

But now the howling wind had become shouts and curses in his ears. Voices spoke, rough and guttural and ugly, in the common language. Metallic clanging and clattering jarred his keen hearing and he recognized the noise as Templar thugs' booted feet.

The Formless One cackled again. "You are distracted. I shall see you again very soon, Wolf."

Solas whipped around on his heel, closing his eyes and willing himself awake. He woke in darkness, gasping as he sat up on his cot, blinking as he saw the orange light of torches approaching his bunk. The light glinted from Templar armor, illuminating the red flaming sword of their order's sigil. He realized the bang he'd heard in his dream and interpreted as thunder had actually been the door to the apprentice barracks slamming into the wall as the Templars charged through it. The other apprentices had woken before him and gasped or cried out with alarm as they sprang up from their cots. Solas felt his own bunk shiver and move as Tal sat up overtop of him.

"There's a bear in the bed!" Tal yelled, bleary with sleep. "Hide the halla!"

"What's happening?" Solas asked, then shook his head with frustration as he realized he'd spoken in elven. "What's going on?" he repeated in common, only faintly wondering if Tal would answer him.

The Templars ignored Solas as they closed in on his bunk—it was clear their attention wasn't on him. Instead they grabbed at Tal, who struggled and grunted, cursing at them in elven and then common. As they dragged him down from his cot, slamming him on the floor, Solas felt his heart leap into his throat as the instinct to fight and help the younger elf gripped him like a vise. His hands curled into fists and mana bubbled inside him, swirling as he called it to the fore.

One of the Templars wrangling Tal on the floor turned and glared at Solas through the small slit in his helmet. Solas froze as he recognized Ser Bartholomew. The Templar shook his head once and then addressed the room, "Calm down everyone. It's simply time for this apprentice's Harrowing. Return to sleep and pray to merciful Andraste that this man passes the ritual."

With that they hauled Tal upright and Solas had a moment to lock eyes with him. In that instant Solas saw the same fire as he'd seen countless times in Rosa, glowing now in Tal's narrowed brown eyes. Then the Templars pulled a hood over Tal's head and finished binding his hands in front of him before dragging him from the room.

After the last Templar had left the room, turning a key in the latch as he went, an apprentice a few bunks down from Solas cursed. "Shit, I thought they were coming for me this time for sure!"

Another even further down the line added, "I hate it when they come for them at night!"

Despite the roiling tension in Solas' stomach, he settled down on his cot quickly and began the measured breathing of meditation. He knew he must find Rosa if she wasn't already seeking him and let her know that it was apparently Tal's turn to undergo the same—or at least a similar ordeal—as she had.

The moment he opened his eyes in the Fade, he felt another Dreamer and heard Rosa calling to him, "Revas! Where in the name of Mythal have you been? I've been looking for you!"

Blinking, Solas took in the dreamscape quickly: a rich forest of both broadleaf and pine trees, dappled sunlight cutting through a thick canopy. Turning, Solas saw Rosa striding toward him, Rogathe at her side, shining brilliantly. The spirit moved militantly, as a warrior, while Rosa walked with catlike grace that doubtless belied her strength. Her brow was furrowed, her lips pinched thin.

Before Solas could tell her about Tal, she said, "They took Tal. He's to undergo his Harrowing. Now. Tonight." She gripped his bicep, squeezing tight. "Are you still up for helping me?"

"Of course," he replied immediately. He frowned, perturbed by her question and recalling the Formless One speaking to the Dreamer in the Fade, mentioning the Wolf. He blurted, "Why would you believe I would rescind my offer to help?"

"No reason," she answered and tugged on his arm. "We need to—"

Solas took a step back from her, jerking his arm out of her grasp, still frowning. "Tell me what the demon said to you tonight."

Rosa stared at him, mouth ajar and violet eyes roving over him. She seemed irritated at first and then mystified. Slowly, she shook her head. "I don't know what you're talking about, Revas."

"You sought out the demon again. The one that faced you during your Harrowing." He glared at her, somber and intense, willing her to answer. "What did it tell you?" his tone had taken on a deep, ominous pitch.

She bared her teeth, grimacing with frustration. "I haven't seen the demon tonight. You're mistaken."

Solas shot Rogathe a glance. "Does she speak the truth?"

Rogathe shifted its stance, shoulders hunched and arms crossed over its chest—the body language of someone who'd taken offense. It might not be a person, certainly, but Rogathe expressed itself like one and chose a form to match. Currently, it looked like a taller, more thickly-built version of Rosa. "My ward is not a liar," it snarled. "She fears only for Tal in this moment and longs to aid him in the struggle to come. But you…"

"What's gotten into you, Revas?" Rosa asked, her teeth still bared and her brow knitting with disapproval. "You're not making any sense…"

Staring at her, Solas swallowed hard as he realized he believed her. There was no coy smile over her lips. She had not expected or been prepared for this interrogation. That meant it had been someone else in the Fade with the Formless One. Perhaps the demon was just targeting Dreamers? But…who else could it be?

"Forgive me," Solas said, averting his eyes by turning his head. "You were correct, lethallan. I was mistaken." He shook himself slightly and squared his shoulders. "But you are right that we must move quickly. I saw the Templars take Tal. I came here to find you, to help."

"And to accuse me of fraternizing with demons," Rosa snapped before sighing as she whirled on her heel and strode away past Rogathe, calling over her shoulder, "Come on. Let's forget this and get going."

Rogathe eyed Solas with a look of something akin to wariness. After a moment of silence it stepped forward and spoke to him in a quiet voice, "You expected she would know. You feared the Formless One exposed you. Had she known, you would have betrayed her." It sniffed, glaring. "While I admire that boldness, I deplore such a poor show of honor as Rosa has done nothing to earn your distrust. Regardless, know this—I will fight to the death to preserve Rosa."

Solas clenched his jaw and nodded, not the least bit surprised by Rogathe's admission. "I understand, elgar."

"Good." Rogathe turned and walked after Rosa, through the peaceful, waving grasses and ferns of the forested dreamscape.

With a sigh, Solas headed after them, his thoughts chugging away, heavy and troubled.


They found Tal in a dream shaped by what Solas suspected must have been an envy demon. It was a shadowy, hazy space with crumbling stone walls and winding passages. According to Rosa, who'd spent some time spelunking in the enchanters' dreams prior to this, Tal was expected to have a normal Harrowing ritual, not the observed event the Seeker and Knight-Captain had insisted on for her. As such, Solas, Rosa, and Rogathe didn't bother disguising their forms as they walked through the hazy, labyrinthine setting, following their internal senses toward the demon.

As they rounded one corner of a long corridor and discovered it was a dead end littered with old bones and bugs, Rosa cursed. "Elgar'nan's fiery farts!"

Solas snorted before he could stop himself. "Excuse me…?"

"You're excused," she told him, smirking at him over her shoulder. "And yes, that's exactly what Elgar'nan said after the aforementioned fiery farts."

I highly doubt that, Solas thought and chewed on the inside of his cheek to remain impassive.

Rogathe motioned at the wall blocking their path. "Let us clear the way, da'len."

"Couldn't agree more," she said and made a parting motion with both hands. The Fade rippled, reshaping to meet her will. The pale, crumbling bricks of the ruin, which Solas recognized as being of Elvhen construction, disappeared into Fade ether to reveal a path of sand and dirt leading straight ahead before it doglegged again.

Fearless, Rosa trotted ahead and rounded the next corner. Rogathe was next, followed by a more cautious Solas. But, a heartbeat after Rosa had disappeared behind the next corner, Solas heard her shout. He Fade-stepped forward, overtaking Rogathe to catch up.

Once there he saw the corridor widened into a room with several other arched entries and exits jutting off it. A mosaic in deep, glittering green showed Dirthamen while the walls had repeating images of Mythal, Falon'Din, and Elgar'nan. In the center of the room Solas saw what had made Rosa shout—her brother, Tal, stood stiff with rage as he glowered at a middle-aged elf bearing Elgar'nan's vallaslin.

"You are a disgrace to the People," the man snarled at Tal and then spat down at the young elf's feet. "You will always be the Bastard of clan Ghilath. I don't care if we never have another talented child born in my lifetime, I will never make you my apprentice." He leaned into Tal's personal space as he said this, sneering with malicious enjoyment.

Tal looked like an angry cat, standing his ground with his chest puffed up, his chin thrust out. He was taller by almost a full head over the older elf—his Keeper, Solas suspected—and in the uneven, harsh green lighting of the dreamscape, Tal had a regal Elvhen bearing. Solas had to stop, blinking and frowning to himself at the likeness. He quashed the disconcerting reminder and watched as Rosa shouted again to her brother.

"Tal! He's not real. Ignore him and come with us!"

Tal turned his head slightly, clearly having heard Rosa's words, but he didn't look away from his Keeper. "I know he's not real, asamalin. I'm just…"

"You're wasting time," Rosa admonished, stepping forward. She raised a hand and her face twisted with concentration. Tal's Keeper turned slightly to regard her, his face set in a sneer, and then his shape wavered and vanished.

Tal huffed, crossing his arms and shaking his head at his sister. "I can handle this whole Harrowing thing myself," he said, making Solas think of a pouty teen. "I've already fought off half a dozen illusions the demon sent. I think I'm close and I'll face it soon, whatever it is…"

"An envy demon," Solas said, stepping forward now and motioning to the room with its mosaics around them. "The illusions are meant to elicit a genuine reaction from you that the demon will then observe in the hopes that it will take your place in the waking world." He paused a moment, smiling as Tal sighed. "You have been feeding the demon by reacting to these illusions."

"Well," Tal said, frowning. "I'm not about to let it trick me into letting it possess me, so—"

"Envy demons are cowards," Rogathe interrupted with a fierce punch of one fist into the opposite palm. "They do not deceive and they do not require consent. They will simply entrap you and then become you unless you flush them from hiding and fight them, boy."

"Well said," Solas praised Rogathe with a nod. "Your only hope in dealing with this demon is to ignore the distractions and seek it out directly." Motioning to Rosa and Rogathe, he added, "We can help you."

Tal scuffed at the mosaic of Dirthamen underfoot, flicking his toes against it. "Damn envy demon." Letting out a breath, Tal raised both hands to indicate the room around them. "So…lead on. Let's kick this demon's ass."

"Indeed!" Rogathe exclaimed, grinning in eagerness.

They set out together, the two elves and the spirit of bravery following Rosa as she took them to a nearby wall and willed it away with a wave of her hand. Solas no longer envied her ease with reshaping the Fade now that he had mana and a stronger connection to it himself, but it still brought a pleasant smile to his lips to see a fellow Dreamer at work. She could have destroyed the whole dream and exposed the demon outright, but that would've tipped her hand to the beast who'd designed this trap. The envy demon might just flee if it realized it had no chance of evading them long enough to get a read on its intended victim.

A few minutes of walking through passageways that Rosa created to find a more direct route to the envy demon eventually brought them to a wide chamber that'd been tiled in yellowish gold. Standing in the center of the room were three figures, immediately recognizable as mirror images of the three elves.

Seeing it first as she led the way, Rosa snorted. "Really, envy? Give me a break already."

The Rosa in the center of the room strode forward to meet her, a smug smile over her face. "Oh, Tal," she cooed like a mother to a child. "Little brother. How foolish you are. Such a simpleton. How I tire of protecting you constantly."

Tal chuckled from where he stood just inside the archway leading into the chamber, at Solas' side. "It nailed you, asamalin."

Ignoring the mock-Rosa, the real Rosa walked deeper into the room and Rogathe moved after her, pausing briefly to regard the fake elven woman with a sneer. "We grow tired of your distractions and mockery, envy," it said to the fake-Rosa. "Come out and face us with courage!"

Tal leaned closer to Solas, murmuring quietly, "Rogathe may be really loyal and brave and all that, but it's dumber than a sack of rocks. I mean, when was the last time a bad guy came out just because you asked?"

Solas chuckled, shaking his head with déjà vu. He'd just heard Felassan use that phrase dumber than a sack of rocks not long ago and could not deny that it was apt now. "It is a young spirit," he said, defending it. "In truth, the dangerous spirits are those that grow cunning."

"So…it being stupid is a good thing?" Tal asked and then smirked. "Got ya."

Solas' lookalike then started moving, ignoring Rosa who circled around where their doppelgangers stood. Solas took in the illusionary image of himself and sighed at the lance of vanity that passed through him. He was not the elf he had been pre-Veil, bald and aged enough that his skin showed fine lines and wrinkles around his mouth and eyes. But, when the doppelganger spoke, at least he could draw some measure of comfort in knowing his voice remained unchanged.

"Did you believe I cared for you, da'len?" mock-Solas asked, arching a brow at Tal. "You are a foolish boy, and not a Dreamer. Were I not trapped in the tower with these Templars, I would never associate with the likes of you. I find you repulsive." Mock-Solas made a snarl of disgust.

Tal clucked his tongue. "Envy's sloppy with you, Revas. You'd never say that."

I hope that is true, Tal. In truth, Solas wondered if Envy wasn't closer to the mark than the other elf realized. Had Solas not been trapped in this tower, would he have chosen to interact with Dalish mages like this? No, he thought. The Dalish had spurned him in the dreaming far too many times for him to respect them or wish to seek them out.

From the center of the room, Tal's doppelganger started to speak as it sauntered toward them in a goofy gait that wasn't anything like the real Tal. "The bastard of Ghilath clan," fake-Tal said, grinning. "Inheritor of nothing and beloved of no one."

"Well," Tal said, wrinkling his nose. "That's harsh."

"Ignore it, isamalin," Rosa called to him, walking back toward them. Her expression was pinched and fierce with concentration. "The demon is somewhere in this room, but my sense of it is…unclear. I think it's one of the lookalikes. Hiding in plain sight."

Passing her own doppelganger again, Rosa reached out and slapped it on the shoulder. The other elven woman grinned at her, absorbing the blow easily and moving to follow the real Rosa with her violet eyes. "You think? Oh, but you're so clever, aren't you? Banished from your clan, abandoned by all who ever loved you. Did you ever wonder if maybe you were meant to die that day on the banks of the Fehorn river? Surely death is preferable to a life in the Hasmal tower….alone."

Rosa snarled at the lookalike and then struck like a snake, hurling a fireball at it with the dry, crackling roar of flame. The orange light flickered off the golden tiles as it passed right through the doppelganger. The mock-Rosa tossed her head back and laughed, shoulders heaving. "How delightful you are. It is you who should be called solas."

Solas' skin prickled with alarm. We must kill this demon quickly. The demon could, in desperation, distract them with infighting. And some of the greatest shock and anger and contention would be in revealing Solas' true identity. Unlike the Formless One, which had more reason to ensure Solas survived than perished, this envy demon might not care that Fen'Harel planned to tear down the Veil and restore the Fade to Thedas. It was likely a young demon, having taken shape post-Veil like Rogathe.

The bravery spirit, likely sensing Solas' reaction, glanced at him with a glare but said nothing.

The fake-Tal spoke next, "What do you think, asamalin? Would you prefer a name like solas? Pride. You are so proud, after all. You have great things to be proud of, unlike me." The doppelganger swung its head to regard Solas now, grinning. "And what of humble Revas? What has he to be proud of? What great things has he accomplished?"

Solas' lookalike piped up to answer, striding toward the real Tal and Solas with his hands tucked behind his back in a stance of authority. "Would you like to know, da'len? There is nothing I enjoy more than enlightening the ignorant Dalish I find myself surrounded by."

With his mouth suddenly bone dry and his heart fluttering in his chest, Solas called out, "The envy demon is in my lookalike!" And, without warning, he launched a Fade stone at it with a punch of his fist. Unlike with Rosa's fireball earlier, this time the blow impacted. Greenish Fade stone splintered and clattered as it fell with the fake-Solas' body to the ground. The other two doppelgangers flickered and vanished.

With a shout, Tal lunged toward the lookalike and, with a gesture, sent a bolt of lightning sizzling through the air at it. The envy demon screeched, its form warping and changing until it grew into a monstrosity. Pale as a worm and with multiple arms that ended in sharp talons and a faceless head with only a mouth full of needle sharp teeth, it rolled up onto its feet and slashed at Tal—only to stumble as a Fade stone from Rosa impacted it from behind.

Roaring, Rogathe raced for it as well, a shining blade clutched in its hands that it swung with reckless abandon. "I will destroy you!" it promised as it hacked and slashed.

Solas tossed barriers up over all three other fighters and then cast immolation beneath the demon, lighting it up. Rosa Fade-stepped through it, freezing the demon's hide. Popping out of it, she took a spot beside Solas, leaving Tal closest to the fray. As Solas called mana for winter's grasp, Rosa's hand shot out to stop him. "No," she said. "Let Tal handle it. This is his fight. I don't want to take that from him."

"I understand," Solas said, smiling with approval, but watching the ongoing fight, he made a face as Rogathe roared and twirled, stabbing at the envy demon's pallid flesh. "What of Rogathe?"

Rosa shrugged, smirking. "Do you honestly think it wise to try and stop it? A spirit of bravery?"

Solas nodded. "I suppose not."

The demon shrieked under Rogathe and Tal's combined continuous assault, weakening fast. It slashed with long-fingered, clawed hands, but Tal nimbly ducked and rolled. Rogathe simply took the blows the demon dished out, its green essence splattering like blood and then vaporizing away into mist.

Fearless but stupid, Solas thought, feeling Rosa tense at the sight.

Sensing that it would be killed, the envy demon dropped into a crouch and clawed at the ground. Green light formed in a circle about its feet as a portal opened for it to slide into and teleport elsewhere. But before it could, Rosa sent another Fade stone clattering into it. With its trick disrupted, the demon fell over and lay prone as both Tal and Rogathe attacked with fresh zeal. Tal hurled lightning and fire, apparently his favorite schools of magic, and Rogathe darted in close to stab downward at the demon's chest.

With a shriek and a final shudder, the envy demon dissolved into the yellow tiles of the floor, bubbling and oozing in green Fade ether. The dream around them rippled as the demon that'd shaped it died, transforming into a green-gray haze that was so thick Rosa and Solas could no longer clearly see Tal and Rogathe.

"Tal?" Rosa called, trotting forward. Solas followed close behind, his feet feeling the cold, slimy stone underfoot as he ran. They saw Rogathe's bright sword shining as the spirit waved it about like a beacon, drawing them in. But Tal was nowhere to be seen.

"Where's Tal?" Rosa asked the spirit, her voice tight with concern.

Rogathe shrugged. "He's vanished beyond the Veil, but no matter, da'len." It grinned, striding forward to clap her on the shoulder. "We have achieved a glorious victory over a coward!" Inhaling in a deep breath through its nose, Rogathe let out a long, contented sigh. "What a rewarding battle!"

Rosa shot Solas a worried look and Solas tried to reassure her with a smile. "I suspect he has wakened into the Harrowing chamber to be embraced as a full-fledged Circle mage. The demon's dream was what kept him here."

"And the lyrium," Rosa muttered with a huff, wrinkling her nose with disgust. "That stuff is foul."

Solas chuckled. "I agree."

"Well then…" Rosa said, staring at him as one corner of her lips twitched as if someone tugged it upward with a string but hadn't quite committed to the act yet. The look in her violet eyes was unreadable and mixed. Solas saw the flush from battle, exhilarating and rewarding as Rogathe said, but there was something darker lurking deeper within.

From its spot about two meters away, slightly obscured by the thick fog leftover by the shattered dream, Rogathe sheathed its sword with a sound that was both metallic and energy-based. The noise made Solas shift with tension, averting his gaze from Rosa and taking a step back. Bid her goodnight, a voice ordered in the back of his head. Do it now, before she can question you…

"I am pleased to have helped Tal pass his Harrowing," he began, smiling politely. "Though I will very much miss his company during mealtimes and the classes we shared—even if it was but for a day." He nodded to her and started to wish her goodnight. "I should be on my way. There are—"

"What were you saying earlier?" Rosa interrupted him, brow furrowed and lips pinching together. "About the demon I met during my Harrowing?"

Solas avoided her stare, clenching his jaw. He felt the weight of both Rosa and Rogathe, watching him and waiting on his answer. His chance to steal away had evaporated as completely as the envy demon had.

"I…" He let the words trail off, shifting his weight from one foot to the other before beginning again. "I sought out the demon you encountered tonight, before Tal was taken. I sensed another Dreamer when I found it, but the Dreamer left the Fade before I could uncover whom it was. I assumed it was you and that the demon was troubling you once more."

He swallowed, fighting the tense pressure in his throat. "I hoped to aid you." That much had been true. The Formless One wasn't a demon to take lightly and whatever choice or punishment it planned could be truly terrible. "After sensing the other Dreamer, I wonder if perhaps this demon has targeted our kind specifically."

"Dreamers?" Rosa asked, arching an eyebrow. Something in her tone suggested she doubted his interpretation.

"Yes," Solas said, frowning slightly. "Why else would it have any interest in us?" In a sweeping motion, Solas indicated the fog around them. "It clearly has no interest in your brother." The words were careful and calculated and he made certain to appear as though he was not watching her closely for a hint that'd reveal something.

Rosa's features twisted with concentration as she appeared to consider his words. Then, with a flippant shrug, she said, "Could be, I guess."

Solas felt his stomach drop with disappointment, having learned nothing—until Rosa spun about on her heel to face Rogathe. In that brief snatch he was sure he saw the darkness in her eyes of some hidden knowledge that weighed her down. Whatever the Formless One wanted of her, Solas felt confident it wasn't after her because she was a Dreamer.

If she would just tell me, he raged inwardly, shaking his head and swallowing back his sigh of frustration. Didn't she understand that her life could be in danger? Of course she does, the cynical voice in his head rejoined. She simply does not care.

"Ma serannas," Rosa said to the spirit. "For your help tonight. I hope you enjoyed yourself, falon."

The spirit nodded and grinned, its teeth blazingly bright as its sword had been. "I did indeed, da'len." Then, abruptly, it sobered and squared its shoulders as its gaze slid to Solas and then back to Rosa again. "You do yourself a disservice now, however. I can feel the weight of your choice and the fear of it upon you. Facing it alone is no small feat, da'len, but it is unnecessary. I praise your bravery, but a warrior must know when to take companions into battle."

Solas watched the exchange with unabashed fascination, eyes narrowed with concentration. What choice had the Formless One tried to extract from her?

Rosa snorted. "I'm not going into battle, Rogathe." Hesitating a moment, she then added, "And I don't know what you're talking about."

Now Rogathe tilted its head down to glower at her. "Do not lie, da'len. Lies are the words of cowards…" It shot Solas a swift look. "And tricksters." Its voice dropped, becoming softer, almost tender. "You are neither. He can help you."

Rosa groaned, scrubbing her face with both hands. Then, looking up, she said, "Ir abelas, falon…" And, suddenly, she lifted both hands and the Fade rippled as her will transformed it. Rogathe vanished, left behind or pushed away to some other corner of the Fade. Solas had done something similar to force the spirit away during Rosa's Harrowing to ensure it did not make the humans observing her suspicious.

The dreamscape cleared of the green-gray mist, transforming in a heartbeat to the dark of a night in the forest he was beginning to recognize as the Brecilian. A mixture of broadleaf trees and pines surrounded them over hillocks. Crickets sang in their beautiful, shrill song. Solas felt grass beneath his bare feet now instead of stone. The air smelled richly of moisture, pollen, and pine.

Rosa stood with her back to him several paces away, her posture straight and tense. Solas drew in a breath through his tight lungs and stretched out his senses in the Fade. With an idle gesture he let his spirit leech deeper into this dream; latching on like a tick for fear that she would try and push him out of the Fade just as the Formless One had. Seconds of silence lengthened until finally Solas cleared his throat and said, "I can only help you if you allow me to do so, lethallan."

Her head swiveled slightly, letting Solas see the corner of one violet eye. A moment later she spun about, her gaze hard and her jaw clenched. "I…" She shook her head, her eyes dropping to the grass of the hillock they stood on. Dappled white light from the moon cut through the trees, lighting bits and pieces of her face. She fidgeted, her hands wringing together in front of her.

"Whatever troubles you," Solas said gently, seeing her distress and feeling it in the Fade as an outside pressure on his skin. "I want to help you. This demon is not one to take lightly." He licked his lips, his own anxiety coiling inside him tightly. "You could be in mortal danger."

She gave a slight shake of her head, as if about to say no, and then seemed to stop, blinking as she lifted her eyes to meet his as though she'd just realized he was there. "The demon called itself the Formless One," she said at last. "Does that mean anything to you?"

Solas feigned surprise, widening his eyes and letting his mouth fall open. "Actually," he hedged. "Yes. That is a name listed in some obscure documents from Tevinter as being one of a group of very ancient demons called Forbidden Ones." That would impress her, properly instilling fear. With some idea of what caliber of being she stood against, Rosa was more likely to come forward to him for aid—as she should. Not just to sate Solas' curiosity, but to protect herself. If the Formless One hoped to possess her after all or to force her to summon it through the Veil it'd surely slaughter her once in their world.

And the death would not be a swift or merciful one. The Forbidden Ones had been quite inventive in their tortures.

The thought of Rosa meeting such a fate made him suddenly and intensely nauseous. Driven forward at the prospect with fresh determination, Solas walked over the grass toward her. "Please, lethallan," he repeated, voice earnest and plaintive. "You can trust me." When she stared at him, eyes crinkled with distress, and did not pull back from him, Solas laid his hands over her shoulders and squeezed. "A demon like the Formless One is—"

She cut him off, blurting, "It wanted blood."

Solas froze, eyes narrowed, mind spinning with shock and then a slow, cold horror.

"Your blood," Rosa finished in a quiet, dark voice.

Sweat erupted over him. Solas stayed frozen, watching her and waiting.

Rosa leaned closer to him, her lips drawing back from her teeth in a savage flash of something akin to anger, but not directed at him. "It wanted your blood; I don't know why. But do you know what I told it?"

Solas turned his head slightly, staring at her obliquely, barely daring to breathe. His throat seemed to have seized up; gripped with cold dread and…something else he didn't dare name. It thrummed in the Fade between them, warm and fluttering and fierce and defiant. He wasn't certain what was his emotion, hers, or both.

"I told it I'd never give it what it wanted, Void take it." Pressing closer still, Solas felt the breath of her words brush over his skin and his heart started pounding frantically. Despite this being the Fade, her shoulders felt firm beneath his hands, her scent washing over him and stirring that foolish, delicious longing within him. The taciturn survivor within him screamed at him to pull away, to reject her. Clashing with his raw want, it left him motionless and dumbfounded, though his eyes dropped repeatedly to her lips and then to her eyes, still seeking permission for a kiss he could never take.

One of her hands slid up his chest to gently grip his chin, her violet eyes piercing into his own. "Why does an ancient demon want your blood, Revas?" she asked in a whisper.

His mind was blank and empty, all intelligent thought far, far away. A distant part of him knew he could never answer that question, but at the moment he didn't have the breath or the wherewithal to even formulate an answer in his mind, let alone speak it.

She chuckled, low and husky, shaking her head slightly. "Speechless, flat-ear?" She clucked her tongue, pink and alluring just past her lips. "It doesn't matter. I would never give it your blood. Whatever punishment there is, I'll take it."

And then, as he still stared at her, stunned into muteness, Rosa pressed her lips to his in a deep kiss.


Next Chapter:

"Rosa," he breathed her name, struggling to hold onto some semblance of self-control. His hands rose to her shoulders, his grip tightening as he tried to find the self-discipline within himself to push her away. "We mustn't…"

Her kisses on his throat and jaw stilled a beat and then she whispered in a dark voice, "Please…don't deny me this." Her hands on his chest curled into fists, gripping his robes. "I know you want me. It's been written on you plain as day for a long time now."


Author note: Did I promise you romance, or did I promise you romance? The answer was YES and YES. I frequently enjoy writing sexually liberated, brazen female MCs. Call it a reversal on the shy, inexperienced schoolgirl trope. Rosa is very much no exception. Judging by how Solas reacts to you kissing him in the Fade, he has a thing for that, too. There's nothing like reciprocated sexual attraction and Solas *LOVES* free will and choice. So you liking him back must be major boner material. But, because it's Solas, expect a lot of brooding and guilt and self-denial, too. All the, "I don't deserve you" and "it will be kinder in the long run" and "None of this is actually real" nug-shit lies our beloved Egghead tells himself. 

But now these two can't deny that sexual tension anymore. They've had their Fade-kiss. Proverbial shite has hit the fan!

Chapter Text

The world disappeared from Solas' senses, shrinking down until it was only the drumming beat of his heart in his ears and the sweet taste of Rosa's mouth against his. The shrilling of the cicadas and the sigh of the wind through the leaves in the canopy fell on deaf ears. The earthy scent of pine had been replaced by vanilla and lilac from her skin. His stomach flip-flopped inside him, his body suddenly growing light.

How long had it been since he had felt this way? How long since he shared a kiss? Too long, a selfish, needy part of him complained, unfurling within him to overpower the stolid, wary loner. What harm can this truly bring? Why, when I have so few pleasures, must I deny myself this?

When Rosa broke the kiss and withdrew, her violet eyes scanning his face, Solas reached for her greedily, drawing her back to him for another taste. She moved into it, matching his eagerness with her own. Her lips parted and Solas leapt at the chance to taste her more deeply, sweeping his tongue into her mouth. She met his tongue with her own, sucking and nibbling with boldness that only fanned the fires igniting within him. The distant voice in the back of his mind that screamed at him in warning went silent, drowned out by his own pulse. Why must I deny myself this transformed into How could I not embrace this?

Her hands slid up his chest to grip his shoulders, keeping him stooped slightly for the ongoing, greedy kiss. Solas responded in kind by slipping his hands around her waist to hold her body closer. Their breathing was wet and fast, panting and heated, a song that was very different from the cicadas but no less hypnotic. Fenedhis, how he had missed and wanted this rush, heart pounding and body throbbing with desire. The taste of her, this woman he'd never expected, so brazen and wild and passionate and clever…

Rosa pressed forward and Solas backpedaled, letting her push him until his shoulder hit the tree trunk behind him, all without breaking the kiss. He bent forward, molding his body to hers as she melted into his, both sucking in great gasps of air between sloppy, wet kisses and exchanges of tongue. How had he managed to wait this long? And why? It seemed incomprehensible now.

Except…

A flash of memory shot through him, as piercing as an arrow. It was Tal's lookalike as created by the envy demon, taunting Solas in the younger elf's still-boyish voice: "And what of humble Revas? What has he to be proud of? What great things has he accomplished?"

You do not deserve this, trickster, a cold voice taunted him. You do not deserve her when you will only be the death knell of her world, her people. She does not know she locks lips with the Dread Wolf.

Solas broke the kiss, gasping and turning his head away from her. "No," he blurted, breathing hard. "We shouldn't…"

Rosa made a throaty sound that was neither agreement nor dispute. "I don't care that it attracts demons," she said, clearly misinterpreting his meaning.

Looking at her directly again, shoulders still heaving and heart pounding, Solas saw her lips swollen from the feverish kissing and her pupils dilated to black pools that consumed nearly all the violet. His fingers, still at her waist, flexed with renewed desire. But he swallowed hard, forcing himself to fight those baser instincts and desires. "It was not demons I was concerned about."

Now her brow furrowed and she cocked her head to one side. "What?" she asked and snorted. "You trying to tell me you're not interested in me after that?"

His mind fluttered with muted panic, dulled by ongoing longing and arousal. She had him there, though his kneejerk reaction was to try and dismiss the passion that flowed between them, but he didn't want to hurt her. He quashed that for now, finding a better reason to try and turn her away.

"We cannot take such risks. We must stay focused on our goal of escape."

She shook her head, grinning. "You are entirely too reserved," she purred and then leaned close to him, speaking the last word against his throat. "Flat-ear." The touch of her hot breath, her soft lips on the tender skin of his neck sent his heart racing all over again. He bit back a gasp as he felt her teeth nip at his jaw line.

"Rosa," he breathed her name, struggling to hold onto some semblance of self-control. His hands rose to her shoulders, his grip tightening as he tried to find the self-discipline within himself to push her away. "We mustn't…"

Her kisses on his throat and jaw stilled a beat and then she whispered in a dark voice, "Please…don't deny me this." Her hands on his chest curled into fists, gripping his robes. "I know you want me. It's been written on you plain as day for a long time now."

All of their shared dreams, working together, helping and challenging each other, flirting and playfulness…he couldn't deny it. They both knew it'd be a lie—a cruel lie—if he tried. Something unexpected and terrifying and thrilling had grown between them, inexplicably, and despite all his efforts to deny and prevent it.

Her warm lips kissed his chin and then nibbled, each breath moist and hot against his skin as she made her way back to his mouth slowly, questing. What little self-control he still possessed evaporated and he moved to meet her lips with his own, hungrily. His mind was blissfully empty of higher thought, brimming instead with the hot drive of desire tightening inside him, more powerful than any he'd felt since sexual awakening literal ages ago. The impatience, the neediness and primal hunger…

Caution and consequences be damned. He wanted Rosa, needed her—and, thrillingly and most importantly, she wanted him as well. What better way to relieve stress and pass time while trapped in the tower? What else could offer comfort so effectively? Rosa had intrigued and frustrated him from the very start and no small part of it was attraction, much as he'd been loath to admit it. She was a brazen spirit, defiant and willful, stubborn and courageous and intelligent. Of course he wanted her, and now that she had made her own desires known there was no reason to hold back.

Laying his sweaty palms on her neck, Solas broke their sloppy kiss and transitioned to her ear, tracing it with his lips and then his tongue. His fingers teased at the chainmail on her neck, slipping beneath to caress down toward her collarbone. Rosa let out a husky moan, her hands gripping tighter on his chest as she tilted her head to give him better access.

The sound of her moan and her welcoming response set Solas' pulse racing, fiery with need. He mouthed the sharp point of her ear tip, flicking it with his tongue, then dropping to her jaw line and what little he could access of her neck around her Keeper armor. She let out a breathy, throaty chuckle, arching her back to press her hips into his and turned her head to capture his lips again. Nibbling and sucking, she attacked his lips, her hands sliding down his chest and past his belly to the belt at his hips that kept his apprentice robes fastened.

Reacting to her aggressive advancement, Solas explored over her armor. Unfamiliar with it and clumsy as a result, he still managed to find hidden lacings in the ironbark breastplate and shoulder guards. A tug and it unraveled, though his only reward was to feel the chill of chainmail beneath it. He grunted with frustration, aware dimly that as this was only a dream they had merely to wish away their clothing.

Breaking the feverish kiss to tell her as much, Solas said, "Perhaps we might—"

A clanging sound reverberated through the trees, cutting him off and making Solas flinch. Was it thunder? He looked around quickly, alarmed.

"Revas?" Rosa asked. "What's wrong?"

Looking to her again, Solas saw her pouty, bee-stung lips and her eyes dark with desire and felt his body flush hot with want all over again even as his mind reeled at the name she'd used. She has no idea who you are in the slightest. Her people remember you as a monster and they are right. You mislead and deceive her, take advantage of her at every turn. She deserves better than that, better than you.

Another voice echoed through his mind, this one external and distinctly other: "Rise and shine, apprentices! Time to start a new day of learning!"

"It's dawn," Solas said, realizing at once what the clanging a few moments ago had been. The mage who oversaw the apprentices had arrived to waken everyone and assign duties for the day. "I must waken."

Rosa's lips quirked with amusement. "Pity. I liked where this was going…"

He struggled to find a suitable answer, something that would dissuade her from pursuing him without lying outright and painfully that he hadn't been just as passionate and eager as she. But then he felt a firm grip on his shoulder and the world spun. The nighttime Brecilian forest vanished and Rosa with it.

He woke with a gasp, blinking blearily as his blurry eyes adjusted to the grayish light of dawn streaming in through the windows along one wall of the barracks. The mage overseer stood over his bunk, a tight, worried smile over her face. "You all right, Revas?"

Flushing with humiliation, Solas realized he had been lying on his stomach, drooling into his pillow and unresponsive. "I'm fine," he replied, gently pushing the mage's hand away. "Just…" deep in the Fade "…tired." Highly aroused.

He cleared his throat, trying to mask the blush spreading over his cheeks and all the way to his ear tips as he realized his foolish body had responded to his amorous actions in the Fade, leaving him with what was likely an impressive erection. He was trapped, unable to sit up and yet remaining in his current position wouldn't readily relieve his physical condition as it pressed his hips to the cot and was entirely too much like feeling Rosa's body tight to his own.

Fortunately the mage nodded to him once she'd seen he was awake and responsive and strode away to a different apprentice in another bunk. Solas sat up on his elbows, letting out a shuddering breath as he tried to banish the arousing dream and all thoughts of Rosa from his mind. Pivoting to his side but remaining in a reclining position hid his body's overeager reaction and let him gradually bring it under control once more. Probing his mana core for cold spells and envisioning every dwarven rune, elven symbol, and common letter did the trick.

Soon he was able to rise from his cot and stretch, finding Tal's bunk above his own empty as he did so. Sighing, Solas scrubbed at his face. Tal doesn't know who I am either, he thought sourly. He had no right to feel the lance of loss at the thought that he wouldn't see the younger elf's smiling, friendly face in his classes or at his meals today. He didn't deserve the youth's trust or affection.

A Tranquil man by the name of Andrew approached Solas next and extended a basket filled with bread for him as breakfast. Solas smiled politely and claimed a loaf, beginning to feel the first gnawing twists of hunger in his stomach. Hunger for sustenance now, rather than sex.

He ate while the other apprentices fought over the water closet, washing their faces, taking sponge baths, or getting a drink to wash down the dry loaf of breakfast bread. Solas was content to wait for his chance to have a drink, his thoughts murky and troubled. He quashed most of them as counterproductive, refusing to brood on…things. Not yet, anyway.

Once he'd finished his loaf, Solas felt over his arms and legs and was pleasantly surprised by the muscle tone he discovered there. His body had been recovering faster and faster in recent days, though he was still a tad too lean and wizened compared to his former self pre-Veil. A quick check of his scalp found no hair, however, though he knew from his last bath that his eyebrows had grown in nicely at least. Bartholomew and any other Templars with bets on his health would probably assume he was fully recovered now, at least in body as Solas guessed he was about as broad some of the younger elven apprentices—within a normal modern elf body weight.

After finally getting a drink to wash down his breakfast, Solas attended his first class on Chantry history, followed immediately by a second course dedicated solely to religion. His task was to memorize and repeat the Chant, but Solas merely feigned interest in it and let his mind drift. Recalling the force and raw need of his encounter with Rosa, he frowned into his copy of the Chant of Light, keeping his head low where the instructor couldn't see it. What had come over him? How could he have lost control so completely? It…wasn't like him.

Once leaving the first bloom of adolescence and his village behind with it, Solas had endured a mostly abstinent lifestyle for a century or two—honestly, he'd lost count while wandering the wilds—only slaking his lust with willing spirits or the rare fellow wanderer on occasion. Joining Arlathan's court, he'd been bombarded with titillating displays of flesh and promises of physical delights that could last weeks on end, but his humble origins and austere lifestyle made him wary of it. And rightly so!

Taking lovers in Arlathan turned out to be a dangerous gamble as the class system, centered as it was on magic, meant women often pursued men of higher classes with a goal of conceiving children with more magical talent. Because not even the higher classes could stop their children from being taken away should they be born with too little magic. These women stood a better chance of keeping their children if they sired those children with men who possessed more magical talent than themselves. As a result, Solas was desired for his magic rather than his self. It was a frustrating discovery that had dampened many of his experiences at court as he had no intention of fathering children with idle lovers and longed for the genuine affection he'd seen between his parents rather than the calculated, passionless lust of the noble class. And that was only one of the countless ways sex was abused in Arlathan.

Despite all this, over centuries, he'd fallen to some of Arlathan's excesses. When he did take lovers, mostly at Mythal's insistence that abstinence was unnatural and would drive him mad, he strove to perfect lovemaking as an art. Immortality meant spending weeks pursuing sexual pleasure was an entirely plausible goal, though only the upper classes found it practical. When servants or slaves provided food on schedule and one could conjure bathwater heated to perfection from the very air itself, why would anyone bother leaving the bedroom?

In all that time, Solas had never been driven mindless with desire. Why had he lost control now? Many women had attempted to seduce him in Elvhenan with as bold a move as Rosa, but Solas had easily turned them away. Was it Rosa that was the difference? Or was it something within himself or some combination of the two?

Perhaps it was the influence of mortality, the baser instincts of physical life asserting themselves because his body knew better than his mind how short a time it had left. He wondered if any of his agents had felt a similar…quickening of their desires. He wanted to ask Zevanni or Felassan, but couldn't without revealing his compromising position. If it was just a matter of slaking lust he could seek Zevanni out in the Fade to ease it but…

He frowned again into his tome, the words of Andraste's Chant blurring as his eyes unfocused. Sleeping with Zevanni would be pleasant, of course, but that wasn't what he wanted. Who he wanted.

Fenedhis. That settled it. Mortality could have played a part in it, but ultimately—and as usual—it was his fault. He had let himself grow fond of Rosa. He had allowed himself to act on that emotion and attraction and to respond when she kissed him. Unfortunately—and, again as usual—it wouldn't be just he alone who suffered for his mistake, either. He'd have to reject Rosa, turn her away before either of them went any further with this dangerous affair. Her voice returned to him, dark and pleading: "Please…don't deny me this."

Ir abelas, he thought, sighing and pinching the bridge of his nose. The fault is mine. You deserve someone better.

A voice intruded on his brooding, sounding cross. "Is there a problem, apprentice?"

Solas lifted his head and saw the religion studies teacher glaring at him. He dredged up a smile. "No, ma'am. I merely have a headache."

She frowned at him, apparently seeing through the lie. "Recite Andraste 14:11," she commanded.

Biting back his reluctance and irritation, Solas quickly leafed through the Chant to find the correct verse. Laying his finger over it, he licked his lips and read, "Here lies the abyss, the well of all souls. From these emerald waters doth life begin anew. Come to me, child, and I shall embrace you. In my arms lies Eternity."

The teacher nodded her approval and strode on down the row of apprentices, stopping at a different desk to berate another student. Solas heaved a sigh and stared again at the Chant without seeing it, lips pinched in a hard line as he considered the unpleasant task of rejecting Rosa and tried to ignore the pain that started in his chest.


"Wow," Varric said upon seeing Solas at lunch, both brows raised with surprise as he gave a dry chuckle. "You look like you had a rough night, Chuckles."

Solas set his tray down and, before he could stop himself, glanced toward Tal's empty spot, shoulders slouching at the reminder he wouldn't have the younger, lighthearted elf's presence as a distraction. Dragging a spoon through his chicken noodle soup, Solas evaded Varric's stare as he answered the dwarf's question. "Tal has undergone his Harrowing now as well. You should see him thirty minutes from now when the mages take their lunch."

Varric nodded, his expression softening. "I'll look for him and let you know at dinner. Sorry to hear you're toughing it out alone now."

"I appreciate that," Solas said, smiling gently.

"Here," Varric said as he dug into his overcoat inner pocket and produced his infamous silver flask of whiskey. Shaking it to let Solas hear the fluid sloshing inside it, Varric extended it out across the table to him. "You look like you could use that last sip more than me today."

Solas gazed at the flask, weighing his options, and eventually reached for it. Unscrewing the cap, he nodded his thanks to Varric. "You are too kind, Master Tethras."

"Hey, I know you brooding elf types like your misery and in my experience that stuff works if you won't or can't talk about it." He pointed his meaty index finger at the flask and Solas, on cue, tossed it back to swallow the last mouthful. The whiskey burned all the way down his throat, its taste hard and rough around the edges. Solas puckered his lips at it, remembering with a twist of pain between the ribs the sweet delights of Elvhenan's enchanted foods and wines—lost now forever unless Solas destroyed the Veil and this world with it.

"So…" Varric said, rubbing his hands together with a scuffing sound. "You want to talk about what's eating you, Chuckles?"

Screwing the cap back on Varric's flask, he passed it back to the dwarf as he said, "Not particularly."

"You sure?" Varric pressed as he tucked the flask back into his coat pocket. "Talking it out helps. And you know you can trust me. I hate being here as much as you do. I mean, I have so much shit to do cleaning up the mess in Kirkwall right now it'd give me nightmares for sure—if I could dream, of course. Thank the Maker I can't!"

Solas chuckled despite his glum mood. There were times he could just barely agree with that sentiment. His life would be a lot simpler if he had been born a dreamless dwarf and not a Dreamer, let alone an Evanuris. "I have never been dreamless," he told Varric. "I am unsure I can even imagine what it's like."

Varric snorted as he cracked the loaf of bread that'd come with their lunches in half and proceeded to dunk one end in his soup. "It's easy. I close my eyes, fall asleep, and wake up with the vague sense that time's passed and…that's it. Easy."

"The wonders you miss, Child of the Stone," Solas lamented.

Around his mouthful of bread, Varric grunted. "Eh. Spirits? Demons? Weird hallucination shit…I'll pass. Life awake is crazy enough as it is. I don't know how you people can stand it. But, never mind that. We're off track."

Solas frowned. "Off track from what, may I ask?"

"Off what's eating you, Chuckles," Varric said, smirking at Solas' sour look. "C'mon. If you won't tell me at least let me try to guess."

Solas rolled his eyes as he grabbed his spoon and prepared his first mouthful of soup. "If you must. There is nothing I can do to stop you."

"Excellent," Varric said and clapped his hands together as he grinned like the proverbial cat that ate the canary. His brown eyes narrowed into slits with concentration as he stared at Solas, scrutinizing him as if the answer to his curiosity would be written on the elf's face.

Thinking that brought a flicker of memory to Solas' mind from the previous night: Rosa pressed against him, saying, "I know you want me. It's been written on you plain as day for a long time now." He repressed a shudder and spooned more soup into his mouth to try and distract himself.

"Your magic has come in now," Varric said, puzzling out the mystery aloud. "So you should know you'll soon be joining Stoic and Violet with the grownups…" Solas shot the dwarf a quick, annoyed glare at that comment. "That means you're not upset about the Harrowing and eating here alone with just me. Besides, you're always the quiet one, so that's not it." He hummed in his throat and gave a shrug of his broad shoulders. "Must be Violet."

Now Solas stopped with shock, his spoonful of soup halfway to his mouth, lips parted to receive it as his eyes darted to Varric. At the dwarf's knowing smile, Solas pushed the spoonful into his mouth and swallowed before slowly lowering his spoon into his bowl. He was silent for a moment and then reached for his bread, breaking off the end of it and dipping it into his soup the way Varric had done earlier as he made up his mind to ignore Varric's prodding.

"Andraste's ass," Varric cursed, laughing. "Revas, in a place like this it's not exactly hard to guess what's going on. It's either Templars abusing you or it's something with the other mages—and it's pretty obvious you and Violet have a thing for each other."

Was it that obvious?

Studiously ignoring the dwarf, Solas continued chewing on his bread.

"Fine," Varric said, a note of both irritation and dry amusement coloring his gravelly voice. "You don't want to talk about it, I can respect that." He leaned closer over the table. "But you should talk about it. It'll do you good."

Sitting back in his chair, Varric gazed at his nails critically, lips twisting as Solas remained silent. "So…you made a move and she rejected you? Is that it?"

Solas glared and finally spoke as he swallowed his latest mouthful. "I have already said I have no wish to discuss it."

Varric smirked. "That sounds like a yes to me."

"No," Solas protested and then scowled as he turned his head, feeling warmth spread over his cheeks. He bit his tongue, knowing he should let Varric think whatever he liked, but his stubborn pride had made him blurt out that objection before he could consider it. This was the same detestable flaw of his character that had gotten him into trouble repeatedly in Elvhenan and then again now in the tower as Rosa and Tal used it to coerce answers from him in Varric's silly I Never drinking game.

Seeing Varric's amusement at his discomfort, Solas cursed. "Fenedhis."

"So she made a move on you?" Varric asked, his delighted smile spreading into an all-out grin. As Solas glowered and provided no answer, the dwarf laughed and sat back hard in his chair, making it thump. "I should've known." He shook his head, features warping with bemusement. "But that's just confusing. She made a move on you and you're upset about it? Must've been some move."

Solas rolled his eyes and returned to eating, pretending that the tips of his ears weren't burning.

"Well," Varric said, clearing his throat as he switched topics. "In other news, I'm sure you, Violet, and Stoic will all be pleased to hear the investigation into that death among the Templars has been dismissed."

Solas looked at Varric with renewed interest. "Indeed?"

"Yeah," Varric agreed as he began to stir his soup, clearly considering eating it. "The Seeker seemed convinced the Knight-Commander was paranoid and that, in the interest of the tower's peace, it didn't make sense to be dragging in half the mages for interrogation." He let out a dry grunt. "I gathered that the guy who died wasn't exactly well liked. Figures, since he's from Kirkwall."

"I imagine the Knight-Commander did not approve of the Seeker's dismissal," Solas murmured. "Do you believe she will reopen it once the Seeker leaves the tower?"

"Maybe," Varric said with a shrug. "But I get the impression that'll soon be the least of her problems." Sensing important gossip, Solas let go of his spoon and leaned closer to hear Varric as the dwarf lowered his volume into a near-whisper. "The Seeker has an associate. A spy for the Divine. She was called away to Orlais a while ago for Maker knows what, but ravens come in all the time and just this morning the news the spy sent seemed to really shake her up."

"You do not know what it said," Solas said, guessing. "Yet you have some inkling?"

"Yeah," Varric muttered, scowling. "Based on how the Seeker acted afterward…I'd say she expects some seriously bad shit in the near future."

"Explain," Solas prodded, brow furrowing.

Gesturing with one meaty hand, Varric's expression warped with strain as he apparently struggled for words. "She…looked grave. More than usual for her. And trust me, I've been around her long enough to read her. Anyway, she didn't reply, which tells me the spy was sending a sort of heads up, not typical correspondence. And then she went to meet with the Knight-Commander and interrogate her about internal security—as in, what the Templars will do if the mages openly rebel. Here. In this tower."

Solas' jaw clenched and he felt sweat break out over his body. "This tower is one of the most stable in the Free Marches, is it not?"

Varric's look was grim. "For now," he said, cagily. "But I'm guessing the Divine and the spymaster know something nasty's coming that will make even a tower like this one lose its shit."

Feigning grave concern, Solas murmured, "Let us hope you are wrong, Master Tethras." But inwardly, he felt a flicker of tight anticipation at the prospect of escape in rebellion. He would have to relate this to Zevanni as soon as possible and probably Felassan as well, to try and ferret out what secrets the spymaster and the Seeker knew from the Divine that were so worrying.


After lunch Solas had instructions to report to the basic spell casting class taught by Yvette, where he had dueled with Tal yesterday. Leaving the dining hall alone without either Rosa or Tal to walk with him left Solas feeling hollow and chilled inside. He missed Tal's easygoing laughter and Rosa's bright, keen eyes and her coy smile. Though walking past the Templars—one of whom was Ser Jeremy—was less stressful as they ignored him now that he walked alone, it wasn't quite a worthwhile tradeoff.

You cannot allow these feelings to continue, he admonished himself. Befriending the siblings was one thing, but bonding closely with them was purely foolish. They would have to part ways after leaving the tower as the siblings would seek to rejoin the Dalish while he set out to join his agents and plotted to destroy their world.

What would he say to Rosa and Tal when they clapped him on the shoulder, the exhilaration and triumph of freedom pulsing through them, and asked him to join them in whatever clan they sought? He could never agree and they would never understand. Knowing Rosa, she'd see through any lies he offered as well.

Brooding and gloomy, he made his way through the halls and up several flights of stairs, ignoring the ache of his thighs—far diminished from what it'd been just a few days ago—and toward the training hall. But as he reached the corridor outside the training hall, he heard Rosa's musical voice call out to him in elven. "Aneth ara, flat-ear," she greeted him, grinning as she stood up from the plush chair she'd been seated at along the wall. "I never expected to run across you here, apprentice."

Solas froze, staring at her as the other apprentices heading to Yvette's class filed past him, tossing curious or irritable glances his way. Rosa had been sitting with a dusty tome in her lap, apparently pretending to study it. Solas saw the golden font on the spine—A Study of Uncommon Spirits—before Rosa slammed it shut and casually tossed it onto the chair behind her, ignoring the massive bookshelf to her left along the wall.

Swallowing the sudden lump that formed in his throat, Solas dipped his chin to her in greeting as well. "Lethallan."

A warm smile spread over her lips. Solas willed himself not to stare, not to remember vividly and with longing how wonderful it felt to kiss her. In a low voice, she said, "I thought we might pick up our previous conversation—before we were so rudely interrupted."

Ignoring the frantic pulse of his heart, Solas evaded the topic. "Is Tal well? Have you seen him?"

"I have. He's off at lunch already. He wanted to see Varric. I'll join him…eventually." Her smile brightened, though it shouldn't have seemed possible. She beamed, exultant and radiant and…Fenedhis, he cursed himself. Stop.

"I'm glad to hear it," Solas said, letting his shoulders slump slightly as he released some tension at that good news regarding Tal. He lingered, intending to bid her farewell and leave for his class—useless as it was for him—but, like an addict, he found it difficult to actually leave. The hall was empty. There was no one in sight, no one close enough to overhear…

Then, suddenly, Rosa stepped closer and snatched his wrist, tugging him toward the alcove where the bookshelf and the chair waited. Solas tensed, trying halfheartedly to pull away from her and stammering out faint protests, but Rosa shot him an anxious look and put a finger to her lips for silence. Realizing she had some other motive other than seduction in mind, Solas moved willingly with her into the alcove. A second later he felt the tingle and caress of her magic as Rosa cast a sound dampening spell over them both. The bubble shimmered over them, a slight discoloration in the air that kept their words obscured from everyone outside.

"About last night," she blurted, her gaze intense but somber as she stared at him, shoulders squared with tension. "I was…a little forward." She shrugged, biting her lip as she averted her gaze from him. "And I…apologize for that. But—I need to talk to you about the demon. The Formless One or Raselan or whatever in the great Beyond it wants to be called."

Raselan, the Formless One. Solas blinked, his lips parting with surprise. He'd been so self-absorbed with his own misery and mounting emotional entanglements that he'd forgotten the threat of the demon. Sobering and pushing aside his own angsts, Solas focused tightly on her. "It asked for my blood." He drew in a quick breath. "And I found it meeting with another Dreamer in the Fade last night. It must be stalking Dreamers."

Rosa's lips pinched together and her violet eyes narrowed. "Are you sure?"

Wariness made him turn his head slightly, eyeing her obliquely with a half-frown, half-glare. "Why else would it be interested in one as uninteresting as myself?"

Rosa snorted. "Right." Her tone made it clear she thought he was lying but apparently didn't want to press the subject. "Well, I obviously can't give it your blood, so it will punish me." She fidgeted her hands in front of her, a clear sign of her nervousness. "That was the bargain. If I didn't pay it in blood—your blood—it would reveal a secret of mine to the Templars in their dreams."

Solas' stomach seemed to leap into his throat, cold with fear for her. "It means to kill you, most likely in some gruesome way. Demons of its type delight in cruelty and—"

"No," she said quickly, shaking her head. "It told me the secret would cause suffering but wouldn't kill me." Grimacing, she added, "It…also seemed to suggest that the secret would somehow be about Tal. It gave me three days to make up my mind."

The Formless One does not wish to kill her? Solas frowned with confusion. He'd assumed after last night that it'd sought out Rosa only to try and force her to deliver his blood to it—meaning, it only took an interest in her to try and get to him. Now, if he believed Rosa's account and trusted that the Formless One wasn't lying, it seemed she was more valuable to it alive. Why?

Rosa sucked in a quavering breath. "Today is the last day I have to decide." Crossing her arms over her chest, she pivoted on her ankle, spinning away from him to face the stone wall adjacent to the bookshelf and chair. "I'd like to say I'm not afraid of whatever secret it plans on use against me, but…"

"You would be a fool not to be afraid," Solas murmured. As she snuck a quick glance over her shoulder at him, Solas smiled. "And you are no fool. Far from it, in fact."

She returned his smile, appearing almost timid for a beat before she turned back to him, her gaze dropping to the floor. "Is there anything you can do to help me? Some way we can trick the Formless One? Outsmart it?"

Solas sighed. "Unfortunately I do not see an easy solution. We may be able to mitigate the damage of the secret it reveals, however." He paused, considering what she'd revealed. "You believe the secret is about Tal?"

"Yes," she muttered, scowling.

Drawing in a slow breath, Solas asked, "When you said the demon assured you the secret would not cause death—did it mean only you, or was Tal included?"

Now Rosa's violet eyes leapt to his, her jaw clenching with something akin to displeasure. "I…think it meant both of us."

The Formless One values them both?

Now Solas shook his head, wariness and intrigue and curiosity all warring inside him. "You are hiding something from me. If you wish me to aid you I need to—"

She let out a harsh laugh, baring her teeth in a savage false-smile. "Really, Revas? You are going to accuse me of hiding something? How about you tell me the real reason why this ancient, powerful demon wanted your blood? Don't insult my intelligence saying maybe it's just after Dreamers."

Solas crossed his arms over his chest, withdrawing a step back from her, as far as the sound bubble would allow. "Must you insist on positing your baseless suspicions about me yet again? I had thought we were beyond this, lethallan."

She shook her head, lips still drawn back from her teeth. "Why do you think I finally told you about this?" she demanded, edging closer to him, her body shaking with tension enough that Solas could see it. "You know too much. I don't know how, but you didn't find all of it in the Fade or perusing old documents from blighting Tevinter. I know that much. But you know what? I can overlook it because I trust you, Mythal preserve me, fool that I am."

She stepped closer as she spoke and by the end of it placed her hands on his shoulders, squeezing. Solas stood his ground with nowhere else to go, at the edge of the sound bubble, his heart pounding against his breastbone.

"I thought you could help me," Rosa said, voice and expression softening. "I thought if anyone could, it would be you."

Letting out a long breath, Solas felt his shoulders ease as some of his tension left him as he saw the anger had leeched out of her. "I want to help," he said gently. "Truly, I do. And that is why I asked about what you are holding back. Unless I understand the demon's motivations, I cannot hope to outsmart or outthink it. Surely you must see that, Rosa."

She swallowed, her throat bobbing, and Solas could have sworn he heard her heart drumming away inside her chest. Moisture sprang into her eyes and her chin wrinkled. "I…I can't." She stared into his eyes, her violet eyes darting from left to right, observing him, drilling into him. "Not unless I know more about you."

"There is nothing more to tell you," Solas said, his voice strained. He raised an unsteady hand and laid it over her cheek. The warmth and softness of her skin in the waking world sent shivers through him. Her mana was alive just beneath the skin and seemed to reach out to caress him just as the sound dampening bubble did. "Please," he begged her. "Whatever it is you feel you cannot share with me, I assure you that is not the case. You cannot shock me or make me think ill of you."

She gritted her teeth together. "I can't," she repeated. "I'm sorry…"

"Then we are at an impasse," he lamented, sighing.

"We don't have to be," she said, her voice low and dark, her eyes stormy. "If you would only tell me the truth…"

"I have," Solas said, a touch defensive now. "You refuse to believe it."

She let out a harsh, dry chuckle, shaking her head. "Because I am not a fool!"

Solas opened his mouth to reply and then snapped it shut again. Several long seconds passed in tense silence with only the roughened sound of their fast breathing. Then, holding to his frustration, wariness, and annoyance at her stubbornness to accept his deception and simply trust him as she claimed she did, Solas let his hand fall from her and said, "Last night was a mistake, lethallan. We have lost sight of our goal in favor of needling each other over imagined secrets because of the mistaken belief that we must know one another better. An emotional entanglement benefits neither of us."

Rosa glared at him now, her violet eyes narrowed and too wet. "What are you afraid of, Revas?"

"I am not afraid," Solas protested immediately, bristling.

"Of course you are," Rosa spat. "I see it on you like words on a page. You're terrified. So terrified that you'd push me away when I saw—I felt—how badly you wanted me. What is so Creators-damned terrifying about trusting me? About letting go and admitting you care about something, about someone other than yourself and getting out of this fucking tower?"

Solas gawped at her, speechless. Before he could even consider formulating an answer, movement and a tremor through the floor made both he and Rosa turn suddenly to look out at the corridor. A Templar was charging at them, his hand on the hilt of his sword, which glowed blue with his magic-dispelling power.

"Shit," Rosa snarled and let the sound dampening bubble pop with a wave of her hand. Suddenly Solas heard everything: the Templar's pounding footsteps, the clanking of his armor, and the more distant battle shouts of the apprentices in the training hall conducting class as usual. Rosa edged herself in front of Solas, her posture protective as she glowered down at the charging Templar.

"By Holy Andraste," the Templar shouted at them, his hand still gripping his sword hilt. "Explain yourselves or—"

"Are you blind?" Rosa snapped, thrusting her chin out. "Or just stupid? I detained Revas for a private chat. What did you think we were doing?"

What do you think you're doing? Solas raged inwardly, cringing at her defiance as his stomach clenched with dread.

"You will not talk to me in so rude a tone," the Templar growled. "Or by the Maker, I will send you to solitary confinement for a month!" His head swiveled between the two elves. "I sensed magic. Saw it." He pointed to Rosa, apparently deciding she held the full blame. "You know magic isn't to be used outside classrooms and training halls. And fraternization is not allowed."

Solas pushed Rosa by the shoulder, trying to stand more at her side rather than behind her, his heart pounding. He had to protect her from her own foolish, confrontational nature or she'd wind up dead, just like Mythal. "Please forgive her rudeness, ser. Rosa and I were merely speaking for a moment before I attend my course. We did not wish our conversation to disturb the class in the hall and used a little known spell to dampen it."

The Templar glared at him through the narrow slot of his helmet. "I know you," he muttered. "You're the apprentice I wagered would die in the dungeons a few weeks back."

Solas did his best to smile politely. "I am sorry to hear you lost coin, though I am grateful to be alive."

"Ser Barth says you're the trustworthy sort, so I'll let this slide…for now." The Templar grunted as he released his sword into its hilt with a slick metallic shink noise. "Word of advice, rabbit?" he said, his voice carrying the sneer Solas couldn't see through his helmet. "If you want to make sure you keep living you should stay away from this one." He stabbed a finger to indicate Rosa. "Knife-eared bitch should have been Tranquil by now."

Rosa snarled at him in silence, defiant but mute, her hands clenched into fists at her sides.

"Move along," the Templar shouted, waving a hand at Solas. "Off with you, apprentice."

Solas shot Rosa a brief look, feeling his chest constrict with worry that as soon as he left the Templar would punish her. But she simply shook her head once, jaw clenched and eyes narrowed. "Go, flat-ear."

"Tonight," he told her in elven.

She rolled her eyes and waved him toward the training hall. "Just go."

Solas trotted for the hall, his heart pounding and his ears focused on the alcove behind him. He lingered in the entrance, straining his ears until he heard the Templar's armored boots stomping away and a last growled warning from the man, "Watch yourself, knife-ear."

You're terrified, Rosa's words repeated in his mind, taunting him. In that moment, he truly was as he wondered how he was supposed to hold true to his stolid loner self for the good of escaping the tower and destroying the Veil when he worried so much for her. They had almost been competing for the chance to protect each other, with Rosa putting herself in physical danger while Solas had opted for reason without knowing if this particular Templar was anywhere near reasonable.

She is vital to my chances of escape from this tower, he told himself. That is why I acted as I did, why I feel as I do.

He sighed as he finally entered the training hall, wishing he were a more convincing liar when it came to deceiving himself.


Next Chapter:

She paused, glancing at him obliquely out of one eye. "If that were true you'd stop lying to me." She waited a beat as the silence dragged out between them and Solas dropped his stare to the ground, mute. When it became clear he wouldn't answer, Rosa said, "You were right, Revas."

Looking back to her, Solas frowned. "About?"

"Last night," she bit out. "It was a mistake."


Original Author note: Oh, Solas! You got it bad. The angst train is here for the next chapter, but the situation will resolve somewhat in the chapter after next. I'm currently writing chapter 30. My beta STILL doesn't know my biggest secret, which honestly stuns me because she's like brilliant. She's irritable with me because I keep giggling that she hasn't guessed and she thinks she's basically learned and guessed the gist, which she has, but how could whatever specific secret I have be THAT important? Maybe it's not, but I think she's going to be smacking herself when I reveal it's been in plain sight all along.

New author note: I am really curious now, here on AO3, how many people might have picked out the BIG secret about Rosa and Tal. If you've read The Masked Empire, you may have a few additional clues to aid you. My beta above had not. Also, I hope everyone appreciates and pays attention to my beginning quotes. Originally these were just tidbits at the start of every chapter, but here they are part of the "summary." And each was picked very deliberately. I took from tons of different sources, including a LOT from The Masked Empire because Felassan has *SO MANY* great lines. But I also drew from Solas' Inquisition banter where I felt it was truly appropriate. I read that banter thoroughly to "read between the lines" for a lot of Solas' background and underlying biases/beliefs. In particular, this chapter's quote, I feel reveals Solas is kind of a lonely romantic. That is, assuming you read "love" in Cole's quote as romantic love rather than familial love or love between friends. I found the same sort of hints in Felassan's dialogue, too. Anyway, I'm rambling. *shuts up*

Chapter Text

Solas opened his eyes in the Fade and found himself standing on the edge of a lake, choked with weeds. He recognized the brownish-red of blood lotus bulbs and smirked, remembering how poorly his agent Felassan was at identifying important herbs. As smart as Felassan was, he had never been completely able to overcome his pampered courtly upbringing. As a result he frequently, and hilariously, confused willow bark with maple bark, or itchweed with arbor blessing, and rhubarb with spindleweed.

Sensing a Dreamer nearby, Solas turned to observe the temperate forest around him, half-expecting to see Felassan on the rocky ridge behind him. Instead, Solas saw Rosa standing there, her brown hair unbound from its usual braids and knots. It was longer than he'd have expected when loose, hanging to the middle of her back and fluttering in the gentle breeze.

Taking a step up the slope, Solas called out to her. "Lethallan."

She turned her head, staring at him over her shoulder with squinted eyes. They stared at one another, the air tight with tension. Solas tried to ignore the pounding of his heart and the way his chest had seemed to shrink, restricting his lungs.

Finally Rosa crossed her arms over her chest and faced forward once more. But when she spoke Solas heard her clearly anyway, as if she uttered the words right at his side. "Have you thought of a way to deceive the Formless One?"

"No," Solas muttered. "I have not."

She nodded, her hair fluttering. "Then we should seek it out and strike a new bargain with better terms."

Solas grimaced. "I would not recommend that."

"And why not?" she asked, glancing again over her shoulder. "What do you know about this demon that I do not?"

A great deal, he thought but kept silent, his expression deadpan. "I know only that a demon such as the Formless One should not be engaged unless absolutely necessary. Our best option is to counteract the damage it causes."

She frowned. "And yet you sought it out just last night." Turning round and striding to the lip of the ridge, she glared down at him, arms still crossed over her chest. "Stop lying to me, Revas. I don't care how you know what you know right now. Just tell it to me straight."

Solas clenched his jaw, returning her glare with one of his own. "There is nothing to tell save common sense."

She scoffed, unimpressed, and strode away from the ridge again as she said, "Come with me or don't. I really don't care."

Gritting his teeth, Solas Fade-stepped up the slope, trotting after her through the green grass. "The Formless One is dangerous, lethallan," he argued, just behind her as they half-slid, half-ran down an embankment and into a boulder-strewn depression that was just big enough it might be called a valley. Avvar ruins created an archway between large boulders. Carvings of dogs or wolves stood guard on either side.

"Everything in life is dangerous," Rosa shot back, walking beneath the arch without slowing. "But unlike you, I am not afraid. If this demon wants Tal, it will have to get through me to have him."

Bristling at her barb about his fear, Solas gnashed his teeth but refused to rise to the bait as he too strode beneath the archway. At the edge of his senses he could indeed feel a powerful demon's presence, undoubtedly the Formless One, and Rosa was headed in the right direction to meet up with it.

"If what you said is correct and the demon does not wish to peel the skin from your bones simply for the chance to hear the sounds you make in your agony, then it will not fight you." He reached out for her shoulder, intending to stop her and then thinking better of it, retracting his hand. Instead he shook his head and continued at the jogging pace she'd set through the boulder-strewn valley. "If the demon wishes you to remain alive it will simply flee. You will achieve nothing at best. At worst, you will enter an agreement with far worse terms than the current arrangement."

Now Rosa whipped around to face him so quickly Solas nearly collided with her. Rage darkened her face, mottling it red. "Worse terms?" she repeated, lips snarling. "Maybe for you. The Formless One isn't going to punish you."

He snorted, restraining a sarcastic, bitter laugh. It would if it could. As he saw the rage cool on Rosa's face he cursed himself for being a fool. She'd read the truth from his face. He blanked his expression and shook his head. "It is beyond foolish to toy with a demon of this power…"

She ignored his comment, edging closer aggressively. "You and the Formless One know each other, somehow."

"No," Solas denied immediately. "It is simply that I know there is no bargaining with a demon such as this one. If it does not intend to kill or maim you and your brother than you had best thank your Creators or whatever false-god you wish to revere and accept this as is."

Though anger still shone in her violet eyes, Rosa's expression changed at his words into something dark with triumph and Solas felt his stomach drop, realizing he'd erred in some way. The coy smile spread over her lips, but it was hard-edged now with cold rage. "What happens if I give the Formless One your blood, Revas?"

Cold gripped him at the throat as he at once wondered if she had somehow lured him into a trap. In the Fade she shouldn't truly be able to draw his blood. They were merely dreaming, after all. But perhaps she had coordinated with Tal to trap him here as the young elf snuck into the apprentice barracks to collect a vial from him as he slept. Solas retreated a step back, raising his hands in a defensive motion before he could stop himself or weigh whether he truly believed Rosa and Tal would do such a thing.

Rosa observed him, both pain and anger in her eyes. "Do you really think I would do that to you?" she asked, shaking her head in dismay. "Do you truly think so little of me?"

"No," Solas stammered, the single word croaking in his throat. He dropped his hands to his sides. "Forgive me, lethallan…I…"

"What would happen if I gave the demon your blood? Answer the question and I'll forget about all this," she said motioning at the boulders and the grass and the occasional Avvar statue or ruin. "I'll take your advice and just accept whatever comes. Just…give me the peace of mind I need. Tell me that what the demon would do with your blood would be worse for me, for you, for…" She broke off, spinning with her arms out to indicate the Fade. "For everything and everyone, for all I know."

Solas met her stare unflinchingly. "It would be worse," he told her and bit his lips to keep himself from saying more. With a vial of his blood the Formless One could free the Forgotten Ones from their prison if it ever found the Black Mirror he'd sealed them behind.

Rosa gazed at him critically for a long time. Her shoulders rose and fell as she breathed. Solas dared not look away as he willed her to believe him without the full explanation of just why he knew giving the demon what it wanted was impossible.

And then, just when Solas thought the moment would go on forever, Rosa's eyes suddenly clouded and her chin wrinkled. With a choking noise, she turned away from him and spoke her next words barely above a whisper. "I believe you."

Seeing and hearing her distress twisted something inside Solas' chest with sharp pain. He reached for her but Rosa stepped clear of him, spinning about to face him and shaking her head. "Who are you, Revas?"

Solas stared at her, jaw clenched and a painful lump swelling up in his throat. He couldn't answer her, no matter how much he wanted to just to ease the desperation and pain he saw in her face. It wasn't for her own curiosity, he realized, but for her peace of mind as she'd said earlier. Knowing would give her solace against whatever the Formless One did to punish her—or Tal in her stead. But Solas couldn't tell her, because he couldn't take that risk. He couldn't be certain how she would react.

If she would accept him as a man, not a monster and not a god, and join him, it would be a blessing and a boon.

But if she saw a monster or a villain to pit herself against…Solas would have to kill her, and in his weakened state he might not be able to manage it.

The thought of killing her for his mistake in revealing himself made him nauseous. It wasn't fair to her.

So instead, as she stared at him, awaiting an answer with a stricken expression of pain, Solas turned the question back on her. "Who are you, Rosa?"

Anger and frustration furrowed her brow and Rosa groaned. Turning her head to the sky—which was bluish except for some green haze near the Black City—she wiped at her eyes. Sucking in a breath, she whipped round to face the path through the boulder-strewn valley. "I will never betray you by giving this beast your blood—or anyone's blood. I'm not a fool. I know that nothing good comes when demons and blood mix. But I can't sit by and do nothing. I must face the Formless One again."

She huffed out a breath. "You can come with me and help or you can stay behind and stalk the dreams of the mages and the Templars. I don't care. Just don't try to stop me."

"I will come with you." Solas reached out a shaky hand, grasping her shoulder, but Rosa hissed through her gnashed teeth and pulled free of him, walking ahead by a few steps. "Rosa," he called her name, hoarsely. "I only wish to help you."

She paused, glancing at him obliquely out of one eye. "If that were true you'd stop lying to me." She waited a beat as the silence dragged out between them and Solas dropped his stare to the ground, mute. When it became clear he wouldn't answer, Rosa said, "You were right, Revas."

Looking back to her, Solas frowned. "About?"

"Last night," she bit out. "It was a mistake."

Solas flinched, as though her words had been a physical blow. Ahead of him, Rosa had already set out again, moving nimbly over and through the rocks. Something hard and stubborn solidified inside Solas, though he wasn't certain what to call it as he hurried after her. He would do what he must to ensure Rosa survived, despite herself. He would do right by her, even if she didn't realize or appreciate it.

They reached a line of green-gray fog that cut through the boulder-strewn valley—a demarcation point where Rosa's dream ended and another began. Rosa stepped through it without hesitation and Solas followed her, emerging out into the brightness of a desert landscape. He recognized the sand dunes and the ugly brown-gray craggy mountains in the distance and immediately knew this was the same dreamscape as in Rosa's Harrowing.

"Do you know this land?" Solas asked, turning to scan away from the ugly, dry mountains and the pale Elvhen ruins at their base, seeking other distinct landmarks.

"No," Rosa replied, her voice clipped and cool. They had not spoken since their fight earlier and her tone made it clear it was very much still on her mind.

Solas bristled with frustration but forced his voice to remain even as he said, "I believe this may be far western Orlais."

"Then the Formless One must be fond of Blight, sand, and nothingness," Rosa observed with a grunt. "Because there's nothing else here."

It had been a pleasant place once, ruled by Falon'Din and then Solas and Mythal, for a time. Somewhere out in this wasteland, Solas knew there was a temple where the Evanuris—including himself—had bound Falon'Din after the civil war. It was empty now, of course, as Dirthamen had emerged from uthenera after a few centuries and protested at his so-called brother's treatment.

Somehow the Dalish had twisted the bizarreness and cruelty of history into a tale of brotherly love. They'd forgotten that Falon'Din had ransacked his "brother's" lands when Dirthamen entered uthenera after a failed marriage with a noblewoman. They had somehow forgotten that Falon'Din's name had meant friend of death rather than friend of the dead to the middle and lower classes of Dirthamen's lands, that he'd torn peasants apart for sport. And they had characterized Dirthamen as wise and loving as he tried to find his "brother" when in actuality Dirthamen was a spoiled princeling who shirked responsibility and dismissed his "brother's" heinous crimes against his own people.

Dirthamen had despised Solas for ruling in his stead, affronted that Solas had done a better job of managing the lower and middle classes than he had. He'd also been furious to learn Solas had forbidden slavery in both his and Falon'Din's lands. Solas had been happy enough to cede power after Falon'Din woke—he'd learned by then that ruling outright he'd never change Elvhenan. The only way to change it was to rebel, to force the entire society to change by way of violent revolution.

Solas kept all these thoughts inside as he jogged with Rosa across the dunes. They Fade-stepped periodically, or warped the dreamscape with their will alone to speed their passage. Distance and time were both illusionary or unclear in the Fade, respectively. The Formless One was old enough and powerful enough that it might warp time, speeding it up or slowing it down as it wished, meaning that dawn could be coming and Rosa and Solas wouldn't know. The Formless One disrupted their usual senses with its strength.

They reached the edge of the ruins where a few pale blocks had tumbled off from a column and been half-buried in the sand. The Formless One's aura tainted this area, thick and impenetrable. Solas felt it as a painful prickle on his skin and tasted it as a metallic tang, caustic and acrid. A cold shudder passed through him—ancient fear that rose from deep in his belly. This was the same aura that Tua'Veredhe, the Lady of Insanity, carried as one of the Forgotten Ones.

"Raselan!" Rosa shouted into the ruins. A dry desert wind whipped past them kicking up sand and tugging on Rosa's hair. The decorative surcoat leg-guard on the back of her Keeper armor flapped in the breeze. "Come out and face us, you lump of tar!"

Solas scanned the ruins ahead of them, straining all of his senses as he dropped into a battle ready crouch, hands elevated to cast. Rosa took a few steps forward, her bare feet kicking at the sand. At one of the blocks that'd tumbled from the column beside them she planted her foot as if striking a pose for a painting. Her hands opened and closed at her sides, flexing with her nervousness.

The Formless One's silken, androgynous voice rang out over the forlorn ruins, cackling. "Look what the night has brought me," it said, using the human tongue now. Apparently it had decided to cater to Rosa's preferences rather than his own, although during her Harrowing Rosa had seemed perfectly comfortable speaking elven.

Although the ruins rang with the demon's voice, it still had not shown itself. Rosa huffed, leaving the block and walking forward, a sway to her hips that drew Solas' eye with appreciation a moment before he shook his head and followed her, ready and focused on the confrontation that could yet come. Now was most definitely not the time to let his mind wander.

"Let's talk, Raselan," Rosa said as she walked deeper into the ruins, making a wide berth around each ruined half-wall. "I brought Revas with me, since you seem to have a fetish for his blood. You should at least try to be polite by getting to know him a little, right?"

The hollow, disembodied chuckling rang out through the ruins again. "Oh, child of Dirthamen. You tread a narrow bridge over the abyss, heedless of the terrible truth that danger lurks in every direction—forward and back."

The demon referenced him now, Solas was certain of it. Skin prickling with dread and anxiety, Solas edged closer to Rosa and hissed at her, "End this now, lethallan. Please."

She glared at him. "Leave if you wish, but I'm not going until I have what I came for."

"Your death?" Solas shot back, lips curling back from his teeth in frustration as he gripped her forearm. "Because that is all you will find here."

The Formless One cackled again. "Yes, listen to him, child. Listen to this man you know so well, who you would trust with your life and your heart."

Rosa's mouth twisted down in a bitter frown as she jerked her arm from his grasp and faced the ruins again. "I'm not afraid of you, demon. I know better than to listen to your lies."

"Ah," the Formless One said, the single word dropping an octave. "But it is you who lie now. You come here hoping for a solution, hoping you can trick me, but you are not as slippery or clever as the Dread Wolf." Solas winced at the mention of his Evanuris name. "You hope that I will reveal something you can use against me—or to understand your companion." It went on and laughed again. Solas grated his teeth at the sound of its evil delight. "Pray you do not get your wish, child of Dirthamen."

"Enough!" Rosa roared and made a fast sweeping motion with her hand. The Fade rippled in response, the bright sunshine and the pale sand and ruins flickering like candles about to be snuffed out by a stiff wind. And then, in an open stretch of sand about twenty meters away, Solas saw the black shadow of the Formless One, shimmering as it expanded and contracted rhythmically as if breathing.

"I've come here to treat with you," Rosa yelled. "I want to change our arrangement. I cannot pay you in blood."

"Because you do not know the cost," the Formless One said, flashing in the sunshine. "The Prideful One knows, but he will not tell you. And yet, he also knows so little. He does not know who you are, child of Dirthamen."

Fenedhis, Solas cursed inwardly, snarling to himself with irritation and the cold grip of muted horror. The Formless One seemed intent on baiting them against one another, causing discord. If it could turn Rosa against him enough…would she betray him and give the demon what it wanted?

"Do not listen to it," Solas muttered under his breath. "It will turn us against one another if we allow it."

"I'm not an idiot," Rosa grumbled at him over her shoulder. Facing the demon again, she shouted, "Shut up. That isn't going to work. Talk straight with us. What do you want?"

"You know what I want," the demon said, its watery surface gleaming as it rotated in the air above the sand. "And you know that if I do not receive it tomorrow I will punish you."

"You know you won't get what you want," Rosa snarled, lifting her hands and calling magic that Solas could feel as a charge in the air. "Let me out of the bargain or I'll make you sorry you ever—"

"You cannot hope to defeat it," Solas interrupted her, pleading. "If it values you alive you should be thankful and move on," he added in a quiet voice.

The Formless One cackled. "You should listen to your elders, child of Dirthamen. Except, of course, when he lies to you and hides the truth. But you are no better, are you?" it taunted and then its voice dropped an octave again until it sounded masculine and it slipped into elven: "Hold this knowledge close to your heart, da'len. Beings of the Fade and mortals of the waking world alike will come for you."

Solas frowned, feeling dizzy as he tried to comprehend the demon's meaning. Rosa meanwhile, snarled and cursed under her breath. The words had clearly meant something to her. "Shut up," she snapped. "Or I will end you."

"I like you," the demon said after it'd finished laughing at her. "But not as much as the Prideful One likes you." It switched languages then, uttering a guttural speech that made Solas cringe at first even as his mind recognized it as the Forgotten Ones' tongue. "Trickster, you wish to save her from the suffering I will inflict when I punish her? I have another price that you may find agreeable—a price she did not share with you."

"What in the Void?" Rosa asked, shaking her head and wincing at the ugly, guttural language.

Solas stood frozen, listening, refusing to reveal that he understood the language though words from it leapt to his tongue readily. He had learned the language from Tua'Veredhe, the Lady of Chaos, eons ago in Elvhenan.

"My other price was a vial of her blood, to be left in the room of the Templar she slew from the Fade. You would spill her blood for learning your secrets. Would you share it with me to keep her from harm?"

Never with you, Solas thought, though his mind spun at this new revelation. Why in the great Beyond would the Formless One want Rosa's blood? He pushed that thought from his mind.

Rosa was staring at him, he realized. "You understood that," she guessed, brow knitting and eyes narrowed. "Whatever it said just now, you understood it." Pain flashed over her features again. "Who are you, Revas?"

"Do not let it turn you against me," Solas yelled to her. "We both have things we do not wish to discuss and they are not pertinent in this moment."

"But they will be," the Formless one laughed. "They will be, and how delightful the discord and chaos and despair of them. Your anxieties are like honey, sweet and delicious, a delight I have not experienced in many mortal lifetimes. But I grow tired of this confrontation." It rippled, flexing and contracting, glittering in the sunlight. "Child of Dirthamen, I admire your boldness and I will reward it. I will give you three more days to consider my payment and to brood over the cost of failure so that I may drink from your apprehension. I suspect such time will be sufficient also for you, Prideful One, to make up your mind as well."

Or for us to turn on each other, Solas thought, his heart racing and his body doused with sweat. He eyed Rosa's ramrod straight back, her hands clenched into fists at her sides and her shoulders hunched. She was beautiful and brave and so cunning. Could he even kill her if she turned against him, or would she prove the stronger in his current weakened state? His heart throbbed with pain at the thought of ever discovering the answer to that question.

The Formless One seemed to shiver, bubbling and warping and losing its oval shape as it sank to the sand and evaporated. Rosa yelled in a wordless rage, hurling a Fade stone at it and then flinging chain lightning and fire, but the attacks passed through the demon harmlessly. She Fade-stepped through it, but the darkness of the demon's shadow only scattered like smoke. Seeing it had fled, Rosa let out a scream of frustration at the sky and fell to her knees, her face in her hands.

Solas stayed where he was, the tension gradually leaving his body. The Formless One had acted just as he'd predicted, refusing to fight them. That suggested it did value Rosa alive rather than dead. For her blood…

Drawing in a deep breath to steady himself, Solas walked toward her, the sand hissing underfoot. Standing over her, his shadow shading her, Solas reached out and then thought better of it and withdrew it again. He swallowed, a lump growing in his throat at the wet snuffling sound of her anguish. Her brown hair had fallen over her shoulders, messy in its wavy curls.

Eventually, when he'd found his voice, Solas said, "Ir abelas, lethallan. But this outcome is not as bad as I'd feared. The demon has given us an extension and we may yet find a way to—" As he'd spoken Solas had laid a hand on her shoulder and Rosa jerked back from him, hopping to her feet so suddenly that Solas flinched backward and stiffened, bracing for an attack.

"Us?" she repeated, snarling. "We?" She shook her head, her eyes red rimmed and moist as she bared her teeth. "What did it say to you, Revas?" She stopped then, a strangled noise coming form her throat. "Is that even your name?"

Solas stared at her, his own eyes and throat burning with emotion. "Rosa…do not let what it has said unhinge you. You are cleverer than that."

Her hands curled into fists. "What did it tell you," she demanded again. "Answer me!"

Solas scowled. "It told me that I could spare you the suffering of the punishment it will inflict."

Now Rosa laughed bitterly, turning her head skyward again. She breathed raggedly, shoulders heaving and nostrils flaring, but as the seconds stretched out in silence she seemed to grow calmer. Finally she faced him again and let out a shuddering breath. "It asked you for my blood, didn't it?"

Solas pinched his lips together hard. "Yes. It did. I was not going to ask why. It is not my concern."

Something like gratitude flashed over her features before she whipped around so that her back faced him, shoulders hunching as she crossed her arms over her chest. Her voice was hoarse as she said, "Thank you, for that."

"There is no need to thank me," Solas replied gently. "Just as you said earlier, I know that nothing good comes from giving demons blood. We cannot give it what it wants."

She sniffed. "You were right, as usual. I shouldn't have come here."

"Perhaps not," Solas hedged, smiling at her back though she wouldn't see it. "But now we have three more days to contemplate the problem. There may yet be a solution."

"But only if we're honest with each other," Rosa muttered and sighed. She shifted and by her posture Solas guessed she was pinching the bridge of her nose.

His fingers twitched at his side, wanting to close the gap between them and hold her, but he sat on that desire as the sentimental foolishness it was. Rosa was not a weak woman or a longtime ally. She was actually the greatest danger to him in the tower aside from the Templars. If she were to turn against him…

No, he vowed to himself. I will not allow that to happen. I must set things right.

But how? Could he convince her to trust him without knowing who and what he was? Could he eliminate the dangerous parts of his past to win her over without endangering her if she balked upon learning everything? Perhaps there was a middle ground that would satisfy her without exposing the full truth…?

He remembered Zevanni saying she had recruited Dalish to help her fight against Tevinter, but that they didn't know whom they served. If she could do it…

Emboldened as his heart drummed with anticipation rather than dread, Solas said, "We must be honest with each other, yes. We cannot let the Formless One pit us against each other, and it will continue to do so for its own delight and to our detriment. Our only defense is to open to one another." He paused, letting a lighter note enter his voice. "Besides, I doubt we will ever be able to escape the tower if we do not trust one another. Do you agree?"

Rosa lifted her head, her hair fluttering against her shoulders in the dry breeze. She turned round to face him slowly, a wary expression on her face. She blinked at him, clearly baffled. "What?"

Solas smiled at her, trying to offer reassurance. "We must trust one another. I have not been forthcoming and neither have you. We can change that." He drew in a quick breath. "I will change it and if you choose to follow in my example I will welcome it."

The wary, almost suspicious look darkening her violet eyes had yet to ease. "Why the change of heart?"

"Because of this," Solas said, making a sweeping gesture to indicate the dreamscape around them in the Fade. "Because to outsmart this demon, we must leave it no purchase to cling to, no arrows to use against us." He paused, flashing a lopsided smile. "Or fewer arrows, anyway."

Her lips quirked up and then down again as she contemplated his words. "You truly think we have a chance of outsmarting it?"

"We may not," Solas admitted with a dip of his chin. "In that case I will work with you to mitigate whatever damage it does to you—or Tal." He took a step closer to her, slow but confident, and when she didn't recoil from him Solas laid a hand over her shoulder, squeezing firmly. "Regardless, you were right about me. I have been…afraid. Unnecessarily, I expect." He stared into her violet eyes, hoping he didn't look expectant. Whatever secrets she held from him couldn't possibly be as dramatic as his own. If she never chose to divulge them the only thing that would likely suffer for it was Solas' curiosity. Anything pertinent to the demon's bargain would probably come out in due course.

She dropped her gaze to the sand, sucking in a deep breath through her nose. Slowly, she nodded. "Ma serannas," she said softly. Then, glancing up with a lopsided, tentative smile, she added, "Flat-ear."

"No thanks are needed," Solas assured her with a slight nod. "But as I am unsure of the time, I wonder if we might postpone this until tomorrow night?"

She made a face of disapproval. "And lose a full day when we could be plotting against that tar-ball?" She scoffed, though her tone was lighthearted as she scolded him: "Stalling for time, Revas?"

He sighed, rolling his eyes with irritation—but also amusement. "Your confidence in me is truly inspiring, lethallan."

She let out a light chuckle. "How about compromise then?" she asked, arching an eyebrow. "Sneak into the library in the morning instead of attending your classes."

Solas frowned. "We could be overheard." A mischievous, playful gleam entered her violet eyes at his words and Solas felt himself flush with heat as he realized how she could have interpreted what he'd said a very different way.

"Don't tell me you don't know the sound dampening spell," she said and then, smirking, leaned closer to him so that the breath of her next words puffed over his cheeks, lips, and chin. "And I can be quiet, I promise. What was it you called it when I snuck into the library last time?" She grinned. "Ah, that's it: Subtle."

Solas' guts seemed to twist themselves in knots of anticipation, the tense excitement of her flirtatious teasing, but he swallowed hard. He wasn't appeasing her with a partial truth of who and what he was to win her affection. This was only to gird themselves against the Formless One. He was supposed to reject her advances…but, fenedhis!

"You are anything but subtle," he murmured, trying to keep his voice even and finding that somehow it'd dipped into a more flirtatious note.

"Guilty." She shrugged, smirking. A little wrinkle formed in the bridge of her nose and Solas admired it, fighting to contain and ignore the warmth blossoming inside him at the sight of her approximating a mood that could be called happiness. Seeing her angry and distraught and suspicious of him had curdled his stomach acids and made him taut as a bowstring.

"I have a bad habit," she went on, her smile softening and her eyes darkening a bit. "I act before thinking. Like with the Formless One just now. And…like last night." She swallowed audibly, her violet eyes darting away from him. "You tried to ward me off." She cleared her throat, awkward at the topic. "Both times. I didn't listen."

Solas lifted both palms to her, a soundless cue to signal silence. "You do not need to explain yourself, lethallan…but I'd prefer not to discuss it." The wounded look that flashed over her features seemed to twist a knife between his ribs so he hurriedly explained, "There are...considerations. Regarding my past and what I plan on doing after we escape the tower." He sighed, withdrawing back from her a step. "I will tell you more about it later." Smiling slightly, he added, "In the morning when I meet you in the library."

She nodded, a small smile spreading over her lips. "All right. I can accept that answer." Brightening, she pointed a finger at him. "But I'll hold you to it, flat-ear."

Solas chuckled. "I would expect nothing less from you," he fell silent a moment and then let himself say her name and not the distancing elven term for cousin. "Rosa." Hearing his voice, however, brought heat to his cheeks at how…intimate it sounded.

"Revas," she returned, eyes dancing though her smile remained tight and small. "In the morning then."

"In the morning," he agreed.

Fenedhis, what am I going to tell her? He had to seek out Zevanni with what little time remained in this night and consult her. As he felt Rosa's presence disappear from the dreamscape around him, Solas closed his eyes and imagined his agent in Tevinter. Mere seconds later he opened his eyes to see her standing before him in plain leather armor, a campsite behind her in a field of yellow-brown grasses.

"Hahren," she greeted him, grinning. "To what do I owe the pleasure?"


Next Chapter

"Well," Rosa said, growing impatient at his silence. "Say something." Pausing a beat, she flashed a lopsided, awkward smile as she tried out his actual name rather than his alias. "Solas. Don't stand there like a hare in the wolf's gaze."

He frowned at her description—wolf. Swaying from one side to another to satisfy the anxious energy within him itching to find a way out, Solas asked, "What do you wish me to say, lethallan?"

She heaved a long breath out and then in again. "I need to know who you served in the court of Arlathan."

Chapter Text

The classrooms where apprentices learned religion, history, penmanship, and arithmetic were two levels above the library, one of the reasons Solas had spent his days while weak and without magic working there rather than starting lessons. To meet Rosa there required him to linger in the apprentice barracks, pleading some excuse about feeling unwell and needing to remain close to the privy. When most of the other apprentices had left for their courses, Solas headed to an entirely different stairwell to reach the library, muscles taut with tension the whole way. He was certain that at any moment a Templar or mage would spot him and usher him away or question him. Or worse.

At the stairs, his fear almost became reality when he heard a Templar's armor clanking on the steps. Heart racing, Solas made up his mind to take a calculated risk and use a stealth spell. The stairwell was circular, with broad landings halfway up each flight and as this was the deep interior of the tower it lacked windows, making for dark, dingy lighting. Ideal conditions for invisibility.

Sucking in a breath, Solas summoned the barest hint of mana to call forth the spell, and then pressed himself tight to the wall of the landing. The Templar's tread continued on, unaffected, which suggested he hadn't noticed the mild presence of magic. Solas saw his silverite armor, glinting in the dimness of the guttering torches lighting the landing. The Templar's eyes appeared bleary through his helmet. Solas guessed this man had patrolled through the wee hours of the morning and was now retiring to the lower levels of the tower to rest.

The Templar strode past him and Solas left the wall, tiptoeing toward the next set of stairs. The Templar behind him halted, grunting and sniffing. Solas had a moment of both sharp fear and embarrassment as he wondered if it was magic, a subtle sound, or smell that'd alerted the man. He lingered in the shadowed part of the stairs, waiting as the Templar looked around, brow furrowed with bafflement. A few seconds later the man muttered under his breath and continued on his way, dismissing whatever it was he'd heard, sensed, or smelled.

I will be very grateful for the bath tonight, Solas thought grumpily. His skin felt grimy and his clothes a tad bit greasy. Weekly baths were just not frequent enough when, in Elvhenan, he'd easily conjured one nightly or at any time he desired with but a thought.

Pressing onward with the stealth spell still ongoing, he reached the level where the library was located and stood before the door. Exhaling, he released the spell and tore open the door, knowing from experience that it would whine on its rusty hinges no matter what he did. Inside the musty smell of old books hit his nose and he sighed at the warmth of nostalgia for the Elvhen library construct hit him. The lower level was empty as far as he could see, abandoned so early in the morning. Mages typically didn't rise until later, and enchanters after them to accommodate their different eating schedules.

Up from the second level then, Solas heard a soft hissing sound of someone trying to get his attention. Gazing up, he saw Rosa standing beside one of the classrooms there, its door ajar. When he met her stare she jerked her head toward the classroom behind her and then backed quickly into it, disappearing.

Solas headed for the stairwell to the second level and ascended it, his stomach twisting on itself with nervousness. If she saw through him or made connections he had not anticipated—he would have to kill her. The thought of it had stolen his appetite all morning and made his false complaints of a stomach ailment far more realistic as he'd been unable to eat breakfast.

Entering the classroom, he had a moment to see Rosa sitting on the writing surface of a desk on the far wall, and then he flinched as she used magic to shut the door with a push of her hand on the air. It slammed, loud enough to rattle the metallic handle and let out a reverberated bang. Solas cast a short glare at her as his heart pounded on his throat from the loudness of the noise. "Are you trying to draw Templar attention, lethallan?" he asked irritably.

"Relax," she told him with an idle wave of her hand. "I talked to one of my roommates so I know the rotations. The mages make it their business to know who will be on patrol and where at all hours. All the better for mischief. No one will have been close enough to have heard that right now." As she spoke Rosa shifted a leather pouch slung over her shoulder to sit in her lap and unlatched it, folding the flap up to dig inside it. "Hungry? The mages and enchanters get way better breakfast than the apprentices."

"Perhaps later," Solas admitted, struggling with the nervous desire to sway from side to side with his inner tension. "I'd prefer we spoke first. There is much to tell."

Rosa dug out a sweet bun slathered in frosting and made a noise of pleasure in her throat as she licked at the sticky coating. "You sure? Because if there's one thing the shemlen do well, it's baked goods. This is cinnamon-sugar and apple, Revas. Cinnamon. Apple."

Solas watched as she bit into the bun, eyes fluttering shut with enjoyment. "Mmm," she moaned.

The sound she made prompted him to give in to his nervous swaying, his fingers brushing against his thighs as he tried to remain stolid and neutral despite the warm, bubbling sensation inside his chest. He wanted to let go and chuckle at her delight, but the prospect of what lay ahead of them remained too intimidating and stressful. He must remain aloof or risk being unable to dispatch her. His only advantage would be surprise as she surely had more mana than he currently.

Then, abruptly, he felt and heard the whump of a spell and looked up to see that Rosa had cast a sound dampening bubble over her half of the room. He could no longer hear the sound of her enthusiastic chewing, but he could see her violet eyes watching him and her lips curling in that coy smile of hers as she finished the sweet bun. She motioned at him to enter the bubble and he stepped forward, passing through it and feeling his skin tingle pleasantly as her magic recognized him as friend and welcomed him.

Inside the bubble he could hear Rosa sucking the frosting from her fingers and frowned, trying not to fidget again. "We should begin," he suggested. "I have no desire to be caught."

She patted the leather sack on her lap, still lumpy with more food he suspected. "That's what this is for. If we get caught, we have a plausible story for why we're here. You wanted a better breakfast than the shitty bread they give the apprentices and I, being the compassionate sap I am, decided to give it to you." Reaching into the bag again, she pulled out another sweet bun and extended it out to him. "So, take it."

Solas sighed and accepted the sweet bun, frowning as it immediately made his fingers sticky. Despite the twisting in his stomach, Solas forced himself to tear a chunk off and shove it into his mouth. Surprisingly, the sweetness and bite of the cinnamon with the fluffy bread immediately set his mouth watering. He chewed with vigor, trying to ignore the weight of Rosa's gaze on him.

"Told you they were good," she said, chuckling.

He nodded to her. "I was a fool to have doubted you, lethallan."

She sobered, her brow knitting. "Lethallan." Drawing in a deep breath, her eyes dropped to the floor. "I wonder how true that actually is." Resting her elbow on her knee and then leaning her chin onto her palm, she tapped her fingers on her lips before asking, "So, who are you, Revas?"

Using the sweet bun now as a distraction, Solas continued to pick at the treat, savoring the flavor even as his stomach clenched and roiled with anxiety. "My name is actually not Revas," he admitted in a slow, cautious voice. "That was merely the name I chose to provide the Templars when I was captured. Names hold power and I wished to remind myself of my goal each time my new name was spoken aloud."

"I guessed as much," Rosa revealed, smiling her coy smile. "But, to your credit, only after Rogathe and the Formless One kept calling you pride." She cocked her head to one side. "I'm guessing your actual name is Solas?"

He nodded solemnly. "It is indeed, though I have grown rather fond of Revas."

"They're both good names," Rosa said approvingly. "You chose well."

Solas chuckled, some of the tautness in his shoulders easing. He tugged at the next layer of the coiled sweet roll, waiting for her to probe for more. Zevanni had advised him not to provide information as much as possible. "Let her guess," her voice echoed in his head. "Let her fill in blanks while you provide as little as necessary to satisfy her. It's a seduction, really. Give her enough and she will stop caring that she doesn't know everything. It turned out. much of his agent's tips on recruiting the Dalish were similar to recruiting anyone, with a few notable exceptions. 

"Am I right to assume you aren't Dalish?" she asked, shifting in her spot to sit up and dig into the pouch in her lap again. "Not even half-Dalish like you said?"

"I am not," Solas revealed, hesitating to swallow the sudden excess of saliva in his mouth borne of apprehension. "I am what you have suspected."

Her violet eyes narrowed. "You were a sleeper. The tomb the Templars found you outside of was your uthenera chamber."

He met her gaze and held it. "Yes." His stomach did flips, like a rat desperately trying to flee a sinking ship.

Silence reigned for a beat and when Rosa spoke again Solas didn't miss the hoarseness in her voice or the unreadable look that flashed over her features. "You are Elvhen. You lived during Elvhenan? Before the fall of Arlathan."

"Yes," he revealed.

Rosa sucked in a breath, her eyes squeezing shut as if his answer had somehow caused her pain—but only for an instant. Opening them again, she said, "You were part of the court. A noble."

Her confidence gave him pause. Staring at her over his sweet roll, Solas swallowed hard, trying to ignore the churning inside him. How had she guessed that? But Zevanni had advised him not to deny anything unless it was truly damning and incorrect, or else he'd rouse her ire. "From what you've told me, this shem-Dreamer is a clever little minx. Let her know she's right when she's right. If you don't she'll never trust you the way you need."

Such advice would have held true in Elvhenan as well, but Solas had to concede that Zevanni had the greater experience in interacting with shem-elves and inspiring their trust, particularly the Dalish. So far Solas had only managed to incite Rosa's suspicions, but she'd tolerated it because of his value to her in aiding her with Rogathe. If he hoped to recruit her, he must do it carefully. Any failure and all would be lost…

There was only one vital thing Zevanni had advised he never discuss in any detail—the Evanuris, especially himself. That was an obvious bit of advice Solas would have reached himself, but hearing it reinforced from Zevanni only emphasized it. "Do not challenge her faith, ridiculous and insulting as it may be. Let her believe Arlathan was a court like Orlais and that her Creators resided on high and almost never interacted with the People, noble or not." That had been Zevanni's strategy with recruiting the Dalish, so it seemed a good one for Solas to use on Rosa.

"I was," Solas admitted and then, taking a risk, decided to turn the question back on her. "Was that merely a guess or is there something your clan knows that all others have forgotten?"

Rosa's smile eased into something less coy and more genuine. "I suppose it's fair that you ask me about my secrets now." Shrugging, she stared down into her lap at the sweet bun she'd pulled out but had not yet taken a bite from. "Honestly, I guessed based on the way you talk, the way you eat, the way you conduct yourself."

Fenedhis, he cursed himself and tried not to frown with disappointment at how easily she'd read him. But, in the set of her mouth, Solas thought he detected something else, something hidden. "That is not all, I suspect. You know something else."

"I do," she hazarded, pinching her lips together and still not meeting his gaze. Bringing a finger to her lips, she sucked the frosting from it before explaining: "The sleeper my clan protected and nursed to health shared many stories with us. He was also a noble in the court of Arlathan." Her violet eyes at last met his. "The stories were passed down from Keeper to Keeper, to preserve them."

Solas forced himself to keep breathing despite the chill spreading through him. He should have foreseen this. The Dalish were obsessed with preserving the past. Of course a clan like Rosa's would keep detailed records of the noble who'd woken from uthenera. "I assume your Keepers tried to share these tales at the Arlathvhen?" Solas asked, trying to keep her talking to learn just how much she knew of Arlathan's court without revealing anything himself.

Rosa's eyes narrowed. "Some of what the sleeper told us was…" Her nose wrinkled. "Blasphemous."

"I see," Solas hedged, clearing his throat, desperate to appear as though he didn't feel certain he'd vomit at any moment. "Then your Keepers felt they could not share the knowledge. It would not be welcomed." He remained impassive to hide how unsurprising this news was.

"Exactly," Rosa agreed and frowned. "But, point is, if you're worried that you will offend me by saying something about the Creators being fallible mages…"

Staring at her, Solas remained silent—stunned despite himself. How loose-lipped had this sleeper been? A Dreamer like himself—as he assumed this noble had been—would have woken knowing the Dalish would probably balk at the truths he had to offer. That was certainly the conclusion Solas reached during his uthenera.

He racked his mind, wondering at the motivations of this Elvhen man and who he had been. How shocking and awful to waken to this world where the People had been reduced to living as homeless nomads, repeating inane myths as history and withdrawing from the rest of the world to go slowly extinct. At least Solas had woken knowing there was still hope for restoration; but this Elvhen man would not have had that balm and would know he had only a few short years to live and die among the Dalish. Perhaps he had hoped to fix what little he could in that one clan? If so, he had achieved a small triumph in that his wisdom had allowed a Dreamer like Rosa to thrive post-Veil, educated and protected from both spirits and demons.

"Well," Rosa said, growing impatient at his silence. "Say something." Pausing a beat, she flashed a lopsided, awkward smile as she tried out his actual name rather than his alias. "Solas. Don't stand there like a hare in the wolf's gaze."

He frowned at her description—wolf. Swaying from one side to another to satisfy the anxious energy within him itching to find a way out, Solas asked, "What do you wish me to say, lethallan?"

She heaved a long breath out and then in again. "I need to know who you served in the court of Arlathan."

Now Solas narrowed his eyes, his heart racing and a cold sweat breaking out over his body. What was she getting at? Weighing his words carefully, he doled out the barest partly truthful description he could come up with. "I served as a lesser general in multiple conflicts and—"

"Which Creator did you serve in those conflicts?" Rosa interrupted, her expression and eyes carrying a note of intensity that made Solas' skin prickle. Whatever he said next was apparently vital to her in some way…

Do not lie, he thought as his jaw clenched. "Mythal." Her eyes widened at the revelation and the tight, coy smile returned to her lips. Solas couldn't tell whether his answer had been what she wanted to hear or not. His own curiosity piqued, he asked, "What do you know of your so-called Creators, lethallan?"

"I know only what the sleeper told my clan, which was quite a lot." At his expectant look she went on, "I know they had a civil war amongst themselves when Falon'Din made an ass out of himself, apparently, and attacked Dirthamen." She motioned at her face, indicating the vallaslin for Dirthamen. "I know they were not gods, just very powerful and ancient beings, and therefore flawed. I know Elgar'nan had a nasty temper and a bad attitude that would have put Templars like Curtis and Jeremy to shame."

Solas' knees felt as though they'd turned to rubber. As covertly as he could, he eased himself down to sit on the writing surface of the desk next to hers, never breaking eye contact with her. His chest felt hollow, each beat of his heart echoing through him like a drum. He knew he likely wore a stunned expression, and it seemed to please Rosa as she went on.

"Mainly I know a lot of gossipy stuff the sleeper told us to stop us thinking they were gods." Sitting up straight, Rosa grinned, beaming as the words spilled out. "I know Andruil was a real piece of work and more unstable than the Fade—she had a new mood every other minute. I know Ghilan'nain was a beautiful woman, but vain and young and foolish. I know June was obsessed with crafting and disappeared for centuries at a time to enchant things and design priceless weapons or find new spells. I know Sylaise was a mother to multitudes, much as Mythal was. But, unlike Mythal, she wasn't exactly faithful to June. But, since June was always away and more interested in creating things rather than children, no one blamed her—not even June."

Solas shook his head. "Your sleeper told you all of this?" the doubt in his voice was unmistakable.

Rosa stiffened, the amusement leaving her face as she frowned. "Yes. But, it wasn't just him. He had attendants who woke with him and their stories all matched. How could we doubt it coming from so many ancient mouths? The stories they told us were all we ever asked for in return for sheltering them."

Suspicion twisted inside Solas. Cautiously, he asked, "How long ago did you say this Dreamer awakened? And what was his name?"

"Ivun," she answered without hesitation. "He woke in the time of my great-grandmother, when she was but a girl."

Ivun. The name meant nothing to Solas, which suggested he'd been some lesser noble who supported an Evanuris other than Mythal. "And these stories have never been shared outside your clan in that time?" Solas asked tightly. Solas had always made sure to watch the dreams of the Keepers attending the Arlathvhen every decade to see what artifacts and knowledge they'd uncovered. He'd never seen any hint of what Rosa described.

"No," she murmured, frowning. "Like I said, it was blasphemous. The clan at the time decided it was best not to repeat them. The Keeper wrote everything down in detail and locked it away, only to be shared with Firsts. After so many years most of my clan knows very little of the full tale."

"Why is that, lethallan?" Solas asked, forcing his voice to remain even and gentle, though his hands kept twitching. "Your Keeper at the time could have simply taken Ivun and his attendants to the Arlathvhen. Some would have believed, blasphemous or not. But instead your Keepers chose to bury the knowledge, even within their own clan. Why?" The Dalish as a whole were too obsessed with uncovering the past to let such knowledge of Elvhenan be buried. There had to be something he was missing.

"The Keeper at the time and all those who followed were abiding by Ivun's own advice." She gazed at him, her eyes hard. "Because Ivun also told us that the conflicts of the ancients are not over."

Fenedhis. Solas kept his expression as neutral as possible, nodding his understanding even as he found it difficult to breathe. How much did she know? What conflicts did she mean? Could she already know of his goals? Feeling her keen eyes searching him and knowing she would have read his less-than-stunned expression, Solas asked, "What conflicts?"

The coy smile was in place again as she continued to stare him down. "Do you really have to ask?" Placing the sweet bun on her lap, she held up one hand and used the other to tick off her words as she spoke them. "The Blight, for one. Ivun said things the Creators did in a war with the Forgotten Ones was what first brought it on."

"I see," Solas murmured darkly with a knowing nod, still trying to mask the deadly stillness inside himself—the strangling grip of dread knowing that he might have to kill her. "He was correct, and I would indeed prefer to limit the knowledge that the People bear some responsibility for it, yes."

"Right," Rosa said, frowning. She motioned to the sound bubble. "Exactly why I wasn't about to let anyone overhear this. The shemlen hate us enough already. Ivun was right to warn us." Resuming her countdown on her hands, she said, "And, secondly, there's the Forgotten Ones. I know they're locked away somehow and somewhere, but Ivun said they still have servants working to free them." She grimaced. "Like the Formless One."

Now that was a safe topic as Solas could be certain he knew where she stood on that conflict. "Again, your sleeper was obviously correct," he said, his heart calming slightly and his posture easing. The knot of unease inside him loosened—just a bit. "But it brings to mind a curious question: why is a servant of the Forgotten Ones targeting you?"

"Do you still serve Mythal?" Rosa asked him blankly, ignoring his question. Her shoulders had tensed and her eyes narrowed, sure signs that it was apparently her turn to be anxious.

Glad to have a question he could answer with ease, Solas said, "No. How could I, lethallan? Did Ivun not mention that she was murdered?"

Rosa snorted, picking over the sweet bun again. "C'mon, Rev—" She broke off, chuckling at her mistake and corrected it. "Solas. If you knew Mythal or any of the Creators you'd know she wouldn't let a little thing like murder stop her."

At the amusement in her violet eyes, Solas felt himself relax slightly, enough that he could breathe regularly again and flash a small smile back to her. "Perhaps Ivun had some knowledge I do not. Are you suggesting Mythal yet lives in spirit?" He was bluffing now, hoping she did not see through it. He knew full-well that Mythal endured, but feigning ignorance—if he could do it convincingly enough to deceive Rosa—would expose how much she knew.

"That's exactly what I'm saying," she answered with an emphatic nod, though Solas noticed her violet eyes were dark. Was that because she suspected his deception or for some other reason? "I do not know how exactly, but Ivun seemed confident. She lives, though in what form I can't say. She doesn't exactly answer the People's prayers. But Ivun said she has worked from the shadows on some hidden agenda since the fall of Elvhenan."

He had to change the subject from the Evanuris soon or Rosa might start asking him what he knew of them—particularly of the two who remained free: Mythal and Fen'Harel. He decided he would use it to transition. "She was a magnificent woman," he hedged, letting genuine admiration sneak into his voice to sell the lie he was about to spin. "I entered uthenera shortly after I learned of her death—though I did not know her exceptionally well. The empire was in great upheaval at the time and I did not wish to endure it awake as I could do nothing to change it."

He glanced down into his lap, at the sweet bun, turning it idly in one hand. He couldn't leave off there in his tale, truth or lie, because it'd prompt her to ask about the fall of the empire. So he said, "I did not intend or expect to sleep as long as I did but…" He scowled. "Watching the People founder and become slaves…" He sighed with real despair, shutting his eyes a moment. "I was not certain I ever wanted to wake."

"Abelas, Solas," Rosa murmured, dipping her chin and dropping her eyes to the floor. "I can't imagine how difficult all this has been for you."

Despite the knot still inside him, cold and tight, he felt something else stir as well—warm and soft with affection. Though his words had been partly untrue, the sentiment was genuine and so was Rosa's response as far as he could tell. It felt…good to unburden himself, to at least partially admit the truth and have someone from such a vastly different background sympathize rather than doubt or scorn him. With her vast knowledge of the past, of actual history rather than the Dalish mythology, Rosa and possibly Tal as well, would make even better recruits to the Dread Wolf's cause…

Still, she'd asked about Mythal somehow in relation to his earlier unanswered question regarding the Formless One. Clearing his throat, Solas said, "I endured and I will continue to do so. There is no other choice, save death, and I am far too stubborn for that." He paused as she chuckled, her violet eyes bright. He'd known she would approve of that sentiment. Changing topics, he said, "You did not answer me earlier, lethallan. Why is the Formless One targeting you?"

Rosa blew out a breath, wincing, and then shoved the entirety of her sweet bun into her mouth. As she chewed it she kept her eyes closed and Solas waited, torn between amusement, confusion, and irritation at this unusual reaction. Finally, when she swallowed it and began licking her fingers, Solas let out a sigh. "We were to be honest with one another, lethallan."

"I know," she said, frowning as she pressed her fingers together, testing for stickiness. "And I have been." Her lips pinched into a hard line as she gave a half-shrug. "I just like to eat when I'm nervous. Truth is, the demon wants my blood probably for the same reason it wants yours. You keep calling me lethallan and I expect it's truer than either of us knows."

Now Solas shook his head. "I—" He broke off, realizing that his immediate reaction of informing her that he had no living relatives and therefore they could not be related would be a mistake. Do not correct her misconceptions. Restarting, he said, "I do not follow your meaning."

Rosa snorted. "Liar. You think I didn't notice the way you looked at me that day in the library when I told you about Ivun? You realized then that I have Elvhen blood and you've looked at me differently ever since."

Solas frowned. "All elves possess Elvhen blood," he protested. "And they are not targeted by the Formless One."

She rolled her eyes. "I know. What I'm saying is that I'm descended from Ivun, a noble of Arlathan's court. And you were a noble, too." She shifted in her spot, eyes narrowing as she scrutinized him. "Were you a descendant of Mythal? Is that why you served her?"

Do not correct her misconceptions, he thought again, weighing the lie as it sprang to his tongue. Mythal had innumerable descendants, many of whom were unremarkable members of the court. If he posed as one of them, claiming nobility through blood rather than deeds or inborn power, Rosa would be less likely to search for some other secret—like that he actually was an Evanuris himself. The fact she assumed all members of court could eventually trace their lineage back to an Evanuris revealed Ivun hadn't told her everything. Plenty of unrelated Dreamers had ascended to Arlathan's nobility, though admittedly it was routine for nobles to be related to multiple Evanuris.

"Yes, a very distant grandson," he lied. "What was Ivun's lineage?"

She gave another half-shrug, the coy smile curling over her lips. "He was a grandson of Sylaise and June. So, maybe I'm wrong and you and I aren't very distant cousins after all, but we both have Elvhen blood from the Creators and the Formless One wants it for some reason."

Solas nodded, feigning agreement when internally he suspected she was lying. The Formless One might seek June's blood to unlock a relic or some other artifact, but after so many generations Rosa should be as good as unrelated to the master crafter. Her blood would have diluted to the point of uselessness. Unfortunately Solas knew almost nothing of Sylaise and June's immediate descendants as he'd barely paid them any mind at court. Of all the Evanuris those two had been some of the most innocuous—though they'd done nothing to help their people or save Mythal. But, he suspected Rosa's tale was close enough to the truth that he shouldn't pressure her for more. This would suffice; especially considering how many secrets he still hid from her.

"So…" Rosa began, letting the word drag out. Sensing a topic he wouldn't like was fast approaching; Solas began to eat his sweet bun quickly, fighting to hide the way his hands and fingers shook slightly. He would require the energy if he needed to suddenly draw on mana. "Tell me about the foci," Rosa finished. "The truth this time. It's yours, isn't it?"

"No," Solas lied immediately, grimacing as she shot him a disbelieving glare. "I do not own it," he explained—lying but with greater care now. "It was Mythal's, given to me as her general. It is a useful weapon and tool, allowing me to store magic."

Now Rosa arched a brow, apparently surprised. "Is it true what you've told the Templars then? That the foci took your magic?" She shook her head, frowning with confusion. "Doesn't sound like a particularly useful trick for it."

Now Solas sighed, pressing his fingers together as he felt the stickiness of frosting on them but refused to lick them clean the way Rosa had. How was he supposed to answer that? He decided to go with a hint of the truth and said, "I do not know with certainty. The orb does absorb stray magic. It may have drained mine when I woke. Something certainly happened to weaken me."

Rosa nodded. "Ivun didn't have one, but he was a powerful mage from the moment he woke. Maybe it did drain you…" Scooting over her desk a bit, she leaned closer to him and lowered her voice, "How powerful is the foci, exactly?"

Solas hesitated, staring into her violet eyes as he weighed his answer and finally decided to tell her a smidgen of truth. Averting his gaze, he said, "Should a mage of enough power and knowledge engage with it and manage to unlock it…" He pinched his lips together and sent her a grave look. "The resulting discharge of unfocused magical energy would easily destroy this tower, I suspect."

And tear a massive hole in the Veil… He didn't tell her, of course, about the other powers of the foci—such as the Anchor it carried and would bestow on the mage unlocking it. Assuming, however, the mage knew how to initiate the Anchor. Solas, it's intended carrier, could unlock the Anchor without unleashing the stored energy within it in a clumsy explosion, but someone like the First Enchanter or Rosa wouldn't and would succeed only in killing themselves.

"Could someone like the First Enchanter manage that?" Rosa asked, frowning as both fear and contemplation crossed her features.

"The foci requires more magic than any single mage in this tower could muster alone," Solas revealed. "It was a tool used by many, allowing us to pool magic between arcane warriors. As such, short of using blood magic to enhance one's abilities, the orb is safe—but I suspect the First Enchanter would not study it alone. It would be done in a small group and three Circle mages would certainly have enough mana between them to manage it."

Rosa smirked at him now. "No wonder you were scared shitless about them experimenting on it."

Solas chuckled despite the nervous twist of the knot in his belly. He could see the gleam of understanding and…respect in Rosa's gaze now and it flushed him with warmth. At the memory of their passionate kiss a few nights ago in the Fade, Solas suddenly felt his limbs grow shaky. Worried she'd sense where his thoughts had wandered, Solas cleared his throat and motioned to the bag in her lap. "Another sweet bun, if I may be so bold?"

She laughed as she sat more upright and dug into the pouch. "That's what you call bold, Solas?" Holding up another coiled, frosting-laden sweet bun, she extended it out to him with a wink. "Elvhen or not, I may still need to call you flat-ear after all."

Accepting the sweet bun from her, Solas nodded in thanks to her as he began to tear into it. "Call me what you like, lethallan. It makes no difference. But we have strayed from our purpose in this exchange."

"The Formless One," Rosa said, sobering. "Do you have an idea of how we can—" She broke off suddenly, eyes springing wide and flicking past him, toward the door to the classroom. Before Solas could turn to react he felt the sound dampening bubble fade with a sharp whump noise as it burst. Simultaneously he heard the harsh clap of metal Templar boots marching over the stone floor.

"What is the meaning of this?!" a female Templar demanded as she stomped toward them, one hand at the hilt of her sword while the other clenched into a fist at her side. Behind her a man walked slower, his pace more relaxed. Solas recognized him even from a distance and with his helmet on as Ser Bartholomew.

"Just sharing breakfast with Revas," Rosa answered coolly. "The bread you lot give the apprentices is foul. Absolutely shameful. I had to share some of the good stuff with Revas or—"

"Give the bag here, mage," the woman ordered. She had stopped just within arm's reach of Solas, glaring through the slits on her helmet. Bartholomew lingered behind her, both hands at his hips as he surveyed the scene.

Rosa scoffed. "Fine, have it." She tugged the strap over her head and passed it to Solas who then turned and extended it to the woman. She riffled through it quickly, carelessly tossing out a few buns to clatter on the floor, flinging their frosting about.

Finally the woman grunted and pushed the bag toward Bartholomew, who wordlessly took it. Glaring between Solas and Rosa, the woman snarled, "I sensed magic a moment ago. Tell me your names."

"I recognize them, Ser Tess," Bartholomew spoke up from behind her. "The woman is Rosa, a mage. The apprentice is Revas."

"That so?" Ser Tess asked, grunting in her dry, cold voice. "I read a report from yesterday saying these same two knife-ears were consorting and using magic suspiciously. Ser Luther let them off easy. That was clearly a mistake." She turned slightly and slapped her armored hand against Bartholomew's breastplate with a clunk. "Ser Luther let them off because your favorite knife-ear was there. But it's time you got a new favorite, Ser Bartholomew. This one's rubbish—a troublemaker as sure as shit, just like the savage bitch."

"We caused no harm," Solas protested. "We were merely sharing breakfast together, Rosa and I."

Ser Tess shot Bartholomew an expectant glare and the Templar heaved a sigh—the resigned sound of a man yielding to another's unpleasant opinion as truth. "You should have steered clear of this bitch, Revas," he said with a cluck of his tongue.

Solas felt Rosa tensing nearby and sensed the pull of her mana as a prickling of his skin. He turned his head to caution her—and pain exploded in the back of his head. The world went black, spinning. The next thing he knew he was slumped awkwardly over the desk Rosa had been sitting on and heard the elven woman cursing them. "Shemlen dogs! Dread Wolf take you! How dare you hit him?"

"Stand down, mage," Ser Tess shouted and Solas heard the ringing of her sword and felt the dizzying, uncomfortable brush of her power over him. "Or I will slay you!"

Rosa laughed, a cold, dry sound that would have sent shivers over him had Solas been fully conscious. He tried to rise, but the room whirled and his head throbbed. His stomach clenched and he had to swallow hard and close his eyes to keep from vomiting. Still, he managed to reach out with one hand toward the sound of Rosa's voice. His fingers brushed over her belt and then clutched at her arm. Squeezing, he tried to plead with her to submit, but all that would come out was: "Lethallan, please…"

Then he felt Rosa's hand grip his in return as she said, "I submit, just please…"

She never finished before the metal clank of Templar boots closed in and Solas dimly heard the sickening noise of armored knuckles striking naked flesh. Struggling to lift his head, though his vision closed in, Solas saw Rosa collapse from the blow, her limp body thudding on the floor.

Then Solas knew nothing more, for the darkness closed in on him, too.


An impenetrable haziness enveloped Solas' consciousness, holding him in its relentless grip for some unknowable length of time. When he woke, it was to the sensation of cold water dribbling over his face. He gasped and turned away from it, spluttering. Pain coiled over his skull in bands, hot and achy. He breathed through it as awareness gradually returned.

Blinking through the darkness, he saw an elven woman kneeling near him. For a moment his heart leapt in his chest with relief and excitement, assuming her to be Rosa. But only a heartbeat later he made out the black sunburst on her skin and recoiled, recognizing her as Tranquil.

Standing above the elven Tranquil was Ser Bartholomew, leaning against the solid wood of Solas' cell door and holding a small torch to provide the only means of light in the dank room. "Get him all cleaned up, Devesa."

"Yes, ser."

Solas winced with pain as the Tranquil woman moved at him again and he felt the dribble of cold water with a painful shudder. "What…has happened?" Solas asked as the Tranquil began wiping at the side of his face. Even in the dim light Solas saw it come away dark with blood.

Bartholomew let out a dry chuckle. "You irritated Ser Tess, apprentice. Stupid mistake, it was. Much as I like you, Revas, I can't be too lenient. Fortunately everyone knows you weren't the instigator. The knife-ear woman was." He broke off, sighing and shaking his head. "I would have thought a man of your age would know better than to fall for a demon like that wretch. But, Andraste save us, she is a pretty thing, no?"

Gritting his teeth at the hot spurt of anger that lashed through him only brought on more pain. Solas hissed through lips that felt swollen. His tongue was dry and too big in his mouth. "How long?" he asked.

"Tess hit you pretty hard. It's been almost a full day since we dragged you here." He shifted, pushing off from the wall and glancing toward the closed cell door. "I'll look the other way if you want to heal yourself. Not allowed, technically, so don't mention it and be quick about it."

Drawing in an unsteady breath, Solas forced himself to thank the Templar. "I am…grateful." He reached for his core and found it sluggish but alive. Shaping a quick healing spell, he let it wash over him and shivered with relief as some of the pain and cloudiness in his head disappeared. The Tranquil cleaning away his blood had pulled the rag back when she sensed his magic but now resumed it, gentle but efficient.

"See, I don't like having to punish you—or any of the mages. It's bad all around. Bad for you, bad for us, bad for security…"

Solas was only half-listening as Bartholomew went on a strange half-lecture, half-confessional monologue. Solas sensed guilt from the Templar, doubt in his purpose within the tower. It was intriguing, but ultimately not his concern in the least. Compassionate Templars were not what he needed to further rebellion, even if he did appreciate them personally.

…And then Bartholomew's monologue took on a very sickening twist.

"I understand it must be difficult for you, Revas. You're a grown man and the Circle does not account for that when they put you in communal barracks like they do and house you with children. Of course you're going to chase after the only grown woman around! Even if she is a knife-ear and a troublemaker who should have been made Tranquil."

Solas heaved himself into a more upright sitting position, turning to stare at Bartholomew openmouthed and stunned. "Excuse me…?"

Bartholomew shook his head and laughed. "C'mon now, Revas. Don't play coy. I understand. This is just between you and I. You know you can trust me, right? I've always disagreed with the rules against mages fraternizing with each other. It's ridiculous for the Circle to expect you all to live chaste lives." He smirked and motioned to the Tranquil. "Frankly, that's why I brought Devesa. You do know they'll do anything you ask them to, right?" His smirk transformed into a leer that made Solas' stomach clench with revulsion. "And I do mean anything. Half the tower uses them, Templars and mages both."

Devesa showed no reaction to this discussion, merely continued patting her wet rag along Solas' pate. Staring at her, Solas felt shame rip through him, sharp and heavy as it hit. He had recoiled from her as she represented the horror of this magic-hating world, but she was just as real as Rosa, Tal, Varric, and Bartholomew. Long ago, as a child, Solas had witnessed slaves mistreated in just the way Bartholomew described. Like the Tranquil, the slaves of Elvhenan, marked with vallaslin that acted as a form of blood magic, had been rendered mindless drones. Yet that did not mean they felt no pain. It did not mean they suffered any less than a fully-conscious person placed in the same position of drudgery, servitude, and awful abuse. They simply could not protest or reveal that suffering.

His hands curled into fists and he felt his mana bubbling inside him, reacting to the rage igniting within. He had fought against such casual cruelty and tyranny over the powerless in Elvhenan, devoting everything he had to the cause to set things right. And all his efforts had done was destroy the People and create a worse world where not only slaves, but Tranquil existed as well. A world that despised magic and free-will alike.

His own personal nightmare.

Sucking in an uneven breath, Solas stared at Devesa and vowed that someday she would be free. Most likely her freedom would come only in death, but perhaps there would be another way…

But not now. Not today.

Keeping his voice as calm and impassive as he could, Solas finally answered Bartholomew. "I have no interest in such contemptible behavior."

Bartholomew grunted. "That's what you think now, but eventually…"

"Never," Solas said, not bothering to disguise his disgust now. He knew he should say nothing else but… "Only cowards and the truly monstrous prey upon the powerless," he spat.

"Careful now," Bartholomew growled. "A guy could think you were trying to offend him."

It is you who offend, Solas thought. The very fact you draw breath is abhorrent.

After the silence stretched out, with only the gentle wet tapping noise of Devesa continuing her ministrations on Solas' scalp, Bartholomew sighed. "Well, Revas, I tried to help you. I really did." He snapped the fingers of the hand not holding the torch and summoned Devesa away from Solas as he made his way to the cell door. It opened wide, creaking on its rusty, old hinges. Bartholomew ushered Devesa out first and then pivoted to stare at Solas with a mild frown on his face. "You just lost me fifty royals. I hope you're happy. You should have said yes to my offer."

Through gritted teeth, Solas asked, "How long am I to be detained?"

"Until your Harrowing," Bartholomew said and then stepped out, slamming the door after him and leaving Solas in the complete darkness with nothing but his impotent rage and the weight of his failures riding on his shoulders.


Next Chapter:

"Solas," she said, her melodic voice caressing him, "If we care for each other, why deny it? One or both of us could die when we try to escape. The future is never something that's guaranteed. Only fools and cowards deny what's in here—" she laid her other hand over her heart as she spoke "—to try and protect themselves from being hurt."

Sobering then, she withdrew her hand and took a step back. "So," she began with a quick breath. "Tell it to me straight, Solas. Is there something here? Void take whatever happens in the escape and whatever plans we have for after. Now is all we have to worry about." Sucking in a breath, she repeated, "Is there something here, Solas?"

Chapter Text

The Harrowing Chamber was much as Solas had seen it echoed back through the Fade during Rosa's ordeal. There were fewer Templars now, only about six of them in total. They stood in positions around the chamber, fully armored and ready for battle.

That count didn't include Knight-Captain Brycen or Seeker Pentaghast, who seemed to mutually despise one another, judging by the frequent glares they exchanged. The Seeker seemed to have the true authority here, standing in a position behind Brycen that indicated she oversaw the chamber's entire goings on and could stop it with a word or a gesture.

Brycen was the one who did the speaking, telling Solas that he had been taken to his Harrowing early as punishment for skipping classes. He must choose between becoming Tranquil and undergoing the Harrowing ritual now. Yet Solas, bored with it all, spent most of his time reading the enmity between Knight-Captain and Seeker. Finally Brycen said, "Which do you choose, apprentice?"

Doubtless they wanted him to elect to become Tranquil. Tranquil were the tower's greatest moneymakers. They were safe, responsible, and endlessly obedient. He could almost feel them trying to will him to that choice…but to no avail.

"I will undergo the ritual," Solas answered evenly. He stretched slightly in place, limbering up cramped muscles. He'd spent the better part of two days inside his lightless cell, half of it awake and half unconscious, waiting for them to call him for this foolish ritual.

The night before he'd touched Rosa's dreams and found her incensed that she had to spend some unknown number of days locked up—her sentence was longer than Solas' apparently. Their time to find a way to deceive the Formless One was fast disappearing. Today and tonight were their last chance, but no matter how Solas considered the problem he saw no way around merely accepting that the Formless One had won and trying to lessen whatever loss its punishment incurred. And, at least with his Harrowing completed, Solas could join Rosa and Tal once more during meals.

"As you wish," Brycen said and motioned to First Enchanter Braden who'd lingered behind Solas and out of sight until then. The First Enchanter carried a wooden bowl, smoothly finished and lacquered. The ritual lyrium waited inside it, brilliant blue and bubbling, as if eager for him to ingest it. Knowing where it came from—and the nastier effects it still had on him despite the Veil and his own weakened mana stores—Solas repressed a shudder of revulsion.

Braden smiled encouragingly at Solas. "Go on, Revas. I have faith you will persevere." He lifted the bowl higher, sloshing it slightly. He'd assumed Solas' hesitation was out of fear of the ritual, rather than unwillingness to consume the lyrium.

Returning the man's smile politely, Solas took the bowl from the First Enchanter and brought it to his lips to sip. The sharp, biting taste seemed to kick him in the mouth and spread warmth all the way down his throat to his belly. Swallowing a groan as he felt his limbs go hollow while the rest of him became as heavy as lead, Solas tried to drop into a prone position on the floor as gracefully as he could—only to collapse with a wheezing grunt. He would have laughed at the sound had his lungs and throat not gone numb as the lyrium drew his spirit from his body against his will.

Opening his eyes again, Solas found himself in a grassy plain. Tawny, dry grass stretched out on the hillocks as far as he could see. This was a land that no longer existed: a seasonal grassland that'd been destroyed during one of the Blights that'd created the wastelands of the Western Approach. Turning round, Solas saw rocky buttes, a lustrous red-brown in color. The air held a chilly nip in it as it swept over the grasses, rippling them like waves in a sea.

When he strained his senses outward he felt the painful prickle of a demon's presence. Based on the aura, which wasn't especially strong, he guessed it was a common type of demon—fear or desire or pride-based. Likely it was the exact demon the First Enchanter and his comrades had lured to this area of the Fade specifically for the ritual. As he stood motionless, staring into the horizon and wondering whether he should warp the Fade to bring the demon to him or conserve his energy for a potential fight, he sensed a Dreamer.

Turning to look over his shoulder into the depression between the tawny hills, he smiled as he saw Rosa—and then his lips parted with surprise as he saw Tal with her. "Greetings," he addressed them both with a friendly nod. Solas wondered if Rosa had told her brother about him but pushed the topic aside for the present. Best to assume Tal knew nothing until he learned otherwise.

"Andaran atish'an, Revas," Tal spoke up first, grinning. Then he seemed to freeze, his mouth forming an O-shape as he gazed up at the sky, which held the bright, fractal colors of the Fade. "Whoa…what is this?"

"A memory Revas saw in the Fade of Elvhenan," Rosa explained before Solas could.

Well, he thought, shooting Rosa a grateful look. That answers that question. For whatever reason, Rosa had not revealed the truth about him to her brother—much as her own clan had restricted the truth from other clans and their own people. What are you hiding still? He wondered, and made a mental note to question her as to why she had decided to hide this from Tal. Was she waiting for him to give permission to share it? Or was there something more…?

Rosa wore her Keeper armor as she usually did in the Fade, with one hand on her hip and the other tapping out an idle rhythm on her thigh. It took Solas a shameful heartbeat to realize what rhythm she was going for—the underlying hum of the world as it should be. The Fade had constructed this dream from his pre-Veil memories, recreating with it the song that accompanied Elvhenan's reality where the Fade and the physical plane had been one.

Rosa raised her eyes to the sky and grinned. "So. Do you think this is truly what Elvhenan looked like?"

Solas glanced up briefly before looking back to her and nodding, still smiling. "Yes, although it could just be an idle fantasy remembered in the Fade as well. There is no way to be certain. It is beautiful, however. Don't you think?"

"That's like asking if the Divine prays to the Maker," Tal said, laughing as he spun in a slow circle, staring up through squinted eyes at the sunshine and the brilliant colors in the sky.

She snorted, grinning. "Tal stole the words right out of my mouth, Revas. It makes me think of the dancing lights I used to see back home, in the Brecilian—but only in the dead of winter." Falling silent a moment, she made a face and Solas felt his chest constrict with sympathy, knowing the topic must remind her of all she'd lost.

"You and your wild stories, asamalin," Tal teased.

"It is not a wild story," Solas retorted, frowning at the youth. "I have seen the phenomenon she refers to. It is called an aurora and only occurs in the far north and far south."

Rosa smiled at him. "Thank you, Revas."

Tal rolled his eyes and charged up the side of the hill to stand beside Solas. "Let's get down to business then. Where's the demon you have to kill, falon?"

Solas pointed into the distance, near the horizon where a reddish butte extended up from the sea of tawny hills. "In that direction. This one is nothing remarkable."

Striding up to join them, standing to Solas' right, Rosa sighed. "Figures that I'd be the only one to face off with the blighting Formless One."

Sandwiched between brother and sister, Solas saw the way Tal fidgeted at the mention of the powerful demon, tugging at the cuffs of his mage robes. Unlike Rosa, it seemed he'd embraced the clothing and culture of the tower. Solas wondered, if he had seen Tal's self-projection in a dream a week or two ago, would the youth have worn Keeper or scout armor—or any armor at all? For all his devotion to his sister, Tal couldn't have been less like her. Did he worry now that Rosa's fears that the Formless One intended to pursue him in punishing her would prove true? Or was something else troubling the young elf?

"You know," Rosa murmured then, her tone suggesting she was nervous and hesitant.

Solas turned to regard her again, curious when she didn't continue. When he saw that she had begun fidgeting with her hands too, much like Tal—a truly notable sign of her anxiety with whatever she was about to say—he arched a brow. "Yes…?" he prompted.

Licking her lips, she watched him warily. "I know you said the Formless One is far too powerful for us, but are you absolutely sure? What I mean is I know another powerful mage—my mentor, a Dreamer. I could—"

Solas interrupted her with a wave of his hand and a shake of his head. "Three Dreamers could not defeat the Formless One. Ir abelas." Inwardly he noted her mention of a mentor with interest, filing it away for later. Another Dreamer? In this Tranquil world? Perhaps that was who he sensed with the Formless One on the night of Tal's Harrowing?

"But you could use me too," Tal suggested brightly from Solas' other side. "Would that be enough?"

"Not without a powerful weapon or a trick of some kind." The Anchor, more precisely, he thought, but would never have said it even if Tal weren't present. "I'm sorry, but it is simply not possible."

Seeing Rosa's crestfallen expression, he sighed, shoulders sinking. "I know you do not accept defeat easily. It goes against your very nature, but I see no way out of the bargain the Formless One struck with you. It would not have made such an agreement unless it would receive something it wanted regardless of how you acted."

She stared at him, eyes unfocused and clouded with anger intermixed with grief. "Translation: that son of a bitch wins no matter what I do."

"Yes," Solas said, "Ir abelas, lethallan." Reaching out, he laid a hand on her shoulder and squeezed. "Be thankful the demon did not wish you or Tal or myself dead."

"Yeah," Tal piped up, stepping around Solas slightly to look at his sister more directly. "Whatever that bastard does to punish you, we'll make it through. I promise, asamalin."

Rosa's lips twitched up in a small, warm smile. Her violet eyes flicked between Solas and Tal, soft with genuine affection that Solas could almost feel flowing through the Fade—the way such things once had in Elvhenan.

Feeling that dangerous something stirring within him at the affection in her eyes, Solas quickly let his hand fall from her shoulder and turned to survey the horizon. "Might I suggest we continue with our purpose here? I do not fancy the thought of the Templars growing impatient and killing me while I sleep."

Anticipating his thought process, Rosa said, "Well then, shall we make a shortcut? Save a little time?"

"I thought you would never ask, lethallan." Solas grinned at her and made a motion to invite her to take action by leading the way.

Clapping her hands together, Rosa sauntered ahead, trotting down the hill and sliding a bit. Dirt and pebbles hissed as they tumbled down, but Rosa stopped herself with a flourish of her arms. This was the Fade, after all. One need not follow any natural laws. Crouched in that unnatural, precarious position on the hillside, Rosa reached outward to the horizon with both arms and grunted as her hands closed into fists. Solas felt his skin tingle as her will made manifest altered the Fade, blurring it until the far distant horizon, where a rocky red-brown bluff stood out against the array of colors in the sky, swelled and surged toward them. The ground between blurred and then fell away entirely.

Tal scoffed playfully. "Showoff."

"Done," she proclaimed, ignoring Tal as she whipped about to look at Solas. "Now you get to lead the rest of the way. This is your Harrowing after all."

"I am aware," Solas replied curtly as he jogged down the hill and passed her, moving to ascend the bluff, both Dalish tailing him. The grass gave way to unstable earth made of dry clay as he reached the top. Solas buried the odd desire to reach out to the bluff at the base of the butte and crumble the reddish clay between his fingers. Such fine pigments had been highly sought after in his village and probably still were in modern Thedas.

As if she'd heard his thoughts, Rosa grunted from behind him with interest and Solas heard the clay crumbling as she touched it. "My Keeper would have killed for this stuff. We always had to find bloodstone and grind it up instead. Real pain in the ass."

Indeed, Solas thought, although his village had used magic to automate the grinding portion of extracting red pigment from bloodstone. Rosa's clan would have had to sprain their wrists grinding it themselves.

"Where is this place, by the way?" Tal asked, taking up the rear. "It looks like the northern Dales, but drier and with a lot more red."

"I am unsure," Solas lied, hoping Tal wouldn't probe. He hurried ahead, his legs rustling through the grass, following his inner senses. "The demon is below us," he said, frowning with concentration. "And inside the butte."

Rosa made a noise of interest behind him, her pace slowing as she too frowned with thought. "Can you tell what it is…? Feels like a…"

"A pride demon," Solas finished, recognizing the aura. Great.

Solas led the way down again, curling around the butte and down a sandy slope. At the bottom of the hill a few gray blocks of rough-hewn stone lay over the red-brown dirt. Solas recognized them as being of dwarven construction, fallen columns. Set into the side of the hill was a latticework of reddish stained glass tiles, each giving off a faint glow to provide lighting to the entrance.

"An entrance to the Deep Roads?" Rosa asked from just behind him.

"Possibly," Solas hedged. In truth he didn't know. He had spent a great deal of time in the areas that were known as the Western Approach to modern Thedas, because he held stewardship over them for a time while Falon'Din was imprisoned after the Evanuris' civil war. Yet, he wasn't familiar with an entrance like this, likely meaning the demon had constructed it—or, alternatively, that Solas' own memories were fading somewhat. He hoped it was the former and not the latter.

Striding in through the narrow entrance and past the reddish glow, Solas found himself in deep darkness. The air smelled dank and sickly sweet, rotten. Extending his arms out to either side of him, Solas willed braziers to appear there, lit with bright white flames. As the light filled the chamber, Solas saw he stood in a foyer of sorts. The room was rectangular and with a fairly low ceiling supported by thick, ugly columns made of dark stone. Rocks and dirt and other detritus littered the floor in heaps where water or wind had presumably pushed it. And at the far end of the chamber a tall, narrow mirror stood, flanked on either side by stone dragons, the symbol for Mythal.

The sound of grit under the others' feet alerted Solas to their presence as Tal and Rosa filed in. Rosa's expression warped with disgust as she undoubtedly reacted to the smell, but Tal seemed less affected as he walked to the first column and brushed his hands over the runes. "What is this place?" he asked, his voice echoing from the walls.

"I do not know," Solas answered truthfully. He could feel the presence of the demon in this room, its aura cold and pricking against his skin. "I suspect the demon intends to face us here."

"Dwarven and elven," Rosa said, noticing the mirror. "Odd."

Not as odd as you would think, Solas thought but nodded in feigned agreement. Reaching inside himself to feel over his mana core, Solas approached the mirror. He heard Rosa and Tal shadowing him at a distance, close enough that they could react but far enough away to let him tackle the challenge alone primarily.

The mirror—an eluvian—was dark. Inactive, but intact. Solas circled around the last column in the room until he stood in full view of the mirror. The glossy surface showed a shadowy figure that might have been himself reflected back, but Solas doubted it. This would be the demon.

With a grunt, Solas summoned fire into his right hand. The mirror went dark entirely, showing no reflection at all as he flung the fireball at it. As the fireball struck the mirror Solas cursed under his breath as he realized too late the trick the demon had employed. The fireball ricocheted back to him, the fire crackling and roaring. Solas erected a barrier and dodged, letting the fireball crash into the column behind him.

A cold, cackling laughter echoed through the room. "Is that truly all you have to use against me, Pride?"

The demon was using a specific barrier to reflect his magic back on him. It would be easy enough to dispel or mindblast it away. Spirit magic would thwart the spell. Solas refreshed his barrier and summoned the magic to dispel the demon's barrier, but stopped as he registered the shape in the mirror now: Felassan.

"What a delightful diversion the enchanters have sent me this time," Felassan said in his smooth, friendly voice, though his face had twisted with hate. "I can read all of you like open pages laid bare to me. Your fears, your hopes, and your weaknesses—all of it. And do you know what I see?" His dark eyes swept over Solas and toward the Dalish siblings, taking them in with a leering smile. "None of you are strong enough to do what must be done."

"Demon filth," Rosa snarled, edging closer to the mirror and drawing mana of her own. "Let's send this bastard back to the Void, Revas!"

"Yeah," Tal agreed, but there was an odd waver to his voice as he stepped to his sister's side in solidarity. Something like pain flashed over his features.

"Bastard am I?" not-Felassan mocked them, grinning. His teeth were sharper than Solas remembered. With his hood back Solas could see his old friend's pale hair, cropped short and tied back. His vallaslin curled around his eyes as he laughed. "I do believe that description fits the two of you far better than myself, doesn't it? Cast your spell and I will tell your friend why. You don't want that now, do you? Rosa? Tal? "

This threat silenced both brother and sister, though they glared daggers at the demon as it laughed. Solas had paused to listen, intrigued despite himself, but he knew he must act or else the demon would turn its eye on him next.

Drawing in a deep breath, Solas cast the dispelling, aiming the spirit energy at the eluvian where mock-Felassan paced in and out of view like a caged animal. With a low hum the spirit energy blasted the demon's barrier and Solas felt it splinter and fail, giving way. With a hard grin, Solas flung another fireball at the mirror and this time it hit. Orange light flickered and the room filled with crackling and a sharp stink as fire engulfed the mirror. The demon let out a deep hiss and the mirror that held it dissolved into Fade ether. In its place the hooded figure of Felassan rematerialized and darted for the Dalish siblings.

Rosa Fade-stepped to avoid the demon, a streak of blue as she shot across the chamber and appeared at Solas' side with a slick whine-pop noise. Tal, however, was not so lucky. The demon snatched him by the neck as he tried to backpedal away. It slammed him against the wall and Tal flailed, his fingers burning as he called fire.

"Tal!" Rosa screamed and unleashed a volley of chain lightning on the demon as Solas clenched his fist and jerked it downward to cast winter's grasp.

The demon let out another hissing shriek and spun about on its heel, tossing Tal directly at Solas and Rosa. "Take back this cretin since you want him so badly!"

Solas Fade-stepped around a column to avoid impact with Tal but Rosa stayed her ground and thrust both hands out, using raw spirit energy to cradle her brother as he collided with her. The siblings tumbled together, arms and legs akimbo, yelping with surprise and pain.

The false Felassan grinned at Solas, his rough-hewn cloak scorched where Tal had touched him and where Rosa's lightning had worked over him. Frost still rimmed his shoulders and the edges of his face. "And what of you, great one? Look how far you have fallen. I wonder—would you allow me inside you? We are so alike, you and I. I can help you. You are too weak to escape the tower. Too weak to face the awful truths of this world. Time will destroy you before you achieve your goals, but I could extend your life and grant you the power you need."

"Silence," Solas snarled at it in elven, heart pounding at how close the demon was to revealing too much within earshot of the siblings. He Fade-stepped through the demon, freezing it as he passed. The sharp crack of the frost spreading over it filled his ears, louder than Rosa and Tal's scuffling feet as they righted themselves.

Reaching deep inside himself for as much mana as he could spare, Solas unleashed a mindblast. The loud boom of it echoed from the walls and impacted the demon hard. It stumbled backward, its shape warping and failing. By the time the spirit energy had finished working on it, the demon had adopted a new shape—Zevanni. It spoke with her voice too, a harsh, teasing lilt in it. "Strike me again and I will tell them. I will tell them what you are."

Solas hesitated; fear clutching at his throat, but at that moment both Tal and Rosa struck the demon for him, shouting in war cries. Rosa flung a chunk of Fade rock that smashed into the pride demon, knocking it over against the wall. Tal unleashed an immolate spell and the demon erupted in flames. Letting out the breath he'd been holding in tension, Solas hurled icicles at the demon like hidden blades, piercing it all the way through.

With a final shriek the demon vanished. Solas had a moment to breathe deeply, smelling the acrid stink of burning intermixed with dust and hearing Rosa and Tal whoop with triumph. He turned to congratulate them only to feel the Fade lurch around him, blurring. Stumbling to his knees, he fought to cling to the dream, certain this was mana burnout. He had nearly grazed the end of his reserves in this fight, particularly with the enormous mindblast.

"Are you all right?" Rosa called to him and he heard her footsteps crunching the grit as she hurried to his side.

Tal moved with her, kneeling and reaching for Solas's arm as if to haul him up, but actually his hands gripped him in a restraining hold. "This is the part where you wake up, falon," he said, teasingly. "Think you can manage that?"

Solas blinked, frowning as the realization hit him. "Ah," he grunted. "I see." He nodded to Tal and then to Rosa, smiling his gratitude. "Thank you for your aid. With luck, I shall see you both at lunch today."

Rosa frowned. "Probably not me," she growled. "I'm still locked up."

"And you two have to stop sneaking off," Tal admonished. "Sharing breakfast and Mythal knows what with each other! The shame, asamalin."

Rather than deal with such teasing, as he could already feel his ear tips burning at Tal's less than subtle insinuation, Solas closed his eyes and let his head hang. The Fade blurred and began to close around him, failing into darkness.


After congratulating Solas for passing the ritual, the First Enchanter bestowed him with new robes and assigned him to another mage who was to be his roommate, a human man by the name of Francis. Bleary-eyed and crotchety at the early hour at which he'd been called upon, Francis proved a poor conversationalist and had little patience for Solas, though he did show him around.

The mages lived in three levels of the tower, higher than the apprentices, and segregated by sex with women in the west half and men in the east of each level. Like the apprentices, the mages lived communally, though they bunked only two to four in a room and the beds appeared much nicer. Classroom space was shared with the apprentices as the mages often did the grunt work of teaching the youngsters. However, there were a few classrooms on the mages' level of the tower where Francis explained enchanters and senior enchanters taught advanced courses. The mages also had multiple privies on each level, four to be exact, and located in the cardinal directions. Each privy came complete with nice porcelain tubs in fine tiling inlaid with the Chantry's sunburst.

Solas didn't see any sign of Rosa or Tal as he moved through the halls with his roommate turned escort, though he watched for them. Rosa might very well still be in a cell. The thought made his shoulders tense with worry for her, hoping she would not be mistreated.

Francis brought him to the eastern privy, most commonly used by the male mages, and left him to bathe. After bathing just a few nights ago the unexpected bath now was a delightful boon, and he was allowed to linger in the warm water much longer now. His head still ached faintly in a few spots from the blow he'd received from Ser Tess and sinking under the water to soak up the warmth was as soothing as any healing spell. He considered trying to relieve certain other afflictions but dismissed it, determined that he would control himself and his inclination toward such distractions. Finding release at his own hand would only encourage him to seek further pleasure. Austerity and self-discipline were the wiser choices.

After donning his new mage robes, which were now blue and white with no green in sight, and with broader shoulder pads, Solas returned to his new quarters to nap and make himself at home. The bed was plusher than the cot he'd had as an apprentice, with blankets that were soft and looked reassuringly warm. There were two other beds; one belonging to Francis and the last to some unknown roommate Solas hadn't met yet. The other two had bedspreads different from his own—the bed adjacent to his had a patchwork of squares made of what appeared to be old mage robes while the one across from his had a white blanket with the red symbol for the Circle of Magi on it.

His particular bedspread was red with the Chantry sunburst in gold woven into it. It made him shudder, reminding him of the lyrium brand placed on Tranquil's foreheads. With no possessions to speak of, Solas had no way to customize his small space except by stripping the Chantry sunburst blanket and flipping it over to reveal the reverse side, which was an attractive creamy tan color. Much better, he thought and then lay down, closing his eyes and letting the Fade take him.

Opening his eyes again, Solas found himself staring at an enormous gray-brown boulder pockmarked by lichen in varying shades of white, orange, and green. Sensing the weight of another Dreamer nearby, Solas turned round and saw Rosa standing a few meters away from him beside a large pond. More of the enormous boulders lay scattered around them, enclosing the grassy glen from the wind and lending a sense of privacy, perhaps even intimacy.

Striding closer to the pond over the soft, spongy grass, Solas saw the water was clear though purple and yellow lily pads dotted the surface. Colorful fish swam lazily through the water, resplendent in white, gold, and purple. The pond extended around the boulders to Solas' right and out of sight. Water trickled down from the boulders in a gentle, musical song, feeding the pool.

Across the pond Rosa had yet to acknowledge him or glance in his direction for more than an instant. She stood with her back to the boulder behind her, leaning against it with her hands clasped on her stomach and her eyes fixed on the pond. Her expression held a gloom that didn't mesh well with the energy of this serene place.

"Are you well, lethallan?" Solas asked gently. "Have they not released you yet?"

Rosa shook her head. "Not yet."

When she fell silent again, still looking troubled, Solas asked, "Have you been well treated at least?"

She shrugged, her attitude flippant and dismissive. "I've gone a lot longer than I'd like without food or water, but at least they're letting me sleep this time. That's really all I've done."

Had she drawn him here or had he done it? The pond and the boulders weren't a place he recognized, which suggested this was her creation and he was the visitor, but one could never be certain with the Fade. "Did you wish to speak with me?" he asked.

"Why not?" she asked, shrugging again. "I felt you entering the Fade and willed you here. Did you have other plans?"

"No," he answered quickly. It was unlikely that Zevanni or Felassan were sleeping now so he would be unable to check in with them. The same was true for the enchanters and the Templars within the tower. He could have sought out his friend Wisdom or communed with local spirits—hostile or friendly alike—but in truth he knew he'd napped with the express hope that he would find Rosa.

She let out a long, heavy breath, and pushed away from the boulder. Her Keeper armor glinted, despite the diffuse light of this misty, secluded glen. As she circled the pond at a slow pace, moving closer to him, Rosa said, "The Formless One is going to win and there's nothing I can do about it."

Solas dipped his chin in acknowledgement. "Unfortunately I suspect that is true, yes."

"And it said it would whisper something to the Templars that would cause me to suffer—but won't kill me." She frowned, arms crossed over her chest and eyes locked on the pond. "It wants Tal and I alive." She broke off, chuckling bitterly. "The only way I can think of to spite it would be to kill ourselves…or escape this tower. Immediately. No tower, no Templars, no sting to the secret it reveals."

Solas scowled as he took up a spot at her side, also staring at the pond. "Attempting escape would simply end in your deaths. It would spite the demon, but it is not a viable option. We will simply have to curtail the damage the Formless One creates."

Rosa scrubbed at her face with one hand. "See…I think I know what it will tell the Templars." Solas arched his brow, waiting expectantly and Rosa went on. "It'll convince the Knight-Commander or the Knight-Captain or the Seeker or someone that Tal and I are siblings. Some of the things it said made me sure it wanted to separate Tal and I."

"And that would be an excellent way to achieve that goal," Solas murmured and nodded in agreement.

"I'm not sure we can combat that," Rosa said and her voice cracked. Solas shot her a sidelong look and saw that she covered her mouth with one hand while her brow furrowed and her eyes clouded. After a few moments she inhaled shakily and said, "If they took him away we'd both survive just fine, but…"

"You knew one another from a distance before," Solas said, speaking aloud something he'd guessed based on the siblings' various stories, hints, and general familiarity with one another. "You met at the last Arlathvhen, did you not?"

She nodded, her hand dropping away and her lips curling in a bittersweet smile. "He was being taunted—tormented, really. The other children—Firsts and Seconds and others who'd come with their Keepers—ganged up on him. They hogtied him and pelted him with halla dung. He could have burned through the ropes, but he just took the punishment because he knew they'd beat him if he fought. When I arrived and saw it…"

She laughed, hard and triumphant. "I charged in and flattened them with a Veilstrike. The leader was years older than me and resisted it, but I shot a Fade stone at him. Knocked him out cold. They were all so stunned and witless; they thought I was a demon and ran off. And Tal stared at me, his mouth hanging open, but he wasn't afraid."

"That could not have been the first time you met him," Solas said softly, smiling at her story.

Frowning, Rosa glanced at him with something akin to disapproval. "Why not?"

"How would you have known him to be your brother?" Solas asked.

She stared at him, silent as her eyes flicked over his face. Her lips parted a moment and then closed again as she flashed a tight smile. "I just felt it. In here," she said and laid a hand over her heart. "And when we spoke I learned we had the same father."

How curious. Making a noise of interest in his throat, Solas said, "You have not spoken of your father."

Now Rosa's nose wrinkled with irritation. "That's because I never knew him, not really." Sniffing, she narrowed her eyes at him. "What about you, Solas? I've never heard you mention your father."

Clenching his jaw at the angst in her tone, Solas kept his voice calm and even. "My father and my mother are both long dead, casualties of war. There is nothing else to say of them."

"Nothing you wish to say or nothing worth remembering?" Rosa pressed.

"Nothing I wish to say as it is not pertinent," Solas elaborated with a frown.

"Well," Rosa mumbled, picking at her fingernails. "There's nothing I wish to say about my father for that same reason." Dusting herself off absently, Rosa pivoted to face him rather than the pond as she went on. "Something I've always wondered…"

Solas turned his head and met her eye. "Yes?" His heart had suddenly started pounding inside his chest, though he wasn't sure why. Perhaps it was Rosa's emotion carried through the Fade, influencing him. Yet her expression was fairly open, with only the slight upward tic of her lips to indicate anything else might be lurking beneath the surface.

"What happened at the end of Elvhenan?" she asked, brow furrowing. "Did you witness it?"

Solas' blood seemed to turn to ice in his veins, but he remained impassive as he answered. "If you are referring to the fall of Arlathan specifically, then no, I was already deep in the dreaming." Hoping to learn more of what she knew and what details she might be seeking, Solas forced himself to stay calm as he asked, "What did Ivun tell your clan?"

She frowned. "He told us the Elvhen warred upon themselves and the humans descended like vultures to strip our people's knowledge and wealth once we were too weak to fight them." Gazing back at the pond, her features softened. "He would not tell us more than that." She pinched her lips together then, appearing troubled. "But I'm sure he knew more and just wouldn't say. The Keeper who recorded his tales thought that, anyway."

The chill of Solas' dread eased and a small, sad smile curled over his lips. "From what I saw scattered in dreams, Ivun was correct. The People destroyed themselves."

"The Dalish blame the Dread Wolf," Rosa said and Solas stood stiff and motionless, barely daring to breathe though Rosa wasn't looking at him and seemed to speak idly. "But Ivun said that wasn't true." She chuckled. "In fact, he told us—"

"Why did you not tell your brother about me?" Solas interrupted, frantic to change the subject.

Rosa blinked at him a moment and then smirked. "Did you want me to?"

Solas shifted from one foot to the other, fidgeting. "I…am unsure."

Rosa edged closer to him, smiling warmly. "Well," she said, her voice dropping into a lower register, almost sultry. "Your secrets are safe with me, Solas. If you want to tell Tal, then do so. If you want me to tell him, let me know and I will. Until then…"

The cold fear of possible discovery had evaporated suddenly and completely, leaving him flushed with warm affection, fluttering inside his chest in time with his heart. His eyes followed her and his stomach flip-flopped with both trepidation and excitement as she laid a hand on his shoulder, close to his neck. Her eyes were dark and smoldering, locked with his but for the occasional flick down to his lips as she finished what she'd been saying, "Your secrets are your own and I'll never betray them. Never betray you."

Stop, a small, frantic voice shouted in the back of his head. Run! There were things she hadn't revealed to him, he was certain of it. But, similarly, he had things he would never tell her. Couldn't ever tell her. Even though, staring into her violet eyes and feeling her warm fingers brushing over his shoulder toward his neck, he wanted to. She was so clever, fearless, courageous, and determined…surely she could handle the truth. Surely she would understand what he'd done, and what he still must do. She deserved to know. And once she knew and accepted him anyway there'd be no reason he needed to hold back, to fight this unstoppable, maddening desire.

But if she didn't understand what he planned to do, if she didn't accept him...

He'd have to kill her.

He reached the same conclusion again: She can never know. There can never be anything between us.

"Thank you," he murmured, barely voicing the two words as his mind spun and his chest constricted with the weight of hopelessness. He had to ward her away, reject her before her bold nature drove her to make a physical move that he might not have the self-discipline to rebuff.

"Is something wrong?" she asked, apparently sensing or reading his distress. She cocked her head to one side, eyes narrowing with concern.

"No," he stammered, desperately racking his brain for the right thing to say to put an end to this flirtation. "I was…" She was so beautiful, so alive. How could he possibly turn her away when he wanted her so badly that he could feel his heart throbbing against his throat? "I…hope that you know I will never betray your secrets as well."

She had drawn closer still as he spoke, resting her other hand at his opposite shoulder now too. He could feel her breastplate brushing against his chest, her knee jutting out to meet his robes as she leaned in. Her violet eyes danced as she watched him expectantly. "And…?" she asked, smirking. "You're easy to read like this, Solas. What are you thinking?"

Tell her you have no interest in romantic entanglements, the frantic, angry voice inside him raged. Tell her there is no future with you, that she deserves better. That she can return to her clan, to her…

And then the answer leapt to him and he was speaking it, awkward and stilted, soft but strained. "You said you were betrothed. Before you left your clan. Once we escape this tower, you can return to them. To him."

Rosa frowned a moment, her lips puckering as if she'd tasted something sour. "Is that what's had you so skittish?" she asked, tilting her head to one side. "You think I'll abandon you once we leave here?"

"It would be kinder in the long run," he blurted, grimacing as he tried to extricate himself from her hold, to withdraw several steps backward.

Rosa let go of him, her hands flopping to her sides before she crossed her arms over her chest. "What is that supposed to mean, Solas?"

The sound of her voice saying his name made Solas close his eyes, restraining a shudder of pleasure. How dearly he wanted to hear her say his name like that, to care about him for him and not his magic or his stature as an Evanuris. His chest felt light, his limbs heavy and tight with tension as thoughts skittered wildly, madly through his mind.

"I…" He swallowed hard, throat bobbing. "I do not see a future for us once we leave this Circle. You will join a clan, but I cannot. I am not Dalish and I would never be content to spend what little time remains to me tending halla and repairing aravels." He couldn't meet her eye and averted his gaze, frowning as he felt his face burning. "Ir abelas…"

Rosa's steps made the grass sigh as she closed the distance between them and, before Solas could retreat again, she laid her hand on his cheek and turned his head toward her. Solas stared down at her, his brow knit and his heart aching at the warmth of her skin against his cheek. For a fleeting instant he let his eyes land on her and then away again, but only for a heartbeat as he registered her expression—soft and warm with a gentle smile on her full lips. His gaze flew back to her and stayed, holding his breath with the tension.

"Solas," she said, her melodic voice caressing him, "If we care for each other, why deny it? One or both of us could die when we try to escape. The future is never something that's guaranteed. Only fools and cowards deny what's in here—" She laid her other hand over her heart as she spoke "—to try and protect themselves from being hurt."

Her eyes were bright, her smile shining and although Solas knew she was no longer possessed by Rogathe, it seemed he could almost see the spirit of bravery showing through. He chuckled despite himself, shaking his head. "Are you certain Rogathe no longer possesses you?"

She grinned, the hand she had on his cheek falling to caress his jawline idly. "I'm sure it's gone, but I spent my whole childhood learning from it, you know. And it taught me early that choosing to be vulnerable takes enormous bravery."

Sobering then, she withdrew her hand and took a step back. "So," she began with a quick breath. "Tell it to me straight, Solas. Is there something here? Void take whatever happens in the escape and whatever plans we have for after. Now is all we have to worry about." Sucking in a breath, she repeated, "Is there something here, Solas?"

Lying was impossible. Staring at her, Solas heard the thud of his heart pounding in his ears, felt that dangerous and forbidden emotion fluttering inside. "Yes," he answered her, his voice already husky. Fenedhis. "Yes."

She grinned at hearing his answer and Solas returned it with one of his own as he reached for her, giving in to the greedy hunger building within. She moved into his embrace and met him partway, her lips pressing to his and her breath already fast. The taste and warmth of her mouth made him frantic, turning her with a firm hand at her waist to guide her into the boulders. Her armor clanked and scraped against the boulder and soft grass sighed at their feet as she collided with the rock, sandwiched between Solas and the stone.

He pressed close to her, his hands cupping her cheeks and jaw, fingers grazing her ears. When she shivered and moaned at his touch Solas took the opportunity to deepen the kiss, sweeping his tongue into her mouth to meet with hers. Rosa responded with ardor, sucking and teasing with her teeth. Arching her back, she ground her hips against his and her hands wandered over his chest and around his waist.

With his mind filled with Rosa's taste, her scent, and the sound of her breath and her moans, Solas almost missed the first jolt that passed through him as a shudder of excitement. But long ages of experience set off alarm bells within his mind and he broke their increasingly sloppy kiss, panting as he struggled to speak. "I am waking," he told her, but drinking in her swollen lips and hungry eyes he pulled her close for another kiss.

Rosa moaned with appreciation, nibbling at his lip. "Do you have to go?"

Solas heard a voice echo through his skull: "Revas! Wake up!" The voice was familiar and male—and loud enough to make him cringe and pull back from Rosa. "Yes."

She grabbed his chin and turned his head sideways, speaking into his ear. "I'll see you tonight." He felt her hot breath and then her tongue and her teeth on his ear tip and moaned as a pleasurable shiver rippled through him.

Turning his head to kiss her again, desperate for one more taste to take with him out of the Fade, he suddenly felt himself be shaken and jerked awake with a gasp. Blinking and bleary-eyed, he lifted his head from his pillow and scowled up to the figure who'd woken him. Gradually the other man came into shape: Tal.

Groaning, Solas eased himself onto his elbows, slow and cautious as he assessed his body and again found—annoyingly—he had a rampaging erection. He'd turned onto his stomach while asleep, a position he apparently favored while engaging in sensual dreams, and that hid his shame though it did nothing to prevent the hot blush that stole over his cheeks.

"You were really out," Tal observed with a chuckle. "Must've been a good dream." His brown eyes twinkled mischievously, as if he already knew what had transpired or had seen it with his own eyes. Then the youth grinned. "And you're blushing!"

Solas sighed, focusing internally on imagining runes and complex spells and…anything but Rosa. "Why did you wake me?" he asked and grimaced at how much like whining it sounded like to his own ears.

"It's lunch time," Tal said with a shrug, still wearing his goofy grin. "One of your roommates, Adwen, is a friend of mine. He told me you were out cold in here and I volunteered to wake you."

How considerate of you, Solas thought and rubbed at his face as he finally felt safe enough to roll over and sit up. His stomach rumbled, however, as wakefulness fully took him. Drawing in a breath, Solas stood up and managed to smile at Tal. "Very well. Let's go."


Next Chapter:

"I was only about twelve years old then," Rosa went on. "And everything at the Arlathvhen filled me with awe. So many wise elders of the People, so many secrets and stories! On the second day of the gathering, I met a woman, stooped with age and with hair as white as a blizzard, who told me she had the gift of prophecy. She called me close and told me if I helped her prepare her evening meal she would read my future."

Rosa smiled and shrugged flippantly. "I figured, why not? It wasn't as if I had much else to do by then because my Keeper was deep in meeting with the others. So I helped the old woman and afterward she took her knife and cut off a bit of my hair and held it to her lips, like this…"

She lifted her spoon and laid it against her puckered lips, closing her eyes and wrinkling her nose as if with deep concentration. "Then she spoke in a deep, gravelly voice," Rosa dropped the pitch of her own voice in imitation and Solas felt his skin dimple with gooseflesh despite himself at the words. "'You will leave the People to save them and travel far and wide across all Thedas. You will stand tall against a monster that seeks to destroy our world and you will give your heart to one you can never keep.' It gave me the creeps, but I never forgot it, and so far she's not been wrong entirely."

Chapter Text

Rosa was absent for Solas' first lunch as a fully-fledged mage, but Varric and Tal were present and proved as delightful a distraction as usual. The dining hall brimmed with mages, crammed to full capacity with the entirety of them. Tal and Rosa had begun sitting at a different spot than their usual place while eating with the apprentices. Now, instead of near the center, they'd taken the very last chairs at the table furthest from the food lines and closest to a drafty window.

The mages ranged in age from latest teens to elderly, because the Circle did not require them to advance to enchanters or senior enchanters as they aged. Even so, most did progress to take the title of enchanter, joining a fraternity and specializing their talents. Enchanters were more likely to be called upon as experts by those outside the Circle, and they held far more respect than an ordinary mage. That was enough to encourage mages to progress, and as a result Solas saw most mages appeared to be his assumed age or younger.

The mages were also, oddly, more boisterous and louder than the apprentices. Even the minor increase in rank apparently emboldened them against the Templars. All of them knew that, according to Chantry law, the Rite of Tranquility could not be imposed on a mage who'd passed his or her Harrowing. Of course, in practice that wasn't the case, but that spot of Divine-endorsed protection was encouraging and made the mages more likely to bend rules or outright break some of them. Solas saw couples at other tables who were clearly fraternizing. Hand holding here, a quick kiss to the lips there, while the Templars stationed about the dining room seemed bored and uninterested.

By dinnertime Solas realized that mages had the freedom to arrange their own schedules and studies, although the Templars maintained a strict lights out time at night. The doorway leading to the women's section of the tower was locked at lights out as well and Templars regularly patrolled the halls, hoping to discourage nighttime wandering. Doors between the enchanter levels of the tower above them and to the apprentices below were also locked at night. But otherwise the mages were not confined to their quarters and Tal whispered that the locks he'd seen could be easily picked with a bit of finesse.

"I can teach you how to pick the locks," Tal whispered to him quietly as they entered the dining hall for dinner. The smell of meat and fresh bread already tickled Solas' nose, setting his stomach squirming with eagerness.

"I would appreciate that," Solas said, smiling. They worked their way through the lineup of food, offered and prepared as usual by Tranquil primarily. The meal tonight was turkey in gravy over a thick slice of white bread and with a side of mashed potatoes and spindleweed in butter with cookies for dessert. As far as Solas could tell, the mages didn't receive any upgrades in food from the apprentices, but the meals had always been of fine quality—as they should be, considering that Tranquil had been the ones to prepare it.

As Solas and Tal walked to take their spot at the final table beside the drafty window in the very back of the hall, Solas saw Rosa sitting beside Varric and tried to keep the immediate broad smile from erupting over his lips. She was eating feverishly, shoveling forkfuls of gravy-smothered turkey into her mouth. Her skin appeared a bit pallid and Solas saw the remnants of a bruise along her temple where Ser Tess must have hit her a few days previously.

She watched him as he sat down, still eating as if she'd been starving—which she probably had. Solas offered her a smile he hoped was warm but reserved, in the hope that he wouldn't reveal to the others that anything major had changed between them. The first mouthful of turkey and gravy was salty and delicious, flushing him with satisfaction and awakening his hunger.

"I'm sure you both noticed already but Violet's back!" Varric said by way of greeting them, motioning toward Rosa with one meaty hand. "Good to have you back!" Unscrewing the cap on his flask, he made a toasting gesture. "The whole crew's here again." He took a quick sip and let out a long exhalation afterward as he smacked his lips. "I say we celebrate with another round of that Big Liar game before everyone eats all the food from their trays. I want a rematch."

"I'm in," Tal agreed around a mouthful of mashed potatoes.

Swallowing, Solas shot Rosa a quick look across the table and saw her smirking knowingly back at him. "You said you wanted a rematch, flat-ear?" she asked him, teasingly.

"I did," Solas admitted, returning her smirk with one of his own.

"Then prepare to lose," she said and clapped her hands, rubbing them together as if there was hard work to be done. "Varric," she said and gave his beefy elbow a playful shove. "You want to go first again?"

"You got it," the dwarf said, laughing as he tucked away his flask. "Can't let Stoic over there get my whiskey."

"Damn," Tal complained with a mock-frown. "You couldn't forget just this one time, Varric? Hmmm?"

"'Fraid not, kid," Varric said with a grin. "All right, first story. There's a dwarf who lives in Kirkwall, by the name of Sandal. He's…kind of a savant. He's obsessed with enchanting and I understand he's damn good at it. Anyway, he's not too bright as far as anything else goes, but even the Circle wanted to study him for his enchantments." Varric chuckled, shrugging. "Well, when Hawke and I were in the Deep Roads on an expedition and everything had gone sideways in a bad way—darkspawn round every corner, deepstalkers lurking and looking hungry, and my son of a bitch brother, sorry Mom, leaving us for dead—we ran into Sandal down there."

"That's…weird," Tal said, frowning.

Varric chuckled. "You don't know the half of it. Remember, Sandal wasn't too bright when it came to pretty much anything other than enchanting stuff. I wouldn't have thought he could hurt a fly, let alone defend himself in the Deep Roads, but Hawke and I found him surrounded by darkspawn corpses. We asked him how he'd killed them and he just said 'Boom!'" Varric emphasized the tale by spreading both hands outward as he spoke.

The mages laughed at his mannerism, though Tal immediately followed it with skepticism. "No way that one's true."

"Care to put your money where your mouth is, Stoic?" Varric asked, waggling his eyebrows.

"If I had any money, sure," Tal said, huffing.

"On with the next one," Rosa prompted, leaning her elbows onto the table to listen more closely. Solas mirrored her body language, more interested in watching her than in hearing Varric's story.

"Second story," Varric said and grinned, his brown eyes crinkling. "You remember I said I have a repeating, one-of-a-kind crossbow I named Bianca?"

"Yes," Rosa said. "And you were lying about it, you imp."

"Indeed," Solas put in. "I remember the same. That tale was the lie."

"No way you're fooling us with that one again," Tal said, a look of confidence over his features.

"We'll see about that," Varric said, still grinning. "I really do have that crossbow, and I did name her Bianca. I just didn't find her the way I said I did. The true story is that I found her in this weird, dingy little shop in Kirkwall. She was in a barrel labeled swag. I haggled with the vendor and eventually he sold her to me for a half-eaten sandwich and a signed copy of The Tale of the Champion."

Rosa groaned. "Really? We have to pick between those two stories?"

"The first story is true," Tal announced, even though he looked pained to say it. "There's no way I'm falling for the blighting crossbow tale again."

Varric laughed. "C'mon now, Stoic. I could be telling the truth about Bianca this time." He scanned the other two elves. "Any other guesses?"

"The second story is the truth," Rosa said, blowing out a breath. "I just can't believe the other story."

Solas smirked at her. "I can. I am in agreement with Tal. The first tale is the true one." He shot Rosa a smug look, certain he was right, only to see her smiling coyly back at him.

"So," Tal prompted the dwarf. "Which is true?"

Varric laughed. "Son of a bitch," he said and jerked his thumb at Rosa. "I tricked Violet. I can die happy now."

"I let you win," Rosa protested, crossing her arms over her chest and leaning back in her seat as Varric claimed his prize. The dwarf scooped up several spoonfuls of her mashed potatoes and piled them high on his plate, licking his lips with exaggerated glee.

"Loser goes next," Tal told her.

She made a show of rolling her eyes, her lips pinching together tightly to think. Solas deliberately scooped a spoonful of mashed potatoes from his tray and to his mouth slowly, staring at her as he ate and willing her to notice. She did after a beat and shook her head at him in silent reprimand. "I'm going to get you, flat-ear. Just you wait. Your mashed potatoes will be mine."

Swallowing his mouthful, Solas replied, "Not before I eat them, I do believe."

"Revas has the right idea," Tal said, casting a sour look at his sister. "Rosa cheats, so hurry and eat whatever matters to you most before she wins."

She snorted. "It's winning that's truly satisfying, not the rewards." Clearing her throat then, she launched into her first story. "After I first left my clan, I headed west through Ferelden. Somewhere in the Hinterlands I saw a strange ram wandering in the woods beside a placid lake. Most of the rams out there are white and brown, with big black horns. This one was white, brown, and orange, like fire. Seeing it made me nervous, so I didn't try to hunt it and I made camp a safe distance away from the lake in some old Avvar ruins. That night while I slept something spoke to me in my dreams."

"Oh no," Tal said with a snort. "This is the lie. You and your talking animals, asamalin."

Rosa shushed him, though she grinned at him as she did so. "As I was saying before I was so rudely interrupted, a voice spoke to me that night and I glimpsed the same ram. He'd been possessed by a spirit of some kind. He had a deep, melodic voice and he was quite polite as he warned me there was a high dragon around the shores of Lake Calenhad and I should steer clear of it. I decided to take his advice and the next day made a wide berth around the area."

"Was there a high dragon, though?" Varric asked, cocking his head.

Rosa shrugged. "I don't know for sure. I did look back in that direction from high ground a few times and I saw smoke, so something was happening there." A glimmer of amusement brightened her violet eyes and seeing it, Solas recalled one of her previous tales, regarding the two ravens. He'd meant to learn the truth of that story and noted again for later.

"That's the lie," Tal said, sounding confident as he stabbed a finger at Rosa. "If there had been some kind of spirit-possessed ram that told you of a high dragon, you'd go charging off to fight it for fun."

Rosa scowled and shook her head. "I'm not an idiot, Tal. Me one-on-one with a high dragon would be suicide."

Tal snorted, crossing his arms over his chest. "Never stopped you before."

Solas scooped bits of gravy-smothered turkey into his mouth to keep himself from laughing at the way Rosa frowned at her brother. Tal's comment likely hit a little too close to home. Solas suspected that Rosa wouldn't have been able to resist investigating a high dragon and possibly fighting it while Rogathe possessed her as it amplified her fearless nature to the point of stupidity.

"Okay," Rosa said after she'd taken a deep sip from her wine. "Second story. As First to my clan, I went with my Keeper to attend an Arlathvhen," she broke off, glancing to Varric as she swiftly explained the term. "That's a gathering of Keepers and other important members of each clan every decade so that we can exchange knowledge and preserve the wisdom of the People."

Varric nodded knowingly. "Daisy talked about that."

"I was only about twelve years old then," Rosa went on. "And everything at the Arlathvhen filled me with awe. So many wise elders of the People, so many secrets and stories! On the second day of the gathering, I met a woman, stooped with age and with hair as white as a blizzard, who told me she had the gift of prophecy. She called me close and told me if I helped her prepare her evening meal she would read my future."

Rosa smiled and shrugged flippantly. "I figured, why not? It wasn't as if I had much else to do by then because my Keeper was deep in meeting with the others. So I helped the old woman and afterward she took her knife and cut off a bit of my hair and held it to her lips, like this…"

She lifted her spoon and laid it against her puckered lips, closing her eyes and wrinkling her nose as if with deep concentration. "Then she spoke in a deep, gravelly voice," Rosa dropped the pitch of her own voice in imitation and Solas felt his skin dimple with gooseflesh despite himself at the words. "'You will leave the People to save them and travel far and wide across all Thedas. You will stand tall against a monster that seeks to destroy our world and you will give your heart to one you can never keep.' It gave me the creeps, but I never forgot it, and so far she's not been wrong entirely."

"How so?" Varric asked. "That seems like a tall order to fill!"

"Yeah," Tal grumbled. "How does being trapped in this tower constitute saving the People?"

Solas watched Rosa, his body cold and stiff, his heart thumping hard against his ribs. He wanted to believe Rosa was lying and to dismiss the tale even if she was not. Prophecy was less than reliable, to the point that Solas had no faith in it and considered it more superstitious than worthwhile. Yet…you will stand against a monster that seeks to destroy our world. How could that be anything other than himself? The Dalish certainly believed him to be a monster. And…you will give your heart to one you can never keep. He swallowed hard and tried to ignore the spurt of pain in his chest.

Rosa stabbed at the buttery spindleweed on her plate. "Well, I assume that by referencing the People as a whole she meant my clan, really. I had to leave them to save them…from Templar wrath. And I have traveled far and wide now across Thedas as a result." Puffing out a long breath in a show of exhaustion, she added, "The monster bit is nonsense, I think, but I did love someone I couldn't keep back in my clan." A blush spread over her cheeks and she thumped the spindleweed speared on her fork against her tray.

Solas stared at her, unable to turn away, willing her to continue, to convince him and the others that this part of her prophecy had already come and gone. If it had, perhaps Solas could cling to some measure of hope that the monster bit didn't refer to himself and that he could still recruit her. Yet, even as he hoped for that reassurance, he knew that if he did get it he couldn't take that risk. The price of being wrong was too high…

"I was betrothed to someone before I left my clan," Rosa explained. "But I didn't love him. I loved a hunter I'd grown up with instead, but my Keeper forbid us joining." She shrugged, still unable to meet their stares. "It didn't matter in the end since I had to leave my clan and the hunter…" She sniffed slightly. "He died in a bandit attack."

"Ir abelas," Solas murmured gently. Her lover had died in the bandit attack, he suspected. Perhaps Solas had even witnessed it in the recreation Rosa had shown him in the Fade. His heart squeezed painfully at the thought.

"Creators," Tal swore, shaking his head as his features twisted with sympathy. "I hope you're lying."

"Me too, Stoic," Varric said. "That's why I'm going to say the second story is the lie. Because, I mean, for your sake Violet I hope it is."

"I have to disagree with you, Varric," Tal said with a sigh. "Unfortunately. If the first story were true Rosa would have gotten herself killed fighting the dragon. So, the second story is the true one." He snatched his wineglass and quickly took a long sip of it. Setting it down again, he grinned sheepishly at the other three. "Just in case I'm wrong though."

"Revas?" Rosa asked, arching an eyebrow at him.

Solas chewed on his lip a moment, trying to keep the distress from revealing itself in his eyes or face and knowing he likely failed. Finally, shoulders slumping, he said, "I must agree with Tal. The first story is the lie."

Rosa stared at him a moment as something in her eyes clouded with loss. For a beat Solas wondered if he'd made a mistake and revealed something he shouldn't have by guessing the way he had. But then Rosa's coy smile took over and she said, "Varric wins."

"What?" Tal squawked and Solas felt his mouth fall open with shock though he said nothing aloud. Tal did it for him, scoffing as he said, "You cheated! I know you did."

"I would never do something like that," Rosa said, laying a hand over her chest in a show of being offended. "It's not my fault you and Revas are so easy to trick." She leaned forward and reached slowly for Tal's wineglass. "Now, if you don't mind, isamalin, I'm going to claim my reward now."

As he sulked she drank the rest of his wine with a satisfied sigh and smack of her lips before turning to Solas with a triumphant, beaming grin. "I see you have some mashed potatoes left over after all, my dear flat-ear."

Solas frowned. "I agree with you, Tal. She cheated."

"Sore losers," Rosa said, smirking as she lifted her spoon and reached over to his tray and began scooping the mashed potatoes onto her own. When she'd finished she slowly, sensually, brought one mound of the white, fluffy paste to her mouth and ate it. Eyes fluttering closed, she moaned her enjoyment and Solas glowered at her, feeling heat leap into his face and…other places, as well.

Varric reclined as much as his seat would allow, propping up his booted feet. His expression was smug. "My luck seems to be changing. Finally." Smirking, he looked to Solas and Tal. "So, which one of you wants to go next?"

"I will," Tal said, shooting Solas a quick glance, seeking permission. "If it's all right with you, falon."

Solas nodded. "It is—although I'd prefer if you did not cheat the way some have."

Still eating his mashed potatoes, Rosa winked at him as she licked over the spoon in a way that made something in Solas' groin tighten and spread with warmth. He fidgeted in his seat, determinedly ignoring her deliberate teasing as Tal began his stories.

"If I cheat," Tal said with a grin at Solas. "I promise it will be in your and Varric's favor." Nodding with a suddenly serious expression, Tal said, "You guys might've heard by now that my Keeper hated my guts. Well, once I was old enough to understand he didn't like me, the feeling became very much mutual. He spit curses at me and whenever he could he'd order me to do menial chores and if I acted up he liked to try and punish me before my own parents. But that never stopped me from getting into trouble—especially if it was something I knew would piss him off." He grinned mischievously. "One day I overheard him talking with the old hearthkeeper that he'd had troubling dreams and heard wolves howling. He thought we should strike camp because the place we'd chosen was under the Dread Wolf's gaze and would bring us misery."

Solas barely restrained the desire to roll his eyes at this, choosing to eat more of his gravy-smothered turkey instead. As covertly as he could, Solas looked across the table to Rosa and saw her fingering her cookie idly, a smirk over her lips as she listened to Tal.

"But the hearthkeeper disagreed and suggested he try setting up an altar first, to appease the old wolf. I knew the Keeper was really paranoid about the Dread Wolf, so I decided to prank him. So, that night I grabbed the biggest, blackest pelt my family had and I snuck out. I waited just outside camp, watching, and eventually I saw the Keeper leave and I followed him to where he set up the wolf totem. I watched him lay out herbs for dreaming and an offering of food and then, when he rose to return to camp, I started howling for all I was worth."

Tal broke off and imitated wolf howling, making Varric and Rosa laugh while Solas bit back his own humor, distracted by the way the mages closest to them shot annoyed glares in their direction. He heard a few mutterings of "savage," scattered about the dining hall, but otherwise no one cared.

"And his eyes bugged out with terror," Tal went on, letting out full belly laughs. "When I started to move closer to him through the forest, making a ton of noise, he fell over on his ass and yelped." He broke off, making a high-pitched noise in his throat. "He pleaded for his life for a second and then lost his nerve and ran away. I about died laughing."

"Were you caught?" Varric asked once he'd finished laughing.

"Nope," Tal said, beaming. "That was the best part. The Keeper repeated that story for years about how he'd seen the Dread Wolf when he made the offering." He snickered, shaking his head. "Stupid old fool."

"On with your next story," Rosa prompted him, biting with a snapping sound into her cookie.

"Okay, since I was never trained properly by my clan's Keeper, I spent a lot of time learning how to be a hunter instead. The hunters were eager to take me in, even if the Keeper wasn't. I learned how to construct a bow and fashion arrows. I learned how to wield daggers and use poison. I learned how to set snares. And I was damn good at it! My partner was a boy a bit older than me, by the name of Sahon. Sahon and I were really close, kinda like brothers except…"

He blushed suddenly and cleared his throat as Rosa snorted with amusement. "Anyway, one day when I was around fourteen we're hidden together in a thicket and it's blighting cold outside and we haven't seen so much as a squirrel all day. Sahon gives up and tells me he's sure we won't catch anything so we might as well shoot the breeze and huddle close for warmth while we pass the time. So we did and…"

Rosa groaned and covered her eyes with one hand. "Really, Tal? Another 'first time' story?"

"Yes," Tal harrumphed, shooting her an indignant look. "Not all of us have stories about talking animals and fortunetellers. And really, it's not a lie. It was my first time. With a man."

Varric laughed. "So that's how that story ends, kid?" He whistled. "You Dalish apparently have all the fun."

"Sitting outside in hunting blinds in the bitter chill of winter?" Rosa quipped with a mild frown. "Starving if we haven't gathered enough food and game grows scarce? Being hunted by nobles for sport? Oh yes," she finished sarcastically. "We are having just a grand time."

"I didn't mean anything by it," Varric said, both hands raised in a defensive gesture. "Sorry I said it."

"Don't mind her," Tal said. "She's just jealous."

Rosa snorted. "Right. Well, can I guess now or do I have to wait?"

"You go last," Tal snapped. "Duh." Turning slightly toward Solas, he asked, "Revas? Which one's the lie?"

Solas hummed in the back of his throat as he considered. Both tales rang true to him. He suspected Tal was now cheating, telling two truths or two lies so that he could pick the winners and losers at will. Especially as he'd promised to punish Rosa. On that thought, Solas said, "The first tale is the lie. I suspect you did play a trick on your Keeper, but you were caught."

Tal scoffed, feigning offense. "Have a little faith in my pranking skills, Revas! You wound me." Chuckling, he looked to Varric. "What about you?"

Varric scratched at his chin, clearly pensive. "I'm going to agree with Chuckles here because your other 'first time' story was the truth last time too." He shook his head then, shooting Solas a doubtful look. "Then again, Chuckles did lose the last round..."

"Too late, you cast your vote," Tal said, smirking as he turned now to Rosa. "And now for you, asamalin."

She rolled her eyes. "Whatever I say you'll say it's wrong because I know you're cheating."

"Tough," Tal said. "You started this when you cheated first."

Huffing, Rosa said, "The first story is the truth and the second is a lie. There. At least now I'll be the only loser instead of you saying all of us lost." Her violet eyes narrowed in challenge. "You're not that good, isamalin."

Tal grinned triumphantly at her as he proclaimed, "The first story is the truth. I totally scared the shit out of the Keeper and Sahon and I were just friends…until a year later that is." He sniggered as he snatched her wineglass and drank the whole thing down in a few greedy gulps.

"Chuckles' turn now," Varric said. "But no more cheating."

"I didn't cheat," Tal protested as he poured more wine from the carafe at the center of the table into Rosa's glass and proceeded to drink that down as well.

"Stop getting your spit all over my glass," Rosa complained with a disgusted scowl. "Ugh."

Ignoring their ongoing bantering, Solas said, "Once, in my youth, I found an abandoned wolf pup. He was weak from malnourishment, but clever enough that he saw in me a potential ally. He did not bite or run, but merely watched me until I offered some of my meat rations. He took to following me, and I welcomed his company with offerings of food. Eventually he and I became fast friends and he accompanied me everywhere I went, aiding me as I hunted and foraged. I named him Fenar and he was ever at my side until, one day, age got the better of him and he slipped and fell. His injuries were too severe for me to heal with magic alone and…" He fell silent as the anguish and loss washed over him again and made his voice tremble. "There was nothing I could do."

"Mythal have mercy," Tal said, grimacing. "Revas, you're going to make me cry over my wine."

"That's still my glass," Rosa admonished with an irritable huff before she turned her violet eyes to Solas and they crinkled with sadness. "Ir abelas, Sol—Revas." Her cheeks blushed red for a moment before she cleared her throat and returned to eating as a distraction.

"I've never had a dog, or a wolf for that matter," Varric said with a sad sigh. "But Hawke did and I liked that mabari. The good ones, be they dog, wolf, human, elf, qunari or dwarf, don't live nearly long enough." He raised his glass in a toast toward Solas and took a long sip.

Solas nodded his head toward the dwarf, smiling sadly—and yet with fondness—at the memory of his old companion. He'd deliberately intermixed a bit of lie into the tale. In truth, Solas had been able to heal Fenar when he'd fallen and injured himself in old age. But eventually the old wolf's heart had given out and Solas had still had to hold his dearest companion close and watch as the life left him. Thinking of it now could still make his eyes smart, so he pushed those thoughts aside in favor of his next story, a complete fabrication.

"I once worked for a small village healer and herbalist who had just given birth to her first child and was in no condition to gather the herbs and other supplies she needed. Her child was weak and sickly, and she feared leaving him at all would lead to his death. For a few coins and a place to sleep, I aided her by foraging for what she needed and I was happy to do so. In turn, she taught me much of the herb lore I now know over the three weeks I remained there. I might have stayed longer, but some of the villagers objected to my presence as an apostate. One day I returned to the village after foraging and saw Templars had surrounded the healer's hut. I knew they sought me, of course, and I did not wish to lose my freedom. I had no choice but to flee. Sadly, I will never know what became of the healer and her tiny, frail son."

"You're just full of sunshine and rainbows today, Revas," Tal said, sighing.

"The first story wasn't altogether sad," Rosa objected. "It was a story of friendship. And I'm sure the healer and her son are fine."

"You're lying through your teeth," Tal said, smirking as he shook his head. "You're a pessimist, asamalin. You don't fool me." He raised the wineglass he'd pilfered from her in a mock toast.

"Sweet Sylaise, am I ever going to get that back?" Rosa asked, jabbing a finger at the wineglass.

"I doubt it," Varric answered for Tal as the young elf poured more wine into his sister's glass.

"Here," Solas said, passing his glass to Rosa. "You may use mine if you wish."

Now Tal laughed once, a sharp guffaw as he pointed between Solas and Rosa. "See! I knew the two of you were swapping spit…and other fluids."

Solas frowned, irritated at such a blunt, crass reference to his potential budding relationship with Rosa. "Excuse me?" he asked, annoyance creeping into his voice.

Laughing, Rosa accepted Solas' glass and poured a bit of wine into it. Solas felt her eyes on him as she sipped, enjoying his discomfort at the topic. Refusing to look at her, he focused his glowering gaze on Tal instead until the young elf grinned mischievously and said, "You heard me, falon. You and ara'asamalin." He waggled his eyebrows and made a slick clicking noise with his tongue that made Solas scowl.

"Which story is true?" Solas prompted, his voice a light grumble. "You have veered off topic."

"But on target," Tal replied, still flashing a leering, suggestive grin. Gesturing with his glass, he indicated Rosa across the table. "See, Varric? She's blushing. They're both blushing."

Varric chuckled. "I think you've had too much to drink again, Stoic." To Solas he said, "My vote is for your first story being the truth. Feels right that you had a wolf in the wilds."

Solas eyed the dwarf with mild suspicion for a moment before smiling, sure that whatever Varric meant it wasn't a veiled reference to his hidden identity as Fen'Harel.

"I agree with Varric," Rosa said, her violet eyes warm with affection as she stared at him across the table and, slowly, without breaking eye contact, took another sip from his glass.

"Tal?" Solas asked again, still glowering unhappily at the younger elf.

Smirking, Tal said, "I'm just going to break the mold and say the second story is true and the first is the lie."

Taking in a quick breath, Solas made his decision and revealed, "The first story was true. The second was a complete fabrication."

"Ha!" Rosa said, laughing. "I knew it. You totally look like you're the dog-loving kind."

"Fenar was a wolf," Solas corrected her blandly. Turning to Tal, he held his hand out, palm up, in the universal motion for pay up. "I will take your cookie and Rosa's glass, please."

Tal scoffed. "That's two prizes. I only lost once." He snatched the cookie from his plate while he held the wineglass up in the other hand. "You can only have one, Revas. Those are the rules."

"I'm happy with this glass," Rosa told him, smirking. "Take his cookie. That's what he really wants."

"No," Tal whined, snatching the cookie back. "Here, have her glass back if you want her spit so badly."

Varric laughed, covering his face with one hand as if Tal's tipsiness was embarrassing—which, frankly, Solas thought it was. "You just gave away your game, Stoic."

Solas reached quickly around Tal and grabbed the cookie, happy to claim this prize. Tal groaned with regret as he bit into it. "Fenedhis lasa." He crossed his arms over his chest and pouted. "Fine, cookie breath."

"You didn't eat it fast enough," Rosa scolded him playfully. "You have only yourself to blame."

"Cookies are dessert," Tal told her haughtily. "You don't eat them until—"

A call from the front of the dining hall interrupted him as an enchanter announced dinner had ended. The mages groaned collectively and rose from their seats. Some took their trays back to the food line to make cleanup easier for the Tranquil, but many of them left their empty plates where they were. Tal grabbed up their group's trays and, struggling to balance them, rose to return them to the Tranquil. Solas watched the younger elf with a slight smile on his face, amused by the way Tal lurched a bit to one side as he walked, his tipsiness showing.

"See you guys tomorrow," Varric said with a little salute.

And then Solas found himself walking beside Rosa as they shuffled their way out of the dining hall with the other mages. She wore dark blue robes that felt silky when he brushed his hand over her forearm in a not-so-accidental bit of contact. "I did not expect to see you released so soon," he admitted, his voice quiet and tight with worry.

She shrugged, smiling as she shot him a sideways look. "A little insubordination never hurt anyone."

It hurt both of us, he thought sourly and frowned, recalling the pain in his skull from Ser Tess's beating. "We must be more cautious," he murmured. "Or neither of us will live to achieve our ultimate goal."

They were drawing close to the Templars stationed just outside of the dining hall and Rosa's hand reached out for his