Chapter 1: The Dread Wolf Ponders
Lady Inquisitor Lavellan was nothing like he had expected.
When he learned that it was a Dalish elf who now held the power to push at the ripped edges of the Veil he was overwhelmed. The fact that it was an elf granted him little relief; he was alienated from these who claimed to be true elves in this twisted world. They were not his people. Between the Dalish, the Chantry, and the Qun he had awoken to a world of ignorant disorder, a place where superstition ruled and to even speak out against so would brand one a heretic.
He remembers the first time he saw her; small frame pulled from the blast at the Conclave, left in his power to assess and mend. The magic was just as he feared; and at this point it was undoubtedly out of his control. All he could do was contain it and heal her to the best of his ability and hope that when he regained his full power he might find a way to salvage the magic. He was calculating the outcomes, all the possibilities from here and paths this woman would lead him until he ultimately met his own goal.
He had never considered falling in love with her as one of them, and he supposed that was his first error. But even if he had known then what would inevitably happen, he would never have had the willpower to change what transpired between them even if he had wanted to.
They became acquainted at Haven quickly. She sought him out often. Originally they spoke of their missions and magic, as both of them were the only mages of note in the newly founded Inquisition at the time. She spoke of the Fade with enthusiasm he had never seen in this world before. She understood the way the Veil moved and shook, the places that it was so thin you could see the air shake and ripple if you only focused enough. He originally intended to stay in his own company as he always had, but he found himself craving for more conversation when she left him, stirring feelings within that he had thought long dead.
And her inquisitive mind! Never had he met someone so curious of the world around her, someone who thirsted for knowledge in the pages of dusty books and forgotten tomes. She would ask him questions that even surprised his old soul, making him ponder theories and ideas he had never even considered. And he wanted to answer, he wanted to indulge her mind in everything she asked and feed her centuries of history and magical cultivation. But he could not; not without revealing too much, not without arousing suspicions.
Not without getting too attached.
However at this point that was a distant thought. He was fond of her company, of her brilliant mind and calming spirit, but he thought it no more than a budding friendship. That is he did, until the flirting started.
She was feather-light and innocuous in every way imaginable. She wore her paper heart on her sleeve with a small shy smile, eyes as bright a green as the mark faintly glowing on her own hand. She took no pride in the death she wrought, even if those receiving it were all too deserving. It was because of this gentle aura that he occasionally forgot he was indeed talking to an elvish woman and not a philosopher lost in the fade or an amiable spirit. She soothed him like none other from this world had before, but her coy remarks and teasing smiles proved her to not be as naive and ethereal as he sometimes fabricated her to be.
She would make small comments, thinly veiling the sensuality behind them. Her cheeks would turn a light shade of pink when she did so but she did not turn bashful; instead she boldly faced him with a slight cheekiness in her clever face, not embarrassed by the clear meaning in her allusions and comments. Over the years he had become a master in carefully measuring his reactions to things, but had she been able to see behind his opaque mask she would have seen a man who was both surprised with her advances and electrified by the thrill of it. But instead of showing this emotion he tried to answer as calmly as possible; yet he couldn't resist slyly flirting back, making their hidden feelings known to each other with sidelong glances and witty banter. He had originally assumed that it was a fleeting passion, one that would surely wither in his own heart and one that she would grow tired of. But soon the weeks dragged on into months and it continued.
Soon the manifestations of their relationship became apparent as now he not only craved her intellectually and emotionally but physically as well. He studied her every habit like the words of his favorite book. He payed attention to the way her lips quirked slightly to the right when she was about to say something clever and the way her short russet red hair framed the sides of her angular face softly, the way her eyes closed a small amount when she flirted daringly with him and the way her mirthful laughter rang through the air sweeter than the sound of any Chantry bells. But he knew these thoughts were forbidden for him, and kept himself controlled.
And then they lost Haven. Corypheus struck hard and the entire settlement was reduced to nothing but ash and snow. The confusion and chaos of battle was overwhelming and he could hardly let his defenses down for even a second. Yet he found himself wondering, praying, and cursing to the world around him as he thought of her facing off against the foul evils of this world alone and vulnerable. She was a small lantern of light in such a dark world, and the thought of that light being extinguished here at Corypheus' hand was almost too much for him to bear.
But she survived and they discovered her trudging through the freezing blizzard, frostbitten and injured but miraculously alive. If there was ever a moment that he felt something greater and more powerful than himself was on his side it was then.
After that the Inquisition was rather broken. With no place to surmount the operation and no clear leader to follow, nearly everyone became uncertain. He warned her about the artifact that Corypheus possessed, and how it was of elven properties. And she nodded with so much understanding in her eyes, so much trust in him that it broke his heart just to look at her.
And with a gentle shove he directed the company to Skyhold, the ancient castle that peaks over the tops of the clouds and pillars cast shadows across the land.
Soon she became the official Inquisitor, something that took up a fair amount of time that they had previously occupied with each other. But that didn't stop her from seeing him whenever she got the chance. And he treasured these times even more dearly now, although he could not show it. The gentleness in her voice would echo around the chamber at the bottom of the library, the small area he had claimed for his study, and every time he heard it he knew it was the most beautiful sound he would ever hear. And he knew he shouldn't continue to feel this way, he knew that in the long run this would only end in a lifetime of pain for her and desperate longing in his own eternity.
But he learned something about love; it doesn't care about what's logical. It doesn't matter how irrational it is because when he's with her everything is quiet and soft and he can't feel the emptiness inside anymore because she had filled every desolate corner in his soul with companionship and lighthearted joy.
And so they met in the Fade, mimicking the fallen Haven. He articulated his words better here. They felt crisp and collected as he mused the past and future; enjoying her occasional perspective on matters. And then the moment came when they both became uncertain and afraid of the emotional tension between them. With words unable to settle it she turned and boldly kissed him. He was taken aback initially, his brain and heart both telling him to do the opposite thing.
The kiss was quick and she pulled away from him, a small smile on her face as she looked down on the ground, moving to take a step back. But rather than listening to those pressing thoughts that gave him headaches every night he gave into his feelings, shaking his head slightly as he smiled himself, grabbing her and kissing her deeply. She leaned into him, falling into his arms as he let go of all his worries, if only for a short time.
She felt wonderful in his arms. He had thought of this moment for so long and it was more than he could have ever imagined it to be, even if it was in the Fade. The fact that is was made it all the more special to him, a private moment shared in a place they both felt a strong connection to. But he wondered if it would be different in reality, if the feeling of his hand on her lower back would feel even more intense when they awoke.
And his thoughts caught up to him as the moments pressed on and he found himself pulling away, shaking his head sadly, remarking how it was not right. But rather than getting upset or angry as so many others would she only stared up with genuine confusion and concern and he felt his heart breaking again at the sight; get angry at me, become upset with my hesitance! If she were to reject him it would undoubtedly hurt, but far less than it would be if they were to continue this toxic relationship. But she never became volatile, no matter what the subject at hand was or what feelings it might have invoked; and that made him fall in love with her even deeper. And after they awoke and confronted each other again, she was willing to wait for him to decided if he wanted to pursue this for real or not.
I do not deserve you. I do not deserve this kindness you give me, the way you look at me with adoration and gentleness. I do not deserve to be the one you wait for when I will only break you when the time comes.
He wanted to say these things to her but found his mouth go dry at the thought of it, the thought of losing her.
But still she stayed beside him through his hesitance, remaining close as a friend if not yet a lover. And the entire inner circle would roll their eyes at them, Dorian and Sera both teasing relentlessly. Even they could all see the sparks fly between them even when they simply spoke to one another.
She helped him in extraordinary ways, calmed him and helped him in times of stress and need. They would embark together out into the wilds, searching for elven wards and relics together. She was fascinated by the ancient elves even if she would not admit it outright to him, and he felt a small thrill imaging her and him together in his world, loving unconditionally and without warning with his people. He imagined her dressed in traditional elvhen gowns, made from the finest silks one could imagine; her face framed by a headpiece of gold and silvers. And then he felt a crushing despair knowing that it wasn't possible.
And then tragedy struck again as one of his friends was transformed into something horrible. He felt the heaviness return to his heart as he watched his friend disappear, the once lively spirit now a shadow of its former self. But she was there, and she rested her hand on his shoulder as he mourned. There were no verbal expressions of sympathy needed; the simple gesture lifted the grief off of his shoulders and allowed him to continue on.
And more time passed and he fell even deeper in love with all of her. He loved how she hated wearing shoes anywhere (much to Josephine's and Vivienne's horror) and he loved how she would invite him on midnight walks along the walls of Skyhold. He loved the way she involuntarily shivered if he whispered something close to her ear and the way she would bite the corner of her lip when considering something he said.
The kiss had most definitely not been forgotten.
He spoke with her on the balcony one evening after calling her there, trying to figure out what made her so unique; why he was so captivated by her. Perhaps the anchor affected her more deeply than he had originally assumed, giving her arcane knowledge and uncanny charm beyond her years. But she disagreed, claiming there had been no observed changes in her moods and behavior.
Then what was it? What made her so different from all others he had met? She didn't know, blaming her obscurity on too many nights spent in company of white halla and glowing stars. She wondered why he was asking such strange questions about her suddenly, and he answered as honestly as he could.
"I have not forgotten the kiss."
She stared up at him with a bright look in her eyes, knowing that him broaching the subject meant either he had decided to pursue their relationship or stop it entirely.
"Nor have I." She murmured softly, taking a few steps closer to him, arms crossed behind her back as she approached. He ground his teeth together shaking his head slowly as he turned to move away.
Leaving now would be for the best. This will only complicate matters in the future.
But he stopped, looking back at her lovely face, the one he dreamed about every evening and couldn't escape no matter how far he ventured into the Fade. The words of rejection that had been at the tip of his tongue stopped, and he spoke his feelings instead.
"But losing you would-" he couldn't finish. There was no way to express the vast depths of emotion she instilled in his wry heart. Instead he walked back over, embracing her much in the same fashion that they had in the Fade.
And this is what she really felt like in his arms, their physical bodies in such close proximity as they kissed he could feel the heat between them. He enjoyed the Fade manifestations they shared together, but the physical experience here was leaps and bounds ahead of what he had thought it would be. The kiss in the Fade had been real by all definitions; but this felt tangible to him, and he felt more alive on that balcony than he had in ages.
And then the broke apart again, and he had to look away from her, knowing now that there was no escape from their poisonous romance; he was too far in and too selfish to stop himself. And so he whispered his farewell to her as he left her quarters, his vhenan.
The time that followed was full of stress and danger for the Inquisition itself. They had little time to gather allies and armies; only a single year to gain enough power to fight Corypheus. But even with the looming threat this was certainly the happiest time in Solas' long life. They had affirmed their relationship and now engaged in romantic endeavors, yet there was enough time ahead of them that he was not constantly guilted and worried about the future held in store for them both; he could forget everything for a time.
When the inner circle went out scouting an area or investigating a rumor she always kept him close to her, much to their other companions amusement. Through their travels they would adventure all day and the night always ended with her sharing a tent with him, content to fall asleep in his warm embrace.
She was not discreet in their relationship, and soon everyone was aware. He had to remind her on numerous occasions that speaking with clever tact was not enough to keep the Inquisition's reputation well; not when she was so carefree and honest about it. The fact that an elf was leading the Inquisition was outlandish enough for many, never mind the idea of adding in their affair. But when he tried to remind her she would just laugh and shake her head, stating that she would not be ashamed for having light in such a dark time. He sighed deeply at this, both relieved with her adamant declaration of love and worried with how she would manage not being ripped apart in the Orlesian court, of which she would make her first appearance soon.
And the day soon came for the Empress's party, and he had never seen her so nervous before. She paced around the halls in her formal red attire, something that Josephine insisted they were all outfitted with. She was not making a good impression on many of the nobles. She was too soft spoken and gentle for some and too honest and mirthful for others. They didn't like the questions she asked, the very questions that defined her intellectual prowess and initially attracted his interest to her.
He wished he could have assisted her, to take care of all of her problems as she sulked around the castle, eavesdropping, watching, and searching. She stopped by and spoke to him once, relief flooding her eyes and tension leaving her body as she spotted him.
She wanted to dance with him. He chuckled at this, admitting that a dance would be wonderful but this was not an ideal time for it. She relented eventually, understanding that not only did she have a job to do but there was no way she could lose that much approval in one night. She went back to scouring the towers for the assassin and he continued to search as well, staring after her retreating figure thoughtfully as she left.
By the end of the night they had unveiled the Duchess' plot and saved Empress Celene who remained on the throne. He was pleasantly surprised by the outcome, fearing that somewhere along the way something would go wrong. But the night had gone smoothly and Lady Lavellan had managed to even make a decent enough impression on the people. Once the danger was over the entire aura became one of celebration and lightheartedness, yet the Inquisitor was nowhere to be found.
Finally he spotted her across the ballroom foyer, leaning over the empty balcony and bathed in starlight. He almost didn't want to disturb her, wondering if she perhaps wanted a moment alone but decided against it, walking out slowly and leaning on the railing next to her. She was so tired; he could practically see the exhaustion in her eyes. But he cleared his throat, offering his hand out for a dance. She grinned at this, taking his hand and waltzing with him under the moon. He never wanted that moment of purity to end, never wanted the sun to rise and reveal the horrors that hid in the shadows of the dark night. But he could not control the flow of time and thus the peaceful night ended and they were thrust back into reality.
And during this brief time of bliss, how they craved each other! With both of them being fairly reserved in attitude no one would have guessed the intimate pleasures they indulged in. It would only take one passionate comment, one deep kiss and one breathless gasp for them to be consumed with each other. He couldn't even count the times they had gotten too carried away at the bottom of the library chamber only to be interrupted by a well placed whistle. Red-faced she would drag him away to her quarters, cursing at a laughing Dorian above them.
He loved bringing her pleasure; knowing he was the only one to hear her small gasps and moans, knowing he was the one who caused them. His fingers brushing against her soft skin as he began to unbutton her shirt, the way her hands tightened around his back to pull him closer into her; the rush of passion he felt when she would pull him down onto the bed with her as though she couldn't contain herself anymore. His hands slowly exploring the rest of her body, pulling off pieces of clothing as he went. The restless way her body moved while he did so, knowing damn well he was taking his time doing so just to tease her. And so she would do the same back, removing his own clothing at a painstakingly slow rate and brushing against him sensually as she did so. Her cheek brushed against his and she left soft kisses on his neck. He felt his own desire increase and the speed of which he removed her clothing sped up, causing her to laugh lightly. The laughter would quickly turn into a delighted gasp as he-
Let's just say that his vhenan was a very physical woman, and this brought out carnal qualities that he hadn't even known he possessed so strongly.
As much as he enjoyed their nightly endeavors he enjoyed the mornings just as much. She would be fast asleep in his arms as he awoke, the sun just beginning to rise on the far horizon. As it rose the dim light shone through the balcony and slowly lit the room, birds beginning to awake and sing as it did so. And he watched with a smile as her face was illuminated by the morning rays, her short russet hair shining and eyes closed peacefully. Their naked bodies pressed together comfortably under the thin silk sheet, heartbeats close and slow. She would wake soon later, eyes twitching open. To which he would delicately stroke her face, kissing her cheek and embracing her again.
She was bliss; she was sleep; she was his escape and the key that opened doors to the dustiest parts of his heart. But of course this couldn't last; he had known it from the start, and the Well of Sorrows was a omen telling of their tragedy.
"I begged you to not drink from the well." He said a bit harsher than intended, shaking his head as she averted her eyes from his.
"I do not trust Morrigan. I thought it was the best option." She eventually said quietly, meeting his eyes as though daring him to disagree.
"Nor do I, but that is beside the point. You are the most important person in all of Thedas and to be bound to the will of an ancient being-" he said, letting out a deep breath and shaking his head in anguish.
"I didn't have another option unless you wanted to drink it." She snapped, glaring at him before sighing, burying her face in her hands. "I'm not pleased with this either." She spluttered quickly, bursting into tears as she clung to him. He hugged her tightly, running his fingers through her hair and comforting her with soft touches. "I hear voices, thousands of them constantly and I can't stop listening." She sobbed, overwhelmed by the magic of the Well.
It's far worse than just the voices, he thought grimly but instead looked into her eyes lovingly and kissed her deeply. "Tonight I only want you to focus on mine." He whispered in her ear as her tears stopped.
And that night was the last time they made love together. He had known it would be and because of that he intended to memorize every detail of it; he did not want to ever forget a second. He let all the barriers he had kept up come down that evening and allowed himself to become intoxicated by her. Although her will was now bound to Mythal, he would make sure her heart would be his forever.
By the time morning came they were both still fast asleep when the sun was far overheard, undisturbed bodies covered in lovebites. He gazed down sadly at her sleeping soundly in his arms, stroking her face lovingly and squeezing her tightly to him. He knew what he must soon do, but he did not want his actions to be misinterpreted.
They departed to Crestwood a night later. They walked hand and hand through the softly lit glen, no words needed to be spoken for them to know their feelings at this point. But he wanted to make them clear; clearer than he ever had before. He loved her more than he could ever express, and that made everything much more difficult for the both of them. He wanted to tell her his true purpose, who he really was but found his voice disappearing every time he did so.
She would think you selfish and cruel.
She would be afraid of you.
She would try to stop you.
She would not love you if she knew.
He explained the vallaslin instead.
She responded as he had expected her to; with somber melancholy. Her ties to the Dalish had never been particularly strong, but knowing her entire culture was wrong obviously shook her deeply. He could only run his hands through her short hair, forehead pressed against hers lovingly and eyes closed.
She deserved more than this world. She deserved more than what those markings represented.
She wanted them off, as he had suspected. Although she respected the Dalish and their traditions, she respected the truth more; just another rare quality he adored. They sat down near the edge of the glen and she closed her eyes, a slight smile on her face as his hands came up, hovering above her skin as magic erased the markings.
And she opened her eyes and he knew she was the most beautiful thing he had ever had the pleasure to touch, both body and soul. She was pure, she was free, she was his. There was no way he could possibly vocalize how much she meant to him. A thousand poems, a hundred songs, and a million books would only capture a superficial level his love.
And that made what he had to do now much harder.
They embraced a final time and he felt his eyes begin to burn as he forced back tears, her lips on his one last time. He buried his face in her shoulder, breathing in deeply as he took a step back. She seemed to know something was wrong from the tenseness in his actions, his sudden disconnect surprising her as she looked into his eyes questioningly.
He gave no reason and veiled the truth from her still, only saying the that they must stop. She shook her head rapidly, seeming disoriented as she demanded an explanation. He could give her none. How could he? She would realize how selfish he truly was to continue this relationship. Although her feelings might not change when she knew the truth, she would no doubt try to stop him. She loved this world and would die to protect it (as she had proven numerous times). Neither of them could continue to live in such sweet harmony when their goals were complete opposites, yet neither would readily abandon the responsibility they had the burden to bear.
And such a rush of emotions he felt as he met her eyes... He could see the heavy tears forming at the corners of her eyes as he shook his head again, swallowing and taking another step away. This was the most logical action; but his heart was aching. He forced himself to turn away and not look back, knowing that if he spared another glance at her he would undoubtedly lose his resolve.
He returned to Skyhold and wondered if he had ever felt this empty. Did he feel this despair before he knew her? Had he just not realized how dreary his mind had been until her vibrancy had shown him how it felt to be alive again? There was a deep aching in his chest that never disappeared. He had expected it to grow better with time, but the void in his heart only seemed to grow bigger and bigger with every passing second. His body felt heavy now, no longer free and light as he had in her company.
She approached him soon after his return, delayed only by her travels and gathering her wits. He looked at her and felt his heart wrench painfully at the abandoned look on her face. But rather than do what he wanted to do he could only look away, offering her clipped words and advice on practical matters that concerned the inquisition. She listened with a furrowed brow, bottom lip quivering slightly and flinching when he addressed her so formally.
"What about us?" She whispered, voice full of anguish and eyes shining with memories of Crestwood. And even now he could not give her an honest answer. But she swallowed the growing lump in her throat, rubbing away tears that he wished he could wipe away. "I will wait for you, Solas. Whatever the problem is I will fix it; Emma lath, I will wait."
No no no! This was not how she was supposed to react. It took all of his effort to not cry out in that moment, to tell her how foolish a cause that was. But he turned away again like the coward he was, unable to admit that he didn't want her to wait but unable to encourage any hope that she had.
And so they spent time much as they had before with little mention of what had happened. She didn't know how late he pondered possibilities in which he could save her. She didn't know how he cried out into the Fade every evening to spirits far wiser than he, hoping for a solution to her pain. She couldn't tell that every time he closed his eyes the image of her perfect face was imprinted on the back of his eyelids permanently and the smell of lavender now drove him mad because her hair smelled of it. She didn't notice how he gazed at her longingly from afar only to be stricken with a crippling grief so great it threatened to overtake him.
Instead she simply waited, thinking naively that once the immediate danger was over they would return to normal. But she had not known that the man she loved had taken up the mantle of Fen'Harel, a title he now bore with empty conviction and will. So when the time came she charged into battle with steadfast resolve.
And soon Corypheus had been destroyed and he knew it was time for him to leave. He had never felt such a pain before, leaving her side for what he presumed would be forever. She was left confused with nothing to comfort her but the stars and the silence of night, both meaningless now without his company. They both stared at the same moon, praying that the other missed them just as much as they did.
"I will find a way, vhenan." He whispered into the black night. "One cannot live without their heart."
Chapter 2: The Final Night
Following the events of the Trespasser DLC, the Inquisition has officially been disbanded. Inquisitor Caledra bids her companions farewell.
Loneliness can add beauty to life. It puts a special burn on sunsets and makes the night air smell crisper. Something that you may have taken for granted will now jump to life with surprising vibrancy. The sounds of birds flitting outside which you may have ignored before now resonate energetically within you, showing you that even without him life is sparkling and vivid. The cool breeze of evening carries with it smells of an undiscovered world and suddenly everything is striking and memorable. There is no need to weep when the sun blazes the most brilliant shades of orange imaginable across the setting sky. You are alive, and there are mysteries to uncover and puzzles yet to solve.
That was what Caledra Lavellan tried to convince herself of, anyway.
Yet as much as she tried to focus on nothing but the radiant glow of the sunset she couldn't help but take note of her solitary shadow that stretched far behind her. As fresh as the night air felt on her skin, she could only recall a time when his sweet touches brought a feeling of warmth within her on the coldest nights. The enticing thought of exploring the furthest reaches of the land tastes bitter now, knowing that she would be doing so alone.
She stared out at the setting sun now from her balcony, elbow resting against the railing and fingers made into a tight fist with her chin resting on top. There was a certain melancholy in the air tonight. Crowds of people meandered out the tall gates of Skyhold, mixed emotions in their eyes as they did so. She watched men remove furniture and finery alike from the hold and surrounding barracks, all branded with the mark of the Inquisition. It was surreal to see all they had worked for be pulled apart and ransacked in less than a week when it had taken months of tedious work to create. The Inquisition was now officially disbanded.
"How are you holding up?" A voice sounded from behind her. She had thought she heard someone enter the room, but dared not look. She never looked anymore; she only hoped that it was him returning to her. She allowed herself these small moments of fantasy, imagining that one day it might actually be him waiting for her to face him. She exhaled deeply through her nose, cursing herself for torturing herself with such a thought.
She tried not to let the disappointment show in her voice as she responded dutifully, "Watching everything we've worked for being torn apart isn't a particularly pleasant experience, but I'll manage." She sighed, giving Varric an exhausted smile as he plodded up to lean against the railing with her, "As long as you promise not to sneak away with everyone else. I need a proper goodbye from you at least."
Varric chuckled, "Although I've never been one for doing things properly, I think for you I can make an exception. The few of us that haven't left yet are going to finish off whatever drinks are left in the Herald's Rest. A final toast to the Inquisition, if you will. That wouldn't be complete without our dear Inquisitor, would it?"
"I suppose not. I'll be there, Varric." Caledra said with as much enthusiasm as she could muster, which was unfortunately not enough to avoid detection. Varric gave her a worried glance and gently clapped her on the shoulder on his way out, obviously concerned about her.
Caledra continued to stare out over her balcony as the last Inquisition troops and other personnel exited through the large gates. She wondered what they would do now that it was all over. Some of them would go back to living the lives they had before, she supposed. Others might start new somewhere else, leading lives very different than previously. Perhaps some had nothing to go back to at all. Whatever the case was, Caledra took a moment to salute them for their service; for without them, there would have been no victory. They had served Thedas well, no matter how much the public tried to villainize the Inquisition.
And now the walls inside the great fortress were eerily silent. She had never seen it this empty before; from the very beginning it had been busy and full of lively energy. Workers cleaning debris, soldiers training in the courtyard, couriers running between barracks. Even at night the hold remained boisterous and spirited. Veterans sat around the fires telling grossly exaggerated stories while the younger men pooled together their coin to buy a round of the finest ale the tavern had to offer.
Caledra turned away from the balcony, taking long strides across her room and to the door on the far side. She slowly cracked it open, ear pressed against the opening as she listened to the stillness that surrounded her. She could normally hear the murmuring of guests and other officials in the main hall far below her, constantly shuffling and gossiping. Now she could only hear the crowing of a bird far away coupled with the sound of strong wind blowing outside. She shivered involuntarily before continuing on, closing the door behind her as she crept with an uncharacteristic quietness down the staircase.
No statues decorated the hall now. The paintings and tables had been removed as well, and now all that remained was the Inquisitor's throne. It stood imposing and uncaring of the changes around it, seemingly unfazed by its now lonely existence.
Caledra turned away from it, instead heading out of the keep and into the courtyard outside. She slowly made her way to the the tavern, stopping every now and then to observe a difference in the sights and sounds around her. She stopped before entering the building, noting with slight satisfaction that the sign above the door still creaked with the wind. The small fact that not everything had changed gave her a strange sense of relief. She pushed against the weathered door and was instantly greeted with a shout of welcome.
"Inquisitor! I had begun to wonder if you would come after all!" Josephine teased, her thick Antivan accent recognizable anywhere.
"Hey, I told you she would." Varric said, needlessly defending himself.
"Hah. You say that as if your word has any true value." Cassandra shot back, her accent making her just as simple to identify. Caledra blinked hard, eyes adjusting to the dully lit tavern. A single candle burned dimly in the corner, the slight glow flickering in and out and casting unsteady shadows across the walls. Tracing the shadows Caledra could now see her three comrades sitting around a dusty table in the far corner of the room, mugs of ale and wines laid out in front of them. An empty seat sat across from Josephine and Caledra gladly took a seat, taking a tentative sip of the ale, and then a more confident one when she realized it wasn't the horribly cheap stuff.
Varric sighed in mock defeat, arms up as he continued to tease Cassandra. "If my words have no value, maybe I should drop my latest romance serial after all..."
Cassandra cleared her throat and pointedly looked away from him, seeming done with the argument. Caledra couldn't be sure in the darkness but she swore she saw a light blush on her face as she did so. It looked like Varric won that one.
"Is this really everyone?" Caledra murmured, looking around the room as though expecting someone to jump out any minute.
"I believe so. Commander Cullen had intended to stay but he unfortunately found himself caught up in directing the clearing of the hold. I believe he is escorting the last caravan of civilians to the nearest settlement with a small escort of soldiers. He wishes you the best, Inquisitor, and invites you to visit him in Ferelden." Josephine explained, taking a sip of wine as she spoke. Caledra nodded, looking down at the knots in the table. Although they didn't always see eye to eye, Cullen was a good man and an excellent commander. She would have to write to him.
She thought of the rest of her companions, and their current whereabouts. Dorian was in Tevinter of course, stirring up trouble in the Magisterium. Her hands drifted to the small crystal that hung around her neck, knowing that her dear friend was only a call away whenever she needed him. That fact alone provided more emotional support than he would ever imagine. The Iron Bull and the Chargers had departed almost immediately after the Inquisition had been announced to disband. Although they would take a blade for each other, they still were a mercenary group. No Inquisition meant no employer, and no employer meant no coin. Caledra could hardly blame them. Sera had slipped away without anyone noticing, seeming to disappear from the Inquisition just as quickly as she appeared. Thom had given a proper goodbye at least, claiming that their paths would undoubtedly cross again and that he was eagerly awaiting the occasion.
Cole had vanished, returning to the Fade. Caledra missed him terribly. Sometimes late at night she would walk upon the ramparts dourly, remembering the times she spent talking aimlessly and without worry with him. Cole was a calming element in her life, and more importantly, a friend. When she walked the Fade at night she always attempted to seek him out. Alas, it seemed he would not be found until he wished to be.
Leliana was now Divine Victoria of course, although she assured Caledra that she would lend them whatever help she could, whether it was through Chantry support or her extensive list of skills. And with Leliana on the sunburst throne, Vivienne had departed for Orlais again, seemingly furious with the reforms proposed.
Caledra had been so lost in thought as she thought of her companions whereabouts that she had completely missed the apparent question asked. She woke out of her daze with a sudden start, looking at the three sets of eyes on her.
Josephine cleared her throat, repeating the question "Where will you go now, if I might inquire? Back to the Dalish, perhaps?"
Caledra sighed, setting her mug of ale down and rubbing the back of her head as she thought. She had always had a thick cowlick there and could feel the tuft of red hair resisting as she scratched. "I am unsure. I am hesitant to return to the Dalish. Clan Lavellan is no longer. Truthfully, even if my Clan had survived this ordeal I have seen far too much to return to such a secluded existence."
She couldn't articulate her feelings properly to anyone who wasn't among her people. Although there were other Dalish Clans thriving and alive, they weren't her Clan. Too often did outsiders mistake all Dalish for being the same. If she were to join another Clan she would be an maimed outcast, undoubtedly viewed as a anomaly who abandoned her own to save the shems. She felt her hand move practically on its own, tracing the spot where her vallaslin used to be. No, she couldn't go back to the Dalish. Not now that she knew the truth of their false Gods.
Josephine nodded and pretended to look away when Caledra touched her forehead, her polite and diplomatic aura seemingly endless as she continued. "Understandable. I do not think that we as comrades expressed adequate sympathy when your Clan fell. You did not wish to discuss it openly and I apologize-"
Caledra smiled dryly, waving her hand in dismissal. "There is no need for apology; we did everything we could. Keeper Istimaethorial would not want us to linger on such tragic thoughts, but rather embrace the future."
Josephine stared at her with a raised eyebrow as though questioning if she meant it. Caledra herself was trying to swallow the lump forming in her throat as she thought of her fallen Clan.
Yes, while it was true she did not wish to become Dalish again, her entire life up until this mess was spent with those who had fallen. She had believed in the Elven Gods and she had thought of herself as being a true elf. All of that changed the day that she awoke with that mysterious magic on her hand. She wept for them as she pitied herself.
Eventually Josephine slowly nodded, continuing. "In any case, you will always be welcome in Antiva under the care of my house."
"And in Kirkwall," Varric yelled from the other end of the table, arms outstretched as he did so.
"Why would she willingly want to go to Kirkwall?" Cassandra snorted, shooting Varric a skeptical glare as she took a swig of ale.
Varric gave a shocked look and pointed to himself with his thumb, "To drink with the Champion and the Viscount, or course."
"That sounds like the beginning of a horrible joke." Caledra commented.
"The Viscount, the Champion, and the Inquisitor walk into a bar..." Varric started before being swatted on the back of the head by Cassandra, who rolled her eyes at him before letting them settle on Caledra.
"In all seriousness, Inquisitor, it is important for us to stay connected now that the Inquisition is disbanded. Lelian-" Cassandra cleared her throat, correcting herself. "Divine Victoria has a network of ravens for hasty correspondence between us. Although the next years may be relatively peaceful and we may go our separate ways for a time, our efforts to stop Solas must-"
Caledra visibly recoiled at the mention of his name, flinching her hand back from her drink. Everyone pretended not to notice but she could sense the thick discomfort in the air.
"Yes, yes." Caledra said quickly cutting Cassandra off and leaning back in her chair, staring at the ceiling. "Leliana's birds are well suited; I will make sure to stay in touch via raven."
Cassandra looked dissatisfied with the short response and pursed her lips before settling on another question. "If you do not know where you will be going, what will you do?"
Caledra closed her eyes before answering as honestly as she could. "I have put my heart and soul into this work, but in the process I have lost my mind. I plan on finding myself. And in the process, Solas."
This drew a silence from around the bar and she could see her companions give each other conspicuous looks. Eventually Josephine cleared her throat, picking her words very carefully. "While I agree that spending time rebuilding yourself after this ordeal is well deserved Inquisitor, I implore you to not become invested in fruitless efforts. I say this as not only your advisor, but as your friend."
"It's not fruitless." Caledra emphasized, grasping at the air in front of her as she spoke. "Although our combined efforts to locate him are extensive, I will search for him alone as well."
No one seemed thrilled with this response and they exchanged glances again. It seemed it was Varric's turn this time as he began to speak, chiding her with her nickname. "Look, Red, we all just want what's best for you and... Well, have you considered that he isn't best for you?"
"I have considered the idea," Caledra nodded thoughtfully as everyone around the bar began to smile encouragingly at her words. "And then I realized how daft the thought was."
Their tentative smiles vanished. "More like you are simply daft for him..." Cassandra grunted, earning a sharp glare from Caledra.
"What I am and what I am not is of little concern. What matters is that I would do anything to locate him, and so I will." Caledra concluded, raising her mug and finishing the last of her ale.
"You believe you will singlehandedly do what dozens of our best spies and agents could not?" Cassandra said, slight disapproval audible through her voice.
Caledra felt shaky as she drew in another breath, realizing how arrogant and idiotic she probably sounded. She could think of no fitting response and instead shrugged, choosing to at least answer honestly, even if it seemed too simple of a response. "I know Solas."
Surprisingly enough her response drew no criticism and Cassandra nodded. "Perhaps you are right and I am merely being pessimistic."
"You have a habit of doing that." Varric commented, earning another pointed gaze from Cassandra.
"Yes. And you have a habit of being annoying."
Josephine ran her hands over the ruffles on her shirt as the two continued to bicker and Caledra tried to push all of her worries to the back of her mind, content with drowning herself in the company of her friends and alcohol for the final night.
Chapter 3: The Eluvian
Before departing Skyhold Caledra has a surprising encounter with the Eluvian.
It was late at night when a golden emblazoned carriage made its way through the gates of Skyhold, the clopping of hooves disturbing the silence outside of the pub. The group of them had managed to get into a political debate concerning Divine Victoria's disbandment of the Circle of Magi. The carriage had interrupted them at an opportune time and managed to disrupt the heated argument forming.
Josephine rose and peeked out the window. Caledra was impressed that she could even see through the thick layer of grime on it. She gave a heavyhearted smile, spinning on one of her heels back to the table. "It appears our carriage has arrived, my friends."
"Ours?" Caledra inquired, standing suddenly as everyone else rose slowly.
"Lovely Lady Montilyet here offered us a free ride. How could I decline such an offer?" Varric said with his usual jovial attitude, palms open as he spoke.
"But you're not all going to Antiva?" Caledra questioned, alcohol slowing her thought processes.
"No, no. Our path takes us through the Free Marches and we are making a small detour to..." Josephine trailed off, looking at Cassandra who let out a huff.
Caledra met her eyes, nodding slowly. "You're rebuilding the Seekers after all then?"
Cassandra met her gaze steadily, "Yes. Does this concern you, Inquisitor?"
The two of them had always had a difference in views no matter the subject. Although they didn't agree with everything the other did, the mutual respect they had for each other had created a sort of unparalleled and unspoken rivalry between them. While one walked a thin line of disciplined swordsmanship, the other freely wandered the world of magic and boundless curiosity. Caledra didn't look away from her. "Not at all. If I were to trust anyone with bettering such an institution it would be you."
Cassandra seemed to be caught off guard by the sincere comment and gave a sharp nod, grasping Caledra's hand in a strong handshake before leaving the dully lit pub.
"She worries for you." Josephine commented quietly as she too turned to give her goodbyes to Caledra. "She is just not as good as others as showing it."
Caledra smiled slightly, embracing Josephine in a tight hug. She wished she could put all of her gratefulness into it. Josephine had been a voice of reason and finesse and without her tremendous skill the Inquisition would have undoubtedly failed. "Take care of yourself, my Inquisitor." She patted Caledra's arm as they parted, following Cassandra's lead out of the bar.
"I hate goodbyes. Even though I said I'd give you one, I'm gonna have to go back on my word." Varric said with a playful laugh.
Caledra grinned, "Figures you would do that. I'm sure Cassandra would have something to say about that."
"Definitely," Varric agreed, "let's just call it a... I'll see you later."
Caledra could feel the tears pricking the corners of her eyes as she nodded, smiling weakly. "Certainly not a goodbye."
Varric managed to give a smile despite the mood as he walked to the door which was being held open my Josephine, Bianca slung over his shoulder. He didn't even look back. He didn't need to because in his mind, he would be seeing her again someday. He was sure of it. But Caledra couldn't tear her eyes from them as the door slowly closed, creaking shut as they reached the base of the carriage.
She sank back down onto the the rickety wooden stool, forehead resting on the table and arm crossed around her head. She heard the sound of the carriage slowly retreat, and eventually the clopping disappeared,becoming replaced with the pitter-patter of rain which was beginning to fall on the roof.
Caledra tilted her head to the side, ear now resting on the table as she stared at the wall, heaving a heavy breath. There was no one now; this was the first time since the explosion at the conclave that she was truly alone. No attendants, no guests, no advisors, no companions. Just her and the inconsistent drops of rain and occasion bright flash of yellow that filled the sky with sound. She felt her hand make its way to her bottle of booze.
She picked it up, holding it in front of her face and pursing her lips momentarily as she examined it.
She shrugged, tipping it up and downing it.
It was early morning when the rain finally ended and Caledra clumsily made her way out of the Heralds Rest. She could feel the dewy grass beneath her bare feet and the moon shone high above her. She took a moment to stare at it, enjoying the smell of the fresh air. The air after a storm...
"Solas!" Caledra called out, sprinting ahead of Cassandra and Varric who both shot her puzzled looks. It was one of the first expeditions to the Hinterlands and the newly founded Inquisition was attempting to make contacts with potential agents. Of course, this was much easier said than done when you were scouting through a templar and mage infested wilderness. There were no paths where they now walked but Caledra ran with bare feet over rock and root, instinct and callouses keeping her from slowing down.
Solas had wandered ahead into the dense forest beyond the rest of the group, and Caledra now spotted him around the bend, bent down and examining something in the grass. He looked up as she called his name, tilting his head ever so slightly and raising an eyebrow before continuing with what he was doing. Caledra found herself skidding to a stop, out of breath as she crouched next to him.
She spotted the dark green leaves and recognized the plant instantly. "Elfroot."
"Indeed," He said rather dryly, gathering more leaves and looking at her through the corner of his eye. "Used by the last elves of Arlathan."
Caledra had felt a rush of pride at the mention of her people in that moment. It was her people who first used this herb before the magisters took it; her people whose empire stretched the furthest reaches of this land like no other.
Caledra helped him gather the rest of the plant, stealing not-so-secret glances at him as they did so. She had to admit, from the moment they had met she had felt inexplicably drawn to him like no other before. She had sought him out after awaking in Haven and after hearing his tales of the Fade she was even more interested in the mysterious mage. Her eyes had lingered a moment too long and he looked up, meeting her gaze steadily. She felt a light blush on her face as she quickly filled the silence with a question. "You are an adept healer, I cannot imagine someone as talented as you needing herbs for wounds."
"You flatter me, Lavellan. Although it is a pleasant notion, situations may arise when my skilled hands may not be enough," He said, an evocative tone in his voice. Or perhaps it wasn't there at all. Perhaps she was simply reading too much into his potentially suggestive words. Perhaps she just had a dirty mind? Either way Caledra couldn't help but blush when she recalled how she had flirted with him in Haven. To others it may have seemed like she wasn't interested at all. She was subtle and slight, but he had seemed to catch onto her faint gestures and return them just as indirectly.
"It is better to be prepared for the worst than hope for the best." Caledra nodded grimly, pushing these girlish thoughts to the back of her head.
Solas looked up at her, the corners of his eyes crinkling slightly as he considered her statement. She felt like everything she said to him was being examined like answers on a test; and in truth it was. He let out a sigh and a small yet dry smile settled onto his face. "With an attitude like that I wonder how I've been branded the sombering one of the group."
Caledra smirked at him but didn't answer, instead enjoying the silence of the forest as they continued to scout ahead. She breathed in deeply, enjoying the earthy smell that Haven had taken away from her. She peeked up at him as he walked beside her, daring to ask a question. "Solas, how do you like the sky to feel?"
He looked at her deeply for a moment before looking ahead again. "What an interesting question." he mused momentarily before his tone hardened. "And incredibly Dalish."
Caledra blushed from embarrassment at his comment, but refused to hang her head in shame. "I just wanted to know more about you. That's all."
Moments passed in silence and Caledra considered running ahead and exploring the forest further, if only to hide from the awkward tension. Before she could however, Solas himself surprised her.
"How do you like the sky to feel?" he replied, flipping the question back on her.
Caledra paused, feeling a pleasant and uncontrollable smile on her face as she thought about it. "I like warm summer days beneath tall green trees. The way it shimmers through the treetops when laying on the ground, glittering between the shadows, cooling and heating as it goes. The bright sun and a cloudless sky, a light breeze and rustling leaves, and nothing but the sunny grass beneath your feet," She described, skipping ahead of him and walking backwards to face him. "That's how I like it." He nodded thoughtfully. Caledra gave an expectant smile, prompting him to give his answer now. He almost answered but then shook his head, smiling crookedly and gesturing to her. "In all honesty I would rather you guess, Lavellan."
She thought for a second about it but had already known her guess before he had even asked. "The air before a storm." She finally said, causing him to raise both his eyebrows in contemplation. "It's revitalizing and renewing; refreshing." She emphasized with her hands. "You can feel the air getting old and stale before it hits. And although the storm itself might be destructive, the result feels better. It feels cool and wonderful and energizing against your skin, leaving goosebumps. More than anything it feels new and... invigorating," she finished, before smiling coyly, "Just like you."
Solas let out a laugh, shaking his head slightly at her, "You think too fondly of me. I would compare myself to the destructive nature but no more." he joked, but there was a certain sadness in his eyes that she hadn't been able to understand then.
They continued to walk, and it was unbeknownst to her then that he truly planned on delivering her the storm to create a new sky, but there would be nothing pleasant after this one.
Caledra tore her eyes away from the moon, trying to shake the memory out of her head as she plodded across Skyhold with uneven steps. She had drunk more than she had intended and her vision seemed to blur at the edges, objects appearing shaky if she wasn't concentrating. She would spend one last night in the keep, and she would spend it staring at her own reflection.
Caledra shuffled up the stone stairs that led into the main hall, staggering against the door a little too roughly. The hall was empty but she wasted no time contemplating on it as she would have if she was sober; when she drank, she tended to cut straight to the point on most matters. Sera said she was more fun as well, although she tried not to take that comment too personally.
Continuing to her destination Caledra took a left and meandered out into the garden. She noticed the empty imprints in the ground where herbs and potted plants had grown before being removed. Stumbling over her foot one final time, Caledra found herself in a small room. It was practically empty save the large object at the end of it. To anyone who wasn't knowledgeable about the ancient elves and their practices, this object would have appeared to be a rather imposingly large mirror. But those who knew the secrets of her people would recognize it to be an eluvian, albeit an inoperative one.
The eluvian allowed for move between the ancient elven cities. By stepping through the enchanted mirror one could enter a matrix known as the Crossroads. It was here that all the eluvian connected, making for fast travel. The Crossroads itself was a place beyond Thedas, even beyond the Fade possibly. A place where the fabric of time and space had been bent and distorted into something wholly new. It was a ruin of ancient magic and decaying libraries.
Caledra had been there herself and even through this exact eluvian on multiple occasions, which made its current state even more frustrating. Over the last months of the disbandment of the Inquisition and following her encounter with Solas, she had made it a nightly ritual to visit the eluvian in hopes of getting through. It had led to nothing but disappointment, frustration, and wasted time. Yet there was a hopefulness in it that Caledra became addicted to. Visiting it gave her the hope of finding him again. It served as a reminder that he could be reached, no matter how far away he was.
Caledra approached the enchanted mirror, leaning against the frame if it as she traced the outline of her faces reflection lazily with a single finger. The surface was cool and had an odd quality to it, as though it was stuck somewhere between being a solid and a liquid. But no matter how hard Caledra pushed, she was unable to get through its surface as she had done so many times before. She had no doubt that it was not herself somehow preventing entry, but rather another outside factor.
Something was keeping her out.
Or perhaps someone. She could guess who.
Caledra continued to stare at her reflection, running her fingers aimlessly around its edges. She cleared her throat and began to speak, an act that was not limited to her drunken self. She found her speaking to him down here most nights, although in the end she knew she was speaking to herself. It was comforting to imagine he was listening, but she knew better than to rely on it.
"Today's the last night, vhenan." Caledra whispered as she settled down in front of the mirror, sitting cross legged and staring blankly at herself. "Everyone else is gone now, it's just me left." She chuckled sadly. "Just me and you, my estranged lover."
She waited a few heartbeats before sighing, feeling a single tear run down her cheek through her foolish smile. She looked down at her hand, mentally scolding herself for getting her hopes up the past weeks. It had occurred to her in a daydream that maybe he would appear to her once everyone else had departed. The fabrication consisted of a tearful reunion and romantic vows, along with the promise of a new plan of action. And in one split moment her wishes were instantly shattered, optimism replaced with self-loathing and a wave of suffocating depression.
"What is the matter with me?" She suddenly choked out, beginning to cry. Her head fell forward into her hand which fervently wiped the tears from her face. "I cling to these irrational hopes, yet at the same time deny that I hold onto such illogical notions. Why can't I just forget about you, vhenan? I have not found a moment of peace since you left." She whimpered, looking back up at herself. She had puffy red eyes now and there were salty trails still present on her cheekbones.
"If you were here now I bet you could answer all of those questions." She sighed, trying to calm down. "You always knew the answer, even if you didn't know it was the answer. Your beliefs, wisdom, aptitude...I fell in love with every part of you so deeply that now I cannot imagine life without you. It's broken me." She trailed off shaking her head slightly before giving a small laugh that broke halfway through it.
"Oh, just look at me. I'm a mess. Hail the mighty Inquisitor! The slayer of dragons, the mage of peace, and the slave to her own dumb feelings." she joked to herself mockingly, somehow feeling the need to lighten the situation even though she was just talking to herself. She reached out, sighing and beginning to try and push against its surface again.
As she touched it, she felt her whole body freeze, heart stopping in her chest and adrenaline fueled blood pumping in her veins.
She could feel a magical energy pushing against her own, something that had never been present in her previous nights. Caledra focused her own energy down her arm, concentrating it on the tips of her fingers as she continued to push. She could feel a drop of sweat moving past her brow as she let out a grunt, arm shaking as she continued to go beyond her limits. She could feel a slight crackling at the tips of her fingers and could see electric green sparks beginning to erupt from them. The surface of the mirror was warping slightly from the magic being pushed on it from both sides. The fluidity of it would alternate between being biflected towards her or away from her depending on who was pushing harder at the given moment.
Caledra continued to push, gritting her teeth and letting sharp, short breaths out of her nose. Could it be him? Was it fruitless to hope it was?
Although Caledra was a skilled mage it was clear now that Solas' unknown skill was seemingly awakened she doubted she could outlast an Elvhen God in power if it was really him. In fact, she could already feel herself getting weaker as more and more of her mana was spent. The adrenaline rush at her discovery was over now, and with that she felt her physical body becoming softer. With every push now it became more solid, its fluidity hardening as it began to shut itself again. Caledra began to take in desperate breaths, beginning to hyperventilate as her chance slipped away before her eyes. She let out a sob as she sunk to the floor, outstretched hand sliding down the surface of the now solid eluvian.
All was quiet for a moment.
Suddenly a loud boom sounded from an unknown direction and the mirror rumbled beneath her fingers. Caledra looked up, wide eyed as she held her breath. A large line appeared down the center of the mirror. The jagged crack moved down the middle slowly before breaking off into hundreds of smaller lines, reminding Caledra of small tree roots growing around each other. The sound of the eluvian crunching itself into thousands of tiny pieces was a quiet thing, but to Caledra it sounded like a deafening scream. She desperately tried to hold it down, waving her hand frantically as she tried to stop the crack from spreading. The magic in her hands fizzled ineffectively and she was ignored. There was a moment of stillness as she stared up at the shattered mirror, still on her knees. Her arm drooped at her size and mouth open at the sight before her.
There are some moments in life that feel slower than they really are. You can see everything in perfect clarity and predict someone's movements before it happens. Moments like these you tend to remember for life, because time doesn't stop for just anyone.
There was a split moment in between when the mirror had shattered and all the pieces collapsed to the floor that it lay perfectly in the frame, like a giant puzzle. And through that puzzle, she saw him.
He was standing with an outstretched arm, fingers wide as the spell that shattered the eluvian dissipated in the air, the powerful pressure of the magic being felt on both sides. His other arm was folded behind his back keeping his posturing rigid and imposing. His expertly crafted armor seemed to absorb all of the dull light the Crossroads had to offer, making the backdrop look even darker than it was. Save the difference in equipment however she felt her heart flutter in her chest as she examined him. Although he called himself Fen'Harel now he still resembled her paramour; Solas.
They made eye contact and Caledra felt the tears well up again as she saw the myriad of emotions in his eyes. It was the same dreadful mixture of sadness and tenderness that plagued her sleep at night and made her visits in the Fade miserably bare. His frown twitched downward in the corner as though he was trying to stay collected but his body betrayed him. He turned away from her, a single sentence carrying through the eluvian before it erupted into a bright light and collapsed.
"Ir abelas, vhenan."
Caledra stayed perfectly still, unable to make her body move as she stared at the now empty frame. Pieces of the enchanted glass were scattered everywhere now, leaving a semicircle around where she was still kneeling. She slowly moved her hand in front of her face, noticing how badly it was shaking. She felt more dazed than she ever had fighting before, and could only compare it to the dizziness and state of shock felt when losing too much blood.
Actually, she thought slowly as black spots began to dot her vision, head feeling heavy and wobbly. This feels a lot like losing too much blood. What comes next, after the blurry vision? She attempted to rationalize. She got her answer within moments as she fell backwards to the floor and fainted.
Chapter 4: Red
Caledra recalls a special memory and sets out on her own.
Caledra awoke to the sounds of crows.
A murder flew into the garden outside, picking at whatever leftovers they could find. One of them had managed to rip open an abandoned sack of grain and attracted quite the crowd. Birds began to squabble and squawk at each other as they fought for their share. She typically liked to take her time waking up, but this morning was different. She sat up quickly, blinking away the sleepiness from her eyes as she adjusted to the afternoon light streaming in from the window. She judged it to be midday already. She was sore from sleeping on the stone floor and could feel the muscles in her shoulders demanding to be rubbed, to which she complied. As she rubbed the knots out of her shoulder she tried to recall the events of the night before and felt her mouth go dry as she spotted the broken eluvian.
It was real then, not just a tipsy dream. She had seen him and blacked out.
She tentatively stood up, steadying herself on two feet and taking a few clumsy steps before she managed to fully wake up. Her mind was swimming with a million questions, none of which could be answered. Why would he come to me now? Why did he break the eluvian? What is he doing? She reached down and picked up a large shard of broken glass, turning it around in her hands. Why would he apologize only to leave again?
Not knowing the answers to things was one of her biggest annoyances. Her Keeper used to remind her that no one knows everything and that was why we had to rely on each other. But for someone with boundless curiosity and a thirst for academia to be told that did almost nothing besides challenge them to become a walking encyclopedia, soaking up knowledge in whatever way they could. And when a mystery came that needed answering, Caledra would be the one to pioneer the expedition. She would find the answers that lay in both her heart and her head. All she needed was time. She put a large piece of glass in her pack, trying to erase the memory of their short reunion and instead focus on finding the answers.
She made her way back through Skyhold, a sickly feeling settling over her as she began to examine her thoughts. I have so many questions, but what ones matter more? Do I care more about stopping Solas or reuniting with him? The selfishness that hid in every romanticists heart was a startling realization for her, but one to be dealt with later she supposed.
Caledra took a deep breath before entering the rotunda. It was empty now, as were almost all the rooms left in Skyhold. But on the walls was sculpted the most beautiful artwork Caledra had ever glimpsed. When examined together, the artwork told one continuous story of her trials and choices that shaped the Inquisition. She began at the beginning, walking around the room with an outstretched arm, still in marvel at how he was able to create such a thing. A gallery of a hundred priceless paintings from Orlais, the seat of culture of Thedas, could not have compared to this in her eyes. She smiled softly as she traced a particular part of the frescoe depicting her alliance with the Mages of Redcliffe, remembering a crisp evening...
He liked to work after the evening meal but before it was dark outside.
Caledra had begun to take note of his habits. She felt strange sneaking around in her own keep, but she was also too shy to approach him on the matter, especially as he worked. Even so, her hesitance to interrupt him directly did not stop her from watching his work even if she had to resort to more covert methods.
She scratched the back of her head and tried not to look conspicuous as she made her way down from her chambers and into the great hall below. Several guests and nearby lords were meandering here, finishing up their meals as servants scrubbed away whatever messes they had left. It was here that Caledra spotted an unopened bottle of wine and quickly snatched it up, feeling a small grin on her face as she opened the door to the rotunda.
Solas stood across the room from her, arms crossed as he stared intently at the smooth stone wall. His right index finger and thumb formed an L shape which fit into his chin perfectly, creating a very thoughtful expression and posture. He gave hardly any indication that he had heard her enter, save the momentary glimpse before turning away again when she began to head up the spiraling staircase that led up towards the library. She couldn't help but let out a small sigh, grateful that he hadn't caught on yet to what she had been doing for the past weeks.
As she neared the top of the stairs she gave a bright smile, waving the bottle of wine in greeting. "And how have you been faring today, my friend?"
In response a head peaked out from a small cubby framed by books. He raised an eyebrow when he spotted the wine and let out a laugh. "Much better now that I'm being hand delivered alcohol. You really know how to brighten someone's day, Inquisitor."
Caledra grinned, leaning against the bookshelf as she tossed Dorian the bottle. "Only the finest gifts for you, Ser Pavus."
While Dorian had joined the Inquisition a bit later than some of the others, Caledra already felt closer to him than she had anticipated to. She wasn't sure if it was because he was a mage as well, or if it was because of all they had been through during the battle against Alexius. Near death experiences tend to bring people closer together. And although she hated to add to his incredible ego, she did have to admit he was a charming person to converse with on occasion. They had enough in common and enough respect for each other's cleverness to enjoy their time together.
He had been inspecting the label on the wine gave a snort, rolling his eyes at her. "Ah, yes. The finest gifts." He said sarcastically, eyebrow quirked upwards and a devilish grin on his face. "This is the same bottle of merlot they served for dinner tonight, correct? I'm a bit disappointed. I surely thought that the mighty Inquisitor would have something far more valuable to offer me."
Caledra turned to the bookshelf, pretending to read the titles as she ran her hands over their spines absentmindedly. Her eyes were looking over the banister however, staring at the contemplating elf below. "Dorian, the finest gift I can give you is my time." She turned to him, giving a cheeky grin, "of which you are already wasting."
Dorian chuckled, opening the bottle despite his complaints and pouring a glass, standing up from his plush red chair to do so. Caledra was continuing to stare not-so-secret glances at Solas below, who was now beginning to start the process of creating a masterpiece. He was moving out jars of plaster and an assortment of tools.
"For some reason I don't think that I'm the one you wish could be giving your spare time to, Inquisitor." Dorian said, causing Caledra to jump slightly. She had been spacing out and forgotten that he was even there. She glared at him out of the corner of her eye.
"I don't know what you're talking about." Caledra said rigidly, pointedly looking away from Solas as she did so. Dorian laughed at her blatant lie, curling the corner of his finely groomed mustache as he continued.
"My dearest Inquisitor, if you stared at him any harder I daresay your eyes might pop out of your head."
Caledra made a face at him as she tried to push the image of her with exploding eyeballs far from her mind. "Why are you bringing this up now? Couldn't you just continue to think that you're the sole reason for me to come up here? Doesn't that sound much more flattering?"
"It does," Dorian agreed for a moment before seeming to dismiss the idea, "but I am far too knowledgeable of myself to know where my magnetic charisma ends and glaring puppy love begins. I can't simply ignore it, can I?"
"You could," Caledra said hopefully before catching the smirk on his face and sighing. "But you won't, will you?"
"Of course not. Plus, it's been dreadfully dull around here lately. I'm sure that gossiping about the Inquisitor's love life is at least a bit interesting." Dorian moved next to her, one arm propped against the bookshelf and another on his hip. "What's the story?"
Caledra blushed, turning away from him. "There is no story."
"With looks like that, there's always a story."
Caledra cleared her throat and pursed her lips. It had only been a few weeks since she and Solas had sought each other out in the Fade. It was there that she was finally impatient bold enough enough to show him how she really felt about him plainly. Much to her joy, he had returned her kiss with enough passion that she was sure he felt the same way. When they awoke however, there was that same hesitance surrounding him as she had always felt before. Although it was clear that they both enjoyed it, he had not affirmed their relationship. Rather, he asked for time to decide if this was possible, claiming that there were things needed to be accounted for yet. What this meant, she had no idea. She did know however that their hidden romance was not something either of them would like to be discussed yet, and that if she uttered even a word to Dorian it would be heard around the hold by morning.
"It's really nothing, Dorian," Caledra said, trying to sound uninterested. "I'm just fascinated by his artwork. Never in all my years with the Dalish have I seen anything as impressive as that."
"Yes," Dorian drawled, still not seeming entirely convinced. "So it's simply his frescoes that has you so captivated? Nothing to do with his body, of which you have been gazing for the past hour?"
Caledra glared at him again, deciding to ignore his accusation about her slight ogling, "I don't want to bother him while he's working on them, but the process is just magnificent." She looked back over the banister to where he was beginning to layer plaster onto the wall. "I'm content to watch the process up here without disturbing him."
Dorian stared at her a long moment as though deciding whether or not to believe her or not. Eventually he shrugged deciding it wasn't worth the effort at the moment to keep pestering her.
It was then that Solas rolled his sleeves up.
Although it was a seemingly innocent action that involved nothing more than brushing up his sleeves, there was a deliberateness in his action that made Caledra stiffen. He put down his tools slowly, taking a moment to stretch before carefully rolling them up to the top one at a time. His muscles were larger than one would have expected a mage to have and Caledra felt her face turn red as she stared at him. And, if he couldn't have made the gesture clear enough, he gave a look up towards the banister where Caledra and Dorian now stood before returning to his work.
Dorian gave a whistle from beside her, shaking his head and laughing. "And to think I almost believed you! The only artwork you're admiring here is him, and he knows it!" At this point Caledra was shrinking to the back of the library in embarrassment, wanting to bury her face in the nearest book as Dorian teased her relentlessly. He laughed one final time before gathering his wine and turning to leave.
"Where are you going! You aren't going to stay here with me?" Caledra squeaked, scampering after him as he began to head down the staircase.
"Inquisitor, as much as I do enjoy your company it is bad for one's reputation to be caught staring. Besides, I don't fancy gawking at others, I much prefer being gawked at. I'll visit you later perhaps."
And with that final jest he left, chuckling the whole way.
Caledra was now alone, and took up residence in Dorian's usual spot. His velvety chair was luxurious compared to the others around and since he left she might as well use it. She picked up the nearest book and began to pretend to read, although her the way her eyes peeked out of the top gave away her true intentions for staying there. Solas continued to sculpt below, beginning to carve away at the layers of plaster. She could begin to see the rough outlines for his current masterpiece.
Where did he learn to do this? I have known many Clans, yet not a single one could boast of this ancient skill. She was just as curious about the origins of his talent as she was enthralled by the beauty of it. As the time passed and more people began to head to bed, the library grew silent and soon only she and the occasional passerby remained. She stood slowly, approaching the railing and leaning on it, choosing to watch him from here. It was obvious that he knew of her presence from the way he rolled up his sleeves, and now that there was no one around she had no reason to try to stay incognito. She had watched him for about an hour before he began mixing pigments, adding color to it. It was then that he paused, looking up to where she stood. "Watching from such a distance is quite unnecessary," he commented.
"I didn't want to bother you while you worked." She repeated shyly, beginning to make her way down the stone staircase at his invitation.
He snorted as he continued to paint again, shaking his head slightly. "It's true that some might serve as nothing but a disturbance. You, on the other hand," He said coolly, making eye contact with her for a moment before continuing, "are welcome here anytime."
Caledra gulped, averting her eyes to the ground as she blushed over his kind words. She sat down in the small wooden chair at the center of the room, stumbling over her words. "These are elven frescoes, yes? My Keeper had told me of them before, but-" Caledra said, throat catching as he reached down and removed his shirt in one fluid and unassuming motion. He went back to painting, tossing it on the floor and continuing as though nothing happened. He half turned around as her voice trailed off, a slight smirk on his face.
"Yes? What did your Keeper tell you?"
Caledra licked her lips, nodding and trying to look anywhere but at his bare back and broad shoulders. It was incredibly hard not to. "J-Just that it's an ancient elven art. Hardly anyone left can properly do it." She cleared her throat, rising. "Um- I can go if you would like?"
Solas chuckled, and she saw the same damnable smirk on his face as before. He was teasing her on purpose! "I enjoy your company, Inquisitor. And as you've already stated, you seem to enjoy the view as well."
She had never been so embarrassed in her life. "It's not like that! I really came to look at the frescoes! Not your chest! Not that that isn't nice either!" Caledra said, getting more and more flustered as she spoke, color rushing to her cheeks. Solas chuckled, setting his things down and ruffling a hand through her short russet hair.
"Gra ithaste on fra ma." He laughed, turning back to his work. Caledra burying her blushing face in her hands as his playful words echoed in her head.
Red looks good on you.
Caledra continued to walk around the room, admiring the frescoes with nostalgic melancholy. Eventually she approached the final one, hand on her chin as she examined it again. She had tried to make sense of it many times before, spending hours looking over old notes and papers left behind by Solas. She had hoped to find some sort of clue left behind from his studies, but alas, there was nothing. Others had suggested that it was simply an unfinished piece, or some sort of parting gift to her. She thought otherwise though; it was strange and she knew that there must be a purpose behind it. She cocked her head as she examined the carvings. It seemed to be some large beast poised over a slain dragon. She could think of no metaphors or significance to it and sighed, departing from the room one final time.
Leaving the gates of Skyhold felt strange, but she found herself emotionally numb at this point. Between the sadness of her friends leaving, the uncertainty about her future, and Solas' sudden appearance, she felt as though she had been through more emotional trauma in the past day than the rest of her life combined. Even so, she tried not to look back at the great keep as she trudged down the weathered path, knowing that if she did she would undoubtedly cry. She wound down the path that led eastward, weighed down by nothing besides the small pack on her back and her staff, which was now being used as a convenient walking stick.
She shivered in the cold air, trying to keep her mind busy as she wandered down the beaten road. She noticed the beauty that surrounded her as she emerged from the trail, watching the sun splay its rays down the blinding white hills in the distance. But she watched with a detached fascination, knowing that the wonders this world had to offer paled in comparison to a minute spent with him. When it was dark he carried sunshine in his pocket for her and when he had disappeared he had taken that with him.
It was easier for Caledra to blend into a crowd than she had originally expected it to be.
Although people knew of the famous Inquisitor, not many had actually seen her before. They knew she was a Dalish elf, yet without her vallaslin she could not be easily identified as such. Many who had not served under her directly had not heard of her lost arm yet, making her even more inconspicuous. It was strange, going from the most important and famed person in all of Thedas to a face in the crowd, someone that could have been any lone elf, a nomad without a home. Even before becoming the Inquisitor she faced constant scrutiny and attention. A Dalish elf would draw attention anywhere; a Dalish mage was the stuff out of Orlesian stories meant to scare children to bed.
The fact that she was a mage still caused others to turn their heads her way, but with the current reforms being proposed by Divine Victoria it didn't attract quite the amount of attention as it would have before. No one threatened to call the Templars on her and they seemed content, if a bit weary, with her apostate status.
With all of that being said, she was pleasantly surprised with how easy her travels had been thus far. Besides a few bandit attacks and encounters with wildlife, she had managed to avoid conflict and injury with almost everyone she had come across.
She had been wandering across Thedas for a month now, trying to find something, anything to either distract her mind or clues in finding him. Thus far, her great search had turned up nothing and was leaving her even more restless than before. She did enjoy the movement, however. It felt good to be back in the world after such a long time hiding behind Inquisition lines.
She was traveling now to her favorite place in all of Thedas; the Dales. It was early morning, the time of day when the sun just starts to peak out over the horizon. She could feel the crisp air which was complimented nicely by the warm sunshine that glittered through the lush treetops, leaving living shadows across the ground as they moved. Although the path was worn it was clear that no one had been there in a long time. Continuing down the trail it soon opened up to a small river on the right. It was fast moving and turbulent, but the water itself was crystal clear. There was nothing in it but sand however; no vegetation, no fish or even debris from fallen leaves. The small bank opened up and Caledra scaled down the rocky edge to the sandy shore. She yawned, stretching and setting her pack down and filling her hare skin canteen with water, taking a few sips as she stared off into the forest beyond.
The Emerald Graves are named so because it is an elven burial ground. She recalled, staring up at the great trees with somber melancholy. Each tree planted was a life lost in the Exalted March. This used to be the land of my people, and now it is their gravesite.
She took a moment to imagine what it would be like if the Dales had not been taken from them. If the great elven nation of Greatwood still stood today, if Halamshiral had not been lost to Orlais. Would any of this be happening, if the elves had been treated fairly? There would be no distinction between city elves and Dalish elves. Those terms would disappear as all elves were viewed as equal under the nations rule. Living with the Dalish, Caledra had many freedoms that city elves were not granted, but the idea of an entire land for her people even astounded her. If the elves had their own kingdom, would Solas continue?
It was a foolish thought, but one she considered nonetheless. The answer was obvious; yes, he would continue. His efforts were focused on righting his own wrongs and restoring the ancient past, the world of free magic and immortality. Although he seemed to recognize now that the elves were his people and it pained him to ruin such life, it did not seem enough to stop him. Not even her life.
She blinked the beginning of tears from her eyes as she thought, cursing herself for pondering these hypothetical questions. She did this often in her own company and it was definitely not conducive to her mental state. She took another drink of water before noticing the large raven perched on her bag. It was watching her intently, and Caledra stared into its beady black eyes intently before noticing the note tied to its leg. Leaning over she untied the knot from its leg and unscrolled the piece of parchment. There was hardly nothing written on it, certainly not enough to deem using a whole piece of paper. The writing was scratchy and messy and she had a hard time deciphering it as she began reading,
Hey, you. I've heard some things. Elfy things. Things that you might like to hear. I'll tell ya if you wanna know. Not like this though. I don't know how far away you are, but I'll be in Val Royeaux for another couple of weeks. Come find me. It'll be worth your time. - Red Jenny
Caledra blinked, flipping over the paper to see if anything was written on the back. There was, of course, nothing. She sighed, rubbing her temples as she considered the letter.
Of course Sera couldn't have sent her a clear time and place to meet up. That would be much too logical for her. But still, could Caledra afford to pass up any information and help she could get? She knew the answer to that already, taking out her worn map as she began to plot a course for the capital, the great city of Val Royeaux.