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stirs of whispers

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        How Aravas had managed to avoid getting caught the entire trek from the Free Marches to the Frostback Mountains, Nym would never know.

Nym had spent decades of her life training for this exact moment, hours studying rival clans, prey movements, Orlesian battle strategies, Feralden history, one named it and Keeper Volen had a test for it. Her aim was unmatched. Her vision was comparable to a great red hawk, feet quiet as a halla hoof. Time after time, she had shown the entirety of the clan she was destined for the lead hunter.

And yet of all things, her sister was the first to catch her completely off-guard.

"You nearly had me too, when we left Kirkwall. I knew you checked the guest list of the boat seven times so I'm not sure how you missed Savara as my fake name!" The youngest chittered on and on as they descended a steep hill. Heavy snow crunched beneath their enchanted boots. A human soldier would have sunk to their knees, but Father had gifted each child of their family with lavish nugskin boots after their Vallashlin ceremony.

You rely so much on your legs, just like the harts, she could hear him now. Did Father know where Aravas had gone?

Dawn was ascending through the dense winter woodland. Sunlight turned the white blanket shades of orange and pink as it trickled through the tree line. Aravas lowered her staff and ceased her spellcasting with a hushed whisper. In the distance, a grand gray temple loomed with multiple colored factions marching inside.

Nym held up her hand as they neared, sidestepping into the brush.

“Do you even know what you’re looking for?” Aravas questioned, crouching a few steps behind her

“In a way,” The older mused, tracing her gaze across the fortress.

“That’s the Temple of Sacred Ashes, is it not?”

Nym glared at the mage.

“Yes, only the most well-known religious site in all of Thedas.”

Aravas nodded in understanding. Silence was withheld for a moment before her lips pursed in question again, “And why are we here?”

“If you were selected for the mission, you would have been briefed on the information prior to leaving camp,” Her sister chided, her tone sharp as knives. When Aravas flinched, her gaze softened.

“I’ll give you the rundown so you can stop asking questions. Look,” She motioned with her head to the incoming troops, “Do you remember how tense Kirkwall was when we passed through?”

“Yes, the city elves thought my Vallashlin was quite queer, and the city guard nearly arrested me when I had my staff in hand.”

“That wasn’t the city guard, that was a Templar. After that mage destroyed the Kirkwall circle, everyone has been on high alert. You’re lucky you weren’t mugged. See how the mages are walking in a separate entrance than the Templars? It’d be catastrophic if a fight broke out.”

Aravas furrowed her brows, “So how did they end up here?”

“The Divine orchestrated this meeting. If you look you can see members of the Chantry and both royal houses making their way from the south.”

“To broker peace?”
“Exactly. This turmoil has ravaged Feralden for nearly a year now, to the point Orlais is getting involved- “
“Aren’t they in the middle of their own civil war? Do humans ever stop fighting each other?”

“Not to my knowledge - look we’ll be here all day if you keep asking questions. The main thing you need to know is to lay low and follow my lead. We’re here to get information for Keeper Volen and get out before shit hits the ceiling. Do you have enough potions for a long-term protection spell?”

The younger shifted her cloak to reveal a cross-body potions belt, aglow with red and blue liquid in multiple tiny flasks.

Nym began to stand, adjusting her gloves.

“Pray to Elgar ’nan it’s enough.”

 

 


 

 

        The Conclave, as many referred to the event, lasted for most of the day. It began with a private council of many leaders in one of the newly furnished chambers, with members of each faction instructed to keep the peace outside.  After their brief discussion, a recess had been called, allowing each party to speak amongst themselves. Divine Justina and many of her closest advisors discussed treaty options in a quiet corner, while royal ambassadors flittered around between the warriors and mages alike.

Once the women had made it inside, they had come to find that not every group had sent a true leader. Some, such as the rebel mages, did not have their Grand Enchantress, instead sending a representative while Fiona rested in an undisclosed location.

From their perch atop a stone staircase, the sisters watched as dignitaries rushed to and from. The courtyard they overlooked had once been a corridor, however, Nym overheard two grey wardens discussing this was the exact spot the Hero of Feralden and her companions had slain a dragon and cultists who had once called it home. During the reconstruction, the damaged floor and walls had been torn out, leaving an open area large enough to accommodate the hundreds of people gathered inside.

Nym scribbled notes inside of her journal, somewhere between the common language and elven. Every few minutes, Aravas would lower the barrier spell to drink her potion, and they would slip behind the tallest rock. With Aravas’s spells and Nym’s heightened senses, the two were certain they had passed through the ranks unnoticed.

Chatter within the courtyard began to slow.

“Whenever you’re ready, we’ll head back down there,” Nym instructed, switching out her parchment paper for a ram leather-wrapped bow. She peeked over the rock, noticing the groups separate once more. Divine Justina, in her ivory and crimson robes, led the march and began to speak with her hand held high calling for attention.

“She’s starting the final talks, let’s move – Aravas?”

The elf whipped her head around to find her sibling hunched over, pale fingers bunching locks of pearl hair against her skull. Nym rushed over, notching an arrow and searching around for the cause of her sister’s pain.

“What’s wrong?”

“My head!” She cried, curling into herself on the floor. Her violet eyes glistened with tears, staring up in Nym’s direction. Her body shook violently, voice cracking with each word.

“Something’s wrong – there’s someone – “

A terrible screech echoed through the room. Nym shot to her feet, an arrow aimed to kill, and scanned the crowd for the source. While she could not see whom the screech originated, there was a panic sweeping the halls. Every mage was doubled over or collapsed in pain, spare the grey warden soldiers in their silver-and-blue plated armor. Chantry priests bustled around, some passing pain elixirs while others raced mindlessly around, yelling orders at soldiers. One Orlesian royal, she could tell by the elaborate mask he bore, leaped atop the tallest rubble of stones he could find.

“The Divine is gone!”

Her breathing quickened – no divine, no treaty, and every mage including her sister was rendered defenseless. She searched the air for an answer, noticing what seemed to be a shield covering the empty air above the yard. The energy field began to shrink closer and closer to the crowd, passing directly over their secluded staircase. Wardens had moved from within the cluster to the perimeter of the corridor, hands aglow and outstretched. The remaining people left within the barrier, rogues and warriors alike, began to quake with the same pain of the magicians. An incoherent chant echoed louder and louder from the wardens moving further inward until all remaining members of the conclave were writhing in pain. Green energy pulsed between the wardens upholding the perimeter.

Aravas’s cries softened to stuttering exhales, causing Nym to nearly drop her bow.

“This is no normal magic!” Aravas gripped her sister’s sleeve with the strength of a bear, digging her nails through the tattered fabric.

“Blood magic?” Nym questioned, holding her sister’s head to her chest until her frantic breathing subsided.

“We have to find the divine.” Her sister’s tone was darker, more serious than before. Nym overlooked her with mere confusion.

“The DIVINE?  You’re insane! We have to leave! Before we get caught, or, or worse!”

“No, Nadasnym, we have to find the divine!”

Nym, taken aback by the use of her full name, released her sibling. Anguished cries from below sent chills down her neck. The wardens had moved to slaughter.

“Fine. We find the divine.”       

 

 

 

Chapter Text

        Pain rippled through Nym. Images of bright green and blue flashed across her vision, glimpses of horrific beasts nipping at her heels. Gargantuan spiders threatened to swallow her whole and unexplainable monsters of three animals mashed into one tore into her chest. All she could think about was Aravas - was she alive?

 Was Nym even alive?

A distant groan shattered her subconscious and the elven rogue jumped up. Or attempted to, at least, as the black chain around her wrists shoved her back onto a cold, damp cellar floor.

Son of a bitch !

Wildly, she scanned the area like an ensnared doe, pulling futilely at the chains. There were four torches on the walls, one next to each door. So, she was not in a cellar, but instead between cells. There were no windows and a single wooden door to her right. Across from her, just out of reach, laid another elf.

The other elf groaned again and began to blink, crying out in pain as she rolled over. Her hair was tussled and out of its usual braid, but Nym knew her sister’s frame.

“Ari!” She nearly sobbed with joy, “blessed be the gods!”

“N-Nym?” The voice crackled, “what happened?”

“I’m not sure. Are you hurt?”

“Everything aches but I don’t feel any actual damage…” She trailed, sitting with her legs crossed. Her eyes fluttered as if she was having trouble focusing.

Nym tilted her head, scrunching her brows. “Aravas? What happened to your eyes ?”

Instead of the warm, purple hue she and their siblings all shared, Aravas’s eyes were a vibrant jade. The glow illuminated her soft features.

“My eyes? What about your hand?”

Aghast, she stared downward – her soft home sewn gloves were gone, leaving a pulsating emerald slice along her left palm. The cut flashed vibrant light, blinding her and sending a burning sensation through her entire body. She screamed, clawing at the cut with her other hand, but her fingers laced through energy instead of flesh. The agony worsened.

Just as she began to wish for Mythal to take her, the wooden door swung open with a clash. A great bear of a woman charged through, her armor clanking with each step.

“Tell me why I shouldn’t kill you both right now!” She circled Nym first, glaring down her rigid nose. She was a Seeker, by the looks of the all-seeing eye plastered on against her chest plate. Her short black hair was flecked in ash. A hooded woman with auburn hair entered with three uniformed soldiers.

“Over what? ” Aravas hissed.

The Seeker marched across the room.

“Our Divine is gone. Everyone who attended the conclave is dead.” The Seeker paused, rounding Aravas’s back and glancing between the pair.

“Except for you two.”

Stunned silence followed. Nym’s stomach twisted as she followed the cloaked woman, standing with her arms crossed between two cells.

“And you think we’re responsible?” Nym challenged. The Seeker moved with the speed of a predator, grabbing Nym’s chains in one hand.

“Explain this.

Nym’s lips curled into a snarl and the wound on her hand burst. She shouted as the Seeker rushed backward.

“I can’t! I don’t even know what it is!”

“How do you not know what it is?” The Seeker shouted, lowering her head to her height.

Aravas cried from her constraints, “Don’t touch her again!”

The Seeker lurched for Nym again, but the hooded woman intercepted with a hand against her chest.

“Cassandra.” Her voice was like a serum, soothing the energy in the room. Cassandra glared daggers between Nym and her savior, but backed off, nonetheless.

“Do you remember what happened?”

“Of course, not Leliana,” Cassandra grumbled, “If she can’t remember how she’s got the mark, how can she remember how they destroyed the temple?”

“The temple is destroyed?!” Aravas chimed, while Nym sat straighter as her wound’s pain softened.

“I remember not being chained to the fucking floor.”

Leliana ignored her, pressing forward. “You recall nothing? Not even your names?”

“My name is suck my –“ Leliana grasped Nym’s chin, soft yet firm. Her dark eyes locked on Nym’s, sending a chill through her arms.

“If you do not cooperate, you can not leave. I would advise against the snarking for the benefit of all involved.”

She stepped back, allowing Nym to exhale.

“My name is Aravas, and that is Na- “

“Nym, just Nym.” A look of understanding passed between the two sisters. Aravas pressed on.

“We don’t know where we are, or what happened.”

“Exactly. The last thing I can remember is entering the Conclave as a representative.”

Cassandra adjusted her stance. “A representative for whom?”

Nym rolled her eyes. “Clan Lavellan.”

“Is that not a Dalish clan? What business did you have at the Conclave?” Leliana inquired.

“The affairs of your country ripple into the Free Marches. Suddenly our mages were being cornered in nearby cities when we would go on scouting missions or trade with passing human groups. Not every story matched up and our keeper needed intel. Does that answer all of your questions?”

Leliana hummed, tapping a gloved finger on her cheek. “I think that should suffice. Did you have anything to add, Cassandra?”

The Seeker shook her head in disdain. Drawing a ring of keys from her pocket, she unshackled the mage first, hesitating once she neared Nym. Both women held a solid scowl. Begrudgingly, Cassandra unchained her from the floor but left the shackles intact.

Aravas nearly toppled Cassandra rushing to her sister. They embraced on the floor, Nym nestling her head against her long robes. She peeked over the mage’s shoulder.

“What, she gets to walk free and I don’t?”

Cassandra scoffed, standing with Leliana and their soldiers at the door. “Her magic is predictable. Yours is not. We’re going to the rift.”

Nym, with assistance, roused to her feet. She felt naked without her quiver. Whether it was lost in whatever happened at the temple, she supposed she would never know. Aravas was thoughtful enough to brush Nym’s chin-length tangles out of her face. They shared a tender forehead touch.

“I hope you have a plan.”

The elder suppressed a laugh.

“I wish.”

 


 

 

 

        It was cold, colder than when they arrived at the temple. Aravas shuffled her hands together whenever her palms weren’t caressing Nym’s forearm. Every human they passed looked upon them strangely, some even moving to hide behind their boxes of rations or tattered tents.

“So, this Breach, it appeared after the explosion?” She asked, looking at Cassandra’s footprints.

Cassandra peaked over her shoulder at the pair. “Yes, and every hour it stays open, more and more demons crawl out. The Breach is not the only rift, it just happens to be the largest. “

“It must be connected to the fade then,” The mage surmised with a nod.

“Exactly,” Cassandra confirmed, “and it’s growing. It could swallow the entire world at this rate.”

A passing scout sneered at the chained elf, causing Nym to lurch in his direction with a hiss. He scampered away with a cry, leaving the rogue with a satisfied harrumph.

Cassandra halted in her tracks at the bottom of a delipidated stairwell that led to what looked to be an icy stream.

“I don’t think that was necessary.”

“Calling me a knife-ear wasn’t either,” Nym pointed out.

Aravas smiled, but her ease was cut short. Her vision blanked, her lips parting in anguish. Her entire world shook; heat exploding across her brain. It was easier than the first pulse, but this time, she could hear them. Like claws across her earlobes, awful, inhuman cries rattled in the distance. She could see them crawling out of a tear, a Shade slipping into the world followed by three green spirits. Soldiers’ agony – the clatter of swords on ice.

Aravas shook her head, mind clearing. Cassandra had come to their aid, hand on either of the girls’ shoulders. Nym was clutching her marked hand, pulsating in time with Aravas’s head.

“Every time that pulses, you both react.” She explained, “And that’s how we know you two must be the key to closing it. We’re running out of time.”

“There’s another rift – your soldiers, they’re dying! We have to hurry!” Aravas clutched Cassandra’s hand wildly. Her heart jumped into her throat as she felt a phantom pain across her navel.

Cassandra fumbled for her keys again, unlatching Nym’s constraints. The elf piped with something clever but was ignored. The three women charged onto the stream, following the Breach’s flashes in the distance.

 


 

 

 

By the time they reached the rift, the shade had torn through three scouts. A lanky mage was blasting from behind the cover of a weapon’s cart, while a sharp-dressed dwarf fired bolts from a hilltop.

Cassandra charged into the fray; shield drawn. The elves ducked behind the cart, to the surprise of the mage. He was bald, no Vallaslin in sight, and nearly two heads taller than Aravas.

“Cover me,” She commanded the elf, who regarded her with great confusion. Nonetheless, he rolled out of cover, blasting as he went from his staff. Nym and Aravas went to work scavenging the cart.

“Anything?!” Aravas begged, shoveling through piles of wooden practice swords and broken shields. She didn’t care if she found an apprentice staff, anything to be channel her magic. She longed for her own weapon, wherever it may be.

Nym laughed with vigor, raising a beautiful redwood bow in her marked hand.

Aravas handed her the few arrows she’d put to the side during her hunt. Some were short, only a point and a tiny shaft, while others had no fletching intact, but if any archer could land a hit, it was Nym. The older vaulted across the cart, patting Aravas’s shoulder as she went.

And so, her search continued. She’d glance over her shoulder to check on the others, watching as the dwarf tumbled and resorted to slamming the beasts with the end of his crossbow, and Cassandra fought back to back with one of the remaining cadets. The other elf had somehow made it across the field, while Nym, ever loyal, stayed within reach of the cart. Aravas smiled despite the situation, before continuing to search.

A sick feeling crept along her shoulders, causing her to turn around once more. Out of a misplaced shadow, directly behind her sister, were a pair of twitching claw-like hands – another Shade. Helplessness overtook her – of course, there were no staves! With the mage rebellion, it was a wonder she hadn’t been smitten in her sleep! No staff meant no magic, which meant no attack, and no helping her sister –

From her chest, warmth spread. The warmth turned into a blistering flame, nipping at her heart, her shoulders, her throat. Her vision blurred into a sea of green again. Out of her lips, she felt hot air, tickling her skin and wrapping around her sleeves. All at once she shoved her hands forward and heard an unrecognizable voice escape her mouth, blasting searing energy at the Shade. When she could see again, the shade was gone, one of its scales left on the ice, and Nym was staring back at her in shock. Aravas looked from the scales to Nym, to her own reflection in the ice.

Nothing could hide the fact both her eyes and Vallaslin shone emerald where they’d once been black and violet, and that she’d managed to attack and kill something without a weapon.

A shout shook her out of the enamored state. Cassandra had slain the last spirit, the rift hissing and wavering into a mist over them.

“Which one of you has the mark?” The tall man appeared between the sisters, glancing at their hands.

“The what – “Nym was cut off as he abruptly grabbed her bow hand, dragging her towards the mist and shoving her hand upward. The mist shifted and contorted until, as quickly as it came, it zapped away.

“What in the name of the Gods was that ?”

“The Gods had nothing to do with it. Credit is all yours,” He nodded in Aravas’s direction. “And I am sure you played a part in it as well.

“How so?” She inquired.

The dwarf approached alongside Cassandra, dusting his crossbow with his intricately woven sleeve. “Had you three not arrived when you did, we’d have been slaughtered.”

“I theorized that the magic that saved you two, and placed the mark upon your palm, would be able to close rifts. It appears I was right.” The elven man continued, motioning from Nym’s hand to Aravas’s face. “Whatever the Breach altered within you, however, I have yet to form a hypothesis on.”

“Well, that’s good to know! Thought I’d be ass deep in demons forever.” Piped in the short man. He turned to the sisters after strapping the bow to his back, outstretching a hand to both.

“Varric Tethras, rogue, storyteller – “

Aravas nearly fainted, rushing to grab his hand with both of hers and shaking excitedly. “You wrote Hard in Hightown ! And the Tale of the Champion! Oh, I have got so many questions!”

“Nice crossbow,” Nym interjected coolly, shaking his hand once.

“Thanks. Bianca’s one of a kind. You an archer yourself?”

Nym shrugged, flicking her newly acquired weapon curtly.

“You could say that.”

“Enough chatter, we need to meet Leliana,” Cassandra announced, wiping the blood from her sword. The group now stood in a semi-circle, overlooking the damage one rift had done in mere minutes.

“That’s a wonderful idea!” Varric proclaimed with a grin.

“Absolutely not!” She denied, stepping into the dwarf’s space. “Up until three days ago you were a prisoner, or did you forget?”

“Did you not just see what happened, Seeker? You don’t exactly have control anymore. You need me, just like you need sassy and smiles over here,” He reminded, to which the seeker grunted and turned away in disgust.

“As it seems introductions are in order, my name is Solas. I am pleased to see you both alive and well.” The man, Solas, smiled and crossed his hands behind his back.

Varric chuckled, “He means, I kept that freaky magic from killing you in your sleep,”

“Nym. And this is my sister Aravas.” Nym introduced.

Aravas glanced between the group, her gaze settling on her sister with an unspoken, we’ll talk about that weird shit later, passing between them. Noticing Cassandra had nearly left them all, she fell in step behind her, with Nym following. The men trailed not long after.

“We must get to the forward camp quickly.”

Varric, bringing up the rear, cocked his bow, “Well, Bianca’s excited!”

Aravas noticed each member of their makeshift party had drawn their weapons once again. Whatever had happened earlier, she could not count on happening twice. She prayed at some point they may discover a fallen mage along the way she may loot a staff from. At least if they were attacked, she trusted Nym would protect her.

And if all else failed, Aravas was certain she could swipe that dark vitrol staff from Solas without a second look.