The Herald has been taken.
Cullen couldn’t get the words of his head, unable to forget the scout’s breathy, trembling speech. The doors of the War Room were still groaning after their hasty exit, sent to retrieve the others. The incredulity of it made it almost unbelievable, but the fear in the scout’s eyes was real. Palpable. The Herald of Andraste, Thedas’ last hope against the Breach, had vanished. This was no passive disappearance, either – Ffion Lavellan had been kidnapped, seized from the Inquisition with malicious intent.
The advisors waited, silent and stony, for the arrival of the Inquisitor and the companions. Cullen pinched the bridge of his nose, temples throbbing with the threat of a headache. He was barely breathing, tense and rigid.
Josephine gently touched his shoulder. “Ffion is strong and resourceful,” Josephine murmured. “And the Inquisition is influential throughout all of Thedas. We will find her, Cullen.” He wanted to believe her, for the Ambassador spoke the truth. The Herald had honed her ingenuity since the Conclave, becoming an avid little tempest that had even charmed the reticent Solas. Guilt clawed at Cullen for the doubt, but the fact that someone had caught her… it shattered the illusion that everyone, including himself, had been wrapped up in. They all believed her to be invincible, shrugging off death time and time again, but Ffion was vulnerable. Her enemies were just as numerous as Trevelyan’s, but of a far more sinister origin – and there was so little information about her disappearance.
“We’ve failed her,” he muttered.
The room – once struck into an uneasy silence – now filled with idle banter as the companions entered, few noting the advisors’ concern. Judgement was laid upon the crumbling wall in the corridor, while Blackwall and Bull admired the detail of the map upon the big oak table.
“Are we all to finally receive titles?” quipped Dorian.
“I have a few ideas, if that’s to be the case,” chuckled Varric.
Katarina burst in, fiery red hair as unkempt as a lion’s mane. “Leliana, tell me what happened.” For all her dishevelment, the Inquisitor was no less demanding as usual, her focus making Cullen stand a little straighter.
“The Herald has been taken,” the Spymaster repeated, and Cullen cringed. The companions all quietened, mirroring the exact reaction of the advisors earlier. “An ambush in Dead Man’s Pass in Crestwood, over a week ago now.”
“Why are we only finding out about this now?”
“They sent ravens, but the birds never arrived. A scout delivered the news only an hour ago.” Gesturing at the map, Leliana spoke in low tones, stoic and steadfast in her explanation. “Townspeople found the scene. There’s a survivor – one of our own – but he was still too injured to give details when the scout left. There was evidence of magic, however.”
“This is no attempt at ransom,” Cullen added, eyeing the token that marked Ffion’s last known location. “They took out a whole retinue of Inquisition soldiers, and precautions have been taken to keep us unaware of it.”
“Yes,” Leliana continued. “We’ve lost so much time already, and we can no longer trust our ravens to deliver information. Our operations are compromised.”
“It might be much more serious than that, I fear,” murmured Dorian, his swagger wiped away by his furrowed brows. “I remember there was a Venatori mine nearby. Their insane little cult poses the biggest threat to the Herald. Darkspawn are deadly, but they are not intelligent. If it were Red Templars, surely shards of lyrium would’ve been left behind.”
Leliana nodded. “Plausible. It is our best lead so far, but regardless, the only choice is to return to Crestwood.”
“We cannot let this information travel far,” Josephine murmured, accent light and lilting despite the dire situation. “The Herald’s absence makes the Inquisition vulnerable, and we cannot afford that. Inquisitor, you’ll have to keep up appearances, as will everyone else.”
“You’re concerned about reputation?” Cullen seethed, unable to control himself. “Ffion could be anywhere by now. We need the whole of Thedas searching for her!”
Solas eyed him, and Cullen all but glared back. If the elf wasn’t going to speak for Ffion – as he should – then Cullen would gladly take up the mantle.
“Josephine is right, Commander,” gritted Cassandra. “It will only attract unwanted attention.”
Another objection lay on his tongue, but Cullen gave a terse nod. As Leliana said, the next step was to investigate Crestwood for themselves.
The Herald has been taken.
Sitting atop a knoll in Crestwood, Solas could see all the way to old town and the lake beyond. It sparkled under the sun, the surrounding hills lush with greenery. Looking at it now, it was hard to believe it had been so grim and dark before the Rift had been sealed. He still remembered the laugh that bubbled from Ffion’s throat as they exited the caves, eyes shining as she stepped into the light.
Ffion. His heart lurched again, and Solas shook his head. Those damning words spoken back at Skyhold had ushered in a troubled silence over all the companions and advisors. It lasted the week’s ride to Crestwood, lingered even now as they waited for Cassandra to finish the interrogation up in Caer Bronach. The atmosphere regressed, and it was like the beginning again, when the Breach was still a novel sight. Solas kept to himself at the edge of the party while Cassandra kept a close eye on him, and even Blackwall was as stiff as he’d been when first recruited. The only thing missing was the snickers of Ffion, who always found humour in the strangest things during their travels.
“A double agent. A mole in the Inquisition,” growled Blackwall, shifting in his heavy armour somewhere behind Solas. After examining the ambush site – a lot of blood and bodies, broken steel and scorch marks – he’d retreated to this grassy hilltop, dotted with embrium. He didn’t know when he’d been joined by the rest of the party, having long since left their company – their palpable tension only threatened to make Solas lose his grip on his own simmering panic. Nothing pressed against the Veil here, but his own thoughts could be just as damning as a malicious spirit. He wanted to retreat into the Fade, into his own memories of when Ffion had kissed him in this very spot, uplifted after the sun had shone on Crestwood again. “Why? I just can’t understand it.”
"Manipulation is part of the Venatori’s charm,” Dorian sighed. “You saw the letter. They promised that scout a title and fortune for information on the Herald’s movements.”
Blackwall scoffed. “All lies, I’d wager?”
“Oh, quite right.”
“At least we’re certain of her captors now,” Blackwall mumbled.
Solas closed his eyes, forcing himself to take a breath. The guilt, the worry, the panic – it all simmered beneath his skin. He didn’t look at them, instead focusing on Old Crestwood sprawling in the distance.
“Lavellan never recovered from what happened at Redcliffe,” Solas spoke, remembering the latent fear that had haunted her ever since. She said little of it, giving only vague details when pressed. It had crippled her that night; he would never forget the way she’d clutched at him in the darkness, her tears dripping onto his face as she murmured things like you matter to me, you are my heart, I’m sorry, I’m so sorry. “If the Venatori have her, then she will be afraid.”
Solas turned his scowl to Dorian and Blackwall, taking in their dismay. Everyone feared for Ffion’s safety, but Solas couldn’t bear the thought of what she must be suffering right now, forced to reckon with those she met in that Red Future. “My Ffion—,” his voice faltered, throat constricting, “Ffion is brave, but she’s made it easy to forget how young she is. Hope often pales in the face of fear – an uneasy truth we must acknowledge, even with our Herald. We sit here, scrambling like children, while Ffion may be thinking that which she fears the most is coming to pass.”
“And what’s that?” Dorian murmured, toying with a fraying bracelet. It was patterned and handmade – a Dalish craft. Ffion had given such gifts to all her friends after Redcliffe, offering no explanation outside it being a mere token of friendship. Solas reached for his mage’s stave, running a finger over the several patterned bands tied around it.
“The Inquisition’s fall,” Solas answered. “It will mean the death of her friends, and the rise of Corypheus.”
“The poor poppet,” Blackwall whispered. Solas clenched his fists, swallowed hard as his nose stung with the treat of tears. Ffion had become his in a way that was much more personal than Solas ever intended. Her death would complicate things on an intellectual level – the success of the Inquisition lay at stake, as well as his own plans – but such things were survivable. It was the inevitable heartbreak that would tear him asunder, and Solas didn’t know if he could bear such sorrow again.
Cassandra trudged her way up the hill, brows furrowed hard. “I am done,” she intoned, not sparing them a glance as she glared northward. Solas eyed the speckles of blood on her armour, stains that hadn’t been there this morning. I need space to work, she had said when they objected to her lone interrogation of the compromised scout. “We must ride now.”